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Chapter 38

"Well," said Robert, exhaling in relief as Martha's hired car sped down the drive, quickly disappearing around the bend, "now we can finally begin to recover from the wedding."

The family turned to re-enter the house.

"She'll be back in three weeks," Cora observed with an amused smile.

"Don't remind me," Robert muttered.

"She is an acquired taste," Matthew chuckled as he got himself up the one step of the entrance way, Mary's hand hovering, in spite of herself. Matthew didn't mind.

"One I have never managed to acquire, I'm afraid," Robert returned decisvely, following Matthew and Mary into the house.

The Great Hall was a flurry of activity as the servants worked to remove the floral arrangements, garlands, and tables from the previous day's reception.

Cora looked around and sighed. "It was a lovely wedding, wasn't it? Alfred," she directed, pointing, "leave that arrangement . . . and those two." She turned to Carson. "The rest can go to the hospital and church."

"Yes, m'lady."

"Yes, it was lovely," Mary agreed nodding, adding to Matthew under her breath, "And Granny didn't pop up to object."

.

It had been a lovely wedding.

Edith was radiant coming down the aisle on Robert's arm. Anthony had joined them, he and Edith exchanging a whispered comment. Cora kept her eyes resolutely on her husband and daughter, but Mary, Matthew, Isobel, and Martha had as one leaned forward and turned, holding a collective breath, to watch Violet, as Travis had intoned, Therefore, if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace. Violet had stiffened visibly, her mouth set, but had, indeed, held her peace.

Martha had patted her arm, smiling broadly, saying in a stage whisper, I'm proud of you, my dear. Violet had exhaled an audible huff, and Mary had rolled her eyes, as Matthew shook with silent laughter.

Then: I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know of any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. And Anthony had remained silent. But it was only when he and Edith, gazing into the other's eyes, had each answered a firm, I will, that everyone (except Granny) had truly relaxed.

.

Mary and Matthew watched as Edith and Anthony laughed and spoke with the few remaining guests, who were starting to take their leave.

Matthew smiled up at Mary. "They look so happy."

"They do," she agreed. Her hand went to her belly, and she shook her head slowly, raising an eyebrow. "We're the old married couple now, Mr. Crawley."

He took up her other hand and brought it to his lips. "But still so happy, Mrs. Crawley," he said, holding her eyes.

"So very happy. So very, very happy," she sighed.

Then she looked down at him critically. "Are you good for the moment? I want to go up with Edith when she changes, and it looks like she's about ready." She could see he was wearing out fast. He'd insisted on staying on his sticks throughout the reception, although he had sat more and more as the day wore on. And the way he was sitting now, she knew his back was starting to spasm.

"You go on with Edith. I'm going to say good-bye to them now, then have Bates work on me and have a lie in." He took his sticks and pushed up, adjusted his grip and found his balance. "How are you holding up?"

"I'm fine. Really, one of my best days. But I'll be glad to join you."

Matthew wiggled his eyebrows, his mouth pulling up in a smirk.

"Oh, you!" Mary swatted him, then kissed his cheek. "Come on!" And they moved off to Anthony and Edith.

.

Mary nodded in appreciation and approval as Edith turned in her champagne-colored silk traveling suit, one of many purchases for her trousseau that she had found on her recent trip to London. "Edith, you look simply stunning! And that necklace! Anthony has quite an eye for fine jewelry. And it's perfect for the neckline of that jacket."

Edith smiled, and her eyes lit up as she fingered the five-strand pearl necklace with a diamond and sapphire side clasp, her wedding gift from her fiancé.

"I do love it. He looked in London, but ended up going back to Joseph and Son in York, where he'd seen this. I'm so glad Matthew had suggested he try looking there." She turned to her maid. "Willis, thank you. You can finish getting your things ready." Dora Willis would be accompanying them on their honeymoon, and then would go with Edith to Loxley. (Anna had promised to continue giving her hair dressing lessons.)

Edith waited until the door closed, then sat down at her dressing table and dabbed perfume on her neck and wrists. "Do you know, I was really afraid that when Travis asked us if we knew of an impediment to being married, Anthony was going to back out. It wasn't until he said, 'I will,' that I really believed he was going to go through with it." She gave a small laugh, but it didn't reach her eyes."

