It was raining. Sometimes it seemed like it was always raining lately. Isabel had thought about moving away. She never seriously considered it, she was far too old to restart life in a new city, and it wouldn't alleviate her loneliness. But sometimes it was hard to look at the empty rooms at Crawley House.
She'd given the maid the afternoon off, so when she heard the knock on the door, she got up to answer it. She took a moment to try and shake off the blues. "Hello," she said brightly.
It was a man, his head down, in badly worn, wet clothes and cap. His eyes were downcast, and he didn't look up at her. "Are you Mrs. Isobel Crawley? From Manchester?" He was shaking from the cold, she realized. His accent struck her. Someone had sent her a stray to look after, it had happened before, but the strays didn't usually sound so upperclass. On the other hand, she knew house servants often worked very hard to lose local accents.
"I am," she said easily. "Did someone give you my name?" That would tell her what sort of trouble the poor fellow was in.
He nodded, still not looking up at her. She didn't like to see that in the women she helped, it meant their spirits were broken and there wasn't as much chance of rehabilitating them. Men did bounce back better though. They tended to be shamed at needing to ask for help, but worked harder to build themselves back up. The fellow looked ragged, cold, and muddy, but he didn't reek of drink. "Mrs. Morris, a neighbor of yours in Manchester. I... Repaired her roof and she gave me your name and address and said you might help me. With... With my trouble."
Mrs. Evelyn Morris, an elderly woman even when she had left Manchester, and not someone she had kept in touch with. Not someone who sent her projects, in fact they had just been neighbors on the same street. Matthew had sometimes done chores for her as a little boy but they had only known each other in passing. It added to the mystery. "Well," she said brightly, "I'm not always able to help but I can certainly try. What sort of trouble are you in?" With men, it was almost always theft or drink.
"She thought you might know me," he said nervously. "You see, I don't... I don't seem to know anything about myself."
That was a problem she hadn't heard before. "You don't know who you are?" it was intriguing, she had to admit, but she didn't know why Evelyn would send the poor chap to her. "Have you seen a doctor?" Of course he hasn't, she told herself as he shook his head. Poor people don't have money for doctors, they just work through their pain until they die. "What do people call you?"
He shrugged. "You there, mostly. I sometimes use John. Mrs. Morris was different. She kept... Calling me Matthew and asking why I wasn't in school. I told her what my trouble was and she said I should see you... That you might know who I was." He looked up at her hesitantly. "If you don't, I quite understand. Mrs. Morris was sometimes...a little dafter than even I. I just… had to take the chance."
Evelyn Morris had been getting on, even before they had moved away, but as Isobel looked at the face of the trembling man standing in her doorway, she understood the mistake the elderly woman had made. The poor man did look like Matthew, eerily so, if Matthew had ever dressed himself like a downtrodden street cleaner. Evelyn wasn't likely to even have known that Matthew had died a year earlier. She had seen a man who did look like Matthew, a man who didn't know his own name, and assumed it was Matthew.
And now she had to dash the poor fellow's hopes. "I am sorry," she said carefully. "Mrs. Morris was calling you Matthew because you look very much like my son Matthew, but he died a year ago." And it was like reopening the worst wound of her life to look in his eyes. It was like looking at a sickly twin of Matthew.
He lowered his eyes, and sighed. "Then I mustn't trouble a lady like yourself any further. My apologies, Mrs. Crawley." He hesitated, a slight smile coming to his face. "It was just... The first time a name had felt right. That's all. I won't trouble you any further."
It's not his fault, the resemblance, Isobel told herself. It's not his fault how he looks, and he obviously needs help. "That doesn't mean I won't help you. For a start, maybe that is your name. And you haven't seen a doctor, and it's freezing cold. Why don't you come inside and we'll have tea. "
He hesitated. "I don't... I don't want to presume... It sounds like you have troubles of your own, if you don't mind my saying."
It almost made her smile, the working class politeness with the upper class accent and a voice and face almost like Matthew's. "I can spare an afternoon, I think. Now why don't you come inside?"
Dr. Philip Clarkson waited a moment before he responded to Isobel Crawley. "Isobel," he said gently, "you do understand that Matthew isn't sitting in your kitchen?" He didn't want to be unkind. He'd heard of such delusions, but he'd have thought Isobel was well past that sort of grief.
Isobel gave him a sour look. "Yes, Doctor, I understand that. I am not having a delusion. The sad young man in my kitchen is not my son, but he does resemble Matthew to where it's almost striking. Perhaps I am sentimental because of the resemblance, I don't deny it, but you may be assured I haven't begun to slip. I'm more... Intrigued. He doesn't know his own name, and he seems terribly downtrodden and I wanted to help him or at least make certain I wasn't throwing a sick man out on the streets."
