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Just like heaven, p.14
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       Just Like Heaven, p.14

           Julia Quinn
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Chapter Eleven

  Laudanum was an excellent thing.

  Marcus normally eschewed the drug, and indeed he had a feeling he had looked down upon those who used it, but now he was wondering if perhaps he owed them all an apology. Maybe an apology to the entire world. Because clearly he had never been in real pain before. Not like this.

  It wasn’t so much the poking and snipping. One would think it would be painful to have bits of one’s body hacked away like a woodpecker jabbing at a tree trunk, but that actually wasn’t so bad. It hurt, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t bear.

  No, what killed him (or at least felt like it) was when Lady Winstead took out the brandy. Every so often she would dump what had to have been a gallon of the stuff over his open, gaping wound. She could have set him on fire and it wouldn’t have hurt so much.

  He was never drinking brandy again. Not unless it was the really good stuff. And even then, he would only do so on principle. Because it was the really good stuff.

  Which needed to be drunk.

  He thought about that for a moment. It had made sense when he’d first considered it. No, it still made sense. Didn’t it?

  Whatever the case, sometime after Lady Winstead had poured what he dearly hoped was not the good brandy on his leg, they’d got a dose of laudanum down his throat, and really, he had to say—it was lovely. His leg still felt as if it were being slow-roasted on a spit, which most people would consider unpleasant, but after enduring Lady Winstead’s “care” without any anesthesia, he was finding it positively pleasant to be stabbed with a knife under the influence of an opiate.

  Almost relaxing.

  And beyond that, he felt rather unaccountably happy.

  He smiled up at Honoria, or rather he smiled up at where he thought she might be; his eyelids had clearly been weighted down with rocks.

  Actually, he only thought he smiled; his mouth felt rather heavy, too.

  But he wanted to smile. He would have done, if he’d been able. Surely that had to be the most important thing.

  The jabbing at his leg stopped for a bit, then started up again. Then there was a lovely, short pause, and then—

  Damn, that hurt.

  But not enough to cry out. Although he might have moaned. He wasn’t sure. They’d poured hot water on him. Lots of it. He wondered if they were trying to poach his leg.

  Boiled meat. How terribly British of them.

  He chuckled. He was funny. Who knew he was so funny?

  “Oh, my God!” he heard Honoria yell. “What did I do to him?”

  He laughed some more. Because she sounded ridiculous. Almost as if she were speaking through a foghorn. Oooorrrrrhhhh myyy Grrrrrrrrrd.

  He wondered if she could hear it, too.

  Wait a moment . . . Honoria was asking what she’d done to him? Did that mean she was wielding the scissors now? He wasn’t sure how he ought to feel about this.

  On the other hand . . . boiled meat!

  He laughed again, deciding he didn’t care. God, he was funny. How was it possible no one had ever told him he was funny before?

  “Should we give him more laudanum?” Mrs. Wetherby said.

  Oh, yes, please.

  But they didn’t. Instead they tried to boil him again, with a bit more of the poking and stabbing for good measure. But after only a few more minutes, they were done.

  The ladies started talking about laudanum again, which turned out to be incredibly cruel of them, because no one got out a glass or a spoon to feed him. Instead they poured the stuff right on his leg, which—

  “Aaaargh!”

  —hurt more than the brandy, apparently.

  But the ladies must have finally decided they were through torturing him, because after some discussion, they untied his bindings and moved him to the other side of his bed, which wasn’t wet from all the hot water they’d been using to boil him.

  And then, well . . . He might have slept for a bit. He rather hoped he was sleeping, because he was quite certain he’d seen a six-foot rabbit hopping through his bedchamber, and if that wasn’t a dream, they were all in very big trouble.

  Although really, it wasn’t the rabbit that was so dangerous as much as the giant carrot he was swinging about like a mace.

  That carrot would feed an entire village.

  He liked carrots. Although orange had never really been one of his favorite colors. He’d always found it a little jarring. It seemed to pop up when he didn’t expect it, and he preferred his life without surprises.