Mary smiled sympathetically. "Of course, he was going to go through with it." She wouldn't mention how they'd all watched Granny, how they'd waited to hear Anthony say the words himself.

Edith's shoulders slumped. She looked at Mary in the mirror, her eyes filling.

"What is it?" Mary asked, concerned.

"Now that I'm really and truly married," she replied, looking down at her ring, as if to convince herself of the fact, "I can tell you. After lunch yesterday, Anthony tried to end it again, when we went out to the rose garden."

"Oh, darling, I'm so sorry." Mary frowned, "Had Granny said something more? Or Papa?"

Edith shook her head. "No, they didn't need to. It had just all been weighing on him, what had already been said. We were saying good-bye, and I said, 'The next time we see each other, we'll almost be married.' I threw my arms around him, and he held me so tenderly. But when we moved apart, I knew. And then he said it all again, that he couldn't do this to me . . ." She struggled a moment and pressed her lips together, then took a deep breath. "I got him to see sense."

"How did you convince him?"

"I asked him if what he was saying was that he didn't truly love me. He just looked at me shaking his head, and then he said that, perhaps, he should say he didn't, that would be the 'brave' thing, because if I thought he didn't love me, of course, I would want to end it. But he said he just couldn't let me think that, that he loved me with all his heart, and that that was why he couldn't let me throw my life away. Then I reminded him of when he asked me to marry him, and that made him give up."

"What happened when he asked you to marry him?" Mary asked softly.

"He had tried, yet again, to end our seeing each other, that it wasn't right to burden me with him. And I told him then, I know you love me, why can't you understand that I love you, why can't you make me happy? Why can't you let that be the most important thing? And then he proposed." She managed a teary smile.

Mary's eyes glistened as she remembered. "It was the same with Matthew and me. I asked him, why can't you let the honorable thing be to make me happy? And I watched as he thought about it, my heart pounding, and then I saw his face change, and his eyes, the way he looked at me, and I thought, he's going to propose! He's going to propose!"

He had looked up at her with searching eyes, shaking his head. "Are you very sure?"

"Yes, very, very sure."

He had held out his hands and taken hers, his thumbs caressing her, and a small sob caught in her throat, even as she had smiled looking down at him. "Well, then, I must do this properly, you know." His eyes never leaving hers, he had gently kissed each hand. "This surely must be the most selfish thing I have ever done. . . but Lady Mary Crawley, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

"Yes," she had whispered. "Yes, yes, yes."

"Then aren't we the lucky ones?" Edith asked softly, reaching out to squeeze Mary's hand.

"Yes," Mary nodded, a tear trickling down her cheek. "yes, we are."

.

Cora continued to direct Carson and Mrs. Hughes about the dismantling of the decorations.

Robert started for the library. "Well, I'm going to fall asleep reading the papers." He turned to Matthew, "Care to join me?"

"Actually, Mary and I need to get ready for a bit of an outing," Matthew replied, smiling at Mary.

"Oh?" inquired Cora. "Where are you off to?"

"A long-planned, long-delayed picnic at a spot on the downs we discovered on one of our drives months ago," Mary replied, exchanging a look with Matthew, as they both remembered the many times they'd gone out with Branson, cherishing the intimacy it had allowed them.

"It's a fine day, and Mary's feeling well, so carpe diem!" Matthew declared.

Half an hour later, with Matthew's wheelchair, a folding chair for Mary, and a small folding table strapped to the back of the car, and a hamper of Mrs. Patmore's best sitting next to Trent on the front seat, they were off.

Matthew had brought his sticks, "Just in case." He kissed Mary's cheek. "Don't look like that, darling. I imagine the ground will be far too uneven for me to get around." But you never knew. His chair would provide him with a sturdy seat at the table, in any event.

It was a glorious day to be out—bright sun, azure sky, a few white wisps of clouds, a light breeze. It was exhilarating for Matthew after the long weeks at the clinic. He and Mary held hands, fingers twined, as the car rolled over the lanes of the wildflower-covered dales, now and then directing Trent to take a turn here or there, as they tried to remember how Tom had gotten them to their perfect view. They usually agreed, although sometimes not, much to Trent's quiet amusement.

"Turn here, turn here, turn here!" Mary cried, almost bouncing on the seat, leaning forward, pointing.

