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Prickly Hawthorn Village #2

Come Here To Me


by Karen Dean Benson

Come Here To Me

When a progressive gentleman doctor struggles to fit into the deeply entrenched culture of a rural Irish village, he realizes not all learning comes from books.

Christopher Curran, newly graduated from Edinburgh Medical School, has dreamt of bringing modern medicine to Hawthorn Village. His struggle to fit into the deeply entrenched culture of the rural Irish village worsens when rumor of an unspeakable crime sifts through the village suggesting he might be involved.

Renata Fitzjames and her irascible mother are newly arrived in Hawthorn from Portugal. They have come to fulfill a promise she made to her father on his deathbed. She resolves to keep her distance from the doctor knowing he has good reason to interfere.

Dino, a runaway cabin boy off a pirate ship, becomes an unwitting complication for the doctor when the lad seeks refuge in the unlikeliest of places.

Earl Talbot, disgraced and dismissed from medical school, opens up a chemist’s shop dispensing medicines. He generously allows Renata to use the vacant backroom of his shop as a place to work with her herb collection.

Constable Pete Waffer survived the battle of Vinegar Hill in 1798 and will surely uncover the chaos of Hawthorn’s latest crime wave. He has made it his life’s work to keep corruption from the village and protect its prickly folk.

Beneath the thatched roof of the Black Pig incidents in the village are raked over by odious tongues as troublemakers and busybodies guzzle their pints.


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Release Date: October 6, 2020
Genre: Historical Romance


Excerpt

Chapter One

Summer 1816

Hawthorn Village

County Waterford, Ireland

 

Christopher’s attention was momentarily drawn from the gaping leg wound of a sailor off the privateer Nomad when a fierce pounding rattled the glass of his infirmary door. Before he could untangle his fingers from the scissors, the door opened, and a voice resounded from the front of his surgery.

“Ain’t nobody here?” A heavy stride thumped down the hall. “What the bloody hell.”

As Christopher glanced over his shoulder at the greasy tar in the doorway who grinned sly-like at the sailor on the table, a gush of blood from the wound splattered Christopher’s vest and shirt sleeve. He quickly pinched off the source and reached for a cloth applying pressure.

His patient, grimacing in pain, managed to remark to his buddy, “Worried was ye?”

“Hell no. That damn kid’s gone missin’—again! I ain’t no bloody nurse maid.” He slapped a well-worn strap against his thigh, obviously eager to put it to use.

Christopher’s patience soured by the second as he tried to staunch the flow of blood on his patient’s leg, his full attention honed on the intruder. He was a scruffy and unwashed gaunt man, straggly gray hair hanging out of a black cap. As he groused, his tobacco-stained teeth flashed in greeting. Fed up with the stench and the intrusion, Christopher barked, “Wait in the front parlor until I’m finished here.”

“Ain’t you I’m here ‘bout, doc.” His beady gaze swept the length of Christopher.

“Your friend will mend once I stitch the wound.” Christopher’s nose twitched with the briny stink of him.

“Ain’t him neither.”

Fast losing his patience, Christopher barked, “What then?”

The black hat with all the loose oily gray hair nodded toward the front of the surgery. “The brat ran in here. Damn him.”

“Who?” Christopher glanced at his moaning patient whose jaw was clenched against the pain of his injury. “You?”

Through clenched teeth, the tar managed to sputter, “I ken he’s pissed at Dino.” There was a fiery shriek of holy hell as the doctor dug into the open wound and drew out a shard of glass. Christopher pressed the heel of his palm on the wound to stop the bleeding. His patient’s lips were white against his clenched jaw.

Glaring at the intruder, Christopher barked, “Who is Dino?” He could have been talking to the wall for all the attention paid him. The sailor spun on his heel and stomped down the hall to the back of the surgery toward Christopher’s private apartment. “You can’t go in there. Come back here.”

The tar on the table groaned, “He’s gotta get that brat. Cap’n can’t sail without his cabin boy.”

Christopher gripped the man’s hand and clamped it on the cloth over the wound. “Apply pressure,” he growled and advanced on the intruder.

The filthy man opened the larder, grunting at the contents. He slammed it shut and muscled his way toward the bedroom.

“You are trespassing on my private property.”

“I do as I want longs you mebbe harbor what’s property o’ the cap’n.”

It took Christopher a moment to comprehend the slush of words. Standing perhaps a head taller than the sailor, and broader of shoulder, he advanced on him. “You get the hell out of my home, or I’ll have the captain of your ship made aware of your trespass.”

A whiff of foul breath washed his face as the sailor spat, “You think Redeye’s gonna do without the brat—” his wrist swiped across his brow “—can’t sail without his bugger.”

