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I Don't Think Santa Claus Will Mind, Do You?

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I Don't Think Santa Claus Will Mind, Do You?

"Please Mama!" Mary says, eyes wide in her face, a face crumpled into a pleading, begging smile, her hands folded in prayer in front of her.

Cora looks at her; the eldest of her girls. With her dark ringlets bouncing as she rocks between her heels and toes, Mary looks just like the little China doll Aunt Esme gave her when she was eight. And she resembles Cora, no doubt in that, her Edith is only five and Sybil just a baby, but already Cora can see that Mary is going to be the only true likeness. But her temperament, her focus and drive; that is all her father.

Mary is going to grow up beautiful and lithe, will turn heads and break hearts and Cora worries she will do both with a smile.

Robert talks to her in the evenings about duty and entitlement, how she will be a Lady one day, perhaps even a Countess and she should already think that way, behave that way. And Mary has taken that in — Cora has seen how she is pulling back from the servants, from Carson most of all, who she adores so much and who most definitely feels the same.

Just last week she heard her little girl exclaim that Miss Hughes had no right to be in the sitting room when she was in there. {Miss Hughes who is new to Downton but who Cora has heard quietly singing Edith and Sybil back to sleep in the nursery while Nanny sleeps on oblivious. Who is the most familiar to Cora in the entire house; another woman away from her homeland, mired in tradition, yes, but still progressive, excepting of the future and the inevitability of change.} She had been so disappointed in her girl that day, but unable to say anything about it.

Mary is starting to plan for her future, the one her Father has been planning for now for years. If there was a son it would be much simpler, but they have tried and been blessed with darling daughters instead. Perhaps one day it will happen, but Cora does not truly feel the lack of one, not the way Robert does.

And she loves her girls, all three of them. Loves them so much that it is hard to do this the way Robert and Mama insist. She understands that having a Nanny is how it has always been done. She knows that she cannot look after the girls all day and night if she is to be hostess and Countess.

But she would like to pick Sybil up and hold her in her arms for hours. She wants to sit with Edith and teach her how to read, how to write her name.

She wants to take Mary by the hand, walk with her into town and show her the shop windows, all lit up with candles and Christmas toys.

Wants to buy her a cake from the tea shop and wipe her fingers when they get sticky. She wants to lift her onto her hip, when she gets tired and carry her back home {even if she is too big for that now anyway}.

She wants to have been the one to have lit this fire beneath her she is showing today, to be the person who experiences that passion in the moment and not second-hand like this, doesn't want to know she is only finding out because Mary wants something from her.

"Please, mama. Please."

If it were anything else, she would say yes today. Anything to receive that smile that shows the gaps in her teeth, to get the tight hug and kiss Mary only gives when she's at her happiest.

But this is one thing she simply cannot say yes to. Not at all. No matter how sweet her little girl is trying to be. She will not see her disappointed on Christmas day when does not receive what she has asked for.

"I'm sorry Mary, but you can't ask Father Christmas for a hippopotamus"

The smile disappears, her little hands land on her hips and she stomps her foot.

"But you said Edith could ask for a stupid doll!" Another stomp and she spins, curls flying out around her as she leaves the room. "Papa said I could have anything I want." She calls back and then is gone.

Cora sighs, leans back into the settee cushions. She blames Mama for this, for talking of India and the exotic creatures that exist in the world. {Mary had wanted her own horse before the Dowager's last visit, Robert already has one picked out for her.}

She hears Edith's voice scream out her sister's name a few minutes later, Nanny's quick footsteps on the stairs. Perhaps she will lose interest by Christmas, maybe there's still a chance that the horse will do.

-x-x-x-

On Christmas morning, Mary carries a small stuffed hippopotamus in patched fabric squares into the sitting room.

She holds it out with a smug smile, curls into Cora's side and drops it onto her lap.

"See, Mama. Father Christmas did bring me a hippopotamus."

Cora never does figure out where the colourful thing came from, never sees the glint in Mr Carson's eye, or the little cut-offs of material Mrs Hughes throws out after New Year's.