Friday, August 10, 2007
The Healing Season by Ruth Axtell Morren
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ruth Axtell Morren studied comparative literature at Smith College, spent her junior year in Paris, France, taught English in the Canary Islands, and worked in Miami, Florida before moving to the Netherlands, where she began seriously pursuing a writing career in historical romance fiction in between raising a family.
It was there she gained her first recognition as a writer—as a finalist in the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Contest in 1994.
Three children and three manuscripts later, she and her family moved to the downeast coast of Maine, where Ruth had spent summers as a child. There, she wrote three more manuscripts, before she got “the call.” Harlequin editor, Melissa Endlich, who had read her entry in an RWA-sponsored contest, offered her a three-book contract for their new inspirational line, Steeple Hill.
Her first book, Winter Is Past, a regency-era inspirational, came out in December, 2003. Recently, Ruth and her family decided to move back to the Netherlands so their children could learn the language and culture of their birth. This year, Ruth’s third book, Lilac Spring, was translated into Dutch. Winter Is Past has been published in Italian by Harlequin. Ruth’s second novel, Wild Rose (2004) was selected as a Booklist “Top Ten Christian Fiction” in 2005. Currently, she is working on her 8th manuscript to be published by Steeple Hill.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Though he'd found his life's calling ministering to London's underclass, Dr. Ian Russell hadn't yet found his life's mate. Then the former army surgeon encountered the enchanting stage actress Eleanor Neville.
Ian's good works and strong faith set him apart from other men Eleanor knew. But despite his fascination with her glittering world, Eleanor feared her notorious past would end their future together before it had even begun. Could true love and faith overcome all obstacles and make their lonely hearts as one?
The sight that greeted Ian Russell as he stood in the doorway of the dark, malodorous room gave him that sense of helplessness he hated. It was in stark contrast to those times when he was setting a bone or stitching up a wound, knowing he was actively assisting a person in his recovery.
This situation was the kind where he knew his pitifully small store of skills would be of little use.
Here, only God’s grace could save the pathetically young woman lying on the iron bed in front of him, her life ebbing from her like the tide in the Thames, leaving exposed the muddy rocks and embankments on each side.
Blood soaked the covers all around the lower half of the bed. Ian crossed the small room in a few strides and set down his square, black case at the foot of the bed.
The women were always young: fourteen, fifteen, twenty, sometimes even thirty—if they lived that long. Women in their prime, their lives snuffed out by the life growing within them. This one didn’t appear to be more than seventeen or eighteen.
As he began drawing back the bedclothes, he looked at the only other occupant of the dim room—a young woman sitting beside the bed.
“Will...will she be all right?” she asked fearfully. He spared her another glance and found himself caught by her breathtaking loveliness. Large, long-lashed eyes appealed to him for reassurance. Strands of light-colored hair framed delicately etched features as if an artist’s finest brush had been used to trace the slim nose, the fragile curve of her cheek, the pert bow of her lips.
He blinked, realizing he’d been staring. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly before clearing his mind of everything but saving the life of the pale girl lying on the sodden bed.
“Can you tell me what happened?” he asked, attempting to determine whether it a miscarriage by nature, or a young woman’s attempt to abort an unwanted life.
As he lifted the girl’s skirts and measured the extent of dilation, he listened to the other woman’s low, hesitant account.
“She had...tried to drink something...several things, I think...but nothing worked. I think she grew desperate and tried to get rid of it herself.” She raised her hand and showed him the knitting needle. “I found this beside her.”
It didn’t bode well. Blood poisoning could already have set in. If the girl contracted a severe case of fever, she’d be dead in a few days. He prayed she hadn’t punctured anything but the membranes.
Sending a plea heavenward, Ian set to work to stop the bleeding.
“Can you remove her stays?” he asked the young woman sitting by the bed. Would she be able to handle what was in store, or was she too squeamish?
