Beta by: Slynn6776, ScarletAngel and Eolivet
A/N This story is a look at what would have happened to Mary and Matthew if they had no choice but to marry each other. I know it's a bit hypocritical and I'm sure I'm taking great liberties with entails, but when you get an idea in your head and it won't let go, the only way to get it out is to write it down. Finally, maybe to showcase that even I don't take myself too seriously, there is a nod to Penelope Wilson's role in Pride and Prejudice.
Mary stood in the middle of the dimly lit library. Her father had finished talking, his sad eyes gazing upon her now expecting an appropriate emotional response to his news.
He wasn't going to get one. "Do I...Do I have to be in mourning?"
"What?" His face flashed anger. She didn't want him to erupt but she needed to know.
"Do I have to be in mourning? For Patrick?"
He was obviously astonished at her question. To be fair, she was a little too. "Of course you have to be in...he was your fiancee!"
"Decided for me by my grandfather several years before I was born."
Robert walked closer to her. His face softening, "I know you never wanted to marry Patrick, but he was still family. And he would have done a good job taking over the estate when I was gone, I'm sure be a good husband to you as well..."
Mary broke her gaze from him. She never wanted to marry Patrick and the whole family knew it. Did Patrick know it? She wanted to escape the inevitable future of living at Downton with him but she hadn't meant to wish his death. "I'm sorry if my question seems uncaring. I just need to know. I don't know the proper etiquette here. It's not like we had officially announced it..."
"No, we hadn't," Robert said. "But we really had to wait for him. I think he was waiting to see if he wanted someone else..."
Mary flinched at this. In anger. Bitterness. Not only was she to be handed over to her next relation who inherited her own house and money, but only if he wanted to have her as his bride. Her grandfather was a very cold man, of what she remembered of him. He seemed upset that she was a girl. She wondered if he just hated women. Poor Granny.
"Well, it's over now, I guess. I suppose I can go into mourning. Then once we're past the legalities of the wretched entail maybe I can finally move forward..."
"Mary," Robert said, his voice changing. "Mary, you do realize the entail doesn't change, just the line does."
"Downton must go to the next male in line. Murray is looking into who that is, I'm afraid it's further down than I realized. What a horrible mess this is..."
Mary turned so fast it startled him. "You're saying that nothing changes? I still have to marry...I'm supposed to marry the next Earl of Grantham?"
"Unless he's already married, or of course, doesn't want you. That won't be a blessing, the money will all go to him, you will have have very little."
Mary grabbed the nearest chair. "I thought Patrick was the last...I mean, our closest cousins after them are all women and from there..."
"Yes, that's right. We're taking a close look at the family tree. Murphy said something about Manchester if you can believe it..."
"Manchester?" Mary asked to which Robert placed her hand on her shoulder. She looked over the room, and tried to contemplate the situation. She hadn't felt like crying over Patrick's death before, but now it seemed like she could. Who could this man be? And then, he could choose NOT to have her. The absurdity of everything made Mary nearly laugh.
"When will we find out?"
"Murray is coming by after the memorial, we'll know by then."
Maybe he will be married already, Mary hoped. No, she prayed. She had hoped now that she could marry whom she pleased, or at least, she could marry up a station. While being the Countess of Downton would be enough, a higher station in life had been what she truly desired. She had invited the Duke to come soon, and she had hoped he would be interested. She knew she could have talked Patrick out of the engagement if the Duke had wanted her. But who knew about this distant cousin?
Matthew stood by the window, drinking his tea. He could hear his mother and his Aunt Abigail in the parlor next door. The door was shut but you could still hear Aunt Abigail through it. Matthew imagined you could hear her if you were down the street.
"Oh my nerves!" he heard her wail.
Imagining the calming words his mother would be using to help his aunt's troubled soul, Matthew put the tea down. He knew there was only one thing to do. One thing to be done. And he knew his mother knew it as well. The problem was getting his aunt to see it.
