|Ship of Dreams
Author: Veringue PM
S1 AU. The ship of dreams, they called it, the Titanic, the greatest liner. Unsinkable. The Crawley family sails first-class across the ocean, and Lady Mary, engaged, is one of them. Matthew seeks to make his fortune in the new world. And then they meet.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Matthew C. & Mary C. - Chapters: 6 - Words: 22,570 - Reviews: 45 - Favs: 23 - Follows: 63 - Updated: 09-15-12 - Published: 04-16-12 - id: 8030802
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: So sorry for the abnormally long wait! I didn't get many reviews on the last chapter, then school took over etc. But suddenly now, with the start of the summer, I got all sorts of ideas for this particular story, and was convinced that I should continue! This chapter is the dinner party and mainly my attempt at having some M/M (hopefully witty) banter. But well, who knows if I succeeded?
Haven't been around for a while, but it feels good to be back! I missed you guys, my lovely readers, I really did!
Do enjoy - reviews always make my day!
April 10, 1912
Every member of the second-class on board the Titanic claimed that there was nothing so much more special to first-class that second-class couldn't provide, and for less money at that! But when Matthew and Isobel stepped off the deck, through the doors, and into the entrance hall of the first-class dining room and A La Carte restaurant, their suspicions were confirmed: what the second-class guests told each other as a consolation was just that and nothing more, a feeble consolation.
The grand staircase led down into a room of mahogany tables decorated with white and silver and crystal, the glistening chandeliers swinging ever so gently above, the smart waiters with shimmering platters manoeuvring in between to attend to whichever duke or prince or king might request their presence. The women had priceless jewels clinging to their necks, bright socialite smiles imprinted on their faces, and dresses of expensive silks and French designs hugging their bodies. And the men gracefully accompanied and led and greeted their way across the room, all moving as if in time to the music that flowed from the strings of a hidden ensemble.
Who on earth could need all of this? Matthew thought. And all these people, living their daily lives amongst all these riches, cannot even appreciate the privileges they have! But could it truly ever be appreciated? Or were they all so pompous by birth that there was no way they could ever see past their own nose?
At the bottom of the steps it seemed a rather large party had gathered and Matthew recognized Lord Grantham as one of the elegantly dressed people. So, with his mother on his arm, he descended, feeling rather nervous.
"Good evening, Matthew!" the Earl said upon recognizing the young man. He reached out and sturdily they shook hands.
"Good evening, Lord Grantham," Matthew replied, trying his best to meet the lord's tone and manner. Being here, he might as well try and play along, although he knew he wasn't very good at that sort of thing.
Matthew's mother, however, seemed to be of a different mind. As Robert smiled and kissed her hand, Isobel couldn't help but jokingly remark, "What a reception committee!" A comment that landed just as the group had gone somewhat silent. Just perfect – Matthew averted his eyes. But after some private glances between the other Crawleys were shared, everyone started to chatter again, to his relief.
Yet Matthew didn't have much of a chance to catch his breath. A second later he was already being introduced to Lady Grantham and Lady Edith and Lady Sybil and Mr Patrick and Mr James and so on and so forth. The names swam about his head but the one other Crawley whom he had the privilege of knowing beforehand didn't seem to be present. Matthew was just the slightest bit disappointed – for what reason he did not know.
Patrick smiled as they shook hands. "My fiancée forgot her purse in our room," he provided. "What a coincidence to meet you here, Mr Crawley!" he smoothly switched subjects as only an aristocrat could, laughing warmly.
"Just Matthew, please." He forced a smile. "Or else we may lose our identities by the end of the evening!"
Patrick laughed again – and this time it sounded the slightest bit unnatural. "Indeed, indeed!"
"Your fiancée, you say?" They started to head towards the table and Matthew thought it best to slip the question in as casually as possible whilst Patrick was still distracted.
"Yes, Lady Mary and I are engaged to be married." The heir then turned to someone else and kissed another hand and put on another smile. Soon, amidst all the greetings, Matthew felt quite left out – and they had not even sat down yet.
The situation was no different for Isobel. She had tried a moment ago to make contact with the other elder woman, Matthew had noticed, but the plan had backfired.
"And what shall we call each other?" Isobel approached the so-called Dowager with a smile which the other instantly took for a sneer.
"Well, we can always start with the Dowager Countess and Mrs Crawley," Violet responded sharply. And so that was the end of that.
Matthew had just managed to get next to his mother and was about to enquire of her why in heaven's name they were here again when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a familiar figure descend the stairs and, involuntarily, he looked up. Lady Mary Crawley was like a visage from a dream, her black hair fastened with emeralds and shining diamonds, thousands of pounds worth of precious stones hanging at her throat... And to her body clung a stylish dress of crimson and black that was enough to make even the most discreet man turn his head.
