clayton street

To Seek a Newer World, Part IX

“I want a furlough for two weeks’ time,” Jed said, without any greeting or preamble.

McBurney sat at the desk that had been his only a few weeks ago, a position he had yearned to be free of and now regretted losing. If he had remained chief, Mary would be lying upstairs in her bed, Sister Isabella watching over her until he could come up, an empty bowl of broth on the bedside table. He would be hurrying through the paperwork because she was waiting for him and if she were sleeping when he found her, she would be turned to the chair he occupied, her plaited hair revealing her pale face, looking like the young girl she had once been, her sleep untroubled. But a letter had come with Summers’s promotion and he had blessed it, unwise enough to rejoice at the prospect of only practicing medicine and sorting out the separation from Eliza. Now, McBurney was the chief and had used his power to deceive Jed, to send Mary away, resorting to subterfuge since he could not succeed in challenging Jed directly. Why McBurney had been so insistent in forcing Mary to leave was a mystery, one Jed frankly didn’t care about solving; he only wanted to get to Mary as quickly as possible and to make sure she was safe and properly cared for. There were limitations to what he could accomplish without being her husband, but he was willing to use every other resource at his disposal and he had several.

“I believe you forget yourself, Captain Foster. You have not made a report about your visit to the General, nor have you inquired about the state of Mansion House in your absence,” McBurney replied, stroking a finger along his jaw. “Nurse Hastings has been back for hours—I might consider your late arrival consistent with you abandoning your duty…desertion, if you will.”

“I want the furlough,” Jed repeated, his left hand in a fist. He would not be drawn into any irrelevant discussion about the pox-ridden General, whether Byron Hale had managed to complete two or three amputations today, anything that derailed him from his only purpose.

“You want? It is not your place to make demands of me! I am your superior officer, though you might prefer to forget it, shamed to be commanded by a man younger than yourself,” McBurney exclaimed, his left eye twitching as he slapped his hand down on the desk’s blotter, making the inkwell shake.

“I don’t give a damn about any of that. You will give me that furlough or you’ll have my signed resignation from my commission within the hour and only one surgeon left in this God-forsaken place!”

“This is about that woman, isn’t it? Mariya—the Baroness? Shall you tell me again how she is only your patient? How your concern is simply that of any physician?” McBurney said. His color was up and his eyes were shining with some malicious glee, as if he savored impugning the reputation of woman uniformly known to value honesty, goodness and principles.

“I see. I’ll have my resignation on your desk within the hour then. Dr. Hale will have to decide which of my surgeries he’s prepared to take on tomorrow,” Jed declared. He wouldn’t waste any more time when it was better spent planning his departure, packing up and meeting with Samuel and Miss Jenkins, as Mary would want him to. Mrs. Garland had agreed to stay with Mary in Washington City for a few days but she could not tarry longer than that.

“Come now, you’re not going to throw over everything for her, Foster. It’s pointless, in any case—it’s out of our hands, your and mine. If she dies, it’s God’s will and there’s nothing you can do about it,” McBurney answered, beginning with some pathetic attempt at manly conciliation, devolving to a tired platitude about God that had never been a comfort to anyone and could not obscure the man’s expectation of Mary’s death. Jed had been making every effort to keep his temper in check, to complete his interview with his savage fury banked, but the airy way McBurney said it if she dies undid all dams. She had been getting better, perhaps more slowly than he wanted to see, but it was the abrupt expulsion into the night, with only a tired, inexperienced woman to try and keep her alive until the dawn, that endangered her so; McBurney’s action might be a death sentence for the sweetest, best woman Jed had ever met, the only woman he’d ever love. If she died—Jed could not allow himself to peer into that abyss but he knew he would follow her, though he would let the needle take him and not a bullet like that Rebel. He would take his chances that it was only death that was needed to unite them or death then would swiftly, helpfully, blessedly end the desperate hurt of being without her.

“If she dies, I’ll kill you,” he said.

