To Seek a Newer World, Part VIII

Samuel hadn’t bothered to tell him to hurry. He was the most gifted surgeon at Mansion House and he knew how long to make the incision, how deep, what was required. Jed had run the few block from the hospital to the dock, paying attention to his breath, where his feet hit the road, her name Mary Mary Mary driving him, ignoring the darkness that grew deeper regardless of his choice. I would stay with you he had told her when the sun shone and it had made her happy, that the truth was a promise, and now he was breaking it, his promise, her fearful gladness, he would be too late to beg forgiveness.

It was a shock to see her face framed by the plain bonnet, the paisley shawl he’d given her glowing in the torchlight. She had never worn it before for him to see and he could not help the satisfaction that he had been right, how it suited her, how she suited it. Someone passed in front of him and he pushed by, afraid she would not be there, afraid she had not.

“Mary?” he shouted through the crowd. He saw when she realized it was him, the subtle change in the angle of her jaw, the slow way she dropped her gaze, her relief, her exhaustion.

“Mary!” he repeated, at her side now; she was propped up on a makeshift stretcher, half covered by the counterpane that had been on her bed when he left in the morning. Her hands were bare but he saw something dark on her left wrist, carved black beads like unmatched lace cuff. The right hand trembled and he could hardly keep from raising his own to touch her face, to check her pulse, to pull her into his arms so she might lay her head on his shoulder. “Mary, I came as quickly–”

“Sir!” An older woman in a drab bonnet and travelling cloak interrupted, her tone the firm chaperone, a Massachusetts duenna, ready to defend Mary’s honor from the strange officer on his knees beside her.

“Step aside, she’s my patient! He—she was released without my permission, she shouldn’t be out of bed,” he cried. Mary made a low, pained sound and he laid a hand on her cheek without thinking, assessing her fever; it had returned, not dangerous yet, but there was nothing at hand to mitigate it, his black bag left in the carriage. “She’s feverish, she needs—get a moist cloth, some water, and hurry!” Command outweighed anxiety in his tone and the woman left to fetch something he’d asked for.

“I’m here, I’m right here, Mary,” he said and she reached a hand towards him, catching his open coat.

“I thought I might not see you again, too late—he made me go, I didn’t want to, he didn’t care,” she replied, nearly rambling, her eyes bright with tears. Jed felt anger towards McBurney that was so vast, so encompassing that it blotted out everything. He understood what the men meant when they talked about a battle lust, a frenzy for murder as he never had before. Then Mary’s hand slipped from his coat and the fury was overlaid with an overwhelming urge to protect her, a potent, compelling gentleness he hadn’t known he was capable of.

“If I’d know, oh! I never would have left you, never, I’d move heaven and earth to keep you with me,” he exclaimed urgently but softly, surprised to see her old amused smile for a moment as she murmured,

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