Chapter 35

“Charles Carson!” Elsie shouted as she watched him brush a bit of dirt under the rug by the front door.

Charles, having heard her, continued about his way, shoving things where they don’t belong, pushing more dirt under things.

Elsie narrowed her eyes when Charles didn’t respond. She knew he’d heard her. Watching as he skimmed over a surface with the duster, she rolled her eyes. He was doing a worse job than usual. She’d thought him a daft but lovely man when talking to Beryl a few days ago, but the more she’d thought about it, the more upset she’d gotten.

The man had been creating work for her to do when he was supposedly doing it so that she didn’t have to!

Bloody man!

“Charles Carson, so help me, if you put that rag under the cushion I’ll brain you with this vase!” she shouted, stopping him in his tracks.

Charles turned to face Elsie, the offending item still held in his fingers, his eyes straying to where her hand was wrapped around the vase they kept flowers in by the settee. “What?” he asked, looking back up at her.

“Don’t you what me, Charles Carson! You heard me. What are you doing? Don’t think that I haven’t figured out what you’ve been up to! You said you would do the cleaning because you didn’t want me to feel I had to, but yet you’ve been,” she scowled and threw her hand out in an arch about the room. “You’ve been making a right bloody mess! It’s insane, is what it is! Bloody insane! Have you lost your senses?” Her hands planted firmly on her hips, Elsie glared at him. “Well? What have you to say for yourself? Pushing dirt under the rugs, moving the dust about instead of properly dusting things, and shoving rags under my cushions!”

Charles stood staring at his wife, the corners of his mouth twitching as he tried not to smile like an idiot. Seeing his wife’s eyes narrow again, he tried harder, but failed and his smile broke free.

“Why are you smiling like the village idiot?” Elsie shouted at him. “Charles Carson, stop that! I’m standing yelling at you and you’re grinning at me like the cat that ate the cream!”

Charles nodded then laughed as he tossed the rag behind him. “There’s my Elsie!”

Outside their door, Richard’s hand paused in mid-knock as he turned to look at his wife. “What in the world?” he whispered as he listened to Elsie cursing in the Gaelic followed by more of Charles’ laughter.

Isobel, wide-eyed and just as confused as her husband, shrugged her shoulders. “I have no idea. What is she saying?”

Richard shook his head. “Nothing for a lady’s ears.”

Isobel laughed at that. “Our Elsie is getting her fire back.”

Richard smiled as he knocked. “Certainly sounds like it.”

“Should we disturb them?” Isobel asked when their knock went unnoticed.

“Well they did invite us over for tea.”

“Yes, but I believe they’ve forgotten.”

Back inside, Elsie paused to catch her breath then stood staring at Charles in horror at the sound of the knock on the door. “Good laird!” she breathed. “Richard and Isobel!”

Charles, trying desperately to get control of himself, cleared his throat and looked at his pocket watch. “It is almost time for tea.”

Elsie shot him a dirty look and hissed, “We aren’t done, Mr. Carson.”

“I hope not, Mrs. Carson,” he shot back before walking passed her to open the door for their guests.

Elsie scowled. The daft man had been laughing! She shook her head as she hurried over to pick up the rag he’d dropped. Shrugging her shoulders, she stuffed it under the cushion then rushed off toward the kitchen. She was still upset that he’d been making work for her, which was ridiculous, but for now she’d have to play hostess. They’d have another discussion later.

“Elsie, is everything alright?” Isobel asked as she helped Elsie with the tea things.

Elsie blushed and looked down at the plate of biscuits she’d prepared. “Oh heavens above, I’m sorry for that. How much did you hear?”

“Enough, most of which I didn’t really understand.” Isobel chuckled when Elsie’s blush deepened. “Richard did, of course, but he wouldn’t tell me.”

“And well he shouldn’t.”

“If a lady shouldn’t hear them, then a lady shouldn’t say them.” Isobel replied with a smirk.

“It’s a good thing I’m no lady then.” Elsie returned with a smirk of her own. “I won’t be telling you, Isobel Clarkson.”

Isobel wrinkled her nose then reached out and hugged Elsie. “It’s so very good to see you teasing, Elsie. So very good.”

Elsie returned the hug then pulled back and smiled at her friend. “I can never thank you enough for taking such good care of me. If Charles hadn’t had you and Richard to bring me to, I don’t think I would have made it. Strangers would have only made the situation worse.”

“He knew that. He wouldn’t let anyone see you when he brought you to the hospital. The nurse kept trying to get him to lay you down, but he refused. He kept your face covered to protect you and made us promise not to say anything to anyone. He knew that you would be embarrassed if people saw you that way and he didn’t want that for you.”

“He’s done so much for me, but I need him to stop. I have to keep doing and fighting for myself, or least trying, if I’m ever going to be me again.”

“I think your yelling at him will help your cause.” Isobel shook her head. “I understand now what Matthew meant.”

Elsie raised her eyebrow and cocked her head. “What?”

“He must have come up on the two of you arguing, though he never explained what he was doing below stairs. All I know is that he said he heard you yelling with Charles blusteringly trying to interrupt and turned and rushed back upstairs. He said he’d never in all of his days been afraid of just a woman’s voice, but you had him shaking in his boots.”

