It was, Cora Grantham decided, a good idea to visit. There was grief, the loss of a child held a mind numbing sort of sadness that she knew all too well, but it had been Isobel Crawley who had invited her to teas and events after Sybil had passed. Isobel didn't have the luxury of other family either, without Matthew she was alone in the world.
Well, not alone. Isobel was a Crawley by marriage of course, and everyone at Downton Abbey was making sure to keep her included. Isobel had withdrawn, to her home, and with Mary also grieving and a new child to look after, Cora felt terrible that she hadn't made a point of spending more time seeing to Isobel. The Dowager Countess had agreed with her, that Isobel needed to be taken in hand but so far, all they had managed to was pry the woman out of her home for a walk through the village. A walk where she was making one word replies, even to some of Violet's more pointed barbs. It was hard to believe that even Violet couldn't provoke Isobel out of her depression.
So when the hatless brunette man in the overcoat leapt off the train station platform and hugged Isobel, as appalled as she was, she was also pleased for the distraction.
"Harriet Jones!" The brunette man fairly lifted Isobel off her feet. His attire was casual for a gentleman but not so much so that he couldn't be a gentleman, and he was followed by a red haired woman who was smartly, if plainly attired. She was holding two small suitcases and looked more annoyed and surprised than anything else, while the man was clearly overjoyed. "Harriet!" he said again, setting Isobel down. A puzzled look crossed his face. "But… how are you here? Here in…"
"The village of Downton," Isobel snapped, almost as if she wished to interject before the man said more. "And my name is Isobel Crawley, not Harriet Jones. I don't believe we've been introduced. I am Mrs. Crawley, and this is Lady Grantham and Countess Grantham, of Downton Abbey."
Cora was surprised. Isobel was never one to point out titles, and she also wasn't one to stand on courtesies. On the other hand, the man had bear hugged her off her feet. He seemed momentarily off put, and then recovered.
"I do apologize, Mrs. Crawley." His accent was from London, with a hint of a Scottish burr. "You are just…. So much like an old friend of mine, for a moment I was overcome. May I introduce myself? Sir John Smithton, of Moffat. I came here to study the architecture of the local churches. My doctorate from Oxford is in architecture." He took Cora's hand and kissed it. "I trust, as the lady of the land that you can give me some recommendations?"
Charming, Cora thought as she smiled at him. Not right for Mary, of course, too intellectual and a bit too old, but while Moffat was a mere Scottish village, she seemed to recall it being a well moneyed estate. A cheerful face at dinner would be a blessing, and if Edith found him interesting, all the better. "My, Sir Smithton, I am certain I can make several recommendations, not the least of which is Downton Abbey itself. Where will you be staying?"
He shrugged. "Oh, here and there. I fancy the village has an inn."
Not only was Isobel looking shocked, the Dowager was beginning to scowl. So much the better, Cora thought. We need a little bit of adventure. "How silly, Sir Smithton. Nothing would please me more than to have you stay with us. Please do." She leaned in. "Don't feel it would be a burden. It has been far too long since we've had a houseguest. It would do us good to shake off the cobwebs." Isobel gave her a look of concern, and she stared the older woman down. "It would do us all good, I think."
"Well," Smithton hesitated and then looked at his companion. "I trust you won't mind my bringing my secretary and valet along? I couldn't leave Miss Noble to fend for herself in the village."
Miss Noble scowled quite well at Smithton, Cora noted. Isobel looked almost ill, and Violet looked to be almost at the point of apoplexy. It must be my American side, Cora thought suddenly, because the idea of having a guest so unorthodox that it would put the household into an uproar absolutely delights me. The notion of Carson's expression at hearing about a female valet made her want to hide in the servants hall just so she could see it.
"Oh Sir Smithton, we certainly have room for an extra valet. Please say yes." She smiled coquettishly.
Smithton gave Isobel an odd look, and Cora noted that she nodded almost unperceptively, as if agreeing that the man could accept the offer. Violet was almost the shade of her name, which made it so much the better when he said, "With such a charming invitation, how could I say no?"
