Last week’s episode of Downton Abbey left me wishing that I could have a chat with housekeeper Mrs. Hughes. For anyone who isn’t following the miniseries, here’s a bit of background. A couple of episodes ago, the valet of a visiting nobleman raped Anna, a lady’s maid at Downton and the most beloved character in the entire cast.
As is often the case after rape, Anna found herself unable to tolerate any human touch, and particularly that of her husband Bates, who also serves at Downton.
But Anna refused to tell Bates why she was avoiding him. She had confided only in Mrs. Hughes, swearing her to secrecy. Her reason? She knows her husband well enough to realize that, if he knew of the rape, he would kill the man who committed it. Anna would rather sacrifice her marriage than see Bates condemned to the gallows. As she said to Mrs. Hughes, “Better a broken heart than a broken neck.”
In last week’s episode, Bates strong-armed Mrs. Hughes into telling him the truth, or at least part of it. Rather than identify the rapist, Mrs. Hughes tells Bates the violent attack was committed by a stranger who broke into the house and lay in wait for a victim.
Bates’ approach to Anna is stellar. All tenderness, he assures her that she has nothing to be ashamed of, and on the contrary, that “You are made higher to me and holier because of the suffering you have been put through.” But he tells her that, if it was Lord Gillingham’s valet who attacked her, “He is a dead man.” He seems to accept Anna’s assurance that it was a stranger, whom she can’t identify.
Later, however, Bates speaks to Mrs. Hughes again. She tells him how happy she is that the couple have reconciled and that everything is over and done with.
Bates replies, “Nothing is over and done with, Mrs. Hughes.”
Surprised, she replies, “But Anna said–”
Bates interrupts her, “Do you think I would add to her burden after all she’s been through?”
“I don’t know his name, so I can’t tell it to you, not if you were to threaten me with a knife, Mr. Bates.”
“I understand, and I won’t press you. But be aware, nothing is over, and nothing is done with.”
Oh, dear! Just as Anna predicted, Bates apparently intends to discover who attacked her and take revenge, and Mrs. Hughes knows it. What can she do to prevent it?
I would advise her to give Bates a little time to recover from the first shock of this terrible news. Then appeal to his interests as he himself sees them. Nothing is more important to Bates than Anna’s happiness and welfare. In fact, Anna’s happiness is his number interest in life.
Mrs. Hughes might ask him some open questions such as, “How would it affect Anna if you were sent to prison, or worse, to the gallows?”
He might, initially, react knee-jerk: “At least she would’ve gotten justice; at least she would never have to encounter her attacker again.”
Mrs. Hughes could follow up: “You were wrongfully imprisoned before. What was Anna’s life like then? How happy when she?” She might pause, giving him time to reflect on those questions, then ask: “What if the situation were reversed? What if Anna took some revenge on your behalf at the expense of removing herself from your life? Would you thank her?”
After paving the way with such questions, the time might come for Mrs. Hughes to make a statement: “I know Anna wouldn’t thank you. She has told me, time and again, that her reason for keeping this secret, her reason for not going to the police, was to keep you out of trouble. I know you want her to be happy. Have enough regard for Anna to respect her ideas about what makes her happy, and what makes her happy is having you in her life.”
It’s possible that Bates will not heed Mrs. Hughes, but if I were in her shoes, I would at least pull out my best persuasive skills to save him: open questions to focus him on his own interest in Anna’s happiness, followed, if necessary, by a persuasive appeal, again based on respect for Anna’s ideas about her own happiness.
Of course, what makes for good persuasion skill does not necessarily make for gripping TV drama. What do you readers think Mrs. Hughes will do next? What do you think Bates will do? The next episode of Downton Abbey will be the last of this season. I’m not sure what Mrs. Hughes or Mr. Bates will do, but I predict that Bates will be the subject of this season’s final cliffhanger.