Dr. Donaldson heard the carriage arriving and poured his brandy and John’s scotch. He pulled a second chair up to Margaret’s side and hollered for John to come on through.
“Any change?” was John’s first question as he was pulling off his coat and hat and grasping the extended scotch glass. Seated in the chair he looked closer at Miss Hale and could swear the fever looked like it was abating. The fierce red blush to her face seemed to have weakened in its intensity. “Is there any change in her condition,” he asked again, catching the tired doctor’s attention. She appears to look a little better but I know nothing of this illness.”
“John, I think we are just now seeing a break in the fever, just within the last half hour. Her temperature has gone down two full degrees, which is phenomenal. Since you left it has been in a steady decline. This ice has helped enormously. I have got to keep a close eye on her now. She could go from hyperthermia to hypothermia if I do not catch the fever bottoming out. If I see within the next few hours that this fever keeps decreasing then I can say she is safely out of the woods as to dying of fever. She still has the pneumonia and exhaustion to get past but they will be much easier to remedy than what we have witnessed today. I am taking her temperature about every 15 minutes now.”
“Doctor, you look extremely tired. Show me how to do it next time and let me tend to her while you catch a couple of hours of sleep. I have a lot on my mind and could not sleep if I went home,” said John, not mentioning that he could not sleep because of the woman lying before him. “I am going to have a quick talk with Branson and have him tell her people of the improvement. At least they’ll sleep a little better because of it. Excuse me for a moment.”
Doctor Donaldson knew John very well, from his boyhood days and knew he could trust John to do what he was shown. Since he could lie down on a cot in the next room, he may allow John that responsibility and take him up on his offer. He sensed something within John which had little familiarity. Was John finding some interest in this new woman in town? Being a female mill owner must have John interested but the lady’s attractiveness could also be of interest to any man. Right now, he was too tired to give it much thought.
Returning, John said, “That will be good news to her people. I was with them tonight, one being her butler who is like her family. She has no family left. Grayson, her butler, was slightly pale this evening. He is very worried about her as if she was his daughter or granddaughter. I thought he might be ill too, but he assures me it is only anxiety. He has tended her ever since her fever started on the train.” John swallowed his scotch in two gulps.
“Care for another scotch, John?”
“No, thank you. I have had wine this evening and that half a glass you poured was plenty enough. I would like to give you some relief for a short while. I will wake you if there is any rise in her fever.”
“I think I will take you up on your offer but only for an hour or two and I will be just in the next room. Here, let me show you what needs to be done because there is more than the temperature. Our utmost issue is the fever as you know, so taking an accurate read is essential.” The doctor moved over next to Miss Hale and lowered the canvas ice cover. “Here is the thermometer. You will raise her arm and take the reading from under her arm. Rest her arm back down with the thermometer in her armpit. Leave it there for two minutes and then record the reading on that list on the table there. Do this every 15 minutes. Of course, you’ll wake me if there is any rise. Now, other than that, we are dealing with the ice. As you can see there is a bucket at the head of the bed to collect the melting ice. That has to be watched and emptied. Keep a small layer of the ice shavings on top of the canvas. If her temperature reads 100 or less, stop the ice. Do not worry about the ice below her as nearly all of that has melted and I think we’re safe without keeping it going. Next, after her reading, take a spoonful of that cool water and see if you can part her lips and pour it down her throat. We are now treating the dehydration. Be watchful that she eventually swallows it. If she coughs, gags, or sniffles, sit her up immediately and call out for me. The ice shavings are in the kitchen in a covered tub. There are more outside. The only other thing of which you should be aware is the fact that she may start talking in her sleep. That is a good sign. It means that she is in a dream state and is moving away from the delirium. Her body is exhausted from fighting the fever as well as her run down condition before this onset, so she will probably sleep through her recovery. She may move about and that is all right, too. We just need to keep her covered with the ice and keep her airways clear. Do you have any questions?”
“No, I understand everything. Go rest yourself.”
“Thank you, John. I will. Now, come for me if you find yourself wanting to doze off. I have had a lot of experience with sitting up all night in a quiet room next to an ill patient night. I will be close by. Do not burden yourself staying here too long. You need your rest as well. Wake me in two hours.” The doctor walked out of the room.
