A new development.
Following from the last section
A strange man falls into Elizabeth’s life.
“I don’t think anything is broken, but.” He struggled to rise, then stopped. “It’s my ankle, I’ve done for it.”
Elizabeth thought for a moment; it wasn’t too far to the gate and Lucy should be back with her father. “Let me help you to the road.”
Henry thought for a moment, and said, “Yes, that’s best. Please.” He looked up in the tree above, and Elizabeth followed his glance. There was a thin shinny tissue of fabric hanging from it, with straps dangling below. “Can’t leave that here, like that.” When he pressed a button on his belt, the material dissolved into the tiny threads of a spider web and then drifted off in the wind.
“What was that?”
“Oh, my descent chute. I drifted into the trees on the way down.” He intently studied her face, and to be honest, she intently studied his. Despite the dirt and grime, she liked what she saw in this young man. He smiled at her, evidently he liked what he saw as well. “That didn’t make any sense to you, did it?”
“I’ll explain later, when I’m better. After I’ve seen Dr Standfast.”
“If you want my help, you can tell me now.”
Henry smiled at her, and said nothing.
“That’s not an answer, and my friends will be here shortly. Take you to the magistrate and see what he says.”
“I was attempting a balloon crossing of the ocean. Not the best of ideas, in retrospect. At least I had a parachute, Garnerin’s idea. Drifted into that tree on the way down and well, here I am.”
“Across the ocean, I don’t believe you. No one could do that and they’d be a fool to try.”
Henry laughed, “You’re right. Ballooned away from the circus, if you want the unvarnished and simple truth. It was either a stunt like that, or back to shovelling up after the elephants in the morning.”
“That explains your uniform. What about the burns?”
“Hot air balloon. Caught fire. It was a great show, pity no one saw it.”
Elizabeth bent down to help him stand. Then with her support, they hobbled out to the lane. Lucy hadn’t arrived. “We can wait for my friend, she’s bringing her father.”
“I think I can walk, with your help. I’d like to carry on if that’s all right with you.”
Summoning her last reserves of strength, Elizabeth said, “We can try, but I’m not that strong. Still recovering myself.”
Mr Sharpless said, “I think you’ll be surprised at what you can do.”
What they could do was to walk the quarter mile to where the lane ended and another crossed it.
“I don’t know. I think to the right, because the other way is Moretonhampstead, but that could be the right way.”
“That is a dilemma.”
The dilemma, at least for the young man, suddenly became worse. Elizabeth said, “I feel faint.”
Then she collapsed against him. He was doing his best to gently lower her to the ground when he heard the noise of a Tilbury being driven hard along the road.
Dr Grace’s loud voice, trained and practised from years in the pulpit of making his sermon heard in the back of the church, boomed out. “What are you doing with Miss James? Unhand her this instant!”
The man startled and straightened, but didn’t drop Elizabeth. “She fainted. We were on our way to Dr Standfast’s” Then he continued to lower her gently to the ground.
At a nod from her father, Lucy jumped down and ran to her friend. “Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered, then as she woke she said, “Lucy, I fainted.”
“Yes, you did. My father’s here, with the cart.”
Unnoticed in the background, the man turned and tried to slip off. He took one step, putting real weight on his injured ankle. It didn’t support him. “Great Zeno’s testicles! That hurts.”
He collapsed to the lane and started crawling away. The horse, unused to such bizarre behaviour, whinnied. The man froze, “What was that!”
He shook his head, “Yes, I remember, a horse. Ha, ha, silly me, a horse. Didn’t think they were so big.”
“She’s just a pony. Not a big one at that.”
With Lucy’s help Elizabeth sat and put her head between her hands, resting on her knees. “I’ll be better, in a moment. Lucy, could you help?” She stopped, “What is your name, again?”
“Henry, Henry Sharpless.”
“Lucy, could you help Mr Sharpless into the cart? He hurt his ankle.”
Lucy helped Henry to stand and supported him as he hobbled to the side of the carriage. Then Dr Grace leaned over
and gave him a hand up. After that she helped Elizabeth to stand and steadied her on her way to the trap. With both Henry and Elizabeth as passengers there wasn’t room for another, so Lucy walked beside them as they drove to Barnecourt Farm.
Dr Standfast dashed over when the precession finally reached Barnecourt. “What’s wrong, is Miss James fine?”
Lucy said, “She collapsed Dr Standfast. I think we overdid it.”
Elizabeth stirred, “I’m exhausted Uncle. There’s this man I found. He needs your help.”
“I see.” Sylvester gave Henry a quick glance, then said, “He can wait.” He shouted, “George, Mary, please come.” Then he said to both Lucy and Elizabeth, “Let’s get you inside. Miss Grace, can you help me with Elizabeth?”
Together they assisted Elizabeth inside and tucked her into a comforter on the sofa in the front parlour. She immediately fell asleep.
Her uncle was sitting in the parlour, across from her and watching when, several hours later, when she awoke.
“Much. I hope it wasn’t too rude of me to not take my goodbyes.”
“No, I saw Miss Grace and her father off. They understood, and in any case, Mrs Grace expected them for supper. Now, you must take it easy and not overdo it.”
“Good. I don’t want any more frights. You’ll recover your strength much more quickly if you don’t tax yourself.”
Elizabeth nodded, “I’ll try.” Then she tried to remember, there was something she wanted to ask her uncle. “Uncle?”
“I suppose you are wondering about that young man, Mr Sharpless.”
“Who? Oh, yes, him. That wasn’t it, but how is he?”
“He’ll recover, tore up his ankle, and had a touch of exposure, but given a few days, he’ll be up and about.”
“Isn’t that fast, for an ankle, I mean?”
“I didn’t say it won’t hurt. He’ll limp for a while longer, but best if he gets moving. He’s in the old stable-lad’s room. I think I’ll employ him as a hand. George could use the help, none of us are getting any younger.”
Sylvester noticed that Elizabeth flashed a quick smile. “Was there something else? Otherwise I’ll have Mary bring your supper.”
“Oh, yes. In the field, there was this.” Her smile most definitely disappeared.
“You saw the pentangle?”
“Yes, is there a coven or what?”
Sylvester laughed, “No coven, this is modern England after all. No, I explained it to Dr Grace. One of my friends, connected with the Dartmoor Exploration Committee, wanted to perform an experiment.”
“Summoning the Devil?”
“No, re-creating a Druidical monument. See how it decays. He hopes it will help them interpret their diggings.” Her uncle chuckled, “Summoning the Devil. You read too many lurid romances, Elizabeth. Have to find you some more solid literature. Rein in that imagination of yours.”
“I don’t. The last book I read was ‘Three men in a boat.” I doubt ‘Uncle Podger’ could give rise to dreams about much other than fat men running for the train or else smashing walls when hanging a picture. I did like Montemercy, could we have a dog?”
“Then Miss Grace.”
“She is a romantic soul, read me a poem by the river. It was lovely, and I’ll have to read some poetry myself.”
“Just don’t let your imagination get carried away, and no Fox-Terriers, at least not until you’re truly recovered.” He looked at the clock, “My, is that the time? An experiment awaits. On my way out I’ll see that Mary brings your supper.”
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