In the weeks leading up to the Robert Burns Dinner, Elsie was as busy as she had ever been in her life. She and Suzanne had met with every Scottish Brotherhood, Society and Organization in Hull. Elsie had been surprised to find that there were so many. She had not been surprised to find that they were populated by some very opinionated people. There had been more than one lively discussion where voices had been raised, but Elsie was used to the Scottish temperament and gave as good as she got. Often, to Suzanne's astonishment, these proved to be the most productive discussions.
"I forgot how much I love a good argument." Elsie commented to Charles over dinner, after recounting her afternoon with the Daughters of Caledonia.
"I thought we had a few good arguments." Charles sounded defensive but teasing. He looked over at her. Though their table was much smaller than the Downton staff table, they had maintained their seating arrangement. She'd tried sitting across from him once, but it felt too strange to both of them and she had quickly moved back to his right hand side.
"Charles, you're too much of a gentleman to have a proper argument. You either leave before you lose your temper, or you try to reach a compromise. But the worst thing is that you are sometimes willing to admit when you are wrong."
This puzzled him. "What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, but it's why I can always win any disagreement between us."
"But you don't always win our disagreements." He reminded her.
"But I could." She smiled at him warily, assuring herself she wasn't taking the teasing too far.
He smiled back around a mouthful of bread. "Well, I shall not argue that."
She reached over and rested her hand on his. "What's more, I don't want to have a proper argument with you, love. I need you on my side."
He turned his hand to take hers. "You shall always have that, my lass." He knew she needed his support right now. Several evenings he had come home to find her still at her desk, their evening plans or dinner forgotten.
A lot was riding on this event. Of course, there was her pride as a Scot, but it was much more than that. She and Suzanne had supported a few private events in the past few weeks, but the large, ticketed events that they hosted for themselves, or similar charity events, would be the real heart of their business. Also, larger events meant they were able to employ a larger number of people, which was important to Elsie and Suzanne.
Saturday, January 21st, 1922
"Have I told you what lovely knees you have, Charles?" He was shuffling across the cold floor in his socked feet and robe, carrying a breakfast tray back from the kitchen. She knew he was pampering her because she had been working so hard, but Elsie hoped breakfast in bed would become a Saturday tradition.
"I am glad that you think so, love, but they are not for public display." He set the tray on his bedside table and slipped back into bed, hanging his robe on the headboard post. "I don't know how much clearer I can say it. I am not wearing a kilt on Wednesday. I will read the poem if you wish. I will wear a tartan vest or tie, but no kilt."
"Who mentioned a kilt? Have I said a word about kilts in weeks?"
"No, but your minions have been relentless; Annette and Brittany, especially. You've set everyone we know in Hull against me." He moved the tray to the bed and handed her a mug of coffee.
"A wise man once told me that the secret to good planning is delegation."
"Well, whatever you are paying them, it is not enough. They have surpassed themselves in their zealous, pro-kilt campaign."
"I believe they think a victory in this case would be its own reward."
"The world will never know. I've already regrown the beard for the occasion."
"Yes, and you have been compensated for that. And you will continue to be compensated as long as it pleases me." She scratched his chin teasingly. He pretended not to enjoy it. "Perhaps we could reach a similar agreement where the kilt is concerned."
"But the beard already gets me what I want with the added bonus of not making me look like a fool."
"Are you calling William Wallace a fool? Or Robert the Bruce?"
"A Scot in a kilt does not look a fool. An Englishman, on the other hand…"
"Everyone is a Scot on Robert Burns' Day. You are doing the accent for the poem, aren't you?" He had been tasked with the Address to the Haggis after all the candidates suggested by various helpful groups had been rejected for varying reasons.
It had been an easy task assigning all the other roles. A former professor from Edinburgh named Gordon McIntyre had been universally accepted to deliver the toast to Burns' 'Immortal Memory' and every society had been given a place in the program. But the honored spot of addressing the haggis proved to put so many noses out of joint, Elsie had ended the debate by volunteering Charles.
"You are doing the accent?" She asked again.
"I am not sure you can read Burns without it," was his reluctant answer. He didn't want to have this discussion. He didn't want to talk about the kilt. The more they talked, the more likely she was to triumph.
