Tarnished

Chapter 4

Charles knocked on the door of the farm house he’d been told belonged to Sean and Alba McLean, Elsie’s brother-in-law and sister. He hadn’t intended to just show up on their farm, but at the urging of the Dowager Countess and Beryl, he’d packed a few things and left on the next train out of Downton that would take him to Lytham St. Anne’s.

He’d spent the night at a small pub that had rooms to rent and risen before the sun to make the trip to the farm, hoping to catch the mister of the house. He still hadn’t quite figured out why it had been Elsie’s brother-in-law that had sent the letter to Beryl, but it gave him an odd feeling.

Alba opened the door with a frown. “Yes? What is it? Do you know that you’re disturbing breakfast?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. McLean. I realize I’ve come at a bad time, but might I speak with Mr. McLean?”

“Whatever in the world would a man like you want with my mister?”

“Alba! For goodness sake!” Sean growled then looked up at Charles. “I’m Sean McLean, Mister,” he paused and held out his hand.

Charles took the offered hand and shook it. “Charles Carson.”

“You! How dare you show your face here!” Alba shouted causing Charles to take a step back. He’d been shouted at by Elsie often enough, but never at any time had he feared being attacked. Evidently Elsie had been mislabeled as the dragon. This sister was clearly the dragon of the two.

“Stop hissing at the man, Dragon, and go back to your cave.” Sean frowned at his wife.

“Don’t call me Dragon!” Alba growled as she stalked off back to the kitchen.

Sean sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry for that, Mr. Carson. Why don’t we take a bit of a walk.”

Charles nodded and waited for Sean to get his coat and hat. “I’m sorry to disturb your morning meal. It’s just that I,”

Sean held up his hand as he led them out toward the barn. “No need to apologize. I’ve read Elsie’s letter and I’ve long suspected that she wasn’t the only one in love.” Pausing at the fence, he looked up at Charles. “You do love her, don’t you?”

“I have for longer than I care to admit. If I admit that, I admit that I was a fool.”

“I don’t care about any of that, Mr. Carson. I only care about Elsie. I’m going to tell you what happened and you’re not going to like it. Before I start, let me just say, my wife did all of it without my knowledge. She made sure I wouldn’t be home because she knew that if I were to be here, I would put a stop to it.”

“Why? She’s Elsie’s sister. I don’t understand.”

“There’s bad blood between them, Mr. Carson. It’s part of why Alba did what she did.”

“Which was?”

“Come on into the barn. There’s a bench you can sit on while I tell you the whole sorry mess.”


Charles had never wanted to slap a woman so much as he did Elsie’s sister after hearing the story Sean had to tell.

He’d met his share of pious people. Most of whom wore it as a mask, as nothing more than façades, shedding them the minute they were behind the closed and locked doors of their homes. He could only recall having met a handful of people whose piety extended beyond that façade.

Alba McLean, it would seem, fell into both categories – a conundrum that Charles didn’t want to try and sort out.

All he wanted was to get to Argyll, to find Rev. Jameson, to learn what he’d done with Elsie. Sean had told him that he’d tried to find her the best he could, but all he could ever learn due to not having the money or the time, was that she’d been taken back to Scotland by the minister from the church the Hughes sisters had attended as children.

No wonder Elsie had escaped to England, leaving her family behind.

He couldn’t imagine Elsie living in that kind of environment. She was far too independent, to alive to live like that.

But now she’d been living like that, or worse, for three years.

Would he find his Elsie?

Or would she be a broken, empty shell, no remnants of the woman he had known, and loved, left?

Staring out the train window, he felt fear begin to creep over him. Sean had told him that Alba knew where her sister had been taken. He’d said that he knew that she was aware of the man that her sister had been married off to. And he’d admitted that, though she wouldn’t tell him anything, the man was one that no woman should be married to.

Charles shook his head.

No.

Elsie wouldn’t let that happen.

She was too strong.

Too stubborn.

Too independent.

His Elsie could be a fire breathing dragon when the need arose.

He’d seen her stare down men twice her size and have them cowering.

He, himself, had been on the receiving end of the death stare and had cowered away from it – doing his damnedest to make it go away.

If she could make mighty men cower, surely this would be no different.

Surely.

Sighing, he let his head fall back against the seat, tilting his hat down over his eyes. He had to rest, or at least try. His day had started early and the things he’d learned had mentally exhausted him.

Closing his eyes, he slowly dropped off, dreams of the life he should have lived with Elsie mingling with images of what she might have gone through as a child, what she could be going through now. It was too much and he started awake, his hat falling into his lap and starting to slide to the floor with only his years of having to be quick with his reactions saving it from falling.

Staring down at the hat in his fidgeting fingers, he did what he’d done to clear his mind since he was a young boy. Picking the most inane facts he knew, he began to recite them in his mind, knowing that he would slowly relax and fall asleep from the sheer boredom of the knowledge.

Elsie would laugh at him if she knew.

He shook his head.

No thinking of Elsie.

Back to naming the many patterns of china. That would keep his mind clear enough to fall asleep and rest.


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