Tarnished

Chapter 26

Elsie nuzzled her nose into the sweet smelling hair of the child cuddled against her, her warm breath fanning against her neck as Elsie May slept peaceful at last. The lass had been upset when she’d learned that she was going to have to go home and leave her new found grandma behind. She had cried and sobbed into Elsie’s neck until she’d finally fallen asleep, her little hand clutching at Elsie’s dress.

Elsie had told Anna and John to go along and have the afternoon to themselves, that she would watch over the sleeping tot. So here she sat, in the most comfortable chair in the sitting room of Crawley House, a fire in the hearth keeping her warm, listening to the sweet breaths of the lassie that called her Grandma and had helped her come back to herself just that much more through her unconditional love and happy personality.

Elsie’s eyes closed as she thought back to the walk she’d went on that morning with Charles. He’d been wonderful, never pushing her to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with even though it meant making circles around the garden. As they walked, she’d finally gotten up the nerve to ask him about something that Beryl had said to her.

“Charlie?”

“Yes, Lass?” Charles answered, patting her hand as he led her on another round of the garden.

“Beryl told me,” she bit her lip.

“Told you what, Elsie?” Charles asked as he stopped and looked down at her, waiting patiently for her to continue.

Elsie looked up at him, his height blocking out the morning sun. Staring at him a moment, she thought about what a handsome man he was, how solid and sure he was, how his very presence intimidated, even frightened some, but had always meant safety and home to her. Even after the hell she’d been through, she still felt incredibly safe with him. “She told me you love me,” she finally managed.

Charles smiled as he reached up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “She was telling you the truth. I do love you. I’ve loved you for longer than I care to admit because if I admit how long, then I admit what kind of fool I was. And I,” he paused and looked away. “If I’d only told you sooner. If I’d simply stopped being afraid of my emotions, I,” his voice cracked. “I’m so sorry, Elsie. So very sorry.”

“Shh, Charlie.” Elsie murmured as she squeezed his hands. “I could have told you how I felt about you instead of keeping it to myself and it might have given you the courage to tell me. I didn’t, though, because I kept hoping you’d see that I loved you. Love you. I do, you know,” she admitted quietly.

“I don’t know why you do, or how you still could, but I’m glad. Now, come on. I’ve had you out long enough in this cool weather.”

Elsie smiled as she tucked her arm through his again, walking closely beside him as they made their way back to the house. Yes, he was safety, warmth, home, but now she had admitted out loud the other thing he had always been to her - love. How easy it had been to tell him. “I was afraid of that even though deep down I knew it was still there.”

“It’s wonderful hearing you talk so much and so openly to me. I see so much of my Elsie coming back. I was so afraid we’d lost you.”

Elsie sighed as they stepped back inside. “Just keep being patient with me.”

“I’ll do whatever you need.”

“Just keep doing what you’ve been doing. Being my friend, taking care of me.”

She still found it hard to believe how easily she’d managed to tell him she loved him. She’d been ignoring that feeling any time it cropped up. She wasn’t ready for that. Wasn’t sure if she’d ever be ready for anything that went along with love.

Charles’ touch was never anything more than gentle and friendly, never wanting anything more that to comfort her. The thoughts of anyone touching her and wanting something from her physically, she shuddered at the thought. Even though Charles was safe, and she knew he would never take or demand anything from her – she shook her head. It was too much.

“Grammy.” Elsie May murmured as she snuggled closer.

“Shh, Lassie. It’s alright. I’m right here.” Elsie assured her.

“You is sad.”

“Just a little. I’m going to miss you.”

Elsie May sat up and looked at Elsie, her lips quivering. “I hafta go?”

“Oh yes, Lassie. You must go home with your mummy and poppy. They’d miss you terribly.”

“You miss me.”

“I will, Lassie, very much. But remember what your poppy said?”

Elsie bit her lip and nodded. “Tewe,” she frowned. “Tewe,” she tried again then scowled.

“Telephone.” Elsie supplied with a chuckle. “Yes. That’s right. So you see, even though you’ll be there and I’ll be here, you can still talk to me.”

“No hugs.”

“I’ll send you hugs in my letters to your mummy.”

Elsie May frowned. “Hugs in wetters?”

Elsie laughed and hugged the tot close. “Oh yes. Lots of hugs and even some kisses.”

“Charwie too?”

“I’m sure he’ll send some along.”

Yawning, Elsie May settled back against Elsie in her favorite spot. “Story?”

“What would you like to hear?”

“Princess.”

Elsie smiled as she caressed a hand over the tot’s head. “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Sybil. She grew tired of always having to wear heavy dresses with layers and layers of skirts. She’d been reading books about lands very far away and saw pictures of how the young women dressed and decided that she too would dress that way. She had to be careful not to let her family know what she was doing. The day finally came that her new wardrobe was ready. She gleefully put it on and spun about in her room, happy to be free of the confines of her other clothes. Slipping her feet into the dainty shoes that went with the outfit, she rushed downstairs to meet her family, happy and smiling until they all gasped in surprise. Her smile faded as everyone began to scold her, and her mother sent her back upstairs to change into something proper. She didn’t realize that there was someone watching her, someone that thought she looked beautiful.”

“Prince?”

“No, not a prince. He was only a lowly servant, but he loved her, and she grew to love him. Soon, they made plans to run away because her family forbade her to see him. Her love for the young man had given her courage to stand up to her family and soon, even though they had been found and their marriage halted, she’d made her family see that he was a good man and that she loved him. The family finally allowed her to marry him and they,”

“Wived,”

“Happily ever after.” Elsie finished. “Yes. Most happy.”

“Grammy?”

“Yes, Lassie?”

“I wove you.”

“Oh Lassie.” Elsie whispered as she kissed the tot’s head. “I love you, too.”


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