"I'll call for the car, then," she said brightly. Hopefully, she thought as they continued on, this is the spark we've needed since Matthew's death.
John Bates struggled not to let the smile that wanted to come cross his face. He knew Charles "Dancing Charlie" Carson well enough to know how he'd react to the news. A smile would offend the older man. He gave Anna a wink and a warning nod. She wasn't as good at hiding her amusement, her mouth was a thin line but her eyes were twinkling as Carson took in the news that Mrs. Hughes had brought.
"A female valet?" Carson roared. He clutched his chest dramatically. It occurred to Bates suddenly that it was a genuine shame Carson had left the theater. The man had a way of leading an audience to where he wanted it to go. "The war has brought us so low, the shame of using women as servers at dinner… but a female valet? Will the horrors never end?"
Anna bit her lip to stop from laughing while the other servants looked concerned or outraged. "Now Mr. Carson, Sir Smithton said she was his secretary and valet. And if I have learned anything from Mr. Bates, "and Bates smiled at her, to encourage the point she was making, "it's that a valet and a lady's maid do mostly the same things. We tend to their clothes, sew buttons, shine shoes, check their schedule…"
"And when was the last time you drew a bath for Lord Grantham, Anna?" Carson said sternly. "And brought his bathing robe to him? Or shaved him? Those are duties of a proper valet! Duties that it is not appropriate for a woman to perform in this or in any decent household!" The old man had a point with that, Bates had to admit, although Lord Grantham wasn't one to request those services often. A valet and a lady's maid did have similar duties, he and Anna had often compared their duties with amusement over the similarities. Still, as much as he liked Lord Grantham, he wouldn't like it if Anna was required to draw the man a bath and set out his clothes while he washed. No, that was crossing a line.
"Well, maybe she's a little more than just a valet," Jimmy drawled. "She's not a bad looker… Who knows what goes on when the dressing gong sounds and the doors are closed… right Mr. Barrow?"
Barrow snickered, his expression sly. Carson turned bright red, too shocked by the suggestion to do more than sputter ineffectively. At that moment, the object of the stir entered the servants hall. Not a bad looker at all, he had to admit, quite an Irish beauty although he'd heard her speak enough already to know she hailed from further south. She took in the room with a glance and then nodded to Carson.
"I must extend my apologies, Mr. Carson," the woman said, her tone stern. Bates waited. She reminded him of O'Brien and that one was prone to cutting people with words like an artist with a sculptor's knife.
Carson didn't see it. "I beg your pardon, Miss Smithton?"
"I must apologize for overhearing the loud unpleasant assessment of my skills that resounded through the floor to where I could hear them coming down the stairs." Miss Smithton's expression took on the caste of a spitting viper. "But since questions have been loudly asked, I feel I must address them. I am employed by Sir Smithton as his valet and secretary. The few tasks of a valet that are inappropriate for a woman to perform, no matter that a woman is far more likely to be skilled at them, are things that Sir Smithton prefers to handle on his own, as he is a very independent man… as you will all learn, I am sure. In compensation for not doing those tasks, I assist Sir Smithton, who is also a doctor of architecture as a secretary. I handle his extensive correspondence with the university, I manage his appointments. I take notes for him in shorthand, and I type his work for him and proofread his papers. Do you type, Mr. Carson?"
"I do not!" he sputtered after a moment.
"A pity," she said curtly. "In the coming years, I suspect many employers will need a secretary far more than they will a valet. Or a butler. " She turned her attention to the younger men. "As for the ugly allegations someone was making about my character…. I accept that in a household such as this that new ideas and positions are going to lead to remarks, so I take no offense… now. However, if I hear such unkind and unproven allegations about my employer and his intent towards me again, I will be forced to discuss them with my employer. My employer who is an invited guest in the home of your lordship and lady. Am I being clear?"
Fiery temper to go with the hair, but he had to admit, he admired how she handled it. By rights, she could have demanded Jimmy be disciplined. Carson too, although Bates was fairly sure Lord Grantham would find the whole business tiresome. By addressing it, she acknowledged the problem, defended her honor, and also made it plain she didn't intend to spend the entire time fending off the puerile thoughts and comments of the staff. Well done, Miss Smithton, he thought to himself as Carson fairly shook from shock and rage. There aren't many who render the butler speechless.
