threshing machine

“Sir, why the Chain Warden? Is it because you have seen him personally?”

“Because if everyone else sees me as a torturous captor, why not dress up as one? At least during the Harrowing. After that, they’ll just have to continue to imagine me like that.”


If the Harrowing is just a legend in the rest of Valoran, then the people might even dress up as characters from stories. But Viktor knows that the Chain Warden is far from just a story. He indeed saw him once, but not by his own mistake. Although it was his mistake that caused the Chain Warden to point right at him.

Day 18: For the Woman who has Everything

“Blasted Christmas anyway…” 

Mr. Charles Carson’s frustrated muttering caught the attention of no one, which was fortunate. For he would have been hard put to explain why the joyful holiday had suddenly taken on a dismal cast for him.

It wasn’t the celebrations of the Crawley family and all the demands on the staff that were causing him irritation. It wasn’t the high spirits of the staff - he could barely be fussed to raise a disapproving eyebrow as secrets were whispered at the table and Mr. Molesley dogged Miss Baxter’s steps through every doorway on the off chance that a sprig of mistletoe might be on display. It wasn’t the usual disarrangement and fuss in the kitchens as Mrs. Patmore and Daisy worked their holiday culinary magic with a greatly reduced staff.

No, he was bothered by none of these things. Gifts were the current bane of his existence at the moment.

Well, one gift, in particular.

In the decades that he had been exchanging small, thoughtful gifts with the housekeeper who had become his wife, he’d never once found himself in a quandary as to what to get for her. But now…now as they approached the anniversary of his sputtering proposal - stuck with her? sometimes it still haunts me - and their first Christmas together as husband and wife, he found himself at an utter loss.

“Gloves…handkerchiefs…books…even a few pieces of innocent, small jewelry,” he mused as he stared down at his ledgers. “I’ve always given her what I thought she should want, and never bothered to trouble myself with inquiring as to her actual desires.”

His face flushed as he contemplated that he’d learned well how to inquire as to her actual desires since their marriage. But he didn’t think he could use the same…techniques to determine what to get his wife for Christmas.

Time was running out, and he clearly needed some advice. While he briefly thought about consulting with Mr. Bates, one of the few happily married men of his acquaintance whom he did not work for, he dismissed that idea. With Anna’s impending delivery, Mr. Bates was clearly preoccupied and not likely to be of much help.

As it always did, it took Mr. Carson a few moments to banish the unease that attended him every time he recalled that there was a significantly pregnant ladies maid working in the house. He glared at the slight tremors in his hands, which were plaguing him more frequently of late, particularly when he gripped the edge of his desk and tried to forget that his staff were marrying and starting families all over the place…

His thoughts turned towards another source of enlightenment, and he winced as he pondered dragging said source away from her kitchen long enough to have a conversation with her. Still, if his wife had expressed a desire for anything in particular to anyone other than him, it would probably be Mrs. Patmore. With a tug at his waist coat, he symbolically girded his loins and prepared to step into the lion’s kitchen.

No one acknowledged his presence as he stood uncomfortably in the doorway of her domain. Mrs. Patmore was moving from corner to corner with some sort of purpose that escaped him. He was reminded of the way draft horses used to circle the threshing machines in the fields. When she turned her head to bark an order at a hapless local girl who’d been recently hired as a maid of all work, he half expected an impatient whinny.

Clearing his throat repeatedly was less than effective at garnering notice by Mrs. Patmore’s, although Daisy briefly glanced up from hurling fillets of sole into a large mixing bowl filled with a pungent marinade. In fact, the only one who noticed his efforts, and with some amusement, was the subject of his concern, who stood behind him, stymied for a moment in her quest of entering the kitchen by his broad back.

“Have you caught a cold, Mr. Carson?” she inquired, as he attempted to increase the volume of his fruitless attempt to discretely catch Mrs. Patmore’s attention.

He jumped as if he’d been goosed. Not bothering to hide a smile, Mrs. Hughes edged past him smoothly, gently touching his arm as she passed. She was immediately blessed with Mrs. Patmore’s attention.

“Not another change?! I can’t produce something from nothing. It’s not a cook in a kitchen they need - it’s the Almighty Creator in the Garden of Eden!”

Mrs. Hughes used her calmest tone to inform Mrs. Patmore that the family wasn’t expecting creation ex nihilo. “The extra cuts we needed to order will be here in an hour, Mrs. Patmore. I hope that gives you enough time…”

“Only just,” the frazzled cook muttered. She and Daisy glanced at each other in wordless communication. Mrs. Hughes was relieved when they nodded.

“Your efforts aren’t going unnoticed,” Mrs. Hughes informed them. “In fact, I believe Mr. Carson was waiting to tell you how much all your work has been appreciated this year.” Her smile in his direction was somewhat mischievous, but her raised eyebrows demanded that he respond.

“Of course,” he rumbled in his most impressive voice - the one his wife referred to as “style and show”. “That’s exactly what I was hoping to convey—“

Mrs. Patmore looked skeptical for a moment. “Well, I appreciate you staying out of our way while you worked yourself up to it, Mr. Carson. And thank you very much.”

Mr. Carson’s eyes followed his wife until she disappeared into hr sitting room with a single, curious backward glance at him as he stayed rooted in the doorway. 

“Have you a moment, Mrs. Patmore?” he asked, his tone making it less of a question than an order.

