Manon’s heart skipped several beats, then began racing wildly. A fear as black as night enveloped her, threatening to paralyze her. She staggered backwards until she felt the much-needed support of a wall. Her knees buckled only for a second, but she steeled herself; this was not the time to faint and be missish. She had to leave at once for Bearsham Manor.
“Pru, would you please arrange matters with Matron so that the daily running of Greenhaven is secured?” she said simply and handed Jake’s letter to her friend, who read it at once.
Pru blanched and anxiously asked. “Are you going to make the journey ? I fear it is unsafe.”
“Of course I must go,” Manon said briskly. “And you are coming with me. If Jake is right about this, then both my uncle and Jéhan are in need of me, Pru. I will need your help in return.”
She left the ward, ran into her office, and snatched up her bonnet and pelisse. With a gesture of her hand, she summoned the footman whose task it was to accompany her to and from the infirmary. The young man sprang to attention, and Manon signalled him to follow her.
“Of course I will accompany you, Manon,” Pru answered. “That brooks no argument; you are my friend and you will need an ally if matters stand as Jake describes.”
Pru had followed Manon to the office, and she looked at Manon when the younger woman turned towards her.
“I was planning to visit Bearsham Manor in August anyway, Pru. I am sure my uncle will have informed his mother about it. We will arrive a little earlier, in all our best finery, as befits the niece of a baronet.”
Daniel Brownslow, who had been ignored by Manon so far, stepped forward.
“Miss Manon, can I be of assistance? Two ladies cannot travel unaccompanied for such a long distance. Let me come with you, I beg you.”
For a brief instant, Manon considered Daniel’s offer. From the tone of Jake’s letter, she gathered that the situation at Bearsham Manor was to say the least peculiar, if not dire. Richard had never talked about his mother to Manon, but from what Jake had once told her, the Dowager Baronetess must be a cold-hearted woman. Nonetheless, Manon was barely able to grasp that a mother would want to endanger her injured son’s life by not properly caring for him.
Furthermore, Manon realised that she and Jéhan could very well constitute a thorn in the dowager’s flesh. They were the offspring of Sir Robert’s beloved daughter Lily who had been the child he begot by his first and most cherished wife, Elizabeth. Lady Mildred de Briers might see a chance to hurt Richard by harming Jéhan. That horrifying thought settled the matter at once. Manon would present herself at Bearsham Manor but not in the company of Daniel Brownslow. If matters were dire, Manon felt no compulsion to show them to a stranger.
All these matters needed clarification, but Manon’s first duty was to Greenhaven. Mrs Lynver, the matron and her two nurses, Janet and Eleanor, would take care of the daily duties. However, Manon decided she would leave the finances in Pritchard’s capable hands for the time she would be at Bearsham Manor.
“I thank you for your kind offer, Mr Brownslow,” she said, smiling at the young man. “But I am fairly certain that I will be safe enough with the coachman, two footmen, Miss Butterworth and my maid as fellow travellers.”
Daniel knew a rebuttal when he received one. He bowed and left the infirmary.
The company set off in Richard’s well-sprung travelling coach the next morning at dawn. Manon was accompanied by Pru and by her maid, Bessie. Mr Daniel Brownslow had seen her off and had insisted that two sturdy footmen ride on the footboard, as well as a coachman and helper on the box. With the weather being fine and dry, the roads were passable. They made the sixty-two miles in eight hours and arrived at Bearsham Manor at four in the afternoon.
With anxious anticipation, Manon watched as the coach turned into a gated driveway flanked by tall beech trees and shrubbery laden with flowers of all colours. After a while, the coach emerged onto an open lawn, and for the first time, Manon was able to see Richard’s home.
It was utterly charming, she thought. Her heart lifted when she saw the well-proportioned, red brick house with the slate roof, the abundantly flowered borders gracing the flat stoned terrace, and the well-kept gardens surrounding the building. It was a house, Manon knew, that her grandfather Robert had created based on an earlier Elizabethan structure. Richard had not told her much, but that bit of information was one of the things he had mentioned. Manon already loved the house, because it felt like a home. A home for Richard, she realised. He was the one who filled the house with safety and caring.
The carriage stopped before the front steps, and Manon alighted when the footman opened the carriage door.
“Wait for me, Pru, until I have been allowed in,” she told her friend.
She strode towards the door, the footman in her wake. The man purposefully tapped the polished oak door.
A thin, elderly butler opened it partially, lifted grey eyebrows at the footman, and let his gaze drift towards the carriage.
“Yes?” he asked, his voice hoarse with age.
