Victoriana, Alternate years

Sophia's Journal - First Entry

My name is Sophia St. Claire, and as I am beginning my journal, I should very much like to write about my life as a brave adventurer.

Unfortunately, I haven’t an ounce of any trait or characteristic which would serve as an aid in adventuring. I am not a mechanical or mathematical genius. I have only a passing familiarity with the sciences. I am not particularly strong, courageous, or clever. I barely know which end of a sword to hold, and I have never actually seen a pistol, let alone fired one. Even my eyesight has betrayed me, for my vision is so poor as to be atrocious. This alone is sufficient to dash any daring adventurer hopes. Who ever heard of an adventurer with glasses?

Lacking any sort of adventuring prowess of my own, I am obligated to confine myself to reading about the adventures of others. I have read everything that Jules Verne has ever written, as well as “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and a variety of other petrifying books which, unfortunately, a young lady such as myself ought not ever to read. I am particularly fond of the works of Mr. Verne. How I should love to go around the world in a hot air balloon, or see for myself the marvel of the seas, or delve into the mysteries of the earth!

I have no chance of doing anything of this sort, of course, but I have indulged in the purchase of a number of my favorite novels, including the entire works (so far) of Mr. Verne. In addition to this, I have managed to amass a small collection of adventuring paraphenalia: I have a brass compass, several of the most marvelous pocketwatches, a pair of goggles, a little astrolabe, and a variety of other tools and gadgets. I keep these items in a black leather satchel which I fondly call my “adventuring bag,” even though the farthest it has ever travelled is the watchmaker’s shop on Darby street, some five miles from my home.

My family is of the line of the Buckingham St. Claires, and our home is Adelaide. This is not a town, but is name of the family estate. There are several estates around; most, like ours, are so well known that they do not require addresses or explanations. If one was to mention Adelaide in town, everyone would know exactly where it is. Other estates in the immediate area include Bodenham, Belize, and Tioga.

Although it is generally said that Adelaide is located “in” London, it would be more accurate to say that it is located upon its outskirts. For the most part, London is a sprawling mass of residences, so tightly packed that there is no space between them, not even for alleyways in some areas. From its tightly-packed center, London spreads out and its edges become less and less dense, until one is in the country, where houses may have many acres of space in between them. Adelaide sits close enough to London to have convenient access to its interior, but far enough out that it is a proper estate, with lovely grounds and gardens. We own a carraige, which travels to central London every morning. We are so ideally located that Morrison, our carraige-driver, may sometimes make five or six trips in a single day, and think nothing of it.

Father is a barrister, and although his rank is not great, he is a brilliant man, and this makes him a respected opinion in the Halls of Law. He travels there nearly every day, and many mornings I accompany him, at least for the journey into town. This is one of my favorite parts of the day: often we will leave at dawn, when the day is golden and glorious, and spend the better part of an hour talking and looking at the countryside before being rather suddenly surrounded by tall, closely-packed buildings. Adelaide is not far from the docks, and so it is often possible to see the ships in the harbor. How I admire their sleek designs and billowing sails! They are very picturesque from the carriage windows.

While Father goes about his business in the Halls of Law, I like to frequent the Crewe Public Library. This area of town is considered to be a safe and wholesome one for young ladies, and I greatly enjoy my time there. The Crewe Public Library has thousands of books, more than I could hope to read in ten lifetimes; and if I should tire of reading, it is located within three blocks of the Historical Market, which is packed with the most fascinating shops in the world. It is from this market that I have made the aforementioned purchases of books, pocketwatches, and so on. It is commonly frequented by artists, who love to paint upon their easels, and there is a popular gazebo there, where summer quartets often perform in fine weather. I have often enjoyed the music which is played there, and once during Summer Festival, I witnessed a magician make a pony vanish by covering it with a blanket.

Summer Festival occurs annually, and in ancient times was meant to mark the Equinox. Today, the Festival is celebrated all over London in various ways. There are displays of fireworks, and wandering carnivals often stop in town for a few days. It was at one of these wandering carnivals that I met the old Gypsy, who presented me with – Well, I should like to say that she presented me with the start of an adventure, but I quite fear that such a statement would be self-indulgent to the point of untruth.

