The steady drizzle of rain had changed to murky fog in the London night as the hansom cab rattled its wheels over the cobblestones of Queen's Gate Street. The man in the cab peered out at the iron railings of the private dwellings on either side of the wet pavement, almost as if to reassure himself as to the reality of the world about him. The little black bag between his feet caught his gaze. As he brooded down at it, his heart picked up the speed of its beat, making him remember.
"Most extraordinary," he murmured to himself. "Almost frightening. Never had anything like it come over me before!"
Sir Stanley Hawkins shook himself inside his expensive greatcoat and lifted his hands in the pearl-gray gloves to study them. Good hands, they were. Hawkins hands, with long sensitive fingers and strength in their every fiber It was the hands that made him a great surgeon. The hands, the knowledge, and the cold reasoning. Ah, and the breeding, too. That had a part in it.
If it had not been for the breeding, he might have forgotten himself back there in the Armbruster bedchamber, with pretty Edith Armbruster in that thin nightgown, and her husband across the Channel in Bruges on business. Hawkins frowned and shook his head a little.
"Wasn't the intimacy of the thing at all," he said argumentatively. "I've seen females in undress before, dash it. Yes, and without dress of any kind, when I'm operating on them. It was something else. Something that frightens me a little."
He went back over the night, trying to find a clue to the queer dizziness that had swept over him when his scalpel cut into Mrs. Armbruster's pallid skin to remove the tiny cyst. Ah, was it then? Just as the scalpel edge bit into the skin, and as the blood came out? Was that when the dizziness began? Hawkins cleared his throat gruffly.
"Hogwash!" he told himself. "I've cut into females a thousand times in the last five years!"
The cab jolted him, passing the Imperial Institute, only partially constructed on this April night of the year 1888.
"Ought to buy my own gig, just for calls," he muttered, reaching into his vest pocket for his watch.
A little past seven. Late now for his night calls. Ellen will have held dinner, too, he reflected, restoring the watch. His fingers began to tap idly at his knees, and his quick, sharp glances swept the streets.
Sir Stanley Hawkins was still a young man, half a year under thirty, tall and fair, with solid shoulders, and lean in the middle. Years ago he'd stroked the Oxford crew that defeated Cambridge along the Thames from Putney to Mortlake in record time. He wielded a fair foil in the intraclub bouts along St. James's Street. Constant exercise had put muscles on his frame and given him a springy stride. He liked to stop off at the Mask and the Blade twice a week and seek out Lucian Whitmer for a go with the tipped blades. Exercise toned the body, kept it plaint. A man could work off his excess energies with the foil.
"Excess energy," he murmured thoughtfully. "Could have been that. Edith Armbruster is attractive enough, and Ellen—"
He bit off his words, hunching deeper into the leather cushions of the cab seat, darkly. Ellen Langley had not developed into the warmly ardent wife he'd hoped her to be when he married her. Tall and stately enough, and good looking; no complaint on that score. But when it came to bed manners, she was one of the Lord Elgin marbles personified. There must be no revealment of the flesh, no extracurricular caresses, no sportive play.
As a Hawkins, he liked to consider himself beyond the thralldom of the flesh. Still, he was a young man, and healthy. Such things as that momentary temptation in the Armbruster bedroom should not be allowed to occur. Must see young Whitmer more often, he told himself.
The cab was passing out of Kensington High Street and into Welcome Lane, moving past iron railings and swelling bay windows in which the lamps were already lighted against the gathering darkness. Her in Kensington, the clamor of the city died away into the sound of footfalls on lonely streets, the gleam of street lamps against shadows, the touch of wet spring fog on recessed windows. It always gave him a homey feeling just to see those red brick buildings and imagine the roasting lamb and steaming puddings being readied for the evening meals.
He was reaching for his grained wallet as the cab-man tightened the reins, calling down cheerily, "We're 'ere, m'lord!"
For a moment Hawkins paused, as the hansom drew away, hoofs clip clopping and wheels rattling loosely at their hubs, to take the moist air into his lungs. His eyes studied the solid lines of the brick house and he had been in the Hawkins family over a century. Sir Archibald Hawkins had built it, of Sussex redbrick and woodwork for the windows, when the wars with France in the New World had run on endlessly and he had been a physician in attendance on the Crown. His father had practiced here before him, until advancing years, and the gout forced him into retirement, on their Essex farm. Now the Kensington Square town house was his own.
