The Steward of Hanbury
A/N: First off, I'd like to thank everyone who reviewed the first chapter despite it being so short. They've been a source of great encouragement to me in writing this chapter which I hope will be to everyone's satisfaction.
Chapter Two - Rising from the Ashes
Laden with opium and then rendered unconscious by the pain, Edward Carter had no conception of what had happened soon after the doctor's saw had started its terrible work and he flitted in and out of consciousness for days. When at last he awoke, a slight groan escaped his lips as the glare of the blazing fire in the nearby hearth met his gaze.
It was damnably hot. Even now, he could feel his shirt sticking to his back and perspiration trickling down his forehead. He could not fathom why the fire should be lit so nor did he understand why there seemed to be a myriad of blankets wrapped around him. The latter were weakly thrown off but his attempts to deal with the fire met with painful failure as he fell to the floor. His loud cry alerted Dr Marshland who soon hurriedly made his appearance.
'Mr Carter!' he cried, shocked that man had managed to drag himself off the small camp bed they had prepared in the sitting room. Perhaps they been fortunate that they had not carried him upstairs for he might have done himself a great deal of harm had he fallen from a taller bed.
'Dr Harrison?' asked Mr Carter, teeth gritted as he tried to ignore the pain now spreading through the whole of his right side.
'No, he is currently at the Rectory. I am Dr Marshland.'
Too weak to reply, Mr Carter merely nodded and with Marshland's aid, he was restored to his bed.
'Too hot,' he said when the doctor tried to replace the blankets.
Marshland pressed a hand against Carter's forehead which was no longer cold to the touch. He then placed his stethoscope against his chest, noting that his heart rate had returned to normal.
'How long have I been here?'
'And the leg?'
Marshland appeared to hesitate a little, taken aback by Carter's directness. 'It was cut off above the knee, Mr Carter.'
Carter nodded. After all, he had consented to the amputation but only on the condition that Dr Harrison was the one to do it.
'After Captain Brown kindly lent us his camp bed, we set you up here to stabilise your temperature,' said Marshland by way of explanation, omitting to mention the numerous conversations in hushed tones both he and Frank had over the man's fate. Mr Carter had nearly been at death's door, having lost a great deal of blood and his leg always in danger of developing an infection.
'Hence the fire and blankets,' murmured Carter.
There were footsteps outside in the corridor and a few moments later, Dr Harrison joined them.
'Frank, I do believe that Mr Carter is going to make it,' said Dr Marshland, smiling a little.
An expression of relief passed over Dr Harrison's countenance at this and he stepped closer to the bed.
'How are you feeling, Mr Carter?'
Mr Carter felt a number of things but found that he could not put his thoughts into words and merely murmured, 'Weak.'
'Jack, could you bring a glass of water?'
A glass of water was duly prepared and carefully pressed against the patient's lips. Carter drank eagerly, like a man dying of thirst.
'Better,' replied Mr Carter.
Dr Harrison nodded. 'Mr Carter, would you be able to eat something? It will be necessary to regain a little of your strength before we will be able to send you to Hanbury Court.'
Hanbury Court. How that seemed a world away! In a flash, thoughts of Lady Ludlow, Miss Galindo and Harry Gregson returned to him. He recalled Lady Ludlow bringing not only ice, linen and brandy but also an apology immediately before he had gone under the knife. She had been most earnest in expressing her regret and had he not been in such agony then, he would have been fully able to appreciate her kindness. Now perhaps was the time to begin to make amends.
'I believe I may be able,' he replied.
Miss Galindo was seated at her usual desk in Mr Carter's office, writing a letter on her ladyship's behalf. She really had no idea what she was doing there as it was quite clear that all of the estate's important affairs were locked away in Mr Carter's innumerable number of drawers and cabinets. It was true that she had once gone through them without his permission in order to comply with Lady Ludlow's wishes but on no account would she ever desire or consent to do so again.
Perhaps it had been for the sake of comforting herself that she had come here. It was foolish to think so, of that she was well aware, but the temptation had been too strong particularly when her own parlour had augmented rather than reduced her troubled state of mind. Memories of their most recent conversation there were still too fresh in her mind; too painful to recall just yet. His office was situated perhaps on more emotionally neutral ground. Here was where Mr Carter the stern estate manager held court, surrounded by his books, his papers and his work; an image that was impressed in most if not everyone's minds in Cranford.
It was preferable for her at the present to think of him in this manner; it was a way of lessening the distress she always felt when her thoughts turned to their impromptu meeting in her parlour. For that afternoon, Mr Carter had revealed himself to be quite another man beneath the gruff exterior. His speech had been unflinchingly direct as was his custom but his earnestness impressed her and in a matter of minutes, Miss Galindo had thought they had known each other their whole lives.
