Over the last month, Charlie had disappeared back into Charles even as Elsie had slowly adjusted to living with a man again, trying desperately to find herself. Her heart ached as she watched Charles, wishing he would talk to her, wondering what she’d done wrong.
She hadn’t ventured out to the village on her own so far, but decided that today was the day she would try. She needed a few things and Charles was busy outside, preparing the flower beds for the coming winter she supposed.
“Charli,” Elsie started then stopped and tried again. “Charles,” she called to get his attention.
Charles stood up and turned to look at Elsie, frowning when he noticed her dressed to go out. “Did I forget we were going somewhere?” he asked as he walked toward her.
“No. I just need a few things. I’m only bothering you to let you know that I’ll be out. I didn’t want you to worry.”
“Are you sure? It wouldn’t take me long to change and go with you or for you.”
Elsie shook her head. “No. It’s time I try this. You’re busy.”
“Fine then. Where are you going? I only want to know so that if you’re gone too long I’ll know where to look. Only because I’ll worry,” he added after seeing the look on her face.
Elsie shrugged. “I’m only going to post a letter to Sean and then to buy some odds and ends we need for the kitchen.”
“Alright. Don’t forget your gloves.”
Elsie shook her head and turned back to the house, grabbing her basket from the table as she made her way to the front door. The reminder of her gloves rang in her ears and she reached into her pockets to pull the items out. They were new, ones that Charles had bought her when he’d taken her to shop for a new coat and everything she would need to stay warm this winter. That had been a long and trying day for her, though having Beryl along had helped, and the fact that he’d taken her to Thirsk where no one knew her had also helped her with her anxiety about being around so many people.
As she walked along the path into the village, her thoughts were filled with Charles and how he was still taking such good care of her, though he wasn’t silly anymore to make her laugh. She still found love in his eyes when she looked into them, but the openness was gone, and she didn’t know why. Had she done something? She’d done her best to take care of him in the only ways she knew. She did his laundry and mending, much to his protests that she didn’t have to do that. She’d assured him that she wanted to do it, that she knew he didn’t expect her to, that it was her way of saying thank you when words weren’t enough.
But still he’d closed himself off.
She wondered if he was maybe regretting his decision to marry her in name only. It couldn’t be easy living with the woman you had professed to love and yet receive nothing but a live in maid that helped you cook your meals. She didn’t even wear his ring or bear his name.
Maybe it was time she changed that.
She knew Charles would never stake claim to her as his property, though she was sure that if another man ever tried to push his advances on her Charles would stake his claim as her husband. Most people wouldn’t see the difference, but she did.
To Charles a wife was a partner, not a possession. At least this wife was and always would have been if they had married under different circumstances. For all of his blustering about tradition, this was one area that Charles was very modern.
Elsie didn’t know if she could ever be a wife in every way, but she thought she had enough of herself back that she could at least wear a ring and maybe even be Mrs. Carson.
Elsie blinked in surprise at the person she found standing in the post office. “Lady Edith?” she whispered as her eyes were drawn to the child cradled against the young woman’s chest.
Edith smiled and nodded. “It’s me, Mrs.,”
Elsie took off her gloves as shook her head. “Just Elsie.”
“Yes, just Elsie. Seems she’s decided not to take the name of the man she’s living with,” came a snide comment from the post mistress. “I’ve heard rumors she married Charles Carson, but I see no proof. No ring.”
Elsie swallowed as she turned to look at Mrs. Jones, her left hand instinctively finding its way into her pocket. “I,” she tried, her heart pounding.
“Well? Cat got your tongue? What do you have to say for yourself? I’ll not have the likes of you,”
“Enough!” Edith shouted, startling her daughter. “Shh, Darling,” she soothed then turned back to the post mistress. “I happen to know that she is married to Mr. Carson. I’ll not have you speaking to her like that. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to post these.” She sat her letters down on the counter. “Elsie, what was it you needed?”
Elsie held out her letter, turning and rushing out when Edith took it. She couldn’t seem to breathe and needed fresh air, cold as it may be. Maybe the cold would keep her from passing out since her head felt light and she felt dizzy. She could feel a panic attack coming on.
Why had she thought she could go into the post office and not be verbally attacked by that woman? She’d known the way that woman was for years. Mrs. Jones was the nosiest woman in all of England, Elsie was sure, and she had a mean streak about her that had made Elsie often wonder just why the woman was still post mistress.
Hearing the door open, Elsie turned to see Edith standing watching her.
“Are you alright, Elsie?” Edith asked, still unsure of just what had happened. She knew of the marriage, her grandmother had told her of it, but seeing Elsie told another story. A story that Edith wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
“I just need to get home. Mr. Carson will worry if I’m gone longer.”
“Then let me give you a ride, hmm? It’s gotten colder and my motor’s just there,” she pointed.
Elsie nodded, her legs too wobbly to argue that she could make it on her own. “Would you let me fix you some tea?”
“I would. I had meant to visit with you while I was here, so today seems as good a time as any. Besides,” Edith whispered as she started toward her car. Opening the passenger side door, she smiled at Elsie. “I have someone to introduce to you, but for now, can you hold her while I drive?”
Elsie held out her arms and took the sleeping child, gently cradling her close as Edith closed the door. She hadn’t heard that Edith married, but with a babe, surely she had. Looking down at the sweet face, she felt herself calming and smiled when the wee lassie hummed in her sleep. She was a darling little lass that looked a lot like her mother.
Edith watched Elsie out of the corner of her eye as she drove toward the Carson cottage. This was not the woman she’d known since she was a young teenager. The fire she was accustomed to from the Scottish woman seemed to be missing.
Turning her attention fully back to the road, her mind wondered to dark places.
Dear god above, what happened?