Writing this chapter was harder than I thought. It is twice as long as the others. Maybe I should have split them into 2, but, I wanted to treat both Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes in the same conversation. Sorry if it is a little long.
Telling Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes
To any of the others present in the servant's hall that evening, there was nothing different. They had all been called upon to help set up the concert and had all also been expected to help take everything apart. This extra work had exerted everybody considerably and their exhaustion had not allowed them to notice the new demeanor that Anna and Bates had shown. They couldn't stop smiling and their supper time had been a test for both of them. They had only just shared in a significant moment of their lives together and there they sat at their normal places, side by side, resisting the urge to sit closer, to hold hands, and to gaze into each other's eyes. They instinctively had figured out that while they shouldn't touch each other publicly, they could let their ankles rest next to each other and nobody would know. That was all they could do for now, and even this meager contact felt good.
They were called almost at the same time, together with O'Brien, to attend to the Crawley family's sleep preparations. O'Brien led the way, but both Anna and Mr. Bates walked a little slower so that they could have a few meters of distance and a minute of privacy. All Anna wanted to determine was what the plan for telling Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes would be. Mr. Bates managed to whisper that they should try after breakfast and when the Crawleys had completed their breakfast as well. Tomorrow would be the day.
Both Anna and Mr. Bates woke with much enthusiasm and energy. The promise of a new life lay ahead of them. When Ethel was fully awake, Anna opened the window in their room to let the fresh air in. It seemed fitting that the sun shone brighter and it was a beautiful day. Both had been among the first to descend for breakfast, anxious to see their beloved before the room was flooded with the others. They managed a deep smile and profound gaze for a few instants before the normal hub of activity permeated their morning.
After the Crawleys had had their breakfast and the late morning's routine had taken over, Mr. Bates and Anna had gone to the servants hall to await the perfect moment to initiate the much anticipated conversation. When they sensed that the moment was right, Mr. Bates went to Mr. Carson's pantry while Anna intercepted Mrs. Hughes and steered her in the same direction.
When all four were in the room together, the door was closed. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes looked at the pair of servants with curiosity and a bit of impatience, as neither understood why it was that they had been summoned for this meeting.
The awkward silence was broken by Mr. Bates who finally spoke. "I beg your pardon for interrupting your activities, but, his Lordship has bid me to come forward and discuss with both of you an issue of a very personal nature. Anna is here because this concerns her too. "
"Oh?" was the only response Mr. Carson could produce. His right eyebrow slightly arched as he shifted uncomfortably. Discussions regarding Issues of personal nature were not welcomed by him and they needn't be discussed in the workplace. When absolutely necessary, they were best handled by Mrs. Hughes. He was not at all happy that he had been trapped into this moment, but, couldn't really excuse himself, so, he gestured to the valet to continue.
Mrs. Hughes just stood quietly. She believed she might know what this was about and didn't dare show any emotion until it was confirmed. What other issue of a personal nature that concerned Anna would he need to talk about? It could only be one thing. She had seen it for years, wondered even about them, but never said much because they showed so much discipline and restraint in their dealings with each other, that anybody but her would have doubted that they were together at all. They couldn't fool her, though. She could see their undeclared devotion to each other. She knew Anna really well, having shared the last 15 years as a mentor and mother to her. Not once before Mr. Bates' arrival had any other man captured Anna's attention. She had hoped that something good and proper would come of it and wondered if this was finally the day that they would share good news.
Bates continued, "I have been here almost four years and I am not sure if I have ever disclosed that I am a married man. His Lordship might have informed you when my application as valet was accepted. Although it is not a secret, it is not something that I care to discuss publicly. His Lordship, though, has known this since our time together at war."
Mr. Carson, still uncomfortable with the conversation that was ensuing confirmed, "Yes, Mr. Bates. I was made aware by Lord Grantham when the issue concerning your incarceration and former vice was brought forth."
"I was not aware", trilled a surprised Mrs. Hughes, whose visibly agitated, yet subtly restrained voice conveyed the dissatisfaction of having been excluded from this information.
