Are You really ready for this?
“I shall not leave!”
Robert sparked a robust response from her at that. “But there is little to see, sir. There is bruising. I could see that when I bathed her. She has some injuries to her chest, so I heard, and possibly broken ribs, but I understood that the doctor could do nothing about that. Apart from that, I do not know what else.”
“Exactly! I do not know either. But a crushed chest? I doubt there is anything so severe or she would not have survived so long, and would have been spitting blood, much more than what I saw! I would suggest to you that not knowing, is all the more reason to be sure, wouldn’t you say? And you will be here to be suitably shocked for everyone, and to object, as I am sure you will.” He seemed impatient and perhaps annoyed at her seeming prudishness.
He looked pointedly at her. “I would prefer your support in this, Sophia, rather than your obvious disapproval. It is misplaced, I can assure you of that.” She could see the steely determination in him and realized that he was not about to be swayed, having come this far.
She swallowed her argument. “I expect that no-one need know, sir, and I shall be here.”
“Of course you will! And you will know exactly what I did and can become as angry and as offended as you please. But later! I shall also expect you to criticize me to my face and tell the rest of the house about me and my callous indifference to the need for privacy, but at least we will have learned what we most need to know before anyone might think to try and stop me. And perhaps your sister will live because of it.”
He noticed their patient’s lips were drying again. “How often did you moisten her lips?” He dipped his finger in the glass of lemonade beside the bed and smeared it across her dry lips as he had done before.
“When I saw them getting dry, sir, and as often as I thought of it.” She moved hastily to do it, recognizing that she had neglected her sister, just as Deirdre may have done in her equally exhausted state, and had invited comment. Deserved, unfortunately.
“Has she had anything to drink, yet?”
“I think Nurse tried to give her something earlier, but I have been afraid to give her anything when she was bleeding from the mouth, for fear she would choke on it, or be sick. The violence of that would be dreadful for her ribs I believe.”
“She’s sitting up almost straight and breathing easily. I doubt that she will choke on a little fluid, and we can see what the swallowing reflex is like when she gets some in her mouth. I would like to see what a few dribbles of water, or that lemonade do for her. Even unconscious men can swallow a little at a time if they are sat up as she is, for there is an instinctive action to do that. But go at it slowly.”
He watched as she dribbled fluid from a spoon to the inside of her lower lip. The patient eventually began to swallow, as reflexes came into play. She had no difficulty doing that. Had he been a religious man he might almost have prayed and given thanks. Everything he had seen up to that point had given him reason to hope.
“I think she is taking it.” She sounded surprised. “She could not take any, earlier, for we tried. Are you sure of this? There was a different look on her face now. One of puzzlement and even perhaps of growing belief, and of trust.
“I am sure of nothing except what I see and know for myself. However, without water and nourishment; especially water, then yes, she will die of that alone, never mind her injuries. It is a good sign, at least.
“I will get you to give her more and we shall see the effect of that on her. She may be able to take a thin soup too, if she handles the water alright, and I think she can. But go slowly, and there will be some dribbling, so you had better get a towel under her chin when I get out of the way. But I shall finish examining her first. I shall not be too long about it, and I need to be sure about certain things, before we go too far.”
He untied her gown at the neck and moved it to reveal her neck and upper body, then slid it down, and completely off her arms.
He was conscious of the sudden tension and sharply indrawn breath of the young woman across the bed from him, at her sister’s exposed condition. Neither her chest, nor her breasts showed any obvious sign of injury other than scraping, and a few minor, but shallow cuts. He breathed yet another sigh of relief. Nothing seemed to be quite as it had at first been described to him. He was conscious of a steadily mounting discomfort from his observer, but she said nothing.
She watched him with concern over what he was doing, and a mounting flush on her face. He ignored her, other than to point out that the patient needed salve on various chafed areas of her exposed body. Now that her nightdress was away from her, he was able to better notice more bruising around her chin and lower neck.
Sophia’s hands had flown to her face in some shock, from time to time, though she could not turn away. He found her response predictable and understandable, though also annoying. He knew better than to say anything.
Her clavicle on each side was still intact. Jessop would not have missed that, but he could have missed much more.
He seemed to take little notice of her in any way other than as a professional physician might do, except that he did not pander to his shocked audience, as a doctor, cognizant of his not offending the family of those he treated, might. He had no time nor patience for such foolishness, and was quite prepared to ignore protestations, though there were none, other than an unusual silence.
Robert needed to see what he could see without any guesswork. He had been interested in the bruising to her chest, considering what he had heard, and whatever injuries he could see from his first superficial examination, but there was little of any injury to see. The first report of the extent of her injuries had been wrong. He began to feel more optimistic. The several ribs that he could just discern below her breasts, and at the side, were not obviously marked in any way, nor out of place.
Her sister was shocked by his confident and outrageously forward actions but felt that she should say nothing. He would likely ignore her, or even eject her forcibly from the room. She had sensed that about him when she had first objected. He was not one to be questioned too closely about anything he had already decided to do. But then, she had given him permission to do this. He did however, take pity on his audience, and draped a towel across her shoulder and chest to hide much of what seemed to be shocking Sophia.
He lifted her exposed arm, examined it and her shoulder, and checked its bones and its movement. He then looked closely at her side where her arm had rested. He placed his full hand on the side of her chest, partially upon her breast, indirectly moving her breast up and out of his way so that he could see and feel more of her rib cage below, and even reveal the outline of individual ribs higher on her body, as he pulled her skin tighter across the side of her chest. She had lost some weight but she still had the same firm breasts he'd remembered.
He was aware that Sophia’s hand had fluttered to her face in alarm at what he did. However, she was managing to control her objections, and he realized that he should not lose patience with her. He would rather have her as an ally than as an outraged enemy. He would not have bothered with a towel if he had been here alone and would have been much more direct in everything he did. He would always be curious about everything to do with her. There was bruising and inflammation, but no breaks in the skin, nor any obvious irregularities.
“I see that there is a bottle of lotion on the bedside table. You should get some on her body here…” he pointed to a slightly reddened area, where her arm had been resting. “And anywhere else that seems dry, and the skin, red and flakey.”
He moved around the bed and did the same examination on the other side as Sophia moved out of his way.
He then placed his hand at the side of her chest and slightly behind her as his other, rotated her shoulder to allow his hand to pass further in behind her, and he began to feel each rib in turn, and to learn something of her backbone. His eyes were closed, and his expression was far away as he sensed with his fingers what he was feeling, though his eyes occasionally opened and flickered to her face to see what that might tell him, or indeed if she made any sound at all from his examination. For the most part, his eyes were closed. He had to feel what he could, behind her, and his eyes would inevitably distract him with what he could see of her. Even a statue would have been distracted by what he could see of her body and breasts, but he put it behind him.
His audience noticed his detachment and his closed eyes and was puzzled by it at first.
He decided he had better give Sophia something to do to keep her anxious mind in other channels. “I think you had better moisten her lips again, please. She sorely needs liquids.”
He sat back as she did that, and then repeated his examination on the other side. After that he removed the towel, ran his fingers several times down between her breasts, putting on more pressure each time, and then checked where the ribs came into the sternum, touching her breasts more obviously with his finger ends to move them aside, and followed the lower ones down, and around her body.
Sophia had run out of objecting to anything he did by then. She could see that his eyes were closed, as he concentrated. He was in another world, one which incorporated only her sister and him, but not her, though he was certainly aware of her presence.