The Doctor's Daughterbynicecthulhu©
This story is set during the War of 1812. The Battle of Queenston Heights has just taken place. I welcome all comments, feedback and votes.
There was an insistent banging on a door and my head throbbed painfully with the sound of each impact.
"Open up! We need the doctor!" shouted a male voice.
I let out a long groan. My wounds no longer hurt, but every loud noise was agony. How had I become drunk? Searching my memory, I could find no recollection of any alcohol. I remembered charging up the hill, with the Americans firing at my men and me. I remembered the war whoops of our native allies. I remembered running past the General's corpse and I let out another long groan.
There was a burst of light. My eyes were closed, but I could still see the light through my eyelids. I waved at the light as if to somehow push it away.
"He's drunk," said a woman scornfully.
"Well, he needed something to kill the pain. He was hit by musket balls in the arm and in the leg," explained the man's voice.
"A drink will dim the pain, but a bottle will make him bleed! Let's hope you haven't killed your officer, then."
I felt them drag me across the floor and set me, none too gently, on some large flat surface. I drifted in and out of consciousness.
"Remove his clothes, soldier," ordered the woman. There were other sounds that I could not identify.
"I said remove his clothes. I have to clean the surgical tools so I can remove the musket balls and clean his wounds. Unless you prefer to operate on him?" she asked imperiously. This was a woman who could take charge, I thought.
"Uhm, no miss! Where's the doctor? Someone in town told me that he lived here."
"Father was taken to the battle to care for the wounded. I don't know when he'll be back. Now remove that man's clothes so I can save his life, soldier!"
I felt tugging, then coolness and then nothing.
I felt a cool breeze upon my bare shoulders and face. Opening my eyes, I was surprised to find I was inside a house. I was lying in a comfortable bed and sunshine lit up the room, although none of it was shining directly on me. There were small portraits upon the walls, which I assumed were images of various family members of whoever owned this house. The wallpaper had a pleasant pattern that I was unable to identify. It was odd how little details jumped out at me.
I examined the other furnishings in the room without stirring. The room had the appearance of belonging to a well-to-do family. A portrait of the king on the wall told me that I was still in Upper Canada.
At least I wasn't captured. I assumed one of my men had taken me into Queenston to recuperate from my wounds, but I could not hear muskets or cannon. There was a twinge and then my leg throbbed painfully. My shoulder was sore as well, but other than that I just felt weak. I licked my lips, as I was very thirsty.
"Oh, you're awake, Lieutenant."
My eyes darted to the open doorway and I spied a vision with long, blonde hair and light blue eyes floating into the room. She wore a light blue dress and her delicate face showed much sympathy for my condition.
Definitely not on the American side then, I thought.
"We were so worried you wouldn't survive when the fever took you." She placed her palm on my forehead and shook her head, making her hair swish back and forth pleasantly. "You still have a bit of a fever, sir, but I daresay that you will be well by tomorrow."
I opened my mouth to speak, but my tongue was too dry, as was my throat.
"Now you shush! You're in very good hands, Lieutenant. And I think you'll find that the ladies of Upper Canada can take care of brave officers who lead charges against heavily fortified Yankee positions. Rest and we'll soon have you ready to rush back to battle. But, before you leave you'll have to tell me all about your adventures," she added with a sparkle in her eyes and a mischievous smile on her lips.
She leaned over, kissed me briefly on the forehead and then seemed to float out of the room.
I licked my lips again and tried to call out for water, but no words escaped my mouth. I drifted off into sleep where I dreamed of a cool stream that flowed near the manor of my boyhood. My elder brothers and I had often gone swimming in the sections that pooled, but on this day I lay on the bank and drank up as much of the refreshing liquid as I could.
I awoke around dawn. The room was lit with a pale glow that gave all surfaces in the chamber a ghostly, luminous look. For a brief few seconds I wondered if I had succumbed to my wounds, but my throat was just too dry for me to have shuffled off my mortal coil, as the bard wrote.
I slowly pushed myself up to a partially sitting position and looked about. There was a glass of water off to my left, on a nightstand. Acquiring the treasure either meant stretching out with my wounded left arm or rolling over on to my wounded left leg to reach it with my right hand. I felt unprepared for either option, so I lay back down and examined the room again.