Did she hear right? He was married? This news was incredulous. A slow burn crept up body until she felt fully perturbed. She did not know if she was more upset that Mr. Carson knew and had not felt the need or had forgotten to communicate this, or that Anna seemingly was at ease with this bit of news. Upon hearing the word "married", she had turned to look at the housemaid and Anna did not even flinch which could only mean that she knew and did not care. She regretted not having known this important fact, as she would have never let Anna attach herself to this man. She could only imagine the repercussions…
Mr. Bates could see the displeasure this news caused in Mrs. Hughes and knew that it was borne of concern for Anna, so he continued, hoping that the rest of his information eased some of her worries. As emotionless as he could, he declared, "My marriage has been over for many years and I would like to announce my intention to seek a divorce."
Both Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson's eyes opened wide at the mention of the word "divorce".
Mr. Bates did not want to explain any more details about his wife or relationship and neither Mr. Carson nor Mrs. Hughes reacted quickly enough to say anything if they had wanted to, so he continued:
"Starting these proceedings will force me to return to London in the coming days to work with a solicitor on the required papers. I still do not know what the entire process will entail, but I am certain that I will be called back to London several more times before all is settled. It is also likely that my solicitor will need to contact me via the telephone."
Up until that moment, Mr. Bates' had been very business-like, but his tone became more humble when he tried to express his regret at the impact that the process would have on his employers.
"I seek to disrupt my work as little as possible and hope that the process can be expedited and done in absentia when possible, but I cannot fully know yet what the true impact will be."
Mr. Bates paused again, "I have only decided to follow this course of action when I knew that I could count on his Lordship's full support. He is now aware and has consented. I would like to ask for your support as well. "
Mr. Carson was the first to speak. He was appalled at the idea of divorce at Downton. None of the Crawley family would have considered it, so it was unusual they would have their first taste of it by somebody from their own lot. Nobody they'd ever had in service had wanted one, but that was more because nobody ever remained in service after getting married. He didn't think that anybody from their lot could even pay for one if they wanted one, so, how Mr. Bates had the financial means to get one was also a mystery to him. For the sake of an untarnished Downton, he would have liked to counsel Mr. Bates against it. Mr. Bates may not be a member of the family or a man of social standing, but, as valet to the Earl, he was close enough for some people to make absurd associations. Still, if his Lordship had already approved the matter, he knew that it would be a waste of his time to do any sort of counseling. Yet, he knew he had to be true to his ideals and voice his rejection of the concept, even if it was ever so subtle. In his "I-am-Mr.-Carson-the-Butler" stern tone, he set out to voice his opinion:
"We've never had talk of divorce at Downton. This is extremely unusual and distressing. We would have preferred a different course of action for you, but if his Lordship sees no problem and has consented, we'll assist as necessary."
Mr. Bates nodded in appreciation and turned to look at Mrs. Hughes. She was still visibly agitated and he was more concerned with what she had to say.
Mrs. Hughes was not as troubled over the disgrace a divorce of Downton as Mr. Carson was. There were more important things to think about than the honor of Downton. Mr. Carson had failed to think about Anna and why Mr. Bates brought her along. Mr. Carson was a rather smart man, but was no expert in matters of the heart. She was sure he even thought that the conversation was over. But, no… she knew that it was not over. She'd never discussed it with him and wasn't sure he'd noticed how close Anna and Mr. Bates were.
She still did not know what to make of this divorce revelation as it concerned Anna and wanted that discussed immediately, so, rather than support or reject the notion of the divorce itself; she turned to Anna and asked sarcastically, "Anna, I would very much like to know what you think about this matter?"
Anna blushed when confronted by Mrs. Hughes. She knew what Mrs. Hughes was inferring, but she had not expected this question so soon. If her revelation to Lady Mary last night taught her anything, it was that she would have to defend their love, but, she thought that she'd be defending it after Mr. Bates confirmed his full intentions. They hadn't gotten to that part yet and she was not going to be the one to reveal their truth. That topic needed to be introduced by Mr. Bates.
Mr. Carson broke in. "Is this opinion necessary? It has been settled and there is no need for a discussion."
Anna turned towards Mr. Bates imploringly, just as the valet decided to interject , "Before Anna gives her opinion - there is something else that I need to disclose to you." He turned to look at Anna for reassurance and she smiled back at him, thankful that she didn't have to be the one to respond.
"Anna's opinion is important because I have asked her if she would consider giving me her affections when I have obtained this divorce. She has said yes and we intend to marry when all is settled."
With this news, Carson and Hughes appeared stunned and it took them a full minute to react to what had just been said.
