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Consolation Prize, Chapter Twenty-One

Title: Consolation Prize
Fandom: Downton Abbey
Author: Silvestria
Rating: 12/PG-13
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.
Genre: Drama/Romance

Read Chapter Twenty here!

Chapter Twenty-One: On Wingèd Sandals


They made the connecting train to London with only seconds to spare and ended up sitting opposite each other in an empty second class compartment. Molesley had instantly headed towards the third class part of the train but Matthew really couldn't see the point of them being separated. First class seemed extravagant so second class it was.

As the train chugged steadily, but too slowly, down the country, they made plans. Molesley would have preferred to spend the night in London, possibly somewhere comfortable like Lady Rosamund Painswick's town house, and continue the following morning but Matthew wasn't having any of it. When they arrived in London they immediately crossed the city to Victoria and got the next train to the coast. They did not even stop for supper.

The journey to Dover on a small, stopping-train seemed to last for ever. By the time they made it with all their luggage to the port, both were weary, hungry and bad tempered and the sun had long since set. Here there was a further setback for the last crossing had already left. In fact, said the harbour master with a bit too much enjoyment of their predicament, if they looked out of that window just to the left, they'd be able to see the lights on the ship as it sailed off to France without them.

There was nothing to do but be very polite and book tickets on the first passage of the morning at great expense due to the late notice. Fortunately Matthew was happy to give up the privilege of a cabin and his companion had little choice but to go along with him. None of the nice hotels round the port had vacancies, at least not at the price Matthew was willing to pay, but after traipsing around the back streets for almost an hour they found a small inn with a room which also offered a hot supper, even at that late hour.

Nourished by a greasy but filling stew and several pints of beer, Matthew and Molesley escaped the curious stares of the pub's clientèle of sailors and approached their dingy bedroom and its single bed with more optimism than they had previously felt when the landlady had first ushered them up.

It probably helped that Molesley turned out to be rather bad at holding his alcohol and no longer seemed bothered by their sleeping conditions. He flung himself on the bed with a rather too liberal grin.

“Rather fun, isn't it, sir?” he said bouncing slightly.

Matthew sat down on the edge of the bed and slowly began to unlace his shoes. “I suppose so,” he replied. Every inch of him craved movement and action but there was nothing they could do that night, short of swimming the channel.

“I've always wanted to go on an adventure,” continued Molesley thoughtfully as he stared vaguely up at the ceiling. “We could be like that pair who went round the world in that book– who were they again?”

“Phileas Fogg and Passepartout,” put in Matthew, forcing himself to focus as he gingerly slid himself onto the pillows. Unable to remain completely still, however, he picked up his hat from the table and began to fiddle with it.

“Yes, them! Or Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson.”

“But which of us is Holmes and which Watson, eh, Molesley?”

“You're Holmes of course, sir!” replied Molesley staring at him just a little out of focus.

Matthew raised his eyebrows at his hat as he twirled it on one finger. “Right. Well, better get myself a deerstalker then,” he murmured.

Molesley made no reply and when Matthew glanced across at him a moment later, he saw that he had fallen asleep. He rolled his eyes and after a second of hesitation placed his hat back on the table, linked his arms behind his head and sighed, staring out into the gloom on the room. Apart from the sound of Molesley's breathing and the occasional shout from the street below, all was quiet.

What was he doing there? What kind of ridiculous wild goose chase had he embarked upon and dragged his servant with him? Perhaps Phileas Fogg wasn't such a ridiculous comparison after all. He stood up and padded across the room in his socks to the window, pulling back the threadbare curtain and staring out down a dark and unlit cobbled street. At the bottom of it between the houses could be seen a glimpse of murky water and a crescent moon above it. Matthew leaned against the cold window frame and sighed.

Assuming he made it to Naples and that he met Mary – then what? Would he immediately bring her home, home to a father who wanted to disinherit her? What about her grandmother? What if she did not want to come? It occurred to Matthew that Sybil might have got it all wrong; there was a good chance that Mary really was going to marry a count and was very happy about it. He was probably a terribly nice sort of fellow – nice and handsome and not too picky about his wife's reputation. Matthew clenched his fist at his side as he wondered if he'd been taken for a fool. It was a ridiculous thing to do, rush off across the continent because Sybil's servant friend had not written to her recently. Mary would surely not appreciate the interference in her life and he would have broken with her father for nothing.