It looked just as before, except the room was darker.
After a few minutes, I sighed. My body felt as though it had slept enough for the time being. I wondered what to do with myself. I considered the battle on Queenston Heights, reviewing it again in my mind. Had we made mistakes? Why hadn't the bulk of the American forces crossed the river? Those that had were so few in number that they proved almost equal in strength to General Brock's forces. If the entire American force had attacked, then the day would have been lost, the Americans would be in control of the Niagara Frontier and I would likely be dead or held prisoner.
Too many questions about why the battle happened as it had. Too much despair over the loss of the General in that valiant charge to retake the cannon on the hill.
I had little faith in anyone but Brock defending Upper and Lower Canada from an American invasion and now he was gone. Only Brock had realized the error in allowing the Americans the right to move weapons and men across Lake Ontario during the brief peace a few weeks earlier. Only Brock could have taken Detroit without the loss of a single man. Only Brock could impress the native allies sufficiently to use them effectively against the Americans. Had Tecumseh and his forces given up the fight following the death of Brock?
There were too many thoughts that led down a road of unending despair for my muddled brain. I tried to direct my mind to more positive thoughts.
An image of my hostess came to mind. Her smooth complexion and fine features belied her upbringing in this borderland of the British Empire. I would have expected to have met a young lady such as her at a ball in the English countryside. She did have a bit of an accent, but with her fine figure it added a touch of exotic allure, much as it would with a pretty French girl.
I guessed her age at sixteen or seventeen. Perhaps a little young for a man of my thirty-two years, but apparently girls in the colonies often were married younger than that. Then I remembered that as the Doctor's daughter, she had been the one to treat me upon my arrival in her home. I could not imagine a woman so young being so capable. I corrected my estimate of her age to eighteen or nineteen, a proper age for a Lieutenant's bride. I shook my head at such idle, foolish and impudent thoughts. I was under her roof, had been shown nothing but hospitality by her and I should not think such things of a respectable young lady who was nursing me back to health.
I looked about restlessly in the growing light. There were the sounds of others stirring in the house and I wanted to be in the proper frame of mind when my hostess returned to my recovery room.
I spied movement in a corner, where two walls met the ceiling. I peered and finally recognized a spider, busy spinning its cobweb home. I watched the creature, dutifully intent on its work. It amazed me that I had not seen such beauty in the natural world before. This creature stubbornly went on crafting and creating, only God knew how, in a world torn by war. It was ignorant of men fighting and dying. There was a message here if I was smart enough to decipher it.
An hour later I heard the clicking of a woman's shoes in the hall and then, "what are you staring at Lieutenant?"
The young woman had returned and she followed my gaze until she too saw the spider. She left the room and promptly returned carrying a broom.
"Don't worry. I'll get rid of the pest." She tried to bat down the cobweb, unsuccessfully, as it was beyond her reach. "I don't understand. Abigail is usually fastidious in her cleaning. Many's the time that she's given me a good scrubbing..."
"Stop," I managed to rasp out, at last.
She stopped her attacks upon the spider and slowly turned to the bed.
"Water," I whispered, nodding to the full glass on the nightstand.
The girl set down the broom and silently walked around the bed to the nightstand. She picked up the glass and tilted it to my lips. I sipped the liquid, wetting my lips, tongue and throat. Then I gulped down the remainder.
"I don't understand why you didn't drink it yourself." She put the glass back on the nightstand and put her palm over my forehead. "Your temperature seems fine."
I cleared my throat. "The wounds prevented me from reaching for it or rolling myself within easy reach of it."
"Oh, I am dreadfully sorry, Lieutenant. I really should have realized. Do you need any more?"
"No. I'm fine for now. I'd prefer you leave the spider alone, miss. It hasn't done me any harm."
She smiled prettily, showing perfect teeth. "Yes, I suppose it isn't much of a threat to a man who leads charges against an overwhelming enemy, even if he is sorely wounded. I am Barbara Aimes, Lieutenant. My father is the local doctor."
"I am most pleased to meet you, Miss Aimes. I am Lieutenant Lawrence Orr."
