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The Truth Of The Blossom

Chapter Text

Anger

Marigold spent the following of the days in bewilderment.

She woke, ate breakfast, rode to school, sat at her desk, rode back home, went to her room, did her school work, practiced piano, ate dinner, and then slept. The weekend was largely the same sans school and with a drip to Hexham Abbey on a Sunday.

Day, after day, after day.

She'd be hard pressed to even recount what lessons she was taught, nor the topics of conversations she had during luncheon, nor what sermon the vicar gave, nor what songs she played each day. Marigold did not join her mother as normal in the study in the afternoon for correspondence and she did not reply to the letters that arrived for her. Every day she declined, she could see it in Mama's face how much hurt she caused.

How much pain had she caused the people in her life, without even knowing it?

Of all her unending whirl of thoughts, that one haunted Marigold. What had happened to the wife of her father? What had happened to the families she had lived with before moving to Downton? What did Papa really feel when he saw her and knew the truth of who she was?

"Marigold? You're behaving very oddly," Bessie commented, sharing the ride back to Brancaster. Her voice was soft but they both knew Mr. Porter could hear them. Marigold most keenly.

"I suppose I am," she admitted flatly, playing with the leather strap that held her books together.

Her friend's freckled face scrunched in concern, "Is something wrong?"

She shrugged, "I'm just thinking."

"Is it something bad?"

Marigold only hung her head.

"You can tell me," Bessie offered, resting her hand on Marigold's leg. "Whatever it is, I promise, I'll keep it secret."

She supposed that of her two best friends, Bess would be the one she'd be most comfortable to share the truth. They both loved Louisa Antonia, but when it came down to it, she was the most likely to spill confidences. Not out of malice, but sheer extroversion. If she ran out of topics and still wanted to talk, then a secret could become her option, most especially if it was an unusual one. Louisa Antonia Doxford was also very opinionated and Marigold couldn't see telling her the dark secret of her illegitimacy without it becoming a topic of salacious judgement and gossip.

Bess, on the other hand, would probably still be shocked (as Marigold was herself, in all honesty), but she wouldn't judge or spread the knowledge.

However, unlike every other secret shared among the three friends in the past, this was not a secret Marigold could share. Not in a car with Mr. Porter to overhear it. Certainly not to Bessie, sympathetic ear though she might have been.

Bessie, whose Mama was dead.

It seemed rather selfish to complain about discovering your natural mother was also your adopted one, to be unhappy about the details, when Bess's mother was long dead and dearly missed.

Then again, Marigold thought bitterly, Mrs. Hull had married Mr. Hull and there was never any confusion about where Bessie came from in the first place. Or risk of scandal.

That day, Marigold had offered her friend no reply.

"Marigold, come play with us!"

Her fingers stilled on the keys of the piano, and she turned to find her brother sliding onto the stool with her.

Nigel held out one finger and lazily dragged it along the lower notes, unknowingly sounding a dissonant and ominous lament that matched the muddle that was Marigold's mind far better than the light pleasant Mozart piece she'd been practicing moments before.

"Nanny is taking us to the garden," her brother continued pleadingly. "And Mama is coming. And if you come, we could play skipping rope together and Mama will hold one side and we could take turns holding and skipping."

Ollie was obviously still far to young to join in a rope game, but it was fast becoming one of Nigel's favorite pastimes, though his coordination left some room for improvement. His capabilities at the game had grown immensely that spring and he was near constantly asking his sister to join, largely to avoid having to jump alone, holding the handles by himself.

With potentially Marigold, and Mama joining for this outing, Oliver would easily be looked after by either Nanny Atkins or Edith, leaving one adult and Marigold to swing the rope for him.

Marigold knew well Nigel's ways when it came to skipping rope.

(Though it was gallant of him to offer to take turns.)

To her own surprise, she couldn't bring herself to say no to his request and found herself soon outdoors on the green south lawn, holding tight to a wooden handle and swinging Nigel's skipping rope across from Mama.