Shivering and sleepless in the darkness of the small hours, Matthew repented his haste and doubted his judgement. Somehow by the time he had left the library, it had seemed to be all decided between him and his cousin that he was going to marry Mary. In fact that had not quite been what he had meant by saying that the scandal could be combated if she had the support of a powerful family. She already had one! Marrying him would not alter anything if her father only stood by her.

But her father had chosen to abandon her instead and now Matthew turned frowning from the window and began to pace. Too much of Mary's life had been decided for her already by men sitting in libraries and he felt perfectly convinced of perhaps only one thing, that she would marry whom she wanted and for no other reason than because she wanted to. She deserved that at least and if she wanted to marry Sciarpa, or indeed nobody at all, then so be it. Disappointment in this area was no more than he deserved after his stupidity, after all, and if she was happy and his journey unnecessary then that would really be for the best. If she did not want to marry him, however, or if her situation was not so comfortable (and he hated himself for almost wishing this might be the case) then he would – Matthew swallowed – he would make sure there were no more misunderstandings between them.

It all depended on Mary though – and this was completely as it should be. It seemed that finding her would be only the beginning and that was hard enough. Suddenly Italy seemed terribly far away. The afternoon he had spent tracing Mary's route in an atlas seemed so long ago when he was faced with the reality of repeating it himself. He had, after all, never been abroad before. His French was rusty and his Italian was more like Latin than anything else. It would probably be easy enough to get a train to Paris but after that, what would be best? Overnight to Milan or Verona or Genoa before preceding down the boot, but he could not be sure. He felt completely out of his depth.

Stumbling back to the bed in exhaustion he sat down again. He knew he ought to try to get some sleep if only for a few hours but it was hard to settle and he wished Molesley had packed a book. Then, with a sudden flash of inspiration and hope, Matthew pulled open the bedside table drawer. No matter how insalubrious an inn was, one thing was always going to be a constant and that was the presence of a Bible.

He lay down on the bed and hunching over the light of the single candle let the book fall open at random.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

Matthew closed his eyes for a moment after a few verses and forced himself to calm. He took a few deep breaths and then read on.

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

It was a familiar text to him and he felt every muscle in his body relax as he allowed himself to believe in it.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

Matthew did not know what the morning would bring or how he could possibly be prepared to meet it, but by the time he carefully replaced the Bible back in the drawer and finally blew out of the candle, the darkness no longer seemed quite so unmanageable and even Molesley's steady breathing beside him seemed reassuring. Eventually he slept.

*


The travellers were up again before dawn and by the time the winter sun was burnishing the cold water of the channel a brilliant red they were afloat. Molesley had disappeared below immediately with his hand clasped over his mouth, but Matthew was made of stouter stuff and he strode up and down the deck taking deep breaths of salty air and feeling the wind whip through his hair. The white cliffs of England faded behind him in a cloud of mist and waves and Matthew felt only a passing pang. Did not everyone long to travel? Moreover, he felt that there was more to be anticipated at the end of his journey than to be regretted in what he had left behind. He turned firmly towards the bows of the ship and kept a keen look out for the first appearance of France.

The journey to Paris was subdued. The morning train was busy so Matthew treated them both to a first class compartment and both were finally able to get some sleep. Consequently they missed their entry into Paris, awakening only when they arrived at the Gare du Nord and were ejected into the bustle of a French station. For a moment Matthew felt completely lost before he sprang into action and managed to procure directions to the Gare de Lyon through a mixture of hand gestures and broken French and English. Having stumbled into the métro on one side of the city and stumbled out of it on the other side, they found that they were in luck, for a train was leaving imminently for Milan and within an hour of arriving in Paris they were departing from it.

“Seems a shame we didn't even see the Eiffel Tower,” commented Molesley as they left the last of the suburbs behind them.

Matthew shrugged. “I'm sure we'll visit France again.”

He was soon wishing for a book once more. After they had eaten their baguettes there was really nothing to do but stare out of the window. The countryside with its different style of roofs and field boundaries and church steeples was interesting for a while but soon even the surprise of seeing motorcars drive on the wrong side of the road became rather monotonous. It was dusk when they began to climb up into the Alps and the scenery changed again. Dinner was another sandwich purchased from a shop on the station platform of some deserted mountain village and by the time they arrived in Milan and Matthew was trying to find out if there was a sleeper train to Naples or at the very least an official who spoke English, both were thoroughly sick of the journey, each other's company, and wished they could be safely back in Crawley House with a hot cup of tea, some of Mrs. Bird's strawberry tarts and the prospect of a good night's sleep in their own beds.

