The Changeling Bride(9)

By: Lisa Cach

Something told her she was not in Oregon anymore. “I’m sorry,” she said meekly. She would imitate a possum and choose quiet and stillness as a defense until she understood what was happening.

Dr. Simms smiled and patted her hand. “There, there, m’dear. You are allowed a bit of muddleheadedness.”

“I am? That’s kind of you.”

“Do you not remember, m’dear? Ah, well, ’tis not unusual. The fever overheats the brain, causing loss of memory. You are a very lucky young woman. It is not everyone who survives the influenza.”

Elle’s brain clicked on the word. Her double in the cave, dressed in her clothes, dead of the influenza. Those fairies, they had put her in the dead woman’s life. Impossible. She didn’t believe it, and most certainly this doctor would not believe it. She gave him a wavering smile.

“Much better. Now just let me listen to your heart, so I can reassure your mother that you will still be with us on the big day.”

Elle allowed him to place his horn on her chest. She stared at his hair as he bent over her, his ear to the end of the horn. It was a wig he was wearing, white and woolly on the sides, and she could smell powder and his body odor.

He straightened up, and he spoke with the same matter-of-fact tone her own doctor used. “ ’Tis a bit fast for my liking, but strong. I would advise against becoming unduly excited during your recovery.” He frowned down at her.

“I shall endeavor to be bored.”

He patted her hand once more, then gathered his things and left the room with the woman. They were talking in subdued tones as the door closed behind them.

Elle sat up and surveyed the room. It was large and airy, the walls painted white with gold trim around the paneling. There was an enormous mirrored armoire, a writing desk, a couple of gilt-legged chairs, a vanity, and the marble fireplace she had noticed last night.

She got out of bed and walked over to the windows, her dirty toes sinking into the softness of the thick carpet. She pulled the heavy weight of the curtains all the way to the side.

The room overlooked a garden. Flowers and small shrubs were arranged in precise, geometrical designs and lined by neat gravel paths. Beyond the formal arrangements, the gardens turned to lawn, perfectly and evenly green, with a long rectangular pool. Statues were arranged along the edge of the pool, and at the far end sat a small structure with a domed roof supported by columns.

“Miss Eleanor, you should not be out of bed!”

Elle jumped at the shrill cry. The woman who had been sleeping by the fire last night stood by the open bedroom door, one hand on the knob, the other carrying a tray tucked against her hip.

The maid met Elle’s frankly assessing eyes, then looked down. She dipped in an awkward, reluctant curtsy, the tray tilting precariously.

“Forgive me, Miss Eleanor. I did not mean to correct you.”

Elle shrugged, at a loss for a proper response. “Is that breakfast you’ve brought with you?”

“Yes, miss. Dr. Simms suggested broth and toasted bread to be served to you in bed.” The maid was looking at her oddly.

“Sounds okay to me.” Elle smiled brightly.

“ ‘Okay,’ miss?”

“Oh. It’s . . . well, I think it’s a Spanish word, actually. ‘O kay pasa es su casa,’ you know,” she improvised. Elle suddenly realized that she, with her American accent, was the strange-sounding one amongst these English voices. She went back to the bed and crawled in, her lips shut tight.

The maid put the tray down on a stand over Elle’s legs, then tidied up the room while Elle ate. The broth was bland and the toast was cold and unbuttered. She’d be hungry before she finished.

There was a soft tapping on the door, then it was pushed open by the middle-aged woman she had seen before, in a frothy pink-and-white-striped dress with a kerchief crossed over the bosom.

“Clarice, that will be all for now,” the older woman said to the maid.

“Yes, Mrs. Moore.” Clarice bowed her head and gathered up Elle’s breakfast tray, leaving the room without another word. Mrs. Moore came and perched herself on the edge of the bed, then clasped one of Elle’s hands in her own, looking at her for a long, uncomfortable moment before she spoke, her eyes filling with tears.

“We were so worried. Your father insisted we carry on as if you would recover, and I do confess, much as it shames me to do so, there were times when I doubted his wisdom. But he was right. Here you are, looking like you have not been ill a day in your life.” She pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes. “Of course, Dr. Simms says you still need your rest, and we are not to excite you overmuch until you have completed your recovery. Although how a girl could not be excited at such a time, I really cannot imagine.”