Chapter 24

Charles heard Anna’s muffled crying from upstairs and hung his head, rubbing his hands over his face. If he’d only known.

If someone had just told him the truth, he wouldn’t have asked Anna and her family to come.

She’d been so very sure and calm at dinner.

He shook his head.

She’d learned far too well from Elsie how to hide things from those around her.

Or maybe it was just him?

He always seemed to be blind.

He hated that he hadn’t been told the truth about Anna. It angered him if he were truthful with himself. But – after seeing Elsie and the hell she was going through – he understood why.

And now that Elsie herself had gone through hell and then some, there was no way he would ever confront her for not trusting him to help her keep the secret.

What a mess it all seemed to be.

As he realized that Anna’s cries had stopped, or at least grown quiet enough that he could no longer hear them, he sat back on the settee and reached out for the glass of whiskey he’d sat on the small table that held his lamp. Rolling it back and forth in his fingers, he thought back to a book Elsie had insisted he should read, even though it wasn’t his usual genre.

“You must read it, Mr. Carson.”

Charles looked down at her shining eyes and realized there was no use in arguing. He was going to read this book. “Fine then, Mrs. Hughes. When I finish the book I am currently reading, I shall read The Time Machine. H. G. Wells you say?”

She nodded. “Yes, and there’s no need to borrow it from his Lordship’s library. I have a copy of my own that you may borrow.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

He’d read the book, and while he’d found it as fanciful and ridiculous as he’d thought he would, he now wished that the time machine Mr. Wells had written about from his imagination were a real and factual thing.

Then he could go back and change things.

Go back and change so many things.

So many.

“Shh.” John soothed as he held Anna close, his hand rubbing comforting circles on her back.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she snuggled closer.

“No need to be sorry. Even if we’d told him the truth, you and I both know that you still would have wanted to see her.”

Anna nodded. “She needs me.”

“Yes, she does. She has people already helping her, but you can help in ways they can’t. And I believe our wee lassie,” John mimicked Elsie making Anna chuckle. “Elsie May will help in ways none of us can because she’s small and helpless and gives Elsie someone to protect and watch over.”

“And someone to make her laugh.”

John chuckled a bit at that. “Yes. Especially if she’s around Charwie.”

“It’s very sweet watching him with her. I never knew he was such a softie.”

“But Elsie did. She saw what none of the rest of us ever did.”

Anna sighed as she relaxed in John’s embrace. “I’m going to have nightmares,” she whispered after a few moments.

“And I’ll be here to wake you just like always.”

“I love you, Mr. Bates.”

“And I’m so very lucky that you do, Mrs. Bates.”

Charles looked at the empty glass in his hand and shook his head. He’d had two glasses of whiskey, something he never did. He knew that drinking wasn’t going to help, but he also knew he needed something to numb his senses a bit.

Sighing as he stood up, he went to the kitchen to wash his glass then made his way to the door, lifting his hat and coat from their pegs. Slipping outside, he used his key to lock back up, not wanting to leave the sleeping family unprotected against unwanted visitors.

He’d told them the truth when he’d said he didn’t spend much time at his cottage, though he hadn’t told them where he spent his time. He didn’t think they’d understand his need to just wander aimlessly at night when no one was about. He also didn’t want anyone to know that he often found himself sitting in Richard Clarkson’s office at the hospital on the nights he knew the man was there.

Tonight was one of those nights and his feet took him down the familiar path that led him to the hospital.

It was quiet, not many patients, though he knew there was one that the doctor was worried about since he and Isobel had spent much of their evening here. He knew from Isobel that the birth they’d gone out to attend to hadn’t gone well and that the mother was now lying here, close to death.

Charles felt the old familiar ache as he thought of the last time a woman had lost her life bringing a life into the world. Lady Sybil had been young and vibrant, a beautiful soul that was snuffed out by snobbery.

Lifting his hand, he knocked on the partially open door then walked in when he heard the soft, “Come in.”

Richard looked up from his paperwork. “Hello, Charles. I was expecting you,” he said as he lifted a pot and poured tea into the cup sitting on the opposite side of his desk. “Isobel called. She told me to tell you that Elsie is settled for the night.”

Charles, having took off his coat and hat and placing them over the arm of a chair, sat down in the empty one and lifted the cup to his lips. “I upset her,” he whispered.

“The surprise?”

Charles nodded.

“But all of us thought it would be good for her to see Anna and the lassie.”

“I didn’t know all of the truth.”

“Charles, you aren’t making sense. What truth?” Richard asked as he frowned at his visitor.

“I didn’t know. Dear god, Anna,” he breathed.

Richard’s mind spun as he slowly pieced together the bits of Charles’ words that had been left out. “Anna? Dear god, when?”

Charles hung his head. “The night of Dame Nellie Melba’s concert.”

Richard uttered a Gaelic curse then scrubbed a hand over his face. “No wonder Elsie asked me for a salve. She said that one of the young maids had cut herself, but it wasn’t for a young maid.”

“She knew, Richard. She knew and didn’t tell me. If only I’d known the truth.”

“And you’re angry at her and feeling guilty because of it.”

“Why wouldn’t she have told me? I could have kept that bastard out of my house.”

“But could you have without hurting Anna?”

Charles sighed and took another sip of his tea. “I would have tried, but no, I couldn’t have.”

“So you have your answer. Elsie was probably sworn to secrecy by Anna, and you know that Elsie would do anything for any of her girls, especially Anna.”

Charles nodded. “I do. That doesn’t stop me from feeling,”

“Guilty. But Charles, is the guilt for that or is it for Elsie?”

Charles looked up at Richard. “I,” he started the looked back down into his lap. “I was a fool.”

“I think, Charles, you’ll find that you aren’t the only one that feels that way.”

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