Eventually they found an off-duty governess who spoke English and was able to help them buy tickets on the late train to Naples. By this point they felt more resigned than fortunate and this feeling only increased when they realised that they would be sharing a couchette compartment with four other men. As Matthew tried to make himself comfortable on the middle bunk between two middle-aged men who were conducting an animated conversation over his head, he reflected with a bitterness born out of exhaustion, that Mary would have had a compartment all to herself when she had got the night train. It wasn't as if they meant to be disturbing, he thought as he waved away the offer of a piece of one his companions' dinner of garlicky sausage; Italians just seemed to talk more loudly than Englishmen. He wondered what Mary made of the country and its people and realised with a leap of his heart that he might well be able to ask her in person the very next day. Now that he allowed himself to feel it, he longed for her and her company more than anything in the world; he drifted off into an uneasy sleep to the accompaniment of incomprehensible foreign chat in one ear and the rumbling of the train in the other with her face and smile constantly before his mind's eye, shining as brightly as a guiding star.

Naples, when they eventually arrived the following morning, was cold, grey, rainy and not altogether dissimilar to the London they had left. So much for the southern European climate! mused Matthew as he emerged from the central station and put up his umbrella.

It was at this point that the real difficulties of their mission began. Armed with maps from the station office, they hired a cab to take them to Mary's hotel as the first port of call. It was a terribly grand place – and also had no vacancies. This was a problem, and Molesley was despatched to procure rooms elsewhere and meet him back at the hotel as soon as he had done so.

Left alone, Matthew enquired at the reception whether Lady Mary Crawley was currently resident there. On hearing that she had checked out the previous day, he did not know whether to be frustrated that he had missed her or pleased that he was on the right track. Further enquiries, however, were unforthcoming. The clerk at the desk either did not like to talk about Mary or did not like Matthew's battered and travel worn appearance and refused to discuss her any further. Asking after Mrs. Bowen was more productive and Matthew sank down into a luxuriant sofa in the hotel drawing room while a chambermaid was sent for her.

Mrs. Bowen, accompanied anxiously by her daughter, descended shortly afterwards. Matthew sprang up immediately.

“Mrs. Bowen, Miss Bowen,” he began earnestly, “I beg your pardon for disturbing you so rudely like this when I have no right to any of your time and you don't even know who I am-”

Mrs. Bowen held up a hand to stop him. “No, no, you are Mr. Matthew Crawley. We've heard of you, and you mustn't apologise to us.”

Indeed, Matthew found himself faced with a very contrite mother and daughter who were only too glad to see him and pour out all their troubles. Shortly after Mary had left them the previous day, they had argued, a confrontation that had taken place in public, much to their own subsequent mortification. Mrs. Bowen's anger against Mary had sunk as quickly as it had risen and she had soon become aware of the great error in her own conduct, in letting her leave for Proschia without a chaperone when she had been left in her charge.

“If Lady Grantham cuts us in London society this spring then it's no more than we deserve,” she concluded as Henrietta shook her head miserably.

Matthew was truly angry with them but he swallowed it as something not worth troubling himself about. Besides, Miss Bowen's concern for Mary and joy at hearing that he was not engaged to Lady Sybil after all were quite clearly genuine. She had changed overnight from believing that Mary's marriage to an Italian count and living in a castle was the most romantic possible outcome to thinking that a devoted cousin rushing across Europe in pursuit of his one true love trumped everything else in fiction or real life.

“I don't suppose you have a white charger waiting outside?” she sighed at him, her face shining.

“Er, no...” he replied, a little unnerved. “I came by train.”

Mrs. Bowen swiftly dismissed her daughter to her room to get over her nonsense, though not before Henrietta had pressed his hands with her own and beseeched him to go and bring back Mary as soon as possible from the clutches of that horrid man.

Alone with the mother, she told him more worrying information that she had kept from her daughter. Their argument of the previous day had been overheard by a Neapolitan civil servant who understood English and he had later approached Mrs. Bowen to share what he knew about Count Sciarpa. He had worked all his life in the records office of Naples and had no contact with the aristocracy except what he saw in the archives but he had distinctly remembered this particular name, he had explained. Many years ago, he had said, Alessandra di Sciarpa, countess in her own right and sole heiress and mistress of Castello Proschia, had married a plausible fortune hunter of no family whatsoever. He had made love to her and she had been young, naïve, and unsupported by any relations. No sooner had the marriage papers been signed and the lady's estate and fortune handed over to her husband than he had set himself up as the real Count Sciarpa, made his wife totally dependent on him and proceeded to live a life of hedonism to which his new rank and fortune entitled him, often concealing her existence altogether.

