Every Spare Hand
As soon as the boat was guided onto the sand, Kit pushed her way to the bow and leapt out. She ran head long into the forceful wind, heading for the hospital. She shoved open the door with
both hands and breathlessly stepped inside. The hospital was thick with patients being assessed and allocated a room.
“Kit, where have you been?”
She turned to find Tom regarding her sternly.
“Tom, Finley is missing. We have to send boats out to look for him.”
“What do you mean, missing?”
“He didn’t come back up. He rescued the girl and didn’t come back to me.”
Tom gripped both her arms. “You’re soaked through. Come near the fire and warm yourself.”
“No, I have to go back and look for him. You need to give me a boat and crew.”
“I can’t do that, it’s a miracle we haven’t lost a crew already.”
Kit wrenched her arms free from his grip. “Finley is your friend and you stand here now and tell me you’ll do nothing to find him! What sort of a man are you?”
“Kit, I need you here. There are injured passengers and crew. It’s almost dark outside. I promise you we’ll look for Finley as soon as it’s light.”
She glanced at the darkening sky outside the window, nodded and lowered her head. “I have a spare uniform in the back. I’ll get changed,” she murmured.
“Good,” Tom said. “Be quick.”
When Kit had changed, the Boatswain entered the hospital and asked for Tom.
“He doesn’t have time to spare,” Laura said. “You’ll just have to come back.”
“I can’t, it has to be seen to now.”
“I’m sorry, you’ll just have to wait.”
Laura turned to leave him standing dripping wet in the middle of triage, but he grabbed her arm. “I don’t think you understand, Miss. The passengers and some of my crew have washed up on shore.
They’re not . . . well, they don’t look like they used to.”
“When we can spare the labourers to bury them, they will be sent. Right now, we need every spare hand here. If you have any crew to spare --”
“Listen to me, you foolish whippet of a girl. Those bodies on the beach have been floating around out there for hours, hitting the rocks and having pieces bitten out of them by sharks. Many of them
are mutilated beyond recognition. How do you think the women and children are going to react when it gets light?”
“Oh, I see.” Laura lowered her eyes. “I had no idea. I’ll get Doctor Walker right away.”
“You do that,” the Boatswain answered. He hooked a chair towards him with a foot and plunged onto the seat.
Tom came downstairs with his sleeves pulled past his elbows and his hands covered with blood. He approached the Boatswain who rose from his chair.
“Miss Lafray has gone to fetch spare sheets and blankets. You’ll have to cover the bodies until we can arrange burial for them in the morning. Put them together on the beach and those that can be
identified will need to be seen to by family. It’s the best I can do.”
“That’s good enough, Doc. My crew and I will take care of it, then we’ll come back here to see how we can help.”
“Thank you, Tom replied. “Every room has a patient and we could use the extra hands.”
When the Boatswain turned to leave, Kit stood in his way. “I beg your pardon, but I couldn’t help overhearing what you said to the doctor.” She swallowed hard. “Have you found a tall young man with
wavy dark hair?”
“That could fit the description of just about every male body out there. I won’t know more until light, ma’am.”
“Would you let me see them?”
He shook his head. “Why would you want to do that?”
“I won’t believe he’s gone until I see his body for myself.”
“As you heard, it’s not a pretty sight.” The man took a step to leave, but Kit blocked his way once more.
“Please. Please would you let me see them. I’m a nurse. I’ve seen worse.”
The Boatswain sighed. “Come down to the beach in the morning and ask for me. I’ll accompany you.” He placed his wet hat on his head and left.
Laura tapped Kit’s shoulder. “Tom needs you in the operating room immediately.”
Upon entering the room Kit saw the boy who had not wanted to be rescued lying on the table. Standing at his head was one of Finley’s men, his large hands rested on the boy’s shoulders. On a small
table by the boy’s side was a wooden case with blue velvet lining. The case held an array of knives, a scalpel and a large silver bone saw.
“There’s no good time for this to be your first amputation,” Tom said to Kit. “I need you to hand me the instruments in quick succession. Do you know in what order I’ll need them?”
“Yes. The scalpel to cut through the skin, the Caitlin knife for the tissue and muscle and then the saw.”
“Excellent. There’s no time to waste, he’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Why is his father here?”
