CHAPTER 4: DOCTOR TOUREIL
If you were to meet Doctor Toureil, your first impression of him would be that he was a farmer. He had the broad red face of a man who spent his days tilling fields, or clumsily trying to catch agile sheep on misty mountains. His hands were huge, pink and covered in a sandpaper of calluses. His clothes were shabby, and had probably not left his body in ten years. This, of course, was one of the reasons why the villagers of St Anne trusted him so much. He wasn’t some polished outsider come to sneer at the simple little country bumpkins. If anything, Doctor Toureil was more of a bumpkin than anyone else in the village. He was also an excellent doctor.
He had cobbled together his knowledge of medicine from many sources, from his mother who had been known in the region as a healer of near miraculous powers, from a long apprenticeship with Doctor Demetrius, his predecessor, and from twenty years of hard graft.
The title “Doctor” was perhaps a little inaccurate, as no one had actually seen his medical licence. It was something that the people were asked to put their faith in, like the miracle of bread and wine at mass every Sunday.
He was no quack, however. He practised a healthy mixture of established medicine, herbal remedies, and good common sense that usually got the job done. In his manner he was brusque, short tempered and fiery, except when at the bedside of a patient, when he would become as sweet and tender as chocolate cake.
“She would have found out sooner or later, Luke.” said Toureil to Marie’s father as the two men watched her, asleep at long last.
Luke said nothing.
“She will get used to the idea. Children are amazingly adaptable, you know. The day will come when she will walk through the door, give you a kiss and say “How was your day Papa? Did you stretch many necks?” And you will say “No, not so many.” Then the day will come when she will come in the door and say “Papa. I want to marry that boy from across town who cleans out the cesspit.” and you will say “No! Absolutely not! I forbid it” and she will say “Oh! I hate you! I hate you! I will never speak to you again! I am going to kill myself, right now!” And you will say she is an ass. It is the way of things.”
Again, Luke did not reply.
Toureil sighed to himself. Luke was obviously intent on torturing himself. Well, let him. A Doctor couldn’t cure every damn thing.
Finally Luke spoke “What about the fever?” he asked.
“The fever?” Toureil said dismissively “The fever is nothing. The fever is an ass. I spit on the fever.” at which point he spat on the floor, presumably where his medical expertise led him to know the fever would be located. “We will not give the fever the satisfaction of worrying about it. The fever is a little maggot. It will clear up with the right food and plenty of water. Good fresh water, mind you, Luke. I have warned the stupid asses in this town about drinking that filth from the river. Get it from the well in the town square, do you hear?”
“Yes.” said Luke, not looking up.
“The fever is not the problem.” Toureil continued “The problem is that she has not slept in five days. That is the problem. Do you see these?”
He took a paper pouch filled with dried leaves out of his pocket. They were dark brown, dry as dust and smelt faintly of earth.
“Put this in a cup of boiling water, stir it until the water is brown, and then get her to drink it and no power on earth will be able to keep her awake. It is wonderful stuff. I use it on my wife all the time. Slip it into her food, her drink, she drops like a log. Wonderful stuff. Saved my marriage on more than one occasion. When she wakes up she has no idea what has happened or what we were arguing about. It is a gift from God. Here.” he gave Luke the bag, and the hangman took it without a word.
“Now listen to me, Luke. This girl must sleep for the best part of the next three days or I will not answer for the consequences.”
“Good. Now I must return home to my stupid ass of a wife.” said the Doctor making for the door “she will savage me like a dog if I am late.” He stopped.
“I will just take a pinch of this if you don’t mind.” he said, removing a small wedge of the brown leaves from the paper bag with his fingers before his broad frame ambled out the front door.
Marie slept on, and the impression of her eyes rolling gently could be seen beneath her violet eyelids.
Luke had not chosen his current profession of village hangman, it had chosen him. Although he would never have admitted it, it had been Marie’s mother who had been the breadwinner of the family. She had been a seamstress of genius, and the women not only of St Anne but of the outlying farmsteads and even as far away as Toulouse would come to have their linen repaired by her. This was not to say that Luke was a sponger. Quite the opposite. He worked hard and long on their small plot of land, but no amount of work could change the fact that the acreage was meagre, the soil thin, and the crops he was producing grown by dozens of other farmers in the area. It was, painful as it was for a man of his pride to admit, not his crops, but his wife Clare’s magic sewing needle, that kept them in money. He did not of course bear his wife any ill will over this, in fact he was proud of her and the regard she had won. But it did bother him that he relied more on her than she did on him for money, if for nothing else.
