New DA tomorrow - so excited! I have a feeling that my Sir Richard is going to be very different to the real thing, but please bear with me!


CHAPTER 1

June 1916 (approx. one month earlier). London, Great Britain.

It was like she had been hit hard in the chest – all the breath had been knocked from her, she felt slightly faint. They were all watching her, waiting to see her reaction, ready to note how the great Lady Mary, the notorious daughter of the Earl of Grantham, would react to this great snippet of news.

The truth was that it hurt fantastically, like she never believed it could. Even so, she tried to arrange her face so she appeared impassive, tried to hide the pain coursing through her whole body and pretend everything was fine, to just breath normally; after all, Sir Richard was standing not ten feet away and he would look over at her soon enough (as he always did), and she wouldn't want him to think she was in any distress. She didn't want anyone to think she was in distress actually – all these people, they did so love to gossip and she just refused to give them cause to. Instead she smiled as pleasantly as she could manage and appeared as carefree as possible when Sir Richard did indeed look around again.

It was only when she had a free moment to herself, a whole three hours later that she dropped the façade and cried bitterly, all her destroyed hope and despair pouring out of her. Matthew to be married! To a woman called Lavinia Swire who had been happily praised by the gleeful Lady Clanthem to be "exceedingly beautiful and intelligent despite her middle class upbringing". When it was revealed the Lady had met and socialised with Miss Swire when in Manchester – "What company you keep Lady Clanthem!" – she had dropped the subject very quickly, but the damage had been done to Mary's heart and ego. It didn't even occur to her to mourn the loss of the Abbey, which she was sure would be what everyone else expected her to miss, being an apparently cold and heartless being. Instead she sobbed desperately for her broken heart, for the mistakes she had made in the past. If only she hadn't been so stupid and had accepted Matthew when she had returned back from London after Sybil's season – if only she had accepted him as soon as he had asked, in that dining room with the dimly lit light, after he had kissed her until they were both breathless. Even the thought of hurting him the way she was hurting – by getting engaged herself – seemed an absurd fantasy. For starters, by the sheer act of getting engaged himself it seemed that he no longer loved nor cared for her, and so her finding a fiancé would probably affect him in the same fashion as him hearing of Evelyn Napier's marriage to Victoria Woodgrove, less in fact for at least he would be happy for Evelyn; he would feel nothing for her. Next, though no one ever mentioned it in front of her, the Pamuk scandal was still there, surrounding her like a blanket of disrespect and lost virtue, so that certain ladies would talk to her as if she were infected. Even if Sir Richard Carlisle, editor of a national newspaper and rich through sheer hard work and luck, found her as interesting and admirable as he made out, she highly doubted that he would be foolish enough to marry her. He may flirt ridiculously and not be of noble blood, but he was by no means anywhere near close to being what one could call a fool. No, instead she would just have to grow old alone, heart broken and lonely while she watched the love of her life marry the pretty poor girl who was perfectly suited for him, watch them as they grew old together in her former home, him the Lord and her the Lady of the house, with their children and grandchildren surrounding them, heirs everywhere you could look.

She drew a great breath and tried hard to control herself. What was done was done – if Matthew had moved on then she should to too. She should have already forgotten her feelings for Matthew, adjusted from everything else too, Kemal for example. Did she regret the Pamuk affair? Sometimes. But generally because she felt it had given her an excuse to delay telling Matthew how she truly felt, when in actual fact she had just been scared, terrified out of her mind at being so honest and open with someone else. She felt the despair welling up in her again, and again did her best to quash it. Maybe she would die a spinster, but she would live her life to the full and would forget Matthew if it was the last thing she did. Maybe it wasn't impossible for to find a husband; after all, men were returning from the front every day with severe injuries, searching for a wife and not being particularly picky about it. She steady her breathing once more, telling herself, who was Matthew Crawley, really? Just a middle class lawyer from Manchester. But even she had difficulty lying to herself anymore.

-x-

Mary woke slowly with a pressing, gentle headache and feeling as though she was coming down with a cold. This weak feeling, she gathered, could be attributed to last night's hysterics. She sat slowly, and then took leave of her bed to sneak a peak through the window to the city street below. It was their last day in London and she wanted to have once last look at the city in the morning. Already people were on the move, servants running around on the streets below, young boys delivering the morning newspapers, people running with loaves of bread tucked under their arms or a bottle of milk clutched in their hands. How different it was to the view from her bedroom window at home. Looking out onto the street she consider the events that would follow today. There would be packing and loading all their belongings, ready to return home. The usual chaos would ensue, something would be missing, the case wouldn't close and there would be nowhere else to put those particular pair of shoes. Mama would of course be quietly distraught about having to leave Father once again and return home alone, but this was to be expected.

