Fandom: Downton Abbey
Summary: AU S01 epic set after the flower show. Following an explosive argument with Matthew, Violet takes Mary abroad for adventures of discovery and romance in Europe while back at home Sybil finds herself torn between two men and her independence.
Read Chapter Nineteen here!
The week following the catastrophic dinner at Downton would have been the perfect opportunity for Matthew to bury himself in work. Only there wasn't any. He tidied his office, did all the paperwork that had built up over the past few months, made many cups of tea and abandoned them half drunk – and had plenty of time in which to think.
When Lord Grantham had called him into his study, his composure almost slipping, and told him the worst, he had been stupefied and had not known how to react. In fact, he was not sure he knew how to react even now several days afterwards. There was a block in his mind which he could not break through no matter how many times he shifted in his chair in the office and stared out of another window or leaned his chin on a different hand. Perhaps the truth was he did not want to. It was easier to be horrified and dismissive and in a continuous state of shock and denial than to actually examine his feelings and analyse why he was so affected. It was a dreadful blow for the family of course and he really had been awfully fond of Mary, attracted to her even, but after what she had done, how could he support her, how could any of them? After she had – It was at this moment that he would shift his chin from one hand to the other and break the train of thought. In the end, he had been enough of a disappointment to the family himself when his relationship with Sybil had failed to feel that his interference would be welcome, even if he knew what to do anyway. If he was forcing himself to be honest with himself about this one thing, he had disappointed himself too for entering into the engagement in the first place. Sybil was not, had never been right.
Eventually one day Mr. Carter came into Matthew's office at lunchtime and told him to take the rest of the day off.
“You must have many things you'd rather be doing at home in the run up to Christmas than sitting in an empty office. ”
Matthew really hadn't and he had no idea what they would be doing at Christmas. The idea had always been to spend the day at the abbey but in the current atmosphere and with only Robert, Cora and Sybil at home this seemed more and more unlikely. Perhaps he and his mother would go to stay with Uncle Peter in Manchester over Christmas and New Year...
He went home anyway and found Sybil sitting in the drawing room with a cup of tea, leafing through a book. He had not seen her since the night of the dinner and his jaw dropped as he flung his coat on the chair.
“Sybil, what – what are you doing here? Are you waiting for Mother? She's... I don't know where...”
She jumped up as he entered the room and hardly waited for him to look around him and trail off before she interrupted, “She's at a friend's and anyway it's you I came to see.”
“Well, I – I hope you haven't been here long.”
“Oh no, just half an hour or so and Molesley has been keeping me well fed and watered as you can see.” She gestured to a tea tray and a plate of Eyemouth tarts.
“Oh, yes, I see. Well, won't you sit down? It's good to see you, Sybil. How is-”
“I'm worried, Matthew,” she interrupted him again as she sat down abruptly. “I'm worried about Mary.”
He could only open and shut his mouth as a cold pang shot through him at her name. He swallowed and managed to bite out, “You are?”
“Aren't you?” retorted Sybil, looking both sad and frustrated. “All alone there and nobody telling her what's going on and doing who knows what...”
“I'm sure she's perfectly alright,” mumbled Matthew awkwardly. “She is with your grandmother after all and she's going to be married-”
“Oh, do keep up!” she snapped and Matthew raised his head in surprise. “Mary hasn't been with Granny for a couple of weeks now; she's with these – these Americans we don't know anything about! And as for being married, it was only ever a possibility and do you really think she will be now?”
He blinked. “I – I don't know.”
“Really? You can't bear to hear her name mentioned and yet you think that some strange Italian is going to marry her without a reputation?”
Matthew shrugged helplessly. “If he loved her-”
They both lapsed into silence. Matthew felt helpless and uncomfortable talking about Mary. He wished her well – how could he pretend he didn't? - and yet he was aware of a deep and burning resentment inside him at the very thought of her and of what she had done even though it really had nothing to do with him at all. Yes, that was it, he realised suddenly. He was angry with Mary. He had been angry with her for a long time but it was only now that he finally had a reason or, more properly, an excuse to admit it. Before he could follow through with these thoughts, Sybil was speaking again and demanding his attention.
