A prequel to Jo's Biggest Challenge.
Ste Therese's House Characters:
Jack Maynard, Jem Russell, Jo (Bettany) Maynard, Madge (Bettany) Russell
Alternate Universe, Domestic
Jo's Biggest Challenge
27 Nov 2011 Updated:
02 Dec 2011
1. Chapter 1 by Vick
2. Chapter 2 by Vick
3. Chapter 3 by Vick
4. Chapter 4 by Vick
“Bless you, Jo.”
“Thank you.” Jo Bettany blew her nose loudly and sighed. She knew all too well what that sneeze meant. Summer had just begun and she was already facing the prospect of spending the next week or so in bed with a severe cold. She knew a cold wasn’t something to be trifled with, even though she was so much healthier than she had been as a child.
“Atishoo! Atishoo!” This time her sister looked up at her and she saw the worry immediately appear on Madge Russell’s face. Jo tried to suppress a shiver, even though the day was hot.
“Jo Bettany! You’re starting with a cold! Quickly, take yourself off to bed and I’ll find the hot water bottles.” Jo reluctantly moved from her seat and dejectedly set off towards the chalet and her bedroom.
She was soon between the covers and her sister tucked hot water bottles around her, telling her to stay where she was for the foreseeable future. In a way, Jo felt glad since she was already beginning to feel tired and aching. She was soon sleeping, but it wasn’t refreshing. Her dreams were all too vivid and she cried out. She didn’t hear her sister’s soothing voice next to her as her dreams chopped and changed, each becoming stranger than the one before.
Madge was sitting at the bedside, watching her young sister anxiously. She tried to soothe Jo as she cried out in her sleep, but she could tell that Jo was dreaming and she couldn’t hear her. Placing her hand on Jo’s shoulder, she could already feel the heat as the cold took hold. She wished her husband was home to reassure her, but he was busy at the Sanatorium. She knew he was due back soon, and she wished he would hurry up. She could already hear Jo’s breathing becoming more ragged; a sure sign the cold was on her chest. Jo roused slightly, and Madge leaned forwards. She slipped an arm under Jo’s shoulders, lifting her slightly.
“Here, Jo, drink this,” as she held a cup of water to Jo’s lips. Jo swallowed a little of the water. “Let me put another pillow behind you.” She slipped a spare pillow under Jo’s head, then laid her gently back down. She heard the front door close and slipped out of the room to greet her husband.
“Oh, Jem, thank goodness!”
“What’s wrong?” Jem saw the anxiousness on his wife’s pretty face and drew her into his arms.
“Jo’s started with a cold.”
“A cold? In this weather?”
“Yes. Will you have a look at her, please?” Jem went upstairs to Jo’s room and entered quietly. He could hear the rasping breaths from the door and was unsurprised at his wife’s worry. All her life, Jo had had to be careful with colds, since she had a tendency towards pneumonia. He quickly examined her as she slept. She was restless, constantly moving about in the bed and muttering. Slipping back outside, he spoke to Madge.
“We need to try and get her temperature down. She’s burning hot and that’s making her restless. Go and fetch a bowl of cold water and a sponge, and start with that. I’ll go and see if I have any cooling mixture we can give her if she rouses.” Madge went to do his bidding and was soon sponging her sister’s forehead.
When Jo next roused, Jem managed to get some cooling mixture into her, but he saw a long night ahead as they battled to bring her temperature down. He took the first shift, sending Madge to get some sleep at ten o’clock. He watched her carefully for any signs of improvement, but there were none. Jo was well and truly in the throes of a severe chest cold and, to add to her woes, she had begun to cough as well.
Jem alternately watched and sponged Jo until he could feel himself beginning to doze. He rose and went to wake Madge. She took his place in Jo’s room whilst he climbed into bed, falling asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow.
This routine continued for the next four days. Each time Jo roused, she was given the cooling mixture and water to drink, until the temperature finally began to return to normal and Jo’s breathing became easier, though the cough still remained.
On the fifth day, Jo roused properly. She stared around the room for a few minutes, before noticing her sister in the chair beside her bed.
“Madge?” she whispered, her voice sounding as if it were coming from far away.
“Hello, Jo. How are you feeling?”
“Tired. How long have I been out for?”
