The impending adoption hearing the following week had everyone involved on edge and the extra strain on Phyllis’s emotions meant that everyone else was focused on one thing - making sure that she felt safe and supported. This was a task that turned out to be easier said than done most days, but it wasn’t until the week before that it became impossible.
Phyllis had shown up to Downton much later than usual with Joseph and Emma at her side. After a quick explanation from Joseph about the panic attack he’d woken up to his wife having that morning and the trouble they had getting Elizabeth to sleep the night before and a warning to keep an eye out for them both the two of them had rushed to the school leaving a clearly exhausted Phyllis with Thomas.
Thomas followed her into the servant’s hall before popping into the kitchen and returning with a breakfast plate. “Will you be alright?” He asked softly as he set the plate down at the table for her. “I’ve just got to confirm meal plans for the week with Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore and then I’ll be back.”
“I’m quite certain I can manage for ten minutes alone.” She stopped him firmly, brushing the hair from her sleeping daughter’s face before adjusting her position in her arms. “We just had a rough morning is all.”
“Joseph said to-” Thomas began before stopping at the glare she gave him.
“I know what he said.” Phyllis snapped tiredly. “Am I not allowed to have a bad day without you all thinking I’m a moment away from breaking?”
“No, of course not. I’m sorry.” Thomas apologized softly. “Just settle in and eat if you’re up for it.” He gave her shoulder a light squeeze before quickly making his way back into the kitchen.
While she wasn’t particularly interested in the fairly heavy meal sitting on the table she was considering the merits of simply eating what had been offered rather than asking for something lighter when she caught sight of a magazine lying open on the table. Eager for a distraction she began to lazily skim the words in front of her until one of the headlines on the page it was open to caught her attention and she snatched it from the table.
Criminal in Plain Sight! The Unmatched Con Artist in Servitude Resides Undetected in Downton
The recent publicization of the criminal record of Phyllis Molesley raises considerable concerns about security in the Village of Downton. The lady’s maid who has served the Countess of Grantham since 1922 has a storied criminal record that began in childhood. Her mother, Nancy Baxter, was charged with more than a dozen instances of criminal offenses against the person as outlined in sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Act, all of which Phyllis Molesley, then Phyllis Baxter, was implicated in.
After spending less than a year in prison and managing to have the relevant charges removed from her record the young woman entered service in her hometown before ultimately working her way up to a senior position in the house of Mr. George Benton of Ovington Square. Six months into her position there she was arrested and charged for the theft of a number of jewels belonging to her mistress which were never returned.
Baxter served sentence in HMPS Holloway starting in 1919. In the same year the now twice charged criminal found herself in the indelicate condition of bearing an illegitimate child born of a romantic entanglement with another servant, Mr. Peter Coyle, of the Benton’s household. Upon delivery of the child Baxter failed to accurately report Coyle’s right as the child’s father on their little girl’s birth certificate or to Coyle himself before she was sent to a home for abandoned babies.
Released from prison two years prior to the end of her sentence the woman managed to find an even more prestigious position in service as lady’s maid to Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham where she has managed to stay largely out of the legal system with the notable exception of the times she’s sought to drag the man that she’d already wronged down with her.
In 1925 Baxter testified against the father to her long-abandoned daughter in a trial where he was charged with involvement in the theft that she herself committed despite there being no evidence apart from the testimony of a handful of women, including Baxter, who would be widely considered by medical professionals to suffer from Hysteria. His sentencing for the crimes is to last ten years.
This year the now Mrs. Molesley has seen fit to drag Mr. Coyle back into her theatrics once again by requesting that he allow Mr. Joseph Molesley of Downton to adopt his daughter. Mr. Fletcher Hopkins, Esq. Coyle’s solicitor spoke to us and expressed significant concern about the fitness of the woman as a mother considering her extensive criminal history and seemingly endless ability to escape justice being served. Hopkins made it clear that Coyle has no intention of allowing the woman to continue to deceive her now husband into raising yet another child brought about by her licentiousness.
