"You managed to find your way here, then?" Blaine asked wryly, his smile mischievous as the door to his room creaked open to reveal Kurt. The taller boy was, as ever, immaculately presented, not a fraction of material creased or out of place on his uniform, but his face bore the look of a startled deer. He visibly relaxed at the sight of Blaine.
"I'm not really sure how I managed it," he replied, eyeing the grandeur of the guest bedroom. It occurred to Blaine suddenly the difference between Kurt and himself; Crawford House was impressive, but to Blaine it was to be expected, natural. Kurt's only experience with a grand house was Dalton Abbey which was, admittedly, not as big. "I suppose Mr. Goolsby's instructions must have found themselves a way into my brain somehow."
"I don't suppose Goolsby told you a way to the library, at all?"
"No," Kurt said, perplexed. "I thought Miss Fabray was showing you about the house?"
"Miss Fabray is indisposed this morning. I only know my way from the breakfast room to here and back again; I daresay I'm not sure I remember that with any great amount of certainty."
"You might've called Goolsby. I'm sure he'd have been more than willing to show you around himself."
Blaine rolled his eyes. "I didn't want to call Goolsby for a tour about the house. I've been waiting for you." He reached out his hand, beckoning Kurt over with a crook of his fingers and smiled wider at Kurt's compliance. "I've missed you."
"Missed me? It's only been three hours."
"Yes, and I've felt your absence with every one of them." Kurt knelt on the wooden trunk at the foot of Blaine's bed and nestled his legs either side of Blaine's. "My world was in black and white before, almost. It was completely meaningless, drained of all color. And then you arrived and everything became the picture of iridescence... blue-" Blaine trailed off, breath hitching in his throat as he realized he'd become lost in the striking blue irises of Kurt's eyes. "When you leave, even for just a few hours, the colors are dulled again until you reignite them."
Kurt blushed, looking down in an attempt to hide the wide grin that began to spread across his face. He laughed a little, and shook his head. "You ought to be a poet, Blaine. That was really quite something."
"A poet? You must be joking. My mother would never allow such Bohemian behavior," he replied, placing his hands at the back of Kurt's neck and pulling him closer to plant their lips firmly together.
"Does that make us Bohemian then, Blaine?" Kurt said when they broke apart.
"I think this," Blaine said, brushing his lips against Kurt's cheek before looking back into his beautiful, earnest eyes, "just makes us human."
Dinner was, as promised, a much grander affair than breakfast had been. The dining room had a table large enough to fit perhaps thirsty guests all at once - there was nothing of the intimacy of Dalton's dining room, which was half the size. The four diners sat to one end of the table, Lord Crawford at the head with his wife to his right, Lucy to his left and Blaine beside Lady Crawford. The room was brightly lit, a chandelier beaming overhead and setting off hundreds of minuscule sparkles along the table. Several candles flickered in the center - more for tradition, Blaine supposed, than because there was a requirement for more light - and the room smelt strongly of fresh, hot food - enough for a party at least twice the size of theirs.
"I hope you've had a good day today, Blaine?" Lady Crawford asked as appetizers were served.
Blaine smiled and nodded. "Very good, thank you. Your home is lovely."
"Yes, it is," Lord Crawford chimed in. "What did you make of the gardens? We've had them all done up over summer; it's a shame winter's soon to swallow them up again. I understand you're quite an outdoorsman?"
"I am, but I haven't been out into the gardens as yet, sir. I should like to see them - your grounds seemed extensive as we drove through them this morning."
"Lucy, I thought you were showing Blaine around?"
Quinn looked at her mother sheepishly, glancing at Blaine from across the table and widening her eyes just slightly. "Master Anderson was quite taken with the library. We hadn't the time to explore the grounds today."
Blaine glanced from Quinn to her mother, then to her father and back again, before nodding his head. "I can spend hours in a library," he confirmed, not quite lying but not divulging the truth, either.
"You're the bookish type then," Lord Crawford said; he'd stopped eating for a moment, his knife and fork resting at the edge of his plate, and he was looking at Blaine expectantly—Blaine immediately felt the pressure to provide a satisfactory answer.
"I'm... a bookish outdoorsman, I suppose?" Blaine said. He hesitated, eyeing Lord Crawford's curious expression. The need to validate himself was an instinct that he'd no doubt picked up from his own family and the pressures that had been put on him since he was a child; much as he'd like to quash the impulse to explain himself, he couldn't help it. "I have a lot of hobbies, sir, and I think a gentleman ought to be allowed the chance to enjoy a lot of things."
