Actions

Work Header

The Truth Of The Blossom

Chapter Text

Speech

Everyone said that little Miss Marigold was a late talker.

For herself, Marigold didn't really understand what the big fuss was about it anyway. But then again, she didn't understand a lot of things.

"Jouet?" she'd asked reaching to share in the game George and Sybbie played with assorted toys on the grass.

"No, no, Marigold," Sybbie chastised, holding the wooden toy in front of the younger girl's gaze. "This is a horse! But we can all share him."

With a grin, she placed the toy in front of Marigold on the picnic blanket and patted him on the back. Nanny began cleaning up their sandwiches and George walked his soldier very nearby.

The younger girl did not pick up the offered equine, instead putting her thumb in her mouth and observing the others play.

"A shy one, and all. No doubt about it," Nanny said in hushed tones, during a visit downstairs. The maids and cooks had looked back and forth between she and chatty Master George and nodded in agreement.

"A day dreamer," so Donk would explain while playing board games with Sybbie on the floor. Granny Cora held Marigold close and said she had relations in America who had taken their time when they were small and so she could too.

"She is a dear, but perhaps our new ward is a bit slow in the head," she'd heard Lady (later Aunt) Mary say once not long after she came to the big house. Edith (later Mama) was away at London and she thought Marigold couldn't hear. Mr. Tom had tutted and she'd squeezed Teddy close.

If Marigold closed her eyes and held him tight enough, she could still smell the old smells from before.

It was harder and harder to remember.

Edith Mama would carry her around the grounds, which Marigold liked very much, as Nanny didn't snuggle or kiss her much when she picked her up. They would walk and Edith pointed out all the different flowers, speaking their names.

"Look a marigold, my darling," Edith said on one occasion, pointing to the bright flower that shared her very own name.

Marigold pressed her head against her caretaker's neck, taking in the flowers before closing her eyes. Edith Mama did not smell the same as Mummy had, but it was still nice and oddly familiar. She found she liked it more and more and Edith too, even though it was scary at first.

"Pretty..." Halting syllables whispered, but not ignored.

"Yes it is," her caretaker agreed, her excitement at the spoken word palpable, accompanied by a kiss and caress against Marigold's hair. "Just like you!"

Edith Mama nudged her gently meeting her gaze with a hesitant smile. Marigold looked up and smiled back.

The truth was Marigold listened well and understood much.

And she could speak, only sometimes the precise way of it all often alluded her. And things and people always seemed to be changing.

"Heh, Marigold! Heh," Georgie looking down from high above on Mr. Barrow's shoulder. He skipped to the girls side when his turn was up. "Heh-nry. After the wedding, Henry is to be my new Step-Papa."

"Henry with a Hay-ch," Sybbie added, not very helpfully, as she took her own turn.

Marigold was happy the older girl was back from far away, but she didn't understand that H was of particular trouble. She could not seem to get the shape of her lips quite right, no matter how hard she tried.

"Henri?" she tried, brow furrowed.

"Henry!" the older children both corrected, giggling.

"Come along children," Nanny appeared again, done with her errand, clucking at them affectionately. "I am sure Mr. Barrow is very busy."

Marigold's eyes filled with tears and she hung her head in a pout. She'd not yet had a turn and she so enjoyed when the tall butler carried her on his shoulders.

There was a time before when strong kind hands had picked her up on his shoulders every single day. Edith Mama would lift her but not as high. And she was at London again and very sad, so no one else would even try.

"But-" Marigold sniffed, looking up at the tall man and rounding her lips around the words. "My turn? Please?"

Mr. Barrow seemed pleased and knelt down to clasp her hand.

"I can manage, Nanny Coates," he added, lifting her to his back easily. "Miss Marigold has waited with no complaint for her turn and now she asks so nicely, I won't deny her."

In the night time, waking from a restless sleep, Marigold opened her eyes to find Edith Mama's face above her in the dark. Both gasped, frozen in surprise. Marigold scooted closer to the bars as Edith knelt closer and brushed a gentle hand across her forehead.

"I'm sorry to wake you my love," she whispered, eyes sad.

"You back?" Marigold asked, words obstructed by a yawn speaking around the thumb she'd slipped into her mouth. She blinked hard trying to keep her mother in view, despite the dark. She was tired but she liked having Edith Mama back.

"Yes, and now you must go to sleep," Edith explained, rising to leave the room.

"Non!"

They both froze when Georgie snorted. Both their gazes darted to other side of the room, afraid of waking him but he only turned over in his sleep. Marigold reach out to hold Edith Mama's hand.

The adult sighed and knelt again, "I missed you."

She drew tentative circles on the back of Marigold's hand. The little girl grew ever drowsier, but was determined to watch her mother for as long as possible, lest she go away again. One never knew when someone would leave not be seen again.

"I was thinking," Edith whispered after a long silence. "Perhaps you and I could go and live in London, just us two. Perhaps that is all we really need. We have the flat."

Marigold wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but her caretaker did spend a lot of time there. Being with Edith sounded nice. Like before, with Mummy all the day when there was so much less people. And smaller insides and more places to play outside. But Marigold didn't really didn't know what moving to a flat in London meant. It was all rather confusing.

"Stay?" she asked when her eyes could stay open no longer.

Edith Mama smiled and kissed her cheek, "I will stay until you fall asleep."

Marigold's eyes slipped shut and she had nothing more to say.

Chapter Text

Home

In the cold of January, in a brand new year, Marigold arrived at Brancaster Castle alone, except for Granny Cora.

And Teddy, of course.

Edith Mama was gone at the moon with Bertie because of the wedding. Marigold waved to them in the sky every night before bed. They would be coming back soon though, Granny Cora said. And Edith Mama had sent three telegrams just to Marigold, even though Donk had to read them to her.

"They say the food is quite good," he read at tea the day one of the telegrams arrived.

She squinted at the paper, "Moon food?"

"Aunt Edith and Uncle Bertie are in Paris, which is in France, Marigold," George explained as Sybbie giggled. "Not on the moon."

"It is a honeymoon, sweet girl, not the literal moon," Donk added.

All the grown ups chuckled, which Marigold thought was rather unfair. Why should something be called a moon, when it wasn't actually? And why couldn't anyone really explain it her?

Edith Mama would have. Mummy or Da from before would have done too. People could leave for trips at any time, and they did regularly, at London or the village or wherever. Nanny didn't even always know where people were when the left. Marigold really didn't understand why a wedding would make it necessary to go to a moon...or a Paris.

Marigold had scowled and leaned back on Donk's lap, running her fingers across the paper of Edith Mama's telegram.

"Don't take it to heart, my dear," Granny Cora said kindly, before turning back to the adults. "Some children are just more literal at that age, Edith certainly was when she was small..."

Aunt Lady Mary rolled her eyes. "Don't remind me."

Mr. Tom coughed and paused playing with Sybbie to give the dark haired adult a sharp look. She turned gaze toward Marigold and took a deep breath, seeming to settle herself.

"It is rather confusing, when one really thinks about it," Mary said after the laughter died down, tentatively patting her niece's head.

Henry with a Hay-ch set down his cup of tea and addressed the children, winking at Marigold. "I imagine the moon would be a great deal more exotic than Paris anyway."

"Worse food," Aunt Lady Mary countered, smiling at her husband and tapping Georgie's shoulder. "What do you imagine there is to eat on the moon?"

"Cheese!" Sybbie and George replied with glee.

That's what the story book Nanny read them before bed said after all, but Marigold remembered Donk showing them pictures in a book of the moon. She didn't think Nanny's book of stories was correct in this instance. She thought it would be something more like the picture.

"What's that my darling?" Donk asked, when she'd made her reply.

"Rock candy," she repeated a little louder, leaning back against his strong frame.

Air seemed to rush out of Donk's chest and his laughter made Marigold bounce.

He grinned, "Well, there you have it!"

Later that tea, Marigold heard Donk speaking to Granny, "Are you quite sure you want to take her yourself?"

"I have traveled by train with her before, I am sure I can manage. It's certainly not enough to trouble Nanny Coates over. Her new Nanny is already there and that should help her with the transition. I'll be home by dinner."

Early in the morning, just Marigold and Granny Cora left for the train, with only her cases and Teddy. The sky was still dark. Sleepy, pajama-clad Sybbie and Georgie waved as the car drove away and Marigold said bye, because bye is what one said to people when leaving.

The winter air made the girl wince upon arriving at the train station. Even with a scarf, hat, and mittens, her ears and nose felt cold. She wished she was back in her bed at Downton. Georgie told her that it was going to be ever so much colder in Northumberland.

But at least she'd have Edith Mama back.

Later, in the train carriage, Granny Cora held on to Marigold's hands with her own to warm them up, which helped. She also let her get train breakfast and a sweet! Cora didn't even scold Marigold for using her breath to fog up the train glass to make pictures. She had never spent that much time with Granny Cora alone before, and though it wasn't exactly as nice as when she could be with Edith Mama, Marigold found she enjoyed it.

After a long time the train slowed to a stop and Granny Cora explained, "Here you see we are now in the village of Hexham, your-well, Edith and Bertie's village with Brancaster."

It seemed rather large to be considered a village.

A man greeted them at the station and helped load their bags into the shiniest car Marigold could ever remember seeing. It seemed doubly odd because the man himself seemed rather disheveled and his clothes looked wrinkled.

"Name's Roger Porter, milady," he said in a gravelly voice, hefting a case into the boot of the car. "Groundskeeper, technically but I do drive well. We don't keep a full time chauffeur since the previous lord spent so much time away, and of course Mr. Pel-uh, his new lordship drives himself mostly."

"That's quite alright, Mr. Porter," Granny Cora replied. "I am not sure whether you'll be getting one soon even now, my daughter loves to drive."

"Is that and all?" The man squinted and seemed a bit surprised. He turned to Marigold next.

Hiding behind Granny Cora's skirts, Marigold held Teddy close, trying her best not to shiver.

"Well, and this here must be the ward, then? Hiya lass."

Feeling suddenly out of place, Marigold looked up in curiosity, "The word?"

Granny squeezed Marigold's hand and pursed her lips. "This is Marigold."

"A lovely name for a lovely girl," Mr. Porter replied with a smile. He opened the doors and helped them into the backseat of the car. "Awfully generous of their lady and lordship."

"Yes," Granny Cora said softly as she settled Marigold and Teddy by her side.

The drive from the town felt longer than Marigold knew it took to get from the village to Downton. Looking out the window her eyes grew wide when they pulled up to the gates. It was like a real castle from one of Nanny Coates' stories!

A proper castle seemed rather large to be considered a house.

They were greeted outside by Bertie's Mama who Marigold remembered from the wedding, and had told her to call her Grandmother Pelham along with a row of more servants than she was used to cast her eyes down the row, unable to focus on any of their greetings or names. She kept looking for Mama but she wasn't there.

The last to greet her was a woman with a very long nose, "Hello Marigold, I am Nanny Atkins. Let me show you the nursery."

Nanny Atkins was a lot younger than Nanny Coates. Marigold stared at her extended hand suspiciously, reluctant to let go of Granny Cora. She chewed on Teddy's ear.

"Edith Mama?"

"She's coming soon," Granny Cora whispered.

"My dear, Lady Grantham and I must speak, go and see your new nursery," Grandmother Pelham said firmly. "It will help you to settle in."

Marigold allowed Nanny Atkins to lift her to her arms. They walked for ages though rooms bigger than rooms at even Downton and up, up, up stairs. Marigold filed all the turns and colors away into her mind.

The nursery was twice the size of the nursery at Downton, Marigold could hardly believe it was just for her.

For now at least.

Nanny Atkins said, "There hasn't been a little girl in Brancaster in many years, so they say. Lady Pelham is very pleased. Lady Hexham sent up these lovely toys and books for you from London, you see? Your...?"

Biting her lower lip and keeping a firm grip on Teddy, Marigold nodded, "Edith Mama? Where?"

"She's on her way back. Very soon," Nanny Atkins assured as her small charge began surveying the contents of the room. "I've met her, she's very lovely."

"Oui."

Nanny smiled, "Shall I tell you a secret?"

Marigold hung her head, wondering how much soon meant. She shrugged.

"I am new here as well and you will be my very first girl to take care of. I think we will do well, you and I."

It was odd to imagine a nanny not having minded anyone before. Or of having one all to herself. Marigold didn't remember having a nanny at all before. And she'd always shared with Georgie and Sybbie.

Marigold nodded, "Per-hap."

Ss were still a struggle.

Nanny Atkins smiled.

Before Marigold new it a bell was run and she and Nanny were summoned downstairs to say good-bye to Granny Cora. Marigold didn't want to and felt her eyes fill with tears.

When you really looked at it, Marigold was used to moving. New bed, new faces, larger and larger places. She didn't like it, but those thing changing was not the worst.

Her lower lip wobbled as Granny Cora lifted her up for a hug.

Marigold was very tired of leaving places and never going back. She was tired of byeing and never seeing them again. She'd thought Edith Mama would be with her forever. But she wasn't here now.

"Goodbye, my darling," Granny Cora whispered as she squeezed Marigold tight. "We will see you soon for a visit."

Soon, soon, soon, what was soon anyway?

Marigold sniffled and felt tears begin to fall down her cheeks. She thrashed as Granny gently set her back on her feet. She didn't want soon. She wanted Edith Mama and her own bed and Downton!

"Non! No! Stay!"

She tried to follow Granny on her way out the door into the cold air, even though she'd taken off her coat and gloves.

Granny looked pained, "She's not normally like this..."

"Now, now Marigold," Nanny Atkins tutted, pulling her back into the house. Grandmother Pelham looked on with a dour expression. "Lady Grantham must return home."

Home?

Marigold sniffled all through tea and dinner. She would not eat. No book or toy could distract her. She didn't understand. Edith Mama was not here. Granny left. Was she just to live here in this big giant house alone with people she didn't know?

At length, Grandmother Pelham and Nanny Atkins determined there was nothing else to be done, except to put the crying child to bed. The bed felt different than her bed at Downton and had no bars, but Marigold was worn out enough from her tears that sleep came to her quickly.

When she awoke next it was dark and quiet. She closed her eyes again could recall Downton. If she closed them tight she could remember fainter still the contours of a smaller room.

A warm hearth. Before.

Everything felt to big here. And cold.

Marigold sat up carefully. Her bed no longer had bars. She pulled her leg from beneath the covers and slid down so both feet were on the floor. It was cold but not as cold as she'd feared.

Nanny Atkins had a small room adjacent and connected to Marigold's that she walked by cautiously. Nothing else in the castle seemed to move.

Upon arriving in the corridor Marigold wandered back, tracing the steps she remembered from the morning. To the door. The door she'd seen Granny Cora leave from. What if she never saw Granny again? Or Georgie or Sybbie or Mama or anyone?

She held Teddy close to her chest. That had happened to her once already.

There was a table just near the doorway, and she slid underneath and looked out at the dark house with wide eyes.

She wasn't sure when it happened, but Marigold did fall asleep at some point, because she was startled back to wakefulness by the loud tired sounds of the large front doors being pulled open. Her fingers and nose were so cold that even Teddy couldn't warm them.

It was still night time because a lamp had been lit in the entry. She could feel the blast of cold, wet, rainy air from the outdoors.

"Welcome home your Lord Herbert, Lady Edith," A butler said, holding dripping luggage, Marigold could see from her spot under the table.

Could it be?

All she could see was wet shoes, so as soon as the doors shut out the cold air, Marigold peaked out from beneath the table. It was hard to move, she was so cold.

"Mama?"

The butler and the two damp grown ups and jumped with a start.

"Marigold?" the woman was startled.

It was Edith Mama!

Marigold flung herself at her mother. Despite having cried most of the day, it seemed she had not run out of tears at all. She didn't care about the wet or anything. Edith Mama was with her in this new place and that was wonderful!

Edith knelt down and observed her daughter, "What are you doing down here?"

The butler replied, "I was not aware of her presence. She was in put to bed hours ago."

"You'll freeze," Bertie said quickly, taking off his coat and moving to wrap the little girl in it before thinking better of it.

The butler cleared his throat and offered the man a dry coat of his own which Bertie wrapped about both Marigold and Edith.

"I missed you so," Edith whispered as she used the coat collar to try to protect Marigold's head from the water dripping off her hat.

Bertie chuckled,"I except she had rather the same idea. How about we all go dry off, eh?"

"Yes, let's," Edith rose to her feet, still holding Marigold close.

"Perhaps I can take him," Bertie said, gently sliding Teddy from the small girl's grasp. "We don't want him getting too wet, now do we?"

Marigold relinquished her beloved bear without a fight. Bertie was Edith Mama's husband now because of the wedding and he was very nice and would keep Teddy safe. She felt so much better with both of them there.

Home is people, Marigold decided as the trio slowly ascended the castle stairs.

Not places.

Chapter Text

Guardian

Marigold's favorite thing at Brancaster was that it had different rules.

She still missed Downton Abbey and her old Nanny and Sybbie and George and Donk and Granny Cora and Mr. Tom and even Aunt Lady Mary.

(A part of her even still missed before but it wasn't as easy to remember.)

But here, at Brancaster, children's rules were different in many things and Marigold found she quite enjoyed it.

She and Edith Mama and Bertie went on more drives than Downton, exploring the vast seemingly endless grounds of the castle. Bertie had a car he could make have no top and Marigold liked taking off her hat to feel the wind through her hair. Mama would always put it back on though.

Having a whole Nanny all too herself and because she was growing meant that Marigold got a lot more lessons than before she moved. Nanny Atkins liked giving lessons and reading and often let Marigold learn outside, when the weather was forgiving. Every morning after they woke up, Nanny Atkins would brush out Marigold's hair. She'd ask her what one thing the girl wanted to do, and most of the time managed to fit that one thing in the rest of their schedule.

Sometimes Marigold got cross because it was hard to be the only child with just one Nanny, and to still have to listen. Every misstep seemed more out in the open. If Marigold preferred spending the afternoon watching the maids hang laundry in the sky, Nanny always made her come back and get back to the routine.

But she did find her new companion to be fair (she did let Marigold watch the washing a bit, but they never lingered) and they didn't quarrel often. And she liked the learning; writing out her letters and numbers and starting la langue francais.

"I suspect you might be rather good at it," Nanny Atkins had said.

Marigold first imagined that learning two languages must be harder than learning one, and found speech already vexing.

However, Nanny was not entirely wrong.

Without Sybbie and George around to talk for her and over her, Marigold was speaking more. Hs and Ss and a few other things were still difficult and sometimes with some people speech was still very scary. But she was getting better and better. In both. French had different rules than English, like Downton had different rules than Brancaster.

Edith Mama and everyone seemed so pleased whenever Marigold tried out more talking.

When she mastered a new word, Nanny Atkins always said, "Well done, Marigold."

One day at breakfast, she'd pointed to and correctly identified the utensils on the table

"Couteau, fourchette, et cuillère."

Bertie had winked at her, "Perhaps we should return to France on holiday. Marigold can guide us and speak to the locals..."

"I wasn't that terrible," Edith Mama said breezily.

"I was. She can help me with the locals. Won't you please, Marigold?"

She sat up straight in her chair and nodded seriously.

"Yes, bien sûr!"

Edith Mama had laughed and laughed. Marigold thought it was the most beautiful sound so she joined Bertie in laughing too, even though she didn't entirely understand what the funny was.

Children's rules where different in all things at Brancaster.

Even though she was the only child there, Marigold wasn't with Nanny all the time. Less than in Yorkshire.

At Downton, the children were not permitted to eat with the grown-ups, excepting for very special occasions and picnics. They saw the family formally once a day in the afternoons as a group, punctuated by some other visits or walks or activities outside of that.

At Brancaster, Marigold ate breakfast almost every day with Edith Mama and Bertie (when they were both home) and sometimes even Grandmother Pelham.

The castle was so big that Grandmother Pelham seemed to have her own house within a house. She adhered a lot more to old rules like Downton, and usually saw Marigold with Nanny Atkins some afternoons for tea. Marigold didn't mind though, because she also showed Marigold some very old dolls and had very pretty tea cups.

But breakfast with Edith Mama and Bertie was the most fun.

From the first day on, Bertie set Marigold at the head of the table even, right between her two caretakers. She always tried her hardest to be on her best behavior, lest the normal rules for children return and she be relegated to breakfasts alone.

Sometimes, Edith Mama called Nanny Atkins to bring Marigold in when she worked on her correspondence. Nanny often sent her in with her own slate and chalk to practice at the letters she'd taught her while Mama worked on her own big people letters.

"I know it's a bit unusual," Edith Mama explained when she brought Marigold to the study. "But I find that I want to see her as much as I possibly can."

"No need to justify yourself to me, milady. Ring when you need me back," Nanny Atkins said, before leaving them alone.

It was nice to hear the only the quiet noises of pen scratching against paper mixed in with the sounds of her own chalk. Marigold liked looking up from her work and across the table to Edith Mama.

Often Mama would look up too and they smiled at each other.

When letters to people and practice letters were finished, Edith Mama would come over and look at Marigold's practice and tell her she'd done well. If there was time, she even put Marigold in her lap and read a story to her and everything!

"I like words," Marigold had proclaimed one such day, a few quiet moments after finishing a story from a brand new book about a bear (not unlike her own Teddy) named Pooh that Mama's editor had sent down from London.

Edith Mama stiffened for a moment, before her arms circled around Marigold even tighter and she pressed kiss on top of her head.

"I am so pleased that you do."

Marigold beamed because she liked when Mama was pleased.

"When I was small," Mama continued wistfully. "I wanted nothing more than to sit with my Mama or Papa for hours. To be held, just me alone..."

"Like this?"

"Yes, just like this. Of course, there seems to always be so many pressures on time. I understand that well now. I expect they did the best they could have. And in those days, the world was rather different. Especially for children."

Marigold didn't really understand, but nodded all the same.

"Golly, I sound a bit like Granny Violet."

The oldest of the Grannys, Marigold knew, did often say peculiar things, so she didn't disagree.

She snuggled in closer, "I like to sit too."

It was best to be close.

Edith Mama pecked her cheek, "Good."

Circumstances at Downton were different now too, Marigold discovered. On one of their times together in the study, they were interrupted by a telephone call. At first, Marigold didn't pay much attention, as telephone's were things for grown up people. She continued to write out the M of her name and let Mama handle the call.

Until...

"I know, Papa," Edith Mama laughed. "It's a good idea, just a moment."

Marigold looked up to see she was being beckoned over.

"Come along, darling."

Marigold stood on a chair as Edith Mama held the phone to her mouth and ear. Taking the ear piece carefully in her hand, she squinted as she listened to the strange metallic sounding voice on the line.

"Hello?"

"Hello Marigold, it's me, George!"

"And Sybbie!" a fainter voice chimed in from the background.

Georgie continued loudly, "Donk said we could talk on this!"

"Oh..." Marigold replied, uncertain.

"Something's happened! I must tell you!"

"What happened?"

"I have a sister now. Her name is Caroline!"

"Lovely."

"You can meet her when you visit."

"Alright."

"Marigold, wait-"

Unclear on how to proceed, she replaced the earpiece in it's perch and turned to look back up at her mother unexpectedly. Edith Mama stifled a laugh.

A momentous first time on the telephone, indeed.

At the end of breakfast one day in the winter, Bertie turned to Nanny and Mama nervously.

"May I borrow Marigold this morning?" he asked.

It was very odd. Most of the time after breakfast, Bertie and Edith Mama had to get to doing works. Because they were very important people.

Castle people.

"I suppose..." Mama agreed. "Whatever for?"

"I need her expertise on a very important project."

Soon enough, she bundled in the back of Bertie's car, with the top on because the weather had turned cold. Teddy was nestled close in her lap, and they wore matching scarves. Nanny Atkins had knitted them when Marigold had worried the bear was cold after the air began to chill. Grandmother Pelham said it made Teddy look "quite distinguished".

They waved to Mr. Porter at the gate.

"Hiya Bert-uh, your Lordship." The older man flushed.

"We're all still getting used to that, Porter I can assure you," Bertie said, kindly and the groundskeeper seemed more relaxed.

"Hello there, Miss Goldie," he greeted, when he noticed Marigold in the back seat. She lifted her hand in greeting, but still held Teddy tight.

"We've got official business in Hexham today," Bertie explained. "Miss Marigold is my assistant. Well, subject expert in fact."

"I see," Porter nodded, impressed. "Sounds very important."

Marigold wasn't entirely sure what exactly their mission was really, but she sat up straight and held her chin high all the same. It wasn't every day she was included in the official Castle Business that seemed to occupy Bertie and Edith Mama so much.

Upon arrival to the village, Marigold was quite surprised.

They'd pulled up in front of a toy shop of all things. Bertie came around the side and opened her door for her, lifting her out of the car and on to her feet. Some people on the street nodded to them in greeting, while others just stared. Marigold didn't quite know how she felt about them, and she couldn't seem to get her feet to move. She watched with wide eyes as one of the people on the street pointed to her and whispered to a companion.

Suddenly Bertie lifted Marigold onto his hip, Teddy in tow. As they walked quickly away, she rested her head against Bertie's shoulder.

"They're used to the local lord living on another continent," he whispered. "We're novel at the moment. It can be a bit much."

The door to the toy shop had a bell, and it sounded when they entered. The shopkeeper looked up from his work and seemed to need to look twice at his costumers.

"Hello my lord, can I help you with anything?"

"Yes, we'll be just a minute."

Bertie set Marigold on her feet once more. She walked tentatively among the wares, gripping Teddy. It wasn't often Marigold had ever been in a toy shop. Mr. Tom took her and Georgie and Sybbie to the one by Downton when he came back from far away, but for the most part, Marigold used the toys around her already or ones grown ups gave her. She found herself a little dazzled.

"I really do appreciate your help, you understand."

"How?"

Marigold didn't really understand what Bertie needed her for. He'd explained at breakfast, but she still wasn't quite clear on why he needed her help in the toy shop.

"You see," Bertie knelt so he could look her in the eye. "I am the Lord of this county now. It means I am responsible for many things."

"Like the castle?"

"Yes."

"And going to London?"

He chuckled, "Sometimes, yes."

Marigold nodded.

"One of the things I am responsible for are the people of this county, as best I can. There is a children's home in Alnwick and I want to make sure the children there all have some sort of jolly holiday. I don't know much about children, if I am honest. I'm sure you've noticed."

Her brow furrowed. She'd never felt like he was uninformed about anything. Except perhaps French. He could drive and use the phone and wore hats and everything. He played with her and Edith Mama and read stories with them sometimes.

"I thought you could help me chose some gifts for them?"

Marigold smiled brightly, "I will."

Bertie let out a breath and grinned at her and hand in hand they browsed the offerings. They had boys and girls to choose for and two age groups. They settled on a mix of dollies and tinker toys for the older crowd, and at Marigold's strong insistence, Teddy's for the littlest.

"It's nice to have a cuddle, Bertie," she explained.

"Wise words."

Especially when you felt alone.

One day, in the late afternoon, Edith Mama and Bertie called Marigold to the green study room. They'd both been away at London for the week and she'd missed them. When she and Nanny arrived, they were side by side on the settee with a space between them. As nanny left, Mama patted the spot, so Marigold joined them.

Bertie took a deep breath and smiled at her, "We have some news."

Marigold leaned closer to Edith Mama and regarded him in uncertainty. She didn't know what sort of news they were going to say. She was half afraid they would tell her that she'd have to leave again and go live somewhere else.

"Marigold, darling," she could hear the tears in Edith Mama's voice, and felt even more nervous. "There's new law, about children and families. It means that someone can be adopted even by someone who isn't their blood relation."

