The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Barb

 

 

FVictress

A/N: This story is a follow-on to one I wrote several years ago called 'Of Indomitable Spirit' (OIS). It may be best to read that first, but this should work as a stand-alone piece. First person POV. Pre-Lancer.

The blank pages mocked me. How would I ever begin? With mangled limbs and lice? Disease and dirt? Boiled dressings?

It was difficult to envision the male students at Toland Medical College sitting down with bated breath to listen to my treatise on battlefield nursing. Yet Dean Cole was very adamant his fledglings garner some knowledge on the subject from an experienced source. I was here to not only speak for the nurses who cared for the men and boys during wartime, but to argue for a proper program of nursing. Bea should have been chosen from our school to attend this duty except her confinement had left her at hearth and home instead of San Francisco. I thought she had planned it rather well and told her so before Rob and I left for the station and our ipso facto journey west.

I tapped my quill against the ink pot. How would I write about the groans of the wounded, the utter stillness of the dying? The smell of clotted blood?

The matron's bellows echoed with startling clarity: Begin at the beginning! A task easier said than accomplished. Although memories remained quite vivid even as the years passed, the days before the war had simply ceased to exist for me. Much like the patients I cared for, I was not the same person as when I began.

Perhaps the words would come after a bit of fresh air. I turned down the lamp and tiptoed out of our hotel room.

Rob, abed in his sheets, would chide me for going out alone in a strange city. The complaint held no rancor, it had grown to become a game between the two of us. I was obligated to walk out my thoughts, he was obligated to voice his concerns. He waited for me to come back with the peace of a man who knew exactly who he married. And he knew me to be unsettled on this trip.

My melancholia struck at the oddest of times. Whether looking out my kitchen window on a cold, snowy Pennsylvania evening, or breathing the salt-tinged ocean air in spring, it seemed lately that it was never too far behind. I felt so much loss at times, as if my heart beat outside my body. Preparing for the lecture had added kindling to the banked coals.

It was too warm for my Spencer, but the old coat served as a type of armor and I was loathe to leave it behind, despite the vagaries of San Francisco weather. Used to large cities and their tendency to make the common person somewhat invisible, I nonetheless felt rather uncommon, disturbing shopkeepers along the boardwalk who were sweeping out their storefronts to make ready for the day, a few morning laborers shouting over horses and lumber. A dog riding a bicycle would garner less looks. Did no one walk in this city? Perhaps Rob was right after all, but I didn't alter my direction.

The waterfront was my destination, and my blessedly empty bench. A much maligned thing of nicks, scratches and rough knots, it was discovered by delightful happenstance upon a walk three days earlier. It was mine from the minute I saw it, and the views of the bay with its tumbling blues and greys.

A few minutes passed in sitting before I realized I wasn't alone.

There were more bald patches than fur on the creature. A scar ran from its nose all the way around its left ear. If the proverb was true about cats having nine lives, this one had clearly worked its way through six or seven already. It cautiously jumped up and sat imperiously beside me, busying itself trying to lick one eye. Another wounded veteran.

The seals playing in the water caught its attention. The cat watched their every move as I sat in vain trying to find the words.

Seemingly bored after a while, it walked to the end of the bench, looked back at me in a most skeptical manner and leaped off.

I watched the cat as it strolled down the boardwalk.

It found a young man standing outside a storefront, perusing a glass showcase and threw itself at his legs. I held my breath as I could easily see life number eight flittering away.

He surprised me by bending at the waist and scratching it behind the ears. Satisfied the creature had found a new protector, I started to turn away. He straightened, taking off his hat and raking his fingers through his hair. Something was most familiar about his carriage and angular face.

Time skipped a beat, between one second and the next. My owl.

Thoughts hop-scotched their way back to the shabby hospital and the boy who had been sorted wrongly. Did the puckered scar on his thigh cause him discomfort? Was he still affected by raging fevers from the ague?

Our eyes met, he cocked his head in a quicksilver of uncertainness.

Two men hailed him from the store, one very tall and graying, the second colorfully out of place in the bleakness of the morning. Ignoring both of them, his eyebrows arched upwards in surprise.

He was reed thin but filled out, sturdy. Satisfyingly healthy. He strode towards me and sank to the bench with a whisper of pleased shock as if he didn't know whether to touch my arm or talk.

I was overwhelmed. For far too many nights I wondered how he was doing after discharge, if his recovery was in good speed.

His companions caught up and stared at the both of us, clearly not understanding what had just filled the air like the scent of cut flowers. The older man wore a puzzled frown. The younger more hesitant, wary. They were so different, yet obviously belonged together. There was a story there, perhaps part of the reason he had journeyed so far from Boston, but for now I turned my attention to the soldier before me.

"Your hair has grown lengthy, Lieutenant."

He still blushed quite nicely. With a thin smile he leaned forward and clasped my hand. "Murdoch, Johnny…I don't believe I ever told you the story of my nurse."

My heart gave a bump. Something shifted in me and my melancholia drifted away with the sincerity in his deep voice.

It was then I knew my lecture would not be comprised of day to day nursing minutiae but centered on the capacity of men—and women—to overcome. Former Lieutenant Scott G. Lancer, Cavalry, was a stark reminder of that. Surely I could do no less.

Taking a deep breath of clean ocean air, I found I could begin again.

 

 

~end~

Author's Notes:
Toland Medical College was affiliated with the University of California in its early days having combined in 1873 to form Medical Department of the University of California. R. Beverly Cole was the Dean at the time. Sadly, they didn't add a nursing program until 1907 when it offered a diploma program. That being said, its first female graduate of medicine was in 1876.
The first nursing school in America was the Bellevue School of Nursing in 1873, following along the principles set by Florence Nightingale.
Nurses' Week is May 6-12!

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