I went to Summer Festival with my family. This is one of our annual traditions and one which I greatly favor. My family consists of seven members: myself, of course, and Father, and my five brothers. They are, in order from eldest to youngest, Phillip, Stephen, Matthew, Robert, and Ian. There is a large age range among us: Phillip has recently been accepted at University, and I am jealous almost to the point of death; while some wretched soul has been so foolish as to present Ian with a slingshot, which he uses to make the most dreadful terror of himself. The feathers of my sunday bonnet ruined, and then he has the audacity to say that he thought I was a bird! Wicked creature! Father says he shall be a fine young man when he grows up; I say he shall be fortunate to see another birthday if I should discover even one more hole in the brims of my lovely straw hats!

But when this year’s Summer Festival occured, Phillip had not yet left for University, and the slingshot had stayed at home, for I flatly refused that my hat (which was new) should accompany Ian anywhere unless that vile weapon was safely under lock and key. A band of gypsies had set up a carnival, and Ian was absolutely wild to go. Father had his doubts, but Ian was unmoveable, and so it was decided that we should all accompany him.

It would hardly have been the place for a young lady alone, and I should have felt slightly nervous if my family had not been there, but in spite of this I had the most marvellous time. There were jugglers there, who tossed flaming batons in the air as if they were mere trifles; a knife-thrower of the most deadly accuracy; a strong-man who lifted an enormous barbell right over his head; and there was a fortune-teller who would read the tea-leaves left over in the bottom of the cup once one had drunk a cup of tea with her. She was an old woman draped in shawls that were sewn with spangled edges, and I wondered how she could possibly claim to read anything at all, for her eyes were faded, and her vision so poor that she walked with the assistance of a cane.

I was hardly a believer in fortune-telling, but I found myself rather touched when I observed the deference which the other gypsies showed to her. This wasn’t obvious, exactly; but I noticed that there was always at least one of the other gypsies near her tent, as if to watch over her, and they instantly fetched any small trifle which she should require. Their devotion seemed so certain that I told Father I should like to have my tea-leaves read, and although he sighed (Father, being a barrister, deplores those false mystics and wicked charlatans who cheat the populace by their clever performances) he agreed that I should be permitted to go.

The old gypsy woman had a tent with a roof of deep blue, sewn with star-shaped, silver spangles, so that stepping inside was rather like stepping under the night sky. She bade me sit at the table, and asked me what sort of tea I should like. When I told her, she said it was an expensive tea, but laughed when I presented another coin for it, and told me that I was a thoughtful child when I waited to drink my tea until she had also poured herself a cup. We chatted and drank, and she told me the most marvellous stories about the various lands in which the gypsy troupe had travelled in the days of her youth.

At length I handed her my cup, and she took it in her hand and paid it the most profound attention, though I doubted that she could see me, let alone the tiny tea leaves. When she spoke, it was in a voice quite different from that which she had used before, and I had to take a moment to appreciate Father’s warnings about being taken in by a fine performance.

“You want to have an adventure,” she told me, and I blushed to my hair roots, “And so you shall. Your father is a clever man, and you above all of his children have inherited his cleverness. You shall need your wits about you, for you have been chosen to thwart a great evil. On the evening of your seventeenth birthday, go to the man who stands in the light, and there your adventure will begin. You may rise to meet your fate if you choose: you needn’t be jealous of your brother; do as he has done, and the implications will astound all. There will be much resistance, but perservere, and you shall succeed.”

After this she seemed to sink into such a stupor that I was mildly alarmed; but her gypsy watcher came into the tent and, while he told me the reading was over, he also assured me that the old fortuneteller was quite all right, that she would recover her wits in a few minutes, and I needn’t be concerned for her. When I left the tent, Father queried what it was that the old woman had said; but I declined to tell him. I felt that tea-leaf readings, even those taken in the spirit of good fun, ought to be private affairs.

If the truth is to be told, I was quite anxious to have the adventure that the old Gypsy woman had predicted, but the fateful day was nearly a year from the date of Summer Festival. By the time it came around at last, I had forgotten all about the tea-leaf reading.

The day in question was one of those rare days when Father did not have to go into London. However, I had a stack of books which were due at the library. In addition to this, my favorite summer quartet was to perform that afternoon at the Musical Gazebo. The program for the day stated that the quartet had been to Russia during the spring, and that they would be performing several Russian pieces as part of their presentation. I had not heard Russian music before, and was quite interested in attending.