Marigold scowled in confusion. She'd never really been all that clear on relations and families anyway. Georgie had a dead Papa and a Step-Papa. Sybbie had only Mr. Tom because Edith's sister Sybil was dead. Mr. Porter had 3 sons he said, but they all lived far away. Nanny Atkins had sisters. Bertie only had Grandmother Pelham. Marigold vaguely knew she had a Mummy and a life before, but now she had Edith Mama and Bertie and Nanny and everyone and this life now.

"We've talked to our solicitor and signed all the forms," Bertie continued almost nervously, pulling out a paper. "And now I am..."

He stammered and started again, "Your mother and I are in fact, legally speaking, your parents and guardians...and really in every other manner of speaking, I should add-"

"Bertie," Edith Mama interjected, pulling Marigold into her lap.

"Right, that's too much," Bertie agreed nodding, before placing the papers on the table in front of them and wrapping his arm around both his wife and the child between them.

"You are officially Miss Marigold Pelham of Brancaster now. I am, under Britsh Law, your father."

That was something. Marigold had never really put much thought, or had much need for a last name really. She wasn't sure she even had a second name before now. 

"What do you think about that, darling?" Mama asked, her voice strangely shaking. 

"We're to be famille? Like everyone?"

"We are!"

"I like it," Marigold decided with a grin. 

The law said so, and she knew very well everyone was supposed to follow the law. 

"What shall you call me then?" Bertie asked, tentatively. "Nothing has to change if you don't wish it-"

"Not Da," she replied firmly, without needing to think. 

Even though she couldn't recall him very clearly anymore, Marigold knew there would only ever be one Da. Just like there would only ever be one Donk, one Mummy and one Edith Mama. 

"No, right," he shrugged. "I am quite happy to carry on being plain old Bertie."

"No, Bertie Papa," Marigold corrected smiling broadly. "My Papa." 

Her Bertie Papa. Her Edith Mama. Her very own proper parents! 

Marigold Pelham. 

She liked that very much indeed. 

Chapter Text

Life

"Now Miss Marigold, quit your fussing and finish your packing."

Nanny Atkins had her hands on her hips and was sharper than was at all normal, but Marigold paid little attention. Normally, she did her best to avoid a scolding from anyone. Today however, drawing the ire of her beloved caretaker was far from the front of her mind.

Sighing, the girl continued to fidget aimlessly with the white ribbon tied at the end of the long braid that came over her shoulder. The smooth fabric flowed between the spaces between her fingers almost like water.

Suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder.

"Don't forget your piano book," Nanny reminded, placing the book next to the folded clothes and Teddy near her traveling suitcase. "I expect you won't let your practicing lapse in your time at Downton. Your French as well. This will be a good deal longer than for the Royal Visit. I've spoken with Nanny Coates and she's quite aware of what we've been working on."

Letting out a sullen huff, Marigold let her braid fall and unceremoniously tossed the book and clothes into the open suitcase.

Normally, a visit to Downton Abbey was one of her favorite things.

The kind of day Nanny would help her circle on the calendar and count up too in excited anticipation. Last Christmas, Donk had gotten each of the children (big and small) a cracker and even Aunt Lady Mary had been amused. The time before that, the King and Queen were there with horses and soldiers who had very shiny hats. She and Sybbie and George went to the parade and got to play among the villagers and enjoyed plenty of sweets.

This time though? The reason for the trip, along with it's unspecified duration made Marigold nervous rather than pleased.

Her life was changing. Again.

It had already started. The castle was being let out to hunting parties and charitable committees on a more regular basis, using parts of the house the family didn't. Marigold sneaked down to listen to them sometimes.

More often than not in recent months, Bertie Papa fretted after his trips to the Lord's Houses in London. She tried to make him feel better with games and tea, but there was a stress about workers in the North that she didn't understand how help with.

In September, Marigold would start attending school term in town for part of the day. Possibly fun, but sometimes she found it was still hard to talk to people, even within her own family, let alone those she didn't know.

And most frightening of all, a baby was growing inside of Edith Mama.

(She had asked how such a thing had come to pass, but Nanny had simply told her that was the way of things with all babes and Edith Mama and Bertie Papa said she would understand when she was older.)

"Does it feel odd, Mama?" Marigold had asked one day in the blue library, just after the pair had finished a book.

"Very odd. Rather exciting, as well."

Edith Mama had placed the girl's hand carefully one the swell of her stomach. Mama had squeezed her close and kissed the top of her head. Sure enough, beneath her fingers Marigold feel something squirming around. Like a fish.

Quite strange.

But Edith Mama and Bertie Papa seemed very pleased, almost giddy. Marigold could only suppose that's because this baby would be properly theirs and Mama's and Papa's got excited about new children. She understood a bit more about relations and families, and as far as she knew she, Marigold Pelham, was the only adopted person she'd ever heard of.

In stories and in real life. She was certainly the only one in the family.

Mama had told her that a new baby didn't mean anything would change, but things were already different.

"If we're late to luncheon because of your dawdling," Nanny Atkins continued. "I shall have no qualms about telling Lady Pelham the cause of our tardiness."

Marigold wasn't entirely sure Grandmother Pelham would mind all that much, given she didn't seem keen on their trip (let alone packing for it) anyways. Nevertheless, she finished putting her belongings in the suitcase.

Grandmother Pelham liked things to be orderly.

They exited the nursery, Marigold eyeing the newly installed crib.

"Will it have to be with us all the time?" she asked walking over to take Nanny's hand.

"Much of the time, yes my dear," Nanny Atkins replied kindly, leading her through the long halls of Brancaster. "Though of course the babe will be with a nurse and your Mama until your return. But then, they'll live here in the nursery just like you."

Marigold's eyes narrowed and she gummed the inside of her mouth.

"And come term time, you'll be off to school for some of the day having grand adventures, and it will just be me and the baby in the house."

She huffed and played with Nanny's fingers, "But I am your first child, you've never looked after a baby before."

"Oh, what cheek!" Nanny laughed, nudging Marigold's shoulder. "I do have training. I am credentialed. And I have handled babies before, though not in service."

"Georgie said Caroline is still dull."

Of course, George sometimes said Marigold herself was dull and all.

"Not always. I had such fun with my sisters."

When they arrived in the ornate red hallway that let to Grandmother Pelham's sitting room, Marigold sighed and looked at her shoes. Biting her lips she whispered the truth of her feelings.

"They might not want me."

"What's that?"

She hung her head, "They might not..."

Nanny Atkins stopped their progress to Grandmother Pelham's rooms. She knelt to look Marigold in the eye, "I very much doubt that."

Marigold shrugged.

The Nanny's brow furrowed, and for a moment it seemed as though she wanted to say something more. However, raised voices could be heard from the sitting room. Both of their eyes darted to the still closed door.

Grandmother Pelham could be heard sharply "-how a hospital is appropriate? Let alone a hospital in Yorkshire! What sort of impression does that give to the people of this county?"

"Prior to two years go, the people of this county were frankly rather used to having their lord live abroad," Edith Mama replied.

"By now, they have gotten to know us," Bertie Papa explained. "I believe the work that we do matters and that whatever quarrels they have are much larger than our family or this estate."

"Certainly larger than where I decide to birth my child."

"I know you were fond of Cousin Peter, but as a predecessor he was an eccentric man. His choices as Marquess were hardly good for the county."

"As we discussed, Bertie and I both think-"

"Bertie is a sentimental man."

"Mother-" Bertie Papa who rarely raised his voice, but spoke loudly now.

Though Mama spoke even louder, "Who has also been doing rather well as lord of this castle!"

The room went quiet for a long pause and Nanny Atkins reached for the door, pausing as Edith Mama's much quieter, though no more calm, voice continued.

"I have been to a hospital before, so I know what to expect. The hospital in Yorkshire has more physicians than any here and my mother will be there and I would prefer-"

"It's not about your preferences!" Grandmother Pelham interrupted. "I say that with the most respect toward you as is possible. Preferences are a liability to family such as ours. We are bound by duty. Not your whims!"

"Stop this at once," Bertie Papa tried, but it didn't seem to have any effect on the women's argument.

"My youngest sister died! In childbirth. At home. In front of us. In front of me!" Edith Mama sounded angrier than Marigold had ever heard her.

Marigold glanced up and Nanny Atkins eyes wide with fright. She knew Sybbie only had Uncle Mr. Tom and was Edith Mama's niece but not Aunt Lady Mary's daughter. She knew they had another sister, Sybil, who had died, but not how.

Edith Mama could die?

"I may be the Lady of Hexham and I think even you would say I have done that well, but I want to make my own choices. Here, with this, at least."

"I realize that must have been difficult-"

"This discussion is over," Bertie Papa spoke again. "I'm afraid we must say good-bye, Mother."

The doors to the hallway suddenly opened, Marigold and Nanny jumping at their sudden discovery. Papa's hand rested on the small of Mama's back and Grandmother Pelham stood behind them, expression slightly chastened.

The three of them did not have luncheon with Grandmother Pelham that day, instead piling into Bertie Papa's car with their luggage and leaving for Downton Abbey.

And so indeed, weeks later that March, Nigel Peter Pelham, Viscount Alnwick was born in a hospital. In York.

One morning when she and George and Caroline and Sybbie woke up, Aunt Lady Mary told them that Edith Mama's pains had started in the night. Bertie Papa and Granny Cora were in hospital with her.

"It will still be some time," her aunt explained as the other children scampered out of bed and Nanny Coates assisted them in readying for the day. "So, we shall go about our day as normal until there is news."

Marigold had sat wide eyed in the bed, unable to move her feet to the floor. She longed for Mama, Papa, or Nanny Atkins. Even Granny Cora or Grandmother Pelham. Her chest felt tight and her hands shook. She held Teddy close.

What if Edith Mama did die? What if she didn't but they loved the new baby so much and Marigold might be sent away? She supposed she could handle having to leave, even though it would smash her whole heart, if it meant that Mama could live.

Aunt Lady Mary paused in the doorway after the others left (happily chanting baby, baby, a brand new baby), regarding her niece with concern.

"I..." the older woman began, with some trepidation, returning to perch on the corner of Marigold's bed. She placed a tentative hand on the girl's knee. "I understand the prospect of all of this must feel quite overwhelming."

Marigold sniffled in reply.

"I have some recollection of the birth of my sister Sybil, as I was about your age. I had this sense that my whole world was about to change. It was frightening to be sure."

Sighing and moving closer up the bed, Aunt Lady Mary pulled Marigold into a slightly stiff hug. Which was rather unusual. It wasn't that Aunt Lady Mary was cold exactly. She hugged George and Caroline lots. But she tended to be more aloof with everyone else. Prickly even. Certainly with Marigold.

She'd assumed it was because of being adopted.

"And I was right," her aunt continued with some satisfaction. She leaned forward and whispered gently. "My world did change. But that wasn't a bad thing, instead it was lovely and even now I would not avoid it though I miss Sybil so."

After a pause, she gave the girl a cautious peck on the top of her head.

"All will be well in this, Marigold. George had some apprehension too with Caroline, but now he's perfectly delighted. You will soon find it hard to imagine your family without your new sibling."

Marigold wondered if Aunt Lady Mary knew that George told people his sister was dull.

Still, with a sigh she cuddled close and accepted the relative comfort of her aunt's embrace.

They were inside in the early evening, after an afternoon collecting insects and flowers, when Donk strode up looking pleased as punch.

Marigold and Sybbie were sat at the piano, the older of the girls pounding on the keys more enthusiastically, but with far less accuracy. She did not know her notes. Their hands stilled at the interruption. Marigold froze as the rest of their little party stared at the man in anticipation.

"That was your grandmother on the telephone. Everyone is doing well and I now have another grandson! A Viscount at that!"

George cheered, "Perhaps when he's bigger he can play with me and Johnny!"

Sybbie ran up to hug Donk.

Caroline looked confused but clapped her tiny hands.

"How wonderful!" Uncle Mr. Tom smiled.

Henry with a Hay-ch raised his cup of tea in salute, "Well done, Edie!"

Aunt Lady Mary smiled and shook her head, "If nothing else, I suppose Lord Hexham's mother will be pleased, a proper heir for Brancaster."

"Even if he is a Yorkshire lad?" Barrow joked tentatively.

Aunt Lady Mary threw her head back in a laugh, "I'm sure once she meets him all will be forgiven. If Marigold's anything to go by."

"This calls for celebration," Donk announced. "Barrow, have we any Sherry?"

"Of course, Milord," the butler agreed, winking at Marigold as he pour out some drinks for the grown ups.

Marigold was now in possession of a brother.

(Though in her minds eye, faint and nearly -but not quite- forgotten, Marigold knew she'd had brothers before. With Da and Mummy.)

It was too late to drive down to see them that evening and so Marigold went to bed again and woke the next day still in a daze. By the time they drove down to the hospital, she felt lonely in the back car among everyone chattering happily. Her stomach and head were a jumble of fears and confusions.

Ever in life, just as she felt she had some footing, Marigold found she was stumbling into the unknown, yet again.

Granny Cora was there to greet them, grinning ear to ear.

"They'd like Marigold to go in first and give them a bit of time, just the three of them and then we can follow."

Donk's good spirits were still high, "Marvelous!"

"Oh, Robert you should see him. He's got Bertie's ears but he's so precious."

The numbness receded and Marigold found it hard to catch her breath as Granny Cora led her by the hand down the echoing hallways of the hospital. Granny Cora looked down at her curiously, squeezing her hand one final time before she opened the door and ushered Marigold into a corner room.

Everything that came next was a bit of a flurry.

Bertie Papa was the first thing she saw standing a the head of a bed, his smile wide and his eyes watery. Edith Mama was alive and in the bed with her hair down, smiling but with tired eyes. In her arms was a small bundle, with a tuft of brown hair visible from afar.

No space for Marigold.

Bertie Papa opened his arms to her, but Marigold could keep her tears at bay no longer. A small sob escaped her lips and she ran away from the bed to the far corner of the room, sliding down to the floor in a heap.

"Marigold! Whatever is the matter?" Edith Mama sounded scared, she shifted in the bed, perhaps as to get up, but winced in pain. "I know this is a lot, but she's not normally like this."

"I'll go."

"Yes Bertie, can you bring her to me, please?"

Bertie approached her, again with open arms, but Marigold only pulled her legs up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. Big tears still fell from her eyes. She cared little for the state of her tights or dress or scuffed shoes. It turned out Bertie Papa felt similarly. He lowered his long limbs to the floor, heedless of his apparel and slid next to her with his back to the wall.

"Are you afraid to meet your brother, Nigel?" he asked, following Marigold's gaze at the occupants of the bed. "If you must know I was frightened to meet him as well."

Marigold sighed and used her wrist to wipe at her face. She turned her head and was met by kind eyes.

Arm draping protectively around her small form, Bertie Papa's voice lowered conspiratorially, "Even Mama was a bit scared."

"I am glad she didn't die."

"Oh, Darling," Edith Mama called to her from the bed. "Is that what's wrong? I am right here. I am tired, but that's to be expected. I am not dying."

Marigold nodded, "After this, where will I go?"

"Come up here, my girl," Bertie Papa coaxed her into his arms and brought her up to the bed. He perched on the edge and Edith Mama scooted over a bit to make space for the girl between them.

"What's this you are talking about?" Mama's eyes were pleading. "You're not going anywhere."

A small gurgle from the bundle in Edith's arms pulled all of their attention to him for a moment. To Marigold, Nigel seemed small and floppy. He did have rather distinctive ears, like Bertie Papa.

"I wasn't your baby," she admitted quietly, playing with the buckle of her shoe. "And he is and what if? You might love your own baby better. You might not want me."

Her parents exchanged a look, Marigold did not miss but could not quite understand.

Adjusting the baby in her hold and reaching one arm to wrap it around her daughter, Edith Mama seemed horrified.

Her own voice now thick with tears, she answered, "Someday, I can explain more but I promise you that is not possible. I will always always want you."

"Really?"

She turned to look between them as Bertie Papa answered this time as firmly as her mother, "Always."

"We love you so much."

Marigold listened carefully and leaned her head against her Edith Mama's shoulder, breathing deeply the familiar smell. She can mostly believe them, but it couldn't dispel the parts of her that remembered having to leave before. Another part of her deeply believed her mother's words, and she couldn't quite put her finger on why.

A with a long sigh, Marigold nodded.

A hanker chief appeared and Bertie Papa cleaned the tears from her eyes and cheeks. He moved on to clear up Mama's face, before drying his own tears and carefully refolding the fine blue cloth and putting it back in his pocket.

"It's been quite an eventful morning for us, hasn't it?"

Something about his tone made Marigold and Mama laugh, even if it was a bit weak.

Edith Mama squared her shoulders, and nervously asked, "Would you? Would you like to meet your brother? Properly, I mean?"

Marigold couldn't find the right worlds, but allowed herself to nod.

The little family shifted and moved the baby more to the center of view. Mama worried her lip as she observed her two children meeting for the first time.

When presented with the new infant Nigel, strangely Marigold found the most comfort of all. More than words or assurances.

He yawned and brought his fist up to suck on. His dark hair seemed to stand straight up. His forehead wrinkled and one of his eyes opened, and squinted up at Marigold blearily.

Unbidden a smile appeared on Marigold's lips. She found she rather liked him.

The word brother in Marigold's mind conjured a quite different image.

Someone taller than she and the smell of dewy grass. Someone who looked after her. She carefully brushed her fingers along the contours of the baby's delicate ears. Her brother Nigel was very small and perhaps needed Marigold to look after him.

At the very least, she knew she would try.

Chapter Text

Asset

"They say it won't last," Edith Mama spoke quietly in the front seat. "Papa expects it should all blow over soon."

It was on a drive to Downton for spring garden party for the village where Marigold first heard the strange word. She was in the backseat, lulled nearly to sleep with Nigel dozing in his basket beside her. Her eyes were closed but she could hear her parents talking.

Bertie Papa paused and then replied, "You know I have the deepest respect for your dear father, but..."

"No," Mama's voice fell. "I am not one to trust that his read on the situation is correct either. I suppose, it's more just hoping it won't last."

"I can understand that."

"During my last meeting Miss Edmonds we reviewed the figures. Our minor publications are experiencing a slump, though The Sketch and The Ladies Quarterly continue to be selling well, so then I hope that it's all just a blip."

"I suppose many still have a budget here for ladies magazines..."

Mama swallowed, "For the time being."

"The reports we're getting from America are very troubling."

"Yes, and I daresay the complimentary food at the Brancaster Christmas for the village seemed rather too welcome for some. It's so sad."

"Christmas and for every other event we've put on for the parish," Papa sighed. "Many mines and factories have closed. The bread lines are long. I only wish we could do more for all of them."

Marigold supposed the talk of food and the village is what peaked her interest (Combined with a slightly bumpier patch on the rode which jostled away her sleepiness.)

At school luncheon, some students went home to eat with their families while others could stay at school to eat packed lunches. Marigold stayed because the Castle was too far away to go and come back. Others stayed for similar reasons, farms too far out or parents busy with work.

That wasn't the only reason for staying however.

Louisa Antonia Doxford and Bessie Hull were the two friends Marigold had found at school. They liked playing tag, as well as learning Hopscotch and sharing secrets. But only with each other.

Marigold and Bessie were both quiet and rather shy, and it suited them to allow Louisa Antonia (never just Louisa) to do most of the talking. They all stayed for luncheon at school.

Louisa Antonia's Papa ran three shops in the high street. Marigold's Bertie Papa owned a Castle and her Mama worked with the charities and in London. Bessie told them her Papa had worked in a mine that got closed and now he carried heavy things on farms, but not everyday. Bessie's Mama was dead.

Sometimes Bessie didn't have her own food to eat at luncheon.

Marigold never liked the sound of Bessie's stomach grumbling and so usually shared her food with her friend. Even if her own stomach started to grumble by the end of the day, she knew Nanny Atkins would let her have a tea or treat before supper if she asked nicely (or en francais).

Bertie Papa shook his head and continued, "We shall look into it, but it's not as though many of our own assets haven't been hit."

Was someone in a fight? Who was assets?

Marigold thought it was all to do with the American car crash she'd heard even the staff at Brancaster whisper about, but it was all very confusing. Perhaps she could ask Uncle Mr. Tom and Uncle Henry with a Hay-ch. They knew about cars.

What did food have to do with it?

Marigold like words very much indeed and wanted to know the meanings of all of them.

"Our tenants are having trouble with their rent. Industrial and residential alike. We have to be very careful."

"One feels so horrible for them."

"Yes, quite," Bertie Papa agreed.

"I wonder if Downton is faring any better?" Mama asked. "Probably not, though I am sure they would not easily tell us, certainly not Mary or Papa, but..."

"It could go very badly for a great many, commoner and titled alike. Perhaps it is already. Some of my colleagues in the House of Lords are talking about selling up their various holdings and losing properties. They've already lost much of the value anyway."

They drove in silence again before Papa added, "Mind you, some of them I would say were living beyond their means, without adequate reserves but it does make one think. I am glad we started letting the castle out for hunting parties again, and saving the totality of those profits. It's a buffer of sorts."

Another longer pause followed, and it seemed to Marigold that the talk was over and she almost let herself fall back to sleep.

But Edith Mama's spoke again, voice firm but hesitant, "If-If it came to it, and things go very badly, even for us..."

The car ambled along, turning down the lane that Marigold knew was the last turn before arriving at Downton Abbey.

"Yes?"

"The flat and the publishing company are assets I won't sell. I know my involvement has decreased since our elevation, but I do it for more than just myself. I wish for them to go to Marigold.""

Bertie Papa took a deep breath, "A legacy of sorts?"

In the backseat, Marigold opened her eyes wide, finding that Nigel had also woken up as their eyes locked. His face scrunched up in confusion, framed by his ears (still large for his age) and the lock of hair on the top of his head that no one (not Mama, Nanny, or any Granny) could make lay flat.

Please don't cry. Please don't cry.

She remained rock still, because she didn't want to interrupt the talk and to her luck, Nigel stayed quiet as well, gnawing happily on his sock.

Nanny Atkins had taught Marigold that to eavesdrop was to listen to other people (usually grown ups) when they didn't know. It was rude and not the kind of thing well mannered little girls did. Marigold understood, but also observed that Nanny herself would walk into rooms more slowly, rather than interrupting conversations or knocking on the door as she could have done.

Marigold thought sometimes adults were too secretive and they didn't understand how it felt to children. Walking in and always having people stop their talking or not explaining things, even when asked. She was curious and wanted to know many things right now, not when she was older. Older was too far away.

Besides, Marigold thought she sometimes understood more than grown ups gave her credit for.

It was all quite unfair.

And so, she didn't feel quite so bad about occasionally doing things well mannered little girls were not supposed to do.

Marigold listened. (They'd said her name after all.)

"I know it's strange for you, but-" Edith Mama started.

"Not so strange."

Marigold knew knew Nigel was meant to have Bertie Papa's castle in many many many years. And Donk was to give his Grantham to Georgie when he died, but she wasn't entirely sure how.

One didn't hear often about women and girls. She supposed Mamas gave things to their daughters. Even before they died. Sybbie had been given her own Mama's name. Granny Cora gave Aunt Lady Mary a broach for her birthday once. Bessie said she had her Mama's sewing box, but her Papa didn't let her use it yet.

True, Edith Mama was a bit unusual. Marigold didn't know anyone else who's mother owned a magazine house. But that was just the way of Edith Mama. And Marigold would much rather learn more about that, then get a shiney broach.

Nigel hiccuped and started to cry. He hated the hiccups (a trait he shared with Marigold). She squeezed her eyes shut and laid still as Edith Mama turned to soothe him.

"Oh dear, have you got the hiccups, Nigel? My poor boy," Mama crooned, before reaching out to jostle Marigold. "Time to wake up, darling. We're nearly there."

The ruse worked!

Beneath the shining sun, sweets and cakes, and fun the afternoon, and visiting family, Marigold nearly forgot about the conversation in the car.

She liked visiting her relatives, especially on days where everyone was together. Marigold loved living at the Castle with Mama and Papa and Nigel and Nanny Atkins and Grandmother Pelham, and Mr. Porter. She enjoyed her new friends at school. But there was always a part of her that felt comfortable in the familiar surroundings of Downton Abbey and even Ripon.

The strange asset word was nearly forgotten until, much later in the day.

George and Sybbie had run off for a race during the garden day. Marigold might have wanted to join herself, leaving Caroline and Nigel with Nanny. Her little brother was a baby and so did not walk more than a few steps and certainly could not run.

Caroline however, wanted to join and tried.

She was not quite a baby, but not old enough or fast enough for the game. She'd cried as her brother and cousin took off with out her. So, Marigold had stayed and suggested playing their own game, hiding under buffet tables.

Beneath the floaty white table cloths was like it's own little world, where Marigold and Caroline giggled and imagined themselves to be great ladies travelling to far away lands on an airship like the R-100 that she'd seen in Bertie Papa's newspaper.

They mapped out their own hidden world; Dessert Detour, Luncheon Lounge, Tea Land, and Granny Row.

Even though it was a buffet, it was always possible to find some grannies sitting down for a chat. Their skirts and the tips of their shoes were cautiously traversed in Marigold and Caroline's under table airship journey.

(Fingers to lips and quiet as mice, until you slipped to the next table.)

Granny Violet and Granny Isobel were often found together, though Granny Violet was ill. She rarely left her house of late and only then in the chair with wheels.

If Aunt Rosamund was down from London, she'd sit with them and bicker. The times Grandmother Pelham joined them on the drive down she would be found nearby. Usually Granny Cora was there as well, though she liked to move around more at parties.

Lady Bagshaw visited much more often of late (because Uncle Mr. Tom was fianced with Miss Lucy Smith, who worked for her) and typically joined in on Granny Row, though Marigold wasn't sure she was actually anyone's grandmother.

But she did look the part.

And Aunt Lady Mary hovered closely whenever Granny Violet did come to anything, so Granny Row wasn't only for grandmothers alone.

Marigold had just navigated on her hands and knees around Granny Violet's legs (covered with a blanket even though the weather was quite comfortable), when she heard that word again.

"It's the Yanks that will bear the brunt of it," Lady Bagshaw commented. "So the analysts say."

"Perhaps there are silver linings in all things," Granny Violet replied with a chuckle that ended in a cough.

"Oh, Granny," Aunt Lady Mary's shoes shifted near Marigold's hand. "We have relatives in America, even a few you like. I am sure you're not wishing misfortune for Cousin Rose."

Granny Violet huffed.

Granny Isobel cut in, "It's not as though British assets are completely isolated from America. Keynes did warn that the return to the gold standard reduced our domestic autonomy."

Aunt Lady Mary agreed, "Henry and Tom say this crash has done a number on the car business. We can't act like it's not hitting here as well."

"At least there is not a war on," Granny Violet continued. "A dip in value certainly can't be worse than that..."

"We hope!" Granny Isobel added.

"Mummy!" Caroline jumped from beneath the table, exposing their game with a grin and making the group of women jump in surprise. Upon being discovered, Caroline slid into her mother's and Marigold wandered off to find her cousins.

She decided to ask Sybbie and George (and Johnny Bates, who'd come to Downton for the day with his mother), about the puzzling word. Johnny was too little to know, not much older than Caroline, but George's shadow when they were together. Marigold suspected her oldest cousin would be the most knowledgeable. They sat together in a circle on the grass, near Donk's favorite tree.

"I don't think asset is a person," Sybbie stated, expression deep in concentration.

"It's a bad word," George whispered, equal parts scandalized and elated. Marigold exchanged a skeptical glance with her oldest cousin.

Johnny's eyes widened in awe, "Do you reckon? Like tosser?"

George nodded confidently and Marigold sighed. She didn't know what asset was, but she was sure it wasn't a word like that.

French perhaps, but not a swear.

