Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the wonderful show that is Downton Abbey.
Author's Note: This is a drabble of sorts set somewhere near the end of season 1 and is heavily inspired by Cora's comment in episode 5. Speaking of Downton, who else is excited to see the Christmas episode? :)
Bringing Up Daughters
No one ever warns you about bringing up daughters. At least, no one ever warned Cora. She had just assumed that her girls would be like little women: pretty, polite and proper. She had been quite shocked to discover just how wrong she was.
First there was Mary. She had always been a smart girl. Far smarter than women were allowed to be. But she was also stubborn and that made for a terrible combination. There was not a thing in the world that could stop her when she set her mind to something. Even from an early age, Mary always knew exactly what she wanted and it never took her long to think of a way to get it. She was the only person in the family who could stand openly against Robert and come out on top. Cora and the Dowager Countess could usually achieve their goals through subtlety and time, but they could never do it as quickly as Mary.
Of course, that wasn't all there was to her. Mary had been a vast dreamer once. But too much exposure to the world had quickly cut that short, causing her to hide that part of herself behind a mask of social climbing and cold calculation. That only worsened when Patrick's death ripped away the inheritance she had always believed to be hers. She was a brilliant woman trapped in a man's world and that forced her to be even more ruthless. It was for this reason that many people believed Mary Crawley to be nothing more than a cold and heartless gold digger.
But Mary also had a strong sense of justice. She hid it well, but no matter what she did it never truly went away. Every now and again there would be a moment when that gut feeling would cause her to make an unwavering stand for something right. Those moments always made Cora realize just how very proud she was of her eldest daughter. Sybil was really the only person who could reach that hidden part with any constancy. Perhaps that was why Mary always protected Sybil so fiercely. Maybe she saw in her youngest sister the person she could have been.
Secondly there was Edith. Even from an early age, it was painfully obvious that she was neither as beautiful nor as smart as her older sister. In fact, Mary seemed to outshine Edith in almost every possible area. Having been quite accidentally relegated to eternal second fiddle, Edith quickly made it her life goal to outdo her sister at something. Anything and everything could and did become a competition. And when it became obvious that the deck was forever stacked against her, Edith decided to hang the rules. If cheating was what it took to win, then cheat she would. While Mary relied on her beauty, charm, and wits to get her what she wanted, Edith turned to eavesdropping, blackmailing, and backstabbing. She might not be able to beat the cards her sister held, but she could tie Mary's hands behind her back.
Edith was also a terribly hard worker once she set her mind to something. Maybe it was because she was forever playing on a field that was unlevel. Maybe that was just who she was. Whatever the reason, it was all but impossible to stop Edith on a mission. Once she had set a goal, she would do anything and everything to reach it. Even if it meant playing dirty.
But she wasn't always as mean as people thought. She was actually quite kind at times. In fact, it could be argued that Edith had the biggest heart of all three Crawley sisters. But the need to not only keep up with but also beat out her older sister forced her to be even more ruthless than Mary. That in itself was quite a feat. There were rare occasions, however, when she allowed her kind heart to shine through. And when it did, Cora couldn't help being proud. Edith was like a flower stuck in the shadow of a larger tree. Once the tree was gone, the flower would be allowed to bloom. Maybe someday after Mary and Sybil were both taken care of then Edith would finally have the chance to find herself. Maybe then she would be able to become the gracious lady Cora saw hiding inside of her.
Last, but most certainly not least, was Sybil. Somewhere in the midst of the constant battle to keep Mary and Edith from tearing down the house, Sybil had fallen between the cracks. Most children would have felt abandoned. Not Sybil. She seemed to revel in the freedom it gave her. She began to fill her vast free time with knowledge. She read anything and everything she could get her hands on. And when she ran out of reading material she began asking questions of those around her. She wanted to know what they thought and why. In another house that curiosity might have gotten her in trouble. But as it was, Robert, Cora, and the governess were far too busy keeping Mary and Edith from killing each other. And by the time they finally realized just how opinionated Sybil had become, it was already far too late.
All of that knowledge might not have been so bad if Sybil hadn't been such an active person. She wanted to do things with what she knew. In most cases there was nothing wrong with that. Organizing fundraisers for the hospital was fine. Collecting food for the less fortunate was fine. Helping one of the maids try to improve her lot in life was fine. The growing interest in politics that had Sybil secretly attending political rallies, however, was not. Neither were the strong opinions that caused her to speak up so often during dinner. For all her polite manners and heartfelt kindness, Sybil was easily the hardest Crawley girl to manage. Mary might be rebellious and stubborn, but least she did it within the accepted social boundaries. Most of the time, anyway. And Edith, despite her complete and utter disrespect of any rule that got in her way, at least pretended to follow them. Sybil, on the other hand, had no problem whatsoever throwing out any rule or expectation that disagreed with her moral conscience.
But for all her unconventionality, she did have a strict moral code that she followed to the letter. She reminded Cora of a medieval crusader. She would take up the cause of anyone in need, wage battle against any injustice. And for that Cora was deeply proud of her daughter. The methods might be controversial and occasionally a bit rough, but the results could more than speak for themselves. Sybil cared about the things that truly mattered in life and she was more than willing to fight for them. Cora knew that wherever her baby girl ended up she was going to do just fine.
No one ever warned Cora about bringing up girls. No one warned her about the defiant stubbornness or the vicious backstabbing or the strong opinions. But they also never warned her about the joy of watching those feisty girls grow into beautiful young women. No one warned her about how much she would love them or about how proud she would be as she watched them spread their wings. No, no one ever warned Cora. But looking back, she knew she wouldn't have had it any other way. For all their faults, her three girls would always be exactly that: hers. And no matter what came, no matter what they did, she wouldn't trade them for the world.
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