"I am pleased to meet you, Lieutenant, although I would have preferred our being introduced at a social function, I think. What does your father do, if I may ask?"
"He is Lord Orr, a minor noble back in England. I am his third son. My eldest brother, Richard, will inherit the title, lands and family wealth. My second brother, Frederick, is in law and politics, while I was given sufficient funds by my father to purchase a Lieutenant's rank and am now doing my best to serve our King."
"The son of a Lord," whispered the girl. She curtsied.
"Please, don't do that. You are my hostess and I owe courtesy to you. I am thirty-two years old with no prospects of such wealth as my father enjoys. And I will inherit no title," I added, to clarify my situation to this young woman.
"Well, sir, I am an eighteen year old woman, born in Upper Canada, and I have no hope of wealth or title unless I happen to marry into it. I think your chances far outweigh my own."
"I had thought you younger, miss."
She lifted her chin. "I turned eighteen in August," she said haughtily. Then she turned a friendlier look upon me. "Although, very soon the married women will start to call me a spinster."
"I should think there is little danger of you becoming a spinster, Miss Aimes."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. But, I must admit that my father intimidates the local men and I currently have no suitors." Her eyes sparkled in the new morning light.
"There is always hope, Miss Aimes," and she took on a thoughtful look. I wondered, was there really still hope of holding back the American invasion?
The blonde girl gave me an appraising look and then smiled. "Abigail will be up shortly with your breakfast, unless you prefer me to feed you?"
"No, Miss Aimes, I imagine you have many duties to keep you busy. Perhaps we'll talk more, later today?" I felt that her charms were doing much to buoy my spirits.
"I'll consult with Abigail after your breakfast and we'll talk if you're up to it."
Barbara smiled at me, then turned and strode out of the room. I admired both her figure and her gracefulness and then wondered who Abigail was, as I drifted off to sleep.
I felt a cool hand upon my brow and woke quickly.
"Calm yourself. You're safe, Lieutenant," said a woman's voice. The voice was more mature than Barbara's, but sounded similar.
The woman lifted a cool cloth from my forehead and eyes. She was fair-haired and pretty, although not quite as much as Barbara. Also unlike Barbara, this woman wore plain work clothes, with an apron across her front and had her hair tied tucked under a working woman's cap.
"You're still warm. Do you feel up to some broth, sir?"
"Miss, I would very much like some food, but I suppose some beef is out of the question."
She smiled at me. "I'm Abigail and, yes, beef is out of the question right now. Your fever seems to have returned." She looked at me with evident concern.
"It's a good thing I'm under the care of a doctor's capable daughter then, isn't it?"
Abigail looked down at the floor and then reached to the nightstand and brought a bowl and held it over my chest. The aroma made my mouth water. I opened my mouth and my caretaker began spooning the delicious liquid in.
Once the bowl was empty, Abigail wiped my mouth dry and then sat expectantly.
"That was very good. Did you make it, Abigail?"
"Yes," and again she glanced at the floor.
"I haven't eaten so well since I was last at home."
She looked back at me and her eyes flashed. "You are a terrible liar, sir. I am sure you have had much better than watery broth since you were last at home. You seem fit enough so I'm assuming that you are used to meat and vegetables morning, noon and night."
I smiled back at her as I was enjoying this banter. "Maybe I'll be here long enough to sample one of your dinners. I am not happy about lying in a sick bed while my men may be fighting for their lives. I suppose a decent meal would make up for it."
She stood and smoothed out her apron with her hands. "I can do better than a decent meal for one of the brave officers risking life and limb to protect us from the depredations of the American menace," she said sarcastically.
"You sympathize with the Americans?"
"No. I sympathize with the poor men sent to fight and die while those who sent them stay safe abed in their homes. I have no sympathy for this war between neighbours. We had friendly dealings on both sides of the Niagara River, Lieutenant. At least, we did until hostilities broke out."
"England stands up against a tyrant. America chooses to strike us when our back is turned. I share your sympathies for the men under me and even for the men on the other side that I must kill, but this war is necessary. I will not stay safely abed in England and then think myself accursed."