It was arranged that Morrison would drop me off in the morning, and return in the early afternoon. This was not at all an unusual arrangement, for Morrison was often sent here and there to fetch things which were required for the running of Adelaide. That day, in fact, he had a list of things to buy at market.

The morning passed pleasantly enough; but around noontime, there was one of the most dreadful storms I have ever known. It oughtn’t to have rained at all: by the look of the sky in the golden, glorious dawn, I thought I was certain to have a clear and peaceful day. But it wasn’t to be. The storm clouds seemed to roll up impossibly fast; one moment the sun was shining placidly, and the next, it had become so dark that the spark-bearers were obligated to come out and light the street lamps. At two o’clock in the afternoon, the sky was somewhat overcast, but generally cheerful enough; by three o’clock in the afternoon it was all but dark.

In the days after it had passed, there were many who claimed that this storm had been of unnatural origin. I am not a great believer in magic or mysticism, but having witnessed its fury that afternoon, I can certainly understand why these types of rumors took such a strong hold in the imaginations of the general populace. The storm had not been predicted by even the cleverest weather-men; the sailors themselves, who knew the seas and skies better than anyone, were caught wholly unawares. The sky turned black and then almost green; and when the rain came, it came with a fury that I had never before known. Rain in London is usually a placid enough affair; sometimes drops patter down, but never with a great deal of enthusiasm. It is more common to get a foggy or misty day, when the rain comes in tiny little sprinkles that seem almost to float.

But this rain was ferocious. I had read about “sheets” of rain, but I had never seen one prior to that afternoon. The wall of water was so thick and solid that it seemed as if one ought to be able to hammer nails in it, and hang things. I couldn’t see the library steps, let alone the street, and I was deeply concerned about Morrison and the carriage. Naturally the concert was cancelled, but the storm took place around the time that he usually came to pick me up. Morrison was a good man, but he was not young, and it was a frightening thing to imagine he and Edward, our horse, trying to battle their way to the library in such weather.

It seemed as if the storm lasted for days, though in reality it only persisted for an hour or so. By that time, Morrison was definitely late, and I hoped that he had had the good sense to stay put in Adelaide until the worst was over. The sun did not come out again, but it was a relief to see that the shop and market hadn’t been washed away. The street was a river right up to the Library steps, and some of the shop owners were sweeping water out of their parlors, but nothing looked as if it had flooded too badly. The wind was still gusting enthusiastically, and the sky rumbled uncomfortably with the displays of lightning that criss-crossed it; but it was clear that the worst was over. I sat on the bench just inside the library doors, and waited for the carriage.

But Morrison did not appear. The day grew darker and darker, and I became deeply worried about him. I was nearly beside myself by six o’clock. What a wonderful thing it was to see the carriage finally come around the bend about six-thirty!

Morrison and Edward and the carriage were all fine. Morrison apologised profusely, for he had never picked me up so late before. It seemed that the storm had caused a tree to blow across the road, and he had had to unhitch the carriage entirely, move the obstacle with Edward, then hitch everything back up again. Thankfully, Father had forbidden him to travel in such horrible weather, but now that it had passed, he wanted me home at once. It was far too late for me to be out by myself. I quite agreed with this sentiment, and got in the carriage with a good heart.

Unfortunately, the roads leading to Adelaide were in a dreadful state. The library and market were on the crest of a hill. At the low points in the roads, there were several areas that had flooded almost up to the carriage door. Many trees had fallen, and debris littered the roads. Some areas were impassible, and so we had to take a winding, circuitous route out of the center of town. By the time we approached the outskirts of the city, it was pitch black, and the carriage-lamps were smoking fitfully, because we so rarely needed to use them. The road which had seemed so pleasant and fine in the morning was rather frightening in the dark.

Even given the conditions of the road, to this day, I am not certain precisely what it was that spooked Edward.

Like his driver, Edward is an older horse, and I must state here that he has the most placid temperament of any horse I have ever encountered. I have never known him to spook at anything, before or since. He is perfect for a carriage horse, for he likes nothing so well as to trot along the road on a fine, sunny day. In truth, he can hardly be persuaded to gallop; although many horses love to show off their speed, Edward is not one of them. I believe if he had his own way, he should have nothing more to do all day than stand in a field, grazing upon clover, and rolling every once in a while if he should desire a spot of exercise.

