Is this what they call progress? Charles thought as he stood at the top of the rise, just off the side of the road looking down into the trees.
Tom and the tenants had organized very quickly. 5 horses had succeeded in righting Mr. Matthew's AC without too much trouble. Now, they were being repositioned to aid the tractor with the delicate, and considerably more dangerous, task of dragging it back up to the road.
Once on more even ground, the tractor would tow its offensive remains back to the Downton garages. Right now, they just wanted it out of sight. It was hoped that Lady Mary would be returning from the hospital later today, and Lord Grantham did not want his daughter confronted with the scene as it had been when He, Charles and Tom had arrived half an hour ago.
Watching the painstakingly slow progress of the horse teams up the side of the road, Charles huffed at the irony that the tractors were useless on the steeper grade just off the road. Sometimes the old ways are best.
He listed in his mind all the ways technology had caused this poor lad's premature death. He traced its origin to the telephone. Ever since the contraption had been introduced in private homes, or more specifically, Downton Abbey, life had started to move too quickly for Charles Carson, stately butler of stately Downton Abbey. There was now an atmosphere of impatience in their lives. With this impatience, there came haste and chaos to replace the calm, deliberate progress of their lives. Speed and convenience were now the excuses given for lowered expectations of perfection.
Hubris had taken their previous heir,
Now impatience had taken their latest heir.
If looking for guilty technology, he had to look no further than the car itself. Though Charles grudgingly liked the automobile best of the rash of new inventions bent on disrupting his life, he had to lay some blame on the AC as well. The lorry driver had given Charles all the details of the accident and was now relaying the same information to the Constable. Charles told himself if Mr. Matthew had been driving a trap or cart, firstly, the horse would have had to slow down on a hill that steep. Secondly, the horse would have been paying more attention than Mr. Matthew and might have sensed another vehicle well before seeing it. Speed and distraction, two things Charles hated instinctively, were to blame.
And the telephone.
In the days where telegrams were the only means of high efficiency communication, Lady Mary and Mr. Matthew would never have gone to Scotland so late in her confinement. Mr. Matthew certainly would not have allowed Lady Mary to leave his sight without the assurance that he was just a phone call away. They'd have been together and the family would have received a nice telegram at Duneagle informing them of the arrival of the new heir. It would have been neat, calm and deliberate, just as life should be. It would not be the wreckage before him.
Charles was tempted to go further back and blame the telegraph wires for speeding things up in the first place, but he had to stop the blame somewhere. If he continued along that train of thought, he'd be blaming electricity, the steam engine, the horse, the wheel and the first caveman who used fire to boil water.
But without boiled water, there would be no tea… he thought, crazily.
Get a grip, man. Next thing, you'll be blaming Mrs. Hughes' electric toaster. He was far closer to hysteria than he'd realized.
Was it any wonder? 20 feet to his right, they were finally placing Mr. Matthew into the hospital van.
Lord Grantham had continued on to the hospital, leaving Tom and Carson to handle the details at the scene. Tom had taken charge of the car. Carson was overseeing the removal of Mr. Matthew. He knew Lady Mary and Mrs. Crawley would probably ask to see the body. Carson would make sure the sight would not pain them any more deeply than was absolutely necessary.
When they'd brought the body up to the road on the stretcher, Carson used the resources from the van to make him as presentable as possible.
He could be resting…but for all the blood. Charles thought. The van was equipped with some water and a full complement of sheets and bandages. He'd gotten most of the blood out of Mr. Matthew's hair and had extracted Mr. Matthew's jacket from the wreckage. Even if the jacket was a bit wrinkled, it would cover most of the blood that had stained his shirt and vest. It wasn't ideal, but Carson didn't think they'd let him take a detour by Downton for a change of clothes. The jacket would have to do.
Carson walked towards Tom. The younger man was engrossed in the automobile recovery. Carson knew he was focusing on the task so intently to avoid thinking about the implications and to avoid looking at the stretcher. The car was now up on level enough footing that the tractor could handle the full weight of the load. The progress had halted while the farmers unhitched their horses. Taking advantage of the lull, Carson cleared his throat and addressed Mr. Branson.
"All is prepared, and I shall be continuing on to the hospital now. Would you like us to wait a few more moments so you can ride with us, Mr. Branson?"
Mr. Branson gave him a strange look. Carson realized that Tom was trying to figure out who was meant by "us".
"The ambulance staff has assured me there is plenty of room for all 4 of us." No answer. He still wasn't reaching him. Though Carson's greatest concern was reserved for Lady Mary, he clearly saw how this death would resonate through the house and village. After Lady Mary, there were Mrs. Crawley and Lord Grantham, of course, but immediately after them (and perhaps before his Lordship, even) was Tom Branson. Tom was losing a brother-in-law, a business partner, and ally who had welcomed Tom into the family openly. Most significantly, Tom was losing a friend who had comforted him though the most painful experience a young husband can endure. He was experiencing exactly what Lady Mary would be experiencing, but in reverse; sibling, then spouse; spouse, then sibling.
In any order, the losses, coming less than 2 years apart could be debilitating for a weaker person. Carson accepted that Tom was not ready to face any of this painful reality just yet. Let him hide in the numb comfort of action for a while longer. Lord knows Charles had hidden there often enough.
Carson's sympathy for the young man was sincere. He wanted to say something supportive, something kind, but the right words refused to come, so he reverted to the familiar language of formality. "Very well, Mr. Branson, I will accompany Mr. Crawley to the hospital and attend His Lordship and Lady Mary. I'll leave it to you to secure the car and report back to the family at Downton. I will telephone from the hospital if there is anything to relate."
Tom nodded absently and returned his attention to said car as the last of the horses was led away and the tractor engine revved. "Yeah, telephone, Mr. Carson. That'd be fine."
"Damn contraption." But Carson stopped that train of thought right there. He must see to his duty. He must deliver Lady Mary's husband to her.