Of course, it had been modernized. The old ornamental niche with its statue of Hermes was gone, with the even slates of the steep roof in its place. The patient's parlor was lined now by wood paneling instead of the Chinese wallpaper that had been the rage fifty years before. There was gaslight in the chandeliers where candles once had burned. Like the Hawkins name, the Hawkins house was solid and enduring.
The door opened to his latchkey and he stepped into the lower hall.
A woman in a black bombazine dress with white falling collar came from the waiting parlor to stand in the draped doorway, smiling faintly. "You're late, Doctor. The first patients will be arriving any moment. And you haven't had your dinner as yet."
"I know, Miss Morley. I was longer than I thought with Edith Armbruster."
As he shrugged out of his greatcoat, his nurse came to help him. For an instant he caught the fragrance of musky perfume. He let his gaze touch Vivian Morley with a latent curiosity, as if he saw her for the first time as a woman.
Vivian Morley was not a tall woman, but she gave the impression of dignity. Her dark hair, black with faint hints of red in certain light, was caught up in a pompadour with a fashionable knot on top, revealing tiny ears fitted with cameo earrings. The bombazine uniform hid her contours, but suggested a slim body. With new eyes, he saw how full her mouth appeared, and its drooping under lip.
"Mrs. Hawkins has already dined, and has retired," she told him, slipping a hanger into the shoulders of his greatcoat. "Cook left something warming for you, I believe. Shall I fetch it into the office?"
"If you'll be so good, please."
She took his black instrument bag with her, moving rigidly within her uniform. Hawkins smiled to himself. Edith Armbruster was having more of an effect on him than he'd anticipated. Until this evening, the new nurse had been only someone who brought him the carbolic spray and tongue depressor when he needed them, or replaced a bandage at his direction. Occasionally, she filled a prescription when he was occupied with an emergency patient. Now he caught himself studying her slim ankles under the long uniform skirt, and relishing the sight.
Stanley Hawkins, he told himself with a laugh, you're becoming a schoolboy in your maturity. Let's have no more of it!
Nurse Morley served him the chicken and dumplings and rice pudding on a tray, placed on his desk. He ate hurriedly. Already the big Molyneux tall-case floor clock in the outer hall was striking the hour, and the office bell was tinkling an accompaniment.
"That will be Elvira Judson," he told the pudding as he spooned up the last of it and reached for the teacup. "Always first, always with some new symptom, always healthy as a young colt!"
This time the trouble was stomach cramps, he discovered as he bowed Mrs. Judson into his office. The food tray was gone, whisked out of sight by the efficient Morley. Well, cramps could mean any number of things. In Elvira Judson's case it meant she'd overeaten of truffles, or fried oysters, or some such delicacy. She'd probably been gossiping with someone who'd had ptomaine and had begun to worry over it.
"There now, a cramp isn't necessarily serious," he assured her, as she sank puffing into the straight-backed chair beside the office desk. If she would lose about thirty pounds and take an interest in something other than her occasional aches and twinges, she might live beyond the turn of the century.
As a good doctor should, he examined her. With half an ear he listened to her prattle, checking his findings. Reassured that his suspicions were fact, he let himself grow expansive.
"My dear young woman," he smiled, watching her simper—she was over fifty and he always suspected she was bald under that mass of yellow hair—"I recommend a little holiday for you. Oh now, there's nothing wrong with you that a weekend with your daughter and her family in Hampstead might not cure. I'll write you a prescription—Nurse Morley can fill it out—and be sure you take a spoonful once a day before each meal. Stay in Hampstead a fortnight. Give the air a chance to ease your humors."
The prescription call for sugar mixed well with water and colored by a little chemical. He made no charge for this medicine; the only reason he subscribed to its use was the fact that the patient who needed such a placebo always felt better when she took it.
Then Elvira Judson was gone, gushing, thanks, and little Jamey Hallowell was in the chair, his face drawn against the pain in his chest. This was a serious case, and Sir Stanley Hawkins became a different man. He strongly suspected that Jamey Hallowell was suffering from heart disease.
