Tarnished

Chapter 34

Beryl looked at the ring on Elsie’s finger and then up at her friend. “It’s very beautiful. How does it feel?”

Elsie touched the ring. “I don’t really notice it. Not like I thought I would. The other ring always felt so heavy on my finger that it bothered me. This one is light and cool as if it’s always been a part of me.” She looked up at Beryl. “Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.”

Beryl smiled as she squeezed Elsie’s hand. “Yes, it does. The first one was put there against your will. It bound you to a man you didn’t love. It made you his property. This one you chose to wear and it binds you to the man you’ve always loved. It’s a symbol of his love for you, that he would give you the ring that belonged to his mother.”

“Did you know her?”

“I did. She was a very small woman, smaller than you and I. That she had a son such as Charles always brought about a few giggles. She was a fierce thing when she had to be. She loved Charles. Spoiled him most of the time, but would cuff him upside the head when need be. He was devoted to her. When he decided to leave, it broke her heart, but she knew that he needed to see the world, to make mistakes, and to learn from them. She died shortly after he returned to Downton.” Beryl smiled at her friend. “She would have loved you very much if only because you love her Charlie.”

“She called him Charlie?”

“Oh yes. If she really wanted to get to him, she’d call him her Charlie boy. That usually earned a grunted, “Mum,” and then a bashful half smile half scowl down at her.” Beryl laughed at the memory. “I teased him often about that before he left.”

“I’m glad to know she loved him. His father?”

“Died when Charles was too young to remember him. They say he was a large man like Charles. Mrs. Carson used to say Charles was a spitting image of his father. No one ever argued. Only the Dowager would know for sure if it was the truth as she’s the only one around that would have known Charles’ father.”

Elsie sighed as she sat back. “Edith has visited with her wee lassie.”

“Edith?” Beryl asked.

“Lady Edith, though she’s asked to be called Edith or Miss Crawley. She said that she’d left the lady behind when she claimed her daughter and left Downton.”

“And how did himself react to that?”

Elsie shook her head. “When I arrived home with her because she’d driven me, he wasn’t very happy. I think he was more startled than anything. He knew the truth about the wee lassie, I didn’t.”

“Another one of those things we didn’t tell you.”

“Mmm hmm.” Elsie shrugged. “But I understand, so no worries.”

“I suspect he wasn’t much for having a Lady to tea in his home, either.”

“I think that was what it was really all about. He’s changed in some ways, in others,” Elsie sighed and shook her head.

“What is it, Elsie?”

“He isn’t Charlie anymore. He,” she bit her lip. “He doesn’t do all of those silly things to make me laugh. I’ve worked so hard to learn to live with a man again, to be a wife, and all the while I’m struggling to do that, he’s pulling away. I feel like I’ve done something, though he says I haven’t. I slept in his bed,” she whispered.

Beryl blinked at that, definitely not what she expected to hear. “You slept in his bed? With him?”

Elsie nodded. “The storm,” she bit her lip, her hands trembling. “I had gone to bed early because of everything that had happened. The thunder startled me and I walked half asleep over to the pallet. I woke up all of the way and realized that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to go back to that. I remembered what Charles said to me, to call him if I needed him.”

“So you went to him.” Beryl whispered with a soft smile.

“I woke him and he held up his blankets and offered to hold me and warm me until I was settled. I remembered things, remembered why storms bother me, and I told him.” Looking up at her friend, Elsie finished in a whisper. “I told him, Beryl.”

“And what did he do?”

“He got angry, I could feel his body tense, but he didn’t let me go. He just buried his face in my hair and promised no one would ever hurt me again. I asked him to tell me a story to help me calm down and forget.”

Beryl smiled and squeezed Elsie’s hand. “And he told you the story of how a storm blew in a fiery Scottish lass.”

Elsie blinked in surprise. “How did you know?”

Beryl chuckled and hugged Elsie. “Because Charles has loved storms ever since that day.” Pulling back, she held Elsie’s hands. “And because he would want you to have a good memory for storms. He loves you, Elsie. Don’t let whatever is going on with him, set you back. You’ve come so far, Lass. So far from the frightened woman you were when I first saw you.”

“When you found me in the corner.” Elsie whispered.

“Yes.” Beryl nodded. “But you’re better. You’re fighting to be yourself again. Just keep trusting Charles. Eventually you’ll find out just what is going on with him. I promise. You’ve always been the one to get the man to open up.”

“You really don’t think I’ve done something?”

Beryl shook her head. “No, Lass. It may be that he’s acting this way because he’s trying to protect you from things he’s heard people saying in the village. Just keep remembering that he loves you and he’ll always take care of you.”

“But Beryl,” Elsie sighed. “I,”

Beryl stopped her. “I know. Talk to him, Elsie. Tell him. Make him see that you’re stronger now.”

“I’m not sure how to make him see.”

“Yell at him.”

“What?” Elsie asked with a frown.

“You heard me. Yell at him. It always got his attention before.”

Elsie chewed on her bottom lip. “But why would I yell if there’s no reason to?”

“I’m sure you could find something to yell at him over. He can’t be perfect to live with.”

“That’s just it, he is. He lets me sleep while he gets up to fix breakfast. We usually cook the other two meals together. He does the house cleaning. We’ve fussed a bit over me doing the wash and mending, but we settled that easily enough.”

“Find something wrong with his cleaning. I can’t believe his cleaning is up to your standards.” Beryl smirked when Elsie quirked an eyebrow at her. “It isn’t, is it?”

“Well,” Elsie hedged as she looked down at her hands. “Oh but, I couldn’t. He’s been so very good to me.”

“But you can, and you should. Elsie, be yourself. If it bothers,” Beryl stopped and rolled her eyes then laughed, “You’ve been going behind him and fixing it, haven’t you?”

Elsie shrugged. “I might have been.”

Beryl shook her head. “Stop and then yell at him. Make him see that your fire is coming back. Believe me, it will get through to him. I promise.”

“Well he did seem a bit happy when I yelled and threw the brush before.”

Beryl laughed, remembering that story. “See? I think he needs that. If you yell at him for something, he’ll know, Elsie. He’s stubborn, Lass. Let him see that you’re getting stronger, don’t just tell him. Besides,” she shrugged. “I’d wager that he’s been doing a bad job of cleaning to test you.”

“Oh, he wouldn’t. Would he?”

“He might be. Maybe he’s trying to make you yell at him again.”

Elsie shook her head. “Oh the daft man.”

“A daft man that’s very in love with you.”


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