Term was over in St Andrews. The exams were long finished and the results published, the Summer Ball had seen in the dawn over the harbour and the town was soon full of the cars of parents arriving to pick up their children for the long summer vacation. Unlike the previous year, when Charles Carson had driven all the way up to Scotland to collect Mary and Anna who had spent part of her summer at Downton Abbey, this year neither girl was so quick to leave. Anna did not intend to leave until August when she would spend a few weeks with her parents and then come to Downton to help Mary prepare for her birthday party which was going to take place at the end of August. Until then, she would stay in St Andrews at John Bates' side, prepared to fight for him or submit to a break up, depending on what he arranged with his estranged wife. Mary thought she was a fool but a few words from Matthew persuaded her to hold her tongue more than she would otherwise have done. It was Anna's life after all.
Mary also lingered a little longer in Scotland. Now that Matthew had found a place to live in Edinburgh, she stayed to help him move in and to assist with the inevitable trips to IKEA to furnish the flat. By the time they left for England together, Mary still felt the place looked overly bare and clinical - she could not imagine Matthew actually living in it - but he assured her that it would soon become a home, especially when she visited at weekends.
"I'm glad you don't think the distance will be a problem," he said to her and Mary didn't mention it but she knew he was thinking of Lavinia.
"What distance?" she protested. "What's an hour on the train? We'll see each other every weekend either in St Andrews or Edinburgh, and if it's a light work week and I don't have morning lectures I can come midweek as well."
However, she wondered if light work weeks would be a thing of the past in her third year. She had passed her second year exams well, better than she had expected considering everything else that had been going on in the meantime, though her Shakespeare paper had suffered somewhat. Still, Honours level was a step up and the inclusion of a dissertation would be a new challenge. Professor Carlisle had accepted her as a student and before the end of term had already emailed her a long list of reading he expected her to do over the summer. Mary's suitcase, when she finally made it onto the train south, was weighed down with feminist literary theory and critical studies of Henry James.
The Crawleys had been delighted when they had heard that Matthew and Mary were going out and an open invitation to spend as much of the summer with them as he liked had been issued. Matthew did not mind much where he spent his summer provided Mary was with him, so he accepted invitations to the Abbey and to accompany the family on their summer holiday to the south of France. "In for a penny, in for a pound," he told himself, for he was a little afraid of Mary's aristocratic family, Sybil excepted.
The whole summer could not be spent in Yorkshire though, for he would not neglect his sister even for new love and he insisted Mary came with him. It was only fair, if he was going to be with her family the rest of the time. Nervous as he was about going abroad with an earl and countess, he was equally nervous about showing the earl's daughter his sister's two bedroom flat in Chorlton, a short tram ride away from the centre of Manchester. He felt a kind of pride and inverse snobbery about his own life that amused Mary when she perceived it and much as she wanted to make gentle fun about the small size of the rooms and the lack of place to keep a horse, she held herself back.
Isobel was very kind to her though both Mary and Matthew perceived a slight restraint that diminished throughout the week she spent with them. "She got on well with Lavinia," Matthew explained to her one night, which did not altogether help.
If Matthew had been curious to see Mary's rooms in both London and at Downton, Mary was equally curious to see his in Manchester. It was small, with only just enough room for a double bed, chest of drawers, bursting wardrobe and small desk. A dusty Manchester City scarf hung over the frame of an abstract painting above the bed and toy cars and fire engines were stacked under the desk along with large volumes of classical scholarship left over from his Oxford degree. On the window sill and stuck higgledy piggledy onto the wardrobe doors were photos of him and Isobel over the years - together on a ride at Alton Towers, on Blackpool Pier, at the summit of a mountain in what looked like Wales, at her graduation from Manchester, at his from Oxford. There were some of him and Lavinia too which he quickly swept up and shoved in a drawer when Mary came in.
"None of you parents?" she wondered out loud, sitting down on his bed.
He flung himself down next to her, sprawling on the bed and staring up at her from under a shock of fair hair. "My mother walked out on me when I was a child. It doesn't make me want to keep mementos. But here's one of my dad and Isobel."
Mary studied it. George Crawley was wearing the flare trousers of the 70s and sported a thick moustache to go with his bushy brown hair. He was balancing a baby on his hip. Mary laughed. "Daddy looked the same back then - you should see his beard!"
