My first fanfic, which would never have seen the light of day without the beta skills and encouragement of the marvellous AriadneO. I'm still not sure if my premise here is worth building on, so any feedback would be gratefully received. I'm working on the second chapter, but the Duke of Crowborough is making life difficult… should I persevere?
Lord Grantham entered the room with a heavy tread and a heavier heart. An air of gloom had already settled over the whole house, and he was the only member of the family that was down. "Carson…" he began, but could not offer his usual morning greeting. "Is it true what they say?"
"I believe so, my Lord." A grave Carson gave the answer he'd expected, but had hoped to God not to receive, because if Carson said something was so, it normally was.
"I don't suppose there are any lists of survivors yet?" A vain hope, a desperate one perhaps, but until he knew better, Robert would not allow himself to fall into despair.
"I understand that most of the ladies were taken off in time."
"Most…" Lord Grantham let that thought trail away as both men looked significantly at each other, their eyes reflecting their mutual thoughts, 'there but for the grace of God,' a reason to be thankful in all of this tragedy. So much loss of life, and while the Earl felt their own situation keenly, he had enough presence of mind and liberal feeling to remember the others taken, on their way to a better life.
He settled at the head of the table and reached for the paper, searching for more news, anything that could confirm or deny what they were facing. The uncertainty was the hardest thing to cope with, although he knew in his heart that there would be little good news to find. Edith entered the room and took up a place at her father's shoulder as she too looked over the news. Her face was pale, her eyes lined pink.
"When Anna told me, I thought she must have dreamt it. Oh Papa…" Her voice trembled as she clutched at his shoulder, and he reached up for her hand, giving it a squeeze and a pat of comfort before she turned for something to occupy herself with over the breakfast table. She sighed slightly as she surveyed the breakfast spread and hoped Mrs. Patmore wouldn't be too put out when not much of it was taken this morning. "I thought it was supposed to be unsinkable." There was a tone of anger in her voice as the shock continued to make itself felt.
"Every mountain is un-climbable until someone climbs it." It was a fairly glib reply to have made, but as Robert reflected on his own philosophy, he couldn't help seeing the truth in it. His small, unhappy smile at Sybil's entrance turned to a frown as she handed him a telegram, and as he read it, the bottom fell from his stomach. There it was, the confirmation he had been searching for. His heirs, the men all his hopes were pinned to were dead.
He raised his eyes to both girls in turn, and then his gaze flitted to the middle of the table where he nodded the grim acknowledgement to the emptiness at the other end of the long room, not able to look again at either of them and unable to speak the words aloud. Sybil, still standing behind her place at the table raised her hand to her mouth and used the other to push herself away from the table, walking around to stand behind Edith and offer comfort to her sister who had again begun to cry. Robert, seeing them together, left to speak to his wife.
"Is her Ladyship awake?"
"Yes, m'lord," answered a subdued O'Brien. "I'm just taking in her breakfast. She has already heard m'lord. I'm afraid she's very upset."
"We all are. Thank you." He knocked and entered but couldn't bring himself to look at Cora and instead paced to the window.
"Isn't this terrible? Have you heard anything?"
He turned towards her now. She was so beautiful, reposed on the bed he had left contentedly just hours ago. She was framed by a cloud of pillows, and any other morning he would have smiled at the sight, but this morning she looked wan and fidgety with concern. "I've had a telegram from George Murray. One of his partners is in New York. He confirms that James and Patrick were not picked up."
"What? Neither of them?"
"Doesn't look like it."
She paled further. "You must tell Mary. She can't hear about it from anyone else."
Robert nodded and turned away again to the window, looking towards the direction of the Dower House where his eldest was staying with her grandmother while her husband travelled on business. He sighed and thought of the daughter they had named so aptly, for his Mary was quite contrary. How was she going to take the news that her husband was dead and all that it meant for them as a family? Her reactions had always been unpredictable to him but the one he could count on was anger. This was not the life they had promised her on her marriage to Patrick. Her family home, the estate she had grown up on, was to be denied to her for a second time by the entail that kept title and estate together.
After she was dressed, Lady Grantham walked her husband towards the front door, "We'll all have to go into mourning, of course. O'Brien's sorting out the rest of my black now, and I've told Anna to see what the girls have that still fits. Mary won't have nearly enough, she'll have to have a whole new wardrobe."
"Well, that would have been necessary in a couple of months anyway, wouldn't it."
"She still isn't sure about that."
"Well it's the reason she didn't go with them, thank God. It must be true now, it must! It's been long enough, perhaps we could ask Dr. Clarkson to come and have a look at her."
"But my darling, she doesn't want that. She says she'd like to know herself first, get properly used to the idea. I can understand that."
