“Mother, my head hurts.”
“No, darling,” Eleanor said. “You’re just hungry. You didn’t eat much this morning.”
“No. It hurts.”
For two days a prayer had layered itself over Eleanor’s every waking thought. Please-HighGod-above-please-HighGod-above-please-please. She made Ticia and Nathan stay in the nursery and permitted no visitors. She sat in a rocker and watched them eat, play, and sleep. She made excuses to touch their skin.
She knelt beside her son and his pile of dragons. His bright blue eyes and flushed cheeks told her all she needed to know. Her own eyes filled, but she smiled at him. “Are you sure you’re not just tired, Nathan?”
“You should send Ticia away, Mother,” he said in his high, matter-of-fact voice.
She touched his forehead, and the white skin felt like hot cobblestones under her fingers. She turned away from him and wiped her eyes. “Maybe you’re right. You’ll feel better with some quiet.” She helped Nathan to his bed. He trembled as he slid under the coverlet.
Ticia sat on a cushion in the picture window, a sketchbook in her lap. She squinted at the wisteria blooms creeping over the sill, and then bent her head over her paper. Eleanor crossed the room and gently took the charcoal pencil from her daughter’s hand. “Tish, I’m going to ask Uncle Dorian to give you your own room.”
“No thank you, Mother. I’d rather stay here with Nathan. We’re lonely as it is, just us two.” She peered over Eleanor’s shoulder. “Why is Nathan in bed?”
Eleanor ran a hand over her forehead and found it blessedly cool. “He’s tired.”
“He’s never tired during the day.” Ticia jumped down from the ledge. “Nathan? Nathan!”
“He’s resting. He doesn’t feel well.”
“Is he sick? Oh, Mother, he’s sick!”
Eleanor knelt before Ticia. “Leticia Desmarais. You are nearly nine years old. You are a princess. You must be strong for your little brother.”
Ticia bit her lip. “Must I go? I want to stay with him.”
“I’ll be with him every minute. I promise.”
“Will he get better?”
Eleanor nodded emphatically. “Yes. He will.” She led Ticia to the door and called for Pansy. As she gave Pansy instructions the maid’s eye twitched, but the rest of her face was impassive as ever. Eleanor kissed Ticia. “I’ll see you soon, when Nathan is feeling well.”
Ticia nodded, but still she chewed her lower lip. Pansy took her shoulder, but before Eleanor could close the door Ticia put one small hand against it. “I love you, Nathan! Get well so we can play together! I’ll even play dragons, if you wish it.”
Eleanor turned back to her son in the bed. He suddenly seemed too small for it, as if the blankets and sheets and feather mattress might swallow him whole. She gathered a pitcher of water and a few cotton towels from atop the chest of drawers. The walk from the chest to the rocker between the beds had stretched from a few paces to a few miles.
She placed a wet cloth on his forehead. She took his hot hands, his fingers like dry straw. “Can you drink, love?”
“Please, just a sip. Please.”
She helped him raise his head. The water dribbled over his chin and cheek. “Will Poppa come?” he asked.
Eleanor squeezed his hand. “Uncle Dorian will write to him. He’ll be very worried.” How is it that I cannot promise his father will come?
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