The young woman stood and gingerly approached him. As she hesitated, he repressed an impatient sigh. Pretty and useless. Probably a lightskirt, he decided, like the one lying unconscious. His heart raged with the familiar frustration at how easily a young woman’s virtue was lost in this part of London.
But he had no one else to assist him. It was two in the morning, and he’d been summoned from his bed, with no idea what he would find when he arrived at his destination.
The edges of the young woman’s sleeves were stained with blood as if she’d already tried to help her friend. At his bidding now, she leaned over the bed and began to lift the girl’s dress higher. Her hands were shaking so much they fumbled on the lacings of the corset.
“Here, let me,” he said, barely concealing his annoyance. He took one of the scalpels from his case and slit the corset up its length.
It was a wonder the girl hadn’t already miscarried, the way she was bound so tightly. She was further along than he’d supposed.
He addressed his reluctant assistant. “It’s important that we stop the bleeding. In order to do that, I’m going to have to remove the unborn child. Do you think you’ll be up to this? You’re not going to faint on me?”
The woman stared at him, her pupils wide black pools within silvery irises. She bit her lip. “I’ll...I’ll try not to.”
“You’ve got to do better than that.” He tried for the note of encouragement he used with students around the dissecting table for the first time, but his mind was more concerned with the young girl bleeding to death. They had a long night ahead of them.
* * *
Dawn was lighting the interior of the room when Ian straightened to massage the kinks out of his lower back.
He glanced at his young assistant. Her pretty frock was ruined, the front and sleeves spattered with blood.
She hadn’t fainted, he’d give her that, although many times he thought she’d be sick. She’d clasped her hand over her mouth more than once. Now she wiped the perspiration from her forehead with her sleeve, pushing back the damp golden strands of hair that had fallen from their knot.
“The bleeding has abated and her pulse, though weak, is regular. We’ve done all we can for now.” He turned away from the bed to the basin of water to wash his hands.
After dumping it out the window and pouring some fresh water to wash off his instruments, he asked, “Can you see if there are any fresh linens for the bed?”
She started, then glanced around the dingy surroundings. “I don’t know if she would have anything.”
“Perhaps the woman who let me in earlier. Can you ask her?”
She pressed her lips together. “I doubt she would be so obliging.”
“I suggest you find out. Bribe her if you have to. Your friend can’t lie in that bloody mess.” He nodded curtly toward the soiled linens.
The young woman straightened her back and gave him a look that told him the words had stung. It was the first hint of anything other than fear he’d seen in her all night. He’d rarely had such a jittery nurse. He was surprised a woman her age—at least twenty, he’d judge—hadn’t been around a delivery room before.
She left the room without a word.
Ian forgot her as he dumped cranioclast, regular forceps, crochet and hooks into the basin. The water immediately clouded red.
He had little hope the girl on the bed would survive. If the loss of blood didn’t kill her, childbed fever likely would.
The other woman returned as he was drying the instruments.
“You had some success,” he said, noting the folded linens she carried in her arms.
“Not with the landlady.” She laid the gray sheets down on the vacated chair and eyed the bed. “The neighbor upstairs whose boy went to fetch you last night gave me what little she could spare.”
As she continued standing there, he approached the bed. “Here, I’ll show you how.” He began to strip the soiled sheets from under the patient, again amazed at the woman’s ignorance in changing a bed for an invalid. “If you can procure some fresh ticking for this bed later today, it would help.”
She nodded, taking hold of the sheet on the other side of the bed. After they had done the best they could with the limited supplies available, Ian took up the bucket with the remains of the night’s work.
“I’m going to see about a burial.”
Once again the young woman looked queasy. She averted her eyes from the bucket and nodded.
Ian found the lad who’d brought him the night before and had him fetch a shovel.
Out in the small, refuse-filled yard, he dug a hole deep enough to keep stray animals from uncovering it, dumped the remains into it, and filled it with the dirt.
