Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes is wondering what transgression she might have committed to deserve an audience with the Dowager Countess, but Carson doesn't know, so she heads up as the footmen descend and tell Carson that they got leave to go and their masters will ring when they need the car. Alfred then hangs back to ask Carson if he can talk to him and Carson decides Kiernan can wait for his beer while he hears Alfred out. Given what he's going to tell him, I'll be surprised if Carson doesn't drink it himself.
So it turns out the Dowager Countess has summoned Mrs. Hughes to get her opinion on Ethel's emotional state and Mrs. Hughes unequivocally tells Isobel that as long as Ethel stays local, she won't be happy. Isobel is still bent out of shape that the Dowager Countess planned all this without involving her, but the Dowager Countess knew she wouldn't agree. "I know how you hate facing facts." Isobel is affronted by that characterization, but Mrs. Hughes reiterates her support for the Dowager Countess' position (the Dowager Countess' ensuing "I'm saying" faces are priceless), saying that Ethel will be happier moving away "than in reenacting her own version of The Scarlet Letter in Downton." THERE'S YOUR MUSICAL. The Dowager Countess, of course, doesn't get the reference and when Edith explains it, she replies, "That sounds most unsuitable." Isobel concedes that she'll talk to Ethel before surfing out of the room on a wave of offended dignity. Lord Grantham probably left it lying around.
Carson is aghast, naturally, at hearing Alfred's story and Alfred fills in some details, including the part where O'Brien thought Jimmy James might have been faking his anger. Carson: "Well, we can always rely on your aunt to take the ungenerous view." Heh. After considering and taking a deep breath, Carson rises and orders Alfred not to tell anyone further anything about what he saw. "The world can be a shocking place, Alfred. But you are a man now and you must learn to take it on the chin." Alfred looks like he wonders if that was the most fortunate expression, but he leaves without calling attention to it.