Downton Abbey Fanfic: A Long Needed Christmas Holiday

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Title: A Long Needed Christmas Holiday
Category: TV Shows » Downton Abbey
Author: DowagerInTraining
Language: English
Rating: Rated: K+
Genre: Family/Romance
Published: 10-16-15, Updated: 04-09-16
Chapters: 22, Words: 38,730

Chapter 1: Chapter 1

“Letter came for you Daisy,” Bill Mason stumped back into the warm kitchen, shucking off his overcoat and hanging it on the stand. Toeing off his boots, he leaned over to pass it to her.

“Aww, it’s a Whitby post mark! It’ll be the Bates, we’re due for one.”

Bill smiled. He still remembered the visit the couple had made to see him, about a year before their daughter Josie was born. They’d been working through some troubles then, but at the end of their visit they’d bought The Gull’s Nest in Whitby and by all accounts were well settled there now.

“Breakfast going on the table!”

The homely Yorkshire voice that rang across the kitchen no longer belonged to Mrs Patmore’s soul-twin Hetty, but to the good lady herself. Although she now wore a wedding ring and was greeted as Mrs Mason in the post office, Daisy still tended to use her old name, an ingrained habit after fifteen years of cooking side by side. Bill beamed at his wife across the kitchen as she brought the hot plates of bacon and eggs to the table. He only ever called her Darling, so her surname didn’t matter a jot to him.

Daisy sat down at the end of the table and slit the letter with the butter knife, reaching for the toast rack.

“They’re doing well,” she crunched through a slice. “It’s from Mrs Bates. They’re planning to take a break over Christmas, he says. The hotel was quiet last year, and they’ve worked out it’s better to shut for a week between Christmas and New Year.”

“Ah bless the pair of ’em,” said Mrs Patmore, pouring out the tea into mugs and plunking herself down next to Bill with a grin. “They need a rest, they work too hard.”

“‘Ave they got any plans for Christmas, Daisy?”

“Doesn’t say… perhaps they’re going to stay there on their own?”

“Bit dismal for Christmas Day,” Mrs Patmore frowned. “What’s Christmas without a few folk to have dinner with?”

Daisy chuckled to herself. Mrs Patmore regarded anything less than ten people as dismal for a family gathering. Cooking lunch for the three of them last Christmas had lead to enough food being left over to feed them for another week.

“I agree,” nodded Bill, mopping the last of his egg with a crust of toast. “What do you say, ladies, shall we invite the Bates to come for Christmas?”

Daisy and Mrs Patmore faced each other with matching grins, looking more like mother and daughter than many blood relations could boast. It was a question that didn’t need an answer. Daisy scampered over to the snug to find her writing box.

Two days later, across the county of Yorkshire, another breakfast was taking place.

“John, food’s on the table!”

Anna turned to reach for the coffee pot and turned just in time to see John and Josie coming through the door.

“Good morning sweetheart,” Anna dropped a kiss onto her daughter’s golden curls. “Did you sleep well?”

Josie nodded, an endearing grin her only answer.

“Don’t I get one?”

John scooped his arm around Anna’s waist and leaned in for a kiss.

“You had yours this morning, John Bates, and it almost made me late to open the front door…”

John chuckled, settling down to his coffee and boiled eggs. “Did the Marksons get off for their train on time?”

“Just about, she was waiting to check out when I got down to the desk. I hadn’t even put my hairpins in yet…”

Josie had had enough of such grown up conversation. An exciting looking letter was propped up against the pepper pot next to Daddy’s plate.

“Whose the letter from Daddy?”

Anna scooped Josie into her chair and started scooping small bits of egg and toast into her daughter’s mouth. “It’s a Downton postmark, looks like Daisy’s writing. I didn’t have time to open it yet, so I left it for you…”

John slit the envelope and scanned it through. His face broke into an enormous grin.

“It is indeed. And it’s an invitation?”

“Oh right? To what?”

“To Christmas and New Year at Yew Tree Farm.”

John paused for effect, as his wife met his gaze in sheer delight.

“Get away…”

“I’m serious.”

“Let me see…”

Mopping Josie’s mouth and pouring her a mug of milk, Anna dusted her hands off and reached for the letter.

We’d love to have you for Christmas and New Year if your hotel isn’t open. Mrs P always makes enough to feed an army, and we’ve even more space than Mr Mason had at the old farm. Please say you’ll all come.

Anna felt warm all the way down to her toes. She loved her life at the hotel with John and Josie, it was everything she could have dreamed. There had been trials and challenges, that much was true, but it was the life she had longed for through all of their long struggles early in their marriage. Yet she longed to go back to Downton and see the other people she loved. Letters flowed frequently, but they didn’t make up for that daily contact she had been used to for so many years. Perhaps if the hunt road out on Boxing Day, she might even see Lady Mary, perhaps even George if he was old enough to ride out this time.

“What do you say? Shall we go?”

“Would you mind?”

“My darling, I never mind anything that makes you happy, and I would be pleased to see our old friends again.”

“What do you think Josie? Would you like to go and stay on the farm for Christmas?”

“Can I feed the ducks? And ride the ponies?”

Anna peeled with laughter.

“We shall see my dear, we shall see. Let’s finish up this egg now and then we can send a ‘yes please’ letter.”

John smiled across the table at the two beautiful blonde women who made up the centre of his world and began to dream of a Christmas filled with food, good friends and warm comfort.

Chapter 2: Chapter 2

“Congratulations Mrs Bates.”

“Then I was right?”

“Yes indeed.”

“How far along am I?”

The doctor sat calmly behind his desk, his kindly face smiling at her.

“I think you’re about four months pregnant.”

Anna stared outside at the cold October morning, watching the leaves fall from the tree outside in the Doctor’s garden. She hadn’t even considered that she might catch again. She was getting old by the standards of most mothers, and with her chequered history of miscarriages, she had put any thoughts of siblings for little Josie behind her in the last two years.

“I didn’t think I could…”

“I won’t deny Mrs Bates, you’re on the older side of things for motherhood, but your last pregnancy carried to term and delivered a healthy baby.”

“Apart from the procedure I had in London.”

“Yes, that’s true,” he hurriedly consulted his notes and ‘hmmm’ed to himself “I would like to arrange for you to have that procedure again, just to be on the safe side.”

“How soon?”

“As soon as possible. Could you come in tomorrow?”

Anna bit her lip and twisted her hands. Things were busier than ever at the hotel, but she knew even without having the discussion what John would say.

“Yes. What time?”

“I’ll book you in for 10 o’clock in the morning. But please… I know the Gulls Nest is a popular guest house, but you must try to rest and not be on your feet too much.”

“I’ll discuss it with my husband.”

“You do that Mrs Bates. And I will see you tomorrow morning for your procedure.”

“Pregnant?”

“Are you pleased?”

“Oh my darling, I am so pleased, you wouldn’t believe it… but is it safe for you?”

“The doctor wants me to have a procedure tomorrow, to make it safer for me and the baby…”

“Oh my God…”

“Don’t worry, John. It’s safe. I had to have this done last time.”

“Was that why you went to London?”

“Yes, Lady Mary arranged it all for me. I was worried I was losing the baby, I had pains and cramps. But the procedure stopped all of that.”

John sat very still in his armchair, holding his wife’s hands between his as she sat opposite. Behind him, he could hear the babbles of his little daughter, who was helping their cook Jenny with the morning’s baking for afternoon tea. His mind was reeling. He knew that Anna had experienced difficulties in their early attempts to start a family. He hadn’t realised how serious they were at the time, but now the worries that were never far from his mind flowed in like a flood tide.

“I’ll be alright John.”

“I will make sure you are alright.”

“But you can’t manage this place on your own, how on earth do you think it will run itself if I don’t help you?”

“I don’t know yet. But what I do know is that you’re going to put your feet up for the rest of today until you have that procedure tomorrow.”

His face was smiling, but resolute. Anna sensed it would be futile to argue.

“We’ve only got the one room booked for today. Breakfast is done. I’ll arrange for the afternoon tea, and they’re going out for dinner. You can afford to rest until tomorrow morning when you see the doctor.”

“What about breakfast tomorrow?”

“I’ll telephone Edward, ask if he can come in for an extra shift.”

Edward, a local lad, worked three days a week for the Bates during the low season, and full time during the high season. During the winter, he studied for his matric exams, hoping to go to catering school in the future.

“Won’t he mind? What about his studies?”

“I doubt it. He’s intending to propose to his sweetheart as soon as he can afford the wedding ring. He’ll welcome to extra shillings. And it’s only one day.”

“But what about…”

“Shhh…” John cupped his wife’s face in his hands and leaned forward to kiss her gently on the forehead. “One day at a time my dear. Now, you pop your feet up on this stool, while I fetch you a cup of tea. And then I shall go and look at the bookings and see what can be done.”

“I love you John.”

John gazed at her for a few seconds, marveling at how Anna’s face was as beautiful to him now as it had been when he first met her in 1912. Almost eighteen years later, she was still one of the two most beautiful things he had ever seen, alongside his baby daughter.

“I love you too. And now I shall leave you. But you must promise not to pick up anything heavier than a tea cup for the rest of the day.”

“I promise.”

“Good girl.”

Later that evening, after Josie had been put to bed and supper was over, John sat with the ledgers and looked at the bookings.

For the first time in his career as a hotelier, he found he was disappointed to be fully booked.

They had worked hard to build up a good clientele and for the first time this year they were getting returning visitors and regulars who were happy to return to the place. Unlike most guest houses, they could stay open all year around, as this was their home rather than a seasonal business. And as a result they were booked up until the 21st of December, after which they had agreed to stop taking bookings until the 3rd of January, to allow them a break to travel over to Downton.

There was no way they could close the hotel, or turn people away.

But Anna was right. He could not manage to place alone without her help.

John rubbed his eyes and sighed. He hated to admit that he needed help, but the time had come to call some in. Reaching for the box where he and Anna stored all of their correspondence from their friends, he began reading through the recent missives and considering who he could ask.

…glad to hear that your business is running successfully. Our house is a lot smaller, but we are attracting a reasonable number of visitors. Many of them come to visit the local estates and great houses, including Downton Abbey, and Charles has even been asked to lead some guided tours. He resisted at first, as you might imagine, but he has come around the idea and I think he is pleased to have reason to go back to the old place again. It does leave me busier than ever, of course…

So much for asking the Carsons, they clearly had their own priorities right now. The Masons obviously couldn’t leave their farm.

…we’re entering the busiest time at the moment, John is needed so often for meetings up at the school, and our boy Henry will be starting at boarding school in September. I dread him being away from home, but I know that he will settle in soon and have an excellent education, everything I wish for him. It will be useful, in a way, as John’s sister is expecting her second baby in November, so I may go to stay with her for the last month of her time and help her through it…

Gwen clearly had enough on her plate. So much for that plan.

Rummaging into the box, John found another envelope with a third style of handwriting.

…perhaps we might be able to come and see you in the autumn. Joseph is not as busy with his tutoring during this time, he tends to be in demand during the spring when the exams are approaching. We were sad to lose Joseph’s father last year, but we have been able to save some money from his inheritance and should be able to have a comfortable semi retirement…

John’s eyes widened. Inside, he berated himself for not having thought of this idea before.

Who better to run a guest house, in the style of a valet and lady’s maid, than another retired valet and lady’s maid?

An hour later, after a long conversation with Anna, John came back downstairs, hoping that it wasn’t too late in the evening for the conversation he was going to have. Reaching for the telephone, he put through the call and waited for the connection.

“Hello, Downton 278?”

“Mr Moseley, it’s Mr Bates.”

Starting their telephone calls on such a formal note had been their little joke since leaving Downton Abbey.

“John Bates! Goodness, how lovely to hear from you! Are you well, are Anna and Josie alright?”

“Perfectly fine, thank you Joseph. And how is Mrs Moseley?”

“Oh, Phyllis is very well, we both are, can’t complain at all.”

“I’m glad to hear it, very glad indeed. Because I’m telephoning to ask for a rather large favour…”

Chapter 3: Chapter 3

The wind was blowing a gale as the couple walked up the lane towards the farm house. Rain sleeted into their faces and wet leaves clustered around their rubber boots. It was a relief to finally see the warm lights of the kitchen window glowing at them.

Mr Moseley reached up and knocked at the door, which was answered in no time at all by Mrs Patmore.

“By ‘eck, you two picked a rotten night for a walk. Come in, the pair of you…”

Beckoning them into the warm kitchen, Mrs Patmore called over to the snug.

“It’s the Moseleys!”

Daisy sprang to her feet and scampered over towards the door.

“Hello! What are you both doing here, it’s wild out there…”

Mrs Moseley, formerly Miss Baxter, leaned in for a kiss on Daisy’s cheek.

“…you’re frozen! Like a cup of tea would you?”

“Yes please Daisy, that would be very pleasant. Good evening Mr Mason…”

Bill reached over to grasp Joseph’s hand and beckoned him over towards the snug.

“Good to see you Joe, what brings you out here?”

“Well, we wanted to bring you up to speed on a little plan we’re involved in. With Mr and Mrs Bates.”

“Oh aye? What’s all this then?” Mrs Patmore emerged with a tray of tea mugs and a plate of biscuits. In a short time everyone was settled in comfortably. Leaving the sofa to Joseph and Phyllis, Daisy pulled up the pouffe and perched next to the fire, reaching for a gingersnap.

Phyllis explained the plan and the reason behind it. Daisy’s expression lit up with delight to hear of Anna’s pregnancy, while Mrs Patmore and Bill’s expressions twisted into concern.

“She’s a little old for it now, isn’t she…” Bill puffed into his pipe, hoping that the nice couple weren’t heading for the same sort of tragedy that had dogged his family almost without mercy.

“Well, the doctor has told her that she’s to rest. So Joseph and I are going up there to give them a hand to run the The Gull’s Nest.”

“You never are! Lawks and saints, you only just got into your own retirement! Can’t they close for a bit at this time o’ year?”

“Not a chance,” Joseph sipped his tea. “Mr Bates said they’re stuffed to the gunnels, he daren’t turn the business away when it’s running at such a demand.”

“Blimey… just when we think we’re all settled down, it all stirs up again…” Mrs Patmore dunked the ginger biscuit into her tea and munched thoughtfully. “How long ‘as she got to rest for?”

“Well, it depends on how things go. We’ll have to see.”

“But you can’t go up there and stay for all that time! Won’t you miss your home?”

Joseph and Phyllis looked at each other fondly. Joseph cleared his throat.

“Well, the thing is Mrs Patmore, I’ve always thought that people were more part of your home than a house. And… well… we’ll be together. That’s the most important thing.”

There were a few minutes of silence as each of the Mason’s choked down the slight lump that had formed in their throats at the words of the man they used to call Poor Old Moseley.

“Well,” Bill tapped out the ashes of his pipe and hauled to his feet. “You make sure you take our love with you to see them all. Perhaps we could put a basket together, what do you think Darling?”

“Oh I dare say so. I’ve got a few bits and pieces squirreled away. What do you think Daisy? Bit of late night baking?”

“‘Course! There’s plenty of flour, and the apple harvest was good last week. Reckon I can make an apple tart in no time.”

“Knew I could count on my girls,” Bill grinned as he returned from his sideboard, watching the two of them heading for the kitchen to stoke up the Aga and get busy. “And now, Joe, and Phyllis too, can I interest you in a small drop of cherry brandy…?”

Chapter 4: Chapter 4

The first frost came in November. Although it never lasted long in the little coastal town, the leaves were crystallised on the trees outside when Joseph opened the front door of the Gull’s Nest. Blowing into his hands and stamping his feet, he quickly inspected the guttering for leaks and swept the leaves away from the front step.

Turning back inside, he stooped in front of the mirror to straighten his waistcoat and bowtie, smoothing his hair to one side before going into the dining room to check the tables, straightening knives and forks and inspecting one or two teacups. None of the guests were down yet, there was still twenty minutes before breakfast was officially due to be served.

Two weeks in and they were beginning to find the natural rhythm of the place. John helped and advised as much as possible and soon realised he could leave many of the duties in the capable hands of his faithful friends. Which was good, because Anna had recently come down with a cold, and so John was preoccupied with her even more than usual. She’d been horribly sick for the last day or two.

Phyllis was bustled in with a pile of neatly folded table clothes and napkins and headed for the corner storage cupboard.

“Everything alright Joseph?”

“Oh yes, quite alright. Although it’s bitter out there today.”

“It feels colder here than at Downton.”

“Aye, it is a bit. How’s everything upstairs?”

Phyllis bit her lip, stood up slowly and closed the cupboard doors.

“I’m not sure.”

“Not sure…? Wh… what do you mean?”

Phyllis dropped her voice and stepped closer, glancing around to make sure nobody else came into the room.

“Well, normally Mr Bates is up and about by now. But there’s been no sign of him, and when I passed their room I could hear him talking to Anna. He sounded worried.”

“Oh dear. I hope her cold isn’t worse.”

“Do you think we should do anything?”

“Carry on dear. We just need to carry on. If they need anything they will tell us.”

“Mr Moseley?”

Joseph spun around at the sound of John’s voice behind him. John’s face was white, haggard and sleepless.

“Could you go for the doctor please? Anna’s having stomach pains…”

Mr Moseley’s stomach dropped. Phyllis gasped behind him.

“Right away Mr Bates.”

Joseph hurried out of the door, pulling his coat off the rack as he passed.

“Mr Bates, would you like me to go and sit with Anna?”

John’s eyes were strained and sore. His head ached and he longed to cry, but didn’t dare drop his guard when his guests were expected downstairs at any minute.

“No, I’ll stay with her. Could you take care of serving the breakfasts please? I know it isn’t normally something you do…”

“Of course. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.”

Upstairs, Anna lay back against her pillows feeling weak with fear. Surely this couldn’t be happening. There was no blood, she had not bled, but her stomach was wracked with cramps. They had started earlier in the night, then stopped for a while. But since 6am, they had returned, bringing with them nausea and sweats unlike anything she had ever dealt with while carrying Josie. Her attempt to drink some tea had not been successful.

“Darling?”

John came back in, carrying some water and a toast rack with some two slices of dry toast.

“Joseph has gone for the doctor, darling… Could you try to eat something?”

Bravely Anna took a sip of water and nibbled the corner of a piece of toast.

“Has anything… are you…”

John floundered, looking for the words, worried beyond measure about his wife and the child she was carrying.

“There’s no blood John,” she murmured. “I can’t see any blood. I don’t know what’s happening…”

“It’s alright my love.” John sat beside her, scooping up her hand into his. “We’ll get through this together. Just like everything else we’ve dealt with.”

Please God let her be alright. Don’t let this be anything serious, please God, don’t take my wife from me.

Very slowly, Anna managed to drink half of the glass of water and take a few nibbles of toast. With every bite, John grew more hopeful, though her face was still damp and white.

There was a knock at the door, and Phyllis’ voice could be heard.

“Mrs Bates, the doctor is here…”

John rose to let the doctor in.

Ten minutes later, the doctor emerged from Anna’s room and came downstairs, with a solemn expression.

John sprang to his feet from the chair in the reception area of The Gull’s Nest.

“How is she?”

“Resting, for now. She’s more comfortable than she was. She finished one of the pieces of toast.”

“And the baby?”

“The baby is fine, Mr Bates. But your wife is going to need some extra loving care.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“It’s a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. You know it better as morning sickness.”

“But … she hasn’t had any morning sickness this time. Why is it so bad now?”

“Anna has had a mild infection. Nothing too serious, and I’ve given her some penicillin which should clear up the rest of it. But it has upset her natural balance and her stomach is very tender. She’s finding it difficult to keep food down and will need complete rest and considerable care.”

“Will they both be alright?”

“If you can make sure that she rests and eats little and as often as she’s able to, she will be fine.”

John offered up a silent prayer. She was going to be fine. Thank goodness.

“If I might make a suggestion Mr Bates…” the doctor wiped his glasses. “Your hotel is in good hands with the help you’ve brought in, and the best hands your wife could be in are yours. But the comings and goings of a prosperous guest house are not the best place for quiet and rest and sleep. And the longer it takes for Anna to regain her strength, the longer you will be under greater strain, and you must take care of yourself too. For the sake of your little girl, as much as anything else.”

John listened silently. It wasn’t like the doctor to make such long speeches.

“Anna is going to need close supervision and regular visits from a doctor. While I’m happy to do this, I’m not sure this is the best place for her right now. You might want to give that some thought before we decide what to do next.”

“I understand doctor. Thank you for coming so swiftly.”

“I’ll see myself out, and pop back to see Anna at tea time.”

“Thank you doctor.”

John sank into the chair, almost weak with relief as his head fell into his hands. Tears slowly rolled down his cheeks and into his hands.

“John?”

There was a light touch at his shoulder. Phyllis looked down at him.

“Come away…”

Without a word of protest, John allowed her to lead him away to his and Anna’s private sitting room. He sat quietly as Phyllis, with good instincts, located everything that was needed for making tea and brewed a small pot. Sitting opposite, she poured a cup for him.

“What did the doctor say?”

Soothed by the peaceful familiar actions and quiet presence of an old friend, John breathed out slowly and began to explain the situation. Phyllis sat and listened, without interrupting.

“So, Anna needs complete rest. And you need to watch over her.”

“That’s about the sum of it. And that’s before we think about little Josie.”

“Where is Josie now?”

“In the kitchen, with Jenny. But she can’t stay in there all the time. And I can’t have her with me constantly if I need to watch Anna.”

Phyllis’ heart went out to John. He looked weary beyond measure, worn down by cares and worries in the last week. He needed care and cherishing too.

“Just stay here and rest for now. Breakfast is almost done, Joseph will clear away. I’ll take care of the desk and paperwork while people check out and then later I can take Josie out for a little while, if you like.”

Too tired to argue, John nodded sadly as Phyllis bustled around, tidying up the few things in the room that needed setting to rights. By the time she was finished, he was already asleep in the arm chair, worn out by the night’s worries and morning’s fears.

Quietly, Phyllis let herself out and went down to the desk. Rummaging through the address book, she found the number she wanted and reached for the telephone, putting through a call to Downton.

Chapter 5: Chapter 5

“But how can we get them here? Surely Anna’s too sick to come by train.”

“I agree, I’d hate to think of her coping with the journey if she’s that poorly.”

“Oh why did none of us ever learn to drive…?”

Mrs Patmore, Daisy and Bill sat around the kitchen table, an informal council of planning which convened shortly after Phyllis’ phone call.

“Only posh people learn to drive,” grumbled Daisy. “The rest of us can’t afford such a thing.”

“Not quite so Daisy, I can drive a tractor.”