Sybbie continued speaking to Marigold, only watching the boys out of the side of her eye as they continued to whisper curse words. "I think it's something to do with money."

"Me too," Marigold agreed, running her fingers along the shaggy grass. "And that car crash in America."

"I don't think it was a car."

"I heard Aunt Lady Mary say your Daddy's cars are having trouble."

"Well, they are," the older girl conceded. "I've heard him and Uncle Henry. But I think it was a money crash, not a car crash. People are running out of money."

"Oh..."

"It's true. People don't have money," Johnny added. "Mrs. Patmore said she had no customers at all in her motel last month, even though it's spring! My Pa says it's Churchill's fault."

"I hope we do run out of money so I could stop going to my silly school in York. The uniform is itchy, and then I could go to school in the village with Sybbie," Georgie huffed. "Why don't you ask them at your school Marigold? I bet the teachers know."

Marigold shrugged, twisting the grass in her hands. She liked school, but sometimes her teacher was very stern, and for the most part, she avoided speaking unless asked to.

"How about I ask Mr. Mosely at school and then we can call and tell you when you're back at Brancaster?" Sybbie patted her hands on the ground as though that settled things. "He'd probably actually tell us."

"Come along children," Miss Lucy Smith approached them with a gentle smile. "They're putting out the custard tarts, Sybbie and your father knows you like them best. Wouldn't want any of you to miss out on desserts."

That was more than enough for the boys to practically leap to their feet. "Sweets!"

The girls walked nearer to Miss Smith at a more leisurely pace. No less excited for the prospect of dessert, but it seemed rather rude to run away from the woman. Especially since she and Uncle Mr. Tom were meant to be married in the summer.

Marigold watched Miss Smith in curiosity.

She did not know her much at all, but Sybbie had spent time with her future step-mother. Miss Smith was not a lady, like Uncle Mr. Tom. They all got along well enough, and it made Marigold happy in a way, because her cousin told her that when all was said and done, she'd finally not be the only adopted one in the family. Though the circumstances weren't exactly the same, Sybbie would be adopted too!

Considering her curiosity, Marigold wondered if Miss Smith would mind answering her question. She wasn't quite as stuffy about children as some in the family could be or as distracted. And she probably wouldn't tell any of the other parents about their question, on the off chance it was a swear word and not french. Marigold decided to interrupt the comfortable silence.

"Miss Smith," Marigold started tentatively. "What's asset?"

Sybbie added excitedly, "Yes! Do tell us? It is to do with money?"

Miss Smith slowed her pace, surprised by their question and tilted her head to one side, considering her reply.

"It can mean money, yes. The amount a person has. Or the amount of money things they own are worth."

"I knew it!" Sybbie declared, jogging ahead and walking backwards to face them.

"Have you been hearing people using that word?"

Marigold nodded, "Yes. Edith Mama and Bertie Papa and Aunt Lady Mary."

"Sometimes it means money," Miss Smith continued, somewhat pensive. "But other times it can mean a thing or even a person, that is useful or important to someone else."

"Like Mr. Barrow?" Sybbie giggled.

"Or knowing how to sew or having a house with electricity," Miss Smith laughed. "But if you are hearing a lot of people talking about that word now, it probably relates to finance."

"Because of the crash?" Marigold asked.

Miss Smith hesitated and cast her eyes between both the girls.

"Yes."

But she said no more on the subject.

Still walking backwards, Sybbie leaned forward and watched Marigold carefully, "Why do you call her that?"

"What?"

"Aunt Mary? Earlier you said Aunt Lady Mary. You always say that."

Marigold glowered and watched her shoes. She didn't really know why. When she'd first met Aunt Lady Mary, before being adopted, she'd been introduced simply as Lady Mary. Even though she was her aunt now, something didn't feel right without the lady.

They had reached Uncle Mr. Tom, standing tall and smiling with his eyes at Miss Smith and Sybbie. From behind his back he presented a small plate with custard tarts he offered all three of them.

"Well, she is a lady," Miss Smith pointed out, rescuing Marigold. "Nothing wrong with noting that."

"It's just Aunt Mary," the older girl shrugged, taking the offered sweet from her father. "She does it with her parents as well. Bertie Papa, Edith Mama..."

Marigold held her dessert and took deep breaths. She spied her parents near the other set of tables across the lawn. Bertie Papa had Nigel in his arms, always carefully, with the giggling baby facing out and showing off their matching ears. The sun glinted on the gold of Edith Mama's hair.

She didn't know how to explain.

"You call your grandfather Donk," Uncle Mr. Tom, tousled Sybbie's hair and snagged a bite of her custard.

"That's different."

"Maybe not," her father continued. "You got used to calling your grandfather Donk. You mustn't forget that Marigold was introduced to us all by those names. It's hard to change."

Uncle Mr. Tom squeezed her shoulder fondly and Marigold sighed with relief.

"It doesn't matter what you call a person," Miss Smith explained, locking her eyes with Uncle Mr. Tom.

"What matters is how you feel about them. Marigold can call them all whatever she likes. Doesn't mean she loves them any less."

Uncle Mr. Tom smiled at the explanation. Marigold swallowed her bite of dessert and regarded Miss Smith with wide eyes. It was like she understood Marigold, without even having to ask.

She stepped closer and tapped the woman's hand.

"Thank you."

Chapter Text

Death

Oliver Robert Pelham, like his brother before him, was born in a hospital in York.

In dead of Winter, just before his parent's 5th wedding anniversary, and rather earlier than expected. Not a viscount, not a spring baby, and nearly bald. That they were in Yorkshire at all, indeed had more to do with the declining condition of Granny Violet and the fact that the Duke of Norfolk was renting out Brancaster Castle for his Christmas holiday, than anything else.

Marigold was rather grateful because at least she and Nigel were with their cousins and family for the scary parts.

(Grandmother Pelham was cautious with her travel particularly in winter months, and though she would never share it, Marigold couldn't imagine finding much comfort from the older woman in a crisis. She was much better with tea.)

They'd woken up a few days after boxing day to find Nanny Atkins (who joined them for the trip) and Nanny Coates rather distraught.

"Perhaps Granny Violet has kicked the bucket," George whispered as they left the nursery to get dressed.

"Don't be rude!" Sybbie (who was also staying at Downton for Christmas with Uncle Mr. Tom and Aunt Miss Lucy) chastised her cousin with a smack. "She's ill, not dead!"

The boy hung his head and added before heading into a separate room to dress, "I don't mean it rude. It's what Mummy's afraid of. It's why she's at the Dower House all the time. Donk too. Only Granny is very old."

"What's happened?" Marigold asked Nanny Atkins later that morning, when they were alone and she sat on a stool while her caretaker braided her hair.

The woman seemed hesitant and it was several minutes of quiet brush strokes before she finally spoke.

"Your Mama's pains started last night, Miss Marigold. She, Lord Hexham, and Lady Grantham have gone down to the hospital to have the baby, I am afraid."

Marigold turned around, "Is that bad?"

Nanny Atkin's seemed to struggle to find her words, but Marigold could see the tension in her brow. In the end, she answered carefully, "Not always, but we were expecting the babe in a month or so. The doctors must look after them."

Marigold sniffed and Nanny Atkins caressed her cheek.

"We shall pray for them to be well."

Nigel was fussy that day, while the rest of the children were quiet. Marigold envied her brother a bit. He didn't fully understand what was amiss, but knew something was off and was still young enough to be cranky with no scolding.

New Christmas toys didn't hold quite the same level of excitement. Everyone in the house was so tense. (It had been a rather quiet Christmas anyway, with the villagers tired and hungry from the crash and Granny Violet too ill to participate.)

"Have you ever known someone who was born too early?" Marigold whispered after breakfast, after glancing to see that neither the nannies, nor Barrow, nor Mrs. Hughes was in earshot.

Sometimes they found her questions impertinent. So they'd said.

Sybbie shrugged, "No, I don't think so. They can never really guess for sure when a baby is coming. They know generally but not exactly. That's what Daddy says, anyway. I had a couple of false starts before I actually got born."

"And your Mama died."

Marigold gasped and belatedly put her hands over her mouth. She wasn't thinking.

She knew her friend Bessie's mother had passed away and that the girl liked to talk sometimes about things her mother had said or done. But the subject had to be handled carefully and it was easy to falter.

(Louisa Antonia was not very good at it, so Bessie mostly shared about her mother to Marigold.)

And it wasn't as though her departed Aunt Sybil was never mentioned in the family, quite the contrary. It was more, that in those moments Marigold could see the loss still lingering in everyone's eyes. Especially for her cousin, having never even really known her mother.

"Sorry."

"Yes, she did die," Sybbie said, smiling sadly. "That happens sometimes too, with births. But we never forget my mother, Daddy and I. He tells me all kinds of stories."

"I know lots of stories about my father," George added, having overheard and leaning across the table. "He was a solicitor and he liked bicycles!"

Marigold dropped her gaze to her hands.

"Don't worry," Sybbie said kindly. "Aunt Edith will be well and the baby too. I believe it."

She added a sign of the cross (which she said was a Catholic way to help) for good measure and patted Marigold's back.

Marigold couldn't imagine losing a parent.

Edith Mama and Bertie Papa were the best; her most favorite grown ups. She loved talking to them, reading with them and playing games. Even just sitting with them. And though memories of Da and Mummy were faint, but Marigold was reasonably certain they had not died.

Only...disappeared. She wasn't quite sure, it was all so foggy.

She supposed too, that her cousins were quite right. Even if someone died or could not be with you anymore, it was nice to remember stories about them. Grandmother Pelham spoke of her mother and husband. Bertie Papa told tales of his cousin Peter. Her family never forgot her lost Aunt and Uncle, even though it made them sad.

Granny Violet was so old, she probably had thousands of stories. But if a new baby died, Marigold worried as she spent the day anxiously waiting for news, what stories did they have?

That day their visit to the library, normally quite lively, was subdued. Only Aunt Miss Lucy, Uncle Mr. Tom and Uncle Henry with a Hay-ch were there on time. The rest were all away, dealing with Granny Violet and the hospital in York. Upon the arrival of the adults, Nigel's hopeful expression fell and he threw down his toy.

"Not a happy chap at all, are you?" Henry said, lifting the boy into this lap and settling down next to his daughter.

Nigel crossed his arms, looking for all the world like his father when faced with a particularly perplexing telegram from the Lords.

"No," he huffed crisply.

Caroline answered, when it was clear that the toddler would offer no further reply. "He is sad and misses his Papa and Mama."

As Sybbie and George settled to speak with Tom and Lucy, Marigold stole away to the shelves, looking for a book she could read to pass the time. She'd read all the books in the nursery already and Donk often let her look through some of the grown up books in the library. She didn't understand most of the words, but liked the ones about Egypt, with their photographs of pyramids and mummies and illustrations of the far off land.

Reading those books was like taking a trip far away from your life. Today, she wanted to escape from her life.

Footsteps and voices pulled Marigold out of the book's escape. From her spot in the corner near the door she could just see and hear Donk's approach, steps heavy, with Granny Isobel (who was really only Georgie's blood, treated them all kindly) by his side.

"I don't know whether I am coming or going," he spoke sharply. "If I should be with my mother or my daughter. I know Mary and Rosamund are with my mother and Cora and Bertie are with Edith but, to fail at both being a son and a father-"

"You needn't be so hard on yourself," Granny Isobel soothed. "You can't well be in two places at once. Indeed, even now, I am certain your mother would be the first to point that out."

"You should have seen the baby, in that box they've got him in. Separated from his own mother behind glass. This isn't some sort of side show!"

"It might seem odd, but the treatment has had good results," Isobel countered. "Babies that would never have had a chance before the war. Just ask Cora, she and I were very involved with their introduction in Yorkshire and-"

"I know," Donk sighed, just as the pair arrived in the room. "She told me the same thing. It just seems so...unnatural. Edith is beside herself."

"Let's hope that time in the incubation box now means more time holding him later. For Edith and all of us."

"He has been christened already. Just in case."

Marigold leaped to her feet, suddenly running to the doorway to wrap her arms around her grandfather. He whispered too her and clung tighter than he was normally inclined. She could smell the cold on his jacket, and hoped that it was warm in the hospital for Edith Mama. Would that Yorkshire could share some of the sun with balmy Egypt, like in the books.

If nothing else, the mummies were not likely to be cold.

That afternoon in the library they'd found out the baby's name and little else. Oliver and Mama would remain in the hospital for the coming days, and Papa and Granny Cora would remain with them. Visitors were not advised yet, so only Donk had met the new baby.

"Our own Jolly Ollie," Donk had said with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.

Nights for Marigold were restless as she waited, dreams filled with not images so much as feelings. Fears as cold as the air outside. Once, she was sure she'd heard her parents returning in the dead of night, so she slipped out of bed and peered out into the hall. She heard a man and woman's voice and strained in the dark to make out the figures.

Could it be?

"Mama?" Marigold asked, stepping out and walking down the hall. "Papa?"

"Miss Marigold," Mr. Barrow came into view as she moved closer. He was speaking with Aunt Lady Mary. A rare sighting since Christmas. "What are you doing out of bed so late?"

"Is everything well? It's very cold," Aunt Lady Mary added letting out a long breath, after a pause that was slightly odd. She seemed out of sorts, and even in the darkness, now that she was up close, Marigold could see the dark circles in her eyes.

"I heard voices," Marigold replied, reaching out for Barrow, who knelt and lifted her high into his arms. It was almost like Papa (or even the more distant feeling of Da) and she yawned and rested her head on the butler's shoulders. "I thought they might be back. Edith Mama or Bertie Papa."

"Sorry to disappoint," Aunt Lady Mary replied with a laugh that sounded rather hollow. "I have no news of them either."

Marigold sighed and Mr. Barrow rubbed her back gently.

"How is Granny Violet?" she asked.

Aunt Lady Mary tilted her head to the side, her eyes calculating as she looked at Marigold and then Barrow.

"Oh, please?" Marigold added. "I'll be grown up and won't fret, I promise. I only want to know.

At length, she replied, "She's poorly, but better than last week. Her mind is still all there. She can't go on forever, but she is still here. Hanging on. And that something."

"Will we ever visit her again, Aunt Lady Mary?"

Barrow turned to face her, "Is that likely, milady?"

Mary shrugged, "Hard to say."

Marigold nodded, squaring her shoulders and trying to swallow the lump in her throat. Aunt Lady Mary yawned and bid her goodnight before Barrow to tucked her back in to bed. She was glad Aunt Lady Mary had told her the truth, with no frills despite the tears pricking her eyes.

The vicar in Hexham said that when the righteous died they went to heaven; the sinners to hell. The pharaoh's in Donk's books believed they could live again after they died. Perhaps in a way they were.

The mummies at least.

What ever way though, heaven, hell, afterlife on the Nile; didn't seem like it added up much for the living. None were places those left behind could visit. It wasn't like Marigold could visit her Aunt Sybil or Uncle Matthew or anyone. Bessie could hardly hug or speak to a memory of her Mama.

Laying in bed, Marigold wondered if she would ever see her great grandmother ever again. Or ever her baby brother at all.

To their surprise, the family made it into the new year with both Granny and Ollie. That January, a last and a first. Marigold was pleased when it was finally time for Oliver and Edith Mama to come home.

Unlike Nigel, who Marigold had met at the hospital, Bertie Papa and Edith Mama came back to Downton with the new baby. After days of not seeing them, (not even talking on the telephone as was common for their trips), both children were anxious to see their parents and new brother.

Marigold, having more experience than her toddling brother, did her best to reassure him before their introduction to the baby. The boy pouted and hid his face in Granny Cora's neck.

"You mustn't be frightened, Nigel," she said firmly, remembering well their own first meeting. "Our world has changed, but it is not a bad thing."

Of course, Marigold couldn't say that her confidence didn't waver somewhat, given the circumstances. When Nigel was born, Marigold had felt herself alone and apprehensive in the face of other people's unmitigated excitement. Now, she felt a bit out of the loop in being pleased for Oliver.

"Well," she amended. "Probably not a bad thing."

His coming home had to mean something, Marigold was certain. At the very least, he'd have more people who knew stories and remembered him.

When they walked in the room, Edith Mama was the one who burst into tears, not Nigel or Marigold, though she tried to hide it behind Bertie Papa's shoulders.

"I have missed you both so much," she said thickly as Granny helped Nigel slide into bed beside her.

"It's good to be back," Bertie Papa sighed, seeming happy to sit down in a chair near Mama's bed.

Upon Marigold's turn to hold her smallest brother, she studied his features very carefully, feeling relief of all things. She was determined to learn him well, just in case.

A memory could be shared of what a baby he'd been.

It was hard to say how he compared to Marigold's memory of Nigel when he was born. She herself had grown taller and lost four (nearly five) teeth since Nigel was a baby. Oliver was noticeably less plump. What hair he did have was light, like Edith Mama's. His wrinkly skin made him look rather like an elderly man. Ollie's eyes were very round and he seemed to be examining her with the same level of intensity as she studied him.

"He'll come through alright, Mama," Marigold concluded, after much thought. "I don't think he will die. He's just a bit spindly, is all."

"Marigold!" Granny Cora chastised from the other side of the bed.

"I didn't mean-"

Shaking his head, Bertie Papa actually smiled at her, "No, that settles it. Spindly we can work with."

"He does eat well," Granny Cora added sheepishly, "Doesn't he, dear? After all, that's why they've let him come home..."

"Yes," Edith Mama replied with a yawn. "Fortunately. It was unbearable to be kept apart from him."

Oliver seemed satisfied with his examination of Marigold and squirmed in his swaddling for a moment before settling in and closing his eyes.

"Look, he fell asleep on me!" Marigold whispered, grinning and eyebrows raised in awe.

Edith Mama seemed rather dazed, but Granny and Bertie Papa smiled.

"It seems Marigold here has the magic touch!" he laughed.

"Magic Marigo!" Nigel screeched, making every other person in the room flinch.

Except Oliver, who thankfully remained blissfully asleep.

Cora worked to extricate Nigel from his mother's side, "Let's call for Nanny and the baby nurse and let your mother rest. Say goodbye."

"No!" his protests echoed in the hall as Granny Cora took him out of the room. "Nooooo!"

Taking Oliver from Marigold's arms, Bertie winced and glanced at his wife, who looked pained to hear Nigel's cries.

"Don't worry about him," he said calmly. "I'll go take him for a walk and play. That should help. You need to rest."

"You need some rest yourself," Edith Mama replied.

"Not nearly as much as you, my darling. But I promise, after our walk, Nigel and I shall have a lovely nap," Bertie Papa kissed her cheek.

"Come along, Marigold."

Marigold slid from her seat and leaned across the bed to kiss her mother as well.

"Sorry Mama," she whispered. "I didn't mean to say anything to make you sad."

"No, I appreciate your optimism and I do love you so."

Marigold beamed and wrapped her arms around her mother's neck. They held each other in a long hug that reminded her of when she was smaller and first living with Edith. When the let go, her mother still looked sad.

"We must keep an eye on your Mama," Bertie commented carefully as the pair walked down the hall towards the nursery. "She has a lot of worries, so we must take extra care."

Marigold gestured to the baby in his arms. "Because of Ollie?"

"That is part of it and certainly hasn't helped the worrying. It was quite frightening to be sure. But I agree with you. I think he'll come through."

"Because of Granny Violet then."

Bertie Papa pursed his lips and held her gaze, before replying haltingly, "Yes. You know she's been ill, and you understand she won't get better..."

"Yes."

"That will be hard for everyone."

"But hardest for them."

The proper Crawleys.

They were all family and quite close, but Marigold was adopted and Bertie Papa was Edith Mama's husband and there were always moments where one was quite aware of that. Marigold supposed she and Nigel and Mama and Papa at Brancaster must feel similarly from the outside as well.

Proper Pelhams.

Granny Violet was the oldest person Marigold knew. She'd been alive all of Donk's and Aunt Lady Mary's and Edith Mama's life. And while Granny Violet had always been around as long as Marigold could recall and she was fond of her. But for Bertie Papa and herself, the loss would not be quite the same.

Marigold leaned into her father's side as they continued down the hall.

"We'll take care of her then, Papa. I'll help you."

From then on, Marigold made it a point to be on her best behavior when she visited her mother and to always think before speaking. Nigel started to become very clingy with all of them. And Oliver did eat well and put on weight, though he had yet to quite lose his scrawny appearance.

However, Bertie Papa could not stay at Downton indefinitely. The House of Lords were to start their session again, and everyone thought it best to wait a bit longer, until Oliver was stronger, before travelling back to Brancaster.

(Unspoken in the plan, of course was Granny Violet.)

Marigold joined Sybbie and Johnny Bates in the village school, to stay until at least half-term. Georgie came along as well, having escaped a return to the fancy boy's school in York with it's itchy uniforms. It was fun to be with her cousins, but Marigold missed her friends in Hexham School.

The day Bertie Papa left, Marigold went when Edith Mama drove him to the train station. Nigel and Oliver too little to join. Downton had fewer staff than ever, because of the expense, and were down to a sole chauffeur. Uncle Henry and Uncle Tom filled in where possible, given the number of family who didn't drive, but Mama had wanted to do it herself.

Marigold didn't know how to help when Edith Mama as they sat parked at the station after his train left. She watched as her mother covered her face with her hands and cried.

"It will be alright, Edith Mama," Marigold tried, climbing from the back to the front seat and leaning against her mother. "Bertie Papa will telephone as soon as he gets there."

"Yes..."

"And he will come back at the weekends too..."

"He will."

"And soon, we shall all go back home together."

A humorless laugh, "Soon."

Marigold wasn't entirely sure how soon, but she could only hope the prospect comforted Mama. Though, not so when one considered what that meant about Granny Violet...

Her eyes widened in realization, "I didn't mean anything bad-"

"I know," Edith sniffed, using a cloth to wipe her eyes. "I know. I'm sorry."

"I miss him also. And I will miss Granny Violet, I swear! I do already..."

Granny Violet had always been a more distant figure, and it was never clear how much she even liked children, but Marigold loved her all the same.

"I know, darling. I'm just being silly."

Marigold did her best to mind Nigel when he fussed during their visits with the grown-ups. She swiped copies of The Sketch and The Times from the library's selection to bring up to Mama to read together. She also saved some desserts to the side to share when Nanny Atkins wasn't watching.

An unexpected invitation to the Dower house came the second week of the month. Granny Violet invited all of the Hexhams (except for Papa) for a visit to see her last great-grandchild. Given how ill she was and her absence at the Christmas holiday, a summons for a visit was quite the surprise.

"She asked for the children as well?" Edith Mama seemed skeptical when the note arrived at tea, glancing between the writing at Aunt Lady Mary.

The dark-haired woman shrugged and looked pensive, "Isobel said she'd had Tom, Lucy and Sybbie Thursday, and we've also received summons for tomorrow..."

On the other side of the library, George said something that made Caroline and Nigel squeal. Marigold looked up from her spot next to Granny Cora who gently rocked Ollie. Her mother seemed distraught.

"Is she well enough for all of that?"

"Edith," Mary's head tilted to the side. "I know you are not as up to date, but well is a very relative term for her at this point."

Mama chin quivered, "I suppose it is..."

"Best take advantage of the time left. We've not got forever to make her happy."

The very next day, Marigold held Nigel's hand as they joined Edith Mama and Oliver at the Dower House. It was much dwarfed by Downton Abbey and certainly in comparison to Brancaster. They'd been over for tea a few times in the past, Marigold had at least. She enjoyed the small rooms. But she no recollection of ever going upstairs. This time, immediately upon arrival, they were ushered upstairs by the butler Spratt.

As the family quietly slipped into her bedroom, Isobel greeted them from the far side of Granny Violet's bed. The room seemed hot and smelt oddly, there was a table at the back filled with basins and medicine. Nigel hung back and tried to hide behind Edith Mama's legs. Marigold inched closer to the bed.

"Do come in!" Granny Violet's wheezing voice greeted them. She looked at Mama, "Thank you for coming. It's so nice to see you. I know it's been a rather trying winter."

"Remember what Dr. Clarkson said," Granny Isobel said gently. "You mustn't get too excited."

A huff came from the bed, "Edith dear, let me see him then, lest I not have another opportunity..."

Marigold exchanged a glance with her mother and carefully assisted her brother into a small bench on the other side of Granny Isobel. Nigel was more subdued and confused about being received in a bedroom. Edith Mama perched on the other side of the bed leaning over to present the baby to her grandmother.

"Here he is, Granny," she replied, clearly trying to keep her voice light, despite the circumstance. "He's called Oliver."

"An heir and a spare," Granny Violet announced, as she inspected the infant carefully and gesturing toward Nigel. "He's lovely. All your children are delightful. A credit to you indeed."

"The title of Hexham is now very secure, thanks to you. A consolation one hopes, that they are both born in Yorkshire. Best not let them travel together by boat..."

Violet leaned back and chuckled to herself, as she always did when she found humor in her own wit, but exacerbating the visibility of the large lump in her neck that was a sign of her illness.

"Oh, Granny!"

Marigold didn't understand the joke, but was glad to see her great-grandmother amused. She'd thought the visit would be terribly sad or frightening, but aside from not being in the sitting room and Violet looking clearly unwell, it did not feel so different to Marigold than an ordinary tea.

The laugh trailed off into a cough that made them all wince. Granny Isobel was quick to supply a sip of water as the coughs subsided. Granny Violet seemed to take it in stride and still seemed quite pleased.

"I am afraid I haven't made a very good Marchioness," Edith Mama explained uncomfortably as she gathered Ollie back up and settled into a chair. "I am rather absentee at the moment."

"Perfectly understandable. And these days, one can do so much with the telephone. Works well enough for your publication."

"You used to hate the telephone."

"Do you know, Marigold?" the frail old woman cleared her throat and turned to speak to her, ignoring Mama's comment. "We all thought your Mama would be a boy. It's what everyone expected."

That seemed a funny prospect, but Marigold wasn't sure if it was okay to laugh. Nigel giggled a little, and she bit her lips and settled on simply smiling at Granny Violet. Edith Mama looked uncomfortable and held Granny Violet's hand.

"She wasn't though," Marigold replied.

"Well, no," Granny Violet chuckled and turned back to Mama. "I am glad very glad you were not."

Spratt came in with tea trays and fold tables, setting them up with the refreshments. Granny didn't seem to want any of it and didn't even nibble. Marigold felt a bit strange having a tea in her great-grandmother's own bedroom, but Nigel immediately stuffed an entire sandwich into his mouth, puffing out his cheeks.

"How are you, Granny?" Edith Mama asked, shifting the sleeping baby in her arms and sipping her tea. "How are you really?"

"How do I look?"

"Ill," Nigel answered looking up from his tea and spilling crumbs on his lap.

The laugh cough returned.

"That's to be expected," Violet replied. "I feel ill. I suppose one imagines death in so many ways. I am, in fact, grateful to be at least relatively comfortable. Mary and Rosamund are here often. Spratt is as copious as ever. Dr. Clarkson and Lady Merton take such good care of me."

Edith Mama grimaced, eyes welling up with tears. "I suppose."

"Your bed does look comfortable," Marigold agreed, uncertainly. She didn't know what was the right thing to say. Everyone in the family, including Granny Violet herself, seemed resigned to the fact that she would soon die.

It didn't seem real.

Even with the lump, and as ill as Granny Violet looked. It was hard for Marigold to believe that she wouldn't be there with them next Christmas or picnics, or even just a summer luncheon.

Unlike her inspection of her new baby brother, Marigold didn't gain any confidence in observing her great-grandmother.

Edith Mama's composure crumbled and she looked away as she started to sob.

"Edith, dear," Granny Violet soothed, keeping hold of Mama's hand. "Wasting tears for someone who has led such a long and interesting life is very inefficient. I have been so fortunate. I only wish for you to think of me with fondness."

