Elsie was startled to see the tot standing in the dinning room as she brought in the dishes to set the table. Setting the dishes down, she moved to where the little girl was and knelt down.
“Hello, wee lassie,” she whispered.
“What’s your name, lassie?”
“Me Elwsie May.”
“Oh? I’m Elsie, too.” Elsie winked. “What are you doing here, Lassie? How did you get in the house?” she asked as she stood up, picking the tot up when she lifted her arms. Settling her on her hip, she smiled when the little girl stared at her.
“You eyes is bwue. Elwsie May’s bwue.”
“Yes, Lassie, they are. Now, can you tell Elsie how you got here?”
“Charwie.” Elsie May pointed.
Elsie looked up and saw Charles standing inside the dinning room. “Charles? Who is she?”
“She’s your namesake, Elsie.”
“My namesake?” Elsie whispered, startling a bit when Elsie May’s tiny hand touched her cheek.
“Easy, Lass.” Charles soothed as he moved closer to her, resting his hand on her arm. “This is Elsie May Bates. John and Anna have come to visit.”
Elsie’s eyes widened. “Oh, Charlie, no. No,” she shook her head, handing Elsie May to him. “No. Anna. No.”
Charles watched Elsie as she backed away then turned and rushed into the kitchen. Looking down at the tot in his arms, he sighed, “I don’t think that went very well, Elsie May.”
John and Anna came into the room, both looking upset.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be here, Charles.”
“No. I just should have prepared her better. I thought she would be happy to see Anna.”
Anna bit her lip. “I don’t think it was that,” she whispered.
John gently nudged her. “Go on. I’ll explain.”
Anna nodded and rushed through toward the kitchen, heart hammering in her chest.
“John? What will you explain?” Charles asked as he turned to look at the younger man and hand his daughter to him.
John looked at Elsie May, her eyes filled with tears, little mouth trembling. “What is it?”
“I make Elwsie ‘ky?”
John patted the tot on the back then reached up and wiped at her tears. “No. It wasn’t you.” Placing her on the floor, John smiled at her. “Why don’t you go through there and find Dolly? I bet she’s awfully lonely.”
John stood up and watched his daughter make her way to the sitting room then turned back to Charles. “Remember Dame Nellie Melba’s concert at Downton?”
“Remember Lord Gillingham’s valet, Green?”
“I do, but what has one to do with the other?”
“Remember Anna’s fall?”
“I do. We were all worried about her. But again, what has one to do with the other?”
“She didn’t fall, Charles.” John’s voice was low, his gaze fixed on his shoes. “Green followed her down when she went to get a powder for her headache. He,”
“No. Stop.” Charles grasped John’s shoulder. “Elsie knows?”
“She found Anna.”
“Dear god.” Charles breathed. “If I’d known, I,”
“No. It isn’t your fault. Anna will make her see it’s alright.” John looked up at Charles. “Anna understands some of what Elsie’s been through. She can help if Elsie will let her.”
“Why didn’t you tell me when I told you about Elsie?”
“Anna doesn’t like speaking of it, Charles, but we were wrong not to tell you. I’m sorry.”
“No need for apologies.” Charles heard Elsie May calling for John. “I believe you’re being paged, Poppy.”
John smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know where she got that from.”
“I believe I heard another child call her father that when she was that small.”
“Lady Sybil.” Charles answered, his voice filled with a wistful tone.
John smiled sadly at the thought of the lost lady. “She always was a rebel,” he whispered before making his way to his daughter.
Charles watched the man go then turned back to look at the table. He felt rather useless at the moment, maybe setting the table would help steady him.
Anna found Elsie held tightly in Beryl’s arms, the older woman gently rocking back and forth, whispering soothing words of reassurance.
Beryl smiled at Anna. “Anna’s here, Elsie. I think you need to let her see you’re okay.”
Elsie moved away from Beryl, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth. “I,” she started but stopped when she felt a hand on her arm.
“I’m sorry. We should have told Mr. Carson the truth about me so he would know to prepare you.” Anna whispered. “I promise I’m okay. It’s you we have to worry about now.”
Beryl squeezed Elsie’s arm. “I’m going to go out and see about Charles. I’m sure he’s upset with himself for upsetting you.”
“He didn’t know the truth about me.” Anna answered for Elsie. “I’m sure he does now.”
Beryl sighed as she studied the young woman. “You, Anna? Oh Lass. I’m sorry,” she whispered, patting Anna on the arm as she made her way out to check on Charles. “Take care of her, Anna.”
“I will.” Anna assured.
Elsie looked up at Anna. “You shouldn’t have to be reminded.”
“I can be here for you to talk to. I understand.”
“Oh Anna. No.” Elsie shook her head. “I can’t.”
“When you can, I can listen.” Anna smiled. “For now, can you forgive us for surprising you? I know a little girl that was very excited to meet the person we’ve told her could be her grandma.”
Anna smiled. “Yes. You were always more of a mother to me than my own. Elsie May needs a grandmother. Who better than the woman she’s named for?”
Elsie smiled slightly. “Thank you.”
“Come on then. Let’s go assure everyone that you’re okay.”
“I’m afraid I may have upset the wee lassie.”
“Probably, but she’ll be alright.”
“Let me just check our dinner. I can’t,” she bit her lip. “I can’t let it ruin.”
Anna heard the tremble in Elsie’s voice, saw the way her fingers flexed, and wondered what her husband had done to her when she’d ruined his dinner. It broke her heart to see her mother figure so broken, but she made up her mind to do everything she could to help while she was here.