It’s summer 1906. Richard returns home and Lady Marj immediately asks him about how he plans to vote for an upcoming education bill. She quickly gets annoyed with him for failing to reject the bill outright (he plans to abstain, because he doesn’t actually think the party’s line on this particular bill is right). Not that it’ll matter, because the bill will be thrown out anyway, thanks in part to Lady Marjorie’s father.
Belowstairs, Mrs Bridges thinks it’s disgraceful, after all the Southwold family’s done for him, for Richard to actually follow his own conscience and inclination. Rose thinks he’s starting to rebel against his wife. Hudson tells everyone to stop gossiping. Roberts recalls the day Lady Marjorie brought Richard home for the first time, and Roberts knew then that no good would come of it. Of course she did. Bridges adds that she was a kitchenmaid at the time and heard that Lord and Lady Southwold weren’t pleased at all by their daughter’s choice, since he was only a parson’s son, while Marjorie is the eldest daughter of an earl. Roberts agrees that Richard’s not really of Marjorie’s class. Rose protests, saying that Richard’s a perfect gentleman. Hudson tells everyone to keep their heads out of politics and let the quality take care of all that.
Upstairs, Marjorie’s still berating Richard for not doing as daddy says. She thinks he’s just ruined any chance he’ll ever have of a cabinet post, because like elephants, politicians never forget. And, presumably like Lord Killstompy Deathtrumpet, they never forgive either.
Richard doesn’t think it’s quite that dire but she keeps going on about disloyalty until James comes in to break the tension and announce he’s got a friend outside, and can they entertain him while James goes to change for a party? Capital! He ushers the friend, Charles Hammond, into the room and rushes out. Naturally, they’re quite gracious and serve him up a cup of tea before making a little small talk about India, where Hammond is serving. Charles admits he feels rather at odds in society, but he’s really excited about going to the opera that evening. Marjorie perks up, being a fan herself. She mentions a gala the following week and Richard realizes he won’t be able to accompany her. He suggests Charles go with her instead and he eagerly agrees. He also asks to be allowed to take Lady Marjorie out to supper beforehand. James comes back and pulls him away, apologizing for his parents’ imposition. Meanwhile, his parents decide that Charles seems like a good influence on James.
Charles and Marjorie dine out and talk about his parents (dad was an ass who married mom for money, mother was a sweetheart who died brokenhearted). He talks about the men in his regiment, who are all tip top, hospitable and brave. She asks how his life in England compares with India and he says he finds society shallow and boring. She confesses that she’s spent her whole life in that shallow world and has been protected and cosseted. And maybe it’s time to step out a bit.
They attend the opera and are both entranced. When the song ends, they applaud enthusiastically and Charles raves about the lead male. He then waxes poetic about the scenery in India and she responds in kind.
Back home, Roberts gossips about the king’s relationship with Alice Keppel with Marjorie, who’s barely listening. She dismisses the maid and stretches luxuriously, smiling to herself. Richard comes in and asks how her evening was. She says it was lovely and Charles and the tenor were both magnificent.
The next day, Charles sends Marjorie a bouquet and a note thanking her for the most wonderful evening of his life.
Rose goes to fetch a vase and Bridges notes that roses are symbolic. Edward adds that they symbolize love, and he teases Rose a little bit. She shoos him away and goes upstairs with the vases.
Marjorie finishes arranging the flowers, then lights the note on fire and tosses it into the fireplace in her room just as Roberts comes in. After Marjorie swirls out, Roberts tries to retrieve the note from the fire.
Later, she tells the other servants that Marjorie’s been acting odd, burning notes and walking on air.
Marjorie goes book shopping for James and picks out The Scarlet Pimpernel. Charles just happens to be in the bookshop, so she takes the opportunity to thank him for the flowers. He asks for her help finding a book, which she does, even buying it for him. He asks her to read the poem he wants from the book to him. At home. His home.
She agrees, and they have a lovely little poetry reading at his flat. Once she’s done, she goes to the piano and starts to play ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.’ He starts to sing along (he has a really nice voice) and it becomes apparent that he’s very much singing to her. Once she’s finished, he tells her he loves her and that she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. Marjorie tears up, and then they kiss.
The servants gossip again about Marjorie, noting that she hasn’t needed the car in two days, which is very unusual. Rose protests that Marjorie wouldn’t do anything disgraceful, but Roberts says it’s in the blood: apparently Marjorie’s aunt acquired the nickname ‘the bolter’. Edward says that one only lives once and Marjorie can’t be getting much from Richard. Unfortunately, Hudson hears this and drags him into his pantry to put a flea in his ear. Hudson warns him not to talk like that again, or he’ll be out in the streets without a reference.
Marjorie and Charles cuddle in bed. A distant bell tolls and Marjorie sighs that she’ll have to go. They embrace more tightly and he talks about how much he loves her and how nothing like this has ever happened to him before. She says the same, but reminds him that nobody else must ever know about this.