Dear God, he began, then stopped, not quite knowing what more to say. A poor half-formed child, destined for a miserable existence if it had come to term. And yet, he felt the familiar sense of defeat over every lost life, life that hadn’t yet had a chance to live.
Thank You for sparing the mother, he finally continued. I pray You’ll watch over her in the coming days that she might heal. Bless this infant. Welcome him into Your kingdom.
He gave a final pat with the back of the shovel to the unmarked grave and handed it back to the boy. “Thank you.”
“Sorry for getting you up in the middle of the night. Mum and I ’eard the screams. ’Twas awful. Sounded like she was dying.” He sniffed. “Mum’d ’eard as ’ow you don’t charge people wot ’aven’t got ’ny blunt.”
He nodded. “You did the right thing.”
Ian trudged back upstairs. He reentered the room and gathered his things to depart. Ignoring the other woman, he bent over his patient and felt her forehead. If fever didn’t develop over the next twenty-four hours, she had a fighting chance.
Lord, Grant her Thy healing, if it be Thy will. Show her Thy mercy and grace.
He straightened and turned to the young woman who had been sitting by the bedside. Once again he was struck with her beauty. Ethereal and fragile...how deceiving looks could be.
In another few years she’d probably be poxed and coming around to St. Thomas’s to be treated, like so many of the women he saw.
“I’ll be by later in the morning to check on her,” he told the young woman.
“There isn’t much you can do for her now, except keep her warm and give her some water to sip if she wakes.” He handed her a small parcel from his satchel. “This is ergot. If you stir a little in water, it will help stop the bleeding.”
She took it gingerly. He tried to give some words of encouragement but didn’t want to get her hopes too high. “Try to get some rest yourself,” he said simply.
She made no reply, so he gave a last look toward the girl on the bed. What she needed was divine intervention, and he was too exhausted to pray.
Ian departed the room as silently as he’d come.
* * *
Eleanor woke to the sound of low voices. Her maid knew better than to disturb her before noon.
Her eyelids protested as she forced them open. Two men stood by the bed.
Frightened, she sat up, finding herself in a chair. She didn’t remember falling asleep here. Why wasn’t she in her bed?
Betsy! Recollection came back in a heap of nightmarish images. Her friend had been bleeding to death when Eleanor had found her.
Aching muscles in her neck and back shrieked in outrage as she looked toward the bed. The tall, young doctor who’d arrived in the wee hours of the night was standing at Betsy’s bedside now, another man beside him.
He’d come back as he’d promised.
Had Betsy made it? Eleanor couldn’t see past the two men.
Standing, she winced at the pins and needles shooting through her feet. What time could it be? It was difficult to judge from the overcast day visible through the small, dirty window. Had she really been able to fall asleep after all she’d seen last night? Eleanor shook her head as she walked gingerly toward the bed.
Hearing her approach, the doctor turned. “I’m sorry to disturb your slumber.”
She passed both her hands down the sides of her head, trying to smooth her hair. She must look a fright.
“How is she?” she asked, made even more self-conscious under the doctor’s steady gaze, which seemed to miss nothing from her tangled locks to her rumpled, bloodstained dress.
“About the same,” he answered, turning his attention back to Betsy. “That’s good news, actually,” he added, his tone gentler than it had been the previous evening when he’d barked orders like a ship’s commander. Last night she’d put up with it only because she was so desperately frightened for Betsy’s life. The doctor had seemed so competent, never hesitating in his rapid actions, his hands skillful and steady.
But this morning was a different story. Betsy was out of the woods, it appeared, and the doctor didn’t look quite so fierce.
Eleanor wet her lips, considering how to play this scene. The grateful friend...the composed nurse...the weary toiler...
She studied the doctor a few seconds before turning a questioning glance in the other man’s direction.
The doctor answered the unspoken question in her eyes. “This is my apprentice, Mr. Beverly.” The man was only a youth from what she could see.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Beverly,” she said graciously, extending her hand. “Excuse my appearance. Dr…?” She raised an eyebrow to the dark-haired doctor.