And it was this Mr Carter who had brought her flowers, who had revealed himself to her in so personal and earnest a manner that she was anxious to put out of her mind. She felt that if she did not do so, she would be in great danger of falling prey to her feelings if the dreaded news of his succumbing to his injuries were to reach her.
Miss Galindo looked up, distracted from her thoughts. Harry Gregson was standing in the doorway of the office.
'Harry,' she said, putting down the letter which she had been half-heartedly penning.
'I made sure to wipe my boots before I came in, Miss, you don't have to worry about that,' he said quickly, still standing in the doorway.
'Please do not worry about that, Harry,' she replied, smiling kindly at him. She rose from her desk and guided him inside.
'No, thank you, Miss, I don't want to dirty it,' he said when she offered him a chair. 'I only came in to ask whether the stories I've heard are true.'
Harry's upper lip trembled. 'About Mr Carter. About Mr Carter and the accident at the railway works.'
He appeared so forlorn that it was difficult not to take pity on him. She had not involved herself in both Harry and Mr Carter's affairs since the poor boy was delegated to the cowsheds but had observed that Harry's manner towards Mr Carter had cooled as of late. He had every right to be angry but the anger was misdirected and she suspected that even the Queen herself could not have persuaded Lady Ludlow to change her mind about Harry's place in society, much less her estate manager. She could see that Harry was struggling to contain his guilt and she endeavoured to comfort him as best as she could.
'I am afraid that the stories are quite true, Harry,' she said softly.
'Is he – is he going to die?'
His question though perfectly reasonable was unwelcome and a shudder went down her spine. Dr Harrison had of course, at Lady Ludlow's request, sent daily reports of Mr Carter's progress. As of yet, the tone of these had been cautious and subdued and had given little hint of hope. The morning after the operation, she had gone down to Dr Harrison's surgery only to be kindly told that until Mr Carter had regained consciousness, there was no need for the ladies at Hanbury to trouble themselves. There was nothing to be done now, the two doctors had said, but to wait. Regardless, Lady Ludlow had sent basket after basket of supplies to the surgery and which had been duly received with a personal note of thanks. Thus they had waited for three days and felt no closer to finding an answer to that terrible question than they were at the beginning.
'I do not know, Harry,' she admitted. 'Dr Harrison has done all that he can.'
'Dr Harrison's a good doctor, isn't he, Miss?'
'Yes,' she replied. Though, she thought to herself, even good doctors cannot stop good men from dying.
A curious expression entered Harry's face at this and he said determinedly, 'Then I'm sure that Mr Carter isn't going to die.'
She smiled sadly at him. How admirable that a boy of only ten years and who had faced so much tribulation in his life still had the innocent optimism of youth.
There was the sound of someone in the corridor and fearing that it was Lady Ludlow, Miss Galindo hastily gestured for Harry to move behind her. It was however only Giddings the local messenger and who appeared flushed and tired after a hard ride.
'Begging your pardon, Miss Galindo, but an urgent message from Cranford,' he said, taking out a piece of paper from his pocket.
'Thank you, Mr Giddings.' She took the note and unfolded it, recognising Dr Harrison's hand.
Dear Miss Galindo,
I apologise for the abruptness of this message but I hope that any inconvenience it has caused will be more than made up for by the good news which comes with it.
I am happy to report that Mr Carter regained consciousness an hour ago and that after a thorough examination by both Dr Marshland and myself, he shows every sign of being well on the mend. Regardless, I must stress that these are early days yet and that no great movement on Mr Carter's part should be yet attempted.
However if it is her ladyship's wish that Mr Carter were to recuperate at Hanbury as soon as possible, I can only recommend sending a carriage for him next week at the very earliest. If this would be agreeable, please send me a note via Mr Giddings to arrange a date and I shall personally see to it that everything is suitably arranged.
Believe me to be,
She read and reread the note, hardly able to believe her eyes.
'Dr Harrison says Mr Carter's on the mend, Miss Galindo!' cried Harry excitedly, having evidently read the note as he looked over her shoulder. There was an apologetic pause. 'I'm sorry. I know I'm not supposed to read other people's letters.'
'That is very true, Harry,' she replied but she too was unable to contain her joy at receiving such news. 'However you are excused just this once,' she smiled.
'Is there to be a reply, Miss Galindo?' asked Giddings.
Miss Galindo had no doubt of what Lady Ludlow's answer would be and taking matters into her own hands, she retrieved a piece of paper and began to write.