John looked at his pocket watch, but knew he would not wake the doctor unless her condition worsened. He wanted to just be with her, to look at her.
Branson reached the Grand and hurried to the registration desk. “I have a message to give to someone named Grayson who has a room here. Can you help me? It is of great importance, regarding life and death.”
The clerk looked through his registration guest book and found the name Grayson. “Mr. Grayson is in room 244,” he said.
Branson bounded up the stairs, found the room and rapped on the door several times. A moment later Grayson, in his night robe, answered the door. “Yes, may I help you, young man? You are Mr. Thornton’s driver, are you not? What is it? Do you have news of Miss Hale?”
“Yes, Mr. Grayson,” Branson excitedly continued. “I have good news. Mr. Thornton is with the doctor and Miss Hale right now. It seems her fever is starting to break. Mr. Thornton wanted to tell you that her condition looks very hopeful. Could you please tell the other men who are with you? By the way, my name is just Branson.”
John laid his pocket watch out on the table, so he would not have to dig for it through the night. It was now time for the next reading. Taking the thermometer and shaking down the mercury, he pulled back the canvas ice sheet. He hadn’t realized that she was naked underneath and quickly pulled the sheet back to a modest level. How beautiful was this woman, was his first thought. Raising her arm, he placed the thermometer in the proper spot, then lowered her arm. He checked his watch. He noticed that she was lying in some kind of canvas sling cot which had a slight tilt toward the head where the water drained. He supposed that was to keep her head and brain cool at all times. Her wayward wet locks were spread around her shoulders. John picked up one of her long tendrils and curled it around his finger, feeling its softness. Two minutes having past, John uncurled the tress he was holding and reclaimed the thermometer. It was now at 102 degrees. He looked at the list the doctor was keeping, writing it down, and noting the time. Still another drop, he was happy to see. Giving her respect, he placed her arm back under the sheet without pulling the canvas too far back. He tilted her head towards the light, getting ready to give her the spoonful of water. He gently pushed against the corners of her lips to see how easy or hard this movement was going to be before trying to pour water down her throat. He found her lips were soft and pliable and her teeth slightly parted. Readying the spoonful of water, he again pinched the corners of her mouth, slipped the spoon in, and retracted it quickly. He laid his ear down to her mouth to listen for anything. She had such a pleasant feminine scent even in her heated condition. Not hearing any distress, he pinched her lips one last time and brought the lamp closer to her. He could see that she had swallowed the spoonful of water, allowing him a moment to discard the bucketful of water.
Loud snores were heard from the next room. John smiled at the sound.
He checked the ice layer and determined there was enough still melting away from her declining heat. He turned his chair around toward her face rather than her feet. John sat back in his chair with crossed legs, tipped the chair on its back legs, and clasped his hands in his lap. He filled his mind with this vision that he was beginning to desire. Through his mind drifted the attributes she possessed that so stirred him. She was solidly a unique woman, like no other. She was not afraid to compete in a man’s world. She seemed to have great concern for her workers and they in her, as their new naming of her mill to Lady Mills so evidently indicated. She was of a good age for him; single and becoming more beautiful by the day. She had achieved much in her life and for all he knew, had done this all alone. Miss Hale had battled the slings and arrows of her community and came out on top. She had courage, she had spirit, and surely she would be very interesting to spend time with, unlike the other women of Milton. John knew she still had much to face ahead before her waters would calm but she seemed well aware of that and still wanted to proceed.
Margaret started to roll her head from side to side. John sat bolt upright watching every twitch she was making. Her head slowed down to a stop and she uttered, “move the horses.” He took a cloth that was on the table and soaked it against the ice, then laid it across her forehead. She frowned a quick moment, as if she had felt the cold.
John checked his watch, finding it was 20 minutes past the last reading. He went through the same procedure, careful not to pull the canvas down too far. Reading the thermometer, it read that her fever had dropped another quarter point. “Still heading in the right direction,” speaking to himself in hushed tones. Again, came the spoonful of water but this time he received a slight frown as if she was aware of someone being there.