So it was the second problem, Clarkson thought. Isobel's grief had led her to taking on all sorts of projects. He just didn't want to see her hurt by it. "Has it occurred to you that this sad young man as you call him, might be a con artist? Bent on taking advantage of you? If the resemblance is striking..."
"He hasn't asked for money," Isobel said quickly. "And he insisted on making sure the kitchen wood bin was filled, to earn his supper. I rather get the impression that he's learned in a very hard way that those who don't work don't eat."
"Did he eat?" Clarkson decided to get more clinical.
"Like he hadn't had a decent meal in weeks," Isobel said.
"And you understand there may be nothing I can do for him?" Clarkson said. "Whatever is wrong, brain injuries are tricky. This man might have been injured in the war. "
"This is why we should make every effort to help him." She shook her head. "I know this man isn't Matthew, I do, Phillip, but he must have some family that's wondering what happened to him. At the very least, are we harmed by showing him some kindness? Particularly if he is a war veteran."
He wasn't going to talk her out of it, he could see that. And as he stepped into the kitchen, and Isobel's new stray jumped to his feet, he had to admit, the likeness to Matthew was more than striking, it was eerie. It was a surprise that Isobel wasn't convinced. But then, he had to admit, he'd always thought Isobel Crawley was a woman with a keen intellect, and a kind heart.
The stray looked at him nervously. "I'm sorry, I meant no disrespect. Mrs. Crawley said it was all right... Are you Mr. Crawley?" He held out his hand, although his eyes seemed suddenly curious. "You're not Mr. Crawley..."
"No, I'm Dr. Clarkson. Mrs. Crawley tells me that you've been injured. That you don't remember your name or anything about yourself. "Amnesia wasn't impossible, but it was rarely total. The eerie likeness made him suspicious. On the other hand, voice was difficult to fake and he was struck by how the fellow sounded like Matthew. So he decided to set a trap. If it was a scam, Isobel was not the obvious target, she was the way in. "Her neighbor in Manchester was calling you Matthew... You do understand that that you can't possibly be Matthew Crawley, don't you?"
The man nodded. "She said her son died... And I don't think we look related." He sighed. "It was the first time a name sounded right. Manchester was familiar and so is this town. You... Seem familiar although I don't know why...so does Mrs. Crawley but you both say her son died. So I will need to keep looking."
"Where will you go?" He seemed genuine, Clarkson had to admit it. But a good con artist would know the target quite well.
"Back to Manchester, I suppose. There's more work there." The fellow looked down at his hands. "I don't intend to take advantage of Mrs. Crawley... "
"But there's plenty of work here. The Earl of Grantham has his estate here. You said it was familiar." And it was the Earl who was the real target. Someone working a con would be delighted to be offered a way in. "Mrs. Crawley is a kind woman, she would probably recommend you. She's done it for others, others in worse circumstances than yours."
"She might..." the man said, not looking up, "but there's no point."
"Why not?" Clarkson asked. He seemed so certain.
The man looked up at Clarkson, his eyes wary. It was so like Matthew and yet not, he almost didn't catch what the man was saying. "Estates don't hire people who don't have names, Doctor. And servants don't like it when you sound educated, they think I'm putting on airs. I don't have references, so if Mrs. Crawley did plead a favor for me, the servants would resent me. I'm not suited for service, anyway." He held out his left hand, and opened it. Or tried to. The thumb and index finger extended but the other fingers only opened halfway, and a line of scarring ran up the man's arm. It was disquieting. Clarkson knew he wasn't looking at Matthew Crawley, but the injury... If Matthew had lived, he would have been lucky to have even that much function back. It also hadn't been talked about, Lord Grantham had insisted on that, so that Lady Mary didn't have the image in her head.
He covered his surprise as the man continued to talk. "I could do the work inside, but it didn't... It didn't happen in the war so people aren't sympathetic and no one wants a footman with a bad hand, and I can't groom horses well, or handle game and most estates like to hire locals for that kind of work." He went back to looking down at his hands. "I was doing handy work and farm work but it's not very steady. Manchester had road work I could do. I'll likely go back there."
The problem, Clarkson realized, was that he wasn't taking the bait. The scenario that made sense was the con man pretending to have amnesia and then cheerfully and gratefully accept the offer of a place at Downton Abbey where he would shock the Granthams with his similar appearance and his sad, essentially unprovable story. Then he would look for money. But the hand injury was too much, and Clarkson couldn't detect any dishonesty. If anything, the fellow had looked fearful of the idea of working on an estate, and summed up the objections like he'd heard them before. "You don't remember your name, or your past... Do you know how your arm was injured?"