How many other crimes this woman has managed to conceal is unknowable but what is certain is that she has intent to continue to deceive until she has what she desires. Her actions have had far reaching consequences already, ruining not only the name of the man she’s fooled into caring for her bastard children but the reputation of the house of the Earl and Countess of Grantham in the process. Who else she will ruin as she tries to escape accountability for her crimes remains to be seen.
Midway through her reading of the page she saw someone enter from the hallway but she hadn’t fully registered she wasn’t alone until she looked back up to see Miss Denker sitting across from her, a small smirk on her face.
“Where did this come from?” Phyllis asked quietly as she put the paper back down, her mind racing as she tried to process what was happening.
“It was just here.” Miss Denker shrugged noncommittally. “I believe the more pertinent question is where did you come from? Based on this you ‘ought to be locked up and the prison service should have thrown away the key.”
It was that moment that Thomas returned from the kitchen, “I beg your pardon?” Thomas stopped her sternly, “Based on what?” he asked before following the older woman’s still pointing finger to the open tabloid on the table taking it in hand.
Phyllis shook her head furiously as she watched Thomas begin to skim the paragraphs that she was certain would seal her fate. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” She stammered anxiously. “This isn’t the whole -”
“I certainly do.” Miss Denker spat back angrily as she stood, rounding the table to confront the younger woman across from her. “It’s a shame that Lord Grantham’s wife can’t recognize when a fallen woman such as yourself is destroying her already fragile reputation by taking advantage of her naivete to conceal the fact that you’ll never be anything but a common whore.”
“Miss Denker that is quite enough!” Mrs. Hughes rushed between the women, her left hand reaching behind herself to provide what she hoped would be enough support to keep the shaking woman behind her from dropping her daughter as she tried to process what exactly she’d walked in to. “Such language is never appropriate in this house and it certainly should never be directed towards a valued member of staff or her Ladyship for that matter.”
“See for yourself.” Miss Denker nodded with a smirk toward the paper that had held Thomas’s focus since he’d realized what it was. “It’s not uncalled for if it’s true.”
Before anyone else managed to respond the bell for Lady Grantham’s room rang providing a more than adequate excuse for the woman to remove herself from the room, leaving the butler and housekeeper to clean up the mess she left behind.
“Mr. Barrow what’s happened?” Mrs. Hughes asked softly as she reached for the paper he was now holding out to her.
“The worst thing.” Thomas whispered quietly as he moved to wrap his arms gently around Phyllis and move her daughter from her trembling arms to his hip before pulling her firmly against his other side in an attempt to provide some sort of physical support until he could figure out how to provide it emotionally.
He was still trying to determine what to do next when a collection of gasps announced the arrival of several housemaids in search of the housekeeper and it wasn’t a moment before a harsh voice asked. “What is she still doing here?”
“I beg your pardon.” Mrs. Hughes turned to the group of maids, her mind unable to process the question as she tried to make sense of the paper in front of her.
“She’s a criminal.” The youngest of the three blurted out anxiously. “That paper you’re holding says so. We should be callin’ the police.”
“You’ll do well to mind your business.” Anna interjected from her place at the doorway to the kitchen before she swiftly moved to Thomas’s side and lowered her voice. “I just heard. Get her out of here. Now.”
Thomas nodded, his arm loosening just enough to wrap around Phyllis’s shoulders to guide her from the room and into the sitting room just across the hall away from prying eyes and ears.
“But Mrs. Hughes!” One of the other maids continued to protest as the butler slipped out of the room with the woman in question. “I don’t feel safe with a criminal in the house.”
“Lucy, Mrs. Molesley is not the criminal here. You shouldn’t so easily believe everything you’re told.” Anna replied sharply before deciding that the easiest way to manage the overly-excitable maids would be to get them back to work. “You three have linens to change now that the family is downstairs. It would be wise to get back to work before your positions here are questioned.”
