The Painted Bridge

The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace Read Free Book Online

Book: The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace Read Free Book Online
Authors: Wendy Wallace
Tags: Fiction, Historical
something of human nature even if he knows more of God. Eh?”
    He looked at her, pleased. She felt a sense of disbelief that the interview should be going so awry. She must make him hear her.
    “Listen! There were hundreds drowned that night, all around the coast. I still believe it was right for me to try to help.”
    He shook his head, held up a finger to his lips.
    “A young woman has no reason to think about death. A young woman should contemplate life. Increased life in the case of a married woman like yourself.”
    His gaze shifted to her breasts.
    “When did you last have your monthly bleeding? Do you recall?”
    It had added to her difficulties on the journey back to London. She’d felt the usual relief, despite the jolting pains in her belly, echoing the jolting of the carriage, mile after mile. She somehow couldn’t imagine having Vincent’s child. The eyes looking up at her from the crib, hard and opaque as black marbles. Vincent never mentioned children, which she found odd. Anna shook her head. She didn’t want to talk to this man about it.
    “I see. Suppressed catamenia. Uterine disturbance.”
    “I am well, Doctor. In all respects.”
    “On the contrary. You are suffering from hysteria. Most of your sex do, at some time in their lives.”
    He crushed a blue pill on a scrap of paper with the back of a spoon,mixed it in a tumbler of water. The solution flew round and round, grains descending to the bottom in a slow fall.
    “Oh no, Doctor. I don’t want any medicine,” she said, her hand rising to her mouth. “I never …”
    “Emetics are helpful in cooling the blood, restoring the proper balance.”
    He had stood up, was pressing the tumbler to her lips, holding back her head with the other hand as he tipped the contents of the glass into her mouth. “Count yourself lucky,” he said, addressing the ceiling, ignoring her choking. “Abse believes in restraint from within. There are no shackles here, no bridles. The tea isn’t laced with antimony and you won’t find yourself in the strait waistcoat, unless strictly necessary.”
    She spat out what she could, then swallowed and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. The liquid was bitter on her tongue, undissolved fragments catching in her throat. Higgins sat down again, picked up his pencil and focused on the sheet of foolscap in front of him.
    Anna thought of their doctor at Dover, his kindly prescriptions of syrups and tonics. Morphine, in extremis. Words, sometimes. She pictured his quiet nodding, as his patients told him what ailed them. She had never known a doctor could be a brute. She felt as if the world had spun upside-down, as if she had failed to understand something important.
    Curbing the urge to reach across the desk and grab his lapels, demand to know how this man dared call himself a physician and disgrace an honorable profession. She took a deep breath. Swallowed again.
    “You haven’t given me a chance to explain.”
    The pencil scratched its way across the rough weave of the paper; Higgins’s stomach rumbled.
    “I’ve heard all I need. Good day, Mrs. Farmer.”
    “I told you, my name is Anna Pa—”
    Lovely was back. She pulled Anna from the room, hurrying her up the stairs to the bedroom. When they got there, she said she’d be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail and left again, banging the door shut, running down the corridor in her heavy clogs.
    The fire was out and the room felt dead too, the air still and coldand stale. Anna sat down on the bed and looked at her feet in the pair of shapeless slippers they’d supplied in place of her boots. She felt sick with disappointment.
    The feeling grew stronger. She got up and clutched at the washstand, leaned against the wall then stumbled to the bed to lie down. Waves of nausea rose from her stomach up through her chest, her head. She jumped up from the bed as Lovely rushed in and set down a tin bowl. A stream of liquid spurted out through Anna’s mouth, spattered

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