The fellow paled. "No..." he hesitated, "not exactly. It's one of the first things I do remember. I woke up, and I was on a hard table and I was freezing cold and my entire left side was on fire. I think... My clothes were ripped up... And there was a man and he was unbuttoning my shirt and he screamed when I pushed him off me. He yelled that I was alive and that they had to get out of there and I... Followed them out. It was raining and I was in a lot of pain and I was near a train station and..." He seemed to hesitate. "I thought I was in some sort of trouble and there was an open freight car and I jumped in." He kept his eyes down. "I know that was wrong... I got thrown off the train in some town… I don't remember where and the police took pity on me and took me to a workhouse instead of jail…." He shuddered visibly.
Clarkson almost didn't hear him. The cold storage for the hospital, where the bodies were kept, the back exit led off to the train station. It was a convenient set up, just a short walk for supply deliveries. And... There had been some theft problems with the staff. Two that had left almost as soon as Matthew had been buried.
And Matthew Crawley had been buried in a closed casket. God knows he hadn't taken a look inside, and as much as he had chided Isobel for imagining the impossible, he had the unpleasant feeling that something terrible had happened. Matthew's body had been brought to the hospital ice cold after spending hours on wet muddy ground. There had been blood, but the bleeding had stopped... And a cold body, and sheer shock could have thrown him off.
The hand and arm injury was consistent, and so was the head injury. He could see the trailing edge of a scar along the man's left ear and hairline. The broken ribs wouldn't have left marks and he'd have to have him strip for an exam to see the probable scars on the man's left leg. No, Clarkson told himself, don't look for those injuries. "I'd like you to take off your shirt."
The fellow didn't question that at all, which increased his curiosity. His poorer patients didn't like disrobing, they were modest and they didn't understand why the doctor wanted to look at their bodies. Instead of questioning though, the man simply stood up and removed his shirt. He was thin, and the scars on his arm did stay consistent, and Clarkson saw the remains of bruises that told him the fellow hadn't been treated kindly. But it wasn't what he was looking for. "Turn around."
That made the fellow hesitate, and Clarkson was certain he'd caught the man out. Then he turned around, and Clarkson felt that certainty slip away. A scam artist could have found out the nature of Matthew's death injuries and replicated them. And Matthew's war injuries had never been secret but a scam artist wouldn't have known how to replicate the scarring. Clarkson knew his own handiwork when he saw it, and he knew he was looking at the scars he'd left from digging out shrapnel from Matthew Crawley's lower spine. The hesitance had come from the newer scars. Someone in the last year had whipped the man hard enough that the stripes were never going to fade. "How did that happen?"
If he was right about the other scars, then at some point Lord Grantham was going to want to know who had beaten his son in law and heir with a whip.
The man put his shirt back on, a red flush of embarrassment on his face. "I... Got work at an estate a while ago... They took on extra people for the holidays and I got hired as a footman but I dropped things… but the lord took pity on me and made me a stable hand... One of the visiting lords didn't like how I handled his horse... And thought I spoke above my place...And I got whipped and turned out." He looked down and away. "That's why I don't look for work at estates. Small farmers and road crew bosses just fire me if I'm not working well."
"That wasn't legal," Clarkson said after a moment. He sensed there was more to the story. "Even the peerage has to follow the law."
"I don't have a name, so I don't have rights." The young man sat back down at the table and clenched his hands together. "No one is going to care, and no one is going to arrest a peer on the word of his ex stable hand who is so daft he doesn't even know his name."
"You're not daft," Clarkson said after a moment. "You've had a head injury that I suspect you would've recovered from more easily if you'd been surrounded by family encouraging you to remember, but it will heal. That names and places seem familiar indicates that. Your name most likely is Matthew."
He smiled. "It does sound right... I should start using it when I leave tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" That wasn't enough time to even begin to look into things.
Matthew shook his head. He lowered his voice. "I think Matthew is my name, but you said yourself, Mrs. Crawley's son died. I apparently look a great deal like her son and she's been very kind but it would be cruel of me to linger here as a reminder. Besides, she doesn't need a male servant, and this is a small village. People will talk."
People will talk, Clarkson realized, and not just about how inappropriate it was for Isobel Crawley to have taken in another down and out stranger with a questionable background. It was damn lucky the housemaid was off, or else there'd be hysterics in the village already. Even if he was wrong about making the worst mistake of his professional career, if he wasn't looking at Matthew Crawley, he was looking at a near identical copy. "Let me talk with her."
It was a very long walk to the front parlor. Isobel stood up as he entered. "Is there something dreadfully wrong with that young man? You look like you have something terrible to tell me."
"I have to apologize to you, for chiding you, when after speaking with that man… and after looking at him, I'm willing to consider that… some sort of terrible error has been made." He waited for her to explode.
Instead she smiled. "Phillip, really. He can't actually be Matthew. You showed Robert and I the body. That's…. that's the image I have kept in my head when talking with that poor man." That was said more shakily.
"I'm sorry… if I am right about this then I will need to apologize to you every day for the rest of my life. Because I made a mistake and… if I did, then I have cost you and your family dearly."
