Thank you to everyone who has reviewed, PM'd or otherwise been in touch. Yes, we're still going. I promise. My thanks to Patsan for the encouragement.
Unbeta'd- all (the many) mistakes are my own. I've split what I had thought this chapter would be in to two- so this is slightly less that my usual update length. I think you'll forgive me as this is something many have been asking for- I hope you enjoy it :-D
With closed eyes and purposefully, even breathing she could block out everything around her and still hear it- underneath the clinking glasses, the shrill laughter and the too-loud conversations, the moment when the distant patter began, sending her heart racing in anticipation. Mary braced her hands against the railings, waiting and listening as the patter changed, deepening and separating. Now, instead of one long rumble it was many individual staccato thuds- off beat, on beat, the paradiddles of an incompetent percussion section.
As it got louder, closer, the sounds around her fell away. Not as she was better able to shut them out, but because others were also now, momentarily, caught up in the approaching action. Deviating long enough from their socialising to remember why they were supposedly there.
Mary leaned further forward, eyes still closed, straining towards the action, her elbows and forearms taking her weight on the grandstand balustrade, perfect posture for once allowed to slip. Blood thrumming through her veins with the acceleration of her heart, she set her feet solidly as she preparing for the euphoric rush that accompanied the movement on track. They were much too far away to actually feel any real disturbance in the air, unfortunately, but the acceleration of her heartbeat reached fever pitch as the racing horses thundered by, leaving her panting lightly, as if she too had been whipped up by the jockeys. The only thing that came close was the sensation of Diamond carrying her at similar speeds. The only thing that came close in polite society, anyway.
"What are you thinking of?"
The voice at her shoulder made her jump and gasp. Jolting unsteadily around to face Matthew she drew her hand to her heaving chest, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart, panting even more heavily with fright on top of her fleeting exhilaration. The things she had just been thinking of.
He could read it in her eyes when his gaze captured hers, her dilated pupils struggling to focus in the bright sunshine, and he was affected by her hedonistic moment, too. Bitter chocolate and stormy sky were barely visible as they gazed at each other in the aftermath of Mary's moment of intoxicating sensation and Matthew's voyeurism of its effects.
"Matthew, my dear boy." Robert's booming voice was far too cheerful for the heady moment. "We weren't sure you were going to make it."
Mary blinked, and the rest of the world appeared around her again. Her father and mother, Granny, Edith in her absurd orange number, Rosamund in her giant hat and a whole crowd of people including Sybil and several young men some way off, were surrounding her and yet of course it was Matthew, the only person who could read her, who had witnessed her embarrassing momentary lack of poise.
It had been a month or so since his last visit to London and he was late. Mary had given up on him when he didn't show up that morning to escort her from her home on Leigh Street to her parents' house ready for the day at the Royal Ascot as he'd said he would. He hadn't even telephoned. Now here he stood, three hours after the Royal Procession, somehow conforming to the Enclosures strict dress code despite looking decidedly and endearingly windswept.
"I wasn't entirely sure either as I was desperately chasing down some paperwork that was due to arrive yesterday and only got in this morning. I missed my initial train, but managed to get the later one by the skin of my teeth." Mary watched him fiddle with his tie and shift uncomfortably before attempting to change the subject. "Does anyone have a form book? I'm afraid I've rather missed studying up for this one."
"Busy with a case?" Robert pressed, not seeing Matthew's misdirection for what it was.
"Rather." Matthew slid a meaningful look towards Mary, indicating to her that there was something to discuss, but not in front of her father. Turning back to Robert, both Mary and Matthew realised that for some reason Matthew's work had piqued her father's interest today of all days, and they were not going to get off so easily. Matthew decided to give him a bit more to go on, but nothing that could be followed back to the work he was doing for Mary. Not yet. Not until everything was in place.
"We're moving in on something quite big, and I wanted to make sure everything was watertight before I came down."
