Let's Get Sophia, Settled.
“Abby, is Miss Sophia’s bed prepared?
The hierarchy of the house had just been changed again. His Lordship’s brother, Robert, was in charge, and the house would be the better for it even if he was… the way he was rumored to be.
Nurse was becoming her old self once more. “Mistress will need some fresh hot water for when she next wakes up, Abby; a lot of clean cloths, towels…”
Robert added his own items. “And more lemonade, and even more soup if there is some. She managed to finish that other before it got cold. But that need, will be an hour or two away.”
“Yes, sir. There will be plenty of that now, anytime of night or day, now that we know she is eating. Cook is seeing to it.” Robert was pleased to think that the atmosphere against him might be gradually turning, though for how long he could not be sure. It would suffer another setback when they learned from Miss Sophia what he had done with their mistress, though she had told him that she would say nothing.
He saw them all begin to troop out, but Emily delayed and remained close until she could speak with him. “Can we really come to see her again after dinner, sir?” The other two girls stayed close enough to hear what he would say.
“Yes. After dinner, perhaps even just before you go to bed, and say goodnight to her, and then you can come in the morning after breakfast. Maybe even before then, when you first wake up if you like. You can keep me company. It can only do her good, and I think I will be very much in need of your company myself.” He was surprised to recognize the undeniable truth of that. With the children close by, they might also distract their mother from noticing too much about him, but that was not his main reason for wanting them there. He resolved to do something about his hair.
“Thank you, sir.”
“And by the way, young ladies.” He lowered his voice. “As you are to be my sisters, I think you should learn that I detest that word ‘Uncle’.” And with good reason too. The one uncle he remembered had been an irascible, ill-tempered being, who seemed to continually fight with everyone around him. “It might be safer if you were to call me, sir, when we are in your mother’s company, as well as at other times too.”
“Yes, sir. We heard what you said to Nurse. That other name shall not pass our lips.” Despite their innocence, they seemed to realize how much might be at stake.
Thinking of his uncle, raised another consideration. He would not put it past that uncle to have put those men on the highway to get rid of him. His uncle would have known when his ship was to dock. With Robert out of the way as well as Charles, and no son to inherit, then he would be next in line. Robert would give some thought as to what he might do about that.
He left the door ajar behind them and heard them gambol off to the stairs. Children seemed so resilient, especially when given some hope.
He returned and began to tidy away as much as he could onto the tray. He took it over to the door and placed it outside on the side table on the landing.
There was now space for whatever would shortly be brought up.
The only thing he kept on the bedside table was the opiate that Jessop invariably prescribed to all of his patients. A semi-comatose patient was less likely to be able to complain over what he did or did not do. It was the most useful thing he could have given her, and it would be well used by the time this was over. She was now resting properly, and so was Miss Sophia.
Now that he could relax, he admired the view across the park. It seemed brighter than it had, and everywhere seemed more welcoming and not so filled with uncertainty or more morbid considerations as it had been, yet the weather had not changed. He had. He was startled from his contemplation of the grounds, by a voice behind him.
“I brought a tray with the things that are needed. I am Deirdre, sir.”
“Yes, I met you earlier.” She noticed that his face had brightened up at seeing her. “Set it on the bedside table please, Deirdre. And thank you.” She seemed surprised to be thanked, but Abby had said he had been polite with her too, yet without any suggestions of anything more than that.
“I am to stay with her ladyship, sir, if you have other things to do. Abigail is looking after the children, and Nurse is just behind me to see to Miss Sophia.”
“You may as well stay then. If she wakes or needs anything, we will be in Miss Sophia’s room. I doubt I will be more than five or ten minutes, and then I shall return.”
His eyes had risen to the door as Nurse bustled in with towels and a change of sheets. Hot water would soon follow. “Is my room ready for her, Nurse?”
“It is, sir. Abby is very good that way. A nice fire, a glass of warm milk with some brandy, as you instructed, and even a warming pan between the sheets. But do you think it is wise to give one so young, brandy, sir?”
“Why not? She can’t be that young.”
“She is barely nineteen, sir.” He had already known that. Sophia was the same age her sister had been when he had first met her with such devastating consequences. Sophia, like her sister, was also mature far beyond her years.
“No matter. It will settle her well enough provided they didn’t overdo it, and even if they did, it will not matter.”
“You will be able to judge that for yourself I think.” He could see that Nurse was itching to tell him something else.
“Out with it, Nurse. What have I done, now?”
“Sir, I was giving it some thought; you, taking on that other role. You need to think about what will happen to my mistress, now that she is back with us, if you are discovered taking on your brother’s identity, no matter how well intentioned.” He was planning on her not discovering it, if that were possible.
“I shall be careful. It will resolve itself soon enough anyway when she regains her senses and realizes that I am not my brother.” She hoped so. But she could not let it rest there without saying more.
