A/N thank you for your wonderful reviews! I know this story is not about "Chelsie", there is not Chelsie fluff in this, there is not even Downton Abbey in this. But I promise that all your patience will be rewarded in the end. I plan 5 more chapters (2 of them already written) in which they are both still at different places. But by the end of this week: THEY ARE FINALLY BOTH AT DOWNTON ABBEY :)
He could not believe his eyes, or his ears. The young girl that stood there in front of him in the dark theatre was indeed her, the Scottish lass he had ran into at the train station so long ago. She was shy, was not really able to look at him, her face slightly flushed. How old might she be? Not yet eighteen, Charles thought. Still a girl, but her appearance, the way she stood there, albeit shy but with a back held straight and proud, made her look much older and mature.
"Please accept my apology. I didn't mean to startle you." He wanted to be a bit closer to her, not too much but he needed to see her face more clearly, hear that Scottish accent. "Neither now, nor at the station."
"It's alright. Thank you for your advice though. It really worked." There was a small smile on her face now. "I never thought you were an artist."
He rubbed his neck, a bit embarrassed by her comment. "Well…"
She interrupted him. "You said you were a footman once, if I remember correctly."
So she had been thinking about him too? Their encounter had been so brief that he sometimes wondered whether he had imagined it. "You remember correctly."
"My name is Elsie Hughes, nice to meet you." She had the courage to hold out her hand which he found rather brave and forward. He took it, shook it and assumed it was now time to introduce him too.
"Charles Carson." Her hand was small and soft but her handshake firm. "Nice to meet you too." He let go of her hand after he had held it too long already and tried to fill the silence with another question. "Are you from here?" After all they were in Scotland and she was Scottish.
"I am a housemaid over at Campbell Hall." She had averted her eyes again and looked over her shoulder into the approximate direction of the place she just mentioned. Charles assumed that she meant the huge, castle like building he had seen further away, outside of town.
"Who was this nice girl you were talking to during our break?" Grigg sat in their changing room, feet on the table and a cigar in his right hand. The incident with the prostitutes had not really changed him. He was still often too arrogant for Charles liking, too self-opinionated. But they were a team and he could not leave the man now or Grigg would do something even worse than breaking a prostitute's nose.
It bothered him that at one point he had taken over all responsibility: for their shows, contracts, their rooms, everything, even for Grigg himself. One thing was missing though. Grigg still handled their money. He had always done it and he continued to do so. Every evening Charles made sure that his savings where still there, checked their earnings secretly. His confidence was declining gradually since the night Grigg had been arrested by the police. Therefore he would not tell him now whom he had talked to, would not mention the girl's name, occupation or the place she lived at in Charles Grigg presence.
"Apparently she came to see the show with her friends", was all he said for now.
"Like all the other people in the audience." Grigg took another pull of his cigar. "You looked very familiar with her."
Charles clenched his fist, tried to control his anger once again. "Did you spy on me?"
"No, not at all. I just observed." Grigg removed his feet from the table and got up, cigar still in his hand. "She was pretty. And pretty young. I thought you don't do girls?"
One of his fists almost reached out to hit Charlie, wipe that smile off his face. But Charles had never been an aggressive man and he would not let Charles Grigg turn him into one. "Just leave her alone."
He could not sleep anymore. Ever since that brief encounter he saw her face whenever he closed his eyes. That shy smile, brown hair, hesitant smile haunted him. Never before had a woman or a girl made such a lasting impression on him. She was too young for him and he was not the kind of man who pursued young women to have his baser need satisfied. Unlike Grigg, Charles never had gone further than kissing the women his partner brought to their changing room. Even this felt wrong but he did not want to take advantage of the women, despite the fact that they had offered their services to them voluntarily.
He needed to get her out of his mind, soon. There was nothing he could do about her anyway. How would she react if he appeared at Campbell Hall? What would she say? What would he say to her? He had never asked a girl out before and was not even sure how one did such a thing. Besides, she worked there as a housemaid and he was a man who earned his money by doing magic tricks on some stage in the village theatre. Charles did not consider this as an occupation a woman would accept as a proper one. Especially not when she worked in service and was surrounded by rules and propriety all day. No, he had to stop thinking about her.
Perhaps they could end their contract early and move on, travel to a different town, further south, back to England. Charles turned around, faced the wall and closed his eyes again. She was still there.
When the first snow fell, the town was transformed into a dream like place. Everything was covered in white, lanterns were hung from the top of the houses. It was the most beautiful thing he had seen so far at Christmas. Not even at Downton Abbey had the season spirit been that infectious as in this small town. He was amazed at the friendliness of the inhabitants, their smiles and joyous laughter.
They had decided to take a break at Christmas. Grigg had protested at first, tried to argue with him but in the end, Charles had won their discussion. No one would go and see their show when their families and friends were much more important during this special time of year.
While Grigg had stormed off, probably to have another drink in one of the local pubs, Charles enjoyed his free afternoon and took a walk, explored the town once again.
People knew him by know and the gentlemen ifted their hats when he passed. Women smiled at him, most of them friendly, the younger ones sometimes seductively, and he returned those smiles. Most of the time trying to not give them false hopes. He was not interested in a hurried, little affair like Grigg. And this housemaid was still in his head. Not every night, her image was slowly fading, but often enough to keep him awake.
Campbell Hall was there, in the distance, on the hills. He could see is when he stood on the village square. He wondered if Elsie was still there because he had not seen her since that encounter at the theatre. But why shouldn't she? She was still young, had probably only started to work at this place unlike him who grew up on a large estate, always surrounded by the grandeur, the fine clothes, food and noblemen. He knew this world inside out, knew its negative sides and the positive ones. It had one day be part of this life, his whole life.
His hands disappeared deep into the pockets of his winter coat while he stood there, staring into the distance, at that castle with the many windows. Should he go there and ask for her? Or was this too much of a risk. After all, they had only talked for a very brief time. They knew each other's names and occupation. Before he could sit down with her and have a lengthy conversation, people started to return to their seats and the second part of the show began. He had not seen her afterwards, probably never would again. Assuming she only had a half day off every second week, probably in the afternoon when he was busy, there was no chance to meet her again. Charles sighed and averted his eyes, walked back towards the theatre, tried to forget about her, about his feelings. It was nonsense.