Violet waited in the car as she had informed Isobel she would, she wanted the time to gather herself. Dinner had left her positively aghast at Lord Merton’s insolent sons’ behaviour. To witness those ill-mannered brat’s degrading Isobel had been insufferable. More painful had been watching as the the normally, critical but compassionate, Isobel had wilted under the abuse. Violet was just beginning to muse in pride over Tom’s uncouth outburst when Isobel arrived at the motorcar.
Instead of entering the car she stood under the chauffeur’s umbrella, indicating that Violet should open the window. “I’m going to walk.” she said when the window was open.
Violet looked at her in disbelief, “But it’s raining.”
“Oh, well, a little rain never hurt anyone.” She said in false cheeriness, she face only beginning to crumble as she said, “Besides, I’d rather walk.”
“Well, then, I’ll walk with you.”
“Nonsense, I just nursed you back from pneumonia a few months ago.”
“I thought you said a little rain couldn’t hurt anyone?”
Isobel opened her mouth as if to say something, and then pointedly closed it. Turning away for a moment, her mouth set in a firm line she turned back to Violet. Fists clenched at her side.
“Please, Violet. Not tonight.”
Gathering herself up, Violet leaned pointedly towards the window.
“You’re embarrassed. And you’ve been hurt. And I understand you wish to be alone, to lick your wounds. I care for you Isobel. I will not say a word to you on the drive home or on the matter, if you wish it. But walking alone home in the rain will not make you feel better. Now, please, for my sake, will you get in the car so that we can go home?”
Without saying a word Isobel climbed into the vehicle, nodding as the chauffeur closed the door for their departure.
Violet attempted to maintain an air of nonchalance but it was difficult. She knew that Isobel was hurting, deeply, but she wasn’t entirely sure how to progress. How to make the pain and rejection recede? How could she when her own feelings on the matter were so embroiled: She had told Mary nearly everything at their luncheon, it was true she had come to consider Isobel her companion, leaving out the smallest of details: that she had fallen in love with Isobel.
It was unconventional to be sure, and she had resisted her feelings desperately at first. But there was unconventional things happening all around her. In a way Lord Merton’s son was correct: she had an Irish chauffeur for a grand-son-in-law, a promiscuous granddaughter, and a granddaughter with the bastard from a dead man. Her own son had married an American. Shrimpy was getting a divorce. And Rose it seemed has her heart set on marrying a jew. Compared to the rest, falling in love with a woman seemed insignificant.
But to her, it was everything.
This quiet, passionate soul seated next to her had changed her life and her views. In the beginning Isobel had been an insufferable woman. Annoying and knowledgable, a fantastic sparring partner she would concede, but, somewhere along the way… between losing Matthew and being nursed back to health by her, well, as she had told Mary, they had become companions. And then Lord Merton had arrived and begun courting Isobel. Violet realised that Isobel had thought her jealous of Lord Merton attention. The change in position or social standing seemed to be everyone’s logical conclusion for her perceived jealousy. But in truth Violet had been jealous because she thought she was losing Isobel. She couldn’t bare that Lord Merton could take her hand and her heart so easily. Even if she were to suffer through this unrequited love in this state, to be near Isobel was far more torturously wonderful than to see her married to another man. She had been joyous when Isobel had declined Doctor Clarkson. She knew it was selfish. But that was the truth of the matter. She was in love with Isobel Crawley.
Deep in thought, Violet watched the raindrops as they gathered on her window, collecting in horizontal dams until gravity or wind forced them to streak and stretch along the window pane. True to her word, she would leave Isobel be for this car ride. Prior to the events of this evening, Violet had just began to accept that Isobel was lost to her: The future Lady Merton. And yet, here now was perhaps her last chance. To, terrifyingly enough, declare herself and her feelings. But what would happen if Isobel rejected her. Isobel needed a friend at the moment, more so than a lover. The thought of the word ‘lover’ made Violet’s heart beat frantically. But what if this was the only window of opportunity to make her feelings known. She looked at the devastated face of the woman next to her. No, not tonight. Tonight Isobel deserved to know that she was cared for, not overwhelmed with an unusual proposition of adoration and love. And perhaps, Violet knew, regarding the stillness of her companion, to have care around a wounded animal that might claw out at even the most gentle of approaches.