"Then people will think you are a Scot and you will look more a fool wearing pants than wearing a kilt."
At this point, Charles thought it best to disengage from the discussion. He removed the paper form the tray and opened it crisply, obscuring himself completely from view.
"Don't go hiding from me, Charles Carson. I know full well you've already read the paper."
"I have not yet read this morning's paper."
She looked at the date on the paper. It was, indeed, today's edition. "And how did you manage to do that? You weren't gone more than ten minutes and I could hear you puttering around in the kitchen most of the time."
He dropped his voice low and whispered from behind the paper, as though afraid of being overheard. "Well, it's a trade secret, love, but, for a nominal fee, someone will deliver the paper to your doorstep."
She did not appreciate his sarcasm. "I am aware of that, but we've quite a unique doorstep."
"And a unique nominal fee to match."
She knew Charles was trying to goad her by being intentionally obtuse. He had not lowered the paper. He was still touchy about the kilt business. She knew it was best to let him have his sulk. For the first time, she contemplated breakfast. But she was distracted by what she found.
"When did you have time to bake scones? For that matter, when did you learn to bake scones?"
"Don't be silly, love. Did you hear any cursing coming from the kitchen or smell anything burning?"
"Then I have obviously not been baking."
Point taken. "Then please explain this." He lowered the paper to see what she needed explained. Elsie indicated the breakfast tray, which contained a small basket of scones and a container of jam. She opened one of the scones, which was still warm, and held it up to him as exhibit A.
"I thought if the poor lad was going to walk up all those stairs, he might as well earn a bit extra for bringing us breakfast."
"A stroke of genius, love." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek before he could raise the paper and his defenses. She saw him smirk as he hid himself once more behind the day's news.
She split another scone and slathered them both with jam. When he lowered the paper to turn the page, she placed a napkin and one of the scones on his slightly protruding belly. It balanced there as he looked up at her sternly. But he could not keep up the grouchy act. Laughing, he set the paper aside and picked up the scone.
Conversationally, he asked, "Have you much work to do this week, love, or is it all in hand for Wednesday?"
Over scones and coffee, she ran him through the preparations for the dinner. He would occasionally prompt her with a question, but he rarely got past, "Have you…?"
He smiled to watch her running through the list in her head. It reminded him of all the events they'd planned together at Downton. He had done his share of the work, but the bulk of the planning had always been done by Elsie. Sometimes, he had wondered if he was even necessary to the planning process. Admittedly, it had never stopped him from accepting the congratulations on a job well done after a successful party.
Finally, she had covered every last detail, outlined the evening's program and omitted the controversial kilt. "And don't forget, May and Colin will arrive tomorrow. Even though they are staying with Suzie and Nate, we should meet them at the station. And we'll be taking them all out to dinner on Monday."
Charles had not forgotten. He was very much looking forward to seeing May again. In addition, he had some thoughts of getting Mr. McAvoy alone for a little heart to heart. After all, May was his sister now and he felt justified attempting to put a little fear of God into her drunkard of a husband.
Elsie felt better now. No event planning ever felt complete to her until she'd run it all by Charles. He rarely had to remind her of anything, but she knew he would catch anything she had missed. Having him unable to think of anything to ask gave her confidence that she was truly prepared.
Sipping her coffee with satisfaction, and leaning against him, Elsie's mind wandered further into the future. "How are the preparations for Italy going? Have you heard back from all the wineries?"
"Most of them. I think the work portion of the trip is almost completely squared away. I'm excited to finally meet so many people I've been in correspondence with for years. I actually wrote a bit in Italian to several of them last week."
"Showoff. You know, not all of us had Latin when we were young." This was a sore spot for Elsie. Despite lessons almost evening for the past two weeks, she was still struggling. They'd suspended the lessons for next week to focus on the Burns Supper.
"I didn't have much Latin in school, and it was a very long time ago, but it has come back quickly, and it does help. But don't act as though you are not learning quickly. Your vocabulary is excellent and you are almost as proficient at reading Italian as I am, even with my head start. You'll be passing me by very soon. The writing will come. It's the verbal that you don't like. It isn't your fault that your accent is so atrocious."
