St. Nick [Mrs. Patmore] PART TWO
"Mrs. Patmore! Are you quite alright? And you, Mr. Branson?" Mrs. Hughes asked, moving quickly to help the cook with her burden. "That sounded like a nasty spill."
"I am just fine. I hope the same can be said for the peppermint sticks." Beryl laughed.
"I am okay, Mrs. Hughes. Thank you." Tom had recovered from the fall and was standing.
"Now that we've established that everyone is fine, we need to hurry." Mr. Carson whispered loudly. "Mr. Branson, please secure that…thing in the garage."
"Yes, Mr. Carson." Tom began to roll the vehicle noisily towards the back of the house. But then the butler's words caused him to pause.
"And, Mr. Branson, thank you for your help tonight. I look forward to learning how you leave Downton with a car and return with…a tricycle, is it? But we've no time for that now." He turned back to the two women who were already headed into the house with the two bundles of candy. They stopped just inside the door and let Mr. Carson lock the door behind them.
They opened the packs and discovered that most of the peppermint sticks had survived their rough arrival intact. The candies were arranged in bundles of twelve; tied together and then wrapped in a plastic bag. Mr. Carson began cutting open the bags laying on one of the blankets with his pen knife, removing the noisy plastic.
Mrs. Hughes took charge. "Mrs. Patmore can take care of the staff stockings downstairs. Mr. Carson, you should take the stockings in the men's dormitories and I shall see to the nurses and the officers' stockings in the common rooms."
"We've enough for two per sock." Mr. Carson calculated. He took a few bags from the other blanket, bundled it back up and handed it to Mrs. Patmore. "Mrs. Patmore, you may give the kitchen staff three."
"Right you are, Mr. Carson." She took off quickly across the Grand Hall to the servant's stairs.
Mrs. Hughes watched her go, smiling. "She does rather look like Saint Nicholas in that cape." Mr. Carson conceded, tilting his head to change his perspective. "You should take the blanket, Mrs. Hughes. I do not have so far to go and can make a few trips back here easily."
Having agreed upon the logistics, they parted ways, Mr. Carson with an armful of peppermint stick bundles and Mrs. Hughes with her blanket full. All of the nurses and officers had used the mantle places in the common rooms. She only had four stops to make. When she was done, Mrs. Hughes peaked into the west dormitory to see how Mr. Carson was faring.
Though Mr. Carson had fewer rooms to visit, he had more fireplaces and many more stockings. Some of the men had insisted on hanging their stocking immediately next to their beds. When Mrs. Hughes arrived, Mr. Carson was moving between the beds, filling the last of these. Mrs. Hughes watched from the doorway, marveling. Most people, faced with trying to move about a room filled with thirty beds and thirty sleeping men would be tempted to hunch down and creep about on tiptoe. Mr. Carson simply moved with his usual, upright posture, his steps as light and silent as a cat.
He joined her at the doorway and they slipped silently into the corridor. "Forty-eight." He confirmed.
"And thirty-five. That's eighty-three."
"Perfect. Now, I'll check in with Mrs. Patmore. And off to bed with you, Mrs. Hughes or you'll find your stocking empty in the morning." He teased.
"It would make no difference to me, Mr. Carson." She opened the servant's stair door and began to climb towards the attics, carrying with her the blanket and empty wrappers; the evidence of their late night activities. "This has already been one of my best Christmas' ever."
"And mine, Mrs. Hughes." She stopped to face him, for once, he was looking up at her. It had been a long time since she had seen him smile so unguardedly. Well, except for just now, when he had given her his gift. She touched her new earrings unconsciously. "Thanks in no small part to you and Mrs. Patmore. I promise to find a way to show my gratitude."
"We shall hold you to that promise, Mr. Carson." She turned and hurried up the stairs before his eyes could hypnotize her. She only had a few hours of sleep before her, but what dreams she would have.
