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Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

November 22, 2016 04:03AM
*Lots of action today!

Chapter 16

With the lorry's engine purring, John Thornton latched the bonnet, then shouted to the private in the driver's seat. “That's it.”

He instinctively ducked as another shell whistled overhead. “Let's go!” he yelled over the cacophony of noise. He slid beside his comrade who shifted the lorry into gear, then sped towards the bridge. Too bad everything in life wasn't as easily fixed as that engine.

The truck rocked with every swerve around debris and shell holes. As they crossed the bridge, he craned his neck in the direction of the farm. It was still standing. If they packed the wounded in, fifteen or twenty would have a ticket out of this hellish inferno.

Bumping over the wheat field, he caught sight of a tiny figure ducking down from the top of the chimney and the large flag sailing to the ground. He breathed a sigh of relief. The captain had delivered his signal.

A moment later the lorry pulled to a stop, and the two jumped out. “Privates Thornton and Burland, sir.” He saluted to the doctor bandaging a head wound in the kitchen. “We've brought a lorry to evacuate your wounded.”

“Excellent. Are you driving?” The doctor's eyes flicked to him.

“I can, sir.”

“Then load them up! As many as you can.”

Thornton supported a moaning boy whose thigh was wrapped in bandages, then helped him into the back of the truck. Turning around, he glanced up at the smokestack just in time to see a shell carry off a chunk of its top. Panic seized him. Had it hit Captain Darcy? It couldn't have been more than a minute since the captain dropped the flag.

“Hurry up, Thornton!” his partner shouted, waiting at one end of a stretcher.

He jogged over, and the two delivered the groaning patient to the lorry, but his mind remained fixed on the smokestack and his captain. One of his duties as batman was to serve as the man's bodyguard.

A loud explosion snapped his attention back to the smokestack. A direct hit. He froze. There was no way the captain could have climbed all the way down that fast.

“Thornton!” the private bellowed. “Now's not the time to get windy nerves. Lend a hand!”

“Captain Darcy was up there. I've got to help him!”

Thornton ran back to the kitchen and addressed the doctor. “Permission to aid my captain, sir.”

“Your captain?”

“Yes, sir. Captain Darcy climbed the smokestack to signal a message, and it's been hit.”

“If it's been hit, the chances of him surviving are slim to none.”

“Please sir, I'm his batman. I could never live with myself if—”

“All right. Go! There may still be a horse around here somewhere.”

A minute later, Thornton was galloping towards the chimney, ignoring the flaming city and cannonade overhead. Some two years before he'd concluded that his situation with Margaret was hopeless and let her go—a decision he'd regretted every day since then. He wouldn't give up so easily on Captain Darcy.

He swung down in the factory yard and sprinted inside. “Captain!” his voice echoed in the hollow space over the muffled booms and thuds outside. “Captain?” He jogged through a sea of scattered rubble and dust. Just ahead the chimney rose above a mound of masonry wreckage. He stopped dead. Had he heard something? He angled his ear. Yes! A delicate melody—like a harp—no, a music box. He scrambled to scale the pile of toppled masonry, then frantically tossed aside chunks of bricks and mortar, honing in on the sound.

The captain's head appeared—eyes closed and motionless, face bloodied and ashen with a coating of soot and grey dust. Thornton sat back on his heels and swallowed hard. Had he really thought someone could survive free falling in an avalanche of masonry? Thornton stared down at his captain. This was the man he'd served for the last five months, and for six months the year before. A man he respected—and who respected him in return. Captain Darcy had given his life to communicate one message. The least Thornton could do was give him a proper burial.

Flecks of dust floated in the air, illumined by the tunnel of light from above. The slowing music box melody stopped, like an ethereal winding down of a life passing into eternity.

