A/N: Thank you for reading. This chapter is much longer, so I hope you enjoy it. Don't forget to review, please!
"Miss." Gwen bowed a little as she entered the room, though she hardly felt the need.
It was an odd situation for the servants: Miss Vandavere was not a lady, but she was rich. She was used to being waited on, but seemed to able to do for herself just as well. She did occasionally require help of course, running baths that she took often, doing her hair, having her clothes prepared, but she kept almost entirely to herself otherwise. Her bell rang three or four times a day at regular intervals. She paid so little attention to ceremony that she was somewhat awkward and at times a tad uncouth. She probably would not notice whether Gwen bowed or not. It was strange.
"I'll have to get you ready myself tonight." Gwen said, not expecting an answer. The red head walked to the dresser where the American sat, and began combing her hair, pulling the fine strands into a French braid, one of the only things she could do properly. It was difficult to make Miss Abigail's hair stay without hurting her, the locks were so fine and so soft they slipped apart. Miss Vandavere released a sidepiece, twisting it and then fastening it behind her ear with a rather ornate green and purple dragonfly pin. Another strand at the fringe and nape of the neck she let loose, curling it as Gwen fastened the braid.
"Thank you." Miss Abigail said when it was finished. Gwen's arms were tired with the effort.
"Thank you for helping me make it look decent." Gwen laughed bashfully, feeling once again as if she were in the wrong trade. Stepping over the dog, she walked towards the full wardrobe. The dog was often found in Vandavere's room, which had been singular as Mary, Edith and Sybil had never let animals in their rooms. And she always said thank you, Gwen reflected, even quietly at the table when each glass was refilled, each plate taken.
"I'll wear green tonight." She said offhand.
"I think Lady Sybil is wearing green."
"Purple then." Then abruptly, "Gwen, Sybil said you have a job interview tomorrow. I've got something you must take." The young lady crossed the room and rummaged in the top of her wardrobe. Gwen stood there dumbly. "This." She held up a leather briefcase, trim and smooth and lightly colored with a faint design around the edges.
"Oh no, Miss. I couldn't."
"You must. I gave my word I would help you to pay back a favor she did me. Take it."
"Really, I can't. She shouldn't even have told you. I don't want you to have to lie for me too."
"Oh it's old anyway and it will make you look professional, along with those clothes Sybil gave you. You have the skill; we are just giving you the trimmings. Now take it."
"Can I return it if I don't get the job?"
"Suit yourself." She shrugged.
Once her dress was on, she sat back down at the dressing table, putting on small green earrings and powdering herself. Gwen stared for a moment at the reflection. She was beautiful. Not a lady, like the others. Not a wild exotic beauty like John. Strange and stern. Yet delicate, almost frail.
Grey eyes met hers in the mirror, eyes that always made her nervous; Gwen started and with a plop knocked several books from the dresser to the floor.
"Oh! I'm sorry."
"They are fine."
"Did you not like the ones you were reading yesterday?" Gwen wondered, turning the new titles over in her hands.
"I've finished them."
"Already?" she said, incredulous.
Abigail Vandavere did not reply. She stopped what she was doing, as if she'd said something wrong. Her eyes fixed themselves on Gwen's reflection. Gwen looked down at her hands and found a scrap of paper had escaped from the hiding place inside the novel.
"Gwen," her voice was serious.
"Yes mi'lady?" Gwen faltered, suddenly feeling as though she had intruded.
"I'd like you to trust me with your secret." The young lady turned to face her.
"Sorry?" Gwen blinked.
"And so I'm going to trust you with my secret. Then we will be even. Would you like that?"
Gwen felt eyes looking into her, watching every muscle in her face, her breathing, but even as apprehensive as that gaze made her, her curiosity burned throughout her body like a gulp of hot tea.
"What's that my la-I mean, Miss Vandavere?"
As Gwen replaced the books, sliding the letter back inside, Miss Vandavere took it from the pages and folded it in two. "This is to go to John. Can you do that?"
"Yes ma'am." She somehow bit back the hundred questions she had.
"Thank you. Now you have no worry that I shall reveal your secret, nor should you feel badly for taking the bag."
Gwen nodded, speechless. Miss Vandavere stood as there was a knock on her door. Sybil entered.
"Oh! Gwen, hello there. All ready for your interview? I've talked to Papa and we'll be taking the carriage. It's all settled. What have you got there?" Lady Sybil indicated her hands and a thrill of horror went through her. It must have showed on her face, but looking down she saw she was now holding the bag and it was concealing the secret letter.
"La—Miss Vandavere lent it to me for my interview. Much better than the old bag I was going to bring. I can carry a copy of my resume in the pocket. I just can't believe this is happening Mi'lady. I can't thank you enough."