“It's horrible up at the abbey,” she was saying. “Mama and Papa, they only talk to argue. Papa took it very badly – Mama's involvement, you know – but the more he blames her the more stubborn she is.”
“She stands by Mary?” said Matthew, forcing himself to take an interest.
“Well, she tries to. She doesn't know what to do, none of us do. Papa threatens terrible things, never welcoming Mary back, disinheriting her, all sorts of things. I don't know if he means it.”
“That seems rather drastic,” he replied with a frown. “How would she manage without a fortune?”
“Well, that's what I think and, oh Matthew, it gets worse and that's why-” She shook her head and then leaned forwards, using her hands to add weight to her words. “This morning I overheard them arguing again – I didn't mean to but that's all I'm good for now, sneaking around the house and eavesdropping – and you know what Papa said?”
He shook his head.
“He said... he said that Mary was going to be punished because of me. So that my season and my chances of making a good marriage aren't ruined, Mary has to be punished. That's what he said! And I – I can't bear that!”
“Did you say anything?” replied Matthew.
“Oh yes!” she cried. “I rushed in and told him he was being ridiculous but Papa said I should keep out of it. He said I was being silly and didn't know what I wanted, but I do. I do know my own mind, Matthew!”
He met her eyes. “I know you do,” he replied quietly. There was a great injustice going on here; he could see that, whatever else he felt.
“You know me, you know me as nobody else here does,” she continued growing ever more passionate, “and you know that I would never consider marrying a man who is only paying me attention because my sister has been disinherited! If Papa does this then I really will run away and I'll do it properly too before you say I'm being melodramatic, taking money and plenty of clothes and everything. But he won't listen to me and I thought – I thought he might listen to you.”
“To me? I'm not sure I...”
“My God, Matthew, I've made mistakes and that's why Papa thinks I'm not to be trusted. I don't blame him, not entirely anyway; I must appear flighty to him and perhaps to you too, but if I was wrong before I want to make things right now. That's all I want and I won't see my sister punished because of me! I couldn't live with myself.”
Matthew looked away and frowned, finding her intensity unnerving. “But Sybil-” he began and then stood up abruptly and walked to the window, staring out at the garden with unseeing eyes. “Sybil, don't you think that Mary-” He swallowed as her name stuck in his throat, “I mean, what she did was – don't you think that something should be-”
God, he wanted her to be punished. Because -
“How can you say that, Matthew?” cried Sybil, jumping up and grabbing his arm and pulling him round to face her. “The only thing that should be done is to bring her back and love her! Don't you think she's been punished enough without adding my father's cruelty into the bargain?”
“Punished enough!” he cried, her anger making him angry. “With a nice trip to Italy and balls and concerts and-”
“And sold in marriage to some foreigner none of us have even met! Yes, it's a charmed life; have you any idea at all, Matthew? Are you really so blind to our lives and our characters as all that? This is Mary!”
“I know it's Mary,” he said stiffly, jerking his head away.
“No, I don't think you do! Some women might pretend nothing had happened but I know my sister and she's incapable of it. I used to resent her for her pessimism but it wasn't, not for her. It was realism.”
“What do you mean – that she wouldn't have flung herself at any available man even without a reputation because we both know that's not true!” he sneered, though he was no longer exactly sure what he was so angry about.
That dinner party. The dinner party that had started it all. Anthony Strallan. Games, always playing games.
Sybil took a shocked step backwards. “Not at anyone she cared about, no! And my word, Matthew, what's it to you? Anyone would think you're upset because she didn't throw herself at you!”
Matthew blinked and shook his head automatically. But that was precisely why he was upset: because she had not thrown herself at him. Only...
“Mary ruined herself, Matthew! She knows what she's done as well as we do and I – I for one don't know how she can live knowing she can never allow herself to tell the truth because look what happened when we found out! She would rather make us believe the worst of her, I'm sure, than consciously deceive us. And you think she should be punished more, do you, when she's been doing so well by herself!”
“No...” said Matthew slowly because somehow what she was saying struck him and forced a memory to the surface.
