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Authors: Judith B. Glad

Tags: #19th Century, #England, #marriage, #Regency, #Regency Romance, #Romance

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BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
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"No, ma'am." His attempt at meekness was spoiled by the
snickers he could not suppress.

"And speaking of tonight... Do you actually expect me to
share your bed?"

All urge to laughter vanished. "Of course. You are my wife.
Henceforth it is your bed as well."

"And you expect to...to consummate our marriage tonight?
In your condition?"

"To be honest, no. I'm not sure I am capable. And even if I
were, I'd prefer to wait until..." Unsure how to express his wishes, he
fell silent.

"As would I. While you are healing, we can become
acquainted. I confess I had felt some trepidation at... Well, we are
strangers for all intents and purposes. I feel we should develop at
least a liking for one another before we--" All austerity had left her
expression and she had become what he'd forgotten she was, an
innocent young woman who'd married a total stranger.

For the first time, Clarence felt hope for his marriage. Miss
Hi--
No, damn it all, my wife. Elizabeth? No, Lisbeth, or something
like that. I hope.
--had cleaned up well, to his surprise, given his
first impression of her appearance. Now he was discovering that she
was outspoken, practical, sensible, and possibly dictatorial. But
perhaps, she might also be, in a small way, romantic. He held out his
hand. "I think becoming better acquainted is an excellent notion." He
couldn't resist a chuckle, though. "And we will begin by your
inspecting my arse."

Her eyes widened an instant before she burst into laughter.
And then she put her hand in his, not as a lady would, but as an
equal, sealing an agreement.

* * * *

Lisanor emerged from her dressing room cautiously, hoping
Lord Guillemot was not already in the bed. The chamber was dimly
lit; only a single candelabra stood on a chest at the foot of the
bed.

As she approached, the bed seemed to grow in her sight,
until she stood beside it and realized for the first time how enormous
it was. The surface, covered by an embroidered counterpane, was
waist-high to her, and the length surely could accommodate
someone half again her height. A step stool awaited her ascent,
something certainly necessary even for one of her stature.

"At least we won't be crowded together," she muttered,
conscious of a sense of relief. She'd once overheard a neighbor's wife
complain of being "squashed together like peas in a pod" at night,
and had secretly dreaded that sort of intimacy almost as much as...as
the other.

Having given Pammy the evening off, she had no one to see
her hesitancy, so she took her time inspecting the chamber. It was a
large room, the bed its principal fixture, leaving little space for other
furniture. Its corner posts rose nearly to the high ceiling, and from
them draped faded tapestry swags and soft woolen curtains.
A
good thing too
, she thought, as she shivered in the chill air.

One corner was occupied by the fireplace, but it had not
produced enough heat to take the chill off the room and she doubted
it ever would, even with an abundance of fuel. Tonight it held what
her grandfather would have called a stingy fire, made with half a
scuttle of damp coal.

She heard muffled voices from behind the door she knew to
be the master's dressing room. Quickly she removed her robe and
laid it on the slipper chair beside the bed. She mounted the steps and
slid between warmed sheets, pulled them up to just under her
chin.

No, this will not do. I am not a shrinking bride. I am a
partner in a business arrangement, and tonight will not be a
traditional wedding night.
She slipped from the bed, spread the
bedding up and smoothed it. When the opposite door opened, she
had slipped into her robe and was seated on the slipper chair.

Once again Nettles and the young footman were all but
carrying her husband. Carleton hovered just behind. They finally set
his feet to the floor at the side of the bed. "Here ye be, sor," Nettle
said. "Jest let me--"

"I can--"

"No, my lord, you cannot. The doctor has specifically advised
against your climbing stairs unassisted." Carleton slipped a shoulder
beneath one of Guillemot's arms and Nettles followed suit on his
other side. Between them, they hauled him up the three steps beside
the bed and gently seated him upon the mattress. Nettles raised his
legs, forcing him to recline against the piled-up pillows.

Lisanor caught a flash of pale, hairy calf before he snatched
at the sheet and covered himself.

