Jem walked into the Salon and dropped into his chair with a sigh. Madge looked up at him, her eyes anxious. She rang the bell and requested coffee from Marie when she appeared in response. Jem closed his eyes as he waited; knowing that that what he had to discuss with his wife would cause her yet more anxiety. Once the coffee had arrived, he accepted his cup and stirred it mechanically.
“How is Jo?” Jem had been expecting this question. He placed his coffee down on the low table and crossed the room to sit beside his wife.
“Not good. The diagnosis came through today and she has pulmonary tuberculosis. She took the news quite badly when she was told this afternoon.”
“Oh, Jem! I should be with her.” Tears welled in Madge’s dark eyes and Jem pulled her into him.
“You can’t, darling. I know it’s hard, but you have to think of the children. She has to be isolated so we can prevent any further spread. I’ll look after her, I promise. You’ll be able visit her for a couple of hours on Wednesday afternoon, provided she’s well enough.”
“How bad is it?”
“We’ve caught her relatively early so, provided she adheres to the regime she’s under, she may be up and about again within the year. It’s a slow process and she’s going to need all our support to get her through this.”
“What is the regime?”
“At the moment, she’s on complete bedrest. No reading, writing, unnecessary talking or movement. The more still and quiet she is, the better chance her lung has to rest and begin the healing process.”
“Poor Joey! She loves her books and her writing. How is she going to cope if she can’t have those?”
“I know.” Jem leant forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “I’ve just given her bad news and then taken away her lifelines. She’s going to find the hours long and monotonous and there’s nothing I can do to help relieve that. She needs to rest and this is the only way to ensure she does since any movement makes her lungs work harder. Until they begin to show signs of improvement, I can’t allow her to do anything for herself. She’s so tired, that I’m hoping she’ll spend a lot of time sleeping, which is the best thing she can do as she won’t be moving about as much then.”
“How did it come to this? We’ve watched over her so carefully and brought her safely through so many illnesses. Why has this happened now?”
“I think she was always more susceptible to picking up the infection. Don’t forget that Jo is friends with many relatives of patients, so she would visit with them. She’s unwittingly put herself in the firing line on more than one occasion and now she’s paying for it. I wish it hadn’t happened at all, but, it has and we have to deal with the consequences. The only advantage is that that last cold she caught has brought it to our attention so much earlier. If it hadn’t, she could have been infectious for months without our knowing.”
“Do you think it’s possible she’s infected anyone else?”
“I don’t know. The only way to find out for certain is to get everyone checked, myself included.”
“Even the children?”
“Unfortunately, yes. The quicker we do it, the better. Until it’s done, we have to quarantine ourselves until we know for certain that everyone is free of infection.”
“What about Robin? She’s been in close contact with Jo as well and she’s back at school.”
“I know. I’m going to ring Juliet up and ask her to send Robin back here. We may as well have her with us rather than having her quarantined at school. Luckily they only went back a few days ago, so we may escape having to check the whole of the Annexe.”
“There’s Daisy and Margot, too.” Jem’s face clouded over as Madge mentioned his sister. He knew how much she’d had to endure before she arrived at the Sonnalpe and he had no wish to have to put her through more anxiety.
“I shall have to tell her, too and ask her to isolate herself and Daisy. Luckily, the only house guests we had this summer were Gillian and Joyce Linton and they’re already being checked regularly.”
“What are we going to tell the children?”
“We need to tell them the truth. Jo is more than likely going to be absent for at least a year, so we can’t hide it from them. Peggy and Rix are sharp enough to notice things aren’t right and if we leave it to their imagination, who knows what they’ll dream up.” This comment elicited a faint smile from Madge, though it faded quickly. Jem turned to his wife, serious once more. “It’s going to be hard for all of us to deal with this; however, it’s going to be even harder for Jo. We need to stay strong for her and pray she comes through safely. Please don’t fret because you can’t be with her. She’s in the best place. It’s getting late, now. Let’s go to bed and tomorrow we’ll have to tell the children.” Jem rose and went to check the French windows while Madge piled the crockery back onto the tray before returning it to the kitchen. Jem was waiting at the bottom of the stairs for her and, together they went up to bed.
Madge woke early the next morning, her worry for her sister foremost in her mind. She’d slept poorly, tossing and turning long after Jem had fallen asleep. She slipped out of the bed and dressed quietly, not wishing to disturb her husband. Once she was ready she went downstairs and found Marie laying the table in the Speisesaal.
“Grüss Gott, Marie. Is there any coffee ready?”
“Grüss Gott, Madame. There is coffee in the kitchen. I can fetch some for you if you wish?”
“No, thank you. I’ll go myself. You’re busy enough.” Madge smiled at her maid and continued onto the kitchen, where she found Marie’s children eating breakfast with their father. Smiling at them, she helped herself to a mug and filled it from the pot on the side, before leaving them alone and walking towards the study.
It was there that Jem found her two hours later. He’d slept late and only realised that Madge was not beside him once he’d rolled over to pull her into his arms. Upon making this discovery, he’d risen and gone to search for her. As he entered the study, he found her sitting behind the desk, a half-drunk mug of coffee beside her and the desk littered with pages. Others were screwed into balls and thrown at the waste paper bin in the corner. He crossed the room and dropped a kiss onto her hair.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to write to Dick. He needs to know what’s happened to Jo. I just don’t know how to break it gently to him. Every time I begin, it seems wrong.”
“Would you like me to write? I’ll make sure he knows everything.”
“Do you have the time?”
