One With The Night
Atlas Mountains, Morocco, 1819
There was no denying her. She ran her long-nailed fingers
through his hair as he sat, naked, beside the chaise on which she lay draped.
His hair was as dark as hers. But her eyes were almost black, while his were light
gray-green, his skin fair against her golden glow. She had chosen him for his
coloring. How long would he pay for the sins of some French and English crusaders
long dead? Until he died. He had prayed for death so often. Blood oozed from various
cuts and punctures in his body, but she was careful not to kill him.
Her laughter tinkled over him like shards of broken glass. "You know you can not win out, English." He wasn't really English. She twisted his head up by his hair and showered compulsion over him. The need to obey her surge through him. His gaze jerked to her face.
Her eyes glowed with more than firelight as she chuckled. How could laughter frighten him so? His chest heaved from the effort to resist her. The fine skin between her breasts gleamed with perspiration. Her nipples peaked under the diaphanous fabric of her burgundy gown. He found his own desire rising, whether he would or no.
His stomach clenched in despair as he lifted his chin to bare his throat to her. She would use him to slake several thirsts tonight. She was always thirsty.
She bent to his throat. He shuddered at the familiar twin pains just under his jaw. She stroked his nipple as she sucked at his neck and then slid down onto the rug beside him so she could grasp his swollen member.
"You still resist me," she whispered inside his mind. "How can I make you truly mine?"
against him, her breasts pressed to his chest. He moaned, partly with desire,
partly in dread. He didn't want to know the answer to that question.
A scream rent the Highland spring night. Jane Blundell was just climbing into the gig in the village nestled on the shore of Loch Ness, ready to head back to the house she and her father had taken up the Urquhart River valley from the loch. Jane had spent too many years as a midwife among the poor of London not to recognize that scream. A woman was in labor and it was not going well. The sound died away into a moan. It was coming from that tiny stone cottage just off the lane that meandered through the village. She scrambled down. Papa could wait for his supplies. Figures congregated in the tiny front garden. The sun had set more than an hour ago, but Jane saw extremely well in the dark these days.
The villagers wouldn't welcome her help. She and her father were pariahs ever since he offered to pay for blood donations, ostensibly to be used in his experiments. The words "unholy" and "sacrilegious" and "English monsters" were the ones most often bandied about when the newest occupants of Muir Farm were mentioned. The villagers were closer to the truth than they knew. The blood wasn't for her father's experiments. It was for her. Ever since she'd been infected, she had needed human blood to survive. And now, with her source gone, the hunger that horrified her scratched along her veins. Her father had offered to bleed himself for her. She couldn't allow that, of course, but what was she to do? She might resort to God knew what if the dreadful hunger got any worse.
She tried to put away panic. She couldn't think of that now. The cottage window revealed substantial silhouettes holding something down. In a village this small and remote they probably weren't even midwives. Outside, several men milled around a young man, who paced and ran his hands through his hair in distraction. Jane knew better than to approach the women.
"What is wrong?" she asked one of the men.
"Saw the monster, she did," the man said in that thick Scots burr she could hardly make out yet. "Put her right inta birthin' pains."
But the man had realized who she was. "Get back, witch! Ye will no' hex this babe!"
Another scream tore through the night. In late March it was still cold in the Highlands, and the men's breath was clearly visible. The scream made the pacing young man moan in distress and look around wildly "Evie," he cried. "Dinnae die, Evie!"
Jane pushed through the men. This was the father, surely. "Is she early?" she shouted, almost in his face.
He looked at her with frightened eyes and nodded, swallowing. Inside the cottage the women encouraged the girl to bear down and push. Jane grabbed the young husband by both biceps and shook him. "I'm a midwife, boy. And I tell you that if they make Evie push when she's not ready, the babe will break blood vessels and your wife will die."
The father, who looked absurdly young, blinked at her.
"Leave th' lad alone." A hand grabbed her shoulder and tried to pull her away.
"Ye've no business here, English," another said.
Jane twisted away and stood her ground. "I've delivered a hundred babies, boy," she said, staring right at the husband. "I know what I'm saying. You can make them let me look at her."
"Me? I can no' do anythin'!" he wailed.
"She's a Sassanach, Jamie," an older man warned.
"You're her husband. You vowed to protect her, didn't you? It's up to you." Jane laid a hand on his shoulder. It was thin under his rough flaxen shirt.
