The characters in this story, are, as ever, the property of L. M. Montgomery. Those who are not hers are inspired by her.

This story too owes its existence to Katherine-with-a-K, who prior to Christmas expressed the wish to see something of Faith's war in Pieces of Lives. This is neither a chapter in that story, nor, I suspect, the story she expected; it is, however, the one that ambushed me. Hopefully it fills a gap while I scrabble to get the end of Pieces of Lives in order. With thanks ever for reading -Alinya


Gangrene smelled sweet. Not in the way sugar was sweet, but in that cloying, sticky-sweet way that over-ripe fruit was sweet. It made Faith think of Rainbow Valley and the hot summers when they had hoarded illicit peaches from Abner Crawford's orchards, only to be discovered when the sun blacked them and the flies came flocking in clouds. It was the memory, she said when she woke up, not the sight of the flesh of Private McDonald rotted from toe to femur that had made her faint. She had expected the rot; the memory of the peaches overlaying it had cut her somewhere vital. She had said this to Lili when she was still only Lilian, moon-pale and waifish, but sweet. Sweet the way treacle candy was sweet, Faith discovered to her relief, on waking to the scrutiny of those too-big eyes, blue or trying to be. Nursing regalia made Lili look bleached of colour, as if she had been sat too long in the sun when in fact it was the height of a greyly English winter and no one could remember what the sun looked like. They couldn't dilute the sweetness of Lili though, that was bone-deep, which was probably why Faith had yielded up the memory of the peaches in the summer sun, how they had stolen them from Abner Crawford ('They?' Lili had asked, thus necessitating an enumerating of Blythes and Merediths that would have made a biblical scribe proud), feasted on them in Rainbow Valley ('Where?' Eliciting a description of Shellean proportions), how afterwards, sick from their spoils they had stowed them at the root of the White Ladywith no thought for the severity of a Canadian summer until the flies appeared to swarm riotously around the peaches' ruin. Lili had grimaced in sympathy, her hand squeezing Faith's. It was only then that they traded names, Faith with the same reckless abandon with which she had offered it to the Blythes all those years ago, Lili gingerly, because she knew already what Faith learned only as the war went on –that names were sacred, the thing that when all else had passed away, preserved that last vestige of the self.

That had been a long time ago; now Faith stood casually debating over the leg of one Private Anderson while simultaneously she kept Lili from fainting. There was no saving the leg; the question was whether to amputate below or above the knee. Cutting it below would be better for mobility, but the black tendrils of gangrene encroached visibly on the skin, the sign of red, angry infection discernible as vines under the knee-cap.

'It will have to be above, I think,' Faith said with real apology to Anderson and across his body, the doctor nodded approval. Beside her, Lili had gone what Norman Douglas would have called cheese-coloured and wavered dangerously. Faith didn't blame her –suspected she was white herself. The mangled specimen of a soldier in front of them was more boy than man, barely 18, if Faith were guessing, and bloody lucky to have come out of Reims with his life. He reminded her horribly, painfully of Carl, except that Anderson's eyes were the green of ripe limes, not the blue of Carl's eyes, a mercy for which she thanked God, because she didn't think she could have taken off the leg of a boy with Carl's eyes.

'Why don't you fetch boiling water, Lili-flower?' Faith said, striving to reassure both of them. Doctor Christopherson was fingering bone saws now, judging which was best to purpose.

'Linen too.'

'I hate to ask,' said Doctor Christopherson, 'but would you mind…' He made a gesture half apology, half distaste, nodding in the direction of their patient.

'I'll hold him, of course,' said Faith moving behind the table and taking Anderson's shoulders firm in both hands, hiding a smile in her collar. Dr. Christoperson might have spent four years at the front ministering to the dying but he still apologised compulsively to his nurses for the ugliness of the work they had signed on to do. Now he said, as he always said before an operation, 'It's not really a lass's work. I'm sorry.' It was their ritual, the superstitious rite that brought them safely through the ordeal of the moment. Like the sweetness of gangrene, it was a gesture that conjured home, Dr Blythe and Jem, and that weird feeling of temporal dislocation came back to her. Then Lili was there with the water and Faith looked down into the face of Anderson. She had used to close her eyes; that was in the early days when gangrene smelled of rotting peaches and made her homesick as nothing else could. Then had come the mess that was the Somme, the ensuing chaos and the nameless lieutenant who had died in her arms. It was only afterwards, as she drafted an account of his death to be sent to People Who Mattered that she realised she had no name for him.