He is, however, a creature of some considerable strength and size. He is a breed of Clydesdale, and can pull the carriage as if it didn’t weigh anything at all. This fact was to our detriment when he suddenly reared up on his hind legs, then flew in a random direction as if demons had been at our heels. I could hear Morrison trying to calm him, or at least to steer him, but had no chance of this. I doubt the strong man at the fair could have tugged the reins hard enough to dissuade Edward from going precisely where he wanted to go in that dreadful moment.

And then the worst happened: there was a terrible creaking and the thunderous shattering of wood, and the carriage tipped right over. Two lamps shattered and the other two went out, and we were left entirely in darkness.

It took me several minutes to recover my wits after the carriage had rolled over. Indeed, it took me some seconds to gather myself sufficiently to realize we had stopped moving. I called for Morrison, but got no answer; nor could I hear any sound from Edward. The carriage had tipped upon its side, and I was obligated to climb to get out of the door. There was no moon and no stars, and the lightning which still grumbled by occasionally didn’t really provide enough light to see by. After some fumbling about, I was able to locate one of the carriage-lamps, which had miraculously managed not only to keep a portion of its oil, but also keep the little flint-lighter upon its hook. It lit after some tries, and the scene it displayed was dismal indeed.

There was no sign at all of Edward. He wasn’t a particularly clever horse, but I imagined that he should find his way home once he had calmed down. The carriage was upon its side, but seemed to be mostly undamaged. It was the sight of Morrison that alarmed me so.

He had been thrown some feet away from the scene of the disaster. He didn’t appear to have anything obviously broken, but when I turned him over, he had a lump on his head the size of a teacup, and no matter how I shook his shoulders or called his name, he remained oblivious.

This was a serious problem. Morrison, like most of our servants, had been with us from my smallest childhood, and the size of the lump made me fear for him. I should normally have waited by the carriage until we were found; but I was gravely concerned that he was hurt. This made waiting, either for Edward or for some passing carriage, a matter of the most woeful impracticality. Help would have to be summoned at once.

I did what I could for Morrison. My scarf and my handkerchief made an adequate dressing for the wound for the moment. I detached the other lantern from the carriage, lit it, and set it close to him, upon the largest rock that I could pull over. I pinned a quick note to his shirt, explaining who he was, in case someone found him before I returned; then I took my lantern, and headed down the road as quick as I could.

I should probably have recognized the road in the pleasant sun; but now it was pitch black, I was disoriented from the fall of the carriage, and it wasn’t long before I realized I hadn’t any idea where I was. This was dreadful enough; but I was even more alarmed when I realized that I had walked so far as to be out of the sight of the carriage.

My spirits rose when I saw a light in the distance. We had to be close to Adelaide, and I hoped that the light would be the one which stood at the gate. But I was not so fortunate at this; it wasn’t long before the sound of surf and the smell of salt told me I was near the docks.

The docks! In all my admiring of ships from the windows of the carriage, I had never actually been to the docks – certainly not by myself, and not at night. The docks, particularly at night, were hardly the place for young ladies; but a light was a light, and Morrison clearly needed the attention of a doctor.

The light turned out to be a street-lamp, the only one in the entire area that was lit. It seemed that the storm must have been particularly ferocious at the docks. There were no ships tied at this particular pier; they all seemed to be farther down the bay. But there were branches littered everywhere, and most of those few street-lamps that were present had glass which had shattered, allowing the wicks to be soaked, and thus rendering them useless. A few had been entirely snapped in half.

There was a man under the streetlight, and I approached it with some trepidation; but I felt more at ease when I saw that he wore the uniform of the military, though I didn’t know which unit at that moment. The decorations upon his collar indicated a high rank, and I flew to him without a second thought.

I didn’t wonder that he looked quite startled to see me. It is hardly proper for a young lady to approach a gentleman at any time of day, let alone in the dead of night. But he listened with a grave face when I explained about the overturned carriage and the lump on Morrison’s head. “Where is he?” He snapped in the most businesslike manner, and when I indicated the direction from which I had come, he headed out at once. “That horse probably saved your life,” he told me as I flew along after him, “And leaving a light next to your driver probably saved his.”

