So, the explanatory author's note at the end of this chapter has convinced me that I probably should have written an essay rather than a fanfic.
But that would have been very boring and then none of you would be reading it, and that would make me really sad.
So here it goes.
Act 3, Scene 1: Sunday
Sunday promised to be a late, lazy morning - some slight mention had been made last night of church, but no one was going, preferring instead to stay abed dreaming in Dixieland rhythm. It had been very late indeed when the gramophone finally played its last song of the evening and everyone stumbled off to bed. The ranks had thinned, as Sir Severus and Lady Blake, as well as most of the other older guests, had gone to bed long before the small hours of the morning.
There was always little in the way of entertainments on Sunday, barring the time-honored tradition of wishing all the other guests well as they left to catch trains and begin their motor tours home. Mary preferred to avoid all of that, choosing instead to watch the leave-taking from the relative safety of her window, in the company of a small book of poetry which she was only intermittently flipping through.
She had promised herself that this weekend would be a quiet one, and she had been wrong. Instead of finding quiet she had nothing but unanswered questions in her mind, questions that were quickly opening up all the gates of self-doubt that only months of mourning Matthew had been able to close.
Her mind was in twelve different places today, in the Downton household account ledgers and the stock books and the pile of letters from the solicitor's office overseeing George's inheritance. It was in London, and it was on a training speeding towards Yorkshire, and it was here, too, at Clonfinard, all movement and no silence. It was as if her mind, knowing all issues to be equal, wanted to work on all of them and none of them all at once. And all that left her with was a constant feeling of unease, that she should be sitting doing nothing when so much needed to be done.
She took another deep breath and tried to return to the book of poetry. She'd picked it up because it was different than the others—a newer binding, but with the spine well-broken and the pages well thumbed, having long since lost the new- frayed edge left by the book knife. Several of the poems had turned down corners and words happily underlined in soft pencil, while the text behind went on with its gravely-edge voice.
The trees are in their autumn beauty, the woodland paths are dry...
The image struck Mary as the walk out to the folly Friday evening flashed before her, and she turned to the frontspiece. Was this some local poet, writing here? Yeats. The name seemed familiar. Oh, yes, that fellow, the political poet with the seat in the newly formed Irish Parliament, the one who had won the Nobel prize. It seemed strange that his poetry should be here, in this house where Nationalism was a dirty word, and be so well loved. Mary turned the frontspage over. Incised into the front papers in direct, black ink was a name - C. Blake. So this was Charles' book. That explained a great deal. He must have placed it here himself. A purchase made to spite his uncle, perhaps? But he enjoyed it, too - the penciling was proof of that.
A small slip of paper fluttered to the floor as Mary closed the book. Mary, the little tag said, her name deeply underlined. Too late - she'd lost the page that had held it. She slipped it back inside at a random interval and set the book aside. It probably didn't mean anything, probably was just a reminder Charles had made himself to put the book in her room. She wasn't going to take the time to riddle it out – she wasn't one for poetry, and besides, it was probably safe to head downstairs now, anyway. Most of the guests had gone. It would give Anna a chance to pack up her things, and perhaps a walk would help her clear her head.
But she had miscounted – there were still packing cases in the front hall as she came down. Their owner, resplendent in a peacock-colored car coat, turned to watch Mary's descent down the stairs and smiled benignly from under the rim of her cloche.
"Lady Mary," Virginia Sibley greeted her from beside the pile of trunks with the air of an – an ally, Mary reminded herself. "I was hoping I'd get a chance to see you before we leave."
Mary didn't have time to respond – the other player in this little drama seemed to know his cues too well, coming into the room just as Mary was opening her mouth to reply.
"Virginia, the car's just -" Evelyn stopped and looked a little paralyzed for a moment, his eyes darting between the two women, no doubt picturing Clytemnestra and Cassandra sizing each other up at the quay at Mycenae. It had been the first time he'd seen them in the same space since their fight the other night, a fight which he'd only heard Virginia's side of. There was a fear in his eyes that Mary had never seen before – not his usual unease, when two people who didn't like each other were forced into the same room, but genuine fear. She's told him I know about his nerves, Mary realized. He's afraid of me.
