A/N This fanfiction is my nanowrimo project. It is the first time I participate and somehow I started to write a Downton Abbey AU - this is the backstory for Elsie Hughes and Charles Carson. It will be update every other day and might turn into a very long fanfiction. So far this has nothing to do with Downton Abbey. The names are the same - everything else isn't. Maybe I will take it down again after a while or if I feel that I cannot continue it.
Enjoy reading anyway.
She could not remember ever waking up when the sun was already up. It had always been dark outside when she had opened her eyes in the morning. The room had always been invisible, hidden underneath a thick, black blanket that was the early morning or the late night. It did not matter what name she gave the surrounding darkness. She hated it all the same. Her eyes slowly adjusted and she could make out the outline of her sister's bed, their small wardrobe, desk and chair. Everything in this room had also always been the same for as long as she could remember. Nothing ever changed.
She could see her sister, lying on her side, the blanket half on the floor, half covering her small body. Anne could sleep a bit longer because she was the younger one. Elizabeth envied her for that. It was not fair. She took her pillow and hid her head underneath it. More darkness, this time a suffocating one. She did not want to get up especially not today when they would start with the wheat harvest. She dreaded this time of the year. Hard work, long hours on the fields, no breaks and at the end of the day her whole body would ache and her hands covered in calluses.
If she pretended to be ill maybe her mother would let her stay in bed today. Could she fake a fever? Or a sore throat? Elizabeth closed her eyes again, tried to forget that it was already morning and was soon drifting back to sleep.
She awoke when a cold hand hit her warm cheek with such force that she momentarily saw stars in front of her eyes.
"Get up now!" His voice was thick with anger and something else. Hate and frustration, Elizabeth thought, like always, because I am a girl and not the son he had always wanted. She immediately sat up in her bed and almost touched the throbbing cheek before she remembered that acknowledging the pain would lead to another blow. "Hurry up!" He yelled at her before he left the room and slammed the door shut.
The darkness conquered their room again and hid her silent tears. For a while she sat on the edge of her bed trying to stop the tears. She had to be a strong girl. Her mother had told her that on numerous occasions, had stroked her now red and aching cheek, softly kissed it and smiled at her.
At five in the morning she was out in the stables, taking care of their five cows: milking them, clearing away the dung, providing them with fresh hay. When it was time for her breakfast, Elizabeth was already exhausted, her dress dirty and her hands looked like that of an old woman, not a twelve year old. Her cheek still hurt and she was sure that her mother could see the handprint her father had left on the sensitive skin. But they were all used to it by now and did not talk about his behaviour any more. Other families had the same problems her mother always said with that indifferent tone in her voice followed by a put on smile. They could call themselves lucky that their farm was big enough to provide for the family and that they were respected in the village and not tenant farmers anymore. It was their land her mother emphasized whenever Elizabeth complained about the hard work.
She took a seat at her end of the old table, next to her sister who had already finished half of her porridge. There was no time to relax. As soon as breakfast was over, she had to change into fresh clothes and walk to school. So she ate fast but not greedily, her back straight, like her mother had taught her. Out of the corner of her eyes she looked at her father, sitting there at the head of the table, scrutinizing them, a cup of tea in his big hands. She could feel his stare, knew what he was thinking: that she had been lazy this morning, not worked hard enough and would later need a reminder of who was in charge in this house. The thought of it made her hold her back even straighter, keep her hands next to her now empty bowl and wait for her mother to allow her to stand up and leave the kitchen.
Margaret Hughes was a woman of 35 with dark brown hair, a slim figure and kind hazel brown eyes. Elizabeth loved her mother dearly and thought she was the most beautiful woman in their small village. The years on the farm, the hard work and the long working hours had aged her though. There were wrinkles and dark circles around her eyes and her hands were rough from years of farm work. But she was a kind and patient person so different to her father who Elizabeth only knew as the stern, demanding man who never smiled.