Lord Crawford chuckled. "Oh, you are young, Master Anderson. Wait until you're in charge of the running of Dalton Abbey; you'll have to pick and choose your hobbies."
Blaine nodded and smiled half-heartedly. "You're right, I'm sure."
"I must admit to not being particularly bookish, myself. I can't fathom losing myself to a silly fantasy novel; there are so many more important, practical things to be dealt with."
"Perhaps you might show Blaine about the gardens tomorrow, Lucy?" Lady Crawford suggested, breaking up the drone of Lord Crawford's voice and no doubt the impending speech about the importance of being a gentleman in charge of running a stately home. "You could have afternoon tea outside in the sunshine."
"A break away from tradition, Mother, how unthinkable." Blaine noticed Lucy roll her eyes just slightly with her comment and he struggled to suppress a smile. The more time Blaine spent in the company of people his own age the more he began to realize that he wasn't so different after all; his entire generation appeared, if only fleetingly upon irregular occasion, tired of the rules laid out for them by their parents. Miss Berry had admitted to being disappointed in society, and Miss Fabray's uncertain, ever-changing personality never really seemed to fit the mold that Blaine had come to expect of women. He struggled to believe in a changed world, but he knew that if there was any reason behind a change it would be them, his generation. It was almost something to hope for, to believe in. "My garden is the only one worth visiting, anyway," Quinn continued, and Blaine realized that he had become so lost in his woolgathering that he'd missed every word of the conversation. "It's an array of different colors, really extraordinary. Amazing what gardeners can do when you offer them a bit of creative input. I designed it almost entirely by myself as a child."
"When you have children, Anderson, mark my words, you'll want to get them a garden of their own. It's the best way for them to be seen and not heard."
"And there, Blaine, you have proof that my father reads silly fantasy stories too, no matter how many more serious and important things there are to be dealt with. I think The Secret Garden rings a few familiar notes where that notion is concerned."
"The Secret Garden?"
"You've not heard of it? Father has The American Magazine shipped over here with some other publications every month, and they've just begun to publish a serialized story by Ms. Burnett entitled The Secret Garden."
"It's not nearly as good as some of her other works," Lord Crawford protested.
"Oh, I disagree, I find it quite charming. Perhaps a little too childish to be aimed toward The American Magazine's readership, but with just as much charm as A Little Princess had." Quinn side-eyed her father, and leaned slightly across the table toward Blaine, a cheeky smile playing on her lips. "If you ask me, my father is merely trying to impress you with literary critique. I've overheard that he's rather taken with the adventures of Mistress Mary in her secret garden."
Lord Crawford shook his head, lips pursed in an expression of mock irritation and Quinn laughed; the first expression of genuine, undisguised happiness that Blaine could recall seeing on her face.
"Humbug," Quinn's father said, placing down his cutlery and clicking his fingers for somebody to clear his plate away.
"Dickens, as well?" she replied, playfully, settling down her own cutlery. She was still smiling brightly and drew in a breath as though she were about to say something, but she stopped, lips pursed and head down as the footmen came over to clear the family's plates and cutlery away. There was a moment of tentative silence amongst the people in the room: the only sounds were the shuffling of feet, the clinking of china plates and the refilling of wine glasses while the four of them served themselves main courses from the plates offered by the footmen. Eventually, when all of them had main courses in front of them, Quinn resumed her conversation, albeit in a less animated spirit than before. "You see, Blaine, there you have it. Read whatever you like, whenever you want to. My father isn't so stuck up about books as he makes himself out to be. Why do you think we have a library in the first place?"
"Nevertheless," Quinn's mother interjected. "If Master Anderson wants to see the gardens tomorrow, you ought to show him around, Lucy."
"But of course," Quinn replied. "If that's what you'd like, Blaine?"
Blaine smiled as warmly as he could. "That would be delightful, thank you, Miss Fabray."
She wore a long, cream colored, two-part frock, decorated with a simple black flower pattern at the hems of the skirt and blouse. It looked befitting for autumn; caught somewhere between the floral beauty of summer and the drab plainness of winter. It was a little baggy, the material crinkling a little every time a breeze blew past the two of them. By the time they left for their walk—just after luncheon on Blaine's second day at Crawford—the sun had just begun to make its descent from its peak in the sky toward it's setting, and Quinn—who had eaten more at lunch than she'd managed at breakfast—was beginning to gain a little more color in her pale cheeks. Blaine had been torn at her renewed suggestion for a walk in the garden in the afternoon; he had worried that the exertion might worsen her condition, but her gentle nod and smile had persuaded him to take her up on the offer, and he was pleased that the fresh air seemed to be doing her well.
