Sophia led the way up the broad stairway to the second floor, and they entered the darkened bedroom where Selena lay; close to death’s door if he might believe what he had heard. Robert felt more than just trepidation about what he would find, but a feeling bordering on despair.
The smell was that of a typical sick room; cloying and faintly nauseating, though that may have been triggered by fear of what he might find. The room was warm and well ventilated by the fire kept going there. For once in his life he felt afraid of what he might encounter. He could barely breathe, and the blood was pounding in his ears as he walked over to the bed, despairing at what he might find.
He could see a figure lying there, but not clearly enough to recognize her amidst her pillows. Her right leg was splinted, with a small specially made bolster on either side of it to hold her leg in one position. The heavier covers had been moved away from over her foot so that they would not interfere with the healing process.
Without hesitation he crossed to the window where the curtains had been pulled to keep out the afternoon sun, and opened them as far as they would go, tying them back and allowing the sun to spill into the room. The fire that was kept going would keep everything warm enough, and it would also ensure that fresh air was dragged in through that same window when it was opened, which he did. It was one thing to stare at four walls when one had no choice below deck, but he was damned if he would tolerate it when there was a view to be had that was so extensive and beautiful.
He noticed another young woman sitting out of the way, and watched her leave at a sign from Sophia, and some kindly uttered thanks. He walked back to the bed and looked down on the covered figure there, lost in his own thoughts. He kept those thoughts to himself and decided how he must proceed while not offending anyone too much. He was unlikely to succeed in that expectation. He would offend everyone.
Yes. This was the woman who had so strongly affected his life for the last ten years. The woman who had occupied his every living and breathing thought, awake or asleep, and even in the midst of battle. Her name had been on his lips as he had swung his saber left and right to clear men out of his way, anticipating, and even hoping that each such venture would be his last, but it never had been. His last ship had been called Selena; the name of the woman he was now seeing again for the first time in ten years. He had regarded it as an omen, but of what he could not be sure.
He had taken care of her; that ship, and had coaxed and pampered her as he took her into battle with him. It had not seemed unusual that that was the name he even shouted to rally his men around him as he charged over the rail to take on the enemy. “For Selena!” It fired them up as much as it enervated him and unnerved the enemy, with them all shouting the same cry, but each with a different understanding of it.
He had met this woman briefly only the once, and unknown to anyone else, even her, but, oh, that once had been burned into his brain and would dwell in his mind forever. He had never expected to see her again or ever to return to what had once been his home. Yet here he was.
After some moments of silence, he became aware that he was being closely watched by Sophia, not sure what he intended, though she could not know the thoughts going through his mind. How long had he been lost in thought? He turned to her. He was a different man now than the one she had first met. He had seemed irresolute at first when he had stood there deep in thought with his shoulders hunched over as though bowed down by trouble, but then he looked up at her.
Sophia sensed that he did not even see her for a moment as he seemed to struggle with what he thought, or needed to ask, or do.
He would need to tread carefully. This was not his ship, and he was far out of his depth dealing with a different kind of woman from those he had encountered in his travels, but it would not be that way for long.
Sophia began to suspect even more certainly that she would never easily know or understand this man from one moment to another.
He took a deep breath and turned to her. He spoke softly, as though the woman lying there might be disturbed by his voice.
“Tell me, Sophia”—he had put aside any formality between them— “what do you most want, at this moment, for your sister?” She was unsure why he would ask such an obvious thing, or the meaning behind his question. She looked into his face to see what might be seen but she could not read him. He was looking at her, waiting for her response.
She thought for a few moments at the strangeness of his question.
“I want her to survive this tragedy, for the children’s sake, for all of our sakes, and to come back to us as she was. But what a strange question to ask. Is it not what we all want?”
“I know it is. I needed to hear you say it. However, in order to ensure that happens, there are certain things that must be done and not shied away from.” He looked at her steadily and could see uncertainty as to his meaning in her eyes. “What do you think needs to be done to bring her about?” He continued before she might answer.
“I could respect her privacy, wring my hands and bewail the circumstance. Though I suspect there has been too much of that already. Then, if she were to die, how might you feel if it was found that she died from something simple that had been overlooked? You would be distraught of course, as well as justifiably angry, not only with yourself but with everyone who had not had the backbone to do something about it.” She continued to listen.
