ISBN – tba
Novel is dedicated to:
Ignaz Semmelweis (1818 – 1865)
and the NHS
The Arrival of Steam
A steam engine pulls two carriages packed with passengers and the railway’s shareholders as it thunders through the Cotswold Hills. All are there to celebrate the ‘first run’ of the railway built and paid for by an enterprising public and shareholders.
Inside a carriage a tall man stands to pass a drink to one of his fellow passengers. Suddenly outside of the carriage there is the sound of a large crowd screaming in horror.
The steam engine flashes by; well wishers on a nearby hill watch in horror as the steam engine’s brakes screech, railway lines bend, a wheel rolls off the engine, one of the carriages sways off the rails, glass windows shatter, metal snaps.
Men, women and children who had gathered to see the first run of the train turn and flee for their lives.
The train slides to a halt, steam floods through the carriage windows, passengers look terrified. Screams, sound of twisting metal and cries for help can be heard off and on the train.
The steam engine now rests in its side. The man who had risen to pass a drink to a friend lies dead on the grass.
The crowd who had gathered to celebrate the arrival of the steam train now scramble to help the injured and recover the dead.
South China Sea
HMS Hyacinth cuts through a rolling sea. She is armed with sixteen 32-pounder carronades, the sails from the twin masted brig sloop billow as she catches a fresh wind.
In the distance flames and smoke rises from several Chinese villages as Hyacinth continues her service in the Second Opium War. She had a proud, efficient crew and an excellent surgeon the Captain liked to boast about.
Ten soldiers lie on the deck, some cry out in pain, a few are bleeding to death. Blood runs over Hyacinth’s main deck and seeps into the wood of the ship.
Mr. Christian, mid teens, blood stains cover his hands and arms as he gives first aid to the casualties on the deck. With some difficulty he carries a bucket of water as he scurries along the length of the ship’s deck; occasionally he stops to give water to weary, tired, dying men.
A soldier’s body wrapped in a white sail is lifted by four battle scarred sailors. They rest it on the top of the ships rail.
A Sailor steps forward to push a needle through the dead soldier’s nose which finishes the stitching of the sail. A short silence, a few words of a prayer, then the soldier’s body is slipped over the side of the ship. It hits the sea hard with large splash, then a silence. For a moment the body floats, the white sheet slips away from the dead soldier’s head revealing his face; hIs eyes are fixed on the cloudy sky. Then he slips quietly into the sea to join his comrades who had died earlier in the day.
A small cabin below Hyacinth’s deck. Neat, tidy, clothes near to the bed. A shirt hangs over a chair with trousers and shoes close by. Nothing is out of place.
Tom Liston sleeps but he is not at peace, he is restless, agitated, the dream of a railway accident sears through his mind.
Tom, full of sweat, wakes violently from his dream. He pushes himself onto his elbows, then sits up. Tom is mid thirties, a handsome man, clean shaven, he swivels around to sit on the edge of the bed. He looks like he needs another twelve hours of sleep; he contemplates the day ahead.
Someone starts to hammer on Tom’s cabin door, which then slowly opens.
A thick set black African man slowly enters, medium height, mid thirties, he looks like he would be useful in a fight. He steps into the room. Sees Tom on the edge of the bed, he quickly moves towards Tom.
Tom moans at him, ‘Francois.’
Francois is alert, bright, he looks like he has been awake for hours, he speaks with a French accent.
‘Get up! Get up!’ Francois puts on a bad English accent, ‘your services are required.’
‘How many?’ Tom asks.
‘Who knows?’ Francois shrugs his shoulders, ’there’s a rumour we’re going home!’
Cool Under Pressure
Tom is a tall man, cool under pressure, never flinches when they are under attack. His staff trust him, nothing is to too difficult when Tom gives an order.
They often joke that Tom would carry on working even if a cannonball dropped into the corner of the room.
Tom hovers above an injured British Soldier who lies on an improvised operating table. Tom’s apron is splattered with blood. He sweats profusely as he fights to save the life of the soldier.
The ship suddenly lurches to one side. Tom and his assistants manage to stay on their feet, continue to work. Suddenly blood squirts from the soldier’s body toward Tom’s face, he sways to avoid being hit. The sailor’s body writhes in pain, then stops.
Tom grabs a wooden stethoscope, he listens to the sailor’s chest.
‘He’s gone! Over the side with him. Next!’ Tom strides across the blood-stained floor.
The soldier’s body is dragged off the operating table. Immediately the body is replaced by another injured soldier.
Tom slips his hands into a bucket of water, Mr. Christian watches Tom as he washes his hands thoroughly. Francois throws Tom a towel, he catches it.
‘I’ve never seen that before, Mr. Liston,’ says Christian.
‘A doctor wash his hands.’
