silvestria (silvestria) wrote,
silvestria
silvestria

University Challenge, Chapter Seven

Title: University Challenge
Fandom: Downton Abbey
Author: silvestria
Rating: PG-13/T
Summary: Modern university AU. Mary is an Oxbridge reject with a past, Anna and John are in the friendship zone, Sybil has a secret life at the weekends, Matthew and Lavinia are stuck in a rut, and Downton is owned by the National Trust. Drama and hijinks naturally ensue.
Genre: Romance/Friendship

Read Chapter Six here!

Chapter Seven


Matthew was not having a very exciting vacation. It had not started particularly auspiciously when he had crawled onto the train hungover from the previous night, missed his connection in Edinburgh and arrived home three hours late in Manchester. Fortunately there had been the immediate comfort of Isobel meeting him at the station and driving him home, of dumping his suitcase in his old bedroom, slumping on the sofa, and then eating one of his sister's best, homemade meals.

After supper, he collapsed onto the sofa again and stared blankly across the room. He felt completely drained. Presumably it was just the journey and the hangover. He went to bed early.

The lethargy, however, did not wear off as the days passed. Matthew had no idea what to do with himself. Usually he was quite dedicated to his work and got his vacation studying out of the way at the beginning of the holiday but not this time. He sprawled on the sofa, he ate crisps and dropped the packets on the floor, he watched quiz shows and didn't even bother trying to guess the answers. Isobel tried to initiate conversation, looking at him anxiously from the door of the living room, but he was unresponsive, even to her.

Matthew was confused. He had no idea why he felt so disinclined to do anything. He ought to be working. He wanted to work. Why wasn't he working? Lavinia wouldn't be impressed with him spending the vacation so unprofitably... In fact, when she rang him and told him excitedly about how she had spent every day in the British Library and was getting so much done and was planning on going up to Cambridge for a day after Easter to speak to an eminent professor of Latin there, he lied to her and said that he had managed to get himself work experience in a law firm and was tremendously busy there all the time. It was the first time he had ever lied to her and he did not even understand why he had done it, especially considering what a pointless, stupid lie it was.

In fact he had spent the day with an old school friend, Joe Molesley. Joe was one of the few of his friends who was still living nearby; he'd never left. After a degree in some nebulous subject related to business from Manchester Met, he had got a job doing something to do with IT in a firm doing... something. He was explaining it in great detail and Matthew was... bored. Just plain bored. Was this what the rest of life would be like, listening to people he no longer had anything in common with talk about their tedious, insignificant jobs as if they had some kind of meaning? Would that be what he would be like once he had qualified as a lawyer? Just a man with a job? Going out in the morning, doing some work that ultimately didn't change anything, coming home in the evening, kissing Lavinia, eating dinner, going to bed, then repeating for every day for the rest of his life? He knew he was being tremendously unfair to both Joe and himself but at that moment he felt almost sick at the thought of it.

They were sitting in the food court of the main shopping centre in Manchester. It was a Saturday afternoon and the place was heaving with loud and foul-mouthed, orange, teenaged chavs with their babies. Matthew picked at his greasy pizza and reflected morosely that it had been precisely to avoid spending time doing things like this that he had made such an effort to get out and rise above his origins and why he had applied to the oldest and most traditional university in the country to study the oldest and most traditional subject of them all. Thanks to natural intelligence, ambition, a good amount of luck, and one teacher who believed in him, he had made it. So surely he should now feel more grateful than he did? Unlike Joe, in two weeks time he would be able to put Manchester behind him again and return to the ancient towers and hallowed halls of St. Andrews where it practically reeked with learning and class. He had succeeded at everything he had set out to do, but now he was forced to consider that after five and a bit years at Oxford and St. Andrews maybe he needed a change from that lifestyle as well. The bubble was starting to smother him. But even half acknowledging that caused him to freeze with guilt over the callous way he was treating his very enviable life.

He could not stand it any longer and invited Joe back to the flat, just to get them away from this ghastly shopping centre. There they regressed into their teenaged selves, digging out Matthew's old Playstation 3 and playing Call of Duty 3 for the rest of the afternoon. At supper time, Isobel invited Joe to stay to supper just as she always had done in the past and they all ate hotpot in the kitchen before returning to the Playstation. He eventually left at about nine o'clock and Matthew evaded his sister's frowns, hiding in his bedroom and staring at the ceiling. He really had no idea what was wrong with him.

Then, when she rang, he had lied to Lavinia.