Her bejewelled hand left the railing and immediately floated to Patrick's arm as was her custom. Matthew almost pitied her in that one instant when he saw how automatic it all was, what an act, what a charade they all put on, but Lady Mary seemed far too superior to be pitied and so the moment passed and was forgotten.
Patrick laid his hand on hers as they approached Matthew. "You have already met, I believe," he said.
"We have," Mary said almost dismissively before Matthew could do so much as blink.
"Briefly," he managed to add.
Mary's eyes lingered on his, sparkled in the candlelight, and then drifted away casually. It was all a blur of extravaganza now, none of it meant a thing, and he and Mary probably would not speak anymore for the duration of the evening. But then, the next instant, Matthew found himself with Mary on his arm. Meanwhile Isobel was on Patrick's arm, Cora on James's, and Lord Grantham led his mother, heading the procession to the table. Matthew had never beheld anything quiet so ridiculous.
By his other side, Lady Sybil and Lady Edith walked together as sisters and Matthew couldn't help but notice that the former at least was also strikingly beautiful. No indeed, they did not have women like these in Manchester.
So much in awe by all this grandeur, and yet, at the same time, trying to maintain his own dignity, Matthew hadn't quiet focused on his expression and therefore remained looking rather stunned. Here was Lady Mary Crawley on his arm, her sisters beside him, and a dinner worth as much as his very own house ahead of him. It was all a bit too much and he wasn't sure what to make of it.
"It's a custom," Mary said with a sigh as they walked. She had taken his astonished expression to be directed at Patrick's handing her to him. "A ridiculous one, certainly. But a custom nonetheless."
Matthew didn't know what to reply. How many customs were there this evening that he wasn't aware of? Thousands, surely. How was he ever to survive? They had hardly even reached the table.
At a lack for any particularly intelligent words, he eventually said, "You look exquisite tonight, Lady Mary." The grander the word, the more aristocratic, he told himself.
"Thank you," she said coolly. But did not return the compliment.
Chairs were pulled back by waiters with pathetic little white towels draped over their arms, but still, they couldn't take their seats just yet. Apparently, the Crawleys were quite a sensation here.
"Good evening to you, Mrs DeWitt Bukater!" Lord Grantham exclaimed to a lady of another party just as someone behind Matthew started to talk as well. He had just lowered himself into his chair and only when Isobel's tapped him on the shoulder did he realize that the lady at the next table had actually been addressing him. He turned his head.
"Yes, yes hello, my lord," the elder lady who had been trying to catch his attention said. "I do believe you must be Eugene Walters, sir, the son of the newspaper magnate!" Behind the woman sat a young girl who looked at him eagerly – another marriage candidate.
The woman had spoken so quickly and over all the other talk and laughter and polite 'helleus' Matthew could not, for the life of him, understand a word she'd said. But, thinking it might be rude to ask her to repeat her words, he simply nodded and smiled.
Immediately, the woman clapped her hands, let out a high-pitched laugh and looked positively delighted. She was about to say something more when Matthew was called for at the table. Drinks were served and silver cutlery was added – surely not any more could even fit at his spot – and within moments wine that smelled exceedingly expensive and was a dark, lavish shade of crimson had been poured into his glass.
A toast was made: "To the Crawleys!" Matthew winced at the self-propaganda, even if it was not all that badly meant.
Meanwhile, he hadn't even realized he was sitting next to Lady Mary. Mary, for her part, didn't want to realize. She had Patrick on her once side, this Matthew on her other, and her preferred relations as far away from her as possible. The evening was set to be a horrendous one.
"Matthew – may I call you Matthew?" Cora, Lady Grantham, enquired from the other side of the table. Matthew smiled and nodded. "So, Matthew, do tell us where you are from! Perhaps we might be family! How strange to meet you and your mother on just here, such a small world, isn't it?"
Matthew cleared his throat but wasn't given a chance to reply. "I doubt us to be family," Mary spoke for him.
"How so?" Cora enquired.
"I'm from Manchester," Matthew provided as an explanation for the second time that day.
"There now," the Dowager broke in, "he's from Manchester, so no need to interrogate any further."
Patrick leaned forward, looking interested. "And what exactly do you do in Manchester, Matthew?" He pronounced the name of the city as though it were some dangerous and repulsive place where people only went to have their heads examined.
Matthew ignored the minor insult. And tried to lighten the atmosphere by saying with a smile, "I'm afraid I'm breaking my family tradition slightly. I studied to be a lawyer and there is now this new law firm I have been thinking of joining."