Keep reading

To Entertain Strangers, Part VIII

Originally posted by therentgirl

He hadn’t want to leave. Miss Green, Mary’s unlikely protégé, had become nearly as skilled as her teacher in observation and conciliation and had seen it. Seeing it, she had paused and he’d understood why she would appeal so to the young Chaplain and why she reminded him of nothing more than a cousin or niece, even a daughter if he had married Clarissa Calvert at twenty the way his mother had wanted him to.

“I’ll watch over her tonight,” Emma had said and he had had to cede the chair beside Mary, where he had been sitting the past hour, watching her breathe and sleep, the candle’s guttering gilding her face as it was turned towards him. One hand lay on the pillow beside her and he had wanted to take it in his, as he had held her hand when she lay in the water, barely aware and yet unwilling to let go of him as ice melted around her and the rigors began, too slowly, to subside. And as he had held it hours earlier when she woke herself and he’d told her the only burden was to be without her, the only promise worth making was to keep her close. He was beginning to know without words the texture of the skin at her wrist, how silkily it skimmed the tendons, radius and ulna, the satisfying pulse of the artery, the circumference of the finger he wanted to wear his ring.

Jed had left and sent the telegram, care of Mary’s preferred errand boy, been given the report it was delivered and a message that Isaac sent a prayer for Miss Mary to get well real soon. There had been a small paper sack of lemon humbugs purchased with the penny shyly offered as well, but Jed was confident that Mary would approve of his instruction that Isaac keep them for himself as she was only able to take tonics and broth. He had wanted to lay a hand on the boy’s shoulder in praise and appreciation, but he sensed it would go poorly without the history Mary shared with Isaac, the meals and lessons, the errands and her Yankee accent and manner allowing the boy to accept what he longed for but was rarely given. He’d told the boy to come round the next day to see if there was a chore she needed done and he’d been given a real smile then, full of crooked teeth.

It had been a consolation, that smile, something to hang onto during the leggero tenor tirade McBurney unleashed, some of which Jed forced himself to accept. Not all, though; not when the man threatened again to send her away, when she was weaker than a newborn kitten, when she needed the best care and he needed to be the one who gave it to her. Jed had pointed out that Mary served Mis Dix and not the United States Army, was not McBurney’s to dismiss, and was not his patient either. Jed hadn’t raised his voice but they both knew he was choosing not to and that he’d chosen not to strike his senior officer only hours before. McBurney had stared at Jed, very hard, as if his eyes would dart about wildly without the effort, unable to settle and Jed hadn’t liked the man’s tone when he said Mary’s name, the way he seemed to hiss the s of Baroness, swallow the final n. They’d reached some détente, that Jed might supervise Mary’s treatment as long as it didn’t interfere with the discharge of his regular duties and Jed let the younger man think he had acquiesced to a decision he’d already made.

When he’d returned, she’d been awake, but just barely. She roused herself to talk to him but he didn’t want her to; he knew better than to tell her so and suggested he might read a little. He’d brought along a battered volume of Wordsworth and she’d surprised him with her impulsive remark that she thought he’d prefer Byron’s Don Juan. It had been a rare turnabout to hush her for her impudence and to open to Tintern Abbey and watch how she let her eyes close as he recited. He saw her fall asleep and finished “The Green Linnet,” then let the book fall shut upon his lap. He thought about the telegram’s receipt and how quickly he might expect confirmation, he considered that McBurney might be right and that to send Mary home to Boston could be best for her, to be among friends and relations in an unoccupied city, independent of the Army’s shipments of supplies and the knowledge that the time he spent with her was not given to the boys he’d pledged to save. He understood McBurney wanted Mary gone though not exactly why and resolved to defer any decisions until it was clear what direction Mary’s illness would take; he could not sacrifice her health to his selfish desire to keep her near him but if he could, oh, if only he could!

Keep reading

I have just finished episode 5 & 6 of Mercy Street. And… Oh my god. There had better be a season 3.

