Torrport Scotland, September 1705
My heart stopped when the ugliest man I’d ever seen grabbed my arm in the alley. I tried to free myself from his grip. I couldn’t. My mind seized with fear. I screamed. There was a voice nearby, then another. His grizzled face turned away to see. I yanked my arm away. My feet knew best and I ran and ran till I reached the infirmary and collapsed on the floor. I had never been so frightened, even when facing death. It was his face, familiar yet awful, like meeting the Devil and finding you already know him.
I lay on the floor awhile, admiring the recently dusted ceiling and walls until guilt overcame terror and I set to work on my daily tasks, which along with endless cleaning, included booking the doctor’s appointments, and helping organize his day. It was work, satisfying work, and it paid well.
Doctor Andrew Mitchel wore sadness rarely. But today he did, watching her leave the Torrport infirmary. “Such a shame. ‘Tis tragic,” he muttered. “The loveliest of girls, but her fair body harbours foul, feminine perfection doomed to fade as autumn comes.” He gloomily threw the hand-cleaning cloth he’d been using in the laundry basket. “Outward form doth inward truth hide, right Jocki?” Andrew mused while scratching the unfortunate diagnosis in his notebook.
“Aye, I suppose sometimes.”
“And sometimes it doesn’t?” his chuckle contradicting the grim look on his face.
“Sometimes heather is just heather.” I too chuckled, but at my poor attempt at wit.
With that, Andrew barked out one of those laughs that made him sound deranged. Then suddenly his eyes dropped from my face to legs. “You don’t wear stockings?”
“Umm, nay. They…they catch on the brambles, you see.”
“Well at least you are clean. Now let’s get at it. Many more patients to see today.”
She was sitting on the dock, legs dangling over the edge, her body leaning on a dock post and tilting forward like she was about to fall in the water. I’d just finished my infirmary chores, when I saw her there limply holding the fishing rod which was wagging her arm to and froe. She is that opinionated, annoying, and all too clever French girl who looks a bit like a squirrel with her protruding front teeth. She often acts like a rodent too with her near constant chirp and chatter. She is Genna Barbier, my good friend and fellow adventurer.
“I think you caught something,” I said steadying her shoulder, lest she fall.
“Quoi?” she startled as though waking from sleep, then regrettably let go of the rod which immediately fell in the water.
“Think you had something there…too bad,” I said as we watched the rod being dragged away from the dock by whatever was attached to it. Genna arrived this summer past. Her English is better than my French that’s for sure, but sometimes when she is flustered, she lapses into what she calls Franglish. It often is amusing, but this day not so much.
“I hope she lives,” she muttered.
“I can try to get it with that rowboat.”
She shrugged. I took that as a Oui and jumped down to grab the oars and get to the rod before it was too far away. In a few strokes I was close enough and leaned over the gunwale, grabbed the rod, then handlined as fast as I could. Whatever was on the other end had different ideas and bravely fought till I had it inside the boat. It was a lovely plump seatrout. I held it up expecting Genna’s approval but all I got was a look of horror transforming her face.
“Let it go!” she screamed.
“Pourquoi?” I asked using one of the few French words I’d learned. I used that word a lot with Genna, since her behaviour often confused me, like now.
“Look at her face. She doesn’t want to be caught!”
I looked down at the fish, flopping in the rowboat. It was gasping as all fish do when out of the water, but I couldn’t see any other expression. I looked back at Genna. Tears were gushing down reddened cheeks.
“Alright little fishy, you don’t want to be caught, so I’ll let you go. But please be more careful next time.” I held the wriggling fish in the crook of my arm and pried the hook out of its mouth, then plopped it back in the water, all the while wondering what was bothering Genna.
When I got back to the dock, she was hugging the post tightly, her blond hair stuck to the moss and slime. “Would’ve made a nice supper,” I said.
“No, she would have choked me.”
She wound the line around the rod I’d retrieved, then locked it in place with the hook. We sat there for several minutes. Me looking at her, waiting, she with lips clamped shut and brows making deep furrows where they almost met. I was worried. She usually fills the air with non-stop noise. “Umm…anything wrong?” I asked.
“Non, everything she is parfaite.”
She obviously didn’t want to speak with me, so I stood and brushed off my new linen breeches, the ones Mother gave me on my twelfth birthday last month. “I will be off then. Almost time to open the tavern.”
Before she could answer, her uncle, Jean-Bernard Barbier, came out of his framing shop and crossed the dock to us. He’s a massive man with hands so large they seem ill-suited to his trade which requires delicate painting with tiny brushes. He looked at Genna’s fishing rod, then at her, “Where is our fish for supper?”
Genna let go of the post. I helped her up before she replied, “No fish…umm…wanted to be caught today uncle. I am sorry.”
I wisely decided to say nothing but farewell.