"Granny, I will always look on you fondly. Don't worry about that."

"I might not conveyed it clearly over the years," Granny Violet lifted a frail hand to Mama's cheek. "But I am proud of you for much more than being a Marchioness, Edith. You must know that."

Mama gulped and her tears continued to fall. Marigold sniffed. On the far side of the room, Granny Isobel dabbed her eyes. Nigel looked on, not quite understanding.

"I don't believe any tear shed on for you is a waste, Granny Violet," Marigold said earnestly.

Not letting go of Edith Mama's hand, the old woman turned to face the little girl.

Her sunken eyes twinkled and she smiled, "We'll have to agree to disagree there, my dear."

She cleared her throat, "Now Marigold, my sensible girl. I trust you to look after them, when it's all over, yes?"

"Bertie Papa already asked me."

"Good. Your Mama is more sentimental than you know. Don't be afraid to take council from others, but hold on to your own as well. All of you."

Nigel blinked and took another bit of his sandwich and Oliver slept on. Mama and Granny Isobel continued to cry. Marigold wiped a tear of her own.

"Oh Granny, I don't know what we'll do without you," Mama sobbed.

"You will do marvelously, my dears."

The silence went on for several moments, until Violet herself cut in.

"Let's not dwell...Cousin Isobel has given me some good news. Larry Grey's financial problems are such that he's asked Dickie to put Cavenham Park up for sale to help cover the debts..."

Granny Isobel balked, "That's hardly good. And this is hardly the time to-"

"Good news is hard to come by these days, let's not be too choosy."

Isobel rolled her eyes, "Dickie refused to sell. He's allowed them to occupy the house, but selling it is a whole other business."

"Quite. Larry will inherit the house when Dickie dies, but he'll be left handling his own misfortune until then. He's been so well since your marriage, Larry will have to deal with the consequences of his own actions before his circumstances change. It's always pleasing when people get just what they deserve."

This time Granny Violet's chuckle did not end in a cough.

Marigold didn't quite understand what was being discussed, but their familiar banter was comforting. She glanced back to Mama and shrugged. Though they had all been crying moments before, they were laughing by the end of the visit.

That was the last time Marigold ever saw Granny Violet.

The next week, Nanny Coates appeared at the school to take them back to the house.

"You must come to the house at once, dears," Nanny said sadly.

Marigold knew as soon as she saw the woman that something had happened. Not with her brother, who continued to improve, but with her ailing Granny Violet. George and Sybbie joined Marigold in a slow walk down the lane away from the school.

Their walked solemnly, largely in silence.

George wiped tears from his eyes and held tight to Nanny's hand. Sybbie kicked stones on the road and sniffled as they made their way though the village. Marigold focused on putting one foot in front of the other, numb as she considered death.

In the moment, it all felt just like words. Nanny had said the Dowager Countress had 'passed on'. But to Marigold, Granny Violet felt as alive as yesterday, or the week or month before that. Simply ducked up in her room inside the Dower House. Granny Violet felt as certain as the trees along the lane. Or the sun in the sky.

Then again, trees did lose all their leaves in winter. And the sun set every night without fail. A sort of life and death going on as the seasons.

Unbidden the thought of Granny Violent in an afterlife coming across the Pharaohs from Donk's books came to mind. Her throat grew tight.

"That's not our turn off Marigold," Nanny's voice cut into Marigold's imaginings. She guided the girl's shoulders. "That's the Mason farm, Downton is the left fork."

Marigold was much more familiar with the lanes and streets of Hexham and the country surrounding Brancaster itself than she was with the village at Downton. She gazed down the lane and could just make out the gray brick outline of a building.

She squinted at it, for a moment transfixed.

"Come along," Nanny Coates gently prodded her back.

A week later, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham was laid to rest with her late husband Partick Crawley, Sixth Earl of Grantham and near her beloved granddaughter, Sybil. Her funeral was attended by those who loved her, from far and wide.

Including her 3 oldest great-grandchildren. (Nigel, Caroline, and Oliver were too little to stay still for a funeral).

Bertie Papa she'd seen in tears before, but Donk and Mr. Carson were both crying. Along with almost everyone else. Marigold had another tooth loose and made a valiant effort not to wiggle it during the eulogy. She could almost hear Granny Violet tisking.

No need to be unhygienic, darling.

The very thought brought tears down Marigold's cheeks at long last.

And they did not stop for some time. For Marigold herself or any of the rest of her family. That evening for the first time, the three eldest cousins were permitted to join the big dinner. Looking around the table, reality began to creep in for Marigold. Like a page had turned, and the pages with Granny Violet were behind them.

But fondly remembered.

The next week Edith Mama was feeling better and Marigold joined her on a walk in the crisp afternoon.

"What's this you keep bringing me?"

"Cherry tart from luncheon," Marigold replied slipping a treat out of her pocket. "It's a bit crumbly."

"I rather think I should be the one slipping you sweets."

The girl shrugged and started to eat her half of the dessert.

She shrieked when Edith Mama smeared a bit of the cherry on her cheeks. Marigold stared at her Mama in shock and retaliated by standing on her tip toes to smear a bit on the top of Edith's nose.

For the first time since Granny Violets passing, they giggled.

"I know Granny Violet and Papa asked you to look after me, but you must understand that isn't you job, alright? I can look after myself."

"I know."

"You don't need to grow up so fast, my girl."

"No," Marigold agreed. "I expect I can just go at the ordinary speed."

Edith laughed again and wrapped her arm around Marigold's shoulder.

"I don't know what I'd do without you."

Chapter Text

Friendship

Marigold was almost vibrating with excitement as she waited in the study in her green dress. She felt so bouncy she could hardly sit still. She cast her eyes to the clock and huffed in disappointment. It was half past 2 in the afternoon, which meant Mr. Porter had not yet returned to Brancaster with his pick up.

It was nearly time.

She was meant to be writing her correspondence (her very own!); replying to a letter she'd received from Sybbie as well as one from Aunt Lucy about their move to the new house in the Ripon near Uncle Tom's car shop as well as the baby on the way. Which Marigold was indeed excited about, for the move and that Sybbie would soon also be a big sister too.

But also just to have correspondence at all.

She liked pretending to be grown up like Mama with her own letters.

Sybbie wrote more sporadically and when George did send something, she could tell he was only writing what Aunt Lady Mary told him to. She received an occasional letter from some sort of cousin in America, but Marigold always had to double check exactly how they were cousins before she replied. Her other adult relatives stayed in touch, but mostly with addendum or questions to her in their letters to her Mama. When the season was right, Donk and Granny sometimes added in a pressed marigold flower that she knew was for her- addendum or not.

But Aunt Lucy?

Her new Aunt Lucy, despite being a grown up with all her own affairs and having a baby on the way, still replied to all her letters and sent her a note nearly every week.

"Perhaps I shall wait to do Aunt Lucy until tomorrow..." Marigold sighed, putting down her pen and turning to look across the room at her mother.

"So you can tell her about today?" Edith replied, looking up from where she was sat with Nigel on her side and Oliver in her arms.

The baby (still scrawny for 6 months of age, but otherwise in seemingly good heath) dozed comfortably while Nigel played an elaborate game with his lamb, some stacked blocks and Marigold's borrowed Teddy.

"Yes," Marigold admitted with a grin. "And my guests!"

Her friends were coming to Brancaster for her very own tea party!

Because of Oliver, she had spend the entire second half of the term in Downton with Mr. Molesley and her cousins, only coming back to Hexham for the summer holidays. Consequently, Marigold had not seen her two dearest friends, Bessie and Louisa Antonia in a very long time.

She'd missed them so and Mama and Papa had arranged for the girls and their parents to come to the castle for their very own summer tea party.

"We will call Nanny when they get here?" Marigold asked, skeptically wrinkling her nose.

She loved her little brothers, but since their arrival there were times when they could certainly take up a lot of her parent's (and Nanny Atkins') time. Oliver cried a good deal more than Nigel ever had, and though Nigel was no longer properly a baby, he still cried his share as well. Not to mention he required a lot of supervision. Even with Mama, Papa, Nanny Atkins, and all the rest of the staff, Nigel still seemed to get into trouble. Just last week Marigold herself had had to prevent him from eating an insect in the garden!

And there was also far too much drool involved with both boys, in and of itself.

Marigold wanted some time special and not shared, just for her.

Mama smirked, "Of course."

"And Papa will come?" Marigold asked, unknowingly reaching her finger to her mouth to fidget with her latest loose tooth.

"Well, he's going to do his best," Edith answered evenly, raising her eyebrows, with a slight shake of her head. Marigold's hand fell back to her lap. "It depends how long his council meeting lasts. We'll manage either way."

Edith Mama's standard mantra every time the question was asked.

We'll manage.

"Right."

Marigold sighed and walked over to join her mother. Nigel pushed Teddy into her hands and she joined halfheartedly in his game. She knew that Bertie Papa was very busy and had taken more time than some in the county liked away from his duties to see to Oliver after he was born so small. Even many months later, he still seemed to be catching up.

She understood it was important work and that Papa was an important person, but Marigold wished he could stay and meet her friends.

"Your Ladyship, Miss Marigold," Whately, the butler announced dryly, "The guests have arrived."

Marigold flew to her feet and was by the butler's side in a moment, almost before she even realized the thought. She was bursting and thrilled to do a grown up thing with her friends.

"Take them to the Lavender Room and ask for the luncheon to be brought up. Marigold will accompany you and greet them," Edith Mama said, rising to her feet and shifting Oliver to rest his head on her shoulder.

"I shall ring for Nanny and get the boys settled and follow shortly."

Clapping her hands, Marigold skipped ahead in the corridor as she and Whately made their way to the entry hall of Brancaster Castle. Whatley was not as old as Mr. Carson, but not as young as Mr. Barrow. He never carried Marigold on his back, and she wasn't quite sure of him, because he was very dignified (she came across the word in a book and Nanny explained it too her and Marigold thought it was just right for Whatley).

Stoic as he was, Whatley occasionally smiled at her if she caught his eye.

"Bessie! Louisa Antonia! I am so glad you came!" Marigold cried as soon as her friends came into view.

Having been away for so long, she'd been half afraid they would have forgotten her.

Louisa Antonia stood out front, head held high as usual, with neat blue ribbons at the bottom of her plaits. She smiled and waved. Next to her stood a short stout woman, head held equally high (and topped by a navy hat). Her friend's mother, Mrs. Doxford, nodded in greeting. Doxford's weren't particularly tall, from what Marigold could tell, but always held themselves like giants.

"Hello, Marigold!" Louisa Antonia replied. "Everyone in town said you were gone because of Lord and Lady Hexham's baby coming early, but at school we also thought you might have died. Or perhaps moved to Australia..."

Marigold smiled fondly at her chatty friend. Louis Antonia loved to talk. Mrs. Doxford shushed the girl.

By contrast, Bessie and her Papa, who was quite tall, and Marigold noted, distressingly skinny, stood a little further back. She could see that her friend was rail thin and had dark circles under her eyes, worse than the last time she'd seen them. Mr. Hull looked even more tired. Unlike Louisa Antonia and her Mama, Bessie and her Papa's clothes, hung loosely from their frames and looked a bit shabby.

Bessie lifted her hand in a weak wave.

That worried Marigold. She felt bad about not going to school and sharing her luncheon for many months.

She stepped forward eagerly and hugged both her friends, before belatedly remembering her manners.

One wasn't supposed to embrace in an entry way.

At least if Grandmother Pelham had any say in the matter. Marigold couldn't really see why that mattered. Grandmother Pelham didn't even approve of using a formal room and real china for Marigold's tea party in the first place.

"You could at least use the servants hall..." the old woman had huffed, when Marigold and Mama had invited the woman to join the tea party the week before.

"I will do no such thing," Edith Mama had replied firmly, but from the care she seemed to take to set down her tea cup, Marigold could tell she was rather cross.

"It simply isn't done," Grandmother Pelham continued.

"Guests coming to visit? Hardly, given the shooting rental calendar we keep, holiday open houses, council and agent visits and the like. Besides, Marigold has been away from her friends since Christmas. Bertie thinks it's a lovely idea. It will be good fun for all of them."

"Not these kinds of guests!"

"Marigold's friends and their parents? Upstanding tenants of our county?"

"You know what I mean. In life, Marigold may have all sorts of friends, as her position is..."

Grandmother trailed off, her thin lips twisting briefly.

"Her position is different than the boys or you or I. She may befriend many, but that doesn't mean they all ought have access to this estate or it's resources."

Marigold's shoulders sagged. It was because she was adopted. Mama and Papa hardly mentioned it, but Grandmother never seemed to forget.

"What?" Edith scrunched up her nose. "It's a children's tea! Quite innocent and from I hear from my contacts in London, growing evermore common place. Even for the aristocracy!"

"Not for families of our rank! Handing out invitations to just anyone. Dignity is inspired by distance. Eroding the reputation of this estate, which you and my son both work hard to restore."

Nibbling her biscuit carefully, Marigold's eyes had darted back and forth between the two women and returned to her mother just in time to see her sigh in frustration.

"If we've done as well as you claim, by doing what we think is right, then why do you fear that so many of our decisions will be ruinous?"

The older woman's lips pursed as her gaze flicked to Marigold.

"Some decisions are dangerous, dear. I'm sure on that we can all agree. And the one of which I speak will unravel under close scrutiny."

Mama's face flushed in rage suddenly, like nothing Marigold had ever seen. And she'd no longer taken any care to be gentle with her teacup, simply slamming it into the saucer with a clang.

"Don't you dare!" Edith hissed, eyes bright. "I chose to be an open book to you on that, before I was a member of this family at all. As I recall, you praised my honesty."

"I have no intention of being harsh," Grandmother Pelham had lifted her tea cup, looking almost guilty and took her time sipping the tea. "I am simply being honest myself."

Edith laughed humorlessly.

"I have done my best, but I do not understand you sometimes. I would have you speak no more on the topic. Marigold will have her tea party and that's my decision!"

At length, the old woman continued with a sigh, gaze flicking between Marigold and her mother. "I know I cannot prevent it, and I mean no offense to your village friends or either one of you, my dears, but I will not participate in that."

Edith Mama and Marigold had left Grandmother Pelham's apartment rather quickly after that, clutching each others hands and both verging on tears.

Marigold always did her best to be good and please Grandmother Pelham, and most of the time their visits were interesting and pleasant. True, Donk and Granny Cora were more fun to be around and were much more prone to giving Margiold and her brothers presents, but Grandmother Pelham told lots of stories, which was fun in it's own way.

Still, there were certain times it just seemed there was no winning.

Especially when it came to matters of Brancaster, the March, and the reputation of the Marquess of Hexham and so many things the old woman seemed to think were in need of fixing. Marigold didn't really understand. The castle did leak occasionally, but it was always mended in short order once anyone discovered a puddle. She visited Mr. Porter often, even when he wasn't driving her to school, and he and the games keeper always looked after the grounds.

She couldn't see why anyone would think Brancaster was broken.

Reputation was a topic Marigold had learned a bit about from school and Nanny Atkins. You learned to do certain things certain ways, like manners so people would think well of you. And when you are Marquess of a castle, it was apparently quite important that people thought well of you. But as far as Marigold knew, everyone thought well of Papa and Mama and the estate.

Perhaps there were those who didn't like that she'd been adopted?

(Marigold would never tell anyone, but she was often times very glad that Grandmother Pelham had her own set of rooms, away from the family, at the castle.)

"Now, my love," Mama had stopped and knelt by Marigold's side in the hallway outside the nursery. She used a soft handkerchief to wipe off the tears that had slipped onto the girls cheeks.

"You mustn't fret. I had only my sisters when I was your age and I think in many ways that has made it hard for me, with other people, even now."

Mama had gazed at Marigold intently as though she was trying to say something with her eyes as well as her mouth.

"I am very pleased you have as dear of friends as these, no matter their station. Good friends are not easy to come by, so we must treasure them. I hope in life, you'll have as many as you like. And I promise, your friends will always be welcome here. We'll manage."

Marigold sniffed and squared her shoulders.

"After all," Edith learned closer, pressing their foreheads together and whispering conspiratorially. "And no matter how much the senior Lady Pelham protests, it is my decision. I am the Marchioness and your Mama."

At that, they'd laughed, despite it all.

Whatley cleared his throat delicately, pulling the girl away from her thoughts.

"Eh, welcome to Brancaster," Marigold added dutifully as the three girls struggled to hold back their own giggles at the formality of it all. "I am so pleased to have you here."

"Quite the place," Mr. Hull commented, twisting his cap in his hands and eyeing the entry way uncomfortably.

"Indeed," the butler agreed.

"You may please follow us to the Lavender Room, where we will take tea," Marigold finished, finally saying aloud the words she'd dreamed of when she imagined having her own grown up tea.

That lifted Bessie's energy some, "You have a whole room of my favorite color?"

"Mine as well," Louisa Antonia agreed.

"Yes, and mine," Marigold explained as she followed Whately and led the group through the grand halls of Brancaster. "That's why I asked to use it!"

The girls moved to the front, linking hands with Marigold while the adults followed behind more slowly. Marigold found it very difficult not to skip down the hallway. Her friends stared wide eyed at the paintings that lined the walls on the way to the Lavender Room. She did her best to answer any questions they had about what they saw, but really it was Grandmother Pelham who know the most about those sorts of things.

She was certainly the one who cared the most.

Louisa Antonia and Bessie didn't seem to mind when Marigold was unsure of the answers. None of them could stop smiling.

"Who is that?" Louis Antonia asked, pointing to a tall portrait of a man in a wig and ornate green clothing.

"He seems quite grand," Bessie observed, eyes taking in the colors of the bright painting.

"The third or fourth Marquess," Marigold squinted, trying hard to remember the stories she heard from Grandmother Pelham about the noble Hexham line. There were in fact a lot of wigs on most of them and it was easy to get confused because the lives just flowed together.

Her own Papa and his late cousin Peter were not yet depicted in any painting, but might be eventually, Marigold supposed. She didn't know how it worked to get portraits put up. Someday in the very very distant future, perhaps even Nigel's portrait would look down on visitors in the hall.

Large ears, disheveled hair and all. Nigel, in a grand portrait on the wall?

What a notion!

Behind them, Marigold couldn't help but overhear Whatley conversing with the parents.

"I trust your journey went well?" the butler asked, in the same tone he always used for most everything.

"There was some car trouble," Mrs. Doxford replied.

"I am sorry to hear that."

"Oh, Mr. Hull and the driver figured it out."

"Indeed?"

"Yes, sir," Bessie's Papa replied. "Mr. Porter knows his stuff, but it's hard for a bloke his age to be get under a hood. I don't know much about automobiles, but I do know tractors and me joints work, so we managed together."

Louisa Antonia, never one not to chime in, addressed Marigold on the same topic, "Your driver is quite old isn't he?"

"He's really a groundskeeper," Marigold explained as they reached crossed the threshold into the Lavender Room. "We don't have an official chauffeur as Mama and Papa like to drive themselves..."

"It must be ever so lovely to have your own car-" Lousia Antonia stopped short.

Follow up questions were not forthcoming, because the guests all gasped, completely distracted by the spectacle of the room. The walls and decor were indeed all lavender themed. The paintings chosen for the room blended in with the decor as did the upholstery on the chairs, ornate framed paintings, even the curtains. It was one of Marigold's favorite rooms and one rarely used. Grandmother Pelham said it was put together by the 4th Marchioness in the last century.

Marigold supposed ladies always enjoyed the color purple.

The table had been pre-set with a pale lavender table cloth, made of silk and the setting had been placed with china that had purple flowers on it as Marigold had requested. Papa had ordered that staff devote their work to supporting any of the many visitors who used different parts of the house for shooting parties, while the family usually had pre-laid out or buffet. They had more servants working full time at Brancaster Castle than George had at Downton Abbey, but these days they had less than the past.

A fact Grandmother Pelham often lamented.

"I know you said you lived in the castle, Marigold," Bessie whispered as they all moved to take their seats. "But I never imagined it would be like this!"

"Neither did I," Marigold chuckled.

Even though she'd lived in the castle for a good long while, there were still whole rooms and wings she had never visited. There were rooms she wasn't even certain Bertie Papa had visited.

They settled in at their spots at the table, each child sat on one side across from their parent (or an empty chair, in Marigold's case). In the center of the table there were cakes and sandwiches and treats with tongs for the taking.

Louisa Antonia held up her tea cup, waving it to her mother, "Look at the flowers Mama, and the edges are tipped in gold!"

"Well, I never," Mrs. Doxford breathed, carefully inspecting her own cup as well.

Bessie was all but ogling the tray of food in front of her, eyes nearly as large as the tea saucers. Her father couldn't seem to look away either, and his hands hovered at the table setting, before he settled them in his lap.

The doors opened and the assembled group turned to face them. Marigold beamed.

"Mama!"

"I do apologize for being late," Edith explained, sweeping into the room with a flourish, a purple scarf over the shoulder flowing in her wake.

Mr. Hull just stared, wide eyed, and Mrs. Doxford hastily stood from her chair, waving for Louisa Antonia to rise as well. They were in the middle of a clumsy sort of curtsy, but Mama waved them back down.

"Welcome to Brancaster," Edith continued. "Unfortunately, the Marquess is unable to join us, but he sends his greetings and apologies. We're both so pleased to have you."

Mr. Hull still stared.

"Thank you ever so much for inviting us, milady," Mrs. Doxford replied fervently. "In village everyone speaks to how generous you are. You and his Lordship. Proof is right here with Miss Marigold, isn't it? Luckiest girl in the county, taken in by a family such as this!"

The corner's of Mama's smile dropped for a fraction of a second of a second before she settled at the table.

"Yes," she sighed, reaching for the tea kettle and looking at the guests. "Who would like some tea?"

The tea party started in earnest.

"Whole village was praying for you and the little one this winter," Mr. Hull stammered, awkwardly accepting the cup of tea she'd poured him. "Just so's you know."

"We deeply appreciate that."

"Eh," he continued. "Is he still poorly?"

"He's still small," Marigold chimed in helpfully before Mama could reply. "But he eats very well and keeps growing."

"Then all the praying worked! Even if it was rather boring..." Louisa Antonia remarked before her mother swatted at her with a napkin.

All in all, Marigold found the whole thing to be great fun. It was lovely to talk, and while most of the talking was the same kind of thing she and her friends would have done at a school luncheon, it was nice not to have a time limit and to have treats.

Marigold didn't, strictly speaking, pay much attention to the grown ups talking, but it did seem that Mama and her friend's parents were managing well enough from the snippets her ears registered.

"I do so enjoy The Sketch, your ladyship," Mrs. Doxford enthused, sipping her tea, rather more loudly than Marigold was used. "Especially Miss Cassandra Jones. I adore her column. Where ever did you find someone so knowledgeable?"

"Miss Jones is in fact a very private individual..."

"Never would have pegged you for knowing much about tractors milady..." Mr. Hull later commented skeptically.

Mama grinned, "During the war, I helped a farmer pull out a tree."

"Blimey..."

The adults allowed Marigold and Bessie and Louisa Antonia to eat as many biscuits as they liked and if Mr. Hull and Bessie ate more than anyone else, Mama and Marigold were certainly going to let them. Marigold even snagged a few extra biscuits that she wrapped in a napkin and slipped into to her friend's fingers under the table.

The girls, in turn, caught Marigold up on the goings on of the village and the school. They told her about Bessie getting top marks in maths that year and how one of Louisa Antonia's four brothers had accidentally pulled down the may pole during the festival. There was a fairy ring under a tree on Gardener Lane that the trio planned to investigate together next time Marigold was in the village. Mr. Doxford had re-painted the front of his original store and closed one of the others.

To be fair, in Marigold's opinion Oliver's birth was still probably the most interesting thing that had happened to any of them, but was all still nice to know.

Marigold already considered the whole tea to be a success, but near then end when she looked up to see Papa stroll into the Lavender Room, it became a grand success. From the look on Mama's face, Marigold suspected this was something she knew about all along.

"Papa!" she shouted in delight, unable to stop herself from running for a hug. He could only reciprocate awkwardly, having a basket on each arm.

"I am so sorry I couldn't join for the whole tea," Bertie explained. "I thank you for attending and wish to offer these gifts."

Baskets of food from the kitchens and three matching lavender ribbons, one each for Marigold, Bessie and Louisa Antonia! They made a pact to all wear them for the first day of term and that made it rather easier to say goodbye. And Marigold knew at least the Bessie and her papa would have full bellies that week.

Marigold could not even wait until the next day's correspondence to write her letter to Aunt Lucy and Nanny Atkins allowed her to stay up late to write it. After they finished brushing her hair, Nanny set the girl up at the small desk in her adjoining quarters, borrowing her own pen and paper. She kicked out her bare feet, and worried her lip as she wrote. She tried so hard to include every detail and was sure to ask after how things were going in Ripon and with the coming baby. She barely heard Nanny's voice singing their customary lullaby to the boys for sleep.

"Come now Marigold, that's all the time I can give you," Nanny tutted eventually.

"But-"

"You can add an addendum in your next reply, but now it is certainly time for bed."

As it was, Marigold's tea party was about the most interesting thing that happened at Brancaster that summer. Time seemed to drag by otherwise.

Letters came and went, council meetings convened and un-convened (Marigold wasn't quite sure if that was a word) and various unfamiliar hunting parties rented the castle. The children didn't see them much, but she and Nigel enjoyed peering through the windows into the courtyard as they arrived or departed in fancy cars. Only occasionally would one of the party look up toward the windows, and every time they did, Nigel loved to stick his tongue out and press his nose up against the glass, in dramatic fashion.

The days were long and warm. Marigold, Nanny Atkins and the boys spent a lot of time in the garden, for picnics and exploring. When Mama and Aunt Mary were Marigold's age, they had a Governess instead of going to school, while their sister Sybil had still used a nanny. But that was rather old fashioned, and they were modern folk as Papa liked to say. During term, Marigold went to school, and otherwise Nanny Atkins continued their normal lessons of music and French.

Of course now Nigel participated as well, which tended to make everything slower.

In August, Mama's editor, Ms. Edmunds came down from London. A rare enough occurrence, because they usually conducted business using the telephone or on Mama's trips to to the office. A visit from the editor was always an occasion because she always had the an outfit that looked like a magazine and came with treats!

This visit was no different, Ms. Edmunds arrived on the midday train and strolled into Mama's study while she and Marigold were working on their correspondence with the boys nearby. In her bag, along with files to discuss with Mama, she brand new presents.

"Laura, you do know you are under no obligation to bring my children gifts every time you see them," Mama teased as she greeted the other woman by kissing her cheeks.

"Oh, let me have some fun with them. Then we shall get down to business," Ms. Edmunds replied. "They are such lovely children after all."

Edith chuckled and ducked her head.

"I do expect you share these though, as they are for both of you," the woman added, looking at the two older children after shooting a glace to Oliver as he drooled in Nanny's lap.

"Well, with apologies to dear Ollie, because he is too little. Do you two promise to share?"

Marigold nodded, "Yes, Ms. Edmunds!"

"I'll share!" Nigel's answer was slightly too loud.

Kneeling down to Nigel and Marigold's perch on the settee, Ms. Edmunds revealed the contents of her handbag.

"This is a Terry's Chocolate Orange," she explained handing Nigel a brightly boxed chocolate. "It's brand new. This is the first line ever made. They sent testers to the magazine in the hopes of scoring an advertisement contract. You two can help us decide whether they succeeded..."

The boys eyes went almost as large as the treat and he immediately began to tear open the shiny box. Nanny Atkins was there in an instant, to ration the treat, lest it all immediately vanish between Nigel's teeth. Marigold was sure Nanny's intervention would protect her share of the sweet.

