Some disclaimers – I am not the BBC, Elizabeth Gaskell or Heidi Thomas who was responsible for so much of the fabulous story and dialogue in Cranford. I do not own these characters – they have a life of their own.
This story is a mere romance and should be read as such – no doubt I will get period details and manners wrong, for which please accept my apologies in advance.
Chapter One also includes a lot of dialogue from Episode 5 as in essence I have rewound the clock and Mr Carter is still alive at this point. My story begins after Mr Carter has found out about the mortgage that has been raised on the Hanbury estate and Miss Galindo's part in its occurrence. As the story progresses it will part company with the tv series in a big way.
Please feel free to read and review – this is totally different from everything else I have written so bear with it.
Oh and there will be smut – but this is a slow burning romance.
Enough talking – on with the story.
Note: Have now amended this to reflect the confusion regarding Mr Carters first name - the BBC have called him Edward and Edmund but given that Edward appears on the screen in Episode 5 I have now decided that is his name!
Mr. Edward Carter paused at the threshold of the modest house on King's Street and wondered once more what motive had brought him to Miss Galindo's doorstep. It was the right thing to do, he surmised, the gentlemanly thing to do. But you're not a gentleman are you Eddie? an inner voice tormented him. He nodded as if in acknowledgment; that much may be true but he knew when he was in the wrong and on this occasion an apology was required. Miss Galindo was a refined gentlewoman and his manner toward her had been appalling. He thought back to their conversation earlier that day and winced when he recalled his parting words to her.
"Miss Galindo, Lady Ludlow has mortgaged the estate, against my advice, without my knowledge, and as a direct consequence of your assistance!"
He winced, not so much at the words themselves but the curt manner in which he had delivered this unwarranted rebuke and the slamming of the door that had followed. No, not very gentlemanly at all. So here he stood, clutching his peace offering of roses and hoping that she would accept them in the spirit intended. He allowed himself a wry smile as he contemplated seeing her again. After a faltering start they had begun to forge an amicable working relationship, but more than that, he had actually begun to look forward to their conversations. The sight of her sitting at her desk, wearing clerk's cuffs and with an unladylike pen behind her ear made him smile, especially when a stray lock of hair would escape its bounds and he would have to fight the almost overwhelming urge to tuck it back into place.
He cleared his throat; this would not do, this would not do at all. He rapped on the solid door and waited for a response. The street was reasonably quiet at this time of day and he tipped his hat in greeting as Miss Pole hurried past, probably on her way to Johnson's. Miss Pole bobbed a greeting in return but did not stop to make polite conversation – indeed she seemed even more determined to reach Johnson's in record speed.
He turned back to the door to find a young girl looking at him with inquisitive frankness.
"Is your mistress at home?"
"Yes sir," she bobbed before allowing him over the threshold.
After some struggle regarding the ownership of the flowers, he managed to divest himself of hat, stick and gloves and was pointed in the vague direction of the parlour.
Laurentia Galindo sat threading ribbons into a despised bonnet but as always her thoughts were elsewhere. She had replayed the events of three weeks ago over in head, the events that had irrevocably led to today's heated exchange with Mr. Carter. She analysed the conversation with Lady Ludlow and how it had led to the retrieval of the estate deeds from Mr. Carter's office. Had she truly not known Lady Ludlow's intentions – could she not have guessed? She shook her head; in truthfulness she could still say that she had no inkling of Lady Ludlow's real intent but even if she had known, what could she have done differently?
It was such a shame, she thought as she wrestled with an intransigent feather. Just as they were beginning to develop a friendly rapport too. She could not tell him how much she enjoyed their conversations, so marked in contrast were they from the twittering and gossip of her customers, so full of common sense and intelligence. She could only just admit to herself that she now looked forward to her spells of duty in the estate office and not just because they took her away from the onerous task of bonnet trimming! For some irrational reason he had been the first person she had wanted to tell about the bee orchid she had spotted and his rare but glorious smile had been ample reward.
