Authors: Cheryl Bolen
"I cannot leave him."
His voice lowered. "Very well."
The door eased open. Sally did not turn to see who was entering the chamber.
"I've brought a tray of food for you, my lady." Mrs. MacMannus set the tray on George's writing desk.
Still Sally did not turn around. "That was very kind of you, Mrs. MacMannus. I'm not hungry at present, but perhaps later." She faced the housekeeper. "I should like a pitcher of water and a glass, though."
A few minutes later the housekeeper brought the water and set it on the table beside George's bed.
Sally poured three-fourths of a glass and held it to George's parched lips. "Please drink, dearest," she said to her unconscious husband, tipping the glass until the water touched his lips.
He did not heed her.
"I'm afraid he needs water," she told the vicar in a trembling voice.
"He'll let you know when he needs it."
For the next several hours, Mr. Basingstoke stood helplessly at Sally's side. He pulled up George's desk chair. "Please, my lady, sit down. You'll be just as close to him."
She shook her head. "I can't sit down. Perhaps later, when I'm tired. But not now."
Willingham entered the chamber and came to stand beside Sally and Mr. Basingstoke. "You must allow me to stay with his lordship tonight while you sleep, my lady," he said.
"Thank you for your thoughtfulness, sir, but I cannot leave my husband."
"But, my lady---"
Mr. Basingstoke shrugged with resignation. "She won't hear any of it, old fellow."
When the clock upon George's mantel struck midnight, Sally sighed. "I beg that you valued friends go to your own homes now." She turned to Willingham. "It's more important than ever that you be rested. George needs you to run Hornsby smoothly. That knowledge will help him recover." Then she turned to the vicar. "And I will need you tomorrow. Please come back." She offered her hand.
Both men kissed it and departed.
After the men left, Hettie came and begged her mistress to change her clothing, but Sally refused.
Sally grew tired and sat in the chair beside George's bed. The sounds of the house stilled. George's injured face—and the leaves that covered a portion of it—were only dimly illuminated by the light from the bedside candle. It was not a peaceful face.
If only he would make a sound
. She squeezed his hand harder.
Finally he did begin to make noises. But they were the awful sounds of a man writhing in pain. Hadn't the doctor said the leaves would relieve his pain? Perhaps their effect was wearing off. What was needed was fresh leaves.
She rang the bell. Adams himself came. He wore his usual suit of black clothing, but it was wrinkled. Had he slept in it?
"I shall need fresh burdock leaves for his lordship," she said.
"Mrs. MacMannus has been keeping some fresh in a bowl of water. I'll just run and fetch them."
"Don't forget to rub them with egg white," she called after him.
Even after fresh leaves were applied to all George's burned areas, he still thrashed about in pain.
She was no longer able to sit in her chair. Every time he moved, she had to reposition the leaves over his burnt flesh, and in the dim candlelight it was difficult to tell the burnt skin from the unburnt.
He awakened at dawn.
He winced as he stirred, then he opened his eyes. "Sam?"
Her heart caught. She had feared she would never hear his voice again. "He's right as rain, my love. You saved his life."
He nodded. "I need brandy!"
"Oh yes, dearest," she said happily as she rang the bell rope once again.
A liveried footman answered it this time.
"I should like for you to bring the brandy from the drawing room," Sally instructed.
When the footman returned with the decanter, George attempted to sit up, but the pain prevented his movement.
Sally ran a gentle hand across his brow. "Does it hurt so terribly to move, my darling?"
He met her sympathetic gaze with watery eyes and nodded.
"The brandy should help," she said in a soothing voice.
His brows lowered. "Damn well better!"
Sally poured the brandy into the water glass and held it to George's lips. It hurt her to watch him ease up. The slightest movement set him wincing in pain.
With her help, he drank the entire glass, and soon was asleep again. Throughout the day visitors came. There was Willingham and the vicar and the doctor. George was in and out of consciousness. Even when he slept, his pain took no rest but caused him to cry out hoarsely. Sally saw to it the leaves were changed every few hours. She still refused to leave him, even for the few minutes it would take to change her clothing.
