“I don't believe I'll get sick,” Madeline replied. “I think I would have by now, if I were going to. Please go quickly, Jeff. I'll stay with Mr. Scott while you send for the carriage.”
“Yes, Miss Maddy.” He shot her a glance of admiration. “If you don't mind my saying, you're an angel, Miss Maddy. As kind and sweet as any girl I ever knew.”
Madeline shook her head with an abashed smile. “Thank you, Jeff.” Returning to the office, she found Scott's cloak and draped it around him. The heavy wool should have warmed him, but he continued to shiver and cough. As he tried to rise from the chair, Madeline rushed to him.
“Sir, you mustn't! You aren't well enough. The footmen will arrive soon to help you.”
“I can leave on my own,” he growled, pushing at her small, restraining hands.
“I won't be able to keep you from falling,” Madeline insisted. “And if you collapse before you reach the carriage, you may injure yourself…and think how it will appear to the others. You wouldn't want them to see you that way.”
Scott went still, and Madeline realized she had hit on a vulnerable point. He couldn't tolerate the least sign of weakness in himself. At all costs, he would maintain his image of authority in front of his employees. Leaning his head on his hands, he waited in a subdued manner that almost frightened Madeline. He wasn't at all himself.
It was only a few minutes until a footman dressed in black and silver livery appeared at the office, but it seemed an eternity. Although the footman tried to appear unruffled, his eyes widened as he saw Scott. Madeline asked him to help Scott to his feet, and the servant complied in a dumbfounded manner. She wondered why it was such a surprise to see his master ill. Apparently Scott was so good at being a legend that it was easy for everyone, even his servants, to overlook the fact that he was only a man.
A crowd of actors and crew members had assembled outside the office, their faces registering everything from curiosity to alarm as they strained for a glimpse of Scott. “Perhaps you should all stand back,” Madeline said. “It would be terrible if someone else became ill.”
The group followed the suggestion at once, retreating to a respectful distance. “What's to be done now?” the property man asked of no one in particular. “With the duchess away and Mr. Scott sick, who's to manage everything?”
“I'll ask Mr. Scott,” Madeline said, and ducked back into the office. The footman had eased Scott to a standing position. The blood had drained from his face, leaving it ashen. His gaze careened around the room before settling on Madeline. “Sir,” she murmured, “shall I tell the company that you want Mr. Bennett to manage the theater in your absence?”
Bennett was the assistant stage director, usually called upon to manage rehearsals and arbitrate disputes when the duchess and Scott were otherwise occupied. Scott stared at her with fever-glazed eyes, and Madeline wondered if he had fully understood. Then he gave a short nod.
Returning to the group outside the office, Madeline repeated the instructions. Scott emerged, gripping the footman's shoulder, concentrating on the act of walking. It was a testament to his physical stamina that he was able to stand in such a condition.
Madeline led the way toward the entrance at the back of the theater. She heard Scott's rough breathing, the uneven pace of his feet, and knew he couldn't last much longer. The footman showed obvious signs of exertion as he supported Mr. Scott's increasing weight.
“We're almost there,” Madeline said, hoping desperately that he wouldn't collapse.
They reached the back entrance and stepped outside, the caustic wind biting through the sleeves of Madeline's gown and numbing her cheeks. A second footman opened the door of a bronze-and-black-lacquered carriage. The vehicle was drawn by a team of perfectly matched chestnuts, their nostrils blowing gusts of steam in the freezing air. The footman lowered a folding step and glanced questioningly at Madeline.
She hesitated, staring at the luxurious vehicle with longing. She had no right to leave with Scott. Still, if there was a chance that he might need her in some way…
Madeline hurried into the carriage before she could change her mind. Grateful for the reprieve from the bitter temperature, she settled on a velvet-cushioned seat. The footmen grunted in the effort to load Scott into the space beside her, and he slumped in the corner, his complexion waxen, his eyelids sealed. His cloak had dropped from his shoulders, and Madeline drew the wool garment closer about his neck. Taking another rattling breath, he coughed harshly.
The carriage rolled away, the ride smooth and springy. The interior was finer than anything Madeline had ever seen, with highly polished wood, coffee-colored upholstering, and the intricate motif of the Capital Theatre painted in gold on the ceiling. Even her father, with his well-deserved pride in his own carriages, would have been impressed.