“Four days. Do you want a drink?” Jo nodded, and Madge slipped an arm under her to raise her slightly as she held a glass to her lips. Jo drank thirstily. Her throat felt dry and it hurt. “Easy, Jo. I’m not going to take it away from you.” She slowed down though continued to drink. When the glass was empty, Madge laid her back down and stood up. “I’ll just fetch Jem, Jo. I won’t be long.” She departed, to return a few minutes later with her husband, who looked Jo over silently.
“Glad to see you back with us again, Jo. Get some sleep, now, there’s a good girl.” Jo obediently closed her eyes and was soon slumbering peacefully. Jem drew Madge out into the corridor. “She should sleep for a few hours, now. Go and get some sleep yourself, darling. You look exhausted.”
“Will she be all right now, Jem?”
“Once she’s had some proper sleep, I’m sure she’ll be fine. Knowing Jo, she’ll be back up and about in no time. You know how quickly she recovers from any illness.” He kissed her and gently pushed her towards their bedroom, where she was quick to join her sister in slumbering, relieved that Jo had pulled through once more.
Many thanks to you lovely reviewers.
Two days later, Jo was sitting up in bed, complaining that she wasn’t allowed up properly. The cough she had developed still remained, and Jem expected it to last another week. She was quite pale still, but she had had enough of being in bed and wanted to get back to normal.
“You can get up for a few hours after Frühstück tomorrow, Jo,” Jem said when she complained to him. “After that, we’ll see how you are, before I’ll agree to you staying up any longer.” Jo had to be satisfied with that. She knew Jem could quite easily change his mind if she wasn’t careful.
The next morning, Jo dressed and made her way down to the Salon. Jem smiled at her as she entered, and went to sit in her usual spot in the corner. The morning was cool and she didn’t have much energy to want to venture much further. She was soon engrossed in her book, not noticing Jem looking serious whenever she coughed.
She was obliged to retire back to bed after Mittagessen. She hadn’t realised how much energy she had used by just being up for those few hours. She was soon sleeping once more, never stirring when Madge looked in on her during the afternoon.
When Jo finally woke again, it was half past four. She gasped as she looked at the time and promptly began to cough. Once it was over, she lay back on her pillows and closed her eyes. She’d had coughs before, but this one just felt slightly different. However, Jem had assured her that it would probably disappear after a few days, so she didn’t think it worthwhile mentioning. She sat up in bed and wondered if she should go in search of food, when her bedroom door opened.
“You’re awake, then? I’ve brought you something to eat.” Madge came into the room and set the tray she was carrying across Jo’s lap, before proceeding to wrap a woolly around her shoulders. Jo looked at the bowl of soup and the bread and began to eat. Madge was rewarded by seeing the tray cleared. Jo had eaten little at Mittagessen and she had been worried by her sister’s lack of appetite. When Jo had finished, she passed the tray back to her sister and climbed out of bed.
“Where are you going, Jo?”
“I just want a wash, before I come back downstairs.”
“You’d be better off staying up here. You’re still not fully recovered, yet.”
“I feel much better now I’ve had a sleep, though. I hate staying in bed.”
“That’s as may be, Jo, but you aren’t coming back downstairs again, today.” Jem had appeared in the doorway as Jo was speaking. Jo swung round to face him.
“No. I’m not having you tiring yourself out so soon after this last illness. You can sit up in the chair here if you wish, but make your mind up to the fact that you aren’t coming back downstairs tonight.” Try as she might to coax him, Jem was adamant that she would stay in her room and rest for the evening.
Once she had been left alone, Jo pulled a face at the door to relive herself of her frustration. Flopping into the comfortable chair by the window, she stared moodily outside at the setting sun. She coughed and then picked up her book. She stared blankly at the pages, not seeing the print on them, as she allowed her mind to wander. Deep down, she knew she was still tired and it had only been a few days since she had been ill. She didn’t want to admit that to herself, though. She wished she didn’t succumb to illness so easily and that she could just continue through life without having to think about the consequences of what might happen if she caught a chill. The book fell unheeded into her lap as she curled up in the chair and watched the gathering gloom. Her head fell to one side and she slept.
Jem came to check on her an hour later and found her sleeping soundly. He gently threw a blanket over her and turned the bedside lamp on, before withdrawing as quietly as he’d entered. He would return a little later to check on her again.
When Jo woke the next morning, she found herself in bed. As she lay there, she tried to remember how it had happened since she had no recollection of the fact. Now, as she lay there contemplating how it had happened, a tap came at her door, before Jem poked his head around it, smiling when he saw she was awake.
“Morning, Jo. You must have slept the clock round.”