"I wonder if Henry's men knew the full reasons as to why their King declared war on France?" Abigail tapped her chin in thought. "Do you know all the reasons for this war? I do not! I do know there are some nasty men in Washington who think it easier to send others out to increase their own private hoards. I also know that most of the Lords and Ladies in England likely did not think once about the welfare of Upper Canada until the Americans threatened to take it from them and the King."
"While I am enjoying our lively debate, Abigail, I do feel weakened and I petition you for an armistice."
She approached my bed and put her palm over my forehead and frowned. She held my cheeks and then examined my hands and fingers. Her frown grew.
"I have been foolish. Your fever grows worse as I talk nonsense. A man fresh from the battle knows far more than I do about the war, Lieutenant," she conceded.
"Could you inform Barbara that I will not be up to conversing for..." and I slipped into unconsciousness as Abigail stared at me with deepening concern.
I heard an angel reading from the Bible. I listened and with my mind unfocussed, I thought the reading took on a musical quality. It was the only thing I could sense while surrounded in blackness.
Am I dead, I wondered? Cast into the pit for killing my fellow man and a single, beautiful angel attempts to resurrect me into everlasting glory?
The realization that I was in bed with a fever came to me. Barbara's sweet voice was calm, soothing and acted as my anchor. It kept me from drifting off into oblivion. Was the world really such an easy place to leave when such melodious sounds came from a woman's soft throat?
I stretched the fingers of my left hand and then whispered, "hand." I felt a need for a second, more physical anchor, to keep me secured to this world.
My fingers felt odd, as if they had swollen. I was still able to feel her soft fingers gently touch my own and then a hand wrapped compassionately around mine. Her voice continued unabated.
My eyelids fluttered. The room was shadowy, lit only by a single candle that was nearly spent. How close did I come to having my own wick snuffed out, I wondered?
Abigail was snoring softly in the chair beside my bed, her chin upon her chest.
I regarded her briefly and was disappointed that the mistress of the house was not watching over me, and then I chided myself for my selfishness. It was only natural that the maid should watch while an exhausted Barbara slept. I could well imagine the doctor's daughter watching over me for hours and then finally turning her duty over to another.
Licking my lips, I looked to see if my arachnid friend was still there. After a few minutes I spied the cobweb, but the small creature that had made it was doubtless hidden within or out on the hunt. The thought was comforting.
I felt hungry and thirsty, but did not want to wake Barbara's faithful servant. Closing my eyes, I was soon sleeping soundly.
"It's a beautiful morning, sir, and high time you waked yourself." Barbara threw open the curtains, letting sunlight flood the room as I clamped my eyes shut. I gradually opened them to find the girl staring at me with a big grin on her face. Her blonde hair glowed from the morning light, forming a halo about her head.
"I feel better, Miss Aimes," I said with no small amount of surprise.
"Your fever has broken, likely for good. You are going to recover, Lieutenant," she clapped her hands with glee as if this were the happiest news that anyone could have heard.
"Thanks in no small part to the tender care of the doctor's daughter, I am sure. Is there something to drink?"
She lifted the glass and brought it to my lips. When I had drunk my fill she returned the half-empty glass to the nightstand.
"You make a good nurse, Miss Aimes."
"Please call me Barbara." She sat in the chair. "You said you would tell me of the battle."
"I'm sorry to refuse my hostess, but I am very hungry. Is there something to eat?"
The young woman leapt to her feet and quickly looked about the room. "Oh, Abigail has not brought any food for you. I'll go fetch you something." There was a flash of her yellow dress and then Barbara disappeared down the hall outside the room.
I sighed and struggled to remember if I had such energy when I was eighteen. She seemed almost frantic at times and then I remembered that she was eighteen and unmarried. To such a woman in British North America the status of old maid was fast looming and having an unmarried British Army officer staying in her home for a short while might be seen as a golden opportunity. She was sweet, amiable and beautiful, the qualities that I had long thought most desirable in a potential wife. She had tended my injuries with great care and skill, indicating a clear and practical mind. She would be worth getting to know better, I decided.
Barbara returned with another bowl of broth and a frown. "I had thought to bring you something more substantial, Lieutenant, but this was all that was available."