The probably final chapter of this little ficlet. Be sure to check out Batwings 79's accompanying Richobelness.
The first thing that registered was the sound of her voice. He focused on that to take his mind off the horrible tightness in his chest. Her voice came from a distance, and he could hear her directing Ethel and Anna with brisk efficiency to finish dinner. That wasn’t proper, and she knew it, frustrating woman. He struggled to rise, but someone was holding him down. Mr. Crawley? Why would he be holding him? Then it all came back to him in one embarrassing rush; the disaster of a dinner service, spilling the sauce, not being able to breathe, being made to sit down in front of the family, and finally blacking out a little. He looked around to try to find Elsie, but she was already gone. She was probably even now deciding how she was going to berate him for this latest embarrassment. He allowed Mr. Crawley and Lady Sybil, never Nurse Crawley no matter what she said, to take him to his room. There was an almighty struggle once he got there. Lady Sybil wanting to help him into his pyjamas! He would rather just die with his livery on. Thankfully, Mr. Crawley was able to get her to stand outside the door. He stayed inside, but merely stood with his face turned to the wall while Charles changed. As usual, the first thing he did after removing his jacket was to reach into his waistcoat pocket to withdraw his lucky sixpence and almost panicked again when he realized it wasn’t there. Then, he remembered pulling it from his pocket when he’d first thought he was going to die. If Elsie couldn’t be with him, at least he would have that, and she would know he’d been thinking about her at the end. He’d been holding it in his hand and then what? Where was it? It must be down in the dining room. He started toward the door to look for it, but realized he’d never be allowed. He just had to hope that no one would see it, and he could fetch it later. Maybe, if he was very lucky, Elsie might pick it up. That way, she could chuck it at his head later. By the time he had changed, both Lady Sybil and Mrs. Crawley were waiting out in the hall.
Mrs. Crawley argued briefly but quietly with Lady Sybil about giving him a glass of water. Lady Sybil was saying that if it was a heart attack he shouldn’t have anything while Mrs. Crawley was telling her that she thought it likely wasn’t. He smiled at how like Elsie she was, simply stating her case quietly and waiting for Lady Sybil to realize that she was right. The tightness did seem to have eased considerably, and at least now he could get a deep breath. He gratefully took the glass of water from Mrs. Crawley and wanted desperately to ask her to check on Elsie. She was the only one here who knew that Elsie was really his wife. He needed to know if she were alright. Unfortunately, with Mr. Crawley and Lady Sybil in the room there was no way that he could ask. Just as he was working out a way to form his request, Dr. Clarkson walked into his room without knocking. It was getting a bit crowded at this point. Servants’ rooms weren’t that big, after all. Apparently Dr. Clarkson agreed because he sent everyone but himself and Mrs. Crawley from the room. Charles would be eternally grateful for that. He certainly would not have wanted to submit himself to the indignity of an examination in front of members of the family. He distracted himself by watching how easily Dr. Clarkson and Mrs. Crawley communicated without words. Dr. Clarkson listened to his heart while Mrs. Crawley checked his blood pressure. Then they quietly compared notes. Dr. Clarkson would look at her with the merest hint of a question in his eyes, and she would either nod or shake her head slightly. He could see by the glint in Dr. Clarkson’s eye that more often than not he agreed with her. He wondered briefly if this was how Elsie and he looked to others.
He turned his attention back to Dr. Clarkson to answer his first question, “I just felt as though I couldn’t get a deep breath. It was as though something was squeezing my chest.”
Mrs. Crawley asked the next question, “Did you have any other pains?
He thought for a moment, “No, my heart was racing, and I couldn’t get a deep breath.”
He lay back with eyes closed against the headboard, trying to gather his thoughts. Dr. Clarkson asked the next question, “Is this the first time you’ve had symptoms like this?”
He grimaced, “Well, I have had a twinge or two in the past couple of weeks.”
“You have? When?”
Charles looked at Mrs. Crawley hesitantly, he’d prefer not to answer this in front of someone Elsie considered a friend. Dr. Clarkson thankfully seemed to understand and glanced toward Mrs. Crawley. She understood his look instantly, “Perhaps I should just go down and let the staff know that Mr. Carson is going to be well. All the staff,” she finished looking toward him reassuringly.