'Something with an F,' Lili had said when asked. Faith, who had felt his life ebb out of him like water could think only of the lark on the badge marking him out as Canadian, a Quebecer, Je te plumarai the motto of his squadron.

'It's going to be all right?' said Anderson now as the bone saw came down, and Faith, who had never been much good at lying convincingly, smiled and said, 'Right as rain.'

It wasn't untrue Faith consoled herself as the shudder of the bone saw reverberated down her arms, the impact jarring her shoulders. The gangrenous limb removed he would be well out of this moil, and that was something to the good. Green eyes spasmed wide and watery in agony, and not for the first time Faith cursed the ill luck that had seen the anaesthetic exploded into bloody pieces. It would be. That was the great risk of ether. Nothing so flammable. Also finicky to use. Less so stovain or novicain, both things that would have been welcomed now. The trouble was that she couldn't remember the last time she'd had access to either. England, Faith thought. And still, it could have been so much worse.

She watched upside-down as the fish-mouth incision appeared in his leg. That was good. Another, smaller incision into the muscle tissue. Lili pinned the skin carefully, exposing the muscle and bone, and their little world began to fill with the hot smells of iron and innards. Still good.

'All right?' she said to Anderson and he grunted through the leather he was biting. Think good things she counselled herself in the face of this desperate attempt at stoicism. They could be like the anaesthetic, blown into non-existence or about to be. There was another shudder, and another, the body of Anderson twitching under constraint as he was jarred by the rending of limb from body. A juddering like a stone skimming water and then nothing. Anderson looked up at her with a look of such naked terror that Faith squeezed his shoulders and said, 'All right,' but of course it wasn't. Transecting the femur was difficult at the best of times. Trying to do so on a wakeful patient was doomed to be nothing less than fraught. With half an eye Faith took in the spectacle of the surgery, Lili with her clips and cautorising iron, Dr. Christopherson with the bone saw, all as it should be. Except…the iron tang of blood flooded Faith's nose. Had a muscle slipped too far? Snagged too near the bone? She couldn't tell from behind Anderson's prone shoulders. The nothing came again, an echo like iron that passed from Anderson's mangled leg all the way through to Faith's hands on his shoulders. She dared to look away from his bloodless face to Dr. Christopherson.

'Jesus, God,' said Faith softly over the nothing sound of the bone saw. It was stuck deep in the leg, teeth half-visible and bloody in the light of the tent.

'Thought…'said Anderson through his teeth 'minister's daughter… you said.'

'It isn't swearing if it's meant as a prayer,' said Faith, which improbably won her smiles from all of them, Dr. Christopherson, Lili and Anderson. From his perch on the table Anderson gave a grunt of could have been agreement, amusement or agony. Faith thought it was probably all three, but mostly agony.

'We used to get into all sorts of scrapes,' she said to take his mind off of the proceedings inasmuch as that was possible. 'We were very imperfect minister's children.' Not for the first time she thought of Nan and the ease with which she wove her economies out of thin air and felt a pang. She was no storyteller herself, but she supposed she could ramble on about the Manse, Maywater and Rainbow Valley until the worst of it was over. No, she couldn't. The scream of the bone saw came again, brutally shattering this imagining.

'Lili,' she said as evenly as she could with the weight of the bone saw shocking its way into her arms, 'I need you to…'It was easier to reach for Lili and pull her by the wrist, to install her behind the table in Faith's place.

Lili opened her mouth to protest but Faith anticipated her.