"Ridiculous, isn't it?" Matthew agreed, also laughing, though he looked at the photo wistfully.
He gave her another one, this time of him as a grinning child with floppy hair and chubby cheeks being embraced by a fierce, older woman who looked a good deal like his sister. "Aunt Harriet," he explained. "She didn't take me in but I spent most of my school holidays with her to give Isobel a break."
"I see she indoctrinated you early," Mary commented with raised eyebrows, pointing at the large red Labour rosette pinned to young Matthew's coat.
"She's an MP; that's kind of her job!" he replied with a grin. As he spoke, he remembered how they first met at the Labour versus Conservative debate in the spring and his gaze softened as he looked at her, his hand trailing gently down her back until she forgot the photos and curled down next to him.
"You do have a family, you know, Matthew," she murmured some time later.
"I know. Aunt Harriet and Isobel. I'm lucky really because I couldn't ask for a more loving aunt or sister."
She raised herself onto one elbow. "No. I meant me. You have me too." She bit her lip, her words sounding awkward to her own ear as they often did when she was saying anything of any significance.
The look that Matthew gave her then was so powerful that she was obliged to continue quickly with, "And Sybil and Mummy and Daddy, even Edith if you want her - we have the same name so we might as well be family."
"I love you too, Mary," he replied and kissed her fiercely before she could make any sort of reply.
Downton Abbey, when they arrived there in mid-July, was full of tension. Sybil had not been thrown out altogether, for the last thing the earl wanted was a public scandal making its way into the tabloid papers, but she was barely on speaking terms with her father or her grandmother, once her pregnancy had become general knowledge within the family. Not that that stopped the dowager countess from coming to dinner just as regularly as she had before and airing her opinions just as freely. Sybil was now in her second trimester and while the nausea she had suffered from had disappeared, she was now unable to hide the bump very easily, despite the loose clothing she wore, and had headaches and occasional indigestion to contend with as well. The summer holidays had given her an excuse not to see or talk to any of her school friends, for she did not know what to say to them, so she was glad of the prospect of Mary and Matthew's arrival to give her some company other than Edith, judgemental relations and the tuts and states of the villagers in Downton who knew exactly who she was and how old she was too.
The very morning they arrived, Lord Grantham had earlier summoned Sybil to his study. She came with bad grace and slumped in the deep leather chair at her father's desk while she waited for him to come.
The earl was carrying a sheaf of papers and followed by a small man with white hair and a beer belly underneath his suit whom Sybil recognised as her father's lawyer from York, Mr. Murray. She glared up at them.
"Sorry for not getting up," she said. "I'm pregnant."
Lord Grantham rolled his eyes, sat down opposite her and looked very seriously across the desk.
"Well, Sybil, I know you find it difficult to think beyond the next hour of your life-"
"Oh my God, Daddy."
"-but some of us must think about the future. You have decided to have this baby and as such it will be part of the Crawley family and your parents will have to get used to that fact. But there is one area of this unfortunate business I doubt you have considered and that is the inheritance of Downton."
Sybil pulled herself up into a more suitable sitting position. "What?"
"Mr. Murray, if you wouldn't mind explaining?"
The lawyer coughed and came forward. "As per the revised conditions of the entail, as established in 19-"
Sybil interrupted, "I'm sorry, Mr. Murray, but I don't give a shit about legal history."
"This is your history, your family's history!" cried her father repressively. "Forgive her, Murray, she's very hormonal at the moment."
Sybil had plenty to say to that but being constantly bad-tempered was tiring and she was a little bit curious about what the lawyer had to say.
The lawyer cleared his throat and continued, after a glance at the earl. Sybil crossed her arms over her chest to make it even more obvious she did not want to be there.
"I shall try to keep this brief. Since the revised entail, it has been possible not for direct female descendants to inherit the title unfortunately, but for the title to pass through a direct female descendant rather than going into abeyance if a male heir can't be found."
"So? I already know this."
"So the point is this, Lady Sybil. At present, your unborn child, if male, stands to inherit the title of Earl of Grantham, pending approval from your father and the agreement of your sisters. Or he may be passed over, again pending agreement and approval from the rest of your family."
"Mary will never agree to that," pointed out Sybil. "Nor Edith, for that matter."