"Good. I'm glad you don't mind me telling Abigail. I knew she could be trusted; I didn't tell anyone else."
"No I don't mind. Not at all." Gwen threw a glance her way.
Sybil smiled. "Good. Abigail, I wanted a word with you before dinner. It's about out little trip we had planned."
"Excuse me." Gwen let herself out.
She walked down the hall imaging herself dressed in the business suit, carrying this bag, back straight, head up. A real professional woman. She squeezed the bag a little harder and heard a crinkle of paper. Gasping, she unclenched the letter and stopped. Checking the hall was clear, she examined the paper to see if it was alright. It was not torn, she sighed in relief, but, she thought she may have smudged the ink. She could open and see…
'No, Gwen! You nosey devil,' she berated herself. 'You have no business betraying her trust like that.' But she had not said not to read it, not put it in a envelope. After all, if it was ruined, she should return it now. She knew her entire secret after all. If she wanted it to be even…
"What have you got there, Gwen?" Mr. Bates asked, making her inhale sharply. How did she not hear him limping towards her?
"Nothing." She answered too quickly. "Just cleaning this for Miss Vandavere." And with that, she scooted away to try to find John.
Edith talked happily with Sir Anthony as Mary tried her best to keep Matthew entertained. Granny had very strategically placed him away from Cousin Abigail and Evelyn Napier directly next to her. It humored the blonde to see her older sister, who thought herself so superior, putting so much effort into conversation with a man while she could not help but cast jealous glances at the other man she had shunned. Glances Matthew caught— he was not an idiot.
Edith was well aware of how much work it took to get Evelyn to return to Downton, and she could not tell if Cousin Abigail was making his trip worth it or not. He had been visiting nearby and agreed to come to dinner so that Downton would not leave such a bitter taste in his mouth, or so they had said. In truth, they aimed to govern his attentions towards Cousin Abigail in order to free Matthew up for Mary. He had been hesitant to return to the house where he'd had his broken and lost his friend. If he only knew the truth that Edith herself had recently learned, Napier would consider himself lucky, narrowly escaping the dangerous fate of marrying a creature like Mary.
To spite her sister, Mary tried once to engage in conversation with Sir Anthony, but Edith took the opportunity when she saw it to make Mary look as ignorant and uncaring as she could. It was her own fault; she should keep up with the world events. But the younger woman had not meant to create further tension as there was already conflict brewing over the local flower show with animosity so serious you'd think it was the war looming.
Talking of the international affairs brought a sad look upon the countenance of Evelyn Napier and then to Mary, which both Matthew and Napier to note of—the latter of which then grew more forlorn. Then, to make matters worse, Sir Anthony had just been traveling Germany and Austria. He commented on his worry.
Matthew surprised them all by practically exclaiming the length of the table.
"Your mother was Austrian, wasn't she, Abigail?"
Silence pervaded the hall and Edith felt her face heat.
"Do you have family there?" his mother asked, diverted from her challenge to the Dowager Countess.
"Really?" And Evelyn bowed his head and engaged in deep conversation with her for the rest of the evening. Edith hardly noticed, happily engaged in her own. Mary on the other hand grew more false and pathetic by the minute and though it brought great mirth to Edith, she began to pity Matthew. She suggested they go through and her mother smiled at her, grateful. No long after, people began to disappear into the hall, but she barely noticed.
"War of the Roses." Abigail was saying as Matthew stepped into the hall. The others were having coffee in the other room and Lord Grantham had gone through to the library. He did not see her at first. He laughed very softly, feeling more tired than usual.
"Thank you for listening to my platitudes all evening." A deeper voice replied. "I promise I'm not always this depressing to talk to; I'm usually really quite jovial."
Evelyn Napier was talking to her in private.
Matthew stopped in his tracks in a poorer lit area behind a column. Not hiding, just trying to not to disturb them, he reasoned, caught in an awkward situation. Miss Vandavere was not speaking.
"Perhaps you will allow me the opportunity to prove it to you." Napier asked with all politeness and a hint of timidity. Matthew approved of his tone and his manners, but did not approve of the match. Perhaps it was the difference in age. Or the fact they had just met. Or that she was desperately rich and he knew they were throwing this man at her.
"How so?" she asked.
"Will you be in London for the season?"
"I do not know yet."
"Well, if you are, allow me to call on you. To show you I can entertain you as well."
"Sure." She agreed, with a friendly and obliging tone which seemed to take effort and which implied she did not quite understand the social implications of such an agreement.
"And may I write to you?"
"Of course you may."
There was a pause in which Matthew was sorely tempted to look around the corner and make certain he was not trying to kiss her already.
"I think I shall go up." Napier sighed. "I am terribly exhausted. Goodnight, Miss Vandavere. Sleep well."