Thornton sighed and pushed the debris from the captain's chest. He lifted the tiny silver box, blew off the dust, and examined it in the light. Until now, he didn't know what tune it played, only that it was important to the captain. It hadn't left his person for the last five months. And neither had the photograph. He reached for the picture, wiped the dust away, and looked at it for the first time. The captain stood gazing down on a young woman whose image was marred by masonry scratches. Judging by the uncharacteristic smile on the captain's face, he must have cared deeply for her. His chest tightened. He carried a photograph of his own—of the woman he had loved...and lost.

Thornton lifted the flap of the captain's breast pocket and pushed the items back inside. A thin shower of mortar grit rained onto the captain's arm. Thornton froze. Had the body just moved? Thornton flicked his eyes to the captain's face, and peered closer. The man's lips weren't blue and tiny puffs of dust pulsed above his nose. He was alive! “Captain?” Thornton gently nudged his shoulder. No response. Thornton whipped out his water bottle, then doused his handkerchief and touched it to the captain's mouth. His lips twitched! Thornton chuckled over a half sob, then tossed aside the remaining rubble covering him. He examined each limb. Numerous cuts bled through rips in the captain's uniform greyed with a coating of mortar dust, but otherwise the man appeared uninjured.

Thornton gently slid one arm under the captain's head, his other under his knees, then heaved the captain up. Slipping and sliding over the shifting rubble with his heavy load, Thornton made his way onto solid ground. What now? Would he have to throw him over the horse? The captain may not have any visible wounds, but he likely had internal injuries, a concussion, or worse.

Thornton emerged outside, the shelling and machine gun fire assaulting his ears. Squinting into the setting sun, he chuckled aloud. Not ten feet away stood a mare harnessed to a wagon. He glanced heavenward and smiled. If they could get out of artillery range, the captain might have a chance.

A minute later he slid the captain onto the wagon bed, ploughing a trail through a layer of mortar dust. Just as he tied his mount to the back of the wagon, a screeching shell whistled overhead. Thornton dove onto the wagon bed, tenting himself over the captain. The explosion pelted them with shrapnel and a cloud of swirling dust.

His heart pounding, he leapt onto the wagon seat. After what his captain had endured, Thornton wasn't about to allow a stray shard of shrapnel finish him off.

He touched the reins to the horse's back, and the wagon jolted forward. Thornton pushed the mare as fast as he dared, occasionally glancing back at his injured passenger.

Pulling into the farmhouse yard, three ambulances disappeared down the poplar-lined road. Blast it! Captain Darcy needed to be in one of them. Whatever the man's injuries, they required more than antiseptic and bandages.

As he jumped from the wagon seat, stabbing pain shot through his shoulder and neck. He grabbed his shoulder and staggered until his light-headedness disappeared. Wiping the blood on his tunic, he jogged to the kitchen and found the doctor bandaging a head wound. “Sir, I've brought my captain.”

“He survived?” The doctor glanced over his shoulder.

“He's alive, but unconscious.”

The man shook his head as he tied off his patient's head bandage. “Not much I can do.”

The doctor turned, his gaze trailing to Thornton's neck. “Looks like you took a hit yourself.”

“Yes, sir, but my captain—”

“All right.” The medical officer wiped his hands, then strode out the door and vaulted into the wagon bed. He looked into the captain's eyes, then poked and prodded him. The doctor looked up, shaking his head. “Doesn't look good. A concussion. Probably internal injuries as well. There's nothing I can do here.”

“Permission to transport him, sir.”

