"Hester! Hester! Come quick! There's been a dreadful accident!"
Accustomed to her youngest brother's wild exaggerations, Miss Godric dusted the flour off her hands on her blue gingham apron in a leisurely way. The small boy burst into the kitchen. His white face and the panic in his voice galvanised her to action.
"It was Skip," cried Robbie. "He got out somehow and went for Mr. Borden's terrier just as a curricle came round the corner. The driver was thrown right into the road, and he's unconscious and there's blood everywhere. Do you think he's dead, Hester?"
"Surely not," soothed his sister in an anxious voice as she hurried after him. "The road is so muddy after all this rain that he must had quite a soft landing. Where are Jamie and Geoff?"
"Jamie went for the doctor already, and Geoff is calming the horses. There wasn't a groom."
"Well, at least I have a family with common sense," declared Hester. Picking up her skirts, she ran down the front steps and out of the white wicket gate into the street. For once she did not stop to admire Geoffrey's magnificent display of snapdragons, marigolds, cosmos, and delphiniums. The warm summer air was full of the scent of lavender as she knelt in the mud beside the injured stranger.
Geoffrey already had the pair of chestnuts under control, so Hester was able to turn all her attention to the man before her. He was lying quite still, and his left leg was at an odd angle, which convinced her that it was broken. His face was very pale, and there was indeed, as Rob had reported, a good deal of blood liberally splashed on his once-white neckcloth and soaking into the dirt around his head. With tentative fingers, she brushed back his fair hair and found the wound--a long gash that was still bleeding but did not seem very deep. She looked at her muddy petticoat, at her grubby brothers, and with a sigh sent Robbie into the house.
"Find Alice," she instructed, "and tell her to bring some clean linen to bind this cut. Quickly, Rob; it is still bleeding. Geoff, you had best take the curricle round into the yard and unharness the horses. Then come back; I'll need your help."
A few minutes later, her eldest brother appeared from the direction of the town centre, running and panting in a way he would normally have stigmatised as highly undignified.
"Jamie, give me your cravat," Hester greeted him. "Is Dr. Price coming?"
"Yes," gasped the youth, wrestling with his neckcloth. "I met him just down the road but going in the other direction. He had to turn the gig, so I came back at once without waiting for him. Is he badly hurt?" He handed his sister the crumpled but clean cloth, and she pressed it firmly to the cut on the stranger's forehead.
"As far as I can see, he is not likely to die," reassured Hester. "However, I am sure his leg is broken, and I have no idea what to do about it. I hope Dr. Price will hurry."
"Here he comes already," cried Robbie, reappearing in the doorway. "Dr. Price, Dr. Price, can I hold Bo'sun?"
"Indeed to goodness, Mr. Midshipman," answered the stout, white-haired Welshman with a twinkle in his eye, clambering down from his seat with Jamie's assistance. He handed over the reins of the placid nag, who was standing stock-still. "Do not let the old rascal stray, my boy."
"Aye, aye, sir!" responded Robbie joyfully.
"So! What have we here?" queried Dr. Price in his lilting voice, casting a comprehensive glance over his sprawling patient. "Broken leg; looks nasty. What of his head, Miss Godric?"
Hester gingerly removed the cloth from the wound. It seemed to have stopped bleeding. Breathing heavily, the old physician bent down to have a closer look. "That'll not make him slip his anchor. Better bind it while I look at that leg."
"Robbie, where is Alice? Did I not send you for her?"
"Oh, she is having hysterics," said the boy scornfully. And Susan just started praying, so I told Ivy. She made Susan go with her to get some cloths, so I expect she'll be out in a minute."
"As if Ivy did not have enough work!" objected James. "I'll give Alice a piece of my mind, see if I don't."
"Oh, Jamie, it is very trying, but you know your sister's excessive sensibilities," calmed Hester. "We have enough trouble here without you picking a quarrel with her. See, here is Susan."
A girl of about twelve came through the gate, a basket over her arm.
"Here is the linen, Hester," she announced. "May I help you succour the sick? The Lord says--"
"Bother the Lord," exclaimed Geoffrey, appearing round the corner of the house. "Don't be so sanctimonious, you little brat."
"I shall pray for you, dear brother," she responded with hauteur. "Hester, may I help?"
"Indeed, dearest, it would be of the greatest assistance if you would go to Alice and try to stop her working herself into a frenzy. Dr. Price, should I not wash his head before I bind it?"
The doctor was now on his knees in the mud, feeling the stranger's leg.