Mr Carter defied even Dr Harrison's most optimistic expectations. A week had not been enough to allow him to regain all of his strength but his presence of mind was simply extraordinary. It was without saying that a loss of a limb is always a traumatic experience for any person that but he had been impressed at how little Mr Carter had fretted over his condition. Clearly here was a man who did not wallow in self-pity as most people were wont to do in such a situation. It was not easy for any man, he knew, to be unable to do things himself and having to be fed and waited upon like a child but to his credit, he bore it exceedingly well and only words of thanks came from his lips.
With such an obliging patient, both he and Dr Marshland were able to prepare for his journey back to Hanbury in good time in accordance to Miss Galindo's note. News of Mr Carter's recent misfortune had also travelled the whole length and breadth of Cranford and even on the morning of Mr Carter's departure for Hanbury, supplies of bandages and other useful items were still being delivered to the surgery.
As for the actual moving of the patient, Captain Brown was the first to offer his help in assisting that morning. Despite having been injured in the explosion, he would brook no refusals.
'It was no trouble, I assure you,' he replied when Mr Carter thanked him for all his help. He felt quite sorry for the man as he sat pale and tired in his chair, a mere shadow of the vigorous figure he had seen only weeks before. 'It is the very least I can do. After all, Mr Carter, it is because of us that you have suffered the loss of your leg.'
'It was no one's doing, Captain Brown,' replied Mr Carter without the slightest trace of bitterness. 'If there is anyone who requires help, it would be the families of the two men who died. Tell me, are they to be well provided for?'
Captain Brown was momentarily flummoxed by the question. He had heard that Carter was a caring gentleman but he had never expected to be quizzed about another man's affairs when the man himself had just escaped with his life.
'Well, James Cole was a foundling, poor fellow, so there's little we could do for him apart from arranging a decent burial. William Garrett had a wife and son to feed but we shall speak to Sir Charles.'
'If you should find any difficulty in speaking to Sir Charles, Captain, please do not hesitate to ask me –'
'Mr Carter, I am quite certain that you need your rest,' said a new voice.
'Miss Galindo,' said Mr Carter in surprise as she entered the room with Dr Harrison. He felt foolish being unable to rise from to his feet as Captain Brown bowed next to him and instead nodded his head as courteously as he could.
'I did not expect you to join us this morning, Miss Galindo,' said Captain Brown.
'Lady Ludlow was quite determined to see me accompany Mr Carter to Hanbury, Captain.' Her gaze fell upon Mr Carter and she felt her face flush a little and added, 'But pray, please understand I would have still done so even if she had not asked me.'
'But of course,' replied Mr Carter. If it had only been himself and Miss Galindo in the room, he would have said much more but seeing that there were others present, he merely smiled at her.
With the help of Dr Harrison and Captain Brown, Mr Carter was aided to the coach waiting outside.
'I have not yet thanked you, Dr Harrison, for all you have done,' said Mr Carter once he had been seated inside.
The younger man shook his head modestly.
'Think nothing of it, sir. I am glad to have been able to be of service. My only regret is that we were not able to save your leg.'
'You have saved my life surely that has not escaped your notice.'
'You are too kind, sir.'
'Are we to see you at Hanbury soon, Dr Harrison?' asked Miss Galindo as they stood in front of the coach. 'Lady Ludlow would very much like to thank you personally.'
'I am at her ladyship's disposal. I hope to visit regularly to check upon Mr Carter's progress; a man in his condition requires more than the usual medical attention.'
'That is perfectly understandable. I am certain that she will not object.'
'That is comforting to hear.' Dr Harrison lowered his voice, glancing briefly towards the interior of the coach before speaking again. 'If I may be allowed to confide in you, Miss Galindo Mr Carter has so far proved to be a man of great mental fortitude even in such trying circumstances. You perhaps overheard his exchange with Captain Brown before we entered the room?'
'Indeed I did,' she replied. She had been greatly impressed by Mr Carter's lack of self-regard.
'I am not an expert in such things but there may come a time when his condition will perhaps get the better of him. I suspect that it has not quite had an effect on him yet.'
'Surely you do not think but Mr Carter is not she began, fear dawning in her dark eyes.
'Oh, no,' said Dr Harrison quickly, reading her mind. 'That is not what I meant at all. I only desired to say that should he attempt to withdraw or isolate himself from the world, we must try all we can to prevent that.'
She smiled at him, touched by his concern. 'Of course, Dr Harrison.'
'Thank you, Miss Galindo,' he replied and aided her into the coach.