Dr. Winters spoke slowly, almost as if he were thinking out loud. “He might keep the leg.”

“Might?” Honoria echoed.

“It’s too soon to tell for sure. But if he does keep it” – he looked at both Honoria and her mother – “it will have been due to your good work.”

Honoria blinked in surprise; she had not expected a commendation. Then she asked the question she dreaded: “But will he live?”

The doctor’s eyes met Honoria’s with frank steadiness. “He will certainly live if we amputate his leg.”

Honoria’s lips trembled. “What do you mean?” she whispered. But she knew exactly what he meant; she just needed to hear him say it.

“I am confident that if I remove his leg at this moment he will live.” He looked back over at Marcus, as if another glance might offer one last clue. “If I do not remove his leg, he may very well recover completely. Or he may die. I cannot predict how the infection will progress.”

Honoria went still. Only her eyes moved, from Dr. Winters’s face, to Marcus’s leg, and then back. “How will we know?” she asked quietly.

Dr. Winters tilted his head to the side in question.

“How will we know when to make the decision?” she clarified, her voice rising in volume.

“There are signs to look for,” the doctor replied. “If you begin to see streaks of red moving up or down his leg, for example, we will know we must amputate.”

“And if that does not happen, does that mean he is healing?”

“Not necessarily,” the doctor admitted, “but at this point, if there is no change in the wound’s appearance, I shall take that as a good sign.”

Honoria nodded slowly, trying to take it all in. “Will you remain here at Fensmore?”

“I cannot,” he told her, turning to pack up his bag. “I must see to another patient, but I will be back this evening. I do not think we will need to make any decision before then.”

“You do not think?” Honoria asked sharply. “Then you are not certain?”

Dr. Winters sighed, and for the first time since he’d entered the room, he looked tired. “One is never certain in medicine, my lady. I would that were not the case.” He looked over at the window, whose curtains were pulled back to reveal the endless green of Fensmore’s south lawn. “Perhaps someday that will change. But not in our lifetime, I fear. Until then, my job remains as much of an art as a science.”

It was not what Honoria had wanted to hear, but she recognized it as the truth, and so she gave him a nod, thanking him for his attentions.

Dr. Winters returned the courtesy with a bow, then gave Honoria and her mother instructions and left, promising that he would return later that night. Lady Winstead escorted him out, leaving Honoria once again alone with Marcus, who lay terrifyingly still on his bed.

For several minutes, she stood motionless in the center of the room, feeling strangely limp and lost. There really wasn’t anything to do. She had been just as scared that morning, but at least then she had been able to concentrate on treating his leg. Now all she could do was wait, and her mind, denied of a specific task, had nothing but fear to fill it.

What a choice. His life or his leg. And she might have to be the one to make it.

She didn’t want the responsibility. Dear God, she didn’t want it.

“Oh, Marcus,” she sighed, finally walking over to the chair at his bedside. “How did this happen? Why did it happen? It’s not fair.” She sat and leaned down against the mattress, folding her arms and resting her head in the crook of one elbow.

She would, of course, sacrifice his leg to save his life. That was what Marcus would choose if he were sensible enough to speak for himself. He was a proud man, but not so much so that he would prefer death over handicap. She knew this about him. They had never talked about it, of course – who talked about such things? No one sat at the dining table talking about whether to amputate or die.

But she knew what he would want. She had known him for fifteen years. She did not need to have asked him the question to know his choice.

He would be angry, though. Not at her. Not even at the doctor. At life. Maybe at God. But he would persevere. She would make sure of it. She would not leave his side until he . . . Until he . . .

Oh, dear God. She couldn’t even imagine it.

She took a breath, trying to steady herself. Part of her wanted to run out of the room and beg Dr. Winters to remove his leg right now. If that was what it would take to guarantee his survival, then she would hold the damn saw. Or at least hand it over to the doctor.

She couldn’t face the thought of a world without him. Even if he wasn’t in her life, if he stayed here in Cambridgeshire and she went and married someone who lived in Yorkshire or Wales or the Orkney Islands and she never saw him again, she would still know that he was alive and well, riding a horse, or reading a book, or perhaps sitting in a chair by a fire.

It wasn’t time to make that decision yet, though, no matter how much she hated the uncertainty. She could not be selfish. She needed to keep him whole as long as possible. But what if, in doing so, she waited too long?

She closed her eyes tight even though her head was buried in her arms. She could feel her tears burning against her eyelids, threatening to burst forth with all the terror and frustration building within her.

“Please don’t die,” she whispered. She rubbed her face against her forearm, trying to wipe away her tears, then settled back down in the cradle of her arms. Maybe she should be pleading with his leg, not with him. Or maybe with God, or the devil, or Zeus, or Thor. She’d plead with the man who milked the cows if she thought it would make a difference.