“For my part, I have no intention of letting anything like that happen to her. Nor should you; think of me what you will after this, but I shall not let her die. I would rather you think ill of me now, and have her live, than have you think kindly of my vapid spirit, and see her die.”
“I don’t know about any of that, sir. I am not a physician.”
“Neither was the man who attended her, and who called himself one of that breed.”
That was forcefully enough stated. She had never heard so scathing an utterance said so calmly. He recovered. He was looking down upon the invalid, impatient to begin what he knew needed to be done.
“Then let me ask you; what do you personally know of her injuries? Did anyone tell you? Have you checked her for yourself? Did anyone discuss what Jessop found wrong with her, apart from a broken leg, internal injuries, and severe bruising? which is what I heard.” He waited patiently for her answer. She looked bewildered.
“I am not sure. I was afraid to move her too much, except to bathe her where I could. Nurse is protective of her, and difficult to…”
“Yes, she is, isn’t she! Well meaning, but part of the problem.” He saw that he was causing her to examine her own assumptions and let her say what she might know.
“I was worried. She is still unconscious after all this time, and I know that cannot be right. The doctor left before I came, but I was told that Jessop—yes, that was his name—had said that she was in the hands of God now, though I was not here when he set her leg, or said any of that, or detailed her injuries. Nurse has been too busy to tell me what she might know. I have been here only two, perhaps three days myself. He had said that we should pray for her, night and day.”
Robert repeated what she had said.
“In the hands of God?” He smiled grimly. “Not good enough for me. That is what those who have given up hope might say when they do not know what else to do. There is always something that can be done. I never gave up on any man, or any woman until they breathed their last. The surgeon on board my ships; Rogers, his hands were more to be relied upon than those of any absent deity. He is worth ten, Jessops. He saved the lives of many men who certainly would have died if prayer was all that might be brought into play, or had Jessop been their attending physician.” Robert brought his turbulent feelings back under control and tried to learn more.
“So you bathed her.” He could see a bowl and cloths. “You must have seen her closely at those times and were able to draw your own conclusions. What did you see that you can tell me?” He was looking at Sophia closely, waiting for whatever information she might be able to impart to him. He resisted the urge to move her along with his impatience.
“I know that she is still badly bruised, and must be sore, even in her coma. There are times when she moans during her rest and I can see that she is in some pain when she tries to move in her sleep.” He listened attentively and watched her face as she spoke, but she was not telling him what he needed to hear.
“As for other injuries to her; I do not know. I trusted that those who saw to her; Nurse and the others who had been present when the doctor was here, knew what they were doing.” She was not sure where he was heading.
“A common error! Even with Nurse.” He smiled at her, (she was not to blame), and worked his way carefully forward. “Do you not think it wise to know, with some certainty, rather than to be unsure, or to surmise, or even to trust the probably inadequate observations of a Jessop?
“Nurse, would be too emotionally engaged to be an effective observer with so much on her plate with the children. And her eyesight is failing her. I know, however, that I would never trust Jessop. Had my brother been alive, he would not have allowed him into the house to treat even a dog.
“The last time I encountered Jessop was when he nearly killed my brother. He was drunk, at the time, though he protested that he was not, and that he always had a bottle of wine to go with his lunch. He was probing far too clumsily for the ball after I had shot my brother in the shoulder. Accidentally, of course, though Nurse thought otherwise for quite some time. I stopped Jessop doing any more damage, saw him off the property, and did for myself what he had been too drunk to do. I saw what needed to be done, and I did it. Charles recovered. Had he died, I would not have wanted to live. Our parents were away at the time. There was hell to pay when they got back, and after Nurse related what I had done. She never forgave me.”
Sophia was surprised to hear that, about him having shot his own brother, and Nurse believing that he might have done it intentionally.
“We were just fourteen. I put Jessop out of the house at the point of that same pistol when he thought to come back a day later, and told him not to bother sending his bill, or I would pay him a visit. He must have believed me.” She took her cue from what he had said.
“Perhaps you wish to call in another physician if you do not trust Dr. Jessop?”
“You are correct. I certainly do not trust Jessop. He did not inspire confidence. Jessop is injured himself anyway, I hear, so we can be thankful that he did not return to make things worse. And another physician? Yes, that is exactly what I would like to do. But it will take time to get the one I need, and I am not sure that he would be allowed to come. The surgeon from my ship; Mister Rogers.” He looked at her and continued.