Manon carefully retracted the sheet just a few inches. Richard was lying on his back, and now she would be able to examine his ribcage more thoroughly for broken bones. Her skilful hands gently probed, looking for damage. As she had already assumed, there were no real fractures. Because Richard’s ribs had sustained considerable bruising, she decided to apply a firm bandage. He would have to keep himself immobile for at least a week.
But first and foremost, Manon wanted her uncle to be properly groomed, so she asked Bright to perform this task, and then retreated from the table. When the valet was finished, Manon covered Richard’s badly bruised chest with the poultice Mrs Briskley brought up from the kitchen. She tried to cover as much surface as she could, which was no easy task, given the broad expanse of Richard’s manly chest. With the help of the two footmen, who carefully lifted the master from the table surface, Bright and Manon applied a sturdy bandage around Richard’s torso.
Meanwhile, the maids and Thornton had replaced the soiled mattress and sheets with clean ones. The patient had not been washed for the entire time he had been in bed. Three whole days without proper care; it was unfathomable.
Richard stirred when Tobias and Zackary lifted him from the table and laid him onto his bed. He groaned when his body touched the mattress. Manon was instantly at his side, eager to hear a word from his lips.
Mrs Briskley dabbed her eyes in sudden emotion. “My word, Miss Manon! This is the first time in two days that the master has given a sign of life. We feared he would remain in a coma and never wake up again.”
Manon put a hand to her uncle’s cheek, gently caressing it.
“Be still, Uncle. I have tended to your injuries, and you will recover, provided that you keep to your bed for the next few days.”
Richard’s voice was hoarse and his eyes sought hers. She could not keep herself from running the back of her hand over his cheek. Pain contorted his features, causing Manon’s heart to ache with compassion.
“Shhh…” was all she could utter, tears in her eyes.
He nodded, then breathed, “So you have come, my precious?” He closed his eyes, and she knew he trusted her with his life.
She was calm again, Manon knew. She was a healer and she had managed to make her uncle come awake.
“I will give you a drink that will make you sleep,” Manon said, feeling his brow with the back of her hand. “You do not seem overly feverish yet, but that could change later. It is vital that you do not move your body, if possible. You must also not refrain from breathing in a normal, deep way, Uncle. I know it hurts to breathe, but nevertheless, you must endeavour to do it properly.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Richard murmured, but his voice was weakening, so Manon quickly administered him the drink. It was made from an extract of the seedpods of “sleeping poppies”, or Papaver Somniferum, which Manon’s father used to brew in his apothecary shop. Papa had done many experiments to obtain the right dose of poppy extract that would ensure the potion was effective but not lethal. Papa used to mix it with alcohol and sweeten it with honey so that the potion would be pleasant to swallow. Manon had the recipe yet had never concocted the brew on her own, so she was glad that she had managed to stuff Papa’s supply in her medicine bag. The plunderers in Paris had not found Papa’s medicines, stashed in a hidden niche in the cellar.
Richard was asleep almost instantly. Manon turned to the staff and gave orders to clean everything away.
“Pru, would you sit with Sir Richard for a couple of hours?” Manon asked, and of course, Pru agreed.
“What do you want me to do, Manon?”
“I need you to watch him, that is all. If his fever starts to rise, you must call me. Try to prevent him from moving abruptly. If he wakes, he will attempt to change position. You must help him to do that carefully and slowly so that he does not damage his body any further.”
“Understood,” Pru said in a firm tone and took up a seat near the bed.
Manon consulted the little ormolu clock on Richard’s nightstand. It read nine in the evening. How long this day had been, Manon mused, and she realised it could have been the day when she had lost her uncle as a result of his injuries. She could still lose him, she knew, if he developed a fever. It could only be hoped that he was strong enough to overcome his injuries.
“Mrs Briskley, could you take Miss Butterworth’s place at eleven o’ clock? I will go to my brother now as I promised him that I would.”
“I will come,” Mrs Briskley promised, looking at Manon with sudden tears in her eyes. “Miss Manon, thank you for tending to the master. We were all worried about his health, and…”
Manon squeezed the woman’s hand in comfort.
“It was a labour of love, Mrs Briskley. I want my uncle to fully recover and as soon as possible.”
