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"Matthew . . . Matthew . . ." Mary. Mary was calling to him, but he could barely hear her. It was a struggle, but he made himself open his eyes. Mary! She was peering down at him. It was as if he were at the bottom of a well. The bottom of a well. Yes, that had to be it, had to be why she sounded so far away. But how did he get here? He closed his eyes.
"Matthew . . . Matthew." Mary leaned into the car and caressed his cheek. He was slumped in the corner of the hired car, his head resting on the back of the seat. He opened his eyes and his mouth tugged up, then he sighed, and his lids dropped again.
Mary straightened up as the driver started unstrapping the wheelchair. She turned to Bates. "I think you'd better get Alfred." Then she leaned into the car again.
"Matthew, darling, wake up." She gave his shoulder a gentle nudge, then another. He shook his head, casting his eyes around, trying to get his bearings. He looked at Mary, frowning. "How'd you get me out of the well?"
"What?" she laughed. "Darling, you were dreaming."
Was I dreaming or remembering? Matthew started to laugh sheepishly, as he finally, truly, woke up. He exhaled slowly, then gave Mary an apologetic look. "I'm afraid I can't get myself out."
"Darling, you're not in a well."
Matthew laughed again. "I know. I meant the car."
Mary brushed a lock of hair off his forehead, nodding. "Bates is getting—ah, here they are." She straightened up and stood aside to make room for Alfred. Bates took the wheelchair from the driver.
Alfred leaned down. "Ready, sir?"
"Let's give it a go." Alfred bent down, and Matthew grimaced as he managed to lift his arm over the footman's shoulder—God, he was stiff and sore. Alfred lifted him out, setting him carefully into his chair. Bates immediately started pushing him, but Matthew stopped him.
"Just a moment." He turned to the chauffeur. "Thank you, Gregory. I'm sorry I wasn't better company. I'll see you day after tomorrow."
The young man smiled and nodded, touching his cap. "Yes, sir, I'll see you Wednesday, sir," he rasped (Ypres, 1915). "Thank you, sir." He limped around the car, got in, and started the engine.
"All right, let's get me put to bed." Bates and Alfred got his chair over the entrance step, then Bates started pushing him, Mary walking beside him, her hand on his shoulder. Matthew closed his eyes, his hands slack in his lap. His head started to drop, and Mary steadied it, gently cupping his chin. Without opening his eyes, he smiled, murmuring. "Are you sure I'm not in a well?"
Coates had warned him, hadn't he, when he'd taken him into his office and told him he thought he could be discharged and carry on as an outpatient at the Royal York clinic. Yes, I do think you're ready for this. The trade off, Mr. Crawley, for returning home, is that being an outpatient in your circumstances, with the drive to and from York, will take it out of you, especially at the first. Sitting in a car for at least an hour is pretty much the exact opposite of what you should be doing after a rehabilitation session. It will improve, of course, as you adjust to the new regime, but, at least to start with, by the time you get home, you'll be pretty beat up and not much good for anything for the rest of the day, and you'll still be weary the next. It's something you must consider. As always, Matthew had been grateful for Coates's honesty, but he hadn't hesitated. I'm ready. He could put up with anything to be back with Mary.
He had finally broached it with her the night before this first trip to York. Mary was already in bed when he came through from his bedroom. He made his way to his side of the bed, his legs not working quite as well as they had earlier in the day, his fatigue keeping them slightly bent, his gait more of a shuffle. But he managed by himself, sitting on the mattress and pulling himself back, then turning and pulling himself back again to the pillows, finally leaning back with a sigh.
Mary pulled up the covers, then kissed him tenderly. "You did that so well," she said softly.
He reached over and caressed her belly. "How's baby?"
She took his hand, her brows drawn in concentration, finally placing it with a smile.
He waited, then chuckled as he felt the kick. He leaned over and kissed her stomach, then lay back smiling. But he seemed preoccupied, and Mary noticed.
She ran her fingers through his hair. "Tomorrow's a big day," she observed gently.
He nodded, "Yes, it is." He would be driven to York Mondays and Wednesdays. Trent would drive him down, leaving Downton at eight, with Pratt on call if any of the family needed driving before Trent's return; a hired car and driver, Billy Gregory, a nephew of Dr. Yardley's chauffeur, would drive him home in the early afternoon. On Fridays, a physio therapist, Paul Phillips, would take the train to Downton and work with him for a half day at the Abbey. It was going to be a big change, and not just for him, especially after this first week home that had felt like they were on their honeymoon again.
Matthew ran his finger over Mary's lips, as he considered how to begin. He didn't want to worry her. "Coates and Yardley told me that the drive to and from York will . . . well, at least at first, it's going to wear me out, and I'll probably need to go straight to bed when I get home . . . and have to take it pretty easy the next day, too." As he saw her eyes betray her concern, he continued hastily, "They assured me, it will get better as I get used to it. I just don't want you fretting. Promise?" When she was silent, he cradled her face. "Promise?"
She looked at him, his eyes soft, blue, pleading. "All right, I promise." She didn't mean it, but she knew he needed to hear her say it.
He knew she was just saying it, but it was enough for now. "Good."
"And, after all," she added, tapping his nose, with a smirk, "there's always the weekend, isn't there?"
Matthew raised his brows. "What is a weekend?"