Robert began to say more, but Mary cut across him. "Really Papa, Matthew came down to have a bit of fun. Let's not spoil it with talk of his work," she drawled. "Anyway, the Worleys' might hear you- you know how they feel about the working classes." She shot Matthew an amused smirk as her father looked guiltily behind him. Robert may have gotten somewhat used to his Middle Class heir, but others had not, and Mary was well able to play up her own snobbish tendencies and former opinions when necessary, without looking the least bit suspicious.
On turning back to the conversation, Robert could see the relief on Matthew's face and decided that his heir probably was working too much and that he should let the subject drop. Conceding the point to his daughter he clapped Matthew on the back and looked around the crowd for a moment. "Well I'm sure we can scare you up a form book from somewhere. Merton? Do you have a catalogue handy?" he asked, grabbing the attention of the man at his other side, who had looked to be in conversation with his wife.
Mary stepped away from the railing, holding a folded pamphlet out to him. "Here, you can have mine."
"Won't you be needing it again?" Matthew asked. Seeing that he was accommodated, Robert moved away to talk to Merton, now that he had his attention, and Edith moved closer, into the space vacated by her father, perusing her own form guide with an intensity it did not require. She snorted, offering Matthew a sardonic look as she ignored her sister's presence entirely. Matthew knew exactly what was coming.
"Mary doesn't use the guides. She goes by the horses name or which of the jockeys' colours go best with her outfit."
"Well at least I'd be able to find a match. What colour goes with orange anyway? Not that pink you've chosen, that's for sure," Mary shot back almost instantly.
"It's salmon, not orange," Edith tutted, shaking her head and trying to appear resigned rather than offended by her sister's words. "I know you've been out of the fashion loop for a while but you really must attempt to catch up now."
Matthew attempted to stifle his laughter as he watched Mary silently appraise her sister with a characteristic raised eyebrow, her expression more cutting than any further words could be. It was not that he thought Edith looked bad. Indeed, all of the Crawley women looked wonderful, as usual, and it was still a revelation to him to see Mary in anything other than her mourning attire. Today she was resplendent in a cream lace garment while Edith was, it was true, a little bolder in an orange-y dress with rose trims. Women's fashion was not something he knew a huge amount about- he liked what he liked and didn't give it much more thought than that. No, it wasn't their fashion choices that amused him but the sisters' constant sniping. He wondered if he'd miss it if they ever stopped. Not that he was ever likely to find out.
"I made significantly more than you at the Derby, though, did I not." Edith made no reply to Mary, she merely rolled her eyes, but Matthew was intrigued.
"And why did you choose that horse? The name or the jockey colours?"
"The name. Actually, I backed the winner, Dunbar to win. The family normally plays place bets but I had a good feeling about this one."
"And what was the attraction?"
"Edith had a friend, Judith Dunbar, during her season. She and the horse looked quite similar so I thought it fitting," Mary sniggered as Edith turned on her heal and marched off in pique.
Matthew shook his head ruefully. "You shouldn't rile her, you know. She's desperate for a little positive attention from you."
"I know. Sad isn't it?" Mary asked nonchalantly, scanning the crowd. A thought seemed to strike her and with twinkling eyes she turned back to Matthew. "What about you? Are you desperate for a little positive attention from me?"
He now also looked around at the surrounding crowd. There was no-one really close enough to hear them but he lowered his voice and leaned closer anyway. "You know I am. Always."
"Well then, did you want to lay a bet?" she asked a little louder, the gleam still present in her eyes. "Perhaps you'd like to see some of your front-runners in the staging area before you put any of that hard earned lawyer's salary down? I'll let Mama know we're going for a walk."
They ambled as they walked around the grandstand away from the betting booth, taking their time being together. As he had missed a number of races, Mary had convinced Matthew to put a reasonable amount of money down in a one off bet on the year's new race, the Bessborough Stakes, and had done the same herself when he was finished.
Now walking close together, but not so close as to be inappropriate, Matthew longed for her to take his arm, to be able to pretend at least that they were engaged, but there were so many of her friends here, or at least, so many people that she knew, that it just was not possible. Not as things stood.
"So what really held you up this morning?" Mary asked, straightening her hat, trying not to appear as if she had been put out by his effectively standing her up.
"I was waiting for a number of affidavits to be returned from the notary." Although Matthew had apologised already, he still owed her this explanation, and it was something they needed to discuss, anyway.
