The final chapter!
And now for a second reminder of Batwings79's specifications for the 2011 Mistletoe Challenge:
"Each story must contain at least three of the following criteria: a. Kiss under the mistletoe with one half of your ship and another character; b. A drunken Mrs. Patmore; c. A sober Lady Violet drinking everyone else under the table; d. Singing – drunken or sober; e. Thomas engaging in any drunken or sober activity that ends up with him getting punched; f. Giving of a 'suggestive' gift; g. Tartan underwear; h. Chocolate, peppermint or other edible item; i. A telephone conversation – suggestive or other otherwise; j. Buttons popping; k. Knives; l. Shakespeare or Dickensian quotation; m. A Christmas hickey."
No credit for finding the Dickens quote or the Shakespeare reference, but virtual brownie points for anyone who ferrets out multiple references to the film A Christmas Story, based on Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. I have extremely fond memories of hearing Mr. Shepherd tell that very tale on the radio one Christmas night many years ago.
And while I know Downton Abbey takes place in Yorkshire, I've included "The Sussex Mummers' Carol" in honor of everyone in Revels.
Daisy's Dare: A Story for Christmas
It was strange to be sitting alone at the table after almost everyone else had gone to bed. In the mornings it was the other way round, and she had to be awake first, or nearly first, to lay the fires and see to things.
That was lonely, but sitting up had turned out to be too. Daisy hadn't thought about it beforehand, but Anna had had Gwen to keep her company, hadn't she, and Thomas had Miss O'Brien. Why, even Mrs. Patmore was busy talking to Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson about something or other. Daisy could still hear their voices, even from all the way down the hall.
Suddenly there came the sound of another voice, only from outside this time, and it was singing.
"God bless the master of this house
With happiness beside;
Where e'er his body rides or walks,
His God must be his guide,
His God must be his guide."
William. That was William. He'd come back from visiting his parents, then -
"I'd not give notice any time soon, if I were you," Miss O'Brien was saying. "With a voice like that, you'd not earn a brass farthing."
"Go on, then," said Thomas. "Show him how it's done."
"Perish the thought!" said Miss O'Brien. "I'm not in the habit of standing out of doors and baying like one of his lordship's hounds, thank you very much."
"Pay them no mind, William. That was grand," said Mr. Branson. He must have come back from visiting his parents too - no, no, that couldn't be right; Mr. Branson's people lived in Ireland. He'd only taken his lordship out in the motorcar - though if they had driven as far as Ireland, thought Daisy, she'd have had to pack them some sandwiches. A lot of sandwiches.
"God bless the mistress of this house
With gold chain round her breast;
Where e'er her body sleeps or wakes,
Lord, send her soul to rest,
Lord, send her soul to rest."
That was William singing again, only this time Mr. Branson was joining in. Daisy couldn't remember the last time any of them had sung or played, at least when she'd been there to hear it. Perhaps it had been when Thomas had shown her how to dance the Grizzly Bear, but that was months ago now -
Suddenly there was a great noise coming from the hallway, of someone - or something - thumping all about. Daisy jumped out of her seat so fast she almost tumbled over - probably because the floor was so uneven; funny that she'd never noticed it before - and went over to the door to see who was out there.
But it wasn't a ghost or even a burglar, only Mr. Bates going down the hallway with that cane of his. Daisy stood and watched as he opened the back door.
"For God's sake, William!" said Mr. Bates in a loud whisper. "Half the household's already abed -"
"What's the matter, Long John Silver?" said Thomas. "Afraid he'll stop someone getting her beauty sleep? Mind you, that's more than you'll ever do."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Bates," said William, and he did sound sorry, but Miss O'Brien didn't - Daisy could hear her saying something in that sharp voice but couldn't quite make it out - and then Thomas started laughing, and Mr. Bates was trying again to quiet them all. Still, better to be scolded by Mr. Bates than Mr. Carson or Mrs. Hughes.
Or Mrs. Patmore.
Now there were more footsteps in the hallway - enough for a herd of elephants, Daisy reckoned. They were coming back inside, all of them - William, Mr. Bates, Miss O'Brien, and Thomas - and right past the doorway.
The one with the mistletoe.
You ought to take him by surprise. I dare you!
No, no, she daren't. Still, Thomas was lovely...and it was only once a year.
Daisy steadied herself, one hand clinging to the door frame, and waited and listened. First came Mr. Bates - she could tell him by the tapping of his cane - and then William following right after, and finally Miss O'Brien stepping smartly along by herself. That left one more to come, just the one.
And there he was now.
Daisy took a deep breath, shut her eyes, and swung round the corner.
Not a little kiss on the cheek. Not all shy-like. Firmly. Full on the lips. And with your hands on his chest. Or your arms round his neck.