His imitation of Granny was so accurate, they both collapsed in laughter. Then their eyes locked, their breathing quickening, both thinking the same thing: if he was going to be in rough shape for the next few days, well, then.
They reached for each other, their mouths meeting, opening, kissing deeply, again and again. Matthew's tongue teased her ear, while Mary's fingers worked the buttons of his pajama top. He shrugged it off, then they both worked on the ties of his bottoms, tugging them off. He pulled up her nightgown, his hand moving up and down her inner thighs. She started to push up so that she could straddle him, then fell back, with a grunt. "Hang on, this is going to take me a minute." She started again, observing, "I'm getting so big, we need some kind of sling and a winch!"
Matthew gently stopped her. "Wait," he said his voice low. "Let's try a different approach. Get on your side." She raised her eyebrows, giving him a puzzled look, but he smiled and nodded. She rolled over so that her back was to him. He snuggled closer, then brought his leg over hers, and she gasped, feeling his arousal. They both moaned as he entered her, tentatively at first, then thrusting deep. She gave a small cry, and he stopped.
"Does it feel all right?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes," she gasped. "Yes, yes, yes. Is it all right for you?"
In answer, he began to thrust again, his hand coming around and finding her spot. "Oh, God, Mary, feeling you like this, oh God," and she moved against him. "Oh, God."
She began to whimper, pushing against his hand, then pushing back against him—how could having him in her, how could something they had shared so many times, feel so new, so different—until finally she went over, crying out again and again. Then he didn't hold back, he let himself go, feeling her push back as he, too, cried out his release.
They lay together, panting heavily. She still ached, so she pulled his hand down, and he pleasured her, until she cried out again, then sighed, pressing her soft flesh against him.
His arm came around her, cradling her belly, both of them floating.
"You know, I don't have to be pregnant for us to do it this way," Mary whispered, as she came back to earth, her breathing slowing.
"No, you certainly don't." He kissed her shoulder. Then he thrust again. "Darling," he murmured huskily, "I think I can go again. Would you mind?"
Mind? Mind? In answer, she emitted a throaty laugh and pushed back. Mind?
And no, he hadn't been much good for anything except bed that first Monday. But Tuesday was better than he'd expected it would be. He was still thoroughly worn out and was under strict instructions not to try to walk except at the bars—too much risk of a fall when he was so tired—with stretching exercises only. But he had managed to be up in his chair, most of the day. Then Wednesday was a bit better than Monday: he needed help getting out of the car, but hadn't had to be lifted, and had joined the family at dinner that evening, although he stayed in his wheelchair. Thursday, he actually felt pretty good. His activity was still restricted to walking at the bars and stretching exercises only, but he could see the light at the end of this tunnel, and the tunnel wasn't as long as he'd feared. And by Friday, he was rested enough that he quite looked forward to his first session at home with Paul Phillips.
Trent had gone to pick Phillips up at the station, and Mary entered Matthew's bedroom to find him using the shoe horn to work his foot into the high-topped shoe of a leg brace. He had explained to her that Yardley had said he could try walking on Friday, if he used the leg braces and crutches and promised not to overdo. You must listen to your body, Mr. Crawley. It's not a race. This isn't the time to push yourself. And Matthew understood. He once might have seen needing the braces as a setback, but he understood it was a temporary measure, as he adjusted to the new regime.
And Mary understood it, too, but it still distressed her-he hadn't worn the braces since he'd been home. But she smiled, crossing the room and kissing the top of his head. "Trent should be on his way back by now."
Matthew finished buckling the strap, tugged down his pant leg, then took up the crutches and stood up. He smiled, leaning over to kiss her. "Then let's go meet Mr. Phillips."
They made their way outside just as the car was coming up the drive. Trent pulled up, got out, and opened the door for a sandy-haired man with lively blue eyes and a winning smile. He was a bit shorter than Matthew, very sturdily built.
"Good morning, Mr. Phillips." He and Matthew shook hands. "My wife, Lady Mary Crawley." Phillips took Mary's hand, inclining his head.
"Welcome, to Downton, Mr. Phillips."
"Thank you, Lady Mary, I'm very glad to be here."
"And we're so very glad to have you," she replied.
They turned to enter the house. "I'm not allowed to do any weights and machines today, as I'm sure Dr. Yardley told you."
"Yes, perhaps next week, in a limited way," Phillips nodded.
"So," Matthew continued as he set his sticks on the one entrance step, "that leaves daily activities. Where would you like to begin?"
Phillips held out an arm and stopped Matthew as he started raising his leg to step up. "Let's begin right here." He placed his hands on Matthew's hips. "You're lifting from your hip." Then he moved his hands to Matthew's thigh. "Remember, here . . . and here . . ."
Matthew nodded. "Right." He lifted his leg, then looked at Mary, giving a nod and smile. This is going to work.
Paul Phillips had spent the war years assigned to Army hospitals, both in England and in France. Since the end of the war, he had returned home to York and secured a job in rehabilitation therapy at Royal York Hospital. His special interest had been therapy to help the injured adapt to daily living, and so he had jumped at the offer to work with Matthew for a half day weekly at Downton. Although a part of their time would be spent in the therapy room using the bars, weights, and machines, a good portion of it would be spent on taking Matthew through his daily activities.