"Still get the chest pains? Are you always tired?"
Hallowell nodded eagerly, his lined face creased in hope. "I get dizzy, too, Doctor. Sometimes I have to leave my job and go home."
The father of five little children, married late in life, Hallowell had been a coal miner in Wales in his youth. He still worked hard as a dray-man, delivering coal.
"Take off your shoes. I want to see your feet."
The feet were swollen, and now Hawkins was certain of his early diagnosis. But what could he do about an ailing heart, except counsel rest? Earnestly, he wished there were some way to examine a patient, look inside his body, perhaps, to verify external findings with internal evidence.
He sighed. Could he tell him the truth? Ask him to give up his job and let his heart rest as he rested his body? The Hallowell family must eat, and the tired little man in front of him was its only support.
"You've got to be easier on yourself, Jamey," he said thoughtfully. "I'd advise you to change jobs, if you can. Oh, I realize it isn't easy."
"Mining is all I know, sir. And driving a dray cart, like I do now."
Hawkins smiled. "It isn't the driving that makes me worry. It's the unloading of the coal bags, each of them sixty pounds or more. The bending, the lifting, the emptying. The continual walking."
The little man with the perpetually dirty face—coal dust seems to seep through the pores into the blood, thought Hawkins—tried to smile. His worry shone through the pale blue eyes.
"It be my heart, sir, bean't it?"
"If I tell you it is, it's only to make certain that you take life a little easier."
"Yes, sir. I knows that." A grimy hand brought out a tattered purse, but Hawkins waved it away. Hallowell chuckled, "Ah, I know. You'll bill me, Doctor. But you never do, you know. And I bean't a charity case, believe me."
"Never said you were." Hawkins frowned seriously. "I rarely bill before I've completed my treatments, Jamey. That's all."
"Oh. Yes, sir. And—God bless 'ee, Sir Stanley."
Now Lucian Baltrick was in the chair, faintly frowning, leaning forward anxiously, watching the doctor's pen scratching across the prescription pad. Curse the woman who'd come up to him out of the shadows that fortnight ago in the stews off Whitechapel! Never sick a day in his life, and now this!
He murmured his thanks rather shamefacedly. "Don't know what came over me, Sir Stanley. Knew her for what she was, damn my stupidity. I'd been at the Duchess of London. That's my only excuse. Imported French can-can dancers. Black stockings and those transparent bloomers! Enough to tempt an Anthony!"
"The Duchess of London?"
"In Whitechapel. Regular den of vice, believe me. Go there every once in a while. Cook makes the finest curried chicken in all London, and the ale is strong and tangy. Might have been better for me if they'd do away with the show they put on, though. Let a man keep his head, that way."
The Duchess of London and can-can dancers in black stockings. Hawkins felt a secret, wicked yearning to see such dancers just once. For all his thirty years, he'd always been a righteous man, denying himself holidays at Bath to study Simpson on Anesthesia, or keeping in the city during the long lazy summers days, when everyone else was out of town, to commit page after page of Johnson's Diseases of the Kidneys to memory, and become familiar with Lister's new antiseptic spray until he could fit rubber tubing in his sleep and smell carbolic wherever he went. It might be fun to see the can-can danced.
Nurse Morley was in the room now, bringing Stephen Ambersley with her. The young earl was a malaria case, contracted in India during his army service along the Manipur-Burma frontier three years before. He would need quinine and lots of it, and if the young fool had any sense at all, he'd go north to Scotland for a long vacation. Hawkins sighed and reached for his prescription pad.
The tall-case clock in the outer hall began to chime the hour of nine with slow, steady persistence.
Hawkins passed the grandfather clock on his way upstairs, half an hour later. There were no more patients in the waiting room, which would give him a chance to see Ellen before she fell asleep over Beeton's Annual, or the latest novel by Rudyard Kipling.
To his surprise, she was walking about the room. The bedclothes had been thrown back, two pillows propped as backrests, but she had abandoned the clustered-column tester bed to move about the room, from the black walnut chest of drawers to the Renaissance bureau, sorting out clothes. A copy of the Christmas issue of the Beeton's Annual lay across the back turned bedspread. What surprised him most was the fact that Ellen was not fully dressed.
