Sixpence for your thoughts

Summary: Suppose I give you a sixpence to spend in the village instead? What did Mary buy with her sixpence and how does it play into their futures? A hint of Carson/Hughes at the end.

Carson: "I remember once, she came in here, and she couldn't have been more than four or five years old. 'Mr. Carson, I've decided to run away and I wonder if I might take some of the silver to sell?' "Well, I said, that could be awkward for his Lordship. Suppose I give you a sixpence to spend in the village instead? 'Very well, says she, but you must be sure to charge me interest.'"

Elsie: "And did you?"

Carson: "She gave me a kiss in full payment"

Elsie: "Then she had the better bargain."

Carson: "I wouldn't say that."

To say that Charles Carson was surprised would have been an understatement. Lady Mary Crawley had always managed to sneak away to find him, in his pantry, in the garden, even when he was upstairs and she was supposed to be in the nursery. She seemed to truly enjoy his company, and she never ran out of questions to ask.

"Why do you polish the silver so often? There are pictures in the books in the nursery. Do your books have pictures, too? Why can't I stay down here with you and have milk and cake instead of being in the nursery? Can you tuck me into bed and read me a bedtime story tonight? I like it when you read to me and you do the voices."

She always managed to brighten his day with her smile, her questions, and most importantly, the warm hugs she always gave him upon entering and leaving his presence. But this time it was different. She was in tears when she reached his pantry, and after a few moments of soothing her and even holding her in his lap as she clung to him, he managed to get her to open up a bit.

"I've decided to run away and I wonder if I might take some of the silver to sell?" Though her eyes were still red from her tears, she spoke with clarity and determination in her voice. It was easy for Carson to see a bit of the Dowager Countess in her eldest granddaughter as she spoke of her plans. Obviously, she'd given this matter some consideration, and she was smart enough to know that the silver would be the most valuable thing she could manage to take with her.

"Well, that could be awkward for his Lordship. Suppose I give you a sixpence to spend in the village instead," he asked, taking his large handkerchief and drying the tear tracks on her cheeks and wiping her nose? It broke his heart to see her so upset, and he wondered if she might tell him her reasons for wanting to run away. "Perhaps, if you could tell me your reasons for wanting to run away, we might work together to solve the problem or at least make things a bit easier for you. Won't you trust me enough to at least tell me why you want to leave?"

Mary looked up at Carson, her bright eyes staring into his. "If I tell you, will I still get the sixpence?"

Charles chuckled and gave her a little squeeze before reaching into his pocket and withdrawing the aforementioned coin, placing it gently into the palm of her hand. "Full payment for the information, then, m'lady? Or at least an advance on letting me keep the silver for a bit longer?"

Mary grinned and leaned back against his chest. "Very well, but you must be sure to charge me interest." She took a deep breath, as deep as her five year old body could manage and she sighed. "I overheard Nanny talking to Mama. I think they thought I wasn't listening, and there was talk of you and the housekeeper. I think Mama and Papa are going to tell you tonight so I guess it's alright to tell you now."

Carson stiffened a little, unsure if he wanted to hear the information for which he'd just paid. There was nothing to tell about himself and the housekeeper. She was an older woman and he'd always gotten along well with her. She'd mentioned retirement but surely she would have spoken to him before she broached the subject with the family, and why would the nanny be included in any conversation regarding him? "Very well, if you'd like to tell me, I will stand by my promise and try to help you if I may."

"Mama told nanny that she's going to have another baby. It's bad enough that I have one sister and now they're going to have another child. They don't need me around if they're going to have another one. I'm getting older, and if I run away now I won't even have to ever see the thing when it's born."

Suddenly, Carson understood the tears, the thoughts of running away, the feelings this little lady in his lap was sharing with him. "Your mother and father would miss you terribly if you ran away. I'm sure of that." He pressed a light kiss to her hair and hugged her a little tighter. "And who would visit me in the afternoons and share the milk and cake? I, for one, would miss you if you were to run away. You might like the new baby, too. You could help take care of it, read to him or her, teach her all the things I've taught you about any number of subjects. Had you thought of it that way? I'm sure it will be easier on you this time since you'll know what to expect, and you're much older than you were when Lady Edith was born." He tapped the end of her nose with his finger and smiled. "If you won't stay for them, I'd appreciate it if you'd at least consider staying … for my sake."

"I can't make any promises, Mr. Carson, but I'll think about it. I promise you that I won't run away before telling you, though. Please, just don't tell Mama or Papa about it, not even Granny or nanny."

"You have my word, m'lady. As long as you keep your word and do nothing so foolish as running away, I will maintain my silence on the matter."

"Thank you, Mr. Carson." She hugged his neck and looked down at the sixpence in her hand. "And thank you for the money. It's a great deal easier to carry than the silver. I think you had a better idea." And with that, she hopped from his lap, waived him goodbye then disappeared from the downstairs, presumably on her way back to the nursery before she was missed.

