“Oh my. Oh how terrible! Such devastating news.”
I woke to the sound of my wife’s voice. She was simpering inaudibly as she is wont to do and her American vowels sounded even flatter than usual.
“So dreadfully sick about Sir Mix-a-Lot,” she was saying.
“Well I couldn’t agree with you more,” I said, pushing back the coverlet and rising. “Queen Elizabeth will knight anyone these days.”
“Darling, I don’t know what you heard precisely but what I said was ‘I’m so dreadfully sick about this Brexit rot.'”
“Brexit?” I sputtered. “Is that a kind of fish?”
“Oh, dear,” Cora said with the mawkish sympathy of hers that I confess I find at once girlishly alluring and rather dull. “Your mind really has not been the same since you vomited blood all over the tablecloth.” She smoothed her silky bed jacket and pursed her lips. “It’s just vewy, vewy sad.”
I made a sympathetic cluck but I must admit I hadn’t the foggiest idea what she was on about. I wondered it if it perhaps had something to do with our excursion to the village yesterday and those little slips of paper. I gave an authoritative tug to the sash of my dressing gown and went downstairs.
Tom was frowning over the paper. When he saw me he gave it a resigned snap. “Well I hope they’re happy,” he said, his dependable tone of commoner disaffection filling out his burr a bit more than usual. “This is what happens when global elites assume the working man shares in their morally bankrupt fetishizing of free markets.”
“Please, Tom,” I begged, “Can we hold the Marxist theory until after Carson brings me my tea?”
He said something about “piketty” which I took to be some quaint Irish term for picky.
I found Mary in the library, a Vogue perched on her knees.
“Not all up I arms about this Biskix or Biscox or whatever the devil?” I queried.
She looked up, and I admired the way the dark, smooth points of her pageboy outlined her face, like two parentheses around the old, correct names for Indian cities next to the new, wholly invented Indian ones in the latest addition of the Atlas. “I heard the news over the wireless and that was quite enough, Papa,” she said. “What more is there to know other than this is what happens when we let peasants make decisions?”
I had no idea what she was talking about and I said so straight out. “Oh, Papa!” she said when I told her. She explained to me concisely and without much emotion (and I was very grateful for this after all of Cora’s tedious American handwringing) that Britain was leaving the EU for many reasons but that one of the major ones was fear of immigrants.
“Well, I’m not a sociologist,” I said with characteristic modesty, “But I shouldn’t wonder if British working people wouldn’t want more working people to come to England from other countries. This is perhaps not a perfect analogy… but I have always rather loved the increased festivity of a crowded ball.”
Mary smiled evenly, clearly delighted by my repartee. “I love a crowded ball as well, Papa, but perhaps the specter of 73 million Turks is a bit more…”
“Seventy three million Turks! Where? Here? We haven’t got enough nearly enough spoons.”
In came Carson, carrying a tray with my tea. He set it down. “Telephone call for you Sir. Your stockbroker.”
“Good morning,” I said.
“How are you, sir?”
“I’m well, but you sound like you’ve got a bit of the blue devils!”
He coughed drily. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you about your portfolio, Sir,” he said.
“Well it can’t be as bad as all that,” I said.
“I am afraid if I did not impress upon you quite how bad I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
I stiffened. “When I lost the Canadian railroad money you said these very words.”
“I am well aware,” he said. “No money for new scripts. You should see Julian Fellowes’ portfolio.”
I said I would rather not. I ascended the stairs with less exuberance than I had descended them not a quarter hour ago.
Lady Grantham was still in bed fretting in a silky coat as it seemed to be her profession.
“Cora!” I cried. “Why didn’t you explain to me what we were doing in town yesterday?”
She patted the coverlet and I sank into the bed and gratefully into her arms as I told her about the conversation with my broker.
“I am quite afraid I voted—and these are Mary’s words—like a peasant. Does that make me a peasant?”
“I don’t know, Robert,” she said. “How much exactly did we lose?”
I showed her.
“I suppose you are. I suppose we both are.”
I just stared at the ceiling plaster and tried to think about how this awful thing had happened, aside of course from my writing “Leave” on that slip of paper because I thought it just meant we could get home in time for Sherry. But so many other people had also written “Leave,” with presumably some understanding of why they were doing so! “Was no one warned of the mayhem!” I shouted.
“People were,” Cora said, patting me. “People were.”
I had the most chilling thought. “You don’t think all those people with nothing to lose would be so daft as to simply want to make things bad for people who do?”
Cora said nothing. We stayed in silence for a while. After a while I summoned the strength to speak. “We always had such wonderful Christmas parties.”
“I know, Robert,” she sighed. “We did.”
“Everyone got a glass of real Champagne. Why would anyone want to sacrifice that?”
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