Tarnished

Chapter 28

Beryl held Elsie as she trembled. “What’s wrong, Lass?”

“I don’t know if I can do this. He knows what,” she bit her lip. “He knows what happened to me now, at least as much as Richard was able to tell and as much as I’ve told you.”

“And he still loves you. Nothing will ever change that, Elsie. Nothing. He will do everything he promised, and probably a little more. He has to know, Lass. If he does something that triggers a reaction and frightens you, makes you afraid of him, it would break his heart.”

“I just,” Elsie started then sat down on the edge of her bed, staring across at the pallet still carefully made in the corner. “Isobel has created a cocoon for me here. She and Richard have made sure I was safe here, and people have stayed away because of who they are. What,” she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth.

“Charles will create that same kind of cocoon around you, if you want it. He’ll bar the windows and doors if that’s what you want and need. I’m sure the man would find a way to build you a house underground if that’s what it took to make you happy and keep you safe. But, Lass,” Beryl gently titled Elsie’s head up. “I think you need to start going out among people again. Let others see you so that they can stop gossiping. The Dowager has done her best to quell as much of it as possible at Charles’ request, but even her formidable self can’t stop everyone. You need to start living outside of these four walls. Take more walks through the village like you did that day you walked with Richard to find Charles. I won’t suggest going to church, I think that’s probably too much, though I would suggest having someone talk to Rev. Travis so that he doesn’t bother you once you’ve moved into Charles’ cottage.”

“You’ll come and visit?”

“Once Daisy and I come back from our holiday, I’ll bring her along. She can tell you about her beau. He’s a rather charming fellow and loves the farm, which is good because I think he might actually be planning to ask her to marry him.”

“And what will happen to you?”

“I’ve been told if I even think of leaving, she’ll cream me with a pot.”

Elsie chuckled at that. “She’s really grown if she’s threatening you with one of your own threats.”

Beryl smiled. “She has. She asks after you every time I return home after visiting.”

Elsie sighed. “Maybe wait until I’ve settled better into my new home. I think I’m going to be a mess.” She stared at the pallet again.

“You’ll only have to call his name and he’ll come running to you, Lass.”

“Beryl?”

“Yes, Lass?”

“What do I wear? I haven’t much, just these few things that Isobel gave me.”

Beryl smiled. “Well, it just so happens that I thought of that.”

Elsie watched with a frown as Beryl left the room then came back again with a box. “Beryl, what,”

“Ah.” Beryl shushed her. “It’s my treat to my best friend. When you told me that you were going to marry Charles, I went to Mrs. Molesley and asked her to make you something. I might have even snuck her one of the dresses from your wardrobe.”

“You snuck one of my dresses?” Elsie shook her head then furrowed her brow. “Mrs. Molesley?” she asked.

Beryl chuckled as she nodded. “Did we forget to tell you about that?”

Elsie nodded. “I believe so.”

“Well, after old Mr. Molesley died, Joseph found himself with a home and gardens to tend to. He left service and was lost without his father, but Miss Baxter made sure to always check on him and he finally gathered up his courage to ask her to marry him. Joseph is really quite good with the flowers as long as the poor man remembers to wear gloves and sleeves.”

Elsie chuckled. “And she uses her dress making skills.”

“Yes. The ladies now can go to her instead of going all the way to Ripon or Thirsk. They’re doing well for themselves. It’s amazing the change in Molesley. Love of a good woman, I suppose.”

Elsie bit her lip as she pondered the comment. “I won’t do that for Charlie.”

“Elsie?”

“I won’t be good for Charlie. I’ll only,” she stopped when her voice caught, tears trailing wet tracks down her cheeks. “I can’t do this, Beryl. I can’t.”

Beryl sighed as she placed the box on the bed then sat down beside Elsie. Rubbing soothing circles on Elsie’s back, she used her free hand to squeeze Elsie’s fidgeting ones. “Just seeing you every day and knowing that you’re safe will be good for your Charlie. And you love him, yes?”

Elsie nodded and whispered, “Yes.”

“Then that’s enough, Lass. But, if you truly can’t bring yourself to marry, then I’ll go down and tell him and we’ll work something else out.”

Elsie shook her head. “No, don’t do that. I’m just scared, Beryl.”

“I know you are. Charles knows you are. He’ll understand if you truly can’t do this, Elsie.”

Taking a deep breath, Elsie turned to look at the box. “I’d best have a look, don’t you think?”

Beryl smiled and nodded as they stood and pulled the box to the edge. “I hope you like it.”

Elsie opened the box and pushed away the tissue, smiling as she lifted the dress out. “It’s beautiful, thank you.”

“Now, Isobel has asked me to ask you if you will let her help with your hair. And Charles asked me to give you this,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a six pence. “He said that he knows this isn’t a traditional wedding, but he still wanted you to have the luck the six pence is said to bring.”

Elsie shook her head. “What shoes will I wear?”

A knock on the door sounded just before the door opened. “I believe I can help with that.” Isobel said as she poked her head in. “May I?”

“Yes. Come in.” Elsie said as she looked down at the objects in Isobel’s hand. “For me?”

“Yes.” Isobel nodded as she handed Elsie the shoes. “Beryl told me of the dress and I knew you didn’t have shoes to go with it, so I found a pair in Ripon.” She shrugged. “You need an extra pair anyway.”

Elsie smiled and shook her head. “You’re both being so very good to me.”

“You’re our friend, Elsie. I know this isn’t a traditional wedding, but I still think that a lady should have new things to make her feel special.”

“Thank you.” Elsie whispered, touched by the kindness of the lady who had taken her in and given her a home.

“Now, let’s get you ready.”

Elsie bit her lip as she looked at her two friends. “I’m still afraid.”

“I know.” Beryl squeezed her hand.

Isobel nodded. “Remember, you don’t have to do this. At any time, you tell us and we’ll stop. No one is going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

“But I do want to. I’m just frightened of leaving my cocoon.”


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