"That would be a matter of discussion between you and your sisters and would be ratified legally on a later occasion after the child's birth. What I am here today to discuss," – another glance at Lord Grantham – "is the possibility of your child, if male, not being in line to inherit anything at all."
Sybil raised her eyebrows and looked at her father.
"You told me that you weren't interested in Downton, in inheriting anything. And I agree with you. The next Earl of Grantham will not be the illegitimate offspring of an Irish car mechanic!"
"Fine," said Sybil, who just wanted to get out of there. "Whatever. I don't want my child to be an earl either!" She pushed herself forwards in the deep leather chair. "My child is going to have a normal life without all this aristocratic crap we've been subjected to."
Her father drew in a breath and for a moment she thought he might exploded. Mr. Murray even took a step backwards. However, his shoulders fell and he passed a hand across his face. Sybil thought her father looked tired all of a sudden and the light seemed to catch on his grey hairs that she had not noticed before. Still, she was too angry to care.
"Then I can't believe you will have any objection to signing these documents." He passed a wad of formal looking sheets across the desk.
"None whatsoever," said Sybil and grabbed a pen.
She skimmed the text. There was her name next to the phrase "relinquishing the rights" followed by three pages of things she was apparently relinquishing rights to, most of which were things she had not been aware she had rights to in the first place. She got to the bottom, signed her name with a flourish, flung down the pen and leaned back. Her father glanced at her with sadness, but she was staring straight ahead and did not see, slowly signed underneath and then Murray signed as a witness. It was done.
"That's all?" cried Sybil, standing up. "I can go?"
"That's all," said her father. "Sybil-"
But she was already out of the room.
When Matthew and Mary arrived a few hours later, Sybil dragged them outside to explain what happened.
"I feel lighter," she said, when they were sitting down on the grass in the small, private garden that was not open to visitors. "I mean, I don't know what will happen and that's worrying… I guess… but at least I don't need to worry about my kid turning into someone like Daddy."
"You mean someone like me, someone like you even, Sybil," pointed out Mary. "For all you like to rebel, you're as much a product of your upbringing as I am."
"Yes, but at least I can change. I want my baby to grow up like a normal human being in a house with parents who work and go to a normal school and-"
"And we didn't? Sybil, come on. We were brought up in a house and our parents work and we went to a perfectly normal school-"
"An exam factory that charges over £7000 per term? Mary, that's not normal! Right, Matthew?"
His head shot up. He had been examining the grass, trying to find a four leafed clover, and keeping out of a discussion he still felt had nothing to do with him. "Uh, well, your school fees were about the same as my sister's total income when I was growing up so..." He trailed off. "I suppose it's normal for a certain kind of person."
"Don't let's quarrel about it!" cried Mary with a flash of a smile and she wriggled her shoulders as she often did when she wanted to avoid an uncomfortable topic. She had had a sudden vision into the future of what would happen if she and Matthew stayed together. She would send her children to private school as a matter of course but what if Matthew objected? She was not sure in that moment, if he could ever be brought around to the life she took for granted.
"I'm glad you signed the document, Sybil, if it's what you really wanted. You were never going to want your children to inherit anything anyway."
Sybil smiled. "No, it would always have come down to you and Edith fighting it out."
After what he considered an unhelpful contribution, Matthew had been silent and thoughtful. Now, as a pause stretched out, he spoke again. "Look, I don't want to stir anything up that shouldn't be stirred, but what's the big deal? You and Edith are fighting over who is the mother of the next earl, right? When surely you can't guarantee you'll have children at all or when… I'm sorry, but what's the advantage of being an earl? I know it's important to you, Mary, I do, but what I don't know is why."
Sybil flopped onto her back. "You answer him, Mary. It's none of my business now, thank God!"
"Oh Matthew…" Mary sighed. If it were anyone else she would be tempted to be sarcastic, but it was Matthew and she supposed he was trying. "It's not so much about what an earl does as what it means symbolically. My father works harder than you might think actually – he sits on boards of charities, schools and hospitals; he still owns most of Downton village and therefore has a duty passed down to him from his father and his father before him to be a good landlord and to protect the countryside. Since the house is now owned by the National Trust he does not have so many responsibilities there compared to previous earls but he does work very closely with Elsie, the house manager, to protect its legacy and find strategies for making the house and our family still relevant in the twenty-first century."