“I am Miss Manon Favier, Sir Richard’s niece. I was informed that my uncle was in need of my presence at Bearsham Manor. Please be so kind as to let Sir Richard know that we have arrived.”
An expression of sad uncertainty slid over the old man’s face.
“I am truly sorry, Miss Favier, but Sir Richard is…”
A gentleman, well past his prime years, Manon had never encountered before came striding through the hall, a hint of reproach tainting his light voice.
“Thornton, what is all the commotion about? Who are these people?”
The butler cleared his throat to answer, but Manon quickly responded in his stead.
“I am Miss Manon Favier, and I have come to visit my uncle, Sir Richard de Briers. Who are you, sir, if I may be permitted to ask?”
The man did not reply, but his eyes wandered over Manon in an appreciative manner. Manon, dressed in a bottle-green travelling gown, her beautiful red hair blazing in the afternoon sunlight, stared back at him, determined not to be browbeaten.
“I say, what a delight to have you here, Miss Favier!” the man exclaimed and grasped Manon’s hand. “Welcome, welcome! I am Jeremy Lawson, Viscount Banbury, at your service.”
Manon started when the tall, dark, handsome man grasped her gloved hand and placed a kiss on the back of it. The viscount had abundant dark locks dusted with grey at the temples, and eyes that were a crystal-clear blue with a hint of grey. He displayed a tall, lean body with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He was, Manon acknowledged, a handsome man, but there was a glint in his eyes that made her suspicious. Her uncle had never mentioned this man before. Why was he here at her uncle’s estate?
To mask her surprise, Manon performed a deep curtsy and lowered her eyes. When she raised them again, she smiled brightly at the viscount, but her mind was racing.
“How do you do, my lord?” she said, taking the hand the viscount offered. They entered the hall where Thornton led them to a drawing room.
“If you would be so good as to wait here, Miss Favier,” Thornton said, “I will inform Lady de Briers of your arrival.”
“Thank you. I have also brought my companion, Miss Prudence Butterworth, and my maid, Bessie Crampton. Furthermore, there are my coachman and three footmen from the Brighton household. I trust that accommodations can be organized for them as well. Furthermore, I would like to see my brother, Jéhan Favier, as soon as possible.”
While she made this little speech, Manon took the precaution to have her back to Sir Jeremy. She caught Thornton’s gaze and mouthed the words ‘Sir Richard’. The butler gave an almost invisible nod, bowed, and disappeared. To Manon’s relief, Pru chose that moment to enter the drawing room, which allowed Manon to introduce her companion to Sir Jeremy.
Pru curtsied graciously to the viscount and started a conversation with him about the beauty of the estate. This allowed Manon to slip from the room. At the back of the hall near the green baize door, she spotted Thornton, who beckoned her inside and down the stairs to the servants’ hall. A few men and women were gathered there.
“Miss Manon,” the elderly man beamed, “I am so grateful that you are here. Mr Davies told us all about you, and we all feel as if we know you well. Allow me to introduce you to the staff.”
“I know of you, as well,” Manon confessed. “Jake described you all to me so vividly that I find you all to be exactly as he told me. You must be Mrs Briskley, are you not?” she said, addressing an elderly woman.
“Aye, miss! And here are Tobias and Zackary, our footmen. And these are the maids, Franny and Mabel.”
“Pleased to meet you all,” Manon continued, acknowledging the girls’ curtsies. “But now I would first like to see Sir Richard. I need you to tell me what that charlatan has said about my uncle’s condition. Mr Thornton, be so kind as to bring me my medicinal bag. Bessie will know where it is.”
It was a shockingly horrible sight. Richard was lying on his stomach, his upper body bared and one arm flung over the side of the bed. His face was damp with perspiration, and his cheeks were ashen under a two-day beard. The sheets that covered him to the waist revealed black bruises on the tanned flesh of his back. An unpleasant stench rose from the bed, and Manon realised that her uncle had been lying in the same position for two whole days without having been washed.
Manon swallowed her fear and hurried to his side. She felt his pulse with her left hand and touched his face with the other. Oh, dear Lord. Matters were not looking at all right. Richard’s heartbeat was rapid, and his skin felt damp and hot. With trembling legs, Manon knelt beside the bed, laid her hand against Richard’s cheek, and spoke softly to him.
“Uncle, can you hear me? I have come to help you. Uncle, please open your eyes?”
There was no reaction, not even a fluttering of his eyelids. With a pang of anxiety, Manon also noticed that Richard’s breathing was frighteningly shallow. She stood and turned to Thornton.
“Mr Thornton, I will need some assistance. Could you please ask the two footmen to come up here? I will also need a table, a washbasin, clean sheets and several buckets of hot water. If you have a screen that I can put next to Sir Richard’s bed, I would be most obliged. I also require the assistance of Sir Richard’s valet, if you please.”
