Author's note – The Master of Hounds is a sequel to The Fox Hunt. That means its rate M because of all the rape, not because there's fun sexy times. There will be some frank sex talk at times and since this is a 1920s setting, not everyone is going to react to rape victims or homosexuality with 2015 sensibilities. This isn't dark for the sake of being dark, its mostly that I think a)bringing a dead character back to life should have some difficulties and b) the events of The Fox Hunt should have some ramifications to more than just Matthew and Mary.
Sometimes, when he was walking about the estate, or going over the books with Robert and Tom, or bantering with Mary at the dinner table, he completely forgot the accident, and the impending trial. Sometimes, especially when he was playing with George, it was easy to ignore that he had missed an entire year of the child's life. And sometimes, when he was in a receiving line greeting guests that everyone was certain he hadn't met before, and he was completely certain he had, then it was next to impossible to ignore.
"Lord Eddington, it's a pleasure to meet you," Matthew said stiffly. He held out his hand to the older gentleman. Eddington shook his hand and let go. For a moment. Matthew took pleasure in the obvious terror in the man's eyes, and then shook it off. Eddington had his wife and eligible daughter in tow and a gangly teenage boy of a son no doubt wearing his first set of evening dress. It wasn't worth it, he decided. All I would do is destroy a family publically. "Lady Mary tells me you and Countess Eddington are great patrons of the arts." I won't make a scene if you won't, he mentally added to the statement.
Eddington nodded, almost white with surprise. "Thank you," he said almost breathlessly.
"I told you," Lady Eddington said brightly, "that Lord Grantham wouldn't invite us to dine unless young Mr. Crawley was quite well." She smiled at him pleasantly. "Harold was worried that we were imposing. Silly, I said. People don't send out the invite if they aren't up for guests."
"Quite right," he said easily. No one would appreciate it if he raised up the truth. It caused nothing but pain to the wife, son, and daughter, and god knows it did no good. He said his name was Malcom, Matthew thought as the Eddingtons moved down the receiving line. Some of the guests at the Duke's estate used fake names, he realized that once his memory had returned. He had just never really considered the ramifications of that. It was a shock. He had never met Lord Eddington as himself. It was also off putting to realize that Lord Eddington used his son's name when on weekend vacations to bacchanalian parties at Crowborough Place. Judging by Lady Eddington's pleasant words, she likely had no idea that her husband had ever socialized more than casually with the Duke.
Still, as much as it wasn't worth it to make a scene, he dearly wanted to. It would just ruin everything. That meant he had to continue to smile pleasantly all throughout the small dinner party and not glare daggers at the man. It was more difficult to drink scotch after dinner with the man while Robert nattered on about the estate's new modern cottages. It got unbearable as Malcom the teenage boy expressed an interest in one of Robert's favorite writers and Robert had to delight in taking the boy to the shelves where his signed copy was, leaving Matthew alone with Eddington.
Eddington glanced nervously at Robert and his son at the shelves on the other side of the large room and then said softly, "Please don't expose me."
Matthew gritted his teeth. "I obviously have no intention of doing such a thing, Lord Eddington. Exposing you, as much as you do deserve it, does nothing but destroy your life and mine along with it. So shut your mouth and be grateful I have more concern for your wife and children than you ever had for mine." At least, he thought darkly as the older man looked down into his drink, he has enough decency to feel some shame.
Finally, Eddington nodded. "I deserve that. For what it's worth, I had no idea who you were. We never met… My wife attended some events here during the war but I never…"
"Shut up," Matthew said simply. "What you did… it shouldn't have mattered if you knew who I was. So shut your mouth and pray that the Duke doesn't make a death bed confession. Because he's the type to do it out of spite." And Eddington deserved to share that worry, if there couldn't be any other revenge.
"Oh god…" Eddington paled and then took a long drink. Robert came back with young Malcom in tow, smiling with pleasure.
"You have a fine son," Robert said pleasantly. "I was never so clever at his age. Malcom, you should chat Matthew up. Matthew went to Oxford, you know. He should be able to give you a better conversation than I."
Hard to believe that chit chatting with a nervous 16 year old about academic life was the best part of the evening, but he allowed it was better than attempting conversation with the boy's father. He rather felt sorry for Robert, stuck with Eddington, who was too worried to do much more than nod, but Robert had dealt with worse conversationalists.
It was Mary who seemed to sense something was off but she waited until after they were alone that evening in their bedroom to start the interrogation. "Lord Eddington was as quiet as a mouse all through dinner. Even his wife thought it was odd." She took off her robe and climbed into bed, folding the covers over to invite him to join her.
