Henley put the crockery teacup to his mother’s lips and tipped the fragrant herbal tea into her quivering mouth. She pushed it away.
“Stop behaving like a baby, Mother. You’re being absolutely ridiculous.”
Edith turned her cheek to him and put her nose in the air.
“I’m being ridiculous? Have you taken a good look at yourself, Henley?”
Edith glared over at Rosetta who was busy kneading dough into a soft, silky ball. When the consistency was to her liking, she rolled it into an oblong pancake, rubbed soft, unpasturized butter onto the smooth surface, and sprinkled brown sugar, cinnamon, and currents over top. She turned up the edges at one end and rolled until it was a tubular shape. Slicing along the tube, she cut a dozen cinnamon filled circles, which she placed on a greased cookie sheet to bake in the wood cookstove.
“Think about what you’re doing, Henley,” Edith continued. “Getting involved with a servant girl who bakes bread, cleans and gathers herbs. Your grandfather would turn in his grave if he knew.” Henley just laughed.
“I doubt it, Mother. If memory serves me, Henley the first was a renegade, a libertine. Yes, he’d be turning in his grave alright, wanting out.”
“Henley! Don’t be so disrespectful. That’s your namesake you’re talking about.”
“Sorry, Mother, I’m just trying to prove a point.”
“And that point is?” Edith looked Henley in the eye. “Rosetta is a decent enough person,” Edith said to her son, as if Rosetta was not present. “For a country girl, she is kind, well mannered and, I dare say, honest.”
“Did you hear that, my dear? Mother approves.” Rosetta ignored Henley’s sarcastic remark, not willing to enter into their dynamic. Feeling Rosetta’s discomfort, Henley changed direction.
“Mother, how did you enjoy last night’s ball? I think the turnout was stellar, don’t you?”
Suddenly there was a scurrying outside the door, and a loud knock. Rosetta looked at Edith and Henley, as if she didn’t quite know what to do about answering it with the two of them having tea around her table. Then, mind made up, she walked over just as a second knock was heard. She opened the door to a disheveled and worried looking Tilly. Mud covered her boots to the bottom of her skirt, and leaves and dirt stuck in her hair and on her perspiring brow. She had obviously run most of the way through the forest. Rosetta gently guided her inside and into the chair that Henley immediately vacated for her.
“Good heavens, Tilly, what’s the matter? How did you get out here? How did you find this place?” Henley was full of questions but Tilly couldn’t answer. She was still catching her breath.
Rosetta filled a teacup with strong peppermint tea and placed it in front of Tilly, who drank heartily. By now, Edith was on her feet, unsure what to say or do.
“How on earth did you find me here, Tilly? What could be so serious that you’d come all the way out here to the forest to fetch me?”
“Oh Mum,” Tilly breathed heavily, and stood up. “Something awful’s happened, just awful.” Edith looked alarmed.
“Tilly, what is it?” Henley asked, trying to console her.
“It’s Master Hornbrook. He’s fallen ill.”
Henley looked at Rosetta, then his mother, whose face was suddenly drained of color.
“Tilly, sit down. Tell us everything. Start at the beginning.” Henley eased her back in the chair and refilled her cup with steaming tea.
“Well,” she started. “He seemed fine, having his morning port after breakfast, but when I went in to clear things away, he was staring out into the distance with a glassy look in his eye.” She swallowed her tea. “He just didn’t seem right. When I asked him if there was anything else he needed, he answered no, but when he stood to take his leave, he collapsed right there in front of me.” With this, Tilly broke down into heaving sobs.
Agitated by the news, Edith began pacing, then headed for the door, but Henley stopped her.
“Mother wait. Let’s hear what else Tilly has to say, then decide the best route to take.”
“The doctor has been called, Sir,” Tilly offered. “Beckworth and Randolph carried Master Hornbrook upstairs and put him in bed. Everything that can be done is being done, but we must hurry back to the house. By the time we return, the doctor will have arrived.”
Henley helped his mother with her shawl, and helped Tilly clean up before heading back into the forest for the trek home. Meanwhile, Rosetta had disappeared into her pantry. She picked and sorted, gathering various herbs and tinctures, placing them into her medicine basket. When she reappeared, her heavy woolen shawl was around her shoulders, and the covered basket was on her arm.
“What do you think you’re doing, young lady?” Edith barked. The room fell quiet, the only sounds were the birds chirping their wake-up calls just outside the door, the crackling fire, and a soft whisper of wind blowing in from the open bedroom window.
Unfazed by Edith’s curt remark, Rosetta proceeded toward the door.
“If I may, Madam Hornbrook, offer my experience with age old remedies that you yourself swear by. What harm is there in trying?”