The doctor shifted his gaze away and then turned back. “Permission granted—after I bandage you up and you fill the wagon with wounded.”

~~~*~~~

Richard Fitzwilliam strode down the shadowy cloister and took deep drag on his cigarette to calm his nerves. He'd been awakened at midnight with a telegram from Robert that Darcy had been severely wounded. Please, Lord, not Darcy. The burden of worrying about Mary had been like a millstone around his neck that only weighed heavier as the war marched on. What would he do if either of them died? Hadn't he experienced enough death in his lifetime?

“Colonel!” Robert hastened towards him.

“How is he?”

“Not good, I'm afraid. Besides cracked ribs, he has a concussion and is so bruised and swollen he's hardly recognisable. There may be internal injuries as well, but we won't know until he fully awakens.”

“May I see him? Where is he?”

Robert laid a restraining hand on his arm. “Richard, there's something else you need to know.... He's blind. And deaf.”

Richard took a step back. “Deaf and blind?”

Robert nodded. “Both his eardrums are ruptured, and it appears he's taken a blow to the base of his skull—the area of the brain responsible for vision.”

“Will he regain his sight?”

“Hard to know. These kinds of injuries can go either way. Sometimes full or partial sight is restored, but more often the blindness remains permanent.”

Richard released a heavy breath then took another deep drag on his fag. “What the bloody hell happened to him?”

“He climbed inside a factory smokestack to send a signal. He was on his way down when a shell blasted the chimney. He fell—in an avalanche of bricks and rubble. Probably hit his head. I imagine the reverberation inside the narrow space ruptured his eardrums.”

“Will they heal?”

“Perforated eardrums generally mend on their own in a few months.”

Months? So he has no way to communicate?”

“Even with ruptured eardrums, he should be able to hear something within the next few days. His voice is unaffected, but for now, the only way to communicate with him is tapping Morse code on his arm. He awoke briefly when Thornton brought him in—long enough for us to realise he could neither see nor hear—but he lapsed back into unconsciousness shortly thereafter. And it's probably a good thing. Once he fully wakes, I expect he'll have a blistering headache and, well, feel like he's been hit by a load of bricks.”

Richard turned aside and inhaled on the cigarette.

“At least he's alive.” Robert cuffed his shoulder.

“Will he make it?”

“I won't lie to you; his condition is critical. His prognosis depends on what might be lurking beneath the surface that we cannot see.”

“What can you do—what can I do?”

“I need your help in making a decision.” Robert gestured with his head. “Let me take you to see him, and I'll tell you what I have in mind.” The two fell in step. “Normally, he'd be sent down the line to a stationary hospital in Boulogne or Le Tréport. If he pulled through, he'd be shipped back to England and sent to a London military hospital.”

“So what's to decide?” Richard glanced at Robert as they walked.

“The situation with Miss Bennet already had Darcy on the edge, and obviously this has taken an enormous toll on him. Assuming he doesn't have fatal internal injuries, his recovery will depend on him. He'll live because he wants to. So, as soon as he's stable, I suggest we send him directly to Hartfield—”

“Hartfield?” Richard stopped in his tracks. “Hartfield's a convalescent hospital for boys needing nothing more than an aspirin and a pretty VAD to give it to them.”

“It's being converted to a full-fledged military hospital. And Matthew Scott is there heading up the transition. Head wounds are Scott's specialty. You know he'd do anything for Darcy.”

“What about the distance? It would be at least a twenty-four hour journey—and enough jostling to rattle his eye teeth.”

“The long distance is my primary concern, but I expect Darcy would be unconscious most of the time. Once he arrived, he would be surrounded by family, which could make all the difference. You know Scott and your great Aunt Eliza would personally see that he gets the best of care. At a stationary hospital, chances are he'd be left alone for hours at a time. Being unable to see or hear....” Robert shook his head.

“Hmmm. You may be right. But how would they communicate with him?”

“Sarah's there. She knows Morse code. And I hear Dr. Scott has an assistant skilled in telegraphy. It would be ideal if Thornton could take over as his eyes and ears. He knows telegraphy and he knows Darcy. I just took a lump of shrapnel from his shoulder which should get him a Blighty ticket of his own. But it would be highly irregular to have a convalescing private in the same room with a critically wounded officer.”

“This whole damn war is irregular! If Thornton's earned a Blighty ticket, let's use it to our advantage.”

“If you'll back me up on it, I'll make the arrangements. But in all honesty, Richard, Darcy is skating on thin ice. He may not make it a week, and if he does, he may never see again.”

~~~*~~~

Darcy shifted, groaning as pain ricocheted through his body. He sank back down into the hazy stupor of slumber.