Just in case he hadn't heard right, Carson reconfirmed what had just been said – "You're, going to get married?….. When you have the divorce? Is this what you just said?"
"Exactly", chimed in Anna as her grin widened, "I will marry him whenever it is finalized." Anna's eyes twinkled when she said this, capturing Mrs. Hughes attention.
No longer able to contain the emotions building up, Mrs. Hughes lashed out. "But… Anna! Do you understand what you are saying? Have you promised yourself to a married man? "
Anna looked Mrs. Hughes directly and intently when she gave her answer. She was not agitated by the force in the demanding voice and she wanted it to be known that she was strong and would not back away from Mr. Bates, regardless of reason or logic presented to her.
"I understand that John Bates is currently married and seeking a divorce. He has asked me if I would consider marrying him when this divorce is obtained. Yes, I would consider it. He will propose to me then. There has been no impropriety on his or my part. I have not promised myself to a married man. I have promised a married man that I will promise myself to him when he is not married. There is a big difference."
Bates also continued. "I have spoken to Lord Grantham about this and I assure you that he has also consented that I approach Anna with this question. I was very clear with Lord Grantham with the full extent of my plans and now your are aware too".
He turned to look at Anna confidently, and then faced Hughes and Carson again. "We do not seek to upset the balance of order downstairs. It is not our wish that this news be known among the rest of the household. Thus, I will not be courting Anna publicly, and you shall have no reason to be concerned about our actions. I do not seek to sully her reputation or the reputation of this house. It is with the most honorable of intentions that I stand before you today to discuss this. "
Mr. Bates thought that this declaration would surely appease them and provide the quick exit he had hoped for.
Mrs. Hughes was happy to hear his concern for Anna's reputation, but she was still not satisfied. She continued, with sarcasm built into her voice. "You seem very confident that you will secure this divorce. If you are that sure, why couldn't you wait to talk to Anna until you had achieved it?"
Mr. Bates first thought was to say, "Because after four years, I could no longer go on with my life without telling her how much I love her and that I want to spend the rest of my life by her side", but knew that that would not be an appropriate answer. He found the most reasonable response that he could and declared:
"I felt I had to tell his Lordship my complete plan. I did not want there to be any misunderstandings about my divorce. Yes, I have reason to believe that Vera, my wife, will not challenge the process. I would not have spoken to Anna if I didn't think that the divorce could be achieved with minimal effort. I could have waited, but it would not have been fair to Anna for his Lordship to know of my full intent and she not know."
Mr. Carson was now looking at Mrs. Hughes sternly. IT did not make sense to be upset. If his Lordship had already approved, then there is nothing they could say to the contrary anyway. It was best to finish the topic and get on to other things... While neither Mr. Bates nor Anna had ever shown any impropriety in the past, no matter what anybody said, it was scandalous to have declared their intentions so early. He couldn't see the difference that Anna had stated. To him it was the same thing. They would have to let it be and hope that the couple managed the situation as they had stated.
He addressed the couple: "I appreciate that you have spoken of your intentions and that you have made this known to us. For the sake of the rest of the household staff, I too, agree that this information should not be made public. Under normal circumstances, we would be happy for you and celebrate, but, I fear that it is too early to mark the occasion. Keep us informed."
With that, Carson seemed to dismiss the issue.
Mrs. Hughes turned towards them. "Well now, it appears there is nothing more to say. Anna, please come with me."
With that, she glided towards the door and walked out. Anna quietly followed her and soon found herself alone with Mrs. Hughes in her sitting room.
Mrs. Hughes was torn. She had felt ambushed into this reality and had not been prepared mentally for what had just happened. One moment she felt elated that Anna's life seemed to take a definite direction towards happiness and the next moment the conversation dealt with issues that could be very damaging. She wasn't sure that she could protect her if others found the situation offensive. She did not want that for Anna. Sure, she had always seen Mr. Bates' devotion and could understand why he'd chosen to get a divorce. Anna was definitely worth having and fighting for. She was just upset that she could not have controlled this situation better or provided a more definite counsel when things might have been prevented. Now, she was left struggling and thinking if there was anything at all that could be done. It seemed that the matter was all too settled for her meddling to be of any use.