His mouth was soft - she hadn't expected that, though she did like it - but his chest was firm beneath the cloth of his coat, and those smart brass buttons on either side -
Daisy's eyes popped open, and the first thing they spotted was Mr. Branson, backed against the wall and looking like he'd just seen a ghost.
She could hear someone squealing, "Oh, no. Oh, no!" It sounded like it was coming from far away, which was where she wanted to be just then. Only when she took a step backwards, she fell right against Thomas, who caught her by the elbows.
"Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone!" She wrenched herself away, smacking at Thomas, at the air, at everything and everyone in the hall - except Mrs. Patmore, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
"Daisy!" she said, taking her by the shoulders. "Whatever's the matter with you, girl?"
But she daren't tell Mrs. Patmore what she'd just done. She couldn't tell anyone, never in all her life.
Such a lot of noise, and at that hour of the night! She'd been coming back from Mr. Carson's office when she'd heard the commotion and gone to investigate, and could scarcely have imagined the sight waiting for her down the hallway: little Daisy fighting off that good-for-nothing footman. That was bad enough, but then the girl had been much too upset even to let herself be comforted.
By the time Daisy had gone running upstairs, crying as though her heart would break, Mrs. Patmore was at the end of her tether, and she fixed Thomas with a look that bespoke death, or perhaps worse.
"Oi! You! You've got no shame, you haven't."
"What're you on about?"
"That poor girl follows you about like a spaniel, and you dare to - dare to - "
In the end she couldn't say the words, but she could show Thomas what she thought of him - with a smart, stinging box on one ear, then the other - and tell him too, in a torrent of language such as she'd never had cause to use in the great house, not even the time Daisy had come very nigh to poisoning his lordship and everyone else above stairs besides.
By then quite a crowd seemed to have gathered round the two of them: Mr. Bates and William and Miss O'Brien and Mr. Branson, who seemed to be trying to stop her thrashing Thomas - strange, that; she'd never noticed those two were thick -
"What in God's name is going on here?"
Mrs. Patmore paused in her assault long enough to look round and see Mr. Carson striding down the hallway towards them, and Mrs. Hughes struggling to catch up. Thomas saw his chance and moved out of range, then stood there, bold as brass, straightening his livery as though he were the one who'd been wronged.
"What's going on here," said Mrs. Patmore, glaring at Thomas, "is him, interfering with our Daisy."
Mrs. Patmore hadn't known William was actually capable of roaring.
Or coming at Thomas like a prizefighter.
"No, no, William," Mr. Branson said, trying to pinion the lad's arms, but it was too late. For a moment the hallway seemed filled with flying fists, and the sound of Mr. Carson saying, "Now stop that! Stop that at once!" to no effect whatsoever as Thomas and William pummeled each other.
They both of them landed in a heap on the stairway, with Thomas grasping at the railings, and William trying to drag him backwards, till Mr. Branson leapt into the fray and this time managed to take hold of William and wrestle him to his feet.
"Thank you, Mr. Branson," said Mr. Carson. He cleared his throat. "Get up now, Thomas, for I fear you have a great deal to explain."
They all watched the footman, still face down on stairway, grip the railings and try to push himself loose, and fail miserably.
"Oh, he's never got his head caught!" said Miss O'Brien, with a mixture of disgust and wonder, as Thomas grew increasingly frantic, struggling against the bars and repeating a single word, over and over.
"There is no call for that sort of language," growled Mr. Carson.
"I believe he is merely saying 'stuck,' Mr. Carson." Mr. Bates spoke with the proper seriousness, but Mrs. Patmore was sure she saw a twinkle in his eyes and a twitch in his lips, like he needed to smile. Badly.
"We'll have him free soon enough," said Mr. Branson. He went over to the stairway and examined it just as though it were his lordship's motor. "Give us a hand, William.
"One, two, three -"
Thomas let out an oath - muffled, but everyone had heard it this time - and Mr. Branson had William stop pulling and take a rest while they all fell to discussing the problem.
"It's no use," said Mrs. Hughes, sighing. "We'll have to send for the fire brigade."
"Oh, surely not," said Mr. Carson, but if he wouldn't admit to doubt, his eyebrows gave him away, as they always did.
"I'm afraid so, Mr. Carson," said the housekeeper. "Or an ironmonger, if one's to be had this hour of the night. Or perhaps a joiner. After all, it's not as though we can just leave Thomas there till morning."
"I don't see why not," muttered Mrs. Patmore.
"That will do," said Mr. Carson sternly. "No, we shall have to shift him ourselves. Now then, Mr. Branson, William, if I might beg your assistance -"
Mrs. Patmore watched as the three of them put their backs into the task, till she was worried for Mr. Carson and even for Thomas, and could hold her tongue no more.
