Richard smiled as Elsie briefly looked up at him through her lashes. “How does your jaw feel?”
“A bit stiff.” Elsie answered quietly, her gaze fixed on her hands which were fidgeting in her lap.
Richard looked up at Isobel, who sat to the side and just behind Elsie, and received a sad look in response. “What about your ribs?”
“A little sore.” Once again her answer was quiet, her gaze still fixed on her hands.
Richard closed his eyes and cursed the man that had done this. He’d taken an oath to do no harm, but by God, if he were to ever meet Connell McNeil, someone would have to hold him back to keep him from strangling the man.
Isobel watched the emotions crossing her husband’s face, and felt her heart swell with love for him. He was the kind of man every woman deserved, a true man, a man that loved and respected her – a man that she knew was struggling with the murderous feelings that went against everything he believed in.
Richard opened his eyes and reached out, his hand palm up as he stopped it just in the line of Elsie’s sight. The action got her attention and she glanced up at him from under her lashes once more. “Lift your head, Lass. You never have to avert your gaze away from any man or woman. Never, Lass. You’re as good as I, as good as Isobel, or anyone else in this village.”
Elsie shook her head. “No, I’m not. I’m,” she started then shook her head again. “I’m not.”
Isobel felt white hot anger surge through her even as tears filled her eyes. Moving from her chair, she knelt next to the chair Elsie was sitting in. Looking up at her friend, she slowly reached out and laid a hand over Elsie’s. “You, Elsie Hughes, are the strongest woman I have ever met. You ran a household like a fine tuned clock. Anna, bless her, loves you like a mother. You taught them all well, kept most of them out of trouble. You helped Ethel when she came to you. I know how you helped dear William when he was homesick and after his mother’s death. You did that Elsie. You.” Isobel smiled as she gently squeezed Elsie’s hands. “You, and no one else, calmed Carson when he would bluster and shout. You helped ease him into change, Elsie. No small feat from what I’ve been told. It was all you. Strong, beautiful, with a caring heart and soul, Elsie Hughes.”
“I’m not those things. I’m nothing but a,”
“Don’t you dare say that, Elsie.” Richard scolded gently, his voice steady and calm. “You are those things, and so much more. I watched you face possible death, Elsie. I’ve never had a patient face it with such strength. Elsie,” he lowered his voice then continued. “I have a friend I would like you to talk to.”
“No. No. No.” Elsie felt herself start to panic. “No,” she whispered as she pulled away and moved across the room, putting herself in the corner. Her whole body was trembling with each shake of her head, her hands fisted in her dress. She knew what Richard was going to suggest, and she knew that there was no way she could do it. She never talked about what had happened to her in those three years, not to anyone, and she didn’t think she’d ever be able to. It wasn’t her place to speak ill of her husband. She was his property, after all, and he could do with her what he saw fit.
Isobel and Richard both sighed and looked at each other. They knew what Elsie was thinking, and had suspected this might be the way she reacted, but had both felt it was time to try and get her to open up to someone about the abuse.
A knock on the door startled them.
“I’ll go and see who it is.” Richard told Isobel quietly.
“I’m sure it’s Beryl or Charles.”
“I hope it’s Beryl.”
Everything had gone to the cottage his full last week as butler, just a few bits and bobs had been left on the desk to be packed. He remembered wanting to leave right then and there after he’d told the Earl he was retiring, but had instead agreed to stay on for two more weeks, the most that he was willing to give.
Charles reached out to the mantel of his fireplace, his fingers caressing the familiar ridges of the spiral seashell feeling the chips and dings acquired from knocking about on his desk and then sitting and being knocked off this mantel over the last year. He felt a bit like the old shell, battered and worn, but still solid and reliable. Something Elsie needed now.
Thinking back to the outing, of walking hand in hand into the sea, combing the beach for seashells at sunset – that had been a turning point in his life, their lives, but not in the way he had begun to hope for as he had said goodbye to her at Grantham House, her, “I’ll see you in two weeks, Mr. Carson,” still ringing in his ears.
He hadn’t known, as he thought of how things would change once he returned to Downton, that their goodbyes had been their last.
He still found it hard to believe that he hadn’t been told of Elsie’s leaving by the Earl so that he would be prepared for her absence when he returned back to Downton Village. As it was, he had walked through the back door to be met by Daisy, who had told him the lie that had been perpetuated by the family about how Mrs. Hughes had gone to take care of her sister who had taken ill.
He growled at the thought of Alba McLean, wretched woman that she was. He still had trouble grasping how one’s own flesh and blood could be so cruel as to basically send their sibling into the pits of hell.
Putting the shell back on the mantel, he turned and headed out of his cottage. His feet taking the path that would lead him to Crawley House. He had a blue eyed lass to check on.
He had thought about telling her that the Dowager was helping him try to procure a divorce from that horrid man, but then he’d thought better of it. Elsie wasn’t in any shape to hear that man’s name, much less discuss dissolving their marriage. What she needed now was just to be loved and taken care of by people who only had her best interest at heart. People like himself, Beryl, Mrs. Clarkson, and Dr. Clarkson. Elsie also needed them to help her get her self esteem back.
He hated how she wouldn’t meet their eyes. He missed the fiery Scottish lass that would argue with him toe to toe, occasionally poking a finger in his chest when she was especially put out with him.
If he could hear her yell at him, just once, it would be like music to his ears.