  Blue. Now, there was a proper color. Lovely and soothing. Light blue. Like the sky. On a sunny day.

  Or Honoria’s eyes. She called them lavender—she had since she was a child—but they weren’t, not in his opinion. First of all, they were far too luminous to be lavender. Lavender was a flat color. Almost as gray as it was purple. And far too fussy. It made him think of old ladies in mourning. With turbans on their heads. He’d never understood why lavender was considered the appropriate step up from black in the mourning calendar. Wouldn’t brown have been more appropriate? Something more medium-toned?

  And why did old ladies wear turbans?

  This was really very interesting. He didn’t think he’d ever thought so hard about color before. Maybe he should have paid more attention when his father had made him take those painting classes so many years ago. But really, what ten-year-old boy wants to spend four months on a bowl of fruit?

  He thought about Honoria’s eyes again. They really were a bit more blue than lavender. Although they did have that purplish touch to them that made them so uncommon. It was true—no one had eyes quite like hers. Even Daniel’s weren’t precisely the same. His were darker. Not by much, but Marcus could tell the difference.

  Honoria wouldn’t agree, though. When she was a child she had frequently gone on about how she and Daniel had the same eyes. Marcus had always thought she was looking for a bond between them, something that connected them in a special way.

  She’d just wanted to be a part of things. That was all she’d ever wanted. No wonder she was so eager to be married and out of her silent, empty home. She needed noise. Laughter.

  She needed not to be lonely. She needed never to be lonely.

  Was she even in the room? It was rather quiet. He tried again to open his eyes. No luck.

  He rolled onto his side, happy to be free of those damned bindings. He’d always been a side-sleeper.

  Someone touched his shoulder, then pulled up his blankets to cover him. He tried to make a little murmuring sound to show his appreciation, and he guessed he must have been successful because he heard Honoria say, “Are you awake?”

  He made the same sound again. It seemed to be the only one he could make work.

  “Well, maybe a little bit awake,” she said. “That’s better than nothing, I suppose.”

  He yawned.

  “We’re still waiting for the doctor,” she said. “I’d hoped he would be here by now.” She was quiet for a few moments, then added in a bright voice, “Your leg looks quite improved. Or at least that’s what my mother says. I’ll be honest—it still looks dreadful to me. But definitely not as dreadful as it did this morning.”

  This morning? Did that mean it was afternoon? He wished he could get his eyes to open.

  “She went to her room. My mother, I mean. She said she needed respite from the heat.” Another pause, and then: “It is quite hot in here. We opened the window, but only a very little bit. Mrs. Wetherby was afraid you would catch a chill. I know, it’s hard to imagine you could get a chill when it’s this hot, but she assures me that it’s possible.

  “I like to sleep in a cold room with a heavy blanket,” she added. “Not that I imagine you care.”

  He did care. Well, not so much what she said. He just liked listening to her voice.

  “And Mama is always hot lately. It drives me batty. She’s hot, then she’s cold, then she’s hot again, and I swear there is no rhyme or reason to it. But she does seem to be hot more often than
cold. Should you ever wish to buy her a gift, I recommend a fan. She is always in need of one.”

  She touched his shoulder again, then his brow, lightly brushing his hair from his forehead. It felt nice. Soft, and gentle, and caring in a way that was utterly unfamiliar to him. It was a bit like when she’d come over and forced him to drink tea.

  He liked being fussed over. Imagine that.

  He let out a little sigh. It sounded like a happy one to his ears. He hoped she thought so, too.

  “You’ve been sleeping for quite some time,” Honoria said. “But I think your fever is down. Not all the way, but you seem peaceful. Although did you know you talk in your sleep?”

  Really?

  “Really,” she said. “Earlier today I could have sworn you said something about a monkfish. And then just a little while ago I think you said something about onions.”

  Onions? Not carrots?