"Sworn statements from a number of key people involved with Patrick and his friends," he explained. "It turns out that some haven't been paid or kept in the manner to which they had grown accustomed since his death. In the last two years a number of grievances have developed."
"And they were prepared to talk to you, despite what they do? Despite their lifestyles?" To say Mary was surprised was an understatement. Murray has suggested even getting near these people would be difficult, let alone having them complete paperwork!
"I'm not looking to make a legal case with these statements. At least, not yet. In the first place I will bring them to the attention of the Duke. I had them notarised to guarantee their authenticity and that should be enough to scare him. If not, there is enough worrying information, without disclosing the names of others, to get the police involved in investigating the Duke. It will be him that they want, that they can make a public example of, not the working classes."
Mary nodded slowly. "No one reads the papers to learn about the perversions of the lower classes, they imagine they are all morally corrupt anyway."
"Exactly," Matthew was happy that she had caught on so quickly. It was an element of the plan he was not quite certain of, having not moved in Society circles for long. Mary had just confirmed for him that these were likely the thoughts of the fashionable, and so he judged that he was probably on the right track.
"The affidavits had to be voluntary, so we couldn't offer to pay them, but there are a number of assurances that I had to make that, should their statements help us win, we will be liable to uphold. I had everything signed and notarised here in London with solicitor that the firm do some work with, Mr Swire. He will attest that everything in the documents is executed on both sides, after the fact."
"But ultimately, what we want is to put them out of their business and homes. They agreed to this? What do they want from us?"
"Yes they agreed to it, because we will be offering reasonable compensation. Not a huge amount, but more than they would get if they didn't help us and we won anyway. They are unhappy with the way things are, the Duke is apparently not as liberal a master as Patrick. He is content to see things fall into disrepair, bills and wages go unpaid. A lifelong lease on a house you cannot maintain is not such as prize, especially in the type of business these people are in. People are less inclined to…visit. Especially people of the sort of standing they need to…entertain…to turn a profit. As it stands they are willing to move on, but have no money and no way to do so without us."
"So, we have a plan?" Mary asked hopefully.
"We have a plan," was the firm reply. "I need to meet the Duke of Crowborough as soon as possible to execute it. That was the rush, you see. You said that Lady Jessica's ball is the one that we are attending tomorrow?"
"Yes, that's right."
"And so we'll need everything together and ready to go. You still believe that their engagement will be announced then?"
"I'm almost certain. Apparently Jessica was boasting of it in front of Sybil and several other girls at tea the other day. She will be the first of their circle to be ensnared- she seems to think it's some sort of achievement," Mary shook her head in wonder, unaware of the effect her words were having on Matthew.
"Ensnared? Is that how you think of marriage now?" He looked at his shoes, frowning at the scuff marks even as he kicked at the grass as they walked.
It took a moment for his tone and question to register, along with the fact that he had dropped back from her side, and was now standing, a few paces behind her, looking all of a sudden quite lost and alone.
"Oh Matthew." She could not stand to see his face so forlorn. Looking about her she noted that, not only was much of the surrounding attention diverted towards the track, but that they were close to the stairs of the grandstand. Sizing up Matthew again, she realised there was only one course of action.
"Mary!?" He exclaimed as she grabbed his hand and began pulling him towards the underside of the grandstand structure.
"Shh," she hissed back, manoeuvring him into the shadows. "Do you want everybody to see us?"
"Well, I don't…" he stammered, unsure of her intentions.
"Trust me, you don't." She replied as she pressed up on her toes, running her hands up his arms to brace herself and kissing him lightly in apology.
Though the gesture had begun as a small apology for upsetting him, the feel of his strong arms underneath her fingertips and the delicious pressure of his lips made her breath hitch and let her know that it had become something else.
They separated briefly before quickly falling into a second, more sensuous kiss. Heart pounding, blood rushing, her thoughts were once more akin to those exhilarating ones he had shaken her from earlier. Matthew's thoughts were obviously not far behind.