Isobel was concerned about him, he could see that quite clearly, but at least finishing the computer game in a record two days gave him an excuse for ignoring her as much as possible. Easter weekend came, however, and she had booked a week off work to spend with him. They had no other family after all. They shared the cooking of the roast lamb, went to church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday and had a very jolly meal together afterwards, even if a part of Matthew was waiting anxiously for the inevitable moment when she would ask him what was wrong.

It never came. Instead, when they had finished the meal and the washing up and were sitting with cups of tea in the living room, she announced that they were going on a day trip the following day.

“I don't know about you, Matthew,” she said, “but I've been stuck in the city for too long. I've been looking in my National Trust book and there's a house not too far away that we haven't been to before. How about we make a day of it? See the house, have lunch in the tea-rooms, have a walk around the grounds – how about it?”

Matthew was in the kind of mood where a sulky shrug seemed like an appropriate answer to everything, but he actually thought it was a good idea. Getting out of the city would be nice and he hadn't done anything like this for a long time.

The weather next day supported their plan. They left Manchester early to avoid all the bank holiday traffic which such a lovely spring day only encouraged and once they were out of the suburbs and onto the quieter roads up into Yorkshire, Matthew started to relax. Isobel was driving, very little map-reading was needed and it was so good to see green fields, animals, hills and picturesque villages.

Matthew's thoughts wandered and eventually he said, quite without the intention of speaking, “I think Lavinia wants to get married.”

“What makes you say that?” replied Isobel immediately. Matthew almost felt offended by her total lack of surprise.

He shrugged uncomfortably. “I don't know really. Things she says, I suppose, hints, that sort of thing...”

She did not reply for a moment, distracted by turning off the main road onto a smaller one. Then she said, “I suppose it's natural you don't want to, considering mum and dad.”

Matthew blinked. “No!”

“You do want to?” Now she sounded surprised.

“No!” he repeated then sighed, aware of how ridiculous he sounded. “I don't know what I want, alright? I don't think I'm against marriage, at least not for that reason- in fact, I quite like the idea of it...”

Being with someone, doing things together, having children; it all sounded rather appealing, one day. He didn't need to make his parents' mistakes; he wanted to prove that he could succeed where they had failed. And yet...

“But I don't... I don't...” He swallowed, and then finally said out loud what he had barely admitted to himself, “I don't think I want to marry Lavinia.” There, he'd said it. “And if I don't want to marry her,” he continued in a rush, “then what's the point? What's the point of it all? Almost five years of a relationship, her love – what am I meant to do? Just throw it in her face because I don't want to get married?”

“Are you saying,” said Isobel calmly after a few moments silence in which Matthew recovered from his outburst, “that for Lavinia it's marriage or nothing? What would be wrong with continuing as you are? You're both so young. There's no need to rush into anything especially while you're still studying.”

It was wise advice as always, but Matthew knew it was wrong. “No. It won't work. I – I don't want it to work.”

“Well then,” said his sister and there wasn't much more to say.

Matthew stared out of the window. His heart was pounding from realisation, fear and, somewhere mingled with all of these strange and melancholy emotions, an odd, fluttery feeling of freedom. Then he became aware that his view of the attractive, old village church and graveyard hadn't changed for several seconds. With a frown he came back to the present and looked around: they were stuck in a traffic jam.

“What's going on?”

Isobel shrugged. “No idea. We're in Downton village so we're very close to the house but I've no idea why it's so busy. Even for a bank holiday this is ridiculous.”

They crawled through the village and out the other side in a single line of cars (and one horse box), simply hoping they would not meet a tractor coming the other way. Isobel turned on the radio. Eventually a turning appeared in the fence with “Downton Abbey” signposted on the familiar brown National Trust sign. All the cars indicated and turned. As they began to drive slowly along a winding, narrow road through fields filled with sheep, Matthew caught sight of a banner hung from the fence.

“Look!” He read it out, “The Downton Fayre: Bank Holiday Monday. All the fun of the fair with the Earl of Grantham!” He raised his eyebrows. “They're not going to the house, Isobel, they're coming to this country fair- just our luck!”

“Never mind, the house will be deserted then if all the visitors are watching the ferret racing or whatever they have going on.”

In fact they ended up missing their first sight of the house looming over a hill because they were distracted by the rows of trailers and horse boxes, a brightly coloured helter-skelter in the distance, and an arena filled with jousting, Medieval knights. Matthew was starting to get excited in spite of himself for if nothing else, a day at Downton Abbey and a country fair would provide a welcome break from his own thoughts.