As the car approached Isobel’s house, she finally turned to Violet. “I am quite surprised you kept your word and held back your opinion on the evenings events.” Violet almost sighed in relief. A quiet and devastated Isobel was the most painful to bare witness to, it brought to the fore memories of Matthew’s death and impossible sorrow. But, these few words of challenge from Isobel were as close to a declaration of her spunk and strength, as she could muster after such a harrowing supper.
“I said I would, and so I shall continue to do so, unless you’d like to hear my opinion now?”
“Would you come in?”
“I thought that I would like to be alone, but in fact I think a night cap may be in order. And I might as well be subject to your opinion over fortification, don’t you agree?” Isobel took the chance to climb out of the car as it came to a standstill before the chauffeur could open the door for her.
“You assume the worst of my opinion.”
“Shouldn’t I? Considering that Lord Merton’s sons merely reiterated what you had been saying for months.”
Isobel sniffed and looked away, “No, Cousin Violet, perhaps tonight is not the night for a nightcap after all. I have been made a fool, more so by you than anyone else, especially, as I am so well versed with your pleasure in saying ‘I told you so’ at pivotal moments.”
“Isobel, you misjudge me, and you do us both, and our friendship, a great disservice. I will give you tonight. You are lashing out at the one who loves you most. But I warn you, you may attempt to push me away, but I am afraid that, most unfortunate for you, I am far more stubborn. I will call on you tomorrow for tea. And I shall tell you my opinion then. I bid you goodnight.”
Violet then politely closed the door and tapped on the partition with her cane, signalling the driver to continue homewards.
Violet had a fitful night’s sleep tossing and turning worrying about Isobel. She shouldn’t have quarrelled with her, she should have stayed with the contrary woman. Or explained. Or showed her comfort. But Isobel had seemed beyond all of that. She saw no reason not to arrive earlier than tea time, otherwise she knew that she would simply continue to fret until she spoke with Isobel. And she wanted to explain it all. With that in mind, she departed for Isobel’s directly after breakfast not wanting to wait.
Upon arriving at Isobel’s she was surprised to find Isobel in the midst of packing. Initially words seemed to fail Violet as she watched Isobel pulling thinks out of her wardrobe. Passing them to the maid to fold or press. Violet took in the scene in stunned amazement, standing so very still that it took a few moments before Isobel noticed her presence. When Isobel finally noticed Violet she, herself froze as if caught. Instead of greeting Violet, Isobel dismissed the maid, and then with her back to Violet said, “I thought you were only due at Tea time.”
“And if I had arrived at Tea time, would you have been here?”
“No, I thought I’d take a trip.”
“How sweet of you to inform me of this impromptu trip before I arrived for tea.”
“I was going to leave a note.”
“A note.” Violet’s tone was cold. “I have never known you as a coward, Isobel. I’m surprised you didn’t steal away like a thief in the night!”
“I am not a coward, Violet. I just thought to take a trip, to London for a few days or a month.”
“Without saying goodbye? To Lord Merton? To your grandson? To me?”
“Oh Violet, you act as I were about to fall off the face of the earth. I just need some time.”
“I see I was remiss in leaving you alone last night.” Violet noted, taking in Isobel’s puffy cheeks, and unhealthy pallor. “You are running away. But I will not let you. The events of last night are not a reflection on you. You were a victim of those retched brats jealousy.”
“You made it no secret to me that you didn’t approve of my future union with Dickie, Violet. So why pretend to be my champion, when clearly this was you saw the foregone conclusion all along?”
“My dear, it was never my chosen forgone conclusion. It is true I was not fond of Lord Merton’s interest in you. But I was not sure you would find happiness with him. And… I was scared of losing you. And our friendship.” Violet took the moment, to settle herself down next to Isobel where she was perched upon the bed, “And you should know, had I arrived at your home for tea, to find you had fled, I would have gone home to pack and followed directly after you. Because as much as you may disbelieve it, I am your champion, even if we do not always agree. Even if you seem far too cheery somedays to bare.” Quietly she took Isobel’s hand in her own to squeeze it, “It hurts me to see you in such pain.”