To that end, the first thing Phillips wanted to do was have Matthew show him every aspect of his daily life—where he lived and what he did, from bedroom, bathroom, WC, and their sitting room, to the library, drawing room, and dining room, and every step in between, ending by contemplating the grand staircase. It was a good thing his legs were braced and he was using the crutches, Matthew realized, or he would have worn out long before they were finished.
Finally, Phillips asked, "And what about the grounds Mr. Crawley? I have to imagine that you haven't confined yourself indoors."
"Yes, indeed, we go outside often. It's kept me sane, all these months."
"Then show me."
Matthew hesitated, but before he could say more, Phillips had smiled, clapping him on the shoulder, "Let's get your chair."
And so, with Phillips pushing him, they visited the terrace garden, then the gravel path from the house, and finally the bench. He and Phillips looked out across the Downton grounds. Phillips breathed in the fresh Yorkshire air and sighed. "It's magnificent, Mr. Crawley." He looked around. "And so, I gather, you've made it to this bench? On your own, with sticks not crutches, no braces?"
Matthew nodded. "I have, every day I've been home. Well," he shrugged, "that is, not since Monday, of course."
"You'll soon be up to it again," Phillips nodded firmly. He extended an arm. "And more. I'm sure you'd like to try walking beyond this bench, both here and off the estate."
"I . . . yes, very much so!"
"All right. We have to take it easy, these next couple of weeks, but after you're more adjusted to this new regime, what shall we put on the list?"
Matthew gave him a puzzled smile. "Sorry?"
"Where would you like to practice walking besides," and here he lifted his chin, "following this path?"
"Ah," Matthew smiled, then frowned in thought. "My wife's grandmother's house has six narrow steps and no rail—I've always been carried up the few times I've visited. I might make it hoisting myself up with crutches, with someone standing at the ready to catch me. I haven't been able to manage more than a step or two with my sticks, so far."
Phillips gave him a nod, "Yes, climbing stairs is already on the list. Go on."
He thought a moment, then looked up. "I'd very much like to go to church, but I'd like to practice getting into a pew with the sticks without tripping and falling over. I managed with crutches and braces at my sister-in-law's wedding in August, but just barely."
"On the list."
Matthew's excitement grew as he realized the possibilities that were opening up to him. "Well, we've some cottages on the estate that are being refurbished—I'd need to be driven to them, of course, but I'd like to walk once there, be able actually to go inside, you see."
Phillips gave a nod.
"Then there's my old law office in Ripon. My wife and I tried visiting once, but it's an old building, and you go up a step in the vestibule to a narrow interior door to get to the part that houses the firm's offices and, well, we couldn't get my chair through." Tom had tried and tried to find a way. Matthew's face grew hot remembering the frustration, and the humiliation; Mr. Harvell and Mr. Carter had been quite distressed. Phillips nodded in sympathy. Matthew gave a shrug. "I've wanted to try again, now that I can manage with sticks."
"We can take care of that. What else?"
Matthew's mouth tugged up. "I haven't had a pint at the Grantham Arms in years."
"That's definitely on the list." Phillips started pushing his chair back to the Abbey. "Rome wasn't built in a day, Mr. Crawley, but I'm sure they had a list."
Matthew was already looking forward to next Friday.
"And you feel up to Mr. Phillips coming tomorrow?" Cora asked Matthew, as Carson and Thomas served tea.
"I do," Matthew smiled taking a sip. "We're still not to do any physio, per Dr. Yardley's orders. We'll be working on daily living activities—how I can get around and do various tasks more easily, that is."
He had made it through the second week of traveling to York. Monday and Wednesday, his clinic days, were still hard, but less so than the week before: he had actually stayed awake, conversing with Gregory most of the way home both days, although he had gone straight to bed. But he had made it to dinner with the family both evenings, and Wednesday before he left, Yardley had said he could try walking with his crutches Thursday, his legs unbraced, if he promised to be prudent and not push himself. He had to wait until Friday and with Phillips before walking with his canes again.
So today, he and Mary had slowly and carefully walked from their sitting room to join Cora and Robert in the library for tea.
"You seem to be adjusting pretty well to this new routine," Robert observed.
"Yes, and much better than what I had been expecting after that first day, to tell you the truth," Matthew acknowledged. "Dr. Yardley is very pleased."
"As are we all," Cora smiled. "Speaking of tomorrow, Mary, don't you have an appointment with Dr. Clarkson in the morning?"
"I do, yes."
"Langdon wants to meet with the three of us," Robert stated, helping himself to some cake. "Shall I suggest Saturday, then?"
Matthew looked at Mary, who gave a nod. "Let's say Saturday after lunch, that way—." He stopped, as they all heard the telephone ringing, their eyes following Carson as he left to answer it.
"Is anyone expecting a call?" Cora asked.
Mary turned to Matthew, her eyes wide, reaching out to squeeze his arm. "Oh, do you think?"
He raised his brows. "It could be any day now, in fact, really it was supposed to have been last week, so yes—." He stopped as Carson re-entered the room.
"Yes, Carson?" Robert inquired.
Carson inclined his head to Matthew. "A Master Edward Forrester is on the line wishing to speak with Mr. Matthew Crawley" He turned to Mary. "If he is not available, he wishes to speak to Lady Mary Crawley." He couldn't suppress the ghost of a smile. "He says it is very important."
Mary clapped her hands, exclaiming happily, as Matthew pushed himself up. "It's Jack and Alice's son, Teddy," Mary explained to her puzzled parents. "Alice must have had her baby!"