Having found a parking space, they swiftly made their way to the ticket office and got entry to the house. It was an imposing, neo-gothic pile, sitting very squarely and solidly in its grounds. Matthew, standing back on the drive to take the whole thing in, was not entirely sure it was to his taste.

“As far as a display of wealth and self-importance go, it does pretty well,” he commented wryly to his sister and glanced down at the information leaflet. “Building completed in 1878. I'd like to have seen the Georgian house that came before this one; it's a bit over-the-top for me.”

Isobel grinned. “Nobody's asking you to live here.”

Matthew laughed and they made their way inside. The hall was just as imposing as the exterior with a vast staircase rising out of the centre, surrounded by enormous, full-length portraits of the previous Earls and Countesses of Grantham and their families. Matthew and Isobel tipped their heads back and stared around them with open mouths, making suitably impressed noises.

They followed the direction of the tour through the elegant two-part library (dominated by the wedding portrait over the fireplace of Reginald and Josephine, sixth Earl and Countess), the billiards room (with a sneak peek into the music room containing an artfully positioned harp and eighteenth century fortepiano), back through the saloon to the cold and over-large dining room, before finally returning to the main staircase. They moved up to the second floor and passed through a series of bedrooms- master bedroom, red bedroom, Chinese bedroom, dressing room... Matthew was starting to find that these immaculately presented rooms were no longer grabbing his attention and he forced himself to concentrate on a series of early photographs of Labradors that were lined up along a corridor.

He had got as far as Euclid and Aristotle, offspring of Isis and Barney-from-the-farm when he was pulled out of his glazed reverie by a voice addressing him. He blinked and looked around.

“Excuse me?” The speaker was a very pretty girl, a few years younger than him, dressed very smartly in riding clothes.

“Yes?” said Matthew.

“I don't mean to be rude,” she said apologetically, “but you're really not meant to be here.”

“I'm not?” He looked about him and realised that he was in fact the only person in this long, dark corridor. Isobel, last seen absorbed in the information panel for the upper gallery, was no where nearby.

“No,” replied the girl, still more apologetically. “This part of the house is private, it belongs to the family. There should be some kind of sign...” She frowned and brushed past him. “Yes, here it is. Someone must have forgotten to put the rope back across.” She grinned at him suddenly. “Probably me!”

He grinned back automatically. There was something about her that was familiar and drew him in, but he could not place what. Something about the shape of her face, or the low, well-bred tone of her voice perhaps.

He followed her back down the corridor. “I'm terribly sorry. I didn't mean to trespass. I was just-”

“It's alright,” she interrupted, waving it away, “I couldn't care less. If people are going to look round the place they might as well look everywhere; it's only fair. But I guess my messy room isn't going to be as exciting as the bedroom I might have slept in had I lived a hundred years ago. Are you particularly interested in dogs?”

“Um, not really,” replied Matthew, as she carefully pulled the rope back across the beginning of the corridor and hooked it at the other side. “That is, they're very beautiful photos!” he quickly added.

Again, she was unoffended and even rolled her eyes. “Those Labradors – it's a family obsession, at least it is among the men. I'm with you though: I just don't give a crap, though I do love Plato to bits – Daddy's dog, you know.”

“Oh, of course,” he replied vaguely. He was starting to feel rather uncomfortable. There was something about her...

Fortunately their encounter came abruptly to an end. The girl glanced at her watch and gaped. “Oh my God!” She looked quickly up at Matthew. “I'm sorry, I'm entering the dressage at the fair down there and I'm on in only half an hour. My sister's tacking up my horse and I don't even know where she is. Shit, I've really got to go!”

“Of course!”

“I leave everything to the last minute,” she flustered, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “You should come and watch later. The dressage's bound to be boring but my sister's doing show jumping which is always fun.” She stuffed her phone away again and was about to leave when she suddenly stopped and held out her hand, becoming immediately more elegant and befitting her clothing and the setting. “I'm terribly sorry, I'm forgetting my manners. I owe you a name at least after rudely forcing you away from the dog photos. I'm Sybil; nice to meet you.”

Matthew took her hand automatically and replied, “Matthew,” but he was rooted to the spot and when she had darted away across the gallery and down the main staircase, pushing past visitors coming the opposite direction, for a moment he could not move. Then he made his way quickly to his sister.

“What's the name of the family here?” he cried, snatching the house guide out of her hand.

“Grantham, isn't it?”

“No, no, that's their title.”

