Chapter 11

Late-July, 1938

Tom saw her laying there and his heart was in his throat. He could see by the lamp-light that her hands were bound behind her back and her mouth was gagged. There was a mess of dried blood and dirt on her forehead but most of all he noticed how pale she looked, even in the dim light. There was an obvious tinge of blue around her lips. He jumped from the third step from the bottom and was at her side in one quick movement. He lifted her head slightly and her skin was cold to his touch. His heart fell, but he remembered that he had heard a sound from upstairs.

A small wooden stool was by her feet and he wondered if she had kicked it, trying to get someone's attention. He leaned his head down to her chest, and though her skin was cold, he felt a strong heartbeat. She was alive.

He undid the knot behind her head, the gag fell from her mouth and he pulled the offensive cloth away and threw it as far as he could. She startled back into consciousness and tried to kick at him to defend herself and it took her as long as it takes for one's eyes to focus to realize that it was Tom.

She started to cry from relief, from anxiety and from happiness that he was there in front of her. She attempted to speak, but her voice was raspy and dry and her lips were cracked from thirst. She swallowed hard a few times and licked her lips to wet them.

“Tom.” Her eyes went from showing her fear to realizing that maybe she was now safe. Her husband had found her. Her wishes from the long, long day had been granted.

“It's me sweetheart. You're safe now. Let me untie your arms.” He gently brushed the blood on her forehead and noticed that the cut didn't seem to be too bad. It appeared worse than it was. So the blood on the floor had belonged to her. The rage in him swelled for a moment when he realized that she had been laying down there all night and day and no one had attended the wound. He tried for a few moments to loosen the knot that bound her wrists and finally was rewarded by her freedom when she flung herself into his arms and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. Her skin felt so cold. She was only in the thin nightdress that he had left her in the night before. His heart ached for the suffering she must have endured. He had to know.

“Did he hurt you?” His eyes had tears in them and were brimming with opposite ends of the spectrum of emotions. Lily did not look away. She knew exactly what he was asking.

“No. He just tied me up and said he would be back for me later. Oh Tom! He meant to kill us both...” Her own emotions reached the climax and she burst into tears.

Tom held her close as the sobs wracked her body. She felt so thin and frail in his arms. His own eyes flowed as hard as hers did to be holding her. The anxiety he had been suppressing burst forth.

They both heard the footsteps upstairs and his heart rate quickened. Was the baker back? Or was it George and the help he had gone to get. He was sure he heard more than one set of footsteps and then George called down to him from the trap door entrance.

“Uncle! We're here! It's okay.” Never had Tom heard such a fabulous voice.

He lifted Lily, her arms refused to budge from around his neck and carried her to the unstable looking stairs. He carefully went up them with his precious armload and greeted George with his Grandfather in the back kitchen of the bakery. Their faces showed as much relief as his must have. Robert reached out to touch Lily's arm, just to assure himself that she was really there. He felt the chill of her skin as well and pulled his jacket off and wrapped it around her as Tom carried her outside. George wasn't sure what to say but he felt incredibly relieved that she had been found. She looked cold, and had a gash on her forehead but she seemed awake. Her head was burrowed into her husband's shoulder as they exited her place of confinement.

A small crowd of concerned townsfolk had heard the commotion at the bakery and were gathering around as Tom left the broken front door behind him. O'Malley was standing there with the door to the car he was responsible for open and waiting for his passengers. Tom lifted Lily in and climbed in beside her. O'Malley jumped in the driver's seat and had the car moving up the road before anyone could count to three. The young chauffeur looked to the backseat and caught Tom's eye.

“To the hospital?” He saw Tom nod and then look back down to his wife. Lily was shivering.

“You're okay now sweetheart. I’ve got you.” He held her close. She looked at him with an expression of so much gratitude that he couldn't help but lean down and kiss her. She responded with an eagerness that surprised him.

“I was so scared Tom. Did they find him? He means to kill you. He told me so.” Her relief at seeing him was still so apparent as she spoke the words. She had spent much of the day wondering if her husband had been harmed by the man who had unbeknownst to her, been obsessed with her most of her adult life. She had trusted the baker too much, but that was her nature. She was good and he had apparently been quite evil. Apparently the old baker had not been pleased that Tom Branson had showed up in her life and stolen her away from him.

“It's okay. We're safe. But he is still out there.” Tom was honest with her and just held her so close as O'Malley drove them to the hospital.

The trip was quick and Tom spied two nurses and a doctor waiting for them with a stretcher on the curb as O'Malley pulled the car up. Of course word would have spread fast that Lily had been found and the two of them were on their way to the hospital. Tom was grateful.

The doctor opened the door while Tom jumped out and lifted Lily from the vehicle onto the waiting stretcher. She seemed panicked for a moment until Tom grabbed her hand and walked beside her as they went inside. One of the nurses held him back as they went into one of the small private rooms of the hospital and he was tempted to push her out of the way, but his manners came back to him in time. Lily called out his name as he was parted from her and his heart broke. He didn't want to leave her, but the nurse assured him they needed to examine her in private and he could come back in as soon as they were done.

He heard Lily crying as the door shut, but he understood it would only be a short while until he could hold her again. He stood with his hands in his pockets and breathed a sigh of relief. She was safe. He had found her. And all because of her stupid cat. He couldn't help but smile at the thought. He would never take the creature for granted again and made a mental note to buy the cat the tastiest looking fish at the market. Someone touched his shoulder and he jumped.

