“Cawson!” Little Master George says demandingly as he tugs on Charles’ pant leg. “Cawson. I wanna go side.”
Charles bends down to the little lad and gently takes his hand. “If you wait one moment, Master George, I will take you down to see Mrs. Hughes. Maybe she would like to take a walk with us. Would you like that?”
Little George’s face lit up at the mention of Elsie’s name. Charles beamed back down at him. Who knew that Lady Mary’s child would take such a liking to the housekeeper. Lord knows the two women have never seen eye to eye in all the years under the same roof. And now, like himself, the little Prince was overjoyed to have a moment of her time.
“Oh peas, Cawson! I wuv Missus Hoos. I wanna see Missus Hoos now!” He was tugging insistently on Charles’ hand, and as with his Mother, Charles could not refuse the young lad anything his heart desired.
“Yes, yes. Let’s go find Mrs. Hughes. I’m sure she will be delighted to see you, and maybe Mrs. Patmore can find us some biscuits as well.” Charles offered happily as they strolled down the hall hand in hand, the butler stooping to keep his hand in the toddlers. He was hoping Elsie had a bit of free time for him this afternoon, and he knew his chances were even greater if he brought along reinforcements.
Elsie turned at the soft knock on her door. She soon had her arms full of a young Master George. She laughed as he climbed up onto her lap and settled his hands on her cheeks. “Hello, my lad. How are you today?” She smiled down at his adorable grin and swept her delicate fingers through his blonde hair.
“Missus Hoos. You come owside wiff me an Cawson?” He asked sweetly.
Elsie looked up at Charles standing in her doorway and he smiled and nodded at her. “I’d love to, my wee man.” She answered happily, her Scottish lilt washing over Charles like a warm breeze. Charles could feel a happy tingle run through his chest as he watched her tickle the lads tummy. George giggled and squirmed from her lap.
“Come on Missus Hoos. Let’s go play owside!” He shouted as he took off down the hall towards the door. Charles hurried off after him and Elsie popped up and followed. They were both waiting at the backdoor with smiles on their faces. Charles held the door for her and placing his hand on the small of her back, guided her up the stairs and out into the sun. Master George bound around them in circles as they walked out into the soft green grass. He ran ahead and tumbled across the lawn, laughing and carrying on.
“He’s a darling lad.” Elsie said softly as she watched him play. Charles studied her face and could sense something was off. Her affection for the boy was apparent, but their was an underlying sadness in her eyes, in her voice.
“He is indeed. He reminds me of his Mother at that age.” He said wistfully, pausing for a long moment before he continued on. “Do you regret not having a child, Mrs. Hughes?”
“Yes.” She answered quickly and quietly. “Though I’d not give up the life I’ve led, I would be lying if I said I do not regret it. But why dwell on things we can never change? Our paths are what we’ve made them. I am content with my life.”
“Content…That is not a very glowing assessment for ones life.” Charles offered stiffly.
Elsie ignored his comment and questioned back. “And you, do you wish you would have had a child, Mr. Carson?”
“In another life..another way… I would have.” He answered sadly, looking away from her and at the boy as the lad hopped on one foot around a bouncing Isis.
“The life you could have had with Alice.” She stated, more than questioned, never allowing her eyes to look over at him. She had secretly hoped she’d never have to hear or utter that woman’s name again so long as she lived. It pierced through her like a knife as it slid from her lips.
“No.. No.. ” He faltered a bit as he went on. “We never…we would never have worked. I realize now the pedestal I had stood her upon was built on hopes and dreams, not on reality. She really was a fickle and selfish young lady. No aspirations or goals. She would have been happy to drift from place to place…singing and carrying on.” He said rather disgustedly. “She lacked loyalty and strength of character.”
Elsie looked over at him wide eyed and raised her eyebrows. “Is this the same Charles Carson who was pining over her just last year at my table? I thought you’d wanted her so much you could taste it? Who’s the fickle one now?” She offered sarcastically as she rolled her eyes and trotted off across the grass towards George.
Of course he had irritated her. He was trying to tell her how he felt and she just saw him as a snob. A man who could find fault in anyone and anything. She probably even considered his opinion of her to be less than stellar, when of course it could be farther from the truth. She was his guide, his compass, the roots that held him steady. “Mrs. Hughes.” He called after her.
Elsie turned back to him and he approached her steadily. His long strides carrying him until he was nearer than necessary. “I am hardly a fickle man, Mrs. Hughes. Can I not be forgiven for a youthful…for a misunderstanding of the heart?”
“A misunderstanding of the heart?” She questioned him, the corner of her lip turning up and her eyebrows furrowing. “For forty years?”
“Yes.” He answered her straight faced and without a hint of mirth. “I do not think I knew what love really was.”
“And now you do?” Elsie asked him softly, shyly, wondering where this was all leading.
“I think I do, Mrs. Hughes.” He said softly as he reached for her hand.
Elsie placed her hand in his. Would this be it, she wondered. Would he finally give her more of him. “And what is love, Mr. Carson?” She questioned, looking up into his hazel eyes as they glistened with unshed tears.
He moved closer to her and placed his other hand over their joined ones. “It is what I feel for you, Mrs. Hughes… It is what I’ve always felt for you.”
Elsie could feel the tears slide down her cheeks as Charles pulled her to him, his arms wrapping around her and cradling her to his chest. “I love you, Elsie Hughes.” He whispered as he pressed his lips into her hair.
“I love you too, Charles Carson. God knows I always have.” She said pulling back from him and taking his face between her delicate palms. She stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips firmly to his. Quickly settling herself back down as she watched his lips curl into a mischievous smile. He slid his hands to her waist and pulled her even closer as he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. Unlike her quick and chaste kiss, his lips moved softly over hers, parting and pressing. His breath mingling with hers as their mouths opened and tasted one another for the first time. Elsie pressed herself closer to Charles as his tongue glided across her lips. She pushed hers out to meet..
“Cawson!! Cawson!! Why are you kissin’ my Missus Hoos?” A two year old George’s cries rang out from below them as he tugged on Charles’ coat.
They quickly parted, Charles stammering. “Yes, umm. Yes, Master George. Your Mrs. Hughes is just fine. We were um.. We..” He glanced at Elsie for help and she smiled broadly at him trying hard to contain her laughter. Charles bent down on one knee and patted George on the head. “Because I love Mrs. Hughes, my lad, and that is what a man does when he’s found the woman he wants to marry.”
“Oh.” George shrugged and headed back to Isis. Rolling around on the grass with the jovial pup. Charles looked back up at Elsie and she once again had tears falling. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, green, velvet box. Holding it up to her and opening the case, he smiled sweetly as he asked her the question that had been on his mind for so many long months…years…decades. “Elsie Hughes, will you be my wife?”
“Yes, Charles Carson, I would love to be your wife. Nothing in this world would make me happier.” Elsie managed to answer back as her tears fell. Her hand shook as he slid the delicate gold and diamond band down her slender finger.
Charles rose from his knee and held her hands in his. “At long last, my love.” He spoke softly as he brought her finger to his lips. “And forever more…”