He doubted she'd be in the mood after he told why Eddington had been so quiet. On the other hand, it wasn't worth lying about. "I think," he said as he got into bed next to her, "that he was trying to avoid having an unpleasant secret about his life be discussed at the dinner." Which made it even more ironic that Lady Eddington, who hadn't been able to attend their Christmas party that was now *the* party to have been to, was full of not terribly subtle questions about what happened.
Mary rolled up on an elbow to look at him, her expression somewhere between concerned and angry. "You told me you didn't know him, that it was fine to invite him to dinner…"
"I'd never met Lord Eddington, that's true but…" he sighed as she waited for an answer. "He used a different name. At Crowborough Place."
She frowned and rolled back onto her pillow. "I'm sorry," she said after a long moment. "This must have been hideous for you."
He put his arm around her. "It was just… Painfully awkward. And surprising. It never even dawned on me that people weren't using their real names." That was something he had never considered beyond the abstract. With his memory returned, if occasionally touchy, he knew when someone mentioned a name, to consider if it was a name he knew.
She hugged him tightly. "Did he hurt you?"
"Not… Not the way you think." He struggled to find a way to make her understand but he suspected it was next to impossible. "This isn't an easy topic."
"I know," Mary said after a long moment. "And truth be told, I'm terrible to share with because all I want to do is tear everyone who hurt you limb from limb, because it horrifies me so that anyone would hurt you for any reason. But… it's never going to stop being awkward unless you talk about it." She pulled him close. "I'm always imagining the worst…"
"This wasn't the worst," he said gently. "I've told you about the worst." The worst was that last night, in the field, and she knew about it, because he had told her. "There was never anything worse than that."
"I believe you," she said, her voice soft. "I also believe that the very worst you were injured in the war was that last battle where your back was hurt and you spent close to a year unable to walk. That was the very worst you were hurt then, and yet I can remember how desolate and worried, and yes, hurt, you were before that, when you were on leave." She pulled him close and held him. "Just because it wasn't the worst thing, it doesn't mean that he didn't hurt you. Tell me. I know the worst already."
"I just… I feel so stupid. That I allowed it." His face burned with shame.
"You were injured so badly, you didn't know your name. When you were injured in the war, was it your fault your legs didn't work?" For someone who had spent her entire life living in the lap of luxury, he could still marvel at how pragmatic she was. "You were hurt and we had to help you heal and until you did, you needed a wheelchair. No one blamed you for not being able to walk… Except perhaps you, yourself, and you've always been too hard on yourself. This is no different. When Papa brought you home to us…"
"Yes, I know, he lectured everyone on how to act since I was such a miserable mess," he finished for her.
"While yes, that happened, that wasn't my point," Mary's voice held a hint of sternness. "My point was that you were hurt, and we had to help you heal, and until you were better, no one blamed you for being nervous, or going down to the kitchen instead of ringing the bell and breaking every dish in the process. Because you were hurt. So tell me what he did."
Matthew sighed. "It's what I did. I broke a teacup."
He knew it was going to fall even as he grabbed for it. The delicate cup dropped to the floor and broke. "I'm so sorry, your grace," he cried as he dropped to his knees. Please don't be shattered, he prayed, and for once he saw he had some luck. Just five pieces.
"You stupid bloody oaf, have you broken something again?" His grace turned to the guest he'd been chatting with, an older man he'd been told to call Mr. Malcom and shrugged. "John here is my newest acquisition, and my prettiest by far but for all he's been a willing student, it seems like we can't go a meal without a broken dish. How many pieces is it, John?"
"Five, your grace," he said quickly. "I'm sorry, your grace."
His Grace smiled. "Of course you're sorry. But we're at the start of the meal, so your punishment will need to wait." The man smiled. "It'll be part of the dessert course. You'll need to remember how many strokes of the crop you're due. If you forget, you get double. Does that seem fair, John?"
"Yes, yes your grace," he said quickly. It was kind, the master of the house always tried to help him with his flaws. And five… I have five fingers on my hand, I can remember that. Five smacks with the riding crop, even if it was Hightower, that wasn't that bad. It was relief enough that he was able to focus on the service and not worry.
Five, he repeated to himself as he held the tray for Mr. Malcom, Five fingers, five pieces.
"Is he a half wit?" Mr. Malcom asked. "Your estate is genius, you're lucky to be in a position to indulge, but you didn't seem…. Forgive me, the charitable type."