"My husband, father and brother were doctors and I myself am a nurse," Isobel told the company rather proudly. Everyone fell silent, simply mulling over how terribly middle-class all those jobs sounded, when Sybil, open as ever, decided to jump in.
"You must be very busy with everything you do, Matthew," she said keenly, "do you ever have time for anything else? Do you read?"
Matthew laughed light-heartedly, taking care not to look as though he were laughing at her, however. "I enjoy reading very much and take an interest in literature of all sorts, to be honest – particularly history, architecture and social relations. I have time, certainly, after work. There are the afternoons, after all, and the weekends."
Sybil's face lit up when she heard him mention all those topics that caught her fancy as well. She opened her mouth to say something more when the Dowager spoke, "What is a weekend?"
Matthew's eyes narrowed as the Dowager glanced around in confusion. Soon he found himself just as confused as she was. What was a weekend? Was this some high-class joke he couldn't possibly grasp? But no one was laughing... The awkward silence was finally interrupted by the arrival of the caviar, which Matthew thought somehow to be ironic, seeing as they were on a boat, although of course one couldn't really expect any less from these people.
The talk then picked up again, but the moment the Dowager had created just before did linger with him. Matthew Crawley was overall an educated man, had always risen above most people in his hometown Manchester. It wasn't something he had done conscientiously, for he hated hierarchy more than anything, but he had always been intuitively intelligent and eager to learn. Yet here the tables were turned in an odd way, he thought. It wasn't so much that the rest of the company were more special or more interesting, as that they made themselves to be on top of the world, a world which the likes of him and his mother seemed to be carrying for them.
All during the previous conversation Mary had watched Matthew with a small, undetectable smirk imprinted on her lips. She had watched him sceptically, whereas Sybil had watched him admiringly and Edith hadn't watched him at all – she had had eyes only for Patrick.
For the first time since they had sat down Mary looked away from him and, convinced that she'd regarded him hatefully enough for the time being, placed three little pieces of caviar on her tongue and sucked on them gently. Before she could help herself, she had turned to her neighbour again.
"So, you must enjoy mythology, Matthew?" she enquired as a sort of continuation on his mentioning his interest in (historical) literature, her eyebrows raised in a perfect arch.
Matthew, slightly surprised that she should address him of her own accord, managed a small nod, and said, "Indeed I do. Why do you ask?"
Mary shrugged her thin shoulders and let one of those indecipherable high society expressions pass over her face. "Simply because it has always intrigued me, their view on the world, their gods, the stories in themselves."
"The Greeks intrigue you?" Matthew couldn't help but continue to be surprised. "I should think with so much going on in a life like yours one would not have time to muse over the old Greeks." The words flowed out before he could check them.
Mary gave him a sidelong glance but betrayed no emotion – her face pale, cool, almost like a classical statue of its own, smooth and harsh marble. "Well, there are always the afternoons, and the weekends," she said sarcastically.
Matthew let out a small chuckle. "I don't believe that is a Greek quote."
"No, I don't believe it is." Mary smiled scornfully. "But I thought I might as well use that brilliant line of yours now, for I don't think there will ever be a time to use it again."
"Never say never." The caviar was taken away again and Matthew couldn't even recall having finished it.
"So, in those afternoons and weekends, do you regularly take to excessive reading of those 'old Greeks?'" Mary seemed quite proud now at having used two of his ridiculous phrases in one perfectly formed sentence of her own.
Matthew looked away. "I thought you said you liked the classical era."
Mary raised her eyebrows. "I did."
"But you make reading about it sound like a punishment." With the last word he turned his head and fixed his piercing gaze on her again.
For some inexplicable reason, Mary felt herself blush and now it was her turn to avert her eyes. Luckily she had applied plenty of powder beforehand. This ought to make her face more than unreadable to such a socially illiterate man as Matthew Crawley – better to be safe than sorry. "Well, that wasn't at all my intention. I myself am a great reader of the classics." (Matthew found this hard to believe.) "I was merely trying to get some insight in how life in Manchester might be." She raised her eyes.
Like her fiancé, she pronounced the name with disdain. Matthew glanced at Patrick Crawley two seats further. Patrick wasn't paying attention to them but was juggling a conversation with someone another two seats further, Lady Edith, and his father who was sitting in between them. It seemed that Patrick and Mary had little in common besides their hatred for Manchester and their aristocratic background.
Matthew looked back to his neighbour and responded calmly, "Just like you were trying to get an insight in the lives of our Greek ancestors?" It was almost shocking how easily he seemed to adapt to Lady Mary Crawley's little game of cutting metaphors and innuendos. He wasn't sure whether it was entirely a good sign, hardly any good things could come from this evening wasted amongst the elite.