"Atrocious? Is that what Signore Giuseppe said?"
"His exact word was 'Atroci.'" Elsie leaned away to glare at him. He shrugged his shoulders. "It is not a secret, love. I am not sure he has yet recovered from that first lesson. But take heart, you already have a better ear than I do. I cannot follow at all when he starts speaking quickly. I could probably follow an opera, but conversational speed is going to be a problem for me."
"We'll make a fine pair, Mr. Carson. We are going to be touring Italy and when people talk to us, I'll translate Italian to English for you and you'll respond in perfectly accented Italian. We shall look mad."
"But people will appreciate that we are trying." Seeing how frustrated she was, he tried to encourage her. "Don't worry, love, the Signore says you'll do better when you aren't trying so hard. You know your brogue gets worse when you are excited or angry.
"And, once you're done with the Burns Supper, you won't be spending every day with large groups of Scots. I love your accent, but there have been a few times this last week when I can't even understand your English, let alone your Italian."
He hurried on before she could take offense. "Not to worry. We have months before we go to Italy and one day, it will just click."
Elsie smiled gratefully. "Perhaps you are right." She gathered up the tray, preparing to head to the kitchen for more coffee.
"Until then, perhaps I should just learn the phrase, 'Please forgive my wife's accent. She cannot help it; she is Scottish.'" Charles received a wadded cloth napkin to the face for his suggestion.
When she returned from the kitchen with the coffee urn, Charles decided to change the subject. "Mary and Rosamund are apparently researching the most fashionable places to stay in each city. We'll find the nicest hotel we can afford close to them in each city. Though I doubt we'll even be in the same city on the Riviera. They are thinking about renting a villa in Venice."
"It is our honeymoon, Charles, I don't plan to spend every second with the family."
"We will have at least a week all to ourselves after I've done with work and before we meet them in Milan."
"And must we see that woman in Milan?" Her voice dripped with contempt.
"Tamara can get us excellent seats and a tour of La Scala. You know Lady Mary will be excited to see behind the scenes. And you cannot blame me entirely for our having to see her."
Indeed, Elsie could not. She had insisted on writing a note of thanks to Tamara for the champagne. In it, she might have been a little boastful about their upcoming honeymoon. "If you had not told her that we were going to be in Italy, she would never have known. Now it would be rude not to at least see her. Not after accepting her gift. You reap what you sow, love."
"I don't need a sermon on it, Charles. How was I to know she was only in London for a brief engagement before heading back to Europe? But we are not accepting her offer to stay with her." Elsie's tone did not allow for debate.
"Agreed." Charles shuddered to think of Elsie and Tamara under the same roof. "She's not as bad as all that. You might actually like her." Her withering look made him backtrack, "You might not hate her. Try to pity her, love; she's lonely."
"I thought you said she always has some young man with her."
"I didn't say she was alone. I said she was lonely. There is a difference. Tamara is rarely alone."
"You are not making me feel any better about this."
"It's still months away, don't stress about it now. She moves about very capriciously; she might not even be in Milan when we are there." Elsie needed to focus on other things at present. "You couldn't possibly be jealous?"
"Jealous? Me?" She huffed. "Should I be?"
He wrapped her up in his arms and kissed her soundly on the lips. He looked directly into her eyes. "She couldn't seduce me when I was an eager twenty year old. You broke through every defense of a stubborn, staid and stuffy butler."
"It took me twenty-five years and several tragedies to do so." She reminded him.
"She could have thirty-five years and still not reach me. What must I do to convince you?" He asked, kissing her again. She pouted still, but was clearly willing to be convinced. "And you aren't really jealous, love. You're just anxious about May and Colin arriving. Once they get here, you'll be running nonstop until midnight on Wednesday." Finally, she nodded and smiled.
"Which is why," he told her, leaning in again, "we are not leaving the flat today. I can't even think of a reason to leave the bed." This time, she returned his kiss.
Wednesday, January 25, 1922 "Robert Burns Day"
Elsie, Suzanne, May and Beryl stood, sipping their wine, watching the first of the guests arrive. "Have you ever worked hard for something and then felt badly when you actually accomplished it?" Elsie asked.
