Gen 1 - It Didn’t Happen in Our Day
If one were to look at Isobel and Violet Crawley, one would see two old ladies spending the winter of their lives together at the Dower House. They took tea together in the afternoons, played bridge of an evening, and bickered throughout the day.
They also never left the other’s side, held hands quietly when nobody was looking, and, at the end of each day, they gave each other a kiss goodnight, before retreating to their respective bedrooms, which had a connecting door should they wish to call on each other during the night.
To the onlooker, there was nothing unusual about the two old friends living together. It simply didn’t occur to anyone that there might be more to it than met their eye.
After all, it didn’t happen in their day.
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Gen 2 - Behind Closed Doors
To all the world, the Earl and Countess of Grantham had the perfect marriage. They had been together for many years, supported each other through thick and thin, and had three beautiful daughters as testament to their success. They were certainly the couple to aspire to be, even if they didn’t have a son and heir. The heiress was married to they heir, so their dynasty was ensured.
What people didn’t know was that, for all their love for each other, the Earl and Countess had aspects of their lives that they didn’t display on public view. Behind closed doors, it was a different story. Polite society wasn’t to know that Lord Grantham and his Valet were closer than any men, that they comforted each other through their sorrows and pined for each other so dearly when they were apart. They were not to know of the power struggle and sapphic undertones of Lady Grantham’s relationship with her maid, the jealousies, betrayals, devotion and longing that underpinned them. They weren’t to know that, sometimes, Lord and Lady Grantham needed something more, an understanding that could only be given by someone of their own gender.
Their indiscretions happened behind closed doors.
Yes indeed, the Earl and Countess of Grantham were, as far as society was concerned, the perfect couple.
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Gen 3 - Bright Young Things
Public perceptions were not moving fast enough for these bright young things of the 1920s. It seemed like the previous generations would be happy to let the pre-war life return and carry on as if nothing had ever happened. They didn’t understand that, following the war, they *could* never go back.
At the front, Matthew had seen things that he couldn’t forget, loved people that he would never have even spoken to had it not been for the war, and he had drawn comfort in their arms. War was a great leveller, despite the rigidity of the ranks, he had met people like Thomas on an even footing. You see, when one could die at any moment, one ceased to care whether the man at your side was a Lord or a serf, all that mattered was that you worked together, and if one night, one would see the other shaking in his bed, a gentle touch and whispered kindness, the softness of the other’s embrace made them feel safe, when that comfort had evolved into warmth, when that warmth evolved into love, then it was something that they couldn’t forget. Though their time at the front had been brief, the return to Downton had seen Matthew’s old life collide with his new one. He had never thought of himself as somebody who could love another man, but when Thomas’ every look made Matthew’s heart sing, it had shown that he was just as capable of loving Thomas as he was Lavinia or Mary. Eventually he would have to marry one of the ladies, but he found that his own heart was not so simple.
For their part, the ladies had found revelations of their own. Mary had expected to dislike Lavinia when she arrived, but, the more time they spent in each other’s company, the more Lavinia went from a frightened doe to making Mary go doe-eyed every time they met. Her grace, elegance and beauty occupied her every waking thought. Mary found herself eyeing her swan-like neck, her Venetian hair and the subtle swell of her breasts with an interest that went beyond mere curiosity and, having got to know Lavinia, she found that she craved her company just as readily as she did Matthew’s. Was Mary the lady she thought she had been? Lavinia embodied femininity in a way that was both meek and strong, fragile and beautiful, yet her nerve was stronger than any of them realised. Matthew was masculine and handsome, but he was also vulnerable. Mary loved them both very dearly. Perhaps gender was not as cut and dried as all that. Perhaps Mary wasn’t.
As for Sybil, she had always been one to follow her heart. Whether she was helping her beloved Gwen to find her dream job or speaking up for Tom when her father wanted him thrown out, she wasn’t one to care about class, job, or gender because none of that mattered; all that mattered was that she loved them, both of them, and she was determined for them to be happy.
Why could they not openly love as many people as they did in their hearts?
The war had taught them that life was short and that they should enjoy every moment of it, and that was exactly what they intended to do.
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Gen 4 - Some Sunny Day
The roaring 20s had given way to the depression of the 30s and then, a mere generation later, another war. Families had seen their sons off to fight, while their daughters did what they could to keep the home fires burning.
Captain George Crawley, of the RAF, had bid goodbye to his cousins and Downton and taken to the skies with Sybbie’s fiancee, Charlie Bryant at his side and his first love, Robert Bates at his other. The four of them had what one might call an understanding. George had been in love with Robert since he knew what love was. Going to Eton and meeting Charlie had only confirmed in George’s mind that he loved men. When one day, he had asked his favourite butler, Barrow whether he had ever loved anyone, Barrow had gone quiet and said in a careful voice that he’d loved “a few” people in his time. George had thought about it and replied “were any of them men?” Barrow had spluttered on his tea and asked what had brought this on, George replied that he thought he loved boys in the same way that his mother loved Henry, the same way Mr and Mrs Bates loved each other. Thomas had set his cup down and said it was possible for some men to love men as some men loved women, he had only ever been in love with men himself, once with a duke in his youth, once with a soldier during the war who had died, and once with a footman who had been unable to return his love, though Barrow had been close to loving a woman once. George understood. Sybbie's mother? Barrow nodded.