  “What are you thinking about, I wonder? Food? Monkfish with onions? It wouldn’t be what I would want while sick, but to each his own.” She stroked his hair again, and then, to his complete surprise and delight, she lightly kissed his cheek. “You’re not so terrible, you know,” she said with a smile.

  He couldn’t see the smile, but he knew it was there.

  “You like to pretend that you are terribly standoffish and brooding, but you’re not. Although you do scowl quite a bit.”

  Did he? He didn’t mean to. Not at her.

  “You almost had me fooled, you know. I was really starting to not like you in London. But it was just that I’d forgotten you. Who you used to be, I mean. Who you probably still are.”

  He had no idea what she was talking about.

  “You don’t like to let people see who you really are.”

  She was quiet again, and he thought he heard her moving, maybe adjusting her position in her chair. And when she spoke, he heard her smiling again. “I think you’re shy.”

  Well, for God’s sake, he could have told her that. He hated making conversation with people he did not know. He always had.

  “It’s strange to think that of you,” she continued. “One never thinks of a man as being shy.”

  He couldn’t imagine why not.

  “You’re tall,” she said in a thoughtful voice, “and athletic, and intelligent, and all those things men are supposed to be.”

  He did notice she didn’t call him handsome.

  “Not to mention ridiculously wealthy, oh, and of course, there’s that title, too. If you were of a mind to get married, I’m quite certain you could choose anyone you wish.”

  Did she think he was ugly?

  She poked his shoulder with her finger. “You can’t imagine how many people would love to be in your shoes.”

  Not right now, they wouldn’t.

  “But you’re shy,” she said, almost wonderingly. He could feel that she’d moved closer; her breath was landing lightly on his cheek. “I think I like that you’re shy.”

  Really? Because he’d always hated it. All those years in school, watching Daniel talk to everyone and anyone without even a moment’s hesitation. Always needing a little bit longer to figure out just how he might fit in. It was why he’d loved spending so much time with the Smythe-Smiths. Their home had always been so chaotic and crazed; he’d slipped almost unnoticed into their life of un-routine and become one of the family.

  It was the only family he’d ever known.

  She touched his face again, running a finger down the bridge of his nose. “You would be too perfect if you weren’t shy,” she said. “Too much of a storybook hero. I’m sure you never read novels, but I’ve always thought my friends saw you as a character in one of Mrs. Gorely’s gothics.”

  He knew there was a reason he’d never liked her friends.

  “I was never quite sure if you were the hero or the villain, though.”

  He decided not to find insult in that statement. He could tell she was smiling slyly as she said it.

  “You need to get better,” she whispered. “I don’t know where I’ll be if you don’t.” And then, so softly that he barely heard her: “I think you might be my touchstone.”

  He tried to move his lips, tried to say something, because that wasn’t the sort of thing one let go without a reply. But his face still felt thick and heavy, and all he could manage were a few gasping noises.

  “Marcus? Do you want some water?”

  He did, actually.

  “Are you even awake?”

  Sort of.

  “Here,” she said. “Try this.”

  He felt something cold touch his lips. A spoon, dribbling lukewarm water into his mouth. It was hard to swallow, though, and she only let him have a few drops.

  “I don’t think you’re awake,” she said. He heard her settle back down in her chair. She sighed. She sounded tired. He hated that.

  But he was glad she was here. He had a feeling she might be his touchstone, too.

  Chapter Twelve

  “Doctor!” Honoria jumped to her feet about twenty minutes later as a surprisingly young man entered the room. She didn’t think she’d ever met a doctor who didn’t have gray hair. “It’s his leg,” she said. “I don’t think you saw it when—”

  “I didn’t see him before,” the doctor said brusquely. “My father did.”

  “Oh.” Honoria took a respectful step back as the doctor bent over Marcus’s leg. Her mother, who had come in just behind him, walked over to Honoria’s side.

  And then took her hand. Honoria squeezed it as if it were a lifeline, grateful for the connection.

  The young man looked at Marcus’s leg for not nearly as long as Honoria would have thought necessary, then bent and put his ear to his chest. “How much laudanum did you give him?”