His fear diminished her. She'd wanted to make up some lost ground from last night, take back a little of the moral high ground from Virginia, but she found now she couldn't do it. Suddenly there was a vast chasm between her and Evelyn, a chasm she couldn't cross. Last night, as Virginia had spoken of not explaining, it had made sense in the abstract, but now, now it was real. And in order to speak of it, he would have to explain. And he couldn't. At least not here.
She managed a weak smile in Evelyn's direction, hoping she didn't look too pitying, but it was Virginia who actually spoke.
"It's all right, Evelyn, you won't have to break up a cat fight. I think Lady Mary and I have both said our piece and will part as friends," Virginia said evenly, smiling at Mary. "I'll meet you outside in a moment." Thus dismissed, Evelyn left, still looking over his shoulder suspiciously, as if he expected them to commence battle as soon as he was out of earshot.
The American turned to Mary with a level gaze. "I wasn't lying just there, was I? We will part as friends." It was halfway between question and statement.
"I wouldn't like to have you as my enemy, Miss Sibley," Mary said fairly, meaning every word. "Where are you off to next?" she asked, her glance darting out the door to Evelyn, waiting next to the car that would take them to the port.
"Back to England, first; I've business in London I need to finish up, and then he's promised to take me to Branksome Hall, to meet his father. Nothing like that," she added with a smile, acknowledging Mary's look of surprise. "I'd put it off, if it had been. It's just to put a name with a face, while we give it a few months and see where it goes. Then I'm afraid it's back to Chicago for me. If I'm away much longer Bertie jokes they'll give away my office, and I can't have that."
"His father's very much into racing," Mary suggested, by way of friendly intelligence on a mutual acquaintance. "It's all he ever talks about."
"I've been told if I stick to the Onwentsia polo season and the hunt club I should be safe. Truth be told, if I can get through a weekend of Sir Arthur's big game hunting stories the races should seem like a cakewalk. But thank you. Are you leaving soon yourself?"
"Charles is going to drive me to the port, later. I'm catching the night steamer back to Liverpool."
Virginia nodded took a step in the direction of the door and then turned, reconsidering something. "Lady Mary, I hope you will allow a friend to share a bit of observational intelligence, about Charles."
"By all means."
"I don't know if you've noticed, but when you walk into a room, he has this expression on his face like he's been trapped in darkness and the sun's just come up."
Mary'd never noticed such a thing, but she wasn't in a mood to argue. "I'm told that's common to men in love, Miss Sibley."
"Yes, but the other half of it is that when you hear his voice, you almost do the same thing," Virginia related with a satisfied grin, watching as the jaded expression dropped out of Mary's face in surprise. "Except when you're getting ready to disagree with him," she added with relish.
"And then I frown, I suppose."
No," Virginia said with a chuckle. "Then your smile gets wider for a moment, like you're looking forward to the challenge." She gave a confidential smile, and then, considering a bit further, ventured, "Evelyn told me all about - about your Matthew."
She didn't know why his name should make her feel so vulnerable, so unprotected. Perhaps it had suited her to have Virginia know her only as a woman Evelyn had loved, not as a woman who had loved another.
"He sounds like he was a very wonderful man," the American said simply.
"He was. Wonderful." Why should the words be so difficult, and her tongue thick in saying them?
"You might just think about why on your steamer home." She lingered a moment on Mary's surprise, and then, after a moment of consideration, presented her hand, as she might for a business acquaintance. The gesture set Mary back a little, but she took the handshake nonetheless. Virginia's grip was firm, the kind of handshake that men of industry like. I'll watch out for Evelyn, the handshake promised. I'm on your side.
And instinctively, Mary trusted it.
She walked Virginia out to the front of the house, where Evelyn stood next to the car, waiting nervously.
Virginia turned back to Mary as she neared the car door. "May I say again it has been a pleasure finally meeting you, Lady Mary. You are welcome in Chicago any time you'd like to get away."