"Of course, but this alters everything, you won't try to deny it?"
"Talk to her, try and get her to see reason. Get her to see the doctor. I've written for Murray to be here when he can to make everything clear. It will go better if I have something positive to tell him."
As they reached the door, Carson stood in front of it, rather than moving to open it. Robert drew up short, "What is it?"
"The Dowager Countess is in the drawing room, my Lord. Lady Mary is with her."
Cora turned back slightly to look at the room in question, her eyes soft with feeling for her daughter. "They've beaten us to it. How is she, Carson?" she asked fondly, knowing how much the old butler doted on her firstborn.
"I'd say tired, my Lady, subdued, but she's holding together. She's very strong."
Cora smiled tightly, "too strong for her own good, mostly."
"Well, shall we?" Robert held his hand out, indicating for her to go first. To be honest, he was glad they were here and that Cora would be with him through this conversation.
As he entered, he greeted the two women waiting together on the couch, "Mother" he slightly inclined his head with respect to the Dowager Countess before he turned to Mary. "So you've heard. Darling, I'm so very sorry." He approached her, and she stood, receiving his kiss but remained uncharacteristically quiet, her eyes downcast.
Cora also went to her daughter and pulled her into a brief embrace. "I'm sorry too Mary, but I… your father and I can't help feeling how glad we are that you chose not to accompany your husband on his business. That you are here with us is a comfort at this time."
Mary kissed her mother's cheek, and squeezed her hand, before both sat either side of Violet.
"Of course we've heard! Why else would we be here" snapped Violet in answer to her son's initial, rhetorical, question. "I'm very sorry about poor Patrick, of course. He was a nice boy. We were all so fond of him" she briefly took Mary's hand in her own, "But I never cared for James. He was too like his mother and a nastier woman never drew breath."
Mary was roused slightly by this, a quick tilt of her lips at this description of her father-in-law. She had not liked him either- he was a bully, but his death changed her life and Mary could not feel much of anything at the moment except that she was in free-fall, and if there was one thing Mary hated, it was feeling out of control.
"Mother, really! It's very sad that we have lost both Patrick and James. Of course Patrick is more in our thoughts at the moment," he tilted his head towards his silent daughter, "but we must understand what their deaths mean for all of us. Mary, my darling, so far we have not liked to push and have given you the time you have asked for, but really, now…"
He was interrupted by Carson "I'm sorry my Lord but Mr. Carter is here. He knows the situation and does not wish to disturb you, but he says it is quite urgent."
"Of course, Carson, I'll come now. Ladies, you'll excuse me I have business with my steward but will return as soon as possible." As Robert stood he looked meaningfully towards his wife, imploring Cora to continue the conversation he had been approaching. He left rapidly; quite glad to be out of the room and off the topic he thought should be left to the women.
Cora saw the gauntlet he had thrown down, the challenge to get through to arguably their most wilful child, and while she hated to press Mary, especially at this time, she understood why it was important. "Mary, what your father is trying to say is…well, don't you think it's time to confirm the pregnancy? We could send a message for Dr. Clarkson, he could be here in the hour I expect, and then you'll have a better idea." She leaned forward, over Violet and grasped Mary's cold hand in hers, "you'd know if you still had that tiny bit of Patrick, my darling."
Mary raised her head to face her mother. There was no sign of tears, but there was a trace of sadness and shock. Her lack of apparent feeling did not worry her mother, Mary had never been one to wear her heart on her sleeve in public, never showed much emotion other than anger to others, but she also knew her daughter was one who felt things deep in her heart, and would have to work through those feeling in her own time and space. All-in-all she was quite calm, and, having exchanged a glance with her Grandmother, she spoke in such measured tones. It was the meaning of her words that did shock Lady Grantham.
"Mama, there is no pregnancy, there never was".
"Patrick will never have a child, there is no baby to be Papa's heir."
"But you said… that was why you stayed in England. You said you thought there was a chance."
"I didn't want to go to America. I didn't want to go with Patrick. It was the only way I could think to get out of it, come home and have some time to myself."
Cora whirled on her mother-in-law, accusation in her eyes, "and you knew this?"
"We talked about it, yes. Only after Mary had come to stay. She told me there was no baby, but that she hadn't wanted to travel and I decided she had given as good an excuse as any. There are always reasons why these things don't come off and there would have been time in the future. Now of course… well, who could have predicted?"
The room was quiet for a moment, as Cora absorbed the shock. She gaped first at her mother-in-law, and then at her daughter, before looking to the window and drawing a deep breath. "We will not tell your father about your dishonesty. He would be crushed. We will only say that you were wrong, it happens, often it happens, and that we are all very upset it is not to be." She paused and looked back to Mary reproachfully, "when I think about poor Patrick, going to his maker thinking he was leaving a wife and child behind."