Mrs. Patmore rolled her eyes vigorously. “As it happens, I don’t, Mr. Carson. But if it’ll get you out of my kitchen…”

Going no further down the corridor than it took to afford them some privacy, Mr. Carson stopped and faced the impatient cook. Bending closer, he lowered his voice to an approximation of a whisper, which likely couldn’t be heard above three or four feet away.

“Mrs. Patmore, has Mrs. Hughes mentioned anything to you about something she might want?”

Mrs. Patmore’s eyebrows shot up into her cap and she shook her head vigorously.

“Oh no! We’re not doing this again!” At his bewildered expression, she crossed her arms and scowled. “You’re married now; bloody well talk to each other about…about this sort of thing.”

“What?! What are you…” As understanding began to dawn, his eyes widened in shock. “Mrs. Patmore! I didn’t mean… I wasn’t talking about…” Good God almighty…she can’t think… Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and counted to eighteen before he was able to look at her again. “I only meant for Christmas, Mrs. Patmore.”

“Christmas? You mean for a gift?” At his nod, she broke into a grin. “Well, that’s a relief, I don’t mind telling you.”

Mr. Carson could only nod again. They were beginning to attract some attention as Daisy popped her head out of the kitchen doorway to roll her eyes exasperatedly and Andy bustled past them with an armful of trays.

“Sorry I can’t be of help,” she replied with a chuckle. “We’ve never discussed our letters to Father Christmas.”

“She never mentioned anything she might like to have? Nothing at all?” he asked desperately.

“Why don’t you ask her?” Mrs. Patmore said with a huff of frustration. “Now, I’ve got to get on.”

Because I don’t want to look a fool in front of the woman I love, that’s why!  How could I not know what she’d like for Christmas?

With a deep sigh, and a growl at Mr. Molesley who rushed in a bit late from his teaching to serve at dinner, he plodded back to his pantry to prepare himself for his evening duties. Hopefully, some inspiration would come…

_____________________________

Word traveled fast under the stairs.

He was certain dinner hadn’t even finished upstairs, but he was already getting puzzled or sympathetic looks from the staff as he walked briskly into his pantry, keeping his eyes fixed ahead of him. The shaking in his hands was beginning to subside, but the shaking of the edifice of service and duty he’d built his life upon continued. He slammed the door behind him without thinking and leaned against his desk.

Within minutes, the door flew open to reveal his very agitated housekeeper and highly concerned wife. He stood a little taller at her not unexpected entrance, but didn’t turn to face her.

“I cannot think of what to get you for Christmas,” he informed the wall in a flat voice. “My apologies for not being a more attentive husband.”

She stood silently and watched his back and shoulders tense as he gripped his waistcoat. He continued to stare at the wall next to his desk, waiting for some sort of response. When none was forthcoming, he continued:

“I never seemed to have this difficulty before. So many things have changed…”

Mrs. Hughes took a step closer to him, realizing that he wasn’t referring only to his Christmas gift conundrum.

“Mrs. Patmore is of the opinion that, perhaps, I do not talk to you as I should, or I might know what you would like.” He let out a strangled bark of laughter. “She ought to know, I suppose.”

There was not a sound from his wife, but he felt her hand tentatively touch his back. He stood still as a statue, poised at perfect attention, as if waiting for an empty tea cup to present itself.

“Mrs. Patmore has far too many opinions,” she said in a low voice as she wrapped her arms around him and laid her face against the wool of his livery. “Would you like to know my opinion?”

“Yes,” he replied after a moment, bringing one hand up to cover hers.

“Past Christmases have been easier for you because you were able to find little holes in my life, needs that you could try to fill. I don’t have those little holes any longer, Charles, because you’ve filled them all.”

She could feel him begin to tremble in her arms. He slowly turned around and gathered her to him. They stood in silence, holding each other.

“I shall request a meeting with His Lordship tomorrow,” he said into the top of her head. “It doesn’t do to put these things off.”

“Very well.”

“It shouldn’t be longer than a few months at the most…just to make sure everything goes smoothly with…with the changing of the guard.”

“I’m sure they’ll appreciate that.”

“Mr. Molesley and Andrew should be able to manage most of the serving and such.” He cleared his throat as the image of the pedestal that held his highest standards and expectations lurched alarmingly.

“They will do you proud, I’m sure.”

“I’m not. But that’s neither here nor there, is it?”

“No, it’s not,” she replied, looking up at him with a tiny smile.

Unable to resist, he lowered his head to kiss her lightly. She pushed up on her tiptoes to meet him.

“None of this resolves the problem of what I am to get you for Christmas,” he commented.

“That’s because there’s no problem,” she replied tartly. “Once you have that meeting with His Lordship, I shall truly have everything I could ever want.”

“I’m afraid I have no idea how to wrap that.”

“Leave the wrapping to me. You’ll have enough to be going on with when it’s time for the unwrapping.”

His eyebrows went up, and he would have responded if she hadn’t pulled his head down for another kiss. They ignored the quiet knock at the door and were oblivious when it opened to reveal Mr. Molesley and Miss Baxter standing there.

“Now may not be the best time,” Miss Baxter murmured, pulling an unresisting Mr. Molesley away by his arm and gently closing the door behind them.

“Charles…” Mrs. Hughes whispered.

“Hmmm?”

“Tell His Lordship that we’ll both be at this meeting.”