Chapter Four - The Tea Girl's Secret

"Ah, thank you, Alice" Lord Trevanion grinned, as she placed the tray in front of him, "How are you this morning?"

"Unfortunately, I've been banned from conversing with you, sir" Alice sighed, "I'm only allowed to ask you how you'd like your tea"

His smiled disappeared instantly, "Who said that?"

"Carson" She explained, "I have no idea why he decided not to sack me, but I'm very grateful. Although, I have been delegated to bringing the tea; under the condition I remain silent"

"Well, that is no good at all" He frowned, "Ignore Carson. I won't tell if you don't"

Alice laughed, "Yes, sir...but, while we're on the subject...how would you like you tea?"

"Milk, two sugars, please" He said, chuckling

"Coming right up" She nodded, pouring hot water into his cup.

"How's your daughter?" He inquired, "Her name is Charlotte, isn't it?"

Alice looked up from the tray and stared at him with a pleasantly surprised look on her face, "Yes, that's right. She's settling in well, milord, thank you."

Lord Trevanion beamed, "Glad to hear it."

After each member of the upstairs family had had their tea, the morning and afternoon seemed to pass quickly. And, as the sun set, Anna found herself sitting with Mr. Bates in the kitchens, looking across at him contently. She glanced down every so often at the simple ring that he had given her, certain that this was the happiest she had been in a long while, and with the promise of a joyful life stretching out ahead of her. Thoughts of their future together were already racing through her mind uncontrollably, making her physically unable to keep a grin from appearing her delighted face.

Alice beamed at the newly engaged couple as she entered the room exhaustedly. Most of the other servants were busy preparing the dining room for the evening meal, but she had instead been banned from going anywhere near the area until they were finished.

It was as much of a mystery to Alice as it was to anyone else to how she still had a job at Downton, especially due to the amount of breakages that all seemed to coincide with her involvement. Her reputation for being clumsy was growing rapidly, particularly after the vase incident and the breaking of various cups, all of which she claimed were accidents, although some servants were not entirely convinced.

"Don't mind me" Alice grinned, interrupting immensely, "I think a congratulations is in order, isn't it?"

"I guess so" Anna nodded

"So, when's the big day?" Alice quizzed excitedly, "Get married in Africa, eh?"

A flash of sadness suddenly entered Anna's eyes, "I kind of wish we were back in England, you know? With family"

Alice frowned, "Doesn't your family live here, too?"

"No" Anna sighed, "When the family moved over here a few years ago, we came with them so that we wouldn't be out of work. They only came out here for a holiday, but after they met Lord Du Plessis and fell in love with the house, they bought the place"

"Oh, to have money..." Alice joked, seemingly unimpressed. As much as she respected the family that owned Downton, she hated that they had no basic understanding what it is like to live in poverty. Reminding herself of this helped her to place barrier between them, as much as she hated to do so.

"What about you?" Mr Bates asked "You're from Scotland, aren't you, so why are you here?"

Alice shrugged, "I don't know, just...reasons"

"Like..." Anna prompted

"We didn't have a lot of money back home, and after my mum died, things got pretty bad" Alice explained, "I mean, my dad practically hated me, so I got out as soon as I could and searched for work in England. I got married, but that didn't work out, so I brought Charlotte over to Africa; just hoping I'd find something"

Anna listened closely, her heart sinking as her friend spoke, "...And you found Downton?" She asked, gently, "At least you got your happy ending"

"Not really" Alice replied, gloomily, "As much as I love Downton, it still doesn't pay enough for me to send Charlotte to school, and I'm scared she's gonna end up like me. I don't want that kind of life for her."

O'Brien hid within the shadows of the kitchen, listening to every detail that passed Alice's lips. Her complaints about the wages replayed in O'Brien's mind, triggering a smug smile as a plan formed.

It was common knowledge that Carson was already on the verge of sacking Alice, which he would not hesitate to do if he found out about her criticisms of the household. Most of the servants were also aware of Lord Trevanion's particular fondness of Alice, which was something that required immediate intervention. Blatant favouritism did not sit well with O'Brien, who knew Alice needed to be gotten rid of, extremely quickly. It was then that she found herself replaying Alice's conversation to Lady Caroline a few moments later, with the hope that the new maid would be dismissed, once and for all.

"I'm beginning to think you just like making me run up and down those stairs" Alice sighed, as she entered the library. Lord Trevanion looked up from his newspaper, and placed it neatly on the arm of his chair. He sat forward slightly and gazed up at her, as she placed the tray onto the table and began making his beverage.

"Well, now that you mention it..." He grinned

"And the truth is out!" She replied in mock shock, "I have a good mind to refuse next time, and then you'll have no choice other than to get it yourself"

"I don't think Carson will be too impressed..." He reminded her, still smiling as he gratefully took his cup of tea.

She nodded miserably, "You're right. He hates me enough as it is"

"I wouldn't tell him, though" He said, watching her saddened face.

"You're too kind to me" She replied, looking down to the floor, "And I don't really deserve it"

"Yes, you do!" He exclaimed, a little too forcefully. She looked up at him in shock, turning a little pink. He rambled in an effort to cover his blatant outburst; "I...uh...I heard that you've been having some problems recently"

He had been aware the difficulties that Alice was facing for a number of hours, after Lady Caroline had approached him with information she had received from an unspecified source. The way Alice looked at him as he spoke confirmed it was true, making it harder to even contemplate relieving her of her duties as a maid.

"Don't pity me" She begged, "I may be a servant, but please don't-"

He shuck his head "I don't pity you. I want to help you"

"How could you possibly help me?" She asked

Lord Trevanion took a deep breath, "Let me pay for your daughter's education"

She was sure that time stood still in the moment, as nothing could have prepared for what he had just offered. She was aware of his kind heart, but his words had just exceeded every expectation she had of his caring limitations.

Her mouth dropped open, as she stood in stunned silence, "What?!"

"Let me..." He said slowly, "pay for your daughter to go to school"

"NO!" She shouted, "I mean, I'm grateful, of course I am, but I can't let you do that for me! Charlotte knows I can't afford it, and as much as she'd want me to accept your very kind offer, I have to say no!"

He sighed heavily, "But, Alice-"

"Why?" She demanded, folding her arms in impatience

Lord Trevanion frowned, "What?"

"Why?" She repeated, "Why me? Why Charlotte? What makes me any different to any other of the servants downstairs? Why are you being so kind to me? I know I am lucky to be working here, especially after everything that I've broken and everything that I've said, so why would you want to give money to such a useless maid?"

"Because...because I...I..." He stammered, "I just want to help"

Alice turned to leave, "You don't need to help me"

"Don't make me order you to accept it" He said, "It's not a loan. There's no catch"

She froze at the doorway, her hand hovering over the shiny brass handle, "What would your family say?"

He stood up, staring softly at her, "What I do with my money is my business. They need never know. I wouldn't tell anyone. It could be our secret"

"Ok" she whispered, looking over her shoulder, "I accept it. But if you ever change your mind-"

"I won't" He promised, "You have my word. Thank you for the tea, Alice"

She turned her head back towards the door and pulled it open, "No, thank you, sir"

"Considering the circumstances...and our...arrangement...I think it would be for more appropriate if you just called me Danny" He smiled

She nodded quickly and stepped out of the room, "Thank you, Danny."

End Of Chapter Four