I blink in surprise as I’m summoned by Lady Edith to join her in the library. I’ve only just returned to Downton and can’t fathom what the young lady might need to see me for. As I make my way up the stairs, down the halls, I think of what had transpired between Mr. Carson and I at the seaside.
It was innocent enough. We’d merely held hands after all, but it had changed things. At least for me. I couldn’t be sure about Mr. Carson as I’d not had a chance to speak to him in private before leaving to return home. It was something I planned to do first chance I had after he returned to Downton.
Entering the library, I find Lady Edith staring out the windows. “You wished to see me, My Lady?”
“I did,” she answered as she turned around. “I’m afraid I’ve been left with a terrible duty.”
I frown and give her a puzzled look. “I’ll do what I can to help, My Lady, if only you’ll tell me.”
“You can help by telling me it isn’t true.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand, My Lady.”
“I received a call from Papa,” she cleared her throat. “Lord Grantham. He says that Mr. Barrow has made accusations against you and Carson. Accusations that can,”
I hold up my hand to stop her. “It is all on me, My Lady. Mr. Carson has no fault in this. It is all mine. It is always the fault of the woman in things such as these. We are always to blame. It is our duty not to lead them astray,” I tell her, not believing one word uttered from my mouth. “I understand now the duty you spoke of and I’ll save you the task. All I ask is that I’m allowed the time to pack my things.” I can see the young woman’s startled expression, her eyes sad and filled with pain I don’t understand. Surely it can’t be for me? We’ve never been especially close.
“Mrs. Hughes, are you saying it’s true?”
“I’m saying, My Lady, that I’ll take the blame for whatever Mr. Barrow has accused us of. Mr. Carson has been with the family longer than I and is more highly valued. He is needed for the running of Downton, whereas I can be replaced. Anna would do nicely, if I may be so bold as to suggest a replacement when I’ve been such a disgrace.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Hughes. I don’t know what to do. I told Papa that this should wait until he and Mama were here, but he insisted that I get to the bottom of it at once because we can not afford the scandal it would bring upon this house.” Swallowing, Lady Edith continued, “I can’t give you references because you’ve admitted guilt, though I doubt the truth of it, but I can grant you the time needed to pack your things.” Looking back out the window, the young woman valiantly tried to hide her sniff. “You may go, Mrs. Hughes.”
“Thank you, My Lady. You’ve been most gracious,” I whisper before turning and quietly leaving the room.
I should have known better.
I should never have taken the chance, knowing that Thomas was about.
I know what he’s up to, what he’s plotting.
He thinks to get Mr. Carson sacked so he’ll have the run of this house.
Hell will freeze over before I give him that.
I love Charles Carson.
Have done for twenty years, I suppose.
I’ll not see his good name tarnished by the likes of Thomas Barrow.
I’ll take the burning of a thousand suns upon my brow before Mr. Carson loses the one thing he holds most dear.
If I have to leave this house, my home, my friends, without references, so be it.
No one knows the true reason I’ve left. Daisy and the others have been told that my sister is ill and I must go to her. As I’m walking to the station, my belongings in the bags I carry, I feel the weight of what has happened bearing down upon me.
I’m leaving behind everything I hold dear.
I’m leaving behind my good name, my reputation.
It’s worth it, I’ve told myself the last hours as I hastily packed.
If I save Mr. Carson from losing his reputation, his good name, then every humiliation I’ll endure once the truth comes out, is worth it.
I do intend to go to my sister’s, though I’ve not sent word.
I don’t care what happens to me, really, it’s Mr. Carson that I care about. If he were to be sacked by his beloved family it would break his heart.
And if there’s one thing I know in all of this…
The only heart that I’ll allow to be broken because of me…
Is my own.
Beryl’s tears rolled down her cheeks as she read the account of that day. Sniffing and wiping at her eyes, she turned her attention to the letter that had accompanied this one, written by Elsie’s brother-in-law. “Why did you write it down, Elsie? And why did your sister hide it in the back of her drawer?” she whispered as she held the paper to her chest, the ache there nearly unbearable. Elsie’s brother-in-law had only just found Elsie’s letter, three years after the woman had left in disgrace.
Three years after Charles Carson had been broken. Something Elsie hadn’t foreseen.
Beryl narrowed her eyes, an all too out of place evil smile on her face.
Three years after Thomas Barrow got his.
Beryl still couldn’t believe how the Dowager had gone out of her way to get rid of Barrow once she’d seen first hand what Elsie’s leaving had done to the former butler. Out of all of the ones she’d thought would believe that Elsie hadn’t done anything wrong, the old bat hadn’t been one of them.
But to the surprise of all and sundry, she’d took it upon herself to find Barrow a position in a house in London. One that she knew would provide him with the payback he deserved for what he’d done. Beryl knew from her friend, the cook in the house Barrow had moved to, that the Lord and Lady of the house were holy terrors. She also knew that Thomas Barrow had become the outcast in the house, having to watch his p’s and q’s to keep himself out of prison.
The Lord and Lady of his new residence weren’t as forgiving and lenient as Lord and Lady Grantham.
“He deserves everything that comes to ‘im,” she growled. Folding the letters and putting them back in their envelope, she stood and took off her apron then slipped the envelope into her skirt pocket. She had an errand to run. A friend to see.
She would go to Charles’ cottage and let him see the letter.
Let him read Elsie’s account of that day.
Let him see that the woman loved him enough to sacrifice everything.
Loved him enough to become tarnished.