"Help me," he whispered.
The command struck the Golem like an arrow. Swiftly she rose from her crate, bent over Rotfeld, and lifted him as though he weighed no more than a boy. With her master in her arms, she wove her way around the boxes, up the narrow staircase, and out of the hold.
* * *
A commotion broke out at the aft end of steerage. It spread down the deck, waking the sleepers, who grumbled and turned over in their bunks. A crowd began to grow around a cot near the hatch, where a man had collapsed, his face gray in the lantern-light. A call threaded its way from row to row: Was there a doctor nearby?
One soon appeared, in pyjamas and an overcoat, carrying a leather satchel. The crowd parted for him as he made his way to the cot. Hovering next to the sick man was a tall woman in a brown dress, who watched, wide-eyed, as the doctor undid the young man's shirt and pulled it back. Carefully, the doctor prodded Rotfeld's abdomen, and was rewarded with a short scream.
The Golem lunged forward and snatched the man's hand away. The doctor pulled back, shocked.
"It's all right," the man on the cot whispered. "He's a doctor. He's here to help." He reached up, and clasped her hand.
Warily the doctor felt Rotfeld's abdomen again, one eye on the Golem. "It's his appendix," he announced. "We must get him to the ship's surgeon, quickly."
The doctor grabbed one of Rotfeld's arms and carefully pulled him to standing. Others rushed to help, and together the knot of men moved through the hatch, Rotfeld hanging half-delirious at its center. The woman followed close behind.
* * *
The ship's surgeon was the sort of man who did not appreciate being roused in the middle of the night, especially to cut open some nameless peasant from steerage. One look at the man writhing weakly on his operating table, and he wondered if it was worth the trouble. Judging by the advanced state of the appendicitis and the high fever, the appendix had likely already burst, flooding the man's belly with poisons. The surgery alone might finish him off. None of the foreigners who'd delivered him had spoken any English; after delivering their burden they'd hovered by the hatchway, unsure of themselves, and then left without a word.
Well, there was nothing for it. He'd have to operate. He called down for his assistant to be roused, and began laying out his instruments. He was searching for the ether jar when suddenly the hatch was wrenched open behind him. It was a woman, tall and dark-haired, wearing only a thin brown shift against the cold Atlantic air. She rushed to the side of the man on the table, looking near-panicked. His wife or sweetheart, he supposed.
"I suppose it's too much to ask that you speak English," he said; and of course she only stared, uncomprehending. "I'm sorry, but you can't stay here. No women permitted in the surgery. You'll have to leave." He pointed at the door.
That, at least, got through: she shook her head vehemently, and began to expostulate in Yiddish. "Look here," the surgeon began, and took her elbow to steer her out. But it was as though he'd grabbed hold of a lamp-post. The woman would not move, only loomed over him, solid and suddenly gigantic, a Valkyrie come to life.
He dropped her arm as though it had scalded him. "Have it your way," he muttered, disconcerted. He busied himself with the ether jar, and trying to ignore the bizarre presence behind his shoulder.
The hatch opened again, and a young man fell in, looking roughly wakened. "Doctor, I'm good lord!"
"Never mind her," the surgeon said. "She refuses to leave. If she faints, so much the better. Quick now, or he'll die before we can open him up." And with that, they etherized their patient and set to work.
Excerpted from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Copyright © 2013 by Helene Wecker. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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