He wanted nothing more than for Chandler to pull in to the Peacock Inn. To have one of their delicious dinners and then climb the paisley-carpeted, narrow stairs. To sleep, undisturbed, in one of the low ceilinged, womb-like rooms for as long as he desired. Until tomorrow’s morning sun was high in the sky, until hunger drove him out, and not some officious, disgustingly cheerful nurse. Chandler of course, would do as he was told, but it wouldn’t be fair. He knew Henry would make life difficult for the chauffeur when they finally did return; if Chandler didn’t phone the house anyway and tell his nephew where they were.
That would bring Henry, if not Sophia and Sam down to the Inn to coax him home. And they’d succeed. He did so hate fuss.
He sighed heavily, and resting his head on the comfortable back seat of the Daimler, watched as the warm, friendly lights of the ancient Peacock Inn swirled past in the low hanging fog that drifted across the road. The mist left soft, wet, diagonal 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 grey 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, unbelieving shock stared straight at him. A red-veined spider web of cracks splintered away from the face. The car slammed to a halt. The face vanished.
He could hear the hot metal of the engine ticking. Warm tendrils of vapour rose from the bonnet into the cold night air. The moment seemed blank, confused.
Chandler turned quickly. “Are you all right, my 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. The body lay on its side facing the road ahead. Chandler carefully pulled it over on to its back. The big car’s lights illuminated the planes of the man’s face. Chandler whistled in surprise and glanced briefly back at the car. He pressed his fingers against the man’s throat, feeling for a pulse.
Inside the car, Ambrose blinked, trying to make sense of what just happened. Perhaps the face he thought he’d seen was only part of a half remembered dream. But something in the chauffeur'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?” He pushed past and leaning on the chauffeur's arm, bent over stiffly and 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.”
“It’s… Chandler! It’s…” 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. “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 started the car and eased back on to the road. With a fine, almost translucent hand Lord Ambrose carefully brushed the 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. The family wasn’t going to be happy about this.