"Oh you're quite right, on both counts," his grace answered. "I'm not charitable at all and everyone in this household earns their keep one way or another. No, my foxy little project is damaged goods. A pretty package with just enough going on upstairs that he can manage simple tasks. Sometimes he even learns new things. You should try him tonight."
Mr. Malcom looked curious. "Well, if he's simple, isn't that a bit unkind?"
His grace laughed. "Oh Malcom, it's so much easier when they're simple. He's not my first, you know. There's less whining and intrigue for starters. You don't even have to worry about him remembering you were here. He's quite broken to the tasks of the bedroom. It's quite fun really, a partner who does exactly what he's told."
"Intriguing for a night's delight, but how do you get such obedience?" Mr. Malcom asked.
"When they're simple, it's just a matter of reinforcing your orders with punishment. In this particular case, whatever damaged him effects his mind to the point that he genuinely remembers very little of what he's told, but lessons reinforced with a good cuffing or a few strokes of the crop seem to stick. Don't worry, he's like a constantly cleaned slate board. Let me demonstrate. John, come here."
He stepped over to the table. "How may I help you, your grace?"
"Just answer some questions for me, John. And don't worry, you're not in trouble…" His grace smiled at him. "John, how long have you been here?"
He felt his fear increase. It was the game the servants teased him with. They laughed at him and hit him when his answers were, as the cook put it, too stupid to be believed. "I… I don't know, your grace."
"What day is it?"
That was easier. There was a guest so it was Friday or Saturday. He guessed. "Friday, your grace."
Both Malcom and the master chuckled. "Who were we talking about just now?"
The worst part about the question was that he knew he should know the answer but he didn't. Because he'd been concentrating on five. Five fingers, five pieces, five strikes from the crop. "I don't know, your grace." He trembled. Too many bad answers always led to hitting.
Instead of striking him, his grace smirked. "Let me give you an easy one. What is your duty?"
That was easy. "To do what I'm told, your grace."
"And if I told you to drop to your knees and pleasure me, the way you've been taught, would you?"
Another easy question. He didn't like the task his grace was talking about, but it was a far easier thing than having Hightower punch him over and over and then force him to do it to both his grace and Hightower. He'd learned that particular lesson all too well. "Yes, your grace."
His grace nodded and gestured at him to Mr. Malcom. "You see? All he knows is what we tell him."
Malcom nodded. "It's like having a biddable child in the body of a man, an astonishingly handsome man at that. I must admit, I am tempted by your offer."
"Then please accept." His grace turned to him. "Tonight, after your punishment, which I will administer, you'll attend Mr. Malcom with his bedroom… duties. Is that understood?"
"Yes, your grace," he said, with no small relief. His grace had a lighter hand with the crop than Hightower.
Mary was silent for a long moment. It made him worry. He didn't want to keep secrets from her, and he didn't want her worrying, but the odds were that it would happen again, that someone who had abused him while he was in the throes of his amnesiac stupor would be invited to dine at Downton. They were on borrowed time anyway, he was certain that the real story would come out at the trial. He was absolutely certain the reality of how he had been in those early months would be publicized, the prosecutor had said as much, that he'd be picked apart on the stand because he'd been little better than a dullard. The jury would have to know how incapable he was in order to understand why he didn't leave. It was better that she knew it now, than having her find out at the trial.
Finally she said softly, "That's…. not as awful as the time in the field, I will grant you that, but…" She pulled him close. "I didn't realize, about the dishes. What happened if the cup had shattered?"
He tensed. It was veering towards even more unpleasant memories. "If it shattered, if there were too many pieces to count, then I'd get one hundred strokes with the riding crop."
"One hundred?" She said it almost with a gasp of surprise.
"It never… It never really went that far." Another awkward place to go, but more embarrassing than anything else. "I had to count the blows and…. To be honest, counting over ten was very difficult for months after the accident." Much like keeping track of the days, or making change, or being certain what happened the day prior, he had struggled with that from the night of the accident until late spring of 1922, when the first floodgate in his mind had opened and he realized that he had worked a whole week without having to ask what day it was or if he had enough money for food. "Once I lost count, everyone would laugh at me and Hightower would hit me until he got tired or bored."
"Which is also awful," Mary said after a long moment. "Did… Lord Eddington abuse you?"