“But your tractor only goes at twenty miles an hour Bill, and it’s more than sixty to Whitby! And you couldn’t fit three of them in that cab with their luggage…”

Mrs Patmore buttered a scone furiously. “If only we knew someone who could drive. Right spoilt we all were, living at Downton Abbey, with a chauffeur at his Lordship’s beck and call.”

“Perhaps we should speak to Dr Clarkson? See if he thinks it is safe for her to travel before we plan ‘owt else?”

“I’ll go if you like,” Daisy was already on her feet. “He’ll be home now, perhaps I can see him there before he goes to the hospital.”

“Aye, go on lass, we’ll know more about what to do then.”

In a flash, Daisy was bundled into her coat and rubber boots and heading out down the road.

In all of his long years practicing medicine at Downton, Dr Clarkson had come to believe that he was beyond surprise, but the sight of Daisy being ushered into his sitting room, red faced from the wind and spattered with mud and rain, was one that raised his eyebrows.

“Daisy… what is it, is everyone alright at Yew Tree Farm?”

“Oh yes doctor, we’re all fine. But Mrs Bates isn’t fine at all…”

“Mrs Bates! Is she in Downton?”

“Well … not yet… that’s the problem.”

“Perhaps you’d better tell me everything. Come and sit down. Ellen, could you bring us some tea? And ask Mrs Clarkson if she could step in for a few minutes?”

Warmed by the fire and reassured by the serious attention, Daisy told her tale slowly and in relatively good order. About half way through, Dr Clarkson rummaged for a notebook in his pocket and made one or two notes.

“…so, we really want her to come and stay here. She was coming for Christmas anyway, but if she comes now with Mr Bates and the little girl, we can take care of all of them, and she’ll have chance to get better before the baby’s born.”

“I see…” Dr Clarkson did see. It was a sound plan apart from one thing. “But how are they going to get here?”

“Well, that’s our next problem Doctor. Normally they come by train, but…”

“Out of the question. It’s far too rocky and violent a mode of travel for Mrs Bates in her present condition, if what you’ve told me is correct.”

“We thought you might say that. But we don’t know anybody who can drive who can spare the time to go and fetch her…”

“Why don’t you leave that to me?”

The doctor and Daisy both turned to see Mrs Clarkson standing in the doorway, bearing a tray of tea cups and a steaming tea pot.

“I didn’t know you could drive Mrs Crawley… I mean, Mrs Clarkson!”

Isobel smiled. It had been some time since she had been addressed by her old name, but it still felt warm and snug around her ears.

“I didn’t, for a long time. But Mr Branson offered to teach me, after the Crawley family left for London, so I decided to take him up on it as a new adventure. I’ve gotten to be quite good at it in the last year or so.”

Dr Clarkson smiled fondly at his wife. Even in their middle aged years, there was nothing she saw as beyond her in terms of a challenge once it was phrased as an adventure. Although it had taken some time for her to come around to the idea of their marriage, the union was a sound one, blessed with as much happiness as good sense.

“I overheard you coming down the passage way dear. I think you’re quite right, on all counts. Mrs Bates needs proper rest in a comfortable environment, and Mr Bates and Josephine need to be looked after too. If Dr Clarkson agrees, I will drive to Whitby to fetch them back here. We can go as slowly as we like, and if Mrs Bates needs to stop for a bit, we can do that quite easily.”

The three faces brightened as the plan fell into place.

All that was left to do now was to inform the Bates family of the plan.

“I’ll take care of that myself,” Dr Clarkson finished his tea. “I’ll speak to the doctor in Whitby and then telephone Mr Bates and explain what we’ve discussed. I’m rather certain I can overcome any potential objections.”

“In the mean time,” Isobel set her cup and saucer to one side, “I will go and find the maps and plot my route to Whitby. And you can set up a room for them at Yew Tree Farm.”

“I know which one we can use, there’s a nice room on the ground floor, so she won’t have to keep taking the stairs…”

“Excellent, good thinking Daisy. So I think we all have our tasks to do then?”

Just as efficiently as she had wrapped up every committee meeting she had taken part in, Isobel drew the conversation to a close and dispatched the little group to their tasks. Daisy felt warm with relief and confidence. If Mrs Crawley … or rather Mrs Clarkson … had taken the matter in hand, everything was sure to work out just right.

Chapter 6: Chapter 6

“They’re here!”

Daisy had been at her post on the window seat since supper was cleared away. Mrs Patmore had long since given up any pretence of cleaning the kitchen area and had settled in the snug with Bill to try and while away the evening with Dr Clarkson. The car’s headlights flooded the kitchen with golden light for an instant, then swerved away.

Mrs Clarkson had left after lunch for the drive to Whitby. Dr Clarkson had promised to wait until they arrived, to make sure that Anna was alright and settled for the night. Bill was on his feet and into the kitchen as Daisy opened the door to hear Mrs Clarkson’s voice speaking softly.

“Just come on in dears. Don’t worry, I’ve got Josephine…”

John supported Anna, with an arm around her waist. She looked white and strained, tired out with the journey. Mrs Clarkson carried the little girl, hitched about her waist. Despite her sleepiness, Josie’s hand was firmly clenched around her teddy bear.

“Oh my loves, welcome in…” Bill beckoned them into the warm kitchen.

Mrs Patmore already had the kettle ready for hot drinks. “Warm cocoa and off to bed, all three of you.”

“I think Josie is already asleep,” said John softly, settling Anna down into the window seat.

“Give ‘er to me, I’ll settle ‘er for you,” Daisy held out her arms for the sleepy toddler, who was relinquished without argument by Isobel. “Come on duckie, let’s get you into your nest…”

“Here y’go sweetheart. Don’t worry if you can’t drink it, but try and ‘ave a few sips.”

Anna looked up gratefully at Mrs Patmore as she set the half filled mug of cocoa in front of her. She was reassured by her obvious awareness of the difficulties she was facing. She tried a few sips of the sweet warm drink and was relieved to find that her stomach did not rebel. Bill was speaking with John in a low murmur, pouring reassurance into her husband’s ears. She could almost see the strain and worry falling way from his face in response to Bill’s simple and open welcome.

“Anna?”

Anna turned to see kindly Dr Clarkson stooped next to her.

“How are you feeling, my dear?”

“Tired. And so empty. Poor Mrs Clarkson had to stop a few times for me to…”

“Don’t worry about that now my dear.” Isobel smiled wearily at Anna. “You’re here now. That’s the most important thing.”

Anna gave a weak smile as Dr Clarkson gently checked her pulse at the wrist, and placed a cool dry hand across her forehead.

“Did you manage to eat anything?”

“A sandwich. Although it took an hour. And some water from a canteen.”

“You ate something though. That’s good. And difficult on a journey at the best of times. And now the best thing for you is bed and a long rest.”

John sat beside her, taking up her thin hand in his. “Are you ready for bed my love?”

“More than ready. I wish I could talk to you all longer, but…”

“Don’t you worry about that my duck.” Mrs Patmore stepped in, picking up one of the bags that John had carried into the house and motioning for Bill to collect the other. “Let’s get you settled in now. We’ve got a lovely downstairs room for you, no stairs for you during this visit.”

Anna’s face visibly relaxed at the idea of such an easy option. John was glad she would be downstairs, as it would be easier for him to check on her during the day.

“Where’s Josie?”

“There’s a small dressing room off from yours, we’ve put a cot bed in for her. She’ll be nearby, you can have the door open or closed as you like. Now come on … bed time.”

John almost lifted Anna from her chair and supported her to walk across the room and down the small passage way. Bill nodded to Daisy, who was just emerging from the doorway.

“Fast asleep bless ‘er. Don’t think she even woke up when I took ‘er little shoes off. Sleep tight, and see you in the morning.”

“Or tomorrow at any rate,” said Bill firmly. “You’re here for an ‘oliday…”

“Not to work,” finished John with a smile, remembering his host’s sound advice from their last visit to his home.

“Aye, that’s it John. Now, do you think you’ve got everything you need?”

The room was simple furnished, with a large old brass bed and a chest of drawers over by the window. On a table to one side were the same dish and jug that John remembered from the old farm, with similar blue towels folded next to them. Mrs Patmore arranged their bags to one side of the bed, which was flanked by two shabby unmatched bedside tables. In place of candles, there were two small bedside electric lamps.

“We’re lucky here John, the bathroom is on the ground floor too. Grand hot water geyser and a big bath, and the lav’s in with it. Just further down and on the right, brown door with a brass ‘andle.”

“Thank you Bill.”

“Settle in, sleep as long as you want.” Without saying another word, Bill nodded his head over towards a large empty bowl, a jug of water and a face cloth and towel placed on one of the bedside tables. “I hope you’ll have everything you need.”

John’s heart filled over again with love for the good and sensible Bill, as well as the wonderfully comforting presences of Daisy and Mrs Patmore. Here at last, surrounded by friends, they could rest and Anna could grow well again.

“Goodnight. God Bless.”

With no further ado, they were left alone. Beyond their bedroom door, as John helped Anna to get ready for bed, he heard the soft murmur of voices, the sound of Dr and Mrs Clarkson being ushered out of the kitchen door, the click of the latch fastening behind them.

Anna was asleep with exhaustion almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. Beside her, John lay quiet and still, letting the comfort of the bed and his own exhaustion overtake him. For the first time in days, he felt able to relax, knowing that good angels in the form of loyal friends were finally watching over his dear, darling family.

Chapter 7: Chapter 7

The following morning when Anna woke, she couldn’t quite think where she was. She had slept through the night for the first time in over a week. Her stomach rumbled accusingly, but she could not work out whether it was hunger or nausea. Light seeped between the curtains through a slit which lay golden across the bed. As she blinked, the room came into focus and the sounds from outside the window filtered through and slotted into place.

They were at the farm.

All of a sudden she felt weak with relief, the memory of the long drive coming back to her. The last two days had passed in a blur, ever since the phone call from Dr Clarkson had set everything in motion. Phyllis had been a tower of strength, seeing to all of their washing and packing and even finding time to take care of Josie between her work at the hotel. Joseph had worked with the strength of two men and the will of ten to keep the place going to a standard even Mr Carson would have been proud of.

And then Mrs Crawley, or rather Mrs Clarkson, had arrived in the doctor’s car and all had been packed up ready for the journey across Yorkshire. It had taken forever. Not because of the driver or car, or even the route, but because they had to stop to allow Anna to vomit several times. Thankfully Josie had fallen asleep, wrapped in a blanket and stashed into a corner of the back seat with her furry teddy bear. Anna sat beside her, while John took the front seat next to Mrs Clarkson.

But now, at the end of the arduous journey, they were here and they were safe.

Anna wriggled to sit up, trying and failing to prevent disturbing John.

“Anna? Are you alright my dear?”

“I’m awake.”

“Not sick?”

She smiled wanly down at him. “Hardly. I’ve not got anything in me to throw up.”

Her face was thin, even more pale than usual. Her lips were parched and her lovely eyes looked sunken into her face. John had seen the sort of look before on the faces of soldiers who had gone too long without food and water on a long march. Anna was dehydrated, and needed to eat.

“If I bring you some breakfast, do you think you could manage to eat?”

“I can try. I am thirsty.”

“Leave it to me.”

“Good morning!”

Mrs Patmore was at her post in the kitchen, waving a salute with a spatula.

“Good morning Mrs Patmore. Or should I call you Mrs Mason?”

“Oh don’t worry about that duckie, I answer to both these days. Time for breakfast?”

“Anna thinks she might be able to eat something. I meant to take her…”

“Ah ah! Sit!”

With a look of fierce determination on her face, Mrs Patmore pointed to a chair at the table. John had no option but to obey. Mrs Patmore turned to the range and grabbed a thick cloth, pulling out a plate, upon which sizzled sausages, scrambled eggs, a halt tomato and several rashers of bacon.

“Mind yer fingers, it’s hot! Toast coming up in a minute…”

“This is so kind of…”

“Not a word more John Bates until you’ve eaten the whole lot. I’ve got a bit of toast and some thin porridge here for Anna, and a mug of water. We’ll see what she can manage out of that. And I’ll get Josie up if she’s awake, I’ve got some scrambled eggs and toast soldiers here for her too.”

John began to relax. It was almost like being back at Downton Abbey, knowing that competent people were in charge and in control. He was just polishing off the last sausage when Mrs Patmore came back with Josie holding her hand, dressed in a little gingham dress with hair neatly brushed.

“Look who’s awake!” she chirped, lifting Josie up to sit on the padded window seat next to John.

“Morning Daddy!”

“Morning sweetheart.”

“Here you go, little miss…”

Mrs Patmore put the small plate of food down in front of her. Finished with his own meal, John turned to take up feeding duties, cutting up the toast into little bites for her.

“Say thank you Josie. How was Anna, Mrs Patmore?”

“Not bad. She’s had a go at eating the toast and a few mouthfuls of porridge. I’ve told ‘er to take ‘er time. There’s more where that came from if it don’t work out.”

“Daddy can we go out and look at the farm? Pleeease?”

“We’ll see sweetheart, if you eat up all these eggs and toast like a good girl. Here, have a drink of some milk.”

“Good morning!”

John turned to see Bill coming in through the back door, windswept and tousled, grinning at the assembled group in the kitchen.

“Good morning to you too.”

Josie was suddenly overcome by a fit of shyness, shrinking into her father’s arm. John sensed her moving beside him, and turned to hoist her into his lap.

“Josie,” he said quietly, “this is Uncle Bill. He’s the farmer.”

Josie stared at Bill wide eyed, her thumb plugged firmly into her mouth. John smiled sheepishly at Bill. “Sorry, but she gets a bit tongue tied around new people sometimes. We’re not sure why.”

“Ah bless, it’s a bit scary coming to a new place and then being surrounded by strange hairy folk like meself. Don’t worry about it, she’ll come around. Now, down to business. Did you sleep alright?”

“Like a log. We were all out like lights.”

“Glad to hear it. That’s the best start to any cure. How’s that lovely lady wife of yours?”

“Awake, and Mrs Patmore took her some food.”

“Tha’s good, good to hear. You just all need to take it slow and steady, the lot of yer,” Bill leaned forward with a knowing wink and said softly “All four of you.”

“Daddy where’s Mummy?”

“Mummy’s having a little sleep, sweetheart. She might be getting up later.”

“In the mean time…” Bill crouched down in front of Josie, still perched in John’s lap. “Would you like to come with me and see the chickens? We could give them some corn for their breakfast.”

Josie weighed up this proposition in her serious little mind, and eventually nodded solemnly.

“I’ve got a lovely pair of little boots over here to keep your feet dry…”

Gently, Bill lifted her down and took her little hand, walking her over to the door when a miniature pair of wellingtons and a small rain coat stood waiting upon a chair. John’s heart warmed to Bill as he watched his daughter wriggling her toes into the small red boots and thrusting her arms into the little coat. Bill must have kept these things since William was small, and dug them out especially for Josie to borrow. As they headed out the door, Josie’s little voice piped up.

“Unca Bill, do you have ponies on your farm?”

John laughed quietly as the door closed. Turning to Mrs Patmore he explained, “that was the first thing she asked when we got your invitation to Christmas. Could she ride a pony.”

Mrs Patmore laughed.

“Well, she’s clearly a lass who knows her own mind. Just like her parents. Now, I’d best get on and get these cakes made, or there’ll be no pudding tonight.”

Draining his cup of tea, John hauled to his feet and went to check on his wife.

Chapter 8: Chapter 8

Within a couple of days, the Bates family had adjusted to the pattern of farmhouse life once more. Josie had taken to the place beautifully and was devoted to her ‘Unca Bill’, and happy to accompany him everywhere, splashing through the puddles in her boots, holding onto his big brown hand. On days when it was too wet for her to go out, she sat in the kitchen, babbling away to Mrs Patmore and Daisy. She loved to help stir the cake mixtures, and to lick the bowl when she was allowed to.

Anna’s sickness continued and she rarely managed to eat more than a small portion of food in one sitting without vomiting. However, Mrs Patmore kept her well supplied with a constant stream of small snacks, such as toast, plain biscuits, soups and small bowls of chicken stew and beef broth, which were plain and simple enough for Anna to attempt eating. Once she was well enough to get out of bed, she was installed into Bill’s armchair in the snug just off the kitchen, warm and cosy next to the fire.

John often sat with her, as the farm yard was overwhelmed with autumn mud, which made walking with his cane difficult. Luckily though, Bill’s magnificent library had made the move to Yew Tree Farm and was installed in the parlour, so there was a plentiful supply of distractions available in the form of dearly loved favourite novels and beguiling new stories he had yet to encounter.

Anna longed to be able to help more about the house. Having worked since her early teens, she was deeply unused to doing nothing and it rankled in the back of her thoughts. She felt lazy and fretful, as if she was wasting time, although this was the first genuine holiday she had taken since their previous trip to see Mr Mason, and that had been an active and tempestuously busy time for both her and John. In the space of a week, they had changed their lives beyond recognition. This felt different. More like a welcome pause in their chosen reality. She missed her hotel, but was reassured that it was in good hands under the management of the Moseleys.

Several days after their arrival, Bill announced one evening that Market Day was coming, and he was in need of a few things and so he would take the wagon into the village if anyone needed anything. Cheered at the prospect of a new scene, John agreed to go with him and give him a hand, and soon Josie was clamoring to go too, if Daddy and Unca Bill were both going out. The one cloud in her little sky was that Mama couldn’t come too, but with all the extravagance of a two year old, she promised to bring back ‘sumptin weally nice’ for Mama.

Mrs Patmore reached for the store cupboard records and started making out lists, chivying Daisy into going along.

“Y’can’t expect me to walk around all day on my old swollen ankles, you go y’young whippersnapper, it’ll do y’good to get out for the day.”

Bill puffed away at his pipe and gave Mrs Patmore a sly smile and a half wink.

“Young Andy’s coming with me, to get supplies for the pigs.”

Daisy coloured up prettily and ceased any objections about going into the village. John and Anna exchanged a hidden smile at the hint of yet another Downton love story in progress.

“You won’t mind if I go, will you love?”

“Not at all, you’ve been stuck here with me for days. Go out, get some air and see what the place looks like these days.”

Despite herself though, Anna’s heart sank. She had long since lost the habit of enjoying her own company, and while she didn’t begrudge John the pleasure of a day out, she found herself feeling wistful. Mrs Patmore would be around, but she was just as busy as when she managed the Downton kitchens and rarely had time for a chat or a sit down.

Never mind, though, she told herself firmly. He’d be back in the evening with lots of gossip to talk about, with any luck.

The place was unusually quiet once the wagon departed the next day. The tick of the clock was noticeable and it grated on Anna’s nerves as she sat in the snug trying to read. The words were nowhere near as interesting or satisfying in her own head compared to them being read in her beloved’s voice. She was almost ready to go back to bed in a sulk when there was a rap at the back door.

“Just a minute…!” yelled Mrs Patmore, bustling over to the door.

“Why hello there Mrs Clarkson! What brings you out here?”

“I was in the village and saw the Yew Tree Farm contingent busy with their shopping, and realised that Anna must still be here on her own…”

Anna’s heart warmed towards the good lady. She hadn’t spoken much with her during her employment at Downton, but she knew Lady Mary had been very fond of her mother-in-law and she had been so kind to arrange their lift from the east coast back to Downton.

“Well, now, you just take yourself in and set down, I’ll rustle up some tea for you both.”

“Thank you, that would be most kind.”

At that moment, her face appeared around the door, smiling over towards Anna.

“Hello dear.”

“Hello Mrs Clarkson.”

“Oh my dear, I think we’re beyond that now, after recent events. Do you think you could get used to calling me Isobel?”

Anna felt warmed by the woman’s offer of friendship and smiled up at her.

“I can try. It took a while to get used to Mrs Clarkson though.”

“I can imagine,” laughed Isobel. “It took some time for me to adjust too. I’d been Mrs Crawley for a very long time. Until I came to Downton, I wasn’t used to hearing my Christian name at all, until Cora started calling me Cousin Isobel, and the others followed her lead as they always did.”

Anna laughed and was reassured by the sound of her own happiness. If there was one thing missing from her life in Whitby, it was female companionship, and it was glorious to have a taste of it once more.

“Here we are! Thought the cake might be a bit rich for you, pet, so I’ve put some biscuits in case you fancy a nibble.” Mrs Patmore bustled in with a tea tray, which included a slice of fruit cake for Isobel and some small rich tea biscuits for Anna.

“Thank you Mrs Patmore.”

“Shout if you want more hot water!” With that, she was gone.

“Shall I be mother?” Isobel reached for the tea pot and strainer. “Although, you’re the one who should be saying that.”

“I don’t know. It almost feels like bad luck, like I might tempt fate or something.”

“How are you feeling now? Still ropey?”

“That’s a good word for it. I just wish I could eat more than a few mouthfuls. Although Mrs Patmore is very good at bringing me small snacks, and keeps me well stocked with things to drink.”

“It’s a miserable condition isn’t it? I nursed a few expectant mothers with it at one time or other. The only thing to do is persevere and try to keep drinking, if not eating.”

“I know,” Anna sighed, reaching for a rich tea biscuit and nibbling at it. “I’m just so bored… I like food, proper food that’s tasty and hot, but one wiff of it up my nose and my stomach just swirls.”

“You poor dear, what a dreadful thing. Did you have anything like this with Josephine?”

“A little early on, but it was gone by the time I was three months in. This time it didn’t start until the fourth month, just after I found out I was expecting again.”

“Well … you’re in the best place now,” Isobel patted her hand kindly. “But I think you need more than just food and rest, too.”

“How do you mean?”

“You must be getting so bored.”

Anna’s eyes welled up in relief that someone would have recognised her predicament.

“Yes… yes that’s it exactly.”

“Oh my dear, please don’t cry…”

“I’m sorry … it’s just… I’m not used to doing nothing. I feel like I’m a waste of space just sitting here, I can’t even walk very far without feeling sick all over again.”

“It’s absolutely natural that you should feel this way. You’ve been busy since your early life, and I know how hard you all worked at Downton, you never stopped. And running your hotel must be just as absorbing. Here, dry your eyes, come now…”

Anna took the handkerchief gratefully as Isobel poured some more tea.

“How did you know?”

“Well … I was the same during my own pregnancy. Once I reached my second trimester with Matthew, my husband insisted I should give up nursing, because of the risk of me catching an infection. And I simply didn’t know what to do with myself. I’d always been studying, or working, or involved in charitable causes. I felt lost for days when it was all gone. And then my husband gave me some good advice.”

“What was it?”

