"Will you go?"
He wanted to hear pleading in her voice. Desperation. Don't go, Matthew. Stay with me, Matthew.
"Will you join them?"
Her eyes were wet and her voice broke over the words.
He took her hands in his.
"I have to, Mary."
"But why?" There was the pleading. "Matthew, I don't...there are other men, others who can fight, it will be over so quickly and they won't even need you, not the way...."
He kissed her, fiercely, before she could say it. She'd always told him never to believe a word she said.
Cora felt the earth shake, or maybe her knees just gave out.
"A nurse? Why? Whatever for? They have women who do those things, you can stay here, you can roll bandages and you can make meals. Sibyl, you are too young, you must stay here!"
When did she become her own mother, contriving ways to keep her daughter close by, keep her caged?
But Sibyl was always going to leave, she would have left in a thousand different ways if this had not happened. They were both like their mothers, if it came to it.
"The Red Cross, Mother. They need young women who are not attached, who can move about freely."
Sibyl's eyes glowed with the promise of adventure, and Cora felt her heart break.
"Do you wish you were with them? Thomas and William, I mean?"
"Going to war?"
Bates sighed and gripped his cane. He thought of how they'd lost his brother in the last war, and he thought of the fear that he still felt when the weather was right and his leg ached, when he thought of why that was. He took a deep breath and tried not to smell blood, burnt skin, when he answered her.
"I don't wish I were with them. I wish I could stop them having to go."
She nodded and stared out beyond him, to the garden. "I have a brother, you know."
"I got a letter from mum, he's packed off and already bound for Lord knows where. I want to believe he's going for a good reason."
He put his arm around her and tried to assure her that it was so.
Gwen was a secretary, finally. Unfortunately, she was no longer sure she should be one.
She worked hard, of course, staying late and arriving early, so early some mornings that she was obliged to wait until someone came with a key, and finally they gave her one of her own.
She loved what she was doing. She was often praised for her organizational skill, her typing.
But newspapers came every day telling worse news. Another ship attacked, another regiment decimated. The Kaiser's forces stronger, growing. America steadfast in her refusal to get involved. Gwen walked past one of the new military hospitals every day to get to work. She heard screams, one morning. She tried not to.
A letter came, from Lady Sibyl (who tried to insist that Gwen not call her "Lady" any longer). "I have joined the Red Cross, and am sure to leave for the front before long," it read.
Gwen typed invoices and work orders, she kept the paperwork orderly and she was a valuable employee who was well-paid.
And one day, she gave her notice, and sent a telegram to Sibyl.
"I want to help."
"Do you remember when I came back, what we said?"
Cora nodded. "We were glad we had no sons. For that one time, we were glad."
Robert put his hand on Cora's, while across the room Sibyl told her sisters her plans.
For a moment, he was glad once more.
"Daisy, you have to get to work. This is the third time in a week you've forgotten to light the fire in Lord Grantham's study, and I will not cover for you again."
"I'm sorry, Anna, I just can't stop thinking...."
"You have to. We all miss William. Doesn't mean we can stop working. We have jobs to do, people to take care of."
Daisy nodded and picked up the bucket she'd put down when she began weeping. Anna was kinder than she ought to be. If Mrs. Patmore knew, it would be Daisy's hide.
But who will take care of William? Who will take care of Thomas?
She could not stop thinking, and did the rest of her work with tears on her cheeks.
My darling Mary.
My dearest Cousin Mary.
My precious love.
The war has barely begun, and already we are beset with trial. We are short on rations and there was a bout of intestinal trouble in the barracks a week ago.
Darling, I miss you. I cannot stop thinking of you. Will you wait? Do you promise to wait?
Mary, we were wrong that day in the garden. We should never have.
They are calling us to action in a week, we are told. I have been made captain, though rank and title seem to mean very little more than salutes and expensive uniforms.
Mary, I cannot do this.
If I am killed.
If I do not return.
In London stop Will write at first post stop Am captain now stop Please write stop
"The Dowager Countess, milady."
As ever, the air changed when she walked into the room.
"How are you, my dear? I cannot believe this of Sibyl." As ever, no words minced.
Edith poured her tea, and sweetened it.
Cora sipped from her own cup before saying anything. "It was her decision. Robert has contacted an old friend he trusts, and Branson will drive her to the station himself. She's to serve in London for the duration, Robert has seen to it."
Edith shifted in her seat. Her grandmother fixed her with a look, but Edith betrayed nothing.
