This is the second and last update for this story. Not sure how well this turned out, but thought I'd take a shot anyway. Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine, but I sure wish they were.
March 18, 1920
- She checks to see there is no one in the kitchen. The sound of urgent footsteps fades away. It is Mr. Carson. She waits behind a corner for him to go upstairs. During the day they have exchanged pleasantries and talked of practical matters as usual, but a simple brushing of hands now startles them; a momentary locking of eyes makes her heart jump. She looks forward to these letters now, and the young, mischievous feeling they give her. She slides into her sitting room. The note is there as usual.
I have thought a great deal about how to write this to you. I have come to the difficult decision that it is unprofessional for us to have a daily exchange like this. Our primary duty is to the house, and we must avoid engaging in distractions that can steer us off course. As you say, "one cannot always have what one wants in life." There is much value to denying oneself for a greater cause, such as serving a noble family. I am sorry.
- She feels her mouth go dry, and slumps a little in the chair. She reads the letter once more. A cloud comes over her. She picks up her pen and lets it hover an inch above the paper. She wonders if she should bother.
I understand your concern and will respect your wish.
I hope you find that serving a noble family is worth all the trouble in the end.
- Elsie yanks her fingers over the fold of the paper and lets out a slow breath. Ah, well. She should have known he'd do an about-face like this. All this sharing goes against his principles. She delivers it to his desk, frowning.
March 24, 1920
- A week later it is a cold, bright morning. A young boy cycles up to the back door with the daily post, a long satchel knocking against his legs. Charles Carson sorts through it. He knocks on the door of Mrs. Hughes sitting room. She is not there. He returns an hour later, and knocks again. A muffled "yes" from inside. He tells her she has a letter. She gives him a strange look. He hands it to her and disappears quickly. Still staring at the door she tears it open, then drops a hand to her knee.
Forgive me for sending you this letter. I know that I suggested we should not write to one another, but I see now that I was being too severe. I surmised it was also within the bounds of protocol for me to write to you through the traditional post, rather than dropping notes off at your desk at night.
Though it is very, very much beside the point, I also enjoyed our correspondence.
I hope you will forgive me for trying to end our exchange in the manner I did. It is important to me that you are happy.
I know that it is hard to understand the extent of my loyalty to Downtown. I know it may seem alien to you. Serving is all I have ever known. I expect you of all people to understand that.
- She shakes her head and stuffs the letter into the pocket of her dress. She marches out into the hallway, and scans the rooms for him. He is in his pantry, bent over a notebook. She holds up the letter, asks what it is. He bristles, then looks past her. Alfred is walking past in the hallways. He acts as though he suddenly remembers something and calls out to Alfred, darting past Elsie and down the corridor. She looks on, open mouthed, and puts the letter back in her pocket. She refuses to spend her wages on stamps for this man.
I fail to understand why you need to resort to mailing a letter to me. It is strange enough that we are not speaking face-to-face on matters of the heart, but to put a letter through the postal system seems a tad excessive. You should also know that your previous letter was unnecessarily harsh. I've worked with you for God knows how many years, and I know the strict principles you operate under, but I hope you do not do that again.
I do understand the concept of service for a lifetime. But service is not all I have ever known, neither is it all you have ever known. I know you had a life before being the butler at Downton, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. There is a softer part of you that the house doesn't see and I have been fortunate to catch it from time to time.
There's no need to post your next letter. I am glad to read something from you, but for the sake of our salaries let us please rely on good, old-fashioned hand delivery.
- She shakes her writing hand, then massages it. It's been a while since she wrote to him, and this one was long. She wonders if she is being too easy on him. But she meant what she said. She folds the paper and puts it in her pocket, then puts it on the desk in his dark and empty pantry. She imagines him reading it the next morning and the thought makes her smile a little.
March 25, 1920
He has complied with her wish, and not sent another letter by post. There is a new note on her desk, folded and slightly open. She brings over the gas lamp she is carrying and eases into her chair. Opens the note.
Dear Mrs. Hughes,
I must thank you for your patience with me, and I apologise for the offence I caused earlier.
It is true that I am repulsed by my past on the stage, a time spent galavanting with performers in a rather undignified manner. I like to try and forget that part of my life, but in the act of forgetting I have changed, and in changing, that younger part of me has grown rather small and weak. Sometimes, I do wonder about how life might have been if I had stayed on the stage. What I might have been like.
I wonder how I might have acted differently towards you.
- She purses her lips, and looks around. Of course there is no one on the entire downstairs floor, never mind her sitting room. But her face is flush and she is thankful no one can see it. She reaches for her pen. She thinks for a very long time about what to say.
Dear Mr. Carson,
How would you have acted differently towards me?
I would like to know.
- The door to his pantry creaks open as she puts the note on his desk.
March 26, 1920
- They are passing by one another in between the serving of dinner upstairs, and as she hands him a tray he thanks her, and she notices that he catches her eye for a little longer than is normal. During dinner with the staff downstairs, someone tells a joke and he chuckles more easily than before, his shoulders relaxing into a shudder that she and the other staff aren't used to seeing. The staff like seeing their superior in a lighter mood, and they try to enjoy it because they don't know how long it will last. Then in his last hours of clearing up, she swears she hears him humming down the corridor.
- The downstairs hallway is quiet and dark, and she enters her sitting room. There is another note. As she goes to pick it up, she seeys there is not much written on it. Just four words:
"Let me show you."
There is a light knock on the door, and she spins around. She sees his tall frame, his easy eyes. What has changed in him and why, she wonders. And before she can take the question any further he asks if he can come in, and she hears herself say "yes." The door shuts behind him, and he walks towards her. From behind his back he pulls out a small bouquet of flowers from the garden. He hands them to her.
"This is one thing I would do differently," he says.
She gasps a little, and is surprised at the pleasure she feels from the simple act of receiving flowers. It has been years since anyone gave her flowers. She feels herself blushing again, and as she stands up to take them her fingers brush against his. She feels that electric current again.
"Oh," she says softly. "These are lovely. Thank you."
She looks at the flowers, and then at him. She doesn't know what to say anymore, and is suddenly feeling very shy.
"It is hard for me to say certain things," he says, breaking the silence. "I've known that for a long time but writing these… letters helped me see that I had things I wanted to say. Things I needed to say. And that I'm still the sort of person that can say those things."
"I see," she says, gripping the flowers. "What are those things, then?"
"You mean a great deal to me." He takes one hand away from the flowers and encases it in both of his, then moves closer to her. "Dearest Mrs. Hughes." He kisses her hand slowly, tenderly, and closes his eyes.
She feels herself getting lighter, as if her knees might disappear from under her, but she holds steady.
"Mr. Carson," she says, almost whispering.
"You mean a great deal to me too. More than what I could write in a letter."
"I hope you liked my penmanship."
"I'll admit it was better than most."
"Then let me tell you something I could never put into a letter."
She is about to ask what that is, but then he has leaned over and found her lips with his, giving her the tender kiss that she has waited so many years for.
She closes her eyes and feels the pressure of his mouth, feels the way his solid hands find their way to her waist to bring her closer to him, and her mind opens to the memory of the way he signed his last few letters. "Yours, C. Carson." He is yours now, she tells herself. Finally. She kisses him back.