‘Tradition,’ Francois from across the room, a smile on his face, ‘Mr. Christian, it’s a French tradition.’
‘Hungarian’ smiles Tom as he examines the injured soldier who is half conscious, ‘not French.’
Francois mops blood from the floor, he comes to stand by Tom.
‘You still haven’t told me why, in the name of God, you wear odd socks?’
‘My mother’s tradition,’ he replies with a smile on his face. He turns to Christian.
‘Mr. Christian! Water, we’ll need more water!’
Christian grabs a bucket and runs from the room.
A blood covered soldier strapped down to the operating table. He sweats, moans. Tom examines the patient’s mangled leg, he leans over him to whisper in his ear.
‘Be brave, boy, be brave,’ Tom hesitates then slowly leans over the soldier, ‘I can’t save your leg.’
Tom nods to Francois who turns to a cupboard and pulls out a metal saw and a long sharp knife.
Tom takes the knife into his hand then moves towards the patient on the table.
‘Time me gentleman, time me!’
Tom quickly makes the first incision, he works at speed, confident, assured. God knows how many amputations he has performed on this tour of duty. All the days roll into one, has he been away from home for three months or one year….
The previous patient from Tom’s operating table is now wrapped in a sail. Four crew members lift the body and drop it over the side of the ship. It drops with a deep and heavy splash into the sea.
The gulls circle above.
HMS Hyacinth rises and falls through a rolling South China sea. Her route lit by a full moon.
Through the darkness a scream rings out from the ship.
A stone memorial within a wide circle of stones. Three statures adorn the plinth: a man, woman and child. On the side of the plinth ten names, ten deaths remembered for a Railway accident.
Mary Liston, smartly dressed, wears a hat, carries her gloves and a small bouquet of flowers. She is a young woman, mid thirties.
She bows her head, closes her eyes. For a moment she drowns in a sea of emotions. A soft wind blows through the surrounding Laburnum trees.
Mary lifts her head, steps forward to lay her flowers against the plinth. She whispers a prayer, gently runs her fingers over two names on the plinth:
Robert Liston Margaret Liston
Mary turns, pauses for a second then walks away.
A dilapidated warehouse masquerading as a school. A horse and cart are parked outside, a battered sign hangs by a thread on the side of the cart: “Piano Hire, Buy or Sell.”
A mother with her child run towards the school, she drags the boy through the front door.
A classroom door slowly opens and the boy creeps into the room and sits at his desk. He is the last to take his chair. The children are aged eight or nine. They sit at desks which are arranged in a semi circle.
In front of the children stands Mary, confident, independent, warm. She is a schoolteacher who has built her own school from local donations. She starts to move amongst the children who have slates to write on, a few have books. All the children could do with a decent set of clothes.
Mary sees her assistant Anne walk past the schoolroom door.
‘Anne, I disagree,’ shouts Mary, ‘our first principals are …’
Anne shouts back, ‘I disagree…’ She then enters the classroom with pencils, writing pads. As she comes through the door she trips up, drops the pencils, books onto the floor.
The children laugh. Mary helps Anne pick up the books.
‘Learning should begin with the child’s own experience, Anne. We should teach dance, singing…our first principle…’
Their discourse is interrupted by the sound of a large crash down the corridor, something heavy is being moved.
Anne steps back to the hallway to see:
two men pushing an upright piano on a trolley. She turns back to Mary.
‘Excuse me, Mary. I think our first principal is to save the piano.’
Mary moves quickly to the door to see the school’s upright piano being removed from the school. She walks quickly down the corridor to rescue the instrument.
An ageing Mr. Duckett, the local piano tuner, and his young assistant push a trolley with an upright piano perched on the top. They are walk towards the exit.
Mary walks quickly down the corridor to catch up with the men.
‘Mr. Duckett, wait! I thought we had it for another week?’
Mr. Duckett and his assistant stop. He looks at Mary.
‘Sorry Miss Mary, afraid we’ve have an offer.’
‘My brother can pay for it when he returns. How much?’
‘Seven and six a month,’ whispers Mr. Duckett.
‘How much to buy it?’
Mr. Duckett nods to his assistant and they begin to push the piano out of the building.
Mary sighs, returns to the classroom.
A small teenage boy, Oliver, runs out of a shop, jumps on to a small buggy with a horse in harness. He speeds off.
A man in his sixties rushes out of his shop, waves his fist at the departing buggy. He shouts!
‘Oi!’ he then smiles, ‘I want it back in an hour.’
Oliver drives the horse and buggy with skill, he speeds down the street.
After half a mile he is out of the town, he speeds past a disused railway station, half a mile further on he speeds towards Mary’s school.
Oliver approaches the school, he pulls up outside the front door, jumps off the buggy. He rushes past Mr. Duckett and his assistant as they struggle to get the piano onto their cart.