“He said, ‘find a way to keep your mind busy, even if your body is resting.’ And he was absolutely right. I took up craft working again. I might not have been as active in my charity work, but I could still knit socks and scarves and all manner of things for the fund raising bazaars. I took up embroidery too, for a variety. Just little things, handkerchiefs and suchlike, monograms and corner designs. I wrote letters to friends who I had always wished to be in better touch with. And I wore my poor dear Dr Crawley out with requests for new books and magazines. But he never complained, not once.”

“He sounds like a very special man.”

“He was. Much like yours.”

The two women shared a smile, thinking of the good men they had built their lives with.

“So to that end,” Isobel reached for her shopping bag, “I have brought you a few things.”

Anna gasped as the contents were revealed. A small embroidery box, well stocked with coloured threads and needles, along with a box of plain white linen handkerchiefs. Soft wool, in primrose yellow and rose pink, and some knitting needles, along with a couple of simple patterns. Two new books, “To The Lighthouse” and “Mrs Dalloway” by a writer Anna hadn’t heard of, Virginia Woolf. And lastly, a small box of writing paper with matching envelopes, with a fountain pen.

“Oh Mrs Clarkson…”

“Isobel, my dear. Please.”

“Isobel,” Anna stuttered over the unfamiliar name. “Is all of this for me?”

“All for you, and I hope it will help to keep your mind occupied, while your body concentrates of taking care of little Baby Bates.”

Anna didn’t know what to say. The generosity of the gifts from a woman she had barely known before was overwhelming. Everything was excellent quality, of the sort she hadn’t seen in luxury items since she left Downton Abbey.

Isobel smiled understandingly and squeezed her hand once more.

“I’d better be off my dear, I have one or two further calls to make. But I will pop in to see how you’re getting along, from time to time.”

Gracefully and in control as ever, Isobel took her leave. Anna sat surrounded by her treasures and examined them gleefully, wondering which project to start first.

Chapter 9: Chapter 9

“Daddy?”

“Yes sweetheart…?”

“Why doesn’t Mummy love me anymore?”

The question stopped John dead in his tracks. They’d been at the farm for a week now and Anna was gaining in strength at last, but still needing to eat little and often. Moving brought about waves of nausea and she was often tired, but her spirits had rallied since the thoughtful visit from Mrs Clarkson. However, this was the first suggestion that anything had been wrong in his daughter’s world. Crouching down to look at Josie’s face, caring little about the discomfort in his knee and only about his daughter’s distress, John took her little hands in his.

“My darling Josie, Mummy loves you very much!”

“But you take me away from her… And she doesn’t read stories…”

Josie bit her lip, struggling to put her little feelings into words.

“And she never puts me to bed or tucks me in. And she doesn’t have breakfast with us anymore…”

Tears were welling up in her large blue eyes. The sight of his baby in tears was almost more than John could bear.

“Oh darling… Mummy isn’t very well. We told you this, remember?”

“But Unca Bill said she was getting better.”

“A little bit better. But she’s still very poorly.”

“But why can’t I be with her?”

Josie’s voice reached wailing pitch.

“Come here, my love…”

John scooped her into his big strong arms while she cried for a bit, comforting and shushing her softly. Josie’s question was unanswerable. The truth was that Bill, John, Daisy and even Mrs Patmore had done their best to keep Josie occupied in order to give Anna a rest. To allow her to sleep, eat her snacks and to save the little girl from seeing how sick her mother was at times. They had formed the unspoken pact that it might be upsetting for both of them, mother and daughter, and John began to realise how much of an error this had been.

“There now, Mummy loves you darling, I promise. She’s having a sleep now, but we’ll go and see her later on.”

“Promise?”

“I promise. Now shall we go give this bread to the ducks? They’ll be hungry if we don’t.”

“Alright.”

On the walk back, John spied Bill on his way out of the kitchen, headed towards the sheds.

“Hullo!” Bill waved with one hand, carrying a large bucket in the other.

“Hullo Unca Bill!”

“And how’s my Josie today?”

“We went to feed the ducks!”

“Did you indeed! They’ll be getting fat on all those breadcrumbs you give them.”

Bill met John’s eyes and sensed a problem in half a second.

“Now, would you like to come and see the horses with me? It’s time for their tea, I’m taking all these lovely carrots out to them.”

John nodded imperceptibly above Josie’s head. He needed a moment to talk to Anna before Josie came back into the house. Josie chewed her bottom lip, obviously wanting to see her beloved ponies, but still remembering Daddy’s promise to go see Mummy. John smiled, touched to see her childish loyalty.

“You go with Uncle Bill sweetheart and I’ll go see if Mummy’s awake. Then maybe we can have tea together.”

Josie’s face brightened instantly, and her little hand was soon tucked into Bill’s on her way across the yard to the stables. Kicking the mud off his boots at the door, John went inside and wondered how on earth to explain the conversation he’d just had with his daughter to his wife.

“I can’t believe she thought that…”

Anna was distraught. Although John had done his best to explain, minimise the damage and rationalise everything, the idea that her little girl had for even a second doubted her love was overwhelming for Anna. Their baby, the much longed for and cherished child, had thought her mother had stopped loving her.

“We thought she was distracted, but the truth is she misses you. I think the novelty is wearing off, being here, and she wants her Mummy back.”

“Then she shall have me,” said Anna, resolutely.

“I don’t want you getting too tired darling…”

“I’m out of bed for part of every day now. I might not move very far, stories are a nice still thing to do. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before, have I been neglecting her after all?”

“Dear one, please don’t think that. You’ve been ill, you needed to rest and find your strength again.”

“It’s coming back now. I don’t feel as sick any more. And I can eat more every day.”

This was in fact true. At somewhere between five and six months pregnant, Anna was beginning to regain some of her bloom. Dr Clarkson had suggested that the worst of the sickness would pass after the twenty second week, and his prognosis appeared to be correct. Just this morning, Anna had managed to eat tomatoes on thick buttery toast for her breakfast, instead of the usual dry toast with thin porridge. Sausages and bacon were still beyond her, but she was improving and the doctor was pleased with her progress.

“Although you must still take care to rest, after that procedure you had,” he’d warned her sternly on his last visit. “I’m amazed you got away with working at Downton after you had the first one done. You can’t take that risk this time. You will need to stay off your feet as much as you can.”

Bill, Daisy and Mrs Patmore, along with John, had conspired to make sure Anna obeyed the doctor’s orders.

“Besides… I should tell Josie that she’s going to have a brother or sister. We’ve not even mentioned it to her yet, and in a few months it will all happen. If she’s feeling like this, I don’t want her to think she’s going to be replaced.”

“No that’s true.” This was a complication John hadn’t considered, which definitely needed to be tackled now. “How do you think we should…”

But there was no time for anything else. The back door opened and Bill and Josie had returned, red cheeked from the cold with big smiles. Josie chattered away about how Merrylegs had eaten the carrot right out of her hand.

Anna nodded to John, who went to collect her.

“Why don’t you come and tell Mummy all about Merrylegs? She had a ride on him once…”

Within a few seconds, Josie’s little feet came running into the snug, her face lighting up to see Anna sat on the sofa, her feet raised on the pouffe.

“Mummy!”

“Hello darling!”

Anna stretched out her arms and gathered up her little girl into a cuddle on the sofa, marvelling at how soft and dear her little blonde curls and her sweet skin were. She inhaled deeply, relishing the precious scent of her daughter, compounded of Johnson’s baby powder, clean wool and the indefinable baby smell of her skin. She had missed this and was ashamed that she had not realised how big a hole it had left in her life.

“Are you better Mummy?”

“I’m getting better darling, I will be all better soon.”

“What’s wrong with you Mummy?”

Anna’s eyes met John’s, as he came to sit on the other side of Josie on the sofa. Perhaps this was going to be easy after all.

“Well darling… Daddy and I have got a big surprise that we want to tell you about.”

“Oh?”

“Mummy is going to have another baby. A little sister or brother, and we hope that now you’re a big girl that you’ll help us to look after the baby when it arrives.”

“A sister? Like Mary-Alice has a sister?”

Anna laughed, recalling the little girls who lived down the street from the Gull’s Nest.

“Yes, it might be, or a brother, a little boy.”

“Oh.”

Sitting and thinking for a minute, Josie chewed at the end of her curly hair. John tried very hard not to laugh at the serious expression on her face.

“Will I still be your baby too?”

Anna’s heart swelled with love.

“Oh darling, you will always be my little girl, but you’re growing up to be a bigger girl every day. And won’t it be nice to have someone else in our family to love, who will love you too?”

“I think so.”

Anna breathed a sigh of relief, as John took over for a while.

“Mummy has been poorly and she needs to rest a lot, because the baby is growing in her tummy.”

“Is that what makes you sick, Mummy?”

“Yes darling, but I’m feeling a lot better now. And soon, the baby will come out and we’ll be able to see it.”

“How does it come out?”

“Doctor Clarkson will help Mummy take it out.”

“Oh… How did it get in?”

John stared at Anna in a panic.

“Magic,” said Anna firmly. “Grown up magic. Which I will tell you all about when you’re older.”

Josie accepted this without question. Mummy never told lies and always kept her promises.

“Oh ok.”

“Who’s ready for a biscuit and a nice mug of milk?”

Mrs Patmore called from the kitchen, with immaculate timing.

“Me!” yelled Josie, clambering off the sofa and running into the kitchen.

“That was nicely averted dear,” whispered John. “I’m glad we don’t have to tackle that for a few years. How did you come up with that idea?”

“It was what my Mum told me, when my brother was on the way. And in a way, it’s the truth. What we did to make the baby was magic. Very grown up magic.”

John couldn’t argue with that logic. He could only return Anna’s warm smile, with the comfortable sensation that his family had been reunited and were stronger than ever.

Chapter 10: Chapter 10

The last two weeks of November were among the wettest that John could remember ever having experienced at Downton. The rain fell ceaselessly, many of the fields were reaching swamp-like consistency. When the level finally reached heights above Josie’s little wellingtons, even she lost her enthusiasm for her outside adventures.

“Mummy my toes are soggy…”

Bill held her hand on the door mat, helping her to emerge from her boots and taking off her drenched mackintosh.

Anna tried very hard not to laugh at her daughter’s disgruntled little face. Her bottom lip stuck out like a shelf, rosy as her cheeks, which were plastered with damp strands of her hair.

“Oh sweetheart…”

“I don’t like being wet.”

“Have you had enough of being outside darling?”

“Yes…”

“I think I agree with Josie for today,” Bill tipped the water from his hat out through the backdoor, and closed it with a firm thump. “Cows are in’t shed for now, and I’ll take their dinner out later when it’s time for milking. Lucky the horses ain’t been out today, so they’re snug and warm.”

“So we’re all in for the afternoon?” Anna gathered her daughter up into a hug, kissing her cheeks to warm them up. Josie snuggled into her arms, as John leaned over to peel off her damp socks and warm her toes in his hands.

“Looks like it!” Daisy scraped the last of the pastry off the counter, and reached for the cloth to clean up.

Mrs Patmore shut the range door and stood up, dusting the flour off her hands.

“Well, that’s tonight’s supper in to cook. Baking’s finished off, won’t take a few minutes to get the clearing done.”

Bill sighed with pleasure. This was the sort of afternoon he adored, so different to the long lonely evenings he had endured prior to his moving to Yew Tree Farm.

Daisy pulled off her apron and came over to the snug.

“Would you like me to give her a bath Anna?”

“What do you think Josie?” Anna dropped a kiss on her daughter’s head. “Do you want a nice warm bath?”

“Yes please…”

Daisy leaned down and scooped her up, bearing her away toward the bathroom. Mrs Patmore looked after her, smiling.

“She’s a born nurse, that one. Never thought she’d take to having a little one around the place so easy.”

All of a sudden, there was a sharp rapping on the back door.

“By ‘eck, who’s that…” Bill hauled back to his feet, as Mrs Patmore peeped out of the window.

“There’s a right smart car out there Bill, are we expecting company?”

John got to his feet, intrigued. As he was walking over into the kitchen, Bill opened the door and a familiar voice filled the kitchen.

“I am sorry for turning up unannounced, I do hope I’m not intruding…”

Mrs Patmore gasped aloud, just as John emerged to see Lady Mary divesting herself of hat and coat.

“Lady Mary! What a surprise!”

“Good to see you Mr Mason, and Mrs Patmore. And Mr Bates… it’s been too long.”

“What brings you here m’lady?”

Mary leaned to one side to peep over John’s shoulder with a smile, pointing.

“She’s standing right behind you.”

John turned to see Anna on her feet, beaming with delight to see her old employer and friend.

“Darling Anna…”

“Lady Mary…”

“Just Mary dear. Just Mary.”

The two women embraced warmly.

“Much as I hate to interrupt this reunion… you should not be on your feet, dear wife.”

“No indeed! Back to a comfortable chair with you, this instant!”

“We’re about to have some tea Lady Mary, will you join us?” Bill’s open face broadened into a smile, gesturing toward the snug. “It might not be so grand as you’re used to…”

“Mr Mason please, I’d be delighted to join you. I was hoping you’d ask.”

She looked well, thought John, as she fussed around Anna with a pillow, refusing to take the armchair and perching herself on the sofa. Immaculately dressed as always, in a long pale blue dress, overlaid with a long navy jacket, her shoes, bag and gloves were matched perfectly and her dark hair sat sleek and as perfect as if Anna had just finished styling it for her. There were a few lines around her eyes, slight crow’s feet beneath the immaculate makeup which betrayed her age. But her eyes were just as dark, her smile just as bright as it had ever been.

“…after I got your letter Anna, I couldn’t resist dropping in. It was time to open up the house and have it ready for Christmas in any case, and George was keen to come back and see his pony again. He’s riding out with the hunt this year for the first time, it’s all he’s talked about for weeks.”

Mrs Patmore brought the tray over, set with the china she and Bill had been given by the Crawley family as a wedding present.

“Where is he now?”

“He’s at the Abbey. Tom and Sybbie arrived yesterday, and George was so happy to see her again, I couldn’t bear to tear him away.”

Mary smiled at Anna, they shared that little expression which only mothers can understand. The smile of love which cannot bear to defy small pleasures to those closest to your hearts.

“And speaking of children, where’s my little namesake?”

“Daisy’s taken her to have a bath.”

“I do hope she’s been behaving herself. Are you feeling any better? You mentioned in your last letter you’d been quite poorly…”

John sat and watched the two women catching up on all their news. He was gratified and extremely pleased that Lady Mary had made the journey down to the farm specially to see Anna.

“…John’s been taking very good care of me. Everyone has. They’ve all been so kind.”

“Nonsense pet, it’s all in a day’s work for friends.” Bill reached over for another biscuit and was pleased to see Anna taking a second. Her appetite had recovered substantially in the past two weeks and she was almost back at her usual levels.

“How did you get here?”

“Isobel, that is… Mrs Clarkson came to fetch us in her car. She’s been so kind to me, I owe her a lot.”

“Speaking of cars… how did you get here Lady Mary? Did somebody drive you?”

Mary smiled, pleased with herself and obviously hiding a delicious secret.

“You might laugh Bates, but I have finally joined the modern world in skills as well as fashion. Tom’s been teaching me to drive, and I’ve finally passed my test.”

“My goodness! What does Lady Edith think about that?”

“I haven’t told her yet… I dare say she will raise her eyebrows and sniff. She won’t like losing her special status as the only lady driver in the family. We’ll find out tomorrow, when she arrives with Bertie and Marigold. Though I think she might have some sort of surprise for us too, she was maddeningly elusive over the telephone.”

John hid a small chuckle. The two sisters obviously hadn’t mended many of their fences over the years.

“All clean, Mummy!”

All turned to see Josie, clad in a fresh dress and slippers, wrapped into a fluffy cardigan, trotting across the room, pink cheeked from her bath with her curls bouncing awry. Even the cool and collected Lady Mary melted at the sight of such innocence. Calm and composed, Josie clambered into Anna’s lap.

“Daddy, can I have a biscuit?”

“I love how she comes to sit on you, but asks her Daddy for the treat.” Mary replaced her cup and saucer, intrigued by the little blonde moppet.

“Ah, she knows her Dad is the soft touch,” John smiled, reaching over for a piece of shortbread for his young daughter. “Mummy is a little more circumspect with the treats.”

“Quite right too. It’s Mummy’s job to rule with a rod of iron and Daddy’s job to hand out the treats. That’s exactly how it was with my parents. And the way Papa tells it, his upbringing was the same.”

A soft look passed over her face and John knew in that moment that she was thinking of Matthew. He was oddly reassured to see that her softer nature had survived the long years since his death.

“How are Lord and Lady Grantham?”

“Quite well. But they’ve decided to pass the winter in the South of France. Papa is getting a little frail now, and Mama has put her foot down about him taking care of his health. It will be sad not to have them here for Christmas, but we must move with the times.”

“Are you spending Christmas here?”

“Of course. The York and Ainsty hunt are riding out from there on Boxing Day. Will you come up for the evening? We’re planning a bit of a party, not so grand as in previous years, but something like the old servant’s balls.”

Mrs Patmore, Mr Mason and Daisy were all in favour of such a plan. The idea of such a glamorous gathering was the perfect antidote to a dreary and wet month which had been filled with such worry and fear. Prudently, John opened his mouth to object on Anna’s part at the idea of such a long cold walk at night, when Mary continued hurriedly, patting at Anna’s knee.

“Not that I’d expect you to walk to Downton, in your condition. We’ll send a car. Two if you’d like, although perhaps Isobel could give some of you a lift if she and Dr Clarkson agree to come. And that car will be waiting to take you home the instant you feel tired. You’re all welcome of course. It’ll be like old times.”

With that smile which brooked no argument, Mary knew the deal was sealed. There was only one detail to be ironed out, and she was currently ensconced on Anna’s knee.

“Is there going to be a party Mummy?”

Anna looked to Mary, who smiled back.

“Bring her along. Ours will all be there, and there’ll be at least one Nanny on duty. She can have a nap in the nursery if she gets too tired.”

“Pleeeeease Mummy?”

John met Anna’s eyes and finally conceded to the plan. His wife’s expression was filled with joy, and even he felt a yearning to go back to the old place and see it in all its splendor again.

“Alright then dear, we will all go to the party.”

“Well I am glad that’s all settled then. Now I must get back,” Mary began gathering her gloves and bag together. “I promised George he could stay up to dinner tonight if he behaved well for Tom while I was out. I’ll let you know the details once we have them all settled.”

In no time, she was escorted out, seen to her car and waved off by the Masons.

“Well,” John smiled, pleased to see Anna so animated and Josie so excited. “That’s something to look forward to!”

Chapter 11: Chapter 11

December raced by, almost as if it had decided to chide November for its slow and unwieldy pace. Before the Masons and their guests felt they had turned around, it was time to deck the house with Holly and Ivy, while Josie’s afternoons were passed in the kitchen with Daisy, constructing paper chains and cutting out Christmas biscuits. Mr Mason rubbed his hands with glee at the sight of the plum puddings and Christmas cake stacked up in the pantry, ready for their big day.

Anna, now back on her feet and able to move around a little more freely, decorated the Christmas tree which now flanked the snug, with a little help from Josie, who supervised the hanging of the baubles. She’d already picked out the exact place on the mantelpiece where her stocking would be hung, and was seeking regular assurance from her father that Father Christmas would not deliver her presents to the hotel in Whitby by mistake.

The 21st of December rolled around and the hotel was due to be shut for the festive period. The phone sprang to life once more for a couple of days, as messages were sent back and forth between Joseph Moseley and John Bates, with instructions for shutting up the building and timings for trains, along with one or two extra requests from John which were passed on while his wife and daughter took an afternoon nap together. Listening in the kitchen, Mrs Patmore chuckled to herself, enjoying the gentle plans which were being laid for the delight of the Bates family.

“And your tickets have been booked? You’re all packed up now to travel tomorrow?”

Bill motioned to catch John’s attention, tapping at his watch. John understood the pantomime immediately.

“And what time will you be getting into Downton? … Mmmm hmmm … At 4 o’clock, is that right?”

Bill gave John a thumbs up and nodded.

“Marvellous. Thank you Mr Moseley. Yes, and we look forward to seeing you too. Best wishes to Phyllis. Travel safely.”

“Nicely done John,” Bill beamed across from his armchair. “They’d never had asked for a lift, I’ll go pick ’em up in the wagon.”

“Y’do right Bill,” Mrs Patmore bustled through with a plate of shortbread and tea. “That ice out there, it’s treacherous.”

“I was thinking, my love…”

“Ooh, ‘eck, there’s a dangerous occupation…”

Mrs Patmore gave him a saucy grin over the rim of her tea cup.

“Ah, well first time for everything. No, what I was going to say was, they’ll stay here, won’t they? Can’t send ’em back to that cottage, all shut up for months on end. The whole place will be damp through, they’ll need fires in every room to air it out.”

Mrs Patmore’s smile turned warmer and deeper.

“I do like it when we think alike my dear. I had Daisy make up the upstairs spare room this morning. We’ll be stuffed to the gunnels round that table for Christmas Dinner mind you!”

“Well…” Bill puffed away at his pipe and raised his teacup in salute to John. “Isn’t that just grand!”

“They’re here!”

Daisy shouted over her shoulder, hurrying away to help Mrs Patmore lay the table for tea.

“Josie, quick, are we ready?”

Josie nodded firmly, climbing up onto her chair to hold her corner of the pillow case which she and her mother had been decorating all morning.

“All home, safe and sound,” came Bill’s voice from the back kitchen door. “Come on in, you two…”

Anna motioned to Josie, counting one, two, three in a whisper.

As Joseph and Phyllis rounded the corner to the snug they were greeted with an enthusiastic, childish shout.

“THANK YOU MISTER AND MISSUS MOSELEY”

The pillow case, held out between Anna and Josie displayed these words in big wobbly letters, sketched out by Anna and decorated with food colouring by Josie.

“Well! What a lovely welcome!” Mr Moseley looked tired, but delighted to see his friend in better health. Phyllis tried not to cry.

“Thank you Josie… can I have a hug?”

Josie clambered down and went to embrace her friends.

“It was Josie’s idea,” Anna explained as the travelers settled down and divested themselves of coats and hats. “She knows you’ve been looking after the hotel for us.”

“Ahhh… now, Miss Bates, I’ve got a letter here for you somewhere…”

Mr Moseley tipped a wink over to John surreptitiously, rummaging in his pocket and drawing out a large red envelope, addressed to Josie in immaculate copperplate writing.

Josie was thrilled. Not since the letter inviting them all to stay at Yew Tree Farm had there been such an exciting piece of post, and this time it was all for her. Eagerly, she tore it open and folded out a single piece of paper.

Anna gathered her up, suspecting a loving conspiracy from the joy bursting out of John’s smile and the small giggles that Phyllis was attempting to swallow.

