This is the final one for tonight. I'll get to the remainder in the coming days. There was a LOT of email on this and I'll do everyone who gets in under the deadline....it's just gonna take a couple days.
This one came in at 8:08 this morning if you want a sense of where you are in the chronology.
"When selecting poultry for cooking, choose a chicken with soft yellow feet, short thick legs, and a plump breast. First, kill the chicken by wringing its neck . . . "
-Emily Barrow's Cook Book
Cool hands sponged his forehead. Stephen's head pounded with a blistering headache, but the female hands that stroked his hair eased the pain. He could smell her fragrance, the scent of gardenia. Pure and delicate, like the softness of her hands.
You're over writing. I see it in a lot of material that comes in. You wrote: "Stephen's head pounded with a blistering headache". It's hard to have a headache in your toe. When you say headache, we know where it is.
Also "he could smell her fragrance, the scent of gardenia". Consider : he smelled gardenia on her; pure and delicate, like her hands.
You don't need softness to modify hands when you've got the gardenia metaphor working for you.
"Drink," she said, lifting a cup of warm tea to his mouth. It tasted bitter, but he swallowed. "You're very lucky, you know."
Lucky? He felt as though someone had cracked his skull in two. He hadn't even the strength to open his eyes to see who was tending him with such care.
"How am I lucky?" he managed to whisper. Lucky to be alive, she'd probably say.
"You're lucky I haven't got any arsenic for this tea," she said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Or another poison, for that matter. If I did, you'd be dead by now."
She talked of his demise as though she were discussing a flower arrangement.
here again, over writing. You've already said "matter of fact tone" You don't need the "she talked of his demise etc" too.
"I beg your pardon?" He tried in vain to open his eyes, but his nurse slapped a warm poultice upon his forehead, covering his line of sight.
Logically he can open his eyes even with a poultice on them. Not being able to open his eyes is a symptom of something other than the poultice.
"They told me you were dead. I was supposed to be a widow."
Oh!! Now it gets interesting!! I like this!
Good God. The plotting murderess was his wife. What the devil? When had he gotten married? Stephen tried to think, but his mind was a blur. He couldn't remember any of the details surrounding his accident.
At least, he'd thought it was an accident. Given her conversation, it might not have been.
I'd probably read on but I'd have an eagle eye out for over description. I'm not suggesting that you pare down to James Ellroy stacatto but I do hold fast to the idea of "less is more". Even for all the ferocious sentence lengths of Faulkner, his every word mattered and was placed with care.