"Downton chutney," put in Sybil, squinting up at the sky. "Carols from Downton. Lady Grantham's Cookbook. My Lord and My Lady matching tea towels. Hiring out the main staircase for perfume commercials. Life changing legacies like that."
"Well, the estate has to make money somehow! Matthew, it's – it's our family." She held out her hand for him to take and squeeze. "We used to be important once upon a time and we still are in a little way. We're important to the people who live in this part of Yorkshire and to the many people employed on the estate. Isn't that worth something?"
"Yes, of course it is." He did squeeze her hand and while he felt as if he understood more about why being an earl was important to Lord Grantham but he still felt unsure as to why it mattered so much to Mary. She wasn't even going to be the countess! She was so clever and talented and had so many advantages in life; why was she so fixed on the idea of being the chatelaine of a great estate her family did not even still own? He supposed at this stage in their relationship when he still did not know her that well, he would just have to simply accept that it was important to her.
Only a few days after Matthew and Mary came up from Manchester, the whole family was due to set off for the South of France. Aunt Rosamund turned up a day before, not because she was also going to France but in order to take the dowager countess up to Scotland for her annual visit to her niece Susan and her family.
"Susan used to be married to the Marquess of Flintshire," explained Mary to Matthew on the way down to breakfast. "Very messy divorce but she got a beautiful house with twenty acres and half custody of the children out of it. They're all coming to my party in August so you'll get the pleasure of meeting them then."
"Is Rosamund staying in Scotland too?" asked Matthew, ignoring the sarcasm.
Mary laughed. "Definitely not – she can't stand any of them. She delivers Granny up to the cousins and then jets off somewhere much more exciting on her own."
Over breakfast it turned out that this year Rosamund was going to Ontario.
"But why?" asked Cora plaintively behind the coffee pot. "Last year you went to Cuba and the year before was safari in the Serengeti with that very odd woman, I forget her name... What's so special about Toronto?"
"I have never been to that part of Canada. That seems as good a reason as any" replied Rosamund with dignity. "And may I remind you that you are going to the South of France for your holidays this year which is hardly the most exciting destination these days."
"It's my fault," put in Sybil, unnecessarily loudly. "Mummy doesn't want me to fly in my delicate condition."
"Nothing wrong with the south of France!" protested Robert. "Wonderful vineyards near the villa we're renting. It may not be the other side of the world but you can't go wrong with a couple of weeks in Provence."
"On that note…" began Cora and she sounded sufficiently sheepish that everyone turned to look at her.
"What have you done now?" said Rosamund with muted glee.
"Robert, everyone, we're taking an extra person to France."
"Anna!" cried Mary hopefully, even though she knew perfectly well Anna was still in St Andrews.
"Uncle Harry's coming!" suggested Edith.
"I'm afraid neither. Robert, you're going to be angry but I really am quite determined. Sybil, I've invited Tom to join us on holiday and he's said he'll come for the first week. He's your boyfriend as Matthew is Mary's and he's going to be the father of my first grandchild. Like it or not and I can't say I do like it much, he's part of this family now."
There was an uproar. Only Sybil, who sat perfectly still at the table with a growing look of delight on her face, and Matthew, who wanted to keep out of it, did not take part in the hubbub around them as the point was debated back and forth.
"You know," said Matthew during a lull in an attempt to provide a distraction, "my father's family is originally from Toronto."
Nobody was interested. Tom Branson coming on holiday was of far greater importance. The conflict only ended when Sybil, with tears in her eyes, went over to her mother, put her arms round her and murmured a heart-felt, "Thank you."
After such a beginning, the holiday to France went much better than might be expected. Only Edith and Robert were upset: Edith because she felt like a constant third wheel and Robert because he didn't want to share his space with Tom or for that matter with Sybil. Fortunately for the former, the villa had excellent Wi-Fi so Edith could ignore the bright sunshine and swimming pool in favour of messaging online with her fake friends, as Mary put it. And fortunately for the latter, the villa was large enough for Tom and Lord Grantham to keep out of each other's way as much as possible.