“Dear Josie,” she read aloud. “Mr Moseley has written to me to inform me that you will be staying at Yew Tree Farm for Christmas and that I should bring your presents there on Christmas Eve instead of delivering them to the Gull’s Nest in Whitby. I have made a note on my list and the reindeer know the place very well, having often delivered presents to the Crawley children at Downton Abbey. If you could ask Mrs Mason to leave out one of her famous mince pies, and a carrot for the reindeer, I would be much obliged. Your friend, Father Christmas.”

Tea was, naturally, an uproarious affair. Josie was beyond delighted, racing up and down to show everyone that Father Christmas had really and truly written to her, that he was coming to bring her a present and knew where the farm was. For the first time since their arrival, she showed no interest in the chocolate biscuits and iced shortbread, her attention wholly and completely taken up by the letter clutched in her chubby little hand. The adults, for as long as possible, held in their laughter and joined in with her joy, while Anna used all of her whiles and stern remonstrations to persuade Josie to eat her jam sandwich and fruit bun and actually drink her mug of milk. At long last, when Josie was born away to have her bath, once the bathroom door clicked shut behind Daisy and Josie, each of the grown ups sat around the tea table exploded into their suppressed giggles.

“Oh Joseph, that was beautiful. Thank you so much,” John wiped his eyes with laughter.

“Well now, we couldn’t have the little thing worried that Father Christmas would leave her out now, could we?” Joseph beamed under his success.

“So … Father Christmas wants a mince pie, does he?”

Mrs Patmore’s steely gaze reached across the table to Joseph, causing him to quail momentarily.

“And I suppose if Father Christmas is too full of mince pies, you’ll be volunteering to eat it for him, Mr Moseley?”

Mrs Patmore managed to look fierce for a whole two seconds until she collapsed into laughter again. Joseph, relieved, wiped his brow and smiled at his wife across the table, who wore an expression of pure and shining love for him.

“Well, it’s a good thing I made a batch of two dozen this morning then, isn’t it!”

“I’d say,” Anna smiled across the rim of her cup, looking rounder and rosier than she had even during her first pregnancy, “that this Father Christmas has absolutely earned his mince pie.”

Her smile and glowing expression across the table were all the thanks that the Moseley’s would ever need for their generous work in keeping the Gull’s Nest open for business.

Chapter 12: Chapter 12

“Well…” Mrs Patmore sank with a satisfied huff into an armchair in the snug, “that’s that then.”

Many tired, happy faces, rosy in the firelight, turned to greet her. Their congratulations for the marvellous Christmas Goose and all of the Downton trimmings had rung loud around the table for the last three hours, as the Masons, Bates and Moseleys had sat and feasted on food which would surely rival that being served at the Abbey later tonight.

Four o’clock in the afternoon and the sky outside was already an inky black. To Josie’s disappointment, there had not been any snow this morning, but the first bitter flakes were beginning to fall across the frozen ground now. Not that it had cast a dampener on Christmas morning in the slightest. Josie had been out of bed at 5.30am, determined to go and check her stocking. She was not disappointed.

Inside were some crayons, a colouring book, a large ripe orange and some boiled sweeties in a paper bag. Father Christmas had even eaten the mince pie and consumed the glass of Bill’s cherry brandy, which had been left on the sideboard in lieu of a sherry. Mr Moseley’s cheeks were a little redder than usual this morning, to be sure, but with Bill already drinking his customary tot and John abstaining, well … it was only right that he should help Father Christmas out with his obligations.

Under the tree were more presents, many of them home made, if not bought locally. John proudly tucked the first monogrammed handkerchief into his pocket, beaming down at Anna, whose dainty fingers had been busy throughout her long autumn rest. She exclaimed softly at the new gloves of soft suede which were wrapped up for her. Extravagant, but John would not be dissuaded from spoiling her each year at Christmas. Next came a pink knitted hat, with ear flaps and a bobble on the top, and matching pink gloves, were wrapped into a little package for Josie, who it must be admitted had been spoilt rotten by the assembled company. By mid morning, her pile contained many goodies, including cookies from Mrs Patmore, and a tiny sou’ester hat from Mr Mason, to go with the little wellington boots. John, during a shopping trip to Downton, had obtained a beautiful doll with long flaxen hair, and Daisy and Anna, in on the secret, had measured and knitted and stitched during Josie’s nap times to give the doll a trousseau to rival even Lady Mary’s. Dolly now sat proudly on Josie’s lap, arrayed in her Sunday Best outfit, a dark green velvet dress made from an old curtain, a lace cap fashioned from an old doily and a two tiny little yellow booties, which had been knitted by Anna.

“Everything’s in the larder for tea time, we’ll just bring the plates out and slice some bread and cheese to go with it for…”

Everybody groaned.

“Mrs Patmore,” remonstrated Phyllis, shifting uncomfortably to try and loosen her unforgiving waistband. “How can you think of more food after that gargantuan feast we just consumed?”

“I agree,” said John. “The last thing I can imagine, right now, is wanting to eat another single thing.”

Mrs Patmore shook her head, wise in the ways of her stuffed guests and family.

“Mark my words, John Bates, come five o’clock you’ll be looking longingly at that kettle and dreaming of a slice of Christmas Cake…”

Another general moan of protest was cut off by a knock at the back door. Mr Mason was on his feet before anyone else could refuse to move. Anna marvelled at how he could be so spry and active still, even when kept on Mrs Patmore’s cooking.

“Doctor! And Mrs Clarkson, how lovely! A very merry Christmas to you both!”

The pair were ushered inside, dressed in their finery, sprinkled with a dusting of snow flakes. A ripple of effort to rise to their feet in the presence of a lady spread through the assembled gentlemen, but Mrs Clarkson soon had them all at ease, perched on a chair, waiving a gloved hand.

“I think we can give that a rest, it’s Christmas Day after all,” she beamed. Dr Clarkson appeared behind her, bearing several wrapped parcels. “And anyway, we’re only stopping in briefly before we go up to Downton Abbey. We’ve been invited for Christmas Dinner, as George is staying up for the first time tonight.”

The pride in her face at the mention of her grandson was enough to move the assembled company dangerously near to tears.

“But before we go,” Isobel dived back into conversation before the emotional clouds could gather, “I also wanted to give you your Christmas gifts.”

A general murmur of protest spread through the assembled company, only to be shushed at once.

“Anna, this one is for you. And John, one for you too…”

Anna and John’s presents were noticeable larger than the rest, which for a moment caused some embarrassment. The others unwrapped little keepsakes, a new pouch of tobacco for Mr Mason, lacy hankies for Mrs Patmore and Daisy and Phyllis, a new bookmark for Mr Moseley. All the finest quality, but nothing compared to the large packages ensconced on the laps of the bases.

“Do open them,” Isobel urged. “Please…”

“John, you go first.”

Inside John’s parcel was box, neatly wrapped. Inside, wrapped into a protective folding of tissue, lay a folded linen shirt, a pair of dark trousers and a folded jacket. A new suit. Not a full and formal suit, such as a dinner jacket or tuxedo, but a fine and smart one none the less. A new tie of navy blue and a matching handkerchief peeped out of the breast pocket of the jacket.

John felt a lump rise in his throat, and suddenly understood the reasoning behind the gifts. Tomorrow would be the great gathering at Downton Abbey, and while everyone else had their wardrobes to hand with all their beloved finery, he and Anna had come away so quickly in their haste to get her into the hands of loving friends that they had only brought with them the most rudimentary of clothing supplies.

Now he would be dressed to impress, exactly in line with his station, without feeling like he would shame his host and hostess, or his family. Also, the suit was perfectly suitable for a hotel manager to wear about his business, when he eventually returned to work.

John met Isobel’s eyes, anxiously but silently seeking his approval.

“Thank you Mrs Clarkson. It’s beautiful. And I shall enjoy wearing it tomorrow evening for the party.”

He turned to Anna, overwhelmed by the pleasure his response had kindled in Isobel’s eyes.

“Your turn dear,” he said gently.

Anna suspected what she would find in her parcel, but wasn’t prepared for the contents. Folding away the paper, opening the folds of a large box, Anna was faced with a mound of tissue paper. Delving between the floating layers, her fingers brushed against something soft. Fine material, more sleek than cat’s fur.

Velvet.

But not worn and faded like the curtain which had been sacrificed to make Dolly’s wardrobe. This was beautifully smooth, rich beneath her finger tips. Lifting the dress from the box, Anna gasped. It was a soft green colour, a shade lighter than mint, just the right hue to compliment the blonde tresses of her hair and rosy colour in her cheeks.

The cut was simple, long sleeved with a high neck, with little stitching details around the collar. The sleeves were edged in a fine line of lace. It was demure, but elegant. Understated, but with just the right touch of glamour. Anna hauled to her feet, holding it against her, spreading the skirt to see the lines of the material. The assembled female company gave small gasps of admiration.

“Oh Isobel… it’s wonderful…”

“I’m so glad you like it. I had it cut to fit you, there’s this wonderful new style with a high waist which I saw in Vogue last month, which makes carrying a little more weight at the front so much easier. But I thought that you might have it restyled, well, later on, so to speak.”

Isobel’s glance went to Anna’s bump, and met her eyes once more. Ever the cautious nurse, she would not say anything to wish bad luck on the expectant mother.

Dr Clarkson gave a discrete cough, and nodded to the one final package at Isobel’s feet.

“Ah yes…” Isobel grinned at Anna and John. “I’ve saved the best for last. May I?” Her glanced flickered over to Josie. Anna nodded her assent.

“Josephine darling… this is for you.”

Josie was speechless. Another present. A big one. Even bigger than the one which had held her beloved Dolly. Her fingers tugged at the loose tied ribbon and folded back the paper on the box. Another mound of tissue paper clouded her view. Anna gently helped her daughter to remove the fluffy mounds and whisps and pulled out the dress that was held inside.

The gasp of admiration, which had been muted with respect for Anna and John’s gifts, was far louder for Josie’s. Like her mother’s dress, it was made of soft velvet, but there the resemblance ended. It was a deep rich plum colour, with light rose ruffles around the wrists. A big fluffy pink petticoat lay underneath the skirt and a rose ribbon was fixed around the waist. There was a rose ribbon for her hair, and long tights made of a plum coloured material. Finally, tucked into the bottom of the box, Josie found a pair of little satin slippers, also plum coloured, with pink rosettes on the toes.

Josie was shrieking with delight, enraptured with every little detail. Ever the gentleman, and anxious that his daughter should learn to mind her manners even in times of joy, John intervened gently.

“Josie…? What do we say to Mrs Clarkson?”

“Oh, Thank you, thank you, thank you…!”

Incoherent with happiness, Josie actually scrambled off the sofa and scampered over to wrap her arms around Isobel’s neck and plant a sticky affectionate kiss on her cheek.

All at once, Isobel was overcome, her arms tightening around the little girl for an instant. She looked perilously near to tears. In fact, a shiny trail of one shimmered down her cheek. Anna, faced with the prospect of their guest dissolving into sobs, telegraphed her concern to Daisy via raised eyebrows and a worried pucker of the lips. Daisy, who was perched on the chair next to Isobel, sprang into action.

“Josie? Would you like to come and hang your dress up safely? You can wear it for the big party tomorrow night…”

The few seconds it took to gather up the items and their box and for Daisy to walk Josie over to the bedroom gave Isobel all the time she needed to recover her composure.

“Are you quite alright Mrs Clarkson?”

Phyllis passed over a plain white handkerchief, concern etched into her kindly features.

“Oh… oh yes, quite alright. I am sorry my dears…”

Her concerns were hushed over by the considerate company gathered around the fire.

“It’s just … I never had a daughter. Or a granddaughter, as it turns out. And until now I never realised that I had missed out on something quite important to me.”

For a few seconds a silence fell, as ever member of the assembled company thought about her only son, the enigmatic and talented Mr Matthew, who had died scant hours after the birth of his own only son.

Dr Clarkson pressed his wife’s hand, planting a gentle kiss onto her gloved fingers. She was able to meet his eyes and recover her composure, reassured by the love and friends that still surrounded her, so long after her tragic losses.

The mantelpiece clock chimed softly, prompting everyone to consider the time.

“Oh my gracious, we must be going…” Isobel hastened to her feet, taking her leave as Dr Clarkson obtained their coats and hats.

“Quite right,” Anna smiled. “Lady Mary always did like her guests to arrive on time for dinner.”

“Early, if at all possible,” interjected Dr Clarkson with a dry smile. “And if we go now, we should just be early enough for a glass of champagne.”

With soft goodbyes and thanks, and a confirmation that they would call to collect the Masons and Moseleys on their way to Downton Abbey tomorrow, they were ushered out through the snow to their waiting car.

Resettled into their snug, the friends exchanged their gifts for general admiration. John gathered up his and Anna’s finery and headed over toward the bedroom to stow it safely.

“Mrs Patmore?” he called softly with a mischievous smile.

“Yes John?”

“You win.”

“Win what dear?”

“Your bet … I would love a cup of tea…”

Scolding him good naturedly, Mrs Patmore headed back to her domain, to fill the kettle and bring over a second feast of fruit cake, mince pies and cheese.

Chapter 13: Chapter 13

On Boxing Day morning, Yew Tree Farm was a hive of activity. Aside for getting ready for the great party later, and the usual farm chores that needed to be done every day, plans had been made for the residents and guests to go and watch the hunt ride out. Not from Downton Abbey, but from the stone bridge that crossed the stream which wound its way across the lands of Yew Tree Farm.

The plan had been laid over a late supper some nights before. The ground was too frozen for any of the Bates to manage such a long walk, but Bill had a plan. His trusty tractor would pull the trap, containing everyone, across the fields to the bridge. That way, Mrs Patmore could load them up with a picnic lunch and there would be plenty of wraps and blankets to snuggle in and keep warm.

As well as the Masons, Bates and Moseleys, two extra people came to join the expedition. Mrs Clarkson, who relished the idea of seeing her little grandson ride out on his first hunt, and Andy, the former footman turned pig farmer, who still worked on Yew Tree Farm helping Mr Mason to tend to the pigs and taking on a considerable slice of the heavy work.

Daisy’s cheeks bunched into red bundles of pleasure upon hearing that Andy was to join the party. Since she had left Downton Abbey and moved into the farm, the two had been in a cautious courtship. There had been a few false starts along the way. Despite her widowed status, the notion of being in a relationship was unfamiliar to Daisy, and while Andy was clearly enthusiastic and much enamoured with the little kitchen maid, he was sometimes a little brash in his expression and caused unintended offence.

Under the watchful eyes of Mr Mason and Mrs Patmore though, the young couple had muddled along and gotten used to each other’s ways. When Andy had finally handed in his notice at Downton last Christmas, and taken on a cottage to work full time on the farm, there had been significant speculation between the older couple about whether Andy was ready to settle down. For the last Valentine’s Day and on Daisy’s birthday, Mrs Patmore had been in a state of nervous agitation, longing to know whether a wedding would be on the horizon. But Andy had kept his peace and made no such moves in that direction. There were flowers for Daisy on Valentines, and a trip to a tea house in Ripon for her birthday, but no proposal.

This Christmas, Andy had gone home to see his parents for the holiday itself, with Mr Mason’s blessing. But today he would be coming back to join the gathering to see the hunt.

“I don’t know why you’re so convinced that I’m about to get engaged…” Daisy huffed, a little short tempered, as she poured the soup into the large thermos flask.

“Oh I don’t know, maybe because he’s been besotted with you ever since that house party in London for Lady Rose’s Coming Out?” Mrs Patmore was having none of it.

“Who’s besotted now?” Anna emerged from her bedroom with Josie, both of them wrapped up in warm clothes, with Josie already wearing her new pink hat. With difficulty she had persuaded her to leave the little gloves in her pockets until after she had eaten her toast for breakfast.

“Oh, nobody according to Madam here,” Mrs Patmore plunked the jam and marmalade down on the table with a rack of toast, pausing to lean down and pinch Josie’s cheek, making her giggle. “Now Missy, what would you like to go with your toast this morning?”

“Can I have a sausage please Mrs Patmore? And a tomato?”

“Oh I think we can manage that. What about you, Mummy?”

“Do you know, Mrs Patmore, I think I’d like some sausages too.”

Mrs Patmore spun to face Anna with a grin. It she could face a hot breakfast with grilled sausages, then she truly was on the mend. Anna had managed to eat a respectable Christmas dinner, although the pigs-in-blankets had been beyond her. A slice or two of turkey and some mashed potato and fresh vegetables with a splash of gravy had been her limit, but the whole family rejoiced to see her enjoying her food again.

“Coming right up, at special request! Help yourselves in the mean time, tea’s in the pot. And good morning Daddy, just in time to join Mummy and Josie for sausages for breakfast!”

John came over to join the little group just as Bill came in through the back door.

“Morning all!” he called, toeing his wellingtons off.

“Morning Bill, is everything set?”

“Aye, it’s all grand, tractor’s out and the trap’s been brought out of the barn. Andy’s here, he’s fixing it up now…” Bill looked oddly emotional for a second, and seemed to be wiping his eyes.

“You alright my love?” Despite her rough and ready manner, Mrs Patmore was very fond of her husband.

“Aye, I’m alright darling, the wind’s just teasy is all. Bit cold on the old face this morning.”

John passed him a mug of tea, suspected that it was something more than that, but wisely decided to hold his peace. With immaculate timing, Joseph and Phyllis emerged from their room and clumped down the stairs.

“Full table for breakfast, just what I like to see,” called Mrs Patmore, deftly turning the sausages under the gas grill. “Daisy pet, could you see if we’ve got any more eggs in the larder? My basket’s right empty…”

As Daisy scampered away to fetch them, a quick look passed between Bill and Mrs Patmore. There was no doubt about it, something had moved him deeply this morning, but he telegraphed a big smile to his wife across the table and defiantly munched his toast. Clearly should would get nothing out of him here, but something was afoot.

Daisy’s voice called from the larder.

“There’s not a lot left Mrs P, do you want me to mush them with butter and milk and scramble them?”

“That’s grand pet, bring ’em through.”

“Unca Bill, are we going to see more ponies today?”

Josie restored conversation to an ebb and flow around the table with her little question, and soon descriptions of great Bay hunters and stocky little ponies filled the spaces between mouthfuls as the house party readied themselves for their winter day out.

The last crumb had just about vanished when the doctor’s car was spotted out of the window by Mrs Patmore.

“Here she is! Just time for us to clear away and then we can be off!”

“Good morning everybody!”

Mrs Clarkson was red cheeked, wrapped into her big overcoat with a fetching tartan scarf wrapped around her head. She loosened it for the moment, pulling off her soft leather driving gloves and stamping her feet to warm up.

“I hope you’re all dressed warmly, it’s terribly cold out there, the ground is frozen solid.”

“We will be Mrs C, don’t you worry. Like a cup of tea before we set off?”

“How delightful, yes I will please.”

The back door opened again and in came Andy, also glowing from the cold weather outside.

“Andy love, have you been fed? Bit of leftover sausage if you want a sandwich?”

“Uh, no… no thank you, Mrs M… I uh…”

Andy looked over towards Bill for a second, who nodded encouragingly.

Slowly, it dawned on Anna what was happening, and what conversation she had walked in on this morning.

“I was… wondering if I might have a moment to speak to Daisy…”

Daisy turned, cloth in hand, ready with an impatient twist to her features to tell him she was in the middle of cleaning up for heaven sake, could it wait… and then she saw his face. Her features softened, and she twisted the tea towel in her hands.

“Yes Andy…?”

“I … uh … well, …”

Mrs Patmore gently relieved Daisy of the tea towel and gave her a soft nudge in the small of the back, propelling her a few steps towards him.

Encouraged, Andy reached for her hands.

“Daisy… you know how much I care about you? Don’t you?”

Daisy nodded, her face framing a silent question.

“And… we’ve been walking out together for a long time now, but I’m settled now. I’ve got a good job, my own cottage…” Andy gave a nervous grin in Mr Mason’s direction “And … I’ve got nearly everything I want in life now, and … well the only thing I really need to make me happy is you.”

Andy held Daisy’s hands in one of his big strong ones, rummaging in his pocket and pulling out a little box. John and Anna, recognising a ring box, grinned at each other, sharing the memory of their visit to the tea house in Whitby.

Daisy gasped with delight as Andy knelt down in front of her and opened the box, holding it up to her.

“Daisy I love you, and I will look after you all my life. Will you marry me?”

Daisy squeaked out a yes, nodding and gently bobbing up and down with excitement. Andy reached for her hand and slid the ring onto her finger, standing up to claim a chaste kiss from her.

Applause broke out in the kitchen as the two lovers embraced.

“Well… that’s just lovely. Nicely done, young Andy, very nicely done.” Joseph raised his tea cup in salute. “To Andy and Daisy!”

“Andy and Daisy!” the echo sounded throughout the kitchen.

“But now…” Mr Mason was on his feet, gesturing everyone into action. “If we don’t go, they’ll all be past the bridge before we get there. Come on Daisy, gloves and coat, we can all admire that sparkler with you later on!”

A little chivvying and in no time, everyone was out the door, picnic baskets and blankets at the ready, hatted, scarved and booted.

As Bill hung back to lock up the backdoor, Mrs Patmore reached for his hand, while everyone else scrambled into the trap.

“What is it pet?”

Bill smiled at her, brim-full of emotion.

“He asked my permission. He said as she’s all but my daughter, he felt he should do. And to promise that he’d never take her away from me, since she’s all I’ve got left of my William.”

The loss of Bill’s son hung in the air for a moment as Beryl reached up to stroke his face.

“You’d never lose her my love. You’ve been more of a father than the lout who spawned her and sent her away to service. You gave her a home, and she won’t forget that.”

Bill clasped his wife’s hand and smiled, nodding to himself.

“I know lass, I know. I just hope that I’m gaining a second son, rather than losing a dear daughter.”

“Come on Mr and Mrs M!” Andy’s voice rang out. The Mason’s turned to see him sat beside Daisy. With one hand she clasped Andy’s hand, with the other she beckoned to them eagerly, patting the seat beside her.

“I think you might be right there Bill.” Mrs Patmore smiled softly.

“Right you are then Darlin’, let’s get this show on the road!”

Helping his wife into the trap, Bill turned to start up the tractor. To the sound of the roaring engine, a cheer of approval echoed from the assembled company, as the machine trundled down the road towards another little adventure.

Chapter 14: Chapter 14

“Go on, let’s have a look then…”

Daisy peeled off her glove and displayed the neat and dainty ring on her stubby finger. Anna took her hand and cooed over it, while Phyllis beamed at her. The gold band was puckered up into a small flower shape, the centre of which was set with a little white stone.