He looked into her eyes. She willed him to let her into the house. She felt a thrill along her veins, the thrill that had frightened her so since her sickness six months ago.
"Verra well," he said at last. His voice was strangely calm.
She nodded curtly and took his arm.
"Jamie, what are ye doin'? Ye can no' let an English witch into Evie's childbed!"
Jamie pulled away from the hands that tried to stop him. "Get back, MacDougal! All o' ye. Even ye, Da. If this woman can help my Evie, I'm bound ta let her."
Jane and Jamie pushed into the tiny cottage just as another scream made Jamie wince.
"What's she doin' here?" one of the women accused. "And ye, Jamie Campbell! We can no' ha' men here."
Jamie straightened his shoulders. "She's a midwife and she's goin' ta look at Evie," he said firmly. Jane was proud of him. "I am her husband. It is my bairn and it is up ta me."
Jane didn't wait for more authority. She pushed through to the woman with the distended belly writhing on the bed. She was hardly more than a child. She was sweating and heaving breath, her knees raised, plainly frightened. "Now, my dear," Jane soothed. "Let me just see how you're doing." Jane gently felt the distended belly under a sheet that covered the girl's spread knees. "I've attended more than a hundred births you know." She smiled. "You had a shock?"
The girl nodded. "I seen th' monster! I seen Nessie," she gasped, her eyes round.
"Well, never mind that now. You must breathe, slowly and deliberately. No pushing. We want that baby of yours to take his own sweet time." The child was in breech position. Jane moved to lift the sheet so she could see how far the womb had opened.
"What are ye doin'?" a woman screeched. "There's a man in the room!"
"I assume this man is already familiar with his wife," Jane remarked. "We must suppose he got the child on her." She smiled sweetly. "Unless you believe a stork brings them?"
"It is no' proper," one said, shaking a finger at Jamie.
Jane turned on the three women. "Enough!" They frowned at her, fists on their hips, looking ready for a fight. "Jamie, could you escort these ladies from the room? They're upsetting Evie." With relief she saw Jamie set his jaw and herd the women, protesting, from the room, looking for all the world like ruffled, clucking hens.
"Jamie, why don't you pull up a stool and just hold Evie's hand? I'm sure your strength would be a comfort to her."
Jamie grew taller by several inches. He pulled a stool under himself and grabbed his young wife's hand. "You're goin' ta be all right, Evie," he said with a voice almost sure of itself. Sure enough, at least, to fool Evie.
Jane wasn't so certain. She'd seen breech births come out well, but the combination of a breech position and the early onslaught of labor, made worse by those stupid women urging Evie to push, might spell disaster. Should she try to turn the babe? If she left the child as it was, the sac might break too early and suffocate the child — if she turned it the babe might break the mother's blood vessels as it came too quickly. Even if the child lived, Evie would likely die. But if Evie's contractions were so strong already that Jane couldn't get the baby turned one way or another, no birth was possible and Evie and baby both would die a painful death over many hours.
"Try to relax, Evie," she murmured as she removed the sheet and looked at Evie's womb. Not open enough yet for the head of a babe. Behind her, the door creaked.
"Da," Jamie's reedy voice had iron in it. "If' ye've come ta help ye're welcome. Other ways, ye kin go."
Jane glanced back to see a rugged-looking man who was probably only forty-five, though work and a hard life made him look sixty. His face was deeply lined, his hair a shock of gray. He shared Jamie's prominent nose and pale blue eyes. Jane turned back to her patient. "I must feel if the babe is in the birth canal, Jamie," she muttered. "If you care to help, Mr. Campbell, you can sit at Evie's other side." She glanced to both men. "I'll need her still." They got the point. The older man looked grim as he sat down wordlessly with a hand on Evie's shoulder.
Jane examined her hands carefully. Any cuts or scrapes would heal almost instantly, but one must be sure. If even a molecule of her blood got into Evie's, she'd infect the girl.
Another contraction came. "Don't push, Evie," Jane said as the girl wailed. "Just breathe." The girl gasped and shrieked, but the contractions had moderated a bit. When at last she went limp, moaning, Jane looked again at the birth canal. "Evie," she said, "I'm going to feel exactly where the babe is." She smiled reassuringly and the girl managed a tremulous half-smile in return. Jane put her hand up the birth canal. The men looked appalled as they held Evie down.