"Go and change for school, Els." Her mother took away the empty bowl and Elizabeth stood up, walked past her father, curtseyed in front of him and muttered a short and almost inaudible "Good Morning." She waited for him to nod his approval before she hurriedly left the kitchen to go back to their bedroom to change.
Anne always lingered when they walked to school. Constantly, Elizabeth had to remind her that they would be late and be punished in front of the class. Still, Anne could not care less. She always found something that distracted her. This morning it was a little white butterfly, rather late for this time of year that accompanied them on their thirty minute walk.
"Just look at it Els! It's so beautiful!" She picked up a flower and held it up above her head. "Maybe it will sit down and I can carry it with me to school."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Anne, it won't sit down. It's a butterfly." She took her little sister's hand and dragged her along and fortunately, Anne forgot about the small insect and hurried up a bit.
"We cannot be late. We were the last time and do you remember what had happened then?" She tried to make a very serious face to emphasize her next words. "We were made to stand in the corner and think about our mistakes. I don't want to do that again."
Anne looked at the ground, shuffling her feet on the dusty path. "I know. I am sorry Els."
"It won't happen again but only if you walk a bit faster from now on. Alright?"
Anne nodded and tried to keep pace with her sister for the rest of the way.
Elizabeth never let go of her sister's hand and from time to time she pointed out a special flower or tree that grew by the wayside to cheer the younger girl up a bit. By the time they approached the small red brick building that served as the town's school house they were fifteen minutes too early. Elizabeth's little game had served its purpose. She pushed the large door open and let her sister enter the building in front of her. Anne ran along the corridor towards the last door on the left, their classroom, whereas Elizabeth closed the door behind her quietly and slowly followed the young girl.
School was something she really liked and every morning she took the time to first inhale the peculiar smell the building evaporated. A mixture of charcoal fires, chalk dust and dried ink. So different compared to the awful stench of the stables in the early morning. For Elizabeth school smelled like a lady's fancy perfume. And she was grateful that she was allowed to go to school, to experience all of this. Not all the girls in their village had the privilege to visit the local school. Some where schooled at home but the majority could hardly write their own name. Her mother had had a lengthy discussion with her father; Elizabeth could still remember it although she could not have been more than five or six years old. Her father wanted to educate them at home. Reading and writing maybe teaching some mathematics was enough in his eyes. Margaret had insisted that her girl needed a good education if she was to run the farm later. "Girls do not run farms!" her father had hissed angrily. Her mother had not given up and the next summer, Elizabeth had walked to school for the first time in her life.
"Are you coming?" Anne stood in the open door, waiting for her to join her.
Elizabeth determinedly walked down the corridor and entered their classroom, settled down on her usual seat and waited for their teacher to start the first lesson.
"What happened to your face, Elizabeth?" Their only schoolmistress asked when Elizabeth had to come to the front to solve a maths problem at the large blackboard. So far no one had noticed the red and slightly swollen cheek. Maybe they had all ignored it like they always did. Most of her friends regularly had to deal with their fathers beating them. They were all used to it, accepted it as part of their upbringing. Elizabeth hated her father sometimes for being so cruel and unforgiving, for despising her because she was not a boy. But she could live with the beating as long as her mother was there to comfort her, hold her and press soft kisses on her forehead.
"I overslept this morning Miss Kelly." She answered self-confident. The schoolmistress only raised her left eyebrow and let Elizabeth continue with the given task. She took the piece of chalk and looked at the white numbers on the board. Mathematics was one of her favourite subjects. Numbers were so strong, reliable and logical. They always made sense to her and never betrayed her. If she could, she would never return to the farm and stay in this building forever. Reading, solving maths problems, writing essays. Maybe she could become a teacher later?
"Elizabeth?" Miss Kelly still stood next to her and obviously waited for her to continue. She had so been lost in thought that she forgot about the black board completely. Hastily she scribbled down a number at the end of the long string of numbers.