"What has you so convinced?" she said after a moment.
"I know what my own work looks like, Isobel. I'm sorry to tell you that I teased a pound of shrapnel out of your son's lower back and spine, but I did, and I tended the wounds and I know what it bloody well looked like." He put his hand to his brow. "I'm sorry to snap at you… but the scars on his lower back are identical. I remember Matthew's more than most because he got up out of the wheelchair and I saw him after the war." He began to pace around the room. "I'd read of cases…. Where if someone was so cold that they appear dead…"
Isobel waited a long moment. "You believe that this man is Matthew?" She looked at him, intently. "Phillip, admit it here, to me. Do you think my son is sitting in my kitchen?"
He waited a long moment. "I'm sorry, I do. I think I didn't feel a pulse on his body because he'd been lying on cold wet ground for hours, and he wasn't bleeding for the same reason. He woke up hours, possibly even a day later, when someone on the staff was…going through his pockets looking for money, or jewelry, and panicked and ran out the door to the train yard. And jumped onto a freight car… and ended up god knows where."
Isobel was quiet for a long moment. "Who did we bury? How can we prove this if he doesn't remember anything?"
Clarkson shrugged. "I didn't look in the casket. No one did. There was a pauper, a woman that died about the same time. There are two things we can do. We could… have the body exhumed."
Isobel cringed. "If we're wrong, Mary would never forgive me. What is the other option?"
"Matthew was an officer in the army. He was fingerprinted. It's a new science but Scotland Yard has used it to identify people." He hesitated. "We would have to involve Robert. Or rather, someone would tell Robert that I had asked for Matthew's prints to be checked. It would be better all-around if Robert knew what we were doing."
"And if we're right, we're handing Robert a monstrous problem in the form of an heir that doesn't remember his own name." Isobel's voice shook. "He doesn't even know me."
"If I am right, that will change, Isobel." Clarkson took her hand. "This….amnesia…. usually fades quickly because the person who has it is usually surrounded by reminders of their past and people who want them to remember. It has lasted so long because wherever he ended up, no one knew him, so no one could help him. As soon as he was presented with something familiar, he sought it out. Right now though, we have to be very careful. We both could be wrong. I think, from speaking with him, that he's not lying, but we do have to consider that possibility. It wouldn't be the first time someone tried claiming amnesia to gain the estate. I will have to tell Robert, to get his help, but I think we both know that he won't want Mary to know about the possibility until we're certain. He can't stay here with you. Your maid won't be able to keep a secret like this, it's lucky she was off this afternoon. And… we were both so quick to deny the possibility that he is Matthew that he feels he shouldn't stay."
"What? Why?" Isobel asked.
Clarkson sighed. "Because you're a grieving mother and he looks like your dead son, and he feels it would be cruel to stay and act as a reminder. I think I can provide a solution. I will take him to my house. I don't have servants, there's plenty of odd jobs I could have him do so he doesn't feel like we're offering charity. There's nothing unusual with you visiting my home, and we can try providing reminders about his life while the finger prints are checked. I think if we tell him about the finger prints, that I think he was in the war and could be identified that way, that he would be willing to stay, just to have it checked out."
It was very nice of the doctor to look into things for him. He didn't know that he believed them, that despite how they told him that he couldn't be Matthew Crawley, that maybe he was. He wondered to himself, more than once in the last four days, if it wasn't wishful thinking on their part. He was willing to stay until it was clear they were grasping at straws and until it was clear he was being given make work and not real work.
Fortunately Dr. Clarkson was pretty typical for someone who didn't have a valet or a maid. There were plenty of chores around the house that had obviously been left for years, and if it was just a respite, then he was more than willing to get the place in some semblance of order in exchange for a few days where he didn't have to worry about where he was going to sleep or whether he could afford more than one meal a day. Indoor work was pleasant work. Nicer by far than shoveling asphalt. And the doctor wasn't like the lord at the estate. He didn't want unpleasant things.
He was finishing up shining the doctor's shoes when Mrs. Crawley entered the pantry. "I let myself in," she said as he stood up. "What are you doing?"
"I was shining Dr. Clarkson's shoes," he easily as he resumed his seat. He examined the shoes carefully. "I'm surprised he let these go… People always look at a doctor's shoes to see how respectable he is. A doctor with dirty shoes might have dirty hands and who wants a doctor with dirty hands?" He wasn't sure where that came from but it made him smile.
Mrs. Crawley kept smiling but he sensed something was wrong. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment. "Did I offend you?"
"No," she said, although she was clearly composing herself. "It's just that… your father used to say that. You would help him shine his shoes every night when you were little…"
He didn't like chiding her, because she had been very kind. "You're not supposed to say things like that, Mrs. Crawley. Dr. Clarkson said not to suggest things." But it felt right. For an instant, he was in a different place, where a kindly older man was showing him how to rub the polish on the leather. "You're probably wrong. It seems very unlikely that I am your son."