Again, there was no audible reply and Matthew waited for his footsteps to soften on the upstairs carpet before he came forward. Abigail was the at the window. Her back to him, she seemed oblivious to his presence, absorbed in her own thoughts. He had better speak to keep from startling her.
"I'm sorry if I overheard anything. I was just stepping out for some air and quite." She did not jump. She did not move at all.
"Me too." Feeling at ease, he stepped forward. "You're not interrupting. Mr. Napier's gone up to bed.
"I feel as though I could fall asleep now myself."
"I agree. It was very tiring. But I think he was more wanting some time alone. He talked mostly of his friend who died here."
"He confided in you?"
"He must have liked you very much." He did not know why he said it.
"He just wanted someone to listen. I think he has been wanting to talk about it for a long time. He thought an orphan would not mind."
"I'm sorry." He offered in earnest, his face pained for her.
"No, don't be." She quickly reassured him. "I didn't mind."
He tried to tell himself that this first small wriggle of jealousy was more his exasperation with Mary and dinners and his mother and that damned flower show. Everything here was a battle. He was growing very tired tonight, a little glum himself. Something about the conversation had brought down his already low mood. Not that it was his business nor that he knew why he was concerned about it.
He could not even look at her when he said it; he starred at the fire: "You know, he'll think you're his girl now."
"What?" she turned in surprise.
"I was afraid you might not have caught that." He smiled.
"Oh Matthew," she took his arm without thinking, her almost frightened expression humorous to him. "You must get me out of this!" She appealed to him as to an older brother, and the intimacy flattered him.
"How can I help?" he openly laughed.
"No, you're right." The humor left her voice and her face. She dropped her gaze. "It's not your problem."
"No," he put his hands on her shoulders. She was such a slight person and with such a sad little life, all alone save the world that was after her money. He could not help the desire to comfort her. "No, I will do anything I can."
"I was only being nice." She pouted.
"I know." He grinned at her silly childishness, leaning back straight again.
"I don't mind him writing or even calling, but I'm not his girl. I'm not anyone's girl."
"Well, perhaps just tell him that." Matthew suggested.
"And break his heart again?"
"Honesty is always the best policy."
"No it isn't." she answered dismissively. "Would you be willing to do me a favor, really?" she asked, her mind clearly crafting a plot.
"I said I would."
"I know, but it's a tad devilish." And there it was. A real smile. It stretched into her eyes the way his father's used to, maybe even started there. It was a bit crocked, like a child's, and so wonderfully mischievous that he felt like laughing again, deeply from his stomach. He was in trouble and he knew it: How could he say no?
"Tell me." He said, resigned.
"Would you tell him that you are calling on me? You know, scare him off your territory."
"Oh I see. You think that if I say you are my girl instead he will politely back off."
"I think it will work. He seems a gentleman. You'll have to be intimidating though."
"Oh I don't know. I'm not the intimidating type."
"You can very intimidating."
"To who?" he demanded in disbelief.
"To me." He waited for a snort of laughter. It did not come.
"Are you serious?" She nodded. His voice softened and he bent closer to her. "Don't ever be intimidated by me, Abigail. I am nothing but a friend to you. And even if I wasn't, I could not do much damage." He scoffed at himself.
"You have more fight in you than you think." Her lips curled a little, hinting at a crooked smile.
"Then I shall only use it to help you. Tomorrow when he leaves, I shall make it clear to Mr. Napier that I have had my sights set on you since the day I met you and if he wants to court you he's is in for a challenge."
"Oh Matthew. You are the best." And she gave him a quick hug of gratitude and left him to go through and be with the others. He stood there for a moment smiling at the idea of his newly adopted little sister, threatening away her suitors. Grinning at the way she wrapped her arms tightly around his middle for a second, as one would do with a brother one adored. A dear brother. After all, she was no one's girl, she had said.
But as he touched his collar where her hair had been a moment before, her sweet smell clung there. He breathed it in and was jolted to find his reaction was not at all brotherly.
Mary covered her mouth tightly. She must not cry out. Even as she felt herself tearing apart wondering how this had all happened.
'I have had my sights set on you since the day I met you and if he wants to court you he's is in for a challenge.'
She left her dark corner behind column in the hall and turned to go into the library, drying her face with a handkerchief. She was not going to outdone by someone less of a Lady just because she was younger and richer. Evelyn and Matthew had belonged to her once, and they would belong to her again. Perhaps it would not be so difficult to destroy Cousin Abigail after all.
A/N: See? True to my word. I let Matthew and Abigail be alone another moment! So please leave a review to tell me what you think of Abigail and John or anything else you'd like to leave your input on. I've already got a head start on the next chapter, but I won't post until some reviews are up so I know you are reading.