Chapter 9: A Taste for Poison

Physician Hayes packed up his bag with a conflicted conscience as he watched Maura settled down beside Ivy on the bed. He had never seen a woman of nobility treat a mere servant with such a gentle, benevolent nature. With a shake of his head, Hayes snapped the bag closed and stood.

“I’ll be back tomorrow to check on you both, my Lady,” Hayes promised. “Try to keep her cool. The medication I gave her should help with the pain, but a fever combined with her weak constitution is worrisome. Perhaps she could be moved to another room to avoid contaminating the lady’s bed?”

“Ivy will stay here with me,” Maura asserted coldly.

“My Lady, you should get some rest as well,” Hayes added with a note of concern. Her icy blue eyes turned towards him with a piercing gaze that stabbed his conscience anew.

“Thank you, Physician Hayes.” Her tone was warm, grateful, and made him uncomfortable.

“I shall take my leave for now,” Hayes said as he politely bowed and left the room.

Lord Percy waited for him in the hallway. Hayes bowed again to the young Earl.

“Well?” Percy asked with a note of impatience. “How is she?”

“It’s difficult—difficult to—” Hayes hesitated as he glanced past Percy to where Helena lingered at the end of the hall. “Perhaps we should speak outside?”

Percy’s eyes narrowed, but he nodded and turned towards the stairs.

“Lord Percy,” Helena said as she swept forward to greet them. “We must thank you again for your generous offer.”

Hayes noted the tremble in Helena’s hands and wondered whether she felt fear, guilt, or both. He kept such thoughts to himself.

“Think nothing of it, Lady Helena,” Percy replied with a disarming smile. “Good night.”

“Oh—yes, good night,” Helena murmured as the young Earl swept past her.

“Lord Percy!” Lord Josiah caught them in the foyer. “You are leaving?”

“My physician has finished tending to your daughter’s injuries,” Percy explained as his attendant brought over the Earl’s hat and coat. “I trust she and her maid will be allowed to rest peacefully while they recover.”

Josiah’s eye twitched at the mention of a maid, but he nodded and smiled with forced enthusiasm. “Of course, naturally, she should rest. I will punish that reckless son of mine to be sure. I wasn’t even informed of her injury until after your arrival, Lord Percy. This family shall not forget your thoughtfulness and kindness.”

“Lady Maura is a very precious lady to my mother, the Countess,” Percy stated with a cold smile. “I trust your family will keep that in mind as you nurse her back to health.”

“I—yes, certainly.”

“My physician shall be visiting your home regularly until his services are no longer needed,” Percy added as he gestured to Hayes beside him.

“Yes, yes, sorry to trouble you, Lord Josiah,” Hayes replied with a humble bow.

“Not at all, Physician Hayes!” Josiah protested quickly. “Thank you for your excellent care!”

“Then, if you’ll excuse us, I must return. No doubt the Countess has noted my late absence,” Percy said with a dismissive nod. He turned before receiving Josiah’s farewell and left through the front door. Physician Hayes and the attendant followed silently behind him.

Percy waited impatiently for Hayes to board the carriage, then tapped the signet ring on his right hand against the driver’s window to signal their departure. As the carriage lumbered forward, Percy crossed his legs and pinned his gaze on the Physician. “Can you speak freely now?”

“My Lord is not unfamiliar with the way slaves are commonly treated,” Hayes began hesitantly. Percy waved his hand passively in acknowledgment. “There was evidence the maid has been whipped before, but those marks are several years older. As to her current injuries, although Lady Maura did her best with the medicine she had on hand—I’ve no doubt the maid would have likely perished if left without proper care.”

Lord Percy grunted softly but did not comment.

“Lady Maura, on the other hand.” Hayes shook his head.

“What of her?” Percy asked sharply when the Physician hesitated.

“She was only struck once by the whip, but—it is confusing for me to explain,” Hayes admitted as he rubbed the nagging pain of old age in his wrist. “There was a problem with the ointment. While Ivy’s wounds were more severe, they were properly cleaned and treated. However—”

“Enough about the maid. Get to the point, Mr. Hayes!”

The Physician flinched under the young Earl’s anger.

“It looked as if someone had mixed venom into the ointment used to treat Lady Maura’s wounds,” Hayes explained stiffly.

“Venom? You mean she was poisoned?”

“Not exactly—the dose was minimal. But had I missed it, the venom would have done enough damage to ensure a permanent scar.” Hayes exhaled as he continued to rub his tired wrists. “However, I don’t believe it would have affected Maura’s health long term. I cleaned the contaminated ointment away and treated the wound with anti-venom and fresh ointment. Lady Maura should be fine—for now.”

Percy interlaced his long fingers together as he turned his brooding gaze to the window and stared out at the bleak horizon of the countryside.

Hayes watched the young Earl’s darkening mood with subtle interest. He wasn’t entirely familiar with Lady Maura’s identity, though he had seen her upon occasion at Hawthorne Manor.

From what the servants had told him, the Countess had chosen Maura to be her protégé and companion. Lady Constance had even gone so far as to ensure the young lady received a proper education and etiquette training suitable for the upper circles of nobility.

Hayes hadn’t thought much of the homely girl whose face had been so unkindly blemished by nature. It took being dragged from his supper by the Earl of Hawthorne himself to tend to this young lady—and her servant—to make Hayes realize his mistake.

“Did you leave the ointment behind?” Percy demanded as he turned sharply towards the physician.

“No, I—” Hayes unlocked his bag and pulled out the ointment jar. “I removed it on my way out.”

Percy exhaled softly. “Good work. You may leave that with me. I would like to have it examined.”

“My Lord?” Hayes murmured curiously, though he obediently held out the jar.

“One never knows,” Percy mused aloud as he pulled gloves from his jacket and slipped them on before accepting the ointment. “My cousin may have use for this in the future.”

Hayes’ mouth clamped shut as he retracted his hand and sat back. He knew well enough not to question the Earl’s motives further.

After all, there was only one cousin that Percy could be referring too.

Her Highness, Crown Princess Eleanora. The future Queen of Lafeara.


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