“It looks a bit like a daisy, but with yellow petals and a white middle,” mused Phyllis.

“It’s lovely, is what it is,” chirped Daisy, as Andy’s hand closed over her other hand, tucked snugly into the crook of his arms.

“Did you have one when Joseph proposed, Phyllis?”

Phyllis smiled, blushing a little. Her eyes met her husband’s, a slight asking of permission, to which he nodded.

“I did,” she said, drawing off her glove. A smooth, worn gold band, set with a single glowing red stone, decorated her wedding finger.

“Oh that colour is lovely…” Daisy raised her hand for a closer inspection.

“It was my mother’s, her garnet ring,” Joseph cleared his throat. “She left it for me, when she died. She hoped that I would find the right girl. And, well, as it happens, I found the right woman.”

Anna cherished the warm smile that passed between the Moseley’s. Whatever affection Joseph might once have cherished for her had long since been surpassed by the glow of his love for Phyllis.

“I never had one,” Mrs Patmore chimed in. “But then, we didn’t really get engaged. We just decided it were the right thing for us and we went to see the vicar the next day. I handed in my notice at the Abbey, the banns were read, and within a month I were livin’ at Yew Tree Farm, all married and settled.”

“Much like myself and Dr Clarkson,” agreed Isobel. “We didn’t have an engagement either. I’m rather glad in a way. My engagement to Dr Crawley lasted far too long for my liking. My mother was so particular about me having an exact wedding. All of those terrible details, and all I wanted was to be a married woman.”

“I hope we don’t have to wait too long…?” Daisy looked up anxiously at Andy.

“We can see the vicar this week if you’d like… but if you want a grand wedding, I’ll wait until you have everything you want.”

Daisy’s face brightened.

“I think it must be awful to have to wait ages to get married when you love someone.”

“It is, rather.”

Everyone stopped and turned to look at Anna.

“But Anna, you and Mr Bates got married all of a sudden. In secret, like. You didn’t have to wait did you?”

Anna and John smiled at each other. Perhaps it was time to tell their story.

“The truth is Daisy, I asked Anna to marry me a long time before that. Many years in fact.”

“You did? But why did you wait so long then?”

“I wasn’t free to marry,” he glanced down pointedly at Josie, who was adjusting Dolly’s bonnet. He had no wish to discuss his first wife in front of his daughter, and Daisy and Mrs Patmore well remembered the troubles he endured as a result of her death. “But I knew even then that Anna was the love of my life.”

“By gosh John Bates, you could knock me down with a feather! Here was all of us thinking that you were taking your time, and you were engaged all along!”

“I didn’t do a very good job of asking her either…”

“You did well enough,” Anna patted his hand, anxious that he should not darken his memory.

“I did better the second time though. Ring and everything.”

“Have you got an engagement ring then Anna?”

“Well sort of…” Anna grinned, dimples showing in her cheeks. “It was all when we went to Whitby the first time, to see the Gull’s Nest. We had a second engagement, a sort of new start for us, to get away from… everything.”

Anna tugged off her glove and held out her hand. There was a general gasp at the beauty of the fine emerald, set snugly into the band of gold which topped Anna’s wedding ring. Mrs Clarkson held Anna’s fingers gently, and bent down for a closer look.

“Now that is very fine,” she said softly. “Very fine indeed. Well chosen, Mr Bates.”

“Well chosen to all the men I think.”

“In our choice of rings, and the women we gave them to,” said Andy, squidging his arm around Daisy.

“Here here! I quite agree!”

“Alright, everyone! We’re here!”

The tractor shuddered to a halt.

“And in good time too, we should have a grand view from here. Come on lass, jump down, I’ve got you,” Bill helped Anna down from the trap, as the others scrambled down to the floor. While Joseph lent an arm to John, Bill stretched up to get Josie, who with some reluctance had been persuaded to leave Dolly in the trap so that she wouldn’t get muddy.

Before too long, the group were assembled along the bridge, gazing out across the field to see where the hunt would come across the fields in search of quarry. Hands wrapped around mugs of hot mulligatawny soup, with thick folded hunks of bread and butter to dip into it, their breath steamed into the crisp air as they chattered. Bill lifted Josie up to sit on the wide stone edge of the bridge, while John kept a firm grip on the back of her little coat, knowing that the first sign of a horse in full gallop would lead to spasms of excitement in his little girl.

Anna relished the weak wintery sunshine and the cold, crisp tang of the air. The sky was white, with clouds thickening over to the east. It would turn dark early tonight. She hoped that the snow would hold off until they got home from the party, but either way, it was sure to be a splendid day.

“Are you alright dear?”

Isobel materialised beside her. “You look miles away.”

“It’s so nice to be outdoors. I’ve been inside for most of the autumn and all of the winter. I forgot how lovely the Downton Estate was when it’s so crisp and fresh like this…”

“You’re seeing it at the best. It’s been a really wet year so far, but the weather does seem to have turned now.”

“Do you think it will snow Bill?”

Bill turned to the eastern sky, sniffed at the air and thought for a minute.

“Happen it might, lass. Wind’s coming from the east, and those clouds are thick with it. The ground’s hard as iron. If it does snow, it will stick alright.”

“Here they come!”

The shout came from Phyllis, as the first hound raced across the field, leading the pack. In twos and threes they followed, baying loudly, as the rumble of hooves rounded the tree line.

“Look there’s Mary, in the front on Diamond…” Andy called, pointing to a sleek dark horse, whose muscles rippled with power. Mary, who had long since abandoned any notion of riding side saddle, was seated in her beige breeches, her hunting cap secured into her glossy hair, chestnut boots gleaming. Her face was alight with pleasure, relishing the thrill of the chase, just as she had when she was younger.

Anna remembered in years gone by that Mary had worn black for the hunts, but now, she wore a scarlet jacket. Anna couldn’t remember ever seeing such a thing in her wardrobe.

“Why is she in red? I thought women wore black on a hunt…”

“My goodness… that must be a first for the York and Ainsty…” John whistled softly.

“What, what does it mean?”

“It means she’s now the Master of the Hunt. They’re the ones who wear red.”

“However did you come to know such things, John Bates?”

“Part of my valet’s training. Lord Grantham didn’t go out with the hunt often, but when he did, he wore red too, because he was a Hunt Master. Mary must have taken that role over from him. Look, here come the others…”

They looked marvellous. The horses, with shiny chestnut and ebony black coats, moved with majesty, carrying their riders with ease across the wintery ground. A horn sounded. Not far behind Mary came Bertie, Mary’s brother in law, Marquess of Hexham, his great Bay charger giving chase to Mary’s own steed. Edith was nowhere to be seen, but she had never enjoyed riding horses so much as she had loved driving. Anna was sure that she caught sight of Mabel Lane Fox, now Lady Mabel Gillingham, but didn’t see Lord Gillingham anywhere among the pack.

Josie clapped and cheered, thrilled by the sight of so many beautiful horses racing past at terrific speed. She waved to the riders and was delighted when Mary raised her whip in salute to the little group.

“Oh look there’s George! And Sybbie too!” Isobel called with delight.

Sure enough, on two stout ponies, trailing behind the main pack, there was Master George and Miss Sybil, accompanied by the Downton Abbey stable master. George in his new black coat and breeches, with shiny black boots with tan tops, urged his pony forwards even faster.

“Come on Sybbie,” his high excited voice carried across the field.

Not to be outdone, Sybbie sped after him. Dressed in her neat navy coat and shiny black boots, her dark braid streaming behind her from beneath her black hard hat, she was the very image of her mother in miniature.

Josie was enraptured. She had never seen an actual pony before, only the great horses kept for the heavy farm work at Yew Tree Farm. There was no question of ever riding them, they were simply too big for her to sit astride. But here were some other small people, bigger than her, yes, but smaller than the grownups, and they were riding horses their own size. For the first time, an exciting idea formed in her little mind, and when the last hound had disappeared from sight, she gave voice to the wish that many fathers lived in dread of hearing.

“Daddy, can I have a pony?”

Josie was at a loss to understand why all of the other grownups, including Mummy, dissolved into giggles, while Daddy just put his head in his hands for a few seconds, before smiling at her in a funny way, with crinkles round his eyes, just like there were before he laughed.

“Perhaps when you’re older sweetheart.”

Josie nodded to herself firmly. She knew exactly what was going onto next year’s Christmas list. She would be older by then.

Rosy faced and warmed by excitement and happiness, the little party clambered aboard the trap once more. The evening was drawing in, and sure enough the clouds were thickening into a dull grey. Soon it would be dark, and it was time to head home to have tea and get all spruced up before the party at Downton Abbey that evening.

Chapter 15: Chapter 15

“Josie, if you want to have curls for the party, you need to hold still and stop shaking your head or they will all fall out.”

Josie squirmed under her mother’s ministrations with the hair brush. She was sat on the edge of her parents’ bed, in her underclothes and tights. Her beautiful party dress, with its hair ribbon and belt, hung on the wardrobe door. It was an immense distraction and she simply couldn’t wait to wear it.

“Can I put my dress on yet Mummy?”

“Once we get this hair tidy, yes you can. The better you sit still, the quicker you can put it on.”

John came back from the bathroom, wearing his new trousers and shirt, doing battle with his cufflinks.

“Darling could you just…” he looked up to see Anna’s grimace as she did battle with Josie’s blonde locks. She wasn’t even dressed yet, still clad in her dressing gown with her hair piled up in a towel. He saw how late she was running and understood immediately.

“Tell you what, I’ll go and ask one of the others, you’re clearly busy here…”

“You do that dear. I’ll send missy here out to you once she’s in her dress. And do make sure she doesn’t spill anything down it…?”

John nodded and headed out to the snug.

The Masons were already dressed and ready, Bill in his good suit, neatly washed and brushed, with Mrs Patmore in her Sunday best blue dress, her hair freed from its usual cap and set into a neat perm. Daisy was sat on a hard backed chair, already wearing her smart red dress, while Mrs Patmore removed the curlers from her locks and gave it a gentle brush out.

“See, I told you you’d suit longer curls, you’d never let me help you with it up at the Abbey…”

“You never had time at the Abbey, you barely got yourself into your posh frock for the servant’s balls, you were always flapping over the starters…”

“Well, you both look beautiful now, my ladies,” Bill, ever the gentleman, was generous with his compliments. “And how are your lady folk doing in there John?” he came over to help John thread the fiddly cufflinks into his sleeve cuffs.

“Josie’s nearly ready, but Anna’s running a bit behind. Once Josie comes out I think she might appreciate a hand…”

“There we go,” muttered Mrs Patmore, giving Daisy’s hair a last comb through. “Right, there you are lovey, off you go to powder your nose!”

“I’ve got some new makeup special from the village chemist. It’s mascara. I’ve never used it before!”

“Just be careful you don’t stick the brush in your eye, that’s near fatal or so I’ve heard!”

“I won’t Mrs Patmore…” Daisy’s feet clattered up the stairs.

At the balcony she crossed with Phyllis and Joseph, dressed up to the nines and looking immaculate. Neither of them had lost their touch from their valet and lady’s maid days.

“Where’s Anna and Josie, John?”

“I think Anna’s still…”

“Here she is…” The door opened and Anna, still in her robe, brought Josie out to join them, looking splendid in her velvet frock, her blonde curls angelic around her little face. “Now, you sit very still like a good girl, and don’t get anything on your dress.”

“Anna, are you not dressed yet?” Phyllis was heading over instantly. “Come with me, I’ll help you get your hair done…”

John relaxed as his wife and her friend disappeared back into the sanctum of the bedroom. Phyllis could work wonders with hair, and with soothing frazzled nerves. Anna was in good hands.

Anna sat down on the end of the bed and grimaced as Phyllis reached for the brush and comb on the dressed.

“Now, what do you want doing with…” she turned back to catch Anna’s expression in the mirror. “Anna? … Anna, are you alright?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Anna…” Phyllis’ voice rose slightly in a warning tone.

“It’s nothing Phyllis honestly, I’ve just been on my feet a bit today, and I’m not used to going outside in the cold, and now baby insists on kicking me in the ribs.” She rubbed her bump and winced tenderly. “I’ll be black and blue by the time he or she comes out to join the world!”

Phyllis wasn’t convinced, though Anna’s explanation was plausible enough. She was still pale and a little thin around the face, but she had regained weight under the care of the Masons and was eating and drinking properly again. Her stomach swelled before her, her pregnancy was definitely on show now that she was more than seven months gone.

“Well, you just sit here. And what would you like doing with this hair? Up or down?”

“Down, I think.”

Phyllis was surprised. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen Anna’s hair loose.

“I have a slight headache. Nothing much, I had them when I was expecting Josie too. But having my hair up sometimes made it worse. You know, pulled tight and all.”

The brush ran through Anna’s hair smoothly and softly, Phyllis’ light touch was working wonders on her stress levels. The lines between her eyes began to soften and fade a little.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?”

“Oh, of course. I’ve been looking forward to it. Seeing our old friends again. The Carsons are coming, Elsie wrote and told me so, and I definitely want to see them.”

“Well … let’s get you ready for the ball, Cinderella!”

“Whatever you say, fairy godmother.”

Phyllis giggled and waved the comb in the air like a magic wand. “You SHALL go to the ball!” she trilled in a high, posh voice.

Anna was laughing. It felt good to do that again. Her hand passed back and forth over her stomach, easing against the sore spots. “Now you just be good tonight,” she murmured softly. “Just lie still, and don’t wriggle too much. Mummy loves you, just try to be quiet tonight, no football against her insides, do you hear?”

Anna’s hair fell from the brush, twisted softly into long waves. Deftly, Phyllis gathered the top layer and drew it back loosely, securing it with a few pins and a length of white ribbon. The style was a new one for Anna, like something out of an illustration in Josie’s book of fairy stories.

“There… all done. Let’s get you into your dress, and I’ll settle it for you.”

Anna wore very little makeup, but at Phyllis’ suggestion she rubbed a little Vaseline over her lips and smeared a little onto her eyelashes, to make them curl. A dusting of powder over her forehead and nose, and she was all ready.

Phyllis marvelled at her as she turned in her dress. Mrs Clarkson had chosen well. Anna looked like a queen from a fairy tale, in the simple but elegant cut. The green tinge to the velvet highlighted the colour of her eyes, made her smile seem even brighter, and countered the natural pallor of her skin.

“Ladies, our chariots are here!” called Bill from the kitchen.

“Come on then, Cinderella.”

“After you, Fairy Godmother…”

Downton Abbey was at its best. Every window on the ground floor glowed with warm light, while the doors stood open and welcoming, revealing the grand Christmas tree, covered with twinkling lights and strings of silver tinsel. Mary and Henry were waiting in the hall to receive their guests. But someone else got to the little party first.

“Good evening Mr and Mrs Bates. And this must be Miss Bates. May I take your coats, and welcome you back to Downton Abbey?”

Thomas hadn’t changed on the outside. He might be called Barrow, and settled into the role of Butler to Lady Mary these days, but he still carried himself with that air of self assurity that John remembered from the pre-war days, when he had been a mere first footman with ambitions. He had risen as high as he could have set his sights, Butler to the Earl and Countess of Grantham and the Crawley family, both in London and at Downton Abbey.

But on the inside, much had changed. The smile was more genuine, the eyes warmer, the old familiar sneer nowhere to be seen around his lips and brow. It suited him.

“Certainly, Mr Barrow. And a very merry Christmas to you.”

“Thank you Mrs Bates, compliments of the season to your family as well,” Thomas smiled at the woman who had worked alongside him for many years, and held out his arm for the coat belonging to his old rival with genial politeness.

“Anna! You made it…”

Thomas nodded to them both, seeing that they were about to be descended upon by Lady Mary, and moved slightly to one side to help the Moseley’s with their overcoats.

Mary looked spectacular, as Anna had known that she would. A chic garnet red dress, fringed in layers around the skirt, hung beautifully from her slender frame. A matching red lace band, with a plumy feather affixed at the back, circled her neat bobbed hair, while a long string of ebony beads lay knotted down her front. With her black stilettos and long black evening gloves, and that classic dash of scarlet lipstick, she could have been an advertisement for couture fashion, stepped straight out of the pages of Vogue.

“How wonderful to see you, you’re looking so much better,” Mary leaned in for an airy kiss against Anna’s cheek. “We saw you this afternoon, riding out near Yew Tree. George was delighted to have an audience.”

“We all enjoyed it very much, Milady, especially Josie. She loved seeing the horses and the ponies.”

“Did she indeed?” Mary smiled down indulgently. “Perhaps she could come to the stables and meet them at some point?”

Josie’s face lit up in rapture. There was nothing, save one of her very own, that she would like more.

“Can we go NOW?” she asked, gripping her Daddy’s hand tightly.

“Not now darling,” hushed Anna. Josie’s face fell, her lip beginning to quaver. Hastily Anna continued, hoping to head off the wails that were threatening to follow. “We’re here for the party, remember? And it’s all cold and mucky out in the stables, you don’t want to get your dress messy do you.”

“Can we go later?”

“Yes, maybe later dear.”

Anna agreed to Josie’s suggestion without her usual careful consideration, anxious to avoid a tantrum in front of Mary’s guests. It worked for now. Josie’s good humour was restored.

“We should let you greet the rest of your guests,” John said gently, preparing to shepherd his family away.

“Go right in, make yourselves at home…” Mary waved a hand breezily. “Everyone’s in the drawing room, the Carsons are already here… Hello darling Isobel, how lovely to see you…”

Henry Talbot stepped forward to shake John’s hand.

“Good to see you again Bates, and the family too.” He motioned for a woman dressed in a neat grey dress with short grey hair and wire spectacles to step forward. “Can I introduce you to Miss Greyson?”

Anna shook the woman’s hand, bemused. She didn’t recognise the name, and the quiet and slightly dowdy lady looked out of place amongst the splendour.

“Miss Greyson is our Nanny, she lives in the village,” Henry explained. “When we’re here, she takes care of George, and little Bobby, and she looks after any other children who are visiting Downton Abbey.”

Henry bent down in front of Josie.

“We hope you enjoy the party Josie, but it might be a little dull later on when all the grownups are talking. But there are some nice toys to play with up in the nursery, and Miss Greyson is going to have a supper party, for you and the other children. There will be scrambled eggs, and later on some fairy cakes. And hot chocolate. And if you get tired, there are some lovely beds for a nap before you go home. Does that sound nice?”

Josie’s face brightened. Cakes and hot chocolate and toys were her idea of a fun evening. “Yes please.”

Henry smiled and tapped her nose.

“Well… off you go with Mummy and Daddy first, I’m sure everyone wants to see your lovely dress.”

John was charmed. He hadn’t gotten to know Henry very well, since he and Anna had left Downton shortly after he and Lady Mary had married. But while he had seemed a little awkward and out of place as a guest, he was a born host and a wonderful father, who had a knack of talking to children.

“That’s so kind of you, to arrange all of that.”

“Well, we thought it might be more fun for our children if there was something going on for them. George and Sybbie might be grown up enough to hunt, but an evening in a big room with lots of breakable objects and fine clothes is still not really their cup of tea. Marigold is a couple of years younger than them, and since Nanny was going to be taking care of little Bobby anyway, it made sense to make another arrangement. Come, let me get you all a drink…”

By the time John and Henry caught up with the others, Anna and Josie had located Elsie and Charles Carson and were busy exchanging hugs and making introductions. Elsie was admiring Josie’s dress, which his daughter was obligingly showing off with a twirl.

Slowly the room began to fill up with guests, some new faces, many old familiar ones. John recognised Lady Edith, with her husband Lord Pelham. She was glowing with happiness and health, far more beautiful and relaxed than she had been during her last few years at Downton Abbey. Miss Marigold stood beside her, clutching at Lord Pelham’s hand. John had heard he adopted the little girl shortly after they had married, which impressed him greatly. Edith looked… different. Somehow. John couldn’t put a finger on how, until Anna came and slipped her hand into the crook of his arm, to join him in gazing around the room.

“Doesn’t she look wonderful?”

“She does… she looks, I don’t know, different somehow.”

“Can’t you tell why?”

“You know, don’t you?”

Anna smiled up at him.

“Elsie just told me. Apparently she’s pregnant. She and Lord Pelham are expecting a child later in the spring.”

Of course. The glow to the cheeks, the slight plumpness, just concealed by the flowing column dress and fringed wrap. Not to mention the brightness of that smile.

“I’m so glad they’re happy.”

“Me too,” Anna stretched up to kiss his cheek.

“Mummy Mummy!” Anna turned as Josie tugged at her skirt gently. “Mummy look, it’s the boy who was riding the pony! Can I go and say hello?”

George and Sybbie had joined the party, each walking hand in hand with Mr Branson.

“We’ll both go,” said John, with a wink to Anna. “I’ll make sure everything’s OK. You sit down, give your feet a rest while you can.”

Grateful for the suggestion, Anna went to sit beside Elsie and Charles, who were noting all of the changes and all the things which had stayed the same since their time in charge of the splendid house. This already had all the makings of a splendid evening.

Chapter 16: Chapter 16

Josie had privately decided that the party in the nursery was far more fun than the grown up affair downstairs. Miss Greyson’s scrambled eggs were almost as good as Mrs Patmore’s, and Miss Sybbie was a charming (if slightly bossy) hostess at the doll’s tea table, doling out thimbles of tea into the fine china with a grace that even the Dowager Countess would have approved of. Miss Marigold was a nice little girl, full of giggles and with an insatiable appetite for playing snap and listening to stories. But if she was honest, even though he was a boy, she liked George best. And fortunately for Josie, he seemed to like her too.

Since the arrival of his own baby brother, not to mention his earlier years at Downton Abbey in the company of Miss Marigold, George had learned a lot about having patience with children younger than him. Donk and Mumma reminded him frequently that he would one day be the master of Downton Abbey, and that he should be kind and patient with all the people in his life, even if they were smaller and not so clever as he was. George had decided that his younger relations and friends were good practice for this future responsibility.

He was an open hearted boy, generous with his abundant possessions and gifts and very keen to be a good host, even if it was only for the party in the nursery. His newest friend and guest, Josie, while not even three in comparison to his grand old eight years of age, was not proving so dull or difficult as he had at first feared. In fact, she had as great a love for horses and ponies as he did, although she hadn’t been able to ride one yet.

“I saw you and your pony today.” Josie beamed, flattered to have the attention of her hero, the boy who had ridden his own pony across the fields, dressed just like a grown up. They were sat over in the nook beside the bookcase, a little corner filled with pillows just right for resting in with a good book.

“Did you see Miss Sybbie too? Her pony looks like this one…”

George pointed to a picture of a little dappled grey in the big picture book he had pulled down from the shelf, which was filled with glossy pictures of pretty horses and ponies.