"I know," she said after a long moment. "Actually we should find out today. Lord Grantham called Dr. Clarkson out to the estate to look at the findings on the finger prints."
Which meant the easy work would soon end. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment. "This must be very painful. Having the death of your son dragged up."
"You seem quite convinced you're not my son," she said after a moment. "What if it was true? If the finger prints match then… there's really no doubt. What you told Dr. Clarkson, about your first memories on waking up, it does coincide. What if your name isn't just Matthew, but Matthew Crawley?"
He set down the shoes. It was difficult to consider. "I don't know. You're the one getting the bad bargain if that happens. If it is true, nothing really changes for me. I still don't remember anything, and you'd be burdened with a son who is a mental and physical cripple. Damaged goods, really." God knows he'd been told that often enough. People were always telling him how useless and stupid he was.
"You shouldn't say such things," she said after a moment. "To begin with, a child is never a burden and if it is true, then I would take it as a blessing because the alternative is much worse. Second, regardless of who you are, you aren't a cripple, or damaged goods. You work very hard, you're very polite and respectful and your hand doesn't seem to trouble you much."
"I could be a shoeshine boy," he said. He picked up the shoes and gave them a swipe. "I used to shine the other boys shoes at Eton for pocket money…."
The memory rose up in his thoughts as though he'd suddenly leapt off a cliff and grabbed it going down. "Because I was on a king's scholarship and the other boys weren't always kind about it, and Patrick would tease me about being his poor cousin, and I didn't like asking for money because Father was ill… and then he died and I didn't want…." He stopped. The memory was there but oddly, he felt strange admitting it. Because…
"And you didn't want me to worry," she finished. "You know, I'm convinced now, Matthew."
"That doesn't mean anything," he said as he resumed polishing the shoes. "A lot of people go to Eton. I know, because of how I speak, that I was educated." He had heard that often enough, along with a lot of laughter how stupid he was to speak so well and know nothing.
"It seems unlikely that many of them were on scholarship and had a nasty cousin named Patrick," Isobel said after a moment. "But I will wait for the finger print report."
Robert dropped to the chair and stared at the report. "How could this happen?" He waved his hand at Clarkson as the man began to speak. "Don't explain the sequence of events, I did understand the preposterous story you told me. I just thought you were indulging Isobel through some sort of grieving collapse. But this…."He checked to make sure the door to the library was still closed. "Matthew is alive."
"Yes." Clarkson said it softly. "But he is not himself, Robert."
Robert stood up. "Then I need to see him." If just to assess the damage and see how best to present it to the family. He waited a long moment. "What?"
"I told you before, that he didn't remember anything about his life. Even his name was lost to him. He won't know you, Lord Grantham. You have to prepare yourself for that." Clarkson said.
"But he could get better?" Robert was certain he recalled Clarkson saying something about that.
"Yes, he could, and he most likely will once we start reinforcing what he does remember, but… you need to accept that there is a possibility he won't. You also need to accept that until he does remember more clearly, his mannerism and reactions will be different." Clarkson hesitated. "I can't give you orders but… you will want to go slowly."
"I will see him today." There were times when it paid to be the lord of the manor. He didn't plan to demand answers from a man as physically and mentally fragile as Clarkson described, but if he was going to completely throw the family into disarray, he had to see the man. Robert waited until they were ensconced in Clarkson's car before he asked more questions. "Why are you so worried? This is good news."
Clarkson didn't take his eyes off the road. "Lord Grantham… I made a horrific error, worse that it's the second time I've failed your son in law in such a terrible way. Matthew has suffered dearly for it. He has spent the last year of his life wandering from place to place doing odd jobs for money. I'm taking you to see him, and he may very well be frightened of you. In fact, I am quite certain he'll be frightened of you."
"Frightened? Why?" Matthew had never been a timid man.
"People aren't very kind to vagrants who can't even tell you their name. He explained that to me quite succinctly when I attempted to trick him into revealing his motivations. There are problems his situation causes." Clarkson gave him a glance. "The lower classes have little pity for members of the upper class who fall on hard times. We know Matthew was an educated man, but if he doesn't remember his name, he can't take advantage of that education. But he sounds educated so upper class employers are off put by it and lower class employers think he's arrogant and putting on airs. His left hand is a bit… badly healed so skilled labor was out. I'm under the impression he's mostly been working as a laborer and farm hand."
"Well, that's certainly awful, but not shameful." Robert said. "I won't blow up at him. If he couldn't remember his own name, then he did the best he could and we will all thank God it wasn't worse." His mother would have plenty to say about it, but he rather hoped the good news would ease the concern about a scandal.