"There! All done." Jane smiled again. Well, it wasn't the worst news. The babe wasn't cross ways. Its feet were well into the canal. Birth was possible, but it would be wrong end round. It was still unlikely she could save the child. The sac would break and the babe would doubtless suffocate. All she could hope was to slow the birth enough to save the mother.
"Mr. Campbell." Rising, she motioned to the older man. He followed her into the corner of the tiny room. He was a tall man and his head nearly touched the low ceiling. "She's going to bleed Mr. Campbell. The baby is feet first."
His face went white. "Ye're sure?"
She nodded. "I can't turn it now. She pushed too hard, too early." She didn't blame. She didn't have to. Mr. Campbell set his jaw. He knew.
"Jamie'll waste wi' grief if she passes," his father fretted. "Can ye no' save her?" His eyes held simple pleading. He had gone from distrust to faith in the last minutes. Perhaps he was responding to the life that seemed to throb in Jane since her infection. It made her seem … attractive to others on some level they didn't even perceive. That's what her father told her. And that attraction generated either fear or faith. Mr. Campbell had decided on faith.
"I'm not sure," she said bluntly. "But there is a chance. Can you go for my father?"
"Aye," he said, his mouth a grim line. "I'll go."
"Tell him to bring his impellor."
"Inpeller," he repeated. It was close enough. Her father would know. Now if Mr. Campbell could pry him out of his laboratory…once he was embroiled in an experiment he had a remarkable ability to ignore the needs of others. Mr. Campbell nodded once and pushed out under the low lintel of the door. He looked like a man who wouldn't be denied.
Behind her, Jamie said, "Another one's coming, Miss!" and Evie wailed.
Is there someplace ye can go?" he asked the group of absurdly young girls who clustered in the dingy hall, whimpering. They'd just watched him throw the master of this brothel and several brutal customers out a third story window and yell to the street that the place was closed permanently. They'd probably seen his red eyes as well.
The oldest turned to Callan, mastering her fear. "Thankee fer wot ye did. But we'll likely end in another set o' rooms doin' pretty much th' same."
Callan fished in the pocket of his coat. "Money creates possibilities." He handed her the fat purse. She looked up at him, unbelieving, then untied the leather string and pulled out a winking gold coin. The other girls actually gasped.
"Buy a house," he growled. "Buy a shop. Yer bodies are no' all ye ha' anymore."
Why're ye doin this fer us?" the leader whispered, her eyes intent on his face.
Callan shrugged. He couldn't tell them that. He turned to go.
"Wait! Let us take care o' yer wounds."
"No need." That at least was true. "Mere scratches."
"Then let us repay you in our own way." The girl stepped up and ran a hand up to the nape of his neck. "Ye smell … like cinnamon. And ye ha' lovely blue eyes." His eyes weren't blue, but no one ever noticed that. Her breasts pressed against his chest. Another girl took his hand. Callan's member hardened. It was always ready these days.
He shook his head and put the girl gently from him. "I'd be as bad as they are, then. Ye should save that for th' ones ye care for, in any case."
"Seems no one cares about us but ye." One girl smiled through her split lip.
"Ye'll be surprised, I think."
The oldest girl took a breath and held out her hand. "Alice. And ye are?"
He was a monster, unless the good doctor could cure him. "Does no' matter." He pushed past her, but turned back. "Dinnae hate all men, just ta' spite these, Alice." He plunged down the creaking stairs. These were useless gestures, like bailing the sea with a tin cup. He did these things to keep his sanity. Was that sane?
Jane ran her forearm across her forehead to wipe away the sweat and sat back. Where was Campbell with her father and his equipment? The babe would come with the next contraction, no matter what she did. She wasn't' sure it would be alive. The feet had probably broken the sac by now and it had suffocated. Evie lay, half-conscious, soaked with sweat.
"Almost over," she whispered to Jamie. "Next one."
"Will it….? Will she…?"
"I don't know."
"She's in God's hands now." But he looked frightened.
"Well," she smiled wryly, "let's give God a little help tonight." Actually she hoped some God somewhere was taking an interest. Evie was fading because she was bleeding inside. The night had taken a toll on Jane as well. The unnatural hunger that plagued her itched at her veins. She could smell Evie's blood. Jane's body, with its new and dreadful illness, was shouting at her, distracting her from the work at hand.
Evie moaned. Jane readied herself. The girl was fully dilated. Her moan cycled up into a scream, not as powerful as it had been earlier but still gut-wrenching for Jamie. He talked softly to her, trying to sooth her. Jane saw the tiny feet appear, slick with blood. This was it. She took hold, as gently as she could but firmly, and pulled. Nothing. Evie shrieked even louder.
