The new infirmary quickly and happily flourished treating the usual medical maladies. Such as ear and eye infections, sprained wrists and ankles and toothache. Even an occasional birth happened and naturally, death lingered to introduce itself. There was even a small comfortable enclosure prepared for sick animals that the caring brother had erected behind the building. And I had the job of changing the straw! We were graced one day unexpectedly by an unannounced visit from his Royal Highness the duke with his wife. He seemed more interested I noticed in examining and admiring the brother’s unusual medical tools of his trade. The lady Louisa instead kindly asked and talked to the waiting infirm villagers. And offering some unexpected words of comfort to their afflictions. I had also decided when and if I could hopefully very soon teach my little sister – I hoped – the full alphabet. I soon discovered she was a fast learner. And I needed no patience with her in this task. She learned very quickly and in difficult word pronunciations as well.
The brother rather surprised me one early morning when we were again walking through the dense sometimes dangerous forest from wild boars and enjoying seeing all the emerging flora when he suddenly stated for no reason, “Try to travel in the future if you can, Rory because there’s a wide wonderful world out there waiting for your arrival and just waiting for you to discover its many hidden treasures,” he said smiling at me. It then certainly gave me something to speculate about – and not for the first time – about my coming still uncertain future.
Several days later we were informed by a nervous Sgt. at Arms when he arrived at the infirmary to relate to us the shocking news that the duke had suffered a dangerous fall from his stumbling horse that very morning.
Apparently, we heard he had landed very badly onto a jagged tree stump seriously piercing a major thigh muscle. (Medically called Semimembranosus. I know this fact because I was actually a failed second-year medical student in Dresden many years later). The sharp hoof of his falling frightened horse as well had further added to his continued pain, as it had struck him deeply in the chest cavity obviously causing internal damage, then rupturing a major blood vessel ultimately causing a serious dangerous infection).
An hour later we both presented ourselves at the closed castle gates but were surprisingly then denied access. We later learned on the personal orders of the duke’s loathed half brother Wilfred, who had no time or affection for the brother or myself.
But everything suddenly changed the following afternoon when another emissary from the castle arrived with two armed soldiers on horseback. They had been requested by lady Louise herself to bring and escort us both quickly to the duke’s bedroom.
“He is a very sick man,” we were gravely informed by the dukes trusted emissary.
“Please make haste brother Jerome,” he pleaded, then added looking over his shoulder towards me saying, “Oh and I have been instructed to bring the boy.”
I was elated at this command and I looked to the brother hopefully for confirmation … and he happily nodded his approval with a conspiratorial wink of his left now rather bloodshot eye.
He then quickly collected the numerous hospital bags that he would definitely require. Giving me the two smaller ones to carry. And to my later surprise, a small pony trap had also arrived to take us to the castle. This time when we arrived at the gates they were wide open for our arrival into the busy courtyard where we disembarked.
Naturally, this unusual sight brought all the villagers out earlier to gawp and stare at this unusual moving parade passing before them and on that misty sunny day long ago.
On arrival, we were both accompanied by a castle Majordomo to the duke’s sick room. Then passing long dark corridors hung with banners and dusty fading oil portraits usually of hunting dogs and their owners chasing frightened defenceless prey. And many also of scenes depicting forgotten battles fought long ago.
Some of the castle staff whispered as we passed the, ”Oh see tis brother Jerome.” Most smiled at him in awe. And to all who noticed him, he just nodded gravely at them. I could see he was concerned about what awaited him.
The hallways were cold and gloomy with many closed doors I noticed as we passed by.
Yet when we finally followed our escort into the duke’s vast crowded bed-chamber, the heat there was overpowering and almost sickly to inhale. And I of course was very nervous just being there. Never having even been admitted or allowed into the castle’s courtyards high forbidding fortifications before.
But now in this large room there seen prostrated on the crumpled bed cover was the sad sight of the wounded duke. He now lay almost comatose, his eyes tightly closed, his fists clenched. His face etched in pain leaving deep furrows of flesh in his twisted face.
That permanent disgusting odour was now hovering in the room. And with a wash of bodily waste that had prevailed and settled into every corner and then assaulting all of our nostrils. Other aromas such as previous cooking and assorted perfumes added to the mix. Along with fumes of possible Turkish tobacco could also be inhaled. Some preparation of flora aromas and strong selected herbs had been placed into the sick room to offer hopefully an acceptable reviving fragrance for all who stood and waited uselessly in the room. But sadly offered little to revive this depressing room if at all. But now the creeping cusp of death had announced its arrival and hung heavily in that humid bedroom.