“Isn't it the same-”

“No, it's – Ah!” He found the information on the back of the leaflet. “Crawley. Like us. The current earl,” he read out, “is Robert Crawley, who still lives in part of the house with his family and beloved Labrador, Plato. He is a governor of Ripon Grammar School and known for his charitable donations to - Anyway.”

He looked up and stared at the spot where he had last seen Sybil. “I just met Lady Sybil Crawley.”

“Did you now? Did she condescend to speak with you?”

“No, it's not that...” Matthew replied, too amazed to even bother teasing Isobel for her prejudices. “It's just... I know her sister!”

“You know one of the Grantham family?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed, starting to walk briskly in the direction of the back staircase which would take them down to the kitchen and servants hall, the final section of the house tour. “Mary Crawley. I told you about her, remember?”

“No...?”

Matthew rolled his eyes and tried to keep his cool. He felt suddenly as if the weight of the world had been taken off him. He felt younger, happier, full of potential and life, for the first time since leaving St. Andrews. He couldn't stop to analyse it, he could only feel it.

“I did mention her. The posh girl from the Labour versus Conservative debate. And then she and her housemate came to dinner the other week.”

“Oh,” replied Isobel thoughtfully. “Yes, I remember now. I didn't realise I should be paying attention.”

They did not give the basement the attention it deserved. There was a plastic Edwardian dinner laid out on the table in the servants hall and the kitchen and storeroom were filled with interesting, old fashioned gadgets but Matthew hurried them out into the bright sunshine of the back courtyard. Once the location of the coal hole and storage and work rooms, it was now a pretty, open space with flowers in hanging baskets, picnic tables, the shop and the restaurant.

“Shall we have lunch?” suggested Isobel.

Matthew rocked backwards and forwards on his feet. “Why don't we go and have a look at the fair and find something there? Seems a shame to waste the good weather sitting indoors.”

“If you like.”

They left the courtyard and crunched round the house to the open parkland where the fair was taking place. Matthew wondered at what time Mary would be show jumping; he rather wanted to watch – and it would be nice to see her again. Apart from a couple of desultory text messages about nothing in particular and several 'liked' facebook statuses they had not communicated since they had been at the karaoke party. He had not known that she rode, though considering she lived on a country estate and had talked about polo when she had come to dinner he realised he probably should have made the connection. Then again, he had not known the name of her estate or even her father's title. In fact, he knew hardly anything about her.

As if she was reading his mind, Isobel asked, “So how well do you know this Lady Mary Crawley? I thought you'd only met her a couple of times.”

“I have,” replied Matthew as they drifted into the queue for Lakeland Picnic Burgers with a little inexplicable embarrassment. He felt he ought to have seen her much more than he had in reality. Only four times altogether- at the debate, on the path along the coast, at dinner, then at the party. “That is, we just keep bumping into each other. Must be fate!”

“Or coincidence,” retorted Isobel, with a hard glance at him and he was happy to let the conversation drop in order to decide whether he wanted cheese and onions on his burger and ketchup or chutney.

Armed with their food, they wandered among the stalls as they ate. Isobel was easily distracted by craft and produce stalls, leaving Matthew to his thoughts. So that was Sybil, he mused, the rebellious younger sister with the secret boyfriend. Preparing to ride a dressage test at her family's country estate she had not struck him as particularly rebellious, especially not to someone who had had Matthew's upbringing. She swore more than Mary did – he had never heard Mary once say a swear word, it was quite striking – but swearing was hardly a sign of moral delinquency. No odd piercings though, no dyed hair, and a devotion to an expensive and pretentious sport. Perhaps the rather charming Lady Sybil Crawley was not quite as rebellious as her sister seemed to think her. And what of Mary herself? What would it be like seeing her on her own turf here at Downton Abbey? Perhaps she wouldn't even want to speak to him with his jeans and trainers and liberal politics in this context. Goodness, it was odd to think that this place was home to her!

They finished their burgers and had just bought large slabs of intriguing looking home-made beetroot cake for pudding and tea in cardboard mugs, when a loud-speaker announced that the show jumping would be starting in five minutes.

“Let's go watch!” suggested Matthew.

“I didn't know you were interested in show jumping,” replied his sister, “but alright. I think the arena is this way.”

“I'm not,” he replied. He was beginning to feel as if he had spent the entire day denying being interested in things: Lavinia, Labradors, show jumping. He sighed. “But Mary's taking part and, well, I can't not say hello since I know she's here, can I?”

“What are you going to do then? Jump up and down shouting “coo-ee” while she's trying to concentrate?”