"Darling, you go on ahead," Matthew nodded as he started off. "It'll take me so long, he'll combust from waiting."
"Don't be silly, it's you he wants to talk to."
So they went together, Matthew seating himself in the chair Carson had placed for him, finally taking up the receiver, holding it so Mary, leaning down, could hear as well. "Hello, Teddy?"
"I knew it was going to be a boy! I knew it!"
Matthew grinned at Mary. "You did?" Matthew laughed. "You never told me that!"
"I know, I didn't want to say it, in case I was wrong, but I knew it!"
"Well, good for you, Ted! Does your brother have a name yet?"
"Yes. Joseph Patton," Teddy pronounced very precisely. "He's with Mummy in hospital, so I haven't seen him yet. But Daddy says he looks just like I did when I was born. Just a minute." He said something they couldn't make out, then, "Here, Daddy wants to talk to you."
"Hello, said the proud Papa!" Jack proclaimed, his voice giddy with happiness and relief.
"Congratulations!" Matthew and Mary said together, then Matthew continued, "And 'fess up, Forrester! You had Teddy call because you were afraid to talk to Carson yourself."
Jack laughed heartily. "That might have been part of it, although Teddy very much wanted to be the one to tell you."
"Well, you coached him well—Carson was quite impressed!" Mary put in.
"Good—perhaps one day, I'll redeem myself!"
Matthew snorted. "For popping your eye out? Ha! And I'm sure Carson is quite aware that any manners Teddy has are due to his mother!"
"You cut me to the quick, Crawley. He was going to ask for Mr. Uncle Matthew and Lady Aunt Mary, and it was a lot of work, I assure you, to get him—."
Mary wrenched the receiver from Matthew's hand, then hit him on the head with it.
"You two stop!" she laughed, holding the receiver so Matthew could hear. "Jack. Tell us about Alice and Joseph."
They could hear him sigh. "Well," he said softly, "they're just perfect. Alice is such a trooper. You know, she was in labor forever with Teddy, Charlotte wasn't nearly as long, but this one, well, we weren't sure we'd make it to the hospital!" Mary's eyes widened at this. "But Alice was calm the whole time, keeping me from panicking that she'd have the baby in the car, and we made it. And less than two hours later, I was busting my buttons looking at my son!"
"And Joseph?" Mary asked.
"Seven and a half pounds! No wonder Alice was so big! Just over twenty inches. Some wisps of dark hair and brown eyes. Did I mention he's perfect?"
Matthew smiled broadly, his eyes filling as he listened to his friend. "And Alice is resting comfortably?"
"She is." Jack laughed. "I think fathers should be in hospital with the mother and baby—Teddy and Charlotte are already wearing me out! Thank God Alice's mother is staying with us."
They spent another ten minutes in happy conversation, finally ending with the promise of a call from Alice when she was up to it, after she came home.
Matthew pushed up from the chair, and they started to make their way back to the library.
"Well, that sounds as if it couldn't have gone any better!" Matthew observed.
"Yes, but what if she hadn't made it?" Mary asked, frowning.
"You mean made it to the hospital?"
"Yes, Jack said she almost didn't make it."
"Mary, you know Jack—he's exaggerating." When she didn't respond, he stopped and looked at her. "You're not worried about making it to the hospital?"
She shrugged. "If I had the baby here, there wouldn't be any worry."
"They live in London. Our hospital is practically next door. And anyway, this was Alice's third. That's why it was so fast." When she said nothing, he stopped, looking at her with concern. "I don't want you worrying about this, darling. Promise me you'll talk to Clarkson when you see him tomorrow. I feel certain, he can reassure you."
"All right, I will," she nodded, and they started walking again.
"You know, this will be the first heir not born in the Abbey," Mary sighed.
He raised an eyebrow. "We're still sure it's a boy? Like Teddy?"
"Yes," she said firmly.
"Then he'll be the first heir born in the modern era, darling," Matthew grinned. "You're making history!"
Mary walked down their corridor, tugging off her gloves. It wasn't Dr. Clarkson's fault that he was called away on an emergency, but she still felt irritated that she had gone all the way to the hospital only to find that she had just missed the call telling her that her appointment had been rescheduled for mid-afternoon. She had been expecting to have a lie down with Matthew then. Well, it couldn't be helped. She opened the corridor door to her bedroom and stopped.
"Oh, my God! Matthew!" He was prone on the floor on his side of the bed, only his head and arms visible to Mary as she entered the room.
He looked up, distressed as she crossed the room to him. "Mary, I'm fine, it's not what you think!"
She stopped short as she came to the foot of the bed, taking in that not only was he was on the floor, but Phillips was crouched down next to him. She reached out a trembling hand to clutch the footboard to steady herself.
Matthew pulled himself toward her. "Darling, I'm so sorry! You were supposed to be at your appointment for the next hour." He looked at Phillips, who had scrambled up and gone to Mary. You explain.
Phillips brough a chair over to Mary. "I do apologize, Lady Mary," he began as she sank down. "As Mr. Crawley said, we thought you were gone, or we would have spoken with you before hand. You see, one of the most common times for someone in Mr. Crawley's condition to fall is getting out of bed. So he's practiced getting up and out, and now we're practicing what to do if a fall happens, and he's alone." He poured a glass of water from Matthew's bedside carafe and handed it to her.