Anna waited until the girls had left before crossing the room to where she could see the now slightly crumpled paper in the housekeepers hands. “How bad is it?” She asked as she briefly scanned the nearly half a page that was devoted to destroying the reputation of the woman she’d come to consider a close friend. “All I heard was one of the housemaids whispering with Nanny Forsythe about the scandal of it all.”
“Thomas was right.” Mrs. Hughes sighed heavily. “This is the worst thing.”
Much of the staff was beginning to wonder if they’d have time for luncheon at all by the time their butler arrived when Thomas stormed into the room nearly ten minutes late with a fire behind his eyes that had the room out of their seats at twice their normal speed.
“Where the hell did this come from?” Thomas stood at the head of the table as he clenched the paper tightly in his hand. “It didn’t just appear here and I know that together you lot know the ins and outs of this house so you’ll tell me, who’s responsible for this?”
The room was silent with the exception of a few members of staff awkwardly clearing their throats as he stared them down one by one.
“Mr. Barrow the maids have rags of this sort all the time.” Mr. Bates finally spoke. “Why do you care about this paper in particular?”
“I care because it’s been used to terrorize a member of staff.” Thomas snapped back causing the valet’s eyes to widen in surprise. It figured that Mr. Bates would have been left out of the loop given that the only maid he spent any time with was Anna and she had been with Phyllis for most of the morning. “So I’ll ask again. Who brought this into this house?”
The staff returned to silence and Thomas was ready to give up when he saw a flitting frown pass across Daisy’s face. He momentarily considered calling her out then and there but he knew Daisy well enough to know that a private approach would get him much further. “We’ll proceed with luncheon now as to not keep the entire staff from their duties further but when I find out who is responsible for this there will be consequences.” He snapped angrily before taking his seat.
He was quiet during the remainder of the meal, waiting until Daisy had returned to clear their dishes to make his request. “Daisy would you mind helping me select the silver for dinner this evening?”
“You’ve never asked for my opinion before.” Daisy replied with a raised eyebrow. “Is there something special about dinner this evening?”
“Just some damage to one of our normal trays. I only want to ensure our plan aligns with yours.” Thomas lied swiftly before guiding the woman down the hall and into the silver closet before closing the door behind them.
“Mr. Barrow?” Daisy’s eyes betrayed her fear as she found herself alone with a man who was not her husband. “Did I do something wrong?”
“I’m sorry I haven’t meant to frighten you. It’s only that I think you may know something about this paper and I know you well enough to know it wasn’t you who brought it in.” He offered her a small smile. “You’d much prefer one of your dull books to a gossip rag.”
Daisy considered his “I believe… no I know I saw Miss Denker leave it open on the table after breakfast.” She whispered, checking behind herself several times to ensure that no one had followed them into the room. “You’ve said it said something about a member of staff didn’t you? Who is it?”
Thomas softened significantly at Daisy’s obvious concern and there was really no use in hiding it now, the maids had all read it so it would only be a matter of time before she knew who was referenced and what it had said. “It’s made public some private matters of Mrs. Molesley’s that don’t paint her in the best light.”
Daisy furrowed her brow in confusion. “What sort of private details of one of us would be of any interest to a fancy paper like that?”
“That will have far more to do with the scandal they could bring for the house than interest in Mrs. Molesley uniquely.” Thomas explained sadly. “I’m sure the housemaids will fill you in with the details in their entirety in due course but suffice it to say that she’s had quite a rough go of it in life and there are people who believe she’s responsible for the harm that’s been done to her.”
“That’s awful.” Daisy whispered quietly as she considered the implications of his words before frowning further as she met the butler’s eyes. “Does Mr. Molesley know?”
“He knows about what the paper says but not that the paper’s said it.” Thomas replied, instantly understanding the concern she felt for the man she considered a mentor. “He’ll only be hurt because it’s hurting the woman he loves not because he’s unaware of the past it describes.”