“I will send up the maids, Miss, but I fear Sir Richard does not make use of a valet, ” Thornton replied.
“Is there anyone who could serve as a valet? A footman, perhaps?”
“I can ask Bright, Sir Robert’s valet to perform the task, miss,” Thornton said and left the room, when Manon nodded her consent.
Manon then turned to the housekeeper. “What did the doctor say, Mrs Briskley? I need to know.”
“He spoke about a severe concussion, Miss Manon, but that was all, according to him. I think Sir Richard has broken several ribs, so we dare not move him. I also have no inkling of how to bandage his torso. I am feeling most guilty, but it has been extremely difficult for us to take proper care of him.”
Manon nodded in agreement, but before she could reply, the door swung open.
Like a little whirlwind, Jéhan burst into the room with Jake in tow. Manon opened her arms to her brother and clasped him to her heart.
“Oh, mon chou, comme tu m’as manqué! How I have missed you!”
“I missed you more!” Jéhan exclaimed, in perfect English and without the slightest accent, other than a light Cockney one. No doubt that was Jake’s influence, Manon thought fondly. With a pang of regret, she released her little brother and gestured towards the still figure on the bed.
“Jéhan, my sweet, you must let me tend to Uncle. He is ill and needs my care. I will come and see you when I am finished. We will talk as long as you wish, mon chou.”
Jéhan cast a concerned look at the still figure on the bed. “Jake told me Uncle was not well,” he said quietly. “You can make him better, Manon, can you not?”
“I will do everything that is in my power, I promise. But now you must let me work.” Jake smiled at her and took her brother by the hand to lead him out of the room.
With a flurry of activity swirling around her, Manon began laying out the contents of her medicine bag on the table beside her uncle’s bed. She found that doing so soothed her frightened thoughts which was all for the best; Richard needed her undivided attention.
“All is ready, Miss Manon,” Mrs Briskley said, a quarter of an hour later.
“Mr Thornton,” Manon inquired, “the mattress on this bed seems ruined. Is there a spare that we may replace it with afterwards?”
“I am certain I can accommodate you, Miss,” Thornton replied, unperturbed.
Manon nodded and turned to her team. She handed the housekeeper a cotton bag filled with dried lavender, marigold, and white willow bark.
“Mrs Briskley, I want you to ask your cook to prepare a poultice with these herbs. Ask her to use calf fat, which is the most effective. The poultice will help to heal the bruises. I also want a tisane, made from camomile and eucalyptus and sweetened with honey. Cook must prepare it with boiling water and keep a stock of it. I want a pitcher on Sir Richard’s nightstand at all times. It will reduce his fever.”
The housekeeper hurried out of the room. To the rest of the staff, Manon only said, “For the moment, I need only Mr Bright with me. We need to undress the patient so that I can tend to his injuries properly.”
Mr Bright, a tall, thin man of some fifty years, stood at the ready while Manon turned the sheets back from Richard’s still body. She gasped when she saw the extent of the bruising on his back.
Richard’s fall from his horse had surely been harsh, and Manon wondered if these outward signs were also a measure for his internal injuries? She bent low so that she could listen to the sounds of Richard’s breathing. If there was a rasping sound, it could point to rib fracture. To her relief, Richard was breathing shallowly but silently.
With the utmost caution, she then began probing Richard’s spine, touching each vertebra and applying a tender pressure to ensure it was unharmed. Again, to her relief, there was no damage and thus she could now examine the ribs. None of them had been torn from their fixation to the back vertebrae. To be entirely certain, Manon slid her fingers under Richard’s torso to probe the front part of the rib cage for broken bones. There were none. The breastbone also seemed undamaged.
Manon now wanted to turn Richard onto his back, but she needed to ascertain that there was no danger in doing so. She moved her hands to Richard’s shoulders. The collar bones also seemed to be whole, which gave Manon additional latitude to move Richard.
“Mr Bright, if you please?”
“Just Bright is fine, miss,” the valet replied calmly.
Manon smiled. “Well, Bright, would you strip your master and cover him with this sheet, please?”
“Certainly, miss. Would you please retire behind the screen?”
Manon rapidly complied, eager to continue her work on her uncle’s injuries.
After Bright had finished the task of baring his master’s body, Tobias and Zackary lifted Richard from his bed and laid him on his back onto the white sheet that covered the extra table. The lower part of Richard’s body was decently shielded by a clean white sheet so as not to offend the virginal eyes of the womenfolk. While her uncle was out of his bed, Manon asked the maids to change the mattress and bedding.