She took a shaky sip. "You had him fall?" Mary asked incredulously.
"No, darling, of course not," Matthew answered propping himself up on his forearms. "He helped me down."
Mary exhaled. "And now what?"
"Eventually, when he's stronger, we'll work on actually trying to get up from the floor. But that's a ways off yet. Right now, Mr. Crawley needs to be able to pull himself to the bell-pull, which, by the way, needs to be lengthened so he can reach it from the floor."
"Oh!" Mary said, raising her eyebrows. "I'll speak to Mrs. Hughes today." Then she frowned. "Shouldn't we change sides of the bed, so the bell-pull is on his side?"
Phillips shook his head. "You'd think so, but his side of the bed is closer to the door to his room, and therefore the bathroom and WC, meaning a longer trip, more steps and more chance of a fall, if he switches to your side. So no, let's keep things as they are."
Mary pressed her lips together and nodded.
"Are you all right, darling?" Matthew asked anxiously.
"I'm recovering. Really," she added with a smile. "Don't be worried."
"Do you mind if we continue, Lady Mary?"
She shook her head. "No, of course not."
"All right, then, Mr. Crawley, go ahead. I think your army training will serve you well," Phillips observed.
Matthew snorted, "Yes, and at least there's no mud." He looked up at Mary, flashing a reassuring smile, and winked.
She watched silently, her eyes pricking, as Matthew easily pulled himself arm over arm along the floor around the end of the bed, finally making it to the bell-pull, which was of course beyond his grasp.
"Excellent, Mr. Crawley! Rest a moment, then we'll get you up." And Phillips knelt down next to him.
Mary rose. "I'm going to speak with Mrs. Hughes," she said again, and left quickly, before they could see her brush away the tears that would leak out.
Phillips leaned forward, looking out the car window, and eyed the narrow steps leading to the entrance of the Dower House. He let out a low whistle. "That's a challenge, yes, it is."
After getting Matthew up from the bedroom floor and giving his back and shoulders a massage, Phillips decided to spend the remainder of their time that morning doing some "reconnaissance:" looking at the places, excepting the law office in Ripon, that Matthew had put on "the list." So they had driven first to the various cottage's, Phillip's noting the uneven ground—Let's hold off on this part of the project for the moment—and then had gone on to Violet's.
Matthew exhaled with a shrug. "I can haul myself up with crutches."
Phillips turned to him. "Oh, we'll get you up with your sticks, eventually."
Matthew eyed the steep steps, then looked at Phillips skeptically. "You really think so?"
"I do. Now, let's go into the village."
Twenty minutes later, Phillips came out of the church. Trent opened the door for him, and he sat down in the back seat next to Matthew. "All right. I've got the lay of the land. We'll work on getting you in and out of the pews next week." He checked his watch. "I've got just enough time to go to the Grantham Arms, get my boxed lunch, and catch the train."
"I know our cook would be happy to prepare a lunch for you to take," Matthew offered, not for the first time.
"That's very kind. Perhaps next week, then." Phillips smiled. "Until next Friday, Mr. Crawley."
"I look forward to it, very much," Matthew replied, shaking his hand.
"Well, we've hit the jackpot today!" Mary announced, coming into their sitting room holding up several envelopes as Matthew looked up from the contract he was working on.
"Good. I need a break from this mess," Matthew stated, sliding papers back into a folder. He wasn't taking on any regular work, but Mr. Carter had telephoned, asking if he might send over a particularly onerous contract for him to evaluate. But only if you have the time and energy, Mr. Crawley. He did. It felt good to get back into it.
"Letters for you from Eddie Brett and Peter," she continued, "one for me from Sybil, one to both of us from Jack and Alice, and also," she added, squinting down at a postal card, "this drawing from Peter." She turned the card over. "It's postmarked after the letter." She raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps you know what he's getting at?" she asked, amused.
Matthew took his stack from her, turning over Peter's card, then started chuckling. Peter had drawn a cartoon portrait of himself—quite a good likeness—with a wide, silly grin and stars for eyes, with stars, and hearts and exploding fireworks surrounding his head. At the bottom he had penned, Ignore my last letter!
Matthew was pretty sure he knew exactly what the drawing meant, but only observed blandly, "It looks like all is well." He opened Peter's letter with his pen knife and began scanning the pages, relating to Mary bits and pieces of clinic news and Peter's own status—"He's been promoted to Versailles!" Then Matthew grew silent as he read: Things are so wonderful with Lizzie, but dammit, Crawley, I'm beginning to think it's never going to happen for me. I'm trying to be patient, I really am, but I'm so close and yet—and here he had drawn an inky scribble of frustration. It's just so hard, sometimes. Matthew looked at the postal card again, so happy for his friend.
"What did he mean about ignoring his last letter?" Mary asked, as she opened the letter from Jack and Alice.
"Oh, he was pretty down in the dumps, is all," Matthew shrugged, tucking the postcard along with the letter into the envelope.
"After his promotion?"
"Well, you know, progress can feel so impossibly slow sometimes." Matthew offered, taking up Eddie's letter. He wondered how much Lizzie had told Mary about their "marital relations."
