“Carson.” Robert said the name, startled to have run into the man in the village.
“My Lord.” Charles acknowledged, wishing he were anywhere but here at this moment. The last person he wanted to see was the man who had trusted the word of Thomas Barrow.
Robert was taken aback by the tone of his former butler’s voice. It had been three years, surely the man had gotten over the little matter of the housekeeper’s dismissal. “I hear you’ve been out of town and have only just returned.”
Charles felt his jaw twitch as he gritted his teeth. “I was, My Lord.”
“Visiting a friend?” Robert asked, thinking that the man had probably been off visiting Elsie Hughes.
“No.” Charles snapped then cleared his throat. “I wasn’t visiting, My Lord. Excuse me. I need to be going. I have a meeting I’m going to be late for.”
Robert blinked in surprise as he watched the man turn and leave without so much as a goodbye. He’d never known Charles Carson to be so rude or to hold a grudge. After all, he was merely making pleasant conversation.
Charles could feel his former employer’s eyes on him as he stormed away. He could well imagine that the man was standing there trying to reason out why his former butler had been so abrupt. He knew that the Earl was probably thinking that as a good Englishman, Charles should have been polite and that he should have given up his grudge.
What the Earl didn’t know, was that Charles had given up his grudge until he’d found Elsie, and then it had returned ten fold. Besides, Charles wasn’t the only one that hadn’t given up on their feelings about how the whole sorry mess was handled.
Lady Edith lived in London with her daughter and ran the magazine that Mr. Gregson had left her. She had confessed the truth of her child shortly after Elsie had left. She’d been upset with her father from the moment he’d returned from London, angry that he’d made her handle the situation, and being separated from her child had just been too much.
Lady Mary, who had taken to coming down to visit with Charles in his pantry at night to make sure he was alright, had been every bit as angry at her father as Edith – the young ladies for once united about something. Charles knew that Lady Mary was only angry because she had seen how upset he was over the loss of Mrs. Hughes, but it had eased his aching heart some to know she cared for him as much as he cared for her. She had expressed the wish to have been free to leave as Edith had, but she knew that she had a duty to young Master George to raise him at Downton so that he would know and love the people and land he would one day be responsible for as the heir. She had married a year later, and had been travelling with her husband when both had been killed in an aeroplane crash, leaving young Master George to be raised by nannies and then to be sent off to boarding school to begin to prepare him for his life as the future Earl.
After the death of Lady Mary, even the Countess had moved to London and was living in Grantham House, when she was in England. She’d taken to spending time in America with her mother and brother.
Nothing was the same as it had been before that fateful day.
Even a large part of the servants had scattered here and yon.
After Lady Mary was no longer there, Charles had retired and bought a cottage in the village to live in. Once he was gone, others slowly started leaving.
Daisy had left and gone to live on the farm with Mr. Mason, choosing to continue her studies. Mr. Mason had helped her set up a small business venture selling jams that she made using fruits and berries he grew on the land. The young woman was thriving, and always made sure to come visit bearing gifts of his favorite jam and pastries.
Mr. Bates and Anna had left after Lady Mary’s wedding and were now living in Ireland near his family – their own family having grown by one little miss named Elsie May. They wrote frequently, telling of how things were going for them running their small inn, of how the little one was growing. The last letter had spoken of wishing that the lass could meet the woman she was named for. He had written back and asked them to start making plans to bring little Elsie to Downton Village in a month, telling them that he would explain everything in detail then.
Molesley and Ms. Baxter had married shortly after Molesley’s father had passed and left his home and gardens to his son. The younger Molesley had become a steadier man with his wife by his side, and amazingly enough, the younger man was as good with flowers as his father had been, as long as he wore gloves and long sleeves. Ms. Baxter, now Mrs. Molesley, had used savings to open up a small shop, making dresses for the local ladies so that they didn’t have to travel all the way to Ripon or Thirsk. The couple visited him as much as was possible. Molesley, or Joseph as he had asked to be called after leaving service, had even helped Charles with the flowers he’d planted around his cottage.
