Amends for Cranford


August 1844, Cranford

It was a fine summer day and all of Chesire was green and lush. Sophy Harris tickled her baby girl's cheeks and smiled at her husband.

"I wish we had come in an open carriage," she said.

"So do I," Doctor Frank Harrison smiled. "But I could not have known the weather would continue to be so fine."

"Never mind," Sophy said. "We shall soon arrive at the rectory and there we shall have all the sunshine and fresh air we wish."

"Just you wait till your grandfather sees you," Frank whispered to his daughter, glowing with pride.

"Oh, there is dear Cranford," Sophy exclaimed, looking out of the window.

The town was just as they had left it and looked dusty but cheerful in the summer sun.

Just when they drove past Frank saw Miss Matty Jenkins emerge from her house. Her face was white and she was in obvious distress.

"Stop the coach!" Frank called out. "Immediately!"

"Why Frank what is the matter?" Sophy exclaimed, then she saw Miss Matty and immeditatly said:

"Go to her, quickly."

Frank jumped from the carriage, clutching his doctors bag and rushed to Miss Matty's side, just in time to support her for her knees nearly failed her.

"Good God, Miss Matty!" he exclaimed. "What ails you?"

"Doctor Harrison?" Miss Matty stammered, looking at him as if he was a ghost, but before he could reply she cried out:

"Oh doctor Harrison you must go to Martha directly! She is laid up in her room and Bertha is with her but the baby…"

"Is she in labour?" Frank asked quickly.

Miss Matty pressed her hand to her mouth and nodded fearfully.

"Sophy!" he called back to the carriage. "Come with me now!"

Sophy came from the carriage, carrying her child.

"Sophy dear!" Miss Matty exclaimed.

"Drive on to the rectory without us," Sophy instructed the coachman while Frank ran inside. "Tell the rector we had been detained in town."

Miss Matty was near crying, but Sophy resolutely took her arm.

"Come, Miss Matty," she said. "We shall go inside and you can hold my little Lizzie while I go see if Frank needs any help."

Miss Matty allowed herself to be ushered back into her house and sat down in the parlour, where little Tilly was sitting all on her own.

"Oh my dear, I am sorry I have left you alone," Miss Matty said, choking back tears.

Upstairs they heard a scream from Martha.

"Now Miss Matty," Sophy said with a resolution that must have come to her with motherhood. "You take care of the children in the house and all shall be quite well."

She put her baby into Miss Matty's arms and hurried upstairs.

The attic room reeked of blood. Bertha was holding Martha's hand and speaking to her quietly, while frank was hurriedly washing his hands with scalding hot water.

"It's a breech birth," Frank told Sophy hurriedly. "And she's lost a lot of blood."

"This is your second child, Martha, is it not?" Sophy asked gently.

"Yes," Martha groaned.

"Good, good," Frank said. "That will help, Martha, just hold on."

"It's going to be alright," Sophy said with conviction. "You are doing wonderfully."

Jem Hearne had just come back from delivering Lady Ludlow's coffin to Hanbury Hall.

"We'll all go into mourning now," he told the lads at the work yard.

They gave him a strange look.'

"What?" Jem asked.

"It…It's your Martha, Jem," one of them mumbled. "We heard they had to call her a doctor."

"What doctor?" Jem cried.

They looked at him helplessly and shook their heads. Jem turned around and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He was still wearing his heavy black coat, but he had forgotten it. The fear that gripped his heart nearly chocked him and he was praying and wishing with all the breath he had left in his body.

"Martha!" he cried out, bursting into the house.

"Jem!" Miss Matty exclaimed as she came hurrying out of the parlour. "You mustn't go up!"

"Why not!" Jem cried, tears welling in his eyes.

Miss Matty gave him the same helpless look the men at the yard had done and Jem felt faint. But then all of the sudden a sound burst forth to break the silence. The high pitched cries of a new born infant.

Miss Matty gasped and Jem ran up the stairs without a moment's hesitation.

