Today's Reading

Locating a bowl of hot water, Viola reached for the nearby soap, soaked her hands and proceeded to scrub them clean. Florian was adamant about cleanliness. He adhered to William Buchan's notion of poor hygiene spreading disease and infection. He also believed in considering new developments in medicine. So when a German colleague of his had managed to isolate morphine from opium years ago and had written to Florian of its improved effect over laudanum, Florian had started his own study into the new medication. He'd been so pleased with the results that it had become his preferred opiate even though it was not yet commercially available anywhere.

Emily handed Viola a towel, and once her hands were dry, Viola picked up another bowl containing gin-soaked surgical tools.

"I am going to get you through this," Florian added to the patient, his rough voice piercing Viola's heart. "You are not going to die today. Do you hear? Now drink this."

Fishing out a scalpel, a probe, a pair of forceps and a needle, Viola placed the surgical tools side by side on a silver tray and handed Florian a wad of antiseptically treated linen. The patient's jacket, vest, cravat and shirt had all been removed and were lying in a heap on the floor.

"Thank you," Florian muttered. He proceeded to clean the discolored wound in the patient's left shoulder. The man was pale, his body trembling slightly beneath Florian's touch, until the morphine's effect caused him to relax in a state of gradual unconsciousness.

Reaching for a sponge, Viola helped dab away excess blood. "I take it you know him," Viola said as she watched Florian probe the wound carefully with his finger.

"Locator," he replied while presenting her with the palm of his hand.

She picked up the tool and gave it to him, then helped hold open the wound for better access. Florian slid the locator in, probing for the lead ball and other foreign matter lodged beneath the patient's skin. She'd seen the procedure performed a dozen times before.

"He's my brother," Florian suddenly said, answering her question. He knit his brow and closed his eyes, allowing his sense of touch to guide him. "There! It's not too deep, thank God, but there might be some fabric as well.

Let me have the forceps."

Viola handed the tool over and sponged the wound clean once more. She wasn't too surprised to discover that the man lying outstretched on the operating table was Henry Lowell. His reputation as a notorious rake was such that even a nonsocial woman like herself could not avoid hearing of some of his exploits, like the affair the Earl of Elmwood had accused him of having with his wife.

"Please check this against his shirt," Florian said. He dropped a piece of bloodied linen into a small empty bowl.

Grabbing the garment, Viola stretched the front of it out on a nearby counter and tried to match the piece of fabric to the part of the shirt that was missing. "I think there might be a little bit more," she told Florian.

He bowed his head again and probed deeper. Seconds ticked by with infernal slowness until, with a long exhale, he pulled the tiniest fabric piece free. Getting the lead ball out after that was fairly simple, after which the only remaining task was to trim the dead skin around the wound with a scalpel and suture it.

"I'm sorry he got shot," Viola said, not because she had much sympathy for a renowned libertine, but because it was clear to her that Florian was upset. She threaded a needle with waxed silk and handed it to him as soon as he'd finished using the scalpel.

He snorted and proceeded to stitch up the wound. "He's a wonderful brother and I love him dearly, but he can also be a bloody idiot at times. In this case, he chose to offer a young dandy advice on his clothing."

Viola pressed her lips together to refrain from smiling. This was, after all, a serious matter. She was fairly sure Florian wouldn't approve of her being amused by it. She cleared her throat and began preparing a compress. "Which poultice do you prefer to use?"

"I'll have the one with the crushed onion and honey."

Spreading the mixture out on a thin piece of linen, Viola placed it carefully over the wound while Florian went to clean his hands. She then added a thicker wad of clean linen on top and asked Emily to help her secure it with a bandage.

It wasn't until she was finished that she allowed herself to consider Mr. Lowell's appearance. Until now, she'd been methodical in her work and professionally detached. With her task completed, however, she became aware of Mr. Lowell's size and, more to the point, his stunning physique.

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