“I’ve not seen a grey one before. All of Unca Bill’s are brown.”

“My pony is brown,” said George proudly. “With a bit of white under his chin.”

“What’s he called?”

“Garnet. And Sybbie’s is called Pearl. What are the horses on the farm called?”

“Unca Bill showed me one called Merrylegs. She’s funny,” Josie giggled into her mug of milk. “Mummy had a ride on him once.”

“Do you want to ride a horse?”

“Yes… but Unca Bill says his horses are too big for me.”

George had been to Yew Tree Farm before, to see the pigs with his Mumma. He remembered the horses being huge, far taller than his own pony, bigger even than his Mumma’s horse Diamond, who was definitely too big for him to ride.

“Maybe you could have a ride on my horse.”

Josie’s face lit up. And then fell.

“What’s the matter?”

“Mummy is having a baby soon. And once the baby is here we will go home to the hotel. There aren’t any horses there.”

Josie’s little face looked so distraught that George felt personally responsible. He knew how hard it was to be separated from his own beloved horse when he lived in London with Mumma and went to school to study and be as clever as his Papa had been. But at least he knew that the horses were here, at home, to come and visit at Christmas and in the holidays.

“Don’t cry Josie,” he said anxiously, looking around in hurry for something to cheer his little guest up. His gaze lighted upon the last two chocolate biscuits on the plate at the table. Quickly, George scurried over to retrieve them, catching up a table napkin as well, just in case the tears started properly.

“Here…”

Josie gave him a brave smile, the sort that she normally saved for Daddy.

“I promise you can come and see my horse before you go home to your hotel.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

They ate their biscuits to seal the pact, wiping their mouths on the shared napkin.

“George? Could you come here for a moment please?”

George turned toward the door at the sound of his Mumma’s voice, to see her stood with Miss Greyson, beckoning to him.

“Here Josie, you can look at the pictures, I’ll go and see what Mumma wants…”

Chapter 17: Chapter 17

Downstairs the party for the grown ups was just as big a success. Anna was having a fabulous evening, catching up with old friends and gleaning all the bits and pieces of gossip. John was kept busy too, especially with Mr Branson, who was keen to ask his advice on running a hotel, with some delicious plan brewing for opening his own establishment. Flattered to have his advice sought out, John had sat over several glasses of juice with Branson and his notepad, pouring forth all of the knowledge he had gleaned during his time in Whitby. After a short while, Mr Moseley joined the little gathering, which freed up Phyllis and Anna to socialise and dance.

John frowned slightly to see Anna joining in with a dance, but did not have the heart to reprimand her. She had not danced since their trip to Scotland with the Crawley family, that last glorious summer before the dreaded Green intruded so horribly into their lives. The pace was sedate, and Phyllis on hand to keep an eye on her, and there were plenty of chairs close by if they were needed. Dr Clarkson was in the room too, which appeased John’s worries somewhat, but still they lingered.

Mary, too, was concerned to see Anna joining the dance. With more personal experience than most, she knew exactly what unaccustomed physical exertion could bring on for an expectant mother, and Anna’s health had been far more frail than her own had been when George’s arrival was imminent. She telegraphed her concern to Isobel across the room, who caught the glance and came over to join her.

“I think you’re right dear,” she said softly. “She is overdoing it a little bit.”

“Should we intervene?”

Isobel smiled at the idea of Mary asking for anyone’s permission to intervene.

“Perhaps the offer of a lift home might be a good and timely intervention? My own feet at starting to swell, we could take them with us.”

Mary gazed down at her son’s grandmother, suddenly grateful that this lovely and sensible woman had not vanished entirely from their lives, as could have happened in the wake of their shared tragedy.

“Would you mind? You are a darling Isobel.”

“Not a bit. I shall pop and have a word with Barrow, see if he can send my car around. Then we can start gathering people up.”

However, for the first time that evening, the plans that were being carefully laid were not going so smoothly. Barrow came over to meet Isobel in the hallway.

“Ah Barrow, just the man, I wonder if…”

“Mrs Clarkson, I was just…”

They stopped and smiled at each other. Isobel gave a small hand gesture indicating that he should speak.

“I was just coming to find Lady Mary, but perhaps you had better come and see for yourself…”

“Whatever’s the matter Barrow?”

“Nothing in the Abbey, Mrs Clarkson, but I’ve just taken a peak out of the windows, and now I wish I had done so earlier…”

While talking, he drew her over towards the long windows beside the door and drew back the heavy lined velvet curtains.

Isobel gasped. The world outside was blanked out. Thick snow lay across the courtyard in front of the Abbey doors, and flakes the size of cotton wool balls were whirling through the sky, reflected in the gleam of the lights from the window.

“Oh Goodness! When did this start?”

“No more than half an hour ago, that’s when I last checked. But look how thick it’s come down since then. It’s going to be dangerous out there.”

Barrow was right, no doubt about it. If that much had settled in less than 30 minutes, and there was more to come, this was in for the night and no mistake.

“Isobel, has Barrow sent for your car yet?” Mary’s voice echoed behind them as she emerged from the drawing room. “What are you doing at the window?”

“Mary dear, the weather has turned. And quickly too… Do come and see…”

Clattering across the parquet floor, Mary hastened over for a peep.

“Oh dear… Barrow, could you ask for the cars to be brought around? It think it might be best if we draw this evening to a close so that people can get home. And do rouse Parks would you? I think some people who walked here might need a lift back to the village if they’re going to arrive in one piece.”

“Very good Milady.”

Isobel and Anna’s eyes met.

“Is it safe for her to travel?”

“Is there any other alternative?”

“Lady Mary?”

Dr Clarkson’s voice brought them to a joint halt.

“You’d best come… it’s Anna…”

“John, honestly, I am fine, it was just a twinge…”

“Darling, you are awfully far along to be dismissing such things as ‘just a twinge’.”

“But I feel fine, honestly…”

“Anna…” Phyllis remonstrated. “You need to take more care of yourself. Was it like the one you had earlier?”

“Earlier?”

“John, it was nothing, I used to get these when Josie was due all the time…”

Anna, flanked by her husband and well meaning friends, was beginning to feel hemmed in, pinned into her chair, plied with glasses of water and plates of nibbles. True, she had felt a little light headed towards the end of the dance, and her stomach had twinged a little more strongly than earlier, causing her to reach for Phyllis’s arm, a gesture that had not been missed by any of her devoted entourage.

“Anna..? What is it, is everything alright…?”

“It was just a twinge, in my stomach, and I felt a little light headed was all…”

“Do you think we should take her home, Lady Mary?”

“No, absolutely not.”

John and Bill raised their heads in surprise at the firmness of Mary’s tone, having forgotten just how commanding she could be when she felt strongly about a situation.

“And I’m not just saying that to be difficult, there are good reasons.”

Mary crouched in front of Anna and took her hands, peaking into her white face.

“I had a twinge after a dance once, when I was some weeks away from being at my time. And a bumpy journey home did me no good at all, in terms of it being ‘nothing’.”

Anna met her old friend and employer’s eyes and saw the genuine worry reflected there, borne of personal experience. She sighed and nodded.

“I think you should stay here. You, John and Josie. And you too Isobel, and Dr Clarkson, I’d be grateful to have you here tonight.”

“Isn’t that a bit over cautious Lady Mary?” Dr Clarkson was surprised at the unexpected invitation, which bordered upon a command.

“If you’ll take a look out of the window Dr Clarkson, you’ll understand why.”

Dr Clarkson, accompanied by John, went to peek out between the curtains. The snow was now more than six inches thick, and still falling fast.

“By God…” Clarkson murmured. “We’d be lucky to see the road, let alone stick to it. If we were all fit and well, it would be a bumpy ride indeed, and a risky one…”

“…but we’re not all fit and well, are we Doctor?”

John’s face was etched with worry for his wife, who had already endured so much during this pregnancy.

“Mary’s right. If I leave now, I might make it home just fine, but there is no guarantee that I could get back here if Anna needed medical attention. Or even make it to Yew Tree Farm, in this weather. The best thing we can do now is to stay put. It might just be a twinge, and we can all go home safely in the morning light when Mr Branson’s men have cleared the roads. But if it’s not just a twinge…”

The memory of another young woman who had died unnecessarily in child birth at this very house, due to a medical mistake made by an overconfident doctor, still weighted heavily on Clarkson’s memory. Not again. Not on his watch.

“I would certainly feel better if you were here, Doctor.”

“Then here I shall be John.”

The two men did not shake hands, but their eyes met and sealed the deal with all the intensity of a gentleman’s agreement.

Rejoining their ladies and friends, they began to make plans.

“I’ll go and tell Nanny Greyson, we’ll now definitely need a bed for Josie” said Mary. “And I’ll ask Henry and Tom to start bringing the evening to a close. Those who need to get home should go now, to make the journey safely. Barrow, could you start finding coats and wraps for people now please…”

In a flash, she was gone, marshaling her troops, setting about her tasks. John felt the sensation of relief settle over him, just as it had when he and his family had arrived at Yew Tree Farm and been delivered into the care of their friends. It was going to be alright. Anna clasped his hand tightly. Everything was going to be fine.

Chapter 18: Chapter 18

“Good evening Miss Greyson.”

“Good evening Milady. Is everything going well?”

“We’re going to draw thing to a close, the weather has turned suddenly, and we would rather people get home safely.”

“Very good Milady. Do you want me to fetch little Josie Bates?”

“No, not just yet. You see, her mother has been having twinges. So she and her husband, and Josie, are going to stay here tonight. The Doctor is staying too, just in case.”

“Oh my… is the poor dear alright?”

“I hope that she will be, but Josie will certainly need a bed for the night.”

“I’ve already made one up in the nursery Milady. Little Bobby went down about ten minutes ago, and I don’t think Miss Marigold will last much longer. She’s started losing at snap, which is always the first sign that she’s tired.”

Mary smiled indulgently, peeping in at the door to see the next generation of little Crawleys and their friends engaged in their fun.

“Where is Josie?”

“Over in the corner there with George. He’s showing her pictures of the horses.”

Mary’s heart melted to see her own dear boy being so kind and gentle to the little girl who he had only just met this evening. To see the two blonde heads bent together over the book was such a sweet and poignant moment that she needed a second to compose herself, before calling softly to her son.

“George? Could you come here for a moment please?”

George extracted himself and hurried over.

“Yes Mumma?”

“George darling, Josie’s going to stay at Downton Abbey tonight, in the nursery with you and the others. Her mummy isn’t feeling very well.”

“Is it because of the baby?”

Mary blinked, taken aback. How had he put those ideas together?

“How did you know about the baby darling?”

“Josie told me that her mummy was having a baby. I didn’t know that baby’s made people feel poorly.”

“They don’t always, but sometimes mummy’s need extra rest, and Mrs Bates needs lots of rest tonight. So she’s going to stay here, so we can look after her.”

“Is she going to have the baby straight away?”

“We hope not darling, it might just be that her tummy is feeling poorly after dancing. Like yours does when you’ve eaten too quickly and then want to run around and play with Sybbie.”

George nodded thoughtfully, then turned to Miss Greyson.

“Nanny, do you have any ginger ale in your special cupboard? That always helps my tummy feel better, maybe it will make Josie’s mummy feel better too?”

Mary was torn between wanting to hug George for his kindness and laugh at his solemn little ways, while knowing she must do neither if she wanted to preserve his precocious little dignity. Thankfully Miss Greyson had had significantly more experience in this area than many mothers.

“I shall go and have a look Master George. Perhaps you could go and tell Josie that she will be staying here tonight?”

“And look after her?” added Mary quickly, swallowing her spurt of mirth. “She might be worried about her Mummy, but we will take good care of her.”

George’s little chest puffed out with pride. Mumma could depend on him.

“I’ll look after her Mumma. I’ll do my best to cheer her up.”

“That’s my good boy.” Mary turned for half a second, distracted by the sound of running feet. Later on, she would realise that this was the moment she had also misspoken to her child in a moment of panic.

“Do whatever you can to cheer her up then my darling, and let her know she will be going home in the morning. Now Miss Greyson, I need to…”

“Don’t worry about a thing Milady, I’ll see to these little loves. Now, who would like some nice hot chocolate…?”

Mary turned and left, following the sound of the rapid feet. Rounding the corner, she almost ran smack into Barrow, whose precision timing gave him the whole two seconds needed to stop and pull back.

“Barrow, what’s happening?”

“Mrs Bates has had another twinge, milady. Dr Clarkson suggested that she should lie down, so we have been setting a room to rights for her in the guest wing. I’d just turned on the lamps when I heard them coming up…”

“Is she alright?”

“She seems to be, Milady. Mrs Clarkson and Mr Bates are with her in the Ripon room. I’ve settled Dr and Mrs Clarkson into the Handsacre room, next door. I thought it might be prudent to have them close by.”

“On top of everything as usual Barrow, very well thought out.”

Barrow beamed at this unexpected praise. Mary felt grateful to have one of her oldest stalwarts on her side tonight. He might have been through several ups and downs during his time at the Abbey, but he knew they place backwards and was certainly unflappable in any domestic crisis.

“How are things going downstairs?”

“Mr Talbot is bidding the guests farewell Milady, most of them have been seen to their own cars. Mr Branson has gone to fetch his own car to take the Yew Tree Farm party home, since Dr Clarkson won’t be able to drive them…”

The footsteps receded down the corridor, back towards the remains of the party downstairs. It had certainly turned into an eventful night.

Back in the nursery, George was feeling the pressure. Poor Josie was distraught.

“It’s alright Josie, Mumma will look after your Mummy, she will be fine.”

It wasn’t working. Poor Josie’s face was tear stained and her cheeks were sodden.

“Come dear, here’s a nice clean hankie, do dry your eyes…”

For the first time in his young life, George understood why such an odd and normally useless article was foisted upon him and stuffed into his pocket each morning. It was pointless in his own small world, but for mopping up miniature crying ladies, it was a saviour.

Josie hiccupped, her tears abating a little.

“Are you scared for her?”

Josie nodded.

“I was scared when my Mumma was having Bobby. Her belly hurt and Pappa was walking up and down the corridor outside her room looking all sad and angry. But she was alright. Doctor Clarkson looked after her and Bobby came, and everyone was happy.”

Although it was not usually his policy to do so, George scooped up Josie’s icy little hand in his own larger warmer one.

“Mumma said I should cheer you up. Do you want to see the horses in the book again? Or … or come for a ride on the rocking horse?”

“You’ve got a rocking horse?”

“I do, he’s over in the corner there. He’s called Dobbin. Do you want to come for a ride?”

“Can I ride him in my dress?”

George considered the problem for a moment as he pulled his little friend to her feet.

“Let’s find out. We can always tuck your skirt in your knickers if it’s too long.”

“I think it’s just a false alarm dear,” Dr Clarkson, rolling his sleeves back down, beamed down at a worn out Anna. “Your pulse is quite regular, and you’ve not had any other cramps?”

“Not since I lay down.”

“You’re sure darling? You’re feeling alright?”

John sat to the other side of the bed, clasping her hand. The lines of worry across his face had begun to fade a little. Propped up against the thick pillows, with her feet slightly raised on a cushion, Anna was beginning to look more like her old self again.

“Yes John, I feel much better now. If it wasn’t for the snow, I’d be fine to go back…”

“Yes well, your Doctor’s orders are to stay put,” Dr Clarkson gave a wry smile, tucking away his stethoscope back into his bag, which went everywhere with him, even to fancy parties.

There was a knock at the door, followed by a small call of ‘Can I come in?’

Everyone was surprised to see Lady Edith’s face appear around the door.

“Lady Edith!”

“Hush dear, don’t get up. Bertie filled me in. I just thought, since you’re staying tonight, that you might like some clean night things. I had some more things made in larger sizes before I came away, just in case I filled out,” she patted her own slightly swollen stomach, smiling at Anna with a conspiratorial wink. “We mummas-to-be must stick together.”

“That’s so kind of you, Milady.”

“Not at all. I won’t stay, I’ll just pop them here and leave you to get comfortable. See you in the morning dear.”

In a moment she was gone, and Dr Clarkson was ushering his own wife out of the room to allow Anna to change and settle in for the night.

Chapter 19: Chapter 19

The ride on Dobbin did much to brighten up the remainder of Josie’s evening, even if she had to be persuaded to change into a spare pair of pyjamas in order to save her dress from ruin. Luckily Nanny had a great stack on hand in the nursery cupboard, and since Josie was staying over anyway, there was no harm in a brief wardrobe exchange.

George felt proud of himself. Disaster had been averted and smiles restored. Over hot chocolate, he had a devoted audience for his tales of daring and adventure in the Yorkshire countryside with his trusty pony Garnet, even if Sybbie did keep interrupting with details he would rather forget.

“Wasn’t that when you fell off in the stream?”

“Wasn’t that the time you landed in the ditch and got all muddy?”

“Wasn’t that the time you ripped your jacket in the hedge and your Mumma got awfully cross with you…?”

Josie giggled to herself as the two older children bickered good naturedly. They were too fond of each other to really argue, as evidenced when Sybbie happily swapped her last slosh of hot chocolate for George’s last half slice of shortbread. Marigold had been scooped off to bed, worn out after the long evening. Perhaps Mummy and Daddy were right, it might be nice to have a brother or sister of her very own to share games and stories with.

“Right everybody, I think it’s time for clean teeth and bed now. Here you are Josie, a nice warm dressing gown for you, and a spare toothbrush.” Nanny doled out the gowns and brushes, gathering up the mugs to rinse out.

“You can use some of my toothpaste Josie.”

“That’s very kind of you George, why don’t you take her and show her with the bathroom is?”

“Will Mummy come and say goodnight?”

“I think Mummy’s having a sleep sweetheart, but I will see if Daddy wants to tuck you in. Don’t you worry little dear, you’ll be home in your own bed tomorrow as soon as Mummy is feeling better.”

Miss Greyson set the nursery to rights and breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a long night, but the little Bates girl seemed to have settled well. With a bit of luck it would be a peaceful night with them all so worn out. Turning out the light, she went to settle everyone into bed, shushing them gently so as not to wake baby Bobby or Marigold. In no time at all George and Sybbie were settled, and Josie was tucked into the little extra bed squeezed in between the two. Turning down the lamp, she went downstairs to find Lady Mary and let her know that all of her charges were settled for the night.

Changed, washed and ready for bed, Anna was feeling a hundred times better. She had been foolish to get up and do that ridiculous dance, and was beginning to feel rather sheepish for causing such a fuss and worry to everyone. John helped her to brush out her hair in long smooth strokes, his gentle fingers detangling away the knots.

“I remember the last time we spend the night in a guest room in this place,” said John softly, a wicked chuckle in his voice.

Anna giggled, a warm flush spreading under her skin at the memory of her wedding night.

“Shame that circumstances won’t allow for a repeat of certain events,” she said softly, turning to capture the soft kiss that John laid upon her lips.

Even after all these years, John quivered inwardly at the very notion that she could still desire him so much.

“I think you’ve had quite enough excitement for one night sweetheart,” he said, with effort, reminding himself that the baby would be born soon, and the patiently borne wait to be intimate with his beautiful wife again would be over before too much longer.

“I am forced to agree,” sighed Anna reluctantly. “But let the record show that the lady protests.”

There was a soft knock at the door.

John went to see who it was, opening the door to find Miss Greyson standing there.

“Good evening Mr Bates, I just wanted to let you know that Josie’s all settled, but would like someone to come and tuck her in.”

“Absolutely Miss Greyson, I’ll be along in…”

“John?” Anna called from the dressing table.

“Yes dear?”

“I’d like to do that, I don’t want her worrying about me. I’ll come along in a little while to see how she is. You can walk with me, if you like.”

John was going to argue but a look at Anna’s face stopped him. Something about this gesture was clearly important to her tonight.

“Very good Mrs Bates. I’ll be in the night nursery next door if you need anything. Good night.”

“Good night Miss Greyson.”

John closed the door.

“Are you alright dear?”

Anna laid the hair brush to one side and turned to face John.

“I am, yes. I just remember the troubles we had a few weeks ago, when she thought that I didn’t love her anymore because being ill kept me away from her. She knows the baby is coming now. I don’t want her to think anything is going to make her less important to me. To us both.”

“Are you up to it?”

“Am I up to a short, sedate walk down a flat carpeted gallery?” Anna pealed with laughter under her breath. “Oh John, I certainly hope so, or we are going to have trouble indeed.”

John realised he was being overprotective. After all, what was the worst that would happen? That Anna might need to sit and rest for a few minutes before returning to this comfortable room, surrounded by friends and family who would take care of her.

“Alright love. We’ll go together in a few minutes.”

Back in the nursery, Josie’s eyes had popped open as soon as Miss Greyson left the room.

Mrs Greyson had said she would be going home tomorrow.

As soon as Mummy was feeling better.

Mrs Greyson had meant Yew Tree Farm. But in Josie’s little mind, Yew Tree Farm wasn’t home. The hotel in Whitby was. And they were only going home once Mummy had the baby.

And Mummy wasn’t feeling well again. George had said so earlier.

She hadn’t been well before either. Daddy had told her it was because of the baby growing in Mummy’s tummy.

If Mummy was going to be feeling better by the morning, that must mean the baby was coming out. Maybe that’s why Mummy was asleep, and why Dr Clarkson had brought his big bag with him in the car tonight. Maybe he was going to help her take it out of her tummy tonight and then tomorrow they would all be going home.

To the hotel.

Away from the farm.

Away from Downton Abbey.

Away from the ponies.

With a sudden panic, Josie realised that Mummy and Daddy had forgotten their promise to take her to see the ponies in the stables. Mummy had promised earlier that they would go later. But now there was no later. Now she was tucked up in bed and would be going home in the morning and there would be no time at all. And no time to say goodbye to Unca Bill, or get Dolly back, or see Mrs Patmore or Daisy again…

The sense of panic and changes happening out of her control was more than the little girl could bear.

“Josie?”

George turned over, aware of a soft little noise in the bed next to him. In the seeping light from the door left ajar to the night nursery, he could see Josie’s eyes wide open, streaming tears, her whole face white with terror.

“Josie!” His voice was an urgent whisper as he wriggled out of the bed covers. George could tell that something was very wrong. Scrambling out of bed, he leaned over and peeped around the edge of the night nursery door. Nanny Greyson wasn’t there, the room was empty. He looked around, blinking sleepily. Sybbie, Marigold and little Bobby were all asleep.

No other help was available. This was up to him.

Scootching over onto the next bed, George awkwardly put his arm around Josie. She was shaking.

“Josie, what’s wrong?”

“George?”

“Yes Josie?”

“Am I going home in the morning?”