And how to answer that, he wondered. Because the truth was that the man he remembered as Mr. Malcom had been very gentle when alone with him. The man had massaged his bruised shoulders and yes, forced him to have sex in the sense that he'd asked if he felt up to it. The reality of that evening was that he had mostly been grateful that it had been quick, it hadn't hurt because the man had been careful and mindful of the bruises and Eddington had mostly wanted to be held. Most of the guests, if he ignored the actual sex, had been pleasant enough. Some were rougher than others, but most of them had been like Eddington, easy to please once they were ready to say what they wanted. Even Philip, if he was alone, hadn't been especially rough about it. Hightower of course, had always been brutal, and Philip almost always followed his lead but if he had to be honest, as much as he didn't enjoy the acts, the reality was that a night with a guest was almost always easier. He didn't like admitting that to himself, that he had never challenged any of the orders. He had been an officer in the Army and yet all it took to reduce him to total subservience was some mental confusion. Even if they somehow got through the trial without the sodomy being mentioned, there was no way to prevent people from knowing he'd been little better than a feeble halfwit. Even when he remembered it, he sometimes wanted to reach in and shake his past self into some sort of conscious awareness but he knew it would have done no good. Mary was very right about things at times. He had needed time to heal, and until that happened, anyone and everyone could have taken advantage of him. And had done so, including Downton's most recent dinner guests
"Yes," he said finally, "But there's no point in wanting revenge. He is what he is, and exposing him would expose me. I'll never have complete justice, Mary. All exposing Lord Eddington does is ruin his life, the lives of his family, and my life and the lives of my family as well. I know how angry you are, Mary. I know you are my stalwart defender, but nothing good comes from pressing this point."
"I know," she said after a long moment. "I know that it puts you in more danger but anyone who used you like you were an object for their entertainment deserves punishment. That I may not be the one to administer it doesn't mean that I won't relish it when it happens."
That will have to be enough, he thought as he held her.
He suspected what was coming. He was the under butler, not a footman, and while it wasn't outside the realm of reason that Lady Mary would ask for a male servant to accompany her into the village, it was odd that she asked for him specifically. Thomas just marveled at what an unexpectedly good sport she was. Matthew Crawley had taken his advice to heart. They hadn't been alone in a room together since days after the dreadful party. He thought Matthew was overdoing it but Matthew had more to lose and was newer to the game. Having the wife relay his questions was a bit of a surprise, he thought Matthew was more delicate than that.
Lady Mary was quiet until they reached the folly gates. "Barrow, I asked for you to accompany me for a particular reason."
"I assumed as much," he said easily.
"I would ask that… you not discuss what I am about to ask you about with Mr. Crawley." She kept walking steadily as she spoke. "He would be quite… upset that I went to someone else to ask certain questions. At the same time, I think he is struggling a great deal and doesn't need the burden of my concern and curiosity." She gave him a stern look. "I must have your word on this, Barrow."
"You have it, but you must know that most people don't consider my word much reassurance." He didn't intend to blab, the reality was that being in the Crawley household with all the scandal rolling around meant his own secrets could come out, and worse, he'd actually been the lover of Philip, the Duke of Crowborough. He was surprised though. This is all her, he realized, Matthew hasn't sent her with questions.
Lady Mary was quiet for a long moment. "Sybil trusted you. She told me once that you were a good man when you were allowed to be. She thought quite highly of you."
"I miss her," he said. "She… would have provided you with better guidance."
Mary laughed. "She would have chided me for being silly, and then laughed to make me feel better. I miss her too. But she did trust you, Thomas. So I trust you to not tell tales." She waited a moment. "My questions might be… blunt."
"What do you want to ask me?" It was obvious she had questions, he just wasn't sure what sort of answers he was going to give her.
"When… when a man gets on his knees and pleasures another man, what does that entail?" Thomas was surprised to see a blush rise to Mary's face. "I confess… I've listened to more than one ribald discussion, so I have some idea but... Does it mean he used his mouth or his hands to bring another man to arousal?"
Oh god, Thomas thought. "It… could mean both, but it most likely means the first."
"Do…. Men enjoy that? Homosexual men, I mean?" She was surprisingly matter of fact.
Despite himself, he laughed. "I'm sure it's not just homosexual men who like it. Yes, men like it, Lady Mary." And how sad for Matthew Crawley that it was apparently a surprise to his wife. Poor fellow indeed, apparently always on the giving end.
"Have you done it? To another man?" She seemed to curl up inside herself as she asked the question.