"It was worse. He was put in a work house at least twice, probably more, and was brutally beaten by someone on an estate for mishandling a horse." Clarkson paused. "He's learned by very unpleasant lessons that people in authority like you are likely to be unpleasant and unkind to him. I meant it, Lord Grantham, when I said he won't know you. I think the memories are there, I think I've seen some progress between Isobel and him… He doesn't like to admit it because we were so blunt to him that it couldn't possibly be true, but he has remembered some things about her, but he hasn't connected that he's related to you."
"What about Mary? And George?" That was the next problem. George of course wouldn't mind but Mary had finally turned the corner of grief, only to find out this, that Matthew was alive. Alive and damaged in a way that would be very awkward. She will need to deal with it, he decided, as will I, and everyone else. As upsetting as it was, it was also good news. It was possible that Matthew could recover. There were worse things.
"Lord Grantham," Clarkson took a deep breath. "He doesn't know them. Until about seven days ago, he didn't know that his name was Matthew, let alone Matthew Crawley. You mustn't expect much."
Isobel was waiting at the door of Clarkson's small house. She clearly had guessed the news Clarkson was bringing and gave the man a teary hug. "We were talking while waiting and … he remembered something about Reginald."
"That's a good sign," Clarkson said, "Especially since the finger prints are a match. Lord Grantham is here to see him and talk with him.
Isobel looked at him, oddly nervous. "Robert, he won't know who you are beyond the fact that we told him we were asking you for help. We intentionally didn't tell him as a sort of failsafe."
"Because," Clarkson said, "We were both worried that we were wrong, that we were looking at a man who just resembled Matthew. Until we were certain that he was Matthew, I thought it wiser to not tell him that he was your heir, in case he was…. Well, attempting some sort of scam. Now that we're certain, we can give him more information and reinforce things that he does remember."
"And you should let us tell him, Robert," Isobel said. "Before you interrogate him."
Robert gave up at that point and acquiesced. He knew the look in Isobel's eyes, despite having not seen it in over a year. Matthew was her son and she was going to protect him. He waited patiently in Clarkson's small parlor, and considered all the potential problems. He would need to involve the authorities. The fingerprints would be enough but people would ask questions so at some point he would need to track where Matthew had been for an entire year. The grave would need to be exhumed. Clarkson had already given him the names of the staff at the hospital that he suspected of being thieves and they would need to be questioned.
And Mary, who was currently in London, having lunch with Tony Gillingham… he had no idea how she would react. The minutes ticked by.
Isobel and Clarkson entered the parlor. They both looked quite happy but also nervous. "We've told him," Isobel said, her voice trembling. She was close to tears of joy. "And that you want to see him… Robert, please be kind with what you tell him. Promise me that."
"Of course, Isobel. Now where are you hiding him?"
They were hiding him in the kitchen, of course. It was a shock, as Matthew jumped to his feet like one of the servants, to see him, in plain laborer clothes, and an expression on his face that was somewhere between shock and fear. "I'm sorry," Matthew said nervously as he gestured at the report, his hands shaking. "I was just looking over the fingerprint report… I didn't think it would be true. You must be Lord Grantham." He held out his hand and looked down at his feet.
Robert shook his hand. "We've met, Matthew. Please sit down." He wasn't certain Matthew was capable of standing, truth be told. The poor fellow looked worse than he had during the war, pale, sickly, and too thin by far. But it was Matthew, of that he was certain.
"We've met?" Matthew nodded worriedly as he took a seat at the table. "Of course we've met and I don't remember. I'm sorry."
Robert chuckled, despite the situation. "I'm sorry, but for someone who's been given a piece of good news, you look very upset."
Matthew looked down at the report. "It's good news, of course… I just… feel like I have handed a very nice lady a tremendous burden in the form of a useless son."
Ironic, Robert thought, that I've heard this before, only the last time he was in a wheelchair. "You're not useless, and Dr. Clarkson and Isobel both think you've already had some memory return. It is a blessing that you're alive, Matthew."
Matthew looked at him quizzically. "You've said that to me before…"
"Yes," Robert said, "and under much worse circumstances. You do not have to be concerned about Isobel feeling burdened."
"But why… I mean…" It was strange, Robert thought, to see someone as quick-witted as Matthew struggle so hard, and yet it seemed important to let him struggle, to work it out on his own. Then Matthew blinked, as if a light had gone on. "We're related, aren't we? It's distant… Patrick used to brag about it, when he wasn't teasing me about being his poor cousin. You're the Earl but you had nothing but daughters so Patrick was your heir…. Is that… is that right?"
"Yes," Robert said, thankful that the man he knew was inside. Thankful and relieved. Clarkson had made it sound like there was nothing but a shell of the man he'd known. "I just didn't know that you didn't like Patrick." In fact it had never even dawned on him that Matthew had been at Eton the same time Patrick had attended but they were of an age.
