For secrets are edged tools, and must be kept from children and from fools.
"What am I to do?" Her voice is thick with fear, and her hand reaches desperately to clasp his.
"My Lady, you must marry him. I'm afraid there is little else you can do." The good doctor pats her hand matter of factly and extricates himself from the bedside.
No. Oh please, in the name of all that is merciful, no. Finally she is ruined, irreparably, irretrievably ruined.
She will not marry him, she cannot, she does not love him nor he her. There is little else you can do. She certainly cannot wait. She had done everything not to be forced or cajoled into marriage and now found it rearing in front of her as her only means of survival in decent society. These thoughts surged through her mind as her hands shook and her heart raced, but they were little more than distant musings too fleeting to grasp. She was so afraid, she could barely breath. Mary clenched her fists, willing an element of control to return, but the room felt as if it were continuing to spin, faster and faster so that it was almost unbearable.
Just let me die, she pleaded with God, let this end. I am not strong.
I know you, yet I do not. I stand here and I wait; I wait because tomorrow I will go, and if I am lucky I will return, but I know that many will not. You receive me into your drawing room and place down the elaborate embroidery in your hand when I enter. You smile and it warms your face; your beauty is unforgiving. Teddy. You breathe my name and take my hand as I kneel in front of your chair. Your nails dig into my palm slightly and your eyes shine - my darling boy – and your voice is barely a whisper.
I am twenty-one years old, but in that moment, I ache to remain at my mother's side, clutching her skirts and basking in her adoration. Teddy. You reach down and take my face between your cool palms, and now your demeanour has changed; you are firm, controlled, unwavering. You will come home.
When I was a child, you would take me for miles, guiding my little pony by his rein as I sat atop the saddle, imperious and confident. Mama and I, as close as was possible. You were never cold, never distant; you loved me openly and unreservedly. I knew what it was to be cherished. I felt your love in everything and was spoilt in it. I was like many children, selfish and arrogant in the belief that the world turned only for me. Mama's precious boy. I remember very little of him, of Papa; he is a blurred figure on the periphery of my vision. It was as if he was never really part of our world, that he was somehow disconnected from us. I cannot remember if I loved him once.
You were always mine, but as I grew, I began to realize that you were somebody else outside of our home.
We laughed; you had a laugh that was light and free flowing, a ready embrace with arms that enveloped me in warmth. I had a nurse, but it is a testament to our relationship that I remember little of my other caregivers, of the people who fed and bathed me. When we went to the 'big house,' as I called it, on a Sunday and periodically for family occasions, I would run riot, untethered by your attention, because there it always seemed you were not entirely present. You were tense and poised; you left me to be indulged by Carson, who let me sit behind his desk and play with the telephone and his blotter. I would eat cakes and drink cocoa at the big table in the staff dining room. It was only later that I realized how special this was, how much this break with formality meant.
When my little cousins arrived, I played with them, let the girls ride on my back and chased them down endless corridors whilst they shrieked with delight. The noise of us children filled that grand house on those rare days when we were all there together. That house, which lacked the every day presence of children, it exhaled around us in an atmosphere that only children can bring.
I remember now one of the few occasions you were forced out of your practiced role, broken from a silence the reason for and extent of which I didn't know. I had been playing with Louisa, and I cannot remember whose fault it was, but one of us fell in the drawing room, in the process taking down a large clock encased in decorative china. It smashed and we both froze. Louisa's hand grasped mine, and we exchanged horrified looks.
"What have you done?" Her eyes were alight as she pushed open the door and grabbed me by the arm, hard so her nails pinched my skin.
"We're sorry Cousin Lavinia; it was an accident," Louisa sobbed miserably.
She dragged me into the library where her husband was seated in a chair, a book in his lap. He looked up, smiling as he saw us, before the expression dropped from his face as he took in the situation.
"This child has broken my mother's clock in the drawing room. It is beyond repair!"
"I'm sure it was an accident. Is that right, Teddy?"
I nodded, avoiding his kind eyes as he shifted in discomfort under Lavinia's trembling glare.
"I'm very sorry," I said quietly.
"Well that is all that can be said, don't you think, darling?"
She was still holding my arm and squeezed it tighter so it stung.
"You're hurting me!" I cried, twisting in her grip.
You entered the room then, and I felt you pull me from her grasp, clasping me to you. You turned on her, and your eyes flashed dangerously. You bent to me and pulled up the sleeve of my shirt where on my forearm four red welts were rising.