Charles shook his head. The annoying man wasn’t so annoying anymore. The love a good woman, he supposed, could do that to a man.
Elsie’s love, he knew, would have made him a better man if only he’d given her half the chance to show him.
Now, he would be the one to show his love. He would use the love he had for this Scottish lass, the one who had stolen his heart so many years ago, to try and help her find her way back.
He would be her tall, steady lighthouse – his love the beacon.
“How long were you going to hide, Carson?” Violet asked as she studied the man staring out the sitting room windows.
“I’m sorry, My Lady. I just,” he shook his head, clearing his throat to keep the waver from his voice.
“Carson? What is it? You told me you found her, and I know that you had to pay her husband to be able to take her away,” she paused and pursed her lips as a sudden terrible thought occurred to her. “Carson…”
Charles knew that tone, knew what the grand dame was going to ask. Turning from the window, he looked at Violet as he answered the question she hadn’t asked with words. “He hurt her, My Lady. The reason I’ve been hiding is because I’ve been helping Mrs. Crawley take care of Elsie. I knew that if I left Crawley House, people would ask if I’d found Elsie and other questions, and I wasn’t ready to answer.”
“And are you ready to answer them now?”
“If you ask, I will do my best to answer.”
“I wasn’t speaking of myself, Carson. What you’ve told me, and the look in your eyes as you said the words, told me all that I need to know. I was speaking of those in the village that will be curious. Of my son if he happens to see you.”
“Oh, I’ve seen him. We crossed paths when I was taking care of a few errands in the village. He tried to speak to me, but I’m afraid I was rather rude. I know as a proper Englishman, I should let my grudge go, but,”
Violet interrupted. “I know you, Carson. You had given up your grudge. Then you found Miss Hughes and now it’s more than a grudge you hold against my son.”
“I’m sorry, My Lady.”
Violet held up her hand. “No need for apologies, Carson. I’ll do my best to keep my son from confronting you. I’ll also do what I can to keep gossip in the village to a minimum.”
“Thank you, My Lady. I,”
“I need your help with something else. I’m sorry to keep asking things of you, and when I can, I intend to do my best to pay you back the money I borrowed for Elsie.”
“Never mind any of that. What is it you need?”
“The name of a good lawyer to help Elsie with a divorce.”
“I’ll call Murray tomorrow. He’ll know who to call. We’ll get the best for her, Carson. I promise. No woman should be treated as Miss Hughes has been.”
“Thank you, My Lady. Thank you.”
“I keep telling you thanks isn’t necessary. The years of service you gave to my family, you and Miss Hughes, you deserve all the help I can give. Especially after the way she was treated in the end. I know nothing of Scottish traditions and such, but I can have Lord Flintshire look into it as well. He may be able to find something to help the case.”
Charles opened his mouth to say thank you once again, but a look from Violet had him shrugging his shoulders helplessly and closing his mouth.
Violet shook her head. “Go back to Miss Hughes, Carson. It’s getting late and you don’t want to worry her.”
Charles nodded and held up his hand when Violet reached for the bell by her chair. “I can see myself out, My Lady. No need to strain Mr. Spratt with the impropriety of escorting me out.”
Violet rolled her eyes. “That man is getting entirely too snobbish. Maybe that’s what you can do for me, Carson.”
“Be your butler, My Lady?” Carson asked, a bushy eyebrow raised.
“No, you have better things to do. You do, however, know who would be a good replacement, I’m sure.”
“I could make some inquiries, if that is what you wish, My Lady.”
“I do wish. I’m tired of the nonsense.”
“I will send out a few letters to some of my acquaintances with tomorrow’s post.”
“Very well. Good evening, Carson.” Violet watched the man leave, her normally cool countenance falling once she was sure she was alone.
Elsie Hughes, abused.
Three years of living in that hell.
What had they done?