The Dangerous Lord Darrington(4)

By: Sarah Mallory

‘Here, you can use this to carry him indoors.’

Silently Guy watched as the woman issued instructions, directing the men in the best way to ease the unconscious man on to the blanket and how to hold it to cause the least movement as they made their way up into the house. He stopped for a quick word with the groom who came running out to take charge of the horses, then followed behind the ragged cortege, unheeded as they made their way through the echoing hall and up a wide stone staircase to a small chamber where a maid was hurriedly building up the fire.

Guy retired to the corner, reduced to a spectator. He was ready to advise if necessary, but the young woman was supervising the men as they laid Davey on the bed and Guy did not think he could improve upon her instructions. He watched her as she moved around the room, the candlelight glinting on her flame-red hair. Despite his concern for his friend, Guy found himself wondering how old she was: not a girl, that was certain, for she carried herself with assurance, speaking to the men—all known to her by name—in a calm, low voice. She was dressed in a grey gown that showed her slender figure to advantage and she moved with a youthful grace and agility that was very pleasing to the eye. She was clearly used to running a household. Was she perhaps the Lady Arabella the men had mentioned? He broke off from his reflections as the sound of a hasty footstep in the corridor announced the arrival of the doctor. A large, cheerful-looking man appeared in the doorway.

‘Ah, Mrs Forrester, good evening to you!’

That answered one of Guy’s questions.

The doctor approached the bed, saying cheerfully, ‘So this is the young man I have been summoned to attend, is it? Thrown from his horse, I understand.’

‘Yes.’ Guy stepped out of the shadows. ‘The mare came down on top of him.’

‘Hmm.’ The doctor frowned down at the unconscious form now laid out upon the bed. With a sudden movement he began to take off his coat. ‘Then I must get to work. The rest of you should leave me now—except for your footman, ma’am. I will need him to help me undress my patient.’

‘I will help you do that,’ said Guy quickly.

The doctor gave him a searching look.

‘I think not, sir. You would be advised to get out of those wet clothes or I shall end up with two patients instead of one! Mrs Forrester, perhaps you will take care of that—and get the rest of these men out of here! They have served their purpose and should all go away now!’

The red-haired woman immediately moved towards the door.

‘Of course. Thank you, everyone. If you would like to go down to the kitchens, Cook has prepared a bowl of punch for you all.’

‘Does that include me?’ asked Guy as he filed out of the room behind the others. The young woman’s large, dark eyes regarded him solemnly. She gave no sign that she had noticed his attempt at humour.

‘No, sir, you may wait for your friend in the great hall. I will have refreshments brought to you there.’

Guy followed her back down the stairs. He had not realised how chilled he had become until he felt the heat coming from the fire blazing in the huge fireplace. Thankfully he moved towards it.

‘And just who is this man dripping water all over my floor?’

The imperious voice stopped him in his tracks. He looked round to find an old woman standing on the far side of the room. She was dressed in severe black with a black lace cap over her snow-white hair and she was leaning heavily on an ebony cane. She looked very regal and Guy glanced down at his mud-stained clothes.

‘I fear I must present a very dishevelled appearance, ma’am, and I beg your pardon.’ He gave her his most elegant bow. ‘I am Darrington.’

‘The Earl of Darrington?’

‘The same, madam.’

Behind him he heard the young woman’s sharp intake of breath and smiled to himself. She had clearly not thought him of such consequence!

‘Well, you will catch your death of cold if you remain in those wet clothes! Beth, my dear, what are you thinking of?’

‘But Tilly and Martin are—’

‘If the servants are busy, then you must take the earl upstairs, girl. Immediately!’

‘I assure you, ma’am,’ Guy began, ‘I would as lief stay here beside the fire—’

Mrs Forrester interrupted him. ‘My grandmother is right, my lord, you should change,’ she said. ‘Pray forgive me for not thinking of it sooner. Follow me, if you please.’

She led him away, up the stairs and through the twisting, turning corridors. As he followed he tried to take in his surroundings. The entrance and great hall were obviously very old, probably part of the original priory, but there were signs that the house had been extended in Tudor times to make a comfortable residence. The whole building had an air of antiquity and demonstrated the family’s pride in its heritage. Everywhere was filled with fine old furniture and paintings from previous centuries; he guessed that the coffers pushed into odd corners would be found to contain a mass of unwanted objects that the old lady could not bring herself to throw away.

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