"Look what she's done!" And now you were speaking to Cousin Matthew, looking hard into his eyes, a palpable tension encasing the room. "Look what she's done to his arm!"
"I can see," he said in the quiet understated way he had.
"What I have done? What about the damage this child has caused? He's out of control; he needs to be disciplined." Lavinia bit her bottom lip, and her small frame quivered.
"I never want to see or hear of you touching my child again, is that clear?" you hissed. "I will discipline him if necessary."
"Spare the rod, spoil the child," she responded weakly.
"Do not tell me about the correct way to parent. You know nothing of the subject!"
She withdrew as if you had struck her before gathering herself.
"Are you going to allow her to speak to your wife like that?" she demanded, turning on Matthew, her voice quavering.
It was as if the house around us held its breath and paused with him. The air became stifling, and I recall longing for an interruption as the question hung heavy in the air. He gave no answer. He hesitated and then made as if about to speak before falling silent again. Her face contorted, and she swept from the room, leaving the three of us standing there, frozen in our positions. I remember it as one of only two occasions you, he and I were alone together. I was little more than seven years old, but with a child's perception, I felt something shift in the atmosphere. I looked up to your faces and saw your eyes locked to each other. Then he knelt down next to me and kissed my arm before rolling down my sleeve.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Two words that were laden with such meaning, saturated with barely harnessed emotion, as he looked up at you from his position on the floor beside me. He placed his hand on my cheek and stroked my flushed skin with his thumb. His blue eyes bore into mine for a moment before he looked down, and when I caught his eye again, there were tears on their bright surface. I often thought back to this incident and, as other pieces of the puzzle slipped into place, something began to dawn on me, and then I knew. I know, Mama. I have known for a long time.
Tonight we will return to Downton, as my family bids me farewell. I know that going there causes you pain, and I wish I knew how to relieve it. Would it give you peace to learn that I know? I am not sure it would, but on the verge of the moment I go to war, I feel the desire to resolve the things that burden me. I cannot decide if this is too selfish a wish to indulge, too dangerous a Pandora's box.
You lean down and kiss my forehead as you did when I was a boy. You smooth my hair, and your hand is shaking. We will have only this moment for Grand-mamma is here, dressed for dinner, and her face is stricken as she draws me from my position. She looks to you and takes one of your hands and one of mine. You must be returned to us, she says. Yes, I agree, yes I will return. Do not fear for me, for I am strong. I am my mother's son.
She sat at the dressing table whilst her sisters and mother perched around the room talking amongst themselves. Anna stood behind her adjusting a comb into the back of her hair. She looked into the mirror, steeling herself for what could prove to be the most difficult night of her life. It was taking every ounce of resolve to hold her composure.
"Why are you intent on marrying in winter, Mary? It will be so dreary," Edith sighed.
"Try not to be quite so jealous." Mary rolled her eyes in response, her lips tight.
"I don't see the point in long engagements either," Sybil said.
"No, indeed. Why wait?" their mother agreed.
"Yes, he might change his mind," Edith quipped sharply.
"Edith!" Cora snapped.
Their mother rose, shepherding the two younger girls with her to the door.
"See you downstairs." She smiled at her eldest daughter's back as Mary remained stiffly in her position.
Mary couldn't meet her mother's eyes, and if she could barely confront her, how was she to face Matthew at dinner tonight? She shut her eyes, wishing herself far away. A hard painful lump rose in her throat, and she doubted even a morsel of food was going to be able to pass her lips. This was so very wrong, and she was disgusted with herself, beyond disgusted; she could scarcely bear her own reflection.
"It isn't too late." Anna's voice was quiet behind her.
"Oh, Anna!" She bent forward with a gasping breath. "What must you think of me?"
"M'Lady, if you wish to hear my opinion..." she spoke gently, and Mary turned towards her, clasping the maid's hands and looking up at her desperately, "I think you must decide whether you can truly live with a lie for the rest of your life. I know I could not. I'm sorry if I've spoken out of turn."
"No, you're right; of course you're right." Mary turned her face away.
"But you won't tell him?"
"What if he will not have me?" The tears streamed down her cheeks now, and the maid knelt down next to her, still clasping her hands.
He was standing in the Great Hall, Lavinia beside him, her arm in his. She was about to shatter their world. Did she really believe Matthew loved this girl? No, not truly; arrogantly, she did not accept that. Certainly what had happened between them would never have occurred if that had been the case. She was as sure as she could be of that.
