Honoria nodded. It made sense. It was gruesome, but it made sense.
“I’m going to get started now,” her mother told her. “There is much I can do even without the scissors.”
“Of course.” Honoria watched as Lady Winstead sat at Marcus’s side and dipped a cloth in the steaming water. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Honoria asked, feeling rather ineffectual at the foot of the bed.
“Sit on the other side,” her mother answered. “Near his head. Talk to him. He might find comfort in it.”
Honoria wasn’t so sure that Marcus found comfort in anything she did, but she knew she would find comfort in it. Anything would be better than standing around like an idiot, doing absolutely nothing.
“Hello, Marcus,” she said, pulling the chair close to the bed.
She didn’t expect him to answer, and indeed, he did not.
“You’re quite sick, you know,” she continued, trying to keep her voice bright and happy, even if her words were not. She swallowed, then continued in the brightest voice she could manage, “But it turns out that my mother is a bit of an expert at this sort of thing. Isn’t that remarkable?” She looked over at her mother with a swelling sense of pride. “I must confess, I had no idea she knew such things.” She leaned down and murmured in his ear, “I rather thought she was the sort who would faint at the sight of blood.”
“I heard that,” her mother said.
Honoria gave her an apologetic smile. “Sorry. But – ”
“There is no need to apologize.” Her mother glanced over at her with a wry smile before resuming her work. When she spoke, however, she did not look up. “I have not always been as . . .”
There was a hint of a pause, just enough for Honoria to realize that her mother was not quite sure what to say.
“As resolute as you may have needed me to be,” Lady Winstead finally finished.
Honoria sat very still, sucking in her upper lip as she let her mother’s words settle upon her. It was an apology, just as much as if her mother had actually said the words I’m sorry.
But it was also a request. Her mother did not want to discuss it any further. It had been difficult enough just to say what she did. And so Honoria accepted the apology in exactly the manner her mother hoped she would. She turned back to Marcus and said –
“Anyway, I don’t think anyone thought to look at your leg. The cough, you know. The doctor thought that was the cause of the fever.”
Marcus let out a little cry of pain. Honoria glanced quickly down toward her mother, who was now working with the scissors Mrs. Wetherby had brought. She’d opened them fully and was pointing one end toward Marcus’s leg like a scalpel. With one fluid motion, her mother made a long cut, right down the middle of the wound.
“He didn’t even flinch,” Honoria said with surprise.
Her mother didn’t look up. “That’s not the painful part.”
“Oh,” Honoria said, turning back to Marcus. “Well. See, that wasn’t so bad.”
Honoria’s head snapped back up just in time to see her mother handing a bottle of brandy back to a footman.
“Very well, that was bad,” she said to Marcus. “But the good news is it’s unlikely to get much worse.”
He screamed again.
Honoria swallowed. Her mother had adjusted the scissors and was now actually trimming away bits of tissue.
“Very well,” she said again, giving his shoulder a little pat. “It might not get better, either. The truth is, I have no idea. But I shall be here with you the whole time. I promise.”
“This is worse than I thought,” her mother said, mostly to herself.
“Can you fix it?” Honoria asked.
“I don’t know. I can try. It’s just . . .” Lady Winstead paused, letting out a long, low breath through pursed lips. “Can someone wipe my brow?”
Honoria started to rise, but Mrs. Wetherby leapt into action, dabbing Lady Winstead’s face with a cool cloth.
“It’s so hot in here,” Lady Winstead said.
“We were told to keep the windows shut,” Mrs. Wetherby explained. “The doctor insisted.”
“The same doctor who did not notice this massive injury to his leg?” Lady Winstead asked sharply.
Mrs. Wetherby did not reply. But she did move to the window to open it partway.
Honoria watched her mother intently, barely able to recognize this focused, determined woman. “Thank you, Mama,” she whispered.
Her mother looked up. “I am not going to let this boy die.”
He wasn’t a boy any longer, but Honoria was not surprised that her mother still thought of him as such.
Lady Winstead returned to her work and said, in a very low voice, “I owe it to Daniel.”
Honoria went absolutely still. It was the first time she had heard her mother utter his name since he’d left the country in disgrace. “Daniel?” she echoed, her voice even and careful.
Her mother did not look up. “I’ve lost one son already” was all she said.
Honoria stared at her mother in shock, then down at Marcus, and then back up. She had not realized her mother had thought of him that way. And she wondered if Marcus knew, because . . .
She looked down at him again, trying to choke back her tears as quietly as possible. He’d spent his whole life longing for a family. Had he even realized that he’d had one in hers?
“Do you need to take a break?” her mother asked.
“No,” Honoria answered, shaking her head even though her mother was not looking at her. “No. I’m quite all right.” She took a moment to compose herself, then bent to whisper in Marcus’s ear. “Did you hear that? Mama is quite determined. So don’t disappoint her.” She stroked his hair, pushing a thick, dark lock off his forehead. “Or me.”