“You’re responsible for this!”
Sean blinked in surprise at the hissing woman in front of him. “Alba, what the bleedin’ hell are you on about!”
“Don’t you go blaspheming in this house, Sean McLean!”
“Then stop hissing at me! Now what have I done?”
“You told that man where Elsie was. He’s kidnapped her. Showed up and beat her mister then kidnapped her!”
Sean stared down at his wife. “I didn’t know where Elsie was, so I couldn’t possibly have told Mr. Carson where to find her.” Looking behind his wife, he noticed a bag sitting by the door. “What is that?” he asked, pointing to it, already knowing the answer. “Just what do you think you’re going to do?”
“That is my bag. And I think, no, I know, I’m going to go and get my sister and take her back where she belongs. The good Lord only knows what that man has done to her.”
Sean gaped at his wife. “I think you should be more worried about what that man you married her off to has done to her.”
“He is a good, upstanding man of the church. What could you possibly think he would do to her?”
Sean found himself gaping at his wife again. The woman had lost what sanity she’d had. “Alba, have you lost what brains the good Lord gave you?”
“How dare you!” she hissed.
“Down Dragon,” he scowled at her. “If you’re going on a trip, I’m going with you. I don’t believe that Mr. Carson would just walk off with a married woman. There is more to this story than that letter tells.”
“You can’t just up and leave the farm.”
“I can. The boys can deal with things until I return.” Sean just raised an eyebrow when Alba scowled at him. “You’re not going to go there and cause trouble for Elsie. She’s paid enough for the slight you think she caused the family name.”
“Slight? She left the man she was to marry standing at the altar.”
Sean shook his head. “No, Alba, she didn’t. You know that she and Joe never got that far. She went into service to earn money to help them in their lives together. You didn’t know that, did you? She was going to marry the man, but then she found that she was good at what she was doing, that she enjoyed it. She gently told Joe that she couldn’t marry him because she realized that she couldn’t marry a man that she didn’t love. You’ve been angry at her for making up her own mind all of these years, and it’s made you a bitter shrew. The sad thing is, I actually have loved you, Alba. I never found our arrangement to be a bad thing, but you did, and you’ve taken it out on your little sister ever since.” Sean walked away before his wife could hiss at him. He had a bag to pack.
Ten minutes later he found himself standing in an empty house, the bag his wife had packed missing from its place beside the door.
“Damned woman!” he yelled as he rushed out of the house with his own bag, heading to the barn to saddle his fastest horse.
He’d have to ride over to where he knew his sons were working to tell them they were to look after things for a few days before he could go the rest of the way to the station. Alba would have enough of a head start, she might just make it out on a train before him.
Heavens above, he hoped that Elsie wasn’t alone when Alba found her.
Isobel carefully brushed out Elsie’s hair. Her thoughts turning to the hell the woman had lived through and how it had turned her once auburn locks nearly all white. A few wispy strands still held onto their color, and it made her ponder the semblance they offered. The hair was soft and healthy, much better then it had been when she’d been brought home, and yet Isobel knew that it would never return to its former color. It would forever be a reminder of Elsie’s three years of hell though those few dark strands left gave her hope that there was still a little of the old Elsie buried somewhere beneath all of the heartbreak and pain.
“Would you like me to plait it for you?” she asked Elsie, knowing that lifting her arms might still be too painful. “I know that Mrs. Patmore has done so the last few times, but I really don’t mind.”
Elsie shook her head. “Just leave it loose, please. My head hurts.”
Isobel put the brush back on the vanity. “Alright. Would you like something for your headache? I have some powders.”
“I’ll put them in some tea for you. That will at least help the taste some.”
“Thank you.” Elsie whispered, her eyes closing against the pain pounding in her head. She wasn’t sure what had brought on the headache, but she was sure she could have done without it. She had enjoyed having days where she was pain free after spending three years in nothing but pain of one kind or the other.
“Elsie.” Isobel whispered as she sat the cup down on the vanity.
Elsie started a bit then opened her eyes, the steam from the tea greeting her. “Thank you,” she whispered before lifting the cup and taking a careful sip. The warmth of the perfectly prepared cup soothed her as it slid down her throat, infusing her body with the medicinal powers of the added ingredient that she noticed gave the tea a slightly bitter aftertaste.
“Would you like for me to pull the drapes? Is the light bothering you?” Isobel asked, her voice low to keep from aggravating the pain she knew the other woman was in from the furrow of her brow.
“Yes, please.” Elsie answered in between sips of her tea.
Isobel moved about the room, easily and as quietly as possible, pulling the drapes, bathing the room in as much darkness as one could with the mid-day sun shining in through the windows. “I’ll let you rest,” she told Elsie as she lifted the now empty cup. “I’ll be just right downstairs if you need me. If you wake and find that you’re feeling better, you’re welcome to come down and join me in the sitting room. I would enjoy the company as I wait for Dr. Clarkson to come home.”
Elsie nodded, not sure of what to say as she slowly made her way to the bed, hesitating as she always did, still unsure of simply climbing in. Beryl’s words always floated back to her and the hesitation would slip away. This bed was hers to sleep in. Mrs. Clarkson had made it up just for her. No one else.
Isobel pulled the door to quietly, tears rolling down her cheeks because of the small victory she’d just watched. She knew what it was that had caused Elsie to hesitate before climbing into the bed, but she had no clue what it was that had eased her enough to allow her to climb in and settle down to rest – she didn’t much care what it was though. All she cared about was that Elsie had willingly climbed into the bed to sleep.
They were making progress.