Originally posted by yourreactiongifs

Originally posted by webecomelegend

To Seek a Newer World, Part III

Originally posted by sweetrupturedlight

She was watching him from the window when he arrived. He had looked upwards, surveying his new purgatory, his collar improperly starched by the deficient laundress at the boarding house, and he’d seen her, surrounded by shadows, framed by the window like a gilded icon. Her eyes were very dark and followed him as he shifted from one polished boot to the other. He heard whispering, a woman’s voice, as if she leaned over to share a secret with him alone, the scent of roses overlaid with a bitter burnt fragrance and her face shimmered and flickered in his gaze, as if every dust mote around her had been lit at once by the sun. She had braided chestnut hair and she had let it down for him, it tumbled and waved around her shoulders, against the muted calico of her bodice. She raised a hand to her face and touched her lips. The lower one was full and provocatively curved and his name slipped from her Clayton and fell from the window like a flower.

Her name was Mary von Olnhausen but that was not what she was called. Summers had written that, she was a Baroness that the staff called Phinney or even Nurse Mary, without any explanation for the alteration. Neither was her true name—she was Mariya when she came to him in the night, murmuring heresy and subtle treason in between endearments, while her hands traced his lineaments, coaxing him to terrible conclusions she had made a vain pretense to ignore when she walked into his office after the English nurse had issued her own oblique, unnecessary warning. He had gestured to the chair knowing it was her throne, that she beckoned him to her side whether he was willing or not, to be her subject and vizier, to court her favor and subdue her wild nature. She was a flame and he was not sure why the whole place had not been devoured by her wicked, savage light, how he could touch her and still speak. He spoke as if in tongues, the medical training he’d been given trying to assert its hold but she threw it off; when he turned his back, she slipped away and her soul, that dark, intoxicating rose, her eyes made of its ranged petals, hovered in the rafters, surveying him.

They said she was ill, typhoid, the most common enteric, and Foster, that fool, thought he would cure her—as if she were not the fever herself. Clayton alone could hear her singing softly from the white bed, an unending, compelling melody, erotic and annihilating. Foster laid his hands on her but Clayton knew her gaze strayed from the executive officer, sought her servant though he would conceal himself; she insisted she would remain among them and he knew he had only one chance to be free, if he could take it. The ink smelled of her skin when he wrote to Miss Dix, so acrid the words shivered with it but he was strong and he kept writing, explaining what they all believed, how sick she was and how she must be removed. Removed was the word he wrote but he meant wrested and exiled though the hand that did not hold the pen stroked his temple as she had, as he had wanted her to. He had had to wait days for a response and he had found she was irresistible. If she did not come to him with the twilight, he found himself outside her door. There were times when he was sure it was all a miasma, the conjuring of an over-worked mind but then he heard Mariya calling and calling and he knew he could be victorious if he acted boldly, sending her into the wider world to come apart like mist, little by little and then all at once she would never have been and those dark eyes would not be his most devastating solace any more.

To Seek a Newer World

She had never considered herself an especially devout woman. It was simply that she believed and had little trouble seeing God’s mind made manifest around her; He was present and removed at once, in air that became breath and the numbers and radii that tacked down the world. Her worship was for her small self and not Him. Similarly, she had never found herself called to pray, considering that she had been given all she needed and unconvinced there would be a voice who answered. It was the illness, the threat not of death but abandonment, had catalyzed her alteration. She had not been able to bear that she would be sent away, away from Jedediah most importantly, but also from her duty, her vocation, the self she had become at Mansion House and so she had been praying every moment she was awake, praying to God that she would get well and return to her previous life. And that Jedediah, unused to looking at her in this way, would not see.

Where, when had she learned all the prayers that filled her mouth, that made a melody in her mind of the clamorous terror that possessed her? Her church was not given to elaborate invocation and her mother would have described the intricate strings of words Mary whispered to be showy and prideful but still, she must say them. There were fragments of the nuns’ novenas and rosaries, like pearls that had become unknotted and restrung and psalms Henry Hopkins had turned to his own use. And some were very simple appeals with the purity of a jay’s sharp cry—please and Oh God! and help me; these last were on her lips when she woke from sleep, from the dreams that beset her, when the fever rose and the pain she must conceal resumed prowling along her nerves, swiping a claw at her belly before coming to rest at the base of her skull as if the jaws of a lion were there, ready to snap shut and take off her head.

