The Dowager Countess entered the drawing room and found Tom there alone, looking decidedly miserable and this time she knew it was not the tailored coat. He didn't notice her arrival, and being unused to a complete lack of attention, she harrumphed. Tom swiveled around and nodded to her.
"I see we've arrived ahead of our party," she said, and Tom made a rudely noncommittal movement of his shoulders.
Violet sighed, lowered her chin and raised her eyebrows, both hands on her walking stick. Her disapproval over the situation had been registered already and she felt little obligation to pile on the guilt. "They had three estates, you know," she said meaningfully.
Tom stared at her morosely. "But only the one home."
And going by his face, he'd had only the one home as well. It was not Downton Abbey.
Mary adjusted her hat, looking critically at the mirror. Pause. She shifted it a fraction. Nearly there. She patted a strand of hair. "How's that?" she asked.
Sybil yawned behind her hand and Edith said, "It's fine, and it was fine before, and the way you'll fix it next will also be fine."
They truly had no patience for this. Good grooming was the duty of a lady of noble society. But Sybil had quite expressed what she thought of ladies' duties and Edith had only ever held them up half-heartedly. Once, she could count upon them to "have her back," as the cowboys said, but now it fell to her to champion the Crawley estate.
She said as much to them. Anna, who was tucking away a scarf Mary had rejected, hid a smile. Edith looked affronted. Sybil sniffed without much interest and said, "I am exceptionally pregnant. I look exactly as I please."
It pleased Mary to adjust the ribbon on her hat, and then she looked exactly so. Turning smartly on her heel, she swept out the door.
"The breeze will send her running back inside," Edith said to Sybil, under her breath. Sybil looked sleepy.
"It's a push by De Beers," Lord Grantham said dismissively, flicking the page of his newspaper.
"That doesn't mean it's not a good idea," said Edith, studying the women's journal in which she had read the article. "I rather like the meaning behind it."
"Which is?" Matthew glanced at her.
Three Crawleys and one Branson sat around the morning table, each with their newsjournal of choice in hand. Where Tom had gotten his paper from, with those radical headlines on the front page, Matthew could only guess.
Edith set the article down and picked up a spoon to stir her tea. "Well, it's about equality in the marriage, isn't it? Husbands being quite as much property of their wives as the other way around."
"It's jewelry," said Robert.
"It's a statement," Tom objected.
Robert and Carson sighed in unison. Matthew, feeling mischievous, said, "A fellow secure in his masculinity couldn't object to wearing a simple ring."
"And I expect there's many husbands who could benefit from wearing a reminder of their sacred vows," Edith said with an ironic note.
Robert looked startled. Matthew supposed Lord Grantham thought it rather a bold thing for Edith to say.
Alfred said in a low voice, "Teaspoon, egg spoon, melon spoon, grapefruit spoon, jam spoon."
Tom Branson glanced up from his paper. "What's that?"
"Nothing—just reminding myself," said the footman. "Thinking aloud, sorry, Mr Branson."
Lord Grantham had stepped out to take an early telephone call, and Mr Matthew and Lady Edith still making their way downstairs for breakfast. For the moment, they were alone.
Hesitating, Alfred peeked over his shoulder to make sure Mr Carson was not arriving just then and said, "It's just a lot to remember—soup spoons the same as table spoons, except for bouillon…"
Mr Branson looked amused for the first time that Alfred had seen since he'd arrived back at Downton. "Are you trying to teach me flatware on the sly?"
Alfred feigned surprise—badly. "No, of course not, sir."
The other man was about to say something when Lord Crawley returned, followed by Mr Matthew and Mr Carson. Alfred straightened and turned away, and Mr Branson smiled at his plate.
He wasn't a bad sort, Alfred reflected while Mr Carson sent him to fetch fresh tea. Alfred never really liked when people were down on someone like they were on Lady Sybil's husband; it didn't seem fair when they'd been born with all the advantage.
"Do you suppose it could toast something other than bread?" whispered Ivy.
Despite her private determination not to humor Mrs Patmore's new kitchen girl, Daisy looked sideways at the toaster to which Ivy was referring. She'd not quite gotten used to it sitting there like some metal cat, right where they worked. "Like what?"
"Like…a thin cake, or…a tart."
"A flat strudel, maybe," said Daisy, going back to the dough she was kneading. She intended to stop talking just then, but her mouth went on saying what she thought: "With caramel drizzle."
Ivy's face shone. "Over icing. That sounds heavenly."
It was very difficult to disagree with someone over dessert, so Daisy begrudgingly nodded. "And cinnamon filling."
"Or jam," said Ivy, scrubbing down a cutting block. "Or both!" She snuck a look at Daisy. "Perhaps we could try it. To see if the family might like it."
"I suppose we could try," said Daisy reluctantly, before Mrs Patmore came along and shooed Ivy away to perform a chore. Briefly—very briefly—Daisy was relieved for Mrs Patmore's new "weed," as she called the second plant-named kitchen girl she'd undertaken; Daisy did hate to haul all that firewood.
Jam filling did sound rather heavenly.
(Daisy and Ivy went on to invent the toaster strudel.)
For the hundredth time Mary said to her, "Darling, I wish you'd consider a nursemaid."
And for the hundredth time Sybil replied, "I told you, I'd get too used to having one."
Neither woman was yet willing to concede to the actual argument. Mary pursed her lips. "Perhaps that isn't the worst thing, Sybil. Becoming used to comfort again."
"I'm not staying here forever," said Sybil softly.
Mary sighed and sank into a chair, staring at the baby in Sybil's arms. The child squirmed gently. "Didn't you agree that Downton was the best place to be right now? You're safe here."
Sybil considered her son. She tucked the blanket more snugly around him.
Mary didn't let the silence idle. "Sybil, you seem so happy to come here. To see us. You miss us, I know you do. Are you so happy in Dublin?"
The baby made a soft noise. Sybil exhaled. "Of course I'm happy to come here…to visit, Mary. I love to come and see you all, and to celebrate with you, and see all the familiar things."
"So stay," Mary entreated.
"Oh, don't you see? If I had to stay, Mary, I wouldn't be happy anymore." Sybil smiled at her distressed sister. "Downton's much more welcoming now that I have the freedom to leave again. I love you all, but I was so desperate to get away."
Mary raised her eyebrows. "How desperate?"
Sybil gave her a furious look and her sister dropped her gaze, clasping her hands together. "I didn't mean that," said Mary after an uncomfortable moment.
"I hope not."
"I know you love Tom."
"I can't think how that could be questioned," said Sybil.
"But you don't have the freedom to leave," pressed Mary. "If Tom sets foot in Ireland again, he'll be arrested."
Sybil did not say what she was thinking. She wondered if they had even once yet given serious consideration to the possibility that the Irish rebellion was not a foregone conclusion, or understood that it was not really England's blessing that Tom was ultimately waiting for.
And she knew her family didn't dare ask what she thought, for the answer might upset them none the less for their having expected it.
It was not as though Sybil had spent the past year in Dublin canvassing for the English cause. She'd spent it living and loving and working there, traveling the streets and hearing the anger and pride in every voice; how could she have turned a deaf ear to it all? And yet, despite their comments that all but flatly named her a sympathizer, she knew they hoped that just once she would contradict their assertions and were disappointed that she hadn't.
Her sister seemed concerned that she'd offended Sybil, so she went over and kissed Mary's head, and put the baby in her arms. The gesture was effective and Mary smiled brightly, helpless before her nephew.
"Everything will be alright," said Sybil.
note: the last one was not a dig on Mary, I like her and know she's protective of Sybil, it was just a thought that might have been addressed at some point.