The clip-clapping of their shoes on the pathway continued to echo throughout the courtyard, and just up ahead Blaine could hear the sound of a gardener snipping at out-of-place tree branches and leaves. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the steady swoosh-swoosh-swoosh of a gardener sweeping leaves up from the ground, though the garden was so large, and the noise distorted by the echo, that Blaine couldn't tell where it was coming from.
He and Quinn exited the courtyard through the wrought iron gate, turning left and following a pathway to yet more gardens. Their walk would have felt too isolated if there hadn't been gardeners on almost every corner, trimming back overgrown hedges, and Blaine found himself grateful for their presence. The two of them flitted in and out of idle conversation, Quinn pointing out the various different flowers that graced every inch of the garden and reminiscing about her time as a child. It was surprising how alive the garden felt for so late in the year. The leaves on the trees were only just beginning to turn a faint golden color; they hadn't quite gone crisp or fallen from their branches yet.
"I find winter so unbearably dull," she remarked, reaching up to a branch and ripping off one of the leaves. "I begged for more evergreens to be planted this year but nobody has listened to me, as usual. I'd sooner look at the same dull conifers year after year than have to look out of the window during winter and see dead branches. I don't suppose you're overly fond of the season yourself, are you, Blaine? Do you get to ride your horse much in winter?"
"I do, though my mother doesn't approve."
"Mothers rarely approve of anything."
Blaine laughed. "Quite. Still, I've never seen a mess my valet has been unable to clean up, so I'm in safe hands. He's fantastic."
"That's high praise, isn't it? For a servant who only began working for you... how many months ago?"
Blaine felt his chest tighten, going over in his head what he'd said and hoping that his words hadn't sounded too suspicious. "Four months ago. I'm a good judge of character, Miss Fabray. I may not know him all too well, but I do trust him."
"Hmm." She was smiling, but her eyebrows were still knitted together, as though she wasn't sure what to think. "I've learned not to trust servants much, Blaine," she said, glancing at him briefly before averting her eyes to look at the floor. "But that's just something for you to think about."
Blaine looked at Quinn, determined to regain her eye contact and ask her, as politely as he could manage, why it was that she didn't trust servants, but to no avail. The two of them neared another gate at the end of a long pathway and Quinn looked toward it.
"Ah - my garden. Go on in - isn't it beautiful?"
She opened the gate and ushered Blaine inside, following behind him. He was surprised—though he knew he shouldn't have been—to discover how delicately beautiful it was. It was a small, circular space, enclosed by tall, neatly trimmed bushes. A fountain stood right in the center; crystal clear water spilling out over the feature accompanied by a soothing splashing sound. The feature was decorated with little square shards of glass that reflected the sunlight across the garden in a dazzling way, highlighting flower beds that seemed to be planted meticulously in a kind of color scheme - to Blaine's left grew red flowers; roses, poppies and tulips, the color shifting around the circle into oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, blues and ending in purple flowers to Blaine's right. Every inch of the place had so very clearly been designed by Quinn and installed with painstaking care by the gardeners; she spent an awful lot of time in her garden, that much was clear.
"It's... lovely," Blaine said, walking further into the garden, toward the fountain. Quinn followed, sitting down on the bench placed just in front of the water feature.
"Retreating to the outdoors appears to be something we have in common, Blaine," she said with a smile. "I'll get us some tea bought over, shall I?"
Blaine didn't protest, and Quinn called one of the gardeners - visible from just outside of the gates of her garden - to inform the butler. Blaine continued to walk around the edge of the garden, taking in the various kinds of flowers and pretending to admire them for longer than was strictly necessary. Conversation could only possibly lead to more serious subjects if he sat down next to Miss Fabray on the bench, and Blaine was secretly hoping that somehow, if he continued to avoid it, the conversation would never have to come.
"Tea, Miss Fabray," the butler announced, preceding two footman handling a small garden table and a third carrying a tray complete with teapot, cups and biscuits.