His dulled mind floated back to the surface. His head throbbed, pinched as if squeezed in a vice. He reached up, but a bolt of pain seized his chest, freezing his movement. Using every ounce of concentration, he slowly lowered his hand. The haze washed over him again.

Rhythmic vibrations rumbled beneath him. Was he in a car? No, a train. But it was silent. “Hello?” The words caught in his parched throat. He raked his tongue over his cracked lips and tasted grit and soot.

“Hello?” he forced louder, but his voice seemed to fail him. Was this a dream? He willed his eyes open, but saw only blackness.

An internal force pulled him down, down, down into a dark abyss. Was death calling? He was tempted to relax into its promise of relief. He roused himself to fight against the seductive siren.

Every breath sent slivers of lightening firing through his chest. His head pounded with an excruciating headache, and his body throbbed with pain. Was he already dead? Was this hell?

“Hello!” he shouted, then sucked in a stabbing breath when gentle hands touched his shoulders. “Who's there?” Why couldn't he hear himself? Soft fingers stroked his cheek. Come home to me, Fitzwilliam, I love you. “Elizabeth?” There was no reply. Why was it so dark? Why wouldn't she speak?

Feminine fingers brushed his lips and placed something in his mouth. Instinctively he swallowed. “Water,” he croaked. Had he spoken?

This was a dream. A terrible dream. He needed to wake up to break the curse so he could see and hear. He concentrated on rising above the foggy waves of fatigue, but his hammering head clouded his thinking.

A porcelain straw pressed his lips. Cool liquid flooded down his throat.

Abrupt movement jarred him, and his head exploded with pain. Perception ceased.


Chapter 17

A few days later

Elizabeth laid aside her glasses with a sigh and rubbed her eyes. She glanced at the clock, then snapped her attention back to it. Was it already eight o'clock? No wonder she was tired. She'd spent most of the day editing Dr. Scott's manuscript, but would need several more long days if she hoped to finish before her interview for foreign service just a fortnight away. If the VAD board accepted her, she could be called upon to leave within a week.

Her two months at Hartfield had been pleasant enough, and she would miss the company of Sarah and Margaret, but it was time to leave. She had fulfilled her commitment, and working amongst Fitzwilliam's relatives was hardly safe.

Hartfield's conversion to a military hospital was now well under way. With no new convalescent patients admitted and the recuperated ones returned to the Front, the need for staff had dwindled. And the past few days had been particularly quiet. Dr. Scott had gone to Manchester to deliver lectures, and Sarah and Margaret managed a few days off to celebrate Easter with Margaret's aunt in London. All were due back this evening.

Tidying Dr. Scott's office, Elizabeth looked up when rapid footsteps approached.

“Thomas,” the breathless night VAD panted, “is Matron still here? She wasn't in her office.”

“It's after eight. I suppose she's gone home.”

“I just found this under a stack of papers on the desk downstairs.” She held up a slip of paper. “It's a message from Dr. Scott. A red tag patient is arriving on the eight o'clock train. He asked that you and Matron prepare the Red Room and remain until his arrival just after nine.”

“A red tag patient here? We haven't officially opened as a military hospital. We're not prepared for critical cases.”

“Ready or not, it appears one will be arriving any minute. We'd better hurry.”

Elizabeth pushed to her feet and followed the girl out the door, her mind whirring. Had a mattress even been moved in there? Was it clean?

They stepped off the lift on the floor below and started down the hallway. The former nursery now housed a labyrinth of rooms including the new operating theatre and Red Room.

Elizabeth swung open the door and flipped on the light. “At least it has a bed.” Her eyes circled the stark white room with a bedstead, chair, and small side table huddled in the middle of the floor.

Her partner stepped into the room and ran her finger along a windowsill. “It was painted last week and the mattress looks new, but the floor is filthy. I'll fetch the mop.” Dusting off her hands, she darted out the door.

Elizabeth eyed the space, then pushed the iron bed and table against the adjacent wall and set the chair in the corner. Now for linens and the other necessities.