Marigold tried not to notice the way her mother's face light up in surprise when she joined them on the grass. She knew that her surliness and silence in the days since finding out the truth of her identity was hard for Mama, but she still couldn't bring herself to remedy things.

It was hard for her as well, being illegitimate, and that was Mama's doing, not Marigold's.

So, she was content to join her brother in his games on the lawn, but without speaking. A truce of sorts after all the missed afternoons in the study.

"Go lower, Mama," Nigel whined, as the rope caught on his shoe yet again. "You're not doing it right!"

"You are meant to be jumping, you know," Edith countered, expression bemused.

"I am! But it isn't balanced," the boy countered, preparing to jump again. He turned to his sister. "You go higher, Marigold!"

He wasn't wrong. Mother and daughter had struggled the whole outing to synchronize the swing of the rope together.

Edith chuckled and stole a glance at her daughter, "We shall try to be more level then, won't we, darling?"

Unwilling to reply to her mother, Marigold kept her eyes down.

"Nanny should do it," she said, suddenly letting the handle drop to the ground.

Mama frowned, "Marigold?"

"I'm tired."

She turned and held her arms out to Nanny Atkins, "I'll hold Ollie."

"Oh! Nanny can do it level!" Nigel was delighted.

The adult women exchanged a glance that Marigold couldn't discern and allowed the swap.

With Mama and Nanny now in charge of Nigel and his skipping rope, Marigold sat with Oliver in her arms, thoughts drifting to where they always ended up these days. With the knowledge she now had, she once again found herself intently scrutinizing her blood brothers (half, at least), searching for similarities.

The toddler gurgled as he watched the skip rope, looking up periodically to Marigold as though asking her what the fuss was all about. Normally a handful, he seemed oddly content to sit in her lap.

Oliver, out of the three of them, most strikingly resembled Mama. His hair remained light and curly, even as he grew. He and Marigold shared dimples, whereas Nigel only sported a small indentation on his chin. Ollie's skin was paler than Marigold's or Nigel's and his eyes were round and darker, like Mama. Nigel's eyes were clear and blue, like Papa's. Marigold supposed her eyes fell somewhere in the middle, a hazel that could seem light or dark depending on her mood.

Perhaps her natural father had the same eyes?

The family said that both Sybbie and George were the spitting images of their dead mother and father. That they appeared so, being such a comfort to Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary. Believing herself to be adopted, nothing like that had ever been a consideration for Marigold. Now she considered it, though there were countless things she ought to have noticed as similar between herself and Mama, she was far from the spitting image of Edith.

So perhaps it was that man who she took after.

If so, was it a comfort for Mama because he had died? Did she deserve the comfort? People are supposed to fall in love, marry and then have children. Mama and the man had not.

It felt odd that Marigold didn't even know his name.

She knew she could ask, as Mama and Papa had promised on the day they told her, but that would mean speaking more than in passing to her mother. Mama would want to talk about it and while a part of her wanted to press on and learn more, Marigold was still too confused to even know what to say.

It wasn't pleasant, but it was easier to stay quiet and mostly by herself, with only her thoughts to worry her. Though the state of her nails was now atrocious.

Would her brothers ever know they all really shared a mother?

It didn't feel fair that Marigold wasn't even sure if she was allowed to tell them the truth of her identity. It was a family secret, one kept from even her for over 10 years. Just because she was privy to it now, didn't necessarily mean she could share openly.

With the secret, Marigold had concluded morosely, she'd been made a liar as well as a bastard.

Looking at Oliver's expectant face, she supposed that at present neither he, nor Nigel really cared if they shared blood or not. To their eyes, Marigold had always been their sister. She felt suddenly tearful at the thought and pulled the boy closer in her arms, kissing the top of his head.

At breakfast one Saturday morning, two weeks after discovering the truth, Marigold sat across from her parents. The gentle chiming of their silverware was only interrupted by the occasional overture of small talk, and Nigel's childish rambling.

"I am thinking of going up to London for several days next week when term ends," Mama announced. "We've got the summer edition nearly sorted out, but Ms. Edmunds has some new printer candidates lined up and I'd like to see their work myself before hiring them."