Over the next hour John repeated the treatments, adding a light layer of ice once. She would soon break through the 101 temperature barrier. It finally had come to the time when the doctor wanted to be awakened but John could not leave her side. He kept wiping the sweat from her brow and wound up holding her hand. He studied the delicate bone structure and fair skin of her fingers. Before the six-hour watch came to an end he was whispering into her ear words of encouragement; she would be all right and to keep resting — all was well with her men. Her fever dropped to 100 degrees. He started to rake off the ice with both with hands. His fingers were trembling and he wasn’t sure it was the cold ice or the curves of her beneath his touch. He thought he saw her eyes start to flutter just as he heard a soft noise and felt a hand on his shoulder. Without looking behind him, he said, “Doctor, she is just hit the 100 degree mark, so I am removing the ice.”
“Thank you, sir, for telling me, but it is I, Grayson.” Not being able to wait past 6:00 in the morning, Grayson found his way to the surgery. He was heartened to see Mr. Thornton still at her side. His estimation of the man rose perceptibly higher at seeing his self-sacrificing time and possible interest in his Mistress. He liked John Thornton very much and felt he was a singular man.
John, in somewhat disbelief, stood immediately and greeted Grayson but remembered the prior evening and knew the closeness for which he carried for his Mistress.
Hearing the voices in the next room Dr. Donaldson awakened and went into the surgery room, while checking his watch. “Good morning men,” he said. “John, you let me sleep too long. How is she doing? I see you removed the ice, she must have hit 100 degrees.”
“Just on this last reading, doctor. In the last six hours she declined two degrees. The decline seemed to slow down, but still headed in the right direction. I didn’t feel the need to wake you as I was still wide awake. Just a moment ago, I saw her eyes flutter. And Grayson, I do not know what this might mean, but in her sleep she said the words ‘move the horses’. Do you have any idea what she might be worried about?” John asked.
Grayson politely said, “Sir, I would tell you that she has seemed uncertain how to move the mill horses, carriages, wagons, and her stable this far. I do not believe she has looked into how they would travel: ride them or train load them. That is all I can offer.”
John, slipping on his coat, said, “That would make sense. I will be going home now and leave you two men to Miss Hale. I will get a few hours sleep, and then introduce the carpenters to her men and be back later. Good morning, gentlemen.”
“Thank you, John. You did an outstanding job by the looks of everything. I will see you later,” the doctor said.
“Grayson bowed to John, repeating, “Thank you, again, sir.”
John departed the surgery to an overcast breaking dawn. Smoke still billowed from the 24 hour mills, which could not easily expand, therefore adding a third shift. It would be several more hours before the sun was up and the type of day could finally be assumed. The morning was chilly and he noted some snow started to fall, which would add to the coldness of his walk home. It was a small ride or a long walk home but after sitting all night he welcomed the fresh air and exercise; being alone with his thoughts and images. His thoughts returned to the woman whose side he had just left. It appeared that she was on the road to recovery, albeit a long one. It would seem there should be no interruptions to her planned move. He would check on her daily to see if he could be of assistance in getting her mill and deeding settled. The further he walked away from the surgery, remembering her lying for hours at death’s door, the more focused his thoughts were forming. “I am sure I am falling in love with her. A woman who I have hardly met is taking over my emotional life. She is taking up residence in my heart and mind. I have not had this feeling of hope for a long time. I am having uncontrollable physical reactions which have never plagued me before.” His stomach flipped with a gnawing empty feeling. His hands trembled and his mind wandered the longer he stayed away from her. Spending these last few hours with her, he knew she was starting to touch his heart. Keeping a respectable distance was needed, for his sake as well as hers. She had a tremendous burden on her shoulders now and would for the next several months. Due to his status as Chamber President he could be helpful without showing overt interest in her. He wondered about her bed recuperation and her staying in a hotel.
“Dr. Donaldson, if there is nothing urgent about my Mistress at this moment, let me sit with her and allow you to have something to eat before you begin your day.” Grayson stated.