He pulled back from her kiss if not from her arms. "Uh, Mary…" Oh, God. He wished she'd stop- they were more or less in public, at a society event and anybody…everybody who was anybody… could, at any moment, discover them, but at the same time he never wanted her to stop. He never wanted to let go of her- to give her up to the rest of the world.
"What?" She licked her lips, running her fingertips around his still mussed collar and into his hair. She was mesmerized once again by hedonism and lost to all but sensation. He tried to hold himself taut and her hand fell away in response. It was clear to him that she had forgotten where they were, so it was up to him to keep them honest.
But it was oh, so difficult. When Mary's hand began to travel upwards again, stroking and coaxing, Matthew caught it and brought it to his chest. "I don't think you should do that anymore," he whispered huskily.
"Why?" her voice was equally deep and shaky and it undid him.
"Because," he dipped under the brim of her hat, his lips barely brushing her earlobe. "It makes me want to do this."
He captured her mouth again. There was no resistance and this time he pushed for her to open up to him immediately, holding her off balance so that she had to rely on him to keep her upright and she seemed ready to surrender willingly. Despite initially being the one to hold them back, he was now utterly shameless, overwhelmed by her readiness to let him have his way.
He stole all of Mary's thoughts and senses at first and yet, as their embrace progressed, she became an active participant, shifting the angle and changing the intensity, taking his bottom lip between their own and nipping at it gently. His arms moved to steady her, to cradle and support rather than dominate, and their kiss became something else again- something special and tender. Somehow it was now peaceful, and most of all loving, as if the eye of a storm had passed.
When it came to a natural conclusion Mary moved back a little, breathlessly resting her back against the wooden shoring of the grandstand behind her. Matthew didn't let her go far.
"Ensnared," he breathed.
Mary looked absolutely and deliciously befuddled as she licked her lips, breathing deeply. "What."
"Ensnared is what you have done to me," he whispered fiercely, staring at her, willing her to understand him. "You've entangled my senses. I am spellbound by you and attentive to your every measure. I love you, and if being married to you is to be ensnared, then I'm willing to be trapped."
Mary shook her head, her expression jaded and disbelieving. "To be trapped is to be imprisoned…"
She couldn't hold his gaze any longer but Matthew was relentless and when her head dipped so that she could hide behind the brim of her hat, he pushed it back, dislodging pins and giving him room to find her eyes once again.
"Yes, but to be trapped by you, by love, is to be held captive willingly. Do you love me?" he demanded.
"Yes," her answer was simple- it was a surprisingly easy give away. Although she had never told him so before, she had told others and she had felt it for months.
While she seemed nonchalant, her answer shocked the hell out of Matthew. Its artlessness, the lack of hesitation and the surety, took him completely off guard. "You do?"
She shrugged, and smiled a little bit, looking down timidly. "Yes. I love you."
"Oh, my darling." All the fight left Matthew as he embraced her again, pulling her flush against his body in happiness and sheer relief. Others had told him she did, and he had hoped it was so, even had a little confidence that it was, but to hear her say the words was elating. "Then, could you not want to be ensnared by me? You would be my captive, as I would be yours, but we would be able to be honest about our feelings. To be able to act on them. Surely that would be freeing."
She laughed a little bitterly at that. "Freeing? I've never really known what it means to be free. When I was a child of course it was Mama, or nanny, occasionally Papa that curtailed me. Seen and not heard. Admired, held up as Downton's princess, but rarely spoken to and certainly never listened to. Even as I grew, had independence of though, family and tradition meant everything, and the wants of a young girl meant nothing. So I was dutiful, behaved well, took pride in my home and care of the tenants and my reward for that was to be passed off to Patrick." She paused, looking beyond him without seeing. "It would be different with you, I know that, but would I really be free?"
Matthew chose not to implore her at this moment because if there was one thing he knew about this woman, and he prided himself on knowing many things, it was that she would make up her own mind in the end. Instead he took his cue from her and spoke honestly. "I can't tell you there won't be any restraint. I would be foolish to do so. There is always family, and tradition, the weather, the law," he gestured around them, "society and their calendar of events. So I grant you, total freedom will never be possible… but I promise you that one of the things I love most about you is your independence of spirit. It is something I will cherish and encourage and never stand in the way of."
