“Your grace, there is a reply to your letter.”
The Queen picked up the letter from the silver tray, opening it with caution.
As I am aware, Prince Theodore was in reasonable health when I saw him last. I am sorry to hear that his condition has worsened, but I have to tell you that he and I are not suited in the slightest. We are both far too selfish.
As he has you and the best physician in the country, he does not need me by his side and as he is in a stupor, my attempts to soothe him would be wasted. Therefore, I regret to tell you that I cannot return to him as I do not want to become ill also.
Miss Jane Mallis
“Good God! The child is out of her mind! She will not come to the palace? I thought I expressed the urgency in my letter? Oh this will not do! It will not do at all. Rupert my dear? Rupert where are you?”
“Dear, I am here. I was just looking in on Theodore, alas, there is no change.”
“I know. Oh what are we to do? Perhaps if he senses her presence, he may stir.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. But now Evangeline my dear, you must go to bed. You are so exhausted, I will ask Howard to look after him for an hour or two until Mr Dickinson returns.”
“Very well dear, you know best.”
Howard shuffled into the room in his quiet way. He seated himself by Theodore’s bed and patted his ivory hand.
“There, there young Sir, you are in safe hands, I promise you.” He dipped the cloth in some cool water and carefully dabbed his brow.
“Let us try to get your fever under control and you must drink water. I don’t think you can hear me but…” Howard wiped away a small tear.
“I don’t know if this girl Miss Jane Mallis will come and see you. I pray that she will, but your Grace, I feel that you can do much better.” He whispered. “She is insensitive and cruel and I don’t think she can be tamed. People can change, but I do not think she shall ever change. There now, the cool water is helping and I shall comb your hair your grace. You have the most glorious hair, you always have. Don’t worry, once you are well again it shall be restored to its original beauty.”
“My goodness! You speak her name, she is in your thoughts still, I know she is as that is not the first time that you have mentioned it. Your Grace, I shall have to go and see her myself. There, your hair is smooth now and your skin does not burn as much. When I have finished my vigil, I shall tell your Mother and Father that you speak of Miss Mallis again.”
There came a gently tap upon the door, Howard stood and bowed.
“Your majesty, I am very pleased that you have returned.”
“He-he is not worse I hope.”
“No your grace, only he said a name and I think it was Miss Mallis’s.”
“Ah, yes he said it earlier also.”
“I see your grace.”
“Yes Howard, fear not, I have written to her, but alas, she will not come.”
“Yes Howard, I have to admit to being very angry.”
“I understand your grace. She is his fiancée. Still, perhaps when his fever has broken and he is no longer in danger, she will change her mind and visit him.”
“You always have a very sensible way of putting things Howard. You give me hope, and for that, I thank you. Mr Dickinson will be returning in an hour to see him, but until then we can do very little.”
“Yes Ma’am. I managed to help him to take some water.”
“Ah, well that is progress!” She sniffed. “I am worried about his fever, it seems to be a violent one and I have heard that they can leave damage. I once heard about a man who contracted scarlet fever and it altered his mind most dreadfully!”
“In what way your grace?”
“When he recovered, if you can call it that, he was left a simpleton.”
“Oh dear. We must all have faith.”
“Yes Howard, faith.”
“Here now, come out of his room you have been sat with him long enough. Three hours have passed, You must rest my dear, Howard has rested and he shall sit with him once more.”
“I have a royal engagement this afternoon. You are tired, so I shall go alone.”
“Very well Rupert. Our poor son, whatever shall we do? He keeps saying her name and it scares me!”
“Don’t dwell on it Evangeline, sometimes delirium can do that to the brain. How is his arm?”
“Oh it will heal; I do believe that it’s the least of our worries. Howard is awake now, here he is. Howard?”
Howard bowed. “Your Graces shall I sit with his Grace.”
“We were just going to ask you.”
“Ah, then I will happily oblige, no not with happiness. Forgive me, I did not mean that. I shall go.”
“Very good Howard.”
Howard bowed and returned to Theodore’s bedchamber.
“I have returned, Your broken arm will take time to heal, but it is your fever which concerns us. You are so very still young sir, one would expect you to be delirious with it all, but that does not seem to be the case. I am aware that I only know very little, forgive me, I am only a foolish servant. I wish you would respond, it concerns your parents and you are growing thin before our very eyes. I am wary of placing water to your lips now in case you should choke, but I may have an idea.”
Howard tore off a new piece of natural bath sponge and dipped it in the untouched jug of drinking water, moistening Theodore’s lips with the liquid.
“There now, that should help. I’ll just adjust your pillows again; you are slumping to one side. My goodness I am tired, it appears that I may have needed more than 3 hours sleep. Hmm, your hair needs a comb again, possibly even a wash. I would wash it for you, but I am afraid that it would take too long to dry and having damp hair would do you no good.”
Theodore’s eyelids flickered, he stirred once more. Howard placed a hand on his cheek.
“Your Grace, can you hear me? That seems to be a slight improvement. Are you able to open your eyes at all?”
Theodore did not respond again. “Ah, that is alright. I feel that you are exhausted and now that your fever has almost broken, you must sleep. I will go and fetch Miss Mallis myself, as soon as your Mother returns.”
Howard slept in the chair next to Theodore’s bed, his body warmed by the fire in the otherwise cold room.
“Howard, I have slept a little now, so I wish to stay with him.”
“Very good ma’am. I shall go and fetch Miss Mallis as I see a great improvement in his grace.”
