A/N - Well I've finally got another chapter up. Many thanks to the lovely people who reviewed my story - it really motivated me to get writing again knowing that there are people reading!
Chapter 3 – Moving In
"Holly, be careful, that's got breakable stuff in it!" I warned, watching Holly drag a box, non-too carefully, across the gravel towards the door.
"Yeah, yeah…" she muttered, taking absolutely no notice; her new-found understanding and pleasantness had not extended past two days of Gwen having spoken to her and she was back to her usual pre-teen stroppiness.
I puffed out my cheeks as I inspected the number of boxes still remaining in the car. It had seemed like a good idea at the time to pack as much as I could, knowing that I wouldn't be able to go back to the house later, but at that particular moment, with the knowledge of the number of stairs and passageways leading to our rooms, I kind of wished I'd just taken a suitcase and ran. I'd already made about three trips and was just about to push the door open with my back when the weight I was carrying was lifted from behind me.
"Allow me, Miss Smith."
I glanced up, surprised to find Mr Bates beside me, having taken the box from my arms.
"Oh you didn't have to…" I protested, looking at his knee and thinking he shouldn't really be carrying anything heavy, then noticing I'd been caught staring. "I just mean…"
He grimaced, though obviously not from carrying the box, "If you're referring to my leg Miss Smith, I can assure you; I can manage."
"Of course…" I replied, flustered, but he'd already taken the box and disappeared inside the building, leaving me embarrassed.
I grabbed another lighter box from the car, dumping a couple of plastic bags on top and making my way back inside. We'd been allocated rooms on the first floor and I could still scarcely believe how nice they were. Mrs Carson had let us in earlier in the day, explaining that they'd once been guest quarters. She'd said that for many years she and Mr Carson had stayed in what had once been servants' quarters but with the family staying in London most of the time, there was no longer call for guest rooms and the servants' quarters had been turned into store cupboards.
Reaching my room I dropped the box onto the floor and gazed around my surroundings once more; it was certainly going to take some getting used to. The room was still decidedly old-fashioned with heavily patterned wallpaper and ornate, dark wooden furniture; but it had been well-kept and was exceedingly luxurious compared with the bedroom I'd shared with Peter. A door to one side led into a bathroom with an old claw-footed bath, and the large bed towards the centre of the main wall reminded me of something a princess would sleep in in a fairy tale. My favourite part of the room however, was the large window overlooking the estate to the rear of the house; the view was beyond stunning.
"Knock, knock!" came Mrs Carson's gentle Scottish lilt from the other side of the door, before she pushed it open. "I just thought I'd come and see how you were settling in."
"Oh we're getting there," I smiled, "I can still hardly believe we'll be living here."
"You'll get used to it in time, dear," she nodded, casting a quick glance over the bombsite I'd created in the corner of the room with all the boxes and bags, "And I'm sure you'll have those things put away in no time at all."
We were interrupted by another knock at the door and Mrs Carson opened it to find Mr Bates on the other side.
"I'll just put these here, please excuse me," he bustled into the room somewhat uncomfortably, adding the boxes to the pile and making a hasty exit without any eye-contact.
"I'm afraid I might have offended Mr Bates," I admitted to Mrs Carson, "I implied that perhaps he wouldn't be able to manage the boxes. I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said it."
She pursed her lips together and nodded sagely, "Yes, he is a little tetchy when it comes to that leg Anna. He's a proud man, and you won't find a better one, but he's not one for pity or sympathy. He just gets on with things and woe-betide anyone who tries to imply that he can't manage. Still…" she patted my shoulder consolingly, "I wouldn't worry about having made too bad an impression, his bark's worse than his bite, he's a softie at heart and I should know; I've worked with him long enough."
Dinner was a relaxed affair in a surprisingly modern kitchen on the ground floor. Mrs Carson had explained that the original kitchens had been ripped out in the sixties to make way for other facilities; a great shame in her mind, though she wasn't sorry to be using a gas cooker instead of an Aga.
The five of us crowded round the small kitchen table, conversing a little stiffly as we worked our way through Mrs Carson's shepherd's pie. I noticed Holly picking at it fussily and cast a warning glance across the table; I didn't want her offending Mrs Carson on our first day.
"So Holly," Mr Carson smiled, setting his knife and fork neatly across his plate, "How are you settling into Downton?"
She shrugged, "S'alright I suppose."
I cringed inwardly at her rudeness, "You like your bedroom, don't you Holly?"
"Yeah it's nice," she mumbled, responding to my non-too subtle kick under the table. "It's really big."
Mr Carson seemed mollified at this, "Ahh it should certainly take some getting used to young Holly! Much different to…" he struggled to remember, "Where was it you said you were from again?"
"Swindon!" I shot over the top of her before she could finish her reply. She looked at me, puzzled across the table but kept her mouth shut, realising that for some reason we weren't providing the truth. I hadn't wanted to let Mr Bates know the real reason I'd applied for the job; it just seemed a little too dramatic and he didn't look the type to want to employ someone escaping a volatile relationship. It was much easier to say nothing until I'd come up with a better explanation.
"You'll be tired," I added, nodding towards Holly, "Big day for you tomorrow!"
"Holly's starting at the local primary school," Mrs Carson explained to Mr Bates and her husband. "I'm sure you'll make lots of friends in no time at all dear. You'll be able to bring them back for tea when you've settled in. I'm sure everyone will be interested to hear you live at Downton Abbey!"
Holly smiled sarcastically and I prayed the others couldn't read her expression. I knew she had no intention of telling the other kids where she lived. She was already worried about being, in her own words, a freak from the south, who'd arrived in Year 6 three months before the kids were about to leave for secondary school. I knew it'd be hard for her; they'd already have their own friendship groups, cliques; girls could be horrendous to each other as eleven year olds. I'd told her not to worry though; despite her behaviour with me she was generally sweet as pie when it came to school and had always been popular in her class. It'd just take a bit of getting used to and if it meant that I was going to get it in the neck for uprooting her and forcing her to live in such unfamiliar surroundings, then I'd just have to take the heat for a bit.
With Holly upstairs and Mr Bates and Mr Carson away to finish off various jobs around the house for the night, it fell to Mrs Carson and me to do the washing up. She was a kind woman; there was something about her which reminded me of the vague memories I had of my grandmother and I was warming to her very quickly. We'd chatted easily as we did the washing up and I could tell she wanted to find out a little about my background without obviously prying. I decided my best course of action was to deflect the conversation towards someone else.
"So how long has Mr Bates worked here?" I ventured, grabbing a glass from the drying rack.
She had to think for a moment, "Oh a while dear, maybe five years? I have known him for a very long time though. He and his Lordship go back a long way."
"Were they at school together?"
"Oh no," she shook her head, "Mr Bates and his Lordship have completely different backgrounds. I believe Mr Bates has a normal working-class background. They met in the army. They both served in Iraq together in the early nineties."
"Is that where Mr Bates hurt his leg?"
She shook her head, seemingly annoyed at herself, "It's not my story to tell Dear, I've already said too much. Mr Bates is a very private man; I've known him a long time, but in some ways I don't think I'll ever really know him well. Perhaps he'll tell you a little more about himself when you're better acquainted…"
"Of course, I understand, I don't want to pry." I admitted, putting the last of the crockery away in the cupboard. Of course, Mrs Carson's reticence to tell me about Mr Bates' past had had exactly the opposite effect; now my interest was decidedly piqued. I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't just me who was hiding secrets.