Searing pain jabbed into Adam’s calf.
He cried out. Light from the headlamps reflected two pinpoints of light. A snake scuttled into the bush, and Laine started to rush in his direction.
“Wait, Laine. Don’t come closer.”
“What is it?” she shouted over the gale.
“A snake.” He clenched his fists and bit down on his lip with the throbbing in his leg. “Ruddy thing bit me as I plodded along in my size ten boots. Blast! I should have known better.” He looked back at her. “Stay where you are. There might be more than one.”
He studied the ground in the dim light. Unable to see any sign of movement, he shivered. The blasted reptile had gone. All he’d been able to see in that quick flash was that it was green.
Laine, heedless of his warning, joined him. “Where is the wound?”
“I told you to stay where you were.”
“Is it your leg?”
She slipped her shoulder under his arm and swung her arm around his back. “Stay calm. Do you hear me? No panic. Lean on me. Put as little weight on that leg as possible. I want to get you onto the truck box.”
He put his weight on her shoulders, and she walked him back to the vehicle.
“Balance yourself against that,” she said. “I’m going to hop up there, and if you push with your arms then I’ll pull. I’ve got to get you lying down.”
“I can make it up.”
“Sorry, me luv, but I’m giving you a hand anyway.” She spoke in a fake Cockney accent, no doubt the one she used to cajole many a soldier into treatment or help them withstand the terror of dying.
She hauled him up, and without a word had him soon lying down, covered with a blanket that the rain quickly soaked.
Her hair dripped and hung down as a curtain to frame her face as she pulled off his boot and ripped the bottom of his trouser leg up to his thigh. She bent to examine the punctures at the side of his left calf and then left him to go to the cab. A moment later she returned with her medical bag. “You know the routine, no panic.”
“I know, and I assure you, Matron, I’m doing my best.”
“No talking. Save your strength. That’s the ticket.”
He watched Laine screw open the wooden cylinder of the snake-bite kit and remove the lancet. He did know the routine only far too well. She had to clean the wound and hope the crystals did the trick. After that, unless he could get to a dispensary they could only pray the snake hadn’t injected a fatal amount of venom.
“What kind of snake was it?” she asked in her no-nonsense nursing tone counterbalanced with the jovial Cockney.
“Not sure...there are two types of green snake in this area. If it was the least venomous, the whip snake, I’ll be sick for a few days but live.”
“And the other?”
“Bamboo pit viper. I think you should know...if it was the viper...the outcome is...less optimistic, I’m afraid.”
She stopped momentarily. So momentarily only someone who knew her as well as he did would notice. But she resumed her brisk composure and took the lancet in her hand with the container of potassium permanganate on the floor at her side. “Well, you’re my patient now, and I don’t allow morbid talk on my ward. As I’m sure you’re aware, this will hurt. So lie back, soldier. Grit your teeth. And think of England.”