When night began to fall the second night, George's fever set in.
When he had asked for another blanket, she had not been concerned. After all, there was a bit of chill in the air today. Not like yesterday. How could a day that had been so beautiful turn into such a nightmare? She fetched the counterpane from her own chamber and gently draped it over him.
His teeth chattered uncontrollably when he spoke. "It seems I'm in the best of hands."
She smiled down at him and moved to stroke his brow. His skin felt as if he had stood too close to the fireplace. Then she remembered the doctor's words.
Pray there is no fever.
The realization that fever had attacked her husband struck her like a galloping stallion. Her heart drummed. Her chest was too small. Tears pricked at her eyes. But she could not allow George to see her fear.
"Oh dear, you're hot." She tried to speak calmly. "Be a good patient and drink some water." She reached for the glass on the bedside table, and he attempted to sit up.
"No, my dearest husband, movement's far too painful for you. I'll hold the glass to your lips."
She tilted the glass to his parched lips, and he took a sip. Even that slight movement caused George to wince with pain. "It's brandy I need," he grumbled.
Brandy was the only thing that would mask the pain. "Very well, dearest." She eyed the nearly empty bottle and poured the rest of it into his glass. As she held it to his lips, tears gathered in his eyes.
If only there was something more she could do to ease his pain.
When the glass was empty, she said, "You had best try to sleep, dearest." She did not voice what was in her mind: the only time he was free of pain was when he was asleep.
But that did not prove to be true. His sleep during the next few hours was far from peaceful. He shivered almost uncontrollably. Sally pulled the counterpane over his shoulders and tucked it around his neck. A half hour later, he began to thrash about and threw off all his coverings, scattering the now brittle leaves. Sweat covered him.
Poor dear. If he was more comfortable without coverings, so be it. She would just have to see to it that his bed curtains were drawn when female servants entered her husband's chambers. She placed fresh leaves on him, but with his thrashing, such an act was futile.
Even with no covers, the perspiration continued to pop out on him. He thrashed about and was anything but quiet. If he was not moaning, he was screaming out. She had heard that same scream before. When he had been on fire running from the stable, cradling his son against him. She could not recall the horrifying event without tears coming to her eyes.
She rang for a servant.
Adams came, and she asked to have the basin filled and to have a cloth with which to rub down her husband.
For the next hour, she tried to bring down the fever by cooling George's skin with water. Never mind the leaves now. It was imperative she get the fever down. She would submerge the cloth in the water then gently squeeze it out over his muscled back until his skin shimmered under the golden candlelight.
But still his fever did not come down. Rather, it soared even higher. It frightened her to touch his blazing skin. He began to tremble again. The chills had returned. She covered him, tucking the blankets over his broad shoulders.
A few minutes later, a quiet came over him. A peaceful look settled across his face. She gazed down at the damage done to his face by the fire. Were his face divided into quadrants, only the lower right quadrant suffered damage. His cheek was the worst. Like an injured knee, the outer edge of the wound was beginning to crust. Swelling and redness marked the center. She moved closer and saw there was yellow mucus around the wounded cheek.
Her whole being crashed.
Pray there is no fever
. Oh, dear God, there was fever! Would George die? She wanted to throw icy water on him, to slap at his good side . . . anything that would revive him. The alternative did not bear contemplation.
Her heart thudding, she began to talk aloud. As if George could hear her. "George Pembroke, the Viscount Sedgewick, so help me God, you have to get better! Do you hear me?"
The chamber door eased open, and she glanced up at Willingham, whose countenance was grim. "How is he?"
She burst into tears.
He hurried to her and held her close, his arms closing around her.
Her shoulders shook and her voice cracked. "The fever's come."
The steward stiffened. "Have you tried bathing him in cool water?"
She backed away from him and nodded.
They both moved to George's bedside, Sally's hand gently stroking her husband's fevered brow as she cooed soothing words to him.
