Chapter one - A painful truth

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Thomas Latimer slapped his hand upon the counterpane. "Blasted rabbits! I'll shoot the lot of them."

Mr. Jones frowned at the splint as he tended his patient's cuts and grazes. "There will be no more shooting until that bone has set."

"It could have been worse, sir," John said as he held a bowl of water for the apothecary. "At least Samson suffered naught more than a slight sprain to his hock when his hoof found that burrow. If I slap a bran poultice on him he should be right as rain within a week."

Mr. Latimer groaned and passed a hand across his eyes, recalling the excruciating pain as apothecary and trusted servant had worked together to set his tibia. He shuddered and drained what was left of the brandy. "A gross injustice. The horse enjoys a week's rest, eating his head off in my stables while I, an innocent passenger, bear the brunt of his inattention." He cast a haunted glance around his bedchamber. In the dull autumn light it had taken on the guise of a prison cell, with the apothecary handing down his sentence. "How long will I have to remain trussed like a fowl?"

Mr. Jones dried his hands and began to roll down his shirt sleeves. "I recommend you refrain from using the leg for at least eight weeks to allow the bone to knit."

"Eight weeks? I would rather have the bran poultice." He heard John chuckle, but the medical man only shook his head. "What am I to do in bed for two months? Stare at the ceiling? I will go mad."

"You need not remain abed for the whole duration. After the first two or three weeks, with the help of your man here, you may be able to sit by the window for a time, as long as you do not cause weight to be placed on the knitting bones."

"The timing could not be worse. Half the harvest is still to be gathered, there are matters to be dealt with before winter, and my tenants are too often reluctant to think for themselves. John can bring my accounts and tallies upstairs to me, but who can answer the questions that arise if I am stuck in here?"

"Could Mr. Orton help?"

"Under no circumstances will I allow that man to dip his fingers into my affairs. You remember as well as I do, the last time my brother-in-law had dealings with any of my tenants we almost came to blows. Orton has a decent mind for legalities, I grant you, but where practical matters are concerned he has no more sense than my wife."

The apothecary thought for a moment as he re-packed his bag. "What about your man here?"

Mr. Latimer laughed as John rolled his eyes. "He already does the work of two. I cannot ask more."

"Could not Miss Anabelle assist you, sir? She's popular with the families and has old Jacob eating out of her hand, and you know what a crotchety codger he can be."

"Aye," Mr. Jones agreed. "She has a smart little head on her shoulders does Miss Anabelle."

Mr. Latimer turned the idea over in his head, looking at it from different angles. "Belle has a quickness about her, that is true, and her head is not as full of fripperies as her sisters'. I suppose, until the boys are old enough to prove useful, I must make the best use of whatever God has given me. 'Tis not a bad idea, John. Fetch her and let us see what she has to say."

Before the man had taken two steps from his master's side, footsteps sounded in the hallway and the door flew open, disgorging a flurry of spotted muslin.

"Belle? What—"

"Pray excuse me, Papa. Mr Jones, there is a messenger at the door from Blackwood Hall. He begs you to attend Sir George, at once."

The apothecary released a weary sigh. "Dying again, is he?" With his bag in one hand and hat in the other, Mr. Jones paused at the end of the bed. "I will return next week to check on your splint. Meanwhile, if you need me you know where I am." He sketched a brief bow to the room before John accompanied him downstairs.

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