"You're going about it all wrong, you are," she said. Men! They were as helpless as babies, sometimes. "But I've got just the thing for it.
"Now don't touch anything," she ordered the lot of them, even Mr. Carson. "And you," she said to Thomas, "don't move a muscle!"
She didn't stay round long enough to hear whether Thomas answered her, though he must have done, because she could hear Mr. Carson rumble, "Language!" as she set off for the kitchen.
Nothing like a bit of lard for getting something - or someone - out of a tight spot, even if that someone was Thomas. Secretly she was rather proud of herself for thinking of it, and reckoned a cheer from the young men wouldn't have gone amiss, if it hadn't been so late.
But there wasn't time for such things, was there, when Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes would be expecting chapter and verse from Thomas, once Mr. Bates, William, and a most reluctant Miss O'Brien had been sent off upstairs.
Oddly enough, his lordship's chauffeur remained behind, a fact duly noted by Mr. Carson.
"Thank you, Mr. Branson. You've been most helpful, but we shall not detain you further."
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Carson, but I'd best stay."
"I see no need for it," replied the butler. "Especially," he added, lowering his voice, "when we have, er, delicate matters to address."
"Yes. Well, about that - "
"I never touched her, Mr. Carson!" burst out Thomas, desperately. "You have to believe me."
At that Mr. Carson's eyebrows shot up nearly to the ceiling. "It is not for you to instruct us in what we shall believe."
"We've always got on all right, Daisy and me," continued the footman. "And I'd never hurt her."
"Then why'd she run upstairs, crying her eyes out?" said Mrs. Patmore, beginning to lose patience with the whole exercise.
"Don't know." And Thomas looked as though he truly didn't. "She just gave me a smack, said she wanted to be left alone. Like I said, we get on. Don't know what got into her just now."
"I believe I've found the answer to that."
They all turned round to face Mrs. Hughes, who was standing beside the dining room table and holding something in her hands.
"But - but that's port." Mr. Carson's eyebrows were in a fair way to fly clean off his forehead. "An entire tumbler of port!"
"Not an entire tumbler, Mr. Carson," replied Mrs. Hughes. "Though it's clear she finished quite enough to do a bit of damage."
"So it would seem," said Mr. Carson.
"Didn't think she had it in her," said Thomas, almost admiringly. Then, with a snigger: "Though I reckon she does now."
"That's enough," said Mr. Carson, scowling. "And may I remind you that being wronged yourself shall not entitle you to tease Daisy about this - this sad episode."
"No, Mr. Carson."
"Very well. I shall have a word with William tomorrow."
"Thank you, sir," said Thomas, looking more pleased with himself that was good for him. He glanced round at all of them. "Well, I'd best go up."
"Yes, thank you, Thomas. Get some rest."
But still Thomas was dallying, and Mrs. Patmore could guess why. So the cheeky beggar expected her to apologize! Well, he'd have a very long wait indeed before that happened.
"Is there something wrong, Thomas?" demanded Mr. Carson.
"Erm, no, sir. Goodnight, sir."
With a deep sigh, Mr. Carson dropped down onto a chair. He seemed to have aged ten years in a single evening.
"Daisy," he said, shaking his head. "I could never have imagined Daisy would give us a moment's trouble."
"No," agreed Mrs. Hughes. "Though I'd wager she'll not repeat the mistake. Not after what she'll suffer tomorrow morning."
"Oh, she'll suffer, all right," said Mrs. Patmore. "Once I'm done with her."
"Now, Mrs. Patmore, there's no need for harsh measures," said Mrs. Hughes. "After all, Daisy's very young -"
"Hmph! Not too young for drinking and brawling."
"I would agree that a bit of correction is in order," said Mr. Carson diplomatically. "After all, we are responsible for the girl's moral welfare."
"We'll both have a word with her tomorrow, Mrs. Patmore and I," promised Mrs. Hughes. "Once Daisy is in any fit state to hear it," she added, sighing.
"I am greatly obliged to you, Mrs. Hughes," said Mr. Carson. "Now," he added, rising from his chair, "let us put this business behind us, at least for the moment.
"Yes, Mr. Branson? Is there something I can do for you?"
Mrs. Patmore turned round and saw the chauffeur, looking fully as miserable as any man who ever stood before a magistrate.
"I - I didn't like to say anything earlier, but -"
"Mr. Branson," sighed Mr. Carson, "if there is more bad news to report, you'd best do it quickly. At this hour of the night I am not in a humor to entertain leisurely discussions."
"Right. Well, it's just this: I hope you won't be too hard on Daisy - once you know what really happened, I mean."
