Written for downton_land's drabble challenge; winner of the third place award.
banner by winterlillies
His childhood had been miserable, his young adulthood a disgrace. In middle age he had arrived at Downton and there was born again.
He never thought of his youth. He never allowed himself to think of his years on stage. When he felt nostalgic it was for those early years as footman, the memories he replayed in his head at night of that innocent time.
Planning half-days together so they could run off to the woods.
He would chase after her, catching her about the waist and swinging her around in the air.
She'd laugh and her lilting voice would murmur sweet words in his ear.
Laying her down in the long grass, in a bed of fallen leaves the color of her hair.
Kissing her lips until they were as red as the berries he'd pick for her along the way.
Dreaming of the day they'd change their world as housekeeper and butler.
If anyone had caught them they would not have thought it innocent. They would have been dismissed without character or reference. If, in their present positions, they found some servant acting as they'd acted, there would be hell to pay. But they'd been different. It wasn't slap-and-tickle. He and Elsie had been as pure as Adam and Eve in Eden, free of sin because sin had not yet been invented. He'd loved her then, for herself and as part of this magical world of Downton.
He sometimes still slipped into her bedroom after the house was asleep. Moonlight kissed her face and her hair covered the pillow like a dark russet river. The years fell away and she was still young and innocent and his. He leaned down to kiss her eyelids, hoping some trace of him entered her dreams.
He loved her and Downton still.