Mary's face hardened "I only ever said I might be, not that I was. If I had been it would have been early on and as Granny said, even then it may not have come off."
Cora was horrified by Mary's attitude, but then she supposed, Mary had known there was no baby to be sentimental about! She sighed and shook her head. There was so much going on in her head. James and Patrick, and now there was no baby.
This realisation was like the proverbial light bulb had gone off. There was no James and Patrick, and there was to be no baby. There was no heir. She looked to Violet sharply, and the other woman nodded her head in acknowledgment as she saw the pieces come together in her daughter-in-laws eyes.
Robert re-entered the room and re-took his seat opposite with a questioning glance at his wife and mother, his daughter would not meet his gaze and he again felt sorry at having pushed her. Cora stood and walked to him, reached for his hand and gave a small smile that did not reach her eyes.
"My dear, I have spoken with Mary, and your mother, and I'm afraid there is to be no child."
"There is no child?" Again he looked to Mary, a questioning sorrow on his face, but still she would not meet his eyes.
"Oh." He shifted in his seat looking very worried, and Cora took up a position next to him, hoping to be a comfort. After a moment he remembered himself enough to say, "Mary, I…I am truly sorry. That is a double blow on this sad day, but I cannot imagine how this feels for you."
She looked up and met her father's sympathetic gaze with a nod, but over his shoulder, her mother's disapproving one persisted. "If you'll excuse me, I think I will go and find Sybil. I could use a moment and there will be things for you to discuss." The last carried a bitter edge, and they were all sorry for it, sorry for her, but there was not much they could do about it now and she was right, there was much to discuss.
As Mary left the room she heard the conversation resumed between her parents and grandmother. "Do you know the new heir?"
"Only that there is one…"
She rested her hand on the wall, steadying herself and closed her eyes. With a deep breath, she fortified herself and went to find distraction in her sister.
Sybil was helping Anna sort through her wardrobe for mourning clothes when Mary found them. For a while she stood and watched. Having developed substantially over the last couple of years, Sybil was wearing the only appropriate thing that really fit her. In her own dour dress Mary sighed, and longed again for distraction. How was there to be any, even in Sybil's comforting presence, when they all had to wear mourning, acting as each other's reminders?
"Oh darling, I do hate seeing you in black. You were not made for such melancholia."
"Mary," Sybil reached for her sister with both arms as she came across the room. "Mary, how are you? I'm so sorry."
"I'm well, Sybil." At her sisters disbelieving look she said "truly I am. Of course it's a bit of a shock, I'm sure it is for all of us. But let us not take on like it was the marriage of the decade, no matter how much the wedding may have been touted the event of the year."
Sybil knew all about her marriage; the plans that had been made for her and Patrick, the dreams of love that had been shattered and the tears that had been shed the morning of Mary's first ball when, so giddy with excitement and happiness over breakfast, it had been explained to her that she could enjoy, but not engage, with the opportunities that were going to come her way, as she was expected to do as she was told. Mary had felt guilty explaining much of her situation to her schoolgirl sister who had only just left the nursery suite, but she had not wanted fairy-tale stories living large in the memory of her sweet playmate if Sybil's dreams were to be ripped away someday, too.
It had already been too late for Edith. Cow-eyed in the presence of her older cousin, fifteen year old Edith had thought it the most perfect fate in the world, the only downside was that it was to be Mary's, her horrid older sister who now got to wear pretty dresses and go to the grown up parties. Why should she listen to Mary, who was just being her usual know-it-all self, and showing off? Who wouldn't want to be married to the charming Patrick?
"But what will you do now? What will happen?"
"I don't know, Sybil dear. I'm really not sure where everything stands. I expect Papa will need to talk to Murray soon… and I suppose at some point there will have to be confirmation that they are gone, truly gone, before any of the legal things can be worked out."
"Will you stay here?"
"I'm not sure. I suppose Patrick's London properties are mine now, but to stay here…when it's what they promised me, Sybil? They promised me if I went along with all their plans and submitted to my fate quietly, this would be my home," her eyes welled up and her chin began to tremble as all her dashed dreams, her futile sacrifices, became clear to her. "They said I could have Downton and it would all be worth it to be happily at home when the time came. Now they are downstairs, looking for some third cousin or twice removed nephew to hand over all my security to- to receive all that was promised to me."