Their exchange was interrupted by the door to the room being thrown open so vehemently that it banged against the wall. Her Ladyship the Dowager Baronetess of Bearsham strode into the room, taking in the mess not yet cleared away by the maids. All movement stopped, except for the curtsies of the women. Every single occupant in the room seemed to be waiting for a blow to fall. Were they all afraid of this tall, dark-haired woman? That was what Manon asked herself. Or were they merely reassessing their strategy for dealing with her? To be prepared for whatever whim this woman would choose to display? Manon squared her shoulders as if preparing for battle. It certainly felt like that to her.
Mildred de Briers’ vivid blue gaze travelled over Manon, whose white apron was stained with the marks of her nursing actions and whose bright red locks were coming down from their pins. Manon was acutely aware of her dishevelment, and uncomfortable with it, but she stood and curtsied to the dowager with what she hoped was a respectful attitude.
“You must be the French niece,” the dowager said, in a stern voice devoid of all warmth.
“I am, indeed, my lady. My name is Manon Favier.”
“As you can see, my son is indisposed. I suggest that you return to the Brighton townhouse and return when he is better.”
Manon swallowed a snappish reply. Animosity radiated from the dowager like a wave, and Manon had to fight to maintain her composure. This woman, she realized, was haughty, and strove to fulfil her every whim, even if others were hurt in the process.
“It was agreed between my uncle and me that I should visit his ancestral home, this month,” Manon replied. “I found my uncle ill and uncared for. The ministrations ordered by the physician were not what I would desire for the injuries my uncle suffered. My medical training came to proper use in tending to them. My uncle is asleep now, so I would suggest that we continue this conversation elsewhere.”
With that, she swept out of the room, leaving the dowager to follow.
Mildred de Briers felt rage well up in her throat like bile. The mortification of being set down by this chit in front of the servants was unbearable. She rushed after Manon, who had reached the corridor and was now walking to the staircase. Mrs Briskley hastily closed the bedchamber door to avoid her master being woken by the eventual raucousness.
“Miss Favier!”the dowager barked after Manon, her fury rising even more when she saw that Manon was descending the stairs as if she were purposely not listening to her. Even now, the impertinent girl did not stop and turn. To the right of the hall, Mildred saw Jeremy coming out of the drawing room. He intercepted Manon at the bottom of the stairs and addressed her.
“Miss Favier, please. Would you be so kind as to step into this room? Her Ladyship and I would like to speak with you.”
“Certainly, my lord,” Manon answered, a smile on her lips. “I hope you will forgive me my dishevelled attire. I have been tending to my uncle’s injuries.”
The viscount’s eyes widened with surprise, and something else that strongly resembled admiration. His mouth curved in a smile while he shook his head.
“A doctor was summoned to take care of that. Surely, it is not your task to do so. You are Sir Richard’s niece.”
“Forgive me if I disagree, my lord. I am a trained apothecary and I tended to the sick and wounded, back in Paris, where I grew up.”
“You don’t say,” the viscount marvelled in a flippant voice, but his gaze travelled towards the dowager as if to challenge her.
All three of them entered the drawing room. The dowager lowered herself onto a sofa, gesturing toward a seat opposite from her and at the other side of the low table. Manon sat down as primly as she could do so given her less-than-prim attire.
“What exactly did you say you did to my son, niece?” the dowager asked, and for an instant, Manon was of the opinion that she was not talking about the physical aspect of the matter. She quickly dismissed the thought – the dowager could not possibly know about the mutual attraction between Manon and her uncle.
“I have made certain, my lady, that he keeps immobile,” Manon answered politely. “It appears that the doctor failed to do that. I find that unthinkable, since my uncle is suffering from several bruised ribs. You should seek someone better experienced in the future. My uncle had a rather severe fall, which in turn resulted in a serious concussion. A week of absolute rest will cure that, so I will ensure that my uncle shall be properly cared for. ”
Again and clearly, there was an exchange of glances between the dowager and the viscount. There was a bond between them, Manon realised, a strong bond. Were they perhaps lovers?
She stood and said in a determined voice, “The evening has come, my lady, and it has been a long day. I would like to change my clothes, have a bite of supper, and speak with my brother. Could arrangements be made for my companion, Miss Butterworth? I have also brought my maid, because I had no notion of how long we would stay at Bearsham Manor. It depends on how quickly my uncle recovers. Goodnight, my lady.”
Manon had almost reached the door when the dowager’s voice sounded again.
“So my son will recover, then?”