Her gaze returned to Scott, who looked vulnerable and large at the same time, like a felled lion. A jolt of the carriage wheels on the road caused him to groan. Automatically Madeline reached for him, pressing her cool hand to his forehead.
Her touch seemed to bring about a moment of lucidity, and his bruised-looking eyes opened into slits of startling blue. “M-Maddy,” he said, clenching his teeth in the effort to keep them from chattering.
“Yes, Mr. Scott?” Her hand drifted to the side of his face, gently touching the dry, bristle-roughened skin.
“You shouldn't…have come with me.”
“I'm sorry.” She drew her hand away. “I know you're very protective of your privacy. You needn't worry, sir. I won't stay long. I just want to make certain you're all right.”
“N-no, it's not that…” He clenched his jaw against a new bout of shivering. “You'll get sick,” he said distinctly.
Madeline glanced at him in surprise. How many people in his condition would have given a thought to her welfare? Touched by the unexpected gallantry, she smiled. “I feel very well, Mr. Scott.”
Seeming too exhausted to argue, Scott closed his eyes and lowered his head against the seat back. Madeline's smile faded, and she tried to remember what her nanny had done whenever she and her sisters had been sick…kept them warm, applied mustard plasters to their chests and heated soap-stone to their feet, and fed them beef tea and milk toast. For a cough, Nanny had made a syrup of lemons and oil of sweet almonds. Beyond that, Madeline's medical knowledge was sadly lacking. She sighed, feeling utterly useless.
The carriage traveled into the quiet court suburb of St. James Square, past a stone guard gate adorned with bronze griffins. Madeline peeked through the curtain at the carriage window as the vehicle progressed along a tree-lined drive to a mansion fronted with fluted columns.
As the carriage slowed to a halt, one of the footmen jumped from his platform and hit the ground running. He reached the double front doors and hammered vigorously. One of the doors opened, and the scene became a blur of activity.
A lad dressed in a thick coat and cap came to help the coachman stable the team. Two footmen reached for Mr. Scott, half-dragging, half-carrying him from the vehicle. They each wedged a shoulder beneath Scott's arms and brought him into the mansion, while Madeline followed. She felt as if she were treading on forbidden ground, intruding in a way that Scott would never have allowed if he were well.
They entered a magnificent entrance hall illuminated by a crystal chandelier strung in intricate loops. The entrance opened into a main room where a matronly housekeeper gave orders to a troop of housemaids. “…Set out fresh linens and water,” she was saying in a voice that rang with authority. “Tilda, fetch my medicine case, and tell Gwyn to bring the jar of leeches. The doctor may wish to use them when he arrives.”
A gray-haired butler was similarly engaged in giving instructions to the male servants, directing them to procure bottles of brandy and whiskey, and assist the valet in putting Scott to bed. Madeline stood to the side, watching helplessly as Scott was taken up a double-sided staircase of white and gray marble fashioned in a horseshoe shape.
The housekeeper quickly noticed Madeline's presence and introduced herself as Mrs. Beecham. “Please forgive us, miss…”
“Miss Ridley,” the housekeeper repeated. “I'm afraid we're all rather distracted at the moment. This is an unusual situation.”
The housekeeper's gaze swept over Madeline. Clearly she was trying to decide who Madeline was and exactly how she was acquainted with Mr. Scott, but she refrained from asking. “It was kind of you to accompany Mr. Scott from the theater,” the woman remarked.
Madeline glanced in the direction they had taken him. “I only hope he'll be all right.”
“Mr. Scott is being made as comfortable as possible until the doctor arrives. Would you care to wait in the downstairs parlor?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Mrs. Beecham led her to a spacious parlor decorated in understated shades of gold and plum, with French armchairs upholstered in silk and velvet, and tables bearing books of poetry and engravings. One wall was covered with the tapestry of a French landscape. Between two floor-to-ceiling windows, a long table displayed Oriental figurines.
Noticing Madeline's interest in a small Japanese statue of a bearded old man holding a golden staff, the housekeeper smiled wryly. “The god of good fortune, Mr. Scott says. I couldn't begin to pronounce its name. He has others in his collection, all of them heathenish things.”
“I like this one,” Madeline said, touching the little man's beard with a fingertip. “I only hope he lives up to his reputation and brings good fortune to Mr. Scott.”
