Cora’s marriage to Robert is in fact her second; her first marriage was to an Irish businessman named Branson, and Tom is her son by her first husband. When Tom was three years old, his father passed away, and a year later, his mother married Robert Crawley and became the Countess of Grantham. In her second marriage, Cora had two girls: Mary and Edith, who are Tom’s half-sisters.
Isobel Crawley has two children, a son (Matthew) and a daughter (Sybil). After the death of Patrick Crawley, Matthew receives news that he is now Robert’s heir to the earldom. He, along with his mother and sister, come to Downton…and no one’s life is ever the same.
~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ An excerpt ~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
“Well, this is a fine welcome…”
Tom lifted his head at the voice of the Dowager Countess, her tone one of complete vexation. He rose to his feet as she entered the library, but she immediately lifted a hand to stop him. “I come here to talk important matters and find neither my son nor daughter-in-law here!”
Tom felt compelled to make excuses. “They’ve gone to—”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” Violet muttered, before taking a seat on the nearest chaise. As if a silent bell had rung upon her sitting, Carson appeared and asked if Violet would care for some tea, but she shook her head, before waving a hand in dismissal. Tom glanced up at the Downton butler and offered a small smile and nod of the head, but Carson was already exiting the room.
“Where are your sisters?” Violet asked, turning her attentions to Tom once again.
Tom rose from the desk where he had been sitting and crossed the room to sit at the opposite chaise. “Mary’s gone into the village, and Edith…” his face fell as he thought about his youngest sister. “…She keeps to herself, mostly. Sometimes she stays in her room, other times she takes walks in the garden…but she prefers to be left alone.”
Violet frowned at his description, then sighed and gave a shake of her head. “She always adored Patrick—hero worshipped him, practically.”
It was deeper than that, Tom knew, but he kept his thoughts to himself.
“As for Mary…well, while she cared for Patrick, I know that the grief she bears is not the same as that of most women who lose a fiancée.”
Again, Tom chose to remain silent. Besides, from the sound of things, it seemed like Violet knew everything already.
“Well, thank goodness you are here, Tom,” Violet sighed, offering a small smile to him. “You have always been a calming presence in this house, especially with your sisters…and these next few weeks are going to be trying ones, I fear.”
Tom frowned and leaned a little closer. “What do you mean?” While the family was still grieving the loss of both James and Patrick, he had a feeling that wasn’t to what Violet was referring to.
The dowager countess lifted a questioning eyebrow. “Have you heard about the new heir?”
Tom resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Not several hours after they had learned about Patrick’s death, had the subject of “who is the next in line?” been brought up. His mother had married Robert before Tom was five, he had spent the early years of his childhood growing up at Downton, learning the odd ways that was the English aristocracy, and the strange emphasis they put on “male heirs”. Even after all these years, he still didn’t completely understand it. And it was yet another reminder that he was a man of two worlds.
“He’s the son of Robert’s fourth cousin,” Violet explained. “Quite a distant relation; he has some occupation in Manchester.” The way in which she said the word “occupation”, you would think she had swallowed a lemon.
“Do you know what he does?” he asked, genuinely curious.
Violet frowned. “Does it matter?” She didn’t bother waiting for a response. “The point is, he is going to inherit everything now!”
Tom would agree that he didn’t think it was fair. Mary was Robert’s first born; she should be the one to inherit (although Tom knew that the laws of the English aristocracy were quite strict on who exactly could inherit what—and that who being one with a male pronoun.
“Do you know anything else about him?” Tom asked, his curiosity for the new heir growing.
“He’s young…” Violet mumbled, her brow furrowing in thought. “Although I do believe he’s a year or two older than yourself,” she explained.
Tom’s eyebrows lifted at this. “Do you know his name?”
“Well ‘Crawley’, obviously,” Violet muttered with a bit of an eye roll. But her brow furrowed once again as she thought about the mysterious Mr. Crawley. “…Matthew, I think.”
Matthew. Matthew Crawley. Who was only a few years older than himself. And who had an occupation of some kind in Manchester. Well, that would certainly be a change! And quite frankly, Tom felt it was high time that they all faced reality that they were now living in the 20th century, and that they needed to let go of these old-fashioned, Victorian principles.
“I was hoping to speak further about this subject with your mother,” Violet sighed. “Try to get her to help me talk some sense into Robert.”
Tom’s brow furrowed. “About what?”
“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Violet asked, looking surprised. “About the entail! About finding a way to…break it!”