“But you are too like him, sir. If you are not careful she might never know, if you do not tell her, despite those other little differences.” He had already experienced that once, for himself, and hoped that it might work again, but without those earlier consequences.
“I am torn between the good that might come of it, and the harm that will come of it if she recognizes what is going on. I am fearful where such deception might lead, sir, even if it is meant with the best of intentions. The road to hell..., as they say, sir.”
“Who will be hurt by it, Nurse? Not her, and not for long. It is not my intent to mislead her, but to protect her, and to save her from greater hurt. She will be better able to bear the bad news, later, when she is on a firmer footing.” Everything sounded reasonable, even to himself. Nurse had to be satisfied with that.
“Of course. Then I shall say no more, sir.” But she could still think. She was always of a suspicious nature and would keep her eyes open. She watched as Robert moved across to the cot in which Miss Sophia was lying.
“Let us get this young woman into a better bed, Nurse. She seems to have shouldered too much of the burden for the last two days at least, and it has taken its toll upon her.”
“That she has, sir, and that it did, and saved us all so much work and worry.”
He knelt beside Sophia, uncovered her and, sliding his arm beneath her shoulders, sat her up into him. He put her arms over his shoulders, and then slid his other arm beneath her knees, lifting her as though she weighed nothing. This was another one who had neglected her own needs.
Her arms tightened on his neck, as he carried her to the door with her head resting into his shoulder. Nurse noticed. Half the house was in love with the scoundrel before he had been home even half a day after what he had done for her ladyship, and the other half didn’t know what to think. But that had always been the way of it with those two boys. The girls couldn’t help themselves, of course, with him being the exact image of their father, and it was natural that they might love him. But Miss Sophia getting close to him? That was dangerous around such a man as this one; no point in being blind to what he was, and what he would likely get up to, given half a chance.
“Half awake, half asleep, Nurse.”
“That she is, sir. She is utterly worn out. I do not think she closed her eyes for the last two days, and she was travelling a full day before that. I do not know when she found time to eat.” She probably hadn’t.
“Then we had better feed her up. She should weigh more than this.” They walked off down the corridor into another wing of the house, and then into the room that he had once occupied as a boy.
“Put her down on the bed, sir. I’ve got a nightdress ready for her.”
He laid her down, picked up the milk and brandy, and tasted it. “Not too strong. The milk will do her good. Let’s sit her up and see if she can manage this.”
She mumbled as he tilted it to her lips. “Come on Sophia, this will help you sleep.”
“It will? She yawned, and then as he put the glass to her lips, she gulped at it as if she had not drunk anything for a week, drinking until the glass was empty.
“Strange taste.” She grimaced with her eyes still closed. “Brandy, I think. I heard the rumors about you. You are not trying to get me tipsy are you? First that strong beer, and now this?”
“Yes. So you were warned, somehow, and have seen my purpose. Tarnation! I did plan on visiting you in the dead of night while you slept. It is expected of me by the entire house, and I should not disappoint my critics. Except Nurse will lock your door after overhearing me say that.”
He heard Nurse rumble in the background with criticism of his being so outspoken to such an impressionable and innocent young lady but listened as Sophia responded.
“That is because they do not know you as I do, sir. I may have been only an hour or two in your company, but I know you much better than any of them do.” Nurse was alarmed to hear that. That was how it always started. Believing that she had a measure of a man and might be able to change him had been the downfall of many a woman around this one. They never did change. “I already know your deepest secret, and I also know that you are not what you take such pains to suggest that you are.”
Deepest secret? Nurse looked at him sharply and wondered what had passed between them when he had been alone with her as they had eaten together, and then after that, after he had gone with her to see her mistress. Might that have been time enough to work his mischief with her? She might be able to ask Miss Sophia some of that once he had left, and to caution her. Or maybe not.
“You should go back to my mistress, sir. I need to get this one out of these clothes, and even bathe her a little. I believe she may not have had them off for two days. You can close the door behind you, and we will try to keep as much warmth in here as possible. If you do not mind, could you see the warming pan safely put outside in the window embrasure where it can do no harm?” She had an afterthought.
“Thank you for letting Mistress believe that you were Charles, earlier. It will help her through this difficult stretch in the next day or so. I was wrong to say what I did. It cannot do her so very much harm relative to the alternative. Your voice is very like his, and he always said ‘my dear’ or ‘my love’ to her. He also used to touch her face like that. It might have been too much of a shock to find that he was dead, even as she began to awake, so I was wrong to worry as I did.”
“Yes. I thought so too. We will all find our feet, gradually. There will be time enough to deal with any difficulties when we get to them.”
She watched him leave and had to marvel at the change in the children since he had arrived. Indeed, the change in the entire house. He had changed in some way himself, and she was not sure how, though he had been away for ten years. That absence could not have improved or changed him any way that mattered where womenfolk were concerned.