Lady With a Lamp
by Marina J. Neary
Bennett’s body is on the ground. Rebecca is in the corner, covering her mouth with her fist. Grant and Florence are standing together, leaning on each other. Martin is on his knees, the stump of his severed hand is out of the sling, tied to the other hand behind his back. Cardigan paces back and forth, desperately trying to look commanding and intimidating. Lucan is observing the scene with contempt and disgust.
LUCAN: The one-handed thief killed the butcher surgeon. I should’ve expected something of this sort to happen. It was getting suspiciously quiet at the hospital corps. We were due for a little bloodshed. (To Cardigan) Lord Cardigan, what exactly do you intend to do with Private Martin?
CARDIGAN: He shall receive the same treatment as any other murderer.
Grant steps forward, leaning on Florence’s shoulder and panting.
GRANT: In God’s name, this man can’t be held responsible for his deed. Clearly, he is out of his mind.
CARDIGAN: How peculiar. As far as I recall, it was Private Martin’s hand that was injured in the battle, not his head.
GRANT: His head suffered too! Loss of a limb can bring on insanity. Lord Cardigan, listen to me. This is my medical testimony. You can’t try Private Martin as you would a healthy man.
CARDIGAN: Dr. Grant, as you recall, I have removed you from your post as a doctor. Your opinion is of no relevance. If I make an exception for Private Martin, what message will it communicate to the entire Light Brigade? Then every soldier will claim insanity as an excuse for insubordination and violent outbursts. He will be executed tonight, as an example to his comrades.
MARTIN (laughs hoarsely): Bah! I killed the wrong bast’rd... So many pigs to slaughter, and only one hand...
GRANT: How are we expected to win this war, (points to Bennett’s corpse) if we have Englishmen killing one another? Family members plotting each other’s overthrow...
Grant throws a glance at Cardigan.
CARDIGAN (nervously): Dr. Grant, your supervision of the medical unit has proven to be most inefficient. All these atrocities happened on your watch.
FLORENCE (losing her temper): Oh, for heaven’s sake! Look who’s talking about inefficiency!
CARDIGAN: Easy, Miss Nightingale. You can dig your dainty little fingers into surgeons and physicians, but please harness your temper with commanders of my rank. Everyone is aware of Sidney Herbert’s patronage over you, but even that has its limits. Another outburst on your part and you shall be on the ship back to England.
Personally, I always thought it imprudent to allow women into a war camp. You may have wrestled your way into medicine, but do not dabble in politics. You have already witnessed many things that aren’t intended for a lady’s eyes.
LUCAN (to Cardigan, with crude familiarity): Easy, Jim! Let the mad scientist speak. He started mumbling something about family conspiracy — I’d like to hear the rest. Let him elaborate on that topic before he kicks the bucket.
(To Grant): Speak as long as you like, Dr. Grant. You have my explicit permission. Nothing you say will be held against you. By the time I come up with an adequate punishment for your audacity, you shall be dead already.
GRANT: I have run out of tirades.
LUCAN (superficially disappointed): In that case, does Private Martin have any final wishes?
MARTIN: Yes, yes, ’e does. As matt’r of fact, ’e does. A few days ’go, I had my last pinch of t’bacco stolen. Nothin’ would please me bett’r than one last cigar, rolled by Miss Prior’s lovely hands.
LUCAN (to Martin): I like simple men with simple wishes. (To Rebecca) Miss Prior, you heard your patient’s request. His chivalrous attempt to defend your honor has cost him his life. He will be executed because of you. Remember that as you roll his cigar. Be sure to tuck the paper in around the corners. It is an art.
REBECCA: I can’t. My hands are trembling.
LUCAN: Your hands are always trembling. Now is not the time to be skittish. Imagine that you are working with someone else’s hands. When I am overcome by anxiety on the battlefield, I imagine that I am leading someone else’s army, not my own.
REBECCA (gradually regaining composure): But I don’t have any tobacco.
LUCAN (looks around and claps his hands): Does anyone here have a pinch of tobacco to spare? (To Cardigan): Jim, will you do anything today to justify your existence? Or will you be your usual self? I thought so. (To Grant): Good doctor, in your fantastic assortment of chemicals, do you have anything as simple as tobacco? Do you have anything besides rat poison and hallucinogenic substances?