"Martha!" he called out with a broken voice, but before he could enter Martha's room Sophy Harrison met him on the landing.

"There, Jem," she said, her face stained with sweat. "Congratulations."

Unable to speak Jem looked at the bundle she held in her arms. A little arm poked out from under the white cotton and contracted it's fingers into a little fist.

"Is that…" he said hoarsely.

"That is your son, Jem," Sophy said, handing him the bundle.

Jem took his son, steadying his trembling hands, and held him close.

Frank Harrison appeared in the doorway, attempting to hide his bloodstained arms.

"Doctor Harrison!" Jem stammered in shock.

"Good day, Jem," Franks said. "You can see your wife now."

He stepped aside and Jem walked unsteadily into the room, still clutching his child. Martha gave him an exhausted smile from where she lay on the bed. Bertha was nervously adjusting the blanket that hid the bloody sheets.

"Oh Martha…" Jem said with trembling voice.

"No harm done," Martha said shakily. "Just a little scare that's all."

Jem knelt beside their bed, placing the baby beside her. The baby cooed softly and opened it's little eyes for a moment.

"Isn't he beautiful?" Martha sighed, but Jem could not answer her.

They looked at their baby in silence for a while, until Doctor Harrison came back in.

"Why don't you take your son downstairs for a while," he said gently. "My wife has gone down to tell Miss Matty the good news. Bertha and I can finish attending to Martha."

"Of course," Jem said hastily.

He quickly pressed Martha's hand and then got to his feet with the baby in his arms. Before he left the room he looked at Doctor Harrison for a moment and said:

"Thank you."

Frank nodded and turned to smile at Martha.

"Bless you, Doctor Harrison," Martha sighed. "And bless your arriving when you did."

"Bless your strong constitution, Martha," he said warmly. "Now we shall finish cleaning up and everything will be right as rain."

"Is she really quite alright, Doctor Harrison?" Miss Matty asked apprehensively.

Doctor Harrison was scrubbing his hands and arms with soft soap in the kitchen sink.

"She soon will be," Frank said with a reassuring smile. "But she must have plenty of rest and should not return to her work immediately."

"I would not hear of it!" Miss Matty exclaimed.

"I'm sure Miss Pole would lend me to you on occasion until Martha is well again," Bertha said with a curtsy.

"Thank you, Bertha dear," Miss Matty said.

"Very good," Frank nodded. "In that case I assure you Martha will recover very swiftly."

"And the baby?" Miss Matty asked eagerly.

"He is a little small," Frank said. "I suspect he has been born a few weeks too early."

Miss Matty looked pale.

"But he has a strong set of lungs and I see no reason to fear for him," Frank said decisively. "Provided he is fed well and kept warm."

"Thank goodness," Miss Matty sighed, her relief bringing colour to her cheeks again. "Could I go up to see Martha?"

"She is sleeping at present," Frank said. "But it cannot do any harm to check on her quietly."

"Oh no," Miss Matty shook her head. "I am sure if anyone should check on her it would be Jem."

"I believe he has just gone upstairs to do so," Sophy said, entering the room with her own baby in one arm and holding Tilly Hearne's small hand with the other.

"Little baby James is asleep in his cradle," she said, letting Tilly waddle towards Miss Matty.

"Such a number of children in my house," Miss Matty smiled happily. "What a sweet little baby your Lizzie is."

Sophy and Frank Harrison smiled proudly and answered Miss Matty's questions in regards to their happiness and the date of their child's birth.

"Shall I make us all some tea?" Miss Matty suggested.

"I thank you, but my wife and I are expected at the rectory," Frank said with a smile.

"Of course!" Miss Matty exclaimed. "The poor rector must be worried."

"Do not distress yourself, dear Miss Matty," Sophy said. "I am sure the coachman gave my father to understand there was an emergency for my husband to attend to."

"I shudder to think of what might have become of us if you had not happened to pass by my house when you did," Miss Matty said with emotion.

"Then think of it no longer," Frank said pressing her hand.