It was like being stuck in an episode of Upstairs Downstairs, Donna thought as she took a seat at the table for dinner. She tried to be fair, she doubted any of the people sitting at the table would enjoy or even want to live in her world, but she doubted the Doctor understood the problems she was facing. Her granddad, Wilfred, had gotten his start at Downton Abbey, as a hall boy and later a gamekeeper, just like his mother and grandfather had, so she had a fondness for the place. She had been to the estate as a child, her grandfather so proud to show her the follies and the place where the lord himself, Lord Grantham, had taken delight in young Wilfred's homemade telescope and later sponsored him to Ripon School. It hadn't come to much, Gramps had confessed to not being much of a scholar, but she rather thought his fondness for the monarchy stemmed from his childhood at Downton Abbey.
At the same time, looking at the stern black and white photos of her great grandparents and their peers was much different than dealing with their stuffy attitudes in person. Not that they were all bad, of course. The head housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, had kindly told her to come to her with any concern or need. Of course there had been a veiled question or two about the nature of her relationship with the Doctor. Really, she wondered if leaving a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey lying around might shut a few of them up. The Doctor owes me big time for this, she decided as she tasted the admittedly delicious veal pie that Mrs. Patmore had made. No doubt he was having the time of his life chumming with the ex Prime Minister Jones and her cronies.
Only of course, that was hardly fair. It was the possible the Doctor was wrong. He had even admitted it, as they had pretended to adhere to the pretense that she was dressing him for dinner, that Isobel Crawley was possibly just Isobel Crawley and not Harriet Jones, ex-MP of Flydale North, ironically the very district Downton Abbey belonged to in the future, and ex Prime Minister of Great Britain. She was clearly much older and judging by the awkward lack of conversation on the drive to Downton Abbey, she certainly hadn't even hinted that she was anything other than a friend of the Grantham family. But at last check, Harriet Jones was supposed to be in England of the future and the Doctor felt it needed to be investigated.
Although what he thought he needed to do, she didn't know. She had a feeling he didn't know either, but she agreed with him that it was worth looking into. There was an odd feel to the place, she couldn't put her finger on it. Not bad, not at all, but not right, as if she had pieces to a puzzle that needed to be put into place. She'd had that feeling about the Ood. So had the Doctor, although he hadn't admitted it until after, but she wasn't going to disregard it. Something about Downton wasn't right, and it wasn't just Harriet Jones being a century out of sync. She pushed back the plate as the cook, Mrs. Patmore, entered the hall. "Mrs. Patmore, I must compliment you. That was possibly the best veal pie I've had since my grandmother passed… god rest her soul." It was fun to use all of her grandmother's pet phrases.
Mrs. Patmore, a rotund woman who looked like every cook that ever existed in a period novel, beamed at the praise. "Well, as much as it does my heart good to hear someone appreciate what's put before them, it were Daisy who made the servants supper." She leaned in almost like a conspirator. "She's a good girl, she is but if I praise her, she gets all hoity toity. But if you say something kind, she'll be over the moon. Daisy!"
Donna tried not to wince at the screeching shout and she was pleasantly surprised that a few people did openly wince. Even the young girl that came out of the kitchen looked suspicious, as if knowing all too well that having her name shouted meant bad news. Still, she had to admit, Patmore was right. As she repeated her praise, the young girl almost glowed with pleasure.
Mrs. Hughes smiled as Patmore and Daisy left the hall. "That was very kind, Miss Smithton."
"It's not kind at all, it's true," Donna said easily. Her plan, such as it was, was to present herself as friendly and helpful to the female staff. The old butler, Carson, had taken against her simply because tradition allowed him to, and she knew from her grandfather that servants on a large estate wielded more power than what they seemed. In a large estate like Downton, that meant that Hughes the head housekeeper held nearly as much power as Carson. "I always thought good work should be rewarded and cooking is an art. Trust me, you don't want to see me in the kitchen. We'd all be eating charcoal."