She ended on a sob and Sybil moved them both to the end of her bed and held her as she wept. It didn't last long as Mary was never one to give into her emotions much and, when she raised her head from Sybil's shoulder, the younger girl gave her a grim twist of her lips in an approximation of a smile, squeezed her hands again before dropping them, and returned to her wardrobe. The sisters knew each other well, and Sybil was well aware of the penalty that even she, most beloved, would face if Mary thought she was hovering.
Instead it was best to change the subject; "We're not having much luck here, I'll have to get at least two new day dresses made, but I suppose we could go together. You'll have to have crepes and wool. It'll be awful in summer."
Anna poured Mary a glass of water from the jug on the nightstand and silently passed it over, with a clean handkerchief from Sybil's pile. All three girls knew how blessed they were to have such an attendant who knew her young mistresses', and former mistress', moods well enough to navigate their interactions with deftness.
Mary appreciated their efforts and rallied herself to the topic "Yes, but thank god I won't have to wear a widows cap. I've just had a new dress ordered for the Carmichaels' ball, as well. It was beautiful, a deep red that would look almost plum in candle light. I won't be able to wear it now, but perhaps we could have them do something with it for you when you're back in colours."
"Oh well I'm so glad the death of your husband won't derail you too much, you know, fashion wise. It would just be too horrible if the fair Lady Mary had to cover any of her charms with something as respectful as a cap."
Mary did not even look up at the sound of her sister's voice from the doorway, she was in no mood to fight with Edith, especially as they never seemed to be engaged in the same disagreement when they spoke of Patrick anyway, always talking at cross purposes and half-truths that underlined Edith's wilful misunderstanding of her cousins character. Sybil rallied to her sisters' defence instead, and Mary did not protest.
"Edith, you know a widow's cap is not obligatory anymore, and especially not for someone of Mary's age."
"I suppose Patrick would be grateful to know that you were going into mourning for him at all, I'm surprised you don't consider yourself too 'well bred' to bother."
"He was my husband Edith," Mary snapped, in an attempt to put an end to her bitterness for now. "Whatever the circumstances of our private relationship, some of which you may be privy to, never forget that. I have done, and will do my duty to my husband and my family."
Edith was suitably chastised in the face of her sister's anger and backed down almost immediately. "Well, I did see a beautiful crepe de chine in Ripon when I was in on Tuesday. Perhaps we could all go in together and make sure we have what we need. Sybil will need gloves and a bordered handkerchief, she's never been to a funeral before."
"It's more likely to be a memorial than a funeral, I doubt the bodies will ever be recovered."
The bodies were not recovered, therefore Mary sent out invitations to the memorial, rather than a funeral, a number of weeks after the black-edged note cards informing family and friends of the demise of her husband and father-in-law. She had returned to the Abbey in order for the customary calls to be paid, and therefore, by the bright morning of the memorial, she could imagine that she had never been married at all, rising with her sisters to take breakfast with her father and undertaking her day as she had prior to her wedding two years ago. The wedding that had taken place in the same village church they walked from now. It could not have looked more different in this sunshine to how it had loomed over her on that very grey day in October.
The question of who was to inherit was discussed over dinner whenever Granny was present, which was frequently. Every time, another stone settled in Mary's stomach and her resentment towards the unknown Mr. Crawley grew. 'It isn't fair' she railed silently on every occasion, and it seemed only Sybil could read her thoughts, clasping her hand whenever possible. Unknown to her, all of her family were sympathetic to her cause, with the exception of Edith, perhaps, but what could be done? The law was the law, and Matthew Crawley was to be foisted on them in the coming months.
She could hear Murray ahead with her father, confirming that the solicitor from Manchester was thoroughly Middle Class and would inherit everything along with her father's title. There was to be no consideration for her having played her part in her parents scheme, beyond the money Patrick had amassed privately. Even her mother's money was not safe and it made her angry that everything could be taken from them, despite everything she had sacrificed.
"Really, Edith. Do you have to put on such an exhibition?" she huffed in exasperation, needing something to take her anger out on. She knew it was unfair to be so sharp with Edith, but really, she was so infuriating, playing the weeping widow in her stead. "He was my husband for heaven's sake, not yours, and I can control myself."
"Then you should be ashamed. It proves what I have always known, that he was too good for you, and you never cared about him."
"Edith," Mary hissed in reply, too low for her father to hear in front but menacing enough to carry her message. "I have listened to a lot of your opinions regarding my husband and our marriage, and I will tell you for the last time, you know very little about it. Kindly keep your idle and incorrect speculation to yourself before I find it in myself to debase you of the truth surrounding the matter and topple the pedestal you have Patrick on. I shall do it before all of the mourners and Papa, and it will break his heart, but I if you cannot keep quiet I shall speak up."
The three girls continued on to the house in silence where Murray excused himself from the party. Clearly, there was nothing else to be discussed.