Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Little Cleaning Girl: Part I

(A beginning note: This is my story. My baby. My blood child. If I catch so much as a breath of someone else claiming it as their own, I shall hire the blackest of cybervillans to crash your site, destroy your computer, and kidnap your grandmother. You have been warned.)

Dr. Robert Kisset’s shoulders rolled and his cane tapped the pavement as he made his way down the dusky street. The surrounding factories had only just stopped belching scum into the sky and were closing for the night. He heard a worker hacking and wheezing and allowed his thoughts to wander to Number Thirteen. Number Thirteen’s lungs had been covered and nearly filled with black gunk. Of course, all of London was covered in gunk nowadays, Dr. Kisset reflected disgustedly, stepping around a pile of refuse. Not that he was complaining. The gunk created patients and bodies, and he got a little bit closer to finding cures. That alone was why he was paying a visit to Dr. Castleton.

“Good evening, miss. Is the good doctor at home?” he asked, politely enough, at Castleton’s front door.

“He might be, guvnah. Shall I ask if he’ll see yeh?” asked the coarse, middle-aged maid.

Trying to hide his impatience with the ill-educated servant, Dr. Kisset replied, “Yes. Tell him that Dr. Kisset has an urgent matter to discuss with him.”
“All roight. Come inside. Yeh can wait in the hall.”

She tromped off to find Dr. Castleton, leaving Dr. Kisset to stew in the vestibule of the fine house. He went over what he was going to say in his head until he was quite sure that the doctor would be swayed, and then turned his attention to a movement that caught his eye.

A slight girl, perhaps no more than twelve, was scrubbing the floor by the staircase. She was of a tiny build, but her small muscles attested to hard labor. Her hands went back and forth, her body swaying to the rhythm of the brush. She paused every so often to sweep her long, dark hair out of her brown eyes or rub her forehead tiredly. Her little lips were puckered in concentration and only relaxed when she seemed to be speaking to herself and smiling. Some girlish fantasy, Dr. Kisset supposed. He wondered if she was at all sick. She had a frail constitution like Number Five had had, which had resulted in some heart problems. As far as he could tell, Number Five’s heart started beating irregularly and then stopped altogether. If he could just look at someone else with the same complication, but alas…

“Dr. Castleton is ready for yeh,” a vulgar voice interrupted his thoughts. The dumpy woman had returned.
“Thank you,” he muttered distractedly.

The doctor was in his study, lying down after another particularly painful pressure in his chest. He frowned slightly when Dr. Kisset came in, not only because of his recent episode, but because his associate’s expression was strangely determined.

“Hello, Robert.”

“Dr. Castleton.” Robert nodded respectfully. “How goes your practise?”

“Not nearly as well as yours, I hear. Seventeen successful operations in a row is quite an accomplishment for a lad only three years out of medical school.”

“Yes.” Robert’s eyes fairly glowed with ambition. “Seventeen lives saved and with your help that number will increase a hundredfold, at the very least. Doctor, I am in dire need of your help.”

The elderly gentleman sighed. “What is it?”

“I need your operating theatre.”

“Pray, what for? Does not the institution have a fine one that is always open to a man of success such as yourself?”

“Yes…” he said slowly. “However, I need yours for some… private studies.”

“You don’t mean to say,” cried Dr. Castleton, “that you are involved in the abominable practise of body snatching!”

“This is the Age of Discovery, doctor,” argued Robert. “Leaps must be taken. Risks must be chanced.”

“Bodies — no, people — must be torn from their resting places to further science and vanity?” The doctor was incredulously scandalized.

“To save lives! To learn more about the human body! Do you remember when we would stitch people up, only to have the stitching come apart and invite infection? I have learned that there is more than one layer of skin to bind in some cases. The benefits to the whole human race far outweigh old-fashioned taboos.”

“You cannot be content with the one body of a hanged criminal the government allots?”

“One body yearly? No! Besides,” wheedled Robert, “those deaths are hardly natural. If I can find out what kills people naturally, perhaps I can prevent it.”

The doctor covered his eyes wearily, blocking out all other thoughts and influences. He automatically invited in the person who tapped timidly on the door to dust his bookshelves, never once looking up. The little cleaning girl glided silently into the room and noiselessly began working in a corner.

“All right, Robert,” said the doctor at last, “tell me what you need.”

“Full access to your theatre and tools, and your complete silence. I daresay that you know as well as I the consequences of what I am pursuing.” Robert tugged his earlobe nervously, in spite of himself. “Loss of license, reputation, and possibly life. One of my delivery men has already been caught and killed by the Bow Street Runners, no questions asked.”

“And how will I know when to expect your… deliveries?”

“Leave the back door to the theatre open on Wednesdays. They will either come then or not at all. If a body does come, send word to me immediately.”

Dr. Castleton sighed reluctantly, but agreed to the younger man’s terms. Dr. Kisset left feeling satisfied at his success and rejoiced at the prospect of having more bodies to study. Before striding out of the room, however, the little cleaning girl sneezed. That brought Dr. Kisset around faster than he could make an incision.

“One more thing,” he said, almost casually. “You are aware that servants have eyes and ears, correct?”

“No one but the child shall know,” stated Dr. Castleton calmly. “I suppose that you are aware that servants have mouths as well, but that the mouth won’t say a word as long as it knows where its food is coming from.”

“A fair point. Good night, sir.”

With that, he turned back around, scrutinizing the little cleaning girl suspiciously. Her mouth was slightly agape, and her eyes were wide in awe. She had the normal ability that servants have to blend in among large vases, couches, and important guests. He noticed that, under the dirt and grime the London air had gifted her with, her skin was oddly fair. He hadn’t seen such delicate skin since Number Two.

Uncomfortable with Dr. Kisset’s examination, the girl smiled lopsidedly at him and tilted her head to the side. The young doctor shook himself to regain his composure then marched out of the study.

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