Frustrated that he occupied such a frail husk, Ethan spent most of his concentration to keep old man Watson going. Leaving the house to find Beth was about as likely as a trip to the moon.
Hearing the swish of cloth, he opened his eyes to see Helen, the nurse, enter the bedroom. Maybe twenty-five, older than the other one, Helen seemed to have more sense. Ethan made a decision. He couldn’t leave the house, but Beth could come to him.
“I thought you were asleep, Mr. Watson.”
“No, just thinking. Helen, bring me some paper and a pen.”
She set down a stack of sheets and approached the bedside. Her cool hand rested momentarily on Ethan’s brow. Her long fingers gently pressed against his neck. “Your pulse seems steadier. How do you feel?”
Ethan chuckled and Helen looked at him with alarm. “Helen, look at this old geezer. How do you think he feels? He’s got one foot in the grave and the other one on ice. Other than that, he feels fine.”
The nurse’s hand went to her mouth and her hazel eyes opened wide.
“It’s okay, Helen. You can laugh. Just get me something to write with.”
She dropped her hand and Ethan saw her full lips parted in a big smile.
“You should do that more often. You have a pretty face. Don’t be so somber all the time.”
In complete consternation, the nurse left the room. Two minutes later she returned with a portfolio, a bottle of ink, and a quill pen. She helped her patient sit up in bed and placed two more pillows behind him. “How’s that?”
“I promise not to croak in the next ten minutes.”
That got another smile.
“Okay, Helen, I’ll need some help with this.” She opened the portfolio, revealing several pieces of heavy vellum. By folding the portfolio back, she made a writing surface that she set on Ethan’s lap. She opened the ink bottle and dipped the quill pen into it.
Ethan watched in fascination as the antique process unfurled. Helen placed the quill in Ethan’s hand and he made his first effort to write. The quill scratched and caught on the paper and his first word looked like Greek.
“Helen, stop letting chickens run through here. Look what they did.” She flashed him a tentative smile and when he didn’t bite her head off, she beamed.
“Are you okay, Mr. Watson?”
“I guess I’m not really myself today, Helen. Enjoy it while you can.”
She reloaded the pen and wrote the name “Watson” across the page. “See? Don’t press so hard, Mr. Watson. Let it glide across the page.”
“Wish I had a ball-point about now.”
“Never mind.” Ethan took up the quill and tried again. This time, the word that came out looked reasonably like the word he had intended.
“Give me a fresh sheet.”
Ethan started over. It took almost half an hour for his weak hand to scratch out a message to his satisfaction. “Helen, please seal this in an envelope.”
She folded the message and inserted it into one of the yellowed envelopes. Then she lit a candle and poured hot wax on the flap. She reached across the bed and took Ethan’s left hand.
Ethan suddenly understood. He pressed his signet ring into the soft wax, leaving an impression that looked like a chess piece. The knight.
“Helen, I need for you to take this to Katherine Hawley. But you must give it only to her. You understand?”
At the mention of Hawley the nurse’s sunny face eclipsed. “You mean go to the house?”
“I don’t like that place, sir.”
“Helen, go now before dark.”
“I can’t. Who will watch you?”
“Go get Madge. I’m feeling fine. You won’t be gone that long. I promise to let only you save me next time my heart stops. Okay?”
She pressed her lips together. She glanced out the window. With the sun almost down, fear of being at the Hawley house after dark goaded her to action.
After she left the room, Ethan could barely contain his anticipation. Would Beth come to him this evening? He was almost giddy from the thought.
He shook his head. Giddy? No, actually light-headed. The room tilted and splotches of darkness spread across his vision.
No, not now. Not when I’m this close to her.
With as much breath as he could muster, Ethan called, “Madge!”
Then he blacked out.