MARY was awake. She blinked sleepily and smiled at me.
“Papa was here with me. I felt him cuddle me close. Or was it a dream?”
She was pale and there were lilac shadows under her eyes, like bruises. Her nose was runny. I handed her a clean handkerchief.
“It wasn’t a dream,” I said. “Your papa was here. He loves you very much and he’s concerned.”
“What about?” She sneezed.
I had another handkerchief which I passed to her. A suspicion crossed my mind. “Do you feel hot? Or shivery?”
She shook her head.
“No, but I have a headache and my nose is stuffed.” She sneezed again.
Mary didn’t have the fever. She had a common cold! I was certain she had no hot forehead and there was no sign of muscle weakness or chills.
With a wave of relief, I told her to rest.
“Why can’t I get up?” Her lower lip wobbled dangerously.
“You can get up,” I said, “but I want you to go slowly today. We won’t go outside, we’ll play indoors quietly. I can read you some books and we can have a game of cards. Would you like that?”
She nodded and yawned.
“I do want to do that. Can I lie here a little bit first?”
“You do that. I have to go and see your papa.”
I hurried along the corridor to tell Charles the good news. He was not going to lose his daughter.
It would do them both good to spend a morning slowly reading and playing together.
I spent one of the happiest days of my life with Charles and Mary. He had bathed and dressed when I went back upstairs after a small breakfast. He was as pale as Mary and both had dark circles under their eyes.
But the atmosphere was peaceful and contented. He had his papers and sat reading them. Mary was sitting up in bed, playing with her dolls.
I went over to the windows, intending to open them. Fresh air was beneficial to my patients.
But it was a cold, blustery day outside. The sky was dull pewter grey. Rain splattered the glass ceaselessly. Beyond, I made out the stormy sea with white waves abundant.
It was a good day to stay inside. I drew my shawl over my shoulders, glad of its warmth. A letter had arrived from Mrs Bidens. I read it, sitting next to Mary’s bed.
My dearest Amelia,
Thank you for your letters. I am sorry I have not written to you in reply. I suppose I wanted to give you time to settle into your new life. I did not want to remind you of what you had left behind.
However, you sound happy at Bowerly Hall and I hope that is so. How is Anne?
I would love to see her again. It has been many years since I last saw her. Your description of Mary paints a picture for me of a clever young lady. She must be a joy to teach.
You don’t mention Charles. I presume you must not see much of him. As master of the house, he must be kept very busy.
I wonder if you have met Anne’s sister-in-law? I recall the brother was something of a family black sheep but I won’t spread gossip and tell you why. He was much in London before his early demise and, of course, everyone knew of him. I never met his poor wife. She stayed in the country and never came up to town.
There was a son. Perhaps you have met him? Though if he is anything like his father, then I should hope that your paths have not crossed.
I am kept very busy at present. My cousin is in poor health. She lives in London but in a far nicer area than mine! I travel to care for her daily but it is tiring. London is such a bustling place, so crammed with horses and carriages and people that it is hard to breathe.
I must leave this letter now as the candle is almost gone. I think about you often and pray that you are well.
Remember, my dear, there is always a home for you here if it is needed.
Dear Mrs Bidens. It was kind of her to offer her home to me.
It was reassuring that if my position here at Bowerly were to fail I had somewhere to go. It could only be for a short pause, of course. Mrs Bidens couldn’t afford to keep me, and I could not afford to be without some form of paying employment.
Still, I comforted myself, London was, as she noted, a very large city. There would be employment to be had.
I looked across the room to where the rain trickled down the windows. The nursery was a high-ceilinged, draughty room. Dark wood panelling on each wall didn’t help the quality of light. The whole of Bowerly Hall had a somewhat gloomy aspect − and yet I had grown to love it here. I realised that I didn’t want to go back to London.