And now…now she was afraid that this burgeoning friendship had been wrested from her and through no fault of her own. Her hands fell idle as her eyes filled with unaccustomed tears. She heard someone cough and she blinked away the tears quickly. He was here! She blinked again as came towards her.
"I've disturbed you," he said quietly, "your maid just pointed the way."
She stood to meet him, "Yes, I'm afraid young Sally hasn't quite absorbed the relevant lessons on how to receive visitors. However beggars cannot be choosers and she suits my needs, such as they are."
They stood looking at each other for what seemed at age, neither knowing exactly what to say or how to say it. She noted with delight and surprise that he had brought flowers – and red roses too. It was quite obvious that Mr. Carter knew nothing of the language of flowers and she hoped that he had not been spotted coming to her door – she could only imagine the gossip that would no doubt ensue. And it also seemed that she would have to be the instigator of this particular conversation as Mr. Carter seemed to be struck dumb.
"I assure you, Mr. Carter I had not the least notion what Lady Ludlow intended to do with the deeds."
"I am quite sure of that," he said clutching the flowers tightly, his eyes cast to the ground, "just as I am sure that no one on this earth, man or woman could have stopped her."
Laurentia was beginning to wonder if in fact the flowers were for her at all, so reluctant did he seem to part with them. She decided to take pity – on the flowers!
"I think perhaps the stems of those flowers are still a little moist. I should not like you to stain your cuff."
"Oh…yes of course."
Stupid man, the whole point of the exercise was to give her the flowers. He cursed inwardly at his clumsiness but reasoned that he was not an experienced giver of flowers and therefore had not had enough practice. He felt her cool fingers brush his hand as she rescued the blooms from his grasp, and the resulting shooting sensations spread throughout his arm.
"I'd better put these in water, "she muttered, "Can I get you some tea?"
He nodded his assent which gave Laurentia the excuse she needed to leave the room and catch her breath. Handing the flowers to Sally and giving instructions for refreshments she tried to compose herself. There really was no need for this acting like a lovesick young girl – while it was true she did not have many gentleman callers, it hardly warranted this skittering feeling which the touch of his hand had instigated. This was Mr. Carter after all – merely a colleague, perhaps a friend but surely nothing more.
Taking a deep breath, and carrying the flowers now safely arranged in a vase, she re-entered the parlour to find Mr. Carter deep in thought. She motioned for him to take one of the seats as Sally brought tea and began to serve. She sat opposite him and waited until the maid had left the room before she began to talk.
"Lady Ludlow was brought up in a different century Mr. Carter. She has had but two tasks in her lifetime, to bear her children and to preserve her land. The very thought of that mortgage must pierce her like a shard of glass."
He smiled a little sadly, "It pierces me. I have worked beside her these last ten years."
"Pray don't think I disregard that."
Edward took a deep breath before deciding what to say. He somehow knew he had to convince Miss Galindo exactly how much Hanbury meant to him, but to do so would mean revealing some of his innermost thoughts.
"Hanbury has been such a large part of my life." he started, "I was not yet 30 when I applied to Mr. Bolton, who managed the estate then. He trained me in his ways; he even let me get married to his daughter," he smiled at the remembrance and Laurentia could not help returning that delightful smile.
"My wife had a little money of her own and when she died," he paused and sighed deeply, "when she died, it was put to me that I could buy myself a small farm. Start afresh, away from her memory."
He paused, surprised at how much sadness he still felt after all these years. With a voice full of emotion he continued, "But I could not part with the past, or the place I'd come to love so much."
Laurentia nodded wordlessly, but longed to be able to touch his hand, give some sign of empathy, a gesture of comfort.
He continued, "I was persuaded by a friend to invest in his mill up in Halifax, and without further effort, I made more money than I could earn in 30 years at Hanbury. But when I went to see the place that made me rich, it sickened me. There were children there dragging great sacks of wool, sleeping under looms in exhaustion, so pitiful it tore my very soul."
He looked at her not bothering to conceal his feelings of guilt and sadness, "I pulled my thousands out of there and just put them in the bank, where they grow still. And I cannot bear to touch them."