"Does this have anything to do with that poor man standing against the wall?" Beryl looked over to where a distinctly discomfited Mr. Carson stood facing the quickly filling room. His face turned a deeper shade of red with every familiar face he spied.
"It was only meant to be a bit of fun, but Lord, he looks miserable."
"I think even his knees are blushing, El. But what lovely knees." Suzanne teased. "Nothing finer than a tall man in a kilt..."
Elsie couldn't argue with that. He does look very grand. Elsie thought proudly. He had finally accepted the kilt and full kit; socks, ghillie brogues and the sporran. But he had steadfastly refused the lace shirtfront. Instead, he wore a Windsor knotted tie of solid blue with the Argyle style coat and vest.
"You know I am going to kill Nathan." Elsie reminded her.
"What's he to do with it?" Beryl wondered.
"He asked Charles if he was 'going regimental' and said he intended to find out. Suzanne assured him that Nathan was only joking, but it has gotten into his head that other people might try as well." Elsie also suspected that Charles just felt more comfortable standing with his back to a wall. He had spent enough years doing it.
"He'll get over it." Beryl assured her. "The night is just starting. But I have to know how on earth you accomplished it."
"The same way the Grand Canyon was formed…drop by drop. Though May really sealed the deal."
May batted her eyes exaggeratedly. "Oh, Mr. Carson. I sent all the way to Scotland for this kilt. Our tartan is very hard to find, and I had to order it specially woven. If you don't wear it, I shall be so disappointed."
Laughing, Beryl applauded the performance, almost spilling her wine. "It's not fair. He's hopeless enough against the will of one Hughes sister…"
"All's fair…" May laughed and raised her glass in a toast.
Breathe, Charles. He told himself. You know the lines. Everything is going to be fine. Elsie is relying on you, man. Breathe.
He had always been nervous before a show, but if he could get past the first line, the nerves would melt away. Charles watched as Mrs. Kerr proudly carried the haggis before the pipers. Charles thought one piper would have been plenty, but Elsie had wanted a full pipe and drum corps. She had compromised with three pipers and two drums. He saw Robert wince as the parade passed the Crawley family's table.
Elsie had already welcomed their guests and invited everyone to be seated at their assigned tables. She had opened the proceeding with the Selkirk Grace and everyone had tucked into their soup.
The hall was packed. Charles had no idea the Scottish population of Hull was so patriotic. Very shortly after the doors opened, Charles realized that he would not be the only man in a kilt tonight. Indeed, it was the men wearing pants who looked out of place.
Slowly, Charles had come out from the safety of the wall to greet guests with Elsie, who was wearing the sash from their wedding over a beautiful, dark blue dress. She was glowing with pride of a fine event coming together. It was only natural for Charles to be beside her.
Still keeping an eye out for Nathan, Charles had actually begun to enjoy himself and had not been mortified in the least when Mary could not stop herself from laughing. It was so good to hear such genuine mirth from her, he almost wished he had worn a kilt sooner.
Charles checked the poem that lay beside the place they would lay the haggis before him. He'd committed it to memory, but thought it was best to have the text, just in case. He stood as the haggis approached, as if welcoming an old friend. He remained standing as people applauded for Mrs. Kerr and the pipers.
Finally the guests held their collective breath as the last strains of the pipes died away. Charles' sense of presentation told him to let them wait. At just the right moment, Charles began his recitation. His stentorian voice filled the large hall as fully as the pipes had. Charles perfectly played the ironic pomposity that the address to the "Great chieftain o' the puddin-race" required. He ended the poem with an enthusiastic toast.
From that moment on, the program flowed exactly as Elsie had described it. As people were enjoying their haggis, or perhaps enjoying only their tatties and neeps, Mr. McIntyre delivered a humorous and enlightening toast to the immortal memory of Robert Burns. Nathan offered the toast to the lassies, which was artfully rebutted by Agnes Campbell, a woman whose age was widely debated, but most likely lay between ninety and one hundred and ten. There were rumors that she had a brother who fought at Culloden, but she swore it was only her father.