Everyone remains silent. Lucan waits for a few seconds and then throws his arms up in despair.
LUCAN: As usual, I must take leadership into my own hands and sacrifice my own goods! I did not come here to be star of the spectacle, but you leave me no other choice.
Lucan rummages in his pocket, pulls out a fabric pouch with tobacco and a sheet of paper, then hands them over to Rebecca.
LUCAN (to Rebecca): Miss Prior, do the honors. (To Martin): Young man, this is top quality tobacco, the likes of which you’ve never smoked. Be sure to savor every puff. Every criminal should be so lucky to sample such a treat before his execution.
Rebecca rolls up the cigar, then walks up to Martin and places the cigar between his teeth with steady hands. Cardigan gestures for Martin to stand up.
CARDIGAN: On your feet! Walk...
Martin struggles to his feet, his eyes on Rebecca. Before departing he glances at her over the shoulder. Martin inhales, preparing to speak; Rebecca raises her hand, commanding silence.
REBECCA (in a calm voice): Do not open your mouth. You’ll drop your cigar. I worked hard to roll it for you.
Cardigan and Martin exit. Rebecca exits on the opposite side. Grant loses his balance and subsides on the ground; Florence supports him from behind. Lucan stands over them.
LUCAN: I hope you last another hour or two, good doctor. We have too many deaths, and only one chaplain. Now that Mr. Martin has had his final whim satisfied, it is your turn. Ask away. I’ve already started on a frivolous note, and now I can’t stop. What do you wish?
GRANT (panting and looking Lucan in the eye): Restore me to my position. I still have enough air in my lungs for a few rounds.
LUCAN: My poor Tom, you have not mastered the art of elegant leisure. This is precisely why you are dying. You have exhausted your nervous system.
FLORENCE (with bitter sarcasm): What an astute observation...
LUCAN: When was the last time you ate a three-course meal?
GRANT: Twenty-five years ago, at Lord Middleton’s house.
LUCAN: And when was the last time you slept for eight hours without interruption? (Pats himself on the chest): Look at me. Would I be as effective a leader if I did not cater to my physical needs? Human body is fickle and frail. Ah, I forgot! You are not human. That’s right, you are a bear. Well, do you truly consider yourself a bear, Tom? Bears sleep a fair amount, don’t they?
FLORENCE (losing her composure): For God’s sake, stop interrogating Dr. Grant! You’ve sacrificed a whole pinch of your precious tobacco for Martin and you didn’t ask him so many questions. Lord Lucan...
LUCAN: Please, call me George. Unlike my brother-in-law, I do not mind familiarities from a pretty woman, even if she is past her prime. If it will please you, dear Florence, I will honor your lover’s request. If he wants to bark bloody mucus all over his patients, who am I to stop him?
Lucan stretches his hand to Grant.
LUCAN: Thomas Henry Grant, doctor of medicine and philosophy, I hereby give you my blessing to resume your dirty and thankless work of which there will be no shortage.
Grant takes Lucan’s hand and forces himself on his feet.
LUCAN: Aren’t you forgetting something? Here’s where you say—
GRANT: God save the Queen?
LUCAN: I would have preferred to hear “God save Lord Lucan”, but I suppose, one is never wrong to mention Her Majesty. After all, it was her idea to send us all here. We must thank her for presenting us with this opportunity to show our heroism in such hellish conditions. And if my brother-in-law summons you again, tell him... (Glances at Florence) No, I mustn’t say such before a lady. By the way, Florence, Sidney Herbert will be thrilled to hear that you have found a new lover. What a relief it will be for him and Elizabeth and their six children.
FLORENCE: I have found more than a lover. Tom is my husband.
LUCAN: Even better! Why wasn’t I invited to the wedding? No matter, I’ll be sure to attend Tom’s funeral. I shall ask the chaplain to wrap him into something more regal than sailcloth. The British flag, perhaps? That will be my personal gift.
Lucan laughs maliciously. Florence leads Grant away.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Marina J. Neary