Edith missed the war.
She knew better than to say that out loud. No one would understand what she meant. But, for the years of the war, she’d had a purpose. She’d been better suited to deal with everything than Mary. And she knew she’d done good for the men who stayed at Downton.
When they left, she didn’t know who she was anymore. She didn’t want to go back to how it had been before. Perhaps she was the only one who felt that way. Certainly Mary and Matthew would go back. They exchanged glances, went off to corners together and Edith wondered if that was all her fault. Mary’s unhappiness. That had been what she wanted, then. To take something away from Mary, who had everything.
Once, she would’ve thought Mary had everything now, too. She was engaged. To a man who, if not quite of the birth Mary once would’ve insisted on, one who was rich enough for her to continue living her life the way she always had. And, once, that would’ve been enough to make Mary happy. But Mary was different now and Edith knew her better now.
She wondered if Mary would thank her, if she ruined this engagement.
But then there was Lavinia and a thousand other complications.
She was slipping into bad habits. Obsessing about Mary’s life instead of worrying about her own. She hadn’t done that during the war. Hadn’t thought about what other people were up to, hadn’t had time to think of herself. Her days had been busy from morning until night. It wasn’t anything like she’d experienced before. Being useful.
And it wasn’t what was expected of her. Maybe that’s what drew her to her work so strongly. She’d never fit the role of lady as Mary did, but she wasn’t a rebel like Sybil either. She’d wanted Mary’s life. She just knew she could never have it. And everything had become so tangled. She and Mary tore each other down and ruined each other’s happiness.
She liked to think they’d learned better from the war. That maybe they’d become real sisters. They went after Sybil together. Their foolish, brave little sister. So much braver than either of them. Sybil took a chance on the man, on the life she wanted, while Mary told a man she’d never love “yes” and Edith did nothing. Every morning, she’d tell herself that she was simply gathering her strength and resources and, soon, she’d know the kind of life she wanted and go after it as Sybil had. But every night, she would stare at the ceiling and she would see the future. See her life stretching out in front of her. Her life, and her sisters’s lives.
Mary would marry Sir Richard. They would never—quite—make each other happy, but they would come to a certain level of contentment and Mary would rule London society. And Sybil would go on to change the world and, she, ah, she would be happy.
Maybe you had to be brave to be happy. Brave and kind. Perhaps Sybil had taken up all the braveness and kindness in the family and Mary had taken the rest and Edith was left with . . . nothing.
There were so few times when she saw anything different for herself. During the war, when she knew how to help the men in a way Mary didn’t, in a way even Sybil didn’t. And, before the war, there was that oh so brief time with Sir Anthony . . . .
But she had ruined that, too. In destroying Mary’s life, she’d ruined her own and, once, she’d considered that a fair bargain. She wanted to believe she’d take it back, for Mary and Matthew’s sake as well as for her own, but she wasn’t sure if she was quite a good enough person.
She’d seen so many men dying and perhaps that should’ve changed her life, made her reconsider all her choices and become a better person. Perhaps it did. But the war was over now and she was so afraid of slipping back into who she used to be. Mary already seemed like her old self . . . though sometimes Edith wondered if Mary was simply more practiced at pretending. That, after all, was why she’d always been a success.
Mary and her charm, Sybil and her enthusiasm and Edith, who was . . . forgotten
It wasn’t her sisters or her parents who’d noticed her efforts during the war. She wondered if they’d thought of her at all. Everyone was so busy trading rumors about Mary and worrying about Sybil. Edith had kissed a a married man and no one knew. Who could she tell? Mary would scorn her and Sybil would lecture. And her mother and father? She didn’t know. Sometimes, she wondered if they’d even believe a man wanted to kiss her. Her mother had put so much effort into Mary and Sybil’s seasons, but Edith was left largely to fend for herself. She would sit in corners or stand against the wall and sometimes men would seek her out, but they would ask her about Mary and, later, Sybil.
Even Sir Anthony . . . best not to think about him, but he had wanted Mary. Edith knew Mary could’ve taken him, had she wanted to, had she not had Matthew. (And it was bitter knowledge that Edith couldn’t do the same. When Mary scorned Matthew, Edith thought she could step in, but he had not wanted her. And Patrick . . . oh, Patrick had been Mary’s, too.)
But she had some things. She had her driving and even Sybil, with her chauffeur lover, didn’t have that. She knew how to distract a man from his pain, when Mary only brought pain, both to Matthew and to her fiance. Edith hadn’t done that. She hadn’t brought pain to any man.
Only herself. Only her sister.
She knew she should think of the end of the war as a fresh start, but, for her, the war had been the fresh start. She’d known, or at least had a glimpse of, her true self. Of the person she wanted to be. And now that person was receding every day.
Edith didn’t want to lose her, but, then, since when did she get what she wanted?