"I think it unlikely, but you are kind to offer," Mary replied, her eyes flitting over to Evelyn. Her childhood friend had relaxed a little bit, and his face bore the unmistakable signs of relief. Perhaps when he'd had time to think about it, they'd talk more. Perhaps. "Best of luck with your business in London," she added, though she wasn't sure why.
"Best of luck with your business here," Virginia said, eyes flashing with mischief. "Remember what I said about why."
And then she and Evelyn were packed into the car and trundling down the driveway, Evelyn no doubt worrying her over what she had meant by 'what she said about why'. Mary smiled unconsciously and headed back into the house.
It would be another hour yet before Anna was done packing her things, and besides, the steamer was scheduled for later that afternoon anyway. The garden beckoned through the open sitting room door, green and gold and inviting the sort of clarity of vision that Yeats' poem had promised. The trees are in their autumn beauty, the woodland paths are dry…
Mary disappeared through the door without a second thought.
The hedgerows left a lot of time for second thoughts on other subjects, though. Why had Matthew been wonderful? It was a question she'd been ruminating over and under and around for the whole weekend. But it defied an answer. He had simply been Matthew, a whole jumble of thoughts and ideas that after ten years had all lent themselves to wonderfulness. He had disagreed with her, argued with her, lied for her. He was the keeper of all her secrets. Why should a…a different smile for Charles pass by all that?
Mary settled into a seat under the rose arbor, now devoid of roses, and surveyed the garden.
"I hate Sundays." The sudden announcement made Mary look around fruitlessly for a few moments before Hilda emerged from another hedgerow and threw herself on a bit of stone wall across the path. She scuffled the ground underneath her perch with the tip of her shoe, and Mary relaxed a bit. She didn't think she wanted to speak to anyone, just now, but the energetic twelve-year old wouldn't offer any over-tiresome conversation. "Everyone leaves and the house is quiet and nothing interesting happens." She drew a sort of wave in the gravel and then scuffed it out again with her heel. "Is everyone gone?"
"I think so."
"Charles didn't have to drive Christabel home, did he? She wouldn't stop asking him at breakfast."
"I think he got out of it," Mary guessed, remembering seeing Christabel and her trunks next to one of the house cars.
"Good." Hilda's voice was very resolute. "I don't like Christabel," she announced. "She's loud and snobby and she never listens to anything I say."
Mary silently agreed with Hilda's assessment of the Honourable Miss FitzGerald, but said nothing.
"She wants to marry Charles, you know," the younger girl said off-handedly. "Because of the money. I wish she wouldn't. Charles doesn't like her." Her face was decided and stony. "I don't think she listens to him, either." Her face then suddenly brightened, and she looked up at Mary. "But he likes you! He should marry you. Mama said you've already got a son and Papa is always going on about how Charles needs one. He could have your son! Or you could make another one," she added hastily, seeing Mary's distressed surprise. "And then you both could come and live here, and Charles wouldn't be in London all the time. It's always more interesting when he's home."
"Do you miss him, when he's in London?" Mary asked, lightly side stepping around the issue of the marriage question, which she wasn't quite sure she wanted to deal with at the present moment, and the idea, so blithely suggested by Hilda, of making babies with Charles, which she was quite sure she didn't want to touch at all.
"Lots," Hilda admitted, her wildly active mind successfully touched off in another direction. "He's always got such fun stories to tell, from when he was at school and when he was in the Navy and now with his work. He tells us all about all the houses he gets to visit. He told us all about yours!"
"All about Downton?" Mary shouldn't have been surprised - hadn't Lady Blake already told her that?
"Yes, it all sounds so lovely! With the cypress trees from the Lebanon and... and the lavender along the lime walk and the...the Temple of Diana, with the little carvings in it the Earl made when he was a child!"