"And this," Ms. Edmunds turned to Marigold, presenting a book. She explained excitedly, "Is a publishing import from France, called Mon Chat by Andre Beucler. Submitted for a section on children's literature review, which I hope to convince your mother to make a recurring column."

Marigold couldn't help but wince at Ms. Edmunds overt mispronunciation. Nigel pointed to the illustrated cat on the cover.

"I want a cat."

"It's all in French," Edmunds continued. "But it's got lovely pictures."

Taking the book into her hands carefully, Marigold flipped through the pages happily.

"Je lis bien le francais!"

"So I have heard," the woman grinned. "Which is much more than I can do. Years of tutelage and I'm still atrocious. More's the pity. You are so clever. Like your mother."

Heat flushed Marigold's cheeks as she couldn't help but beam. If there was anyone Marigold ever wanted to be just like, it was her Mama.

"What do we say to Ms. Edmunds for her generosity?" Edith prompted before either Nigel or Marigold could get too deeply involved in their surprise treats.

"Thank you, Ms. Edmunds," they said in chorus.

Nanny escorted the children out, to allow Mama and her editor to finish their work. It was time for the boys to nap (which Nigel protested loudly, as was usual), so they made their way up to the nursery. Nanny Atkins permitted Marigold to stay awake, now that she was older. She was allowed to spend the time reading, drawing or playing the piano in other rooms of their living area, provided she not venture beyond those spaces, returned to the nursery on time, and didn't cause trouble.

That day, Marigold was eager to read her new book and skipped down the corridor excitedly to one of her favorite rooms. The golden library! Papa used it as a study, but held more books than the normal study and she enjoyed the way the sun slanted through the windows and reflected off the crystal ornaments that adorned the rooms lamps.

Marigold had stretched out under a sunspot on the crimson rug nearest to Papa's desk, flipping through the pages of the new story when she heard tense voices in the hall. With a gasp, she slid under the desk just as the door opened and Papa and Grandmother Pelham strolled into the room.

"Mother, this is not as grave an oversight as all of that," Papa said carefully. "I don't believe any of the shooting guests were even aware-"

"How could they not be?" Grandmother replied tersely. "They pay for a luxury shooting experience, the status and elegance, a taste of the old days. Not disassembled car parts and oil stains on the drive. Mr. Porter is neglecting his duties."

"Mr. Porter is not a chauffeur in the first place. And the oil spill was an accident."

"The man is getting old, my dear. Perhaps it is time to plan his exit."

"Mother, he's doing the work of ground-keeper and a chauffeur, I think we can forgive him for a spilled oil can, whether guests were present or not."

Papa slid into the seat of his desk, glancing down to find Marigold tucked in underneath, clutching her book to her chest. He did not pull up his chair completely, and held her gaze for a moment, debating his course of action, before he returned his attention to his mother.

Grandmother Pelham huffed in reply, "We came to this station by unexpected circumstance and even now, you know there are those who see us as imposers, posing as the leaders of this county. You must strive to maintain an appearance worthy of the station. If we must have so many shooting guests and commoners over for tea, then at the very least we must be exceptional."

"To be quite honest, I expect I shall always feel rather an impostor. Cousin Peter should be here, not I."

Cousin Peter was someone Marigold knew Grandmother Pelham had disliked in life, and did not enjoy talking about after his death. She didn't know much about him, since he died before she was born. Mama had never met him and had no stories to share and he had spent so much time away from Brancaster that few of the servants knew him well.

Papa told stories about him on occasion, and Marigold could tell it made him sad. But she knew he was her father's friend, as well as cousins. As much as George and Sybbie were her friends to her. Friends as much as Bessie and Louisa Antonia. Papa still missed Cousin Peter.

"Herbert..."

"Is all this anything someone has said to you, or is it perhaps simply a fear you harbor yourself?"

At this Grandmother Pelham seemed to have nothing to say.

"Because I assure you, Mother I am doing more than you know to maintain this estate, this county and our family. The best I can do. I am not afraid of a tea party or oil spills, or any other sort of scandal. It can be weathered."

Bertie's expression radiated kindness, "I can't do any more than my best and I learned to be my best from you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some work to get on with."

Marigold heard the click, click, click of Grandmother's even steps and the sound of the door. She crawled out from under the desk and into Papa's waiting arms.

"Hello there, are you in here for a bit of a read?"

Marigold nodded.

"Sometimes Grandmother is great fun, but she does make me a bit frightened as well," she whispered as he settled her on his lap, unable to put to rest the conversation she'd just overhead.

"Me too," Bertie agreed.

"But she is your Mama."

"Yes, and she loves us all so much that sometimes she can be so severe it's frightening."

Marigold leaned her head back, staring at him incredulously.

"Don't you think your Donk was at least a little frightened of Granny Violet?"

She couldn't help but smile at the memory of her great-grandmother. Donk was much older than Papa when Granny Violet was alive, and a single look from her could still make him stand at attention.

"More than a little," Marigold conceded. She took a deep breath, "But, I shouldn't like to be afraid of my Mama."

"That's not your Mama's personality, so I wouldn't worry," Bertie replied evenly.

"What is Grandmother Pelham afraid of, Papa?"

"A great many things, I imagine. Change most of all. Being left behind."

She hung her head, and worried the corners of Mon Chat, "Is it all because of my tea?"

Papa's arms tightened around her, and he leaned forward to look her in the eyes.

"No. Not at all, my sweet darling," he answered earnestly. "I must apologize for Mother. I'd hate for you to feel this isn't your home. Friends of yours are most welcome in your home."

Marigold blinked, suddenly verging on tears as Bertie kissed her forehead. It was so nice to have a moment alone with Papa. She enjoyed speaking with him, and ever since the money crash and then Oliver's dramatic birth, it felt like the opportunities were far too few. She knew there were big important things going on in the world and in England, that Papa had to attend to, even though she and Nigel missed him.

But Marigold also knew their father did his best, even having managed to participate in her tea party.

"Thank you again for the ribbons," she added. "We've planned to wear them the first day back at school."

"I am glad you all liked them. I'm sure you will all look very pretty," Papa grinned.

"Also," Marigold continued hesitantly. "It was even better to send the food. I know the Doxford's are grocers and I don't think they are short on eating, but Bessie looked thinner than I have ever seen her! And her Papa..."

"I know," Bertie agreed. "Times are very difficult in many sectors. Most are much less fortunate than we are."

"I used to share my luncheon with her," Marigold confessed. "At school because I knew at home I could have something else to eat before dinner. But then this year, I was gone. I feel badly."

"That's very generous of you, Marigold," Papa sounded proud. "It's not your fault you weren't here."

"If..."

Her brow furrowed, thinking of the summer's events as an idea began to form in her mind. It was the top of the hour and the shiny clock on Papa's desk struck three times.

"If Mr. Porter needs help with the engines, Bessie's Papa could help, you know. He did when he came up for my tea. He doesn't know cars perfectly well but he does know tractors. And how different can they be really? Perhaps even Mama could fill him in on the differences since she drives a car and has driven a tractor. Mr. Hull could help and you could pay him and then Bessie could eat more?"

Bertie smiled and regarded her thoughtfully.

"That might just be an idea. I shall inquire with Mr. Porter and Mr. Hull as well as the accounts here, to see what I can offer. I cannot promise for sure what will happen, but if your idea is not possible, then I promise I shall find other ways to help them."

Marigold beamed, "Thank you, Papa!"

"You are a good friend and very kind. And that is in short supply in many circles."

Bertie helped her to slide to the floor and patter her cheek. "Now run along, Nanny will be expecting you soon and the boys will be waking up."

Pleased with herself, Marigold made her way out of the library quickly, skipping down the long hallway with the new book tucked under her arms. Perhaps Nanny would let Marigold stay up again to write another late night letter! Aunt Lucy would surely approve of the plan to help the Hulls.

It felt as though all the paintings of Hexham's of the past were watching down upon her, perhaps with more approval than severity. Marigold was certain, that friends were more precious than any of the fine furniture or art or golden dipped tea cups in Brancaster Castle.

And she was determined never to forget it.

Chapter Text

Bastard

"If everyone would simply-" the somewhat frazzled photographer peered out from behind his black box shaped camera. "Stay steady. Please let's all try to look at the lens, shall we? Children?"

A great flash and boom came from his camera and with it a loud screech from Donk's lap. Marigold had the distinct impression that her smallest brother Oliver was very much indeed ready to be done taking photographs.

"Perhaps one more?"

From her place near George, Marigold leaned forward and looked across her grandparents, catching her other brother's eye. Regarding Oliver, it seemed Nigel was in agreement. He stood stiffly in his vest and tie, shaking his head. His eyes darted back and forth between the fidgety figure in their grandfather's arms and Marigold's own. Now taller than all of them, and stationed behind Nigel's shoulder, Sybbie regarded the Pelhams, her eyes sharp and inquiring. Caroline's hands moved to cover her ears.

Was there anything to be done? Nigel shrugged and so did Marigold.

They had no idea how to help. For the entire year and some months if his life, their little brother was quite opinionated about doing things and in general, despite his young age (and lack of words), the boy was vocal when he decided he was through doing whatever it was the world around him wanted to do.

Not Nanny Atkins, nor Papa, nor Mama could change his mind.

Donk bounced his knee gently, trying to calm the young toddler, but to no avail. Oliver pulled on the white collar of his dress shirt, throwing his body back hard against his grandfather's torso and kicking his legs out in front.

"Now, my dear boy," Robert soothed. "It's not as bad as all of that."

Hands flapping, his grandson continued to wail.

"Ollie!" Mama appeared on the other side of the photographer, calling to her son in an overly cheery voice.

Even at a distance, Marigold could see Aunt Mary roll her eyes. Though he was still tearful and pouting, Oliver went quiet and regarded his mother solemnly. When it was clear she had his attention, Edith waved to him with both hands.

"It's alright darling. Look here, you're nearly done. Don't fret."

The camera clicked one more time and with the sound of the shutter the spell broke. Mama's sing-song voice was all for naught.

Oliver managed to slide himself out of Donk's arms, properly worked up in earnest now, sandy hair and fancy collar equally disheveled. He crawled on the floor toward his mother and, in due course, his protestations set off the new baby.

(While Marigold found it to be a very nice home, Tom and Lucy's town house had smaller rooms than Downton or Brancaster so the noise seemed to fill the sitting room quickly. The house also did not have a proper name, so everyone just called it by it's street name, Victoria Grove.)

The added volume was certainly unpleasant, and Marigold didn't blame her littlest cousin for crying out. For someone only a couple weeks old, she'd had a rather over excited day. Already that morning, Ellen Branson's baptism had been held at the Catholic church in Ripon, followed by a journey back to Uncle Tom and Aunt Lucy's home for a few commemorative photographs.

Tom stepped forward and took Ellie from Cora's arms, beginning to rock her gently. The rest of the children all scattered away from their poses. Nigel and Caroline moved to their their grandfather's side, while George moved off to stand near Granny Isobel. Sybbie joined Uncle Tom and Aunt Lucy to coo at and sooth the tiny baby. Maud Bagshaw hovered near Tom's shoulder.

Marigold did not claim to know the woman well, but it seemed she was not the cooing type.

Marigold knew that Maud was her grandfather's cousin and not blood related to the Bransons (excepting Sybbie), but following Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tom getting engaged, the older woman had changed her will to make Lucy her heir. For grown-ups, as far as Marigold could tell, that was as good as being adopted and it made her pleased for Aunt Lucy.

If nothing else, it was very clear that though no blood existed between them, Ellen Branson had another Granny in Maud Bagshaw.

Unlike Oliver, who continued to protest (despite Mama's best attempts as well as the offending portrait session's conclusion), Ellie was quickly calmed by her family's presence. Curious and eager to take in more of her new cousin, Marigold stood near Aunt Lucy, observing the baby.

Cora laughed and addressed the photographer, "I do believe this marks the end for us, Mr. Glover."

"Thank God for that," Donk huffed, accepting Nigel and Caroline's proffered arms for leverage as he stiffly rose out of his chair.

"Right you are, your lord and ladyship," the photographer replied amiably as he began to clean up his kit. His expression grew sheepish. "I probably shouldn't have saved the pose with all the grandchildren for last."

"I daresay not," Aunt Mary remarked dryly. "But then who could have foreseen there would be tears involved in photographing children?"

Marigold caught her gaze and struggled not to giggle.

"We've got one with the godparents, some with all the three generations, as well as this with all the grandchildren," he continued counting down on his fingers. "I can't promise they'll all be looking at the camera, but I think I have something decent in each pose."

"I am sure the photos will be of excellent, Mr. Glover," Granny Isobel encouraged. "It takes a high level of gravitas to be able to organize this group."

Nanny Coates and Nanny Atkins returned and with them so too some semblance of order, though Oliver's scowl refused to fade. Nigel and Caroline began playing with blocks in earnest and Donk moved near them to continue an a rather animated discussion on the merits of dogs as pets. The discussion made Marigold smile.

"Dogs are much better companions than cats for gentlemen," Robert tried to convince Nigel. "Their loyalty is beyond question."

"That's true," Caroline agreed, very familiar with Donk's dog.

Nigel countered, "Cats are much more tidy."

"And more quiet," Caroline added eagerly.

Their beloved grandfather prodded, "What side are you on?"

The girl held her head high and squared her shoulders, "I would prefer a horse. Perhaps for my birthday?"

"That's a wish to discuss with your parents, my darling."

There was a long pause and then Nigel asked, "Can a gentleman have a beetle for pet?"

Donk grimaced.

The older members of the family settled in the sitting room for tea and chatting. The baby was passed around gently, and Marigold took her turn eagerly, reaching her arms out for the baby and oblivious to the look Sybbie gave, as well as the conversation around her. She studied the girl's small features, much like she had with her own brothers.

She fancied she was becoming very good at observing new babies.

There was nothing to eye, not in the soft skin or hair or sleeping features, that would let you tell that the baby was a boy or a girl. In retrospect, there was nothing revealing in Nigel or Oliver's features either, but Ellie was the first baby girl Marigold had seen. Very young babies had a certain similarity to them, she was sure. After all Ellie didn't look so different than her brothers and they shared no blood.

Marigold could tell however, that Ellen Branson was much plumper than Oliver had been, which made sense given she came later than expected, rather than early. She squinted and searched for resemblance to her family.

Then again, Marigold knew blood wasn't everything. After all, she looked much more like Nigel than Oliver did, and she was adopted. And her Mama and Aunt Mary were natural sisters but didn't resemble each other very much in the eyes of both strangers and those close to them.

To Marigold, Ellen didn't really look like Sybbie, but there was something in her chin that reminded her a bit of Uncle Tom.

"What's the verdict, Marigold?"

It was his voice that startled her from her thoughts. His eyes twinkled, "Shall we keep her?"

"She'd be rather difficult to send back," Marigold mused, eliciting a chuckle from the grown-ups.

"We would not dream of it," Maud added fondly.

Aunt Lucy chuckled, reaching her arms out. "Bring her to me Marigold."

Marigold obeyed dutifully and was pleased when Aunt Lucy patted the spot next to her. She slid onto the settee and though the rest of the children (excluding the baby and Sybbie) went out to the garden to play, Marigold was content to spend the rest of the visit chatting with her aunt and listening to the rest of the grown ups talk.

"I think Ellen is quite a lovely name, Aunt Lucy. Good for formal times, but nice for leisurely moments as well."

"What are you talking about, Marigold?" Sybbie rolled her eyes. "It's name, not a dress."

Unusually eager to explain herself, words fell from her mouth in a great burst.

"Some names are harder for some situations. My friend is called Louisa Antonia. I think her name very pretty but it can sound rather grand. And she does not enjoy it to be shortened. Which is all well and good, to sound so grand."

She paused for breath, feeling suddenly awkward, and added softly, "Excepting it is rather difficult to call out to her quickly during sport and games."

"I imagine it would be," Tom said amiably, holding his arms out for Sybbie to come to sit by his side.

The older girl obliged, but not without adding a final remark, "Sometimes you do say the strangest things, Marigold."

Letting the comment slide, Marigold turned back to Aunt Lucy.

"Ellen suits her. That's all I mean."

Lucy smiled and placed a hand on her knee, "I'm glad you think so. It would be quite unfortunate if her name didn't suit her."

"Indeed," Edith turned form her conversation with Granny Cora, having overheard Marigold's words from the other side of the room. "Ellen is well equipped for both the schoolroom and sport and game days."

The mostly comfortable chatting continued, though Marigold felt confused because every time she tried to look at Sybbie, the older girl looked away without so much as a smile, even when Uncle Tom nudged her.

At length, Maud commented, "I must say, the Catholic baptism is rather..."

Her face seemed to falter in discomfort before she was able to continue.

"It's rather more similar to an Anglican christening than I imagined. I don't know what I expected, but I am not ashamed to say I found that a rather comforting surprise."

"Yes," Robert agreed. "One can't be too hasty in assuming the worst."

Mama, Granny Cora, Granny Isobel, Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom all regarded him in wide-eyed surprise.

"I thought Catholics were a different tribe?" Uncle Tom quipped.

"Really Papa?" Edith Mama chuckled. "Didn't you once say you thought attending a mass was like gymnastics display?"

Donk cleared his throat and squared his shoulders, "A man can admit when he's been wrong."

"Not often," Aunt Mary whispered to Granny Cora under her breath, both biding their lips to keep from laughing.

Sybbie laughed, even smiling at Marigold, seeming happier than she had all luncheon, "He's right though! About mass. There is a lot of up and down."

By the time the afternoon sun shone through the windows, it was decided that the majority of their party would return to the big house, leaving Sybbie, Ellie, and the new parents with Maud Bagshaw in Victoria Grove.

Children and adults alike dutifully shuffled to the foyer, collecting coats and hats and handbags.

As Uncle Tom and Aunt Lucy didn't keep servants like at Downton, Sybbie helped match the coat with it's owner. She was tense again by the time she got to Marigold's however.

She handed over the coat roughly and muttered, "Lucy is my step mother, you just write to her to her. I see her everyday."

"What?" Marigold replied confused, but in the shuffle was pushed aside and was outside with Mama getting into the car before she knew it driving back to Downton.

The next day, Mama, Marigold and the boys made their way back to Brancaster and Papa. He'd been unable to get out of council business, and so was glad to hear about the photo session, no matter how chaotic.

"I'll be able to see a bit of what I missed!"

In the days that followed, Marigold could almost forget her cousin's surly demeanor towards her.

Almost. Most of the time.

Being 10 years of age, old enough now that she didn't need Nanny Atkins to watch over her all the time, it had been decided that Marigold was old enough to have her very own room in the family living wing of the castle. Her own private place to sleep away from the boys and their mischief.

Bertie and Edith had given her the choice of 3 appropriate rooms and Marigold had happily picked the one facing the north lawn, just across the hall from the nursery. How could she not? It had an alcove with a window that was be perfect for reading. It also had the view of the main gate, so she could observe many comings and goings.

Marigold was allowed to decorate it as she pleased, Mama's only request being that the fireplace be left blocked up and modern heater installed instead, for warmth. So Marigold had picked purple linens and asked for a shelf for her own books and toys.

Her friend Bessie had moved to a new bedroom as well, as Bertie had hired her Papa to work as an auxiliary ground-keeper, which entitled he and Bessie to one of the estate cottages, much closer to Brancaster than their old house. Bessie had Marigold and Louisa Antonia to tea at the new cottage, giggling over their biscuits, each in their matching ribbons.

She wrote her updates as usual to Aunt Lucy, understanding of course that with a new baby at home, Lucy was busier than she had been in the past. Her replies still came, if only slightly less frequently. Marigold was happy to read about Ellen's first smile, Tom and Henry's participation in the county car show, and Sybbie's success at school.

But she slowly stopped receiving her own letters from her cousin anymore. And Marigold remembered her disquiet at the baptism, feeling confused.

She'd always felt a special closeness to her two older cousins, due to having lived with them in the nursery at Downton when she was small. Sybbie had always been a confidant and a friend in their time together, though being older, sometimes it felt like Marigold was being shepherded rather than confided in from the older girl's end. Sybbie was the one she turned too when George got out of hand.

Marigold mentioned the odd turn of events to Mama in the study, not long after copies of the christening photographs arrived.

"That doesn't sound much like Sybbie," Edith had soothed. "Perhaps with a new baby, things can get very busy. Especially as Tom and Lucy are not employing a Nanny..."

Later, Nanny Atkins had counseled Marigold to remember that Sybbie was now a teenager and that often times that involved moodiness and making regrettable statements.

Marigold wasn't so sure.

On the next visit to Yorkshire, Marigold, Nigel, and Oliver had time visiting their grandparents, while Edith and Bertie visited London for business. She'd hoped that Sybbie would come up to Downton for a visit as well, but her hoped where dashed when none of the Bransons came up from Victoria Grove.

On the last day, she asked George about it as they walked from the big house to the hospital in Ripon to meet Grannys Cora and Isobel as well as Aunt Mary. George always went to his Granny Isobel's for Saturday tea, but today there was some sort of a hospital function before hand, involving the other two ladies, and George had asked to for Marigold to join as well.

It was a brisk walk, but they were big enough to do it now. One way at least. At the close of the car shop, Uncle Henry would drive them all back home.

Her cousin knew Sybbie best, Marigold figured, so hoped he might help her understand.

"I don't think she means anything by it," George said, hands pushed deep into his pockets, after Marigold explained her confusion and distress.

Marigold scuffed at a pebble with her shoe, "It feels like she is mad at me."

"It's just a bit difficult, I think."

"Why?"

George frowned, removing his cap from his head and twisting it in his hands. His gaze met hers apologetically, "Only, you do get on very well with Aunt Lucy."

Marigold kicked the stone far down the lane in front of them.

"Sybbie gets on well your mother. You get on well with mine."

"Yes, but that's different," George countered.

Marigold sighed. Aunt Lucy was their newest grown-up, and in a way quite unlike the other aunts.

"Do you remember before your parents got married or before your Nigel was born?"

"Yes," Marigold replied quickly. "I remember my dress from the wedding. And the flowers."

"Oh," her cousin seemed surprised. "I don't remember Mummy's wedding at all. I only remember a little bit from before Caroline."

"You telephoned," Marigold added, lips pursed as she recalled that time. "When Caroline came. Well, Donk put you on, I expect. Then, I believe I hung up on you."

"I don't remember that," George chuckled. "I think I remember Mr. Barrow being ill. And possibly a pig show..."

"I remember licking spoons in the kitchen with you. I don't quite remember meeting Mama, but I can sort of remember when I started seeing more of her..."

George nudged her, impressed, "Your memory is very good. Lot's of people forget things from when they were little."

Marigold shrugged. She only knew her own mind, it was hard to gauge what other people did or didn't remember.

"But Sybbie?" George continued as they reached the end of the lane the gate that separated the lane to Downton from the main road. He picked up a tall stalk of grass, as they turned right, towards Ripon.

"Sybbie is the eldest, isn't she? She can remember before Caroline or Nigel or Oliver, and she told me she can even remember from before you came to live with us. She remembers before Mummy or Aunt Edith were married. A bit at least."

Marigold's brow furrowed.

"It has been just her and Uncle Tom, for a very long time," George's words were punctuated by the stalk of grass. "And now she's got a new stepmother, a new house, and a new sister. It's a lot to get used to. Imagine if you were just by yourself until you were two years older than you are now and then Aunt Edith got married and had Nigel?"

"Oh," she regarded her knuckles guiltily, not yet having put the situation into quite that view. The parts of what Nanny Atkins and Mama said fitted in well with George's assessment.

"That would be difficult."

"And before the wedding Sybbie always seemed worried about impressing Aunt Lucy. Because she saw her Papa was starting to love her ever so much. She didn't want to make trouble and tries her best. I do think they get on. But then you come for visits and write your letters, and it's like jam to bread."

George mimed breading jam on bread in the air with his hands.

"I personally avoid writing letters," he added proudly.

Kneeling down to pick up a pretty rock on the pavement, Marigold frowned.

"It's not as though Aunt Lucy likes me better than Sybbie. She always says in her letters how impressed she is with Sybbie's school work and kindness. How helpful she is with the baby."

"Still..."

The rock was cool and smooth in her hands.

"So, you think she is jealous?"

"I dunno, maybe a little," he shrugged. "She's been short with me lately, also. It's a bit lonely without her at the big house. Caroline can be rather-"

Marigold snickered, "Don't say dull."

George only tilted his head to one side, eyebrows raised.

Marigold was stuck again by how unpredictable blood and appearance really could be. Everyone said that her cousin was the spitting image of his late father Matthew Crawley, but moments like this, Marigold could only look at him and see his mother, Lady Mary.

"But you go to school and have visits don't you? With Sybbie."

"Yes, of course," he answered. "But she's in the grammar school now and doesn't want to play as much as before. Sybbie fancies she's quite the young lady now."

Reflecting on her cousin's words carefully, Marigold resolved to try to be more understanding of their oldest cousin and to try to speak plainly about it the next time she had the opportunity.

Marigold regarded George approvingly. Or her cousins, she often viewed him as the more active playmate. Running across the lawn, climbing trees, teaching them all questionable words. She never considered him to be overly perceptive.

"This is very helpful, Georgie."

"Such surprise!" he feigned indignation, but couldn't hold the expression at all before they dissolved into giggles.

They walked for the next few minutes in companionable silence, arriving at the out skirts of the village. George's demeanor grew somber and his hands returned to his pockets.

"Next term, I'm to start boarding at Eton College."

"All the way in Berkshire?" Marigold asked, wide-eyed.

George made a dramatic face, "I might actually have to write letters."

Marigold rolled her eyes.

It already felt as though George and Caroline and her grandparents were very far away even just being in Yorkshire. Granted, it was still fairly easy to get to and from Downton by train. Mama and Papa were proof enough of that. Still, would Eton allow for occasional weekend visiting Marigold was accustomed to while George lived at Downton?

She felt a pang of disquiet over the impending change.

They'd nearly made it to the central square, and moved from the road to pavement, weaving carefully between other pedestrians. Many in the village recognized George as the heir to the Earl of Grantham and a few greeted him with nods.

"It's Donk's old school. And the school of many a Talbot," George explained. He rolled his eyes. "Including the bishop."

Marigold could see through some of her cousin's false bravado. She didn't think she'd enjoy being away from her family for the entirely of a school term, and she could not imagine that George felt any differently, no matter he joked his about his sister. And her cousin seemed keenly aware of the many men who'd gone there before him.

They were near to the hospital now, making their way across the green that housed the great war memorial.

"Are you frightened?"

Again, the boy tried to play it off. "Clearly. They have truly awful uniforms."

"George."

He bit his lip and replied more honestly, "I'd rather go to the grammar school here, but I am to be the next Earl, so I must go to Eton. Donk says it is only half about the education anyway. The rest is 'rubbing shoulders and forging friendships with your peers'. "

Her cousin sounded anything but enthusiastic.

Even though she knew that in the aristocracy an Earl was lower than Marquess, sometimes it seemed as though her grandfather (and to a lesser extent her Aunt Mary) cared more about all of that, the status, the schools, the tradition, than her Papa did. Then again, he'd been a more distant heir, growing up a cousin with Peter, his Uncle and his own father each between him and the title. He'd missed out on the preparation that Donk had had and what George was getting.

And yet, without that, Bertie was as good a Marquess as any, in Marigold's eyes. The best, in fact.

When they stopped to wait out the cars before crossing the street to the hospital, Marigold put her hand on George's shoulder to comfort him. She only wished she could do more. He didn't say anything, but lifted his hand to cover hers in thanks.