"So you can't decide who you love, but, even if you loved the 'wrong' person, that love is no less real."
"I believe so."
He and Robert had shared their first kiss that afternoon, under a chestnut tree in the gardens, just as the leaves started to turn brown.
Robert had loved George for many years. He waited eagerly for George as he returned from Eton, looking more and more beautiful with each term that passed, his golden hair and blue eyes angelic and in stark contrast to Robert’s chestnut hair and deep brown eyes. His parents had thought it quite cute how close the two boys were, his father saying how happy he was that the two were friends, almost as if they were fated to be so, his mother telling him that George was lucky to have such a warm welcome home and that they considered him part of their family. They didn’t tell him that they’d seen the two boys in the garden that day, just as they had come to a halt under the chestnut tree. George had said how good it was to be home, with him, Robert said how they used to play conkers under the tree, George had laughed.
“I always liked the Autumn most of all.”
“Why is that?” Robert replied, smiling.
George had turned to him.
“Because the browns in the leaves, the chestnuts, and their shells, remind me of you,” he pulled a stray hair out of Robert’s eyes, “your eyes, and your hair.” Robert had kissed George as though his life depended on it, his arms wrapping around George’s waist and George’s hands resting on his neck.
“Looks like we have a future Earl's Valet on our hands.” Anna smiled.
“Looks like I owe Thomas an apology.” Bates replied.
Charlie had always been an unconventional sort, but then, growing up as the bastard son of a maid, he cared not a jot for public opinion. Officially, his father was killed in action and his wife, Charlie’s mother, had succumbed to Spanish flu. That was all anyone needed to know, but his grandmother had a softer heart and ensured that he got letters from his mother, who, as it turned out, was alive and well in their village and he had gone to see her. Stung at the injustice of what had happened to her, he had taken her on as his housekeeper following his grandfather’s death and proceeded to carry on in a way that, had his grandfather been alive, he would have died of shock. As it was, he’d have to settle for silently spinning in his grave, which was good enough for Charlie. Though he had the weight of being the only heir of a family on his shoulders, he was open about the fact that, as a lover of beauty, he could appreciate the sculpted form of men and the sensuous curves of women in equal measure. He had had his share of fun at Eton, most notably with the very handsome George Crawley, and one day, George had taken him to Downton to meet his love, Robert, another very handsome young man, and his cousins, Sybbie and Marigold. Charlie had been taken with Sybbie immediately, her long, wavy mahogany hair, almond-shaped eyes and soft voice had rendered Charlie speechless, which was no mean feat. As it was, Sybbie was as friendly as she was beautiful and Charlie had impressed her with his charm and eccentricity, they had danced, talked, and vowed to meet again, which had prompted a song from Charlie and a laugh from Sybbie.
For her part, Sybbie was no fool. She knew the threads and loves that connected her social group and she was more than happy to support them all, she loved each of them in their own way. As far as Sybbie was concerned, love was beautiful, pure, and knew no class, gender, or background, it was the thing that lived inside them all, making good people immortal and saving the souls of the bad. To Sybbie, love was something that could not diminish the more it was shared out and they were all very lucky to have known it in their lives. She did not think less of George for loving men, especially not men below his station, it only meant that his mind was open and his heart was true. She didn’t shy away from the fact that he had loved and even laid with her future husband, to her, it only meant that love was yet another thing that connected all of them and it would be that love that would win in the end, would repeal the darkness threatening to engulf them and bring the world back into the light. She had been the driving force behind making Marigold’s idea of housing evacuated children at Downton come to life, keeping the children safe, shielding them from harm, drying their tears, and comforting them until they could drive the clouds away and see the rainbow in the skies.
As for Marigold, she had done her bit for the war as well, first by insisting to her grandparents to open Downton as a home for evacuees, but then she had had to abandon the running of that to cousin Sybbie and grandmama Cora, as she had received a letter from the government calling her to an interview. She had been made to sign the official secrets act and forbidden from mentioning it to her family. After which, she had been sent off to work at Hut Six of Station X*, in a room with several other women working on Turing’s machine to crack the German Enigma code. She had met some of the brightest minds in the country and had eventually fallen in love with a fellow Wren, Winnie Moorsum, who was some 17 years her senior, but a talented mathematician and during one of their talks, she found out that Winnie’s mother used to work at Downton during the First World War, it was due to Donk’s interest that she had been able to go to Ripon Grammar, back when she’d been Freddie and her mother Jane had been supporting her. She’d showed Marigold a picture, she was every bit as beautiful as her mother and she said she’d inherited her raven hair and blue eyes. Marigold had been moved by her story and her trust in Marigold. Winnie hadn’t told many people about it, but she knew Marigold would understand. Marigold had told her that it wasn’t what somebody was born that mattered, what mattered was who they were inside, that they loved, and that they were loved in return. “Precisely.” Winnie had replied. She stroked Marigold’s cheek and Marigold had kissed Winnie, pulling her closer, feeling her heart flutter next to Marigold’s own as the crickets sang around them and the night sky twinkled with stars. The war raged on in the distance, but, for that moment, all that mattered was the two of them.
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Who knows what challenges, triumphs, and progress the next generations will see in, all we can know is that love is the defining thread that links them all together and will continue to do so. In the end, love always wins.