Author's Note: I would like to continue with my Bertie POV stories in the days following the Ritz conversation, but I'm studying for some extremely important exams so it may be a few more weeks before another one of those stories comes out of me. In the interim, this little story below took root in my mind and wouldn't let up until I wrote it out. I hope you like it.
Bertie looked around the library at Downton where everyone was settling in for afternoon tea feeling quite pleased. He and Edith had been married for three months and this was their first visit back to her family's home since their wedding. He already knew he got along well with everyone but he was embarrassed to admit he had been a little nervous about this first visit. He wasn't sure why, he knew that Robert and Cora liked and approved of him greatly. He got along famously well with Tom and Henry and he and Mary were quite… amiable with each other. He supposed it was likely just insecurity that Edith and Marigold might feel heartache over any nostalgia for their former home. However, he had been thrilled that that had not seemed to have been a problem at all. Edith had been his companion and kept close to him most of the time during the visit and in certain situations, behaved much like a visitor, without standing on any visitor formalities as she was still a family member. The way she had been with him throughout this visit had made his love for her grow even more, and he didn't think that would have been possible. He knew he loved her for who she was more than anything in the world, but this trip had made him realize just how much he loved their relationship and their marriage. They were partners; they were on the same wavelength and seemed to understand each other almost perfectly. Together with Marigold, they truly were a team.
Marigold, for her part, seemed pleased to see her cousins again, but otherwise her behaviour was quite unchanged from the last three months, which had been spent at Brancaster. All of this affirmed to Bertie that he truly was a very lucky and very happy man.
During the afternoon tea in the library that day, everyone seemed to be deep in conversation. Bertie was talking business with Tom on one of the two red couches with Mary, Edith and Cora seated across on the second couch. Henry and Robert were standing over near the window, deep in conversation. No sooner had Tom begun to explain a new farming technique about the pigs to Bertie when Nanny opened the library door and brought all three children bustling in, filled with excitement. Tom and Bertie both stopped talking and watched as the children approached. Bertie watched George walk over to Mary's open arms who gave him a quick hug and smiled at him as she asked him a question that Bertie didn't quite hear. Bertie enjoyed seeing Mary with her son. He couldn't help but notice that the stern lines on her face all softened when her son requested her attention. Motherhood may not have been a natural fit for her, but it made her appear more vulnerable and, consequently more open and relatable to him. Bertie realized that if he and Mary were ever going to forge a friendship and relate to each other in any way, it would most likely be over their mutual love for their children.
Sibbye and Marigold ran in together, right after George. Marigold got sidetracked by the toys near the window and her loving 'Donk' who had already bent down to give her his full attention. Bertie stole a glance at his wife. Edith was no longer really listening to Mary and Cora and was watching Marigold intently with what he noticed was a serene smile, with a tiniest hint of sadness. Bertie didn't like that, and he made a mental note to ask Edith if she was alright later on. Sybbie, however, was not to be thus distracted. She ran right up to Tom, smiled at him as wide as she could, smacked her hands down on each of his knees and yelled "Hi Daddy!" Bertie realized that he loved watching Tom interact with his daughter. He really was an excellent parent. He immediately leaned forward, placed his own hands on his thighs and yelled "Hi daughter!" Sibbye just smiled lovingly back at her father and was clearly waiting for something. Tom tilted his face to his side, pointed at his cheek and said "Aren't you going to give your daddy a kiss?" Sibbye jumped up and planted one on her father's cheek and swiftly ran away over to join Marigold with the toys and their grandfather near the window. Bertie watched Tom smile as he watched his daughter settle in and immediately pick up a wooden train.
Bertie remarked to Tom: "Sibbye's become quite a confident little girl, you must love that."
Tom smiled in response and quickly replied "Yes – indeed. She certainly takes after her mother. Does her own thing, the thoughts and opinions of others, be damned! I must say, I love that she got that tenacious spirit from Sybil. It pleases me to no end, Bertie, I can tell you…"
Tom continued to talk about similarities between his daughter and his late wife but Bertie's attention was split as he saw Marigold slowly approach Edith. Edith quickly picked Marigold up and placed her on her lap. Bertie tried to keep listening to Tom, but he immediately stopped and quickly transferred his gaze and attention fully and directly to Edith when he heard what Marigold said next.
Marigold had looked a little hesitant, and chewed on the end of her finger for a second, but then had looked Edith straight in the eyes and asked Edith: "Um….. Are you …my mummy? I think you're my mummy….."