They arrived at the hospital, sliding through the front doors just ahead of a pair of laborers carrying boxes to deliver and made their way through the lobby to the reception desk to inquire whether their relatives were ready. In the moment, Marigold paid no notice to the way the younger of the workers seemed to stare at them. After all they had rather rushed in front of him, and she already knew the her cousin was well known in the village.

The reception desk was located at the left side of the lobby, around a corner. It wasn't in it's own room, but the shape gave the impression of a separate room, and certainly offered some manner of privacy. George and Marigold approached the desk and the laborers paused just beyond the corner, unaware of the lack of door.

"Eddy," the younger voice could be heard. "You see those little toffs? Bloody horrible lot, that Crawley family. My Aunt Margie used to live on the estate. One of the girls is a bastard."

Marigold barely registered that anything had been said at all, let alone parsing out exactly what had been said, but George was already gone, rounding the door-less corner at a run. She ran, skidding on her feet trying to keep up with him.

"George!"

"You take that back, you big prat!" the boy shouted as he launched himself at the laborer, who dropped the boxes he was carrying. George swung out his arms and legs, aiming punches and kicks wildly.

"Oy!" the younger worker shouted, trying to push his attacker back. Their shoes squealed on the shiny hospital floors. "Get off me!"

Up close Marigold could see that he was not much more than a boy himself, but was clearly much older and stronger than Georgie. For a moment, she was too stunned to react and could only stare in horror. She looked to his partner and found the same panicked confusion in his eyes that were certainly in her own. She stood their, jaw hanging wide, completely at a loss as to what to do. The old man set down the boxes he was carrying and tried to pull George and his companion apart.

"Stop it!" Marigold finally screamed, fearful that her cousin might be injured by the larger boy. "Stop!"

The commotion drew the attention of hospital orderlies, one of whom managed to join the older laborer in pulling the pair apart. The younger man stood next to his colleague, body still, but eyes glaring. George was still restless and struggled in the arms of the orderly. The orderly beckoned and a man in the suit that Marigold didn't recognized emerged from the other side of the hall.

"What's all this?"

"He came at me, sir," the laborer explained to the new arrival. "I didn't touch him."

George twisted unsuccessfully, still held back, "I'd do it again! Let me go!"

The older man gestured to his companion and the pair stooped to collect their discarded boxes. He seemed afraid of the new man and turned to him.

"Just a misunderstanding, eh?" he tried to smooth things over. He glared pointedly at the younger worker. "Right, Cal?"

The youth ground his teeth as he gatherer his load but didn't reply. That answer seemed sufficient and the man continued.

"We'll be moving along now. We've got deliveries to make."

The pair and their boxes made a hasty exit. The orderlies only released George when he seemed less likely to chase them. It turned out that the last man to arrive on the scene was the acting hospital director and he'd been called away from the very same benefit that Marigold and George's family had attended. He led them to a bench outside a the auditorium where their Granny was finishing her speaking and told them to wait.

George scowled and sat on the bench with his arms crossed. Still shaken, Marigold cautiously slid to the spot next to him. She fought the unexpected urge to suck her thumb and instead found herself chewing on her nails, a sight Nanny Atkins would scold her for if she saw it.

At that thought, her hands dropped and she pulled the shiny rock from her pocket and ran her fingers around it to keep them occupied.

The scene played out in her head over and over again. It had all been so fast. Geroge flew into a fight as soon as he heard that word. With the B.

Bastard.

Marigold wasn't sure that she'd never heard it before and she knew it was a swear. But she didn't know what it meant. She would ask George, but he didn't seem interested in talking. Normally, George seemed to revel in the transgression of a swear, but this had made him fight. And made Marigold uneasy.

Neither of them said a word.

George was still red-faced and disheveled when his Mama, Granny Cora and Granny Isobel arrived, each in their own way a picture of concern.

"George!" Aunt Mary demanded. "What's this I'm told about you fighting in the lobby?"

At the same time, Granny Cora leaned forward to inspect his askew jumper, "Are you alright?"

The boy only nodded.

Granny Isobel addressed Marigold, "What happened?"

"I'm not sure," she replied honestly, still shaken.

It wasn't until they'd settled in at Granny Isobel's house that George began to open up.

"He deserved it! I couldn't just stand by," George explained over a cup of tea. "They were talking about Aunt Lucy. They called her..."

His eyes darted around the table, seeming uncertain as to whether he should repeat the word.

"A bastard," Marigold supplied, brow furrowed.

She hoped they wouldn't scold her for the swear, given it was just explanatory.

Granny Isobel gasped, while Aunt Mary and Granny Cora exchanged unreadable but distinct glances. Marigold was equally surprised by his recount of events, as she hadn't thought the youth in the hospital was talking about Aunt Lucy. One of the girls, he'd said. Could Aunt Lucy be called a girl?

"I know she is illegitimate," he explained quietly. "I overheard you talking to Barrow about it, Mummy. When Cousin Maud updated her will. Because it has to stay a secret, but she still wants to look after Aunt Lucy."

Aunt Mary pursed her lips, "I told you no good comes from eavesdropping."

"Is that what it means?" Marigold asked. "That word?"

"Yes," Isobel answered, matter of fact as ever. "It's a degrading word to describe the child of unmarried parents."

Marigold knew that people were meant to be married when they had children (though she was still curious to know exactly how that came to be once one was married, she did know more than when her brothers were born and that kissing was involved). The vicar in Hexham handled weddings, christenings and funerals- preferably in that order. Everyone she knew had married parents, except apparently her Aunt Lucy.

It made Marigold wonder.

"It's not a fair insult. The parents are the ones who didn't get married, not the child," George mumbled, as his hand worried the napkin next to his plate.

"That's very astute," Granny Cora complimented softly and the women at the table all nodded.

"It's not the preferred circumstance for having a child, and many in society condemn it cruelly," Granny Isobel continued, explaining more to Marigold.

Her thoughts were racing.

She had only the vaguest of recollections of her life before moving to Downton. She was more a girl than Aunt Lucy? Had her other parents been unmarried before the Pelhams adopted her? She felt such a part of Bertie and Edith and her family that she'd never had cause to ask. The details of how she came to be with her family seemed immaterial, given she was with her family and she loved them. She wasn't sure how but she knew that, unlike many adopted people, she wasn't a proper orphan. She knew there was a before, but in her life it hardly mattered.

After all, in the eyes of the law, Marigold was a Pelham.

"That's why there's a swear for it?"

"Well, yes," Cora reluctantly answered, eyes kind but somehow also probing. "I believe a lot of it is to do with shame. The world wants to shame anyone who hasn't followed the church, though it isn't that simple. But as with all swear words, it's not something said in polite company. And it certainly isn't kind."

"And to George's point, he is entirely correct. It's not a very fair or modern way to look at it," Isobel stated proudly, patting her grandson's shoulder. "I've known women who have had a child out of wedlock, and I believe they and their children deserve kindness and opportunity as much as anyone."

George ducked his head and half smiled at the praise.

"Besides, times are changing," his grandmother continued. "After all, Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois was born a bastard and she is now the sole heir to the principality of Monaco."

Cora and Mary murmured in agreement and sipped their tea. Marigold's eyes narrowed as she observed their apparent unease. It wasn't the first time Granny Isobel had seemed more free minded about a societal topic than the rest of the family, (though the friction most often occurred with her grandfather and late great grandmother) so perhaps their reaction was down to that.

Or, Marigold mused, there was more to be said on the subject. Perhaps.

"While your intentions were admirable," Aunt Mary lectured her son. "You cannot go around hitting anyone who says something you dislike, George. I certainly don't want you to do so at Eton. I understand what happened and I am sympathetic but you will face consequences for this. We'll discuss what they are at home."

"Yes, Mummy."

Discussion during the rest of the tea turned to other topics, but Marigold didn't particulate as her thoughts remained turned inward.

The man in the hospital had said girl, not lady.

He'd been disgusted by the Crawley family, and as much as she loved Uncle Tom and Aunt Lucy and as much as the family included them in everything, even Marigold knew the Branson's were a bit different. Only Sybbie, through her mother, was related to the Crawley's and she didn't expect a stranger in the village to know that many details about the inner workings of the family.

Then again, even if he was speaking of Aunt Lucy, how was he to know? Unlike George he couldn't have overheard the discussion of Cousin Maud's will.

A question began to form in her mind. Caroline was most definitely legitimate. And Sybbie and Ellie too.

Marigold was largely silent on the ride home as well. Her quarrel with Sybbie seemed a minuscule thing now.

Henry seemed rather impressed at George's scuffle so the boy sat up front as they discussed something about weight and mathematics involved in kicking someone tall. Their voices filled up the car and covered up the fact that the feminine riders in the back were silent. Aunt Mary and Granny Cora seemed to speak to each other without speaking, eyes shining.

Unable to distract her hands with her pebble souvenir, her nails were at her lips once more. Her eyes flashed to Aunt Mary and she could tell the older woman noticed, but she did not scold her. Instead, she extended her hand and gently pulled Marigold's fingers into her own, holding her hand the rest of the way back to Downton.

That, as much as anything else, solidified the weight of the question in Marigold's mind.

When they arrived at Downton, George decided to join Henry in parking the car in the garage, leaving Marigold, Cora and Mary at the front door. Barrow smiled and ushered them in through the front door, but Marigold could not bring herself to smile back as he collected the hats and gloves of the older women.

She followed them through the Outer Hall listlessly, as they made their way to the stairway, until she could not bring her feet to take one step further. Marigold looked up from the bottom stairs.

"I am not stupid."

"No," Aunt Mary agreed voice trailing into a sigh as she uneasily paused on the third step before turning to face her niece. "Far from it."

Granny Cora retreated down to Marigold's side, pulling her into a sideways embrace.

"That man," Marigold continued hesitantly. "The man George hit. What he actually said was..."

Her eyes cast to her shoes once more, suddenly unable to hold their gazes. The shoes were dusty and scuffed from the long walk to the hospital.

"He said one of the girls."

Her heart thudded in her chest.

"Aunt Lucy is not a girl. If he meant a girl, then..."

Marigold's voice wavered and she looked up into her grandmother's eyes.

"Did he mean me?"

Granny's embrace grew tighter and her chin felt wobbly.

"Is that why my first parents couldn't keep me?"

"Darling," Cora kissed the top of her head and rocked her gently. "I think this might be a better discussion for you to have with your Mama."

It was answer enough for Marigold.

Lost in her thoughts, she allowed her aunt and grandmother to lead her up the stairs and into her mother's old bedroom. She accepted Granny's offer to have Baxter draw her a warm bath and was glad to be excused from dinner. It would have been hard to keep up a normal face with everyone. She was fine to take the dinner sent up by Mrs. Parker. Donk would be certain to try to find a way to cheer her up, but Marigold wasn't sure that was possible.

She needed to think and so think she did.

She was not legitimate. Perhaps, it was the shame of that that made her real parents send her to live at Downton to be adopted. If it was such a shameful thing, then perhaps they could not abide to keep her. Marigold wasn't really sure what happened in those sorts of situations. She supposed she could ring or write to Aunt Lucy to ask but she found her self as though glued to her bed.

If it was true, then Marigold's adoption by Edith and Bertie was that much more generous. It was their reputation already in Hexham, but it would be that the tenants and villagers did not even know the half of it.

Marigold didn't even know the half of it.

On reflection, she realized that she'd never really had cause to thank her parents for adopting her. Not properly. Where would she be, had her Mama not come across a babe in need of a home and been generous enough to try to give that to her? Or if her Papa had not wanted to adopt her after the marriage? Who would she be?

These questions had never crossed her mind.

In the eyes of the law, Marigold was a Pelham. Even though she knew she was adopted, that was her name and how viewed her self. Did it matter where she came from before?

To the family? To the world?

To Marigold herself?

Chapter Text

A/N: Thank you all again for your responses to the last chapter. I know I left you hanging a bit with the end of that last chapter, so here is the next one! With some developments I am sure you are interested to read. Let me know what you think!


Secret

Marigold slept fitfully, tossing and turning for what felt like hours, before she finally fell asleep.

It seemed only a blink before the new day.

"Miss Marigold," Baxter said, while gently tapping the edge of the bed. She placed a tray of breakfast on the bedside table. "Your parents will be arriving soon. Her ladyship sent me to help you while Nanny Coates gets the boys sorted."

Surprised to see how high the sun was and how long Granny had allowed her to sleep in, Marigold hurried to get dressed. She'd missed family breakfast already and ran the risk of not being ready for her parents arrival.

Baxter was very nice and helped Marigold with her hair, where Nanny Atkins (or at Downton, Nanny Coates) normally would. She did the brushing and then, instead of doing the normal plait down the back that the nannies might, her nimble fingers separated out the strands to quickly fashion two dutch braids down the sides of Marigold's head.

She tried to protest, knowing that it was Baxter's job to look after Granny Cora, who usually took her breakfasts in bed and that it was unusual to have to do anything for Marigold at all. The maid had already helped her the previous evening as well.

"It's not an imposition. It has been a good while since I did a young girl's hair," the soft spoken ladies maid replied, smiling at her in the mirror. "I think you'll look very pretty. Sometimes it feels nice to put in a good show for no particular occasion."

Marigold sat up straight, and despite all her disquiet (for Baxter could not possibly know her discovery the previous day, could she?), she smiled back.

As it was, Marigold made it downstairs in good time for the arrival of her parents. From the bottom of the stairs, she could hear her brothers and cousins loudly from the study, heeding no mind the words of Nanny Coates.

Donk, per usual, was at the center of it all, displaying some Egyptian artifact he'd received as a gift.

Marigold stood in the the small library, unwilling to cross the threshold into the larger one with her family. Barrow slid into position beside her. She looked up to his keen eyes. She didn't have to lift her head as high as when she was small to do so.

"Chin up, Miss Marigold," he encouraged. "If I may say, whatever it is that's getting you low, it will pass. Trust me. We can all mend, even from the hardest of things."

Looking at him, offering no reply, Marigold found herself wondering what it would have been like if she had been able to stay with her first parents.

Would her blood father be like the perceptive butler? Was her natural mother as kind as her grandmother's ladies maid? Could she cook like Mrs. Mason? Would she have an aunt less like Aunt Mary and more like Nanny Atkins?

She knew well from her friends that school that the class of her family was not typical for most of her countrymen. There was no doubt that the people she came from would be of a very different station to her family now.

Was her original family like the Doxfords? The Hulls?

It occurred to her that if someone like Baxter or Barrow or any of them were her parents, it wouldn't be the same way she knew them now. Barrow worked day and night at Downton Abbey, keeping everything organized and ready to help her family at a moments notice. Baxter certainly didn't have time to do a daughter's hair each day if every morning she did Granny Cora's hair. The Parker boys down at their farm likely didn't often enjoy the meals Mrs. Parker cooked, far less than George and Caroline.

What would it have been like to grow up on Yew Tree Farm?

Then again, her own Papa often worked long hours as well. As did Bessie's father. Marigold's Mama had to go to London or meet with Ms. Edmunds for the magazine. So too did Louisa Antonia's Mama have to visit suppliers for the store throughout the county. Johnny Bates, the Parker boys, Bessie and Louisa Antonia were all proof that work didn't deter closeness.

Marigold herself still saw her parents at Brancaster, even though they were busy.

She supposed that some things might be the same with her natural family as they were with her family now. Other things would certainly be different.

Money for one thing. She had no delusions that money set her family apart from those of her friends.

And of course, there was the problem of the word.

Bastard.

Class didn't erase what being illegitimate meant. There was a whole word just to shame it. Her natural family probably would be most different, not only due to money or station, but because they would be ashamed of her. The Pelham's had to have known her origins. And took her in anyway.

She now deeply regretted every time she'd ever said anything impertinent, or back chatted, or protested being sent to bed.

Marigold reached her hand out, aimlessly running her fingers on the rows of leather books in the library.

"Ah," Donk's voice made her jump and he came to join her in the small room. He pulled the last book she touched from the library shelf. He grinned at her, but Marigold could see something else, something sad in his concerned gaze.

"Shakespeare's Sonnets, a bold choice!"

Shoulders hunched, Marigold only shrugged. That was simply the last book she'd touched. Hardly a decision. Still, the old man was undeterred, putting the book in her hands and resting his atop hers for a moment.

"Though, for someone as clever as you, perhaps not so bold. How about you take it with you? You can tell me what you make of it the next time you come down."

Marigold crossed her arms to hold the book firmly to her chest. Normally, the prospect of taking a book would thrill her. The very elderly librarian, Mr. Pattinson was quite unyielding when it came to removing pieces from the collection, even just for borrowing.

Yet, today the idea brought her no joy.

Her grandfather looked almost distraught, "My darling girl. I only ever wish for you to be happy."

The sound from the doorway startled both of them. Mrs. Parker stood before them. Not often seen upstairs, but often willing to spot any of the children a secret biscuit downstairs.

"Daisy!" Donk exclaimed. "What brings you upstairs?"

Mrs. Parker blinked in confusion, "Sir, you said I could have a word with Lord Hexham before they all leave?"

Marigold always loved the sound of Mrs. Parker's voice. It reminded her a bit of singing and at times felt familiar, but she couldn't place why. Today, she was struck to wonder whether that voice was anything like the voice of her natural mother.

Donk's eyebrows furrowed and he paused before speaking, seeming almost to restrain himself from asking for more detail.

"Of course, I did," he settled to say. "They'll be arriving shortly."

And so it was, Marigold found herself standing catercorner to the cook for her parents arrival as they all lined up outside to greet the car.

She kept her face still forward as Nanny Coates advised, she couldn't help that her eyes darted to left. Mrs. Parker stood with her head held high, in a way Marigold had never really felt up too. Even less so, now that she had learned enough about her background.

Now it seemed impossible.

Papa was the first out of the car, greeting Granny Cora and Donk before turning to beam at Oliver, who was already kicking up a fuss. He took the towheaded baby into his arms and grinned knowingly at Nanny Coates.

"My apologies if he's been running you ragged," he stated affably. "I expect you'll be glad to be back to looking after just George and Caroline."

"I don't know that I'd quite say that, my lord," the nanny demurred, but from the way she hastily smoothed out her disheveled outfit, Marigold suspected there was more than a little truth to her father's words.

Nigel went straight for Mama, bouncing in a circle around her impatiently, eagerly trying to tell her about some invented game he had played with his cousins.

Marigold stood frozen, rooted to her spot, still clutching the book from Donk and now only able to look at her shoes. Granny Cora and Aunt Mary immediately took Mama into the house, faces serious as they spoke.

It wasn't hard to imagine what they needed to speak to her about so urgently.

"Marigold?"

Yet again she was startled from her malaise by a voice. This time, her Papa, ready to help her into the car.

The Pelham's train ride back to Brancaster, was a somber affair. Edith had seemed uneasy ever since speaking with Granny and Aunt Mary, while Bertie did his level best to fill the dead air. Soon, Nigel tucked in next to Papa and Oliver in Mama's lap and the train departed.

The boys both fell asleep rather quickly.

Marigold tried to appear as though she was reading. The sonnets were open in her lap, but she started out the window, only occasionally hearing her parents conversation. She chewed at her nails, but her parents didn't scold her.

Their voices flitted in and out, rather like trying to understand someone speaking under water. Mama seemed as downcast as Marigold herself, which was worrying. She curled into herself even more. What if Mama regretted taking on the shame of adopting an illegitimate child?

"Did you know, Daisy wished to speak with me before we left?"

"Mmm," Edith hummed listlessly.

Marigold turned away from the window and watched her parents with mild curiosity.

"We talked a bit about unexpected elevation," Bertie ventured, trying to engage in conversation with at least one of the conscious passengers in their carriage. "She's been elected to the county council..."

At this, Mama did seem mildly impressed. "Really?"

"Yes, and an abrupt departure has left her poised to take over a role on the committee for highway development. If she accepts, Mrs. Parker and the rest of that committee would directly liaise with the Ministry of Transport, on the implementation of 30 mph speed limits for the rural roads of Yorkshire."

"Mary will be pleased," Mama's reply was flat, as could be at times, when it came to her sister. "Too many thrill seekers on too small of country roads."

"As it happens," Papa continued. "I've met the Secretary State for Transport and have seen him present in the House of Lords. I don't claim to know the man well, but I told her what he was like, as best I could."

Mama nodded, absently rocking Ollie. Marigold thought of Mrs. Mason standing proudly in front of her grandparents house.

Papa grinned, leaning forward conspiratorially casting his eyes between his wife and daughter, "Perhaps your parents will lose Mrs. Parker to the lure of politics..."

Neither Marigold, nor Edith replied.

The train continued it's ambling journey north. Oliver slept. Nigel snored. Papa valiantly continued his attempts at conversation. Mama rested her head on the door to the carriage. Marigold leaned her head against the cool window glass.

Not long after luncheon arrived, Papa asked hesitantly, "What was it your mother and Mary needed to speak with you about so urgently?"

Marigold stole a glance to Mama. Edith's eyes were wide and she'd never looked so pale.

Bertie's brow furrowed. His wife's breath seemed unsteady. They seemed to converse without words, pointedly avoiding Marigold's eyes.

Marigold bit her lip, for the carriage felt suddenly divided. She could not really explain to herself why she felt such a distance from her family. They knew what she was all this time, only she herself had been left in the dark.

But perhaps that was the part that was worst.

When she missed half of school term in Hexham, Bessie and Louisa Antonia had some secrets Marigold was not privy (by logistical necessity) but upon her return, it still hurt to be left out. Though fairy circles, pretty feathers and stolen biscuits paled in comparison to the knowledge of Marigold's true origin.

A look of knowing passed over Papa's face then and he reached out to rest his hands on his both wife and daughter's knees, squeezing gently. Marigold's stomach dropped.

At length, Mama rubbed Ollie's back and rested her chin on his head, as though to smell his baby sweetness.

Edith cast her gaze from Bertie directly to Marigold, "I will explain when we get home."

Upon arrival at Brancaster, the boys were settled into the nursery under Nanny Atkins care, and Marigold found herself sat between her mother and father in the study. She'd spent plenty an afternoon in a not dissimilar position, indeed she vaguely recalled sitting somewhat like this the day her parents told her of her adoption.

Once it was comfortable, but today it felt ominous.

They all sat in an awkward silence. Papa's attention rested expectantly on Mama, but she seemed to be at a total loss for words. She kept tight hold of Marigold's hand. Her husband's arm snaked across the back of the sofa, behind Marigold's back, coming to rest on Mama's shoulder.

Bertie cleared his throat a little, as though urging Edith to speak.

Shakily, she began, "Granny says that you saw George get into a bit of a scuffle with a man, who used a word-"

Unable to stand waiting anymore, Marigold interrupted, blurting out, "I know."

Mama's eyes were glassy. Her fingers twitched around Marigold's hand.

"What is it that you know, darling?"

"That my blood family couldn't keep me because I am..."

She faltered then, mouth feeling suddenly full of wool. Marigold squared her shoulders and cleared her throat.

"I'm-That swear word with a B."

Better get used it, she concluded. Swear or not.

"I'm a bastard," Marigold continued haltingly. "So you took me in and adopted me. Which was very kind of you both and I am truly sorry if I have been trouble and have not been sufficiently grateful..."

Mama gasped, "Oh, Marigold-"

"It's a horrid word," Papa's voice caught in his throat as he interrupted softly. He gently turned her shoulders to face him. "I certainly do not want you to refer to yourself in that way."

"But it's true by definition," Marigold countered. "Isn't it?"

Bertie's eyes shone with emotion, but he didn't deny it. Instead he he held her gaze steadily.

"Please," he implored, voice wavering ever so slightly. "Don't call yourself that."

Marigold huffed and turned back to Edith, "I'm illegitimate."

Neither of them argued with that.

Though not a swear, illegitimate wasn't much better a word in Marigold's opinion. Illegitimate made it sound like you weren't allowed.

Like it wasn't right to exist.

"Marigold," Mama said thickly, features twitching with the effort of holding back tears. Her hands moved to cup Marigold's face. They stared at each other for a long moment, Marigold half expecting to be chastised for using the proper word for her status, as well as the swear.

But it was better to face it full on and go from there, than stay with one's head in the sand.

"You're my daughter."

For an instant, Marigold's brow furrowed in confusion, she tried to shake her head and turn away. That couldn't be. That made no sense. But Mama's hands held firm, keeping her in place.

"Yes," she replied to Marigold's silence. Then she smiled faintly, "You've always been my baby."

And suddenly time itself seemed to snap.

Once again, everything Marigold thought she knew was turned upside down. Being adopted was something different, but something she was used to. Being illegitimate was another thing, a very difficult thing. She'd been trying to get used to it too, in her mind. It had never occurred to her that she was the illegitimate child of her own adopted parents.

She reeled, feeling completely off balance, like a fish out of water. Her jaw hung and open.

"I'm yours?" she asked tearfully.

Marigold glanced back to Papa in disbelief.

"You are my natural daughter," Edith confirmed again, quite specifically. Her thumbs wiped tears from Marigold's cheeks.

Marigold kept her eyes on Bertie, trying to find new footing in this topsy-turvey world.

"And you?"

"I am your father in the eyes of law," Papa answered, clasping her other hand carefully. "And most importantly, in my heart."

Marigold leaned back against the couch, still stunned and breathless.

"But not by blood."

It wasn't a question.

So, she was the illegitimate child of one of her adopted parents, that is.

Mama.

Her Mama had birthed her out of wedlock. That sinful scandalous thing that there was a whole swear word to describe it. To shame it, according to the Grannies and Aunt Mary.

Unbelievable.

Mama was the Marchioness of Hexham. A magazine publisher. Patron of Hillcroft College, the Hexham Literacy League, and many other good works. The one who loved Papa and her children so well.

The most clever person Marigold knew and so wanted to emulate.

She'd spent the morning wondering what her natural mother might be really be like, and here she was all along.

Only Marigold wasn't so sure now that she knew exactly who Mama really was.

Edith sighed, "We planned to tell you when you were older and could understand more but-"

"I understand enough," she snapped.

Mama balked at her tone, blinking rapidly. She took a deep breath and offered, "You may ask me whatever it is you wish to know."

Feeling a twinge of guilt, Marigold sighed and tried to collect her thoughts.

"How-" she struggled to phrase her question. "How did it happen?"

Everyone knew that people were meant to be married when they had children. The vicar in Hexham said so. Everyone she knew had married parents. Excepting Aunt Lucy.

"Before I met your Papa," Mama explained carefully. "There was someone else and I had you."

Marigold took a shaky breath, trying to keep air moving through her lungs, mind still dizzy.

"Did you love him, my...father? Like you love Papa?"

She winced, unable to turn around to gauge the impact of her words on Bertie. She worried for him, though of course he had likely known all of this long ago, before signing any paper to adopt her. Marigold was afraid to make him sad, if Mama had loved someone else.

Yet her curiosity compelled her to ask. However, she wasn't sure how much the question of love mattered in the end. With illegitimacy, society didn't seem to take that into account.

"Yes, I did," Mama answered without hesitation. "Not exactly alike, but I did. I loved him very much."

"Did he love you?"

"Yes."

Unable to help herself, Marigold next countered with the logical question. After all, the world had an institution ready to go for two people who loved each other. Right?

"Why didn't you marry him?"

The question seemed painfully obvious to Marigold, but seemed to throw her mother completely.

Mama stammered, "We-we couldn't."

"Why?" Marigold demanded petulantly.

A marriage would have rendered her life entirely normal, though perhaps of a different station, if this man was not the same class as the Crawley family. But she knew well enough from Grandmother Pelham that Papa had not always been so high up in aristocracy himself and Mama had still been engaged to him regardless.

Not that she wanted to think too hard about a life without Papa and her little brothers, but it was strange to her that something so shameful could have been easily avoided. If they had loved each other, Mama and this man, and kissed, and done...whatever else there was to do to have a child, then why not have a wedding?

