It was night when Charles carried Elsie into the Downton Village Hospital. Met by a nurse, he shook his head when she tried to get him to lay his burden down on a nearby cot. “I want to see Dr. Clarkson. I’ll wait here.”
“But won’t you lay them down?” the nurse said as she pointed to the bundle in Charles’ arms.
Charles shook his head again. “No.”
“Alright then.” The nurse sighed and turned to go fetch the doctor.
Charles listened to the sounds around him then looked down when Elsie stirred and whimpered. “Easy, Elsie. It’s Charles, you’re safe now,” he repeated the same thing he’d told her when he’d first found her and every other time since when she’d started to whimper. He felt her calm just as Dr. Clarkson came rushing towards him from down the hall where Charles knew the doctor’s office was located.
“Mr. Carson?” Richard asked as he stared at the blanket clad body in Charles’ arms.
“Do you have a private room to see to her?” Charles whispered, not wanting anyone to see Elsie the way she was.
Richard nodded though he was puzzled. “Right this way. Do you mind if I have one of my nurses accompany us?”
“Mrs. Crawley.” Charles said the name quietly. He’d thought about who he wanted to take care of Elsie and Mrs. Crawley was the name that kept coming to him. He knew she would be careful to keep the details of this to herself.
“Mrs. Crawley? She’s at home asleep, I’m sure.”
“Please, Dr. Clarkson. You’ll understand when you see.”
Those last words told Richard all he needed to know about who was wrapped so protectively in the blankets. Opening a door, he pointed to a cot. “Lay her down there, Mr. Carson, and I’ll go and phone Mrs. Crawley. You won’t be disturbed in here.”
Charles nodded, but instead of laying Elsie down, he simply sat down on the bed with her in his lap. He watched the doctor leave then moved the blankets away from Elsie’s face. “They’ll take care of you now, Elsie. You’re home where people love you. I’m so sorry, Elsie. So very sorry. If I’d but told you that I loved you and asked you to marry me that day,” he stopped to swallow back the emotion threatening to overwhelm him. “Did you know that I’ve loved you all these years even though I never said? Did you know that was why I always pushed you away?” A tear rolled down his cheek and landed on Elsie’s face. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered again.
Sitting and holding her, Charles lost track of time and was startled when a hand gently squeezed his shoulder. Looking up, he found himself staring into the warm and caring eyes of Mrs. Crawley. “Help her,” he whispered.
“We’ll do our best. You’ll have to lay her down for us to do our job. I promise I won’t leave her, and you know that Dr. Clarkson will take care of her. She’s a kindred Scot.” Isobel winked at Charles
Charles, for the first time in what seemed forever, smiled. Standing he gently laid Elsie down on the bed then straightened and looked back at Dr. Clarkson and Mrs. Crawley. “She’s been married to a monster the last three years. When I found her, he’d just hit her and she fell into a shelf. I,” he swallowed to continue. “The doctor there cleaned her up and did what he could to make her comfortable to travel so I could bring her home to you. He explained that her jaw was broken from the blow to her face. He also gave me morphine to give to her so that she would be comfortable as she could be while we were traveling.”
“How many days?” Isobel asked.
“Too many.” Charles whispered as he looked at Elsie.
“I’ll do everything I can, Mr. Carson.” Richard assured the man. “There’s a pot of hot tea in my office if you’d like to wait in there.”
“Promise no one will be allowed to see her. I can’t bear the thoughts of this getting out. She’ll be embarrassed.”
“Once I’ve assessed her condition, we’ll make a decision on whether or not she needs to stay here.”
“And if she doesn’t, we’ll take her to Crawley House. No one is there to see her but me, and I’ll be taking care of her.”
Charles nodded. “One more thing,” he paused and looked down at Elsie. “If she wakes all the way up, she might be frightened and try to get out of the bed. She’s not been allowed to sleep anywhere but a pallet on the floor. She’ll think she’s fallen asleep in,” he shook his head unable to go on.