"Thank you, Goolsby," Quinn said, waving her hand to excuse them after the table had been placed beside the bench and the tray on top of that. The servants left the garden, Miss Fabray not acknowledging a single one of them, her eyes trained on the ground. As the sound of their footsteps faded away, she looked up and smiled at Blaine. "Do take a seat. And tell me, why do you look so surprised?"
Blaine walked slowly over to the bench, trying to erase the expression on his face. "I hadn't realized that I did look so surprised, Miss Fabray."
"You're surprised by the lack of servants, I expect. I don't like them to be in here, so I serve myself. And, please, call me Quinn."
"I could call you Lucy, perhaps?" Blaine said, still not seated and looking at the girl almost pleadingly. She raised her eyebrows, but a smile persisted on her lips. "It's just that... if I call you Quinn out here in the garden I might just end up calling you Quinn when we're with your parents and surely that isn't appropriate?"
Her smiled faded, and she looked away from Blaine as she refocused her attention on the teapot in front of her.
"It's just that I..." Blaine trailed off, a silence overcoming the two of them until all that could be heard was the trickling of the fountain behind Blaine. Eventually he sat down beside Quinn and stared at the water feature, gushing in such a controlled, meticulous way downward. "I don't think your parents would approve."
Miss Fabray sighed, replacing the teapot and handing Blaine a full cup. He took it from her, perching on the very edge of the bench and unable to relax back into his seat. "My parents gave me two names. They call me by my first. I like my friends to call me by my middle name so that I can differentiate between the familial disappointment of 'Lucy' and the easy-going endearment of 'Quinn'. I had hoped that you and I might be friends." She poured herself a cup of tea, her fingers fiddling for a moment with the teapot's handle until she turned back to Blaine, leaning in closer to him and lowering her voice. "Besides, what did I say about parents rarely approving of anything?" Blaine could hear the smile in her voice with her next whispered sentence even though she was too close to his ear for him to be able to see it: "Let's just decide not to care anymore."
"Her lady's requesting that Miss Fabray's dress be brought in more at the waist for this evening's dinner. Says last night she looked far too informal-"
"I don't know why they're trying to marry her off to an Earl's son anyway - not when her sister married so high up."
"I've heard it had nothing to do with her parents - Miss Fabray took a liking to him-"
"I heard that! Lady Crawford tried to stop her, actually. She thought Miss Fabray would do better if she did the season again next year, but Miss Fabray insisted-"
"So it's a love match? Oh, how exciting!"
"How utterly useless. No offense."
The kitchen maid shot her final remark at Kurt, who simply shrugged to imply that no offense was taken and didn't raise his eyes from the book he was pretending to read. He'd been stuck on the same sentence since their conversation had begun, the gist of it going in and coming straight back out again. He'd have fled to his room to read instead if he hadn't been so interested in eavesdropping on the other servants - not that eavesdropping was particularly difficult to do in the servant's hall. Nobody kept their voices down or their conversations private. Gossip about the family, about Crawford town and even about fellow servants was thrown about without a care for who heard what; Kurt's attention had been particularly focused on any kind of gossip concerning Miss Fabray and, of course, Blaine. From the information he'd gathered, Kurt had pieced together that Miss Fabray had invited Blaine largely without any consent from her parents, and that she was convinced that she would be able to woo him into marriage. Why she wanted to marry Blaine was anybody's guess - unless of course she was truly in love with him, though the idea of that felt off-center to Kurt. Still, there was a part of him that wanted Blaine to marry, if only to keep him free of any suspicious gossip, and despite the odd twinge of... bitterness—not jealousy, he didn't want to label it that, exactly—he felt in the pit of his stomach every time somebody mentioned Blaine having feelings for Miss Fabray, he was pleased that the façade was working, for the most part.
"Hummel!" Kurt heard an all too familiar call from across the hall. He looked up to catch Sebastian Smythe smirking in his direction and waving him over, and Kurt reluctantly put down his book and made his way over to where the other footman was sitting.
"Are you a betting man, Hummel?" he asked with a grin, absentmindedly shuffling a pack of playing cards in his hands.
"No particularly, Smythe," Kurt replied truthfully. "I don't play cards."
"Oh, don't be a spoil sport, Hummel. Humor me for a little while. We've neither of us anything better to do until it's time to serve them lunch."
Kurt skeptically raised an eyebrow. Certainly at Dalton, Kurt and Sam always found things to do and busied themselves from dawn to dusk—clearly Crawford's second footman was not so dedicated, or else he perceived himself as somewhat higher than most of the servants.