It was so confusing.

"He had a wife who was very ill in her mind, so he couldn't divorce her in Britain so he-"

Scandalized properly, Marigold felt her face and ears flush with heat, "You are not supposed to have babies with someone who is married to somebody else!"

Eyes wide, for the second time in under an hour, she began to see her mother in yet another entirely different light.

Mama shook her head, distraught and urgent, "It wasn't as clear and easy as that. We planned to get married and he was trying so hard to find a way and-"

Her voice caught, "And then he died, Marigold. Before either of us even knew about you."

A part of Marigold saw the distress in her Mama and ached to comfort her. Indeed, in normal order in her life, she would have. But now she was still too shocked and she couldn't connect to that feeling as before. Fortunately, she could feel Papa's arm behind her back as he reached to hold onto Mama's shoulder.

Marigold then spoke her thoughts aloud, not to either parent in particular. She was still trying to work it all out. She chewed the corner of her pinkie's nail.

"I remember, well not really, but I know was with other people. Wasn't I?" she babbled. "I thought they were my real parents. I know I was somewhere before Downton. George says Sybbie can even remember before I came. I wasn't with you."

"You did live with others, very generous families," Mama nodded. "I didn't know what to do."

"You gave me up."

From yesterday to today, Marigold had been right about one thing. Being illegitimate was shameful enough to be given away over. Adopted perhaps twice over? Or more?

She didn't know.

"But then," Mama's voice seemed desperate and she squeezed both Marigold's hands. She leaned forward, trying desperately to look into Marigold's eyes. "I loved you so much, I couldn't leave you be. I found a way for us to be together."

Refusing to hold her mother's gaze, Marigold instead focused on her knees.

"So, you lied."

It wasn't as generous as it appeared to adopt a child, when in truth that child was already your own. The family she did not remember (and Papa) were generous in the way Marigold had imagined her family to be.

"I kept it secret," Mama seemed to be very intent on this correction, but it seemed a rather suspect distinction.

Marigold and Bessie and Louisa Antonia shared secrets at school. About games and toys and dreams. Not about a person's life.

"Because if you didn't," she reasoned, remembering the words of the delivery boy in in the hospital and the quiet changes to Cousin Maud's will. "Everyone would know what you did. There'd be a scandal."

Grandmother Pelham's greatest fear. Scandal. Far more serious than a children's tea. The old woman's peculiarities and fears had some basis in reality it seemed.

"What matters is that we're together now. And we're happy."

It wasn't clear who her mother was trying to convince, herself or Marigold.

"But people do know, don't they? There are people who know who I am?"

Granny Cora certainly. And Aunt Mary, given yesterday. The delivery boy at the hospital knew somehow, as well as his aunt.

"Only the family," Bertie finally spoke again, having remained largely silent to allow his wife and daughter to have the space they needed.

"The family?" Marigold squeaked.

Her heart raced, but not quite so fast as her thoughts. Her mind whirled, trying to parse through past interactions and conversations.

Had she been the only one left out?

"Only some of them," Papa tried to comfort, sensitive to her agitation but she felt no relief. "None of the children."

Marigold wondered if 'some' included Aunt Lucy. And, despite Bertie's assurances, she wasn't sure about Sybbie.

Still stunned, Marigold looked down at her hands, clasped by Mama's shaking fingers. For the first time, she noticed things she didn't see before. Her hands looked like her mother's. Long fingers, knobby knuckles, delicate wrists. Belatedly, she realized that her and Nigel's resemblance was not mere coincidence at all.

How had she missed it?

After a long silence, Mama tried uncertainly, "Marigold?"

She recoiled a bit, still beset by a mountain of thoughts and confused.

"I don't," she stumbled. "I can't-"

"Perhaps, we can leave it here for now," Papa interrupted calmly. "I am sure that whatever other questions you might have in future, Mama will be pleased to answer."

Mama swallowed hard but nodded.

"And I would like to say," Bertie continued. "That I love you both. So very much."

"You too, Papa."

"Marigold?" Edith pressed again, eyes intense and frightened.

Another wave of tears welled in Marigold's eyes. She wasn't even sure how to reply to the unspoken question her mother was asking.

"I don't know."

Suddenly, the air in the room felt too thick to be breathable. She stood and ran from the study, overwhelmed with sobs, trying to catch her breath.

Marigold was still crying when she burst into the nursery, startling Nigel and Oliver from their game of blocks. Nanny Atkins rose from her chair, putting down her sewing kit and meeting the distraught girl in the middle of the room.

She held her arms open and Marigold ran to them.

"Oh my dear, what on earth?"

Oliver seemed content once he saw that his sister was in Nanny's capable hands, and continued to play with his toys. He lifted a block to his mouth and drooled. Nigel however, radiated concern and he moved to stand beside the embracing pair.

"Marigo?" he reverted to the name he'd called her as a baby, leaning close and trying to get her to answer.

Muffled by the fabric of Nanny's blouse, Marigold sobbed, "Did you know? Did you know who I am?"

Nanny Atkins' arms stiffened at that, and she gently walked them both towards the doorway to her adjoining room.

Nigel grew more concerned, "Nanny? What wrong with Marigold? Is she still feeling ill from last night?"

"Yes," the older woman improvised expertly. "And I am going to look after her for a moment, in my room. Will you be a good boy, Nigel? Stay with your brother and look after him and come for me if he needs assistance?"

Lifting her head, briefly from the wet patch her tears had made on her caretakers clothes, Marigold could see the urgent worry in her brothers face. Unusually for Nigel, the expression reminded her so much of Mama it made her chest ache.

Eventually, the boy nodded and returned to his spot with Oliver. In her last glimpse of the pair, before Nanny ushered her into her quarters, Marigold could tell Nigel took his duty very seriously, as his hand immediately swiped the block away from his brothers mouth.

"That is not food, Ollie."

Once alone in the adjoining room, Nanny stepped back, holding Marigold's shoulders and looking at her with a worried expression.

"Do you know?" she asked again, more softly this time. "Who I really am?"

Marigold figured that no more detail was needed about the secret, if her caretaker already knew.

Sure enough, Nanny Atkins nodded.

"I suspected."

"You know that I'm-" Marigold sniffed warily. "That Mama? And you still took care of me?"

"It's not my place to judge," Atkins took her into her arms again. "It doesn't matter to me."

"Because it's just your job," Marigold concluded morosely.

"Well, I can't say that I don't like my work or my wages," Nanny answered lightly, as she nudged Marigold's back.

"But that's not all there is to it. With this, what mattered was that it seemed your mother loved you. And his lordship also. No matter how it all came to pass. There's many who aren't so lucky."

Though she could see the point her nanny was trying to make, everything still felt far too overwhelming for Marigold to fully take it all in.

"I hate secrets," she said vehemently, throwing her head deeper into the crook of Nanny Atkins neck. Hot tears fell as she began to sob in earnest, fully for the first time since the fight at the hospital.

(It went on and on, rather longer than Marigold would later want to admit.)

At some point, they'd made their way to Nanny Atkins' bed where she'd laid down, with her head in the woman's lap. Nanny let her stay, and eventually undid the lovely dutch plaits Baxter had put in that morning, humming gently.

Soon, exhaustion lulled Marigold towards sleep and she didn't resist, even though it was most impolite to fall asleep in someone else's bed. They could move her, if came to it and needed her gone. And Brancaster was a castle with hundreds of beds. Nanny would certainly not be left without a place for the evening.

At one point, Marigold thought she heard Mama come in, but kept her eyes closed and let her mind drift to a weary sleep.

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."

Chapter Text

Reconcile

Marigold had little choice but to hold Mama's hand when they arrived at the bustling London train station.

They arrived mid-morning, and the crowds were dense, full of all sorts of people, coming and going. Each seemingly certain of where they were going and why. Marigold had only ever been to London a few times, all before the crash and before Oliver was even born. Then they'd had more of an entourage, grandparents, cousins et all. They'd spent most of their time with Aunt Rosamund and as she recalled, Papa had carried her from the train. This time, it was as though she might be swept away into the crowd.

Save for the lifeline of Edith's hand.

"Come along, Marigold."

Mama seemed as assured as any of the swath of humanity in the station, leading the pair and their luggage swiftly from the carriage to a cab, without even batting an eye.

Marigold stared wide-eyed at the buildings and people their cab whizzed by. Despite her relative familiarity with London from her few past visits, it's sheer volume never failed to amaze her. Hexham, even at it's most crowded, had never been so full of people, of that Marigold was certain.

Thus far the trip was an echo of normal, conversation on the train ride largely limited to books, school, and the menu for breakfast. The only wrinkle cropped up after Marigold had fallen asleep for the last part of the ride. For the briefest of moments upon waking up, she'd seen only Mama's kind eyes watching over her and felt only her mother's lap as she rested her head. She had nearly forgotten the turmoil and discovery of the past few weeks.

Of course, that ended in a flash as Marigold remembered and pulled away. She was Edith's illegitimate child, raised as adopted, and lied too.

"What was his name?" she'd asked then, without preamble or explanation.

Mama had blinked, but answered the question as she'd promised in the study those weeks ago. "Michael Gregson."

Marigold chewed the edge of her nail and tested the name in her mind. Michael Gregson. She tried to envision some lifetime where she was called Marigold Gregson. Or Marigold whatever her first family was called.

She preferred Marigold Pelham.

"You were born in Switzerland, and I had considered to name you Michelle in his honor," Edith mused, wistfully staring out the train window.

She'd wondered if her mother missed this Michael Gregson, even still. Even with Papa and the boys and life at Brancaster. Marigold wasn't entirely certain she wanted to know the answer.

"But Aunt Rosamund thought it too personal. And you were such a pretty baby, like a flower. And Granny also had a flower name..."

As her mother trailed off, Marigold wrinkled her nose.

While she liked her name, she'd had seen several newborn babies in her life and none of them resembled a plant. Mama must have been thinking very creatively indeed to see one. Though, her mother's strange perception aside, Marigold still felt more comfortable in her mind and on her tongue than Michelle.

And born in Switzerland? Imagine that! Marigold had never considered being born in a different country.

"Am I even English?" she asked urgently. "Or did you just go there to keep me secret?"

"You are English. I made sure of that, you needn't worry."

Marigold bit back an accusatory retort, but couldn't stop her eyes from rolling. All her worries of late were Mama's fault. Edith watched her for a beat, as though expecting more discussion, but her daughter remained sullen and silent.

They'd let the subject drop as the train rumbled on.

In London, she stayed in the car for their first stop, as Mama dropped off their luggage at her apartment. Watching through the window, Marigold wondered what a flat might be like.

All her memories of London involved her grandparents or great aunt's homes. Smaller though no less lavish than places like Downton Abbey, Brancaster and the like. She knew that Mama used this apartment when she had to stay in London for the magazine, and that even her father occasionally used it for his time at the House of Lords. But it wasn't somewhere she had visited.

The street was quiet, markedly so after the main roads and hustle and bustle of London, and lined with trees.

Unbidden, she wondered if Mama and that Michael Gregson had ever walked the streets of London together. Or did someone who would have a baby with a married man not wish to be seen walking out in the street with him?

Was he a countryman or of a city, like London? Would this man have found the street of Mama's flat as quiet a respite has Marigold? Would he have been as overwhelmed by the trains and hustle and bustle as she?

Marigold shuddered as though she could push the thoughts from her mind.

Soon enough the task was done and the cab drove them to her mother's office. Marigold had heard a great deal throughout her whole life about Sketch Publishing Ltd, with The Sketch, and various other minor publications scattered throughout Brancaster and Downton Abbey, making up the landscape of her childhood.

When she and Mama ascended the steps and entered the reception of the building, the familiar smell of her mother's magazine greeted them along with something new. It was distant but Marigold could hear the sound of tapping. Mama spoke briefly with the lady at the front desk and then led them down a long hall.

For part of the walk there was a glass window into a large office, filled with rows and rows of gleaming type-writers. Mama had a type-writer in her study at Brancaster, but seeing so many together was something different. Marigold lifted her head to peer through the glass, mesmerized. Nearly everyone in the room and many that they passed by in the halls, were women.

(The few men at their typewriters seemed unbothered to be working elbow to elbow with so many ladies, a state that Marigold knew many men from the countryside-and the city for that matter-might take issue with.)

The fingers of those sat at the type writers danced across the keys, reminding Marigold of her piano lessons. Only these were producing words, not notes, to string together ideas rather than songs. Though the sound of the typing was not unlike a kind of music.

She was enthralled.

Unable to hide the amazement on her face, Marigold glanced up to find her mother smiling at her. They paused their journey and watched the room of typists side by side for several moments.

Soon, one of the typists leaned out into the hallway and interrupted their quiet reverie.

"Was there something you needed, Ma'am?" she asked, brow furrowed.

"No, thank you," Edith replied breezily, offering a reassuring nod. She ushered Marigold forward. "I'm here to see Ms. Edmunds upstairs. I was just letting my daughter Marigold have a look."

The woman smiled in relief, "Pleased to meet you, Miss Marigold."

They passed a few more people as they moved upstairs, Mama introducing Marigold swiftly and comfortably, allowing her to put faces to the myriad of names she'd heard her mother speak of over the years.

Here, Edith moved with an ease so different from the air that surrounded her mother in recent weeks. She seemed eager to show Marigold around, presenting her to everyone they passed, explaining the workings of the office as they went, and squeezing her shoulders gently as she guided them through the publishing house.

It made Marigold feel rather important.

Again, she almost forgot the turmoil and pain that had led to the trip, simply happy to be with her mother and learning about the magazine. It was fun and as exciting as she'd imaged a visit to Mama's publishing house could be.

Arriving at Ms. Edmunds office at last, they found the woman looking bored on a call, cigarette in hand. Her expression brightened when she saw them in the doorway, and she ushered them in without missing a beat on the telephone.

"No, we will not allow you to submit a written review of your own product. Rather defeats the purpose of a review, doesn't it? One of our contributors will test it out and then provide their thoughts..."

Ms. Edmunds and Mama shared a knowing look and rolled their eyes.

"You are also, of course, free post an advertisement-" she pursed her lips.

Edith slid into one of the chairs on the other side of the desk and patted the seat of the adjacent on for Marigold.

"Well, if you want your perfume to be featured in our publication, I'm afraid that's how it must be. "

Marigold sat down and surveyed the room. It was smaller than the red study at Brancaster, but still felt open, despite having a plush couch, dark wood paneling, the desk and several shelves in the space.

Ms. Edmunds caught her eye as she put out her cigarette and winked.

"If there are other ladies magazines who do operate in such a way, then I am sure you'll prefer working with them and not The Sketch."

With that the call was ended.

Mama pursed her lips and asked, "Tabu?"

"Oh, absolutely."

The pair howled, heads back in laughter at some joke unknown to Marigold. To see the Marchioness of Hexham giggling with the editor of The Sketch magazine, together like school girls? She had always imagined them to be dignified and serious. The magazine was a business her mother owned after all and Ms. Edmunds someone she employed.

But oddly Marigold was reminded most of time spent with Bess and Louisa Antonia.

"Tabu Perfume have been making the same request since 1928," Edith finally explained to Marigold.

"To which I say no, every time," Ms. Edmunds added. "I can't speak for their product one way or another but the expectation of favors is ghastly. Just because we cater to a feminine audience doesn't mean our methods are any less vigorous. We're not some rubber stamping operation that publishes any old rubbish. We give a balanced evaluation of any featured product."

"I suppose they think the requirements might have changed somewhat, what with the economy."

"Crash or no crash, we have standards! They certainly need us more than we need them. I suppose I really aught to just turn them over to you. Put that title of yours to good use. Either one, owner or Marchioness..."

Edith rolled her eyes, "As if that would work, alas."

The laughter continued. It seemed a conversation that had been head numerous times between them.

In Hexham, there were none outside the family who dared to speak to Mama in such a way. And none outside Papa, herself and the boys (and perhaps Uncle Tom) with whom she'd ever seen Edith laugh so. She couldn't help but chuckle with them. She'd never really thought of Mama as someone with friends. Mama always said had only Aunt Mary and Aunt Sybil when she was Marigold's age. Sybil was long dead, and Mama and Aunt Mary were cordial but never laughed this much. She supposed grown-ups could make friends too.

Did Ms. Edmunds and Mama confide secrets as Marigold did with her friends?

What if Ms. Edmunds knew the truth about Marigold's blood? Then again, that was not something Marigold herself was able to share with friends, so it as equally likely that the quick witted editor was none the wiser. Bastards were kept secret after all. But then again, Laura Edmunds had always been so very kind to her.

Marigold could only wonder.

Suddenly, Ms. Edmunds turned to Marigold with a flourish.

"While your mother and I get down to business, would you like a lolly?"

Eyes wide in wonder, she replied, "You can keep lollies at your desk?"

She couldn't fathom that a grown up lady with her own desk would have actually fun things in the drawers. Ms. Edmunds smirked at Mama.

"I can keep whatever I want at my desk."

How marvelous!

Edith nodded and Marigold held out her hand for the sweet with a grin, "Yes, please."

Savoring the sticky flavorful taste of the candy, Marigold wandered around the office as her mother and Ms. Edmunds reviewed printing proofs. She found a smaller table and sofa at the back of the room and eagerly thumbed through the selection of children's books awaiting assignment for review. She was easily drawn into the world of a book.

Before, at least.

Once easy for her, it had become harder to concentrate in recent weeks.

Above the table was a series of photographs, of which she barely took notice, all men (save for the final image of Ms. Edmunds), seeming to watch over Marigold as she read. She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but at length, she looked up to find her Mama standing before her, eyes shining wide and bright. Focused on the row of pictures lining the wall, eyes flicking from Marigold's face to portrait in particular.

Staring and staring.

Book and lolly stick still in hand, Marigold's brow furrowed in confusion as she twisted to peer behind her at the framed images.

"Have you finished?" she inquired, turning back to Mama's pale face.

Edith's eyes remained glassy and her chin trembled slightly.

Ms. Edmunds watched the scene before her, expression soft but unreadable. She gathered some files and spoke up when Edith did not.

"Indeed, we are quite finished. I am afraid I must rush off to a meeting now. Lovely to see you Marigold, I hope you'll visit again. I trust you'll be able to let yourselves out."

Mama's gaze shifted to Marigold's and she squared her shoulders, taking a deep breath.

"Thank you, Laura."

The corners of Ms. Edmunds lips lifted kindly, and then she was gone, door clicking softly shut behind her.

"Mama?"

"These are all former editors, and in some cases owners, of The Sketch," she replied.

Edith walked deliberately to the couch where Marigold still knelt, tentatively draping an arm around Marigold's shoulder and turning them both to look up at the wall.

"That one," Edith pointed, finger trembling. "Just there. That is Michael Gregson."

"What?"

Marigold's jaw dropped and she turned to her mother in confusion. Her mother's gaze was steady as she nodded, cautious arm still resting around her daughter's smaller frame. She moved to kneel on the sofa, fully facing the row of portraits and squinted closely at the man in the second last spot.

So this was Michael Gregson. The natural father Marigold never knew. And apparently never knew about her.

Her eyes poured over the image as her breaths became shaky, her hands as well. Though a part of her wanted to shake Edith off, the larger part of her was glad of her mother's support.

Marigold didn't think anyone could say she looked as much like him as the family said George resembled his late father, though she could see a similarity in the portrait.

She could see a lot of herself in this man, indeed.

The cheeks, jaw, nose, and hairline. Micheal Gregson wasn't fully smiling, but it was enough that one eye squinted a bit more than the other, just like her own did when she grinned.

Further, he didn't seem sinister or smarmy or any of the other adjectives Marigold might have heard applied to the sort of man who was married and carried on with other women. Not that one could really tell much from a portrait, but the man she saw looked rather kind, if anything.

Then again, her mother and Cousin Maud hardly looked the sort of women the world would imagine to have children out of wedlock, but here they were, Marigold and Aunt Lucy. Living proofs. Appearances certainly were not as revealing as some would say.

People were ever so much more complicated than she'd imagined.

Looking at Michael Gregson, she felt largely indifferent. Marigold certainly didn't feel any pull of affection, like she would with a portrait of Papa, but she didn't feel as angry or resentful toward him as she'd expected either. Her limbs just seemed oddly unable to stay still, as the though the jumble of confused feelings was uncertain where to reside in her body.

"He owned this magazine," Mama added, rather unhelpfully.

Marigold frowned. She'd always assumed Mama had started the publication.

It seemed such a constant in life, like the sun or the row of paintings in the walls of Brancaster, or the rugs in the Outer Hall of Downton Abbey. A copy of The Sketch would surely be one some table at any of the places Marigold felt at home.

Such a part of her mother that it was hard to see that it would ever have been someone else's. That Mama could have been Mama without the business. Given the fuzzy timeline she had on it all, and her assumption that Micheal Gregson likely held onto his enterprise until his death, it was more likely that Mama's tenure at the The Sketch was only about as old as Marigold herself.

"He gave his business to you?"

"Well, initially he gave me his power of attorney," Edith amended, seeming uncomfortable with the memories. "And in the end, I had to execute his will. And in the will..."

Marigold turned to sit properly on the sofa, restless legs bumping gently against her mother's.

Her thoughts turned to Brampton and Cousin Maud's will. Aunt Lucy could enjoy none of the ordinary parts of having a mother (indeed, she mostly called her mother Maud), but she would inherit her mother's life's work. Mama had not ever been Michael Gregson's wife, but she had seemingly inherited his.

A rather perverse way to tell someone you love them, and even then only with things and in death.

She supposed when the world only gave limited options to act out one's feelings, one had make the best of it. Her smallest brother currently lacked the words to share his thoughts. And so sometimes he threw things. Or gave slobbery kisses. Or tangled his fingers in hair. Sometimes, he simply cried.

Even with the capacity for words, grown ups too could be limited. Unwed mothers and married men had only so many choices for expressing affection without risk of scandal.

Still, Marigold thought she'd prefer to be able to speak and hear than to lie and have secrets. Whatever riches Papa had as Marquess (or could will in death) paled in comparison to just sitting on his lap, talking and knowing he loved her.

Marigold wondered if Michael Gregson would have done the same, if they'd ever met.

"He wanted you to have it?"

Mama's voice wavered, "He certainly did not intend to die, but yes, I suppose. The magazine, the publishing house, the flat. They were his. And now they are mine. And so someday they will be yours."

Marigold reeled at that.

She supposed on some level she'd believed and even hoped that she would follow in her Mama's footsteps, even when she believed she was adopted. To be as clever and perhaps even half way as important. Of course, revelation of late had somewhat changed Marigold's mind but it was certainly a concept he understood. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. Parents and children. That was the way of things, wasn't it?

Nigel would inherit the title and march from Bertie, and Marigold apparently the magazine business from Edith. And Micheal Gregson, after a fashion.

(Heaven only knew what would be left for poor Oliver.)

"What happened to his wife?" Marigold asked, remembering one of the many aspects of her newly discovered background that deeply bothered her.

Her mother looked startled.

"His wife?"

"You said he had one. Don't they handle wills and those sort of things? With the solicitors?"

Edith shifted uncomfortably, unwilling to meet Marigold's gaze, "She was ill. Not of sound enough mind to consent a divorce, so certainly not enough to handle Michael's affairs."

"Is she still alive?"

"Yes, she's in an asylum. There's a provision in the will for her care. A portion of the profits for the magazine go to maintain her as long as she lives."

"Does she know about me? Did she know about you?"

This made her mother pale and stammer, "I can't say I really know. I am not sure she even knows about Michael."

"Hmm," Marigold huffed and Mama winced.

Illness or not, here was someone else left outside of the secret. Though, she supposed it was some strange consolation that this Michael Gregson had not cast the poor woman out when writing his will. And that her Mama had continued it, even if she was legally bound.

The conversation dropped of and silence surrounded them.

"I don't really have any other photographs of him," Edith ventured hesitantly, seemingly trying to pull the subject back to someone she was somewhat more comfortable speaking about.

She swallowed, seemingly unsure of Marigold, given how volatile their recent past conversations had been.

"So, I thought you could see him here. In his element. This is the room where we met."

Marigold nodded, still deep in thought, "I see."

Somehow that last was one believable aspect of the whole tale that did square up with the Mama she'd always known. The mother who lovingly read to her and helped with her letters and talked to her about the news of the day. That Edith would somehow end up in the office of a publisher and fall in love with him enough to-well-to have a child with him, made sense to a point.

Marigold knew that, in part, it was her own Papa's help and support with the magazine on an eventful evening, had played some role in their relationship. Papa wasn't quite as much in his element in a publishing house as Michael Gregson had likely been, but he was at ease enough that Mama had taken note. They enjoyed (to the point of nausea and embarrassment) telling the story, nearly without fail, on their anniversary.

"And your mother thought the whole evening would be cancelled and I would run away back to Brancaster. Turns out, I could make coffee, fetch sandwiches and carry bits of paper around! Quite expertly, in fact!" Papa would proclaim proudly.

And Mama would smile at him dreamily, "So well, indeed."

Nigel and Marigold would wrinkle their noses at each other and try to focus on their tea.

Her restless twitch grew more pressing as Marigold's thoughts turned to her Papa at home. She wondered whether this was the same room Edith fell in love with both Michael and Bertie. How odd.

She grimaced.

Sighing, Marigold turned to peer at Michael Gregson's portrait once again, curiosity seeping past the indifference in her heart. He seemed to be looking down at the both of them, her and Mama, with his not quite smiling smile. It was the closest they'd ever know to all three being together, Marigold supposed.

And she felt some what at ease, at last.

Now he had a name. She'd seen his face. And somehow the tightness in herself that she had been unable to escape these recent weeks, did feel lessened.

After many quiet moments Marigold added, "Thank you, Mama."

Edith blinked in confusion, "For what?"

"For showing him to me."

The pair had left the office rather quickly after it became clear Marigold had no further questions for the present moment. They dined at a restaurant Kettner's, a favorite spot of Mama's (an opinion Marigold was inclined to agree with after sampling the strawberry sorbet). After their meal, the mother and daughter went on a leisurely stroll to Trafalgar Square, speaking only of the sights of London, history, and architecture.

Mama seemed ill at ease the rest of the day, but Marigold decided not inquire why.

Upon arriving at the flat, she took in the decor, art and furnishings with keen interest, wondering whether this or that item was here because of Mama's doing or Michael Gregson's. After he died, would Mama have tried to maintain the place untouched, or changed it to her own liking?

She knew Donk had taken important things from the Dower House after Granny Violet's death and then let it out to renters for income after her death. Who knew what it looked like indoors these days?

Some things, a chair here, a lamp there, the well curated bookshelves and certain paintings, Marigold felt positive were there from her mother's doing. Others, striking sculptures in the corridor, a stately tall clock and the bright modern paintings found in each room, seemed more likely to be from Michael Gregson.

Mama didn't keep a live in house keeper, so it was just the pair of them in the quiet small rooms of the apartment. Much smaller than Brancaster or Downton or anything Marigold was used to or familiar with.

And yet, not uncomfortable.

As Marigold readied herself for bed, she could see out the sheer curtains, making out the fuzzy outlines of the lamps that lined the London street. Night in London felt different. At Brancaster, in her very own bedroom, the darkness was deep and enveloping, rather like a cloak. There were times she woke in the night and could not even see her hand before her eyes. Times she felt that no one else in the whole castle was awake or moving save for Marigold herself.

In London even with all the curtains drawn, still had a brightness one could sense. Laying in bed, Marigold could tell that even in the depths of the night the city bustled on around the flat, though perhaps only a tad more slowly.

That sense of bustle seemed to accompany her into her dreams.