Mary had not thrown herself at him but she had given him the chance to throw himself at her, and he had not responded. She had insulted him – he remembered because the conversation was engraved on his heart – she had said that he was incapable of love and perhaps he had resented her so much afterwards because it was true. If it wasn't true, why had he been unable to answer – because he was scared to admit the truth of her power over him? But whether that was the case or not, he realised with a flash of devastating insight that he had completely misunderstood her.
She had meant herself. She had meant that she was incapable of love. Something intrinsically wrong with such a person to make love impossible for them, as she had said? What else could she have been referring to but a deep-seated belief in her own worthlessness? He burned at the injustice of it and how terribly wrong she was. She had been trying to protect him from knowing the truth, but what could be a greater act of selfless, if misplaced, love than that? If he was angry with her now it was only for terrible, superficial reasons. She had hurt him when it was his fault for not listening properly to what she was saying and then she had had the temerity to have a life, a past and a love that did not involve him.
“No,” he repeated more strongly as his anger began to be deflected off Mary and onto himself. “No, she does not deserve it.”
So she was not who he had thought her? That did not justify his scorn when it had been his mistake in the first place. He had failed her on every possible occasion, allowing petty resentment to overrule all his better feelings, but no longer. It did not matter now what she believed of herself, it did not matter that he loved her and had loved her for longer than he cared to imagine; what mattered was righting this terrible wrong. The rest could come later.
“What do you want me to do about it?” he inquired of Sybil with deceptive calm. Inside, his heart was pounding with realisation and resolution.
Her eyes flickered over his face, noticing the change but not quite sure what it signified. “Just talk to Papa! Make him see how wrong he's being since he won't listen to me. Make him write to her and bring her home where at the very least we can all talk about it sensibly. If he's going to disinherit her he should at least do it to her face, don't you think?”
“At the very least,” said Matthew grimly. Abruptly he turned and crossed the room. He grabbed his coat and flung open the drawing room door. “At the very least,” he repeated. “Coming, Sybil?”
She hastened to follow him out. “You're going now? Oh, Matthew!”
He felt a kind of controlled energy welling up in him that could only be satisfied by action. He walked faster than normal and his fists clenched and released at his side. He could not get over what a fool he had been; a blind, self-deluding, resentful fool. He had put Mary on a pedestal so that he could worship her jealously from afar and as soon as the pedestal had been even slightly shaken he had knocked her off and blamed her for it. But those qualities that he had worshipped – her beauty, her effervescent charm, even her scorn for him which was always couched so wittily that he could not help admiring her even then – those were not what really made up her character.
As he strode through the village so fast that Sybil could hardly keep up with him his mind was filled with other recollections of Mary, ones that made his heart contract and his lips turn up in affection despite himself. Mary, who could hit every coconut without even trying; Mary, who sometimes seemed more at ease wandering alone round the estate than making small talk after dinner; Mary, giggling into her napkin at a salty pudding; Mary, reading Boccaccio and pretending it was all about the plague; Mary, singing with her sister when she thought nobody could hear her... This was the real Mary and she was the woman he truly loved.
“Matthew, stop a moment!” panted Sybil and he pulled himself out of his thoughts to stop walking. They were half way down the drive to Downton and she was jogging up behind him. Sybil... How could he ever have proposed to her? Had he wanted to prove to an absent Mary that he was capable of love so much that he had tried to persuade himself that he was in love with her sister? Utter madness, and he had not really believed in it himself after the first day. After such ridiculous folly and lack of self-awareness on his part he could not possibly blame Mary for anything she might have done in the past.
“I'm sorry. I was caught up in-”
“You don't need to apologise,” she interrupted drawing up to his side. “The sooner you talk to Papa the better from my point of view.”
He gave her a half-smile. “From mine too.”
“But there's something else I haven't told you.”
“There is?” He wondered what could be worse than what she had already said.
Sybil sighed and caught her breath. “You see, I said I was worried about Mary and then I got distracted telling you about what Papa said which is horrible and everything but at least it's preventable...”
“Preventable?” Matthew felt suddenly cold.
