Just Like Heaven, p.12Julia Quinn
“His leg. It’s terribly infected. I’m sure it’s the cause of the fever. It has to be.”
“The doctor said it was the cough. He—oh!” Mrs. Wetherby flinched when Honoria lifted the blanket to show her Marcus’s leg. “Oh, my dear heavens.” She took a step back, covering her hand with her mouth. She looked as if she might be sick. “I had no idea. None of us did. How could we not have seen it?”
Honoria was wondering the very same thing, but this wasn’t the time to point fingers. Marcus needed them to work together to help him, not to argue over who was to blame. “We need to summon the doctor,” she said to Mrs. Wetherby. “It needs to be cleaned, I would imagine.”
The housekeeper gave a quick nod. “I’ll send for him.”
“How long will it take for him to get here?”
“It depends on whether he is out seeing other patients. If he’s at home, the footman can be back with him in less than two hours.”
“Two hours!” Honoria bit her lip in a belated attempt to muffle her shriek. She’d never seen anything like this, but she’d heard stories. This was the kind of infection that killed a man. Quickly. “We can’t wait two hours. He needs medical attention now.”
Mrs. Wetherby turned to her with frightened eyes. “Do you know how to clean a wound?”
“Of course not. Do you?”
“Nothing like that,” Mrs. Wetherby answered, eyeing Marcus’s leg with a queasy expression.
“Well, how would you take care of one that is smaller?” Honoria demanded. “A wound, I mean.”
Mrs. Wetherby wrung her hands together, panicked eyes darting from Honoria to Marcus. “I don’t know,” she sputtered. “A compress, I imagine. Something to draw out the poison.”
“The poison?” Honoria echoed. Good God, it sounded positively medieval. “Summon the doctor,” she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt. “Now. And then come right back. With hot water. And towels. And anything else you can think of.”
“Shall I bring your mother?”
“My mother?” Honoria gaped at her, not because there was anything particularly wrong with having her mother in the sickroom. Rather, why was Mrs. Wetherby thinking of it now? “I don’t know. Whatever you think is best. But hurry.”
Mrs. Wetherby nodded and ran from the room.
Honoria looked back at Marcus. His leg was still exposed to the air, the furious gash facing her like a seething frown. “Oh, Marcus,” she whispered. “How could this have happened?” She took his hand, and for once he didn’t pull away. He seemed to have calmed down a bit; his breathing was more even than it had been just a few minutes earlier, and was it possible that his skin wasn’t quite so red?
Or was she so desperate for any sign of improvement that she was seeing things that weren’t there?
“Maybe,” she said aloud, “but I will take any sign of hope.” She forced herself to look at his leg more closely. Her stomach roiled dangerously, but she pushed down her distaste. She needed to start cleaning the wound. Heaven only knew how long it would take the doctor to return, and although a compress would be better with hot water, there didn’t seem any good reason not to start with what she had.
Marcus had flung the wet linen she’d been using to cool him across the room, so she went to his bureau and retrieved another pair of his unmentionables, trying not to notice anything about them other than the fact that they were made of reasonably soft linen.
She wound them into a loose cylindrical shape and dunked one end in the water. “I’m so sorry, Marcus,” she whispered, then touched the wet cloth ever-so-gently against the wound.
He didn’t flinch.
She let out the breath she’d been holding and looked at the cloth. It was red in spots from his blood, and yellowish, too, with the infection that was oozing from the wound.
Feeling slightly more confident of her nursing abilities, she adjusted the cloth to a clean area and again pressed it against the wound, applying a tiny bit more pressure than the first time. It didn’t seem to bother him overmuch, so she repeated the procedure, and then again, until there was very little clean cloth remaining.
She glanced worriedly at the door. Where was Mrs. Wetherby? Honoria was making progress, but she was sure she could do a better job with hot water. Still, she wasn’t about to stop, not while Marcus remained relatively calm.
She went to the bureau and got another pair of Marcus’s unmentionables. “I don’t know what you’re going to wear when I’m through with you,” she said to him, hands on hips.
“Back in the water,” she said to herself, dunking the cloth. “And back on you.” She pressed, harder this time. One was supposed to press on cuts and scrapes to stop the bleeding, this much she knew. He wasn’t exactly bleeding now, but surely the pressure couldn’t hurt.
“And by that I mean hurt you in a permanent manner,” she said to Marcus, who remained blessedly unconscious. “I’m quite certain it will hurt you right now.”
She dunked the cloth again, finding a nice clean patch of linen, then she moved to the part of the wound she knew she’d been avoiding. There was a spot near the top that was uglier than the rest—quite a bit more yellow, definitely more swollen.
She dabbed lightly, trying not to hurt him, and then, when he did nothing but mutter in his sleep, pressed a little harder. “One step at a time,” she whispered, forcing herself to take a calming breath. “Just one.”
She could do this. She could help him. No, she could fix him. It was as if everything in her life had led to this moment. “This is why I didn’t get married last year,” she said to him. “I wouldn’t be here to nurse you.” She thought about that for a moment. “Of course, one could make the argument that you wouldn’t be in this situation if not for me. But we’re not going to dwell upon that.”