After dashing about for the items, she hurried back and found her counterpart frantically mopping the floor and the tarry scent of carbolic soap filling the room.

After making the bed, they settled the blue chequered counterpane over the sheets just as the lift door pinged down the hallway. Clomping boots signalled the arrival of orderlies bearing a stretcher.

Elizabeth looked up. “I'll wash my hands. Will you get my apron from my room?”

Elizabeth rushed across the hall to the bathroom and returned to find two white-smocked bearers sliding their silent load onto the bed. The grey-haired stretcher-bearer turned to her. “He's all yours now, Miss Thomas. Ambulance driver said they nearly lost him on the way here. I hope he makes it.”

Elizabeth held the bearer's gaze for a moment, then bent over the patient and assessed his condition as the bearers exited the room. Pulse—weak. Breathing—laboured. Would they lose their very first patient?

The voice of the stretcher-bearer addressing the VAD in the hall drifted into the room. “He came with an envelope of notes and a Dorothy bag with his belongings. I left it downstairs on the entry desk along with his particulars.”

Footsteps crossed the threshold. “Here's your apron.” Her counterpart draped it over her head and tied the sash. “What can I do now?”

Elizabeth sighed. “I don't think there's anything else to be done until Dr. Scott arrives.”

“I'll record his particulars in the log and prepare the notes for the doctor.”

The footsteps retreated, and Elizabeth turned back to her patient. She lifted the red tag attached to his pyjama button and read:

Fell inside factory chimney:
Blind—probable occipital lobe injury.
Deaf—perforated eardrums.
Cracked ribs.
Internal injuries suspected.


Elizabeth released a heavy breath. The poor man! Why hadn't he been retained in France? His condition was too critical to have been moved.

She folded the counterpane over his blue striped pyjamas. Would this be one of those occasions where she was forced to sit and hold the hand of a dying man? She groaned inwardly. Every nurse hated that job.

She shifted her gaze for a closer look at her patient. White bandages circled his dark hair, and his black and blue face was swollen like a watermelon. A black ring targeted his left eye, and a strip of plaster bridged his nose. Red cuts grazed the peppery stubble on his chin.

She smoothed a dark curl peeking from beneath his bandaged head and froze. “Fitzwilliam?” Peering closer, fear slammed into her. “Fitzwilliam!”

She dropped to her knees and drew her face close to his. “What's happened to you? Don't give up—live, my love, live!” She caressed his brow as tears filled her eyes. “I love you. Georgiana loves you. I can't keep you, but your sister needs you.”

She gazed at his lifeless body, then placed a gentle kiss on his pale lips. “Please don't go. I love you.” She kissed him again and smoothed her thumb across the only unaffected spot on his cheek. “I know you can't hear me, but I am here, my love. I love you.”

Was there a way to get through to him? He was deaf and blind. Braille? No. Fitzwilliam didn't know Braille. Morse code? Yes!

Leaning close, she raised his bruised hand to her cheek and tapped on his palm, I am here, my love. Live!

She kissed his fingers, and he shifted. Her eyes flicked to his face. His brows drew together just below the bandages. Was he in pain? His nose twitched. Had she hurt him? No—he was sniffing! His other hand feebly rose towards her. “Elizabeth?” he mumbled.

With the word still on his lips, quick feminine footsteps crossed the threshold behind her. Elizabeth jerked her head up.

“Well, my boy, I'm Aunt Eliza to you, but that's a start.” The imperious Mrs. Knightley glanced over her shoulder at Sarah behind her. “He's awake. It seems he's not dying after all.”

“Elizabeth?” he whispered again, lifting two weak fingers from his chest in a vain attempt to find her.

The small-statured matriarch took his hand and brushed Elizabeth aside as if she weren't there.

Fitzwilliam's brow creased in confusion at the wrinkled hand that now grasped his.

Elizabeth whisked her tears aside and retreated to the shadows.

From the opposite side of the bed, Sarah lifted his hand and tapped something. Fitzwilliam remained motionless.