"I sometimes wonder," she said as the truth of it suddenly dawned, "if the presence of money isn't more unsettling than the lack of it."
"But if only Lady Ludlow had come to see me about the mortgage, I might have been able to dissuade her."
Laurentia shook her head, "She has made her choice, Mr. Carter. Septimus came first. All other things are rendered secondary."
"And the tragedy of it is that he'll never return to Hanbury. And as soon as he inherits, he will sell the whole estate."
"No Mr. Carter, The tragedy is that Lady Ludlow knows it."
Miss Pole bustled into Johnson's and was relieved and delighted to see both Mrs. Forester and Mrs. Jamieson within; Mrs. Jamieson perusing various items with a discontented sneer while Mrs. Forester seemed unusually animated as she surveyed a particular printed muslin.
"I must say," she muttered, "that it's all very well, having such a superfluity of choice, but where will it all end? A different dress for every day of the week?"
"Choice?" Miss Pole spluttered, "What is the talk of choice when there is such news to be had?"
No sooner had the sentence been uttered than Mrs. Jamieson appeared at their side.
"What news? If it's regarding Mrs. Brodie's youngest daughter, I do believe that I was the bearer of those good tidings."
Miss Pole bristled, "Indeed Mrs. Jamieson, that is old news. The news I bring is freshly caught." She paused for effect and sure that now had the undivided attention of her audience she carried on.
"A certain estate manger has been seen carrying flowers to a certain milliner of our acquaintance," she said with a flourish.
"Mr. Carter? No, surely he is beyond such gestures now?" Mrs. Jamieson said, "and Miss Galindo? I believe you must be mistaken."
"He is past his fortieth year I believe, but still such a fine looking man I think," muttered Mrs. Forester.
"Well, whatever his age, I have seen him with my own eyes, and the flowers," she paused again, "were red roses! What do you have to say to that?"
An astonished gasp was the only reply and Miss Pole considered her job well done.
"Red roses mean…" Mrs. Forester twittered.
"True Love," finished Mrs. Jamieson, "but how would Mr. Carter know that?"
"It matters not whether Mr. Carter knows of it; in fact it only reveals his true intent! The language of flowers can not be denied and Miss Galindo will certainly know what they mean," Miss Pole concluded.
They nodded in agreement at last on this particular point. As a gentlewoman Miss Galindo would be only too aware of the significance of such blooms.
"Well, we are unlikely to have the matter confirmed by Miss Galindo – or Mr Carter for that matter," sighed Mrs Jamieson "I've always said that she lacks the appetite for stimulating conversation."
"Yes, she is sadly deficient in that particular area," agreed Mrs Forester, "although she was said to be a beauty in her youth."
"Beauty? Pah! What good is beauty when you have no dowry to ensnare a husband?" Miss Pole spluttered. Peering out of the window she spotted the Misses Tompkinson in the street, "Now you must excuse me but I have urgent business." And with that she quickly left the shop and intercepted the two sisters.
Miss Galindo stood in the hallway and handed Mr Carter his gloves and hat as he prepared to leave.
"What will you do now?" she enquired.
He shook his head in despair, "I'm afraid there is very little I can do, but while there is a breath left in my body I must try. I will go and see Captain Brown at the railway site and see if the estate can provide materials for the works."
Miss Galindo now knew enough of the estate's business to know that it would be a vain hope, but she blessed him for trying.
"Thank you Mr Carter," she put her hand forward to offer a handshake.
He stood there dumbfounded as he looked at her outstretched hand.
"You will not shake my hand?" she said softly with disappointment.
"Indeed not madam," he said never taking his eyes from her face.
Instead he reached forward and gently grasped her hand, quickly bringing it to his lips and placing a soft kiss on the back of it.
"You said once that I would always see you as a woman," he said still lightly holding her hand, "And you were right Miss Galindo, I do see you as a woman and for that I make no apologies."
He smiled, and with another light kiss to her hand he was gone.
...to be continued