Mary may have frowned at him. He couldn't be sure. But then another course of fish arrived at just the right moment. Matthew felt that, at the end of the evening, he ought to at least thank the waiters and the kitchen for their immaculate timing.
"You have to use the fish knife," Mary said haughtily. Luckily, Matthew didn't see her face as she spoke or he would have been met by a dark look of sarcasm.
"Thank you," was all he said in response. He was perfectly aware of the fact that one had to use a fish knife to eat fish, but did not feel that the gain from pointing that out would outweigh the collateral damage to be suffered at the hands of Lady Mary.
Once more, they started off in silence until this time Matthew began by saying, "So, do you see me as a Greek? Plato, Aristotle? Just as inscrutable or just as remote?" He didn't meet her eyes and, considering that she was sitting beside him, he hoped that wouldn't be seen as something all too rude.
"Oh, don't flatter yourself," Mary remarked sharply. She'd lost her appetite now, now and forever, to be sure.
"Oh, I wouldn't dare." Matthew suppressed a smile. "I was just trying to get an insight in your mentality."
Just then a shadow passed over Matthew's chair. "Pardon me for disturbing your dinner, Mr Walters, but I couldn't help but bid you good evening before retiring to my work." Matthew did not recognize the voice in the least and, for as far as he could recall, his name was not Walters, so he did not reply but continued to eat. The man who had cast the shadow cleared his throat. Matthew turned.
"It has been–" the man started, then paused, his brow furrowing. "I am sorry, I must have mistaken you for someone else. I had thought to hear that Eugene Walters was present at this table."
Once again, Mary stepped in, "If only he were, Sir Richard Carlisle." She had to keep herself from laughing, for the fact that Sir Richard had mistaken Matthew Crawley of all people to be a fellow star in the media made the whole situation all the more hilarious. Also, Matthew's face certainly was not helping.
Sir Richard bowed and kissed Mary's outstretched hand. "Lady Mary Crawley, it is a pleasure." The way the man spoke and moved reminded Matthew somewhat of an eel, a serpentine creature, and sent shivers down his spine.
"I do read the papers, Sir Richard. The pleasure is all mine." She retracted her hand and as Matthew awkwardly watched the two of them, he felt that his fair but fearsome dinner companion had perhaps finally met her oily match.
"But I would not dare interrupt your dinner any further, my lady. Hopefully, we will see more of each other during this trip." Sir Richard straightened up again.
"We are on a ship, sir," Mary said jestingly, but good-naturedly – not like she had spoken to Matthew. "I am sure we will."
Sir Richard Carlisle bid her good night, bid Matthew good night, bid whoever else may have listened in good night, and then stalked off. One man behaves as though he is even more superior than the other, Matthew thought, turning back to his meal.
"Do you read the papers, Matthew?" Mary enquired after a moment.
Matthew stared determinedly down at his plate and did not respond.
"Or do the afternoons and weekends not offer enough time for such trivial matters?" Lady Mary was persistent, more persistent than anyone Matthew had ever met, and it was really quiet exhausting. But there was something else about it as well, something that made his skin tingle and caused his eyes to glitter.
"Well, the reading rather depends on the newspaper and reader in question, does it not?" he said eventually.
Mary raised her eyebrows once more – the third time this dinner. Matthew realized, to his alarm, that he'd been counting. "What do you mean?" she asked of him.
He cleared his throat. "Well, whether one truly reads the papers for, say, information on Greek antiquity or modern discoveries of the like, or, say, for the magnates who run them."
This remark hit Lady Mary straight in the chest and Matthew felt it. If he had been entirely himself right then and there he might have apologised, but the victory was too sweet to be broken by good manners. The golden, pompous atmosphere had momentarily picked Matthew up and swept him along. One had to adapt to survive, after all.
On the other side of the table the Dowager leaned over to her son. "Robert, I would keep a very close eye on your eldest daughter and that dreadful lawyer, or whatever he is, whom you brought into our midst. Or else, before you know it, indeed before any of us can do so much as blink, he and not Patrick will be your son-in-law!"
Lord Grantham coughed and brought his napkin to his lips to conceal his smile. "Why, let us not jump to any conclusions just yet, mother. They do not seem to be getting along very well, if anything."
"Precisely!" the Dowager exclaimed under her breath. "And that is just the basis for every relationship, as you well know."
No sooner had Violet finished her sentence or Mary herself had gotten up, her hand to her face. Placing her napkin upon the table, she murmured some words of apology before moving away. She covered the length of the dining room within seconds, ascended the steps, her dress fluttering out behind her, and was gone in a moment, out of sight of that dreadful blue-eyed sea monster.