As a lady, Juliana supposed she should not look upon an undressed man’s flesh, but Mr. Stacy was so pathetic, and someone was needed to mop up the blood as it gushed out.
Elliot held the wound closed while the doctor sewed it up. Stacy had been given a bit of laudanum for the pain, though he’d not wanted to take very much.
“Almost done,” Elliot said to Stacy. “Bear up, man. I’ve seen you with worse.”
“When I’m digging a needle through your flesh, ye can say the same of yourself.” Stacy flinched as the doctor tugged the stitches through his skin. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. McBride, for bloodying up the sheets.”
“I have others.” Juliana wiped his brow. “What will stave off infection is rest and keeping your bandage clean. Mahindar is very good at changing bandages, I’m told.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Stacy said. “McBride, you’re right. She would do well in the army.”
Elliot didn’t look up. “Aye, that she would.”
Before Juliana could answer in indignation, Stacy lost his amused look. “I never should have brought this upon you.”
“Save your breath for healing,” Elliot said.
“I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. Satisfy the brothers’ honor without you or your family getting hurt.”
“Juliana, find a bandage for this man’s mouth. Inspector Fellows will have Jaya’s brothers dealt with when he returns to London.”
Stacy subsided then, but mostly because the laudanum was having deeper effect, and the worst of the surgery was over.
The chaos lasted most of the day, but one by one, the guests left, taking the train back to Aberdeen, where they’d go their separate ways. Ainsley and her family and Gemma were the last to leave.
Ainsley hugged Juliana on the doorstep, while her husband, child, and Daniel waited to hand her into the dogcart. “Whatever you have done, thank you,” Ainsley said, kissing Juliana’s cheek. “The change in Elliot is remarkable.”
“Do you think so?” Ainsley hadn’t seen Elliot on one of his bad days, or bad hours, since her arrival. He’d come through the rescue of Mr. Stacy and the flurried activity this afternoon without breaking stride.
“I do. Trust me.” Ainsley gave her another kiss, patted her on the cheek, and was gone.
Juliana waved them away, and went to say her last good-bye, to her stepmother.
Gemma made her sit down for a moment in the morning room, now empty of assassins and blackmailers. “Well, Juliana? You’ve made your bed, as they say. Do you still want to lie in it?”
Juliana’s face warmed as she thought of what she and Elliot often did in the bed upstairs. “I believe I do.”
Gemma’s businesslike look softened. “Don’t stay away forever, love. Your father and I miss you—goodness, how he misses you. Every day he talks about how you used to walk about, so proud to wear your ring of keys as mistress of the house. How you’d make sure his tea was served at exactly six, that his study had the books he needed most within his reach, his ink bottle always filled. The housekeeper and I make sure of it now, of course, but it was special to him that you did it. That you took care of him.”
Juliana’s eyes grew moist. Her father was not a talkative man, and she’d not known he even noticed what she’d done. Juliana had told herself that the best sign of an organized household was that the hand that guided it was invisible, but she’d always felt a tiny bit of hurt that her father had never said a word.
“I didn’t know that.”
Gemma’s hand was warm on hers. “I know, dear. Your father has never known much how to show his heart. Your poor mother was terrible at reading him, and so the match was doomed from the outset. I am a bit more shrewd than she was, and I know that your father is a man of deep feeling. His failure with your mother upsets him. He knows it was difficult for you. And he truly does miss you.”
“Thank you.” Juliana’s chest felt tight. Her father had never gushed affection, but she’d known it was there, underneath, though she’d never been quite certain how much. “I’m sure that Elliot and I will be back in Edinburgh soon. We have been invited to stay there with Ainsley, and also to attend Lord Cameron’s horse training in March.”
Gemma gave her a knowing look. “Are you certain about that, my dear? Your husband does not look as though he’s ready to share you with anyone yet. Ainsley and Rona told me of their visit here, how he tossed them out most unceremoniously. They couched it in terms that said they found it amusing—the newlywed husband wanting to be alone with his wife. I imagine there was a bit more to it than that, but of course, they had to explain their too-quick visit. Mr. McBride now looks happy to see the backs of us all.”
“Because he is worried about Mr. Stacy.”
“Humph. Your Indian manservant has already told me that Mr. Stacy is removing to Mr. McPherson’s for his convalescence. I’d say that was best. McPherson’s house is a bit more comfortable than this one.”
“Only because I have not had the time to make the place more habitable. The rooms that are finished have turned out splendidly.”
“How quick you are to defend.” Gemma smiled. “I meant no offense. From what Ainsley told me about the condition of the castle when she visited before, what you have done to this house in the meantime is quite astonishing. I have often said that no one could be a better general than you—or perhaps a sergeant major. I’m sure you bullied everyone in your power to make this house shipshape.”