Dr. Clarkson looked back to him with an uplifted eyebrow once Mrs. Crawley had left the room, indicating that Charles should answer his question.
“Well,” he answered hesitantly, “you must promise not to tell Elsie, it would only worry her, but it’s usually been when we’ve been…”
Dr. Clarkson blushed faintly and cleared his throat, “Yes, yes, I think I understand. No need to go into any detail.”
Charles scowled, “I was going to say when we’ve been arguing. We seem to have been doing rather a lot of that lately.”
“I have no doubt of that,” Dr. Clarkson sighed.
Charles looked at him carefully, “Why not?”
Dr. Clarkson took a deep breath which he blew out of his nose. He paused to look at Charles seriously for a moment and then drew a chair close to the bed, “Charles, when was the last time you were alone with your wife? I mean really alone, not here. When was the last time you were away together?”
“I don’t really see that that’s any of your business,” Charles answered turning from him.
“I am your physician. Everything’s my business,” Dr. Clarkson said flatly and refused to drop his steady gaze.
Charles chewed at the inside of his bottom lip for a moment, “Nearly two years ago. You should remember it well. You were there,” he said finally meeting the doctor’s gaze just as steadily. By some unspoken agreement, although there had been opportunity over the past two years, the two men had never mentioned their unfortunate encounter at the inn.
The tips of Dr. Clarkson’s ears tinted slightly, but he was not going to be deterred from his task, “Charles, is that really fair to either you or Mrs. Carson? It must be a tremendous strain on your relationship to have to be so restrained here. Not to mention the war….”
Charles cut him off with a little bit of heat in his voice, “The war is exactly the reason we’ve not been able to get away. We were already down one footman. Now I’m the only one left to serve. Lang will certainly not be of any help, and I must make sure that everything is done properly. You have no idea what it takes to run a house of this size.”
“I’m sure I don’t,” Dr. Clarkson answered holding up a placating hand, “but do you have to do everything yourself?”
“Well, I certainly couldn’t ask the maids to …” Charles began before Dr. Clarkson cut him off.
“And what about Mrs. Carson?”
Charles eyebrows drew dangerously low, “What about her?”
“Do you not think she’d rather be helping you than worrying herself sick about you?”
He scoffed, “Elsie’s not worrying about me. Ready to brain me for being a great blooming idiot is more like it.”
“Not worrying about you!?” Dr. Clarkson asked incredulously, “Charles, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but after all, you are her husband…”
“Not tell me what? Is something wrong with Elsie?” Charles asked with a new note of concern in his voice.
Dr. Clarkson sighed and looked at the floor before meeting Charles’s eyes once again, “She came to me last week. She’s been having terrible stomach pains. Surely you’ve noticed she’s lost a bit of weight lately.”
Charles was stunned by this fact. He had noticed, had even commented on it. He’d gotten a tongue-lashing for his trouble. It just seemed that lately no matter what he did or said to Elsie it was wrong. Now he was worried. The house be damned. If something happened to Elsie, he’d never forgive himself.
“Stomach pains? Will she be alright? What’s wrong? Why didn’t she tell me?””
“You’re what’s wrong!” Dr. Clarkson exclaimed, “She’s been worrying herself sick about you; worried that you’ll get yourself in a state.”
Charles chuckled ruefully, running his hand through his hair, “And obviously that’s just what I’ve done. What do I need to do? I would do anything to make things right.”
“Charles,” the doctor smiled, “I think for starters you should probably tell her that,” then his smile broadened, “And I must say this is the first time I remember prescribing this particular remedy, but I think you should find some time alone in that inn. It would probably be best if you don’t do any sightseeing on this trip either.”
Charles laughed, “You could be a very popular doctor if you gave that kind of prescription to everyone.”
Their laughter was cut off by the door opening softly to reveal Elsie with red-rimmed eyes.
Dr. Clarkson stood quickly and walked to the door.