He had been running at a good pace, but abruptly he stopped in his tracks. “Get behind me!” He barked in a commanding tone, and a moment later he had drawn his sword. I was startled by the sudden change in his manner.

I don’t clearly recall what happened next, but relate here as much as I have been able to put together from my jumbled memories of the event.

It had been my intention to get behind the soldier, as he had said, but I wasn’t quick enough to do so. A sound attracted my attention, and when I turned I caught a glimpse of the most dreadful face – if it could be called a face – that I had ever seen. It reminded me of nothing so much as a wasp or hornet, with faceted eyes, and pincers where the mouth ought to have been. But it was enormous, easily the size of a man, with arms and legs, and a man’s hands and fingers. The irresistable impression of its appearance made me think that, whatever it was now, it had perhaps once been a man in the past. I was quite petrified with terror at the sight of it.

But I caught only a glimpse, for it was moving very fast indeed. There was the sound of sharp steel cutting the night air, and then an odd crunching noise and a horrifying screech; but this did not seem to slow the creature in the least. I saw my face reflected many times over in the facets of its eyes, and then there was an awful searing pain in my shoulder, and the sound of breaking glass as the panes of the lantern shattered.

After that a gray mist seemed to swirl in front of my eyes. Faces and lights drifted uncertainly in it. Several times I thought I recognized the faces of my father and brothers, and once or twice of the soldier, but they seemed to vanish as quickly as they had come.

When I came back to myself, I found that I was in my own bed, between the crisp white sheets, the morning sun was streaming in the windows, and everything looked as dewy and fresh and friendly as if there had never been a storm at all. I would have thought that I dreamed the entire thing, but the presence of Father and Phillip, and the dull thumping ache in my shoulder, dispelled that notion at once.

Father and Phillip were delighted to see me awake, and over the course of the next day or so, I learned what had happened.

The soldier I had approached was a man by the name of Sir Gregory St. Michaels. He was a retired Colonel, and had spent his career in the Scots Royal Lancers, where he had obtained the most exemplary record of noble service. He had fought in campaigns in Africa and Asia, and had been the recipient of a number of medals for courage and valor. His most recent campaign had occured a number of years ago; there he had been seriously wounded. He had been among a group of soldiers honoured by the King himself; but even such a title as this would not mend a bad knee, and he had retired shortly after the ceremony. He was currently staying as a guest in Adelaide, after my unfortunate mishap.

Sir Gregory had summoned a doctor at once, and a search was started. Morrison and the carriage were found after several hours. There was some damage to the carriage, but very fortunately the most expensive parts, such as the axels and wheels, were not so broken as to be useless thereafter, but would be able to be mended. The door on one side, and most of the roof, would have to be replaced.

The doctor that Sir Gregory had summoned was one Dr. McMillian. He was involved in charitable work in the poorer areas of London, but had served with Sir Gregory during several of his campaigns, and had a number of honors of his own. He had felt Morrison’s head very carefully, and although the bump was indeed enormous, he could not feel a crack or split, and was certain that the skull remained intact. However, Morrison had remained unconscious for nearly a day, and even after he had awakened, he had slept for another two days. Doctor McMillian claimed that he would recover fully, but that it would take a week or thereabouts before he could begin work again.

True to his nature, Edward had trotted home the day before yesterday, still trailing the broken carriage-straps from his harness, muddy but looking quite as if he had forgotten all about the storm. He had thrown a shoe somewhere, but was otherwise unharmed, and was at that moment happily grazing upon the clover in the field where he stayed when he wasn’t employed in pulling the carriage.

As for myself, I had been asleep for nearly four days! It was hardly any wonder that the house was in such an uproar when I awakened. My entire family had spent a great deal of time nervously hanging about my room, and were jubilent that Dr. McMillian was correct in his claims that I would be making a full recovery.

I spent the next several days under the care of Dr. McMillian, and although I was obligated to wear a sling for more than a week, it wasn’t long until I felt quite like my old self.

Father was so upset at the entire incident that at first I was afraid that Morrison would lose his place, but I later found that he was of the opinion that the accident was not the fault of the driver. Nevertheless, he declared that he would hire a new man within the fortnight. I would be permitted to continue to go to the library as usual; but whenever the carriage went back and forth, both Morrison and the new man would drive it. Father did not think it was likely that Edward should spook again, nor did he have any intention of allowing the carriage to be driven about if there was any chance of danger; but if a mishap should occur, I would not be left on my own to try and summon help.