"What do you know how to play?"
Kurt stared at Sebastian blankly. "Nothing. I've never had time for cards."
Sebastian rolled his eyes. "How about rummy? Three of one, four of another."
"I'm not playing a game I've no concept of for money, Smythe."
"I asked you to humor me for a little while, Kurt. I shan't take a shilling from you. What's say we bet in gossip instead? Whoever loses tells the other a secret about their 'family'."
Kurt stared at the cards, piled up neatly in the center of the table and wondered what gossip he might possibly be able to afford if he lost. He had no intention of revealing any part of Blaine's life to the sleazy footman sitting before him, and yet he was intrigued as to what secret Sebastian might reveal if given the chance. He bit his lip before nodding, and Sebastian held out his hand.
"We shake on it, Hummel. Or else the bet means nothing."
The two shook hands, Sebastian grinning obnoxiously before picking up the cards again to shuffle.
"Rummy is easy enough. We each have seven cards and we must make a collection - three types of one card, four types of another. You might collect one, two, three, four of hearts, for instance, and three sevens. Or four two's and six, seven, eight of diamonds. Seven, eight, nine of clubs with four knaves, and so on."
Kurt raised his eyebrows, the corner of his lip curving upwards. "Knaves?"
"Yes, you know. Knave, Queen, King."
"What's so funny?"
"Knaves. I thought that's just what they called them upstairs; aren't commoners supposed to refer to them as Jacks?"
Sebastian stared blankly at Kurt, dealing out the cards, one to himself, one to Kurt and back again. "I was taught to call them knaves as a child," he retorted, dealing himself an eighth card. "Dealer has eight cards, disposes of one of his choosing facing upwards, just here, for the other player to see," he placed a single upturned card beside the pack of downturned cards that were back in the center of the table. "Now it's up to you to decide whether it's best to pick up my disposed card or a new one from this pile here. You pick a card up, you decide what to keep. You can only hold seven cards at a time, so you'll throw one of them out into the upturned pile for me to see, and so on. Easy enough?"
Kurt nodded, picking up Sebastian's discarded three of diamonds to add to the four of diamonds he already had, and disposing of his seven of spades.
The game itself lasted around ten minutes before Kurt declared, "Rummy!" and placed his cards down on the table for Sebastian to see.
"Two, three, four, five of diamonds, and - well, would you look at that! Three knaves."
Sebastian seemed to be torn somewhere between disbelief and annoyance. "Beginner's luck," he said, scooping the playing cards up into his hand and shuffling them once more.
"So what's my prize?" Kurt asked, flashing him a triumphant smirk.
A bell rang suddenly - the guest room; Blaine. Kurt stood up out of his seat and made to walk straight out of the servant hall, but Sebastian chased after him, grabbing him by the elbow and pulling him close enough that his low voice was deep and booming in his ear.
"Your 'prize' is this: Miss Fabray does not love Blaine. I can tell you that almost for a fact. Our little Lucy Q's wanting to marry Blaine is far more complex than that," and with that he let Kurt go, walking off in the opposite direction.
Kurt might have asked what on earth he meant, if the echoes of the service bell tolling weren't still ringing in his ears.
"You seem a little distant, Kurt. Is there something the matter?"
Kurt picked off a stray hair from Blaine's shirt and looked up to meet Blaine's curious glance. He smiled in a way that he hoped was reassuring.
"No, no. I'm quite alright."
Blaine's brow creased a little. "You can tell me, Kurt. If there is. You know that, don't you?"
Kurt nodded, looking back down at the shirt between his fingers. The stray hair was gone - it had been a light brown; probably one of his own, though he couldn't help but imagine that one of the darker strands of Miss Fabray's hair had escaped her and wound itself around the material. It was a silly notion; Blaine hadn't even worn that particular shirt at Crawford yet, and Kurt didn't think even the darkest tone of Miss Fabray's hair was quite that dark. Still the image of Miss Fabray being so close to Blaine, even perhaps resting her head against his arm, clung to Kurt's mind and he had to close his eyes, let the dark red of his eyelids filter in and disrupt the image.
"Have you met the footman Sebastian Smythe yet, by any chance?" Kurt asked, reopening his eyes and walking back over to Blaine.
"Smythe... I think he serves at dinner?"
"Yes - the second footman. The tall one with the long face."
