Charles Carson has decided to leave Downton Abbey to help Lady Mary. But he did not just left a house behind but also one very important person.
time: 1919 / series 2, ep. 6/7
A/N I could not sleep and thought about what would have happened, if Carson had really left Downton.
"Well, good-bye then." She stood in the middle of his sitting room looking at his small bag, at the wooden box that contained all the personal things that once stood perfectly arranged either on his desk or on the small table next to the door. A few pictures of his family among them, an old drawing Lady Mary had given him when she was a child. All these small belongings made this room his room. Without them it was just an ordinary office, she thought.
"You should go now. Lady Mary is already waiting," she forced a smile.
"Good-bye Mrs. Hughes." He held out his hand. This was too formal, she thought but took it anyway.
"Good luck Mr. Carson." another fake smile. She could not be happy, only pretend to be.
"Haxby is only a thirty minute walk from Downton," he told her before he let go of her hand.
"I'm glad that it is only Haxby and not London," the first real smile crossed her face. Yet, the prospect of being able to see him only every fortnight on her half day off was only a scrap of comfort.
And now his expression changed as well. A hint of regret showing on his face. "I will miss you."
"You will manage," she answered but did not mean it.
He sighed, took his box in one hand and the bag in the other and looked into her face one more time. "Good-bye." Then he turned around, stepped through the door of the sitting room that been his for the last 25 years and walked along the corridor towards the back door.
She remained rooted to the spot, staring at the open door in front of her. She heard the back door being opened and shut again and knew he had left for good.
She spent the remaining day almost entirely in her sitting room and left it only when absolutely necessary. The rest of the staff was at least sensitive enough to leave her alone. Even Mrs. Patmore was completely absorbed in her work whenever Mrs. Hughes passed by the kitchen. For once both women shared at least some of their emotions. They had known and worked with Mr. Carson for decades, Mrs. Patmore even longer than her. And now he was gone. Gone to support a young woman that did not deserve all of this. He was needed her, not over at Haxby, she thought bitterly.
It was in the evening when she at last fully realized that he had gone. There was no light spilling out from under the door of his sitting room. Instead it was dark, empty and cold when she opened the door. Only a hint of the familiar smell was still perceptible. She closed her eyes and concentrated on it for a moment before it was gone. Like him. For good.
She went to bed early. There was no need to stay up longer than necessary. He would not knock on her door to bid her good night or offer her a glass of the remaining wine from the upstairs dinner. Alone in her bed she wondered why she had not been honest with him when he had asked her if she would really miss him. She had told him only half the truth.
"How are you feeling Mrs. Hughes?" Lady Grantham's worried face took her by surprise the next morning.
"I am fine, thank you milady." Of course this was not true. She was not fine at all. Sleep was something she had longed for last night but it had not come. Still, it was not in her position to bother her Ladyship with her problems. "May I remind you that we have to advertise the open position as soon as possible?"
"Of course. You are right, as much as I detest the thought of having to hire someone to replace Carson."
No one could ever replace him she thought. We all know that but we do not admit it. "Will that be all milady?" she asked, always maintaining her composed self.
"Yes, thank you Mrs. Hughes."
The advertisement was in the local newspaper next morning. They had reacted fast and so did the applicants for the open position. She received ten letters in just one week. Ten men that could hardly ever replace him. Ten references she did not want to look at and let alone read. However she had to open every single envelope. She studied the names, the age, the height, the former employers. Not one of them was fit for the position. They were all too young.
But she had to make a quick decision. A house like Downton Abbey could not function without a butler for long. So she picked a candidate she thought she could somehow get along with. James Howard. 44. Butler since he was 40. He was expected to arrive at Downton next week. One day before she had her half day off. One day before she would finally be able to take a walk over to Haxby.
So much work fell into her hands without him around. She had to take care of the male staff as well, organizing the meals upstairs. They were still a footman short and Thomas was not at all cooperative. He did not care about Mr. Carson. And it took all her self-restraint to not yell at him constantly.
The more days she spent alone in her sitting room, the more she let her thoughts wander. She tried to recall little moments of their time together. Moments that had made her smile, most of the time. To her surprise there were more memories she had safely tucked away in the back of her brain than she had been aware of.
And then the day finally came. Mr. Howard stood in front of the back door. He was only slightly taller than her. Blonde hair, strong southern accent. She led him into her sitting room, offered him a cup of tea which he refused.
"You are Scottish, aren't you?" was one of his first remarks after she had given a brief account of the household in general.
"Any problems with that, Mr. Howard?" she harshly asked not willing to be on familiar terms with him on his first working day.
"Not at all." He quickly responded, obviously realizing that Elsie Hughes was not going to be his equal at Downton Abbey but his superior.
She chose Anna to guide Mr. Howard around the house. Show him where everything was located. He would definitely need a while to not get lost in the large house. She had to smile at that thought: the butler of a stately home getting lost on his way from one room to the other. She was being unfair but did not care.
In the afternoon she showed him his office. She could no longer refer to it as a sitting room because she would no longer wish to sit in there. He had brought a little box with him full of personal belongings which he placed here and there. The room had ceased to be Mr. Carsons's now.
That evening Mrs. Hughes did the rounds one last time on her own. She made sure that every door was locked, every window closed, every candle blown out and the electric light switched off everywhere. It was almost midnight when she entered the corridor that led to her room. The door to Mr. Howard's office stood open. He had already gone to bed. She could not help it and stepped into the empty room, switched on the lights and looked around. She touched the old desk by the door, let her fingertips brush along the edge. She went over to the large desk, touched the wooden surface and felt the irregularities of the wood underneath her hands. In a fit of melancholy she sat down in his chair and opened one of the drawers. A small object glittered in the dim light. She took it out and could not withhold her tears this time. It was the missing silver cufflink he had searched for almost a decade.
The sun was shining from a clear blue sky. She had risen early, washed her hair and tried out a new hairstyle. She had not pinned the curls as tightly as usual but instead let them down a bit at the sides. It made her look younger, she thought after a glance in the mirror.
Downstairs she put on her hat and coat, took her handbag and put the small silver cufflink in it. She was ready for her half day off. In thirty minutes she would be over at Haxby.
Should I go on with it or leave the story here? I'm not sure yet. This was written at 3 in the morning :) btw.