Through the car window he watched the sky brewing a darkness that was as old as the land around them. Lord Ambrose Sly wanted nothing more than for his chauffeur, Chandler, to pull into the Peacock Inn. He would give anything to have one of their delicious dinners and then climb the paisley-carpeted, narrow stairs to the rooms above. To sleep, undisturbed, in one of those dark-beamed, low ceilinged, womb-like places for as long as he desired. Until tomorrow’s sun was high in the sky. Until hunger drove him out, and not some officious, disgustingly cheerful nurse.
There were too many of those in his life now. He couldn’t keep track of them all. Why did he have to have a nurse? Wasn’t taking care of family meant to be done by family? Too busy spending his money, that’s what his family was doing. He didn’t need a nurse. All that was wrong with him was age. Bound to have a dicky heart when you’re old.
Chandler, of course, would do as he was told. Good man, Chandler, one of the best. But it wouldn’t be fair. Lord Sly knew his overbearing and officious son Henry would make life difficult for the chauffeur when they finally did return. Of course, Chandler might phone the house anyway and tell them where they were. It would be the right thing to do. Don’t want them panicking and phoning the police. If they weren’t back in time, the family might think they’d had an accident or something.
Of course, a call like that would bring Henry, if not Sophia and Sam down to the Inn to coax him home. He did so hate fuss.
He sighed heavily, resting his head back on the comfortable seat of the Rolls Royce Phantom. He watched as the warm, friendly lights of the ancient Peacock Inn swirled past in the low hanging fog drifting across the road. The mist left blurred trails on the glass. His old, tired reflection swam in the car window. The face seemed to stare back at him with deep pity. He closed his pale blue eyes and let the night seep into his bones.
It happened so quickly. The car jerked. Flung heavily against the door he awoke with a start. The tyres screamed. Chandler swore as he wrestled the big machine. The car swerved again, sharply, skidding on the wet, narrow road. The brakes locked and slid. With a rib-cracking thud a body bounced on the car’s bonnet. A face smacked the windscreen hard. Startlingly blue eyes, wide with horrified shock stared straight at him. A spider web of cracks in the glass splintered away from the face. The car slammed to a halt. The face vanished. The body hit the road with a dull thump.
In the sudden silence the hot metal of the engine ticked loudly. Warm tendrils of vapour rose from the bonnet into the cold night air. The moment seemed blank, confused. Ambrose blinked, trying to make sense of what just happened. The face had seemed part of a half-remembered dream.
Chandler turned quickly. “Are you all right, my Lord?”
Lord Ambrose nodded. He realised he was holding his breath and let it go in a shaky sigh.
Chandler, pulling his jacket closer and his cap further down against the biting wind, went to investigate. Ambrose pulled himself upright, leaning forward to watch. The body had rolled beyond the car and lay on its side facing the road ahead. It was wearing an army overcoat. Even in the dark, Ambrose could see it was torn and filthy. The kind of coat a tramp would wear.
Chandler carefully pulled the body over onto its back. The big car’s lights illuminated the planes of the man’s face. Chandler frowned and glanced briefly back at the car. He pressed his fingers against the man’s throat, feeling for a pulse. Inside the car, something in the chauffer’s expression made Ambrose toss aside the rug and climb out.
“My Lord, it’s cold out here.” Chandler stood quickly and stepped between the old man and the body.
Ambrose patted his arm. “Never mind that, Chandler. How is he? Is he alive? Is he hurt?” Leaning on the chauffer’s arm, he bent over stiffly, looked into the man’s face. His hand convulsed. He gasped and staggered. Chandler swiftly put his arm around him and held him steady.
“Please, my Lord, let me help you back to the car.”
“Chandler! It’s…” Lord Ambrose reached out a wavering hand to touch the unconscious man’s face. It was too far down. His fingers, his body quivered with the effort, the shock of seeing the man’s face. “Put him in the car. Quickly. We must get him home and fetch the doctor to him.”
Chandler helped Lord Ambrose back into the Daimler and trying to be as careful as he could, he dragged the injured man and hefted him onto the back seat. Ambrose took the man’s bleeding head onto his lap, ignoring Chandler’s protests, and covered him with the rug.
Chandler returned to the driver's seat.
With a fine, almost translucent hand, Lord Ambrose Sly carefully brushed the dirty hair back from the unconscious man’s face. “You’ve come home,” he whispered.
The chauffeur’s eyes flickered towards him in the rear-view mirror. If Lord Ambrose had been watching, he would have seen a look that could have been interpreted only one way – taking this tramp home was a bad idea. A very bad idea.
Copyright Elaine Dodge 2014