Mrs. Patmore was the first up each morning and always woke the kitchen staff. Most grumbled under their breath and kicked off the covers with reluctance but a few turned over and buried their head under the pillow. It was a thankless job with long hours and constant footwork. She was accustomed to it and did not complain as she traipsed downstairs, knowing within a half hour that Mrs. Hughes and Carson and the rest would be up and about, having done more before the Crawley family woke than the upstairs lot would do all day. As she set about starting a fire in the range and searching for her favorite kettle, she glanced up as Daisy entered, rubbing sleep from her eyes. "You're a sore sight," said the cook disapprovingly, "were you up late again, Daisy?"
"Not on purpose! I couldn't sleep!"
For once the older woman did not chastise her, shaking her head as she got the fire going and noted the charred remains of a sensational magazine in the ashes. So Mrs. Hughes had burned another one, had she? "I don't know why you read those dreadful things," she said as Daisy dumped the lot into the trash bin. "Full of murder and gore, you ought not to be filling your head with it! I've a good mind to give Thomas a tongue-lashing for giving it to you!"
"Oh, don't, he didn't mean no harm by it!"
The cook snorted loudly. "No harm! Indeed, I'm sure he did not."
Soon the rest of the girls appeared and set about their work, hiding massive yawns behind curled fingers. Their soft tread had awoken Mrs. Hughes and upstairs she prepared for the day, buttoning up her collar and hooking her key ring to her belt. Smoothing down any defiant strands of hair, she opened her door and was shocked to find Lady Mary standing outside it. Her pale features were more grim than usual and she looked as if she would rather be anywhere else. They stared at one another for a moment and then Mrs. Hughes asked, "May I be of service, Lady Mary?"
Courage was difficult in such an hour but somehow Mary found it, her tone lacking its usual life as she said, "You can answer some questions for me. May I?" She indicated the small room and Mrs. Hughes could hardly deny her, stepping aside as the young woman entered. Her eyes wandered, unsurprised that Mrs. Hughes refrained from the usual dressings that accompanied a personal space; there were no photographs or clippings on the walls, only a small watercolor painting. It was cold and she rubbed her arms, her voice quiet as she said, "Please shut the door."
Mrs. Hughes did as she was told as Mary stared out the window toward the stables. She now did not know what to say and an awkward silence lingered between them. It grew louder the longer it went on and Mrs. Hughes soon rescued her. "You want to know about Lucy," she surmised, a note of resignation in her voice.
Groping for the nearest chair, Mary asked, "How did you know?"
"Anna said something about it." Mrs. Hughes picked up the chair and moved it into the center of the room for her, Mary settling on it with dread mingled with curiosity. Outside, a few early birds began to sing, muffled through the closed window. It was customary for Mrs. Hughes to wake the maids but she could hear them stirring on their own. "How much do you remember? You were very young at the time."
"Not much, just… the incident on the stairs and… what happened in the red room."
Mrs. Hughes had hoped she would not remember that and moved away from the door. It was an unpleasant memory for both of them. Mary remembered clearly that she had hidden under the bed that afternoon to get away from Edith. It was a large old bedstead with a fairly wide space underneath, enough for her to lay on her stomach in comfort and turn through the pages of her picture book. She had been undisturbed until voices had come along the corridor and the door had opened, admitting a pair of boots as Lucy had darted into the room.
"I've told you, Fred, you can't be here! If Mrs. Hughes finds you, she'll skin you alive!"
"What does Mrs. Hughes matter? I don't want you here, the others filling your head with grand ideas. I want you to come back with me to the farm."
Mary had not moved, knowing she was not supposed to be there, watching the two sets of feet.
Crossing to the window, Lucy said, "I like it here. They are kind to me. You don't know them!"
"I know that ever since you've been here, you've been different!"
There was a forced laugh and the maid shifted uneasily. "I'm the same as I always was, just a proper maid now. I can't leave, Lady Grantham wouldn't like it. And I can't afford not to work! It may as well be here as anywhere!"
He walked away from her, but not with the intention of leaving. The door swung shut and Mary felt tension fill the room as he said, "It's him isn't it? He's the reason you don't want to leave. You've thrown me over for him."
"What are you talking about?"
The pair of shoes came nearer. "The stable boy, I've seen how you look at him."
Stunned silence and then, "I don't look at him in any particular way!"
"Don't lie to me!" he shouted.
