He's moping again, staring blankly at his food, looking forlorn and guilty, a shadow of the man he should be turning away from the life he wants, the life who currently sits across the table from him, straight spined and impeccably attired.
Mary looks no better.
Richard had taken his leave earlier this afternoon, and there's been a silence about the younger woman that disturbs Isobel, one that differs from her normal demeanor, one that smacks of something very wrong bubbling just under a conjured surface of tranquility.
"Matthew isn't looking well."
It's Violet who speaks as the men rejoin them in the drawing room, prompting Isobel to slide a bit closer to her companion.
"No," she agrees, staring at her son as he takes a seat and sets down his stick. "He's not. And he has no one to blame for it but himself."
Violet sits up straighter at that, leaning conspiratorially in Isobel's direction.
"Mary hasn't set a wedding date, you know. She keeps putting Richard off."
Isobel exhales audibly before setting her drink down on the table.
"She looks utterly miserable, poor dear," she observes. "I'm not certain I've ever seen her looking so pale."
"Excessive pining will do that to a person."
She catches Mary gazing at her son, her barely disguised longing almost tangible from where they sit.
"But it doesn't make any sense," she whispers, looking directly at Violet. "If she doesn't love Richard, why does she stay with him?"
The Dowagers sighs, her sights fixed upon a granddaughter who continues to stand quietly in the recesses of the room.
"If Matthew loves Mary, why doesn't he say anything to her?"
The question stings and smacks of familiarity. It's one she's asked herself countless times, one she finally even posed to her son, only to be brushed off with an answer that carried neither weight nor logic.
"He thinks to do so would be a slight on Lavinia's memory. He believes he deserves to be unhappy."
"Well, that's the most ridiculous notion I've ever heard," Violet counters. "And believe me, I've heard my fair share. One tends to if one dares to engage other people in conversation."
They watch as Mary glides silently towards Matthew, smiling softly as his eyes find hers, sighing in time together as his face fills with her presence.
"I told him Mary was still in love with him," the Dowager states under her breath. "Before that poor girl died. Perhaps that has something to do with his self-imposed misery."
"I love my son," Isobel murmurs. "More than life itself. But he's behaving like an idiotic martyr, punishing himself for surviving when so many others did not."
"And Mary thinks she's securing her future," Violet breathes. "Even if it's a future none of us would ever wish upon her."
"They're wasting valuable time," Isobel continues. "The war should have taught them that, but somehow they're both missing the point."
They watch the pair of would-be lovers dance around each other in so obvious a fashion it's nearly farcical.
"If they've done nothing to move things along by the New Year, we should take matters into our own hands."
Isobel turns to face Violet directly, raising an inquisitive brow in her direction.
"I think that's a splendid idea," she returns. "Do you have anything in mind?"
Mary's laughter tinkles from across the room, the young woman's eyes fixed upon Matthew, his beaming at her with undisguised adoration.
"Well, if nothing else, we could always lock them in one of the guest rooms towards the back of the house."
Isobel's eyes round in surprise, unable to stifle a grin of her own at the look of blatant mischief shining back at her from the Dowager Countess. She picks up her glass, watching as Violet mirrors her actions and extends her drink in Isobel's direction.
"To success," Isobel whispers, swallowing a larger gulp at one time than she has allowed herself all evening.