The two women didn’t speak much unless my father asked them questions. It was smart; at least they had manners the other doctors did not have. When she wasn’t looking, I studied Madame Petit.
Her hair was long and pale blond. She had blue eyes and her skin was pale, though not nearly as pale as mine. Despite what my father said, I knew she wasn’t here to take care of my health. He wanted me to know the touch of a woman before I died.
“We shall see you in the morning?” my father asked her and she curtsied with her sister.
“Yes, Monsieur Moreau,” she breathed. “I will bring all I have though I may require extra supplies.”
“Whatever you need,” he assured her.
She nodded then curtsied to me. I didn’t bother with a bow. If I did, I would probably fall over. The cane only did so much and I waited anxiously for them to leave so I could return to bed. When they did, I glared at my father.
“It’s not what you think,” he said, helping me up the stairs.
“Isn’t it?” I challenged. “I’m dying, doctors cannot cure me, and suddenly you escort a beautiful, curvy young woman. I am no fool, Father.”
He chuckled. “It is true that she is quite beautiful,” he agreed. “But she does have quite the reputation with medicine.”
I frowned. “What kind of reputation?”
“Mostly herbal remedies,” he answered as he helped me dress into a night shirt.
“They already tried herbs,” I snapped. “Just let me die, Father.”
He glared at me. “No. I will not. Madame Petit can help you. I know she can.”
I rolled my eyes and got into bed. “You are giving yourself false hopes again. Just wait. Like the others, she’ll be here for a week then leave when she can’t stand the sight of me any longer.”
He sighed heavily. “Do not give up so quickly, my son,” he whispered. “Please.”
He stared at me so I turned my back on him and he took the hint. A servant came in to light a fire but I sent her away. I was hot tonight and didn’t want the added heat. I glared at the wall, full of resentment.
This time last year I was out running in the grass, playing with my dog and riding horses. I was healthy and happy. Then I got ill over the winter. I never recovered.
The first doctor we had come in, he was certain it was the plague and they had me quarantined in my bedrooms. When no one else became ill, my father insisted that I be allowed to have more interaction. The doctor left, unsure what else to do for me.
The second thought I was suffering from depression. The fool. So he put me through grueling therapy sessions and new methods for treating mental strain. Very painful methods. It was I who sent him away when the strain just made me worse.
The third wanted to use me as a sort of lab rat. By then, I was twice as worse as I was when I first started seeing all these stupid men. He was the one to use herbs. He forced tonic after tonic down my throat. The result was just vomit and more weight loss.
Now my father brings in another herbal ‘doctor’. If she can even be called that. I’ve never known a woman to practice medicine. Being a seamstress, yes, but medicine?
I drifted off to sleep but was woken what felt like moments later by my father.
“Madame Petit is here,” he said. “She wishes to do a-”
“Brief examination of my body and interview me of my symptoms,” I interrupted and he sighed. I sat up with difficulty. “Bring her in. I hope she doesn’t expect me to get dressed in all that stuffy mess.”
He didn’t answer. I felt guilty for being so cold to my father but I resented that he wouldn’t just let me go. I know he missed my mother but keeping me alive would not bring her back.
Madame Petit walked in a few minutes later and I frowned. All she had was a sheaf of parchment, a quill, and some ink. She curtsied and I scoffed.
“There’s no need for that, Madame Petit,” I said. “Let me guess, you wish to know about my symptoms.”
“I already know your symptoms, Monsieur Moreau,” she said, surprising me again. “No, I’ve come to check how your vitals are.”
I sighed heavily and rolled up the sleeve of my left arm. She put her pointer and middle fingers on my wrist. Her touch was cold as she focused on counting my heart rate. She made a note and I noticed she was left handed. Then she checked my temperature and frowned.
“You are very warm,” she muttered. “Why has no one brought you an ice pack?”
I looked at her. “What is an ice pack?”
“Usually it’s just a towel wrapped around some ice,” she answered, writing something else down. “It will help with your temperature and give you some comfort.” She glanced at my blankets. “Why are your blankets so thick?”
“The last doctor said that the thicker the better,” I shrugged.
She shook her head. “No,” she said. “Perhaps if you have the chills, yes, but your temperature will change constantly. You need to have thinner blankets when that happens.”
She made yet another note.
“So, your pain is your throat, chest, limbs, and joints. Am I correct?”
“Yes,” I said. “How did you know?”
She smiled sadly. “I have seen this before, Monsieur Moreau.”
I sat up straighter. “You have?” I asked, feeling a glimmer of hope. “Were you able to cure it?”
“No,” she sighed. “But it was many years ago. We’ve come a long way since then.”
I slumped against the pillow. “Same old doctor drabble,” I said. “Did you kill your patient?”
Her lips pressed together for a brief moment. I felt anger from her and knew I upset her.
“It was my parents,” she whispered. “I was five years old.” Before I could apologize, she cleared her throat. “I will send a servant in here to bring you ice. Would you like some just for your head?”
“And my chest,” I muttered.
She nodded once. “Very well.”
She left and I sighed, looking at my hands. So her parents had died of it. There was no hope.
I had dozed off when my father walked in with lunch.
“Hello,” I mumbled.
He put the tray on my lap and I sighed.
“Soup again,” I said.
“This is different,” he told me. “Madame Petit – who has insisted we call her Percy – made this recipe.”
“Why would she want us to call her Percy?” I asked. “That is a man’s name.”
“It is short for Persephone,” he said. “Now try the soup.”
“What’s in it?” I asked, lifting the spoon and my hand shook.
“Chicken broth, parsley, salt, and oregano.”
I frowned. “None of those sound like something to cure anything.”
He shrugged. “Just do as she says and eat the whole soup.”
I noticed some chicken in there with some noodles. I sighed heavily and did as he said.
“It’s delicious,” I muttered. “I am surprised….”
He nodded. “I had a taste. Be kinder to her.” I looked at him. “I was outside the door.”
I sighed heavily. “I’m tired of doctors and all their stupid techniques. If anything, I’ve gotten worse!”
“Maybe she can make you better.”
I shook my head. “You’re doing it again, Father.”
He sighed. “Finish your soup while I bring you some more books.”
He left and I did my best to keep my spoon steady. After the third time I dropped it, Madame Petit walked in. She was carrying a blanket and sat down in the chair my father had been in. She put the blanket at the foot of the bed and moved closer.
“Here,” she said and took the spoon for me.
“I can do it,” I said.
“Don’t be stubborn, Monsieur,” she said.
I sighed. “If I am to call you Percy, then you should call me Luc.”
She didn’t say anything else as she helped me finish my soup, much to my humiliation.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” she said. She put the tray on the table and took the top blanket off of me. “We all need help sometimes.”
“I am sorry if I upset you,” I mumbled.
She put the thinner blanket on me and another servant brought me some ice. Madame Petit put one of the packs on my head; it draped over my forehead as well. The one for my chest she put it over my shirt.
“Is that better?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, sighing in relief. “Thank you.”
She nodded once and handed me a bell.
“The duke has put me in the next room over,” she said, pointing. “If you need anything, ring that bell and I will hear it. Would you like me to help you bathe before I turn in for the evening?”
I blushed. “I’m sure one of the male servants will be able to help me with that.”
“Very well,” she repeated. She curtsied again. “Rest well, Master Luc. When the ice gets too cold, feel free to take it off.”
“Good night,” I said.
“Good night,” she returned and left, closing the door quietly behind her.