Marigold kept her gaze on her plate and lifted another fork full of eggs into her mouth as Nigel started to hum the melody of 'London Bridge', while tapping his spoon lightly.

"That seems like a good idea, doesn't it Marigold?"

Papa's voice was on it's surface polite and calm, but she knew her father well enough to understand she was being asked to reply. His eyebrows raised slightly and he began to butter his toast.

She shrugged, "Yes, very sensible."

Nigel sang, "London Bridge is falling down..."

Glancing up, Marigold could see the nervousness on her mother's face, the way she was seemingly not quite sure whether she was ready to drink her tea or add more sugar. Edith's hands poised in indecision, with a spoon of sugar in the balance. She was certain her father's hand was resting on Edith's knee beneath the view of the table.

That made her feel suspicious. Clearly her parents had something planned.

"Falling down, falling down..."

Mama took a deep breath, "I was thinking perhaps you'd like to come with me?"

Now it was Marigold who froze, fork in mid-air.

"I could show you the office," Edith continued in a ramble. "And other places. We could visit the British Museum even. Maybe go to a concert or a play? Have a dinner with Aunt Rosamund?"

"London Bridge is falling down," her brother continued, oblivious to the tension around him.

Mere weeks ago, the offer of travel like this would have thrilled Marigold. A trip to London to see the publishing house? Seeing Ms. Edmunds or Aunt Rosamund? Doing grown up things? Just them alone?

She'd have loved it.

"My fair lady!"

Of course, it felt different now. Mama, or more precisely, her idea of Mama was changed. And Marigold didn't quite understand what her new idea of her mother would be.

"I don't know."

"Oh..." Mama's disappointment was palpable. "I understand."

"It's just an idea," Papa interrupted swiftly. "Not need to be hasty. Nothing has been arranged."

Certain he was asking her to reconsider, Marigold sighed, "I'll think about it."

She wasn't so cold as to begrudge the look of relief that came over her mother's face.

"However," Bertie continued. "Today, I must borrow you for the morning, Marigold. And it has already been arranged."

She didn't know what she'd expected from that.

Certainly not riding far onto the grounds of Brancaster Castle on Mr. Porter's work truck, to go inspect game stock. He and Mr. Hull rode in the front, while Bertie and Marigold were shoulder to shoulder in the back.

"But I don't know anything about grouse, Papa," she complained, as the vehicle encountered another bump.

"There's not that much to know," he soothed. "And only one way to learn about it."

They stopped at a place so far away from the castle, where only hunting parties usually ventured. Marigold had never been so far out before. The hills and grass seemed eerily quiet, with only a gentle breeze.

"Mr. Hull will take the west," Mr. Porter directed as Bessie's father gathered his tools and immediately headed away from them. "I'll do the east and south, and we'll come back here to inform you once we've done the counting."

"We shall do the east, Porter. Marigold and I."

The old man squinted at them, as the sun glinted off his white hair. Marigold glowered at her father with a similar expression.

"You and Miss Goldie?" Porter squinted. "It wouldn't be proper, sir."

Papa balked, "I used to help you with this every season."

"When you were an agent, not the bloody Marquess!"

"As I've told you countless times," Bertie countered. "The health of this estate is just as important to me now as it was then. All facets. You'll note I never hired a new agent."

Mr. Porter made a small tutting sound but didn't reply. It seemed a conversation they'd had many times over.

Papa grabbed two walking sticks and gestured for Marigold to follow.

"Besides, it'll do me good to walk in the open air. And Marigold can use it for maths practice."

She scowled, and muttered to him quietly. "I don't need maths practice."

Bertie waved her off with a smile.

Mr. Porter shrugged and looked sheepish, moving off toward the south, "As you like it, your Lordship. But do keep it quiet from the senior Lady Pelham or she'll have me hide."

"Indeed."

Bertie and Marigold walked the grounds, she was glad he'd told her to change into boots and outdoor clothes. The ground wasn't exactly slippery, but mud was already caking the side of her boot soles. Papa seemed to love it. He seemed unable to stop smiling and kept stopping to close his eyes and breathe in the air with exaggerated vigor.