"Ah," she said, raising an eyebrow. "Well, I'm glad things are so much better." She started on the Forrester's letter, then looked up, smiling happily. "Oh, darling, this is so lovely! Jack and Alice want me to be Joseph's godmother! Just as Matthew was the first person we thought of for Teddy's godfather, you are the first we thought of for Joseph's godmother."
"That's wonderful, darling," Matthew said softly.
Mary read further. "They'll have one of Jack's sisters stand in for me at the christening." She looked up. "We need to think about that for this one, don't we?" Her hand cradled her belly.
Matthew nodded. "I was thinking of Jack and Sybil."
"Yes, exactly what I was thinking!" She smiled happily, handing him Jack and Alice's letter, then sighed as she opened Sybil's. Would she be able to come for the christening?
"Oh, good news from Eddie!" Matthew exclaimed. "He's always had to dictate his letters to his wife, but look here—he's finally managing to write with his left hand." Matthew held up the letter: written in pencil, it looked like a child's scrawl. "He was always so completely right-handed, you see, so when he lost the use of his right arm, it was really like he'd lost both hands. He's been struggling so to be able to write." Matthew's throat got tight as he pictured the effort it had taken his friend to form each letter.
"I'm so glad for him," Mary said fervently, remembering Eddie at the wedding, jolly in spite of his drawn-up arm, his hand contorted in a painful fist.
Matthew finished Eddie's letter, returning it to its envelope. "And what news from Sybil and Tom?"
"They're doing well, she says, Tom's mother is very kind. She's giving her cooking lessons . . . with some mixed results," Mary laughed. "And I've discovered that all those years of needlework have made me quite expert at mending—so my life as a fine lady hasn't been a complete waste."
Matthew snorted. Mary rolled her eyes, then continued, "She tries to stay on the good side of her head nurse which can be impossible—I wrote you, I think, Sybil said that she doesn't like the English."
"But didn't you say she's Anglo-Irish herself?" Matthew asked, raising a brow.
"Yes! It's ridiculous." Then she continued to read silently, her face growing troubled. Finally, she looked up. "What do you make of this? Tom is working very hard at the paper. He really is a brilliant writer. Whenever I read one of his articles, I just burst with pride. But things are very complicated here, much more complicated than I had ever realized. Complicated for him, I mean, and growing more so."
Matthew frowned. "Go on."
Mary shook her head. "That's it. Then she starts writing about how dreary the weather's been. What's she talking about?"
Matthew rubbed his face with a hand, then exhaled slowly. "More like what's she not talking about. If I were to guess, I'd say it's the political situation . . . how Tom might be involved."
Mary stared at him. "That's what I thought. Matthew, that worries me."
Mary shook her head again, then went back to reading the letter.
Phillips held the heavy door for Matthew as he exited the church. Matthew stopped and looked around, breathing deeply. It was a beautiful fall day, the November air crisp and fresh, the sun shining for the first time all week. He stepped easily down the one low step at the church's entrance and started walking to the car.
"So?" Phillips inquired as Trent opened the rear door. "What's the verdict?"
Matthew held onto the car door, as he set his sticks inside. "Good. At least I think I can manage without embarrassing myself," he laughed. He turned himself then, with Phillips at the ready but not assisting, sat down and lifted his legs into the car. "We'll try it this Sunday." He had spoken to Travis when they had arrived, introducing Phillips and explaining their mission. I can sit and stand, but I can't kneel yet—who knows when—or ever. Oh, Mr. Crawley, Travis had answered with a sincerity that had surprised and touched Matthew, we'll be very glad to have you.
"Excellent! We can cross that off the list." Phillips clapped him on the shoulder, then came around to the other side of the car and got in. He smiled at Matthew. "I didn't take you up on your Mrs. Patmore packing me a lunch today, because I thought, as long as we are here in the village, you might want to have lunch at the Grantham Arms."
Matthew's face lit up. "What? Really, right now?"
"Why not, indeed?" he laughed, shaking his head. "That would be marvelous!"
"Good, because I told your butler not to expect you for lunch at home."
Matthew laughed again. "Trent, the Grantham Arms."
It was surely the best pint and shepherd's pie Matthew had ever tasted.
Mary tightened her kimono, as she stood in the doorway of her bedroom, looking down the corridor to the servants' stairway. Matthew was holding onto the bannister with one hand, the other held a stick; Phillips stood behind him, holding firmly onto the padded belt.
This Friday's session with Phillips was the first that was to consist entirely of physio. Matthew, dressed in his clinic khaki pants and shirt, came into her bedroom while she was eating breakfast.
"All right, now, darling," he said coming over and kissing the cheek she offered. "Remember the rule: if the door is closed, I'm swearing; don't come in."
"I remember," she laughed. But after her bath, she had heard them in the hall, and, peeking out the door, saw them make their way down the hall.
Mary watched as Matthew, the khaki shirt gone, the back of his white jersey shirt stained with sweat, lifted his leg up to the first step. He paused—even all the way down the hall, Mary could see him straining—then with a grunt, he lifted his other leg to the same step, and she watched him struggle to keep his balance. He waited, concentrating, and then he brought first one foot, followed by the other to the second step, and he and Phillips disappeared from her view. She could hear, though, Phillips's encouraging commentary: Remember to lift from here, this muscle does the work. There you go. Good, good. Rest a minute. All right. That's it! After what she reckoned were perhaps five steps up, she heard them working to turn Matthew around—Matthew was swearing, it sounded like he nearly fell—and then soon she saw Phillips backing down the stairs, now holding onto to the front of the belt. Mary slipped back into their sitting room, and so didn't see Matthew finally step heavily off the bottom stair and lean on his stick, holding onto Phillips, breathing heavily, then finally nod and start again. But when she came out later, after dressing, they were still at it.
