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A Road to Choose

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Edith Crawley closes her eyes and just feels the sun and wind on her face.  She knows it’s dangerous, knows she really should keep her eyes open, but what can happen?  The rows will not be as straight? The fence might–

She opens her eyes with a start.  Actually, she doesn’t know the field well enough yet to know exactly where the fences are. When she looks, she lets out a relieved laugh. They are quite a way from where she rumbles along on the tractor.

She laughs again, the sound floating away in the sound of the engine’s roar.  She could sing if she wanted, there were so many lovely songs are being written.  The thought makes her laugh again, imagining a farmer singing away as he drove the tractor through his fields. Maybe it isn’t such an odd thought – farmers’ songs must come from somewhere.

Edith hasn’t laughed so much in ages.  She imagines it must be the freedom of driving, of working, of feeling useful.  She’s never experienced that before, feeling wanted or even needed.  It gives her a great sense of pride and joy.

She’s just not sure who would care if she told them. Mary would probably listen and tilt her head in that Why do you bother? sort of way. Sybil would understand, but in her quest to be selfless for others, she was losing sight of her own family. Mother or father...

Edith laughs again.  Just convincing them to let her help out on the farm had been trying enough. Best to leave the subject alone.

She lets out a wordless shout to the empty fields, easily covered by the tractor’s rumble.  These fields, this tractor, these gloves - they understand. It is perhaps the only time she has ever been understood in her life.

She hopes for a full season of days like this. She might find a little contentment in these sad, wartime days.

Edith scans the shelves, trying to find a book she knows is in the library – Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Of course, someone else in the household could have borrowed it, but it’s not signed out in the register (not that everyone does that, as they should).  She wishes that the books were better organised. Some of the sections are by author, but there are several sections that are categorised by type.  There is really no rhyme or reason, either.  She should make it a project, she decides.  Father would probably not object – or he might not once he got used to the new system...

Ah, there it is, mixed in with the maritime history.  Edith thought it an odd request when Captain Wise asked for it, though she never let it show on her face. She supposed that it brought back pleasant memories of his childhood, of a simpler time before the world was at war, and she couldn’t fault him for that.

As she carefully takes the book from the shelf and marks it in the register, she ponders which books she might find comforting in the same situation.  Would she want to read A Little Princess or The Scarlet Pimpernel? She shakes her head. As much as she  enjoyed those, they remind her rather too much of those prewar days.  Those days when she was discontented, but didn’t really realise it.

These days, as she flits from bedside to bedside, helping as she can, she doesn’t have time for discontent.  In a far-off corner of her mind she wonders what it would be like if Downton never returned to its prewar state.  It might be an improvement...

She pushes the thought away, walking with a quick step back toward the convalescence ward. She hasn’t time for maybes or what-will-be’s right now.  She can deal with it when the time comes.

If the time comes.

Edith’s hands move over the keys, and she lets the music fill her, sweeping away her other cares.  She loves to play, especially some of the new popular songs. Unlike the classical pieces she played in her lessons, she can learn one of these in just a few passes.  And the men will appreciate them so much more.

Mary’s clear voice rings out as she sings the first phrase. There are so few things that both sisters can share, and Edith is glad that Mary agreed to perform for the concert. She has no idea why Mary agreed, but she’s thankful that she did.

As the song goes on, she wonders what it would be like to perform full time.  Maybe in an orchestra, or in the pit at Covent Garden. Or even in a pub in London... she blushes and looks down at her hands as they go through the chord progressions.  She would never set foot in a London pub, let alone work in one.  That has never been an option for the Crawley sisters of Downton Abbey any more than being a farmer’s wife would have been.  Edith is nothing if not practical.

But she can enjoy the music in this moment, and think of how the men will enjoy it as much as she will.  

It will be enough, she tells herself.  

Edith sits alone, the letter in one hand. She can hardly feel it there, her fingers have lost all feeling.  Perhaps it is right that Patrick is gone, that he disappeared from her life. She is learning, mostly through watching others, that happiness cannot be found in another person.

Although she is not sure just where it can be found. Or who she can ask.

The cold of the pillar behind her is starting to seep into her bones. It seems fitting.  She stays there until her temperature has equalized and she can no longer feel it.

Edith grips the steering wheel tightly with both hands, her heart pounding.  She is pressing the accelerator down as firmly as she dares.  If anyone is out on the road she is not sure that she will be able to stop. The road rushes by in the dark and the trees blur together frighteningly.

She still cannot believe that Sybil would do such a thing.  This just isn’t done – not in the Crawley family. No matter how much she admires her younger sister for her confidence and courage... she cannot understand this... this recklessness!  It isn’t... fair.

If Sybil is going to marry against father’s wishes, she cannot run away like a thief in the night. Edith cannot believe that it is Branson of all people, Branson, who taught Edith to drive, Branson, whose lessons have made this ‘wild ride’ possible.

Mary and Anna seem almost as nervous as she feels, riding along with her nearly silently. She doesn’t know what is going through their minds, she only knows that she desperately hopes they are not too late.  Because if Sybil escapes, she has to do it the right way. If she doesn’t...

There will be no hope for her sisters.

Edith turns yet another wedding gift over in her hands, her heart aching. For a brief time there it seemed as if things were looking up for everyone.  That happiness was finally within their household’s grasp. All except for her, of course.

Grandmama had said earlier that her time would come. Edith had joked, with a touch of bitterness, that she was likely to become the maiden aunt who simply arranged the presents for her prettier relations. At least she had been able to find a small bit of levity in her situation.

She feels no levity now. These presents would go back, the house would be in mourning again for someone who had died far too young. Edith’s only life wish – to be happy, to be content – seems petty in the face of this tragedy.  

As she looks to her sisters on either side of her in age, one following her duty, one following her heart, she is no longer sure which road she would take in their places.  Edith wonders if she will ever have a road to choose at all.

Edith sets down the vase she has been holding and walks to the window to gaze out over the estate, resting a hand on the back of a chair for support. When her ‘time comes,’ will it be thrust upon her – her hand suddenly grips the back of the chair – or will she run toward it full throttle?