'You've got to,' she said, her hands folding tight over the bone saw. They would risk the muscles, she thought, go slowly. It was the best they could do; to leave a wakeful Anderson unrestrained would be to butcher him still further. Bent over the exposed tissue and bone of the knee the smells of infection, blood and that gangrenous smell of rotted peaches were stronger than ever. In front of her Dr. Christopherson nodded and they leaned hard on the bone saw.

There was an awful, screaming wrench and it came free with their combined exertion. Then the whine and rasp as it began again, and Faith thought about closing her eyes against the ragged edge of the bone unravelling before her. Then she thought of the dead lieutenant whose name she had lost and changed her mind. The air was heavy with the smell of spoiled peaches, the coppery smell of blood and innards. Below her hands puss oozed yellowly and viscous from the wound; she was going to choke on the miasma of it if she didn't die of exhaustion first. Her nerves were protesting with the effort demanded by the bone saw. But the femur was thicker than she'd imagined, and the saw ground on, needs must, she supposed, and then, perversely, as if in counterpoint, rose up the breathless thread of someone singing, high and thready, aloutte, gentille alloutte… It's never Anderson, thought Faith, and of course it wasn't. Lili, with sweat running in rivets down her forehead, lips compressed with effort, was sending little snatches of song into the world, because she hadn't family to tell stories about or places held sacred, or any more facility with comforting lies than had Faith. Je te plumerai le tête…Good Lord, children's nursery rhymes were brutal, and so was the world. Was that why they had made those rhymes so grim, Faith wondered over the snick of the bone saw? So that when Hell opened its mouth to swallow those children whole they would know what to expect? Alouette, Alouette, from Lili, not feet away but a whole other universe so far as Faith was concerned. At least the lark was dead before it began to be mutilated.

'Jesus God,' said Anderson around the much-abused piece of leather. No one contested the prayerfulness of the sentiment.

Her arms were going numb with the effort of helping to manipulate the bone saw, and still Anderson's leg lay before her, not quite in pieces. A piece of skin had slipped its pin –forced free when the saw unstuck, Faith supposed –and now flapped fragile and delicate before her eyes, making Faith glad it was Dr. Christopherson at the helm of the operation. They needed another pair of hands to pin it back, but that meant moving Lili from the wracked body of Anderson and to do that was to let him flounder as crazily as the flap of skin in the saw's path, which itself meant botching this operation still further. Always supposing that was possible. Alouette, gentille alouette…

Just as Faith thought she could manage no more, that her arms would fall off in a tremor of exhausted defeat, the leg came free and there was only the bloody gleam of bone and muscle to contend with.

'No time for stitches,' said Dr. Christopherson.

'No, of course,' said Faith, with a look back at Anderson's face. He was white of course –blood loss or shock, she wondered, or both? She favoured the last diagnosis herself. She reached for the abandonned cauterising iron, and was relieved to see Dr. Christopherson too had gone white, this bastion of stalwart order, last embodiment of the old world here among the mess and the mire. Not really a lass's work, but he didn't say it now as he clipped away the worst of the ragged edges and Faith held the iron to the wound for him. The sweet stench of the gangrene mixed with the searing smell of scorching flesh.

'Oh God,' said Faith the smell of it scoring her nostrils and making her eyes run.

'I thought,' began Lili, her delicate eyebrows disappearing into her forehead.

'If a minister's daughter can't invoke her maker,' said Faith, striving for wryness, 'I don't know who can.' What she didn't say was that she would never eat peaches again.

Later, much later, she drew it, the dry-powder smell of charcoal mercifully eclipsing that of the rotted peaches, of the gangrene. Drew the agonised look of Anderson as he bit down on the leather, Lili's hands on his shoulders, anchoring him to the world. She caught the ragged flap of untethered skin, the dread moment when the bone saw came free.

A rush of warmth, the shifting of the weight of the bed, and then the shock of the operation's lingering smell as Lili set her pointed chin on Faith's acromion to squint at the result.

'You make it look beautiful,' she said, wonderingly.

'But it is,' said Faith, 'life always is. It's why I'm here.'