"Darling, I think the turn is further down and in the opposite direction," Matthew noted, grabbing the leather strap to keep from tumbling over while Mary braced herself, as Trent quickly turned into a rutted lane.

"I was just here in June with Branson!" Mary returned.

Matthew looked at her, raising his brows.

Mary rolled her eyes. "Tom! Tom, Tom, Tom! He was still Branson, then! In any event, I think he turned here."

"Yes, but you were coming from Ripon that time, and anyway, you said you fell asleep during the drive," Matthew pointed out.

"Stop." She looked around and shook her head. "All right, this isn't it," Mary sighed in exasperation, sitting back as Trent backed up, vexed with herself.

"I think it's the next lane down," Matthew directed.

It wasn't. But it was the next lane after that, and soon they were coming up over the rise and there it was, the stunning view of the expanse of rolling dales, low rock walls, and hedgerows stretching to meet the arc of the blue sky.

"Trent, stop here a minute," Mary ordered.

"Yes, m'lady." He stopped the car, but didn't turn off the engine.

Mary looked at Matthew. "What do you think?"

Matthew looked around considering. "I think it's as good a spot as we're going to find up here. But I'm not going to try it with my sticks."

"Good," said Mary, smiling in relief.

Trent stopped the car, then got out, first helping Mary, then going around and opening Matthew's door.

"If you'll bring my chair around, I'll get myself ready," Matthew nodded.

While Trent unstrapped the chair, Matthew opened his door, turning and lifting his legs out. He pulled himself to the edge of the seat, setting his feet firmly on the ground, as Trent placed the chair. After Mary had set the chair's brake, Matthew held onto the door and the door frame of the car and pulled himself up. He carefully turned so he was facing the car, then, still holding onto the door, he reached back with his other hand, Mary guiding it to the chair's armrest. He lowered himself a bit, then let go of the door, and reached back, finding the other armrest and then finished sitting down.

"There we go," he smiled up at her, as he lifted his legs and set his feet on the footrest, then sat back. "Where do you want to make camp?"

Mary looked around. Now that she didn't have to worry about him using his sticks, she eyed a fairly level spot next to an ash tree. "There's some shade," she pointed.

"Excellent, lead on! Trent, would you help get me there?" And in the end, it did take both of them, working hard, to get him and the heavy chair up what had seemed like a slight incline. But it was worth it to have the shade and the level ground.

Trent brought Mary's chair and the table, which were quickly set up, and then he returned with the hamper. "Do you need help unpacking, m'lady?" he inquired as Mary spread the tablecloth.

"No, thank you, we can manage," Mary smiled.

"Very good, m'lady," Trent tipped his cap, then retreated to the car to eat his own lunch.

"He's so quiet," Matthew remarked, taking up the jug of wine-Clarkson had said Mary could have a bit, now and then-as Mary took out two glasses.

"Mmm. Well, he's only 18 you know." She started looking through the hamper and setting things out. "This is his first job as a chauffeur, but Papa was desperate when Tom—" she gave him a pointed look, raising her eyebrows, and he nodded his approval with a grin, "—quit, and it turns out, he really knows cars."

Matthew nodded, then looked out over the downs. He breathed the sweet air slowly, deeply. They had talked of coming her for so long. He looked at Mary. "How many times did Tom bring us here, before we really took it in? Was it three?"

Mary nodded with a laugh. "Yes, I think so." She fed him a grape. "And do you remember what day it was? That we paid attention, I mean."

"Yes," he nodded, reaching out to tap her nose. "The last day of our honeymoon." He tugged her locket. "The day we went to York."

"Yes," she nodded. They were both quiet, thinking about the life they thought they would be living then, and the life they now had, and what was yet to come.

Matthew roused himself. "The first toast should be to Tom," he smiled, pouring them each a small amount of wine. "He's truly the founder of this feast."

"To Tom!" Mary agreed, clinking his glass. "You know, we should come here with him and Sybil, whenever they make it back."

"We should," he nodded. He took her hand, his thumb moving gently as it always did when he held her hand. "When I think back to when he drove us here . . . And now look at us," he said, his voice low, shaking his head, holding her eyes. It had become their catch phrase since his last visit home, the few words expressing all that had changed for them.

"Now look at us," she repeated softly, her other hand cradling her stomach. "Now look at us."


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