Blaine's laughter filled the room, his face a picture of almost guilty delight as he laughed at the expense of somebody else. Kurt had to smile a little, if only at the satisfaction of knowing that he could still make him laugh. "Yes," Blaine said, when his laugher subsided into a wide smile. "I recall the one. Do I sense feelings of animosity, there, Kurt?"
"Well, what do you make of him?"
"I don't know him well enough to make any judgments," Blaine said, buttoning up his shirt. "I think he must have been a waiter at a hotel before he began working here and I'm not sure he's quite kicked the habits of his former job."
"What makes you think that?"
"The way he holds himself, the way he serves. I half expect him to announce what he's serving to me every time he comes along with a new plate. What do you make of him?"
Kurt shook his head, brushing out any folds or bumps in Blaine's shirt before helping him to slide his waistcoat over his shoulders. "I think he has his nose buried too far into other people's business. I don't trust him. You should be careful with what you say around him."
Blaine smiled, and Kurt felt the warmth of Blaine's palms come to rest at his neck, his thumb just stroking the skin behind Kurt's ear soothingly, sending shivers down his spine. "Duly noted, Kurt. I'll be careful," he said with a smile. "Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?"
Images of Miss Fabray and Blaine flashed into Kurt's mind again. Kurt was sure - or, at least, almost sure - that Blaine had no interest in Miss Fabray anyway. Telling him what Sebastian had said - which was something and absolutely nothing all at once - would be a pointless exercise anyway. "No, that was all. He's just… Sleazy. He puts me on edge. Sorry, Blaine."
Their lips met; softly, quickly, surely, and then the warmth of Blaine's whisper was at Kurt's ear as their fingers entwined together. "You don't ever have to say you're sorry to me, Kurt."
The air between them was flushed in a pleasant warm glow as Blaine's head rested on Kurt's shoulder. Kurt nodded his understanding at Blaine's comment, closing his eyes for just a moment and allowing himself to breathe in the smell of Blaine, and take in the shape of his upper body, the strength in his arms. Regardless of his fears that Blaine might eventually be taken away from him, Kurt allowed himself to relax into that one, simple, unmoving moment that ended all too soon—despite having felt like it had lasted and defined Kurt's entire lifetime.
"I have a job for you tomorrow, actually. Perhaps it'll get you out of Smythe's way for a little while." Blaine walked over to the desk in his room, his shirt slightly crinkled from their embrace and Kurt smiled, rolling his eyes. He was lucky, perhaps, that the one person he currently allowed to make a mess of his clothing was also the one person who was able to fix it back up again. "I've written a letter to my parents. If you could take it to the village post office and send it first class, that would be fantastic."
The air was slightly cooler at Crawford the following morning. There was a touch of frost on the ground, and though the sun still shone brightly in the sky it didn't seem to be letting off a great deal of heat. Kurt was offered the use of one of the motorcars, which he gratefully accepted, and he spent most of the morning's drive - a full twenty minutes down to the village - chatting away to Flanagan, who was just as eager to please Kurt as he had been to please Blaine on the trip back from the railway station just a few days ago.
"There's a statue just coming up on the left of Lord Crawford - not our Lord Crawford now, but his great grandfather - see?" Kurt looked out of the left window as the two of them passed the statue.
"I suppose that has a story behind it?" Kurt asked, with a smile. So far the chauffeur had shown him no fewer than five statues and monuments that they'd passed and given him the story for each and every one.
"Well they all have stories to 'em, don't they? Otherwise there'd be no point remembering them. What gets me is why everybody doesn't have a statue. Everybody has a story. Everybody's life is just as worth being remembered as anybody else's."
Kurt raised his eyebrows at the Irishman, his lips curling up into a smile. He liked his positivity and general acceptance of the people around him. He had to admit that it was refreshing, too, to be able to talk to a chauffeur who wasn't as absent-minded and blundering as Hudson was.
By the time Flanagan eventually pulled up at a garage just outside the market street, the two of them were on a first name basis.
"I'll be waitin' just here for you, Kurt," he said, getting out of the car and waving at the greasy looking owner of the garage.
"Thanks, Rory. I won't be long."
The village had a different vibe to it than Dalton; the cobbled streets seemed to be bustling with people, whereas Dalton's village was more subdued - it was not necessarily an unwelcome change. In spite of his uniform bearing buttons engraved with Dalton Abbey's coat of arms and the minor differences between his uniform and that of the Crawford servants, nobody batted an eyelid in his direction.
