Elsie stopped in her tracks so suddenly that the momentum bent her forward. She looked winded by delighted surprise. Her eyes grew to two huge, shining pools and expressed such clear and infectious pleasure that were it not for Mairead's surety that the panicked thump of her heart had broken open some formerly secret well of hot dread, causing her every inch to be flooded and poisoned by the stuff, she would have smiled along.

Elsie choked back a gleeful laugh, letting only the barest squeal through her throat, then spun on her heels and was gone. Mairead tried to follow after, but found herself swooning. She wasn't a weak girl, she knew what work was, but this was all too much. Rich happiness usurped by shameful disappointment, resolve knocked by surprise and confusion. Now this. Elsie wouldn't have to lie, merely report what she'd seen for Mairead to be stripped of her job and her respectability with it. And then what? With that question came the sensation that her world was starting to crumble, and her knees evidently buckled under the pressure.

She felt a hand grab at her elbow and not get a good enough grip. 'No no. Horizontal on the storeroom floor is not at all the best of ideas in our current situation.' The floor felt cold through her skirts and apron, and was actually a refreshing and solid comfort to her in that state. A phrase familiar from home came to lips and she mumbled lightly, 'Well I can't fall any further now'. The hand found her elbow again, with a sure grip this time, 'Not if we get a move on' said the young Master, lifting her to her feet, 'now which way was that bell?'.

Being set upright again helped to clear Mairead's head, or at least convince her that a clear head was something to aim for. She started forward, yanking her elbow free at the same time, 'It's just here'. They stepped in to find Elsie waiting with arms folded and an expression of serene contentment on her face. She stiffened a touch when her eyes took in the young Master. 'Ever so dreadfully sorry to've disturbed you, I do beg your pardon. Shan't happen again though I imagine. Not where you're going at any rate' she added to Mairead.

'You rung the bell have you?' The young Master asked. Elsie nodded as though he'd asked her if the masterpiece behind her was all her own work. 'I thank you. I believe my Mother is expecting me and she'll be glad that you've informed the household of my arrival. I do assume you've nothing else to say. Because if you have, let me remind you it'll be your word against my own. And you'd be a damned fool not to see how that would end up.'

If Elsie had any response to this it would have to wait. Harrow, the man of work walked in, trying to hide his surprise and confusion.

(A very short chapter. When I posted number 2 yesterday I said there'd be another today and now I've run out of time to write more!)