“Mr. Russell,” he supplied for her. “I’m a surgeon,” he added, explaining the lack of title.
She nodded and addressed herself to the youth. “Mr. Russell can tell you how we spent our evening. I haven’t had a chance to go home and change my garments.”
The boy was blushing furiously and stammering protestations.
“I would introduce you,” the surgeon said, “but as we didn’t have time for the niceties last night, I am afraid I am still ignorant of your identity.”
“Eleanor Neville.” She never tired of the sound of the stage name she’d given herself. It had the ring of quality. The syllables rolled off her tongue with self-assurance.
“Mrs. Neville,” the youth stammered. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
“Thank you.” She gave a demure smile. It was obvious he recognized the name.
The surgeon made no sign that her name meant anything to him. “Has she awakened at all?” he asked her.
“Once,” she replied. “She was thirsty and I gave her a few sips of water as you suggested with the powder. That was all she could manage.”
He nodded. “Yes, it’s to be expected.”
“I haven’t had time to go home yet. I wanted to ask you—can she be moved? It would be much easier to take care of her in my own house.”
“I’m afraid she has lost too much blood to be moved this soon.”
Eleanor frowned. “I don’t know how often I will be able to stop in to see her. Perhaps you could recommend a nurse. I could pay her.” She turned an apologetic smile toward the younger man. “I must be at work most afternoons and evenings.”
As he nodded in understanding she turned to find the surgeon’s eyes on her. They held a censure that made her wonder what she had said that was so wrong.
In the light of day she saw that his dark hair was actually auburn, its coppery shade deepened to chocolate-brown in the eyes focused on her. Before she could speak, his attention shifted to his apprentice.
The two men spent the next couple of minutes discussing Betsy’s case. Eleanor heard words like erysipelas, necrosis, and blood poisoning. Mr. Russell took the woman’s temperature, felt her pulse and finally said to Eleanor. “Continue giving her the ergot. Also, comfrey tea. It will help bring down any inflammation and stanch the bleeding. I’ll be by tomorrow, but if she takes a turn for the worse, send the boy around again.”
She nodded. “I’ll do my best, but as I said, I must leave her in the evening to work.”
He looked down at her, and again she felt strong disapproval emanating from those dark irises. “Can you not forgo your evening’s activities for one night?”
She stared at him for a moment. Forgo her evening’s performance at the theater? What did he think she was—a mere chorus girl? She glanced at the young man, and seeing his cheeks turn deep red, she felt vindicated. Obviously he understood the impossibility of the suggestion.
She drew herself up. “I couldn’t possibly ‘forgo’ my duties tonight.”
“Are you so popular with your clientele that you cannot give up an evening’s earnings for the sake of your friend here? May I remind you she is still in grave danger?”
Her eyes grew wider.
“Ian,” the apprentice began hesitatingly, “Mrs. Neville isn’t...er...uh...”
As Eleanor glanced from one man to the other in puzzlement, it suddenly dawned on her. The good surgeon thought she was a prostitute! Her nostrils flared as she drew herself up.
Abruptly, she clamped her mouth shut on the set down she was about to give him. Putting both hands on her hips, she thrust one forward, shaking back her hair away from her face.
“Well, I don’t know now,” she drawled in her broadest cockney. “I got me clients, and they ’spect to see me regular. Kinda like yer patients, I should imagine. Wot ’appens if you don’t come callin’, eh? Go to the next quack down the block, I shouldn’t wonder.”
She blew on her fingernails and polished them against her bodice, as she gave the young man a firm nod. His mouth hung open and his eyes stared at her.
“There’re so many gents callin’ theirselves doctors nowadays, a cove’s gotta watch out for ’is business, ain’t hit so, Mr. Beverly?”
“Oh...uh, yes, ma’am.” His jaws worked furiously, as if they needed to catch up to his words.
She began strutting around the room, hands still on her hips, swaying them just as she saw the women outside the theater do. “So, you see ’ow hit is, Doc. I got me rounds tonight, just like you.”