Sarah lifted her gaze to Elizabeth. “We heard his condition is grim, but can't we be encouraged that he was awake and talking—even if a little confused?”

Elizabeth sniffed and cleared her throat. “Yes. It shows he has cognitive function, but we'll have to wait for Dr. Scott's evaluation.”

Mrs. Knightley held his hand and gently patted his chest with her other.

“Granny,” Sarah caught the woman's hand in mid-air, “you could be hurting him.”

“They're just love pats, my dear. Perhaps you should try. He'll be needing a wife, and this is the perfect opportunity for you.”

Sarah huffed. “Not now, Granny.”

“Never overlook an opportunity. It's a splendid match. And with half of our eligible young men buried in France, she who is too picky may find herself unpicked.”

Elizabeth couldn't stand it any longer. She should be the one at his bedside holding his hand, caring for him, loving him. Overcome with emotion, she slipped out the door, then leaned her head against the doorframe. Poor Fitzwilliam!

The lift down the hall pinged, and Elizabeth brushed a tear aside, attempting to compose herself. What if Dr. Scott discovered her identity? What if Mrs. Knightley discovered who she was? The old bat wouldn't think twice about turning Elizabeth in. That would be disastrous for both Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam.

Dr. Scott, clad in his khaki uniform with Red Cross armband, strode down the hallway, his eyes focused on the folder spread open across his hand. Reaching her, he stopped short and looked up. “Ah, Miss Thomas, I'm glad you're here.” He glanced into the room, then drew her aside. Snapping the file shut, he released a gusty breath. “I see you're as affected by the news of Captain Darcy as I am. How is he?”

“Alive, but very weak.”

“I hope I can help him. But I'll need you to communicate to him during the examination. Can you tap Morse code on his arm?”

Elizabeth nodded and blinked to dispel her tears.

“Good. First order of business is to dismiss his aunt. If Darcy's going to recover and make the most of his situation, he'll need proven techniques administered by trained professionals. As you know, the process is painful for the patient, and few non-professionals have the fortitude to endure the patient's struggle. His aunt is genuinely concerned for him, but she has a tendency to think she knows what's best for everyone.”

“Agreed.” Elizabeth chuckled with a sniff.

“So I'll need you to put on a brave face and stand with me.”

“I'm ready.”

Dr. Scott strode into the room. Lifting her chin, Elizabeth followed.

Sarah exhaled. “Thank goodness you're here, doctor. He's moaning and restless.”

“He's had quite an ordeal.” Dr. Scott peered closer at his patient's swollen head.

Fitzwilliam's contracted brow creased is forehead. Every breath shuddered with pain.

Elizabeth swallowed the new lump rising in her throat and forced an unaffected expression.

Mrs. Knightley drew herself up and addressed the doctor. “He should be moved to Donwell where the family can care for him.”

“I think it's best he stays here—for the time being. You're aware he is deaf and blind?”

“All the more reason he should be with family. I believe Robert sent him here with Sarah in mind as his nurse. She's familiar with telegraphy, you know.”

The doctor straightened and turned to the matriarch. “Indeed, Miss Knightley will be a great asset. But the captain's immediate situation calls for professional care.”

The matron raised her chin. “And who would that be?”

“Miss Thomas. She's had medical training and worked with the blind at St. Dunstan's.” He stepped back revealing her.

The matriarch's head quavered in defiance. “I see you've already made all the decisions.”

Dr. Scott levelled his gaze at her. “I appreciate your concern, madam, but Captain Darcy is still under military jurisdiction, and the army has appointed me as their agent. But don't misunderstand me. If he recovers, I expect the family's care can play a vital role is his recuperation.”

Fitzwilliam shifted with a groan.

Dr. Scott reached into his pocket. “I'm sure the captain is eagerly awaiting morphine so he can rest. Will you excuse us? Perhaps you may visit tomorrow when he awakens.”

“He's right, Granny.” Sarah held out her arm inviting the domineering woman to exit with her.

“We'll be back tomorrow.” With her chin held high, the matriarch departed, her granddaughter following.

