In this excerpt from The Citadel, Andrew Manson, newly out of medical
school, has just begun his medical practice as an assistant to Dr Edward
Page in the small Welsh mining town of Blaenelly. As he is returning from
a disappointing evening with Christine, the girl he loves, he is met by Joe
Morgan. Joe and his wife, who have been married nearly twenty years, are
expecting their first child.
THOUGH it was nearly midnight when Andrew reached
Bryngower, he found Joe Morgan waiting for him, walking up
and down with short steps between the closed surgery and
the entrance to the house. At the sight of him the burly driller's
face expressed relief.
"Eh, Doctor, I'm glad to see you. I been back and forward
here this last hour. The missus wants ye — before time, too."
Andrew, abruptly recalled from the contemplation of his own
affairs, told Morgan to wait. He went into the house for his bag,
then together they set out for Number 12 Blaina Terrace. The
night air was cool and deep with quiet mystery. Usually so
perceptive, Andrew now felt dull and listless. He had no
premonition that this night call would prove unusual, still less
that it would influence his whole future in Blaenelly.
The two men walked in silence until they reached the door
of Number 12, then Joe drew up short.
"I'll not come in," he said, and his voice showed signs of
strain. "But, man, I know ye'll do well for us."
Inside, a narrow stair led up to a small bedroom, clean but
poorly furnished, and lit only by an oil lamp. Here Mrs Morgan's
mother, a tall, grey-haired woman of nearly seventy, and the
stout, elderly midwife waited beside the patient, watching
Andrew's expression as he moved about the room.
"Let me make you a cup of tea, Doctor, bach," said the former
quickly, after a few moments.
Andrew smiled faintly. He saw that the old woman, wise in
experience, realised there must be a period of waiting that, she
was afraid he would leave the case, saying he would return later.
"Don't fret, mother, I'll not run away."
Down in the kitchen he drank the tea which she gave him.
Overwrought as he was, he knew he could not snatch even an
hour's sleep if he went home. He knew, too, that the case here
would demand all his attention. A queer lethargy of spirit came
upon him. He decided to remain until everything was over.
An hour later he went upstairs again, noted the progress
made, came down once more, sat by the kitchen fire. It was
still, except for the rustle of a cinder in the grate and the slow
tick-tock of the wall clock. No, there was another sound _ the
beat of Morgan's footsteps as he paced in the street outside.
The old woman opposite him sat in her black dress, quite
motionless, her eyes strangely alive and wise, probing, never
leaving his face.
His thoughts were heavy, muddled. The episode he had
witnessed at Cardiff station still obsessed him morbidly. He
thought of Bramwell, foolishly devoted to a woman who deceived
him sordidly, of Edward Page, bound to the shrewish Blodwen,
of Denny, living unhappily, apart from his wife. His reason told
him that all these marriages were dismal failures. It was a
conclusion which, in his present state, made him wince. He
wished to consider marriage as an idyllic state; yes, he could
not otherwise consider it with the image of Christine before him.
Her eyes, shining towards him, admitted no other conclusion. It
was the conflict between his level, doubting mind and his
overflowing heart which left him resentful and confused. He let
his chin sink upon his chest, stretched out his legs, stared
broodingly into the fire. He remained like this so long, and his
thoughts were so filled with Christine, that he started when the
old woman opposite suddenly addressed him. Her meditation
had pursued a different course.
"Susan said not to give her the chloroform if it would harm
the baby. She's awful set upon this child, Doctor, bach." Her old
eyes warmed at a sudden thought. She added in a low tone:
"Ay, we all are, I fancy."
He collected himself with an effort.
"It won't do any harm, the anaesthetic," he said kindly.
"They'll be all right."
Here the nurse's voice was heard calling from the top landing.
Andrew glanced at the clock, which now showed half-past three.
He rose and went up to the bedroom. He perceived that he might
now begin his work.
An hour elapsed. It was a long, harsh struggle. Then, as the
first streaks of dawn strayed past the broken edges of the blind,
the child was born, lifeless.
As he gazed at the still form a shiver of horror passed over
Andrew. After all that he had promised! His face, heated with
his own exertions, chilled suddenly. He hesitated, torn between
his desire to attempt to resuscitate the child, and his obligation
towards the mother, who was herself in a desperate state. The
dilemma was so urgent he did not solve it consciously. Blindly,
instinctively, he gave the child to the nurse and turned his
attention to Susan Morgan who now lay collapsed, almost
pulseless, and not yet out of the ether, upon her side. His haste
was desperate, a frantic race against her ebbing strength. It
took him only an instant to smash a glass ampule and inject
the medicine. Then he flung down the hypodermic syringe and
worked unsparingly to restore the flaccid woman. After a few
minutes of feverish effort, her heart strengthened; he saw that
he might safely leave her. He swung round, in his shirt sleeves,
his hair sticking to his damp brow.