Mary looked hopeful, but couldn't stop herself from saying, "But I might want to curtail yours. I'm not sure how much of your independence I would be able to take. Not after Patrick. I might need to know you're mine, even if it's irrational…"
"And I would be happy to reassure and prove to you that I want to be yours alone." He paused, and took a deep breath, deciding that yes, this could be the moment. "Do you think that you could bear to have me, my darling? By your side, for always?"
She was silent, contemplative for a moment, and his heart was in his mouth, watching her face breathlessly for any hint of her answer. After a moment that felt like years for Matthew, Mary began to nod, lightly and slowly. His face broke into a blinding grin and, catching sight of it, Mary smiled as well, nodding with a little more conviction.
"Yes. I'll marry you," she giggled slightly as he pulled her into his arms and off the ground as he kissed her exuberantly. Pulling back she gave him a coy look. "Even though you never did ask me properly."
He rolled his eyes and began to get to his knees, smirking. It was absurd- the question was already asked, sort of, and answered, but she could have anything she wanted at this point. His movement was stopped by her touch under his elbow, pressuring him to rise again. She took his hand in hers and smiled up at him as she shook her head slightly. "No, no. I've made you wait long enough and I've given you my answer."
He grinned at her again, barely able to believe that all of his dreams had come true. Pulling her towards him once again, he stooped to kiss her lips, and as he did, the crowd around them erupted in cheers.
Matthew jumped back as if he'd been shot, looking around him for the source of the noise. Mary also looked bewildered, and her hand rose to her hat, trying to repair the damage he had inflicted. Even if they had been caught she wanted to appear unruffled.
It took a moment, but their shared realisation that no one had found them out, caused both to laugh in blessed relief. He took her hand to reassure them both.
"What do you think all that was about?" Mary asked, scanning the crowds that were visible if she peeked around the edge of the grandstand.
Matthew listened carefully to the cheers and conversation he could pick out from around and above them in the grandstand. After a moment, and with a little laugh, he began pulling her back towards the crowd. "I think, my darling, that that was the end of the race." He puffed up a little and smirked at her while lengthening his pace back towards the Royal Enclosure. "And, from what I just heard, my horse just came in!"
"Which horse?" She asked, laughing breathlessly as she was forced to skip and stumble, attempting to keep up with his pace as he pulled her along behind him in his excitement.
"Good and Gay!"
"Good and Gay?" she echoed, pulling him to a stop. "That was my horse! 5 pounds on to win."
"Really?" He laughed fondly. "What was the deciding factor- jockey colours or the name?"
"Actually, Edith missed one off that list- Good and Gay is owned by the Astors'. Supporting them is a sure fire way to get my mother's back up," she replied flippantly.
Matthew shook his head ruefully. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Marry me, apparently," She flirted, unable to keep the delighted smile from her face, no matter how hard she tried.
"And why did you choose him?" Matthew looked confused, so Mary clarified; "Good and Gay, why did you choose that horse? Were his stats that good, or did you like the fact that the Astor blue matches your eyes?"
Matthew brought her hand to his mouth for a kiss- a public gesture he now felt free to indulge in despite the fact that they were now in full view of the Enclosure. "I hadn't noticed that, actually, but I'm very glad you did." Mary blushed slightly. "Actually for me it was the name. I'm spending the day with you, so I knew it would be good, and I knew I was going to be happy."
Mary's smile turned thoughtful, her eyes serious now even as they crinkled in that way he loved. "And are you, Matthew? Happy?"
He was solemn now, too, and very firm. "Yes. Are you?"
She thought about it for a moment, the enormity of her decision and what it meant for her…them. "Yes," she smiled up at him softly, although genuine and happy again. "Let's go and tell them, shall we?"
The names of the 1914 winning horses are real- Dunbar and Good and Gay. If you know where I got the inspiration for Edith's friend's name, Judith Dunbar, virtual cookies to you!
Pictures of the outfits are again on Pinterest; /anniellaeyes/for-ye-devour-widows-houses/
Let me know your thoughts.