The doctor turned to Elizabeth. “Now, down to business. Tell the captain I'm here.”

Elizabeth lifted Fitzwilliam's hand and tapped the message, Dr. Scott is here.

The red-headed physician cuffed his friend's other wrist, and the corners of Fitzwilliam's mouth turned up ever so slightly.

“Elizabeth....” Fitzwilliam whispered. “Where's...Elizabeth?”

“Elizabeth Bennet?” Dr. Scott looked to her. “Ah, tell him authorities are still looking for her. But his Aunt Eliza and cousin Sarah were just here.”

Elizabeth's pulse throbbed in her throat as she tapped the message. Fitzwilliam's blind but hopeful eyes lowered, accepting the news. She'd been so foolish to reveal herself! In his fragile state, if he thought he'd found her and then she was dragged away and shot for treason—. Well, that wouldn't do either of them any good.

Dr. Scott leaned for a closer look at Fitzwilliam's swollen face. “Tell him I'll need to ask him a few questions and examine him, but I've brought morphine.”

Elizabeth relayed the message, and Fitzwilliam mumbled, “Morphine first...then questions.”

The doctor slipped the tiny white pill into his patient's mouth. Elizabeth tipped the feeding cup to Fitzwilliam's lips, and he sipped from the attached porcelain straw. Swallowing, his face creased with a grimace.

He eased himself back and exhaled a laboured breath. “How...bad is it?”

“Cracked ribs and perforated eardrums should heal. A severe concussion resulting in blindness and possible internal injuries. I'll need to examine you further.”

As Elizabeth tapped, moisture glistened in Fitzwilliam's eyes.

Oh, how her heart ached for him! She steadied her hand and relayed the additional questions from Dr. Scott while he looked into his patient's eyes and ears, then gently probed his head. Fitzwilliam groaned with every touch and movement.

“Will you unbutton his shirt?” Dr. Scott lifted Fitzwilliam's arm, gently feeling along each bone.

Elizabeth slid the buttons through the holes, careful to keep as far from Fitzwilliam as she could. She couldn't risk him smelling the lavender water again. How reckless she'd been to kiss and caress him earlier! Hopefully he would think it was just a dream.

She parted the fabric of his pyjama shirt, exposing the masculine planes of his chest. She gasped. The beautiful chest she'd seen last year was now much leaner and mottled with black and purple blotches.

Dr. Scott glanced at her. “Are you all right?”

“I-I've just never seen such extensive bruising.”

“Let's hope the worst of it is on the surface. Tell him I'll need to listen to his heart and probe his organs. He should speak up if it hurts. It could be especially painful if there's internal damage.”

She tapped the message, and he nodded, pinching his lips in anticipation of pain.

The muscles on Fitzwilliam's abdomen contracted the instant the doctor laid his hands there. Dr. Scott watched his patient's face as he gently palpated.

Fitzwilliam's brows drew together, his jaw muscle tightening.

“Any sharp pain?”

Elizabeth relayed the message.

Fitzwilliam released his breath, then winced at the pain in his ribs. “No...just sore.”

Dr. Scott nodded. “Good.”

With much moaning from their patient, they rolled the captain onto his side and repeated the probing on his spine and flanks.

The doctor patted Fitzwilliam's arm, then gently eased him back down. “Good news. I see no evidence of internal injury. And tell him we've contacted his sister. She should be here tomorrow. He can sleep now.”

With the message conveyed, Dr. Scott motioned her to the other side of the room.

Once away from the bed, Dr. Scott released a heavy breath. “This is going to be immensely difficult for his sister. She'll need a strong arm to lean on. Will you do that for her?”

“I'll try.” Elizabeth swallowed hard. How could she support someone else when she was barely hanging on herself?

“I have another favour to ask.” He met her eyes. “Captain Darcy provided the education that made me what I am today, and he is Miss Darcy's only immediate family. I want the best of care for him. He's going to need someone to look after him day and night who can communicate with him—to be his whole world until his hearing returns. And after that, he'll need a blind aide for some time. Would you be willing to commit to that? I can make it worth your while.”

