Mary comes back from London early.
When Matthew receives her letter telling him so, he is immediately enthused, despite the lack of any personal detail in the text. If she were going to refuse him, there would be no point in doing it any earlier than necessary. Surely, then, surely she must want to accept his proposal.
It's only the post script that gives him cause for concern. "If you would meet me at the Abbey on Saturday at ten, there are things I need to discuss with you alone."
Nevertheless, he tries not to think too much of what her response might be. He fails entirely, of course, but he knows that agonising over it will do no good.
He doesn't tell even his mother where exactly he is going on that Saturday morning, instead leading her to believe that he is going to visit a tenant to discuss some technicality or other in Lord Grantham's absence. If one twisted the definition of 'tenant', it could almost be true.
When he arrives at three minutes to ten, he is shown in by William and met by Mary herself. He smiles at her upon seeing her, but she looks merely nervous. His heart sinks.
"Thank you, William," she says quickly, before leading Matthew through to the drawing room.
They sit on opposing chairs, almost as if in preparation for an interview of some sort. Mary opens her mouth, probably to offer him tea or ask some trite question about his work, and so he cuts her off before she can begin.
"You're not going to give me a straight answer, are you?"
She recoils, visibly, but recovers. "Yes. I am. In fact, I'll tell you now…"
His eyes are wide, and he realises that he's leaning forward.
"That is…" She swallows. "Matthew, I would very much like to accept your proposal, but there are things that you need to hear, first."
He settles back. "I see." There is no disguising the bitter disappointment in his voice. "And what are these things?"
But she pauses, and her eyes flick away. She is scared, he recognises.
"Mary," he says, more softly now. "Say what you have to say. Please. I promise that whatever difficulties we face, I will still want you to be my wife." For him, it is that simple. It has always been that simple.
She winces. "Don't promise things that you can't guarantee." For a moment, there is silence. Then, tentatively, she begins. "You remember the affair with Mr Pamuk."
He is slightly taken aback. "The Turkish gentleman, yes, of course."
"Well, you see, there was rather more to it than met the eye."
The pause she leaves is too long. "What is it?" he prompts. "Tell me." He is not sure if he wants to hear the answer.
"I…" She stops, and then meets his eye properly for the first time. "Will you forgive me?" she asks, clearly losing her nerve.
He wants to say yes, but this is Mary. She is proud, she doesn't ask for forgiveness.
"Forgive you?" he repeats, his mind whirling.
Mr Pamuk, who died so suddenly. "You're not suggesting that—"
She blanches. "Oh no, I didn't kill him." He is about to relax when she reconsiders and adds: "at least not deliberately."
All at once, Matthew is feeling hugely out of his depth. "Not deliberately? Mary, what on earth are you talking about?"
"He…" She closes her eyes and turns away. He makes a study of her profile. "That evening, that night, I should say, he came to my bedroom."
Matthew reels in shock.
"I don't know how he knew which was mine," Mary says, unaware of his reaction, continuing as if she has not already struck him with horror.
"To your bedroom?" he chokes. "Were you—"
"In bed, preparing to sleep." She still doesn't look at him. "And he… He was in his nightgown, too."
He appreciates that this is difficult for her, but he cannot stand this dancing around the subject. "He didn't try to—"
"Oh don't, Matthew," she says, turning tormented eyes to him. "It was my fault as much as his."
He is horrified all over again. "Your fault? Do you mean to imply that…"
He cannot finish, and she takes pity. "Yes," she whispers. "Yes."
Silence reigns absolute. Matthew cannot speak. He cannot comprehend what he has just heard.
Mary obviously can take it no longer; she begins to speak louder now, staring at a spot on the wall. "Well? Are you going to withdraw your proposal? You're quite within your rights to do so; Mama would have had me keep it from you, but—"
"I don't know," he manages, and she stops immediately, hanging on his every word, and he cannot bear her deference. He stands, wanders to the window, barely aware that he is moving away from her. "I… Good God, Mary, what were you thinking?"
She snorts delicately. "I don't recall thinking anything much at the time."
He whirls around. "Oh, stop that."
"I'm sorry?" She looks up at him.
"Leave off this act of yours, pretending to be disaffected."
Her eyes are steel. "And you would have me weep?"
"I would have you be honest with me, for once in your life!"
"This is hardly easy for me!" she bursts out, and perhaps now this is honesty: self-obsessed, shallow honesty. He detests it.
"Don't be so selfish; you've had months to get used to the idea—"
"Exactly!" She stands now, moves towards him, mere inches away from him. "Months of growing closer to you and flirting with you and leading you on, all the while knowing that as soon as you knew, you'd—"
"I would what?" he asks darkly. "What exactly do you think of me?"
With that question, something breaks. She turns away. "You would have every right to name me a harlot and disgrace me utterly."
She looks so small. She looks vulnerable. Her eyes are closed, her face turned away in shame. And despite her stillness, Matthew is near enough to see the flutter of too-quick breath in her chest. He has never seen her so broken.
"For God's sake, Mary, do you honestly think I would?" he asks, and although the anger and the hurt are still in his voice, the pain is quieter now.
She doesn't look up. "Does it even matter what I think now?"
Quite suddenly, he realises that this is the moment. This is the moment where he decides what happens to her. To them.
Does it matter what she thinks? She has no power in this situation. She can think as ill of him as she possibly could, and yet he is the one with incontrovertible proof of her ill character. It matters nothing to society, to the family what she thinks, not now, not ever. It matters only to him what she thinks.
And there is his answer.
"It matters if you intend to marry me," he says.
When her gaze meets his, the hope there is desperate. "Then… you're not withdrawing your proposal?"
She wants him. For the very first time, he can truly see that. And yet she still has no faith in him.
"Mary, how can I make this clear to you?" he asks, his conviction growing. "Do you love me enough to spend the rest of your life with me?"
She stares, disbelieving.
"If I didn't, would I be telling you at all?" she says.
It's an answer typical of Mary: slightly haughty, slightly patronising, but with such a depth of meaning if one is only willing to look.
He takes her hand, strokes her ring finger. "Then it's settled."
He hopes his own concealed meaning is clear. She loves him enough to tell him, and he loves her enough to move past it.
"Really?" she breathes. "You won't even chastise me?"
A tiny smile twists his lips. "You're not a child; I'm sure you would detest me if I even tried. That's not to say that I don't think it was…"
"I know," she interrupts, but he doesn't mind. He thinks she really does know.
"You'll never be just mine. You'll always be his a little, too," he says.
She grips his hand. "I am sorry. Believe me, I am sorry."
He doesn't say that he forgives her, because he doesn't yet. All he can do is recognise that he will, one day soon.
Instead, he considers her evenly. "I believe you."
It is not fixed, this broken mess between them. But it will be.
"Thank you," she whispers, and the first tear slides down her cheek.
They let it fall.
Cos we are broken,
What must we do to restore
And, oh, the promise we adored?
Give us life again
Cos we just want to be whole.
Paramore, We Are Broken