Tom’s eyebrows shot so high at these words, he wondered if they were still attached to his head. “You want to break the entail?”
“Of course! I’d much rather see my granddaughter inherit than some stranger,” she grumbled. It was perhaps the most “progressive” thing Tom had ever heard the older woman say. Of course, leave it to being about keeping money and property within the immediate family, to get the dowager countess to say anything related to women’s rights.
“It will not be without some difficulty I fear,” she sighed. “My husband was far too clever for his own good, when he secured the marriage between Robert and your mother…and your own grandfather was quite clever as well, having the insight to securing you and you alone to the fortune his business has amassed over the years.”
It was a small fortune when compared to the money his mother had brought to both her marriages, but Violet was right in saying that it was something his grandfather had painstakingly worked hard in securing for Tom and keeping out of the late Earl’s greedy hands.
“Yes…trying times, indeed,” Violet grumbled once more. “Your mother and sisters will be in need of you. I just hope that your grandfather can spare you.”
“I’ve already made arrangements to stay in England until the end of the summer,” he assured. As eager as his grandfather was for him to return to Dublin, the old man was understanding, considering the circumstances.
“Well, that’s a bit of good news,” she sighed, though she hardly sounded relieved. “Well, do what you can for your sisters, as I know you have been, and I will do what I can about this whole affair.”
Even though he knew better than to enter into an argument with Violet Crawley, Tom couldn’t resist. “Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think; maybe Mr. Crawley is content with his life, and wishes to have nothing to do with it all?”
Violet stared at him as if he had just started speaking in tongues. “My dear boy,” she said after a long beat of silence. “That isn’t how it works. It isn’t a matter of ‘wanting’, it’s a matter of ‘duty’, and while I know next to nothing about this Mr. Crawley from Manchester, I do know that he is a ‘Crawley’, and therefore, he will do his duty…” she rose to her feet and started to hobble out of the library, muttering along the way, “whether we want him to or not.”
“Are you sure?”
Matthew paused mid move and looked up across the table at the mischievous blue eyes that grinned back at him.
“Are you questioning my strategy?”
His sister rolled her eyes, before folding her arms across her chest and proceeding to wait for him to finish his move.
Matthew looked at her for a long moment, then back at the chess board, before looking back at her. Sybil simply smiled sweetly as she waited patiently.
Matthew looked down at the board once more…and with a resolute sigh, moved his bishop to take out her last remaining rook. He glanced up then, but instead of seeing his sister fuming, she was simply shaking her head, before letting out a long, weary-sounding sigh, and grasping her queen and moving it across the board to take out his own queen and put his king in check.
Matthew stared in horror at the board and began sputtering, “How…where…?”
“I warned you!” Sybil laughed.
“You cheated,” Matthew accused.
Sybil’s face turned an indignant shade of red. “CHEATED!?”
“Yes, I think you did,” Matthew stated, teasing her now, but always enjoying getting a rise out of her.
Sybil grabbed a cushion from a nearby chair and threatened to throw it as his head, but paused in doing so upon the entrance of their mother, who looked at Sybil with questioning eyebrows. “Have I interrupted something?”
“Only Sybil cheating at chess—”
“I DID NOT CHEAT!” despite their mother being present, Sybil didn’t hesitate to throw the pillow at his head, to which Matthew simply laughed.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Isobel Crawley groaned, though she too was smiling. “A telegram just arrived for you,” she informed Matthew, holding the small envelope out to him.
Matthew’s brow furrowed as he accepted the telegram. Sybil looked upon the small envelope with curious eyes. She then turned to their mother and inquired, “Did the messenger say who it was from?”
Isobel shook her head. “I didn’t recognize the address or the handwriting.”
Matthew opened the telegram. “It’s from…Cousin Robert?”
“Cousin Robert?” Sybil repeated, looking even more perplexed. “We have a cousin named Robert?”
“Robert Crawley,” Matthew explained. “He’s…the Earl of Grantham.”
A gasp escaped Sybil’s lips then. “We have a cousin who’s an earl?”
“Hush, dear,” Isobel murmured, taking her daughter’s hand in her own, before sinking down into a chair next to her son.
Silence filled the room then, and though Sybil was not quite seventeen, she began to squirm like an over-eager five-year-old. She couldn’t remain silent, such was her curiosity, and risking the reprimand she might receive from her mother, asked her brother, “What does Lord Grantham want?”
Matthew finally lifted his eyes and looked at both the faces of his mother and sister, before answering, “To change our lives…”
—How It Might Have Been