Lady With a Lamp
by Marina J. Neary
Lights up; early morning. Inside the surgical tent, Private Martin rises from his bed, his arm in a sling, the stump of his amputated hand wrapped in a bloodied cloth. He wavers, still under the effects of anesthesia. Rebecca enters, carrying clean linens. She gasps, startled.
REBECCA: Mr. Martin, what are you doing out of bed?
MARTIN: I grew bored starin’ upward. I see a deep shadow movin’ ’cross the ceilin’. I see hell’s gate openin’ up to suck me in. I’m not ready to go yet. The idiot chaplain hasn’t stopped by to absolve me.
REBECCA: You shouldn’t be walking. You’ve lost too much blood.
MARTIN: When I’m on me feet, I don’t think ’bout the missin’ hand. And then I try to light a cigar... And I remember I’ve no tobacco. Someone emptied me pockets.
REBECCA: I regret your loss, Mr. Martin.
MARTIN: The tobacco?
REBECCA (annoyed by his joke): No, your hand.
MARTIN (examines his stump): This is no great loss, not fer England. Even b’fore this happened I was useless. Me dead Ma will testify to that. Now, with only one hand left, I’m half the thief. (Laughs like a madman, causing Rebecca to draw back.) Sweet Rebecca, don’t flee. You needn’t fear me.
REBECCA: I don’t fear you. I fear for you. The sedatives make you rant.
MARTIN: Those drugs didn’t do a bloody thin’ save blur me eyesight. I recall the lantern danglin’ ’bove me head, fadin’ out and blazin’ up again. I recall seein’ yer face, green and twisted, and hearin’ yer scream, that very scream I m’self was denied, as I lay there, strapped to the table, me hand on the choppin’ board and a block of wood ’tween me teeth. ’Twas yer first time, eh?
REBECCA (lowers her eyes with embarrassment): And last. Mr. Bennett says I’m not to enter the surgical tent again.
MARTIN: That butcher exiled you? Surely, he wants to fill the tent wi’ his own kind. Lucky is ’e that I’m crippled. Wouldn’t I love to take ’im by the throat... Put both me thumbs right there (points to the hollow under his Adam’s apple). There’s many a man I’d like to strangle, not just the surgeon. All of ’em... Don’t yer know, that clown, Lord Card’gan, is drinkin’ himself stupid on ’is yacht. Not a hair on ’is bloody head was harmed. But the man trembles b’fore Lord Lucan, and Lucan trembles b’fore Lord Raglan. In short, we’ve got a chain of tremblin’ cowards, murderers they be!
REBECCA: Be careful, Mr. Martin, saying such things...
MARTIN: But yer see, love, I’m not the only one sayin’ such thins. Yer ought to hear the lads in the tent. If I be shot for speakin’ my mind, they may as well shoot the entire Light Brigade — well, whatev’r is left of it... There’s a mut’ny brewin’. Unluck’ly, I won’t partake in it. I’m sailin’ home soon. ’Tis costly to feed a useless cripple. Every breadcrumb is accounted for, yer know. They promise me twenty pounds fer the damages. P’haps I’ll change me trade. I’ll buy a hook for me stump and a parrot for me shoulder and frighten ’em children by the docks. I already know plenty of robber songs. Now I’ll learn a few pirate songs. (With mock gallantry) Until then, Rebecca, I shall remain your most devoted vassal.
Martin grabs Rebecca’s hand and brings it to his lips. Then he loses his balance and falls into her lap. Rebecca gasps with a mixture of terror and disgust.
REBECCA: Mr. Martin, you’re bleeding! Your wound... (Grabs her head in bewilderment) What am I to do? (Screams frantically) Miss Nightingale! Someone, come, help me!
Bennett enters, surveys the scene for a few seconds, grabs Martin by the scruff of his neck and pulls him up roughly from Rebecca’s lap.
BENNETT: Do you want gangrene to spread, ah? One amputation wasn’t enough for you? Perhaps you want me to repeat the procedure?
MARTIN (defiantly, into Bennett’s face): Oh, wouldn’t yer love that... Choppin’ up yer victims inch by inch.
BENNETT: If you don’t stop ranting, I’ll cut off your tongue too.
Bennett glares at Rebecca, shakes Martin one more time and drags him back to bed and exits. Rebecca goes to check on Martin. Lights fade.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Marina J. Neary