"No, I didn't mention it…" Again he seemed to struggle to find the thought. "Because… he died, and it seemed churlish of me to mention something that happened when we were school boys… and all of your daughters liked him and despised me because I became your heir…." His face whitened. "This is a terrible burden for you, then. You must have had to find another heir… was there anyone left? How terrible for them…"
"Your son became my heir," Robert said gently. "I'm sure he won't mind waiting."
"My son?" Matthew turned an off grey. "I don't…. I'm sorry, I am sure you're telling me the truth but… I can't even imagine who I would have married…. I have a son I don't remember. And a wife. What a terrible father and husband I am."
Clarkson stepped into the kitchen. Robert realized suddenly that the man had been listening the entire time. "Matthew," Clarkson said gently, "Your son was born the day you had the car accident that injured you. You are remembering things, and I think you will remember a great deal more in the next few days and weeks, but you may find your earlier memories come more easily at first. That certainly doesn't make you a bad father or husband." He poured Matthew a cup of tea. "Why don't you drink that, and give yourself a moment to think about the news, while I talk to Lord Grantham about what will be happening next."
He followed Clarkson to the parlor. "It's very good," Clarkson said reassuringly, "what just happened. It means whatever happened in his head, the memories are still there, its matter of accessing them. He might not directly remember things but you're being familiar is letting him connect." He gave both Robert and Isobel a long look. "But what I said to him is also true; it's much more likely that he will remember older memories first. You will need to mindful of that because you're likely to overwhelm him with information." He looked at Robert carefully. "You intend to take him to Downton Abbey, right away, I can tell, and I strongly suggest you wait. Let him stay here tonight at least and get used to the idea that his life is dramatically different. He is badly shocked, Lord Grantham."
Robert nodded. "You're right. My first thought was to throw him in the car and take him to Mary… and now that I think about it, that might end terribly." At Isobel's look, he added, "He recalled that I have several daughters, none of whom like him. It might be a bit of a shock to find out he married the one that liked him the least at the start."
Isobel actually laughed. "It did take them long enough, didn't it? But I think Dr. Clarkson is right, Robert. And you'll need to tell the family."
"Then…. You will have him here for several days. Time enough to get him something more respectable to wear and time enough for me to get Mary back from London." Because god knows the last thing that needed to be added to the mix was annoyed suitors.
It was very strange for Papa to insist she cut a visit in London short. She had almost argued with him, but she had sensed a certain intensity in his voice that made her worry. Instead, she made her apologies to Tony Gillingham, who had graciously offered to escort her, but she had turned him down. She had the sense that it was some sort of family issue. Tony wasn't family, yet.
So she wasn't surprised that Robert had them all called into the library. Such a house of women for Papa, she thought suddenly, as she looked at Cora, Violet, Edith and Rose. Tom was there, of course, but it was almost as if he was a stand in for the specter of Sybil. Poor Papa, she thought suddenly, with Matthew dead, Edith unmarried, and Sybil married to an Irish chauffer. It couldn't have been easy for him, she realized that his walk through life had been far more difficult than she ever considered. But when she looked in his eyes, while he was worried, it wasn't bad news. It eased her mind.
She was surprised when he began pouring stiff cordials for all of them, and made a show of handing them all generous drinks. Hard liquor was rarely handed to the women and even her mother seemed shocked. He also had a sheaf of papers that he tapped pensively.
"So," he said carefully, as he sipped his own drink. "I have good news, and it is good news although there is plenty of difficulty attached to it." He looked at her. "Mary, please sit down."
She didn't sit. "Why, Papa?"
"Just… sit down and take a drink, Mary." He actually waited until she took a seat and sipped the drink. "As I said… it is good news but difficult." He took position near her. "There's no way to break this gently so I will be blunt. Matthew is alive."
She waited a moment. "What?"
Her father sipped his drink. "I know that's a shock, but it's true and I have seen him. Matthew is alive. He is badly damaged and he may not fully recover but he is alive and we will… need to make adjustments."
There were gasps all around, including her own but she forced it away. "Papa, what do you mean? And please don't treat me like a delicate woman. You've just said my husband that I buried a year ago is alive. Considering you insisted you and his mother saw his body and I wasn't to look… I need answers."
Her father took another long drink. "It was freezing cold that night, and Matthew was found in a wet gully after lying there for hours. Dr. Clarkson says there are cases where if someone is injured and very cold, their… their pulse becomes very faint, almost indiscernible. Dr. Clarkson thought Matthew was dead. He was put in the cold storage and woke up when some thieves were going through his pockets. He... had no memory of himself, Mary. He panicked when the thieves ran and saw an empty box car at the rail yard and got in… frankly he's been wandering from place to place since, with no idea what his name was or where he was from. He ended up in Manchester about a month ago and an elderly woman recognized him and gave him Isobel's address. Isobel was admittedly skeptical but called Dr. Clarkson, who identified Matthew by the surgical scars on his back and they asked me to have his fingerprints compared to his war record to be certain. I thought they were both mad, which was why I hadn't spoken about it. I thought… I thought Isobel was having some sort of breakdown and I didn't want to burden the family with it. I contacted the authorities to have the fingerprints checked to prove them wrong, and… I was wrong. The experts at Scotland Yard insist it's a match. And… I've seen him. I've seen him, Mary. I've talked with him… Isobel and Clarkson were right to have the fingerprints checked, to be certain, but… he is alive."