“Don't be ridiculous, I'll find her afterwards.”

They managed to find an empty patch of grass in the sun by the arena and sat themselves down. The jumps seemed terribly high. Matthew unwrapped his pinkish coloured cake and sniffed suspiciously.

“Do you know anything about this?” he asked Isobel as the first rider entered the ring and saluted the judges.

“Not a thing. Watch and learn, little brother!”

Over the first few riders, they managed to pick up some of the rules. The riders were timed but it seemed they also had to get a clear round without knocking any of the poles to the ground.

“They get four points for that, don't they?” murmured Matthew. “Or is it six?”

“Four,” replied Isobel firmly. “That last girl knocked down two poles and got eight points.”

“Right. Four. So why did the girl on the white horse get four points? She didn't knock anything off.”

This was difficult. “I think... I think it was because she hesitated before the water jump. That's a refusal and you get points for that too.”

Matthew made a face. “Imagine if we learned how to do this at school instead of football.”

They met each other's eyes and then burst out laughing. Just thinking about it was utterly ludicrous. They were still laughing when they were joined by Sybil. She was wearing an oversized jumper now instead of her jacket and her boots were muddy. She looked far more relaxed.

“Oh, you did come to watch!” she exclaimed in some surprise. “Did you see me? I was terrible, not even placed. I don't mind though; it's not about the winning.”

“No, we didn't catch the dressage unfortunately. I'm sorry you didn't win.” Matthew didn't quite know how to continue so he rushed forwards anyway. “I didn't realise when we met before, but I know your sister.”

Sybil stared at him and then dropped to the ground next to him. “Really? Which one?”

He had not realised there was more than one. “Er, oh, Mary. I'm at St Andrews too.”

“That's so cool! What's your name again?”

“Matthew Crawley. And this is my sister, Isobel.”

“Pleased to meet you.” They shook hands over Matthew, who was sitting in the middle.

“No,” continued Sybil with a frown, “Mary's never mentioned you. I would have remembered because of the name. Do you think we're related?”

“It's impossible!” replied Matthew more sharply than he had intended, a little stung that Mary had never even mentioned him once.

“Not really,” put in Isobel. “We could easily be distant cousins. After all, we know so little of dad's family, who knows who we're related to!” She leaned across her brother to explain to Sybil. “Our father died when I was only a teenager and Matthew, oh, he was barely a toddler. We haven't kept in touch with his family at all so you see, it's not actually impossible that we're related somewhere down the line.”

“God, I'm sorry about your father,” replied Sybil with immediate sympathy. “It was bad enough when Grandpa died but I can't imagine losing Daddy...” She frowned a second and then cheered up again. “Well, mind you don't say all that when Auntie Ros is around; she's really into family history and would soon sniff out a link if there was one, and then where would we be?”

They all laughed. “But surely your mother must have some information on your father's family even if you don't?” pressed Sybil again after a moment.

Matthew and Isobel glanced at each other and then Isobel replied calmly, “We're not in touch with our mother any more.”

Sybil blinked. This was clearly incomprehensible to her. Matthew took pity on her. “Isobel brought me up really,” he said enthusiastically. “Who needs parents when you have her?” He put an arm round her and squeezed her shoulders.

Fortunately Mary's sister was far more naïve than Mary herself probably was, at least so it seemed. She accepted this without any query. “How nice it must be to be brought up by a sibling. So much more fun! I sometimes think,” she said, “that parents really don't know what they're doing. I swear Mummy has no idea what I get up to half the time because she's so out of touch – I can't talk to her about anything – and when Mary was acting out she didn't know what to do either.”

“Mary acting out?” This was a sufficiently amusing idea to be distracting.

“Oh, yes. When she was my age she was a real celebrity – going out all the time in London, paparazzi everywhere, drinking every weekend – that sort of thing.”

Perhaps Matthew's jibe at the idea of her clubbing with Prince Harry had not been so far off the mark after all.

“Sounds just your type of person, Matthew!” commented Isobel with raised eyebrows.

“She's not like that any more,” sighed Sybil. “She got boring after her gap year. Boring and disapproving of everything. I'm not going to take a gap year, I don't think; I don't want to become boring. Oh, there she is!”

There she was indeed, though Matthew would not have recognized her at a distance under her hat, cantering into the ring on a large, gleaming black horse. Her supporters fell silent to watch her ride, holding their collective breath as she soared effortlessly over fence after fence.

“Clear round for Mary Crawley and Diamond! One minute thirty seven seconds,” called the announcer through his megaphone at the end over the applause.

