Andre Verlain is on top of the world. At the age of twenty-six, he is already a respected member of the medical field, in love with a beautiful woman, Rachel Hayot. But then, in 1902, he finds himself in France, where he learns how easy it is to fall from the highest height to the lowest low. While in Paris, Andre meets a mysterious fortune teller, and Madame Boulier has some bad news .
According to Madame, Andre must soon make a choice. It is foretold that the woman he truly loves is doomed to die in the city of St. Pierre on the island of Martinique-killed by the eruption of the volcano, Pelee. Andre is suspicious-until he sets foot on the destined island and realizes he has eight days before Pelee is fated to explode. Andre is in love with Rachel; the soothsayer must be referring to her ... but what of the enchanting island woman known only as White Flower?
Rachel is the daughter of a rich plantation owner; she is safety and comfort. White Flower is the sister of a voodoo cultist-a dangerous man, hell-bent on killing Andre. She is not a viable prospect for marriage, so why does Andre feel such strong connection to the island beauty? Time is running out. Andre can only save one woman-but which one? And will Andre survive long enough to love her?
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The Devil's Breath
By Dahn Alexander Batchelor
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Dahn Alexander Batchelor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAndre Verlain, a 26-year-old doctor living in Paris was excited that he had been invited to spend a week at the chateau of Vicomte du Marcel Valmonte of Sarthe during the third week of March 1902. It was actually the Vicomte's son, Henri who had invited him since him too, like Andre was a doctor at the Saint-Antoine University Hospital in Paris. He and Andre were close friends and had been for several years. The chateau was larger than most buildings in Paris and unlike most buildings in the beautiful City of Lights, the furnishings in the chateau were exquisitely created. The grounds were as magnificent as he had ever seen as they extended all the way to the banks of the River des Veigers which in itself was a beautiful winding river southwest of city of Le Mans, a small city that is southwest of Paris.
But what really excited him was that during the week he was at the chateau, the five guests were going to be entertained by the famous soothsayer, Madam Boulier who was renowned for forecasting events in the future. In fact, she was the soothsayer who forecasted that on March 9th 1902, the famous symphony composer, Gustav Mahler would marry Alma Schindler in Vienna and on the next day, an earthquake would destroy the Turkish city of Tocjangri; events that actually occurred on the days she had forecasted.
After a sumptuous supper, the five guests and their host along with Madam Boulier entered a salon in which a round table had been placed in the center of the small room with seven chairs surrounding it. As everyone sat down around the table, the lights were turned down by the butler until only the undefined images of the seven people sitting around the table could be seen against the backdrop of the dimly-lit walls. The soothsayer, a woman who appeared to be in her seventies, then placed a short stubby candle in the centre of the table and had the butler light it for her. Now everyone could see the faces of everyone else sitting around the table. All of them except Madam Boulier fixed their eyes on the flame as they listened to her voice.
Andrew fidgeted as he listened to Madam Boulier forecast the futures of the five people ahead of him. The man, whose future was being forecasted for him immediately before his own, said to the soothsayer, "I am going to St. Petersburg to see that magnificent city." Then he asked, "Will I meet a beautiful woman in that city?"
The soothsayer looked up at the young man and said, "Do not go near the Marie Palace on April second."
"Why not?" he asked and then he immediately followed it up with a statement. "That is one of the really beautiful palaces in that city. Why should I miss the opportunity to see it?"
The soothsayer paused for a moment and then replied, "Someone on that day will be murdered in that palace."
One of the other guests asked, "Who will it be?"
The soothsayer replied, "I do not know but I do know that someone is going to be murdered that day in that palace."
She then turned to Andre and asked, "Do you have a question for me, young man?"
Andrew thought for a brief moment and then said, "I am going to the city of St. Pierre on the island of Martinique to marry the woman I truly love." He paused for a moment and then asked, "Will I marry her?"
The soothsayer didn't say a word for two minutes and then she said, "The woman you will truly be in love with will not marry you."
"But," exclaimed Andre, "She and her parents promised me that we can be married when I arrive on the island."
As Andrew look at the light from the candle flickering in the soothsayer's eyes while waiting for a reply, she finally spoke and said with sadness in her voice, "The woman you will desire to marry will be doomed as will everyone else in the city of St. Pierre. Only one will survive and it will not be the one you will truly love."
Andre was aghast. He tried to think of another question but he couldn't. Despite his concern, he was determined to sail to the island in any case even though he later learned that on April 2nd, Dmitry Sipyagin, the Minister of Interior of the Russian Empire, was assassinated by a terrorist in the Marie Palace in St Petersburg just as the soothsayer had forecasted.
