Warning: spoilers for the entire series, both in the fic and the postscript.
"Are you warm enough?"
"I am when you're holding my hand."
As I approach, bearing the salver in my hand, carefully balanced, just so - slightly canted so that the letter remains in the proper position - I will right it just as I present it - I worry.
Yes, I am Carson - Mr Carson, butler of Downton Abbey (silly telephone - I can't get my answering voice down in my head) - and it is my job to worry. About cooks and housemaids bickering over storeroom keys. About a valet who has developed from a limping nuisance to a quiet pillar, holding everything around him still whilst holding secrets locked deep within his heart - and only a certain gold-haired head housemaid seems to be able to unlock them. Intrepid girl, that.
Oh, yes, but my worries - they extend much farther than simple duties of housekeeping. After all, a butler's job is not merely to behave with dignity (met an interesting footman the other day - Stevens by name - who was rather obsessed with the word), but also the well-being of the family.
And this family requires worrying about in that respect at this moment. Lady Mary - I know in the eyes of the world she has committed evil. No doubt she is often wrong - her comments to her sisters are not quite the thing. But when I think back to when she was tiny, in white skirts and tugging at my sleeve and whispering, "Carson, why must I?" I, of course, responded, "Because your father says so." Even then, though, a minute fraction of my soul wished to say, "You don't have to, dear." Today, her spirit seemed almost broken - and yet, I will do everything I can to ensure it rises again.
But before me - this noble man and his beautiful wife - once a desperate, impoverished aristocrat, callously seeking a foreign fortune, and his bride, a lonely, brash, love-starved, loving girl - they are the centre of our world. Mine, at least. And right now, they are such a fragile centre. I look at the connection between them - the hands held over the blanket covering her reclining form - and realize it's almost as if they are clinging desperately as they plummet off a cliff. They smile, the sunlight falls like airy rain about them, cheerily ignorant to the fact that they have just lost...
Well, it's not worth dwelling on. Suffice to say I look at my employer and I am never more worried in my life.
Yet I have never been prouder to serve this family either.
"Your lordship, this has just arrived for you."
Postscript (I'm reluctant to entitle this "Author's note" out of fear of presumption - the piece is pretentious enough as it is :-): I just finished the lovely (if suffering from an overly overt dialogue style, and perhaps too little attention to the passage of time) first series of the period drama Downton Abbey. I was really taken with many of the characters - from the noble Lord and Lady of the Abbey, to their spoiled yet still somehow loveable first daughter Mary (who I expected to hate, but ended up feeling very strongly for, as her character underwent rape (in my opinion), betrayal, and first real love), to the hardworking and utterly brimming with integrity servants - especially the lovely Bates and Anna, scullery maid Daisy, and of course, stalward butler Carson.
When I finished the series I really had the urge to write a piece about it - partly because of my intense admiration and emotional investment in the characters, and partially because I watched the series knowing about the miscarriage. Such an event is incredibly traumatic (and bravo to the writer, director, and actors for the scene of the Earl weeping - I wish we'd gotten a similar scene of the Countess, but we can't have everything, and it probably would have been redundant), and I can't help but read an intense, glass-like fragility to their smiles and handholding in the final scene.
I toyed with making it from the Earl's perspective, but I felt it would be too maudlin. So I went with the butler, who already had great sympathy from me because of a) his wonderfully rich deep voice; b) his incredible skill as an actor; c) his previous appearance in Andrew Davies' The Way We Live Now (adapted from the novel by Trollope). Astute period drama/literature fans will note the Remains of the Day joke I threw in there.
I hope it's enjoyable - and now I've gone and made the postscript nearly as long as the fic itself.