She turned back to them and gave the doctor a long, slow look up the length of his tall, slim physique.
When she reached his eyes, she detected the same stern look he’d worn throughout the night as he’d battled for Betsy’s life. She flicked a glance at the young apprentice. He’d lost his dumb stupor and was actually grinning. He must have figured out she was playacting.
“Oh, we understand, perfectly, Mrs. Neville,” Mr. Beverly told her with a vigorous nod.
“All I understand,” said the surgeon, “is that your young friend’s life is hanging by a thread. Her only hope lies in skilled nursing help.”
* * *
As Ian strode from the building, he experienced the impotent fury he did every time he saw a young woman unmindful of the consequences of her street life. Hadn’t Mrs. Neville learned something from seeing her friend nearly bleed to death?
He clenched his jaw. The woman was more beautiful than she had a right to be. She might be able to ply her trade for a few short years, but then what? If she’d seen the ugly results he dealt with every day from women dying of the pox or clap, she’d rethink her occupation.
He chanced a glance at Jem, his young apprentice, already regretting having brought him. The woman had enthralled him in a few minutes of conversation.
In reality Jem was his uncle’s latest apprentice at the apothecary, but Ian knew how important it was for an apothecary to get practical experience with patients, so he took him on his rounds whenever he had a chance.
The boy was whistling a cheerful tune that Ian didn’t recognize. “You can’t let every pretty face discompose you, my boy,” Ian chided, remembering the boy’s blushes around the beautiful Mrs. Neville.
Jem’s pale complexion turned ruddy again. “But that wasn’t just any pretty lady, that was Eleanor Neville!”
“Is she related to royalty?”
The boy stopped in his tracks. “Don’t you know who Mrs. Neville is?”
“Not a clue. Should I?”
“She’s the greatest actress on the stage.”
An actress? He stared at Jem in disbelief. Then he remembered her strange turnaround, one moment a frightened young woman, her speech too refined for her mean surroundings, the next talking like any common streetwalker. She had been pulling his leg! He shook his head. He had misjudged her, and she had turned the tables on him. He couldn’t help a grudging smile.
“An actress, is she?” he asked thoughtfully. “I’ve heard of the great Mrs. Siddons and Dorothy Jordan, but of Mrs. Eleanor Neville, not a whisper.”
“That’s because those others are at the Drury Lane. Mrs. Neville plays in the burlettas at the Surrey.”
Burlettas! The word conjured up images of women prancing about a stage, singing bawdy songs.
“Don’t look like that! You should see her sing and dance. And she’s funny. She has more talent in her tiny finger than all the actresses at the Drury Lane and Covent Garden put together.”
“I guess I’ll just have to take your word for that.” Ian resumed his walk, unwilling to spend more time thinking about a vulgar actress. The description belied the delicately featured young woman who had fought beside him throughout the night.
“You can joke, but someday you’ll see I’m right,” Jem insisted.
“I doubt I shall have such an opportunity since I rarely indulge in theatergoing, much less musical burlesque.” He glanced at the street they were on. “Let’s get a hack at the corner and go to Piccadilly. We’ll visit Mrs. Winthrop and then stop in and see how Mr. Steven’s hernia is doing.”
As they continued in silence, Ian noticed Jem shaking his head once or twice. Finally the boy could keep still no longer. “I can’t believe you didn’t recognize Mrs. Neville. Why, her playbills are posted everywhere. She’s been taking London by storm in her latest role. I’ve heard even the Prince is enchanted.”
“Well, then I must be the only one in London who has not yet succumbed to Mrs. Eleanor Neville’s charms. She was almost useless as an assistant.” Again, a different picture rose to his mind, of a young woman overcoming her terror to save a friend’s life. He shook aside the image. An actress was little better than a prostitute.
“I was afraid I’d have to divide my time between reviving her and keeping my primary patient from bleeding to death,” he added cuttingly.
