Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Great War, Vol 1: Chapter 7-2

2020 has been a rough year, but I'm not going to end it (or at least, not end my Christmas to New Years time off work) without completing Chapter 7 and starting some good habits for the new year.  

Terespol. July 16th, 1915. “Would you like a chance to get away from it all for a time?” Sister Gorka asked.

It had been a sorely trying day in the wards. Natalie had hoped that Doctor Kalyagin’s determination to put her under extra scrutiny would fall away after a few days. Despite their clash of wills over Lieutenant Ovechkin’s last days, she was not normally lax in her adherence to procedures. Surely after a few days he would tire of this extra oversight and things would return to normal.

But she had not accounted for the conjunction of the new doctor’s pride and his passion for his work. If anything, his determination not to trust her, and to make this lack of trust obvious to all, had grown over the following days, and as they had received a gradually increasing number of patients over the last few days this had resulted in Kalyagin demanding that she take him through the wards and show him the initials on every treatment protocol. He had even questioned the orderlies and the housekeeping sisters, demanding to know if they had seen anyone (here he looked significantly at Natalie) providing treatment that was contrary to the protocol.

It was with relief that Natalie and Sister Gorka had finished their twelve hour shift, leaving Sister Travkin to oversee the wards until morning.

“What did you have in mind?” Natalie asked, in response to Sister Gorka’s question.

“I’ve secured a motorcar in order to go into Brest-Litovsk and do a bit of shopping,” Sister Gorka explained. “But it’s a strange city. I’d like to have someone to come with me, aside from the driver. Would you come?”

“Shopping?” The word was from another time. Natalie had not had the opportunity to enter a shop since joining the field hospital back during the winter. And yet just across the river in Brest-Litovsk there was a bustling city with shops and tea houses and people out of uniform. Until this moment it had not occurred to her to visit, and yet now the idea became suddenly and desperately attractive to her.

“Lieutenant Serafin told me where there is a shop with photographic supplies,” Sister Gorka explained, in an apologetic tone as Natalie’s private thoughts raced. “I wanted to replenish my supply of chemicals. Who knows when I shall have another chance? And I’m sure there must be other good shops as well. I thought it might be a nice change. Please come.”

“Yes! Yes, I’d love to,” Natalie replied. “Of course I’ll come.”

The motorcar was one of two assigned to the regimental staff, a twenty-five horsepower Crossley touring machine, all gleaming brass and black enamel. The vehicle had begun its life in Britain, been imported to the Russian Empire by a Warsaw business magnate with a fancy for the newest products of industrial ingenuity, and then requisitioned by the army and sent to the regiment as the Germans approached Warsaw. Russia itself had produced, in total, less than a thousand cars before the war’s outbreak, and with the German navy slowing imports to a trickle it was essential that no precious imported technology be lost. But right now, while the regiment was settled into the fortifications around Terespol and Brest-Litovsk, the regimental vehicles could be lent out at times for the use of officers or those they chose to grant favors to. As the nurses settled onto the heavily padded leather back seat, Natalie wondered if the car, like the recommendation of the photography shop, was courtesy of Lieutenant Serafin. Was it, perhaps, a sign of admiration for Sister Gorka, or just a favor done by one hobbyist to another?

The driver wove between pedestrians and carts, working his horn frequently, over the mile of cobbled road and then the old bridge over the Bug River which led into the city gates of Brest and the old fort. While Terespol was a product of the age of artillery, a fort of embankments and trenches, designed to be as impregnable to explosions as the earth itself, the old fort and city wall were products of an earlier age: towers and crenelations of red brick. These would do little to stop modern high explosive shells, and the old fort was now merely a marker at the entrance to the city. Beyond it, they reached the close-packed buildings and milling crowds of the old city.

They pulled up in front of a two-story building in the shopping district with the name MAGID painted in large letters over the shop windows on the lower floor. Although the shops, or at least the building, were all apparently under the ownership of Magid, the windows each displayed different merchandise. The first shop contained stationary and books, the second cameras, telescopes, and binoculars, the third women’s clothing and other necessities. Sister Gorka immediately led the way into the shop with cameras, and after gazing longly for a moment at a gleaming wood and brass plate camera displayed on a tripod, she answered the question of the eldelry man behind the counter by listing off the chemicals she required. These apparently were not simple choices, and as Sister Gorka and the shopman settled into discussing powdered developing solutions and stop baths. 

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