  Honoria looked at her mother. She had been the one to dose him.

  “A spoonful,” Lady Winstead said. “Perhaps two.”

  The doctor’s mouth tightened as he straightened and faced them. “Was it one, or was it two?”

  “It’s difficult to say,” Lady Winstead answered. “He didn’t swallow it all.”

  “I had to wipe his face,” Honoria put in.

  The doctor did not comment. He put his ear back on Marcus’s chest, and his lips moved, almost as if he were counting to himself. Honoria waited for as long as she could stand, then said, “Doctor, er . . .”

  “Winters,” her mother supplied.

  “Yes, er, Dr. Winters, please tell us, did we give him too much?”

  “I don’t think so,” Dr. Winters answered, but he still kept his ear to Marcus’s chest. “The opium suppresses the lungs. That is why his breathing is so shallow.”

  Honoria put her hand to her mouth in horror. She hadn’t even realized his breathing was shallow. In fact, she’d thought he sounded better. More peaceful.

  The doctor straightened and turned his attention to Marcus’s leg. “It is critical that I have all of the pertinent information,” he said brusquely. “I would be much more worried if I did not know that he’d been given laudanum.”

  “You’re not worried?” Honoria asked in disbelief.

  Dr. Winters looked at her sharply. “I didn’t say I wasn’t worried.” He returned to Marcus’s leg, examining it closely. “Just that I’d be more worried if he hadn’t had it. If his breathing was this shallow without laudanum, it would indicate a serious infection indeed.”

  “This isn’t serious?”

  The doctor gave her another annoyed look. He did not appreciate her questions, that much was clear. “Kindly hold your comments until I finish examining him.”

  Honoria felt her entire face clench in irritation, but she stepped back. She would be polite to Dr. Winters if it killed her; if anyone had a chance at saving Marcus’s life, it would be he.

  “Explain to me exactly what you did to clean the wound,” the doctor demanded, glancing up briefly from his examination of Marcus’s leg. “And I also want to know what it looked like before you started.”

 
Honoria and her mother took turns telling him what they’d done. He seemed to approve, or at the very least, he didn’t disapprove. When they were done, he turned back to Marcus’s leg, looked at it one more time, and let out a long breath.

  Honoria waited for a moment. He looked like he was taking time to think. But bloody hell, he was taking a long time to think. Finally she couldn’t stand it. “What is your opinion?” she blurted out.

  Dr. Winters spoke slowly, almost as if he were thinking out loud. “He might keep the leg.”

  “Might?” Honoria echoed.

  “It’s too soon to tell for sure. But if he does keep it”—he looked at both Honoria and her mother—“it will have been due to your good work.”

  Honoria blinked in surprise; she had not expected a commendation. Then she asked the question she dreaded: “But will he live?”

  The doctor’s eyes met Honoria’s with frank steadiness. “He will certainly live if we amputate his leg.”

  Honoria’s lips trembled. “What do you mean?” she whispered. But she knew exactly what he meant; she just needed to hear him say it.

  “I am confident that if I remove his leg at this moment he will live.” He looked back over at Marcus, as if another glance might offer one last clue. “If I do not remove his leg, he may very well recover completely. Or he may die. I cannot predict how the infection will progress.”

  Honoria went still. Only her eyes moved, from Dr. Winters’s face, to Marcus’s leg, and then back. “How will we know?” she asked quietly.

  Dr. Winters tilted his head to the side in question.

  “How will we know when to make the decision?” she clarified, her voice rising in volume.

  “There are signs to look for,” the doctor replied. “If you begin to see streaks of red moving up or down his leg, for example, we will know we must amputate.”

  “And if that does not happen, does that mean he is healing?”

  “Not necessarily,” the doctor admitted, “but at this point, if there is no change in the wound’s appearance, I shall take that as a good sign.”

  Honoria nodded slowly, trying to take it all in. “Will you remain here at Fensmore?”

 
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