Under the bed, Mary flinched and tried to be as small as possible. Lucy had fallen silent.
Gathering his composure, he said with forced calmness, "I want you to be my wife, Lucy. I can't have any lies."
"But I'm not lying! I don't love anyone but you, Freddie!"
All Mary saw was a pair of shoes crossing the room toward the maid but she heard a cry as he slammed Lucy against the armoire, causing it to shake as the hinges squealed. He snarled something she did not hear and then backhanded her, sending her crashing to the floor. The first thing Lucy saw was Mary under the bed and they stared at one another in horror. Behind them, the door opened and Mary was shocked how fast Carson crossed the room. The wall reverberated as he slammed Freddie against it. The younger man was no match for him and could not retaliate, only protest at the top of his lungs. Mrs. Hughes appeared in the doorway, aghast.
Lucy scrambled to her feet. "Please don't hurt him, Mr. Carson!"
"I won't, but I will have the pleasure of throwing him out of Downton!"
Hand firmly gripping the man's collar, Carson hauled him out of the room and Lucy ran after them. Mrs. Hughes would have gone as well had not she seen a familiar teddy bear peering out from under the edge of the bed. Heart sinking, she approached and knelt on the floor to look under it, finding Mary wide-eyed and small, lurking in the darkness. Her eyes closed for a moment and with a steady, compassionate voice she said, "It's all right now, you can come out, Mary."
For a moment the child could not move and then, finding immense comfort in the woman's presence, she inched forward, reaching for the housekeeper with trembling hands. "The bad man was mean to Lucy," she said.
Picking up the teddy bear and keeping the little girl's hand in hers, Mrs. Hughes said, "Yes, but he's gone now, and he'll never come back. Carson will see to that."
It was evident how much Mary adored Carson. She still did and remembering what he had done brought a little color back into her face as she sat in the solitary room upstairs. Mrs. Hughes moved nearer and said, "You were not all right, but you became more so in time."
Birds continued to whistle in the gardens as light crept toward them, infiltrating all the corners and corridors of the great old house. Mary said, "I never saw him again."
"No, though that was in part owing to your father, who said if the man ever returned, he'd see him shot."
Her brow furrowed as she tried to remember the rest, but all she could muster was her father's indignation in the drawing room when he learned what had happened. Mary said, "But she fell down the stairs, didn't she?"
"She did. Lucy was forgiving. It was never entirely his fault, not in her mind. It never is, you see, not with men of that sort and the girls they prey on. They never choose the courageous ones; they always pick the sweetest and most innocent, knowing they will never fight back. Months later, she told me she intended to marry him and quit the service. I told her it was foolish, that he would kill her one day, but she refused to listen to me. She had gone into town and he'd nearly broken her wrist. She said it was an accident and she had twisted it getting off the train, but there were a lot of 'accidents' and I had never known her to be clumsy. I'm not sure how it happened, if she caught the hem of her skirt with her foot or if her hand would not hold her up, but as she turned to go back down to the kitchens, she fell. I reached for her but was too late."
Both sat in sober contemplation and shivering slightly, as she was still only in her dressing gown, Mary asked, "Whatever happened to him, do you know?"
There was something child-like in her as she said it and Mrs. Hughes knew what she meant, that remembrance had restored fear. While she had never particularly cared for Mary, now she had some compassion toward her. It gave Mrs. Hughes no pleasure to say it but there was a certain amount of justice in her tone as she said, "I do indeed and you may rest assured that he will never lift a hand to a woman again. Carson and I forbid Lucy from ever seeing him again if she wanted to remain at Downton. It was not our right but we did it regardless. That was partly the cause of our argument that day. Later, we learned she was not the only woman he had been severe with and they found him in a ditch with his head bashed in. No one knows who did it, probably an enraged brother or father. Though it was highly ungodly of me, I could not say that I was sorry to hear of it."
"One might say he almost deserved it."
Mrs. Hughes answered cryptically, "That is not for us to say, although we always do. If that is all…"
Reminded of where she was and that her presence was an intrusion, Mary swiftly rose to her feet. The older woman reached for the door and hesitated, turning back to her. "Your father asked us not to speak of it again," she said. "It would be appreciated if you told no one. It happened so long ago it seems a shame to bring it up now."