“Matthew... if I tell you something will you promise not to say anything to anyone?”
Her expression relaxed. “I knew I could trust you. You see, Mary's a terrible correspondent – she hardly ever writes and when she does she never says anything-” Matthew found himself smiling even though Sybil was being perfectly serious. It was such a perfectly Mary-ish way of going about writing letters. “So we've learned nothing from Mary's letters but I – I've been writing to Gwen, her maid, you know.”
“Yes, I know who Gwen is.”
“And she's been writing to me and unlike Mary she actually says things. She doesn't like this Count Sciarpa Mary's planning to marry and she doesn't think Mary does either. She doesn't think Mary's happy or has been for several weeks.”
Matthew closed his eyes briefly. “Go on.”
“But more than that, I haven't had a letter from her since – since I wrote to tell her of our engagement. Matthew, the truth is I don't really know what's happening in Italy because I've been relying on Gwen. Mary wrote to Mama to say they had arrived in Naples but that's the last we've heard of them. And now there's the scandal and there's just – silence! Matthew, I'm so worried!”
“And you can't tell your father your fears?”
She rolled her eyes. “Tell him I've been corresponding with a housemaid? Oh, I'm sure that will go down well, especially now! To be honest I think he's glad Mary hasn't written because it saves him the trouble of deciding how to reply.”
“Yes, how very comforting for him,” replied Matthew grimly. He frowned at the ground a moment and then raised his head again and turned back to the house.
Sybil grabbed his arm. “Matthew, please – don't tell him about Gwen.”
“Don't worry, I won't.”
This was the least of Matthew's concerns. A sense of deep unease and worry was settling over him and being combined with the swirling anger that had been building since Sybil had first come to see him. No, earlier. He had been angry for a very long time. By the time they reached the house his mind was focused on only one purpose and that was to make his cousin see sense and ensure Mary's safety.
He pulled the doorbell with a vigorous jerk and then pulled it again for good measure. Carson materialised sooner than usual but Matthew ignored him and strode straight into the hall, removing his hat but not his jacket.
“I want Lord Grantham,” he said and even his voice sounded strained.
Carson did not bat an eyelid. “His Lordship is in the library, sir. Shall I-”
Without another word to Sybil standing in the hall, he pushed the door of the library open unannounced.
The earl was at his desk, Pharaoh at his feet, staring out across the room and not really paying attention to his papers. Lord of all he beheld, thought Matthew with an inner sneer that could not be repressed.
“Matthew!” Robert exclaimed, looking up in surprise when he saw him. “I was wondering when we would see-”
“Are you going to disinherit Mary?” he snapped.
The words rang out round the library into complete silence, the only sound the crackle of the fire. Robert sat down slowly, for he had half risen when Matthew had entered the room. His eyebrows contracted.
“I don't know what you think you've heard, but-” he began eventually.
Matthew took a few steps forwards. “What I've heard is that instead of finding out what's actually happened to your daughter who is all alone and unprotected in a foreign country, you're planning ways to make her life even more impossible than it already is.”
“Matthew – Matthew, please calm down! It's true that I have been considering various options of how to deal with Mary, but-”
“How to deal with Mary!” cried Matthew, turning away abruptly to the window. “Good God, sir!”
“No, listen to me!” Robert raised his voice slightly. “You mustn't jump to conclusions like this. You're not seeing it from my point of view.”
This was so startling that Matthew turned back to face him and shoved his hands into his pockets, staring at him.
His cousin continued. “You have to understand that ultimately it doesn't matter what Mary's done. That is, of course it matters to us but that's neither here nor there. What matters-”
“Neither here nor there!” What the earl was saying was making so little sense that Matthew could not help repeating him incredulously. “It's everything!”
“To you maybe but you're young and, dare I say it, hot-headed. No, let me finish.”
“Sir.” He turned away again.
“What matters is what people think happened and unfortunately they think the worst.”
“Then deny it. I really don't see-”
“The worst is the truth, Matthew,” said the earl heavily, “and there are enough people who know that to make any attempt at denial look desperate.”
“What does it matter what it looks like?”
