Autumn dwindled into early winter, with the last ploughing done and the sheep and cattle driven down from the farthest hill pastures. The weather continued wet and chill, and Damaris came down with the fevered cold and cough she had helped treat in others with her aunt all autumn. It took deeper hold with her than it had with most. She was moved from her high room to one near her aunt’s and uncle’s. There she was nursed through the nights, turn and turn about, by Aunt Elspeth, old Agnes, and Betty, for more than week. Even when the worst was past, she remained weak, only too happy to lie abed or – when she was stronger – sit at a window for hours, first in the bedchamber, then in the parlor, watching cloud-shadows shift along the winter-grayed dale or, in worse weather, the rain falling in icy sheets.
Her body’s exhaustion as it struggled to heal had exhausted her mind, too, but when she was well enough for visitors, she was stirred a little more aware by Irene’s company a few afternoons and even several visits from Lauran. Irene brought fashion magazines and chattered on about nothing in particular, requiring only slight answers from Damaris in response. Lauran, unexpectedly more thoughtful, came his first time with a book of ballads and read aloud to her – strong, stirring ballads of danger and daring; of desperate battles won or heroically lost; of perilous loves and fatal sword fights and wild rides to safety.
“Irene says I should be reading you softer stuff,” he told Damaris as he settled into a chair. “That these aren’t for ladies. Are you become a lady, Damaris?”
“No,” she said. She might be presently too weak to do even embroidery, but she was quite sure of that. So he had read to her by the hour, and when he was done she was no stronger in body, but her mind was stirred more awake than it had been since she fell ill.
He came twice more, the last time bringing not the ballads but a novel of dire doings in Scotland’s past. This he left with her after having read from it. “To keep your mind from having nothing but Irene’s fashions to think on,” he teased before giving her a surprising kiss on the cheek and leaving while she was still too startled by that to say anything. (more…)