I'm not sure when Elsie was actually meant to have arrived at Downton, but when she was considering leaving with Joe it had sounded like she'd moved there when they'd been stepping out together and for him to have a son old enough to be in the army around 1912-1914, I came up with this year. Although other hints throughout the series suggest she wasn't there as early as this.

Still at the end of the day this is simply a story, I own nothing and if I'm wrong I'm wrong and I hope it doesn't detract from any enjoyment,


1891

There was a bite in the early October air, a chill that seeped into the bones and stung the cheeks. Elsie Hughes shivered, tugging her coat tighter around herself with one hand, the other tightening its grip around the handle of her slightly worn carpet bag, her fingers almost numb from the cold now. As she let out a short puff of air she was incredibly glad of her winter coat, she'd purchased it shortly before leaving Argyll and while it may be dull and more serviceable than fashionable, Elsie was well aware that a pretty pattern wouldn't have stopped her from catching her death.

Steeling herself against a sudden cold gust of wind, her steps picked up in both pace and purpose, wishing she'd had the foresight –or even the money – to buy herself a pair of gloves. Still she'd been assured by the station master that the walk wasn't more than forty minutes and she'd been walking for around thirty five, so she had to be close.

Rounding the corner, her breath caught as she saw that magnificent building for the second time, she didn't think herself as a woman who was easily impressed but this house was truly something else. The house she'd worked for previously had not been nearly so grand, or so big. Her brow furrowed as not for the first time she felt a small niggle of doubt at whether she was capable enough to work in such a large establishment. She shook her head, she was being ridiculous, she did not want to sound too big for her boots, but she knew her abilities and she knew that she would thrive in such a bustling environment, after all this was exactly what she wanted for herself, a career, and this was the closest a woman could get to that.

Her arm aching slightly, she switched her bag between hands and deviated slightly from the main drive, taking the smaller, slightly faded path that she knew led to the servant's entrance. Stepping into the back courtyard, she caught sight of a footman leaning against the wall, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He raised an eyebrow when he saw her, plucking it from between his lips and blowing out a plume of smoke he told her, "You better have an appointment, we don't like cold callers here."

Elsie straightened herself to her full – although not overly impressive height – as she informed him, "I'm not a cold caller, I'm the new head housemaid."

He didn't react, staying slouched against the wall, he jerked his head behind him. "You'll know where Mrs Jones's parlour is then," he stated.

She nodded, replying, "Second door on the right past the kitchen."

"On you go then, I'm on my break and I don't fancy playing escort."

Elsie rolled her eyes as she told him dryly, "Your help has been greatly appreciated."

He looked amused at her reaction and snorting brought the cigarette back to his mouth, as she made her way past him, trying not to tut, it might be his break but he couldn't have been more unhelpful, and if there was something that Elsie despised it was a lack of courtesy, after all manners didn't cost anything.

Still shaking her head she made her way into the back corridor, her eyes taking their time to adjust to the dimly lit space as she moved slowly, not quite as sure of her bearings as she'd let the footman believe. As she made her way round the winding corridor, she felt someone significantly larger than herself and moving a lot quicker than she was collide into her, knocking the breath out of her in a small "Oof," as she stumbled backwards slightly. She felt two big hands wrap around her arms, steadying her on her feet.

Her hand going instinctively to her hat, steadying it, she looked up, craning her neck slightly to look at whoever had walked into her. She heard his voice only seconds before she saw his face, a deep rumble as he told her hurriedly, "Beg pardon, didn't see you there."

"Well you might have done if you'd been paying attention to where you were going," Elsie grumbled uncharitably, she knew instantly that she shouldn't have been so curt but she was tired from travelling and slightly irritated by her welcome so far – not that she'd been silly enough to expect anything spectacular in that respect.

She glared up at him as she took in his broad frame, the wide shoulders, dark hair and Romanesque nose. His eyes narrowed in response, trailing over her now no doubt dishevelled form and she heard his sharp intake of breath as he straightened his shoulders and told her tightly, "I was not expecting a woman to barge in uninvited, let me tell you now that if you are selling something, no one in this house is interested in your wares."

"I am employed here," she replied, her tone icy. "Today is my first day but it would appear that the staff here have better things to do than take the time to orientate me to the building."

She saw that haughty expression of his flicker and then dissipate completely. "Ah," he breathed out. "You are our new head housemaid then," he stated.

"I am." She held out her hand. "Elsie Hughes."

He took her hand, his grip firm, his skin warm, his touch pleasant to her as he replied, "Charles Carson, Valet to his Lordship. I'm assuming that you came across Henry on his break, I doubt he'd let anything smaller than the house going up in flames tear him away from his break." The last sentence was said somewhat grimly, his mouth twisting into a look of disapproval as he muttered grimly, "If Mr Sinclair catches him he'll be in for it...again."

Elsie couldn't help but smile at that comment, letting her hand slide slowly from his. "Well I suppose there's no real harm done," she remarked. "And if I remember rightly from my interview I'm on the right track at least."

"You are," he confirmed. "I'll take you the rest of the way, if that's ok with you of course."

"I'd prefer it," she admitted. "I know roughly where I'm going but the last thing I want to do is wander into the wrong room and make a fool of myself."

He nodded, inclining his head to indicate that she should follow him, she fell into step beside him and he held out his hand, telling her, "I can carry that for you."

She shook her head. "Thank you, but it's not necessary I can assure you, I've managed to carry it from the station, so I'm sure I can manage a few more minutes."

Charles felt his jaw twitch in annoyance, the woman was very obviously too stubborn to accept even the smallest offer of help. "Very well," he told her stiffly. "If that's what you wish."

"I'm not trying to be awkward," she told him, belatedly realising that she most likely sounded incredibly rude. "I just don't want you to go to any bother."

"I'm used to carrying bags," he assured her, "you won't be putting me out."

"Hmm," she muttered; although she didn't relinquish her grip on her bag any. "Well as I've managed this far there seems little point in you carrying it for all of a minute."

"Very well," he replied, slowing his steps ever so slightly so that she could fall in line next to him. "Where in Scotland are you from?" he asked suddenly.

"Argyll."

"And you've been working there?"

"I have, I must say it was in a house much smaller than this though."

"I'm sure you will quickly become accustomed to the way we do things here at Downton, you could not ask for a better family than the Crawleys."

Elsie arched her eyebrow at that statement, letting out a small, "Hmmm." He had seemed so sensible as well, and now it looked like he had a case of securing the blinkers on when it came to the family he worked for. Not that that was so uncommon in large houses such as these, she just simply didn't indulge in it, she knew her place in this world and it didn't do to think yourself any more valuable than anyone else, because to them you would always be replacable.

"A long way for you to travel to find employment though," he continued.

"It is, but I wanted a new challenge, and a house this size is sure to bring that."

"Indeed," Charles agreed as they drew to a stop in front of one of the many doors that was spread out along the corridor. He raised his hand and rapped sharply twice on the door.

"Come in."

He turned and gave her a small but genuine smile. "This is where I leave you, good luck, Miss Hughes and welcome to Downton."

She opened her mouth to tell him he should call her Elsie but she never got the chance, he was already heading back down the corridor, walking quickly but still somehow managing to look completely unhurried. Her mouth quirked into a small smile, he seemed so straight laced and yet she'd seen a flash of dry wit in him that she'd instantly liked. Elise shook herself, she could not stand here dithering all day, after all she had things to do. So straightening her back she stepped confidently into the Housekeeper's parlour.