Some things were worth repeating and others were too dreadful. Mary assured her of her silence and went back to her room. Knowing the truth was a comfort to her but she could not help feeling sad as she thought of how many lives had been changed that day. She was unusually quiet as Anna helped her dress and set about fixing her hair, teasing it into the style that Mary preferred. Presently, the door behind her opened to admit Sybil. Crossing the room and throwing open the doors of the wardrobe, she said, "I can't seem to find my purple coat and I wondered if it was put in here by mistake."
"I doubt it. Maybe Edith has it."
One of Mary's dresses caught Sybil's eye and she pulled it out, holding it up as she stared into the looking glass. "No, I've already looked through her room. What do you think, does this gown suit me?"
"It might if you were as tall as I am." Mary arose gracefully from the vanity and taking the dress out of her sister's hands, hung it back up. "I thought you were interested in a coat. Purple is hardly suitable. Are you not going out with them on the hunt, then?"
Flopping onto the bed, Sybil shook her head. "I have no interest in watching them shoot birds, no. I thought I might walk into town and post a letter. What about you? Are you going out with them?"
Where once the idea would have had merit merely as an excuse to spend time with some of the most eligible bachelors in the county, today Mary had other things on her mind. She examined her reflection in the mirror and liked what she saw. "I'm not in the mood. I might walk into town with you, if you don't mind. I would like some fresh air. Didn't you send that coat downstairs with Gwen for it to be mended?"
"That's right! Anna, would you…?"
"Certainly, my lady," said Anna and left the room quietly, stepping out his lordship's way as he entered his wife's chambers. He found her in the sitting room, a vision in her white dressing gown, hair loose against her shoulders. Lace dripped from her sleeves as she came to him and asked, "Robert, do you think it is too much for this room?"
He looked at the armoire. "Don't you like it now that poor Carson has gone to all the trouble of moving it?"
"Oh, not you too!" she said in mock dismay as she leaned her head against his shoulder. "Your mother has already made that point. Need I remind you that Carson didn't have to lift a finger? It was all William and Thomas."
"Ah, but Carson had to hasten along behind them worrying about everything that might be broken on the way. Surely his concerns were not to be in vain!" Robert opened the drapery further and the light hit the armoire, revealing its beautiful handiwork. It was quite a handsome piece of furniture. He was newly impressed with it and behind him Cora sat down on the edge of the divan and rested her hands in her lap, considering it at length.
"I don't know, Robert, something about it feels wrong."
"Well, if you really don't like it, they can move it back, but you'll have to contend with Mother's I-told-you-so."
There was a knock on the door and Mary stuck her head inside. "Matthew and Isobel have arrived," she said.
Her father went down dutifully and her mother retreated into her bedroom. Mary hesitated, her focus lingering on the armoire. Quiet footsteps bore her toward it and she reached out and touched the door, her fingers sliding into the niches as she remembered the terrible sound Lucy had made slamming into it. But as her fingers drifted to the door handle, she had other memories, stronger ones of laughter and amusement, Edith chasing her down the hall and both of them climbing inside to get away from Mrs. Hughes. Opening the door, she remembered crouching there and stifling Edith's laughter with her hand as the housekeeper continued past, unaware of their presence. The light drew her attention to a ribbon wedged in the corner, crumpled from years of neglect. She recognized it as one of hers she turned it over in her slender hands. Slipping it into her pocket, she went downstairs.
Matthew was waiting for her in the drawing room and was disappointed to learn she would not go with them. His bright countenance wavered and she saw a bit of a child in him that soon found comfort in the midst of it, as he added, "Well, at least you won't see me make a fool of myself. I'm dreadful at this sort of thing."
"You would not be the first earl of Grantham to be a bad shot, although you are the first to admit it," she laughed.
They smiled at one another and presently she said, "Perhaps I should go with you after all, for moral support."
"I should like that," he answered.
It was always a ceremonious event when the men left for the bird hunt, a gathering of all in the front yard along with their dogs and tweed jackets. Some of the women intended to follow along behind them and arrive at the picnic grounds ahead of them, once they had seen enough shooting for the day. The scent of rain lingered in the air but the storm had retreated and there was a mood of excitement among them. Lined up with the rest of the servants, Daisy craned her neck to watch them go. Branson shared a long look with Sybil that no one noticed and her heart fluttering, the young woman went indoors. Regarding the retreating lot with mild envy, O'Brien said, "I wouldn't mind going out with them, if it were my place, as it would get me out of the house."