“If Mr. Molesley doesn’t have a problem with it I can’t see how it’s any of our place to judge.” Daisy snapped angrily. “We’ve all had hardships and we wouldn’t want ‘em plastered round the house in print.”
“No. We wouldn’t.” Thomas agreed quietly, taking a few deep breaths and preparing for what would be next before turning to the cook and murmuring, “Thank you Daisy. I truly appreciate it.” as he made his way out of the room and down the hall, not stopping at the sight of the housekeeper who followed him as he made his way into his pantry.
“What have you found out?” Mrs. Hughes asked brusquely as soon as she’d closed the door behind them.
“It was Miss Denker who brought in the paper and I have been advised that Phyllis finding it as she did was not an accident.” Thomas replied as he reached into his desk for a packet of cigarettes.
Mrs. Hughes sighed at that, well aware of the late Lady Grantham’s lady’s maid’s penchant for gossip. “No. I wouldn’t have thought so.”
“How is Phyllis?” Thomas asked as he pulled his lighter from his pocket.
“Not well.” Mrs. Hughes admitted with a sad shake of her head. “Anna and Mr. Molesley are with her but I’m afraid the damage has been done.”
Thomas nodded, taking a strong drag from his cigarette before unsuccessfully trying to swallow a sob which caused him to flush dramatically as he met the far too sympathetic eyes of the housekeeper. “I’m sorry. We’ve a job to do and I can’t even hold myself together.”
“Mr. Barrow it’s alright to care.” Mrs. Hughes reminded him gently. “Lord knows she cares for you.”
“I don’t deserve it.” Thomas replied quietly, pressing his cigarette firmly into his ashtray as his stomach turned violently as the smoke mixed with his own regret. “She should despise me.”
The housekeeper was puzzled by the sudden anxiety in the man across from her. She knew from experience that Thomas had always had trouble accepting care but in recent years his relationship with Phyllis Molesley had provided her comfort that he was learning to do so. Clearly, there was something she was missing. “Thomas, is there something I need to know?”
“When Phyllis first arrived I… I took advantage of her past to get what I wanted.” Thomas’s lungs burnt with shame as he tried to explain the part of his past that he’d come to regret more than anything else. “I knew about the theft - not the circumstances around it mind - and I used it to make her afraid of me to get just what I wanted. If Mr. Molesley hadn’t intervened, I don’t know if I ever would have stopped. I’m as much of a devil as Coyle.”
Mrs. Hughes was quiet for a long time before she placed a careful hand on his bouncing knee. “I’ll not ask for details of what you accomplished by blackmailing another member of staff only because I know that you are no longer the same man that you were then.” She noted sharply before softening her expression and offering him some advice. “You would do well to remember that yourself.”
Thomas frowned further at that. “I told Mr. Molesley.” He admitted quietly. “I was so angry she was making friends with the man who kept getting in my way that I tried to turn him against her. He never doubted that something was missing from the story, insisting that there must have been a reason, which of course there was. She did it to protect her baby, to protect Emma . God - I am a monster.”
“Thomas…” Mrs. Hughes sighed sadly before realizing she didn’t know what to say to comfort him and once again allowing silence to fill the room.
“Somehow she never gave up on me.” Thomas whispered quietly, thinking back to the countless number of times she’d helped him after all he’d done to her. The compassion in her eyes after his failed treatment had made him feel less a fool and when he woke after the worst days of his life it was her soft voice reassuring him that everything would be okay that pulled him through. She never once minded that he was any different from anyone else and he had tried time and time again to push her away. “I tried to destroy her and she kept… saving me anyway.”
“Well now’s your chance.” Mrs. Hughes’s voice cut through the heavy silence, her features conveying the determination behind her words. “What do we do to make it right?”
Once the housekeeper and butler had solidified a plan they made their way next door to check with the Molesley’s and get their approval before moving forward.