Andre had been at sea for six long weary weeks on board the three-masted French barque, the Mirabeau that had left its home port, Roquefort, France, on April 8th 1902. The barque was 54 metres in length, 8.53 metres in width and its displacement was 513 tonnes. It was scheduled to arrive at its final destination by the first week of May. Martinique, as Andre had been told, was one of the most beautiful of all the islands of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean. Rising from the waterfront to the green hillsides that lead back toward the slopes of the volcano, Pelee was the small city of St. Pierre that was home to 27 thousand inhabitants. Being at sea on a square rigger, or for that matter on any sailing boat for any real length of time is not what the average traveler desired but nevertheless Andre had decided to take the trip because of his dream, that dream being; to be married to a beautiful girl who not only had beauty, but also wealth. The object of his love was Rachel Hayot, a twenty-year old girl who was the only child of a rich plantation owner whose plantation was just outside the city of St. Pierre. As the twenty-six-year-old stood on the deck watching the sea glide past the boat, his thoughts took him back to Paris the previous year where he was a young intern in one of Paris's finest and oldest hospitals.
Rachel had been in Paris with her parents for their annual vacation, and she had caught a bad case of influenza and was hospitalized for a month. It wasn't his intention to fall in love with this charming, beautiful girl from the colonies but somehow he found himself spending more attention to Rachelle then to the rest of his patients.
Rachel reciprocated the love and it was almost a sure thing that their plans to marry was in the offing but her parents squelched that as soon as they suspected that their relationship was obviously more than just that of doctor and patient. He would never forget the day she left the hospital with her parents. Her mother was very cold and aloof however her father had suggested that if Andre was willing to wait one year before deciding on marrying his daughter, he would be more receptive to Andre's proposal to his daughter after both of them had a chance to think it over.
A year had elapsed and Rachel's letters were very encouraging so Andre decided to go to Martinique, marry her and then take his wife back to France. Fortunately he had finished his internship at the hospital and after the hospital offered him a permanent post in the hospital; the administrators granted him leave of absence until the first of July. To arrive back in Paris meant that he had to leave the island on the Rormania on the eighth of May. The Mirabeau was due to arrive at Martinique by the first of the month and that meant he had seven full days to convince Rachel's parents of his love for their daughter.
"Verlain," a voice cried out in a distance. "Doctor Verlain!" the voice cried out again.
Andre turned away from the boat's railing and saw a seaman approaching him. "Sir." the seaman began. "The Captain says he would like you to meet with him up forward."
"Very well," answered Andre, "Lead me to him."
The two men walked the length of the boat and the seaman pointed to a hatchway.
"He's waiting for you down there, Sir." said the seaman as he turned away and headed back aft.
Andre climbed down the steps leading into the forecastle and was met by another seaman who then led him into a passageway and then through a series of hatchways. Finally they entered a small room and Andre came face to face with the captain. He was a man in his fifties and from what Andre had learned from some of the crew, he had been at sea since he first served as a cabin boy at the age of fourteen. He was partially bald but had a full beard.
"Thank you very much for coming, Doctor Verlain. I would appreciate it greatly if you would take a look at one of my men. He has been complaining of a pain in his belly."
Lying on one of the bunks was a man stripped to his waist.
"Tell me about the pain." asked Andre in a professional manner that he hoped would give some reassuring psychological relief to the seaman.
"Yes, Sir. I have had a pain on the right side of my stomach for the past few days."
"Have you been feeling nauseated?"
"Yes, Sir." replied the seaman as he winced.
Andre pressed gently on the man's lower abdomen then released the pressure suddenly. The man screamed in pain and clutched at his lower abdomen. Andre took the Captain by the arm and led him to the other end of the room.
"Well, Sir. It looks like he may have an inflamed appendix."
"Will you have to operate, Doctor?" asked the captain.
"I am not sure. How far are we from St. Pierre?"
"If the weather holds out, perhaps eight or nine hours. The island should not be too far over the horizon according to my reckoning."
"Well, Captain, I think that it might be better if we wait until we arrive at St. Pierre where he can get proper medical care." Suddenly a scream came from the bunk and the two men hurried to the side of the seaman who was now squirming in pain on the bunk.
"I think eight or nine hours may be too late, Doctor."
"Well, Sir, I will operate if you wish but you must understand that I have never performed an operation such as this on my own. I only assisted once."
"The man will die if you don't operate, Doctor." He spoke with some authority on that subject having lost a man in a similar way several years earlier.
"I will ask the seaman if he is agreeable to me doing the operation and if he is, then I will perform it." said Andre.
Andre looked at the squirming man and then turned to the Captain again and asked, "What's his name?"
Andre approached the seaman and spoke softly to him, Jacques. "Do you know what is wrong with you?"
"No, Sir. Perhaps I have eaten too much."
"Or drunk too much." added one of his shipmates with a smile.
"No, not much chance of that." replied the stricken man with an eye on his captain.