“That's a good time, isn't it?” asked Matthew, who felt he was really getting into it now.

“Pretty good,” agreed Sybil. “She should be placed with that. Come on, let's find her.”

She was already on her feet and the others scrambled up after her. As they circled round the outside of the ring, Matthew became aware of feeling terribly nervous. What on earth would Mary think of him turning up like this with her sister and watching her show jumping? What would Isobel make of her? Why did it matter so much?

He shoved the last piece of his beetroot cake in his mouth and threw away the paper bag in a bin as they passed.

“Great cake!” he exclaimed, swallowing down his feelings. “Very distinctive.”

“Oh, is that the veg cake?” replied Sybil with a grin. “It's Mrs. Travis, the vicar's wife, who makes them. She does a great courgette cake as well. You wouldn't think it works but it does.”

“You actually have a vicar's wife here?” said Isobel, trying not to smile.

“Well, we have a vicar and he has a wife,” answered Sybil, nonplussed.

“I think what my sister means,” put in Matthew, “is that she is expecting Miss Marple to jump out from behind a hedge at any moment with a plate of a scones and a bloody dagger.”

“Actually, Matthew,” interrupted Isobel before Sybil could look even more confused, “I was just surprised by anyone being defined by whose wife they are. It seems a bit backwards for our day and age. Doesn't Mrs. Travis have a job?”

“I, er, I actually don't know,” said Sybil. “I think she does supply work at the village school so I suppose she's a teacher. Do you know, I've never thought of that before. Vicar's wife seems like enough work as it is!”

“Come on,” pleaded Matthew, “surely defining somebody by their job is just as -”

He broke off because they had found Mary. She was pink-cheeked from her exertion, a few strands of glossy, dark hair were escaping from her hair net, and she had a riding hat over one arm, and Diamond's reins looped over the other. She looked utterly astonished.

“Matthew! Goodness gracious, what are you doing here?”

“I caught him trespassing in our part of the house,” put in Sybil with a grin.

Mary's eyebrows shot up. “Really? Whatever for?”

“I didn't know it was your house,” he replied defensively and irrelevantly, even blushing.

“Indeed!” Her eyes slid to Isobel and Matthew quickly introduced them.

“Well done on your clear round,” he added with a hopeful smile. The feeling of nervousness wouldn't go away even now they had met.

Mary shrugged. “Thanks. There's been a tie, however, so there'll be a jump-off to decide the places. No rest for the wicked, is there, Diamond?” She gave her horse a firm and affectionate pat on the neck. “I'm sorry, Matthew. It'd have been nice to catch up but I have to sort myself out before the next round and walk the course.”

“Oh, it's quite alright,” replied Matthew easily, not knowing whether to be disappointed or relieved. “I wouldn't want to get in your way.”

“You could always stay to dinner though if you liked,” she continued suddenly. Her lips twisted into a smile. “I do owe you a dinner after all.”

“Mary...” said Sybil, “are you sure that's a good idea? Granny's coming to dinner.”

Her sister shrugged. “All the more reason to dilute her! Well, will you?”

“That's very kind of you, Mary,” replied Isobel, “but I don't want to drive in the dark and we have quite a way to go to get home tonight.”

“Stay the night. It'd be no problem at all.”

“I, er, really, we couldn't possibly...” replied Matthew in a kind of panic.

“Well, alright then!” said Isobel at the same time. He stared at her.

“Excellent,” replied Mary with a pleased smile. “Now, if you'll excuse me... Sybil darling, hold Diamond for me while I get a drink; I'm dry as a bone. Don't forget to cheer for me in the jump-off, Matthew! Until later.”

They were dismissed. As Mary hurried off, Matthew and Isobel hung around awkwardly with Sybil and Diamond for a few more minutes. When a harassed girl with messy, blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail wearing a muddy University of Exeter hoodie and carrying a bucket full of grooming implements joined them and was briefly introduced as the third sister, Edith, both of them felt they were in the way and wandered off back to the fair to try to find more of Mrs. Travis' delicious cake.

“You just said yes because you want to be able to say you've spent the night at Downton Abbey and had dinner with a real earl, don't you?” Matthew accused his sister once they were out of earshot of the Crawley sisters.

Isobel shrugged slightly and leaned in, replying wickedly, “You mean you don't?”

He was almost ashamed to admit it, but there was a part of him that was just as curious as his sister was.

Read Chapter Eight here!
Tags: downton abbey, fanfiction, matthew/mary, university challenge
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