Everything is now coming together as it should.
There was another voice that joined them. Selena was awake! They began to examine what they might have said that she might have overheard.
“What a confusing conversation! Is that you, Charles? But of course it is. What strange things you speak of. Is Nurse badgering you again over something?”
She was distracted for a moment when she discovered Anne, asleep beside her. “And what women are these? Though I am not sure that I will be able to make head nor tail of it.”
Robert walked over to the bed and took the hand she held out to him and kissed it as he sat upon the bed with her. The light was poor enough that he was not worried about her seeing too much of his appearance that would tell her that he could not be Charles.
“She was telling me off about allowing everyone in here when you should not be disturbed.”
“And is that you scowling there, Nurse? I can see you, you know.”
“Yes Ma’am, it is.” She scurried over to her mistress, losing track of her earlier difficulties, and was distracted from retrieving Miss Sophia’s modesty, by pulling her nightdress down to cover her better.
“How long have I been like this, Charles; all sore and bruised and unable to move my leg?” He was relieved that he was not about to be recognized just yet. He smiled at her, as she might expect.
“The accident was a few days ago, my love. I am sure you remember some of it. You caused us no end of worry until you woke up, some hours ago.”
“Good. I am ravenous! I could smell food all evening, and could see and hear people eating, and no-one thought to take pity on me and ask if I would like some.” She had eaten a little, but had forgotten, or had not been conscious of it. “But then I think I was still more than half asleep. Beef stew, I think.
“If that is bread I can see over there on that tray, I will have some of that, please, with lots of butter, and if there is any more of that stew I may be able to manage some.
“If you could place more pillows behind me please, Charles, and light more candles, I could see you both so much better and I would not seem so far away from everything.” He saw to the pillows but decided against lighting any more candles. The less detail she could see of him, the better.
“Thank you. She seemed invigorated with new life and had questions to ask as she looked closely at him.
“Yes. You look different, Charles. Worried. Concerned. I did recover enough from time to time to detect that in the way you fussed around me. I needed to feel and hear that. Your hair is not as tidy as it should be, either, but I see that you did not entirely escape injury yourself.” She touched at his shirt sleeve where the swelling of a bandage could be seen underneath it. She looked from one to the other and took in what she could see of Sophia and the two older children.
“Was I so very difficult to look after, Charles? Did the cares of looking after me, and worrying, strain you so much? No don’t answer that. It did. I can see it about you. We can put it all behind us now.” She was ready to talk, and he was not about to stop her. At least she had not wondered why he looked different but had her own explanation for it.
“Are the children well? I should not ask. I can see that they are, for I can feel Anne so warm beside me, and I can see them, fast asleep, and Sophia too. It is so nice to have my family here. They sounded happy when I heard them earlier.” She had too much to say and to ask, to be stopped from asking what she needed to know.
“Am I seriously injured? I remember some of it all, but far too little for comfort…. I do remember a lot of crying, and hushed voices and I remember the doctor pulling me around.” She analyzed her recollections. “Yes, I remember Jessop. Your name was mentioned as though you were injured too. Or worse than injured, yet you do not seem to be seriously hurt, thank god.” She reached up and touched his unshaven face, reassuring herself about his presence.
“But I am confused about that. It is such a relief to find that it was only in my mind.” They would try to ensure that it stayed that way.
Robert decided to help comfort her about some things. “I was not too seriously injured, my love. Just a slight problem with my arm; bruises too, and some minor things about my head, which required my hair to be shortened; carelessly done, with little time to correct it.”
She was not sure that it could all be so inconsequential. The bandage under his shirt sleeve concerned her.
He hoped it had not started to bleed again and might have stained his sleeve. He tried to go along with her assumptions, rather than reveal the obscure part he had decided to play. “Everyone was concerned for you. But I am here now, so all of that fussing can stop.” She seemed to accept that.
“I shall soon be back on my feet again, Charles.” She still believed that he was his brother, and Robert was not about to correct that belief for her. The circumstance would become alive to her when she discovered the truth. He found her hand and raised it to his lips. She sighed, content with what she could see and hear.
“Yes. I was aware of many things, and I could hear a lot too. I shall have many questions about what happened to me when I can think more clearly. I need to hear you say my name again, Charles. I began to think I might never hear it again spoken so lovingly.” It seemed that he was able to do something right. He took her hand and obliged her as he looked into her eyes. “Selena. My Selena.” She smiled at him. She began to feel alive again.
“I seem to recall mention of Robert being here.” His heart almost stopped. “Is he still here?” She looked about the room. “But it is too late. He will have retired.”
“No, my love. He had to return to London, but I am sure he will make every effort to come and see you again. Nurse is here to see to you now and would like to see me go so that she can attend to you. I shall go down to the kitchen. I need to stretch my legs anyway, and I will bring you some of that stew.” He also needed to escape her closer scrutiny, and to think.