Anna was nervous. She was very fond of Mrs. Hughes. Even if she was her boss, the Housekeeper had always looked after her like her own mother had. She had always taken advice from her on any number of matters, but, this was different. She would not be told who she could love or if it was proper. She knew it was not the ideal situation; after all, she'd already spent considerable time watching Mr. Bates deal with his own guilt over their increasing affections. IT was truly miraculous that they had even gotten this far. How could it be improper to feel so much love? Why was it scandalous to envision a future together? Neither of them had crossed the strict boundaries of what would not be considered appropriate, so, Anna did not understand why she would consider it so wrong to have exchanged promises before the divorce was finalized.
As she eyed Mrs. Hughes, she felt the rebuke coming and braced herself, ready to defend her actions. Instead, Mrs. Hughes said, "I never knew how much you loved him until today. "
This is not what Anna expected. Her tone that had been sarcastic and biting in Mr. Carson's pantry, but now was quite docile and loving.
Mrs. Hughes spoke again in the same tone, "After 15 years working with you Anna, I know you quite well. You are the most sensible girl I know. Only the deepest love could make you lose your head and consent to such a thing. Do you not see how potentially scandalous this is?"
Anna serenely answered, "Is it scandalous Mrs. Hughes? Really? Besides loving each other greatly, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Is it scandalous to be happy? Before the promise of his divorce, I had nothing, no hope of any attachment, not even his declaration of love. I was prepared to lead a quiet life, working by his side, resigned to never hearing him tell me. I agree with you that this is not the perfect situation, but I will be patient and wait until his situation is resolved. We will still be working quietly, side by side, but with the hope of future together. Why is this so wrong?"
"All the same my girl, others will find fault. Are you ready for the gossip should this ever be known?"
"There is no reason that this should ever be known. We've no intention of calling attention to ourselves. Mr. Bates has made it very clear that he will proceed in the most gentlemanly-like fashion… and, should there ever be gossip, I'll survive as best I can. I am ready for anything."
"Oh, my dear, I'm not sure what I should say anymore", responded Mrs. Hughes. Anna's words, calm demeanor, and resolute defense were starting to warm her. She took one of Anna's hands into hers. "I've seen the devotion you too have for each other almost since the day he arrived. I always expected that one day you'd both come in with a joyful announcement, but I did not expect this. Had I know of his impediment, I might have counseled you or put an end to your association a long time ago, but, I see that it is too late. You are too far gone. I want to be happy for you, but this is a trying situation."
Anna nodded in understanding
Mrs. Hughes was still trying to gauge how she should feel about Mr. Bates. Had he tricked her? Had he pushed her in this direction knowingly? She wondered and really wanted to know. She could forgive Anna for falling in love, but she wasn't sure that Mr. Bates was as deserving. "How long have you known that he is not free?"
"A long time. You see, I've known since the time Thomas and O'Brien tried to accuse him of the wine bottle theft. Mr. Bates had only just mentioned it, but then I called on his mother when I was in London and she told me the whole story. It was painful to find out, but, he's never tricked me. He's not daft and has always known of my regard for him, but he's never once tried to take advantage of me. He is the most honorable man I know and neither of us could have prevented falling in love. It just happened."
"Have you considered what could happen if he is not successful?"
"Mr. Bates expects a swift divorce and he has a plan. I don't know all the details but I trust him completely. I try not to think that something might go wrong, but, if it should, then, it is no different from where I was yesterday. I had already resigned myself to loving him from a distance, working side by side quietly, keeping my affection for him to myself. I was prepared to live this way my entire life. This new possibility is a dream. Should it be shattered, it brings me back to reality, the reality of the way things have always been."
Mrs. Hughes just sighed and squeezed Anna's hand in response.
"Mrs. Hughes, I love him, with or without a divorce and I will wait for him as long as I have to."
Just then, there was a knock on the door and Mrs. Hughes had to acknowledge the visitor.
Anna felt relieved when Ethel came through with an issue that needed immediate attention. Mrs. Hughes looked like she had something else to say, but the moment was no longer right. Anna was finally dismissed from the room and not wanting to suffer through any more questioning, left as quickly as she could to attend to unfinished duties.
When Anna followed Mrs. Hughes out of Mr. Carson's pantry, she had entirely expected that Mr. Bates had been dismissed and gone to work quietly. She imagined him lucky to have escaped the further questioning she had been subjected to. That was not the case. She had left too quickly to hear the butler ask Mr. Bates to remain and to close the door once more.