As Hilda said these things Mary could see them, in her mind's eye, as clear as if they were actually here before her, but what she couldn't see was Charles seeing them. He'd lived at Downton for weeks, but somehow, it hadn't occurred to her that he would have made time for anything other than Home Farm and the house and his daily visits to the surrounding estates. Yet it seemed he had seen the full compass of Downton, outside of his immediate interests, and with enough presence of mind to describe it - with great detail, it would seem - to his family. When Lady Blake had mentioned him speaking of Downton, Mary had assumed that he had spoken of the Farm, or the village, or of just the people, but it had been far more than that, and fondly remembered, too. No one merely walking the grounds would have taken note of the particular species of tree he was walking under, nor casually seen the childish etching her father, as a boy of ten, had incised into an out-of-the-way corner of the stone out at the folly.
In the silence, Hilda had realized something, and her face had fallen again. "I don't suppose you'll want to leave, and come here."
"Clonfinard is very lovely, too," Mary assured her. "But it's not...easy to leave your home. I need to take care of Downton for my son, and my father. Just like Charles needs to take care of Clonfinard, for your father."
Hilda nodded. "Sometimes I wish we didn't have a big house like Clonfinard. It makes life so awfully complicated."
Now, isn't that the truth, Mary sympathized silently.
"So that's where you are!" The shout had come from a little indistinct figure making his way up the garden from the direction of Model Farm, long coat flapping against his muddy Wellingtons. Mary frowned at the forwardness of the shoddy figure - it looked to be one of the pig-keepers, or perhaps even one of Charles' farm managers.
But as the figure drew closer, he materialized into Charles himself, the very picture of unkempt country life, his boots crusted with a morning's worth of mud and his ulster - clearly a favorite for these early morning expeditions - showing a lot of strain at the shoulders and several very artistic mud patterns along the hem.
"You gave Miss Simms quite the slip at breakfast this morning - she was all over the house when I left wondering where you'd gone. She'll have the police out for you if you don't make some kind of appearance."
Hilda's face fell with the implications. "But she's said we're to go for a walk today."
"You love walks," Charles countered, with some confusion.
"Not with Miss Simms. She'll make me do multiplication tables while we walk. Can you come with? She only makes me do it to fill the time."
"I've got to drive Lady Mary to Belfast to catch her boat," Charles reminded her. "But I'll be back in time for dinner."
This seemed to cheer Hilda, but not by much - it took another encouraging smile to urge her up the steps to the house. Charles took a step closer to Mary and waved his cousin on again, and there was a sudden change - Hilda took another look at the parting scene, suddenly broke out into a broad smile, and scampered up the steps in quicktime to disappear into the house. Charles looked at Mary for some kind of explanation, and, finding none, shrugged.
"I was down at Model Farm to see the pigs," he said, answering Mary's unasked question about his curious attire.
"On a Sunday morning?"
"Good excuse as any to miss everyone packing up," he offered. "Has Christabel left?"
Do you think she knows how much this house despises her? Mary wondered. "She and Carroll were the first to go." That was true - Mary now remembered looking out the window at the now-familiar figure of the Honorable Miss FitzGerald waiting impatiently in the drive in her resplendent fox-fur stole as her brother shook hands with their hosts and conveyed thanks and best wishes and promises to reciprocate the favor that would almost certainly be forgotten by the time they reached Kenwick Hall.
"Thank God. I hate the last day of a house party - you have to confront everyone you've successfully avoided for the whole weekend."
The contrast between Charles' sentiments and those of his younger cousin almost made Mary laugh. "Hilda doesn't seem to like her very much," she observed, just to see what Charles would say.
"Hilda and I are in agreement on that." Charles looked down at his boots and gave a short laugh. "Goodness, I do look a mess, don't I? I suppose I'd better change before driving you to the port," he realized, smiling apologetically.
Mary almost found herself saying that it really didn't matter, that she wouldn't have minded being seen at the port with him whatever he wore. She drew the thought up short in stunned surprise at her own casual mood. If only he had that smile with him, too, another part of her mind added. She shoved that thought aside as well and focused on following Charles back to the house.
Temporarily lost in the simple pleasure of a fine morning in fine company, Mary realized that she didn't quite know where Charles was leading her. The uniform pea-gravel of the garden path had given way to mismatched stone chips and stacks of grocer's crates. They were at the back of the kitchens.