"There is nothing amusing here, Mrs. Patmore!" said Mr. Carson indignantly.
"Oh, I think there is," said the cook, wiping her eyes. "Our Daisy, pouncing on Mr. Branson." She started in chuckling again. "I can't think when I've seen such a look of terror on any man's face."
"Well, at least we may trust in his discretion," said Mr. Carson. "It's not as though he will want to speak of this ever again."
"No, no, I quite agree," said Mrs. Patmore, gasping for breath. "He wouldn't want it put about that he was one of Daisy's conquests!"
"I am glad you are finding this so entertaining," said Mrs. Hughes tartly. She shook her head. "Drinking, kissing, fighting. It's like a penny dreadful!"
"'The True Exploits of Daisy,' as told by -"
"Mrs. Patmore!" But Mr. Carson could do little but stand there glowering as the cook was overcome by another fit of laughter, and even Mrs. Hughes was struggling to suppress a smile.
"Oh, I suppose there was no real harm done," said the Scotswoman. "Though Thomas might have been left a little bruised."
"Bruised?" said Mrs. Patmore, snorting. "With Daisy and William and me against him, it's a miracle he wasn't killed."
With that comment, it was all up with Mrs. Hughes.
Forced to concede defeat in the war for decorum, Mr. Carson wisely retreated from the field of battle, leaving the two women to laugh till they shook all over, and the tears rolled down their faces.
Of course Daisy was completely useless the following morning, and Mrs. Hughes instructed Anna and Gwen to look after her as best they could, and to see if they couldn't get her to take something - and, it was to be hoped, keep it down - when she was ready.
By afternoon the girl was much improved, if a bit pale, though she turned whiter still when she looked up and saw Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore standing at her bedside.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, dissolving into tears. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are," said Mrs. Hughes, not unkindly. "And I know you'll not repeat the mistake."
"Indeed she shall not," said Mrs. Patmore. "Guzzling port like it was lemonade! Whatever got into you?"
"Well," said Daisy, her voice quavering. "Mr. Carson said we might have a glass apiece -"
"A dainty wee glass, Daisy," said Mrs. Hughes. "Not one that could hold fully a quarter of the bottle!"
"I'm sorry," said the girl again. "I'm sorry -"
"Dry your eyes, Daisy," said Mrs. Hughes wearily. "Just behave yourself from now on, and we'll say no more about it."
"I'll never touch another drop, I swear!"
"For heavens' sake, I'm not expecting you to live under the Total Abstinence Principle, though I will ask that you not throw yourself at any more young men in his lordship's employ."
At that question pale little Daisy turned pink, and might have looked restored to health, but for the expression of utter terror in her eyes.
"Yes, Mr. Branson told us what happened," said Mrs. Hughes before the girl could speak. "And how frightened you were when you saw who it was you'd - you'd surprised."
"I thought it was Thomas," said Daisy in a small voice. "I heard someone coming, and I thought it was Thomas."
"Oh, Thomas!" snorted Mrs. Patmore. "He always did deserve a smack more than a kiss. At least you got that bit right. Mind you, it took me and William to do the job proper -"
"Mrs. Patmore, you are not helping," said Mrs. Hughes. She turned to Daisy. "I'm afraid there was a fight - between Thomas and William."
"Is Thomas hurt very bad?"
"He'll live," said Mrs. Hughes tartly. "I notice you didn't ask how William is faring."
Daisy went paler, if that was possible. "Oh, I'm sure he'll be all right -"
"Yes, and no thanks to you!"
"What've I got to do with it?" said Daisy, eyes wide.
"He was fighting for your honor, you ridiculous girl!" said Mrs. Hughes.
"Mind you, I'll not be the one to tell him your honor was quite safe all the time. Not with the thrashing he took for your sake."
"Yes, your honor!" said Mrs. Patmore, sighing. "He thought Thomas had - had taken advantage of you."
"But Thomas would never do that!"
"You know that, and I know that, but William doesn't - "
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Patmore," said Mrs. Hughes abruptly. "Oh, I've half a mind to pour the rest of the port down the sink. And I'm taking that mistletoe down the minute I'm downstairs, the very minute."
"Oh, please don't, Mrs. Hughes," said Daisy. "It's lovely, and we only put it up once a year."
"Surely there's no harm in leaving it," said Mrs. Patmore. "Now that Daisy's learnt her lesson."
"Very well. We'll leave the mistletoe up till Twelfth Night. Then down it comes," said Mrs. Hughes. "After all, it is only once a year." She sighed deeply. "And thank God for that!"
"The Sussex Mummers' Carol" has many verses and variants. I've used the first section of the version sung at the conclusion of the Christmas Revels in the United States.
Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and review.