Last time, Minerva found herself caught in a case of mistaken identity. Now, we're up at Downton Abbey itself, where Lady Violet Crawley is raging about becoming the very thing that her unknown alter ego is: a witch.
"She wants me to be a what?"
"A witch. She wants you to be the evil witch in the play."
"The nerve of her! Do I look like a witch to you?"
Lady Edith Crawley refrained from comment as she watched her grandmother flounce up and down the library with every ounce of wounded dignity she could muster. She had learned a long time ago that when Granny was in a temper, it was best just to keep one's mouth closed and stand back. It was a rare occasion when the aforementioned tempers happened, but now – ironically, a week before the servants' ball – was one of those times.
Normally, the servants' ball was a special occasion, filled with joy, laughter, and dancing, and the festivities this year promised to be even better, thanks to the efforts of Cousin Isobel. She had proposed a short stage play to be acted out for the servants' entertainment halfway through the evening, and everyone had been enormously excited when they learned that the play was to be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The family had laughed, but jumped to the task when Isobel informed them that they, the Crawleys, would be the actors and actresses; the stars of the show. Of course, everyone clamored for the lead roles – Edith herself and her sister Mary had nearly come to blows over which one of them would play Snow White. Mary's argument was that Edith did not possess the dark, shining hair and flawless white skin of Snow White (all implying that she did herself), while Edith fired back that she ought to be worried that the poisoned apple might kill the future heir of Downton (after all, Mary was pregnant with her and husband Matthew's first child).
That argument had effectively been settled by their mother, Cora, who stepped in and declared that she would play Snow White, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. With the girls promptly put in their places and Cora now in the lead role, the obvious choice for the Prince was Lord Robert Crawley, handpicked by Cora ("Of course Mama would choose her own Prince," Mary chuckled) and smilingly approved by Isobel.
Then there was the problem of assembling the Seven Dwarfs. Clearly, nobody at Downton was small enough to be considered a dwarf, but Isobel, ever optimistic, had cheerfully exclaimed that height didn't matter; only the parts did. His confidence boosted by Isobel's own, Matthew had been the first to volunteer his services as a dwarf. Tom Branson, the girls' brother-in-law, spoke up next, stating that he'd do it "for Sybbie – and because her mother would have loved it so." It didn't take long after that for Mary and Edith to speak up, followed by their cousin Rose, visiting from Duneagle in Scotland, Isobel herself, and their aunt Rosamund, who declared that she might as well make a fool out of herself along with the rest of them.
But the real problem still remained – the last role and, more to the point, who was going to play it. The only role left was the most crucial one, aside from Snow White: the wicked Queen, otherwise known as the Witch. She believed herself to be the fairest in the land, yet her jealousy of Snow White's beauty made her as ugly on the outside as she was on the inside. At the time, all of the parts were taken and the Crawleys were stumped as to who would play the Queen… until, in a strong burst of gall (or insanity, depending on one's point of view), Isobel boldly suggested, "What about Cousin Violet? She's certainly in the position to ask who the fairest one of all is." Even Robert had smiled at that remark, which only solidified the decision. All that remained was to deliver the news – but at the moment, Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, was all but ready to shoot the messenger, even if it happened to be her own granddaughter.
"Isobel and her wretched cheek! Me, a witch!"
"Granny, calm down!" Edith held up her hands, trying to placate her fuming grandmother, despite the fact that she knew it was futile. "You're forgetting that she's not a witch at first; she's a queen – the most beautiful in the land until Snow White's beauty outshines hers."
"That's a laugh as well," Violet snapped, turning on her heel and striding the opposite length of the library. "A beautiful queen was not what Isobel had in mind when she suggested me. All she was thinking of was an evil, ugly old crone, and don't you dare deny it. I can accept that I'm past my prime, but I'm not ugly, Edith! Am I?"
Beneath the seemingly vain words, Edith could hear the insecurity in Violet's voice, and it nearly broke her heart. "Oh, Granny…" Rising from the sofa near the fireplace, Edith crossed the room to Violet and put her arms around her grandmother's shoulders, holding her close. "Of course not. Just because you're not twenty anymore doesn't mean you're not still beautiful. Look at Grandmama. She looks wonderful for her age, and what's more, she knows it."
Violet pulled away with a cynical expression. "Do be serious, Edith. As much as alcohol as that woman imbibes, she's probably preserved herself for the next thirty years."
"Granny, I am serious. If Grandmama were here and Cousin Isobel had asked her to play the Queen, what would you have done?"
"Laughed at her, just as she would be laughing at me at this moment," Violet replied without as much as a thought. "Of course, she never passes up an opportunity to be the center of attention."
Had Edith been a braver soul, she would have taken a leaf out of her grandmama Martha Levinson's book and said something along the lines of pot and kettle. But at the moment, her British sensibilities were overriding her American fire, so she bit her tongue and simply smiled at her paternal grandmother. "That's exactly the point. Grandmama would leap at the chance to play any part, even if it was one of the dwarfs. She knows how to laugh at herself and she doesn't give a fig what anyone thinks about her."
Violet sniffed. "She's American. Americans wouldn't understand the meaning of the word dignity if it wrapped itself in a Union Jack and beat them about the head."
Now it was Edith's turn to pull back in disbelief. "Now, that's not entirely true. What about Mama? She's American and she has more dignity in her thumb than most women of our class have in their whole bodies."
"Well, that's only because she's lived here for so long," Violet said, by way of an explanation. "Being married to your father and then becoming the Countess of Grantham has taught her to adopt the ways of the English – a change for the better, if you ask me."
Edith was silent for a moment. Unlike Mary, who thought of herself as fully English, Edith was secretly glad she was half American. She and her sisters had been brought up like proper English ladies, but deep down, Edith knew that her determination, her thirst for freedom, and her zeal to welcome new things and changes with open arms were all results of the hot American blood that flowed through her veins – the blood that had been passed down to her from Cora and from Grandmama Martha. And whether or not Violet cared to admit it, not even years of living in Britain and of being the Countess of Grantham had quenched Cora's American fire, which burned bright in her resilience, her pluck, and her compassionate spirit. But now was no time to argue with Violet about it. "Oh, Granny, why not just grin and bear it? It's only for one night, and think how much Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and the others will love it."
"Please, dear. Some of the servants undoubtedly think I'm a witch already; there's no point in confirming it for them."
As Violet started out of the library and in the direction of the main lounge, Edith called after her, "Granny, you have to do it! We can't put on the play without you!"
Violet stopped in her tracks and swiveled on the spot to face Edith once more. "Edith, I am forced to play many parts every day: mother, grandmother, family matriarch, Dowager Countess, even matchmaker on the rarest of occasions. But as long as I have breath in my body, I will not, will not play a witch!" And with that Parthian shaft, she stormed out of the room, leaving Edith to throw up her hands in frustration.