Although annoyed at Rosetta’s forwardness, she knew she was right. Rosetta had a gift for healing that could not be denied. This was no time to cause a fuss. Her feelings about her son and this gypsy woman could be discussed later, after her husband was on the mend. More importantly, they must make their way back to the house. Edith nodded toward Rosetta and headed out the door, followed by Tilly, Rosetta, and lastly, Henley.
When they arrived at the estate, all was aflutter. Randolph seemed most distressed when he greeted the group in the foyer. Taking their wraps and Henley’s hat, he carried them to the closet, dropping more than one item along the way. Beckworth met them at the entrance to the master suite. The carved mahogany door was closed tight, but a shadow of soft light illuminated the bottom edge.
“The doctor is with him now. He’s drowsy and incoherent, but there are some signs of improvement.” He looked at Edith. “Give the doctor a few minutes, Madam, before you go in to see him.”
“What about Rosetta? She may be able to help,” Henley chimed in. All eyes turned toward Rosetta, who stood with her basket of natural remedies, ready to treat the ailing master of the house.
“Perhaps it’s best the doctor finishes up with the master first,” Beckworth suggested. “You know how those medical people are. Don’t go out much for witchcraft and the likes.”
“Beckworth!” Henley reprimanded. Beckworth appeared shocked.
“Oh, no. I meant no disrespect, Sir. I was only stating a fact. It’s something I run into often, that’s all.”
“No offense taken, Sir,” said Rosetta smiling.
The door opened, and out walked Doctor Handover, black bag in hand. He was a serious looking fellow, who did not make eye contact with anyone outside the room as he forged his way through the group, however, he did glance up and caught Henley’s eye.
“Young Henley, aren’t you?” Henley nodded. “May I have a word?” Asked the doctor.
“I’d like to see my husband, Doctor.” Edith interrupted, her voice shaking. He glanced over, then dismissed her like a begging dog.
“Mother,” Henley said softly, touching her shoulder. “Be patient. Let me speak with Doctor Handover. I’ll come right back with news.” He bent down and kissed her cheek. Rosetta pulled a dropper filled with dark brown liquid from her basket.
“Put this under your tongue, Madam Hornbrook,” Rosetta coaxed. “It’ll help take the edge off.” Edith obeyed, letting Rosetta drop the bitter tasting tincture in her mouth. Within minutes, Edith’s shoulders relaxed and her brow became less furrowed. Soon, Henley returned with news of his father’s health. It seemed Henley II had a stroke, which disrupted his short term memory and paralyzed the left side of his body. Henley was told his father would be dopey for a while, due to the medication he had prescribed, but time would tell the severity of the situation, or his longterm prognosis.
Edith was the first to enter the dark room. Beckworth was putting away the wash bowl and towels, and returned to tuck the blankets and down quilt around Master Hornbrooks frail body. Edith sat down on the chair beside his bed and picked up his limp hand. She held it against her heart, as if the very beating of it would give him life again. It was the first time any of them had seen an open show of affection from Edith toward anybody, including her doting husband, and it made them all step back into the shadows to give them some time alone. Henley moved toward Rosetta, wanting their closeness right now. It was a somber moment.
After a brief conversation and more silence together, Edith rose to allow her son to see his father. Henley walked toward the bed. He could see his father was looking past him as he approached, and realized he was looking at Rosetta. When he sat down, his father motioned with his eyes toward the gypsy woman, so Henley invited Rosetta to come forward and stand beside him.
“Father, this is Rosetta. She lives in the forest just beyond the estate grounds.” Henley paused to watch his father’s reaction, but Henley II kept his eyes riveted to Rosetta’s, as hers were to his. “She’s brought you some herbs and tinctures, Father, which might help you, if you’ll allow her to tend to you.” He waited, but still his father did not respond. “She has been caring for Mother these past ten years or so, and Mother seems to feel better for it, don’t you Mother?” Henley turned toward his mother, who looked away.
“Come closer child,” the feeble voice said. “Come closer so I can look at you.”
Rosetta stepped closer to her lover’s father, lying limp and unmoving in bed. Shaking, he reached out his hand, and Rosetta took it graciously. Edith looked on from the corner of the room, wondering what this picture held for her. Henley II gently pulled Rosetta in to the edge of the bed, and held onto her hand for a long, long time. Silence hung in the stale air. Young Henley took Rosetta’s free hand in his so that a link was made between father and lover and son. He squeezed tightly.
“You look just like your mother, dear, just like your beautiful mother,” came the words from the quivering, weak lips of a dying man.
...stay tuned...Chapter Thirteen will be posted next Tuesday, April 3rd...