The Fort Providence Watch: Henry P. Gravelle
The Fort Providence Watch: After Doctor Paul Barnet receives an injury which removes his surgical abilities, he seeks vengeance for his lost skills through an alter ego, Jack the Ripper.
The Fort Providence Watch by Henry P. Gravelle in an Historical Thriller
EXCERPT: The Fort Providence Watch
The office was located on the fourth floor of the Royal College of Surgeons near Lincolns Inn fields. Located in the corner of the granite building the office housed the head of surgeons, Doctor Barrows Winfield, and allowed a wonderful view of the grounds and a garden encompassed by a wall topped by iron spikes.
Sunlight flooded into the office through two large windows illuminating the room from floor to high ceiling, then spread across the carpeted floor to a wall covered by books complete with ladder for the unreachable volumes. This wall converged against another also gorged with a large array of text and journals. A large fireplace was prominently set into the third wall, its hearth cold after winter, use but ash and blackened stumps of burned logs remain on the grate.
Between the open windows and the fireplace sat the massive polished cherry desk. Its surface not visible from the papers, journals, and medical texts heaped upon it. Behind the desk in reflective thought sat Doctor Winfield. A clay pipe between his lips spewed the aroma of Turkish blend tobacco in a swirl of grayish smoke.
His hands folded under his somewhat doubled chin with fingers touching at the tips. His eyes were darker than usual by the sunlight enhancing the neatly brushed gray atop his head and matching muttonchops. His gaze was on the man seated in front of him, past student, Paul Barnet.
“I remember you as a hard worker, Mr. Barnet. One who studied feverishly as if certain to achieve a greatness yet unrealized. You easily took a quick grasp of procedure and protocol and performed with excellent surgical skills. Frankly, I for one, considered your future assured. It is such a pity to lose a brilliant talent at the commencement of one’s career.”
Doctor Winfield sat back into the comfort of his upholstered chair and puffed on the pipe. “I have considered your request, Mr. Barnet and although I am deeply sorry for the blow fate has befallen upon you, I cannot grant such a practice.”
Barnet’s expression changed from a hopeful softness to a tense, irritated tightness. “But sir, as I have explained, the cadavers would not be used for other than the suturing of incisions already made by students. I wish merely to practice clamping, prodding, suturing, no amputations or organ removal. I would not interfere with the studies of any student or the theory and practical application displayed by the professors within the surgical theater, lecture halls, or classrooms. I need to practice to become proficient once again in their application.” Barnet slapped his knee with his gloved right hand in frustration. This was his last hope to regain use of the nearly stagnate hand.
It had been four months since the attack and his argument with Farness in the hospital ward. He would never forget the joyous expression upon Farness’s face as Detective Sergeant Hayes gave testimony at the General Medical Councils inquest detailing the argument and incriminating statements he heard concerning the hospitals, or should he say Farness’s procedures on appendectomies, and Barnet’s insistence to go forward with the surgery on Seaman Theodore Henderson against policy.
“A clear case of insubordination and display of unprofessional behavior,” cited Detective Sergeant Hayes. “We will be applying to Her Majesties prosecutor for a charge of culpable negligence against Paul Barnet, herewith, the failure to remove the suturing needle from the patient causing his untimely demise.”
The Council’s decision was swift and final. The lowering of the gavel sounded throughout the meeting room, echoing in Barnet’s ears like the final salvo of an enemy hitting him broadside with all guns.
“Paul Barnet is hereby stricken from the register and the Con Joint Board of Surgeons and Physicians along with the Society of Apothecaries will be informed of our decision and recommendation of license suspension.”
That was that. Years of study and hard work, numerous surgeries, lives saved, all for not. Now, all just memories. The GMC held regulatory function over physicians and surgeons but only the Apothecary Society could reinstate a removed license. Barnet first must deal with the prosecutor and convince the barristers at the Old Bailey that the broken vial had caused the unfortunate accident before anyone would consider his renewal request.
Still his vision of the future seemed bleak. If he did not have his freedom from this charge, it would be ludicrous to continue his campaign to win his skills back.
A pain shot across the back of his neck to his eyes. The product of stress and tension from all this legality rubbish, mixed with the thought of somehow finding suitable therapy in the art of manipulating his fingers on a human body.