There were hours when she felt she needn’t try so hard to seem well, the recovery Jed and Anne Hastings seemed sure she would make nearly hers; there was a return of clarity to her thought, vitality to her limbs and the rest she had refreshed her. She was able to take up her mathematics, the Gauss that was her old companion, the copies of Crelle her sister-in-law had sent to her from Berlin that Mary had impulsively packed in her carpetbag where most women would have brought another petticoat. She wrote letters to Annaliese and the Freedman’s Society and prepared a report to send to Miss Dix with the innovations she had made and a thorough tally of her successes and failures. If Jedediah came, she rejoiced to be able to talk with him in something like their old way, though she noticed he was careful not to say anything about his marriage, the equivocal state of their own attachment or anything pertaining to Charlotte Jenkins. Mary could not decide if it was because he was being a responsible physician sparing her the demands of an argument or acting like a little boy, trying to avoid anything that might make him unhappy.

Keep reading

To Entertain Strangers, Part III

Major Clayton Ambrose McBurney III was a God-fearing Presbyterian, a physician trained, a Princeton man and Lincoln’s, but he still called what happened to him “his spells,” for all the undeniable allusion to witches and the occult. He could recall no textbook on pathology or lecture from medical school that explained what occurred and any other term—episode, event, alteration, all implied a discrete and quantifiable aspect that he had never experienced; his spells were elusive, pernicious, unfurling like noxious smoke, like the creeping darkness of twilight. He suspected it had something to do with the brain or perhaps the heart, though sometimes he wondered if it were an injury to the lungs that had started it, as he found himself breathless or panting as often as not. He had not bothered to consult another doctor as there had not been one readily available when his spells began and now, he could not imagine revealing them to another soul. He’d be considered mad or a malingerer and he was never sure which would have been worse.

He wanted to get back to the front. It was where he belonged, the field of battle, the charge, the onslaught, the men around him fighting, screaming in full voice for country, for Lincoln, he wanted the press of his men around him, his horse’s flanks a bulwark. In the day, he told himself all this and every night it was a lie. He had at least somehow learned how to stop himself from crying out with the dreams and woke silent and tear-stained, the clotted crimson scenes still present on the ceiling when he opened his eyes. He had found if he stroked the rough wool blanket with his left hand and recited his mother’s favorite Psalm all the way until the last lines “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it,” he was able to leave the War’s freshest hell behind enough to rise and dress. The water in the china bowl stung his cheek; it drained serous and he did not understand why it would not heal. He had thought his superiors used it as a measure of his readiness to return to his proper place. As long as it wept, he would be mired at this hospital in Alexandria.

He had hoped the spells would abate but it seemed they, like the wound on his cheek, would trouble him endlessly. He had determined to fill his mind with the proper running of the hospital and drive them to the edges of his awareness, like the fly that buzzed but never landed over a gangrenous stump, but already he felt the next spell waiting and he saw he had been mistaken. He had hoped he might find a certain companionship with the other surgeons he was to supervise but that had also been a disappointment. Summers was not there to greet him and had left instead an assortment of written reviews intended, he supposed, to guide him but lacking any clear sense of Summers himself, they only served to prejudice him. Clayton knew he had not given them an appropriate review but instead had become overly focused with words or phrases which seemed to shiver on the page to attract his attention. Of Byron Hale, the words “earnest” and “ovine in the extreme,” had conveyed such a sense of the man’s unsophisticated and passive nature than he had nearly expected the junior officer to bleat his responses to the interview. The chaplain had been described as “prodigiously strong of jaw and gaze, his faith apparently uncontestable but so young, McBurney, so very young…” and Clayton had been taken aback to find Mr. Hopkins clearly a man approaching thirty, aged prematurely by the War as they all were, but hardly a callow youth.

Keep reading