"Move our whole lives? How am I to handle that? With five girls!"
Matthew sat down in a chair overlooking the street. A month ago his uncle had died from a heart attack. It was sudden and shocking. Nobody expected it. Well, his mother said she had expected it, believing she had seen bad coloring on his skin and his bad diet had finally gotten to him along with the stress of his job. Matthew actually wondered if it might not have been stress due to his marriage. Aunt Abigail was a handful and having five daughters to boot.
Another wail came from the parlor and Matthew winced, trying to remember to show compassion and patience. This would be hard on anyone and he must give allowances for her suffering. But he couldn't shake his own memories of when his father died, also unexpected. It was the only time he could remember seeing his mother cry. It about broke his heart, but before he knew it, she shook it off and planned for the funeral and whatever other arrangements needed to be made. Luckily Matthew had managed to join a successful partnership, supporting them to keep their current lifestyle. His aunt wasn't so lucky and with so many children at a much younger age; she was going to need help.
The door opened and Matthew got up, walking to the hallway to meet the women. "Mother, Aunt..."
He didn't get out her name before she was throwing her arms around him, tears streaming down her face. "Oh my boy! What are we to do? We'll be out on the street! Oh, I knew these girls would be the death of me and now they certainly are."
Isobel gently pulled her sister from Matthew and pushed her towards the door. "There, there, Abigail. It will be alright. Trust in God. We'll get through this and think of something. Here is the driver to take you back to your house."
Matthew walked into the parlor as he let his mother make her goodbyes. It wasn't long before she joined him there. "So, she knows now."
"Yes, she does." Matthew had wanted to tell her himself. After Uncle Jedediah had died, Matthew knew that the family wouldn't have been able to afford to stay in that house forever. But when he sat down to go over the finances and papers, he had no idea the money they had would be so low. Sadly his uncle had taken to financial schemes to try to make more money, but they had failed. The money they had left wouldn't get them through to the end of the year. His mother had just broken the news.
"Matthew, Abilgail was never one to handle things well, but it breaks my heart to think about her daughters suffering. Especially the older two, Jane and Lizzie are sweet dears who are just precious..."
"Mother, they will have to come live with us."
Isobel's face reacted little to his words. It was inevitable. They had nowhere else to go. They had to come here.
"You don't have to..."
"Yes, we do. They are family. Our family, for better or worse."
Isobel glanced out the window, "For worse I'm afraid. The house will be a tight fit..."
"We'll manage," he said. He didn't think he could afford a bigger one. Maybe for one or two but not six. Plus they would need more another servant. He leaned back in his chair as he tried to think how to stretch the budget. Perhaps he could take more of a caseload.
"I could go back to working at the hospital," his mother said. "No, don't look at me like that. You know I enjoy it..."
"You enjoy it when they respect you. Since father died and the new doctors have come in, you were squeezed out..."
Isobel reached over and took Matthew's hand. "She's my sister. I can deal with it."
Matthew felt a pain in his heart. He hadn't had a sibling himself. He loved his cousins but didn't know them very well. The older two were at least ten years younger than him. He wanted to help them. But he knew the sacrifice it would be, he could live with it himself but his mother was at an age where life should be easier, not harder.
"If you are sure mother, then I'm sure."
Isobel took her hand back. "Then it's settled. I shall head over there after breakfast and tell her the...good news."
The way his mother had to say the last words nearly broke Matthew's heart.
The next morning began as any other morning. Matthew tried to take it in. There would be precious solitary ones left like this. He and his mother ate their breakfast in silence. She was reading the paper when the morning post had arrived. He flipped through the letters and one in particular caught his eye. Opening it, Matthew read it silently. As he got to the end, he blanked out, not realizing how much time had passed. He heard his mother asking him who had written him that required so much undivided attention. He blurted out the letter was from the Earl of Grantham. He scanned it again before she asked what did the man want.
"To change our lives."