“Was this true?” Matthew gasped in horror.

Mrs. Bowen shrugged. “According to this man's brother's wife's cousin who knew all about it at the time – well, you know what these Italians are like.”

He stood up abruptly, frowning away from her in fear and frustration.

“But,” she continued, “he said he would swear on the Holy Mother herself that he had seen the marriage certificate himself so that bit's true at least. Mr. Crawley, if Lady Mary is with this man, she won't be marrying him, that's for sure.” She hesitated and then touched his arm to get his attention. “I can't approve of her, sir, but what's done is done and in the end, she's only a girl, isn't she?”

Matthew could not reply. Part of him, the part that worked in a lawyer's office in Ripon, wanted to go to the records office himself and prove the story he had just heard so that he did not go into a potentially awkward situation unprepared. This temptation was squashed, however, by Mrs. Bowen's anxious reminder that Mary had already been at the castle one night; it was not necessary for her to be more explicit, and rooting around in dusty archives no longer seemed like a priority.

Leaving a message at the reception that Molesley was to send on their luggage to their hotel and follow him as soon as he arrived, Matthew set off on foot for the port which was fortunately not too far away. It took a good three-quarters of an hour, the production of many official looking (but entirely irrelevant) papers and finally the promise of being paid far more than the job deserved, to find a fisherman willing to take him to the island in such indifferent weather and Matthew had just completed the transaction when Molesley ran up.

In the boat, they filled each other in on their respective mornings before Molesley was obliged to lie down in the bottom of the boat and groan among the fishing nets. Matthew let him be as he reviewed the situation, hardly aware of the motion of the sea at all. Molesley had performed admirably, booking rooms for them both in an out-of-the way pensione in the old town. He had even reserved a third room – in case. It was not, he said, the kind of place to which Lady Mary would be accustomed to staying, but the landlady seemed kind and discreet and it was at least clean. So close to Christmas, none of the larger hotels had been able or willing to take such last minute bookings.

As the little fishing boat approached Proschia, Matthew noticed none of its prettiness nor did he feel particular awe at the size of the castle. The closer he approached to his destination, the more narrowed his focus became on Mary and getting her out. He had no proof of Sciarpa's villainy, but he wouldn't deny it if pressed – would he? And his wife could be of some help, wouldn't she? Or Mary herself, if she was sufficiently capable of – but no, he was not going to finish that thought. His mouth set into a line of grim determination, he clutched his hat in the wind and waited impatiently for the boat to dock in the harbour.

The route to the castle was obvious and Matthew set out through the town and across the causeway at a brisk stride followed by a gasping and ill-looking Molesley. The castle soon loomed up in front of them. It was an imposing edifice now that it was close up and Matthew turned to his companion with a nervous laugh and exclaimed, “Shall we need a battering ram, do you think?” The front gates were very definitely closed.

“I suggest we ring the doorbell first and see what happens, sir,” replied Molesley.

Matthew flashed him a wry smile and felt suddenly very glad of his support. When they returned home he would be getting a pay rise – but thinking of returning home was probably not something to be encouraged at this stage. There were too many variables.

There was no bell pull and after surveying the heavy, wooden gates for a few moments, Matthew stepped forwards and banged on them. The sound reverberated but there was no sign of anyone having heard within. He cleared his throat.

“Open up!” he called, his voice sounding feeble and instantly lost. “Aprite!” He cleared his throat again. “Sono Matthew Crawley, sono di Brittania e venio per mia – mia relative Mary Crawley!”

Still nothing. He glanced at Molesley again who shrugged. “Perhaps you could knock a bit harder, sir.”

Suddenly Matthew was very angry. The doors seemed to be mocking his pathetic attempts to gain admittance. It was ridiculous to have come so far only to be defeated by the castle itself. He took a step forward again and thumped as hard as he could, over and over again on the door. Then he stood back and gazed up at the smooth, impenetrable walls rising above the gatehouse. He took a deep breath.

“My name is Matthew Crawley, I am the cousin and heir of the Earl of Grantham, I have come all the way from England, I've barely slept in two days, and I want my cousin!”