“Poor thing! She must have had a rough time of it. I wish I’d been there with you!”
Ian looked at the young man with pity. “To help my patient or to hold Mrs. Neville’s hand?”
Even as he turned back to the street, Ian couldn’t help picturing those slim hands with their almond shaped nails, how they’d smoothed back the patient’s hair from her brow, and remembering her soft voice as she encouraged her friend throughout the night’s ordeal.
An actress? The image wouldn’t fit with the one formed last night. How long would the innocent looking, ladylike woman be impressed upon Ian’s memory?
Why did you become a writer? Was it a dream of yours since you were younger or did the desire to write happen later in your life?
I’ve wanted to become a writer ever since I was about twelve years old and discovered how much I loved to read. It’s just a natural extension of loving stories.
What do you love about being an author? Is there anything you dislike?
I love giving birth to the wisps of ideas that come in different forms until they are full-fledged story with beginning, middle, and end.
The process is….hard. It requires self-discipline, a lot of time alone, and dealing with a mass that sometimes resembles a great big sea monster with many tentacles which don’t go where you tell them to.
How do you balance your personal and writing time?
By devoting my most creative & productive time (mornings) to it and doing the rest of the stuff afterwards. Also, listening to the muse when she speaks, even if it’s at 3:00 a.m. and I get a great bunch of dialogue running through my head, but I desperately want to sleep, but if I don’t jot it down then, by daylight, the best stuff will be gone.
How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story?
Characters probably/usually first. Many times they come to me from the tail-end of a dream. Other times they are secondary characters from a current WIP that catch my attention and I want to know more about them, and other times in the course of historical research, I read about someone and think, hmm, that person’s story might be interesting.
That happened to an extent in my current WIP. I was researching the book that’s out now, The Healing Season, or maybe it was the one before that, Dawn in My Heart, when I ran across two small items. One was about a woman who had ministered to prisoners at Newgate during the regency period, at a time when prison conditions were pretty horrific and few if anyone cared about the fate of its inmates, much less a woman. The other was a case where the Prince Regent pardoned a man for a capital offense, simply because his wife pled for his life, so it was a decision based purely on sentiment.
What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
I write historical romance (with a Christian slant) simply because those are the stories I most like to read. Like so many romance authors before me, I probably started to write them because I found so few that satisfied me fully.
What is the biggest misconception about being an author?
That you can make a lot of money publishing . If you think about writers throughout history, they usually starved, or had some other source of income. I think it’s generally true today that you need to have a secondary income in order to be able to write and not worry too much about where your books are in the huge heap of titles published every month.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Both, definitely. They’re a compilation of behavior and physical traits you observe around you, whether in real life or on tv/movies, as well as from yourself and your own past.
Out of all the characters that you've written, who is your favorite and why?
Each set of characters becomes the favorite at the time of writing their story. You live and breathe them over the course of several months until they become almost more real than the people around you. That’s why it’s tough to hear others disparage them once they become public property.
If you were writing a script for the big screen, who would you want to act in your movie?
Colin Firth, Colin Firth, Colin Firth. Any more questions?
What would you want readers to take away from your books?
A few hours or days where they are wrapped up in my characters’ world. Aside from a wonderful love story, I hope they get a glimpse of the Savior’s love for them.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers in regards to writing a book?
Have something to say.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Karen Hancock’s The Return of the Guardian King, the final installment of her Guardian-King series. Wonderful series!
I’m in the middle of The Great Stink by Clare Clark, a British writer. This story takes place in Victorian London and is described on the back cover as a literary thriller. My next book is a Victorian, so this is helping me to get in the time and setting. I’m also starting Tamera Alexander’s Rekindled. The first few pages sound promising.
The Healing Season by Ruth Axtell Morren
Publisher: Steeple Hill (July 1, 2007)
$6.99 from Amazon.com
Purchase The Healing Season by Ruth Axtell Morren HERE!!