Joseph sat stiffly in a chair that had been moved to the far corner where Phyllis had sat upon their arrival in the room hours before. While she hadn’t moved much Joseph now had his wife’s head resting in his lap while his fingers carded absentmindedly through her hair that had managed its way out of the tight bun she’d adopted as of late in an attempt to keep Elizabeth’s hands from tangling in it.
Across the room Anna sat behind Mrs. Hughes’s desk with a rather restless Elizabeth Molesley fitfully asleep in her arms, a long abandoned bottle of formula that she had refused to take a number of times on the desk in front of her.
Thomas quickly crossed the room to rejoin Phyllis on the floor, easily filling the spot he had left between her and the wall when he’d left earlier. “I’d ask how you’re doing but I already know the answer.” He began quietly, his hand reaching across her lap to take one of her shaking ones into his own before he continued. “We need to talk about how we’re going to fix this, and we need to do so soon, but I don’t want to until you’re ready.”
“Not yet.” Phyllis murmured hoarsely. “I know we have to. Just… not yet.”
“You’re in charge.” Thomas assured her gently. “You say when.”
Phyllis nodded against her husband’s knees while simultaneously gripping tightly onto Thomas’s hand. “Thank you.”
“Thank you for trusting us.” Thomas replied softly as he offered a small squeeze of his own. They sat quietly until the clock on the wall struck three, suddenly reminding him that someone who would normally be here around this time was missing. “Joseph, where’s Emma?”
“I took her to my Dad’s.” Joseph assured him quickly. “He knows what’s happened and will keep her as long as we need.”
Meanwhile, the other two women in the room had focused their attention to the youngest Molesley who had once again started to cry quietly despite being entirely uninterested in anything they had to offer her.
“She’s not taking the bottle?” Mrs. Hughes furrowed her brow in concern.
Anna shook her head. “She’s never had one before and it’s not really surprising she’s not opening up to something new while her mother is shaking in fear across the room.”
“No. I wouldn’t suppose she would be particularly interested.” Mrs. Hughes agreed sadly as she offered the baby her finger to hold onto. “This little one’s mother needs a break.”
“I can only imagine she’s in pain.” Anna added quietly. “A missed feeding is as uncomfortable for mother as it is for baby.”
Mrs. Hughes frowned at that. “She’s not mentioned anything of the sort?”
Anna shook her head again. “I think she’s just too scared. Nursing might help them both but I’m worried about pressuring her.” She admitted softly before looking down to the fussy baby in her lap and sighing in defeat. “Though sooner or later Elizabeth will need to eat and I’m not optimistic about this bottle.”
It was then that Elizabeth let out a scream that caused Phyllis to flinch harshly against her husband.
“It’s alright.” Joseph tried to calm her as his gaze shifted from his wife to his daughter. “She’s alright.”
Anna grimaced at his chosen words as she tried to figure out how to broach the subject at hand. “Actually, Phyllis do you think you’d be up for trying to nurse Elizabeth?” She asked gently as she stood to bounce the crying baby in her arms. “She’s not taking the bottle and I’m not sure what else to try.”
“It hasn’t been warmed in an hour or so, maybe try warming it again?” Joseph suggested softly as his gaze travelled rapidly back and forth between his distressed wife and hungry daughter. “I’m not sure if-”
Phyllis shook her head in frustration as she felt her body responding to her daughter’s insistent cries before cutting him off. “I need to nurse and she needs to eat.”
Anna frowned knowingly as Joseph and Thomas carefully helped her to her feet and into the armchair by the window before she carefully settled Elizabeth in her mother’s arms.
Mrs. Hughes could sense both the hesitancy and the urgency on the younger woman’s part at the prospect of nursing with so many people watching her and took the cue to suggest that they move forward with their plan. “Perhaps while you care for Elizabeth you’d allow Mr. Barrow and I to make some arrangements on your behalf.”