Tilly stretched up her little arms, requesting to be picked up. Miss Matty took her in her arms and smiled.

"You are quite right," she said. "Do give my best wishes to the rector."

At that moment Bertha, who had left the room to investigate a noise outside, came back in and said:

"The rector is outside with his horse trap, Miss Matty."

The rector had not been at home when the coachman had arrived, having been called to Hanbury Hall. But when he returned and his daughters explained to him that a coachmen had delivered Doctor and Mrs. Harrison's luggage and had spoken of some calamity in the town, he had driven out to see if he could be of assistance.

Now he was very glad to see his daughter and son in law were both well and to hear that the calamity had been resolved. Upon being presented with his grandchild, the rector was so moved that he fell silent and could not speak for some moments.

When he recovered the use of his voice Miss Matty's kitchen filled with congratulations and mutual expressions of happiness.

Jem came down to add to the merriment and to express his thanks once more:

"I do thank you Doctor Harrison," he said. "And you too Mrs. Harrison. I can never thank you enough!"

"There is no need, Jem," Frank assured him.

"None at all," Sophy joined him. "Are your wife and baby sleeping soundly?"

"Like roses," Jem said happily.

"I shall go and tell Miss Pole the good news," Bertha said and she hurried out of the kitchen.

"I know Cranford must be in mourning on account on Lady Ludlow," Jem said, unable to restrain his smiles. "But now we'll have a christening as well, Rector."

After some sober reflections on the fate of Lady Ludlow and sincere agreement with Jeb that it was a blessing indeed to have christening to celebrate as well the Harrisons finally left with the rector.

They left Miss Matty's house in the knowledge that happiness would stay there, even though black ribbons would be hung on the door out of respect for Lady Ludlow.

Martha, Jem and Miss Matty must be forgiven for not mourning, because a house so lately blessed with life cannot really think of death.

"I had not expected Doctor Morgan to leave his post without ensuring a successor," Frank said to rector Hutton.

"I suppose his wife was in favour of going," the rector answered.

"It is not right," Frank protested. "Cranford should have a doctor. Is there anyone looking after Doctor Morgan's patient?"

"There is the apothecary," the rector answered. "And the railway's barber-surgeon can be called if need be."

Frank gave his wife a look of alarm.

"Do calm down, Frank," she hushed him.

"It is not right," he repeated.

There was a long pause, in which only the rattling of the wheels was heard.

"Sophy," Frank said rather suddenly. "What say you to settling in Cranford after all."

The rector turned round on the wagon seat.

"Do you really have to ask me whether I would like to live in Cranford?" Sophy said with a bemused smile. "It had been my home since my birth."

"I would not become rich, practicing here," Frank said. "And neither will it ever make me a famous doctor."

"Why should we care for such things," Sophy said briskly. "We do not need anything beyond a comfortable home."

"It would be joy to us to have you so near," the rector confessed. "We have all missed you sorely."

"I shall see if there is a house to be had that would suit us," Frank said, growing in confidence. "And I shall speak to the apothecary."

"It will be a relief to all Cranford, to have a doctor again," the rector said earnestly.

"It will be necessary too," Frank said. "With the dangerous railway works on it's doorstep."

"I do not think the railway will actually come to Cranford," the rector said.

"Nevertheless," Sophy said. "Cranford must have a doctor."

She smiled at Frank and then looked at their sleeping baby.

"To think," she sighed. "Our Lizzie will grow up in my dear Cranford after all."

"It is no less dear to me," Frank said. "For it is the place where I met you."

Sophy laughed, the rector smiled to himself and Frank looked about him with a confident resolution overspreading his face. His worries about starting his own practice and where it was to be were all the sudden lifted from his shoulders. He looked at his dear Sophy and his darling Lizzie and was so happy that he laughed out loud.

"Bless our Lizzie being born when she was!" he exclaimed. "Or we never would have come to Cranford at this time."

His wife laughed with him and they were merry all the way to the rectory, where they were welcomed by Sophy's sisters with cries of joy and open arms.