Someone (I’m guessing Roberts) has found some blotting paper that Marjorie used to write a love note, so now all the servants (minus Hudson, of course) are holding it up to a mirror so they can read it. Bridges thinks it’s disgraceful, since she’s almost old enough to be Charles’s mother. Robert says that passion strikes where it pleases. Hudson comes by, sees what they’re up to, and says he’s shocked. Bridges turns it right around and says he should be shocked, because Lady M is behaving in a shocking manner. Bridges just so happened to see her ladyship getting out of a hansom cab in front of the building Charles lives in. Rose adds that none of them like this (yeah, right, you guys are loving the drama), but they have to face facts: Marjorie’s on a runaway train here and there’s likely to be a major crash sooner rather than later. Roberts says this would be a huge scandal if it were found out. Hudson tells them that this is absolutely none of their business. Their jobs are to take care of their master and mistress and that there’s never been a scandal and he won’t have one created by servants’ gossip.
Marjorie and Charles slow dance to music from a gramophone, all snuggled up and giggly and happy. The bell tolls and she says she’ll have to go, or the servants will begin to wonder. He says bother the servants and bother the rules, because they make their own rules! He’s clearly starting to be bothered by the clandestine nature of this whole thing. She says this is just the way it has to be, because she can’t go and get divorced. He can’t understand why not, but she isn’t willing to take that risk and torpedo his career and her own social standing. He begs her; she asks to keep this on the down low for at least a little while longer.
James arrives home and finds his father in the sitting room. He asks what’s up with him and Marjorie and Richard admits they’re having a bit of a tiff. Marjorie sweeps in and James reminds her that there’s some regatta that day he was hoping to have them attend. Neither of them can make it. James is disappointed, since Charles is going to be in some canoe punting race. Marjorie still turns down the invite, but she does agree to have lunch with Richard, who sweetly tells her she’s looking especially beautiful.
Hudson gloats to Bridges about the master and mistress’s lunch date, hoping this will put the backstairs gossip to rest. Bridges doubts it.
Marjorie returns home and is served her tea.
Belowstairs, Edward wakes Hudson from a snooze to show him a bit in the evening paper about an accident at the regatta. Hudson says he’ll deal with it and takes it upstairs, where Marjorie’s already looking a bit depressed. At her request, he reads it aloud: a canoe went over and the officer in it is feared drowned. She starts to panic.
Some time later, Hudson shows Charles in, and she throws herself into his arms before Hudson even clears the room. Richard then arrives home to reassure her that James wasn’t involved. She tries to cover by acting like that was what had worried her. Charles says the officer wasn’t drowned at all and is perfectly fine. Newspapers! Marjorie’s so overcome she goes to lie down. Richard invites Charles to come by for dinner sometime before he heads back to India.
Later, Richard’s enjoying a drink when James comes in. Richard scolds him for failing to come by earlier to reassure his mother he was safe, because she was really upset. James protests that he never went near the regatta because he had to take care of some official thing, and furthermore, his mother knew that. Richard gets an ‘oh, I see,’ look on his face.
It’s James’s birthday. Marjorie gives him a hug and a kiss and he reads a letter from Elizabeth aloud and contemplates introducing her to Charles. Marjorie’s actually able to joke about that, so she’s pretty good at covering. James leaves and Richard comes in to have A Serious Talk About Us. They sit down together and he tells her that he’s been pigheaded, obstinate, and ungrateful. And when this bill comes up that he was going to abstain from, he’s going to vote the party line. Woah, hang on here a minute, Richard. Are you serious? You aren’t allowed to have your own views and ideas? Wow. You’ve been married to this woman for 25 years and a politician for, presumably, as long or near to it, but you still have to do what her daddy says or risk having her pout and stamp her feet and cheat on you? That’s really sad. He goes on to say that this is about loyalty, which is much more important than ‘our passing whims.’ Ugh, this is really awful. Though at least Marjorie has the grace to look a bit guilty. A bit later, she sits dow to write a letter and asks Hudson to hand deliver it. Rose says it’s like ‘delivering your own death warrant.’
Marjorie goes to the opera and is joined by Charles, summoned by her note. She breaks up with him. He’s very upset and tries to persuade her otherwise, but her mind’s made up, difficult though this clearly is for her. She reminds him (and herself) that she has a faithful husband and a son and daughter and they all need her. He asks melodramatically how they’re going to live without each other. Oh, for heaven’s sake, are these two teenagers? They’re sure acting like it. Sorry, Charles, but people don’t die from breaking up (typically). Romeo and Juliet was not a documentary. He gives her a gift (presumably jewelry) before she bids him goodbye and leaves. He sits down in her chair and steels himself for the life ahead.
Back home, she opens the gift and finds a heart-shaped necklace. And then she starts to cry. Man, these two really are teenagers.
But life goes on. Richard has given a speech that Marjorie and James both compliment. James mentions that he was supposed to go to the races with Charles, but Charles has up and disappeared back to India. He laughs that there’s some story about him having been jilted by some girl, but James doubts it. Richard goes over to Marjorie and suggests she go up to Southwold for a little while, since it’s so beautiful there this time of year. He wraps his arm around her as Hudson announces lunch. Hudson retreats, smiling in a rather self-satisfied manner.