Violet let it go. Cora had to have her fancies. Sibyl would not be kept in London and she likely knew of her father's actions and her mother's scheming. Privately, Violet wished she were Sibyl's age. She might have done the same thing.
"Shh, someone will overhear."
"Those bastards in parliament think we will answer to their every beck and call, that in a patriotic fervor we will forget wages, and working conditions, and suffrage."
"Branson, do you hear this?"
"What do you think?"
"I can't say I agree totally. I can't say I wouldn't fight if it came to it."
"Yes, but fight whom?"
"You cannot sit by, lads, you have to pick a side."
"And choose fighting Jerries or fighting my own countrymen?"
"Ah, but they aren't your countrymen, now, are they?"
Matthew, my love.
Days are long at Downton, filled with waiting for the sound of your bicycle coming up the lane.
Sibyl has gone, and she will not stay in London no matter how Father plots to keep her there.
Matthew, I have to tell you.
I am not the woman you believe me to be.
I am not the woman I believe me to be.
Matthew, write to me. Tell me where you are, what you are doing.
So they call you Captain Crawley, do they? Should I address you thus, when you are returned to me?
Return to me.
All I ask of you.
I am a broken, wretched mess of a woman. If I am yours, will you take me as I am?
Your mother is well, I am sure she wrote to you. We are having a ball soon, to raise money for the new orphanage, and you know it was her idea. I have tea with her most days, when Edith is not there. My mother sends her love. My father is worried for you, I see it in his eyes.
Because it is but a shadow of my own worry.
When Parliament issued the call to arms, asking for 500,000 soldiers, William had no mother to tell him not to go.
So Mrs. Hughes did so in her stead.
"William, you have a home here. You have work. You need not go."
There were no casualty lists yet, no tales of what the enemy would do to those it did not successfully kill. William was bright with patriotic fervor, and felt keenly a sense of duty to God and country. Mrs. Hughes could not pretend she felt less, but she also felt the loss of his eagerness, of his innocence, as if it had already happened.
"Mrs. Hughes, if I stay, how could I look you in the eye? They need young men, strong men. I can't sit by, I have to be a part of this."
She shook her head.
"You have to come back to us, William."
He nodded. "I have to have a place to come back to. That's why I want to go."
Edith was asked to serve on a planning committee for a new orphanage to be built in the village. An idea from Cousin Isobel, though Grandmother was ostensibly in charge of the project.
She spent long hours overseeing a fund-raising ball, and was close in confidence with both the older women, who each saw in Edith something new. A zeal, almost, for the work that needed to be done.
Violet wondered. She had always known Edith to be petulant, to be dutiful but no more. She was not rebellious, like Sybil, or headstrong like Mary. Rather she was resigned.
So Violet pressed.
"Whatever happened to Sir Anthony, I wonder? We have not seen him since the garden party."
Edith's color rose, but she kept her countenance. "I do not know. He mentioned obligations in London, and I assume he has duties related to the war effort like the rest of us."
"Do you not correspond, then?"
Edith stayed silent, and Violet decided to come to the point.
"Did you have a falling out with Sir Anthony Strallan, Edith?" She refrained from saying more. With great effort, as Edith pursed her lips and began to look ill.
Her back straightened at the noise of the door opening. Mary walked in, and when Edith realized it, she made excuses and left the room.
Mary did not look at her sister once.
And Violet began to understand.
Thomas learned how to sew stitches, how to disinfect wounds, how to amputate a limb.
He learned how to sleep in the mud. He learned how to breathe through a gas mask.
He learned that shrapnel from helmets can be deadlier than the bullets fired. He learned that mustard gas could kill you before you knew what you were breathing.
He had gotten away from a life of servitude, only to find himself in another, at the mercy of wounds, infections, disease, death.
Sometimes Thomas thought of Downton, of Bates limping in the hall. He wondered if it had been a bullet, or a bayonet, or maybe a minie ball. He wondered how the skin had looked, torn and bloody, burnt at the edges maybe. He wondered who had sewn Bates up, if they'd been trained the way Thomas himself had been, on the field, while the war raged.
Sometimes Thomas looked at the sky, and he could imagine yet another life. On the seashore, perhaps, with a blue-eyed wonder who would sing and with whom he might finally find peace.
Then came blood, again, and explosions, mud-clogged ears and dysentery.
The war raged on.
"But the war went on and he had to stay / All I could do was wait and pray. / His letters told of the awful fight / I can still see it in my dreams at night." - from “Why Wear a Poppy” by Don Crawford