"Mr. Bates, I am rather happy that the women have left the room, for I fear I could not continue this conversation in front of them. You understand how unusual this situation is?"
Mr. Carson rather liked Mr. Bates, but, he felt that his direct friendship with Lord Grantham might cloud his judgment sometimes. Even though approval existed, he needed to make sure that the valet understood that this was not a normal situation, and regardless of friendship, there would be rules to be followed.
"Yes. I do, Mr. Carson. You and his Lordship have been extraordinarily kind to me in the past and I did not want to keep anything from you."
Mr. Bates was truly appreciative of the way the butler had dealt with him in the past. He had given every reason for mistrust, but, Mr. Carson had been very humane and understanding. He would always respect him for that.
"Good. Is there anything else discussed with his Lordship that I need to know?"
"He has also stated that when Anna and I can be married, he will look for a cottage close to the house where we can move. I expect to stay in service."
"Oh, I see. Times really are changing." Mr Carson could remember a time when no servant at Downton Abbey who wanted to stay employed there would ever aspire to such a thing. He, himself never took that road, too determined to stay on and grow to the highest rank. Lord Grantham was either getting to soft in his older age or the war had really changed him.
"What about Anna? Is she to remain in service too?", he asked.
We've not discussed that, Mr. Bates added.
Mr. Carson then leaned back in his chair and brought his hands together, his fingers intertwined. It looked like Mr. Carson wanted to say something, but was either holding back, gathering courage or still settling his thoughts. Then, his calm eyes became narrow and he stared at Mr. Bates with a certain intensity. His eyebrows arched again. Mr. Bates felt uneasy. Taking a full breath of air to make his voice sound more imposing, Mr. Carson finally spoke:
"Anna has been in service with us for some 15 years. As such, she is highly valued by the Crawley family and most of the Downton staff. I find no fault in you as a person and believe you are sincere, but, If anything you have said up until now has been untrue, and she finds herself hurt, you will be at a loss for friends and support, and might I add, employment, as I will take it upon myself to personally lobby Lord Grantham for your dismissal. The relationship you share with him will not spare you. "
Mr. Bates turned white a sheet and froze. Had he just been threatened?
"Furthermore, you have stated that you intend to not sully her reputation or that of this house. That is the correct path to take. I cannot find fault in your judgment regarding this matter. Be advised that I will still watch you closely for any sign of impropriety, lest this situation take longer than you expect and you forget the statements you have made today. If you have a regard for her, you will see to her well being. I will personally hold you responsible for any actions you both undertake". Is that clear?"
Mr. Bates knew that Mr. Carson was a stern and serious man, so, he should not have been that surprised by the words that had just been spoken. But, he was surprised. Not surprised that Mr. Carson would want to defend Anna. He was rather touched that he would take on that role, the role a father might take when meeting his daughter's first suitor. What surprised him was that Mr. Carson had questioned whether he had a regard for Anna. That could never be questioned. He was resolute that this point must be discussed.
"Yes. Mr. Carson, I understand…and at the risk of embarrassing you and prolonging this conversation that is painful for both of us, I must add one more thing."
"I could never harm Anna. If I did, it would be without purpose or intent. I could never forget about her well being or see to my happiness before hers. I could never seek to put her in a position that would compromise her or her employment at Downton. I could never do any of those things, because, you see, I love her. That is why I am here, enduring this conversation. She loves me and I will live my life honoring her, forever thanking her for seeing potential in this old, troubled, infirm man. "
Mr. Bates finally hoped that this information was enough for Mr. Carson to stop any further questioning. He did not like talking about his personal life or his feelings for Anna. He longed for this meeting to be over.
Mr. Carson did seem satisfied and relaxed. He was just as uncomfortable as Mr. Bates and was convinced that he needed to know no more about the issue.
Mr. Carson responded, "Well then, I think we are all clear. You may go now."
Mr. Bates bowed his head, accepting the dismissal and proudly answered "Good Day" as he walked out the door.
Once the door had been closed, both men let out a significant sigh, happy to finally be alone.
A/N. Let me know what you think. Your last reviews and messages made me want to do a better job! The next conversations will be Lord Grantham telling Cora and Anna & Bates before (or after) Ethel's interruption.