He almost shrieked the last phrase and quickly removed his hat and wiped his forehead. There was an unpleasantly clammy, misty feel to the air that was making him come out in a cold sweat. He gave the door a final thump and then stepped back, breathing heavily.

Several minutes passed during which time Matthew reviewed every decision he had made in the last few days and came to the conclusion that he would be feeling much better at this moment in time if he had a pistol. Not that he knew the first thing about firearms, but it would have been a reassuring thing to have on him all the same. Anyway, he had neither a gun nor any more time to regret that fact, since a small door within the larger one was being unbolted and presently opened a crack to reveal a dark haired woman looking out curiously at them both. She was too finely dressed to be a servant and Matthew approached her immediately and bowed politely, holding his hat in his hand.

“Contessa Alessandra di Sciarpa?” he queried her gently and watched as suspicion turned to embarrassment and presently to relief.

She replied in a stream of whispered Italian which he did not understand but contained Mary's name and seemed to end on an interrogative. So he nodded enthusiastically and took another step towards the door. In return she opened it more widely and stepped back to let him pass.

Once inside the courtyard, they all stopped and Matthew turned to his silent guide.

“Veni con noi, Contessa,” he said awkwardly but very earnestly. “In Britannia posso, erm, posso protect te.”

She frowned a moment as she understood him and then stood up a little straighter and shook her head once with resignation and dignity. “Dai, Signore, è nel torre. Fa presto.” She pointed to an open door in a corner turret.

Matthew could only thank her with a glance before hurrying off. He wished she would let him help her but ultimately she could not be his priority if she chose to stay. Half way across the courtyard he stopped abruptly, causing Molesley to almost run into him.

“Go and find Gwen,” he ordered him in an undertone, “and when you've got her go straight to the boat and wait for me there. This place seems deserted now but who knows-”

“And yourself, sir?”

Matthew glanced at the open doorway. “I'm going to get Mary,” he stated grimly. He clapped his valet on the shoulder and hesitated. “I appreciate it, Molesley.”

He nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

It was an odd moment to have between them, and then Matthew broke from him and entered the tower, accidentally slamming the open door against the wall. He had barely started up the spiral staircase when he heard a cry coming from above. His heart almost stopped and he gasped out loud, steadying himself against the stone wall. It was Mary's voice, he was sure of it, and it chilled him to the bone. Such horrible and vivid proof of everything he had feared! He paused only a moment before setting up the stairs at a run, taking them two or three at a time until he reached another wooden door at the top. Indistinctly, he heard Mary's voice again and he pushed at the door without bothering to knock. It was unlocked and he applied so much force that it bounced off the wall with a clang.

He saw her immediately, in the very act of pushing a dark, suited man off a saggy, red couch and stumbling to her feet. Her hair was loose and her dress rumpled but he only saw her parted lips and wide, shocked eyes and the fact that it was her and she was alive and real and breathing and in the same room as him for the first time in what seemed more like years than months.

“Matthew!” she gasped, taking one tiny step towards him. “Is it really-”

He could not help it: he grinned, his face almost cracking with the strength of his smile. He was simply so happy to see her in any circumstance and since he felt it and knew that he felt it he could not have hidden it if he had tried. And now she was smiling back, or almost smiling in a kind of anxious, disbelieving, breathless way. He took a step towards her – and found his path blocked by an incensed Sciarpa.

“Ma per il diavolo chi è Lei?” he cried with expressive hand gestures. “Who are you and what are you doing here interrupting a private conversation?”

Matthew was reluctant to look at him for he only had eyes for Mary, standing stock still against the wall.

“I've come for my cousin,” he retorted and waved his umbrella in what he hoped was a menacing way. “Do get out of my way, please. Come on, Mary, we're going.”

“This is trespassing! Signore, I do not care if you are cousin to the King of England himself but you cannot simply walk in here and-”

Matthew stared him down and frowned. “Your wife let me in,” he said crisply and briefly met Mary's eyes as he heard her gasp before looking back at Sciarpa. “If we're going to discuss petty legalities then I don't think I'm the one who needs to- Good God!”

He jumped back as Sciarpa suddenly pulled a sword out of a decorative bracket on the wall and flourished it in front of him. “Now who is high and mighty!” he cried.

“Stop this at once; please!” cried Mary faintly, backing against the wall.