Christopher grabbed him by the lapels of his leather vest and dangled him off the floor. “I’ll say this once, so listen up. I’ve been here all morning, and no one has come besides your friend and you. Now you get out of my surgery, or I’ll make trouble for you, your ship, and your captain. Got it?” He gave the man a good shake and set him free. Before the tar regained his balance, he fell back against the bed with such force the heavy wooden frame moved a few inches toward the wall.

In a split-second Christopher noted a small filthy foot under the bed slipping out of sight.

He yanked the tar off the bed pushing him down the hall. “You have a choice. You can leave my surgery peacefully, or I’ll toss you out. What’s it going to be?” Towering over the sailor, he glared down his nose at him. Shrugging off Christopher’s fisted hold, he clomped down the hall and out of the infirmary.

Within minutes, as Christopher began sewing the gaping wound, he noted the man prowling past the window on the outside. He must have satisfied himself the brat was not about because he reentered the surgery, stench and all. “I can’t go back ‘till I find ‘im.” Casting a dark look on his friend, who moaned in pain, he said, “Ye’ll have to ‘elp.”

Christopher, outraged that the child they sought was hiding beneath his bed, tried to rein in the violence descending on him. Using a carefully controlled tone, he said, “Your friend’s wound won’t heal if he walks. I recommend sitting with his leg up for today and tomorrow at the very least.”

The black-toothed one said, “An you’ll serve tay will you now?” Both men guffawed.

Later, after they left his infirmary, Christopher gathered the filthy linens used to mop blood, and dropped them in a basket in the corner, took off his stained shirt and vest adding them to the pile. The woman, Darby, who came by daily, would return them clean.

Krysta, the cook, was off for a few days due to her sister’s lying in. He had offered his assistance. However, midwifery was the way Hawthorn Villagers delivered their offspring, among other prevailing remedies to which they adhered rather than accept his professional advice. It was a struggle for him to bite his tongue when it came to the old ways of the Irish against everything he had learned at medical school in Edinburgh.

As he fixed dinner for himself, and a little extra for the foot under his bed, the sizzle and aroma of two slabs of meat searing in the pan made his stomach rumble. He tossed cut up potatoes in with the meat, stirring them with a long-stemmed wooden paddle, rotating the meat, soaking up the sizzling fat with the potatoes as they browned the juices. Then he cut up a leek and added it to the mix.

A knock at the front door, and Pete Waffer stepped inside. “What can I do for you, Constable?”

“It’s what I can do for you, doc. Heard you had some trouble earlier. Anything I can help with?” His shabby green jacket was a leftover from the Battle on Vinegar Hill years earlier. It was Waffer’s badge of honor, having lost two brothers in the battle, and himself wounded.

“All taken care of, and as far as I understand hopefully sailing with the tide as we speak.”

The Constable took several steps forward his bright blue gaze flickering down the hallway. A scar left over from battle lined his face from his left ear down to his chin. The stitching used to heal him must have been done by a butcher, but on the battlefield, strange measures were necessary. The scar was showing signs of age, as it wasn’t quite as red since he first met Waffer, who now asked, “You sure you wouldn’t be with a firearm ta yer back now, would ye?”

“You are welcome to look about. I’m in the middle of fixing supper.” Christopher wiped his hand on the towel and tossed it on his shoulder. Waffer always cautious, and diligent, used military tactics when investigating problems in the village.

The Constable took in a deep breath. “All’s normal ta me. I’ll be on me way. ‘Bout time to check the lamps. Part and parcel of me keep you ken. I’ve got a dozen ta get lit. Hawthorn’s a busy place in the dark of night.”

It wasn’t really a question, and Christopher nodded to him as he left. He locked the front door and with darkness coming on, lit two candles in the kitchen, then pulled the covers over the windows. After setting the table, he gave the meat one last flip, shoved the potatoes and leeks to the side of the grill further from the flame, and called out, “It’s safe now, you can come out.”

Nothing.

He listened for a shuffle, but his little guest hadn’t made an appearance and it occurred to him perhaps he’d slid from under the bed and snuck out the back. “Dinner is ready, Dino.”

Hungry as he was, he took his plate to the fire and laid it with a cut of beef and half the potatoes and onions, poured a tankard of ale then sat. Had the boy fallen asleep?

By his third bite and second pull on the ale, a sound came from the bedroom.

A cautious lad looking to be no more than nine or ten stood in the doorway to the kitchen, intense brown eyes set wide beneath thick black curly hair. His nose was too big for his face, but given a few years, his features would likely grow into a presentable blend.

His interest slid to the fire where a portion sizzled. “You are invited to eat with me if you choose.” He gestured to the other plate on the table. “Fill it up then, lad.”

The boy padded across the kitchen, taking the pewter in both hands, filthy as his feet, and bent toward the fire. Christopher’s chair scraped the floor as he stood.