So rarely had Hawkins seen his wife in a state of dishabille that he paused in the doorway, merely staring. Ellen Hawkins was clad in a tight black corset that made her fashionable wasp waist slim as that of a young girl, causing her hips, bulging out below its lace hem, to appear even more full. Above the cups of the bodice, her white breasts were revealed beneath the transparency of pink lace.
She turned suddenly to stare at him framed in the doorway. A flush tinted her cheeks. Unhurriedly she moved to a green plush chaise across which lay a peignoir. Hawkins found his eyes drawn to her long, shapely legs in silk stockings. As she walked, the dependent garters from her corset lifted and fell against her white thighs.
With the wrap held tightly about her, his wife returned his gaze. "Really, Stanley! To come into the room so stealthily! Almost like—like those terrible peepers the bobbies are always arresting!"
Hawkins frowned. "I was under the impression we were married, Ellen. I don't consider it a criminal offense for a husband to like to look at his wife in her more intimate garments. Matter of fact, I consider it only human." He thought of Edith Armbruster and the nightgown in which she had received him. "It just might be that more marriages would be happier if wives remembered that little tidbit of information."
"It's indecent," Ellen Hawkins said flatly, and there was a coldness in her voice.
Apologetically, Hawkins said, "I had no intention of peeping at you, as you put it. I thought you might be drowsing. You usually are, at this time of night. In case you were asleep, I would not wake you."
His wife bit her lip. "You are thoughtful, Stanley. I do appreciate that. I'm in a pet, is all. I lay down to read, but only grew more wide awake. I've so many things on my mind. That theater party with Lord Essex, and the Surrey dinner later in the week. You understand."
Hawkins understood better than she imagined. The world of Ellen Hawkins was bounded by the nursery where little Bobby—Robert Stanley Hawkins, after his father—lay sleeping, by the shopping centers in Soho, by the social events of the winter and spring seasons here in London, and by her complicated planning that would let her be in their Essex beachside home for the first social of the summer season. It was a narrow little world, out of which she excluded all pain and misery. She looked on London and Bath and Essex, their houses and people, as an actress in the Drury Lane Theater might look on the painted backdrops against those lifeless scenes she emoted.
She came forward gracefully, left cheek extended for his kiss.
A muscle in his throat quivered. He would have enjoyed nothing so much as putting his arms about her, taking off the pleated peignoir and feasting his eyes on her loveliness. Even to tousle her carefully coiled hair, making it come rippling down around her white shoulders! To bring a bit of warming port from the cellarette in his study, to put a flush of life instead of a blush of shame in the cheek his lips touched so lightly.
Hawkins sighed, and turned back to the hall. Once, a long time ago, he'd tried something like that. Ellen had fought and wept, and the evening had ended with Ellen lying across their bed, sobbing fitfully, making him feel all sorts of a beast. Now, after seven years of married life, she almost had convinced him that these aberrations in his conduct toward her were signs of an unhealthy morality.
If it were not for the fact that he was a doctor, and knew better, Hawkins would have yielded gently enough to her persuasions. As he often argued with the rector of St. Denys-by-the-Sea, God made man and God made woman, and He gave them bodies and the urge to procreate. In some men and woman, that urge was like must in a bull elephant, driving on to madness.
His gored gaiter shoes made no sound on the thick hall carpet as he moved to the nursery, opening the door and looking in for a moment on little Bobby. He was three years old, with a head covered by golden curls, and a missing tooth making his grin seem lopsided and strangely heart-wrenching. The boy was sound asleep, one arm desperately clutching a wooded doll.
Nurse Morley was at the foot of the stairs when he came down.
"Lady Ashford is in the office, Doctor. She cut her arm when she fell."
The Marchioness of Salisbury was pallid in a striped batiste dress with mousquetaire cuffs at the sleeves and a heart-shaped neckline. The fur boa she affected against the night chill was thrown back over her arms. She was a handsome woman in her middle thirties, blonde and rather heavy-set.
"Stupid of me, Sir Stanley, really stupid." She smiled. "A loose rug made me trip. I put a hand on the table to break my fall and brought a lamp down with me. The globe shattered, and, of course, I cut myself."