“You're mad!” exclaimed Matthew, holding up the umbrella in front of him with both hands. “Completely and utterly raving mad!” He was speaking for the mere act of saying something. No words could really express any of the thoughts going round inside his head. He sidestepped, jabbing the umbrella forwards and was rewarded by the sword slashing at the material and cutting it.

“I really think,” continued Matthew in little pants as he tried to avoid being backed towards the staircase again, “that you should just let us go. I can't imagine why you would want Mary so much in the circumstances that you're willing to fight me for her, and you see, I want her a great deal!”

He glanced behind him, aware that if he stepped any further back, he would be in danger of tumbling down the stairs. The whole situation was surreal and quite outside of his comprehension. What place did swords and duelling have in the life of an English gentleman? If it weren't for the sword he would have been tempted to simply punch the fellow – Count, indeed! There was nothing aristocratic about this man that he could tell.

“This puttana is more trouble than she is worth but you have discovered my trick and so-”

Matthew did not have to know the precise meaning of the word used to know it was bad, but Mary, hitherto frozen in shock and horror, did. She acted so swiftly Matthew was hardly aware of her seizing one of the many Greek vases that decorated the room and of her bringing it down on Sciarpa's head from behind until she had done it.

He crumpled instantly to the floor and in the same moment the vase slipped out of Mary's hands and shattered on the stone beneath, pieces of priceless antiquity skidding in every direction. Neither Matthew nor Mary dared to breathe and for a second there was complete silence. Then their eyes met slowly over the body and both began to breathe more quickly all of a sudden, as if to make up for a previous lack. An ache of admiration and love rose up in Matthew so strong it almost choked him.

“Is he dead?” murmured Mary suddenly, breaking the heavy silence and he dropped to his knees and felt Sciarpa's pulse at his neck.

He looked at her and stood up again. “No.”

She almost wilted in relief. “Thank goodness. A murder trial would be-”

“Oh God, Mary!” He could not help it; the urge to touch her and reassure himself of her reality was too strong and he reached out to take her hand but she shrank from him unexpectedly and looked away, biting her lip. Matthew swallowed. Too hasty. He forced himself to think sensibly.

“We need to get away. He's out for now but he'll come round soon enough and we want to be off the island by then.”

She frowned at him and flung out her arms. “What about my clothes? My trunks! My hair!”

He almost laughed but stopped himself in time. “Mary, please, come on! Never mind all that. You must see it's more important to get away.”

She blinked and pulled herself together. “Yes, of course.” Turning away from him she grabbed her blue coat from a hook and shrugged it on, also picking up her hat. As she did up the buttons, her fingers shaking ever so slightly, she stared down at Sciarpa with pursed lips. Matthew, impatient to be going, held his hand out to her.

“Mi dispiace per rompere il vaso,” she said in a flat tone. Then she tossed her head, stepped delicately over the body and, with a glance at Matthew that was almost unsure, put her hand in his.

Getting her out of the room had been the difficult part and the rest was easy. He pulled her down the stairs so fast they were dizzy by the time they reached the courtyard, urged her at a run across the cobbles and out of the main gate, and did not allow her to stop running till they reached the end of the causeway, encouraging her with a hand on her back if she appeared to be flagging. She seemed happy to run, however, and when they finally paused on the mainland her hair was tangled and her cheeks were flushed, but she was smiling even as she gasped for breath. She had never appeared so utterly perfect. Once they were more recovered, he urged her on again through the village to the harbour.

“You have a boat?” she asked at one point, breaking their silence.

“Hired one,” he replied with a sideways smile.

At another point she stopped altogether with an exclamation of distress. “Gwen!” she exclaimed. “I forgot her; we have to go back.”

He reassured her in that too. “It's alright, she'll be there; Molesley's getting her.”

It was Mary's turn to smile tentatively and nod. Indeed both Molesley and Gwen were waiting for them by the boat and the smiles and looks of relief on all sides were only matched by Matthew's desire to be away from the island as quickly as possible. With reluctance, he resigned Mary's care to an affectionate and relieved Gwen who took her arm and did not seem inclined to let it go. In fact, he thought as all four of them were safely stowed in the fishing boat and the moorings were finally cast off, Mary seemed almost unnecessarily cool towards him compared to her sudden fondness for Gwen, as if she did not quite know what to say to him. He shrugged inwardly; perhaps that was not to be surprised at, but he regretted it all the same and longed for the moment when he could speak openly to her.

Read Chapter Twenty-Two here!
Tags: consolation prize, downton abbey, fanfiction, historical, matthew/mary, romance
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