For a moment he lay still, breathing deeply. At last he
opened his eyes and looked directly toward her. "Good evening, my
dear. If you will be patient, we shall be rid of these two would-be
nurses in a bit."

Carleton had arranged several bottles and a glass of water
on a small drum table that Nettles had brought to the side of the bed.
"My lady, if you are willing, I will show you what medicaments his
lordship might require in the night."

"Of course." She stepped to join him. His instructions were
direct and easily understood. "I believe I can manage, Carleton. And
if I do not, I'm sure someone will answer the bell."

"Jest call out, milady. I'll be sleepin' right outside the door,"
Nettles said, as he opened the long velvet draperies that covered one
window. He pushed the lower pane open a crack. "An' if ye gets too
chill, let me know. The major likes a bit of a breeze, but he fergits it's
still winter hereabouts."

"Thank you, Nettles. I am also used to sleeping with a
window open." She supposed that meant that the bedcurtains would
remain open as well. A good thing she'd worn her flannel nightrail
and cap. The diaphanous garment Tamsen had insisted was
appropriate bedwear for a bride was still in her trunk. Where it
would stay, if she had anything to say about it.

Nettles and Carleton finally bowed themselves out. She was
alone with her husband.

"I don't bite, you know."

Startled, she turned to face him. "I am not afraid of you, my
lord." It was a lie, but only a small one. "Can you turn onto your
stomach?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"We agreed that I would inspect your wound, did we not? To
do so, I will need for you to be lying prone."

"Oh, great God, you were serious."

"I am usually serious, my lord. Please turn onto your
stomach. Or do you require Nettles' assistance?"

"No. I can manage." And he did, although not without a few
grunts and a sharp inhalation. When he was fully prone, he pulled
one of the pillows over his head.

Lisanor reminded herself that he was merely one more
injured man. She raised his nightshirt high enough to let her see the
bandage covering all of one buttock, while carefully not looking at
his long, strong legs.

His wound was ugly. Apparently the surgeon had dug deep
to remove the ball and whatever it carried with it. He'd clearly been
hurried, for the slices into Guillemot's flesh were, she decided, far
wider and deeper than a careful surgeon would have made. Most of
them oozed yellowish fluid between the stitches holding them
closed. "Not any more skilled with a needle than he was with a
knife," she murmured. She wouldn't have done this slapdash a job on
a worthless old farm animal.

No wonder he was in pain. And if the infection were not
cleared up soon, he'd be in danger of losing his life. She pulled a
corner of the pillow free of his grasp and raised it. "Don't move, my
lord. I will return in a trice."

She knocked on the door to his dressing room. "Nettles, I
need you."

It burst open. "What? Is he--"

"His lordship is as well as can be expected under the
circumstances." When she realized he was staring past her at the
bed, she understood his astonished expression. "I have examined his
wound. It is imperative that we begin treating it immediately. Please
send to the kitchen for a pound of salt. And when you have done that,
fill the bathing fixture to a depth of about six inches with water just
warm to the touch."

"But--"

"Do as she says." Guillemot's voice was no longer muffled.
When she turned around, she saw him still on his stomach, still with
his buttocks and legs exposed, but with his head uncovered and
turned toward her. "She says she's good at doctoring cows."

"And horses and pigs, my lord." Assured that he was willing
to allow her to treat him, she returned to her dressing room to
change. A nightrail was not the best garment to wear while bathing
someone.

As it ensued, she needn't have bothered. Neither Nettles nor
Guillemot would allow her to enter the bathing room.

"Bad enough I've exposed my backside to your innocent
gaze, my dear. I am not willing to flaunt myself further. Why don't
you retire? Read something, or go to sleep. I'll return once I'm
properly stewed."

She went to bed. As she settled into the soft mattress, she
decided that no woman in England had ever spent so peculiar a
wedding night.

Some time later she woke as her husband was returned to
the bed. Keeping her eyes closed, she pretended to be asleep. He
must not have been fooled, for once they were alone in the dark, he
whispered, "I think the pain is less. Thank you, my dear."