"I dare say we've done that a few times," Hughes said with a chuckle, "But Daisy has come along well, I must say. I didn't have a chance to ask earlier, does Sir Smithton have any special needs or preferences? With him arriving unexpectedly, we didn't have anything prepared but Lord and Lady Grantham do like to show hospitality."
Where to start with that, Donna wondered. Rather than be honest and explain the Doctor could eat almost anything including charcoal, because he was an alien Time Lord, she decided to spare herself some explanation. "Oh Sir Smithton is quite easy to please. A warm bed, good food, and pleasant company, and he'll keep himself quite entertained. Likes to shock people with his stories, and a bit of a know it all but he's a kind man. The staff here won't have any trouble pleasing him and he's not one to complain," unless someone was murdering or committing genocide or plotting to destroy Earth, "and he's a bit of a flirt but not… not shockingly so." In a lower voice, she added, "there's no need to be concerned about advances. Sir Smithton has an… unorthodox sense of humor but he's quite respectable."
Hughes looked relieved. "That's welcome news. And thank you, Miss Smithton. I won't deny it, I worried that having a woman in such a…. different role, in the household, would make for problems, but I am glad to see you're a responsible and respectable woman who understands how things are done." Hughes gave a knowing, stern look to the young housemaids at the other end of the table and departed as one of the room bells rang.
Donna decided to drop the stern act. She looked at the lady's maid, Anna and winked. "Did I pass inspection?"
Anna smiled. "I think so. It's Mr. Carson who finds it all too shocking but if Lord Grantham likes Sir Smithton, or if Sir Smithton manages to cheer Lady Mary or Mrs. Crawley up, then he'll be grudgingly kind to you." Anna sipped her tea and then set the cup down. "I don't mean to be forward, Miss Smithton, but I am curious. How did you come to be employed as a valet… and not a lady's maid?"
A fair enough question considering it was December of 1921 and not 2009. It didn't escape her that the older lady's maid, introduced earlier as O'Brien, pricked her ears. Lady Grantham's maid, which meant she was likely to report back. "I was trained to be a secretary for university professors, but my grandda was a valet at a big estate and he thought it was important for a woman to know how to tend a man's clothes. Sir Smithton hired me as his secretary right before the war began." Being in the war was a big deal, she knew that, and that meant she had to protect the Doctor's honor. "He volunteered of course, but his heart…. "
"Like ," Anna said quickly.
"Lucky to be well out of it," O'Brien muttered.
"We spend a lot of time out of country," Donna said. "New York, Pompeii, Greece, China, Japan… Now he's studying church buildings and he thought York would have some nice ones to look at."
"He should talk to Lady Edith," Anna offered. She turned to O'Brien, amused. "Remember how keen she used to be about churches…"
"Keen for Mr. Crawley more like it," O'Brien snapped, "and I doubt he ever so much as glanced at her. That one never had eyes for anyone but Lady Mary, not even Miss Swire, for all he used to protest." She set down her mending and sighed. "I don't pretend to be sentimental, but Mr. Crawley had a kind soul and an unlucky life and I feel all the poorer knowing he's gone."
Anna, Donna noted, seemed genuinely surprised and touched by what O'Brien said. She'd already gotten enough of the dynamic to know that O'Brien wasn't well liked by any number of the staff. Anna nodded to the older lady's maid. "I think we all feel that way, Miss O'Brien. Lady Mary has been so sad… It's cast a dark cloud over the house, and I think with the holidays so close, we're all reminded . "
A tragedy, Donna realized. Lady Grantham had alluded to it as well, in discussing how they hadn't had guests since some incident. "I'm sorry… we have been out of the country for a while. Has there been a death in the family?"
"Mr. Crawley," Anna said. "Matthew Crawley, Lord Grantham's heir… He was to be the next Lord Grantham. He married Lord Grantham's daughter and they had a baby boy, little George, and Mr. Crawley was…. Driving from the hospital to give everyone the good news and was killed in a car accident. "Tears welled up in Anna's eyes, and O'Brien dabbed her own face with a handkerchief. "It just… after all he and Lady Mary had been through, it just seemed so terribly cruel. He was only thirty years old and had survived the war despite being severely wounded."