She kept up her work, carefully cleaning his wound, then paused to stretch her neck from side to side. She looked down at the cloth in her hands. It was still disgusting, but she wasn’t bothered by it any longer.
“There, you see,” she said to him. “It must mean I am getting better at this.”
She thought she was doing better, too. She was trying to be so very matter-of-fact and practical, but then, out of nowhere, right after she so jauntily declared that she was getting better at “this,” a huge choking sound burst from her throat. It was part gasp, part hideous wheeze, and it surprised her completely.
Marcus could die. The reality of this slammed into her with smothering force. He could die, and then she would be truly alone. It wasn’t even as if they’d seen much of each other in recent years, except for the past few weeks, of course.
But she’d always known he was there. The world was simply a better place, knowing that he was in it.
And now he might die. She’d be lost without him. How had she not realized that?
Honoria turned. It was her mother, bursting through the door.
“I came as quickly as I could,” Lady Winstead said, hurrying across the room. Then she saw Marcus’s leg. “Oh, my God.”
Honoria felt another one of those gaspy, wheezing noises blowing up within her. There was something about seeing her mother, about her mother seeing Marcus. It was like the time when she was twelve, and she’d fallen off her horse. She’d thought she was fine; she’d walked all the way home, bruised and achy, her face bleeding where she’d scratched it against a rock.
And then she’d seen her mother, and her mother’s expression, and she’d started to bawl.
It was the same thing. She wanted to bawl. Dear God, all she wanted to do was push back and turn away and cry and cry and cry.
But she couldn’t. Marcus needed her. He needed her to be calm. And capable. “Mrs. Wetherby is getting hot water,” she told her mother. “She should be back soon.”
“Good. We’ll need lots of it. And brandy. And a knife.”
Honoria looked at her mother with surprise. She sounded as if she knew what she was doing. Her mother.
“The doctor is going to want to take off the leg,” Lady Winstead said grimly.
“What?” Honoria hadn’t even considered that.
“And he may be right.”
Honoria’s heart stopped beating. Until her mother said, “But not yet.”
Honoria stared at her mother in shock. She could not remember the last time she’d heard her speak with such decisiveness. When Daniel had fled the country, he’d taken a piece of their mother with him. She’d been utterly lost, unable to commit herself to anything or anyone, even her daughter. It was almost as if she could not bring herself to make any decisions, because to do so would mean that she accepted her life as it now was, with her only son gone, possibly forever.
But maybe all she had needed was a reason to wake up. A critical moment.
Maybe she’d needed to be needed.
“Stand back,” Lady Winstead said, pushing up her sleeves.
Honoria stepped aside, trying to ignore the tiny pang of jealousy that flared to life within her. Hadn’t she needed her mother?
She looked at her mother, who was watching her with an expectant expression. “Sorry,” Honoria mumbled, holding out the cloth in her hand. “Do you want this?”
“A clean one, please.”
“Of course.” Honoria rushed to do her mother’s bidding, further depleting Marcus’s supply of underthings.
Her mother took the cloth, then looked at it with a confused expression. “What is . . .”
“It was all I could find,” Honoria explained. “And I thought time was of the essence.”
“It is,” her mother confirmed. She looked up, her eyes meeting Honoria’s with grave directness. “I have seen this before,” she said, her shaky breath the only sign of nerves. “Your father. On his shoulder. It was before you were born.”
Her mother looked back at Marcus’s leg, narrowing her eyes as she examined the wound. “See if you can shed more light on this.” And then, while Honoria went to the windows to pull the curtains fully open, she said, “I don’t even know how he cut himself. Just that it became horribly infected.” Very softly, she added, “Almost as bad as this.”
“But he was fine,” Honoria said, returning to her mother’s side. This was a story to which she knew the ending. Her father had had two perfectly strong arms until the day he died.
Her mother gave a nod. “We were very lucky. The first doctor wanted to amputate. And I—” Her voice broke, and it was a moment before she continued. “I would have let him do it. I was so concerned for your father’s life.” She used the clean cloth to dab at Marcus’s leg, trying to get a better look. When she spoke again, her voice was very soft. “I would have done anything they told me to.”
“Why didn’t they take his arm?” Honoria asked quietly.
Her mother let out a short puff of a breath, as if expelling a bad memory. “Your father demanded to see another doctor. He told me that if the second agreed with the first, he would do as they asked. But he was not cutting off his arm because one man told him to.”
“The second one said they didn’t have to?”
Her mother let out a grim chuckle. “No, he said he almost certainly would have to cut it off. But he told your father they could try cleaning the wound first. Really cleaning it.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Honoria said in a rush. “I’ve got quite a bit of the infection out, I think.”
“It’s a good start,” her mother said. “But . . .” She swallowed.
Her mother kept her attention firmly on Marcus’s wound, pressing it lightly with the cloth as she examined. She did not look at Honoria when she said in a very low voice, “The doctor said that if your father wasn’t screaming, we weren’t cleaning it well enough.”
“Do you remember what he did?” Honoria whispered.
Lady Winstead nodded. “Everything,” she said softly.
Honoria waited for more. And then she wished she hadn’t.
