Elsie had been surprised at the truth about Marigold, but had been very proud of the young woman for taking her mistake, owning it, and claiming her child as her own to raise. “Hello Marigold,” she whispered when the tot’s eyes opened and looked around before settling on Elsie. A sweet smile lit the girl’s face as she studied the stranger then she looked up at her mother.
“Have nice nap, Darling?” Edith asked when Marigold sat up and blinked in surprise as her eyes caught sight of Charles walking into the room with the tea things.
“Mummy,” she murmured, her eyes still watching Charles.
Elsie bit her lip to keep from laughing when Charles waggled his eyebrows at Marigold then winked and handed her a biscuit causing the child to giggle timidly.
Edith smiled as Marigold snuggled against her, the biscuit clutched in her hand. “That is Mr. Carson. He used to sneak Mummy sweeties when I was little.”
Marigold’s eyes followed Charles as he handed her mother a cup of tea and then moved to prepare one for Elsie. Her gaze left Charles and moved to Elsie when she heard her speak. “Mummy,” she whispered. “Talk,” she frowned, not sure what to say.
Elsie smiled and nodded. “I do sound rather funny when I talk.”
Edith shook her head and shrugged. “Sorry.”
“No need. It isn’t the first time. Sybil wasn’t quite so timid about it.” Elsie winked.
“Oh, I remember that. We were all scandalized by her reaction.”
“And I found it rather endearing.” Elsie winked when Marigold looked at her again taking a small nibble of her biscuit.
“I’m sorry for my reaction when you arrived, My Lady.” Charles finally spoke up as he sat with his own tea.
“Not My Lady anymore, Mr. Carson. I’m simply Edith or Miss Crawley. I left Lady Edith behind when I claimed my daughter and moved to London.”
Charles nodded. “You’ll forgive me if I slip.”
Edith nodded. “And you’ll for me if I slip and call you just Carson.”
Charles smiled. “Your grandmother still calls me that. I’ll answer to just about anything.”
“Charles,” Elsie whispered. “you’re being watched.”
Charles looked at Marigold to see the child’s bright grey eyes watching him. “Hello Miss Marigold.”
Marigold’s eyes widened. “Bear, Mummy.”
Elsie laughed when Charles half grinned and shrugged. “He does sort of rumble like a bear, but he’s ever so nice, Marigold.”
Edith steadied the tot when she wiggled down off her lap, watching as she made her way over to Charles. Covering her mouth when Marigold tapped Charles on the knee, she barely held in her laughter at her daughter’s request.
“Again, Misser Car,” she frowned. “Charwie?” she finally settled on remembering what Elsie had called him though shortening it a bit.
Charles smiled down at the little girl. “Of course. Just like your mother. She was always asking for stories just to hear me talk.” He shook his head as he sat down his tea cup and held out his hands. “Would you like to come sit on my lap?”
Marigold studied him a moment then turned to look at her mother, getting her approval before looking back at Charles and holding up her arms. Settling herself in just the right spot on Charles’ lap, she looked up at him. “Story, pwease?”
“Would you like to hear Goldilocks and the Three Bears*?” he asked, smiling when the little girl’s head bobbed up and down.
“That is her favorite story.” Edith told him. “This time Marigold, you’ll get to hear all the voices. Mr. Carson does wonderful voices.”
Elsie stood and began to gather the tea things. “I’ll take these to the kitchen.”
“I’ll help. We’ll leave these two to their story.” Edith winked at Marigold. “Mummy is going to the kitchen with Elsie.”
Marigold nodded and wiggled into a more comfortable spot. “I ready, Charwie.”
“Alright then, here we go.”
“I’m so glad you’re not angry with me.” Edith whispered as she sat at the table across from Elsie.
“Oh, Lass, why would I be angry with you? There are a lot of people that I’m angry with and never wish to see again, but you are not included in that number. I knew that day that you were very upset at what you were being forced to do. I’ve never blamed you.”
Edith sniffed and wiped at the tears rolling down her cheeks. “Thank you. I’ve been so angry about that day and now,” she bit her lip as she looked up at the older woman. “You don’t have to tell me anything, but,”
Elsie took a deep breath and reached out to cover Edith’s hands. “It’s a long and not very nice story, Lass, but I’m getting better every day with all of the love and care I’m getting from friends and Charles. Charles has been my rock through everything.”
Edith heard what Elsie hadn’t said and decided that she would ask her grandmother for the rest of the story. Instead of asking for more, she smiled at up at Elsie. “He loves you. Always has.”
Elsie raised an eyebrow at that. “Oh?” she breathed, thankful that the young woman had taken her explanation and not asked any further questions. She knew that Edith would probably ask her grandmother for a better explanation, but she was fine with that – the last thing she wanted to do was talk about those three years of hell.
Edith nodded. “Sybil and I used to speculate on whether or not the two of you were secretly married.”
Elsie shook her head. “Oh my.”
“She was sure that you were. I told her it wasn’t possible, that Carson wouldn’t do such a thing, even though I did agree that he loved you.”
“Well, you were right.” Elsie sighed as she looked down at her bare left hand. “He was always a very dear friend, and if he’d asked, I would have married him in secret.”
“You’ve always loved him. That’s why you took the blame for something that never happened.”
Elsie nodded. “I have and it is. The Crawleys were all the family he had, and his reputation, I thought, was everything to him.”
“But it wasn’t, Elsie. When he learned that you had left,” Edith’s voice cracked. “Even Mary couldn’t bring him back to himself. He missed you. When he learned the truth,”
“Was he not told?”
“He was told the same as the others.”
“The lie about my sister?” Elsie asked incredulously.
“Who told him the truth?”
“I did after Mary,” Edith bit her lip.
“I’m sorry. I know the two of you didn’t get on well, but she was your sister.”
“We had actually grown a bit closer before she died. Not much, we never would have been because we were polar opposites, but enough.”
“Why did she never tell him the truth?”
“I think she tried, but something must have happened that changed her mind. Maybe she saw how hurt he already was and decided that the truth would only hurt him more. Or maybe she was just being her usual selfish self and decided not to so that he would stay for her.” Edith frowned. “Has he not told you any of this?”
Elsie shook her head. “I’ve been told things here and there, but some bits have been left out. Charles’ retirement is one of them. I was only told he’d retired, nothing more.”
“Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.” Edith worried.
“No, Lass. I’m glad you did. It explains a few things. Thank you.” Elsie patted Edith’s hands then raised an eyebrow when they heard a squeal from the sitting room. “It seems Charles has gotten to the part about Baby Bear.”
Edith laughed and nodded. “Must have.” She sighed as she looked at Elsie. “We really should be going, it’s getting late. Would you mind if we came to see you again before we go back to London?”
“I wouldn’t mind at all and I don’t think Charles would, either. I think he some times misses the children.”
Edith nodded. “He was very good with them. Oh,” she smiled. “Tom is going to be bringing Sybie back to visit for the holidays. Would you like to see them while they’re here?”
Elsie’s eyes light up then she frowned. “I don’t wish to scare Miss Sybie.”
Edith knew what Elsie was talking about, the white hair had been a bit of a shock though she’d kept it to herself. “Once she sees you and hears your voice, she’ll be as happy as she always was. You were her favorite. Tom often tells me how much Sybie mentions you. She’s not forgotten.”
Elsie nodded. “Okay. If they wish to visit, that will be fine. I’d like to see how well America is treating them.”
“Now,” Edith laughed when Marigold squealed again. “I think I should go rescue Mr. Carson.”
“No need. I’m sure he hasn’t quite finished the story yet.”
“Well then, we’ll go and listen to the last of it. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that voice telling a story.”