“I’ll do it after Frühstück. I’m not on duty until this afternoon, so I’ll have time this morning, before we speak to the children. Since Jo won’t be able to write to him herself any time soon, he needs to know the reason why he won’t hear from her.”
“Come on to Frühstück. That coffee must be cold by now and I saw Marie carrying a fresh pot into the Speisesaal as I came to find you.” He pulled Madge to her feet and into his arms. She laid her head on his shoulder briefly and he squeezed her gently before leading her to the Speisesaal.
Once they’d eaten, he left Madge to continue with her own chores, whilst he disappeared into the study to make his calls to Juliet and his sister, before tackling the letter to Dick. He knew that his brother-in-law would be just as anxious as his wife when he found out the news about Jo. Once it was completed, he left it on the desk for Madge to read and add anything herself before it was sealed and posted to India. Then he walked towards the nursery, hoping that he could adequately explain what was going to happen now that Jo had been admitted to the Sanatorium.
As Madge and Jem entered the nursery, they were surrounded by everyone, clamouring for them to join in their game. Jem shook his head and sat down in one of the comfortable chairs, Madge perching herself on a stool nearby. He pulled Sybil onto his knee and waited for the others to gather around him.
“I’m afraid I have to tell you all that Auntie Jo is poorly, which is why you haven’t seen her for the past week or so. She’s been taken to the Sanatorium to get better and we hope she’ll be back at home with us all again as soon as possible.”
“Why has she gone to the Sani…Sani…?” Rix asked, stumbling over the long word.
“Sanatorium, Rix.” Jem helped him out. “Auntie Jo is infectious at the moment, which means she could pass on her illness to anyone. By taking her to the Sanatorium, she’s where she can’t pass it on to anyone else.”
“Is she all on her own?” Bride queried.
“She has a room to herself, but she gets visits from the doctors and nurses every day.”
“Can’t we go and visit her so she’s not lonely?” Peggy wanted to make sure her aunt saw other people as well as medical staff.
“I’m afraid not, Peggy. Auntie Jo is too infectious to risk you going to visit her and she can’t be excited at the moment.” There was a short silence as the youngsters took in the information which had just been given to them. Jem waited to see if there would be any more questions before he continued. “The other thing we have to tell you is that, because of Auntie Jo’s illness, we need to go and take pictures of everyone’s insides to make sure none of you are poorly.”
“Pictures of our insides? How can you do that? Our insides are inside us.” Rix lifted up his shirt and vest and pointed to his tummy to indicate his meaning. Jem smiled.
“There’s a special machine that can take pictures of your insides. That’s what we’ll use. I’m going to take you all to have them taken over the next few days.”
“Do you and Mummy have to have pictures taken as well?” David joined in the conversation.
“Yes. All of us who live here will have them taken, darling.” Madge answered her son’s question with a smile.
“Is there anything else you want to ask?” Jem decided he had given the children enough information to digest for now. As the children shook their heads he set Sybil back down on the floor and rose from his seat. Madge rose as well, joining him at the door, where she spoke quietly to him.
“I’ll stay here with the children while you go and speak to Marie, Andreas and Rosa.”
“Of course. Once I’ve done that, I’ll go over to the Sanatorium and get all the appointments made.” He slipped through the door and down to the kitchen to break the news to their maid and her family.
A week after he’d broken the news to his family, Jem returned home one evening, relief written across his face. He smiled at his wife as he entered the Salon, kissing her as he crossed to sit in his usual chair.
“You look much happier today, dear,” Madge observed as she resumed her knitting.
“Yes. I got the last of the X-rays back today and have some good news, at least.” Jem paused a moment before he continued. “They were all clear.”
“That’s wonderful news! Have you told Margot?”
“Yes, I rang her before I came home. She’s relieved and has sent Daisy back into school again. Robin can go back on Monday as well.”
“I’ll let Juliet know, then. She’ll be glad to know Robin is fine.”
“We’ve been incredibly lucky that Jo is the only one, Madge. I’m relieved that none of the children have contracted it, as that would have been hard to deal with. As it is, we only have to worry about Jo and, luckily, we’ve caught her early. She’s still got a long road ahead of her, but, hopefully, she’ll be back among us all again provided she follows her regime.”
“I’m sure she will. It’s not as if she hasn’t been confined to bed before.”
“I know, but it’s different this time. She can’t just begin rebelling as soon as she feels as if she should be up and about again. She needs to rest thoroughly and even when she’s finally allowed up, she’ll find herself severely restricted for a good while longer. She’s going to need a lot of support from us all to help her through.”
“She’ll listen to you, Jem. She generally does, despite her occasional rebellions. As long as she understands the reasons behind decisions, she’ll do everything you ask of her.”
“I know. She listens to Jack, which helps, as he’s not family in the way that I am. He also takes a little bit of extra time to sit and talk with her, something no one else seems to do.”
“They’ve been friends for a good while, maybe that’s why.”
“That’s true. She’ll trust him so she’ll listen to his advice. I know he was just as shocked as I was when we found out the diagnosis. He told me that he’d barely seen her all summer as she’d refused all his requests to go walking with him. When we looked back over things, we discovered that Jo seems to have avoided all of us, you included.”
“Yes. I intended to speak to her, but the children seemed to keep me so busy.”
“It’s not your fault. Jo knew what she was doing and, in a roundabout way, she did the right thing as she’s avoided infecting anyone else.”
The gong for Abendessen rang at this point and Jem rose from his seat, holding his arm out to his wife. She took it with a smile and they strolled across to the Speisesaal together. As they were finishing their meal, Jem smiled across at his wife, glad that his family were all still together, even though one member was unable to be with them for now.