Which was all the more interesting, Donna thought, because she knew it wasn't true. Her grandfather had met Lord Matthew Grantham when he was a small child and Gramps hadn't been born until 1934. Gramps had been as fond as Anna and O'Brien were, describing Lord Grantham as a kind, intelligent man who jumped at loud noises "because he was in the Great War" and Gramps had admired him. Which was impossible if Matthew Crawley died in 1921.
John Smithton was quite droll, Robert Grantham had to admit. Mary of course, spent the meal either glaring at everyone for daring to laugh at the man's witty stories, or off in her own little world of agony and grief. That's unkind, he chastised himself as they moved into the parlor. Mary was devastated by the loss of Matthew, and as much as having baby George helped, it was still just three months. If, god forbid, it had been Cora, he doubted he'd be functioning half as well.
The others though, had enjoyed having a fresh face at dinner, even Isobel who had been grieving nearly as hard. The Dowager Countess of course had scowled all through the dinner, a bit more than normal really, and Carson had only eased off the stern looks as the dishes were cleared and Mary chose to join them for the after dinner conversation. That meant despite her grief, even she had enjoyed the evening, and if Mary was pleased, then Carson would personally insist on all guests having female valets.
"So, Sir Smithton," he said as he poured a cordial, "Cora tells me you're studying architecture. You must be far cleverer than I. I barely managed to learn to sketch at Eton. I trust you'll at least look over Downton for your study."
"Oh certainly," Smithton said. He sipped the proffered drink appreciatively . "You have excellent spirits, Lord Grantham, and excellent staff."
"Thank you," Robert said, grateful to have it acknowledged. He was about to say more when he looked out the window. "Oh damn it."
"What is it?" Smithton asked. He looked out the window in time to see the odd, colorful display of lights coming from the cemetery. "Oh, now that is interesting."
"Keep your voice down," Robert hissed but it was already too late. Branson, Edith and Violet all walked over to the windows to look, and the secret he had been trying to keep was out.
"What is that?" Edith asked as the bright lights flickered in sequence. That drew everyone's attention and Robert was at a loss what to say. As everyone peered out the windows, he felt he had to say something.
"The young gamekeeper assistant, Mott, reported this last month and the month before," he said calmly, hoping that no one made a point of considering the dates. Mary understood, and so did Isobel, and he grieved at the pain he was causing them. He had no doubt that whatever was going on, it was unrelated to the monthly anniversary of Matthew's death. "We're not sure why it's happening, we don't catch anyone…." And by god there will be guards on the cemetery next month, damn the cost.
There was some muttered conversation and then Smithton smiled brightly. "You must have someone well read on the Sycorax tribe of British Columbia. They're doing a delightful imitation of the Sycorax blood taunt."
"A blood taunt?" Edith asked, her interest aroused. Of course, Robert thought darkly, of course Edith had to ask a question.
"Oh yes," Smithton said, obviously warming to his topic. "The Sycorax have a nasty habit of capturing the child of their enemy and letting the enemy think the child is dead. Then they go to the grave of the child and send up fireworks, to let the enemy's family know they have the child and are treating it as befits a child of the enemy."
"How dreadful," Cora said. Edith looked appropriately horrified at well, while Violet looked far angry than he expected. Tom was at Isobel's side, and Robert understood why instantly. Isobel had gone an off shade of grey, and Tom gently steered her to a chair. Someone with a good head, Robert thought, considering for the first time that he thought of Tom as family.
"But why," Edith asked. "Why be so terrible?"
"Many reasons," Smithton said. He fairly leapt across the room in his need to keep everyone involved. "The Sycorax believe in blood vengeance. If they are wronged by an enemy, they believe in making sure their enemy knows how much their captured children suffer. Sometimes, the enemy doesn't even know until the blood taunt begins, that the child has been captured."
"Well," Cora said, "the savages are known for unpleasant behavior."
Trust Cora to say the right thing, Robert thought as the discussion veered back toward more pleasant topics.