She found him in the marsh on a dreary grey morning. He was barely breathing. She’d left the house as early as she could without risking to waken the occupants. They were getting bored and bored men meant danger for one such as her.
In fairness, the stranger might prove as dangerous for her as the men in her house. The devil you knew was often better than the one you didn’t. But, as she crouched near the fallen man, she noticed the withered and faded colors of his uniform. He was one of theirs. That didn’t mean he was better than the soldiers in her house but at least she should help if she could.
When she tried to move him, he cried out softly, a whisper that spoke of unbearable pain. She couldn’t know how long he’d been here; she hadn’t come in this part of the marsh in 3 weeks, which was an awfully long time to lie there alone and wounded.
“You need to move sir,” she whispered to him. “You’ll die.”
The words seemed to spur him into some action; he opened his eyes. They were red with fever and exhaustion. He extended his arms that she might help him up from his prone position. She grabbed him above the elbow and pulled as hard as she could that but he weighed more than she could handle.
“I can’t do it without your help sir.”
He nodded; whatever pain it caused him, he bent his knees and pushed on his feet, just as she pulled on his elbows. She stumbled in the wet earth but didn’t let go until he was standing, tittering really. It was then she saw the wound; her eyes widened. The mortar had left nasty grooves and holes in his leg and it was festering. He might yet die.
“It’s ugly, isn’t it?” He asked, his tone betraying his knowledge. She nodded. “Do you know any Sawbones in the vicinity?”
“Sawbones sir?” It was probably soldier’s slang.
“Surgeon. I mean a surgeon.”
There was one, but it wasn’t one she would bring any friend to. Nor any enemy either to be fair. She liked Dr. Philips but he was a drunk and even more of one since his son died in the conflict. He hated soldiers, particularly those who survived where his boy didn’t. Still, what else could she do?
In the end, it proved the man could no more walk to the surgeon’s house than she could carry him there. He pointed to her house asking if they should stop here. She told him about the occupying soldiers. They didn’t have a choice though; he might bleed to death before they reached Dr. Philip’s house.
So to her house they went, crawled really, in order to avoid the soldiers who may have awakened since she left, unlikely as it was. They were trashed before going to bed. She led him to the cellar. That would give her at least a few hours; afterwards the men in her house would go down and resume emptying it of everything. She still pulled some pickled pork and cabbage soup in a can for him. It wasn’t much but she wasn’t sure she could take anything else without the soldiers noticing. And he may not even be able to eat all of it anyway.
“Thank you miss.”
“I’ll get the surgeon.”
She stepped out, as he leaned against the wall, trying to get some sleep. She cleaned the kitchen and living room, still reeking of alcohol from the night before. She prepared coffee and breakfast that the soldiers may have breakfast if they so wished. Anything to avoid their anger and attention. Mournful she cast a glance to the picture frame on the chest; what would Jason think of her? What would he think if he knew she groveled in order to survive this war? What would he think of their house invaded by the enemy he died fighting?
Maybe, just maybe helping the man in the cellar would make a difference. Or maybe it wouldn’t. She couldn’t tell. But she needed to get the doctor. And she must have a reason to make him come. Otherwise they would be suspicious. She would think of something. She grabbed her basket and left for the market. She purchased some goods she didn’t particularly need, but coming empty handed would raise question. Cautiously she made her way to the doctor’s house.
The doctor was as drunk as usual; but amid the nonsense and his refusal to come he did mention to ‘cauterize the wound’. He also gave her some morphin and something, which name she didn’t catch; to prevent infection. She hid everything underneath the food and linens she’d bought and returned home. To find chaos.
The men had fought over the coffee and bread, causing everything that was breakable in the living room to shatter; from the lamps to the few trinkets she’d managed to salvage and the frame with Jason’s picture. They’d pulled guns and shot at the sofa, they’d wrestled and broke the chest. What would she be left with?
Still she didn’t say a word, as she gathered Jason’s photo and returned to the kitchen to put an apron on and grabbing a broom. Thankfully they didn’t check what was in her basket, busy as they were to fight. She was never more grateful than when their radio entered the room and advised they were expected to meet their battalion twenty miles from there by noon. Suddenly, belligerence gave way to order, drunkenness to organisation. Faster than she could have imagined or hoped, they were ready and out.
“We will be back.”
She knew they would; but hopefully by then, the stranger in the cellar would be well on his way.
In response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle prompt #204
1. Breakable 2. Sawbones ((n.) a surgeon or physician) 3. Marsh 4. Cry 5. Wither 6. Mortar 7. Crouch 8. Latex Gloves 9. Preta (n.)) a wandering or disturbed ghost) 10. Cellar 11. Mournful 12. Cauterize