I did then notice that to prevent the stink from entering their exposed nostrils, several of the serving young ladies clutched heavily laced handkerchiefs containing bunches of violets very close and inside their nostrils and almost covering their young faces to conceal the smell. But memory can sometimes – and does – perform cruel unexpected tricks on the mind. And I sometimes wonder years later if I perhaps really just dreamt some of what I noticed in that terrible chamber long ago … but I knew I hadn’t. It was all too real and frightening and would never leave me.
And the brother somehow understood after a cursory examination that it did not offer him a favourable future for the now fading duke.
I should mention that I cynically observed all of these hasty proceedings unfolding before him. And perhaps rather like a sadistic Devil’s island prison governor. There stood erect and proud was Wilfred the duke’s half brother, an always unpopular and disliked man, for as long as I could remember. My father had in the past – I was surprised to hear – conducted some illegal business for him. I never knew what, and my mother once referred to him as a dangerous viper. Of course, she had never seen one so far as I knew.
In the next few minutes after nervous permission was granted from the distraught lady Louise, the brother then pulled further back the stained soiled sheet to reveal that awful open raw wound. It was now badly damaged I noticed. But now leaking pus and caked blood had settled in and all around the damaged wound. Obviously, a serious dangerous infection had arrived I noticed, as he drew me nearer to assist him.
He then carefully cleaned the weeping wound with me watching intently and holding a saucer using a special concoction he had created earlier. Then he carefully added a thin layer of treated manuka honey and herbs rather delicately with a shaped wooden spatula over and around that exposed inflamed wound.
“Is my husband going to die, brother Jerome,” enquired the lady with a concerned face as she sidled closer to him? But not hiding her face as the others had with a cloth I noticed. Wilfred had also deliberately moved closer himself as well, probably wanting to listen. His cruel eyes and his ears missing nothing, it seemed to what was happening all around him.
“Only God can answer that question my lady I’m afraid, he replied sincerely with a smile hoping to reassure her.
Then began the almost hopeless task of the brother over the next hour trying desperately now to somehow staunch the life of the dying duke. This would be the first time – that I knew about – he had ever attempted this dangerous task.
“I can at least offer him some needed comfort that he will suffer little pain,” he then whispered a command to me in the small offered ante-room where he had earlier unpacked his medical dispensary.
“Don’t worry young Rory all will be well I hope!”
I suppose looking back now to those long distant days of my past, and who can forget in that reeking chamber. And how would I ever forget that? Those days became the most exciting and yet frightening times of my young life.
And you know I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it. Oh no and I still have never entertained any regrets!”
He paused to study his gnarled hands and chipped nails adding: “You know the mind plays many cruel tricks on an old man did you know? I can just of course remember when my dear wife passed away. But sadly not the year or when my young daughter left home one day to visit a friend, and never to return or be heard of again. Or in what blood-drenched war-weary battlefield on the many plains of Europe, where my son Rolf was killed in action. Of this, I do not remember. Yet I can recall, even today, every frightened face that was displayed with clarity in that castle tableau bedchamber then seen so long ago in the duke’s suffocating bedchamber. I suppose when we all navigate through the many keyholes of our past life, then only to finally arrive at our past life we can see then just so much of it stretched out like an endless widening road before us, that we have conveniently forgotten or just refused to attempt to understand. Or how or why we did such unkind deeds against so many others … and always perhaps fail to understand or remember whatever that reason was that polluted us … It’s all so really bittersweet isn’t it?”
The old man then suddenly sunk into a reverie of his own pulling his thick woollen scarf around his scraggy neck. Now his mind apparently being marooned in the misty memories of a long-gone brutal miserable life he had suffered. He really was now quite simply exhausted and drained of all arriving emotions.
Both women were also drained and exhausted from what they had been hearing and almost painfully living through with him under the hot midday sun. And both felt they had almost lived and survived with him in his previous past painful recitation to them both concerning the kindly yet expiring dying duke. He now being ministered and cared for by the so-called saintly brother Jerome.
To be concluded…..
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell
31 March 2021