The Madame counted the whispers between the trees as her gaze hollowed into the girl's face. She knew the fresh air could do everyone better, and she listened as the wind billowed the curtains away from the window. She couldn’t turn around to face the events unfolding in the room behind her. Her face remained tense with worry as Octavia lay in the bed, holding a cloth to her mouth as the doctor examined her. Uncovering her with his shaking, wrinkled hands, he wondered again how a girl so healthy found fever so deplorable. His eyes squinted behind the glasses that glared from the candlelight, and he checked her nightgown for any signs of drainage or bleeding. With such finality in her pregnancy, signs of a miscarriage could prove fatal if not closely monitored.
Octavia coughed, retching forward in the bed. Long gasping drags for breath that roared into the night. The Madame spun away from the window and marched to her side as the doctor soothed her. She hurried her hands to reach the cup of lavender tea she had brewed just for these coughing fits previously and brought it carefully to Octavia’s lips.
The doctor stood away from the bed, and he pulled the glasses away from his eyes tiredly.
“Madame.” He spoke in a lower, haggard tone, “Shall I meet you outside?” Octavia returned her tea cup to the bedside table, trying not to clink the china together. She saw the hesitation from her mistress about leaving that one place in that one moment. She smiled a half smile and said weakly, a rasp in her throat,
“I’ll be just fine.”
The Madame smiled, letting her lips curl upwards for the first time the entire evening. She thought of the times they spent together in the gardens of the vineyard, laughing the summer away as her belly grew two wondrous children. Although, Master would often interrupt their leisure to remind Octavia of her duties, the gentleness of their talks always brightened the entire Manor. Madame knew money would never be an obstacle to keep her companion living for the next summers to come, and she stood onto her feet, shaking the dust from her gown.
“I’ll return in just a moment. When I do, I’ll draw a bath before you rest.”
“Milady, you needn’t muster yourself to tend to me. The other girls in the halls do well.”
“I won’t hear another objection.” She said with a forbidding scowl that melted into a laugh. “A bath is final.”
Opening the door for her as she stepped aside, the doctor began to speak in murmurs as the door closed. Steadfast, she put a guard around her heart for his decision, and she listened.
“I do not think that my knowledge alone will be able to determine her illness. But what I am certain is that a fever this severe this late in her pregnancy will harm the children. Her eyes are yellowing faster than daisies, so I fear for her liver. But, I cannot be certain without a second opinion-”
He explained further. However, her ears rang from the boisterous disturbance coming from three floors upwards. The hushed murmur that was veiled to human ears. The woman who drunkenly laughed, while perched upon the Master’s lap as he urged for her indulgence. The fire that popped in the hearth and even the stirring against the marble from their weight shifting upon the furniture. It groaned in the Madame’s ears like the ghost of a leper in agony that was haunting their halls.
Madame nodded as the news unraveled in her chest heavily. She rubbed her palms together, feigning perspiration. Although fear wasn’t something she was accustomed to, she found her false breath wavering as she asked,
“If I send you away for a second opinion, what provisions do I take to ensure she survives the night?”
The doctor assured his superior would be alerted from Amesbury by morning. He reached into his shirt pocket for the small metal tin of opium salve and presented to her underneath the dim glow beneath the corridor sconces. He instructed her carefully how to apply the salve to her temples and to keep her cool with damp cloths, but dressed warmly for rest. Furthermore, he mentioned with an assuring tone that willow bark brewed in one’s tea has always yielded satisfactory results in lowering these unwavering fevers, although the taste is somewhat dreadful.
Dreadful couldn't begin to portray the way she felt watching Octavia suffer. She came to the Manor young, a portrait of poverty but humble. In her younger days, the Madame would remove her from the stitching table to comb the lice from her hair and cleanse the filth from her elbows. Reared amongst the Heather flowers in Scotland, Octavia knew nothing more than the life of dirty, empty palms. Parents that worked for British earls for one-tenth of what the queen's peasants made. She never demanded anything however, sometimes putting herself in harm when she would fail to do so. Octavia needed reciprocity to keep her alive, now more than ever.
"If you can promise me that someone will be here by first light, I might just have one glance of sleep. This girl's death should drive me to madness. I need your word that someone will be here to tend to her." Madame pleaded, holding the metal tin to her chest, her words growing more desperate with every beat.
"Milady." He said with a soft, assuring palm placed atop her hands,
"I will see to it the moment that I arrive into town. You shall not want for a second."
It was hard to listen to a human's promise. They were often premature, ulterior and conditional, but this was the only word she could cling to until morning. She placed the small tin in her pocket and wove herself back together inside as she asked if he'd prefer a late supper before his departure. He shook his head as he placed his medical satchel back into his hand but she insisted before his trip back to Amesbury.
She gestured for him to follow as she led him to a small drawing room in the east wing of the Manor, close to the front exit where his coach would be prepared. He loomed behind her and she slowed her pace to accommodate for his aching joints that popped in her ears as they started up the stairs. She heard his heart pounding from the work of heaving upwards one step to the next. She listened to the heavy swallows from his throat and stopped him politely,
"Sir, I can assist you up the stairs. Won't you take my arm?"
"I couldn’t impose, madame." He panted with unsteady air in his lungs, "I will make it up."
He looked upwards, reluctant to see the next tier from where they stood on the landing.
"Of course you will." Madame said and she curled her arm around his own to begin her assistance, "But this is most certainly the least I can offer after all your help."
She listened as he jollily began to thank her and commend the manor. All it's "grandeur." Or how "sumptuous'. That's all she'd ever heard. How tiresome it was, keeping the state of manor. It was only just a toss of a stone into the pond. The tedious tasks that involved keeping their names relevant inside the ripples of that very big pond.
Madame heard him but could only listen elsewhere. Little echoes of his mind that trickled through his touch. War; the calls of the British battalion calling for any medicine they could find. Fort Carmichael burned from the ground up. A scared 20 year-old boy, only a boy, stood on the front lawn with the flames glaring in his glasses. The smell of rotting flesh in the air as the sea rocked below them. The prayers, the screams, the calls of panicked sargeants to fall back against the row. They reached the top of the stairs and she could only find one cold, colorless tone after feeling the heaviness of his life before this moment, “God bless you sir, you are too kind.”
“Surely, the master is expecting his bride to return to bed. I hope I have not kept you.” He said as they entered the west drawing room where the staff would accommodate him until the carriage was prepared. She remained with him only for a moment before the look on her face became noticeable and reminded him gladly that it was no bother. Her bones shook with horror still smelling the hot gunpowder from his memories and she bid him goodnight quickly but with intention of not being too abrupt.