“Because that is the way the world works! This family's reputation has been severely harmed by this scandal and I have to be seen to do something.” He looked up at Matthew almost pleadingly. “You must see that. If it was just Mary – but I have two other daughters to think about as well, two unmarried daughters. I have servants who depend on me for references and on whose loyalty I depend. Downton is-”
“Oh spare me!” interrupted Matthew.
The earl slammed his hand down on the table making them both jump and he stood up. “Why should I spare you? Let me make something very clear to you. When you inherit this title, when Downton is yours, when you have children of you own-”
“If I am blessed with children of my own then I should never sacrifice one of them to the false idol of family honour!”
Robert drew back in deep offence as Matthew continued. “I understand what you are saying perfectly and I reject it. If this is what you believe to be right then, God help me, I look forward to the day when I can prove you wrong.”
“You will regret saying these things later, Matthew.”
“Will I? I'm not so sure. Since I've come here you and your family have done everything you can to turn me into something I'm not and right now I'm very glad you've failed!”
“We have done everything we can to make you and cousin Isobel welcome and I have tried – and I thought I was making progress – to help you fit into your new life.”
“I don't need help!” exclaimed Matthew, flinging out his arms and laughing suddenly. “I know how to be an earl – exactly how I am a lawyer: trying to do what is right in an imperfect world. And this, whatever way you look at it, is wrong.”
“Matthew-” Robert's voice was taking on a weary, warning tone.
“Let me tell you, sir, something you seem to have forgotten. There's a very obvious way Mary can be dealt with, to use your own words, much as they disgust me.”
“Please, do enlighten me, since I appear to be very stupid.”
The sarcasm was almost too much. “What about giving her the support of a great and powerful family? Have you thought of that? Oh, I wonder where we could find one of them! What about integrating her so thoroughly within a family that loves and protects her so that the combined forces of all Europe could not get to her?”
“And if she had been already married with the protection of a husband it's very likely the scandal would not be half as great as it is, but she's not! For goodness sake, try to be realistic!”
“I am being perfectly realistic!” shouted Matthew, pushed beyond endurance. “If you're not willing to stand up for your own daughter then you should at least be glad there's someone who will.”
“You are not head of this family and you-”
“You're right! I'm not head of your family but I'm head of my own and my father's. And if that's good enough for Mary then it will damn well have to be good enough for you! Good day to you.”
“Matthew,” began his cousin, coming round the desk, his voice trembling with anger, “If you leave this room now like this, I'll-”
He spun round. “You'll what? Disinherit me as well? I wish you luck in that! Tricky things, entails, at least so I've found.”
“You will no longer be welcome in my home,” Lord Grantham finished with sober finality. “And neither will your wife.”
“Frankly,” said Matthew, breathing hard, “I can't imagine wanting to be.”
He cast one last look around the library, at its comfortable red sofas, at the fire crackling in the grate, at Pharaoh with his head lifted off his paws at the raised voices, at the windows with their little curves of condensation on them, then he turned his back on it all, flung open the door and strode out leaving it open behind him. As he left, the earl sank down into an armchair with a deep, unhappy sigh and passed his hand across his face. After a few moment, Pharaoh padded round and laid his head sympathetically on his master's leg.
In the hall Matthew hesitated and in that moment, Sybil leapt up from the stairs where she had been sitting and rushed towards him. There were tears in her eyes. He had barely time to notice them before she was in his arms. He embraced her awkwardly, her emotion fitting so badly with his own adrenalin and rage. Gingerly he hugged her back.
“Dear, dear Matthew!” she mumbled into his collar. “It is good to know I have one relation I can be proud of. I heard everything you said in there, you know,” she added, lifting her face and pulling away from him. “Well, most of it. I went upstairs to-” She stepped out of his arms and held out an envelope. “Here. This is Mary's latest letter to Mama from Naples. It says where she's staying and everything. I thought you might-” She broke off as he touched the letter but did not take it, frowning at the clear direction on the front in Mary's elegant, curved handwriting. “That is, you are going to do what I think you're going to do?” she insisted.
