25. New Crutches

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James' new crutches looked positively indestructible as their long arcs gleamed a rich, polished brown in the morning light that streamed in through the windows of the Hutch office.

Brooks must have made an impression on the men in carpentry, as they'd used the English oak we normally reserve for the more massive, heavy wear-and-tear chairs and cabinets. 

I ran my hand over the sleek surfaces. The men had done a truly excellent job.



"Has Davis been informed of his good fortune yet?" I pointed towards the crutches.

Pritchard shook his head. "They jus-st arrived. Haven't had t-time to send a message." 

I looked at my wristlet. It was early enough yet, James might still be in the Infirmary having his breakfast. Like a child at Christmas, I suddenly couldn't wait to him to have them.  Heaving them onto my shoulders, I shouted to Prichard that I'd be back shortly and manoeuvred my way out carefully of the house.  

Just as I'd guessed, most of the men were still bent over their breakfast bowls as I came clattering in the door of the Infirmary, setting my load down and wiping a few stray strands of hair out of my face.  

"Good morning, Miss Olivia! What a lovely sight so early in the morning," Hammond cried, his mouth still full of porridge. 

"Watch it," growled Sykes, as he rose to his feet, making a few quick swipes over his moustache to clean it. "Good morning, Miss Altringham. How canna we help ye?"  

Many of the men had turned their sleep-pale faces towards me like a battalion of curious search lights, making me realise this might not have been the best of ideas. When did I ever come here, and this early in the morning? They were certainly wondering what was so important.  

"Davis, where is he? I've got a surprise for him." I said, nodding my good mornings to the closest men. There was no taking my leave now, I was stuck in for the entire chucker. 

Sykes turned and bellowed down the length of the Infirmary "DAVIS! Get yerself up here, ye've got a visitor!"

At the far end of the hall, James' figure rose, bowl still in hand. The search lights swivelled towards him as he slowly set it down and made his way towards us.

"Don't keep the lady waiting, lad! She's got more important business to attend to than the likes o' ye!" Sykes added before setting himself down again and making a show of minding his own business. 

It occurred to me for about the hundredth time that Sykes was a godsend. No wonder the men respected him and treated him as their unofficial lead officer, even if he preferred to spend most of his time tending flowers and tomatoes. He knew when to interfere and when to avert his eyes, when to know what was going on and when to be ignorant of it. 

James seemed to increase his pace nominally, his head angled in hesitant skepticism and eyeing with a hint of warning. I couldn't blame him for disliking the attention, but what did he think I was there for? To publicly dress him down in front of everyone? 

Some of the men began to lose interest and return to their food, others craned their necks not to miss a moment of this unusual scene.

As James drew close, I could see what I'd taken to be a warning look was in fact a dense storm brewing behind his grey eyes. 

I patted the crutches. "Two new legs for Lieutenant Davis. Just delivered."  I smiled at him, but my smile  wasn't returned and I let it slowly melt from my face. Whatever devilment did he think I was here for? 

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