"Well, I will attempt to describe it to you. There is a finger-shaped sac three to six inches long which protrudes from your large bowel." Andre pointed to the lower right quarter of the man's abdomen, then he continued. "It is called an appendix and if it gets inflamed, then it may rupture and when that happens, a poisonous substance will spread into what is called the peritoneal cavity. The peritoneum is the membranous tissue which lines the abdomen. When the poison from the ruptured appendix spreads to the peritoneum, the results can be fatal and generally are. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?"
"Well, Sir, it seems like you are saying I am going to die."
"Not yet, but in order to save your life, I will have to cut out your appendix before it ruptures."
"Will I be in much pain while you are operating?"
"We have ether, Doctor." the captain added hastily.
"You won't feel a thing. The ether will keep you asleep during the operation."
Jacques then said, "Then do it, doctor." Andre edged towards the captain and said, "I have no proper equipment for an operation Captain."
The Captain replied, "I have a medical kit but it doesn't have any surgical knives in it."
"Well," said Andre. "I can use a knife from the gallery."
Then Andre turned to some of the seamen gathered around. "Will some of you assist Jacques to the salon?"
A few of the sailors helped Jacques to his feet and assisted him out of the door and took him to the salon.
Andre looked at the cook and said, "Now I will take a look at the knives in your galley, Cookie"
The two men headed towards the galley amidships and soon Andre was fingering the edges of the knives. He selected the smallest one he could find and turned to the cook and then drew a diagram of how he wanted the blade to look on a piece of paper and gave it to the cook. As the cook looked at the drawing, Andre said to him, "I want the blade of this knife made like this."
"Yes, Sir." replied the cook. "I will have the knife ready for you in an hour."
Andre left the galley and walked to the salon where Jacques was waiting with the other men.
"Well, Jacques, there should be no need for you to worry." Andre hoped that is own concern wasn't in his voice when he said that. Then he continued, "I feel that you should know what your situation is. If I don't operate and remove your appendix, you may die before we arrive in St. Pierre. The real danger at present is that your appendix may burst and if it does, there will be nothing I can do to stop the poison in your appendix from spreading to the membrane. If that happens, you will surely die before we get to St. Pierre and there will be nothing anyone there can do to save you."
"Are you saying that you should operate now, Doctor?"
"Yes, Jacques. I think that your appendix may burst in the next hour or so."
The seaman looked at Andre and gave a short smile and then said, "Then as I said earlier, operate, Doctor."
"I think there is something else that I should tell you first Jacques. I have never performed an appendectomy before. I only assisted on such an operation once."
"Do you know how it is done Doctor?"
"Yes, I remember the procedure well enough."
"Then I would be very grateful if you would take out my appendix, Sir. I would rather take my chances with your knife then with that damn thing inside of me."
"Very well, Jacques. I'll do my best."
The Captain entered the salon with a medical kit and gave it to Andre. He found the small bottle of ether and asked the captain to take the gauze out of the bag. He then showed the captain how he wanted the ether to be applied to the seaman's face.
Suddenly a voice was heard from on deck. The captain turned to his first mate and ordered, "Go up and see what the hell is going on up there."
"Aye, Sir," responded the first mate as he headed towards the hatchway.
He returned a few minutes later, his face showing fear. "Sir, you best come up. I can't describe what I have just seen."
The Captain, followed by the first mate went up the gangway and in less than a minute later, the first mate returned to the salon and said to Andre, "The Captain wants you topside right away, Sir.
Andre followed the first mate to the deck and saw the captain, his crew and passengers staring out to sea. Andre appreciated why the first mate had shown fear on his face when he had returned to the salon. As he joined the others staring at the horizon, he also realized why the first mate had also claimed he had never seen anything like it before. It was one of those freaks in nature that put seamen and passengers alike in a state of terror. Just astern of the boat about two kilometers away, off the boat's port bow, was a long thin twisting body of water reaching out of the sea and up into the dark clouds overhead.
"It's a damned waterspout." screamed out the Captain. "Those things will tear a boat apart in seconds."
"What's a waterspout?" cried out a passenger.
Andre replied, "It's a tornado at sea. I've never seen one before but from what I have read about them, they generally occur in the tropical seas during the warm seasons."
The first mate turned to the captain. "Sir. Have you ever seen one of these things before?"
The captain replied fearfully, "Yes, First Mate. Twice I have seen them but only at a distance and not this damn close."
Not another word was spoken as everyone on deck stared at the monstrous freak of nature while it whipped across the horizon, snaking about in one direction, then another. The agitation at the bottom of the column of water increased and as it did, it became apparent to the captain, and most certainly to everyone else, that the column of water was moving closer to their boat. Despite this fact, everyone's eyes were glued to the monster approaching them, as if mesmerized.
"Let's get this boat out of here." bellowed the captain as he pulled his eyes away from the waterspout. "First Mate. All hands on deck. Bo'sn, tell the Second Mate to take the watch forward. I want the jibs out, along with the three top mast stays."
Excerpted from The Devil's Breath by Dahn Alexander Batchelor Copyright © 2011 by Dahn Alexander Batchelor. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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