Chapter 1: The Invitation
"Dear," Lady Grantham began, sitting up in bed with a letter one evening. She shifted her jaw back and forth, biting her tongue as she always did when thinking.
"Yes," her husband more grunted than answered, never looking up from his book.
"I know things have been rather a tumultuous and changing sea for us since poor James and Patrick, but now that Matthew's beginning to get more settled, would you mind too terribly me upsetting the order of things again?" She smiled crookedly, hoping it would soften him to her intentions.
Grantham sighed, giving up his reading and laying his reading glasses down to address her directly. "What are you getting at, my dear? Nothing too drastic I hope."
"Well, I'm afraid I've had very bad news from America."
"Oh?" he creased his eyebrows, his hallmark sign of concern.
"A rather wealthy cousin of mine has been traveling in Africa and he and his wife were killed."
"Was it the malaria?"
"No, some sort of uprising or tribal disgruntlement in which they became casualties. Quite a brutal affair I'm given to understand."
"How terrible. Why didn't you say something before?"
"We'll there was so much going on this morning and we were never very close. It's only that he's left behind a child, and since the poor thing is my second cousin I wonder if we couldn't invite her to stay here, at least for a while. She's never been to England."
"Well, my dear of course you should invite her," he replied dutifully. "How old is the poor child?"
"About sixteen by now I'd say," she supplied with the smallest hesitancy. "She has quite an inheritance from both her parents, but won't be able to be on her own until she becomes eighteen or marries of course. She'd be no burden in that manner."
"I see. I quite share your incentive to extend our home to this unfortunate relation, inheritance or none, but I wonder would it be wise to take in a wealthy, young girl for a length of time when we have three daughters of our own whose interests must be considered."
"You're thinking of Matthew?" She smiled sadly.
"I'm thinking of Mary."
"Unfortunately, I think that ship has sailed. Mary has had her chance with Matthew and Evelyn Napier. I'm afraid she's spoiled both. And Matthew's already shown he has no interest in Edith regardless of the fact that she showed some interest in him.
"That's even imagining he would be interested in an American only sixteen years old."
"Matthew's not from our world. He wouldn't hesitate to marry an American."
"But he's also not fond of immature young women. Nor is he interested in money. It took him so long to even adjust to the idea of being your heir. We have nothing to fear from Matthew I think."
"And other young men? They will be attracted to that inheritance. I speak from experience you remember my dear," he added with a faint note of shame.
"That is exactly why I want her to come to stay with us. Family members and suitors will be scrambling in to come to her rescue in hopes of benefiting in some way from that. And she's just lost her parents, Robert."
"Quite right. We'll invite her. If she accepts to leave her home so soon after the sad business then we'll work out the details and tell the others."
"Thank you, Robert. I'll feel so much better knowing she's not alone, a sheep among wolves."
"I'm glad it makes you feel better." He smiled.
My dear cousin,
I was sorry to hear that you have received such a sudden and terrible loss while still at such a delicate age, especially for a lady. I have three daughters myself and the youngest is now out in society. I cannot image how I would worry for them if anything had happened to my husband, Lord Grantham, and I.
I have been told that you are attending a school in America. I think this admirable and in no way wish to interfere with your education. However, if in the light of your current situation you find yourself taking time off from school and wish to escape the current climate at home please think of joining us here at Downton Abbey.
I regret we have never had occasion to visit and meet you properly, but my cousin, your father, had promised more than once to bring you to England for a summer or so and if it would be any comfort to you and not an inconvenience you must allow me to make good upon my end of that promise and entertain you at your home for as long as it would be pleasing to you.
My deepest sympathies, my dear. Please do not hesitate to write if you should need anything at all. -Cora Grantham
"You did what?" the Dowager Countess nearly fell off her chair.
"May I remind you that she's an orphan and my cousin?" Cora pressed gently.
"Then send her money."
"She has money."
"Then why's she coming here?"
"We don't know that she is yet."
"But why invite her? It's not as if you've ever wanted to see her before. How old is she?"
"Sixteen I think."
"Sixteen? We'll that's nearly grown and she has money, what does she need you for?"
"To be honest that's exactly why."
"I don't follow."
"You know how young men can be, and she's so young and without parents to look after; I'm afraid she might get tricked into marrying someone that has not got the best intensions. I would hate to see her so unhappy, especially after such a terrible misfortune already."
"It would be sad, but it would also be sad to see Mary marry equally unhappy because she needs money. No, we must focus on getting Mathew and Mary reconciled. We cannot afford any
sixteen-year-old American girls with fortunes waltzing in to complicate that purpose."
"I don't think Matthew is at all interested in money. He was so uncomfortable with accepting one inheritance I doubt he's on the lookout for another, especially from a sixteen-year-old young woman." She put a slight emphasis on the ultimate word.
"But what if he should fall in love with her?" her mother-in-law all but pleaded. "She's all alone in the world and they do like to ride in and save lonely women. She isn't terribly attractive, is she?"
"She's a lovely young woman I'm sure, but nothing too beautiful."
"Well, at least there would be that, and she'll be in morning. She hopefully, she'll be too morose to attract too much attention away from Mary and Sybil."
"Oh I doubt we'll be that lucky, dear."