Then, with a horrible suddenness, she had died.
Picture now for a minute, the young Luke, for he is still only in his twenties, having just seen his beautiful wife who he loved like birds love the dawn waste away to nothing in two short days while Doctor Toureil worked like a slave to save her.
“This disease in an ass, Luke, nothing more!” he had hissed “It shall not best Lawrence Toureil!”
But it had. Picture him there, and remember that his wife’s death is only the first of his problems.
because cradled there in his great arms is a tiny infant of not more than six months of age, the first brush strokes of red hair already visible on her head. Not only is his wife dead, but he must continue to work the farm and mind his tiny, fragile adoration. And there is little or no money coming in.
He holds Marie closely to him, and tries to quell those awful deep sobs that rise and fall in his chest.
It is to this kind of desperation that evil men are drawn like sharks to blood.
“My dear Monsieur Dashonde, my deepest condolences on the death of your lovely wife.”
“Thank you, Monsieur Nogaret.”
“It pains me. It truly pains me.”
“Thank you Monsieur.”
“Monsieur Dashonde, you must excuse me for giving heed to the feckless gossips of this town, but I have heard rumours that you are in slight difficulty of a financial nature. That the loss of the income your dear wife’s needlework brought in (ah, what a blow to the dear housewives of this fair town!) has hit you rather heavily? I trust this is purely malicious hearsay?”
“We shall get by, Magistrate, thank you.”
“Of course, of course. I thought as much. But if it were a problem, if you were in need of some ready money (for as I’m sure you are starting to appreciate, a funeral is no cheap affair) then I would know of a job that would be yours at a moment’s notice if you so desired. It would only be a once off affair you understand…”
Luke had leapt at this.
“What is the job, Monsieur Nogaret?”
If you had looked closely enough into the cavernous eye sockets of the magistrate, you would have seen those huge green eyes spark. He knew he had this blue-eyed fool as surely as if he was chained and shackled.
“Do you know Francois De Brun?”
“The same. Do you know where he is?”
“The outskirts of the town, I would expect. He hangs around the farmsteads.”
“Incorrect. He is in jail.”
“He killed a man three weeks ago. A farmhand. I sentenced him last week.”
“How long?” Luke asked.
“Forever.” said Nogaret with a smile “He has been sentenced to death, murder is a very serious offence Monsieur. And we must answer like with like.”
“Of course.” said Luke, not seeing where this was going
“You might ask why the sentence has not been carried out already?”
“What? Oh yes, why?”
“Because, Monsieur Dashonde, people are cowards. You will find men to mock and jeer a criminal, to shout abuse at him, to fling rheum on his beard, and stones at his face, but when you search for a man to actually give him the one thing he deserves…their courage fails them, Monsieur. I am in need of a man of resolve. A man who is not afraid to see the law done.”
“You want me to kill him?”
“No, no, no!” Nogaret exclaimed in mock horror “I want you to execute him. I want you to terminate his life. I want you to officiate over his entry into the hereafter. I would never dream of asking you to kill him…”
Luke had of course told himself that it was only one time, that the money was needed for Marie, that he would get things in order and that would be that, that De Brun deserved to be hung anyway, that no one would even know it was him…
Several weeks later he told himself that this would be the last time, that Marie could not go hungry, that once he got the farm in working order that would be the end of it, that this Chanteler character probably had killed that man even though he swore to the God above with tears in his eyes that he was innocent, that no one would even know it was him…
Two months later he promised himself that this would be the last time, that Marie needed new clothes, that the farm would start bringing in money any day now, that this gypsy had had no right to steal that man’s cattle and deserved whatever was coming to him, that no one would even know it was him…
Six months later he had told himself that he was a dirty liar, that this was not the last time, or the second last, that Marie would be living off blood money for the rest of her life, that the farm was now a meadow covered with wildflowers that shone yellow in the sun, that this woman.…that this woman …that this woman would die and that was the end of it, that no one would ever know it was him…
Almost a year later he accepted Nogaret’s offer and became the village hangman in a permanent capacity. He told himself that Marie would have a good life, and would be well looked after. He told himself that the farm was now his daughter’s playground. He told himself that they were just necks, an endless procession of necks that were tied, broken and cut down. He told himself that he didn’t care. He told himself that no one would ever know it was him.