Charles looked around and his smile apologized again. "My shoes are at the kitchen door. I usually go down the servants' stairs in the mornings, and my boots are out of the way back here - Aunt Julia doesn't like mud on the carpets."
Mary could only nod sagely, keeping her silence as Charles changed at the back door, leaving his boots in a tray set aside for the purpose and hanging his stained ulster and cap on a hook above. He looked utterly at home, sitting on one of the chairs in the hall to change his shoes – Mary couldn't even picture what the back door at Downton looked like. Oblivious to his companion's unease, Charles finished tying his oxfords and disappeared down the passage, Mary following in close pursuit, unsure where they would go next, her unease echoed by the glances of the hallboys and maids in the downstairs passage. Charles, of course, they knew, but Mary was an unknown – would she treat their preserve as the young master did?
"Good morning, all!" He said cheerily, sticking his head inside the next room they passed. A loud clamor of pots, pans and running water informed Mary, even before the smell of soup pushed past the doorway, that this was the kitchen.
"Oh, good morning, Master Charles. How's my bacon looking this morning?"
"Very fine, Mrs. Morrow, very fine indeed, but you won't see him for another month. And you won't see him at all if you can't promise me the first cut on my breakfast tray. I'm told Hilly got the last piece when you were supposed to be saving it for me, and I'm not sure I've forgiven you yet."
"Why, Master Charles, you young scamp, I would never," said the old cook, smiling with that curious mixture of benevolence and surprise that old women take on when a young person of whom they are very fond is clearly joking with them. She clearly saw a lot of him downstairs, and was perfectly content to do so. "Now, will you stay for somethin' to eat? I've some shortcakes put by for the tea this afterno-" But in the middle of this pronouncement she had suddenly seen Mary, hovering behind Charles like a high-born ghost, her silk blouse and smartly shined shoes standing out in strong contrast to the tiled walls and cotton shirtwaists of the kitchen maids around her. "Oh, I…I didn't know you had a guest with you. I'm terribly sorry I didn't see you, my lady. Please don't let me keep you."The jolly matron dispensing sweets had faded out, replaced by the upright front room manner that all cooks hold in reserve for when they were called out of their kitchen preserve to venture 'upstairs.' Young Master might want to stay for cakes, as schoolboys were known to do, but Master Charles, the grown man with a female companion in tow, would not have time for kitchen pleasantries with old childhood friends.
Mary had a sudden stab of regret that Mrs. Morrow had seen her - watching the older woman converse easily with Charles had been like standing in a sudden shaft of sunshine on a cold day, enlivening and restorative beyond belief. Now the cold had descended again, and Mary followed Charles up the servant's staircase and back upstairs.
He did change for the drive back to the Port of Belfast, though he allowed Barnard to take them in one of the large house cars instead of driving himself. Anna sat up front with the chauffeur while Charles and Mary were left alone in the backseat, slowly gravitating towards each other on the leather bench until their knees were touching. It was not uncomfortable, or awkward, just two people sharing the same small space, and Mary found herself, not happy, for happy was too wide a word, but content.
They remained that way until the smoothly rolling country roads gave way to the tumbling cobblestones of Belfast, and the road, for reasons of its own, jumbled them farther apart seeking refuge with the leather traveling handles near the doors.
The chauffeur made himself scarce once the car was parked outside of the port. Waiting for Barnard to come back with a porter to come back with a trolley, the three of them found themselves waiting patiently - silently - in front of the Port Authority.
Charles glanced around, at the trunks, at the side of the building, and finally, between Anna and Mary. "Anna, I wonder if you might...give us a moment alone." His eyes must have done the right kind of begging, for Anna nodded, and went off in search of a suitably long distraction, leaving her employer alone.
"Yes?" Mary asked, not knowing whether to be hopeful or afraid of what might come next. Charles cast around for a moment, the comfortable silence of the car replaced by this anxious tension between them that Mary didn't like, full of unasked questions, a great many of which she didn't think she wanted to hear.
"What were you and Hilda talking about, before I came up, this morning? You looked a little frightened."