The plates were cleared as the other performances began. Elsie had designed an evening with a pleasing mix of spoken word and song. Interspersed amongst these, a local group of Scottish lasses performed a few Highland dances.
Charles marveled at her precise planning. He was good at anticipating the needs of people in the moment, but Elsie had the gift of anticipating the timing of an event weeks in advance. She didn't force activities, but seemed to instinctively know how long it took people to eat a particular dish or tire of one entertainment. Elsie had timed tonight down to the minute and yet, it still had the easy flow and spontaneity of a traditional ceilidh. The only deviation from her timetable had been an encore granted by one of the older Scottish gentlemen. But one nervous lad had completed 'Tam O' Shanter' in record time, so everything was still on schedule.
After the vote of thanks had been offered, the company had sung 'Auld Lang Syne' and the tables were whisked away from the dance floor. Some enthusiastic folks had started reeling even before the floor was cleared. The program was complete, but most people looked ready to stay for several hours more; just as she had planned.
"Old Rabbie hi'self would be proud of tonight, my love." Charles congratulated her as their table and their chairs were spirited away. "Now you can just enjoy the party."
"I plan to. You do know a reel or two, do you not, my love?"
"I am willing to be taught, love."
"Are ye sure ye're not Scottish, lad?" Mr. McIntyre was asking Charles. "That was one of the finer addresses I've witnessed."
"Yorkshire all the way, I am afraid."
"Well, there's some as would consider that as good as Scottish." Gordon slapped him on the arm. "A Londoner would probably consider you a Lowland Scot."
"I'd be proud to have them think so." Charles assured the man, who was not quite stable on his feet. Considering the volume of whiskey Charles had seen him consume tonight, it was amazing that he could stand at all. He was glad that May and Colin had left just after the program closed. They had the obvious excuse that Colin's leg was still healing. Colin had the private excuse that he had a brother-in-law who was watching him very closely.
The evening was winding down to a close. A few of the younger set still begged the band to play just one more jig, but they would be packing up soon, Charles knew.
The family from Downton had already departed for their hotel with Anna and Bates. Before they left, Charles had taken Bates aside and sounded out his interest in the Grantham Arms. Bates had been keen to discuss it further. Also, Charles had promised Mary and Robert to accompany them to tour Kirby Hall in a few weeks. It had been agreed that the announcement of Charles' connection to the family would take place sometime in the next month. Bates, Anna and Mrs. Patmore were far too suspicious already and Cora's will power was weakening.
Charles scanned the room. Beryl and Elsie were talking intimately in the corner. Charles spotted Uncle Timothy talking to Mr. Pease at one of the few remaining tables and decided to join them.
Elsie and Beryl were indeed in a deep conversation. "He's proposed?" Elsie tried not to sound astonished. She had not believed Mr. Mason would move so quickly. They were still months away from Daisy moving to the farm. "What did you say?"
"I didn't say anything. I haven't decided yet. I don't know him very well. The only reason it appeals to me at all is because I'd be there to support Daisy. I suspect that's why he asked. It wouldn't be right to accept him if the only thing we have in common is Daisy."
"Marriages have been built on less. Make sure you do get to know him, then. He seems a good man. And make sure he gets to know you. He'll have to love you." Elsie assured her. "I'll be honest, Beryl. I never thought marriage would be for me, but I've never been happier." She reached out and patted her friend's knee. "But there's no harm in letting him pursue you for a bit."
"Well, he's already a fair sight better than the last man who pursued me."
Charles heard their laughter as he sat down beside Uncle Timothy. The two older gentlemen seemed to be enjoying talking business.
"I can't believe we've never met before, Mr. Carson. Had I known about you earlier, it would have been easy for us to track down your nephew."
"Why would you want to do that?" Timothy asked.
Before answering, Mr. Pease looked at Charles for permission. Charles shrugged. He hardly had any secrets from Uncle Timothy. "Well, we've been sitting on an account in his name for over fifty years. It was started by your brother in 1869."
"Fifty years? I dare say it's a considerable sum by now."
Mr. Pease's banker training led him to be vague. "You'll have to discuss that with your nephew. It's not my place to say. I am only relieved that we have found the rightful heir to the money. I am sure it will be put to excellent use." Some movement across the room caught his eye and he waved back.