“Time for you to get started on my prescription, Charles,” he said smiling and patted Elsie’s back gently as he walked out the door. He suddenly had a very real need to speak to Isobel.
She stood for several moments with her back against the door after Dr. Clarkson left, merely watching Charles carefully. After submitting to her observation for as long as he could stand, he said gently, “Elsie, I’m going to be fine. Dr. Clarkson said it was just nerves.”
She nodded and took a step toward him, “Isobel came to tell me.”
He cleared his throat and nodded, looking down to pick invisible lint from his blanket, “Well, that’s good then. Did the rest of dinner go off smoothly enough?”
She smiled ruefully, “As smoothly as it could with everyone so distracted. Charles, is how the dinner service went all you can think of?”
“No; it is not, but it seemed safest,” he said thoughtfully, “I was waiting for you to gloat over being right.”
“Charles,” she said as she took another step toward the bed, “I have no desire to be right, just for you to be and stay well. Why do you think I’ve been begging you to take better care of yourself?”
He smiled, reaching out to grasp her hand, “I thought it was because you enjoyed nagging me so much. It does seem to have become your favorite pastime lately.”
She gasped and gave a small cry when he pulled her down beside him, “I’ve only been nagging you because I want you to take care of yourself. If I didn’t love you so much, I’d tell you to work harder and run up and down the stairs a few more times so that you could have a proper heart attack.”
He hugged her tightly to his side, “Dr. Clarkson told me how worried you’ve been. You should have told me. I’ll not have you making yourself sick over me.”
“He shouldn’t have told you that,” she whispered into his chest.
“He most certainly should have,” he answered forcefully, “We neither of us should keep secrets from each other. Dear wife, do you have no idea what it would do to me to see you ill?”
She raised her head to look at him levelly for a moment, “Considering that I thought you were going to die not an hour ago, yes I think I might,” she said as she raised her hand to tenderly stroke his cheek before realizing that she still held a small object in it, “Oh, I almost forgot. Isobel gave this to me. She said you dropped it in the dining room. Charles, what happened that you would let this go? It’s not been out of your reach since our wedding.”
He took it from her with evident relief, “Thank God. I thought I’d lost it. For a moment there, I thought it was the end. I wanted it in my hand and for you to know I was thinking of you. I must have blacked out for a moment and then it was gone.”
“I thought for a moment there that I’d lost you,” she said with a hitch in her voice.
He drew her against him to kiss her thoroughly and whispered against her lips, “Not for a very long time, love. Not for a very long time. Can I ever make it up to you?”
She smiled and kissed him back hungrily before answering, “That depends on when your doctor clears you for all activities.”
He laughed, “I think I’m cleared already. Did you not hear him say I was to get started on my prescription right away?”
“That is your prescription!?”
At Charles’s grin and raised eyebrows, she said, “He’ll be a very popular physician if prescribes that to everyone.”
“He certainly will be! So will you help me start on my prescription later tonight? That’s one prescription that I certainly don’t want to take by myself.”
“You will definitely not have to take that prescription by yourself,” she said emphatically, “But perhaps tonight a sleeping draught would be in order.”
“And here I thought you wanted me to be well. If you insist on thinking you know better than the doctor, then I’m afraid you’ll have to deal with the consequences.”
“Charles,” she began hesitantly, “I’m still not sure that tonight would be such a good idea, as much as I want to.”
“I believe I can understand. It’s been a hectic day. Will you at least sleep with me tonight? I think I’ll sleep much better with you beside me than with a sleeping draught.”
“I’ll come back once everything’s settled. To sleep, mind,” she smiled as she poked his chest.
“I look forward to it. And bring my diary so we can figure out a few days away at our inn,” he caressed her bottom as she stood and started toward the door.
She turned back to look at him one last time, “Don’t go anywhere.”
“Never will I leave you, love. Never will I leave you,” and he twirled the small coin in his hand which she knew always meant he was thinking of her. She touched her chest where he knew the luckenbooth rested under her dress which he knew meant she was thinking of him. He caught her eye and smiled gratefully.
All would be well and all would be well and all manner of things would be well.
- Current Mood: calm
- Current Mood:awake