Mary let out a little bit of breath. That, at least, was safe to answer – mostly. "She was telling me how much she doesn't like Christabel," Mary said truthfully. But that wasn't the whole truth, and somehow, strangely, she felt Charles needed the whole truth. "She…she wondered if we'd get married, instead."
The truth seemed to deflate Charles a little bit. "I suppose that's put you off," he assumed, sounding very let down.
"Your aunt already asked about our prospects yesterday morning," Mary admitted, trying not to add any insult to the injury.
Charles rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. "God save me from my interfering relatives."
Hoping it would help, Mary added, "I didn't really give her an answer."
"Will you give me one?" Charles hung back, his face hopeful.
Mary cast around, looking for the right words. She didn't want to refuse him, but she didn't want to outright accept him, either. What to say that hadn't already been said? "You've given me...such a reputation, Charles! I can hardly live up to it."
"And what has that got to do with anything?" He had called her bluff, and quickly, too. That wasn't the real reason for her refusal, at least not all of the reasons, but she'd put weight in it now.
"You've promised your family some kind of domestic goddess, and I'm not that. Your aunt, and Hilda, and Lillian, they all expect me to be this rosy-cheeked remembrance you've made up."
"Have I? I had no idea. What have they said?"
"Oh, your aunt thinks I'm strong-willed and stubborn enough to put up with you and Hilda thinks I'm a wonderful mother and between one reputation and the next I'm not sure where the real Mary Crawley starts and the reputed one begins. Virginia's heard about me from Evelyn and she thinks... I don't know what. Even you – " She was babbling, and she didn't know why. Was this more of her reason than she'd thought?
Charles cut in. "Do you know why I invited you?" She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. "I thought that since you knew about it you might as well know... all of it." He gestured hopelessly to an expansive, invisible house, the ghost of Clonfinard that lurked behind his words. "I don't want it, but there it is. You had an expectation of me, and I wanted…I don't know what I wanted, really, but I wanted to give it some substance, so that we'd… have all our cards on the table."
Mary nodded, a little lost for words. What was one to say to something like that? I wanted to win you on my own, he had said, as if it were cheating to play all his cards, even if he had the best hand of all her suitors, honestly dealt.
And then another memory surfaced, of a cold winter evening spent searching for a lost dog, lingering behind the others for a moment of privacy. And does he despise you? Please tell me. And she had told Matthew her terrible, terrible secret, laid all her cards out on the table for him to see and play them as he would, and she – she remembered looking at Matthew the same way that Charles was looking at her now, begging, pleading for an answer, any answer, that would make the waiting worth it.
Don't joke. Don't make it little, not when I'm trying to understand. That was what she was trying to do now. Virginia's question from this morning tumbled back to her – He sounds like he was a wonderful man. You might just think about why – and added itself to this terrible mix of thoughts. Her indecision seemed to be showing on her face, for Charles' expression had softened, and some of his fear had been replaced by – boldness? Determination? But he could do that – his cards were not as terrible as hers had been.
"Shall I tell you what I expect? Of you?" Charles asked kindly. "Nothing. I've no right to any expectations of you, nor has anyone else. Besides, I know you'd defy them anyway." He glanced at her, and, seeing she was still paused in thought, smiled. "Shall I tell you who I wish you'd be, just for me?" he asked, softly. "That woman who scrambled eggs at four in the morning with mud in her hair."
"Oh, Charles, don't say that," Mary begged, feeling her heart tug. For I am a being of this earth, and no star.
"I liked her - I liked her awfully. She wasn't trying to be anyone else." His eyes had fallen to the pavement, and then flew back up to glance at Mary, his hands working nervously at the brim of his hat. When his words finally emerged, they were simple and precise.
"Is there any hope?"
He didn't need to ask more than that. It was one simple question in place of a thousand other larger ones, the one question that distilled them all down. Has all of this been in vain? Have you at least decided against me? Should I keep waiting for another chance?