George wracked his sleepy little brain to recall exactly what Mumma and Nanny Greyson had said earlier.

Let her know she will be going home in the morning.

“Yes, Josie, Mumma said so.”

Josie’s shivers turned to small wails. George, gazing around in a panic, frantically tried to shush her. Obviously this was the wrong thing to have said.

“What’s the matter Josie…?”

“I don’t want to gooooo…”

Gallantly, George pulled down the sleeve of his pyjama top and offered it to her to wipe her eyes.

“Why not?”

“Because I won’t see the ponies…”

George gave her a little cuddle, his eight year old mind working quickly. If this was true, he knew that Josie would be terribly upset. And Mumma had said she’d be going home in the morning, and his Mumma never told lies. Mumma had told him to look after Josie, and she would be awful cross if he had made his little friend upset. She had specifically told him to make sure that she was alright, and to cheer her up.

Do whatever you can to cheer her up then my darling…

Do whatever he could to cheer her up…

Right now there was only one thing that would cheer Josie up. And it had four legs and a tail and lived in the stables. And if she was going home in the morning, this might be his last chance to keep his own little promise. Casting his eye around the room, he caught sight of the tall wardrobe across the room and began to come up with a plan.

The children of Downton Abbey might have been privileged, but their parents and nanny tried to make sure they were not spoiled, and each was encouraged to take responsibility for their own belongings, placing shoes in the rack to be cleaned and hanging coats and hats up on the peg with their name on it. Over by the door of the nursery stood his riding boots, still mucky from his adventure with the hunt earlier. Next to the big cupboard where Nanny kept all of the socks and clean underwear. Their overcoats were hanging up on the pegs by the door.

Looking down at Josie, George realised that Sybbie’s boots would be far too big for her. As would her coat. But Marigold’s… hers were far smaller, laid neatly on the rack next to his own. And her coat would do too.

“Josie?” he whispered coaxingly. “How would you like to go and see the ponies right now?”

Josie gasped, her tears shocked into stopping. It was the middle of the night, in a strange house, and Mummy had said the stables were a long way away.

“Are we allowed?” she whispered, shocked at the daring of her older playmate.

George puffed out his chest.

“I will be master of this house one day. And Mumma told me to cheer you up, any way I could. And I keep my promises. And I promised to show you the ponies. Do you want to come?”

Josie’s despair had been replaced, in seconds, with an expression of shining joy.

“Come on then,” he held out his hand to her, motioning for her to be quiet. “We mustn’t wake the others, but you can wear Marigold’s coat and boots. With some extra socks so your feet fit…”

The two little adventurers, fueled by excitement and daring, pulled on socks over their bare feet, stuffed their toes into boots and bundled themselves into the big thick overcoats. George helped Josie to do up the buttons on her coat and, as an afterthought, plonked his own riding hat on his head and wrapped Marigold’s big scarf around Josie’s head. Looking like a quaint little pair of refugees, the two of them slipped quietly out of the nursery and hurried down the carpeted corridor.

“Let’s go this way,” George whispered. “Mr Barrow showed me where the servants stairs are, they go down to the back, much nearer the stables…”

Wrapped into the floor length dressing gown of pink wool so kindly loaned by Edith, her feet stuffed into a little pair of silky Chinese slippers, Anna leaned heavily on John’s arm. Baby seemed to have moved around a bit tonight and was lying heavily across her bladder. She remember feeling like this last time she was pregnant, longing to have the whole thing over with so that she didn’t feel so much like a stuffed Christmas Goose any more. She puffed slightly, feeling baby wriggle into a more comfortable position.

“Are you alright dear?”

“Just fine… but Baby tosses and turns almost as much as you do.”

John smiled. If she was making jokes, even at his expense, she must be feeling a little better.

“Well, we’re almost there, and then you can come back for a nice quiet lie down.”

“Oh that sounds nice. I almost overdid it tonight. I feel like I could sleep for a week.”

“You’re a guest now, and a married one. I’m sure you might even get breakfast in bed.”

Across the end of the corridor, Miss Greyson emerged from a door, her hands full of little white mugs and a baby’s bottle tucked into her apron pocket. She nodded to the Bates, and inclined her head towards the nursery. She would be along in a bit, once her little kitchenette was restocked for the morning’s warm milky drinks.

Anna had the sense that something was wrong when she realised that the bed nearest the door was empty. Perhaps one of the children had just gone to the bathroom. But when John raised the light a little to allow them to see which bed their daughter was in, she recognised Marigold and Sybbie straight away, and heard the burbling of baby Bobby coming from the cot down near the window.

But the other two beds were horribly, unmistakably, empty.

There was no sign of Josie.

Nor of George.

Turning in a panic, Anna spun around staring wildly up and down the corridor.

No sign of them. No running little feet. No sleepy little childish voices.

“Mrs Bates? Is everything alright Mrs Bates?”

“Where is she?” Anna turned quickly at the sound of Miss Greyson behind her. Clutching at the woman’s shoulder, she almost spat out the question again. “Where’s my little girl, where’s Josie?”

“Why, in bed asleep, I just…”

“No. She’s not.”

John’s voice was clipped with worry as he came back towards the door, having torn back the blankets of both empty beds in his search for his darling daughter.

“She’s not here, she’s…”

“Gone…”

“And so is George.”

Miss Greyson’s eyes widened and she gasped. Overcome with panic, and with a sudden groan, Anna felt a grip in her stomach turn her insides over. She couldn’t get her breath. Her heart hammered, and her knees buckled and she moaned as a low pain shot beneath her belly.

“Anna…!” John darted forwards to catch her, as Miss Greyson took her other arm. Footsteps echoed down the end of the gallery.

“Miss Greyson, is everything alright…? Mr Bates? Mrs Bates? What’s going on?”

The footsteps quickened into a run. For the first time ever in his life, John was relieved to hear Barrow’s voice approaching in the distance.

“Anna’s going into labour, Thomas,” he said, his eyes drawn tight with fear and worry. “And Josie and George are missing from the nursery.”

Chapter 20: Chapter 20

Under his years of tutelage with Mr Carson and in the years since his promotion to Butler of Downton Abbey, Barrow had begun to believe there was no crisis that he could not handle with relative grace and, if not aplomb, certainly self control.

But all at once, he was one to test his limits. Inside, his insides turned over at the idea of any harm coming to his little stalwart friend, George Crawley, and to cap it all here was a woman who had been known to him for more than twenty years going into labour in his gallery.

“Missing?”

John’s head jerked up at the distress in Barrow’s voice. For just one second he caught a glimpse of the utter panic behind Barrow’s facade. Goodness, had Thomas finally learned to genuinely care for someone’s wellbeing after all these years?

With a quick shake of his head, Barrow took charge and got himself back under control.

“They can’t have gone far. It’s a big house, but they’ve got little legs. Now Mrs Bates, can you stand?”

A low keening groan indicated that she could indeed stand, but would need more support than was currently available to even attempt walking.

Thomas calculated quickly. He and Miss Greyson were probably strong enough to support her, but the house needed to be alerted to the missing children, and Bates would not leave his wife in this state, and would not be the fastest messenger.

“Miss Greyson,” he said quickly. “Could you go and wake the doctor? And find Lady Mary?”

She nodded and hurried away.

Thomas met John’s eyes.

“Can you support her, while I fetch a chair from in there?”

Barrow nodded to the nursery. John nodded his ascent. Bracing his leg, his arm around Anna’s waist, he held her up against him as she struggled to catch her breath. Barrow reappeared in a few short moments, dragging a padded chair with him. Anna sank down into it gratefully, trying to catch her breathing. Thomas closed the door to the nursery behind them.

“Where is she…” moaned Anna. “Where’s my baby…”

“She won’t have gone far. George probably wanted to show her something in the house. We’ll look for her, we’ll find her…”

“Anna…? Anna what’s happening…?”

Isobel and Dr Clarkson, clad in dressing gowns and slippers, came hurrying around the corner.

“Oh my dear, Miss Greyson said…”

“She’s gone Isobel, she’s gone and… I can’t … find…heruuuurrrrggggh”

Anna’s face scrunched up in pain as her insides churned once more. John clasped her hand tightly, rubbing her wrist, explaining in an undertone.

“Josie is missing from the nursery. Along with George. And Anna is…”

“So I see,” said Dr Clarkson, taking command. “Now Anna, we’ll find the children, but we need to get you back to bed. We’ll send out a search party, right away, won’t we Barrow…”

“Absolutely Doctor. I know every corner of this house, all of George’s hidey holes. They won’t have gone far.”

Isobel flashed a look of gratitude toward Barrow, he was saying all the right things.

“I’ll go now,” he said, his light tread headed for the stairs. “I bet he’s gone to the kitchen to show her the refrigerator…”

“Alright dear, back to bed time for you. Slowly does it, let’s go now… Just put your arm around me, and the other around Isobel, that’s a good lass, easy does it…”

In no time at all, Dr Clarkson had Anna on the move back to her own room. Every so often the stopped to let her rest in the chair, which John brought on behind them. He was torn with anxiety, desperate to stay with Anna, who was in obvious pain and probably in premature labour, while also wanting to find his daughter. Hopeless and helpless in either situation he was distraught.

Luckily, the Doctor had also been an officer, and immediately recognised a soldier in need of orders.

“Mr Bates… you know this house. We’re possibly going to need more towels. And linen. You know where Mrs Hughes used to keep them? Fetch them please.”

Away went John, glad to have a task that was both useful and within his remit.

“Isobel … please … find her… find… Josie…”

“There dear, it’s alright. They’ll all be out looking for her…”

“Isobel?”

The sound of her husband’s voice made Isobel look up. He spoke quietly as yet another pain wracked Anna’s stomach.

“Isobel… she needs someone she can trust to go find the children. She trusts you…”

“Won’t you need me here…?” Isobel did not like the thought of being dispensable to the present emergency.

“Not as much as she needs you out there.”

“But won’t you need a nurse? A midwife? Someone to help if she begins to… ”

The door banged open, as John clattered back in, his arms stuffed with materials.

“I found a stack of towels… and some old linen… And I found a maid, she’s fetching us some hot water.”

“Excellent John, then we should have everything we need for all eventualities.” Dr Clarkson smiled at Isobel gently. “I have help. He is her husband, and this is 1929 my dear… times change, and we must all do what we can do best. John can sooth Anna better than you, and you can search this house far more quickly than him…”

“Isobel…” Anna’s voice was barely more than a gasp, her face beaded with sweat and lined with frantic worry. “Please … find her…”

“Isobel, nothing will Anna faster and more effectively than the return of her child. Please.”

Isobel gave Anna’s hand one final squeeze.

“I’m on my way dear. Barrow’s right, they can’t have gone far. I’ll have her back to you before you know it.”

Downstairs in the kitchen, the floor was cold and made odd noises under Josie’s boots. All of the tables and chairs seemed twice as big in the dim lights and there were huge unfamiliar objects, the likes of which she had never seen in her Mumma’s kitchen, or in Mrs Patmore’s. It was enough to make even the bravest little adventurer feel a little fearful, but while George was holding her hand she felt brave enough to go on. He knew this place. He had been in this kitchen hundreds of times, he told her, helping to make cakes. Well, stir cakes. And lick the bowls afterwards. That part was very important.

“Mrs Patmore lets me do that.”

“She used to let me do that too.”

They grinned at each other, another common bond cementing their friendships.

“Come on, the back door is this way.”

George knew where the key was. He had see Mr Barrow lock the door with it a hundred times while he followed him around at the Abbey. He tugged open the stiff little drawer in the wooden table in the passage way and removed the big iron key with a brown paper label attached.

He slid the key into the lock and turned it, the well oiled mechanism moving smoothly and easily. No rusty or stiff locks were permitted in this house. Mr Carson would never have allowed it, and living in constant fear of an inspection during one of his tours, Barrow had never left the standards fall.

The door swung inward, revealing a magical white carpet. The snow was deeper than a foot now, spread smooth and evenly across the court yard.

“Oh!” Josie gasped. “What is it?”

“It’s snow. Haven’t you seen snow before?”

“I thought it was just bits in the sky. I’ve never seen it on the ground like that.”

Having lived in the salty air of Whitby, Josie had only ever seen snow flurries, never a thick white carpet like this.

“I’d better go first,” said George, pulling his hat on firmly. “You hold onto my belt and walk behind me in my tracks.. The snow is bigger than your boots.”

Slowly, they shuffled out into the yard. Pausing for a moment, George reached back to pull the door closed behind him. It wouldn’t do to get snow all over the kitchen passageway, and the flakes were still falling fast. Bracing themselves across the cold, the two children set off, George leading the way towards the stables.

Behind them, the flakes whirled and settled, silently filling up their tracks.

“Isobel… Isobel what’s happening?”

No sooner had she arrived downstairs than Isobel was accosted by Mary, who had heard the commotion from the drawing room, where she, Henry and Tom had been enjoying a final night cap.

“Mary dear, I’m sure its nothing…”

“It doesn’t sound like nothing with all these running to and fros…”

“Milady…”

Miss Greyson and Mr Barrow rounded the corner.

“Milady we were just…”

“WHAT is going on?”

“Mary, Anna’s gone into labour and…”

“Oh dear heavens, are you sure? Is the doctor with her? Isn’t it still dreadfully early for…”

“Mary dear, do listen. Just for a moment, do listen.”

Brought down to earth by the seriousness in Isobel’s face, joined by her husband and brother-in-law, Mary handed over her glass to Henry and finally paid attention.

“Go on. I’m listening.”

“Anna went to say goodnight to Josie. But Josie wasn’t in the nursery. And neither was George.”

Mary’s face turned pale.

“Now I’m sure,” Isobel ploughed on, “that George has just taken Josie to see something, probably trying to cheer her up if she was worried about her dear mother, but Anna took a fright from it, and she’s having pains.”

“Oh dear God…”

“She can’t have gotten far, I was only gone for a few minutes to rinse the mugs and let you know they were settled, I thought they were asleep…”

“It’s alright Miss Greyson, nobody is blaming you. That cheeky boy has just taken his friend on an adventure.”

“Indeed,” interjected Mary. “And he shall be told, when we find him, that the middle of the night is not the time for such adventures. I’m all for high spirits, but he has gone a little beyond the line this time. Barrow, can we organise a search?”

“Certainly Milady.”

“Where could they have gone? What’s caught George’s attention recently? Have there been changes in the house?”

“The attics have been emptied out Milady, he could have gone to show her the Dowager’s old ball dresses…”

“That’s a point, she was rather taken with her own dress tonight…” a pang of ridiculous guilt shot through Isobel’s heart.

“Alright, Tom could you take the attics? Thank you dear, where else?”

“I’ll go and check the library, maybe he’s gone to find some of his favourite books…”

“Good thinking Henry, thank you. Right where else?”

“The kitchen? The new refrigerator was installed last week, Milady, George was awfully taken with it…”

“And knowing him, he would like a snack I’m sure…” interjected Isobel.

“Alright, let’s spread out. Isobel, can you search the drawing room where we had the party? I didn’t see him sneak in, but you never know… I’ll go and search the bedrooms, in case they’ve made a den. Barrow, could you search the downstairs rooms? You know every hidden corner down there…”

“I’ll go back to the day nursery in case they’ve gone back for another ride on the rocking horse, and check the night nursery again. ”

“Yes Miss Greyson, and stay there in case they come back. Wouldn’t do to have those scamps back in bed while we run around after them, would it? Right, come along everyone, let’s have the second hunt of the day…”

The little gathering scattered to look for the errant children.

For the first ten minutes or so, Barrow was amused. Master George was a little scamp. He felt sorry for Mrs Bates, to be sure, but she was in the best of hands with Doctor Clarkson, and that big husband of hers would move mountains to make sure she was alright. He knew, he’d seen him do it. But as fifteen minutes stretched into twenty, amusement flaked away into annoyance, and finally into concern. As room after room surrendered to his methodical search, and no child was found, and no shout of triumph came from upstairs, the minutes raced by and his seeking became more frantic.

“Barrow? Any luck?”

“Not yet Mrs Clarkson. No joy above?”

“Not yet, but they’re still looking. It’s such a big house…”

“And almost as big down here as up there…” In frustration Barrow gave one of the chairs in the servant’s hall a shove aside to look under the table.

“That’s what I thought. So I’ve come to help.”

Despite his slight annoyance at her interference, Barrow was grateful for Mrs Clarkson’s intuition and observation.

“Where’s left to look?”

“Nowhere that I can think of, that’s the blood… I mean, that’s the blasted problem.”

“Don’t worry Barrow, if there’s a time to swear, tonight is it. Right, let’s think. Not in the pantry?” Barrow shook his head. “Larder? Servant’s hall? Boot room? Where else could they be?”

“I was sure they’d be down here, there’s nothing George likes more than a snack.”

“Except his horses.”

In that moment, the two seekers locked eyes. The same words were whispered in unison, falling from their lips, drops of enlightenment.

“…in case they’ve gone back for another ride on the rocking horse…”

Horses.

“The stables!” they exclaimed in unison.

Racing towards the back door, Barrow saw the key in the lock and knew instantly that they had hit upon the solution. He had tucked that key away in the desk drawer after the party.

“They’ve gone outside,” he called back to Isobel, reaching the door and wrenching it open.

The force of the blizzard stopped him. The snow had picked up its intensity. Isobel could just make out the tracks that lead away from the door, small indentations heading in a wobbly path across the courtyard.

“Look… they went this way! Barrow, we’ve got to tell the others… Barrow?”

Barrow’s expression was one of dismay. Children hiding out in the house was one thing. But out here in the snow? In their pyjamas? In the pitch black? Slamming the door, he turned back inside, throwing on all of the light switches as he did so.

“You go. There’s no time,” he pushed roughly past Isobel, reaching for his overcoat, hung up next to the door. Snatching up a torch, he yanked the drawer open, pulling out spare batteries and stuffing them into the pocket. “I’ve got to start looking. Now. They could be anywhere.”

Isobel could feel the panic rising in her throat.

“I’ll come with…”

“No!” Barrow almost shouted at her. “Fetch the others. We need everyone out here. Torches, lights, as many people as possible. It’s freezing out here, and they’ve been gone half an hour…”

The urgency of the matter finally hit home to Isobel.

“Right. Yes of course. I’ll … I’ll go now.”

Without another word, Barrow wrenched the door back open and pushed out into the snow, pulling it closed behind him. Out of the window, Isobel saw his torch light flashing across the snow, lighting up the dancing snow flakes, and heard him calling…

“George! Josie! Georgie it’s Barrow, where are you?”

She raced back through the downstairs rooms to find the others and assemble the search party.

The snow was colder than anything Josie had ever known. Her toes felt frozen, even beneath their three layers of socks and sturdy boots. By luck more than judgement, George had managed to lead them down the right path to the stables, where luckily the stable door was turnedaway from the force of the blizzard. The snow was lesser under the eaves, as they kicked their boots against the side to loosen the snow clumps. Reaching up, George pushed up the bar enough to open the door and ushered Josie inside.

At least inside it was warm, if slightly smelly. Josie had become accustomed to the smell of animals but still, the rich aroma inside the stalls was a stark contrast to the fresh and pleasant scent of the Abbey nursery.

“George, I can’t see…”

“Hang on, just stay still, while I get the lamp…”

With practiced fingers, George struck the match and lit the lamp, turning down the gas so that they could see, hanging it safely onto the hook on the wall. The grooms had told him many times that he must never leave a lantern on the floor in the stables, where there was the risk of the hay catching fire.

“Better?”

“Yes.”

“Come on… Garnet’s this way.”

George was now tall enough to see over the stable half door, but Josie needed to stretch on tiptoes to see. George, spotting the problem, dragged over a large wooden bucket and up-ended it, helping Josie to climb up onto it so she could see.

“That’s Garnet?”

“Yes, best pony in the world.”

Garnet turned sleepily to face the light, recognising his master’s voice. Giving a soft whinny, he trotted over, allowing his velvet nose to be petted and stroked. George showed Josie how to pat him gently.

“He wants a carrot, but I haven’t got any. I’ll bring him one tomorrow.”

“Oh he’s so pretty…”

Josie was enraptured, especially when the little beast snorted softly into her palm, tickling her hand. She giggled.

“Do you want to see Pearl too?”

Josie nodded, climbing down from the bucket, allowing George to drag it over to the next stall. Pearl was a spirited little thing, a hand bigger than Garnet, and as feisty as her small mistress. She was beautiful to look at, her dappled grey coat shimmered in the light, but she was not so amenable to being petted without the promise of a treat, and by someone other than her groom or mistress.

“No leave her now…” George caught hold of Josie’s hand. “See how her ears are back? She’s had enough, she wants to go to sleep.”

All of a sudden Josie yawned.

“I’d like to go to sleep…”

George smiled. She was only a little girl after all. And she had seen the ponies now, he had kept his promise. Maybe it was time to go back inside to the warmth.

“Come on then, let’s go.”

Unfortunately at that moment, a gust of wind caught the stable door and flung it closed, banging it into the door frame. The force of the impact jolted the bar loose and it slammed down on the outside with an horrific crash. George, pushing against the door, realised the terrifying truth. They were shut in. And he could not reach the latch, nor had he got the strength to use it to raise the bar again.

They were stuck. Until someone came to find them. And nobody knew where they were.

“George… what’s happened?”

“Um…”

“George?”

“Josie… we might have to stay her a bit longer.”

“Why…?”

“It’s the snow,” said George quickly, unwilling to admit how serious the problem was. “It’s a bit thick, and we need the wind to blow it away, so we can get back to the house.”

“Oh…”

“So we should stay here.”

“Won’t it get cold?”

“Course not! The horses are toasty warm.”

“But we’re not horses.”

“No… but people can stay warm in stables too.” Inspiration struck as George looked around him. “Like Jesus, and his Mummy Mary, and Joseph. Jesus was born in a stable, and they looked after him there, with a donkey nearby. I know, I saw it in a big picture in Donk’s big bible.”

Josie knew the story. She had been told it herself.

“Did that happen in the winter?”

“It happened at Christmas. And this is the day after Christmas.”

“Oh.” George’s logic could not be argued with. This much as all true.

“Look here… there’s a blanket. It smells a bit horsey, but we could hide under that. That will keep us warm.” George pushed open the empty stall door, pulling the rug off the side and nudging Josie towards the fresh clean hay. “If we just stay here for a bit, the snow will be gone, and we can get back to the house.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“I’m so tired George…”

“You have a sleep then. I’ll stay awake.”

Oh brave words, from such a brave little boy. But in no time at all, George was as sound asleep as Josie, tucked up into the blanket and hay, his arm around his little playmate.