After a few moments, Willingham spoke. "Fever's not always bad. Sometimes it's a device nature gives us to rid our body of poisons. Once the body's cleaned of them, recovery can commence."
"Pray, I hope that you're right."
After a few minutes, Willingham broke the silence. "What your husband did yesterday was the bravest thing I've ever seen a man do."
"Running into the burning stable? Or running through flames to get out?"
"Both, actually." He cleared his throat. "His son will always look to his father with the greatest admiration, whether Lord Sedgewick lives or dies."
She spun to face him and glared. "Lord Sedgewick is going to live. I will not have any negative thoughts uttered in this sick chamber. Only healing ones. Do you understand me, Mr. Willingham?"
He swallowed. "Forgive me, my lady."
The two of them stood there the next few hours with little conversation passing between them. At midnight, she asked him to leave.
"I will—after you have changed your clothing, my lady. I will stay with Lord Sedgewick while you get dressed more comfortably."
She glared at the steward.
"I'm only thinking of his lordship," he protested. "What must he think when he wakes to see his wife in tattered clothing? Did you not say you want only positive thoughts in this chamber?"
She nodded. "Perhaps you're right. I hadn't considered what poor George might think." She moved toward the door. "I won't be more than a few moments."
To her astonishment, Hettie was waiting for Sally. "I hoped you'd come, my lady. Allow me to help you."
Sally collapsed into her vanity chair while Hettie took the pins from her hair and brushed it out. Sally would not have been able to summon the strength to have done so. A pity her curls were long gone. She would have liked to look better for George when he awakened, but her appearance was her last concern tonight.
She removed the sooty clothes, and Hettie helped her wash. Sally chose to wear a comfortable rose-colored morning dress.
"But, my lady, you will need a bit of sleep. I know you didn't sleep a wink last night. Should you not like to dress for sleep?"
"I cannot sleep, Hettie. My husband is gravely ill."
"But Mr. Willingham offered to stay with him at night and to come get you if a need arose."
"It was very kind of him, but I shall not leave Lord Sedgewick."
"But, my lady . . . you will give out."
"When I do, I suppose then I must sleep."
Sally stood silent as Hettie helped her to dress, then she returned to her husband's chamber.
Willingham's face brightened. "Allow me to say his lordship should have a complete recovery when his eyes alight on you, my lady."
Sally bit at her lip. "Would that it were that easy . . . "
After Willingham left she continued to stand at her husband's bedside for the rest of the night. And a harrowing night it was. George thrashed about, screaming in pain, sweating with fever. He went from hot to cold. His wet coverings would be thrown off, only to be begged for with chattering teeth a few minutes later.
Most of the night he was unconscious, but occasionally he would stare at Sally and whisper his thanks. She knew he was delirious when he said, "My lovely Sally." Thank goodness he had not called her Diana.
When morning came, the fever went away. A pity the pain did not.
Throughout the day, she continued to fortify George with brandy, but it helped only a little in diminishing the pain. Every time he would be about to drift off into sleep, the pain surged, depriving him of rest.
There were a few happy moments during the day. Once he said, "Oh, Sally, my love, what would I do without you?" And another time he said, "If I could move, I would kiss you. My angel Sally." A pity it had taken so grave a condition to summon such wondrous words from him.
The doctor came again. Sally told him about the fever the night before. "Thank God it's passed," she whispered.
He leveled a solemn gaze upon her. "A penny to the pound says the fever will return tonight."
Sally gasped. How excessively she disliked Dr. Moore with his pessimistic sayings!
"And you, my lady," said the doctor, his spectacles slipping down the bridge of his nose, "you had better get some sleep today if you plan to be of help to him tonight."
She could no longer deny that she was exhausted. She had gone eight and forty hours without sleep. Her stores of energy had run out.
The vicar stood beside the doctor. "Please, Lady Sedgewick, I beg that you sleep for a few hours while I stay with his lordship."
Sally had to be alert tonight. Tonight when the fever returned. George would need her. No one else could care for him as she could. She nodded and left the chamber.