Black skirts rippled in the wind as they walked around to the side door. Thomas asked, "Ghosts getting to you?"
"It's more than that, but what I heard this morning. Lady Mary came upstairs and had a word with Mrs. Hughes."
Trailing along behind them, Daisy's eyes got wide. Matching pace with her, Gwen also overheard.
"I don't suppose I should ask what you were doin' there," said Thomas.
"Well, I can't help it if I forgot my sewing box, now can I? Do you want to hear it or not?"
"If the house is haunted, it's for good reason. I knew Downton was not entirely free of scandal. It seems a maid died from a fall down the back stairs and cracked her head open like a walnut. It happened before you or I came, but not much before. I always thought it was odd, the way I was brought on so sudden-like."
O'Brien pushed the door open and went inside with Thomas on her heels. Left a fair distance behind them since the conversation had made her stop in her heels, Daisy did not bother to try and catch up. Her face stricken, she paused until from the kitchens, Mrs. Patmore roared, "DAISY!"
When the girl appeared in the doorway, she asked, "What are you on about now, girl, gallivanting at the back door when there's luncheon to be made?"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Patmore! I was just preoccupied with the stairs." Daisy hadn't meant to say it and her eyes widened as she very nearly clapped her hands over her mouth. The other kitchen maids were scurrying around and paid them no mind, but her hands in the sink, the older woman asked, "What about them?"
"Only that… well…" She faltered and flour sifted through her fingers onto the floor.
Shaking the water from her hands, Mrs. Patmore said, "You're not on about ghosts again, are you?"
"But I didn't know about the girl that fell down the back stairs!"
The firm stirring of the pot on the stove faltered and Mrs. Patmore looked at her. "Who told you that?"
Shrinking slightly, the maid whispered, "O'Brien."
"And you think that's your ghost, do you, the girl who fell down the back stairs?"
Though most of them tried not to look too interested, it was obvious everyone within earshot was listening. Daisy didn't know whether to nod or change the subject and in the meantime turned bright pink. Mrs. Patmore leaned back on her heels with more than her customary amount of self-importance and said, "She isn't your ghost, Daisy. Her name was Lucy Simmons and she was a ladies' maid for her ladyship. She fell down those stairs sure enough but she isn't dead. Fallin' down those stairs won't kill you, not unless you're carryin' somethin' sharp. Oh, she hurt herself, right enough, but she was here another six months before she left the service."
"Why didn't you say anythin'?" Daisy asked when she found her voice again.
"It was years ago and I haven't thought of it since! Now stop gawkin' and finish those meat pies!" Shaking her head, she returned to the stove. "Ghost, indeed! I don't know where you young people get your ideas."
The front stairs creaked as Carson came down them, leaning over the railing to catch Thomas on his way past. "Her ladyship has a request to make of you and William," he said.
"Oh, let me guess… she wants that lot put back where it was two days ago."
William's face peered out of the breakfast room and his face fell at the affirmation. It did not much please Carson either but he said, "It is not for us to question her ladyship. It would do you well to remember that, Thomas."
"I'll remember it all right," said the footman sourly under his breath as Carson went back up the stairs. He caught O'Brien's eye and she gave him a halfway sympathetic look in her usual manner. "I'll remember it when my back's paining me in the middle of the night and I can't move in my old age, that's when I'll remember it."
On his way past with Sir Robert's dinner coat, Bates said, "Take heart, Thomas, maybe you won't live that long."
The bickering faded into the background as Carson reached the top step and met Mrs. Hughes on her way down. Hearing the complaints wafting up from downstairs, she asked, "What's this about, then?"
"Her ladyship wants the armoire moved back into the east wing."
Mrs. Hughes gave a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness!"
Dark brows shot heavenward and she added, "I know its trouble to move it back and forth but it's done nothing but stir up things best forgotten. Maybe when it's back where it belongs we can all sleep at night and our lives will return to normal."
Sunlight danced through the near windows as beneath them there was a crash, followed by, "DAISY!"
"I don't see why we have to move the bloomin' thing again," complained Thomas on his way up; "why didn't she leave it where it was in the first place? That's the problem with their lot, takin' our labor for granted."
There was a meaningful pause and Mrs. Hughes looked at Carson with mirth in her eyes. He evaded her gaze for a moment and then with as much dignity as possible, said, "I think we are well on our way, Mrs. Hughes."
And when their footsteps had faded away, there was only dust, floating in the sunlight.