Bertie wasn't the only one whose attention was diverted by this remark. He quickly noticed that Tom, Mary, Cora, Robert and Henry had all suddenly gone silent and were listening with rapt attention. Bertie's heart was racing. Just a few days earlier, he and Edith had discussed this very topic. What was Marigold to call them? Yes she was Edith's daughter, but that wasn't common knowledge nor would it be in the near future. However, in order to make her living at Brancaster as smooth and seamless as possible, they had decided that they would treat her as if she were their own child. A daughter, and not simply a ward. Unofficially, the story would be that Bertie and Edith would adopt this little girl as a child of their own, but officially it would be only Bertie that would adopt her, since Edith was already a legal guardian. Then, since Marigold was starting to talk in full sentences more and more, they would sit her down and have a chat with her so she would know from very early on in her young life that they were her new "Mummy" and "Daddy" forever. And that she could count on them.
However, they had not yet implemented this plan into action. And Marigold had just forced the issue. Bertie loved that, like mother like daughter, Marigold was far too smart and got to the finish line before anyone else and had figured out what's what. And although the quick wit of his stepchild delighted him to no end, the more immediate threat was for Edith, since Marigold had swiftly put her mother right in it. In addition, everyone, including Bertie, were waiting with bated breath to see how Edith would respond.
Edith looked shocked and nervous and quickly stole a glance at Bertie, but she didn't leave her daughter waiting as she immediately replied:
"Why Marigold, how clever you are! Yes I am your mummy. And I will always be your mummy, darling."
Bertie was pleased, Edith had responded in a firm and complete answer but that still left room for them to have the talk with Marigold to make sure she really understood the certainty of it. Clearly, that talk would have to happen as soon as possible.
Bertie watched as Marigold didn't hesitate to climb up and wrap her little arms around Edith's neck into a tight embrace. Edith immediately looked very emotional and Bertie was very sympathetic. This was the first time she had openly acknowledged her identity to her daughter and he could only imagine the emotional impact this was having for her. He felt emotionally affected by the whole exchange and he was merely a bystander. Bertie kept his eyes firmly on his wife and watched as Marigold whispered something in Edith's ear that caused Edith's entire face to contract as she fought back tears.
The room was so silent as everyone was paying such close attention to this monumental exchange. The hug broke and Edith brought Marigold back in front to face her and responded, "I love you too, Marigold" and Bertie suddenly felt a surge of pride and pleasure as he realized what had just happened. Marigold must have just whispered "I love you" to her mother, knowing it was her mother, for the very first time.
Bertie made a mental note to remember every detail of this entire exchange because he knew this would be a moment that Edith would want to remember for a long time to come. He smiled as he watched his wife and her daughter smiling at each other.
Edith had gained a renewed strength and vigor and decided to break the silence in the room. She looked at Marigold and said "Would you like me to play dollies with you and Donk?"
However, to Bertie's, and probably everyone's surprise, Marigold quickly said "No", and climbed down from Edith's lap.
Bertie noticed that Edith looked taken aback and a tiny bit hurt as she replied "Oh. Um, Alright!". Bertie didn't have long to reflect on Edith's reaction since it became clear that Marigold was headed straight for him. She walked straight across to where he was seated, stood a little awkwardly right in front of him, looked him straight in the eyes and said:
"Will you play dollies with me and Donk?"
Bertie smiled widely at his beloved little girl and said "Absolutely!"
As he stood up and scooped Marigold up into his arms, he heard Mary let out a little laugh and say "How quickly you've been passed over!" Cora also chimed in and said "Dear, don't take it too personally, motherhood sometimes has little disappointments like that, it's just part of the package!"
Edith didn't look assuaged by these comments and Bertie knew exactly how he could do better. While holding Marigold in his arms, he quickly rebuffed both Mary and Cora's comments and said to his wife "No no, darling. You haven't been passed over. Marigold now knows that she's sure of you, that's all. So next, she's setting to work on me."
And that did it. Edith was beaming at Bertie and looked like she had a renewed fortitude. Bertie saw that the confidence he knew she possessed had regained top billing in her composure. He also noticed that Cora was beaming with pleasure at Bertie as well, clearly thrilled with his interpretation of the interaction. Mary looked impressed but resigned to say nothing.
Bertie turned his attention to Marigold who was looking at him expectantly. He smiled at her as goofily as he could manage and said "Shall we?" and took his daughter over to the window, where she, Robert, Sibbye and Bertie all sat down and immediately began to play together. As Bertie followed Marigold's lead on what toys to use and how, he felt a renewed sense of gratitude for how everything had worked out. The entire situation of Marigold's parentage could have been an insurmountable obstacle if left to the controls of someone unworthy to the charge, but he knew that; together with his brilliant and beautiful wife, they were handling it very well and Marigold was in for a loving, stable home with two parents who adore her and each other, as well as any siblings that may come along as future members of their team.