Chapter 21: Chapter 21

Within five minutes of him going out into the snow with his torch, Barrow could hear the voices of the other adults of Downton Abbey calling out the children’s names in the distance, and see brief slices of torchlight swinging back and forth between the storm. Gradually, every lit window on the downstairs became visible, the curtains thrown back to allow to light to stream out, aiding the search and rescue attempts. The upstairs windows remained shrouded, except for one. The Ripon Room.

Barrow could never remember snow like this having happened at Downton before. There had been ice, freezing temperatures and treacherous roads, and the occasional smattering of flakes dancing in the air, but nothing like these arctic conditions. To top it all, the stables were unfamiliar territory to Barrow. He’d hung around the courtyard outside the rear entrance, and occasionally helped with outdoor duties on the day of a big hunt meeting, but by and large his duties had kept him inside. In the past he had considered this to be a blessing. Right now, it was a hindrance of the highest order.

Every building looked the same, swathed in darkness, swamped in snow. In desperation he stumbled between the different structures, frantically peering into windows and rattling locked doors, with little idea of what he was looking for.

The other voices were spreading out, but two female voices were coming towards him.

“George! George, where are you! George, it’s Mumma, answer me!”

“Josephine! It’s Aunt Isobel, darling where are you…”

Mary and Isobel. Barrow felt a sigh of relief escape through his frozen lips. At least Mary might have a fighting chance of locating the stables in this storm.

“Milady! Mrs Clarkson!”

He waved his torch in the air, shouting towards the two women.

“Barrow! Barrow have you found them…?”

Isobel was sensibly dressed for the cold, in her own overcoat with a scarf wrapped around her greying hair. Meanwhile, Mary could not have looked more different to her earlier glamour this evening. Swathed in what was clearly her husband’s overcoat, stomping through the snow in rubber boots with a large furry hat pulled down over her hair, Barrow might have been tempted to laugh if it were not for the panic etched into her face, the worry draining the light from her eyes and pulling her features into a tight mask.

“I think they headed for the stables Milady, which way is it…?”

“This way… Come on…”

“Stay together,” Isobel’s voice rang out clear. “No sense in us all being separated and lost. Everyone else is searching in pairs…”

Mary knew the outdoor buildings of Downton better than anyone else, having spent many happy hours in the stables with her own pony and later her horses. With sure feet and the determination of a frightened parent, she threaded her way through the maze and found her way toward the door.

“It’s barred… they’re not here, they must be somewhere else…!”

The hysteria rose in Mary’s voice at the sight of the door, solidly closed with the bar lodged in place.

“Mary! Look!”

Isobel pointed up towards the window. A soft dim light was shining through.

“Are there usually lights in the stables?”

“No…”

“Right… Stand aside, ladies…”

Barrow blew what little remained of the warmth in his breath back into his fingers and flexed his hands. Siezing the bar, he heaved upwards, raising it and pulling forward to open the door, kicking the snow aside with his boots. The door creaked open, the light seeping out, turning the snow to pale gold.

All three rushed inside, their voices dropping to whispers as the horses stamped and harrumped at this unexpected intrusion of human noises and cold bitter air.

“George! Josie!”

“Lady Mary… here…”

Barrow gently pushed the door to the empty stall open, pointing to the navy and red blanket that lay in the straw. Two little blonde crowns peeped out of the top, while one set of black boots poked out of the bottom.

Mary gave a soft cry, peeling back the blanket gently to reveal George, fast asleep in the hay, his arm protectively wrapped around Josie, who was snuggled up into the crook of his shoulder, also sleeping peacefully.

“Overcoats…” whispered Barrow, half of a relieved gasp of laughter whistling through his tone. “And boots… Oh what clever little monkeys…”

“What lucky little monkeys!” exclaimed Isobel as Mary bent down to gently rouse her son.

“George… Georgie darling…”

George blinked sleepily, shaking his head a little to wake up.

“Mumma…” the relief in his childish reedy voice was enough to move the assembled company near to tears. “I knew you’d find us… the door got stuck, and the snow was all deep, but I looked after her and cheered her up and kept her warm…”

Josie was beginning to stir. Isobel crouched next to her.

“Josephine… it’s alright sweetheart, it’s just Auntie Isobel…”

“Can we go back to the nursery now?” Josie’s voice was high and thin with tiredness, sleep still overwhelming her.

“Both warm as toast, thank heaven,” whispered Mary. “Come along darlings, let’s get you home. Barrow, pass me that other blanket, we’ll need to wrap them up. Isobel, can you bundle Josie into that one?”

Isobel gathered up the little girl into her arms, wrapped securely in the warm, if slightly horse smelling, blanket. A few minutes later, the little rescue party were on their way out of the stables. Barrow doused the lamp and made sure that the door was securely barred, just in case any ponies took the hint from their master to go out on their own adventure.

“Send out the call Barrow,” said Mary, her arms wrapped around her little boy, treasuring his sweet weight. “Let the other rescuers know we found them.”

Never had the call of ‘Found’ been so loud, clear and welcome. The other seekers, Tom Branson and Henry Talbot, came hurrying to join them, guided by the torch lights. In no time at all everyone was back inside, the door securely locked (and the key now placed in Barrow’s big pocket for safe keeping) and both children whisked upstairs to the day nursery, where they were divested of their outer wear and given mugs of warm milk.

“We should let the Bates know…” said Barrow, heading for the door.

“It’s alright,” Isobel stopped him. “Let me do that. I can go in and check on Anna.”

“As you wish Mrs Clarkson.”

Heading down the corridor to the Ripon room, Isobel met John, coming out of the door and heading down towards her.

“Are they found? Did they find them? I saw torch lights out of the window, where did they…?”

“They’re found, John. Safe and well. They’re in the day nursery.”

“Where were they?”

“George took Josie to visit the stables and see the ponies. We’re not sure why, but they are back safe and sound now.”

John’s relief overtook his anxiety and, much to his inner dismay, he burst into tears. Fumbling for a handkerchief, he apologised to Isobel in a bluster of grief and relief.

“It’s alright John,” Isobel said softly, patting at his arm. “It’s alright.”

A couple of moments, and he had regained his composure.

“Why don’t you go to her? I’ll go and see how the doctor is getting on, and check on Anna, let her know that Josie is safe and sound again.”

Dr Clarkson had seen women through many difficult deliveries, but this would make the top five of his career with relative ease. It was never going to be an easy one, with Anna’s complex medical history, but now more than ever he was glad he had headed Mary’s warning and consented to stay at the Abbey.

She was close to delirious, begging to know where her child was, barely able to heed any of his efforts to calm her down, to control her breathing, to slow the process that was ravaging her body weeks too early. She was already dilated, the baby was definitely on the way, but unless something could be done to calm Anna down, her body would be too tense for the process to go anything resembling smoothly.

The door opened, and he looked up to see Isobel, wrapped into her outdoor wear, red cheeked with cold but with bright eyes, obviously bearing good news after some dramatic adventure. Hurriedly, she divested herself of her coat and scarf, rubbed her hands briskly to warm them up and headed straight for Anna’s bedside.

“John… John is that you…”

Anna tossed and turned fretfully on the pillow, her hand seeking her husband’s. Her skin shone with sweat, far too pale for anyone’s comfort, her hair was tangled across the pillow in fretful knots.

“Anna darling, it’s Isobel. Josie is fine, she’s been found. John has gone to see her. She is fine, sitting in the nursery, drinking warm milk with George and Mary and the others…”

Isobel took Anna’s weak, damp hand in her own strong warm one, smoothing her hair back from her forehead.

Her eyes asked a question of her husband. How is she doing?

Dr Clarkson’s face relaxed a little at the good news, but he was obviously still concerned.

“See Anna, what did we tell you… everything’s going to be fine, now just breath slowly, that’s a girl…”

“Can I see her?”

“You can, once this job is done dear. John’s with Josie, they can both come and see you later on, but for now, let’s concentrate on getting you and Baby Bates through this…”

Anna nodded, seemed to rally, gripping Isobel’s hand as a contraction took hold.

Isobel looked up to see Dr Clarkson gazing at her with a look of pure, shining love.

“And to think I said I didn’t need you for this…” he said softly. “Alright … Nurse Clarkson… let’s get our expectant mother into order.”

With only a smile, and no further word, Isobel set to work, reaching for a cool flannel to bathe Anna’s forehead, and smoothing her hair back from her brow, all the while holding her hand and keeping up a low and steady stream of encouragement.

“That’s it, good girl, just breathe through it, nice and slow…”

Dr Clarkson took Anna’s pulse. For the first time since he had taken it, it began to slow, and grow stronger.

Chapter 22: Chapter 22

“So we’re not going back to the seaside tomorrow?”

“No darling, we aren’t leaving yet. It looks like your little brother or sister is coming out of Mummy’s tummy.”

“Oh. Why is it coming now?”

John had to take a moment to pause and consider how to answer this question. Josie was firmly ensconced on his lap, wrapped back into her dressing gown and bereft of her adventurous footwear, with a large mug of warm milk on the table beside her. Mary had already taken her errant son back to bed, and John suspected a private telling off would follow once the relief of his return had faded from Mary’s countenance.

“Mummy said the baby had more growing to do.”

“Well…”

John did not believe in telling outright lies to children, with the sole exception of the story of Father Christmas. He also believed in make sure that his daughter, even at her young age, understood that her actions would affect other people and that sometimes there would be consequences that would follow from them. However, he did not want Josie to blame herself if anything went wrong with the birth of her little sibling, or … God forbid… if anything should happen to her mother.

“What’s wrong Daddy?”

John turned back to Josie and realised that an answer was needed.

“Well darling, the baby was supposed to do some more growing. But you know Mummy has been poorly and needed to rest?”

“Don’t all Mummies get poorly when babies grow?”

“Yes most of them do, but Mummy has been specially poorly.”

“Oh.”

Josie sipped her milk, a little shadow creeping over her face.

“Well, Mummy was sad and a bit scared when she couldn’t find you and we didn’t know where you were. And because she was sad, the baby in her tummy was sad too. And we think the baby wanted to come out early, because of this.”

“To look for me?”

It wasn’t exactly the truth, but it would do for now.

“Perhaps darling yes. Because the baby could tell that Mummy was worried about you.”

“Oh.”

That was a very different ‘Oh.’ John could hear the timbre of her little voice drop a bit.

“Is the baby going to be OK?”

“We hope so darling. The doctor and Aunt Isobel are in Mummy’s bedroom helping her now.”

“Can I go and see her?”

“Not right now sweetheart, we don’t want to get in the way.”

There was a little pause and then, with a quiver in her little voice, Josie asked her final question, which shot straight through her father’s heart.

“Is… is Mummy going to be OK?”

John gathered his daughter in close, wrapping her in his arms.

“I hope so sweetheart. I really hope so.”

“I want to go to bed Daddy, so I can say my prayers for Mummy and the Baby.”

John’s voice choked for an instant, forcing him to swallow hard and blink rapidly.

“Ok sweetheart. Let’s go and do that. Then you need to get some sleep, so you can help me look after them in the morning, alright.”

“Alright.”

Once John had tucked Josie back into bed and left her under the vigilant care of Miss Greyson, he drifted back towards the Ripon room, to find Mary, Henry and Tom waiting outside, with Barrow standing guard at the end of the corridor near the stairs to the servant’s areas, ready to run and fetch more towels or hot water at a moment’s notice.

“Any news?” he asked.

Mary shook her head, exhausted, slumped into the chair that John had carried down from the nursery for Anna to rest on. Tom and Henry both greeted John with claps on the shoulder, silent gestures of solidarity from men who had endured their own wives giving birth behind closed doors. Tom, particularly, looked pale, bad memories of another birth in this house coming back to haunt him.

“Things are quieter now,” said Henry softly. “I don’t know if that’s a good sign?”

“It could go either way,” said Mary.

“We’re possibly in for a long night. Josie’s birth wasn’t quick.”

“No… but Josie’s birth wasn’t early either.”

A silence descended on the little group. There was nothing more to say, or do.

They could only wait.

Inside the Ripon room, for the first time since going to bed after agreeing to stay the night, Dr Clarkson was beginning to feel more optimistic. Anna’s pulse had strengthened, her blood pressure had dropped back down and the labour was progressing quickly, but according to a pattern that he recognised.

“That’s it Anna, little breaths, you’re doing so well dear…”

How he could ever have thought he would manage this without Isobel was beyond him. She had been a tower of strength.

“Alright Anna,” he said softly. “We’re nearly there now, baby’s in position, and next time you feel the contraction, give us one almighty push, and you can meet the little thing…”

Anna nodded, took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, taking hold of Isobel’s hand again.

“Oh God… here it comes…”

“Push Anna, push…”

With one long gut wrenching groan, a tense few seconds of frantic activity and a lusty wail, Baby Bates finally made it into the world.

“Oh…” Anna gasped, slumping against Isobel. “Is it… is it…”

“It’s a boy Anna. And while he’s small, he’s got a set of lungs on him!”

“A Boy!”

“Yes dear, a beautiful boy…”

“Can I see him…?”

Dr Clarkson deftly wrapped baby into a warmed towel, snipping the umbilical cord, handing him gently over to Isobel, preparing to finish up Anna’s third stage of labour. He smiled to himself, relieved beyond measure. The baby was small, he guessed about four to five pounds, maybe a shade more but not much. But he was strong, and determined.

“Here you are dear…”

Anna summoned the rest of her strength to prop herself up on the pillow, holding out her arms for the little bundle.

“Well hello there…” she said softly, smiling down at the little red screaming face, teasing a finger into the towel to smooth back a soft lock of dark hair. “Hello little man…”

“Shall I go and tell John?”

Anna’s face turned to meet Isobel’s with a radiant smile.

“Yes… go and tell him… we’re fine. And I’ll see him soon.”

“Won’t be long now Anna, and we’ll get you all cleaned up and ready to rest.”

Isobel breathed her own immense sigh of relief.

Outside the room, John and the others had heard the baby’s cry and were waiting with baited breath.

“It’s alright,” said Isobel, softly, her face shining with joy. “It’s alright, John. Anna’s fine. And you’re a father again. It’s a little boy.”

All of the tension drained out of John, his shoulders and head dropped as if a puppet master had cut his strings. Henry and Tom seized an arm each, shaking his hand in congratulations, while even the stoic Lady Mary embraced Isobel, tears trickling down her face from sheer relief and exhaustion.

“Can I see her?”

“Give Dr Clarkson and me a few more minutes. We just need to tidy up. So to speak. And then you can come in.”

“Alright.”

Mary motioned for John to sit in the chair she had just vacated. He gratefully sank into it, joy and relief rendering him weaker than water.

“John Bates, if you were any other many, I’d be pouring you a scotch, but I reckon I could assemble a cup of tea instead?”

Tom’s face was beaming, relieved that this story was being blessed with a happy ending.

“Why don’t you leave that to me sir?”

Barrow appeared beside them, his own face suspiciously white, his eyes shining, and his hand hastily stuffing a hankie back into his pocket. He offered his hand to John, openly.

“Congratulations, John Bates.”

John grasped his hand openly.

“Thank you, Thomas Barrow. And thank you for finding my daughter. ”

“All in a day’s work, Mr Bates. Mr Carson would have done the same.”

“Yes he would Barrow. Yes he would.”

The door opened softly.

“Knock knock? Can I come in?”

“You certainly can, Daddy Bates…”

Drenched, wrung out, thin and pale as she was, Anna had rarely looked more beautiful to John than she did propped up in bed with his son wrapped warmly in her arms. Baby Bates had been bathed, dressed into a little baby suit purloined from the nursery and wrapped into a powder blue cashmere blanket. Anna, in a fresh nightgown and with a warm tartan shawl wrapped around her shoulders, was radiant with happiness.

“How is he?”

“He’s beautiful.”

“Obviously… but other than that?”

“Doctor says he’s small, but strong. He’ll need extra careful tending for a little while, while he puts on a bit of weight, and he might be a bit delicate, but he should be fine.”

“Well hello there, son…”

John pulled the blanket to one side gently so that he could see his son’s face. Sleeping peacefully, lips puckered as if in memory of his recent first meal, long dark lashes resting against his pink cheeks, John marveled at how he and his wife had managed to create a second perfect little life.

“We’re going to need a name for you…”

“Would you not like a Jack? Or John Junior, like the Americans say?”

John shook his head. “He’s already a Bates. He already has the most important bit of the name sorted. I would like a Bible name, but there’s plenty to choose from.”

Anna turned to offer the baby to her husband, who opened his arms to accept him readily, expertly joggling him as he perched on the edge of the bed.

“John…?”

“Hmmm?”

“I have an idea. It’s only an idea, and if you don’t like it just say.”

“Say it dear. What is it?”

“Well … I’ve been thinking of how kind everyone’s been to us. And how there’s some people that I really couldn’t have made it through all this without, other than you. And I know what I want to name the baby.”

John listened and felt the warmth spreading through him, knowing that Anna had found the perfect answer.

Eventually, Downton Abbey’s residents settled down to sleep. Mary prudently gave Thomas instructions to keep Sunday hours the following day, and not to expect anyone downstairs for breakfast before 9am. Mrs Greyson would see to the children when they woke, but the adults might need a little more time.

Henry had appeared to make one more visit to the Ripon room before bed, bearing a Moses Basket and pile of little blankets. He said little, smiled much and left the family in peace. Anna felt all over again that Mary had been as wise in her second choice of husband as she had in her first.

When the morning dawned, the snow had finally slowed to a scattering of flakes. The countryside was shrouded in deep white drifts, icy white, clean as linen sheets. John woke to find his wife ensconsed in the arm chair, feeding their son.

“Good morning,” he said softly.

“Good morning,” Anna placed the baby against her shoulder, patting his back to help wind him. She looked brighter for a few hours sleep and had clearly felt all of her old maternal instincts kicking in for a second time around.

“How are we all?”

“Well … we’re both just fine. But I think it’s time for this little man to meet the rest of the family, don’t you?”

“I’ll go and get her, and arrange some breakfast for you.”

“Thank you darling.”

In record time, John was dressed and looking remarkably presentable, given his few hours of sleep and stressful emotional night. He went downstairs first, asked in the dining room for a tray to go up to Anna, assured everyone that they had passed a comfortable night. Then his next stop was the nursery.

The children were just finishing up their breakfast, empty cornflake bowls were being stacked by Miss Greyson and toast with jam was being munched in contentment. Josie was sat next to George, wearing a borrowed maroon dress with white socks and her little dancing shoes. She looked pale, and serious, playing with the corner of her crust.

“Good morning everyone.”

“Daddy!”

Josie was out of her seat and into her Daddy’s arms in no time, planting a sticky jammy kiss on his cheek.

“Is Mummy ok? Is the baby ok?”

“They are both fine my darling, and you’ve got a new little brother who wants to meet you.”

Miss Greyson watched them go down the corridor fondly, the big man with the limp and the little girl who skipped beside him, holding his hand. She was glad things had worked out well for this little family.

John motioned to Josie to be quiet before they went into the room, having explained to her that babies need lots of sleep, so Josie crept in on tip toes and kept her little voice to a theatrical whisper. Anna badly wanted to giggle, but didn’t dare, for fear of offending one of her children and waking the other.

Josie tried her hardest to be impressed with her brother, but felt deep down that babies were rather boring, if they were all like this one. He looked very pink and his eyes weren’t even open properly yet. His little fingers were very cute though. Mummy explained that he would get bigger and be able to do more stuff as he got older, but that seemed like a very long time to wait.

There was a gentle tap at the door.

“That will be your breakfast, Mummy,” said John, heaving to his feet.

To his surprise, he found Isobel outside the door holding a tray.

“May I come in?”

“Isobel! You didn’t have to bring that up for me…”

Anna was delighted to see her, nonetheless.

“I know I didn’t. But the truth is, I accosted the maid and relieved her of the job. I wanted to see you.”

“Come in… sit down… come and meet the newest member of the Bates family… ”

Isobel set down the tray,and went to see the baby.

“He is a bonny little thing isn’t he. Have you thought of a name yet?”

Anna and John looked at each other.

“Actually, we think so yes…”

Later that morning, the phone rang over at Yew Tree Farm. The Masons and the Moseleys were sat huddled together in the snug, all of them ostensibly trying to keep busy with order forms, knitting and sewing, and all failing, constantly darting glances over towards the telephone, which had hung dead in its cradle all morning. An hour since, they had given up speculating on the news from the Abbey and resolved to just wait it out.

Bill leaped out of his chair and caught up the phone in no time.

“Yew Tree Farm? … John! … No no, we’re fine, it’s you we were all … yes? … and Anna …? Oh, oh that’s … that’s marvellous news John, right marvellous news. Are you staying put a bit? … Aye, very wise lad, don’t risk anything … And the little one? … oh… oh well that’s lovely. I’m right pleased for you. Yes I’ll tell the others. Take all of our love to Anna … I’ll get him now…”

Bill turned and beckoned furiously.

“Joseph? You’re wanted on the phone.”

“M..me?” Joseph scrambled to his feet and hurried over to take the receiver. Bill settled himself down back into his arm chair, the others clustering around him.

“That were John” he said unnecessarily. “Calling from the Abbey.”

“Well we knew that much!”exploded Mrs Patmore. “What did he have to say?”

“Anna had the baby. Early hours of this morning. Early yes, but strong and healthy. Luckily the Clarksons were there to help and everything went alright eventually. They’re going to stay there at least a night or two until the snow’s cleared, then decide what to do next”

Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“What’s she had, Bill?”

“A little boy.”

A smile spread across Phyllis’s face. One of each for the Bates family. How wonderful.

“Did John say what they’re going to call him?”

“Aye, they’ve picked a name out. A mighty fine one too.”

“What did he say?”

“You’ll find out in a few minutes.”

The phone pinged as Joseph replaced the receiver. As he turned back and came to join the others, Phyllis noticed that his eyes were brimming.

“Whatever’s the matter dear? Did John have bad news?”

“No dear, not at all. The… the very best news, in fact.”

“What did he say?”

Joseph took a deep breath.

“John asked if you and I would like to be Godparents, to their new son.”

Phyllis gasped for joy.

“Godparents?”

“Yes … us and the Clarksons. John said… he said that they never would have made it through all this without us taking on the Gull’s Nest, and without the Clarksons getting them over here, into your care, and getting Anna through the birth last night.”

Phyllis reached for her husband’s hand as he smiled, his eyes now streaming a little.

“He ..uh…he also asked me to let you all know they’ve decided on a name. Matthew Joseph Bates.”

Joy and love shone out of every single face as the significance of the names sank in.

“Matthew Joseph Bates,” said Bill softly. “Well,” his grin spread wide, splitting his face with delight. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think that’s just grand.”

FIN.