There was so much more she knew about him, now that she'd seen him at home among his family. She had seen Lillian's dance lessons, and Hilda's simple logic regarding marriage, and Lady Blake's pronouncements about his stubbornness and suitability. Little things, too, like Mrs. Morrow in the kitchen practically dancing in humble adoration of the young master, and the strains in his jacket from work in his barns. She longed for his at-homeness in all of it, the ease he maintained with the people who loved him. He takes me as I am, Virginia had said, explaining why she loved Evelyn. He doesn't diminish me. There was no pretense between them, no pretending. That, she remembered, was why Matthew had been wonderful – she did not have to pretend with him. When they had both stopped pretending they had realized they loved each other, and not before. He took her as she was, pride and vanity and past mistakes and all, and he did not despise her for it. He never could despise her, she remembered him saying.
Charles didn't want the woman of sterling reputation and grand family and great privilege. He had played all his cards, though he hadn't liked to. He had wanted the whole truth between them, if there was to be anything at all. She wasn't trying to be anyone else, he had said. Charles didn't want her to pretend, either.
And, she realized, she wanted that, too.
"Yes," Mary said decidedly, though as she said the words they had a practiced sound, as though her mind had been made up for a long while. "There is a great deal of hope."
Simply saying brought a feeling of great relief and sudden calm, the kind of calm she had not felt since that night so many years ago when the man she had loved had picked her up and spun her around in the snow, and the world felt right in so many ways. It would not be tomorrow, or a month from tomorrow, but it would be.
And looking at Charles, she realized Virginia had been right – he did have a smile, just for her, as though the sun were coming out.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
-The Wild Swans at Coole, W.B. Yeats.
Charles did mark a poem in The Wild Swans of Coole (1919) for Mary to read – it was Her Praise, which begins,
SHE is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I have gone about the house, gone up and down
As a man does who has published a new book
Or a young girl dressed out in her new gown,
And though I have turned the talk by hook or crook
Until her praise should be the uppermost theme…
This story started with something very similar to the thoughts expressed in Her Praise - I am ashamed to say that when I started writing this story I had one objective in mind, to let you all meet Virginia, 'until her praise should be the uppermost theme.'
Unfortunately, in trying to make that story work I had to introduce another, secondary story, which was to make Mary understand that (in my mind, anyway) Charles is the fellow who's going to make her happy. Like Shakespeare's Portia, who inspired the title of the story, Mary comes from a distinguished lineage but participates little in the life of the house, a keen mind that remains under-utilized. "Think you I am no stronger than my sex, being so fathered and so husbanded?" Portia begs of Brutus when he won't tell her why he's so out of sorts. Much of Season 4 is about Mary gathering her strength and then, as her father second-guesses her, asking the same questions of Robert. Eventually, he realizes his error, and Mary is allowed to have that public life that her mind is so suited for. It is Mary's mind that I love, and it is her sharpness and quick wit that I think need the most consideration when it comes to her suitors.
Throughout Season 4, any time Mary needs company or companionship, she turns to Gillingham, but any time she needs advice, most often about that public life,it's Charles to whom she turns. Gillingham falls in love with Mary after merely seeing her again after many years, loving Mary on the basis of who she used to be – Charles, meanwhile, comes to love her as the woman she is now, a woman who farms pigs and takes charge of her own affairs. (It's for this reason, also, that Evelyn realizes he and Mary will never work out – I have this idea that he's in love with a memory of Mary, not with Mary herself. Realizing this, he goes to Paris, by sheer happenstance meets Virginia, another woman from his past, and realizes that he, and the world, have changed, and Virginia is prepared to meet that change in a way that Mary, and many other women of his acquaintance, aren't.)
I'd like to think I succeeded at my first story and only partially and incompletely touched the second. I tried to make as many parallels between the two couples as possible – the search for acceptance, shared experience, longing and return, the role that reputation plays in relationships and how sometimes we pretend to be people that we really aren't just to please others – to knit the story together and make it feel like a more solid mass, but it still feels flimsy in parts, for which I apologize. Evelyn and Mary still need to have a talk about his condition, about why he felt he couldn't confide in her and why he's so taken with Virginia, and Charles and Evelyn, I think, still need to have a talk, preferably in the safe confines of the smoking room, about why the women they love draw men in.
But these are problems for another time. For now, we can only sit back and wait for Season Five.