“Oh Elsie.” Charles whispered as he walked into the room she’d been resting in while he talked to Dr. Clarkson and Mrs. Crawley. She must have woke while they were talking and panicked.
Isobel walked in behind him and gasped slightly. Her eyes filled with tears as she watched Charles walk to the corner of the room where Elsie lay shivering and curled into a ball. She knew that the woman had to be in pain but yet she still held her position, her fear greater than the pain.
“Elsie? It’s Charles. You’re safe now. I’m going to take you to stay at Crawley House with Mrs. Crawley. You’ll have a nice bed to sleep in. No more floor.”
Elsie shook her head and became agitated, her body trembling violently. “No,” she managed to mumble out. “Soil,” she struggled again, not completely coherent enough to understand why she couldn’t open her mouth. “Bed,” she mumbled, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Charles felt himself growing sick but shook it off. Elsie was more important. Sitting down on the floor, he gently pulled her onto his lap and cuddled her close. “Fine then. I’ll sit down here so you have something more comfortable than the floor.”
Isobel pulled the blankets off the bed and bent down to place them over Elsie. “I’ll go and call for my motor.”
Charles shook his head. “I can carry her.”
“Mr. Carson, I know you want to protect her, but you can’t carry her to Crawley House. Your hand is hurt, and you’ve not slept or ate properly for days. If you don’t want to trust that my driver will keep quiet, we can wrap Elsie up the way you had her so that he can’t see her face. I can simply make up something to explain it, or not say anything at all.”
Looking down at Elsie, he gave in. “Fine.”
“Hurt’ye.” Elsie’s murmur was garbled as she tried to move away from Charles.
Charles blinked in surprise at the lapse in Elsie’s speech. She hadn’t spoken like that in years. “He’ll hurt no one, Elsie. We’ve left him back in Scotland. You’re home in Downton village. Don’t try to talk, just rest. You’re safe now.”
Isobel straightened back up and watched as Charles soothed Elsie back into sleep and shook her head. They had a long road ahead of them and she wondered if they were all going to be strong enough to endure the pain that lay in wait as Elsie struggled to find her way back.
“Do you have any spare linens I can make a pallet in the corner with?” Charles quietly asked Isobel after they’d settled Elsie in one of the guest rooms at Crawley House.
“You aren’t going to spend the night on the floor, Mr. Carson.” Isobel frowned up at the man.
“No, Mrs. Crawley. You saw where she wound up before. I’m afraid we’re not going to be very successful at keeping her in a bed for a long while. I don’t want her to be cold or any more uncomfortable than she has to be.”
Isobel nodded. “I’ll gather all of the extras I have and I’ll get the warmest duvet in the house to use as something for her to cover up with.”
“Thank you.” Charles whispered before pulling a chair close to Elsie’s bed. “I’ll sit with her for a bit.”
“You need to rest, Mr. Carson. Getting ill yourself will do nothing for Elsie.”
“I’ll sit with her until you come back.”
“Then you’ll go into one of the other guest rooms and get some rest.”
He shook his head. “Then I’ll make the pallet in the corner. I couldn’t possibly stay here. It would be improper.”
Isobel shook her head. “No, it wouldn’t. It isn’t as though it’s just you and one woman in the house. It’s late and you’re tired. You’ll stay here and no argument,” she commanded in the tone she’d used countless times with stubborn patients.
Charles sighed, too tired to argue and quite sure that even if he’d tried, he wouldn’t win. Nodding, he kept his gaze on Elsie, the click of the door only registering as a distant noise as his thoughts drifted to what the doctor and Mrs. Crawley hadn’t said when they’d talked to him. They’d told him of Elsie’s broken ribs, that she had a concussion from the fall, and that her jaw had been broken – all things he’d already known. They didn’t mention the other things he suspected. He knew they were probably trying to protect him, and he thanked them for it, but at some point he was going to have to know everything so that he didn’t do anything to scare or upset Elsie.
“Here, Mr. Carson.” Isobel whispered as she came back in to the room, her arms full of linens and a couple of duvets.
Charles stood and took the pile from Isobel. “Thank you.”
“I can do it, Mr. Carson.”
“No, I’ll do it. I think she’s finally settled for the night.”
“The morphine Dr. Clarkson gave her should keep her asleep for the next few hours. I’ll take first watch.” Isobel held up her hand to stop Charles’ protest. “No arguments. I’m the nurse.”
Charles turned back to making Elsie’s bed, nodding his head in thanks when a pillow was slipped around him. “She had no pillow,” he whispered as he finished, his hands stilling against the duvet. “The linens she had were thread bare. There were blood stains. She,” he started, his head dropping until his trembling chin rested against his chest. “She bled there after he hurt her. I know my Elsie, she would never have let stains go, but you can only get rid of stains so many times when the linens are old and thin.”
Isobel, tears staining her cheeks, squeezed Charles’ shoulder. She’d noticed how he’d called Elsie, my Elsie, and the way his voice trembled as he spoke nearly broke her heart. “Our Elsie is warm, and clean, and sleeping in a comfortable bed now. She’ll never be abused again because none of us will let anyone harm her. She’s safe now, Charles.” Isobel whispered, using his first name for the first time in hopes that it would show him how sincere she was in her assurances.
“But she doesn’t know she’s safe. She still thinks she’s with him.”
“Until she hears your voice telling her she’s safe. You, your voice – that’s all that’s calmed her since we brought her here.” Isobel gave him a trembling smile when he looked up at her. “You’ve made her a nice soft and warm place to sleep if she panics, now go rest. I promise I’ll come and wake you if something happens.”
Charles stood, groaning as his knees cracked. “I’ll leave the door open. I’ll hear if you simply say my name.”
Isobel nodded. “Goodnight, Mr. Carson. Rest well.”
“I shall try. Goodnight, Mrs. Crawley.”