And to be fair, though she was never much interested in country sport, the moor did feel a little magical. At the very least, far away from the world. Marigold found she closed her eyes to breathe a few times as well.

"I say!" Papa stopped suddenly and leaned back against his walking stick. He pointed northward, "There's one."

Marigold made another tick in the notebook.

"We can't possibly count them all?" she asked. "There's not even that many about."

"No," Bertie agreed, still grinning. "It's not a matter of counting every single grouse. We get a general count for each zone over a period of time and that allows Mr. Porter and I to understand the state of our natural population. Then we can decide if we need to purchase additional stock before the season starts and guests arrive to shoot. It's all about balance."

"You like this, Papa!" she tilted her head and squinted at him in the midday sun.

"I do, rather," he agreed, leading them through the terrain with the ease of familiarity. "I remember coming out here with my father and uncle. After my father died, just Uncle Perry and I would come out. Cousin Peter joined us sometimes and hated it. Too cold. Too windy. His hat always seemed to blow away."

His voice trailed off wistfully and his eyes grew unfocused on the horizon.

"It's a good thing I don't have a hat then, Papa."

"Me and my ghosts," Bertie replied with a sigh.

"And you brought me with you to talk about mine," Marigold turned to look at him and before she amended. "Really Mama's."

Her father's features grew sheepish, "I am not trying to force you to talk, if that's worrying you. We can be here and not say a word, if it suits you. I daresay most would want to bury it. I just thought a change of scenery might help. All of us are in rather uncharted territory at the moment."

Marigold frowned and knelt down to pick at the grass. Bertie lowered his walking stick to the ground and sat down beside her quietly. Only the sounds of nature disturbed them for many moments.

"I feel..." she paused, trying to find just the right word.

Nothing came to mind.

"I don't try to pretend that I understand how you feel," Papa ventured. "Because I certainly don't. But I do understand that you must be feeling a great deal. I'm sorry you found out this way. It's not what I wanted for you. This is difficult for anyone, particularly someone your age."

"Everything is different," Marigold explained finally, the open space fostering an openness in her that she had not found recently. "But everything is also still the same."

Bertie held his arms out to her and she slid across the grass to his warm embrace.

"The only thing that has changed is my knowing," she whispered into his shoulder. "Only I can't tell that I know."

Rubbing her back gently, Papa sighed, "There's no pretending it wouldn't be difficult if you went around telling the world."

"Does it bother you?" Marigold's voice felt suddenly thick and she was unable to look him in the eye.

"What?"

"Who I am."

Bertie pulled back and smiled at her, brushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear, "You are my sweet girl. Blood doesn't matter."

Marigold took a deep breath and asked a question that had been on her mind since finding out the truth.

"Does it bother you that Mama loved someone else?"

The question seemed to surprise Papa and he did not reply immediately.

"No, I don't think so," he said after several moments of thought. He then admitted, "When she explained it to me, I used to wish that I had met her first."

"Then it would be simpler," Marigold concluded. "Without an illegitimate daughter tagging along."

"It was a rubbish wish," Bertie shook his head and wiped at his eyes. "For I would be deprived of the most delightful daughter any man could ever ask for."

She blushed, "Papa..."

"You are delightful, my darling. It was you that made me a father and I am ever so grateful for that."

Tears threatened to fall down Marigold's cheeks. She couldn't help but kiss Papa on the cheek.

"I believe love isn't like game stock or a glass you fill and empty. It doesn't run out."

Marigold sighed and leaned closer to him, whispering, "I don't-I don't mean to wish anyone ill or to say something bad about someone who is dead, but I am very glad you're my Papa."

They held each other close then, each deep in thought, for several moments as a pair of birds flew into the air down the pathway from their spot.

Neither bird was added to the notebook.

Then Bertie's brows furrowed, "At first, it mostly bothered me that your mother didn't tell me the whole story, right from the start."

"That would be better," Marigold agreed. "No lying. No secrets."

He looked at her, eyes opening wide in realization, "You are so very clever. It may be that I do understand some of your feelings rather more than I thought."