"Then… "She gulped down a swallow of her drink, "then why didn't you bring him home?" She didn't even realize it until after that her mother had taken a seat beside her and was holding her free hand. "Why isn't he here right now?"
"Because he genuinely remembers very little of his life, Mary. I was worried bringing him here without warning you all… we would overwhelm him and make his confusion and worry worse. Until ten days ago, he didn't know his name was Matthew. When I checked with Isobel today, before I gathered you all, she said he had remembered some things from his childhood and that he was fairly convinced, based on Cousin Patrick having a streak of cruelty in Eton that I hadn't realized, and some fleeting memories of those early dinners where everyone sneered at him, that no one in the family liked him and are surely to resent him even more now that he presents a difficult problem. He's quite convinced he's a useless invalid and a burden."
"Is he?" Mary asked. "I'm not asking to be cruel, Papa. You said…. When you wouldn't let me see the body, that it was better I didn't see, I always assumed… that he was quite mangled. And Matthew himself never liked the idea of seeing a loved one dead. He told me the image of his father he remembered most was his father in a casket and he didn't want to remember anyone else he loved that way. That's why I didn't insist. Is he crippled?" He was alive, she thought suddenly. Crippled was nothing compared to the last year.
"I think," Robert said reassuringly, "that he's being far too harsh on himself, as always. Some of the fingers on his left hand don't open, his wrist doesn't bend like it should, but he seems to grip and pick things up well enough. Nothing that would have troubled him as a lawyer. There are some scars but nothing terribly visible. The problem is that since he couldn't remember his name or his position, he couldn't use the skills he had and with a bad hand could hardly do skilled labor. I think it's been very difficult for him to get by, with no references, no name to give, and a dodgy looking hand. I'm certain he's been cruelly treated, I only have to look at how quickly some people turn on the unfortunate. "
"How terrible," Violet said, "that people would be so cruel to someone like Matthew."
"But that's just it, Grandmama," Edith said suddenly. "They wouldn't know it was Matthew. If he didn't know his name, and they hadn't met him before, they would just see a poor lost man with an injury that was probably from the war. And there's so many of those. It must have been dreadful for him."
Robert nodded. "If anything, Mary, to answer your question, I think it is his spirit that has been mangled. He's spent the last year living on the edge of society with no one so much as giving him a kind glance, and being told he's not good for anything other than jobs that no one else is willing to take. I think that's the damage that will be difficult to heal."
"Oh Papa…." She felt her mother grip her hand reassuringly, and appreciated it. "But if he is otherwise well, then being surrounded by family should help. And Dr. Clarkson said his memories were returning? He can recover?"
"Dr. Clarkson said it was possible but that it could take time, a lot of time, and there are no guarantees." Her father took a seat beside her and put his arm around her shoulder. "Mary, this is joyous news but you must be prepared for the harsh reality. When I bring him to the house tomorrow, he most likely won't recognize you. He didn't recognize me until something triggered in his mind and just seeing you may not provide a spark. He has seen Isobel every day for the last five days and he still calls her Mrs. Crawley because he's not remembering his own mother in any meaningful way. If he does remember you, he will likely remember something from when you first met."
"Where I was horrid to him," Mary said, feeling suddenly cold.
"Where we were all horrid to Matthew," Cora said sagely. "If he has unpleasant memories of first meeting us, it's because we hardly covered ourselves with glory. Let us consider this a fresh start." She looked at Robert. "You should invite Isobel to stay with us until Matthew is well. If it were one of my children with such an injury, I would not want to be separated until I was certain of recovery."
"Of course," Robert said. He stood up and gestured to the amassed group. "You must all be prepared for the fact that he will act differently. I found him almost shy and nervous seeming. Skittish. As if he is fearful that he's giving offense. He doesn't look well, he is very thin and pale looking."
"Does he know that he has a son? That he's married and has a child?" She made a point of not sounding angry even though she could see the truth on her father's face.
"I told him that he has a son and that he is married, and he called himself a terrible father and husband for not remembering, despite the reality that he's not at fault. He is very fragile, Mary." Robert seemed poised to chastise her.
Despite it all, she laughed. "Papa, isn't that Matthew in fine order? Not at fault but blaming himself for something that can't be helped."