Her eyes snapped up from her daughter at that, her voice shaking as she asked, “What kind of arrangements?”
“With your permission Mrs. Hughes and I would like to go to Lady Grantham.” Thomas explained carefully, keenly aware of the increased tension radiating from her skin as the words left his mouth. “We’d like to ask for Miss Denker’s dismissal and for a character witness on your behalf.”
“I’ve told you no.” Phyllis shook her head sharply. “I don’t want her Ladyship involved in this. The family shouldn’t suffer from my mistakes.”
“I know deep down that you already know this, but the family is already implicated here. That paper has made more than sure of that.” Thomas replied firmly. “You keeping them in the dark won’t help.”
“Her Ladyship cares for you.” Mrs. Hughes interjected gently. “She’s asked after you and your family countless times during your absence and I am certain that she’d wish to help you now.”
“My love, for your sake and for Emma’s please let them help.” Joseph encouraged softly as he saw the determination in her eyes begin to soften. “You want this back in the ground and buried and this is our best chance at doing just that.”
After a long silence Phyllis turned back to Thomas and met his eyes, clearly looking for more reassurance.
“It’s the only move we have.” Thomas admitted quietly.
She leaned her head back in an attempt to keep her tears at bay as she tried to come up with an alternative option only to choke on a sob as she realized they were right. “If it’s the only way I suppose there’s no point in delaying the inevitable.”
Thomas nodded gratefully, leaning down to kiss her brow. “You hold on.” He whispered against her clammy forehead. “We’ve got you.”
Less than an hour later Thomas and Mrs. Hughes had arranged to speak with Lady Grantham in the library after Lady Mary and Tom had gone out to the estate office and while Lord Grantham was occupied with his grandchildren.
“What can I help you both with?” Cora asked as she gratefully accepted the tea Mrs. Hughes prepared for her from the tray Thomas had brought up with them.
“My Lady I’m afraid there’s a situation downstairs that we must ask for your intervention in.” Mrs. Hughes explained nervously as she stood across from her employer. She could count on one hand the number of times she’d asked a favor of Lady Grantham in the nearly forty years she’d spent in the house and while she was certain it was necessary now she couldn’t help but feel anxious at the unfamiliarity of it all. “Namely, we’re asking you to dismiss Miss Denker.”
“Whatever’s happened?” Cora asked in surprise, setting down . While changes to staff weren’t entirely uncommon and she was used to being asked for approval for them, she couldn’t recall a time she’d been asked to dismiss a member of staff herself. “I have no complaints about Miss Denker’s work for me and my mother-in-law made no complaints about her service that I’m aware of.”
“No.” Thomas allowed with a nod. “Our concerns involve a personal matter of another member of staff that Miss Denker has seen fit to make gossip downstairs.”
Cora frowned at that. “I’m afraid I’ll need to know the details myself before I can decide whether to agree to your request.”
“Given that the staff member being targeted is Mrs. Molesley it’s prudent for me to bring you up to speed on some things that have happened with the Molesley family.” Thomas explained cautiously. “Emma’s adoption is still under consideration by the judge in York and based on a petition brought forth on behalf of Mr. Coyle about Mrs. Molesley’s fitness as a mother things aren’t looking to turn out in their favor. The details of their initial court hearing were evidently sordid enough to gain the attention of a gossip rag which Miss Denker happened upon and she’s made it her business to ensure that every detail be committed to memory by the more impressionable members of staff.”
Cora shook her head in frustration. When Phyllis Baxter had first told her some of the details of her past she hadn’t known how to react, but something had told her that the woman she had already grown to trust simply needed someone to give her a break. She was tired of being proven right. “She has never wanted these details known publicly. Is there any way we can keep her from knowing what’s been printed?”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.” Mrs. Hughes interjected sternly as she held out the magazine to her employer. “Miss Denker made certain herself that Mrs. Molesley happened upon the paper in a matter of hours. Anna and Mr. Molesley are with her in my sitting room now.”