What should also have been expected upon arriving in London, but which no one bar Mary had seemed to pick up on, was Sybil and her impressive attitude towards helping the poor. Mary had noticed her youngest sister picking up pamphlets all over London, speaking to nurses when the family was in the centre of the city and she thought no one was watching. Mary had a terrible feeling that Sybil was thinking of running away to join the Nursing Corp, but try as she might, she couldn't quite feel the disapproval she knew she was meant to. Instead she appeared to be experiencing… envy? Sybil was fearless and brave and ready to fight for what she believed in. How Mary wished she herself possessed those qualities. So in the place of anger at the thought of Sybil abandoning the family to be a mere nurse, Lady Mary was silently wishing she would, if only so she could live through her sister.

She drew a breath and then moved away from the window to slowly ring the bell summoning Anna. She was another to look out for. Perhaps like Sybil's situation Mary was the only one to notice, but Anna had been extremely forlorn in Downton during the past year when Papa had been in London, but it wasn't until they were all once again in the great city and Anna had perked up considerably that Mary realised what was controlling her maid's mood – much to her surprise, it was Mr Bates. It was clear that the head housemaid and her father's valet were in love; Mary had become aware of it when, by chance, she had happened upon the two of them talking in one of the hallways of Grantham house – much easier to do than when in Downton for it was far smaller. Mr Bates had been holding her hand and they were looking at each other so tenderly that Mary felt quite guilty for breaking them up involuntarily – she had been noisy when entering the corridor and so her arrival could not go unnoticed by either of the two servants and she could not quietly sneak away. Though she shouldn't, she felt a sort of affectionate sisterly bond to Anna, and would have to be easy on her today, give her less work and a chance to say a proper goodbye to her love. She glanced at herself quickly in her mirror as Anna entered the room; how she wished she had had the chance to say goodbye to the owner of her heart before he had run away to France, possibly never to be seen again.

As Anna slowly helped her dress, she dwelled on that thought. Never to be seen again. There had been whispers spreading through London that there was something to come abroad, that the British army were planning something big and that was the real reason for the introduction of conscription. All those men, all those lives, and Matthew among them, just another faceless solider to the government. Papa had said that this war included everybody, that even Asquith's son was fighting, but that didn't calm Mary's nerves; the Prime Minister's son fighting wouldn't keep Matthew safe, unless he took a bullet for him. Her return to Downton, while welcome, would also bring another trial; Mary just knew that Cousin Isobel blamed her for Matthew signing up to the army straight away, that she blamed Mary for her darling and only son being in harm's way for longer than necessary. And while Mary told herself that Matthew would have done it anyway, because he thought it was his duty ("Are you a creature of duty?"), she couldn't help but blame herself too.

One of her most lasting memories of Matthew: The low candle flickered, casting shadow over his face, making him look so mysterious, so handsome and brave. "I hope I did my duty."

"Are you a creature of duty?"

"Sometimes."

And another: After Sybil's ball. They had somehow managed to find themselves alone, and they were laughing and joking as they did, flirting gently, teasing, just having fun and enjoying each other's company. Then the mood had turned serious. "But you were sure," he had said to her on her return to the Abbey, and it had been true, in that moment. He had kissed her, outside in the London mansion's grounds, passionately and without restraint, and she had responded in kind. She had been pressed against a tall column, the coldness of the stone contrasting with the heat of her body, for she was on fire, he was turning her on fire. And his hands burnt her wherever he touched, as his fingers became tangled up in her hair, as he pushed her up against the column so that her feet lifted off the ground and all she could do was let him support her – if he let her go she would fall (she supposed in more ways that just literally). She had realised in that moment, with his lips upon hers, on her cheek, by her eyes, on her neck, just how much she truly loved him. It wasn't until the next day that she realised that this terrified her, and it took her a couple of weeks for her to be crippled by that fear, excuse after excuse filling her mind when there was only one real reason why she wasn't accepting him – fear.

Then that choice was taken out of her hands.

Overall the day went fairly painlessly. She tried her hardest to keep occupied and distracted, even packing some of her belongings herself so as to allow Anna a few minutes to find and say a (temporary) goodbye to Bates. They were packed and due to leave the house in the next half an hour when Carson had entered the drawing room to inform them that Sir Richard Carlisle was here and wished to speak with her. Sir Richard was so obviously not quite used to the ways of aristocrats yet, she thought to herself as she went to meet him, requesting a private audience without approval from her father first. However, her family, especially her mother, had been granting him a certain amount of leeway due to the fact that they were expecting him to propose. While it was obvious that he had indeed been, for want of a better word, courting her, she believed that her family were dreaming. No man of Sir Richard's intelligence and low birth would risk everything that they had built for themselves by entering into a marriage with someone who was surrounded by such rumours as the ones surrounding her. She did enjoy her time spent Sir Richard and was certain he like being in her presence just as much, but there were many other woman with a similar title to hers and a similar dowry also who would consent to be his wife. She truly believed that personality would have nothing to do with his decision as to who would be his future wife.