“Let me take a good look at her first.” The doctor responded. “Thank you for the offer. Could you please leave the room for a moment?” The doctor proceeded to check off Miss Hale’s vital signs along with another temperature measurement. Her temperature was still falling and she could regain consciousness anytime now. Very soon he would have to get her into a dry bed, but he thought he could wait for his nurse to arrive and to help him with that. “Grayson, you may come in now.”
Grayson stepped back into the room, still holding his hat and a folded coat over his arm.
“It looks like your Mistress has passed the first and most critical crisis. We will hope that the fever did not diminish any of her brain functions. We should have that answer any time now. My nurse will be here in an hour or so, and I think by that time, Miss Hale will need to be placed into other clothes and put in a warm bed. Do you know if she brought any such nightwear with her?”
Grayson offered, “I do not know for sure, sir, but I would assume that she has something in her baggage. When you return from your meal and shave, I will return to the hotel and bring her baggage here.”
While the doctor was giving Miss Hale a spoonful of water, he smiled to himself, not missing the word shave that Grayson had mentioned. He was a true butler in all sense of the word, he thought. “Very good, Grayson. That will do just fine. I think you need to know that Miss Hale will be here, under my care, for a couple more days. She needs complete rest to combat the fatigue that she had before this pneumonia or she will likely succumb to another bout of fever, which I know she is not strong enough to fight off a second time. If she continues this nice recovery she could travel home by train in about three to four days. But this is important; she must spend another three days in bed to get past the weakness and pneumonia and even that is a shorter duration than the preferred healing time. I believe Mr. Thornton is prepared to take care of her financial obligations, which I assume was her main reason for this trip?” The doctor asked.
“Sir, I do know that she and I were going to search for a proper residence, and I will ask her when she wakes how she wishes me to proceed. I believe her workmen, who are in attendance, have their duties to perform, which did not require her.”
John rose from his brief sleep and noticed it was nearing 9:00 a.m., and quickly swung out of bed, remembering the carpenter meeting at Lady Mills. Lady Mills, he repeated the name in his mind and had to smile over the boldness of the name. Quickly, throwing on a clean undergarment, shirt, and socks, he donned his clothes from only a few hours previously, being glad that he had shaved before lying down. While dressing, he could see Branson outside the tack room. Opening his bedroom window he shouted for Branson to saddle one of his horses. He knew being on horseback would avail him of a little more speed.
Arriving at the Lady Mills gate he could see that the carpenters and the mill men had already introduced themselves and were settling a timing issue before they had even walked inside. “I see everyone has been introduced.” John said, leading his horse behind him. Did you happen to stop by the surgery before arriving here?” John said to either man.
“Yes, we did. Miss M looks a whole lot better than yesterday. She was even starting to open her eyes when we had to leave. I believe thanks are in order for your help through the night,” said Mark.
“No thanks needed. Are you folks going to be able to work something out between yourselves or would you like me to stay?” John asked.
Carlton said, “Yes, thank you Mr. Thornton on behalf of our Mistress. We have only spoken briefly with the carpenters here, but I would not hesitate to say I think we’re nearing an agreement. The timing, for us, was the biggest factor and there seems to be no worries there.”
Mark approached Mr. Thornton, then turned to the other men and said, “Excuse me, please.” He stepped away from the group urging Mr. Thornton to step his way. “As you know, Mr. Thornton, we have a lot of money in the hotel safe. Will you be looking into that today?”
“I will stop to see how coherent Miss Hale has become. If she is in full control of her mental faculties, I will ask her if she would like me to proceed, as you have mentioned. I will help however I can. I may be back later today or tomorrow to pick you up for a trip to the realtor.”
“Very good, sir,” said Mark. “I will leave that in your hands. Thank you.”
Arriving at the surgery, John bid hello to Grayson and Doctor Donaldson. “How is your patient?”
“I am doing better,” replied a weak voice somewhere behind the standing men.
Grayson smiled and said, “She is much improved Mr. Thornton. I think our concern now is to keep her resting.”
“Thank you father,” Margaret said to Grayson. “Could you please allow Mr. Thornton to come forward. I wish to speak with him.”
The wall made by Grayson and the doctor parted and John walked through, watching as the two men strolled into the next room.