As she spoke, Lady Ashford was easing her arm from the puffed sleeve, aided by Nurse Morley. A linen pad was wrapped about the cut a little above her elbow. Delicately, Hawkins lifted off the temporary bandage, gripping the arm tightly.
Blood welled up, and Lady Ashford winced against the pain of his grip, her handsome face slightly contorted. She began to breathe gustily.
"The blood must flow to remove impurities," he told her softly. "What with Louis Pasteur in France and our own Joseph Lister, we are beginning to understand some of the fundamental causes of sickness and infection. Most of our troubles are due to microscopic bodies we call germs. By pressing against the wound and releasing the blood, we free it of any of these germs that may have been on the lamp glass or on your clothing at the time."
Lady Ashford attempted a smile, but pain was in her eyes. Her lips quivered. Hawkins found himself remembering Edith Armbruster. The red blood and the pain, and the sight of her pale shoulders above the lace straps of the chemisette stirred something strange and alien in him.
Almost brusquely, as if to take his mind from him morbidity, he increased the pressure of his fingers. The Marchioness of Salisbury cried out.
Nurse Morley gasped. Glancing up, Hawkins found himself captured by the hungry brightness of her eyes. Her ripe red lips were parted. Her breathing had become faster, almost shallow. For a long moment their glances locked; her tongue slid out to moisten suddenly dry lips, and its glistening redness was a fiery goad to his spirit.
"There," he said softly to Lady Ashford. "I think that will do it. Nurse, the carbolic."
He swathed the cut and bandaged it carefully. "We'll give you a sling for that arm. Use it as sparingly as possible. Let the wound heal. I'll stop by tomorrow to examine it, and change the dressing."
The marchioness slipped her arm into the sleeve and buttoned the striped batiste. Then she was rising, smiling, moving away with the nurse.
Hawkins put his head in his hands, leaning elbows on the polished desk top. For an instant back there, he'd seen something deep in Vivian Morley's eyes that challenged him boldly. A vein of sensuality in hi had risen to that glance. Oh, most decidedly! Honestly, he admitted that he'd wanted nothing so much at that moment as to kiss her ripe red mouth, to kiss until it was bruised and swollen while she struggled frantically but helplessly against him.
"Madness," he whispered hoarsely. "Utter madness!"
The same kind of madness that had come over him in the operating rooms occasionally, when his scalpel bit deep into human flesh. More than once he'd caught himself wishing Robert Liston had never discovered his anesthesia He wanted to hear a man scream out against the agony he was causing him, as men had screamed when his grandfather operated.
He had always put such thoughts away from him instantly, deeming them no more than passing fancies born of listening, when he was a boy, to his grandfather tell tales of his surgical experiences. Now he found that breathlessness alive in him, almost overpowering in its sweet promise.
And Nurse Morley?
He knew little enough about her, except that she'd studied at the Nightingale Training School attached to St. Thomas Hospital, and had been employed for a while at Memorial Hospital, where he met her. When his former nurse left to marry, he sounded Vivian Morley on her willingness to serve him. She was eager enough at the chance: he offered more money than she could earn at Memorial, and her duties would be less taxing. She had been with him a little over three months.
He listened for the opening and closing of the front office door, heard the soft footfalls of the low, sensible shoes she wore bringing her back to where he sat hunched at his desk. He could even hear the rustle of the black bombazine uniform that made her seem as much an automation as the chess-playing doll that had been on display at the Crystal Palace.
She paused for a moment in the doorway to the waiting room. Her eyes were feverish. Then she moved to the medicine cabinet that stood against the wall, beside the washstand and the instrument rack. Her hands went to the bottles on the marble counter, capping them, restoring them to their proper places behind the sliding glass panels.
Hawkins rose to his feet. As his chair creaked, Nurse Morley froze rigid, hands clinging to a strip of linen bandage she was folding. The white cloth was crumpled between her tense fingers.
Drawn by some inner restlessness, he came to stand directly behind her. His eyes studied the up-swept brown hair; the slim neck, the fit of the uniform over her shoulders. Her head was bowed a little as she stared at what her hands were doing to the linen strippings.