He was in her father's library waiting for her. He was classically handsome, a fact she always noted upon being in the same room as him. The dignified look of an older man (though not too old – not nearly as old as Anthony Strallan, at least), the look of a man who possessed secrets and wit, charm and wealth. And he always greeted her with the same smouldering look; if she wasn't so taken and heartbroken over Matthew, she really would have been in danger of falling for this man, with all his intelligence and good-humour (and sensuality, though the less said about that with her reputation, the better).

"Lady Mary," he said in greeting upon her entry to the room, and she smiled. They exchanged the usual small talk – "How delightful it is to see you, Sir Richard", "How is your father?" – as usual with a certain amount of flirtation around their conversation.

Finally, upon reaching a pause in their chatting, he smiled at her and cleared his throat. "Lady Mary," he began, and she picked up a slight nervousness in his tone that she had never noticed before whenever he'd addressed her, "I seek your permission to speak boldly."

Surprised, she gave her assent, almost scared to wonder where this conversation was leading, for more than one reason. He continued, "I realise that to you I may seem quite unfashionable and unpolished – I confess, I do find it difficult to be as civilised as your class would want me to be when in their company. You have so many rules and unwritten laws that someone such as myself, a mere man of middle-class birth, only rich through sheer determination, can struggle to find themselves on steady ground. But I find that with the matter I am about to discuss with you a certain frankness is needed, no matter the class of the persons involved. Therefore, with this in mind, I shall strive to be frank." He paused for a brief moment to look into her eyes, unblinking. She knew at that precise moment what was to come next: if the start of his speech hadn't informed her of his intentions, the love in his eyes and gaze certainly did. "I have been courting you for the past few weeks, Lady Mary, for the reason that you bewitch me completely – I find you utterly compelling, admirable and quite wonderful. While I know that I am not a duke or of noble stock, I have the means, I believe, to make you happy and you have everything I would ever need to be the most joyful man living. The qualities I strive to find in everyone that I surround myself with; in you they are perfectly formed. I am asking, quite simply Lady Mary, whether you would wish to be my wife, to be with me for the rest of our lives. I ask you, will you do me a great honour and marry me?"

A silence descended among them upon his completion of his speech. Mary was, for once, quite without a clue as to what she should say next. She stared at him without meaning to and realising this, she quickly ducked her head. Two things were flying through her head: Kemal and Matthew. Maybe he hadn't heard the rumours, heard the tales of her tarnished and ruined reputation, though how the head of a national newspaper could not have heard this gossip, she did not know. Maybe he believes that it is lies, she considered. If that is true, he is to be sorely disappointed. While she was hesitant over telling Matthew about Pamuk, she had thought deep down that he would over look her indiscretion. Sir Richard, she guessed, would not.

"Of course," he added after some seconds of silence, somewhat more quietly than his tone before had been, which had been gathering a nervous speed and louder volume the more he had spoken, and as he took a cautious step towards her, "if you think that… gossip surrounding… well, what I mean to say, Mary," her name, without a title, a whisper, like a secret, "is I do not care what anyone else thinks of you. Their opinions shall never affect my decisions concerning you."

Almost in disbelief, she raised her head to meet his steady gaze. This was the first time that she was to realise the hold he had over her, through his sheer understanding nature and unrelenting love for her, though she did not know it at the time. Thoughts were running through her mind so quickly she had difficulty keeping up, but one was resounding more loudly than the others: he had addressed the Pamuk scandal – it was as if he had known what she had been thinking, and hadn't been scared of it. He doesn't care. The thought halted her breath. He doesn't care. Something flitted through her; something she was scared to admit was amplified affection, a lower form of love, ready to grow into the real thing. She suddenly felt a thrill of fear – she was considering saying yes! She was coming to the conclusion that slowly, very slowly, she was falling in love with this gentleman. Eyes still locked, she could see all his emotion. The pleading, the love and anxiousness. He was being completely open with her and she was terrified. Say no, she thought, protect your feelings.

She even opened her mouth to say it, to decline him. But then another, much more commanding voice said, That's what you did with Matthew.

Suddenly, she flashed back to Matthew, the hesitation and fear that had meant that he was lost to her forever, to another woman. Another woman would capture the attention of Sir Richard, and he too would have to be but a distant memory of hers, a lost character of her past. She had looked into Matthew's eyes when he had proposed and seen what she saw now in Sir Richard's, and had panicked.

The seconds dragged on as she sifted through her thoughts. Matthew, the love of her life – was she really going to make the same mistake again? But Sir Richard isn't Matthew, she thought, and he never will be. Maybe he loves me just as much, but I don't love him as I loved Matthew and probably will not for the rest of our lives.

But, said that more powerful voice, Matthew is engaged. There is no point thinking about Matthew, he no longer loves you.

With this final consideration, a thought that hurt like the twist of a knife inside her chest, she knew exactly what her reply would be.


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