Matthew blinked and took the letter from her, his fingers sliding over the creamy notepaper before putting it carefully into the inner pocket of his jacket. He tilted his head back and cast his eyes round the saloon, taking his time to find the words, as if the decision had not be made a long time ago already.
He looked back at her, anxious and waiting, and suddenly smiled. “Well, I'm going to try.”
She clasped his arm warmly. “Don't let me keep you then. And – and good luck; so much good luck!”
He touched her hand briefly and nodded and then left her, unable to reply again. Outside, the world seemed different. Leaving the house, he felt as if he were emerging from a dream into the cold and clear sting of reality. His mind whirled with ideas and schemes and determination and by the time he was almost running up the drive of Crawley House again, he was half way across France.
He unlocked the door and slammed it behind him. “Molesley!” he yelled, flinging open the drawing room door without looking inside and then starting up the stairs. “Molesley!”
His mother emerged from the drawing room. “Matthew? What are you doing home? Is everything alright? What are you-”
He ran back down the stairs. “Mother, I'm-” He was what exactly? He blinked to clear his thoughts. “Mother, I need to know when the next train to London leaves. Molesley!”
“Why, are you going away?”
“Molesley! For God's sake, where is he? Please, just find it, mother. You always have Bradshaw to hand.”
“Sir?” He appeared on the upstairs landing, holding one of Matthew's shirts, as Isobel disappeared shaking her head back in the drawing room to find the timetable.
“Ah, good. Pack your things, Molesley!”
Matthew rolled his eyes as he took the stairs two at a time. “No, not like that! I mean, we're going away. Pack my things too.”
“Very good, sir. How long for?”
Matthew followed him into his bedroom and shrugged, even as he started opening cupboards and pulling out shirts and throwing them on the bed. “Oh, I don't know. Just pack a suitcase!”
There was a little hesitation before the next, “Very good, sir.” Then, “Will you be needing your dinner jacket?”
Matthew paused and stared at him. As if that sort of thing mattered! “Just – just pack some clothes and hurry up about it!”
He dashed onto the landing again and called down. “Mother?”
She was waiting for him. “There's a train from Ripon in an hour which you could get if you hurry. Matthew, may I ask-”
“Later!” Next stop was his study and a quick gathering up of important documents which he shoved into a satchel. He poked his head out of the door. “Ready, Molesley?”
There was little else he could do now other than go back downstairs and pace up and down the drawing room, watched anxiously by his mother.
“Will you be away for long, Matthew?”
“Probably not. I don't know.” He was starting to feel guilty about the horrible position he was leaving her in in relation to the rest of the family. Well, his mother could handle herself; at least he had no qualms on that score. And she would understand.
“Would I be right in thinking...” she began very gently as if she already knew, “that you are going abroad?”
He met her eyes briefly. “Yes.”
She nodded. “I wondered. Matthew, promise me one thing; write when you reach your destination, so I know you're safe.”
He smiled. “Of course I will.”
From the hall came the sounds of Molesley manoeuvring several suitcases down the stairs at once. Matthew moved towards the door and then turned back. “Will you promise me something too, Mother?”
“Anything at all, dear.”
“Go and talk to Sybil sometimes. I don't think anyone's looking after her at the moment and I think she could do with a friend.”
Isobel smiled. “That's easily done and will be a pleasure. Now, don't you have a train to catch?”
He grinned in relief and kissed her, lingering a moment and fighting a strange sadness that came over him at the thought of parting from her. She looked so old suddenly. “Take care of yourself, Mother,” he added and then closed the door behind him before he could put it off any longer.
Molesley was trying to manage all three cases. Matthew slung his satchel over his shoulders, grabbed his hat and umbrella in one hand and picked up one of the suitcases in the other.
It wasn't until they were actually on the first train to Ripon, sitting awkwardly opposite to each other in an empty compartment that Molesley said, “I don't mean to pry but... where are we actually going, sir?”
Matthew had been staring out of the window, resting his chin on his hand. He looked round then and felt for the first time a fizz of excitement. “You'll like it, Molesley – we're going to Italy!”
Read Chapter Twenty here!