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Jo Bettany was curled up in a chair in the corner of the salon at Die Rosen, reading a book and blissfully unaware that her world was about to come crashing down around her. Her sister, Madge Russell, sat knitting in another chair across the room. There was no one else in the pretty chalet where they lived, set on the Sonnalpe above the beautiful Tiernsee in the Austrian Tyrol. Rosa had taken the small children out for a walk and Marie had gone to visit her family down in Briesau with her husband and children.

Jo glanced up furtively from her book and towards her sister. She felt that she needed to cough, not a small cough to clear her throat, but one that had started to become all too familiar over the past weeks. It was a cough which felt as if she was trying to remove something from deep within her. Until now, she had managed to hide it mostly from her sister, but she knew she couldn’t avoid it this time. Suddenly, she started coughing, and Jo dropped her book in the process of trying to stop herself from making it sound any worse than it actually was. Her sister glanced up sharply when the book landed on the floor with a thump. What she saw made her drop her knitting anyhow and rush across the room to her sister’s side.

“Jo! What’s wrong?” Madge cried. Jo couldn’t answer. Madge stood up and left the room, returning quickly with a glass of water for her sister. When she arrived back, Jo was still coughing, but not so badly now.

“Here Jo, drink this, darling,” and Madge helped her sister to sip the cool water. Jo looked up at her sister and gave a watery smile through the tears which were now pouring down her face, a combination of the ferocity of the coughing fit and knowledge of the fact that her sister would now know something was badly wrong with her.

“S-Sorry old thing!” she managed to croak. “Didn’t mean to worry you.”

“Of course you worried me, Jo.” Madge replied, quietly. “How could I not worry when you were coughing like that?” She looked carefully at her sister and, noting the dark shadows under her eyes and the intense paleness of her pallor, made a decision.

“I think you ought to go and have a rest in your bedroom, Joey. You look tired after all that. I’ll give you a hand, shall I?” Jo nodded her assent, talking still being too much effort. Madge helped her to stand up and guided her slowly out of the salon and upstairs to her pretty bedroom. Once there, she helped her sister to undress and saw her safely under the covers, before closing the curtains and leaving the room, closing the door softly behind her.

As she descended the stairs, Madge thought about what she had just witnessed. She had not seen Jo have a coughing fit like that for a long time now and it worried her. Her sister had been so delicate up until the last few years and Madge thought that she had finally outgrown this tendency. Today’s events had brought back the memories of when Jo had been unable to run around without getting out of breath. She suddenly realised that she hadn’t seen her sister doing anything strenuous lately and wondered at it. Did it have something to do with the coughing she had just witnessed?

She arrived at the bottom of the stairs and turned to go towards the salon again when the front door opened and her husband let himself in, shutting it behind himself .

“Oh Jem! Just the person!” she said, relieved to see her husband. “I’ve just taken Joey to bed. She’s had such a coughing fit. I’m rather worried about her.”

Jem removed his coat and hat and hung them up quietly, before coming to kiss his wife and guide her into the salon where they could talk in relative privacy.

“What do you mean, my dear?” he asked as they were sitting down on the sofa together. “Why don’t we ring for some coffee and then you can tell me what’s happened.” Suiting action to words, he rang the small bell and, after requesting coffee from Marie, sat back down again with his wife. Once the coffee had been brought, and they both had a full cup, he spoke again.

“What’s happened to Joey, Madge?”

“She and I were both in here just sitting quietly. Jo was reading and I was knitting, when suddenly, she started to cough really violently. It was just like when she was younger and she had been running when she shouldn’t, but worse. I tried to help her, but it was a really bad attack, Jem. When it was over, she was so pale and exhausted, that I suggested she go to bed for a while. She didn’t argue either, which isn’t like Jo.”

“Hmm.” was all he replied, but he was thinking hard and, from what his wife had just said, he knew something was wrong. “I’ll go and take a look at her when she wakes up. I think the best thing for her is sleep now.”

Two hours later, Jem wandered up the stairs and tapped lightly on Jo’s door, before opening it quietly and peering round. Jo was awake and smiled at her brother-in-law, though she made no effort to move.

“Hello, Jem” she whispered. Talking was still an effort despite the rest she had just had.

“Hello, Jo” Jem replied quietly. “Mind if I come in?” Jo just nodded, so he came in and sat on the edge of the bed next to her. Jo had already turned on the little bedside lamp and Jem could see, even in the soft glow, how pale she looked.

“You gave your sister quite a fright earlier. How long have you been coughing like that?” he asked gently.

“A few weeks,” she whispered vaguely. She suddenly had a deep sense of foreboding and felt that Jem was trying to get at something. She had no idea what, as her brain felt so confused at the moment. Jem looked keenly at her and, sensing that he wouldn’t get much more from her at the moment, decided to leave it for now.

“Try and get some more rest. We’ll talk in the morning, when you are feeling more like yourself.” Jo nodded again and obediently closed her eyes. Jem turned out the light and felt his way out in the dark looking thoughtful.



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