Charles stared in horror at the pallet in the corner of the bedroom that he knew without being told was where Elsie slept. Shaking himself out of it, he went to the wardrobe and found a dress, but shook his head and turned around, leaving everything behind. He’d realized that if he took anything from this place it would only remind Elsie of the man who had abused her, and Charles didn’t want that.
Moving back out into the shop, he glared at Connell. “What kind of man are you? You’ve treated her,” he stopped and shook his head then looked around the shop for some blankets. Spotting some on a shelf, he walked to it and pulled a couple off then moved to Elsie and gently lifted her so he could wrap her up to take her out.
“You haven’t paid me yet. She stays here until I have money in hand.”
“No.” Charles snarled up at the man. “She goes with me so that she can get help and I will bring you the money when I have it. Don’t worry. I never go back on my word.” Looking back down at the woman he’d wrapped carefully in the blankets, he caressed her cheek when she moaned. “Easy, Elsie. It’s Charles and you’re safe now,” he soothed and carefully stood with her in his arms.
“I’ll know where she is. I can come and take her.”
“I wouldn’t.” Charles warned, death in his eyes as he stared across the room at the man.
“Don’t tempt me. You’re lucky you’re still alive.” Charles informed Connell before walking to the door which had stood open all of this time and a small crowd had gathered outside the shop. Carefully balancing Elsie in his arms, he pulled the blankets up to cover her head and face and glared at those watching. Scowling when the crowd didn’t move, he grunted as he pushed through and made his way back to the doctor’s office that he’d come from earlier.
Looking down at the precious burden in his arms, his heart broke when he noticed her hair. When he’d last seen her, her hair had looked as though it might feel like silk with the beautiful sheen it had when she would step out into the sun. The reddish brown tresses had been sprinkled with grey three years ago, now those tresses were nearly all white.
Dear God above, what other kind of horrors had his friend suffered?
“I’m sorry to call, My Lady, but I don’t have enough.” Charles spoke clearly into the mouth piece, making sure that the Dowager could hear him over the crackling of the line. “Thank you, My Lady,” he knew his voice cracked, and was sure the old woman had heard it, but he also knew he could trust her.
Handing the phone over to the bank manager, Charles waited patiently for the Dowager to explain to the man what she wanted done. He hated this, hated having to use his connection to the family this way, but he had no other choice. Elsie wouldn’t be safe if he just took off with her without paying the man, and he knew that if Connell McNeil found her, there would be a former butler up on murder charges.
“Well, Mr. Carson, it seems you have connections in high places.” Mr. Bodkin snarled at Charles as he hung up the phone. “After I’ve made a call to the Countess’ bank, I’m to give you any amount you ask for.”
“I will thank you not to be rude, Mr. Bodkin. I’ve done what I had to do to save the life of a friend. Now,” Charles continued with what he needed as he looked down on the short, rotund man, his disdain for the man evident in his tone and manner.
“That’s a lot of money for a servant.”
Charles growled low in his throat. “Mr. Bodkin, I am no longer a servant. I am a man who is doing what he has to do to rescue a friend from a life of abuse by a man, I’m sure, you see as an upstanding member of your community. I have no use for you or your kind, but you’re all that I have access to at the moment, so if you’re through with trying to insult me, I suggest you do as the Dowager Countess of Grantham asked.” Finished with his speech, he waited for the bank manager to scurry off and gritted his teeth while rubbing the bridge of his nose.
What sort of men were these?
The only good man he’d managed to find since he arrived in this little village had been the doctor who was currently watching over Elsie and tending to her. He’d promised to have proper clothing for her so that when Charles came back, they would be able to leave and head home.
Thoughts of home brought Charles up short.
Where would Elsie live?
She couldn’t very well live with him as they weren’t married.
He knew that Beryl intended to retire, but even though by the time he returned it would be over a week gone since he’d started his journey, Beryl’s retirement wouldn’t come in time for Elsie to stay with her.
He shook his head when he heard Mr. Bodkin grumbling at him. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.” Charles told the man as he took the envelope held out to him.
Mr. Bodkin shrugged. “I hope the grand lady knows what she’s doing.”
“I’ve done everything I could for the lass, Son. She’ll need a hospital.”
“Can she travel?”
“Aye. Are ye going to take her back to Yorkshire?”
“I am. Downton Village has a hospital and the doctor there is familiar with her medical history.”
“I’ve had my nurse bring clothes and dress the lass.”
Charles nodded. “Do you have any blankets to spare? I don’t want to use the ones I took from the store. The less she has to remind her of that monster, the better.”
Dr. Shannon reached out and rested his hand on Charles’ arm. “The lass is wrapped in two of my warmest blankets and ready for ye to take her.”
“God bless you, Dr. Shannon.” Charles patted the old man’s hand.
“Are ye sure he won’t come for her?”
“I paid him what he asked, and I also made it clear that coming after Elsie would lead to his death. I’ll hang before I let him near her again.”
“I heard about the confrontation with him.”
“I’m not surprised.” Charles snarled in disgust. “They just stood there. What kind of people are these?”
“People who have been terrorized by a man who just happens to be the richest man in our little burgh. He owns the shop and they need the goods he sells. Some of the men tried to go against him in the past, but that didn’t work. He just had the minister put the fear of God into them. Some of the men left rather than stay and let their wives be assaulted. Others just locked their wives in the house while they were gone during the day. Even the women at the local house have been locked up away from him.”
“So Elsie was everyone’s scapegoat?”
Charles swallowed down his anger then bent to lift Elsie gently into his arms. “Will she wake soon?”
“I’ve given her morphine and I’ve put a small case in the blankets with her that contains more so that you can get her home.” The old doctor picked up the small vile and needle he had sitting on the table and showed Charles what to do. “Normally I’d just give you powder or pills, but with her jaw being broke, this will be easier. Just be gentle, Mr. Carson, and you’ll do fine.”
Adjusting Elsie so that she was held closely to his chest, Charles nodded then sighed, “Thank you again, Dr. Shannon.”
“Just get the lass away, Mr. Carson.”
“Will he hurt you for helping us?” Charles asked, knowing that he had to make sure the man would be safe.
“He’ll not touch me, Son. I’m the one man in town he knows won’t back down.”
“You’re a brave and wise man.”
“I’m an old man, Mr. Carson, who sadly had a father of the same ilk. After he beat me mother to death, I made up my mind to do whatever I could to take care of people who have been abused.”
“Which is why you’ve stayed.”
“Aye. Now go, Son, and God speed.”
Charles nodded and walked to the door, turning so that he could go out without hurting Elsie. He was met with a crowd staring at him and he shook his head as he walked steadily toward the train station. He heard the murmurs as he passed some of the people, but he didn’t care. Elsie wasn’t going to be their scapegoat any longer.
They’d have to figure something else out.