Page 91 of The Husband Season

He did not answer, and all she heard was his laboured breathing. ‘I won’t tire you anymore with my chatter, but I am not going away. Go to sleep. I will be here when you wake.’ She got up from her knees and walked stiffly to move a chair close to the bed and sat down. His hand moved towards her. She grasped it and sat watching his chest rise and fall, though occasionally it stuttered as if it hurt him to breathe. So long as it continued to do that, he was still living.

 * * *

 Mark came and dragged her away two hours later. ‘Sophie, you must come and have something to eat and then go to bed for a few hours. Mrs Grant, the housekeeper, has had a room made ready for you.’

 ‘I cannot leave him.’

 ‘Someone will watch over him while you are away. You will be fetched immediately if there is any change.’

 She stood up and bent to kiss Adam’s brow. ‘I’ll be back, my love.’ She followed Mark from the room, passing the nurse who was to take her place.

 She was so tired she did not notice what the house was like as she followed Mark to a small dining room. The table was laid with cold meats and dishes of vegetables. ‘Sit and eat,’ he said.

 She obeyed and put a little of the food onto her plate and began to eat slowly, without appetite. ‘Mr Farley told me a little of what happened,’ he said, sitting down beside her. ‘Adam was, as I surmised, at St Peter’s Fields. They are dubbing it Peterloo, after the Battle of Waterloo. His account is more horrifying than the newspaper reports. It was complete mayhem. Adam went disguised in workman’s clothes to hear what the speakers had to say and speak himself if the opportunity arose. He had it in mind to try to calm the more hot-headed who were demanding violent action.

 ‘There was no sign that was likely to happen, but the magistrates panicked and ordered the cavalry in. They charged indiscriminately, slashing this way and that, uncaring that it was women and children they were hurting. Adam grabbed a child from the path of a galloping horse and took a deep sabre cut to the side of his chest as a consequence. It fractured his ribs. The doctor is afraid one of them may have punctured his lung.’

 ‘Isn’t it just like Adam not to think of his own safety?’ she said dully. ‘He is going to die because he tried to save a child.’

 ‘He did save him, Sophie, and Adam is not dead yet. There is still hope.’

 After she had eaten all she could, the housekeeper conducted her to a room next to Adam’s. ‘This was prepared for you as a dressing room when you became Lady Kimberley,’ Mrs Grant told her. ‘I hope it is acceptable. You will be able to hear if his lordship needs you.’

 Sophie thanked her and stretched out on the chaise longue without taking off her clothes. She did not think she would sleep, but she did.

 * * *

 The day of their wedding came and went and still Adam clung to life. Sophie could not make up her mind if he was getting better or worse. Some days his breathing did seem easier; other days it seemed every breath he took added to his pain and his face would reflect it. She watched over him devotedly, giving him sips of water and small spoonfuls of broth, persuading him to take the pain-killing medicine the doctor had prescribed and constantly wiping his brow with cold cloths in an effort to bring down the fever. She even helped Farley to change his nightshirt, though she left the shaving and washing the more intimate parts of his body to the valet.

 It did not cross her mind that she should not be doing it. The only women in the house were Mrs Grant and a couple of chambermaids. If they were shocked by her behaviour they would not have dared say so. Mark had made a small remonstrance at the beginning, to which she had retorted, ‘There is no one else to do it, and I would not trust them if there were.’

 There was one particular night when he was more than usually restless. His body seemed on fire, his face burning. According to the doctor whom Mark sent for, this was the crisis, and the next few hours would decide Adam’s fate. Sophie stayed by his bed all night, dipping cloths in cold water and wiping his face and upper body, talking softly to him. She was on the point of exhaustion herself, but would not rest. She prayed as she had never prayed before.

 * * *

 Towards dawn she could not keep her eyes open any longer and dozed, but she was instantly awake when she felt a movement in the bed. His eyes were open and he was smiling. ‘Still here, Sophie?’

 ‘Of course I am. Where else would I be?’

 ‘Very improper.’

 Pleased that he was alert and aware, she grinned happily. ‘Who cares? I do not. Besides, if you had been well we would have been married by now.’