“Have I? The last thing I remember was sitting in the chair by the window.” Jem came to sit on the bed.
“You were fast asleep there when I looked in on you, so between us, Madge and I got you into bed. You never stirred, either. This last cold seems to have been much worse than others you’ve had previously. It’s sapped your energy completely. I know you hate being stuck in bed, but you really do need to take it easy for the next few days and try not to over-exert yourself. You were only downstairs for a few hours yesterday and it drained what little energy you had completely.”
Jo sighed. She hated to be confined to quarters, even if it was for her health. She considered rebelling, but realised it would have no effect on her brother-in-law. Jem watched as the thoughts swirled around Jo’s mind. He knew she wanted to be up and about as she always was, but he was becoming concerned about her health and he knew she needed to rest properly. A bout of pleuro-pneumonia when she was fifteen had left her chest weak and he had hoped she would avoid any more illness for a few more years. It was not to be. He resolved to try and keep a close eye on her over the summer and see how she fared.
A week after her talk with Jem, Jo was finally up and about once more. She was under strict orders to take it easy and not do anything strenuous for another week. She spent most of her time outside in the garden as summer had arrived with a vengeance. The days were hot and Jo felt the heat more than normal. She was quite content to sit in the shade and doze, using the heat as an excuse for her lethargy. She had an idea for another book bubbling and made the most of the enforced rest to formulate her ideas. By the end of the week, she was ready to begin writing and disappeared into the study whenever she had the opportunity to do so.
Jem was busy at the Sanatorium and didn't notice his sister-in-law was avoiding him. Jo was still struggling to shake the cough she had developed. She tried to avoid doing anything which meant she needed to exert herself, generally using the excuse of her writing.
One evening, Jo was showing Jack Maynard out after dinner, when he asked a casual question.
"It's my day off tomorrow, do you fancy coming for a walk?"
"I'm sorry, I can't, I'm afraid. I'm in the middle of my new book and can't leave it at the moment." Jack looked quizzically at her. She'd never used the excuse of her writing to turn him down before.
"Another time, then. It seems ages since we last went out for a walk."
"Yes. Thank you for asking me.” Jo felt awkward, but knew she couldn’t risk a walk without the cough returning. She missed Jack’s company, but she knew he would question her if she started to cough and she didn’t want that. She didn’t want to be hauled back off to bed by anyone for a simple cough which she hoped would probably disappear soon anyway.
What Jo hadn’t realised was that the cough she had was a sign of much worse to come.
July faded into August and Jo continued to struggle valiantly on. She was still feeling tired, but was determined to put on a brave face. She was glad that the summer was so hot this year, so the constant fatigue she was suffering was not as noticeable. She laughed and joked with the younger members of the household and helped them in their games when she wasn’t busy writing. She enjoyed spending time with them as they didn’t constantly worry about her health. They loved her as she was and she knew that if she was tired, she could coax them to sit down quietly and listen to a story without them wondering if she was sickening for something.
Jack had asked her to go walking a few more times and each time she had made up some excuse to avoid going. She felt guilty each time she refused, as she enjoyed his company and friendship. The population on the Sonnalpe was quite small and she had few friends living there. Her three closest friends lived further afield now that they had left school, though Frieda Mensch was nearby in Innsbruck. There were others near to her in age, they were busy with their own affairs and Jo had no wish to intrude on them.
One afternoon Madge decided to organise a picnic. Jo wondered how she could avoid joining, but realised her sister would need help to look after the smaller members of the party. This was to Jo’s advantage since she knew that she could easily keep up with the slow pace necessary. As they strolled along the alm towards their usual picnic spot, Jo felt glad she had decided to come. She flopped onto the grass quite happily with her sister and began to make a daisy chain for Primula. This activity kept her occupied without the need for any exertion. When it was time to eat, everyone gathered around the baskets and chattered happily as they ate. Jo wasn’t feeling particularly hungry though she managed a roll and a piece of cake, hoping her lack of appetite would go unnoticed. She was out of luck.
“Aren’t you hungry, Jo?” her sister asked as the children ran off to play once more.
“Not really. I think it’s just the hot weather. I don’t think it’s been this hot since we moved here.”
“It is hot this year, I agree. I’ve never noticed it affect your appetite before, though.” Jo shrugged. She didn’t want to worry her sister. Madge let it pass, though she resolved to try and keep an eye on Jo. She suspected her sister was trying to hide something, but knew from experience that Jo would not be forthcoming if she was pushed.