The man who was hired about a week later was a strapping young fellow by the name of John. He had tanned skin and and blue eyes and straw-colored hair, and every maid in the house was absolutely enamored of him. With John to help, the repairs to the carriage, which required much lifting, manuvering and above all hammering, were completed in a trifle.

I had tea with Father and Sir Gregory the following day. Sir Gregory waved aside our thanks as if his assistance had been the most trivial thing in the world. He had the most marvellous stories about the things he had seen on his travels, and I would have greatly enjoyed hearing them even if I hadn’t been in debt to him for my life.

But one thing bothered me upon meeting Sir Gregory again. Although I felt terribly shy around him, the moment I saw him, I instantly disbelieved the story of his retirement. Father told me that he had been wounded in the war; however, the moment I laid eyes on him, I was immediately certain that he also had been bitten, just as I had been.

I hadn’t told Father, or anyone else, of how my shoulder had come to be injured. I hardly believed myself that I had seen a wasp-man or been bitten by one. I probably would have dismissed the recollections as the products of a fevered dream-state, save for two occurances. The first of these was tea with Sir Gregory.

The second was an incident which occured some days later. Morrison himself came to see me. His head still had a bandage around it, but I was glad to see he looked quite well. He wanted to apologize for the accident, but I wouldn’t hear of it. He had spent days terrified that I was angry at him! He didn’t look quite convinced when I assured him this was not the case, but in the end I was so insistant that he accepted my words, and looked relieved.

Before he left, though, he put a small object down upon the nightstand. “I found yer pearl, Miss,” he said.

I picked it up. It was small and gray and round, and did remind me irresistably of a pearl – but something about its texture made me uneasy. It reminded me at once of the Wasp Man. “My pearl?”

“Aye, miss. It was in the lantern, coated in oil. I’ve heard oil isn’t good for pearls, but it don’t seem to be harmed any.”

“Have you mentioned this to anyone else?”

“Bless you no, miss – I haven’t had time, what with John coming aboard and all….”

“Thank you, Morrison.”

He went out, and I set the little sphere aside and had a long think. It wasn’t a pearl – I was quite certain of that. But what was it? At length I made a decision, and waited until Dr. McMillian came in the next day. “You are recovering very well, my child,” he told me with a smile, but I shook my head at him. He never looked at me when he said these things. I had been too sick to care the first few days, but now it seemed as if there was some slight evasiveness in his manner.

“Doctor McMillian, may I ask you something?”

“Of course, you may ask me anything.”

“I am afraid you shall think it is a rather bold question.”

He sat down next to the bed with a confident air. “A bit of boldness is permissable between a lady and her doctor,” he said reassuringly.

From the drawer of my bedside table, I took the small jar in which I had stored Morrison’s find. It didn’t really need a jar, but I had found that I disliked its presence if it was simply left upon the table. “This is an egg… isn’t it?”

If the good Doctor hadn’t already been sitting down, I believe his knees should have folded out from under him. I might have struck him in the head with a cricket bat. For a moment, he seemed speechless, and then he reached forth trembling fingers, and took the jar from my hand. He put on a pair of glasses and examined it in the most intent way imaginable.

When he turned his attention from the jar to me, it was the first time he had really looked at me, in the entire time he had been treating me. “Where did you get this?” He breathed, as if he had just been handed the entirety of the crown jewels.

“My carriage-driver found it,” I told him. “It was in the lantern, coated with oil. I think… I think it’s dead. I think the oil suffocated it. But I think it is an egg, and I think it was meant for me.”

There was a long silence. “What do you remember, my child?” he said. It was the first time he had asked me the question – it was, in fact, the first time anyone had asked me.

It was his first honest question; I tried to give him an honest answer. “I remember a man with pincers, and jewelled eyes,” I told him. “I didn’t injure my shoulder when the carriage rolled over; I was bitten when I was speaking to Sir Gregory. I haven’t told anyone else, lest I should be thought mad. But…” I hesitated for a moment, “But doctors may keep confidences. I think you know what really happened, but you haven’t known how much I know, and so haven’t known how much to say. I think you are treating Sir Gregory for the same malady. And Sir Gregory mentioned that you are involved in charitable work in the less-fortunate areas of London… could that charitable work involve patients who have received venomous bites?”