He felt scared muscle reaction in the hand, rekindled from pulling in, pushing out and gripping objects. Even in sleep, the arm pulled at the hand trying to receive a normal response. Barnet knew actual practice on cadavers seemed the logical course to follow, also he knew he was out of line talking angrily to Winfield. It was desperation, his last hope.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“I’m not a heartless monster, Paul,” Winfield stood, walking to the front of the desk where he sat on the corner, “and I feel terrible refusing your request but you must see things from my perspective. First, we do not have the amount of cadavers as when you studied here. I must get the most from each body that is possible. Do you recall the case of Burke and Hare?”
Paul relaxed somewhat seeing that Winfield was not going to send him packing because of his tirade but would continue the discussion. Maybe there was hope?
“Grave robbery, I believe.”
“Precisely, they were well established in the resurrection trade, the supplying of fresh corpses to medical colleges and private institutions, but before Burke and Hare there were two bloody murderers named Bishop and May who sold bodies so fast they couldn’t keep up with demand, so they took live ones. Hung both of the buggers. Their bodies went to a school for dissection, bloody ironic, what?”
Barnet looked confused.
“My point Barnet, is that because of grave robbers and the Anatomy Act, we are no longer overwhelmed with a supply of cadavers as we would like to be, or allowed to have. Oh yes, we still have bodies delivered from prisons, hospitals, military, homeless and those poor souls who perish without the comfort of family or kin but the supply is limited. The amount of available cadavers has dwindled and don’t forget we have to share with other institutions.”
“I understand Doctor Winfield, but I still remain in the position that the ones you do have could be made available, perhaps once a week?”
Barnet sat closer to the edge of the chair pleading his case, hoping his request granted. Winfield went to the open window breathing in the warm air of summer.
“My second concern is your loss of license. Why on earth, do you wish to regain your skills with no license? Could you not seek a professorship? Perhaps I could inquire…”
Barnet lowered his head. Shame, guilt, or defeated he did not quite know from what.
“I am innocent of the charge, it was an accident,” he interrupted, his voice rising, “I will not only reinstate my license, but I will regain my good name and reputation. No, I love surgery, Doctor Winfield. I could never accept nor commit myself to a career in medicine other than surgery.”
“Things occur at times that cannot be justified or explained and the innocent are caught in the turmoil,” Winfield stated, “I should think if the GMC recommends your license be removed then that just about does it?”
“I will reapply to the Apothecary Society after I clear my name and refresh my skills,” Barnet answered remembering the words of that miserable feign Farness as he handed him his letter of resignation.
Sorry, Barnet. Perhaps after a time you will see fit to reapply, new license, new man and all that. The bastard.
Barnet realized Winfield could not and would not help. All he could think to do was to run and leap from the window, dash his body against the iron spikes of the fence below and be done with it. Winfield turned to the window again as Barnet continued.
“It is humiliating to have lived through those occurrences without revisiting them with the man who taught me my skill, a man I admire and respect. I must appear before you as the greatest buffoon in all of the university’s history?”
He leaned onto a stack of The Lancet medical journals atop the desk.
“Was it not enough suffering to watch the auctioneer accept ridiculously low bids on the furnishings of my home, sold to appease creditors? Was it not enough to have watched the woman of my dreams, my sweet Jean, the love of my life decide I was not stable nor financially secure to marry…and could you blame her? I have nothing! Neither future nor security!”
He looked down to the carpet, frustrated and at his wits end, he continued, “Was it not enough to live day by day with the agony of a useless limb, a ruined future, reputation and broken heart? How much can a man endure after being the unwilling messenger of death? Why has my fall into the abyss of oblivion continued for so long? I have moved to Spitalfields. I will leave my address with your secretary…in case.”
Barnet stepped quietly to the office entrance and closed the door behind him.
Doctor Barrows Winfield turned from the window ashamed to let his honor student see the tear on his cheek.
“Godspeed, Paul,” he whispered to the closed door.
Also by Henry P. Gravelle
Pug is the story of compassion, friendship and having heart through the eyes of a young immigrant boy surviving life’s obstacles on the road to manhood.
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