They drove down in two cars which meant the young people always had transport when they needed to get away and both Edith and Mary were insured to drive. Tom volunteered as well but the suggestion was met by a deafening silence. The countess had been right to include him, however. His presence made Sybil less irritable and deflected her irritation when she was and he got on well enough with Edith and Matthew. In fact, Matthew found himself really appreciative of Tom. They were both outsiders in a way and while Matthew was desperately trying to fit in, Tom was much more open about how odd the whole Crawley family was. They would sit together by the pool or in pleasant cafes drinking beer and trying to make sense of this alternate universe of wealth and status which they had fallen into while the girls went off shopping in one or other of the fashionable Mediterranean resort towns nearby.
"I'm just a guy who mends cars and plays in a band!" Tom would say as if nothing further needed to be explained.
Matthew would reply, "I'm just a trainee lawyer from Manchester."
"I've never been abroad before. Just Ireland and England. And I went to Wales once to watch the rugby."
"I've been abroad but never like this." He was thinking of the four bedroom villa with its private swimming pool and hot tub surrounded by patio lights, a barbeque and the whirring of cicadas in the warm evening air.
They'd look at each other, shrug, and order another beer.
Mary remained suspicious of Tom. Mainly, she was suspicious of his growing influence over Sybil. "I'm not saying I wouldn't like him if he wasn't her boyfriend," she explained one evening to Matthew when they were alone in their room. "Honestly, I probably wouldn't even speak to him. But it makes it difficult to like him when we can't seem to get rid of him and there's going to be a baby in the picture. You see, he's never going to fit in and the best thing they can do is break up sooner rather than later. He's not one of us."
"And what about me? Aren't I an outsider too?" Matthew wanted to know, trying not to feel offended.
She rolled her eyes. "Darling, he makes you look like the heir to a dukedom!"
This was a sufficiently funny image that Matthew had to laugh and forget that by this point in the holiday they had almost quarrelled about this several times.
By the time Tom had to go back to work at the end of the first week, some reparation had been made. Thanks to being stuck in the same place together, Robert and Sybil were on tentative speaking terms and Matthew, Tom and Edith had made friends.
"I have to thank you for making this easier," Sybil said to Matthew one day by the pool after Tom had left. "You're like the bridge between him and them. You're not as bad as he is in my parents' eyes but you're not as bad as they are in his. You're a half-way house."
Matthew laughed as his eyes fell on Mary coming out of the house looking stunning in a bikini, over-sized sunhat and large sunglasses and flip-flopping her way towards them, incongruously carrying a copy of The Madwoman in the Attic. She raised her hand and waved at them and Matthew felt himself smile helplessly back at her. Surrounded by Crawleys on all sides, he felt as if with only a little bit more practice he really could fully integrate himself and that at least he ought to try, whatever the outcome. For Mary, he would do anything.
"Thanks. I think," he replied to Sybil and she laughed and nudged him with her shoulder, just as a real friend or a sister would.
Next chapter: As Mary's birthday party approaches, Matthew makes an important decision about his relationship with Mary, Aunt Rosamund drops a bombshell, and Lord Grantham makes an announcement that will change Downton's future. Last chapter of Part One.
A/N: A few weeks ago I was casually googling my pen-name (as you do) and discovered that this story had been discussed in an academic article published in a book called "Upstairs Downstairs: British Costume Drama Television from The Forsythe Saga to Upstairs Downstairs". I'm in a footnote! I was utterly astounded and flattered and it reminded me that in some small way, perhaps, this story has a place in this fandom. I've pretty much moved on tbh, as you can probably tell from the lack of updates, and I've been concentrating in becoming good at my day job so writing has been put on the back burner for the last year or so. However, this story is important to me and the fact that it remains important to some of you, no matter how many, makes me want to honour its readers. I can't promise I will finish it. In fact, I think that is very unlikely. But I can promise to get to the end of Part One next chapter! And then I will think of some way of explaining what would have happened in the rest of the story or writing scenes from it - I'm not sure yet. But I owe it to you who are still reading to reach some kind of conclusion. And if one of those readers is Andrea Schmidt, cheers! I haven't read the full article yet, but I think you get what I'm doing with this story and it really is the most thrilling thing ever to appear however briefly in your article.
Readers, this is for you. Happy Christmas and Happy Downton Day for the last time - and thank you for your support over however many years it's been. I will really try to update sooner than I did this time.