The peaceful sound of clicking and clattering against china pervaded the dining room. Carson relaxed in the corner—as much as Carson might relax— pleased to watch a quiet dinner at home occur with little to no excitement.
"Have you heard back from your cousin, Cora?" the Dowager Countess began in innocent tones.
"I have," she paused. "And she's very grateful to us, but she doesn't want to impose."
"She's not imposing." Violet then blurted, surprising them both.
"I think she's just trying to be polite." Cora smiled over her glass.
"Well, write her again." Lord Grantham interjected. "Insist. Tell her she may leave us as soon as she's ready, but she must come for a while."
"You're having a cousin come and stay?" Isobel asked without reserve. Violet pursed her lips and arched an eyebrow, unsurprised at her distant cousin's boldness.
"A first cousin of mine and his wife died tragically this month and they've left a daughter, also my cousin, who I've written to and invited to stay with us. I hate the idea of her being left alone."
"Oh good." Mary was the first to speak, obviously irked. "More people."
"Mary, she's been orphaned." Her mother attempted to scold her careless tone. But to no avail.
"Can't you just send her money?"
"She doesn't need money. She needs family."
"Doesn't she have any family in America?"
"You are being once again miraculously unfeeling." Cora's voice became softer, but dark. Mary let it rest for the moment rather than upset the order of the table. Still, reason and logic would have to be appealed to, even if Papa and Granny had taken temporary leave of their senses, she thought.
Sybil's cheerful tones pierced the tension, "Well, I think it would be lovely to have a relative from America! Especially a female cousin. How old is she, Mama?"
"Sixteen, I think."
"That's wonderful, and she's never been to England? Think what fun we all can have introducing her to Downton and the village."
"Of course we'll have to teach her proper manners before we can take her out anywhere."
"Just because she is from America does not mean she was raised by savages. She attends a very fine school in New York."
"She's in school?" Sybil's eye lit up, casting a shadow of worry on her father's features.
"What does she study?" Matthew attempted to polite contribute to conversation he had shied away from after his mother's intrusion. Cora had almost forgotten he was there. "The Arts I think."
"May I write to her, Mama? Perhaps it will make her feel more welcome." Sybil requested.
"I shall give you the address."
"Her education is expensive?" Mary inquired.
"Very." Her mother responded, taking a bite of her pheasant. "Not that it matters as she has more than enough inheritance from bother her parents."
"She was the only child?" Edith asked.
"Only surviving child and grandchild from what I understand."
"How terrible." Isobel Crawley lamented.
"Indeed." Violet agreed.
"Then it's decided." Grantham deliberately drew the conversation to an end, eyeing his wife for discussion later. "You shall write again and so shall Sybil."
"We are not all writing, are we?" Mary asked.
"I see no need to overwhelm her with letters." Her mother responded.
"No," Mary's tone softened, revealing the pity that lived underneath priority and realism. "I dare say she is overwhelmed enough already."
That was the end of it upstairs, but downstairs was peacefully oblivious until Mr. Carson sat upon his chair for dinner and said, "Mrs. Hughes, I hate to speak prematurely but there was some discussion at dinner that we may have a female visitor from America."
Excitement was struck like a match. Silverware froze or clattered. All other conversation died.
"Oh?" said Mrs. Hughes in response, biding Carson to reveal more details.
"It seems her Ladyship has a young cousin who has been recently made the sole orphan of a wealthy pair of parents and her Ladyship has invited her to Downton, I suspect to protect the girl from those who will have their eyes on her inheritance rather than her interests. She has sent a decline to the invitation but they expect is it just a wish not to impose, so her ladyship will be writing to insist at the behest of his lordship as will Lady Sybil."
"My, and how did that go over up there?" Mrs. Hughes gave a little humorless laugh.
"Most of the family seemed alright with it."
"Well, how old is this girl?" O'Brien demanded. "We're not to be babysitting with all else we have to do are we?"
"The young lady is sixteen. She'll need no nanny, Mrs. O'Brien."
"Then she'll be bringing a Lady's maid of her own then? Or are Anna and myself and Gwen to do all five?"
Mrs. Hughes looked to Carson in earnest.
"If she intends to come arrangements will be made, I am sure."
"And will she know how to conduct herself? Or are we to be overrun with people who dress themselves."
"I am given to understand she is from American society, like her ladyship."
"Well, I think it's good his lordship and her ladyship. Very good." Anna offered quietly.
"But it will complicate things for them, won't it?" Thomas all but sneered.
"What do you mean?" asked Daisy.
"I mean, if she's pretty."
"But why would that be bad for them?" Daisy continued dumbly.
"Competition. She's already got more money. How will they be married off then?"
"That's none of your business, is it Thomas?" Mr. Carson intervened.
"It is if she marries Mr. Crawley. Then we'll be waiting on a lawyer and an American. Is that what you want to see happen to Downton, Mr. Carson?"
"That is quite enough, Thomas," put Carson simply. His grey brow creased deeply as he sipped his stew. It was something Thomas had said and Mrs. Hughes' expression betrayed that she thought so too.
They ate in silence, but the room still hummed with the thoughts of the servants. Then, the hallways buzzed with their murmurs until everyone turned in to dream of a stranger.