The terrible doubt remained, gnawing at her inside. She felt the colour rise in her cheeks as he caught sight of her; it was the first time they had seen each other since that day. Since that day in the woods. She crumpled at the memory. He looked pained and terribly guilty. Guilt. They were bound in it; it shackled them. He gave her a curt nod. She wanted to take hold of him, but he had moved past her almost as if he had knocked her aside.
"Hello darling," Richard's hand slipped around her waist, and she could not help but flinch.
Matthew chose that moment to look back, and their eyes met as her fiancé kissed her cheek. She saw everything in that look, everything they were and had been and everything they may never be. The War had returned him to Downton once more. Her prayers were answered, but could it be so simple, could it be so easy when she harbored this secret, when they were both engaged to other people?
"Congratulations," Matthew said, his eyes fixed ahead over the dinner table.
"No please don't say anything, Mary. Mother told me of your engagement." He seemed to be struggling to speak, and when his blue eyes turned to hers, she was horrified to see the pain that lay there. "I felt I must make a decision of my own, and I too have an announcement to make." He cleared his throat and looked to Lavinia who blushed in her seat.
A chill ran down the back of her neck, and nausea flooded over her so that her eyes were shut when she heard the words that came from his mouth.
"Lavinia and I have married. We cannot know what the war will bring, and we felt we must grasp the moment."
She did not realize she had let out an audible gasp, which caused everyone around the table to turn to look at her. She felt removed from herself as the room and it's occupants faded out of focus around her. Her stomach heaved, and a fist tightened around her heart. Out of sight, she clutched the underside of the table as she felt the blood drain from her face. A sickening light-headedness overwhelmed her, and the last thing she remembered was the sound of Matthew saying her name as she fell from the chair beside him.
The room erupted and chairs scraped back around her. As she came to moments later, Matthew was by her side, his face marred with worry as he removed his uniform jacket and placed it beneath her head. She could have told him then, it hovered on the tip of her tongue - I'm having your child – but seconds later her mother and Isobel were at her side.
"I'm sorry," were the words she uttered instead.
I sit alone in the library whilst the party continues elsewhere in the house. The library was always your grandfather's room. His presence remains strongly here, his firm, guiding hand. He loved you so very much. His only grandson. I can see him now, the way he cradled you the day you were born, your tiny head fitting into the palm of his hand. Papa, please don't cry, I told him, feeling my own tears fall. I am just so very happy, he replied, not deigning to remove the tear tracks on his face. He would be so proud of the young man you have become.
The very thought of you leaving here, being stolen by another blasted war little more than twenty years later seems a cruel twist of fate. You planned to become a surgeon; you could be anything and you are truly everything to me. How could I lose you? It is unfathomable; inconceivably unfair. Papa would say that I must let you go, cherish what is brave and honorable in you, and pray for your safe return. Oh how I prayed for your father, Teddy, and what a dark place I entered, an interminable blackness as I begged for divine intervention from a God in whom I scarcely believed.
During dinner you were as you always are, planning what to do with your first leave, promising to be back for Louisa's ball, but I saw a flicker in your eyes, a darkness there as you made your cousins laugh. You are no fool, and you wish to protect us all from what may be inevitable. You cannot protect me from this. You do not know how unbearable it feels to part with that little boy who held my hand so tightly. My sweet boy. The first moment I saw you, I loved you with an intensity that was frightening, a grip that was almost painful, and I felt so ashamed that I could ever have wished you away.
It is almost unbelievable when I look at you now, well over six feet tall, to remember that tiny baby. But remember him I do. Your eyes were a deep unfathomable blue, and you gazed up at me, knowing and innocence in one look. You did not cry but your brows knitted indignantly. Why am I here?, you seemed to ask. A little stranger. I could only promise to love you, for what else can be guaranteed? I feel so lucky to have been given you, and letting you go now is as difficult as parting with that little infant would have been.
I hope you have been happy; I hope your life so far can make up in some way for what you must now endure. I have lied to you, I cannot say I lied to protect you; I protected myself, and I do not know how you could forgive me. I was selfish; I could not bear the shame, but I have no more room for regrets, not now. If you never return, I must know that you died with the truth. You are honest and good, Teddy, and I know the high regard in which you hold truth and justice. I cannot give you justice but I can give you what remains in my heart.