"Miss Blundell," Jamie cried, panicked.
It all happened quickly, just as it always did. One minute Jane was tugging, trying not to break tiny limbs and the next minute, the babe just slid into her lap, a wizened, bloody mess. He was followed by a gush of blood. The smell assaulted Jane. But she had to focus on the baby. He was so still, so tiny. Jane held him up and opened the tiny mouth with her finger, scraping out the slime and fluid. Still nothing. Evie had gone silent. Jane could feel Jamie holding his breath. Jane wasn't breathing either. She held the baby upside down by his feet and patted his back.
The tiny, sputtering cough was deafening in the silence.
The door burst open behind them just as Jamie's son started to wail.
"Get me the knife," Jane cried, as her father and Mr. Campbell strode into the room. Jamie jumped for the knife Jane had made him sterilize in the fire.
"Well, Jane!" her father exclaimed. "I'm surprised you managed that. This good man said it was early and breech and the local women were making her push."
Jane nodded. He was always surprised at any of her successes. This time even she was surprised. She took the knife from Jamie and cut the umbilical cord. "Now we have another problem," she said quietly, nodding to the barely-conscious Evie. All three men stared at the blood soaking the quilt and the bed.
Jane's father looked grim. His groundbreaking research into transfusion had been inspired by all the women he saw die from hemorrhaging. As a well-known obstetrician of nearly thirty years, Papa didn't like to fail. Jane knew this would be upsetting to him. Especially since he had not yet solved the issue of why some blood seemed to do a patient good when transfused, and some seemed only to make the patient sicker. There was only one person's blood which seemed to work universally. Her father rolled up his sleeve. So far only his blood was a sure thing. But Evie was hemorrhaging so badly the blood her father could give might not be enough. Then it was Evie's gamble whether blood from anyone else would heal her or kill her.
"Jane, you take care of Mr. Campbell's son." He turned to the men. "This woman will die without blood from someone else to replace the blood she is losing."
"What're ye goin' ta do?" Jamie asked, white-faced.
Jane wiped the boy and tied the umbilical knot. Her father was busy setting up his equipment: a telescoping stand, some rubber tubing and a squeeze bulb. The huge needles glinted in the candlelight as he laid them on the bedside table. "I'm going to suck blood out of the vein in my arm and push it into the vein in your wife's arm with this device. I call it the Impellor."
The banished women peeked in at the cottage door. "Against God's will," one muttered.
"The Sassanach'll be struck dead for tryin' to cheat Him," another whispered.
Mr. Campbell looked uncertain, suddenly. It was the equipment, so metallic and rubber; out-of-place in the tiny stone cottage on the edge of a lake where dwelt monsters.
"This can work," Jane said urgently as she cradled the crying infant against her breast. "I have seen it. There are no guarantees, but she has no chance without it."
Jamie stood, toppling his stool. He was trembling. "Get out o' here, ye two-faced bitches," he cried to the apparitions at the doorway. "I'm goin' ta try everathin' ta save my Evie, if it goes against God or no'!" He turned to Jane's father. "Doctor, do what ye can."
The women in the doorway fussed as they withdrew. "If that child lives, it'll belong to Satan himself," one muttered.
Jane patted the tiny back and mourned the burden of suspicion just created for this small bit of life that would follow him as long as he lived in the village.
"Jane, give the child to his father. I need you to place the needle in my arm. Boy, your blood is next after mine, and then yours Mr. Campbell." Jane was exempt, of course. If only her father's blood was certain to help Evie, only Jane's was certain to kill her or worse.
Jamie paled, but took the now-silent bundle awkwardly. "I'll lend my blood if it will save Evie," he said. There was only a slight quaver in his voice.
Jane wondered if she could bear the sight of blood right now. She picked up the needle.
Their work was over at the little cottage. The last two hours had been a torment for Jane. The smell of fresh blood when she was so hungry for it was excruciating. That something in her blood rose up and demanded, and it was all she could to do concentrate on her work. Her father had given Evie blood and cauterized the vessels that were broken. He decided to chance using Jamie's blood, since Evie had lost so much. Jane was forced to leave the cottage. She set the needle and retreated to the cold night air to steady her nerves and escape the smell of blood. Thank God Evie had experienced no reaction to Jamie's blood. Only she and her father knew how lucky that was. Jane was shaking now with need, unsure how she would live through next hours without losing what sanity remained to her. When she returned to the room, Evie lay sleeping, her face once more blushing, while a pale Jamie cradled his child.