John sat in a chair near Margaret’s bed. She was now dry and dressed in some type of sleeping attire. He thought she looked significantly improved since his last visit, only hours ago. Her eyes were drooping, but he liked looking into them, all the same. “How are you doing, Miss Hale? You’ve given everyone a considerable fright, I am sure you’ve been told.”
“Yes, it became clear to me how sick I had been when I saw my butler with tears of joy in his eyes. If you knew him, you’d know that is something he would never permit himself to do. Have you met him?”
“We did meet and I had dinner with him and your other men, and I saw him early this morning. He is a very interesting gentleman; he cares about you very much.” John smiled.
“Yes, he is been the only stable person in my life. We are very close. I think that when the day comes when a man asks permission for my hand, they will have to get it from Grayson,” Margaret struggled to smile.
“I will endeavor to remember that,” John said, catching himself with embarrassment. The words had just leapt out without passing through his brain with the gentleman filter. He was stunned at his own behavior and wasn’t sure whether to apologize and bring it to light or to let it pass – after all, the words weren’t that far from the thoughts that had been drifting through him during the night. He decided on the latter and continued. “So, how are you feeling?”
Margaret hadn’t missed his statement, and curtailed any emotions on her face, but inwardly, she had a warm feeling; something new for her she realized or was it her current health condition? “They won’t let me up to know how I am feeling but I do know that I am fatigued and have heard the horror stories of how close I was to problems I do not wish to think about. I understand that I owe you thanks for helping me through the night. Why did you take that time away from all you must have to do, to stay by my side?”
John could hardly tell her the truth but found some words. “The doctor is an old friend of the family. When I went to advise him of you, while working with another patient, I knew he was tiring from his day. Understanding your condition, I knew he was in for an all-night vigilance. I had nothing better to do and was not tired, so I offered my assistance. He was never more than a few feet from your side all night.” John wanted to hurry through any forthcoming appreciations before she could speak them. “Mark told me of the possibility that I could be of some assistance in the purchase of your mill. Knowing you still need a great deal of rest but are at least conscious, is that something you wish me to pursue on your behalf?”
“Mr. Thornton, I would be most grateful if you could. There is nothing to discuss as that has all been settled. All I need to do is pay the realtor and pick up the deed. Mark has access to the money and would go with you, if he could.” Margaret was gasping out her words, now.
“Miss Hale, please do not try to sit up. I heard you just fine and will take care of all the details that are needed. I would be glad to help your men find materials and people that they would need as well. I would like to advise them any way I can in your stead. Let me get your deed taken care of and then perhaps by tomorrow you will be a bit stronger and we can talk of other ways for me to assist.”
“Thank you, Mr. Thornton.”
“My pleasure. Does Grayson need a direction to start looking for a residence or have you resolved his duties for today?”
“Grayson has his directions, and I am trying to shoo him out of here to get started. I am sure he will have questions of you, sooner or later.”
“Very good, Miss Hale. I have an errand to perform and then I will collect Mark and I shall purchase Lady Mills for you,” John said, not being able to hide a smile. “I must say, that is a very courageous name and I like it very much, myself. You appear to have no fear that you are marching into a man’s domain . . . with sword and lance, and a God Save the Queen attitude.” John laughed heartily.
“I am not sure if there is a compliment in there somewhere or not but I should be thanking you for those words. They’re most encouraging,” Margaret smiled weakly.
“Indeed, they are, Miss Hale. I will champion you through your entire ordeal if you will allow me.” Again John wondered where those words were coming from. Surely, as a gentleman, he was saying them. He was beginning to feel his heart was talking instead of his mind. “I am sorry. That sounded awfully forward of me. I do not know where it came from because I wasn’t thinking those words, only of your courage.” John felt he needed to get out of there before he stuck his foot in his mouth any further.
“Mr. Thornton, I am too weak to blush, so just assume that I am,” she laughed. They both did.
“Well . . . with that, I think I shall take my leave and get on with my day. I will stop back later with your deed and Mark. Please, try to rest. Do not give too much worry to your new operation here. I will oversee most of it for you, although I think you have some good and trusted men at your side. Goodbye for now, Miss Hale,” John said, rising to leave.
“Goodbye, Mr. Thornton. Your attention to our matters is much appreciated.”