Mary, seated at Matthew's desk, looked up from the letter she was writing to Sybil. "Hello, darling. I hope you rested well."
Matthew came over and kissed the top of her head. "I did, although I missed your company," he said, his voice low.
"Silly, I lay down with you."
Matthew's eyes widened, as he seated himself. "You did?"
After he had finished with Phillips, who had departed with enough food for three men, packed by Mrs. Patmore, they'd had lunch in their sitting room, then he'd had a bath and gone straight to bed.
"You were dead to the world by the time I joined you, " she teased, then added, "You were on the stairs for at least an hour."
"Not at all. It was forty minutes."
"Well, it seemed like an hour."
Matthew snorted. "Yes, I saw you were lurking. Anyway, forty minutes. I would have done more, but Phillips made me stop."
Mary gave him a concerned smile. "Good. Don't wear yourself out."
He shrugged. "It's hard. I have to keep at it." She started to say something, but he went on, "How many times do you think I managed to go up and down five stairs in forty minutes?"
"Maybe . . . twenty?" she guessed.
"Eight. And my legs felt like jelly at the end."
Her eyes filled, and she pressed her lips together.
"Oh, sweetheart," he smiled, "Come here."
Mary rose, coming to him. Matthew's arms came around her, and they held each other, breathing together. He looked up at her. "I'm getting stronger every day. I couldn't have done it last week, you know."
She sighed, managing a small smile. "I know. I just wish I could make it easier."
He held her eyes. "You do make it easier."
Trent maneuvered the car around the obelisk over to the side street, just off the busy Ripon Market Place, where Harvell and Carter was located in the middle of the block. There was no parking allowed on the narrow street.
"I'll let you out, then park, sir," Trent observed, pausing for a pedestrian, before making the turn.
Matthew shook his head. "No, no, you can park over there," he said, pointing straight ahead. "It's just around the corner from the office. I can make it."
Trent's eyes found his in the rearview mirror.
"If you're sure, sir."
Trent pulled into the space, set the brake, then jumped out and opened the door for Matthew. Matthew handed him his sticks, then grasped the door and the frame of the car and pulled himself up. He took the sticks from Trent, then inclined his head, indicating the stack of files on the back seat. "I'm afraid you'll need to carry these for me." He sighed inwardly. As long as he needed two sticks, he couldn't carry anything. But he forgot that frustration, frowning as he contemplated the distance he would have to walk just to get to the corner. It looked a lot longer standing there than it had when Trent had parked.
He and Phillips had Ripon as the next thing on "the list" for tomorrow, Friday. But when he had dotted the last i and crossed the last t on the latest contracts, and with Mary gone with Cora to Granny's for tea, he impulsively had decided to be driven to deliver the files in person.
Matthew smiled at Trent. "I'm going to need you to walk next to me. If I start to tumble, grab me and hold me steady."
"Sir," Trent replied, looking slightly alarmed, "let me drop you off in front of the office, then park and come back with the files."
"I'll be fine." You are so stubborn, he could hear Mary say. "Just stay with me." And with Trent hovering close, Matthew carefully made his way to the corner, then down the street to the ivy-covered building. He sighed in relief, then made it up the two steps at the entrance. Trent started to open the blue door, but Matthew stopped him.
"Let me see if I can manage." He braced himself against the stone doorway, then turned the handle. It was as he remembered; the door opened easily. They entered the vestibule, and he mounted the single stair to the damned narrow door, opening it and stepping into the reception office.
"Mr. Crawley!" the clerk, Robbins, cried, jumping up from his desk. "Mr. Carter! Wilson!" he called, coming around to shake Matthew's hand. "Mr. Carter, look who's here!"
A door opened, and Mr. Carter stared in disbelief, then came forward, smiling broadly, shaking his head, clasping Matthew's hand. "My dear boy, such a wonderful surprise! Look at you! And here," he continued, indicating the young man standing behind him, "this is my clerk, Wilson."
Matthew smiled as they shook hands. "It's good to meet you after so many conversations on the telephone," he nodded.
"It is, indeed, sir."
"Harvell will be so disappointed to have missed you. He and his clerk just left to meet with a client. Martin's out filing papers in York." After Matthew had left the firm in 1914, they had hired a lawyer, Martin, a middle-aged gentleman, too old for war service. "Well, come in, come in. We must have some tea, if you have the time, your chauffeur, too. Wilson?" Trent followed Wilson to the small kitchen, while Carter ushered Matthew into his office.
They spent a happy forty-five minutes over tea, their conversation soon turning to business matters, Mr. Carter showing him two new files, discussing the issues that concerned him. Matthew relished every minute; he felt for a moment as if he'd never been away.
Finally, with Matthew promising to review the files over the next week, they both stood. As they walked into the reception area, Mr. Carter asked. "Would you like to see your office?"
"Why, yes! That is," he added quickly, "if you don't think Mr. Martin would mind."
"No, no, we put Martin in the office next to Harvell's, the one we used as a conference room when you were here."
