Title: Retirement Benefits

Robert threw down his pen, unable to concentrate. "Do you think he'll like it?" he asked Cora, fretful. "I do want him to be happy."

"He deserves it for putting up with us all these years," Cora drawled.

Robert stood and began pacing. "It's the best cottage. It's the closest to town. Lovely view."

"Mrs Mason seems impressed with its kitchen."

"There's a lovely garden. I always imagine Carson gardening for some reason," Robert murmured, looking out the window at Downton's perfectly manicured grounds.

Cora squinted at the stitches she was sewing into the baby's christening gown before resignedly donning her new spectacles. "Poor Carson. I hope he can cope with retirement."

"Yes. We'll need to find him some activities that will keep him busy. Perhaps we can ask Mrs Hughes for suggestions. She knows him better than anyone. He even took her along today, to view the cottage."

"A second opinion is always prudent," Cora commented after a moment's hesitation.

Robert turned to his wife, not missing the slight falter in her voice. "What?"

"Nothing, nothing." She waved her hand dismissively.

"Cora? What?"

She was able to avoid Robert's probing when the door of the study opened after a brief knock and the subjects of their musings, Charles Carson and Elsie Hughes, entered.

"Carson! How did you find the cottage?"

"It's a very generous offer, my Lord," Carson replied in his usual diplomatic way.

"What does that mean, Carson?" Cora asked, stretching her head back to look up at the lofty butler.

"I think Mr Carson is feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment," Mrs Hughes interrupted when Carson remained mute.

Cora put aside her sewing. "I can understand that," Cora said in a soft tone. "Retirement is a big step."

"Do you want to look at one of the other vacant cottages?" Robert asked.

"No, no. It seems very adequate," Carson replied vaguely.

Robert frowned, still sensing there was something Carson wanted to add about the accommodation he was being offered. "You'll be comfortable there?" he asked slowly. "Content to live there?"

"I believe so, my Lord." Carson cleared his throat, and turned to Mrs Hughes. "You do think you'll be able to live there, don't you, Mrs Hughes?"

Robert and Cora blinked from their butler to their housekeeper and back again.

"Carson, what are you talking about?" Robert finally asked. "This is to be your cottage, old boy!"

Mrs Hughes's gaze settled on the butler. After a long tense moment of silence, she eventually turned back to her employers.

"I apologise, Lord and Lady Grantham, I do hate to disturb the household in such a way, but it seems in addition to filling the position of butler, you will need to find a new housekeeper directly."

The breath Carson had been holding came out in an audible rush.

In the settee, Cora giggled.

Robert stared at all three of them before the penny dropped.

"Oh!" he cried, his face flushing. "Yes, well, alright then," he stammered.

Then, he began to laugh heartily. "I'm just wondering," he hiccupped between guffaws, "who will break this news to my mother?"