Jo was on her guard, now, and knew that she had to try her best to eat properly in her sister's presence; otherwise Madge would worry, and maybe involve Jem. That was something Jo wanted to avoid at the moment. Her continuing lethargy and lack of appetite were beginning to take their toll on her, but she wasn’t ready to tell anyone about it, yet. She hoped that she could still beat it. She thought that she had her cough under control, now, and that it was finally beginning to clear. As long as she didn't try to do anything which made her out of breath, the cough didn't seem so bad.
Jo was glad to retire to her room that evening. She felt exhausted from the stroll along the alm and having to pretend that all was well. Deep down, she knew it would be much easier if she did tell someone that she was still feeling unwell and that the after-effects of the cold she'd had were still lingering. She didn't want to feel as if she was a burden on anyone, though. She knew that both Jem and Jack were extremely busy with some bad cases at the Sanatorium and that if she told her sister, the old worry would return. She hated to see her sister worrying about her, so she kept quiet and continued to battle on alone.
Thanks for the lovely reviews, people.
This is the last part of this, I'm afraid, but leads neatly into the start Jo's Biggest Challenge.
Jo was busy editing her latest book in preparation for typing it when she realised that she'd left some of her papers up in her bedroom. Without thinking, she dashed upstairs to fetch them, only to succumb to a violent fit of coughing when she reached her room. She was alone in the house, her sister having taken Robin and Daisy out to get new uniform and Jem was at the Sanatorium. She collapsed onto her bed and gave into the spasms going through her body as she coughed. When she finally stopped she lay there, exhausted. It was a good half hour before she felt able to sit up and attempt to sip any of the water she kept by her bedside. Her hand shook as she picked the glass up. Slowly, she sipped at the water until the glass was empty and she felt a little more like herself again. Eventually, she stood back up and retrieved the papers she had come upstairs to collect. Walking slowly back down to the study, she realised that she ought to tell someone what had just happened. No one was about, however so, pushing it to the back of her mind; she continued on and settled back down to her editing. In her absorption, the incident went from her mind.
Jo felt exhausted that evening and retired to bed early. She was soon sleeping, never hearing her sister slip into the room to check on her. Madge watched her sister sleeping for a few moments before she returned to the Salon, a worried look on her face. Jem was home for once, though he expected to be called back to the Sanatorium very soon.
"Is something wrong, Madge?"
"I think there's something wrong with Jo. I don't know what it is, though, and she isn't being very forthcoming."
"She's been rather busy with that new book of hers, lately. Maybe it's just worry over that."
"Possibly. I think it's more than that, though."
"You can't force her confidence, darling. She'll tell you in her own time."
"I know, but I can't help worrying about her." The telephone bell pealed in the hall and Jem rose to answer it. A minute later, he returned to the Salon.
"I'm sorry, darling, I have to go. Try not to worry about Jo. She'll be fine. I'm sure she's just worrying about her book and, once she's finished, she'll be back to her normal self." With this assurance, he departed to the Sanatorium, allowing the problem of his sister-in-law to slip from his mind.
Madge tried to forget her worry over her sister during the next few days. She could see that Jo was busy attempting to type a fair copy of her latest book. She hoped that Jem was correct in his assumption and Jo’s problem was indeed stress from trying to get her book finished. As much as she wanted to keep an eye on Jo, she found herself busy with the children as they demanded her attention and kept her occupied with their questions and activities.
For her own part, Jo was relieved to be left alone to try and get on with her typing. She always took far longer than necessary as she frequently found mistakes and ended up having to retype pages. She never gave another thought to the coughing fit she had had and subsequently, no one found out about it. She also began to skip meals as she concentrated on trying to type up her manuscript.
Finally, Jo packaged up her manuscript and it was ready to post. With a relived sigh she put it on the hall table ready to take to the post office next time she went to Spärtz. She went up to her room intending to change and go out into the garden for some fresh air, but she found herself coughing again. She made it into her bedroom and managed to close the door before she collapsed onto the floor. When she finally stopped, Jo laid her head on her knees and sighed. She made her mind up that she needed to speak to Jem. She couldn't go on like this any longer.
She was doomed to disappointment. Jem wasn't at Abendessen that evening, a critically ill patient keeping him at the Sanatorium. Jo knew she didn't want to worry her sister until she had spoken to him, so she put on a brave face and tried her hardest to be her normal self until she could speak to him. She had no idea what the next days and months were to bring for her.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.