Elizabeth looked away. As much as she longed to be with him, it was playing with fire. What if his sight suddenly returned, or he recognised her voice? If exposed, she—and he—faced a no-win situation. At worst, she'd be executed, and at best, even if she were to prove her innocence, his future would be ruined by his association with her. Her countrymen had no mercy on suspected German sympathisers. Suspicion or accusation was as good as a judgement of guilt. But how could she say no to caring for him when he needed her so much?

Perhaps she could compromise. “My heart is set on foreign service, and my London interview is in a fortnight. I will commit until then.”

“Fair enough. The notes here say that Captain Darcy's batman has a shoulder wound and Dr. Knightley hopes to send the man here to convalesce. He's not a medical professional, but he knows Darcy and telegraphy. He could be his eyes and ears. But you'll do it until then?”

Elizabeth nodded, steeling herself. “Yes.”

“All right. I imagine the captain will be asleep most of the time, but in his condition, I want someone with him at all times. Will you mind sleeping in the bedside chair these first few nights? Without the stimulation of light, he'll be unable to distinguish day from night and may have trouble sleeping. He could wake at all hours.”

“I understand.”

“I don't have to tell you to keep a close watch that no sharp objects are brought into the room.”

Their eyes met in mutual understanding. Suicide was all too common for those suddenly plunged into darkness.

“There's nothing more to be done tonight. I'll situate myself in one of the old servant's rooms and check on you in a bit. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.”

The doctor exited, and Elizabeth returned to the bed that held the man she loved. The dim light cast a warm glow over his bruised and battered body, and his chest rose and fell in steady rhythm. She longed to take his hand, gently kiss his lips again, and tell him over and over how much she loved him.

But she could not.

~~~*~~~

Elizabeth roused to anguished groans and the rustling of bed linens. Sitting up in the hard chair, her senses snapped to attention and her eyes riveted on Fitzwilliam. With wincing moans and grunts, he shifted restlessly.

She glanced at her watch. Two a.m.

With one hand she caressed the only spot of pink flesh on his cheek. With her other, she took his hand and tapped, It's all right. I have morphine. His motion stopped. He quieted.

She slipped a white pill into his mouth, then held the porcelain straw to his lips. He laboured for even a sip, but swallowed and settled back onto the pillow with a sigh.

Elizabeth squeezed his hand in acknowledgement, then returned to her chair, her shoes clicking on the wooden floor.

She stared at her beloved with the moonlight spilling over the foot of the bed. Moonlight that he could not see, and footsteps that he could not hear. The lump in her throat erupted into a sob. Burying her face in her hands, her shoulders heaved, and her chest welled with ache for him. The man she had come to love was not only injured and pulsing with pain, but he was shut off from the world around him.

She grieved for the depression and despondency she knew would come. She grieved for the frustration and trials he would face. Was she strong enough to help him struggle through the beginning of the process she had come to know so well at St. Dunstan's?

She inhaled a deep breath in an attempt to silence her tears. She'd only committed to two weeks. Surely she could endure that.

Couldn't she?

##

Are there any John Thornton fans out there??
SubjectAuthorPosted

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

GingerNovember 22, 2016 04:03AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

casey5k5November 23, 2016 02:44AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

GingerNovember 23, 2016 02:49AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

casey5k5November 23, 2016 09:44PM

Thank you! That is VERY helpful for me to know! (nfm)

GingerNovember 23, 2016 09:45PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

CleobNovember 23, 2016 08:06PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

CleobNovember 22, 2016 06:25PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

RoxeyNovember 22, 2016 09:19AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

GingerNovember 22, 2016 01:28PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

RoxeyNovember 22, 2016 09:19AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

EvelynJeanNovember 22, 2016 08:10AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

GSinghNovember 22, 2016 05:13AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

GingerNovember 22, 2016 12:54PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 16-17

CleobNovember 22, 2016 06:22PM



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