The post office sat beside a sweet shop, slightly detached from the crowded market stalls and other shops. A bell rang out upon Kurt's entrance and an older man with long, thinning white hair greeted him from the other side of the counter.
"Alright, son? What can I do for you today?"
Kurt smiled, holding out the envelope that Blaine had given him. "Could I send this, please? First class?"
"O'course, o'course. First class, eh? You working up at the big house?" he said, eyeing up Kurt's uniform with a knowing smile.
"Just visiting. I'm a footman at Dalton Abbey, and I came with Master Anderson to visit Crawford. I wondered, actually, if there might be any post here for me that hasn't made its way to Crawford House yet?"
The man raised a finger, indicating that he'd deal with Kurt's second query in a moment. He affixed a stamp to the letter heading to Dalton, and placed it into a box with a small collection of other letters - the system looked complex, all of the letters sorted into areas and postal codes. He could see how the work would be considered more middle-class than Kurt's own job; the work probably required skills of mathematics, literacy and geography that a working class education couldn't provide. Kurt's mind went back to poor Sam at Dalton, probably still writing secret letters to his sweetheart, Louisa, and worried every day that she might be snatched away from him at a moment's notice by a more appropriate suitor.
"Now, what did you say your name was, son?" the old man asked.
Kurt told him, and the man disappeared to the back of the post office for a long while. Kurt ran his fingers along the edge of the wooden counter, noting the dust that was beginning to collect on the surface. Eventually the man returned.
"You're in luck, Mr. Hummel. This was delivered to us this morning and was due to be delivered to Crawford House with their evening post tonight," he said, cheerily, handing him an envelope. "First class, too."
Kurt frowned, looking down at the first class stamp bearing the face of King Edward VII. It was unlike his father to send a letter first class. "Perhaps he has some important news for me," Kurt said to the old man, thanking him and leaving the post office to the jingle of the bell. He placed the letter in his waistcoat pocket where it burned against his skin, urging to be read, but Kurt finished shopping for the little tidbits he'd been asked to buy by various Crawford servants and made his way back to Flanagan.
"Back already, Kurt?" Rory said as Kurt approached. He was leaning against the hood of a similarly fancy car in the garage being worked on by a young mechanic. The two of them seemed relaxed, Rory momentarily off-duty and the mechanic working on his own terms, Kurt supposed. "Did you find everything you were lookin' for? It's a good job they send the valet, not the chauffeur, for that kind of business. I wouldn't have a clue."
"They wouldn't trust you with anything but the wheel of their car anyway," the mechanic said in a deep voice, following his statement with a loud, booming laughter.
"'Course not; I'm too Irish. I'll see you soon, Brody."
Rory got into the driver's seat while Kurt nestled himself into the back, reaching into his waistcoat pocket and pulling out the letter.
"Have you ever given thought to driving, Kurt?"
Kurt chuckled as he replied. "Not a chance. I can barely guide a horse through a field. I'd surely end up in a ditch somewhere if I tried."
Perhaps it was just his imagination, but Kurt could swear that the handwriting on the front of the envelope was not his father's hand.
"What do you make of all this women driving malarkey?" Rory asked from the front. "I overheard something about Miss Fabray wanting to try it, but I daresay she won't be laying a finger on this car!"
Kurt flipped the envelope over and ran his index finger under the seal. "If women feel comfortable trying it then I don't see what the problem is," Kurt said, half-heartedly, the entirety of his attention now focused on the letter. He sighed with relief to see his father's scrawled writing on the page, and Rory's voice began to fade out entirely as his mind subconsciously replaced it with the words of the letter in his father's deep, steady voice.
"I said what do you think? Kurt, are you - alright? You're pale as a ghost! Kurt? Kurt!"
Rory pulled the motorcar up to the side of the road, turning around to look at Kurt and reaching over to shake him. It was at Rory's touch that Kurt even began to process the information in the letter. He looked up at Rory, blinking a few times in bewilderment, before looking through the windows.
"Why aren't we moving? Why did you stop the car?" Without waiting for Rory's reply, he continued, "Start the car! Please get me back to Crawford as quickly as you can! This is very important!"
Wordlessly, Rory turned back around to face the front of the vehicle and began to drive off again at a significantly faster pace than before.
"What's wrong, Kurt? What's the matter?" he asked once they were again on their way.
"My father," Kurt said. "He's sick."