A/C This was inspired by a picture posted on tumblr earlier today and the comments that followed.

Thanks Loganites for your input!


Prologue

A faint knock on the door of his pantry disturbed Charles' afternoon routine. He was preoccupied with checking the latest wine delivery and making sure everything was in order. He still missed three boxes of the Cabernet Sauvignon he had additionally ordered for Lord Grantham's birthday next Sunday.

"Come in," he called without looking up from the wine ledger and dipping his pen once more into the inkwell to continue with his writing.

The door opened only a crack and to his surprise it was neither one of the kitchenmaids nor the footmen who ventured to disturb him but Lady Mary. "Milady what can I do for you?" he put the pen down and gave her his full attention. Since the girl had turned ten and gotten her own room he had not seen much of her downstairs. She was "grown up" now and had "things to do" she had told him the other day.

The young girl cautiously entered the room with a book in her hands, pressed to her chest as if she was afraid of losing it. "Mr. Carson…" she started, placing one step after another until she stood right in front of his desk. "I was wondering…"

"What were you wondering about, milady?" an amused smile crossed his lips. Lady Mary was never lost for words. In fact, they usually poured out of her and he often had the feeling that she did not even think about what she said. It would have led to awkward situations if she was older but right now she was still young so no one took notice of her outbursts. Aside from him.

She looked down at the book in front of her, turned it in her hands until she placed it on top of his desk. "I got this book as a present from Auntie Rosamund."

Charles reached out and picked it up to read the title. "Elsie's Holidays at Roselands – Martha Finley". He had to suppress a grin when he noticed the name of the heroine.

"It's a nice present, milady. Have you had the chance to read it yet?"

Lady Mary bit on her lip and stared at the book on the table. "No I haven't because I wanted to ask you if you could do me a favour Mr. Carson."

He raised his brow in anticipation waiting for the girl to continue although he already had an idea what this favour was all about.

"I'm much too old for this of course but could you read the book to me tonight?" She wrung her little hands and was still staring at the leather bound book.

"Have you asked your father or your mother before you decided to come to me, milady? I know for sure that his Lordship always enjoyed reading to you."

For the first time since she had entered his pantry Lady Mary looked up and into his eyes. "Of course I have!" she blurted out. "He does not mind. He and Mama will be out tonight anyway."

Charles smiled at her. She always wanted to be treated as a grown up and not as a child. Coming downstairs with her new book and asking him to read it to her had surely cost her quite an effort. He opened the book and had a first look at the text to find out what it was about.

"Elsie, daughter, you are more precious to me than aught else in the wide world, and you need not fear that any other can ever take your place in my heart, or that I will make any connection that would render you unhappy. I want no one to love but my little girl; and you must not let

the gossip of the servants disturb you."

His eyes widened at this passage and he quickly shut the book. If he was going to read this out to Lady Mary tonight he had to make sure they were not in his pantry but preferably in the library and as far away from her sitting room as possible.

"Will you read it, Mr. Carson?" her voice adopted a pleading tone now.

He cleared his throat. "I will think about it milady and give you my answer after dinner."

Lady Mary stomped her feet. "No! Please Mr. Carson!"

Before the girl got one of her famous tantrums, he cast a stern look at her which had the desired effect. She bit her lip once more. "You always make the characters sound so alive when you give them different voices. Papa never does that."

"Thank you for the compliment milady." He stood up to hand the book back to her but Lady Mary shook her head.

"Keep it. You can practise for tonight." She grinned.


TBC

I will continue this tonight when I'm no longer at work :)