After leaving Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore had made her way swiftly to the servant's hall. Without even bothering to remove her cloak, Mrs. Patmore began to add the peppermints to the already stuffed stockings. She knew that she did not have much time before the first of the staff began to stir. The last of the stockings were those found in the kitchen itself. The kitchen staff had always hung their stockings over the stove. Beryl supposed it was someone's idea of a joke a long way back, but it had become tradition.
Unfortunately, this meant that the stockings were hung too high for Mrs. Patmore to reach without assistance. She knew she did not have time to wait for Mr. Carson, so she pulled the stepstool over and climbed up, bringing the sack with her. Just as she was finishing, she heard whispering in the hallway outside the kitchen.
"I feel so silly." Came a young girl's whisper. "But after all your talk, I just couldn't sleep."
"We were due to get up soon, anyway. I've never understood how anyone can sleep on Christmas Eve." Beryl recognized Daisy's voice.
"But are you sure they'll be something from Saint Nicholas?"
"Course I'm sure. You heard Mr. Carson."
There was nowhere for Mrs. Patmore to hide, she knew she was caught. But then, she had an idea. Mrs. Hughes had explained Mr. Carson's theory on the girls wanting to believe more than actually believing. If they would only meet her halfway…
Mrs. Patmore pulled up the cloak hood, pulled the bag up higher on her shoulder and hid her face behind her hands. She began to laugh in a low and masculine way as she continued to fill the stockings. She heard the girls gasp as they rounded the doorway.
From the doorway, the two girls gawped in wonder. By a happy chance, the cloak reached completely to the floor and concealed the stepstool upon which Mrs. Patmore stood. To Daisy and the younger kitchen maid, it looked like a six foot tall Saint Nick was filling their stockings.
Feeling bold, Mrs. Patmore turned her head slightly towards the girls. She kept the lower part of her face covered with her hands and the gathered corners of the blanket. The cloak hid her hair. All she exposed to them were her sparkling eyes. In the low light, she was unrecognizable. The astonished looks on their faces told her she had them fooled, for now. If she could frighten them off, she might be able to escape without shattering the illusion. She winked at them, a large and exaggerated wink. There was a glimmer of recognition in Daisy's eye. She knew those eyes. But who did she know who was also so tall? "Mr. Carson?" Daisy asked, tentatively.
"Yes, Daisy?" Came his booming voice from behind them.
Both girls screamed out and turned to face him. Mr. Carson was halfway down the stairs. "May I help you?"
"Oh, Mr. Carson, you scared us that much you did! But look!" Daisy pointed into the kitchen. She looked in and gasped, darting into the now empty room. He followed, unsure of what they had found. Looking around, he saw, to his relief that all the stockings were filled. But otherwise, the kitchen looked normal. Though he thought the step stool was out of place.
"What did you want to show me, Daisy?"
"Saint Nicholas! He were just here."
"Well, there's no one here now." He tried to keep his voice steady, but was struggling to contain himself.
"Oooh. He musta' gone up the flue." The other girl said, amazed, standing at the empty space before the stove and looking upwards.
"That is his preferred method of travel." Mr. Carson said as though it were the most normal thing in the world. They both looked at him in amazement. "Did you hear the reindeer too? That's why I was up. I thought I heard something on the roof. Maybe, if you hurry, you can see them. But he's probably already gone. He has a lot of stops to make tonight."
Not caring about Mr. Carson's warning that they'd missed the sleigh and reindeer, the girls raced to the backdoor, fumbled with the key and dashed out into the courtyard, their eyes cast towards the sky.
"All's clear, but not for long." Mr. Carson whispered into the storeroom. He had seen the tail of her cloak closed into the bottom of the door.
Mrs. Patmore came quickly out of the storeroom, carrying the cloak and blanket. She pushed these and the last of the peppermints into Mr. Carson's hands. And, laying a finger aside of her nose, she winked at Mr. Carson and up the stairway she rose. Mr. Carson had just stashed the evidence in his pantry when Daisy and her friend returned, breathless.