"I have. It's not… it's not an unusual request between partners." He was unclear where she was going, truth be told. "I've done it, and I've had it done to me. By the Duke of Crowborough, amongst others. It's… an intimate thing, Lady Mary. Not something I give freely." He hesitated, because it was a difficult thing to say. "I loved Philip. I gave myself to him freely. I knew… That we could never be openly together but I won't lie and say I wasn't angry to be discarded. When he came here, to court you, he… Broke me. He rejected me in a way I'm not sure you can imagine and I always assumed it was my fault that I had pushed too hard." He sighed. "I'm not as good at manipulating people as some might think. "
Mary stopped walking. "I never knew Philip as a monster. That he was a homosexual doesn't shock me, but that he would find treating someone so brutally to be… a source of entertainment, that's what surprises me. Matthew never met him. Any slight or anger he felt towards our family, it was never Matthew that had been unkind. They never even formally met. I know Philip might have been at some large gatherings that Matthew and I attended." She looked at him intently. "I don't pretend to understand why some men and women prefer their own sex, but love is love and if two people are in love then it's their business and not mine. What I don't understand is what pleasure there was in… watching Matthew humiliate himself, or forcing him to submit."
Awkward, Thomas thought, because I do understand the impulse and Lady Mary has the tendency herself. "It's not easy to be what we are, Lady Mary. If we're found out, we're destroyed. Your husband is essentially innocent in all of this and he will be vilified if what really happened is discovered. It sometimes makes it very easy to be angry, because sometimes it seems like everyone around you is happy and living a wonderful life while you have to hide the most important thing about yourself." He wondered if it would make sense to her. "Sometimes, I see myself surrounded by everything I can't have and wishing that just once I had all the power to make people dance for me, instead of having to dance for others. For what it's worth, I don't think Philip sought Mr. Crawley out. I think that was unfortunate chance, that Mr. Crawley turned up on his doorstep in such a state that abusing him was so easy. I mean, they obviously had played their sick games with others."
"I don't understand it," she said after a long moment. She began to walk and he kept pace. "I mean, I'm not a fool and I won't lie and say I've never delighted in being mean to someone. God knows with Lady Edith in Switzerland these last few months, I've been missing my favorite target, but there's a limit." She waited a long moment. "Was he cruel to you?"
A good question, Thomas thought. "Not on this level. I did threaten to expose him, and he destroyed the evidence I had to blackmail him, and he said he'd never be so foolish as to leave evidence again and then… Then I find out he's been running a sort of invite only bacchanalian sex den in the countryside where the highlight of the season is raping and torturing some simple dimwit to death. I clearly didn't know the man as well as I thought." He realized suddenly that he'd gone too far. "I'm sorry, Lady Mary. I didn't mean to be so graphic."
He was surprised to hear her laugh. "Barrow, I've been asking you to confirm whether my husband used his hands or his mouth to bring another man's penis to erection. I clearly am the one being too graphic." She was quiet for a long moment. "I suspect I am trying to find a reason for something that doesn't make sense. If I ignore that it was my husband, I still don't understand the pleasure in it."
"Well, congratulations, Lady Mary, You're not evil." Thomas tried not to laugh. "I'd never thought I'd say that to you, but that's the truth. You don't see the pleasure because you understand that it was cruel." He considered his next words carefully. "If it helps at all, know that whatever humiliation Mr. Crawley might have borne, I think far more highly of him now, because he was unwilling to let the horror continue. I wouldn't have thought any less of him if he had simply decided to push it all away. I'm sure there's any number of things that will be made public that he would prefer people not know about his… condition." He didn't see Matthew as a very prideful man, but there were any number of things other than the sex that were going to turn the man's life into a living hell. He remembered all too well the cringing, flinching mess of a man Matthew had been when he first returned. It was easy to imagine how much worse it had been early on when the man had been barely functional. People already found it hilarious that the heir to an earldom had been in and out of workhouses when he wasn't working as a laborer because he'd been rendered daft from blows to the head. If the sex didn't come out, and he was certain that they were kidding themselves about that, then the Duke's lawyer would see to it that Matthew's mental state was discussed in humiliating detail.
"I do know," Mary said carefully.
"You'd prefer that he let it go?" It didn't surprise him. People rarely gave the woman credit for being clever. It was all well and good that Matthew wanted to do the right thing, he respected the choice, but he didn't see it ending well.
She shook her head. "There was no way he could let it go. An important part of being married, Barrow, is knowing what not to ask of your husband. As much as this trial will hurt him, it would hurt him more to know that Philip was still doing this to other men and he could have stopped it and didn't. I couldn't ask that of him. Which means this," and she gestured all around, "is just a reprieve and soon enough the entire family will be social pariahs and Matthew will have the reputation of a mentally incompetent dullard who is also most likely a ponce."
"At least you'll still be titled and rich, Lady Mary."
"Yes, there's always that."