“Oh my.” Elsie blushed as she lifted a tray. “We did have some rather heated disagreements.”

Isobel gawped at her friend. “Disagreements? That’s what you call what was going on?” She shook her head. “Elsie, that was an out and out row.”

“Well he was scooting dirt under the rugs! And stuffing rags under the cushions!”

Isobel held up her hands. “Easy.”

Elsie chuckled, “Sorry.”

“Shall we take this in before the tea grows completely cold?”

“I think we’d better. The men will come looking for us if we don’t.”

“You’ve been doing what?” Richard asked as he stared across at his friend. “Charles, old man, that’s,” he shook his head.

“Daft. Foolish.” Charles suggested. “I know, but I had to do something.”

“But Charles, you made work for her after telling her she wouldn’t have to do the cleaning. You had to know she would notice and fix the mess herself.”

Charles scrubbed a hand over his face. “I made a right mess of things, but,” he looked up at his friend. “She yelled at me. She was all fire and sass and hands on hips and,” he couldn’t help the grin. “She’s never used words I couldn’t understand before.”

“It was the Gaelic, and it’s just as well you didn’t understand what she was saying.”

Charles blinked in surprise at Richard. “She wouldn’t.”

“Oh, she most certainly did.” Richard chuckled and shook his head. “The lass definitely has some of her fire back. I haven’t heard words such as that since I was a young man spending time around sailors.”

Charles laughed and was still laughing when the women came into the room. He could see that they had been laughing themselves, and wondered what they’d been talking about while preparing tea.

“And what has you lasses so jolly?” Richard asked, winking at Isobel when she wrinkled her nose at him.

“Girl talk, Doctor.” Isobel answered cheekily, earning her a grateful smile from Elsie.

“And what had you lads so jolly?” Elsie asked, echoing the doctor’s brogue.

Isobel shook her head and laughed. “Who knew I’d be surrounded by Scots in the second half of my life?”

Elsie raised an eyebrow at that. “Are you saying you don’t like to hear us talk?”

“Oh no. Nothing of the sort.” Isobel answered, resisting the urge to stick her tongue out at Elsie for being so cheeky. “I love to hear the two of you,” she answered, leaving off the fact that hearing her husband when they were alone affected her in a much different way. “It’s just that I spent a lifetime surrounded by very posh English accents. I find it refreshing to listen to the lilt and the rolling of the r’s. I enjoy it when one of you slip into the Gaelic, even if I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

Richard knew what his wife wasn’t saying, and suspected that Charles thought much the same. Elsie’s brogue probably affected the man just as much as his own brogue affected Isobel. Though neither of the two would admit it in company. He’d seen the look Elsie had passed Isobel when she’d quickly answered his question, and wondered if Elsie had been telling his wife about the argument. Catching a glint of light as Elsie lifted a biscuit to her mouth, he raised his eyebrow. Where had that come from?

“Elsie, is that the reason you asked the two of us to tea today?” he asked as he nodded toward her left hand.

Isobel frowned as she looked from her husband to Elsie, gasping in surprise when she noticed what he was talking about. “It’s lovely, Elsie. How did I miss it before?”

Elsie shrugged as she fidgeted with the ring. “You weren’t expecting it. It is why we invited you to tea.”

“I thought,” Isobel started, stopping when Elsie looked up at her.

“Charles didn’t force me to. It was my decision.”

“Oh no, Elsie. I wasn’t thinking that.” Isobel assured. “I’m just a bit shocked, that’s all. Are you alright with it?”

Elsie smiled over at Charles as she nodded. “I am. It was his mother’s ring, so it’s special. I made the decision to wear a ring and to take his name because I needed to do it for me.”

Richard smiled. “Good, Lass. Good. It’s part of your healing.”

Elsie nodded. “Yes. And, the ring doesn’t bother me. I really don’t notice it. The other ring,” she paused and looked back down at her hand.

“The other ring wasn’t put there with love.” Isobel whispered, smiling when Elsie looked up at her.

Charles smiled softly at Elsie when she looked at him. “She’s right, Lass.” Taking her hand, he lifted it to press a kiss to her finger over the ring. “I owe you an apology, Elsie. I shouldn’t have been making messes. I really only wanted to make you yell at me. I hadn’t thought it through, hadn’t thought about you going behind me and cleaning it all up.”

Elsie frowned. “You mean Beryl was right? You wanted me to yell at you?”

“Why do you think I laughed? Yelling at me,” he chuckled then continued. “And cursing at me, that gave me all the proof I need that my Scottish lass is getting her fire back. It’s all I wanted, Elsie. All I wanted.”

Elsie scowled over at Richard. “And just how does he know I was cursing at him?”

Richard grinned and shrugged. “I have no idea.”

Elsie rolled her eyes then turned back to Charles. “You daft man. I accept your apology. From now on, maybe I should do the cleaning.” She winked at him. “You’re lousy at it.”

Richard and Isobel laughed as they watched the couple. It was good to see Elsie happy and teasing.

Charles laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “I try.”

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