Her mother finally looked up. “We’re going to have to tie him down.”
It took less than ten minutes to turn Marcus’s bedroom into a makeshift operating theater. Mrs. Wetherby returned with hot water and a supply of clean cloths. Two footmen were instructed to tie Marcus tightly to the bed, which they did, despite the horror that showed clearly on their faces.
Her mother asked for scissors. The sharpest, smallest pair they had. “I need to cut away the dead skin,” she told Honoria, tiny lines of determination forming at the corners of her mouth. “I watched the doctor do it with your father.”
“But did you do it?” Honoria asked.
Her mother looked her in the eye, then turned away. “No.”
“Oh.” Honoria swallowed. There didn’t seem to be anything else that could possibly serve as a reply.
“It’s not difficult as long as one can control one’s nerves,” her mother said. “One doesn’t need to be terribly precise.”
Honoria looked at Marcus, then back at her mother, mouth agape. “Not precise? What do you mean? It’s his leg!”
“I realize that,” her mother replied. “But I promise you, it won’t hurt him if I cut away too much.”
“Well, of course it will hurt.” Lady Winstead looked down at Marcus with an expression of regret. “That’s why we had to tie him down. But it will do no permanent damage. It’s better to cut away too much than too little. It is absolutely essential that we eliminate all of the infection.”
Honoria nodded. It made sense. It was gruesome, but it made sense.
“I’m going to get started now,” her mother told her. “There is much I can do even without the scissors.”
“Of course.” Honoria watched as Lady Winstead sat at Marcus’s side and dipped a cloth in the steaming water. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Honoria asked, feeling rather ineffectual at the foot of the bed.
“Sit on the other side,” her mother answered. “Near his head. Talk to him. He might find comfort in it.”
Honoria wasn’t so sure that Marcus found comfort in anything she did, but she knew she would find comfort in it. Anything would be better than standing around like an idiot, doing absolutely nothing.
“Hello, Marcus,” she said, pulling the chair close to the bed.
She didn’t expect him to answer, and indeed, he did not.
“You’re quite sick, you know,” she continued, trying to keep her voice bright and happy, even if her words were not. She swallowed, then continued in the brightest voice she could manage, “But it turns out that my mother is a bit of an expert at this sort of thing. Isn’t that remarkable?” She looked over at her mother with a swelling sense of pride. “I must confess, I had no idea she knew such things.” She leaned down and murmured in his ear, “I rather thought she was the sort who would faint at the sight of blood.”
“I heard that,” her mother said.
Honoria gave her an apologetic smile. “Sorry. But—”
“There is no need to apologize.” Her mother glanced over at her with a wry smile before resuming her work. When she spoke, however, she did not look up. “I have not always been as . . .”
There was a hint of a pause, just enough for Honoria to realize that her mother was not quite sure what to say.
“As resolute as you may have needed me to be,” Lady Winstead finally finished.
Honoria sat very still, sucking in her upper lip as she let her mother’s words settle upon her. It was an apology, just as much as if her mother had actually said the words I’m sorry.
But it was also a request. Her mother did not want to discuss it any further. It had been difficult enough just to say what she did. And so Honoria accepted the apology in exactly the manner her mother hoped she would. She turned back to Marcus and said—
“Anyway, I don’t think anyone thought to look at your leg. The cough
Marcus let out a little cry of pain. Honoria glanced quickly down toward her mother, who was now working with the scissors Mrs. Wetherby had brought. She’d opened them fully and was pointing one end toward Marcus’s leg like a scalpel. With one fluid motion, her mother made a long cut, right down the middle of the wound.
“He didn’t even flinch,” Honoria said with surprise.
Her mother didn’t look up. “That’s not the painful part.”
“Oh,” Honoria said, turning back to Marcus. “Well. See, that wasn’t so bad.”
Honoria’s head snapped back up just in time to see her mother handing a bottle of brandy back to a footman.
“Very well, that was bad,” she said to Marcus. “But the good news is it’s unlikely to get much worse.”
He screamed again.
Honoria swallowed. Her mother had adjusted the scissors and was now actually trimming away bits of tissue.
“Very well,” she said again, giving his shoulder a little pat. “It might not get better, either. The truth is, I have no idea. But I shall be here with you the whole time. I promise.”
“This is worse than I thought,” her mother said, mostly to herself.
“Can you fix it?” Honoria asked.
“I don’t know. I can try. It’s just . . .” Lady Winstead paused, letting out a long, low breath through pursed lips. “Can someone wipe my brow?”
Honoria started to rise, but Mrs. Wetherby leapt into action, dabbing Lady Winstead’s face with a cool cloth.
“It’s so hot in here,” Lady Winstead said.
“We were told to keep the windows shut,” Mrs. Wetherby explained. “The doctor insisted.”
“The same doctor who did not notice this massive injury to his leg?” Lady Winstead asked sharply.
Mrs. Wetherby did not reply. But she did move to the window to open it partway.
Honoria watched her mother intently, barely able to recognize this focused, determined woman. “Thank you, Mama,” she whispered.
Her mother looked up. “I am not going to let this boy die.”
Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes