Lady Mary and her village, post season 3

Tiredly, Lady Mary made her way down the hallway, away from her bedroom and toward the sound of her crying baby. Normally, her infant son, George, was cared for overnight by his nanny, but her mother had taken ill and she was away from the house for the next several days. The maids were taking turn with George during her absence, but when Mary heard his little cries from the nursery, she felt compelled to go and see to her son.

As she neared the nursery that George shared with his cousin, Sybil, Mary realized that the crying had stopped. She reached for the door handle, but before she could turn it, the door opened and Anna, her ladies maid, emerged from the room.

"Anna. I didn't realize you were taking a turn caring for George." Mary was surprised, but grateful. Anna was just beginning her own pregnancy and was still working as hard as ever. Mary didn't know how she managed time or the energy to care for George as well.

Anna smiled at her gently, "Not officially, milady. Mr. Bates and I were on our way out actually, when we heard him crying."

"Well, thank you for seeing to him. I suppose he's sleeping now?" Mary was not sure if she was relieved or disappointed that her baby no longer needed her to soothe him.

"Well," Anna shot her a shy smile, "It wasn't just me, milady."

"What?" Mary was confused. Something made the baby stop crying. If not Anna, then who?

"You know that sometimes, on Nanny's half day, George spends the night at our cottage with us."

"No," Mary replied softly, "I didn't know. That's very kind of you." Mary knew that the circumstances surrounding her baby's birth and her husband's death had made her a bit disconnected from the goings on at the house, but she hadn't realized it was that bad.

Anna allowed her thanks to go by without comment. Instead she cracked the nursery door so Mary could see inside.

"We discovered quite by accident that George is quite the lover of literature; but only when Mr. Bates is reading to him aloud."

As Mary's eyes adjusted to the dim light in the nursery, she beheld an amazing sight. Sitting in the little nursery rocker, with her baby laying on his chest, was John Bates, her father's valet and Anna's husband. He was reading by the light of the small table lamp, reciting the words in a hushed tone.

Anna peeked in around her. "I suspect he likes the vibrations in his chest."

"Yes." Mary breathed. Hearing the pair, John looked up and smiled at them. The baby in his arms squirmed at his silence and let out a little, discontented cry.

"There, there," the big man holding the tiny baby said, before picking up the book and starting again. The babe quieted almost immediately, soothed by the deep cadence of his voice.

Silently, Mary pulled the door back closed. Turning to Anna in the hallway, she wiped away a tear that was forming.

"You must thank Mr. Bates for me. I'm sure nannying was not a part of the deal when he agreed to be my father's valet."

Anna bit her lip. "The first time I brought George home with me, we had some trouble getting him to stop crying and go to sleep. It was then that we discovered this little trick. I apologized to John afterward, thinking it must have been a nuisance for him to have to take care of a baby I brought home. Do you know what he said?"

"No, what did he say?" Mary asked, intrigued.

"He said, 'Mr. Matthew helped take care of you while I was in prison, and I shall now endeavor to do the same for Lady Mary and George in his absence.'"

Touched, Mary turned away from Anna to collect herself. Before she turned back, the nursery door opened again and their topic of conversation joined them in the hall. "Well, I think he's down for now." he whispered.

All of a sudden, Mary turned on her heel and threw her arms around John's neck, squeezing him tightly. Taken aback, John patted her on the back awkwardly until she just as abruptly let go and pushed herself away. "Well, good night, and thank you." Without another word, Lady Mary quickly made her way back down the hall and out of sight.

John stared at Anna in amazement. "What was that about?"

Anna smiled and took his arm as they walked the opposite direction down the hall.

She touched the small roundness of her stomach gently before responding. "You're going to be a good father, John Bates. That is what that was about."