"We must have missed them." Daisy said, though she sounded far from disappointed.
"Well, you've seen more than I've ever managed. Why don't you girls take your stockings into the servant's hall. I'll make some coffee for me and I'll heat up some milk for cocoa for the two of you."
"I can do that, Mr. Carson." Daisy offered.
"No, Daisy, it's Christmas. I think I can make a cuppa once a year." He smiled down at the two bright and hopeful faces. "And then you can both tell me all about it."
"Thank you, Mr. Carson." Daisy pulled the stepstool over and pulled down two of the stockings, handing one down to the younger kitchen maid. "Come on, I'll show you the proper way to eat an orange on Christmas at Downton."
"And you saw Saint Nicholas too, Mr. Carson?"
"No, Sergeant Barrow, I did not. But I definitely heard something and, if Daisy and Clarice say they saw him, then I, for one, believe them."
"Are you sure it was not Mr. Carson, himself?" Thomas pressed Daisy.
"But it couldn't have been. He was behind us when Saint Nick winked at us. It weren't him, I know that."
"I think we should leave it to everyone to draw their own conclusions, don't you Sergeant?" Mr. Carson gave Thomas a withering look that warned of repercussions for pushing this skepticism any further.
"Very well, Mr. Carson. We'll see who believes."
Through the day, the story percolated through the house. Daisy and Clarice had become minor celebrities, called upon to recount their story again and again. The subdued jovial mood that had begun last night was now become positively jolly. The miracle performed by six servants had delivered the one thing Mr. Carson had wanted to bring to Downton for Christmas; Hope.
The nurses complained about the awful mess the soldiers made with their orange juice and melted peppermints, but they laughed as they complained and as they washed the soldiers sticky hands. Introducing the Downton tradition to everyone had prompted many to share their own childhood Christmas memories. A few even told of encounters with a jolly man in a red suit.
By the time the family sat for dinner, even the Dowager Countess had heard the story directly from Daisy's mouth. "What a disappointment it must have been, Carson."
"To have just missed out on seeing Saint Nicholas." She noted, dryly.
"I shall have to be more vigilant next year, My Lady." He replied with absolutely no hint of emotion. Anna smiled as she carried away the empty soup bowls.
Christmas Day was drawing to a close. Most of the staff had already turned in, exhausted. Mr. Carson had found time through the day to say special thanks to Mr. Bates and Anna for their help. He had managed to procure a pint of beer for Mr. Branson, who had successfully fixed and retrieved the abandoned car without anyone being the wiser.
Mr. Carson was as exhausted as anyone, but he still had one more thing to do.
"Mrs. Patmore? Please put down that rag and come join Mrs. Hughes and I in her sitting room for a glass of Christmas port."
"Well, if you insist."
Mr. Carson was filling the third glass as she joined them. He had brought a chair from his own office so they could all be seated comfortably before Mrs. Hughes' fire. When they each had a glass, Mr. Carson raised his in toast. "To a successful and merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas." The two women echoed.
"Hmm. That's a good one." Mrs. Patmore commented. "I've not had anything that good since this whole mess started."
"I was keeping it for a special occasion. This seemed to qualify."
"I certainly agree, Mr. Carson."
Mrs. Hughes gave him a significant look, encouraging him. Steeling himself with a sip of the port, Mr. Carson began. "Mrs. Patmore, I think the three of us have known each other long enough that we could perhaps dispense with some of the formalities when we are all in private."
She looked at him, shocked. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, that you and Mrs. Hughes are my dearest friends. I consider you both family and I would be honored if you would call me 'Charles'."
"Is this your doing?" She looked at Mrs. Hughes.
"No. It was entirely his idea." Elsie assured her. "I believe you have something for her, Charles."
"Yes. As I said, I feel that we are very much family and I would like for you each to have something from my mother." He handed Mrs. Patmore a small box.