Dr. McMillian looked at me as if I had suddenly grown two heads. But then he started to talk, really talk, as doctor to patient. He had not addressed me in such a fashion before, but had always dealt with Father.

The shoulder injury was indeed a venomous bite, and he was indeed treating Sir Gregory for a similiar bite. The news was very bad, and it didn’t get better. The venom of the bite wouldn’t dissipate over time, but would affect health and temper. He would have to be my doctor for a very long time to come, unless I had a preference for another physician (I assured him he need have no worries on this account.)

For most people who had had encounters with these wasp-men, the prognosis would be even grimmer. The majority of such persons had been both bitten and stung. It had been Dr. McMillian’s theory that those stung had received an egg, which would, over the course of time, transform them into more of these wasp-men. Prior to our conversation, no such egg had ever been found.

Like myself, Sir Gregory had only been bitten. In his case, the stinger had embedded itself into the thick military boot which he had been wearing at the time. This had saved him from the worst of it; but the egg had been lost. He had had much more difficulty with the bite than I had so far experienced. He had not found Dr. McMillian until he had returned to London more than a year later, by which time symptoms were manifesting themselves. There were days when Sir Gregory had such a terrible time with temper that he felt obligated to lock himself away until he was calm again. It was this problem which had forced his retirement.

Dr. McMillian wished to make a special study of my case. To date, I was the person for whom medical help had been summoned the quickest, and the bite was in the earliest stages that the good Doctor had ever seen. Furthermore, Sir Gregory had taken the precaution of cutting the bite, and sucking out as much of the venom as he could, exactly as if I had been bitten by a poisonous snake. This was an extremely promising development, and although it was certain that some poison remained, at least some of it had not had the chance to take hold.

Dr. McMillian believed that a cure, or at least a treatment, could potentially be developed for such bites. Sir Gregory was on a regimen, but his case was more difficult since it was so much more advanced than mine. Dr. McMillian wanted to begin treatment as soon as possible. He firmly believed that the earlier treatment was begun, the better the eventual prognosis.

My own treatment would begin with an injection of a certain Opium derivitive. I was shocked at this; but it seemed that any effective treatment would require substances of an addictive nature. He had already laid the groundwork with my family; in private, he had told Father that he wanted to schedule an appointment for a certain blood test, and Father had agreed to this. Because my bite was so new, I would require much less of a dose than most patients, and Dr. McMillian hoped that we might be able to entirely avoid any addictive side effects.

This was all shocking and rather dreadful news; but as the good Doctor seemed so hopeful, I didn’t feel it right to allow myself to become too depressed over my prospects for treatment.

A day later, Father came in and told me gently that Dr. McMillian thought I ought to come in for a blood-test, and told me in his most reassuring manner that everything would be fine.

It didn’t work out that way, of course. I knew what the results of the test would be beforehand; but none of my family did. Dr. McMillian quietly informed Father that I was in the early stages of Consumption.

This was dreadful news for them, and over the course of the next few weeks I came to know a great deal more about this disease than I had previously… which, I am sorry to say, wasn’t saying much. No one, not even Dr. McMillian himself, knew a great deal about Consumption. It didn’t seem to be very contagious, and struck both rich families and poor ones in a very even-handed manner. Many diseases were associated with dirt and grime, or with persons of a lesser moral inclination; but Consumption was not one of these. Sometimes it could be a serious disease – serious enough to be deadly – but upon other occasions it could linger for some time, and then leave. It was not unusual that no one else in the household showed signs of it; often it would strike one member of a family or household, leaving the rest untouched.

Thus I have become Dr. McMillian’s patient. I have had one treatment so far, which consisted of receiving an injection of a clear fluid with a small needle. Having heard dreadful stories of the effects of Opium, I expected to find myself floating among the clouds at once, and was very surprised to discover that it didn’t seem to have any effect upon me at all. Dr. McMillian smiled and explained that the dosage was an extremely small one, and that, with luck, it would remain so. He would test my blood twice monthly, and adjust my treatment accordingly. He hopes to give one injection every other month or so, but says we shall have to see.

My family treats me a bit as if I am a china-doll, which I find useful on some accounts, and annoying on others. At the very least, Ian has stopped shooting the feathers upon my bonnets, for which I can feel only gratitude.

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