"Where's the child?"
The midwife made a frightened gesture. She had placed it
beneath the bed.
In a flash Andrew knelt down. Fishing amongst the
sodden newspapers below the bed, he pulled out the child. A
boy, perfectly formed. The limp, warm body was white and soft
as tallow1. The cord, hastily slashed, lay like a broken stem. The
skin was of a lovely texture, smooth and tender. The head lolled
on the thin neck. The limbs seemed boneless.
Still kneeling, Andrew stared at the child with a haggard
frown. The whiteness meant only one thing: asphyxia, pallida2,
and his mind, unnaturally tense, raced back to a case he once
had seen in the Samaritan, to the treatment that had been used.
Instantly he was on his feet.
"Get me hot water and cold water," he threw out to the nurse.
"And basins too. Quick! Quick!"
"But, Doctor_" she faltered, her eyes on the pallid body of
"Quick ! " he shouted.
Snatching a blanket, he laid the child upon it and began
the special method of respiration. The basins arrived, the ewer,
the big iron kettle. Frantically he splashed cold water into one
basin; into the other he mixed water as hot as his hand could
bear. Then, like some crazy juggler, he hurried the child between
the two, now plunging it into the icy, now into the steaming bath.
Fifteen minutes passed. Sweat was now running into
Andrew's eyes, blinding him. One of his sleeves hung down,
dripping. His breath came pantingly. But no breath came from
the lax body of the child.
A desperate sense of defeat pressed on him, a raging
hopelessness. He felt the midwife watching him in stark
consternation, while there, pressed back against the wall where
she had all the time remained _ her hand pressed to her throat,
uttering no sound, her eyes burning upon him _ was the old
woman. He remembered her longing for a grandchild, as great
as had been her daughter's longing for this child. All dashed
away now; futile, beyond remedy...
The floor was now a draggled mess. Stumbling over a sopping
towel, Andrew almost dropped the child, which was now wet
and slippery in his hands, like a strange, white fish.
"For mercy's sake, Doctor," whimpered the midwife. "It's
Andrew did not heed her. Beaten, despairing, having laboured
in vain for half an hour, he still persisted in one last effort,
rubbing the child with a rough towel, crushing and releasing
the little chest with both his hands, trying to get breath into
that limp body.
And then, as by a miracle, the pigmy chest, which his hands
enclosed, gave a short, convulsive heave, another... and
another... Andrew turned giddy. The sense of life, springing
beneath his fingers after all that unavailing striving, was so
exquisite it almost made him faint. He redoubled his efforts
feverishly. The child was gasping now, deeper and deeper. A
bubble of mucus came from one tiny nostril, a joyful iridescent
bubble. The limbs were no longer boneless. The head no longer
lay back spinelessly. The blanched skin was slowly turning pink.
Then, exquisitely, came the child's cry.
"Dear Father in heaven," the nurse sobbed hysterically. "It's
come _ it's come alive."
Andrew handed her the child. He felt weak and dazed. About
him the room lay in a shuddering litter: blankets, towels, basins,
soiled instruments, the hypodermic syringe impaled by its point
in the linoleum, the ewer knocked over, the kettle on its side in
a puddle of water. Upon the huddled bed the mother still dreamed
her way quietly through the anaesthetic. The old woman still
stood against the wall. But her hands were together, her lips
moved without sound. She was praying.
Mechanically Andrew wrung out his sleeve, pulled on
"I'll fetch my bag later, nurse."
He went downstairs, through the kitchen into the scullery.
His lips were dry. At the scullery he took a long drink of water.
He reached for his hat and coat.
Outside he found Joe standing on the pavement with a tense,
"All right, Joe," he said thickly. "Both all right."
It was quite light. Nearly five o'clock.
A few miners were already in the streets: the first of the
night shift moving out. As Andrew walked with them, spent and
slow, his footfalls echoing with the others under the morning
sky, he kept thinking blindly, oblivious to all other work he had
done in Blaenelly, "I've done something; oh, God! I've done
something real at last."
Jump to Menu
Online Lessons with Spoken text and correct pronounciation