"It's rather late," he said softly.
"Too late for you to be going home alone. I'll call a cab. Better yet, I'll go with you."
"I wouldn't want to bother you, Doctor."
"It will be no bother."
His hand was at her throat, closing gently around the smooth skin, knowing the touch of her soft brown hair. Under his gray waistcoat his heart was slamming heavily. The hand moved up to cup the back of her head, the strong fingers spreading, sliding into the thick brown hair.
Fingers twisted in that hair as he brought her back against him so that she fitted his body from knees to chest. His hand turned her face sideways. He stared down at her full red mouth. Her eyes were closed. The long brown lashes lay like tiny fans against her cheeks. Her eyelids had faint blue veins in them.
"Doctor, please—" she murmured.
"What is it, Vivian? The blood? Or the pain?" This was the first time he'd used her first name. He savored it again. "Vivian. A lovely name. It belonged to Vivia Perpetua, the Roman matron who was martyred for her faith. It is rooted in vivere, meaning an animated person. Or a vital one. Are you vital, Vivian Morley?"
Her eyes opened slowly, like curtains lifting on forbidden sights. There were fires glowing in those dark eyes, fires that stirred and warmed him intimately. His hand held her helpless, but her gaze whipped him, scourged him with invitation. Hawkins closed his lips on her mouth, drinking as if from an Elysium fountain.
Slowly he turned her, his palms never leaving the richness of the body they were discovering through the black bombazine uniform. Now she faced him, and her own hands were spread on his back.
"I live in Smithfield," she whispered. "It's a long ride at night."
"All the more reason why I should see you home!"
"Your wife is upstairs."
"This is wrong, Doctor. Very wrong."
His lips were at her soft throat. "Yes, it is wrong. You know it, and I know it. All my life I've done the right things. A man gets tired of goodness, after a time."
"Ah, yes! Yes, I know that feeling!"
His hands came away from her so that she was forced to lean against the marble counter of the medicine cupboard to stand upright. Her gaze lowered. Only by the lift and drop of her bosom did she display the emotion that ate in her.
"I will get your coat," she breathed.
"No. This time I'll get yours. It will be more personal. Ever since I've known you, I've thought of you only as a vague blackness that came and went at my request. Fetching your coat will help me to think of you as a woman."
Vivian Morley smiled.
In an alehouse on Brick Lane, a woman named Emma Smith sat nursing her whiskey, hunched forward a little at the bare-topped table, a shopping bag propped up at her feet. She was in her early forties, with the prettiness that had made her so popular two decades before still evident in her chin and nose and wide white forehead. The black hair tinged with gray that straggled out from under her cloth hat once had been arranged in a fashionable chignon.
She paid no attention to the glances put on her by the dart players at the other end of the room. Time enough for that, later, when she must earn the shillings and pence that enabled her to put bread and cheese and sometimes a little meat in the shopping bag. Right now, at the dinner hour, her body was her own, to warm with a few swallows of whiskey, and some Guinness.
Time was, she would not have had to go out on the fog-wet streets to earn food and lodging. She'd been a respectable woman, she had, with a good future to look forward to, and marriage with strapping Tom Smith. If only Tom had not died, and left her without so much as a pound note to call her own!
Well, things could have been worse.
She tilted the glass up and drained it, signaling at the same time to the man behind the bar for a refill. Dully, she watched the amber liquid run from the bottle into her glass. Her fingers slid a coin across the table.
She could have been blind, she supposed, or crippled with disease.
And she had her memories. Sometimes she thought it would have been better if she had not had the memories. They made what she was now that much more bitter to swallow. Ah, well, a girl can't have everything.
Slowly she grew aware that the man with the apron had not moved away. Looking up, she saw him smiling, his pale blue eyes going over her fleshy body in the cheap dress and open coat.
"I get off 'ere h'about midnight, Em. Want to come up to my diggings for a bit? I'll bring a bottle of the Jamaica rum along if you like."
Her lips twisted. "Sure, why not?"
There would be a few hours between now and then to earn food money and rent by taking a man or two into her own bed, to forget big Tom with some wizened textile worker or a starving sailor off a Thames-docked ship, with the tears lost somewhere in other beds and under other men.