“Yes.” She took his hand in hers. “I agree, it feels rather cool now. I shall place his arms under the coverlet. I do believe that his fever has broken! Oh thank the Lord! He breathes more easily, he must be out of danger now surely. Oh Howard, forget Miss Mallis and get Mr Dickinson instead. Miss Mallis shall be told in time. No wait, fetch them both.”
“Of course ma’am, I shall not keep you waiting long.”
“Good heavens! That is great news to me, here do not worry, I shall travel with you and we shall collect this Miss Mallis along the way and we shall all travel to the palace together. You are sure that his fever has broken.”
Howard nodded. “He is not awake yet Mr Dickinson, but yes.”
Gingerly, Howard tapped on the door, to be greeted by Maude.
“Good day to you, I was just passing by to enquire if Miss Mallis is in? I am from the Palace.”
“Ah! News on the young Prince is it? Oh she shall be very glad. One moment, I shall fetch her Sir.”
He waited in the doorway, pulling his coat more tightly around himself, there came the sound of a raised young voice, followed by Miss Mallis.
“Oh, it is you.”
“Yes, his Grace is recovering now and..”
“He is awake?”
“Well, not quite.”
“That is no good to me then! I received your letter, but what is the point of sitting with someone who is unconscious!”
“To bring comfort to them.”
“Don’t presume to speak until you are told to do so. Her majesty said that he kept mentioning me?”
“Oh, well I should be flattered I suppose. Very well, I shall go with you to the palace, but should I fall ill, I will hold you all responsible.”
“His fever has broken, he is out of danger now.”
“Well just give me a moment then please! I must fetch my shawl and bonnet, I had agreed to meet a friend today, oh Maude when she arrives will you tell her that I am no longer available and it cannot be helped.”
Howard smiled. “I am pleased that you have agreed to come, we will escort you to the palace.”
“Does he appear to be very changed Howard?”
“He is…” Howard paused, thinking carefully.
“We have all noticed that he has lost a little weight and he is pale.”
“Hmm, I suppose that he will look rather dreadful, I must prepare myself for the worst.”
“With all due respect, he cannot help that Miss Mallis.”
“Indeed. Well, now that we have arrived, you must show me to his room. My! You don’t talk much do you Howard? Trying to make conversation with you is like getting blood from a stone. Did you ever marry?”
Howard paused, how he hated being asked this dreaded question.
“No ma’am, I was never married.”
“Little wonder.” She muttered. “Well don’t just stand there you silly goose! The carriage has stopped and I must see my fiancé! Help me out Howard and take me to him! I would like refreshments, can you organise it?”
“Yes of course, they shall be brought to you directly. Step this way please.”
“Is no-one with him?”
“Queen Evangeline has been with him for many hours and myself also. His Father is…”
“He thinks himself too high and mighty to watch over his own son? Bah! What a fool!”
“I would not speak in such a way about the king.”
“One might suppose that you are… it does not matter. Now, you must be quiet when you enter his room.”
“Oh don’t you dare tell me what to do, after all you are just a servant!”
Jane stormed into the bedroom and pulled the curtain aside. She took one glance at Theodore. Gasping, she staggered backwards, stepping on Howard’s foot.
“He is unrecognisable. Less than two weeks have passed and he looks like this? I think I need to sit down, I am all of a tremble. No wait, I must leave, I cannot..”
“Theodore? Did he just say my name?”
“Yes Miss, he did.”
Jane tiptoed closer to him, her head tilted to one side. She pressed her index finger against his cheek. She sprang back, shaking her head so that her curls bounced.
“He still has a fever! I am sure of it!”
“It is gone, do not be alarmed. Here Miss Mallis, sit down and be calm.”
“How can I be calm when my fiancée is in a state such as this? He appears to be close to death.”
“You will not like me saying this but…”
“Say nothing then, you are a servant!”
“Miss Mallis, his majesty needs your support in his hour of need. It is frightening yes, but do try to show some compassion.”
“Well you’re going to have to tell me how.”
“You could brush his hair, or simply talk to him.”
“Brush his hair? I am not his servant and what is the point of talking to someone when they are half-unconscious? What a foolish notion.”
“Jane is that you?”
“He-he spoke! Theodore’s voice sounds so… yes Theodore it is I. I have been taking good care of you.”
“Heavens!” Howard gasped. “I must fetch their highnesses!” He scurried out of the room.
What was this? Theodore sensed someone’s soft, warm hand stroking his and encasing it in hers. He felt a tender kiss upon his brow.
“No my dear Theodore, it is your Mother.”
Queen Evangaline kissed him again, wrapping her arms around his neck, so that her head rested upon his shoulder. He smelt her familiar perfume and felt the round, smoothness of the string of pearls around her neck.
“There, there darling. Oh what a relief it is to see you open your eyes again. Jane is here also, do not be afraid your loved ones are here by your side. Here is your Father.”
Theodore sensed a strong hand upon his shoulder, one which held him up and adjusted the collar of his night shirt.
“My poor son.” The king sighed.
Theodore furrowed his troubled brow, his eyes filling with tears.
“My dear, do not cry! All is well now and you, in time shall get better.”
“Mother it is so dark in here? It scares me so!”
“Theodore it is rather, I shall ask Howard to light candles. Would you Howard?”
Theodore let out a cry of despair. “I am in darkness, engulfed by it. Oh God! It is as if someone has poked out both my eyes!”
To be continued….
©Sophie Bowns 2011-2014