* * * *

The room was still dark when something woke her. Lisanor
lay still a moment, listening. And then she heard it again. A sharp
inhalation, as if someone was drawing a breath to sh--

"Hold! Hold the line, damn you!"

Something struck her a great blow across the chest, driving
the breath from her.

"Get back. I'll kill any man who runs."

As she gasped for air, the covers were pulled away. Quickly
she rolled to the side, nearly fell off the edge of the mattress.

"Here they come. Stand, men! Stand for England!"

Fumbling on the small table beside the bed, she found the
candlestick, but where-- Ah, there was the china box holding spills.
She struck steel to flint again and again, as the shouts slowly died
into inchoate mumblings. Finally a spill caught and she lit the
candle.

Her husband was sitting straight upright, his face buried in
his hands, sobbing hoarsely. She scrambled up the steps and into the
bed, for the first time wishing it were less wide, less roomy.
Tentatively she laid a hand on his shoulder, unsure if he would
recognize her as a friend. Surely he had been in the midst of a
remembered battle.

He stiffened, but did not otherwise react. Slowly she stroked
across his shoulders, gradually deepening the strokes until they
became soothing rubs. After a few minutes, when she felt him relax
minutely, she changed the motion of her hand, moving it up and
down the line of his spine.

She murmured soothingly, not words but the sorts of sounds
she'd have made to a terrified horse, an injured dog.

"They are dead." His whisper was so soft she barely heard
the first words. "All those brave boys. All dead. Damn the French.
Damn them to hell!" The last sentence was a shout, echoing around
the room.

Lisanor shared his rage, having wanted to speak the same
syllables more than once. Yet how could she pretend that her losses
to the wars were anything compared to what they must have cost
this man? She slid her arms around him and pulled him close. For a
long time she held him, while the candle guttered and his tears
dampened her nightrail.

Eventually he slept. She did not, for she had much to
consider, not the least of which was that marriage might be more
than an agreement for conservation of property.

* * * *

On the fourth morning since her marriage, Nettles emerged
from the bathing room, beaming. "I'd'a not believed it, m'lady. His
ar-- Ahem. His wound is healing clean."

Lisanor looked up from the letter she was writing. "I am not
surprised. Hot salt water is often efficacious in drawing pus from
deep wounds." That was as near to saying
I told you
so as she
felt it politic to go. "Having a facility in which his lordship can
immerse his wound is far better than merely applying hot salt
compresses. He is fortunate that you were diligent in keeping his
dressings clean and that the surgeon was able to remove all foreign
matter from his wound."

If possible, the man's smile widened. "I done me best,
m'lady."

"And his lordship is aware of it. It is largely due to your care
of him that he is recovering without further complications." She
turned back to her letter, hoping he would go away and stop looking
at her as if she had performed a miracle.

Alanna had writ that Uncle Percival had returned and was
attempting to order Tumos Hakon around. He'd been unsuccessful,
but Alanna suspected that her uncle was going behind Tumos' back
and dealing directly with some of the customers for Ackerslea dairy
products. He had brought his nephew with him, and Darius was
attempting to court Alanna.

She read one paragraph again.
He frightens me, sister. I
believe he will use force if charm fails him. I have taken to locking my
door at night, and keeping Tamsen with me at all times during the
day.

Tamsen was a force to be reckoned with, having been first
Lisanor's nurse, and then Alanna's. She was as protective of them
both as any mother hen, and would have come to Guillemot had not
Lisanor pointed out that Alanna would need her more. Tapping the
feather against her lips, she pondered.

A characteristic knock signaled Nettles' return.

"Enter." She paid him no attention as he crossed the room,
but just as he reached the door to the bathing room, a thought
occurred to her. "Nettles? Have you any friends--comrades,
perhaps--who need work?"

"M'lady?"

"I have need of a man who can guard and protect an elderly
man and a girl. Someone who bears little respect for the nobility and
will not be daunted by a member of the upper class. Do you know of
anyone?"

His expression grew suspicious. "I don't know nobody like
that."

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
9.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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