It’s then that Isobel finally lifts her tearful gaze to meet that of Violet’s. And in a heart-wrenching sob she expels a mournful, “I feel such a fool.” before collapsing into Violet’s arms.
Violet took a moment to comfort Isobel, cherishing the feel of the woman within her arms. “Nonsense. You were happy. You still can be. With Lord Merton, if that’s what you choose. His son’s were cruel to you, and you did not deserve it.”
Isobel sobbed quietly in Violet’s arms, for a few moments longer. Before gathering herself, she said, “I was terribly embarrassed, Violet.”
“I know you were.”
“No, not only for last night. For agreeing to marry Lord Merton to begin with.”
“And then everything just snowballed from there. It was all so unnecessary.”
“You don’t want to marry Lord Merton?”
“No. Violet, he is a lovely man, but he never truly had my heart I am afraid. And after last night’s drama, why bother keeping up the ruse.”
“You don’t love him?”
“No.” Isobel said looking down at where their joined hands.
“I am sorry. Love may not conquer all, but it can conquer quite a lot. But if you don’t love him then I’m afraid you most certainly will not be happy. Why did you become so upset then? Why leave Downton?” Her next question, ’Why leave me?” was left unspoken.
“I was scared you’d be ashamed to be associated with me. That you would reject me outright. I have no claim by blood to the family. Only little George. And, sometimes.. Well, Violet, our sparring matches do become quite prickly.”
“Our sparring matches are the favourite part of my day.”
At this Isobel looked up in wonder at Violet.
“And,” Violet continued, “Those are all foolish reason’s for leaving.”
Isobel continued to stare at Violet as she gently tucked a stray tuft of Isobel’s hair back into place, closing her eyes as Violet let her fingers linger long Isobel’s jaw.
Spurred on by the softening warmth in Isobel’s glowing features, Violet decided it was perhaps time to bare her soul after all. Cupping Isobel’s face in her palm, she wiped the last of Isobel’s tears from her cheeks. “Before you attempt to run away again. Or receive another proposal for marriage, I feel there’s something I should tell you.”
Isobel lifted her hand to keep Violet’s hand against her cheek. “Yes, what is it Violet?”
“I wasn’t jealous of you accepting Lord Merton’s proposal. Well, I was, but not for the reason’s that you might believe. And well, you see, I was jealous because I thought you were in love with him you see.”
“I’ve never seen you so jittery before Violet, what ever do you mean?” said Isobel, allowing their joined hands to return to rest between them once more, “Are you in love with Lord Merton?” Isobel asked Violet with a frown.
“No, no, no, of course not!” Violet exclaimed with a nervous laugh.
“I thought not, especially with the return of Prince Kuragin.”
“Isobel, please. I am not in love with the Prince either.” She responded flustered at the woman’s density.
“But if you’re not in love with him or Dickie, then why would you be jealous…”
“Oh.” Isobel swallowed.
“Yes.” Violet said, gently unclasping their hands, disheartened by Isobel’s stunned demeanour.
“Just to be certain, are you in love with me Violet?” Isobel asked, pulling Violet towards her once more. “Like a man would love a woman?”
Violet felt as if she were laying herself bare, however, the urge to steel herself against this infernal vulnerability dissipated as she met Isobel’s eyes, and found only warmth and comfort there.
“I am afraid that if I say ‘yes’ I will lose you forever. And yet, I must confess, I am in love with you. As a man would love a woman.”
At this admission from Violet, Isobel seemed to inflate forward, until her smiling mouth had smothered Violet’s shocked expression in a kiss of joy.
“I take it then, that you are not adverse to my affections?” Violet breathed out, her eyes roaming Isobel’s eager expression in quiet pleasure.
“Adverse? Ha! It would seem have mirrored them for quite some time, unbeknownst to both of us it would seem.” She took the chance to trace the back of her fingers along Violet’s cheek. And as Violet grasped her hand and placed a gentle kiss to her palm, she said, “You know, for the longest time I could not understand why I was not overjoyed at Dickie’s propsal. Or even Dr. Clarkson’s. And the Prince’s presence has had me quite depressed these past few weeks as well. It would seem, I have been in utter turmoil until this very moment. Until the moment you made me see, that I am hopelessly in love with you!” And with that she leaned forward to kiss Violet once more.