“He insisted on it. After losing his wife and daughter he can’t bear to take his eyes from his son. He says he’ll hold his leg down.”
“Do you think that’s wise?”
“You can try to dissuade him if you like, but we’d have to wait to get someone to take his place and this needs to be done now.”
Kit nodded and took her place in front of the surgical case.
Tom approached with a black belt and threaded it underneath the top of the boy’s thigh.
The boy’s eyes darted to meet Kit’s. She took a short stick of smooth wood from the table and leaned over the boy. She brushed his hair from his forehead. “Where are you from?”
“Portsmouth,” he answered.
“Oh,” said Kit, remembering her only visit there and the narrow, filth-ridden streets and the squalor of its inhabitants. “Well, here you’ll have fresh clean open spaces, and the birds, well,
they’re the most beautiful you’ll ever see. Now, I need you to bite down on this.” She placed the piece of wood in his mouth. “I want you to think about sitting on the soft golden sand of the
beach and feeling the warm sunshine on your face with the scent of the ocean breeze in your nostrils. Are you there on the beach now?”
The boy nodded.
Kit stepped back in front of the instruments.
Tom nodded to the man at the end of the table. He pressed down hard on the boy’s shoulders.
His father crossed himself and placed his hands over the boy’s thigh. He fixed his eyes on Tom’s face as Tom took the scalpel from Kit.
The moment the scalpel drew blood the boy grunted and bit down on the wood.
Within seconds, Tom’s skillful hands had sliced around the boy’s thigh. Kit handed him the Caitlin knife and the muscle and tissue were cut down to the bone. Tom’s eyes briefly met Kit’s as
she handed him the saw.
As he drew the saw across the exposed bone, the boy screamed before clenching the wood between his teeth. Before Tom had finished, the boy was unconscious.
“What’s happened?” his father asked. He released his grip on the boy’s thigh.
“He’s all right,” Kit said. “He’s passed out from the pain.”
Tom handed the saw back to Kit and lifted the severed leg.
Finley’s man took it from him and placed it into a canvas bag and left.
Tom tied off the arteries squirting thick streams of blood onto the table.
“See this flap of skin I’ve left here?” Tom instructed Kit. “I’m going to sew this over the stump and make a drainage hole. London surgeons have found it will heal better this way.”
Blood flowed from the table in thick rivulets and splattered onto the floor. Kit lay thick cloths over the scarlet pools.
“Excuse me,” said the boy’s father. He placed a hand over his mouth and ran from the room.
Kit watched Tom complete the operation then pushed the patient into a room where he was lifted into a bed.
Tom, Kit, and Laura worked through the night, until the triage was empty.
Finley’s men lay sprawled on blankets by the fire. They slept next to Clara, curled up on a chair, her eyes now closed to the horrors of the night.
Kit left Clara sleeping. She changed out of her bloodied uniform at her cottage and went in search of the Boatswain. She found him on the beach, the storm now cleared, but with a
strong wind still blowing. Out at sea she could see the bow section of The Sea Empress stuck firmly on the rocks.
“The men are all lying over there.” The Boatswain pointed to the neatly placed bodies at the far end of the long line of victims. “I’ll come with you.”
When they reached the bodies, the wind blew some of the blankets off the victims and onto the sand. Many were blood soaked, their clothing in tatters or missing altogether and the injuries clearly
visible. After viewing a few bodies, Kit decided to walk behind their heads and look into their faces rather than at their horrific wounds.
“This man you seek is your husband?” the Boatswain asked.
“No,” Kit answered.
“Oh, but he must be very special to you?"
“Yes, very special. My daughter adores him.” Kit continued down the row, bending to lift the blanket from the faces when required. Some of the bodies were so badly mutilated they could not be
identified but Kit knew they weren’t Finley. At the end of the row she turned to the Boatswain. “He’s not here.”
“We are still recovering bodies. We will alert you if any of them seem to fit his description. But there remains the possibility that he was taken by a shark.”
“No,” Kit said. “He’s not here, so he’s still alive.”
“There’s little possibility of that considering the ferociousness of yesterday’s storm. Even the best swimmers could not have survived.”
“You don’t know Finley.” Kit began the walk back to the station.
© Copyright 2022 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.