“Some would say Mr. Scott has already enjoyed more than his share of luck,” Mrs. Beecham commented, walking to the parlor door.
Left to her own devices, Madeline wandered to the parlor window, staring out at a row of topiaries and a marble fountain in the garden. It was a bright, wintry day, and the dormant trees in the orchard shuddered from gusts of wind.
Madeline shivered a little and retreated to an armchair, where she sat and tapped her foot nervously on the thickly carpeted floor. Noticing a wooden box on the table next to her, she picked it up curiously. The interior of the box was lined in silver, the top carved with the Shakespearean medal. On the bottom was the inscription “Presented to Mr. Logan Scott by the Stratford Corporation.”
A voice interrupted her musings, and Madeline looked up to see a pair of housemaids bearing a tray of tea. “That box was carved from Shakespeare's mulberry tree,” one of the maids said with pride. “The master is always getting awards an' such, on account of all 'is charity works and benefits.”
Madeline smiled, observing that Scott certainly seemed to have the admiration and affection of his servants.
The maid set the tea tray on a low table. “Mrs. Beecham said for you to ring for one of us whenever you want something.”
“Thank you, but I won't require anything. Mr. Scott's welfare is all that matters.”
“Dr. Brooke is coming soon. 'E'll 'ave the master back in the pink in no time.”
“I hope so,” Madeline replied, picking up an empty china teacup and fidgeting with the delicate handle. She glanced at the door, wondering when the doctor would arrive and how long it would take him to issue a pronouncement on Scott's condition.
The maids left the parlor, whispering to each other as soon as they crossed the threshold. Madeline couldn't help but overhear a snippet of their conversation. “Do you think she's the latest?…”
“She's pretty enow.”
“Aye, but she's only a spring lamb…not 'is sort at all.”
Madeline frowned and set down the empty cup. She rose from the chair and paced around the room. The reference to her youth annoyed her profoundly. Suddenly aware of the straggling locks of hair that had slipped from her pins, Madeline sighed. No doubt she looked like an untidy child who had been romping out-of-doors.
Wandering to the gilded doors at the other end of the parlor, Madeline discovered that they opened into a music room, two long galleries, and a drawing room with a floor patterned in inlaid wood. There were art treasures everywhere: portraits and landscapes, marble statues, works of pottery and porcelain.
As Madeline toured the elegant rooms, she sensed that Scott had chosen the decor and the art himself. It was all a reflection of what he admired and wanted to be. He fascinated her. Madeline wanted to know him, to be trusted with his intimate thoughts…to be some small part of the world he had created for himself. But he had made it clear that he didn't want her. Feeling desolate, she made her way back to the main hall. By now the doctor must be upstairs examining Scott. The household was strangely quiet, as if the staff was holding its collective breath.
“Is there something you require, Miss Ridley?” the butler inquired, rising from a chair near the staircase.
“Yes.” Madeline approached the marble steps, half-afraid that he would stop her from ascending. “I would like to know where Mr. Scott's room is located.”
The butler was expressionless, but Madeline sensed his inner consternation. She knew that he and the servants were unclear about her relationship with Scott, whether she was merely an employee like themselves, or perhaps his latest paramour.
“The doctor is with him, miss,” the butler said carefully. “If the parlor isn't to your liking, perhaps there is another place you would prefer to wait—”
“I would prefer to go to his room,” Madeline said evenly, imitating the crisp tone she had always heard her mother use with the servants.
“Yes, Miss Ridley,” came the reluctant reply. The butler rang for a footman and instructed the servant to show her to Scott's private rooms in the east wing.
The hall was illuminated by a long row of windows that shed light on four alcoves filled with statues, including one of a nude female bathing, which caused Madeline to color. Passing through an arch of gleaming mahogany, she entered a distinctly masculine suite of rooms with rich mahogany paneling, a set of antique German maps framed in carved rosewood, and Persian rugs underfoot.
The footman brought her to a closed door, where Mrs. Beecham was waiting. A housemaid stood nearby, ready to go running for any item that might be requested.
Mrs. Beecham's brows lifted as she saw Madeline. “Miss Ridley…didn't you find the parlor comfortable?”
“I wanted to find out if there has been any word yet.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com