Dino flinched, the plate bounced and clattered to the floor as he backed into a corner, fists at the ready.

Christopher ignored the lad’s defensive reaction and scooped up the pewter. “Why don’t you scrub up while I get your food, there is a square of soap in a dish by the sink, and water in a bowl.”

He filled the plate with what was left on the griddle, placed it on the table, filled the tankard with milk and sat. Dino wiped his hands down the length of his grimy pant legs. Casting a hesitant glance at the doctor, then slight as he was, he slid into the chair without pulling it out.

Christopher cast his attention to his own plate as the boy began to appease what must be a great hunger. He used his fingers to eat the potatoes and was about to pick up the slab of juicy meat when Christopher leaned across the table with the intention of cutting the lad’s meat.

Dino fell back off the chair and sprawled on the floor. Jumping up, he leapt for the door. Christopher grabbed him by the collar hauling him back to the chair.

“Look, I’m not going to harm you. I’m a doctor, if I do anything, it will be to help you.”

He focused on the boy, waiting for Dino to look at him. Christopher’s knowledge of the world was broad, given his travels, and education. What he saw in the lad’s eyes almost brought tears to his own.

“Do you understand what doctors are?”

A shrug answered him.

Christopher let out a long low breath. “You need to eat. So, how about I talk for a bit and you feed yourself.”

No sooner were the words out, and Dino picked up the steak with his fingers biting into it. Eyes closed as he savored the taste. Swallowing, he broke off another piece and chewed with a look of contentment.

Christopher finished his meal, wiped his mouth with a napkin and sipped his ale. “A doctor isn’t one to hurt others unnecessarily. As far as I can tell, from what your two friends had to say, you’ve been sadly mistreated. Perhaps it’s why you ran away.”

Dino set the mug down, a slash of white across his dirty upper lip. Swiping at it with a thin wrist revealed his left arm had been broken and not set properly.

“No friends o’ mine, you can be sure o’ that.” Said in a firm, though childish tone, attesting to his youth.

“How long have you been aboard the Nomad?”

“Thinkin’ four or five when they got me.” He bit into the steak again and chewed a bit slower this time.

This interview was going to take all night at this rate. “How old are you now?”

“’Leven, maybe twelve.”

Scrawny for his age, then. “Do you recall where you were born?”

“Seesly. I knowed it was the fire mountain. Mel said it was some volcano mountain, atnna. It’s on Seesly.” He gulped milk, then bit into the steak again.

Christopher nodded. “I’ve read about Mt. Etna and the destruction it has caused. And, yes, it is on the island of Sicily, off Southern Italy. You are a fair piece from your homeland, Dino. You might already realize that?”

The boy nodded as he chewed.

“Mel? Who is he?”

“The salt who came lookin’ for me.”

“You nearly got discovered, were you aware?”

His expressive awe opened wide. “I felt a blustery storm hit my chest.”

Christopher smiled. “I bet you did. What are your plans for the future now that you obviously won’t be returning to the Nomad?”

“As long as I draw breath, I ain’t goin’ back.” His thin arms crossed over his scrawny chest, bare feet planted in such a manner, Christopher knew he’d bolt in a split-second if given cause.

“I heard a man come knockin’. What was he looking for?”

“Not you, lad. He’s a constable. And was making sure everything is right. He protects villagers from bad people, and bad things like theft, and drunkenness.”

“Ain’t he kind of late with his help?”

Christopher chortled. “There is that. He means well.”

* * *

The next morning Christopher tossed some coals on the embers in the grate, filled the kettle with water, hung it from the iron arm, then swung it over the coals. Glancing at the pile of blankets in the corner of the kitchen, a pair of dark brown eyes regarded him as the lad followed his every move, covers drawn to his chin.

“Rather than use the privy out back, I suggest you use the pot in my closet. For now, I think it best you don’t show yourself during the day.”

The boy’s face softened. He threw back the blankets and padded off to the bedroom. A few minutes later he reentered the kitchen and sat.

Christopher leaned back against the counter arms folded over his chest. The boy sat hunched, digits clasped between his knees, an expectant look on his face.

It wasn’t unusual for Christopher to dream when sleeping, then wake with solutions to problems. But he woke with dread this morning, not answers. He was surprised the lad stayed.

“I’m not sure what to do with you, Dino.”

A flicker of fear clouded the lad’s keen vision.

Christopher pushed off from the counter and drew the kettle from the hearth, poured the water in a dish of tea leaves to steep and arranged two cups, milk, and a tin of biscuits on the table.

Dino inhaled a deep breath. “There’s a pot of jam in the larder, in case you forgot.”

Christopher chuckled. It appeared his guest had prowled about during the night. “Well then, make yourself useful.”

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