"What did you do about it, Papa?"

"Well, at first I tried to end our engagement," Bertie replied honestly.

Marigold's eyes widened in shock. She'd always seen her parents to be solidly devoted to each other, more so in some cases than other married grown ups she knew. Even in her own family. It seemed hard to imagine them apart from one and other.

"You did?"

"Trust is very important. I thought her lack of trust was my doing, but it wasn't. Also there were signs I'd missed along the way. I didn't find out in any more ideal circumstances than you did, unfortunately. But then I found I couldn't live without her."

"How did you stop being bothered?"

"I suppose I tried to imagine, as best I could, what it must be like to be a woman in your mother's position. The condemnation of illegitimacy rests more on the mother than the father. Society is harsher about it, I think. She's experienced harsh things. I am sure she feared would be harsh. "

Marigold frowned, pulling a tuft of grass, "She ought to have thought about that in the first place! Before she had a baby. Or before she took me back. The child bears the consequences too."

"Yes," her father hummed. "Perhaps she didn't do what you or I imagine we might have done given the same circumstances. I still feel compassion for it. The details are hers and I leave those for her to share. But without them, your mother would not be who she is. Who I love. Who we love."

Bertie paused and cupped her cheek in his hand, before adding, "And neither would you."

In all her rampant thoughts, Marigold had never quite considered it that way. She spent the rest of the grouse count pondering his words.

She fancied that she would never allow herself to be in the position of having a bastard baby. Indeed, she was even more firm on that idea, now that she knew her own origins.

Never.

Marigold had not thought much about what that might actually be like or what she might do. The only two examples she knew of were Cousin Maud and Mama. And they both had lied. She wasn't sure if that made her feel better or worse.

That afternoon, after returning from the grouse count, Marigold's mind was still full when Mr. Whatley knocked on her door.

"You have a telephone call, Miss Marigold."

Confused, she followed him silently into the hall and picked up the receiver. It wasn't usual for her to have her own telephone call.

"Hello?"

A familiar voice greeted her on the other end.

"Aunt Lucy! You wish to speak with me?"

"Yes, of course," her aunt replied. "It's been a while since you replied to my letters."

"Oh..."

Guiltily thinking of the small stack of letters in her room, Marigold bit her lip. She hadn't even read them. She'd been too muddled up to concentrate, and had hoped her aunt would be too busy with little Ellen to notice the further decrease in their correspondence.

"We've heard from your parents that you've been feeling down lately," Lucy continued carefully. "Tom and I have been rather worried. Sybbie too. So, I thought I would ring you."

Marigold gulped, eyes darting around the room to see if Mr. Whatley was out of earshot. Her collar felt suddenly hot and itchy.

"Do you?" she dared to whisper, licking her lips. "Do you know? About me?"

"Yes."

There was no judgement in the voice. No pity either. Just the same normal confidence Lucy would have used if you'd asked her something simple like sewing or recipes.

Or the meaning of a word.

Voice still hushed, Marigold continued, "I know about you too."

"Good."

Considering she learned it behind Aunt Lucy's back, via George, who had overheard it from his mother, Marigold blinked in surprise, "You're glad I know?"

"It's nice to have someone who understands. I was told when I was 18 and I never had anyone to speak about it with."

For the first time, in a long time, certainly since Edith and Bertie had told her the truth, Marigold felt awash with relief. Almost giddy in fact. She felt suddenly bouncy and rocked forward on her toes, as though to learn closer to her confidant.

Here was the one person Marigold knew must really know what it felt like to be a secret. To be illegitimate. To be a bastard.

"Were you angry?"

Marigold surprised herself with the question. She'd always thought of angry people as loud. Shouting like the boys at the playground who got in scuffles. Like George when he heard that B word in the hospital. Or bickering with sharp words like Mama and Aunt Mary at times.

She didn't feel like yelling, but upon reflection, she still thought it might be right word.

"Yes, I was," Aunt Lucy answered. "But I'm not now. Are you angry?"

"A little."

(Perhaps more.)

Marigold's voice wavered, "I thought I knew Mama."