"My party is leaving now. It was a lovely meeting you, Mr. Carson. And, Mr. Charles Carson, please convey my gratitude to your wife for inviting us."
The two Misters Carson watched the old man slowly navigate the last of the dancers to collect his coat and hat.
"Nice fellow, that." Timothy commented. "Might have to send some business his way." After a few moments, he picked up the remainder of his whiskey. "But there's a question answered that's been bothering me, no end."
"What is that, uncle?"
"I always wondered what he'd done with that money. Congratulations, my boy, on your inheritance."
"Father, you mean? What money are you talking of?"
"After your mother died, your father didn't want anything to do with the money he'd been given when he married her. That's why he took contract work instead of running his own boat.
"I tried for years to buy him out, but he refused to even think about it. Finally, I convinced him it was for you, not for him and that he should take the money."
"And you bought him out for five?" Charles tried not to sound too judgmental, but he didn't think Timothy had dealt fairly with his brother.
"I offered him ten, but he wouldn't accept more than the five. I thought he might have sent it to you, but you never mentioned."
"Why would I mention five pounds?" Charles was puzzled.
"Five pounds? Lord, I didn't buy him out for five pounds. It were five thousand pounds, lad." Timothy finished off his whiskey now, shaking his head. "Are you okay, Charles?"
Charles had blanched at his uncle's words. Processing the implications, he looked up to see Mr. Pease preparing to exit the hall.
Leaping to his feet, he dodged the dancers and moved swiftly to where the old man stood with his hat on his head and his cane in hand. "Mr. Pease!" The banker looked taken aback by Charles insistent tone.
"I am sorry to startle you, Mr. Pease, but I just wanted to check something that has been bothering me." How to word this… "You said that my father started the account with 'five'" He held up his hand, all four fingers and the thumb. "But 'five' can mean, five pounds or five hundred or…"
"Five thousand. The original amount was five thousand. Why would anyone establish an account for five pounds?"
"Why, indeed." Charles agreed. "So, the current amount is seven hundred and forty thousand pounds?" He tried to sound nonchalant about it, but his mind was racing. He could probably thank the little bit of whiskey still in his blood for helping him to not pass out.
"Give or take; yes. Were you not aware of that, Mr. Carson?"
"Mrs. Carson and I were under the impression that you meant five hundred. That extra zero does make a considerable difference."
"That it does. Perhaps you'll want to discuss the account in more detail next week?"
"I think we should do that." Charles nodded absently. "Good night, Mr. Pease."
Charles stood awkwardly blocking the doorway after the banker left. Finally, the group behind him asked him to 'shove over' and he managed to stumble back fully into the hall.
His antics had attracted Elsie's attention. She left Beryl and came across the room to him. His shocked countenance frightened her. She lay her hand on his arm. "What is wrong, love?"
He tried to reassure her with a shaky smile. "Nothing is wrong, exactly." He took her hand. "Elsie, love, we need to talk...but first, I need a whiskey."
BAM! That's the last big surprise. Charles and Elsie are now richer than Croesus. Matthew isn't the only one who can inherit massive amounts of money...
By necessity, I have decided that this Epilogue will have to serve as the Christmas Special. Perche No will be turned into my version of season 5. Sorry to promise more than I could deliver. Life and work have a way of not cooperating with the creative process.
In January, my AU season 5 will include the reveal to the staff, the trip to Italy (with Tamara), more with Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore and exactly what Chelsie will do with all that money. It just got too big to finish before the ITV launch THIS SUNDAY!
Also, I want to include Martha and Harold in the Italy trip, so I am suspending this AU until I have absorbed what Mr. Fellowes has given us in his season 4, including the Christmas Special.
If you have any requests for my AU Season 5 (Characters that I've overlooked in the staff..., people you would like to see in Italy with the family…, what they can do with the money…,any scenarios beyond the Chelsieness that I love…) just leave a note on this story any point before January and I will try my best to work it in.
Signing off until January, when I will be back with the AU season 5, several stories that are kicking around and whatever new stories the canon Series 4 ignites…hope to see you then. In the meantime, thanks for reading and keep shipping the Chelsie!