"So that's where those earrings came from. I was going to ask." She looked at Carson very seriously. "This had better be good or I shall wonder why I did not get the earrings."
Carson gulped and said nothing. But Beryl laughed and opened her gift. She stopped laughing. "Oh. Mr. Carson. This is…I cannot."
"That's what I said." Mrs. Hughes smiled kindly. "Let me save you some time. He'll not accept 'no' for an answer. Let's see it then."
Mrs. Patmore lifted a small, golden watch from the box. The face of the watch was made of ivory and the pin from which it dangled looked like a tiny bow made of golden ribbon. She held it to Mrs. Hughes for inspection. Silently, Mrs. Hughes took the watch and pinned it to Mrs. Patmore.
Mr. Carson's eyes were wet with tears he was trying desperately to reabsorb. He looked at his two dear friends; the angels who had delivered a Christmas miracle. But they had delivered so much more into his life. He only hoped that they understood how much they both meant to him, though perhaps in slightly different ways. He hoped they both understood why he could not tell them more often.
To break the tension, Beryl joked, "Well, I was hoping for a ring, but this will do."
"My mother did not leave a ring." Charles confided seriously. "She said fancy rings were impractical. She only ever wore a simple ivory ring, which was buried with her. When my parents were married, my father had the diamond chips from his mother's ring reset into those earrings for her." He reached out impulsively and took Elsie's hand.
"On their tenth anniversary, my father bought her the ivory faced watch to match her ivory ring." He took Beryl's hand with his other.
"They are all I remember of my mother. I am so proud to be able to pass them to the two most important women in my life; to my family. Please accept and enjoy them. And someday, you can pass them to someone special to you. Someone like Anna or Daisy or whomever you choose."
"There now. If you start to get sentimental, I shall be lost." Beryl managed to say. Elsie could not speak at all, but only held her lower lip in her teeth to stop it from trembling.
He smiled sheepishly, but continued to hold their hands. "I am sorry. It's only that I've kept these things hidden away for so long." Did he mean the gifts or his feelings? Perhaps he meant both. "And if you cannot be sentimental on Christmas, then when can you?"
After a few silent minutes the three recomposed themselves and Charles reluctantly let their hands drop from his.
"So, you want me to call you 'Charles'? And you 'Elsie'?" The butler and housekeeper nodded in unison.
"And we would call you 'Beryl'." Mrs. Hughes confirmed.
"I cannot allow that." Mrs. Patmore said seriously.
"Well, what would you prefer we call you?" Mr. Carson asked, very confused.
Mrs. Patmore laughed. "After last night, you should call me 'Saint Nick'."
The heads of household joined her laughter until Mr. Carson wanted to know. "We all had a hand in that, Beryl. Why do you get to be Saint Nick?"
"Because, Charles, I have the belly for it, I actually delivered the goods and I have witnesses. You and Elsie can be elves or reindeer."
"Reindeer?" Charles scoffed.
"Magic Reindeer." Beryl reminded him.
"Well, that's something, Charles. I think that's the best we can hope for." Elsie soothed. "And you said yourself, Christmas is all about Hope."
"Well, now that's settled, I should head up to bed. Two hundred people don't feed themselves." Beryl finished her port and stood. She looked down proudly at the watch on her breast, then at the earrings sparkling on Elsie's ears and then at the tears sparkling in Charle's eyes. She patted the side of Elsie's cheek and kissed the housekeeper on top of the head. She repeated the action with a flabbergasted butler. "Good night, Elsie. Good night, Charles.
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
A/N Christmas festivities and trouble accessing ffnet made this a little late, but I hope you enjoy it whenever you do read it. I hope you and yours had a Happy Christmas.
Rudolph will be coming, no promise when, but certainly before Baby New Year needs him.
I suggest those who do not want spoilers for the Christmas Special avoid reading any reviews.