He turned to look at who was standing beside him, it was Lord and Lady Grantham and their grandson. His daughter was there too and Sybbie took his arm and held on tightly. He smiled at them, his face giving an answer to their unspoken question.

“How is she?” Cora's expression was as full of worry as he had ever seen.

“She's a bit frightened, but she doesn't seem too badly hurt. She was in the cellar all night and she's cold and probably hungry and thirsty but I think she'll be alright in time.” Tom spoke to them to reassure himself as much as anyone.

“We're very glad to hear it Tom. We were so worried. Was it definitely the baker then?” Robert spoke now.

“She says it was. We have to find him. He means Lily and I great harm and I know she won't be well until he is found and put away.” Tom looked back towards the room where his wife was but there was still no sign of the door opening.

“I will go encourage the police to step up their efforts then.” Robert looked firm as he turned on his heel and walked away. Again, Tom was so grateful to the Earl of Grantham.

The four of them stood in the hallway and waited and waited for some sign from the room. Finally, the doctor came out and gestured for Tom to follow him. The two men walked up the hall a ways, Tom looking earnestly at the doctor as he spoke. Their hushed tones were not overheard.

Sybbie especially watched her father closely as the doctor and the patient's husband stopped at the end of the hall. She could tell by her father's body language that whatever was being spoken was a surprise to him. Tom turned back towards them, quickly walked back to the room and didn't even look at the small group of people as he went into the room. That surprised Sybbie. She wondered what the doctor had told him.

The doctor nodded at Lady Grantham and informed them all that though she was in shock and needed a few stitches for the cut on her head, that Lily would be just fine physically within a few days. The three left standing there all breathed out a collective sigh of relief. The nurses left the room a few minutes later and told them to go get something to eat, or a rest. The couple inside had asked for some time to themselves.

Tom waited until the nurses had left and heard the door click shut. Lily had been removed from her dirt-covered nightdress and lay under a number of blankets trying to warm up. The bluish tinge from her lips was fading and Tom was glad to see some colour returning to her. Her forehead had been cleaned up and two small trails of black thread were the only evidence of her wound. It would barely leave a scar in time. He looked at her lovingly and she returned the same expression.

“I'm so sorry Tom. I was so sound asleep and when someone lifted me from the bed I thought it was you. He hit my head on the door frame as he left and that's what woke me up completely, but by the time I realized, he had me. I'm so sorry.” Tears formed in her eyes for the worry that she had obviously caused her husband.

“Oh sweetheart. It's not your fault. Don't ever think that!” Tom crawled right into the bed with her, hoping his body heat would help warm her. He put his head next to hers on the pillow and crept his hand under the blankets and rested his palm tenderly on the previously undetected firmness of her lower belly. How had he not noticed? Her skin was still cold, but warming quickly with his touch.

He looked her in the eye,

“Why didn't you tell me we are having a baby?”

It was well after midnight when O'Malley entered the downstairs entrance and was surprised to see a number of people still sitting around the long table. They had been sitting a vigil once they heard that Lily had been found and everyone was waiting for some word of her condition. O'Malley was happy to inform them that it seemed she would be fine, and that he had been sent home to get some sleep.

Anna questioned him about the baker and what they knew about him. He detailed all the information he had to them and many sat in stunned silence at the events that had transpired. Daisy went on about how strange the man had seemed at the wedding and how he had obsessed over the wedding cake. They thought he had just been a dedicated craftsman, but in hindsight his delusions had started already. He was trying to impress Lily and no one else it seemed.

One of the maids spoke about how he had been there, at the Abbey, a few days previously asking about when Lily and Tom would return and where they would be living. She admitted that she had told him about the Country cottage that was being made up and she even described where it was located. Everyone gasped, but she defended herself by saying that she couldn't have known what he had planned. And now the crazy man was out there somewhere. They all sat silently staring at their cold tea for some time.

Bates leaned over to his wife and told her he would feel better if she and the girls stayed at the Abbey until the deranged man had been found. Lena and Emma were asleep in one of the vacant maid's rooms and Anna agreed that it was a good idea. With the entire county and police force looking for the suspected felon, it wouldn't take long. She hoped. Anna held her husband's hand. She looked at him carefully, but he just smiled that innocent smile that she had come to love so much over the years. He kissed her gently on the forehead and left the dining room. She wanted to ask him where he was going, but she also did not want to know.

Bates caught O'Malley as he was headed up to his room. Young James had no idea what the old valet could possibly want from him and was intrigued as the man with the limp escorted him outside, away from the doors and any ears that might overhear what he was about to say.

“You respect Tom Branson and Lily yes?” Bates' voice was firm and emotionless.

“Of course I do.” O'Malley was definitely intrigued by the question.

“Can I trust you to keep silent if I ask you?” Bates queried while leaning on his cane. When O'Malley agreed the older man went on. “I need you to drive me somewhere tonight. It's too far to walk on my old legs, but you can never tell a soul where we have gone. Do you agree?”

“Yes.” O'Malley had heard stories of Bates and his past, but had never made up his mind entirely about the older man. He seemed to love his daughters and his wife very much and O'Malley respected him for that and didn't pay too much creed to any of the stories.

They went towards the garage as Bates explained mysteriously that he was going to repay an old friend for saving his daughters life.

On his way back home from his stroll the previous evening Bates had walked past the new home where Tom and Lily would live and had been sure he spied a shadowy figure lurking about. He had not paid much attention then, but now he was sure he knew where the crazy old baker was hiding. And he intended the man to never harm anyone again...

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