Read Daughters of the Doge Online
Authors: Edward Charles
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
‘Here, Sam, take this,’ shouted the landlord, and passed a foaming tankard to the astonished patient, who downed it in one draft.
‘Have you done that operation before, Thomas?’
The excitement had subsided, and we had found ourselves a quiet corner of the inn, to one side of the fire and away from draughts. Before us on the table were good bread, local cheese, strong pickles made by the landlord’s wife and tankards of fine ale. My friend shook his head and grinned. ‘No, neither done it nor seen it done, Richard.’
‘Then how did you . . .?’
He reached across the table. His eyes were merry and there was the tiniest hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. I had seen that look before, and knew it signalled that a lesson was about to be imparted. ‘Pass me your notebook.’
I reached down into my bag and drew out my notebook, which he had taught me to carry at all times. He nodded and began leafing through the pages, finally turning the open book towards me on the table. ‘There. What do you see?’
It was a drawing of a leg – and, I thought, quite a good one – from just above the knee to the foot. I was proud of that drawing, and seeing it again brought back the memories of the patient whose leg it was, and the care I had taken, in not very good light, to capture the contours of the bones, joints and muscles. ‘It’s a leg; my brother’s leg. John Stocker’s, drawn as he lay on the farmhouse table, just over the valley there, at Lower Halstock. That’s the good leg and on the next page is the broken one.’
Thomas nodded. ‘See how well you have captured the contours of the knee? When I was learning medicine in Padua back in 1533, I watched a leg like that being dissected by one of the professors. The advantage I have over you is that I have seen that joint slowly and carefully taken apart, and all these years later, I could still remember it, because I, too, made a drawing and attached notes to it. I still have the notebook back at home. What do we say?’
‘Observe, draw, and attach notes.’ I knew the chant by heart.
‘Exactly. Only by doing so at the time did I imprint the detail of that anatomy lesson upon my mind. Many times, in the twenty-two years since, have I looked again at that drawing and refreshed the memory. That is how we learn. We observe, we draw what we have observed, and we attach notes about condition, colour, and so on. When we get home I will lend you that old notebook, so you may copy the drawing in question, while the image remains in your mind. Then you will never forget.’
‘But how did you know how to put it back? How did you even know that it would
Thomas shrugged. ‘I simply took the view that if it had managed to jump out with pressure, and with the skin still unbroken, then careful pressure in the right direction should, with luck, put it back again.’
We finished our meal, and our conversation returned to the events of the night before.
I had been learning the art and science of medicine from Thomas for the last eighteen months, ever since returning home from London in the June of 1554. He had been good to me at that time, when I was still recovering from the dreadful events of the February of that year.
Having been a servant in the Grey family for three years, I had watched as, in one brutal blow, the executioner had ended the life of Lady Jane, whom I had grown to respect and love in my final seven months with her in the Tower of London. Ten days later I had watched again as her father, my employer, the Duke of Suffolk, had lost his head on Tower Hill. And between those dates I had finally lost the love of my life, Jane’s sister, Lady Catherine, as she was required to return to Court, by command of Queen Mary In a single month, my life seemed to have crashed around me: Thomas Marwood, neighbour, friend and local doctor, had accepted the burden of putting it back together again.
If anything, England had become an even more threatening place since then, and although in Devon I was distant from the worst of the persecutions and atrocities, still, for a committed Protestant, as I now was, life was precarious. In the last six months alone, it was said that fifty-four Protestants had gone to the flames. Life in Devon with Dr Marwood was good: I was learning a worthy trade and felt able to contribute to the community we served in Honiton and the surrounding valleys. But every day the persecutions nagged away at me and, since it was not in my nature to withdraw quietly from a confrontation, I became increasingly concerned that one day I would be tested and would have to defend my faith – perhaps with my life.
Thomas understood and accepted my position, despite his own strong commitment to the Catholic faith.
Life was not easy for him at the moment either. This year had been characterized by endless rains, which had ruined the crops across the country, and the failure of the harvest had resulted in famine and weakness throughout many counties. Thomas was worried and said the weakness rendered men vulnerable to disease. More than once in the last month I had heard him say, ‘I shall not be surprised if we see a new outbreak of the plague or some such pestilence.’ Week by week we waited. Then in the midst of all this gloom, an opportunity finally presented itself.
The letter was from Edward Courtenay, the earl of Devon. For different reasons, the earl was well known to both of us. I had first met him during my time at the Tower of London with Lady Jane Grey. Though subject to being searched on the way in and out, I was allowed to make the occasional visit outside and I had used these occasions to teach the earl horse-riding. He, too had been a prisoner in the Tower – for the last fifteen years – and, having finally been released by Queen Mary upon her succession to the throne, had found himself in the embarrassing position of being a noble lord who was barely able to ride. My own position as former Second Master of Horse to the Duke of Suffolk had resulted in my being recommended to him.
Thomas knew him in what might be called a professional capacity, as he had been one of the doctors sent to review Courtenay’s condition during his later, brief reimprisonment by Queen Mary, this time at Kenninghall, immediately prior to his release. Both being Devon men, they had struck up an immediate friendship. Now released, the earl had been sent to Brussels, to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, but he was unhappy there and for months had been planning to escape to the sun and spend some time in Venice. The letter confirmed that his planned trip, which he had discussed with Thomas on a number of previous occasions, was now imminent and it invited Thomas and a companion to join him urgently.
Thomas had jumped at the opportunity, having long yearned to make a return visit to Padua (another city in the Venetian Republic), where he had gained his knowledge of medicine years before. After a long discussion with Dorothy, his understanding wife, Thomas had sent a reply through a merchant sailing to Antwerp from Bridport, agreeing to meet on November the 18th in Louvain.
And me? In truth, my motivations were partly negative. Under the influence of Lady Jane I had become a confirmed Protestant, but now I found myself in a country ruled with decreasing tolerance and increasing severity by the Catholic ‘Bloody Mary’. I was still unsure where my future lay, and the chance to escape for a while and to visit the greatest city in Europe seemed too good to miss. Thomas said it would also be an opportunity to visit the University of Padua and to see whether, as he had repeatedly insisted I should, I might enrol in the School of Medicine and begin my own career proper as a doctor; but in this I remained unsure, and the more Thomas tried to push me in that direction, the more I resisted it. Not that the life of a doctor didn’t appeal to me – it did, but at twenty years of age I wanted to shape my own life rather than have it dictated for me.
And so, after months of loose discussion about the vague possibilities of such a journey, we began to make our own travelling arrangements.