Matthew's mouth dropped in surprise. Mr. Carter smiled, walking to the door beyond his, opening it and then stepping back. Matthew stood at the threshold, seeing the room for the first time in more than five years. The same cream-colored walls, the same old but still-elegant carpet, the same smell of paper and lemon oil. There was the desk where he had spent so many hours; the large bookcase partially filled with legal tomes—the empty shelves a reminder of where his own books had once stood; his former clerk's small secretary, now closed up; the two swivel chairs, one for his use, one for his client's; a coat rack.
He entered the room, going over to his desk, running his hand along the wood, picking up the heavy ink blotter, then setting it down, his finger tracing the edge of the inkwell. He moved over to the swivel chair in front of the desk. Setting a stick aside, he reached out and made the chair wobble, his mouth tugging up as he remembered Granny's struggle with this American invention.
Mr. Carter smiled fondly. "Although we hired Martin after you left, we always hoped you'd come back after the war, you see. Of course, after your injury, that was impossible, and we did talk of taking someone new on, but then you were able to start working from home. You know we meant it when we said you'd always have a place here, in whatever capacity that might be, and now, with your recovery, well, we're still hoping that, one day, this will be your office again."
Matthew nodded, silently, swallowing hard. He pressed his lips together, then cleared his throat. "I . . . I've been so grateful for the work you've given me—."
"And we're most grateful to you that you've been willing and able," Carter interjected.
Matthew nodded again. "Since I've returned from the clinic, I've let myself think that one day, I might be able to come back. After today, I know that I can, but I couldn't begin to say when yet. If you need to hire someone—."
Carter held up a hand and shook his head. "Your office is ready for you, Matthew, whenever you are."
"Thank you, sir," Matthew said fervently as they shook hands. Then he laughed, turning back to Carter, as Trent opened the door. "I'm afraid I'll need a new desk chair, though—swivel chairs won't be in my vocabulary for some time to come!"
Mary climbed into bed, leaned down and kissed Matthew's forehead, then settled down on her side next to him. He was flat on his back, and she looked at him with concern as she ran her fingers through his hair. She had been thrilled about the trip to Ripon, but by dinner he had asked for his chair. Had he pushed himself too much?
"You must be exhausted after your escapade today."
He smiled up at her. "You know, I'm not. Very tired yes, and yes, my back hurts more than it might have otherwise, but . . . well, do you remember when I pulled myself up from my chair and surprised you?"
"All right, darling, you can turn around now," he said softly, a little breathlessly.
But something was wrong. His voice wasn't where it was supposed to be. It was—. She whirled around and looked into her husband's eyes. Her husband's eyes. She looked into her husband's eyes.
"Do you think I could possibly ever forget that?" she asked softly.
"No," he chuckled, tapping her nose, "no, I don't suppose you ever could. Well, do you remember what I said afterward?" When Mary frowned, giving her head a slight shake, he continued, "I said that I could finally picture that I might—"
"Learn to walk again," she finished. "Yes, I do remember."
He sighed, shaking his head, smiling up at her. "Well, you see, today, going to the office, was like that. Not," he laughed, then brought her hand to his lips, "that Mr. Carter's happy surprise at seeing me was anywhere like the look on your face, one that I will treasure all the days of my life. It's just . . . I've been at this so long, and sometimes it doesn't feel like there's ever going to be an end. I haven't really been able to picture my life after physio." He struggled a moment to find the words. "But after today . . . going to the office on the spur of the moment, 'on my own,' as it were . . . well, even as limited as I am, it felt so . . . normal, and God, Mary it was wonderful."
"I'm so glad," she whispered, then kissed him tenderly. She snuggled next to him, and his hand started caressing her belly.
"How is baby?" he murmured.
"He's pretty active at the moment." She moved his hand. "Here."
He smiled happily as he felt the kick, quickly followed by two more. "He's quite the dancer tonight, isn't he? Maybe he'll—." He stopped, frowning, staring at her stomach. Mary brought both hands to her belly, a rather surprised look on her face.
Matthew struggled to sit up, looking at Mary in alarm. "Mary, what is it? Your stomach's as hard as a medicine ball!"
"It's a contraction, but—."
"A contraction?" Matthew threw back the covers. "But it's much too early! You're not due for two months!"
Mary reached down and pulled the covers up. "No, no, it's fine, it's—."
"We've got to get you to hospital!"
Mary took Matthew's face in her hands. "Shh, listen! It's a contraction, but it's 'false labor,' not the real thing. Clarkson told me about it my last visit, and your mother has mentioned it, too, 'Braxton something' contractions. 'Braxton Hicks.'" She brought her hands back to her belly. "I can already feel it going away."
Matthew's breathing began to calm, as he, too, felt the contraction ease, but he looked at her skeptically. "You're sure?"
She nodded. "I'm sure. I had one yesterday while you were in York, but nothing again until now. You see, if it were real labor, they would be coming more frequently. I was waiting to tell you until one happened when you could feel it."
"But why does it happen?"
"Clarkson and your mother both said that it's my body getting ready, preparing for the job ahead," she smiled. "You know, to push the baby out."
"Preparing for the job ahead," he repeated huskily, his eyes glistening, the actual birth of their child suddenly feeling real in a way it hadn't before. "Oh, my love."
It was a long time before he could fall asleep.
So . . . there might be some foreshadowing in this chapter . . .
Thank you so much for reading! Reviews make my heart sing!