Her father rose. "I think she'll be fine, Mr. Campbell, perhaps a little weak for the next week. Be sure to make her drink some good dark ale so she'll have milk for the child."
Mr. Campbell was a simple man, not used to expressing emotion. But his eyes were full as he said, "I'll live in yer debt and that of yer daughter 'til the end o' my days, sir, and Jamie too. I know right well Evie and the boy would no' ha' lived without ye.
"I'll stop back by tomorrow and check in on them," Jane said, knowing her father would not want to take time away from his experiments. He gathered up his equipment. Mr. Campbell helped them take it out to the gig.
"So this is what ye're doin' with th' blood?" Campbell asked, speculation in his voice, "practicin' how ta pass it, one ta th' other?"
Her father nodded, though it was not quite true. Papa apparently didn't have as much trouble with lying as Jane did. Or maybe he was just distracted. He often didn't listen to those around him if they weren't saying something he cared to hear.
Campbell nodded brusquely and handed Jane into gig. It was late and perhaps three miles up the Urquhart Valley to Muir Farm. Jane still smelled blood. The thick, rich scent seemed to follow her. She pressed a palm to her forehead. Her hunger ramped up almost into pain.
Campbell nodded to himself. "If ye can save lives like ye saved Evie's, then it's God's work ye do, no' matter what those biddies say. I'll get donations fer ye, Doctor. Evera man in th' village owes me a boon."
Jane leaned over and took his large, work-worn hand. "Thank you, Mr. Campbell." Some would call feeding a monster the devil's work. Perhaps it was. She shook the reins and the gig rolled out of the village. Mr. Campbell didn't know he was doing the devil's work, so perhaps he would escape blame in his Creator's eyes. But what if it took Campbell several days to convince his friends to donate? Could she last?
The smell of blood made her giddy with emptiness. She could sense the pounding of her father's heart that sent his blood careering through his body. She breathed and pushed down the thing in her blood that was so joyous at the scent. The mountains on each side of Urquhart Valley loomed up around her. She could see each brown bracken fern sending out green shoots from its root, and shale poking through the vegetation to make you realize the spine of the world lurked just below the surface. It was a sere land, the Highlands, a land she could not love. Even the softer valley, with its grass for grazing and the pines around the house at Muir Farm was not soft like England was. It was not a land you could call beautiful.
"You shouldn't have tried to deliver that baby." Her father's admonition broke into her thoughts. "You should have called me immediately. That was work for a doctor, not a girl who's watched some crones catch a few babies."
He didn't think her capable. It hurt, as always. The irritation in her blood wound its way up into anger. "I've birthed a hundred babies myself, Papa. And some of them were breech."
"You!" her father scoffed. "Where would you have gotten such experience? Don't lie to make yourself seem more important than you are, Jane. It doesn't become you."
That was too much. "I got that experience in the slums of Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, Papa, while you thought I was embroidering pillow covers and gossiping with silly girls." She should have said "other silly girls," since he obviously thought she was silly, too.
Her father knit his brows. "Those are not places for someone like you, Jane. That was dangerous, reckless behavior. Why would you do that?"
She sighed. He couldn't help the fact that he would always see her as a little girl. Or how disappointed he was at that. She was tired, all of a sudden. "Because they couldn't afford an obstetrician like you, Papa. Someone like me was all they had."
"You will not expose yourself to such riff-raff again, Jane. I expressly forbid it!"
She hoped someday to get back to her work. But she wouldn't say that. She'd already snapped at him. And first she had to get back to daylight, and normal living. "No, Papa."
"Do you want it now?"
"The blood I took from Campbell. It's in the canteen under the seat. Can't have you getting wild. It's been a fortnight."
Jane mastered herself, and managed a smile. "I shall wait and sip it from a china cup as I always do." She squeezed his arm. "Even a vampire can be civil."
"Don't take that mocking tone with me, young lady," he said severely.
She willed herself to silence, thinking about the horrible things she had discovered about herself ever since she had been infected. It wasn't only the blood. There were the…urges in her body that were almost uncontrollable, and the fact that sunlight burned her. She lived in dread of discovering some new effect.
vampires could be civil. At least I hope so, she thought.
“Susan Squires has a fascinating, unique voice; she is a rare talent.”