It had been several days since the conversation he'd had Lady Mary about running away and taking the silver with her. True to her prediction, her parents had informed the housekeeper and himself about an impending birth and the entire house seemed to be excited about the prospect. Still, Carson couldn't help but wonder how Lady Mary was settling in to the idea. He wondered why she had missed their milk and cake date and when he'd inquired on her well-being, the nanny informed him that Lady Mary had begged to go into town with Her Ladyship. Since the young girl had been having a rather difficult time getting used to the idea of another sibling, her Ladyship had agreed.

Carson was sitting in his pantry going over the wine selections for the evening meal when he heard the all too familiar pitter patter of little feet running towards his pantry. But, before he could ever open the door to invite her inside, she had flung the door open and he found himself with an armful of Lady Mary Crawley. She hugged him tightly, as tightly as her little arms could.

"Goodness, what's brought this on?" he asked as he picked her up, truly flustered by her outburst of emotion towards him.

"Look, Mr. Carson. Isn't he the cutest little thing you've ever laid your eyes on?" Mary held up a little brown stuffed dog which was just barely larger than her hand. She was beaming from ear to ear and was clearly in love with the little toy and incredibly proud of her choice. "I used the money you loaned me to buy him when I went to the village with Mama. She asked where I got the money, and I told her you'd given it to me, though I didn't tell her why. She made me promise to do something nice for you to repay the money since I don't have any of my own and it would be wrong to ask Papa for the money. She said something about teaching me responsibility."

Carson took the little dog from her and inspected it carefully, though he knew he would never find anything wrong with her choice. It was a sweet little dog and no doubt she'd fallen in love with it, enough to part with her money. "Looks very handsome and I am sure he will be a very nice addition to your other toys in the nursery."

"Oh, no, Mr. Carson. He is not just another toy. He is the one I will keep forever. I bought him with my own money, well your money at least. I suppose … I suppose I should give him to you since it was your sixpence that I used to purchase him." She looked longingly at the dog then back into Carson's face. "Yes, you should have him. It's only fair." She gave him a faint smile though it did not reach her eyes.

"Tell you what we'll do. What is something you have that you could give me in exchange for the money? Then, you would have given me something in return and the dog would be yours outright. Could you draw a picture for me or maybe sing me a song the next time you're here?"

Mary cheered up considerably and took the dog from his much larger hand, hugging it to her chest. "I am going to name my little dog, Carson, if that's okay with you."

Charles Carson felt his heart swell with pride and his eyes turned a little misty. "I would consider it an honor. Thank you." It truly was a sweet gesture, a genuine sign of affection for the little girl to want to name her new treasure after him. He hugged her tightly and tweaked her nose and then the nose of her dog. He started to say something else but Mary suddenly wrapped her arms around his neck and placed a sweet kiss to his cheek.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Carson, for everything. I will take very good care of him and will keep him with me always. He will be my lucky charm and I promise to think of you always when I see him. He means more to me than anything else in the nursery and he is truly mine, not Edith's and certainly not the new baby's."

"Then we shall consider your kiss my payment in full. You don't owe me anything more for the sixpence, m'lady. You have given me a great gift in return." Several minutes later, Carson sent the little girl on her way back upstairs with her new keepsake. He was truly flattered that she thought so highly of him and part of him hoped she would keep the little dog as a reminder of her youth and their visits together.

Decades later, the little dog appeared once more.

Carson had been inspecting the house, locking up before everyone went to bed. It was quiet in the rooms where the soldiers were, most of them asleep or too ill to move about. He passed by the bed of Matthew Crawley and he had to stop when his eyes spied a long-forgotten relic from another era. There, on the nightstand beside his bed, was the little stuffed dog named Carson. Once more, his eyes misted over at the memory of that young dark-hair girl who used to burst through his pantry door full of life and ideas, questions and dreams. She must have passed along her good luck charm to Mr. Crawley and it had apparently served its purpose. It was then that he knew that whatever happened between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley, a part of her heart would still belong to him, even if it resided in the form of a little stuffed dog bought for a sixpence.

As he descended the stairs on his way to meet Mrs. Hughes, his thoughts turned to her and the many years they had shared together. Lady Mary had apparently felt enough for Mr. Crawley to share her good luck charm with him, the piece of her heart that had one belonged solely to himself. Maybe, just maybe, it was time he shared the sole remaining piece of his heart with Mrs. Hughes. Then, she would have his entire heart in the palm of her hands. And it only took a sixpence and a little stuffed dog named Carson from years before to open his eyes to what was right in front of him … love.

The End

A/N: Thanks for reading the story. Reviews would be welcomed and appreciated. Hope you have enjoyed the story.