There was no one in the kitchen, but Robert was able to find what he needed. The stew was still roiling slowly. He filled a soup plate and returned with it on a tray. She visibly perked up as he entered.
“Charles, you are spoiling me.” He would need to be careful what he said. It would not do to be discovered so soon. He took her hand again for a few moments, then sat beside her and slowly began to feed her.
“You deserve to be spoiled, my love.” She smiled up at him. He hoped he was not overdoing it.
“I never remember a simple beef stew tasting so good.” She began to see other things as her eyes took in the room. “If that is wine that I see over there, I would like a glass of that too, please.”
“You will need to share a glass with Sophia and me, for I have just the one.”
“Just as we often did and will again.”
He brought her a glass of it and continued to help her. He was pleased to see that she was able to use her own arms as she guided his hand to her lips. Her hands were soft upon his own and disturbing to him. She might be able to feel him trembling. She was weak after such prolonged inactivity, but she was healthily hungry, and asked for a drink of water from time to time between small sips of wine. She did not seem to be restricted in her range of motion in any obvious way.”
“I still hurt in my chest, Charles. Was it a very bad accident? I remember so little of it. There was a strange noise, then everything went so very bumpy for a while and I held on as tightly as I could, and then I remembered not much else. Until now.”
“You have a bone broken in your lower leg; not a very bad break, and you may have cracked some ribs, along with some minor contusions, and bruising. We were lucky it was not worse. I thought I detected three irregularities in your ribs, but nothing more serious. I did not search too hard, or I might have caused you a problem.”
She paused in her eating and looked at him. “Yes, I seem to recall being examined again, not so long ago, and then the children came to see me. They were holding my hand and you were here. But yes, you would need to examine me too. You always had a hearty distrust of Jessop. How fortunate I was not conscious, or I would have objected to him being brought in. I must have been in desperate straits for you to have let him in the door.”
“I didn’t. Others did that while I was nursing my own troubles. They felt that they had no choice.” At least he was being truthful about that. “He will not be back. He has a tendency of being too liberal with the wine or brandy before he examines anyone, and I do not trust him to catch everything, so when I was back on my feet, I had to examine you for myself. I do not like tragic surprises merely because I, or others lacked the courage to do what was needed.” Was he saying too much?
She held his hand, before he could bring the spoon to her lips again. “My Charles!” The love in the way she looked at him had him doing mental handsprings. He took courage from that.
“Fortunately, he did not miss anything serious. There are no other broken bones, nor internal injuries as far as I could ascertain, and you have uttered no complaints of discomfort so far, now that you are awake and moving a little, so I think we can hope for the best. You are at least eating quite well and taking liquids. You are well on your way to recovery, my dear.
“We will have a proper surgeon in here tomorrow – no, it will be today now, in a few hours. At least I hope so – and he will be able to tell us.” He cleared the plate to one side and dabbed at her lips with a napkin.
“Who? Which one? I know of none in this area.” She seemed puzzled.
“No. One from Robert’s ship. Mr. Rogers. Robert is sending him and will follow if he can.”
“You must have been concerned indeed, Charles, to have examined me yourself.” She took his hand and raised it to her face as she snuggled against it. “I know how the sight of blood or thought of suffering of any kind affects you.”
“Not when it affects those I love.” He felt Nurse’s eyes drilling into the back of his head. She would not approve of what he was doing but would worry about where it might lead if Mistress did not soon recover her memory.
“I don’t remember any of that. And that is all that is wrong with me? my ribs and my leg? And what of you? You are well? Candlelight hides too much, though I think that you intend that I should not see you too clearly. You always did play down your own problems.” She was looking up into his face, waiting for an honest answer.
“I am well, as you can see; apart from some bruises and a few minor injuries.” He touched his head and his arm.
“Thank god for that! I seemed to remember voices that suggested the worst of everything. How thankful I am that it was all only a dream. I know the children are alright because I can see them. I could hear them earlier, and I did hear someone talking of internal injuries to me, and perhaps about bleeding, and yet I feel no pain in that way. My leg, of course… I can feel that, and I know that I am bruised.” Her eyes fluttered to him, wondering if he were telling her everything. She seemed slightly agitated and could not hold back something that she felt the need to ask.
Her eyes rose to his face. “Tell me, Charles, and please answer me without trying to protect me. Did I…?” She faltered. “Did I…?” She seemed unable to complete her question as she looked searchingly up into his face, pleading for an answer. There were a few moments of pained silence as she waited. But for an answer to what?
He had a sudden, blinding comprehension of what she was asking, so he completed it for her, not knowing how he could possibly know enough to do so, yet convinced of what it was she needed to know. It all made perfect sense. He covered her hand with his own.