“She is here?” Cora’s eyes widened in surprise as she skimmed the page in front of her. “I hadn’t thought she’d returned to work.”
“She hasn’t.” Thomas spoke up, well aware that seeking to drop the formalities would likely speed things along. “May I speak frankly, your Ladyship?”
Cora nodded in permission. “I believe under the circumstances that you must.”
“Truthfully, and I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise to you, Phyllis has been struggling for some time. Peter Coyle’s petition only added to her burden and we felt it best that she not be alone. Her husband, Mrs. Hughes, Anna and I have worked together to ensure that she hasn’t been.” Thomas explained clinically. “She has been spending the day downstairs with us for nearly a month.”
Cora considered his explanation and found herself perplexed further. “I can’t say that I mind but I don’t understand the secrecy. Why haven’t any of you told me?”
“I believe that Mrs. Molesley didn’t wish you to feel as if you needed to support her in something she feels shame in herself.” Mrs Hughes explained carefully.
“You know as well as I do how much she values privacy in this matter.” Thomas added with a nod. “We believed that your involvement - while it would be much appreciated - would likely have attracted unwanted attention to what we had hoped would be a brief day in court.”
“I can appreciate that.” Cora allowed, scanning the remainder of the article with a heavy sigh. “I do feel the need to ask whether the claims detailed here are true.”
“There is some accuracy to it.” Thomas allowed before quickly predicting her next question. “As you might have already guessed there are also significant omissions of details that dramatically alter the story at hand.”
Cora bit her lip in frustration as she scanned the page once again. “You said Miss Denker has taken it upon herself to bring attention to this rather than reporting it to one of the two of you or myself?”
“Yes.” Mrs. Hughes confirmed firmly. “As much as I would like to believe that it was out of concern for you and the house, her words to Mrs. Molesley this morning do suggest otherwise in my opinion.”
“I see.” Cora frowned significantly at that. “Would you care to share the words that were exchanged?”
Thomas could sense Mrs. Hughes’s hesitancy at repeating the “Her words were - and I do find it necessary to make clear that I am quoting - that, it is a shame that Lord Grantham’s wife can’t recognize when a fallen woman is destroying her already fragile reputation by taking advantage of her naivete to conceal that you’ll never be anything but a common whore.’”
Cora’s frow deepened at his explanation and there was a short silence before another, “I see.” fell from her lips, her voice much harder this time as she handed the paper back to her housekeeper. “I will dismiss Miss Denker this evening after I’ve had the time to apprise Robert of the situation.”
“Thank you, your Ladyship.” Thomas let out a sigh of relief.
“I will ensure that you are taken care of by myself or Anna until a suitable replacement can be found.” Mrs. Hughes assured her firmly. “We don’t wish this to cause any interruption to you.”
“Please don’t worry about any of that just now.” Cora stopped her gently. “I would frankly much prefer to have Mrs. Molesley back when it is possible, rather than hiring another temporary replacement. Is there anything else I can do to help make that happen?”
“There is.” Thomas affirmed quickly. “The hearing for Emma’s adoption will take place next week and we would like to ask if you would be willing to provide a character witness on Phyllis’s behalf.”
“We don’t yet know what form that will take as the Molesley’s haven’t been in contact with their solicitor since the publication of these details but we expect anything you are willing to say on Mrs. Molesley’s behalf will help the court see her the way we all do.” Mrs. Hughes explained further.
“Of course.” Cora interjected before the pair could explain any further. “Providing a character witness is the least we can do. I only wish Mr. Murray were here to advise us further on the matter.”
“I don’t believe the Molesley’s would have wished to inconvenience you with the costs of that.” Thomas tried to dismiss her concern.
“It would be no inconvenience.” Cora stopped him firmly. “Robert and I will do whatever we can to help ensure that Emma stays here where she belongs. Just keep us apprised of when and where we are needed.”