At Bowerly Hall-22

CATHERINE… Charles’s beautiful wife who had died of a similar fever. I understood Lady Anne’s reticence then. There had been illness at Bowerly Hall before and it had not ended happily. She had lost her daughter-in-law and her son, too, for a long while.

I was to be reminded of Catherine again when I went back upstairs. Charles was semi-conscious and delirious.

The room was stifling. Peggy had made up the fire and it burned brightly. The heavy velvet curtains were drawn and the place was airless. I almost choked on the coal smoke.

As I went to open a window, he called out.

“Come to me, come to me, for pity’s sake.”

I rushed to his side. His eyes flew open. His hands gripped my upper arms tight.

“Catherine!” he cried out. “Catherine, where are you? I need you.”

He dropped back on to the twisted pillows, moaned and fell asleep. I wished with all my heart that the doctor would arrive. When I heard the front door I gave silent thanks.

The doctor had an air of arrogance, like all such great men. He stroked his bushy, grey beard as he frowned at his patient. Then he removed his glasses and rubbed them on his waistcoat.

He smelled of liniment and naphthalene.

“Leave us,” he ordered with a clipped impatience.

Reluctantly, I did as I was told, but I stayed outside in the hall, not too far away. Soon enough, the door opened and I was beckoned back inside.

“He has the same fever as the others,” the doctor said, as if imparting something new.

He coughed importantly.

“You must keep his fever down until it breaks. He will need rest and nourishment thereafter. I have left medicine on the cabinet there. I will call back tomorrow.”

He didn’t wait for my answer. He picked up his weighty black bag and his overcoat and swept out of the sickroom.

I paused. Charles was still asleep. At least he was getting some rest. I picked up the blue bottle and shook it. Removing the cork, I took a sniff. It was some mixture of laudanum.

I stoppered it and put it back on the cabinet. I was not going to give it to Charles. He was drowsy with fever. He did not need further drowsiness.

I stayed with him for hours, sitting on a chair beside the bed. He slept for much of it. I nodded off at one point, nearly falling off my perch.

Then the fever began again and once more he thrashed around. He called out in delirium.

“Amelia! Amelia…”

The sound of my name on his tongue was sweet to me. Being logical, I knew he didn’t know what he was saying.

Normally he called me Miss Thorne in the correct fashion. Just as I would never dream of calling him Charles, except to myself.

“I am here,” I whispered to him and pressed a cool, wet cloth to his burning forehead.

“Amelia.” He sighed heavily but seemed then to settle.

Peggy came in the late evening to offer to take my place at his side.

“I’ve finished all my chores,” she said. “You’ve had an awful long day of it. Don’t you want to leave and get away to bed? I can sit with him.”

“You’ve had a long day of it, too,” I said, touched by her thoughtfulness. “I’m all right, really. A little tired but I have strength yet. How is Mary?”

“She’s asleep. It’s later than you think. She went to bed a good couple of hours ago. She was very tired and quite out of sorts.”

“Oh. I had no idea it was so late. I feel guilty at being away from her. But she must understand why.”

Peggy nodded with a cheeky grin.

“Of course she does. Doesn’t mean she has to like it, though. Little madam.”

“She’s a good child,” I defended my charge.

“I know she is. Children don’t like their routines mucked about with, do they? She’ll be right as rain tomorrow, I’ve no doubt. Oh, I almost forgot, late as it is, Mrs Bell’s left a tray of supper for you. Do you want me to bring it up?”

“Mrs Bell made me supper?”

Peggy giggled.

“Don’t go getting ideas that she likes you all of a sudden. It was Mrs Dane what ordered her to make it. She was all huffing and puffing but she didn’t dare not make you up some food. Not when Mrs Dane’s got her eagle eyes on her.”

“I suppose it was too much to hope for, that Mrs Bell has thawed towards me.” I grinned back at Peggy and we shared our humour.

“You get to your bed, too. I’ll be fine. If I need you in the night, I’ll come and wake you,” I added.

“Very well. Make sure you do. There’s no good if you fall ill an’ all.”

With that warning, Peggy winked and left me to it.

She was right. I had to take care not to catch the fever.

It wouldn’t help anyone if I did so. I felt I had my place at Bowerly Hall now. I was important to Mary. I was a friend to Peggy. I hoped I was a useful support to Mrs Dane.

Lady Anne was harder to read. Sometimes she was friendly and I was reminded of her link to my darling mother. At other moments she could be rather distant and at those times I was conscious of being the governess all too clearly.

As for Charles, Lord Bowerly, the viscount. Did I dare to hope that I meant something to him?

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!