"That part was the very hardest."

"What happened for you?"

"When my father died, and Maud took me in, I thought I was so lucky. My father's family always told me that my mother was dead and Maud was my godmother. And there I was, an orphan living on an estate, with the charity of one of the finest ladies of the land. Even though I'd lost my family, I thought, 'at least I have Lady Bagshaw'. My own fairy godmother. We got on well, and when I finished school, I agreed to be her ladies maid."

"But she was really your mother," Marigold breathed, almost inaudibly. "The whole time."

"Yes," Lucy sighed. "I felt betrayed and I nearly left."

Marigold tried to imagine how she'd feel to have to work for Edith. Remembering hugs and cuddles, she felt suddenly fortunate to have had Mama as a parent, even there was discord between them at present.

"You stayed though."

"I did. It took time, but now my mother and I know each other much better than we ever did before."

"You call her Maud?"

"I do. And Mother, on occasion. Lady Bagshaw to the public. Mummy or Mama never seemed to fit. But it doesn't-"

"It doesn't matter what you call a person, what matters is how you feel about them."

Marigold could hear the smile in Aunt Lucy's voice, "Exactly."

"She put you in her will and Brampton will be yours."

"Yes."

Playing with the cords of the telephone, Marigold considered how much there was that she didn't know about her mother? Or, remembering the day with Bertie out in the fields, how much did she know about her father, for that matter?

They weren't as easy and simple as she thought, her parents.

"I don't want to lie," she said, thinking about what her parents said about the rest of family. "Everyone around me was lying."

"They're not lying anymore."

"But it doesn't change anything, except me. Now I'm the liar."

"I felt similarly," Aunt Lucy mused. "I still do, some days. But I also realize that no one shares every part of themselves with every person they meet, do they? You wouldn't tell every person on the high street what your name and favorite toy is, would you?"

"That's silly. Why would they even care?"

"Why indeed? And you wouldn't say, 'Hello, pleased to meet you. Once, I watched my brother eat an insect and didn't stop him...', would you?"

"You're not meant to know about that!" Marigold couldn't help but giggle.

"And you wouldn't tell just anyone about how you felt when your great-grandmother died?"

She chewed her fingernail at the memory.

"No."

"Some things we share only with the people that really matter."

"That's true."

"And while you and I are a left with the choices our mothers made, we do get to decide who really matters for us."

"I want Nigel and Oliver to know," Marigold said suddenly. "When they can understand. I don't know about the cousins..."

"Your brothers matter for you and so they will know," Lucy agreed. "That's a start. You don't have to decide how you feel about everything all at once."

"I guess not."

"We get to make the decisions now."

"It's scary," Marigold admitted.

"I understand," Lucy soothed. "But I promise you are not alone. You can always speak with me about it. Write, ring, visit. I will listen."

She sniffed, "Thank you."

The line was quite for several moments then before Aunt Lucy broke the silence.

"Incidentally, I was thinking that it might be nice for us to come visit Brancaster sometime this summer. Uncle Tom and Sybbie and Ellie as well. I've never stayed there as a proper guest before and-"

Despite herself, Marigold became excited, "You want to come visit?"

"If you'd like? Yes. Perhaps, I'll talk to your mother to arrange it?"

"Yes!" she grinned. "Just a moment."

Careful not to cut the connection, Marigold laid the receiver down on the table, and slipped down the hall. She found Mama in the study, writing correspondence. Edith looked up in surprise.

"Mama?"

"Marigold!"

"Aunt Lucy wants to speak with you on the telephone."

"Oh, yes?" her mother rose from the desk and Marigold walked beside her in the hallway.

They stood close enough that their fingers brushed with each stride as their legs fell into sync. Marigold felt the urge to grab hold of her mother's hand, but couldn't carry it through.

"She means to arrange a visit."

"I see..."

"And Mama?" Marigold gulped, and placed her fingers on Edith's wrist as she lifted the receiver to her ear. "About London..."

Edith's brows furrowed, fearful of her daughter's response.

"Yes, darling?"

"I'll go with you."