Oliver runs down the school corridor, finds Mary’s classroom and enters.
‘Mary,’ he catches his breath, ‘Miss Mary!’
Mary, a book in hand, quickly turns to face him.
‘What is it, Oliver?’
Oliver coughs, he can’t get his words out.
Mary moves closer to him to see if he needs help. He clears his throat.
‘Hyacinth, she’s back!’
Mary drops her book. Turns to Anne.
‘Go,’ shouts Anne, ‘go!’
‘ Oliver, this is not one of your tales?’
Oliver crosses his heart.
‘Hyacinth is home!’
Mary turns to Anne, ’the children?’
Anne grabs Mary by the arm, drags her towards the door, ‘just go, go!’
The children cheer.
Mary screams for joy; she runs out of the classroom with Oliver.
Oliver drives the horse and buggy at speed away from the school. Mary hangs on for her life as he turns into the main road and narrowly misses running into a beer wagon.
‘Hey…’ shouts the drayman, as he swerves to get out of the way of Oliver.
Oliver and Mary speed on past open farm land, stables, isolated cottages, a small church.
Oliver takes a short cut which takes them past a disused railway station. Mary glances at the station as they thunder down the road on the way to the docks.
Several ships are tied up at the East India Docks; all available space is crowded with tea traders, porters and labourers who push sugar from the West Indies, timber from the North, tea and spices from the Far East.
Mothers, wives, lovers, brothers and children struggle through the traders as they make their way towards the dockside to meet their men who have returned from the Far East.
Oliver is unable to get close to the dockside. Mary can’t wait, she jumps off the buggy, runs toward the ships. Mary runs as if her life depends on it. Dogs bark, young boys with dirty faces call out to her as she runs past.
Oliver stops the buggy and scrambles after her. He runs through the crowd, he dodges past a drunk with a dog, crashes into a trader and his fish cart.
HMS Hyacinth tied up to the quayside. Men have already started to disembark. A noisy crowd cheers, waves, smiles and cries tears of Joy as soldier’s leave the ship. Lovers kiss, families hug, happy to see their men home.
On the deck of Hyacinth Tom and Francois pick up their bags, walk down the gang plank.
‘Thanks for taking care of me,’ murmurs Francois.
Tom smiles, ‘where should I send the bill?’
‘Any tavern in town…’
Francois rummages in his pockets, pulls out a note, he hands it to Tom. It contains the address of a pub:
Lamb and Flag, Covent Garden
‘Come into town, anytime, we’ll talk about the good times….’
‘That will be a short conversation,‘ remarks Tom.
They both smile, shake hands.
Francois throws his bag over his shoulder, walks away. Tom looks around, he had expected to be met. He walks off.
In the distance Mary sees Tom, she shouts out: ‘Tom! Tom!’
Tom looks up to see her, he smiles. Mary runs towards him. He catches her in his arms. They hug and kiss on the cheeks.
‘Thank God you are safe,’ she whispers.
A crew member from Hyacinth who Tom had treated for a minor wound runs up to him and grabs him by the arm.
‘Mr. Liston, thanks for your help, thank you, thank you’
Tom shakes his hand.
The crew member walks away, then turns, ‘if you ever need a favour, look me up…’
Oliver finally makes his way through the crowd. Tom sees him approach, he holds out a hand which Oliver firmly grasps.
‘Oliver, thank you for coming.’
The three of them walk away from the ship.
Mary puts her arm around Tom, ‘how long will you be home?’
‘A few months,’ he replies, ‘how is the school?’
‘I’m back at the hospital.’
‘Good, a safe, quiet life.’
‘Yes, safer than your school.’
Mary gently punches his shoulder. They walk arm in arm.
‘Have you managed to press gang more children?’
‘About a dozen, on a good day twenty.’
Mary looks at Oliver, ‘this one here is still thinking about it.’
‘How was it?’ asks Mary
Tom hesitates, he lies, ’easy, not too many problems.’
‘No, really, how was it?’
‘Same as usual.’
Mary gives up on trying to get an honest answer. They walk away from the ship. Oliver runs ahead towards the buggy.
Mary looks at Tom with her best angry teacher’s face, ’Dr. Liston, you have my permission to take tomorrow off!’
‘And do what?’ he replies.
A woman and her small child run towards the ship to find their man.
A man hides in a narrow alleyway close to Christ Church, Spitalfields. He is mid fifties, a short man, large spectacles. He wears a hat and a well used overcoat which is one size too large for him.
Bingham wears the overcoat more by habit than it being a necessity. Down the street he sees Francois walking at pace towards the church. He steps out of the alleyway, shuffles towards Francois. They meet, shake hands.
Francois and Bingham steadily turn and walk slowly back into the alleyway.
End of extract