At Bowerly Hall-21

PEGGY was much the same height as me. Charles leaned his weight on both of us. I felt the pain of it in my shoulders but bit my lip. It was nothing compared to the fever.

We managed to get him into his bedchamber and on to the bed. He closed his eyes and slept. His clothes were soaked. I pulled off his boots. Foolishly we had dropped him on top of the covers. There was no way I could pull them out from under him.

“Peggy, we need more coverlets, more blankets. Can you bring some, please?”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “We’ll likely need water and cloths too to cool his Lordship’s brow. Someone will have to let Lady Anne know he’s ill.”

She paused, considering. “Oh, and we should build up the fire.”

“Are the other housemaids back to work?”

“Yes, but on light duties only. What if they caught the fever again?”

“I don’t know if it’s possible to catch it twice.”

I frowned. I had no idea if it was possible or not. One look at Peggy and I saw she was frightened.

It was little wonder. The whole structure of Bowerly Hall was collapsing because of the fever. The butler was still healthy but the two footmen were not yet back on duty. Mrs Bell, despite her headache, had not succumbed.

The outdoor staff were coming down with it like flies. I supposed that was why there were no gardeners at work. I forced a cheerful confidence into my voice.

“Looks like it’s just us, then, Peggy. If you could please bring up the coal and then a bowl of water and clean cloths, I will arrange for Mary to go and see her grandmamma.”

“But who will nurse his Lordship?” Peggy said, looking confused.

I set my chin. “As there is no-one else to do so, I will.”

Charles was not an easy patient. The fever hit him hard. He tossed and turned, murmuring in his slumber. I did my best to restrain him to the bed.

Peggy brought bowls of fresh water and I dabbed at his forehead, trying to cool him. I was exhausted when Mrs Dane called to me. I left him and hurried into the hallway.

“How is he?” she asked.

“Not well at all,” I said. “The fever is very strong. I feel helpless, to be quite honest. What is to be done?”

“You must not panic,” she said in her quiet, cool tones, “you are doing well. Look after him the way you did for my maids, that is all you can do.”

There was warmth in her eyes as she smiled at me. I think a little of what I was thinking must have shown on my face. “Don’t underestimate yourself, Miss Thorne,” she said gently. “Now, Lady Anne asks for your presence in the drawing-room. Can his Lordship be left alone for a half hour?”

“I believe so, yes. He is asleep again.”

I went downstairs to find Lady Anne pacing the cluttered drawing-room like a caged tiger. She rushed to me.

“Tell me, is there any change in him? Is he better?”

Why didn’t she go and see for herself, I wondered.

“There is no change, I’m afraid,” I told her. “He is in the grip of the fever.”

“Oh, my poor boy.” She pressed her fingers to her lips. “I must call for the doctor. He must bring a cure immediately.”

There was no cure. If there had been, the doctor would have brought it for Edna and Lil. And what about all the other servants who were ill?

No, there was no other way. Charles must endure the illness like everyone else. But of course I didn’t say this to his mother.

“I have sent Mary to the nursery with Peggy,” Lady Anne said. “I pray and hope she does not catch the illness.”

I hoped so, too. Charles was a big, strong man who would come through this. But Mary was small and thin. I didn’t want to dwell on it. I must be practical, I told myself. I must emulate Mrs Dane.

“And dear Francis!” Lady Anne was saying. “I must send word to my sister-in-law that they simply must not visit us until this dreadful fever has quite vanished. When did Charles become ill?” she continued. “I don’t understand it. He was quite well that morning before he went for his walk, although I noticed he did not eat much breakfast.”

“It came upon him abruptly when we were at the beach,” I said, without thinking.

She turned accusing eyes to me.

“What were you doing at the beach? Did I not advise you to stay with Mary in the woodlands and the meadows? I am most disappointed in you, Amelia.”

“His Lordship was playing with Mary,” I said, “building sandcastles and talking.”

“Charles was playing with Mary?” She sounded surprised.

I nodded.

“Yes, they had a lovely time until his Lordship became unwell. In fact, Mary was a huge help in getting her father back to the house. She led the way.”

Lady Anne’s eyebrows rose further at this news. Then she sighed.

“I’m prepared to overlook the incident. It sounds as if no harm was done. Promise me you won’t venture there in the future?”

I had no intention of promising any such thing. I was drawn to the cliff, the hewn steps and the secluded beach with its mysterious caves. It was like promising not to breathe.

Luckily, at that very moment, Mrs Dane knocked on the door and came in.

“I have sent for the doctor, your Ladyship.”

“Thank you, Mrs Dane. Will you go back upstairs, Amelia, dear? Tend to him. Tell him I send my best wishes for his recovery. But don’t ask me to visit until he is better. I really can’t. It reminds me too much of Catherine.”

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!