“It’s alright, Mr. Carson.” Isobel assured him. “I promise.”
Sighing, Charles left the room, closing the door behind him. He hated leaving Elsie alone, but deep down he was grateful that he wasn’t going to be in the room. He had guessed at what she’d been through, he didn’t think his heart could handle seeing or hearing the truth of it.
Isobel had seen many things in her years as a nurse, but what she saw as they gently looked after Elsie – “Dear god, Richard,” she breathed.
Richard looked up, his normally pale grey-blue eyes dark with anger. “I’ve seen it before. The man is a sexual pervert.”
“Do you think Mr. Carson knows about this?”
“I think he suspects it. He didn’t tell us everything, there was something he was holding back.”
“Do you think he saw something?” Isobel asked even as she gently caressed Elsie’s forehead when she moaned. “Shh, Elsie. It’s Mrs. Crawley. You’re here with me and Dr. Clarkson. We’re helping you. As soon as we’re through, Mr. Carson will be allowed to see you again.”
Richard watched as Elsie calmed. “Keep talking to her. I need to keep her still. Maybe I should give her another dose of morphine.”
Isobel bit her lip. “Maybe we should let her come around so that she knows she’s safe. Then we can give her more morphine for the pain. It looks like the doctor did a perfect job with her jaw. I hate that she isn’t going to be able to eat properly. She’s so malnourished, she needs more than a liquid diet.”
Richard nodded. “The doctor did a fine job with what he had available. I’ll check her jaw before we go out to talk to Mr. Carson, but I trust your judgment.” Sighing, he turned his attention completely back to what he’d been doing. “I understand more now why he wanted you here and not one of the others. None of my nurses have seen anything like this.”
“I’ve not seen anything this bad. He did say she would be embarrassed with someone else. She’ll be embarrassed enough with the two of us and Mr. Carson knowing the truth.”
Finished, Richard stood and walked over to the sink and washed his hands. Turning back to Isobel, he watched as she gently tucked Elsie into bed, caressing the other woman’s hair from her face. She was a gentle woman, a woman that was often overlooked as such.
Isobel watched as Richard dried his hands then came back to the bed, gently going over the rest of Elsie’s body looking for injuries. They knew from the bindings around her middle that her ribs had been broken, something they would have to watch carefully. Watching as Richard’s hands tenderly moved over Elsie’s face and jaw, opening her mouth to see the other doctor’s work, Isobel reached out and rested her hand on Richard’s before he stood up. “Thank you.”
Richard frowned as he cocked his head to the side and studied her. “Whatever for?”
“For being the kind and gentle doctor that you are.” Isobel whispered, a tear rolling down her cheek.
Richard reached out and wiped away the tear, his eyes kind and filled with the love he had for this woman, a love he was grateful she returned. “No need for thanks, Love,” he whispered then stood up and held out his hand. “Come on. Let’s go talk to Mr. Carson. He’ll want to know how she is.”
“And will you tell him everything?” Isobel asked once they had stepped out of the room, closing the door quietly behind them.
“Not unless he asks. It will be enough to tell him that the other doctor did an excellent job with the broken jaw and ribs and that I think it’s safe to let her be taken to Crawley House. Which of course is only because the best nurse I have on staff will be the caregiver.”
Isobel blushed and shook her head. “I think that Elsie being at Crawley House away from other people will ease Mr. Carson’s mind more than anything. Do you think he will tell us anymore about how he found her and what happened?”
“I don’t know, Isobel. Charles Carson has never been a man of very many words, most especially when it comes to discussing emotions.”
Isobel laid her hand on Richard’s arm as they paused outside his office. “If he gets gruff, we have to be easy. The woman he loves is lying in that room battered and bruised, and I think,” she bit her lip. “I noticed his hand. He’s hurt.”
“I’ll tend to it.” Richard patted Isobel’s hand. “We’ll both remember to be easy with him.”