Marigold found herself in a great corridor, larger than even the grandest halls of Brancaster. All portraits the hanging on walls were shrouded in curtains of velvet black that billowed in the wind, only offering tantalizing glimpses of the people beneath. The sound of outside were loud, and sounded very like the train station, but Marigold was alone in the hallway.

She ran and ran and when she reached the end of the hallway there was a final portrait, unreal and accurate, rather more like a mirror or a window. As her feet slid to a halt, the black velvet blew away and she found herself again looking at the face of Michael Gregson, just like in the office that afternoon.

Only this time, she felt certain that he was looking back at her.

Gasping, Marigold awoke with a start, shivering against the soft blankets on an unfamiliar bed. Her fingers urgently grasped for Teddy, but she remembered she'd left him at home in her room. She willed herself to calm down without him, taking careful breaths and running her hands down her arms to smooth out her goose pimples. At length, she found herself slipping out of bed and down the hallway, with only one possible place to go.

"Come in," Mama's voice answered Marigold's gentle knock, even though she'd seen on the grand clock that it was near midnight. Venturing in, but still hovering in the doorway, she found Mama in bed, with a book in her lap, wide awake. It didn't seem she had gotten very far.

Feeling suddenly out of place, Marigold shifted on her feet awkwardly, bringing one hand to her mouth to chew at her nails.

Uncertain of how to proceed, she commented, "It is very late, Mama."

Some of the preoccupation left Edith's features, replaced by a fond smile, "I rather expect I am supposed to say that to you. Are you alright, my darling?"

"I can't fall back asleep," Marigold admitted. "I had a dream about...him."

That gave them both pause.

Dreams (and most other after bedtime events) were the realm of nanny and for a moment neither seemed sure what to do. In fact, Marigold wasn't sure she could remember ever being in her mother's room in the dead of night. When she woke up in the nursery at Brancaster, Nanny Atkins' adjoining room was close enough, that Marigold and the boys usually didn't even have to leave bed after waking up from an unsettling dream to be comforted.

And since getting her own bedroom, she couldn't even recall needing Nanny in the middle of the night.

Scooting over in the bed, Edith reached her arms out to her daughter, but Marigold found her feet still stubbornly glued to their position in the doorway.

"Marigold?" Mama's voice wavered, face falling when the girl hesitated.

Still uncertain, Marigold eventually shuffled over to the bed, climbing onto her mother's lap. Edith rested her chin on Marigold's head and rocked them gently, though it took the girl some time to relax into the warm embrace. This was the first time she'd even come close to cuddling with Mama since she found out that they were really mother and daughter.

It was the sort of thing that Marigold figured at ten years old she was meant to be growing out of anyway (though she still quite liked it, more than she'd ever tell anyone at school). And it was only more confusing now, given the anger she felt towards her mother of late.

"Would it help to talk about it?" Mama asked nervously. "Your dream?"

Marigold only shook her head and let silence stretch between them again.

"I am very much afraid that this has broken something between us," Edith finally whispered. "And I hope it can be mended, because I-"

Her voice caught,"I cannot bear to lose you."

"Aunt Lucy said that when she found out she felt bad too," Marigold mused, trying to remember the word her aunt had used. "She felt betrayed because of the lying. I think it's a bit the same for me."

She heard Mama's gulp, but pressed forward.

"But now she says she feels much better and that to get to know her mother was a good thing."

"I also have some fear that you might like not like me when you know me more," Mama admitted thickly. "You're not enjoying it thus far."

"You said I could ask you anything!" Marigold countered, more sharply than she intended. "That day you told me. I want to know the story. I need to know the truth."

"Yes," Edith breathed, head nodding as her arms tightened ever so slighting around Marigold. "You deserve to know. Though, some details I'll reserve until you are a bit older."

Nodding in acceptance, Marigold waited, looking back at her mother when the words stopped there. Her brows lifted expectantly. She noted that now, it was Mama chewing at her fingernails.

"I will try, but I don't pretend to be particularly good at talking about my emotions. I usually make a mess of things," Edith began carefully. "I am not like your Papa."

"No one is like Papa."

They nodded solemnly. On that they could agree.

Marigold pursed her lips and then suggested, "Perhaps, just start at the beginning, with Michael Gregson?"

Mama sighed and tilted her head to one side, "I suppose, in order to speak to the beginning of Michael, I must share some of the end of Anthony..."

Anthony?

Turing back to her mother, Marigold stared in surprise.

"Mama?" she demanded, half teasing but also rather scandalized. "You had so many beaus!"

"I didn't."

"No?" she pressed. "It was just the three, then? This Anthony and Michael Gregson and Papa!"

A giggle burst through Marigold's lips unexpectedly. Mama chuckled too and for the first time in a long time, the air between them didn't charged or tense.

In fairness, Marigold knew very little of these sorts of things, other than what she'd read in stories and observed in the people around her. In stories, it seemed that people met their true love, usually a prince at a ball or someone who came across the girl in a meadow. And, following some sort of drama or adventure, they got married and lived happily ever after. Often alternatives to the one true love were also villains.

(The best stories also featured fairies, which honestly Marigold found of more interest than the love stories, anyway.)

However, she knew in her aunts and uncles, (and now with Mama) that it was possible to fall in love more than once, especially when someone died. Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom had both found someone to marry again in Uncle Henry and Aunt Lucy, even after their first spouses were lost.

The key of course, was that they had gotten married at all and Mama had not.

"It's not nearly as exciting as you're imagining, I can assure you," Edith replied, shaking her head. She features became more serious. "I was never the most sought after Crawley sister..."

Marigold considered all the many times she'd observed a detachment between her mother and her Aunt Mary. She'd assumed it was mere clashes of personality, though it was hard to surmise ever acting towards her own brothers in such a way. Though, considering some of what had happened with Sybbie of late, she could imagine it might be different for sisters in the end.

Certainly, jealousy caused complication.

She could tell there was a lot more to be said about her mother and aunt, she set it aside. A curiosity rather than a need.

Marigold needed to learn who Michael Gregson was because she wanted to be sure of who she was. And she concluded sadly, whether she liked it or not, he was a part of her as much as Mama or Papa or the rest of the family.

(Well, she wasn't quite ready to say just as much.)

"Who was Anthony?"

"Someone I thought I loved," Mama answered carefully. "The person who I was at the time, at any rate. A traditional match. He owned a home and lands not far from Downton. We probably could have led a perfectly respectable life together. Not the most interesting, perhaps, but I thought that was love."

"But it wasn't the same love as..." Marigold faltered. "Not the same as Michael Gregson? Or Papa?"

"No," Edith sighed."It feels different for different people. The things you're in love with are unique to the person, so it feels different. Of course, I am no expert. Before your Papa, I was rather bad at it. Even now, I have my moments. It all rather complicated."

"I've never been love," Marigold mused. "Not like that. It's hard to understand."

"Indeed. You are quite for young for all of that."

"What happened? What does Anthony have to do with Michael Gregson?"

"Anthony left me at the altar."

"What?" the girl's eyes widened. She scooted closer to her mother without thinking about it. "During your wedding? In front of everyone?"

"Yes," Edith replied evenly.

Marigold gasped in horror on behalf of her mother as she imagined it all playing out. She'd attended Uncle Tom and Aunt Lucy's wedding and a few others. She couldn't imagine what it would have been like if Uncle Tom had left in the middle.

Still quite shy with people, outside of her family and friends (and sometimes even then), Marigold herself hated being asked to speak in front of her class. Only that spring, in maths she'd been called on to give an answer and had practically wanted to die of shame when she'd been incorrect.

Marigold already felt some anxiety at the idea of having to stand up in front of everyone at an altar at all to get married. She'd always supposed that it would feel better because of your true love beside you and getting begin your lives together, but now Marigold knew that apparently other far scarier possibilities existed.

"Is that even allowed?"

Resting her head against the headboard, Mama shrugged, "No one could stop it."

"That's awful!"

"It was rather."

"Why would he do that?" Marigold regarded her mother, still unsettled.

"Well, boiling it all down to a point, he thought he was too old for me," Edith explained. "That I would be happier if we didn't marry. That I would find someone else and not waste my life on him. And he was right, eventually."

Somehow, out of all the reasons Marigold had conjured in her head as reason to stand someone up at the altar, age was the last to come to mind.

"How old was he?"

"Close to my father's age."

"You almost married someone as old as Donk?" Marigold asked, aghast.

"A great many men of my age died in the war, so you might find many of generation married older than they might have otherwise..."

The war was never something anyone in the family (nor many adults for that matter) wanted to openly speak about. Most spoke of it in only hushed tones, quick to stop when children were present.

Marigold and her friends knew well that it had happened, though were thin on the details. Louisa Antonia's uncle had died at the Somme, but only her brothers remembered him because that had been before she was born. Bessie's Papa had a medal kept in a box that she'd found once, but he'd refused to tell her anything about how he earned it. Marigold's own Papa, as Marquess of Hexham, dutifully oversaw the wreath laying on Armistice Day every year with tears glistening in his kind eyes.

She knew he'd gone to the war too, but had never asked him about it.

Edith sighed, "I suppose I thought Anthony was my chance at getting married. And after that, I resigned myself to being the spinster aunt."

War or not, Donk and so this Anthony were very old.

Marigold wrinkled her nose, "Couldn't you have just waited and found someone else?"

After all, in the end Papa had come along, hadn't he? Mama could have just waited and met him instead. Though of course, without Michael Gregson, she herself would not exist, but she also would not have the problem of being a bastard.

It was all so confusing.

"I didn't think so," Edith shrugged. "At the time I thought I would never marry, never be so lucky as to have children, and-"

Her fingers clutched tightly around Marigold's then and she leaned forward to look her daughter in the eye.

"You must to understand, just how much the world has changed from when I was a little girl. We weren't really taught to dream for more than that, marriage and family. A suitable marriage at that. Without those things, I felt I needed to find myself something else to do. Granny was adamant I should I should find something. A purpose. A reason to go on existing. Otherwise, existing was painful. I wasn't sure I could keep going."

They sat in silence until the clock in the hallway struck midnight. It's distant 12 clangs marking the late night and too measuring out the thoughts that swirled in minds of both mother and daughter.

Marriage and children were certainly still things most girls dreamed of, Marigold knew. At least it was what they were supposed to strive for. It seemed a given that she and her friends would end up there eventually. To be honest, she'd only thought about it all in relation to herself quite distantly. But considering her mother's words now, she could see that now there were other things she could see as possibilities.

Other things one might do, along side conventional family life.

Mrs. Doxford was just as much a part of running the family's shops in Hexham as her husband. Mrs. Parker was head cook at Downton. Mama had her publishing house, Aunt Mary managed Downton.

Ms. Edmunds was one of the most interesting people (man or woman) Marigold knew, a writer and editor, and she had no husband at all!

"For a while I just drifted in life, I suppose," Mama continued, as the tinny sound of the clock chime wound down. "Around then is when my sister Sybil died as well. I felt hopeless. Invisible. Not entirely unfamiliar feelings, but after I was jilted there seemed no escape."

Marigold nodded, well aware that her departed Aunt Sybil's death still left a noticeable hole in the family, even after so many years. Her absence had in the long run brought them Aunt Lucy and dear little Ellen, but it didn't escape Marigold's notice the ways her family reacted when speaking of Aunt Sybil. They had this look of both happiness and sadness in their eyes as they shared their memories. For someone old, one could talk about a whole lived life and deeds. But for Sybil, Uncle Matthew, or Bessie's Mama, there was so much un-lived life that the memories were always that much more melancholy.

The only person of consequence in Marigold's life who had passed away was Granny Violet, and that had been hard enough, without being left the altar and all. It occurred to her now that it could be said that Michael Gregson was also a person of consequence in her life who had died.

"Then I wrote a letter to The Times," Mama continued, beginning to ramble. "Your cousin George's father encouraged me, in fact. I shared my opinion on women's suffrage at the time and it's limitations, especially when it came to young unmarried women. It was unjust in the post-war world after women of all ages did so much in keeping the country going while the men were off fighting..."

It was a topic Marigold was quite familiar with over the years, one of her mother's favorite pet causes. The law had in fact been already changed and suffrage expanded to women over the age of 21. Her eyes rolled (fondly) because she knew it was a subject on which her mother could expound upon at length.

The moment felt more normal than they'd had in ages, and with a start Marigold realized that Mama was clearly more comfortable with it than the topic of her daughter's illegitimate beginnings.

In retrospect it had always been clear, from the very train ride home from Downton after she'd had figured out she was illegitimate, that her mother was perhaps as distraught about the whole thing as Marigold herself. She'd mostly ignored that because it made her angry, given that Mama was the whole cause of the discomfort, scandal and secrecy.

Life as Marigold knew it had changed due to her mother's actions and not her own. But now, for the first time she found she felt a bit bad for Edith.

"Mama," the girl gently nudged her mother, guiding her back to the topic at hand. "Michael Gregson?"

"The letter was published. Not that the family was very pleased about it, aside from Matthew and Tom. Then I was contacted by The Sketch about writing a column for them. An editor of theirs had read my letter to The Times and liked it, liked what I had to say. That editor was..."

"Him," Marigold whispered, strangely emotional as memories of her dream floated in her minds eye again. "Michael Gregson."

"Yes," Mama replied, features sliding into a wistful smile. "I went up to London and met him. I honestly didn't intend to accept, it wasn't all that conventional of a thing for someone of my status to do. I just wanted to see what it might be like, I suppose. Get out the house for a bit. Be polite."

"I don't think writing or journalism is what the family would've picked for me but when I met Michael and spoke with him...he made it seem as though my opinions and thoughts were worth something; valuable and important. That I expressed them well and my mind was keen. He cared what I had to say. Not because I was an Earl's second daughter particularly or that I was from Downton or that I was somebody's almost wife. It was just me."

"He liked you before he even met you?" Marigold ventured.

"My writing at least," Edith chuckled. "It was an unfamiliar experience. So, I took the column and I loved it. It was the first time, certainly since the war that I had a purpose, something I was good at. Someone I liked spending time with. And I felt just like I'd come alive again. I wasn't looking for more than that, really but..."

"But you found it," Marigold added dryly, emboldened by the late hour, knowing that what came next was the beginning of her own life story. "More. With Michael Gregson."

"Well," Mama looked sheepish and blushing. "Yes. He was rather handsome on top if it all and I grew to love him deeply. He was a good man, kind and smart. He loved literature and art, but he was also thoughtful. When he spoke, one had the sense that he'd really considered his words. You remind me of him, sometimes."

"Do I?"

"Yes. Even right now with all your questions. He did the same thing when I was writing my columns. Pushing me to say more than I might otherwise..."

Marigold wasn't sure what to make of that and was glad her mother continued speaking without a pause.

"I wanted to marry him. Would have done in a thrice."

"That's not very proper, Mama. He was married."

"To a woman he couldn't divorce according to English law. In the end, he found out that he could be granted a divorce in Germany, if he became a citizen. That's where he-"

Edith moved one hand to the duvet, balling it up for comfort, "Where he went and why. Where he died. Where he was killed, point in fact. He was a very politically principled man and in Munich while he was there, there was a riot. Bierkeller Putsch, they call it. I don't know exactly how it happened. I am not sure I want to, but he was killed."

At those last words, her mother's eyes shone with un-shed tears and the portrait of Michael Gregson was again forefront on her mind, kind eyes and all.

Marigold knew vaguely that Germany had struggled since the war and the implementation of a new form of government. She'd heard some say that the Germans deserved their lot for their part in the Great War. There were some in her parents circle who traveled to the continent, Germany included, for business or pleasure, but it didn't come up often in conversation around her. Now, she wondered if that was was by design.

It had been a situation abroad of little consequence to her own life, so she had never thought to pay much attention to it. There were other corners of the world she found much more interesting to learn about.

And yet, Germany was the place where her natural father had died. Where perhaps he, Marigold, and Mama might have lived or spent time, had things been different. She'd always considered herself an English girl, a northerner at that, yet in the span of a day she'd discovered the continent held more answers to her past than she knew.

"I didn't find out any of that until over a year later," Edith sniffed and carried on. "After you were born. At the time, I thought when he returned we would be married and live wonderful lives together, so when he was leaving..."

Pausing, Edith bit her lips and looked down at Marigold intently. She worried her lower lip as though unsure as to how to proceed.

"I said goodbye in a way that wives do," she finally mumbled uncomfortably. "And that was the last I saw of him."

The wheels in Marigold's head caught on quickly. She wrinkled her nose, "That's how you got me."

"Yes."

Marigold's brow furrowed, and she opened her mouth again to ask how exactly that sort of thing came to pass, but Mama pressed on, cheeks still red. The cover of darkness might have made her brave enough to share the details of her daughter's origins, but not quite that far.

"There are some things that I reserve to tell you more about when you are older. And I promise I will. I will explain more about those sorts of..."

Edith gestured vaguely at the rest of the bed. Sighing in defeat, Marigold accepted her mother's vagueness and promise of more information later. Mama cleared her throat.

"Suffice to say, the point is I found myself alone and pregnant with you, with Michael just vanished. And I had no idea what to do. I was so lost again and far more dangerously. I wanted you so much and I know Michael would have adored you, I know that. But without him there to marry me? There was no way I could see of keeping you without being cast out. Disgraced."

"So, you decided to give me up?"

Edith averted her gaze guiltily and fell silent for several moments. Marigold waited shifting back to try to catch her mother's eye.

"Mama?"

"You must understand, there are things I know now," Mama explained carefully.

"About the family, about myself, that if I had known them then, I would have just kept you. Had I been braver, I would have found a different way. As it was, I only told Aunt Rosamund, whom I swore to secrecy and in the end, a trip to continent under the guise of learning better French, and an adoption in Switzerland seemed the best choice. I stayed with you for three months until you were weaned and then I came back."

"Why didn't you tell Granny Cora?" Marigold asked in confusion. "I would tell you, if I had a..."

She made eye contact with her mother and swallowed awkwardly as they both blushed, "A problem like that."

(Though of late, she could admit it felt more comfortable to confide in Aunt Lucy or Papa or even Nanny, before this revelation had burst into her life, Mama was the very first person she wanted to tell most anything.)

"It is much better now, but at the time, my mother and I, we did not speak as you and I speak," Edith admitted.

Marigold frowned, her Granny Cora's smile and warm eyes, coming to mind. Scandals certainly fazed her a less than others, even now. Donk said it was because she was American.

"But she is your Mama?"

Her mother only shifted and continued to twist the duvet.

Marigold pondered her grandparents and how they treated her over the years. Even when she'd simply thought she was adopted, she'd noticed no unkind or different treatment than she saw for her cousins. Likewise it seemed to Marigold's eyes that Mama was as comfortable in Downton as Uncle Tom.

Perhaps not as much as Aunt Mary but then again, Aunt Mary had never left the place.

"Donk and Granny know who I am, though," her brow furrowed. "Don't they? We lived with them. They didn't cast us out."

"A lot happened in between. It was different, for their generation. It still is for many of mine," Edith brushed her index finger along Marigold's cheek.

"Often I've been accused of spoiling you, but I simply-" she paused and bit her lower lip pensively.

"I want you to feel comfortable. You see, with my mother, my parents, it was not until after I had you that I felt able to speak of such things."

Marigold was used to life at Brancaster, her parents, grandparents, and extended family with their quirks and conversations. Even when she'd thought herself to be an adopted child and even though there were still times she struggled with her own shyness, she felt she had people to speak with in the family.

If she needed.

If not Mama, then Papa or Nanny, Granny or Donk. Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tom. Aunt Mary and Uncle Henry. A great many choices.

It was hard to imagine having none of them.

"Even though it has been difficult between us lately," Edith's long fingers laced themselves with her daughter's own. "I would like to think that if you ever found yourself in similar difficulty..."

"I have no intention of ever doing that!" Marigold retorted firmly.

The sympathy she felt growing in her chest for her mother and Micheal Gregson, did not extend so far as to disregard the level of foolishness involved. To think that all her shame and discomfort over the secret keeping as well as the sadness that the families she'd first lived with could have been avoided but for the choice of a misguided goodbye?

She had no plans to follow that path.

"Well, these things aren't exactly intended for typically, but that is good to hear," Mama chuckled a bit before her tone turned serious.

"But I don't mean just this sort of situation, even for other things. Anything. I hope you know that you can come to me. I promise you can trust me. Always."

Marigold didn't know how to reply. She'd trusted her mother for as long as she could remember. Yet, because of this secret her life had been turned inside out in a matter of weeks. Finding out she was her mother's bastard was the biggest betrayal she'd ever experienced.

She wished her empty arms had Teddy in them, familiar in his ragged edges, comforting in his small stability.

"How did you get me back? How did I come here from Switzerland?"

"Well," Mama explained shakily. "I went and took you. Twice. I had put my name on your birth certificate, you see, and there was nothing officially binding you to either placement. First, I thought if you were nearby I could still see you and watch over you. I set you up with the family at Yew Tree Farm-"

Jaw nearly falling onto the bed, Marigold gasped, "The Parkers?"

She'd known Mrs. Parker and Mr. Parker and the boys as long as she could remember. Mrs. Parker had always been one of her favorite staff at Downton Abbey, but she'd never considered this possibility. Had the Parker's nearly been her family? Had they been lying to her too, all this time?

"No, it was the previous tenants," Edith assured. "There is nothing unsuitable about either family. The Schroeders and the Drewes were all good people who took good care of you. They loved you very much, even if there was no legal document tying you to them."

Marigold Schroeder. Marigold Drewe.

Again, neither name felt at all as right as Marigold Pelham. Yet now the surnames lived in her mind, like Gregson, as much a part of her as her real name. She supposed that even with all the upheaval of learning her mother's secret, one thing that hadn't changed about her identity was the fact that she'd been adopted.

Just not in the way she'd always thought.

"If they were taking good care of me, then why did you?"

"It was me. My fault," Edith admitted, tearfully. "It was unbearable to be apart. After I found out what had happened to Michael? I just couldn't cope. You were all I had left of him. The idea of losing you? I couldn't survive. I can't."

Her arms pulled Marigold close and her next words were barely audible and whispered in the girl's hair.

"Even now, I know you are angry with me. And I understand why, but I wish I knew that in the end all will be well between us again."

What reply could be made to that?

Marigold knew that it must have been a great risk indeed for Mama to put her name down on the papers. But it seemed a foolish one, if she'd been as worried as she claimed about being found out. The whole scandal could have been revealed very easily, with a bit of research and curiosity.

If nothing else the state of Mama and Aunt Rosamund's French, after such a long trip, was suspicious indeed.

Her mind also went to the people, those first families she didn't remember more than the merest flashes of, if at all. People who'd surely cared for her in her infancy, as any family ought to, adopted or not. Papers and legality seemed to allow her Mama some measure of absolution, but Marigold didn't think they mattered very much when it came to the realm of feelings.

She tried to imagine what it would feel like if, for example her new cousin Ellie were adopted rather than birthed, and someone came to take her away. If after watching Oliver take his first steps and say his first words, were to be removed from the family of no doing of their own?

That would be unbearably hard.

And this had happened to families that loved Marigold twice over. Because of her Mama.

Yet, after all of that, Marigold had ended up spending most of her life with her birth mother and her family. A whole ordeal, bordering on the domain of rigmarole seemed pointless, if not for the pain and loss for all parties involved.

From Michael Gregson and Mama, to the two families, to Marigold herself.

Would it not have been easier to just avoid the whole thing? Either by fessing up to the world that her baby was illegitimate or by not ending up in a position to have an illegitimate child in the first place.

Mama had said she loved Michael Gregson, but was it still wrong for Marigold to be their child because they never married? Was it wrong to have caused so much turmoil and heartache? What if Mama had left her in Swizerland? Or at Yew Tree Farm? What if it had ended up being just the two of them, like this in London, without Papa and the boys?

It was hard to reconcile all the possible lives she might have had.

Her palms pressed urgently on the sides her head as her mind continued on and on in circles trying to find relief in some sort resolution.

As though sensing her daughter's thoughts, Mama gently pulled at her wrists and added, "Please don't fret, this is my doing, not yours. Maybe I am not a good person. Maybe I should have left well enough alone."

Marigold sniffed and tears escaped her eyes before she could stop them.

"I can't say I would change anything, because I don't know another path that gets us here, together. With this life."

"I do love you, Mama," she confessed, surprising herself a bit in answering her mother's unspoken question the day she'd learned the truth. "Knowing who I am hasn't changed that, but it makes me confused also and-"

"Shh," Edith murmured, brushing hair away from her daughter's face. "That is understandable. You are amazing, my darling. You are handling this far better and far more maturely than I have. And I was much older than ten years of age when all this happened."

Marigold climbed to Edith's lap and leaned back against her mother's chest letting the shock wash over her. She turned her head as to hear Mama's heart beat, comforted by the familiar rhythm. Perhaps it was impertinent at her age, she was nearly too tall to cuddle so, but she'd discovered of late that her entire life was the pinnacle of impertinence, and so Marigold found she didn't much care.

Even with all the difficulty and confusing feelings she still had about her true birth and mother, as the clock struck again she decided it is better to know than not. To be inside the circle of the secret rather than outside.

To be with Mama and her family, than without them, even if every thing she thought she knew was different.

It was like something Papa said. Marigold couldn't say she really agreed with her mother's actions, from having a baby with a married man, to removing her from two separate families, to keeping the whole thing a secret from her for her whole life. In the unlikely event that she were in the same circumstances, Marigold doubted she would behave at all the same way.

But there was no denying that this way, the way it had played out, was the path that brought them all here.

Marigold's eyes drooped as Edith continued to stoke her hair and she soon drifted off to sleep in her mother's arms.

They were still nestled together hours later when the shrill sound of the telephone ringing at nearly 10 in the morning the following day. Rosamund calling to arrange their plans, so Marigold and Edith hastily got out of bed and readied themselves to meet their aunt. It was Mama who braided Marigold's plait that morning and if it was a little loose and off center from what Nanny Atkins could do, she would never complain.

Things were forever changed between them, and Marigold knew things would continue to change in time as she got better acquainted with this new and true Edith, but she couldn't deny it was nice to look over the shoulder in the mirror and see her own mother.

Her own blood and flesh Mama.

Marigold sat up straight and grinned, pleased when Edith smiled back.

The pair arrived only slightly late and very sleepy for luncheon with Aunt Rosamund at Rules.

As they eat their meal, Marigold caught her mother's eye as she dried to suppress a yawn and was overcome with a fit of giggles, before a yawn escaped her own mouth.

Aunt Rosamund studied them in bewilderment as she sipped her cup of tea, "What on earth has gotten into to you both?"

Edith shook her head not willing to admit to staying up late, "Nothing. We're just enjoying our trip and this marvelous luncheon. Thank you so much for treating us."

"I am delighted to hear your time here has been enjoyable, but you are acting rather strangely, if I may say so."

"Yes, thank you," Marigold agreed. She paused, feeling suddenly bold and free. She lifted her fork to her mouth as she added, "I suppose, I also have you to thank for not being named Michelle."

The older woman nearly dropped her cup and saucer. She looked like a gust of wind would blow her away.

"What?"

Nervously catching her mother's gaze, Marigold noted that while Mama's posture had stiffened, but she nodded in encouragement.

"I know the secret. Mama told me."

"Yes," Edith agreed, tension leaving her shoulders as her hand slipped to hold her daughter's beneath the table. "Marigold knows all about our trip to Switzerland and why we went. And how much you helped me."

Aunt Rosamund pursed her lips and leaned back in her chair, head whipping from side to side as she looked at her niece and great-niece in exasperation.

"I knew at some point she would have to have been told, but good heavens! She's so young. What have you been telling her?"

Marigold and her mother glanced at each other confidently as they both replied.

"The truth."