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Hunger

Chapter Text

Day 1:


"We receive the body of our sister Violet, with confidence in God, the giver of life, who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead."

Mr Travis's voice drones on as it always does. He is getting on, the little white-haired vicar of Downton's small church. He doesn't stand as straight as he once did, but Elsie supposes that she doesn't either. She glances around her. All the pews are filled. In the front pews are the family, the tenants are in the back. The servants are in between and next to her is her husband who is looking very pale.

The news came as a great shock to him, almost as if he expected the Dowager Countess to be immortal. Elsie has not said anything about it; instead she has given her husband space to grieve in his own way, in his own time. After all: it's only been a week since the old lady passed away and Charlie had known her for a great many years.

Lady Grantham and Charlie were - in forgotten vernacular - sympatico.

They fondly remembered a time gone by. A time when servants and those who paid them were still referred to in 'All things bright and beautiful'. God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate. While it may still be partially the way things are, Elsie feels lucky there are other chances for young people.

"I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."

Next to her, her husband presses his handkerchief against his eyes. She sighs a little at it. Her husband once told her she was sentimental, but he's much worse than she ever was. She used to think it was an endearing quality, but when it's in church and over an old woman who probably mostly thought of Charlie as someone who catered to her, it's much more irritating than sweet.

Mr Travis's words glide over her. She doesn't pay them much attention. They are the same words they have always been. Every funeral she has been in Yorkshire has been the same. The order of things, the words spoken. She supposes they are comforting for some.

"We are already God's children, but what we shall be has not yet been revealed, yet we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."


 

The men are upstairs. There are sandwiches and coffee served to the friends and family who have come to pay Lady Grantham their last respects. The house is full and she can hear the noise carry through the green baize doors and down the stairs. She has seen enough funerals to know that though it can be a very sad occasion, it often is a bit of a reunion.

By the sound of it, that part of proceedings has started.

She knows that it will be hours before her maids can clean up after the guests and she won't be back at the cottage before midnight. Elsie sighs. Sometimes she wishes she still had her room in the attics. The trek back and the early morning wake up call don't seem worth the effort.

Maybe if she were still young, it might have had it's merits. If her marriage was like Anna's. But it isn't and it's a long walk indeed, through the damp night to arrive at a dark place where the heating is no longer on and her husband is fast asleep. More often than not he doesn't even notice her slipping in beside him. She always seems to be gone before he wakes in the morning, but she knows he does hear her alarm.

He just has the luxury to turn over.

Perhaps she is just envious. Or a little disappointed that her husband doesn't pay her much attention, even if she knows that he is asleep. It's not his fault. He does ask her about her day very intensely when she comes home for their tea in the evening.

Sometimes she feels as if she is being interrogated.

She tells herself it is because he misses being there with her. That it can't be easy to be by yourself all day with nobody to talk to after having bossed around juniors for thirty or forty years. She understands he must be lonely.

But when she comes home, she wants a few moments to herself. Someone to listen when she talks about how she feels instead of him asking if they are still using the same silver polish. Sometimes she wishes he would ask after Mrs Patmore's health and not if she is keeping the upstairs dinners up to standard. Because why wouldn't she be and why can't he just be a bit kind like that. He has always been caring when they were still under the roof of the big house.


"Are you alright, Mrs Hughes?" 


"I'm sorry, Mrs Patmore. You caught me daydreaming." Elsie puts down her pen and turns to face her friend.

"No matter. Do you think I ought to make more for them upstairs? By the sound of it, the wake is not over by far."

Elsie pushes her chair back and stands up. Her back complains: sitting too long in the same position is taking its toll more and more these days. Her time as a sprightly young thing are well and truly behind her.

"I'll go and check with Mr Barrow. I have a feeling we'll be here a while."

"You ought to set off home," Mrs Patmore says, frowning.

"Would be a fine chance if I could. But as long as my maids are up, so am I." She smiles at Mrs Patmore. "That's the way it's always been and especially today it wouldn't be right to do things less than perfectly."

Elsie knows what Charlie would say about her jumping ship. He'd not be best pleased with her and he would go on and on her being lax and about Lady Grantham having standards and did she have to disappoint him today of all days? She'd rather not confront herself with that.


When she arrives at the cottage, she is cold to the bone. Her knee aches from going up and down the stairs all day. She has made up extra guest rooms for those who decided to stay after all. The house almost feels full to bursting for the first time since before the war. He'll be sad he is missing out.


She turns her key in the lock, feeling every inch the housekeeper.

"I'm home!" she calls up.

"How was it?"

He is standing in the doorway of the kitchen in his shirtsleeves. He is looking downcast and tired.

"Crowded," she answers as she takes off her hat, her coat, her shoes. Her shawl is moist from the night air and there are droplets of water in her fringe.

"How was his Lordship?"

"A little subdued, which was to be expected."

"And Lady Mary?"

"Lady Grantham would have been very proud of her eldest granddaughter," Elsie says and rubs her forehead.

"I should think so. Lady Mary has always took after her grandmother and I am certain today was no exception."

She doesn't know what to say to that. She shrugs instead, goes into the kitchen, right past her husband. When she touches the kettle, it's cold and she sighs again. It would have been nice to have been welcomed back with a cup of tea and a kind word.

Lady Grantham's funeral has shaken her more than she cares to admit. The old lady was formidable. At times larger than life. Her exacting standards were difficult to live up to, but Elsie always enjoyed a challenge. When someone thinks she can't do it, she usually sets out to prove them wrong. In the end Lady Grantham and Elsie had learned to see the best in the other and now -

It's not just the end of an era for Charles, even if he pretends this is the case.

"What are you doing?" he asks, still in the doorway.

"I am cold. I want to fill my hot water bottle and make myself a cup of tea before I turn in."

"Are you boiling the kettle?" He sounds as if she were quite mad.

"That I am," she admits through gritted teeth.

"That's very wasteful," he warns her and she turns around, a little at a loss.

"I am cold and I have had a trying day. I don't think making a cup of tea and having something to warm my feet in my bed is wasteful."

She can hear her voice echoing shrilly against the bare walls of the small kitchen.

"I don't want to argue," he says and she can see how tired he is. He ought to have been in bed long ago.

"Nor me," she responds and leans against the kitchen table. "Today must have been very difficult for you," she adds.

Charlie nods. "I'll go upstairs."

"I'll be up in a minute," she promises.

"Be careful," he warns and she nods. She miles gently at him and watches him ascend the stairs with slow steps.


"I've known Lady Grantham my entire adult life," Charles says when she arrives upstairs with the tea tray. There are two cups on it. No biscuits though. She wouldn't enjoy sleeping in the crumbs. 


"Here," she brings his mug to his side of the bed. They sleep as much on their own side as if they were in two separate beds, though sometimes, when the moon is right and all the stars are aligned, he puts his arm around her and she feels as if she is in the place she was always meant to be.

To be so safe and cherished is a great blessing and she knows that he loves her. It's in those small moments. They just...

They talked easier when they were both still in his Lordship's employ. They were equals - or as good as. They knew what to expect and what to do with the unexpected. In the cottage everything is new and he is retired against his will and she is so tired. She knows he would love to haunt the halls of Downton but she would like to have his attention whilst he is still alive.