Please, Stand Still
For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.
-John F. Kennedy
"Do you ever think about the future?" Mrs Hughes' voice carries a tinge of hesitation. She doesn't know what on earth possessed her to bring it up. She knows what his answer will be. She slowly brings her glass of sherry to her lips and takes a small sip. Her eyes never leave him as she carefully gages Mr Carson's reaction.
He frowns slightly. "What do you mean?"
She's unsure now. "I mean," she pauses, thinking of the right words. "Do you ever think about a life after service? A life after Downton?"
"No." His answer is immediate, honest, and exactly what she had expected. She can't help but feel some disappointment wash over her.
He can tell that she is pulling away now. Her back is straighter, her grip tighter on the glass, and she's looking anywhere but at him. He hurries to clarify his meaning. "I suppose I've always assumed I would live and die at Downton. I don't know another life. What else I would do?"
She nods in understanding. She expected as much.
"And you, Mrs Hughes?" he asks. "Do you ever think of a life after Downton?"
She looks down into her drink and swishes the remaining liquid it around. "You'll think I'm being silly."
"I think I'll retire," she finally says. She looks up at him now; she knows she caught him off guard. At his flustered reaction, she rolls her eyes. "Calm down, Mr Carson. I don't mean to retire tomorrow."
He relaxes slightly at her assurance. "What will you do?"
"I don't know," she admits, uncertainty layered in her words. "Perhaps I'll buy a cottage in the village."
Carson blinks. "But, what will you do with all that time?"
"I'll stay in bed until I feel like it, watch the sun set over the hill..." she continues, finally relaxing. Her enthusiasm increases with each word. "Maybe even take up embroidery. I've always admired Her Ladyship's work, but I've never had the time to learn."
Carson is stunned. "But... why?"
He doesn't know what the appropriate response is. His etiquette handbook is sorely lacking a chapter and as a result he has no idea how to react. He opens his mouth to say something, hoping that something would come to mind. When it doesn't, he settles for taking one last swig of his drink.
It is not everyday that Mr Carson is left speechless. It is not rooted in anger, offence, or even shock. His speechlessness is rooted in utter confusion and Mrs Hughes finds his flailing rather amusing.
"I don't expect you to understand." It's not meant to be an insult; she's only stating a fact. She knows that Service has always been his life and that he has never cared for another. She's didn't bring the topic up because she felt as though she needed his approval. She doesn't need his understanding.
"I'd like to try to understand," he tells her. "If you'd like to indulge me, that is."
"I'm no spring chicken," she tells him bluntly. She bites her lip in thought as she tries to come up with the most effective way to convey her motives. "I suppose I'd like to enjoy myself before I go."
He tries to keep his expression neutral. He's not supposed to know about how she had to face her own mortality. He's not supposed to have had to face it himself.
"Does that mean that you are unhappy, Mrs Hughes?"
She shakes her head. "No, I'm not unhappy. But I'm not as happy as I think I could be."
"I'm afraid I don't follow," he says with a raised eyebrow.
"In Service, we are always at the beck and call of somebody else," she explains. "I'm afraid you'll find me terribly selfish when I tell you I would like to live for me."
He nods his head in mock understanding. "I see," he says sagely.
"The effort is much appreciated, Mr Carson," she chuckles. "but you don't have to lie on my account."
"How dare you throw such accusations!" Carson huffs. In response, she shoots him a look that tells him he shouldn't even bother. He relaxes his stiff posture in defeat. "When the time comes, I expect that you would allow me to stop by from time to time," he finally says. He hopes that managed to hide his uncertainty.
"Of course, Mr Carson," Mrs Hughes smiles. "I'd be insulted if you didn't."
This is not the first time Mrs Hughes thinks about the future, but it is the first time that she shares it with another soul. She would never go as far as saying that a burden is lifted. It's more of an acknowledgement – an acknowledgment of things to come – which can be comforting in itself.
This is the first time that Mr Carson thinks about the future.
A seed is planted; a forest sprouts; he is utterly lost.