Spoilers: all seasons. Mary and Matthew are weeks away from their wedding.
Summary: Mary receives a wedding gift from a very unlikely source. It is not with a little trepidation that she opens it. What could Richard Carlisle possibly want to give her and Matthew? Can she trust him?
Special thank you to the lovely Tambear for catching missing commas, odd grammar
and offering excellent suggestions & advice!
The Wedding Gift
Lady Mary stared at the large envelope in her hands. Her name was written in bold letters on the outside. She had recognized the handwriting immediately. Richard. She sighed heavily and fingered the thick expensive stationery. Finally gathering enough strength to deal with its contents she opened it, praying that it would not turn out to be a Pandora's Box.
"What in the world could you ever want to give me, Richard?" she whispered in the silent room.
Mary gently pulled out a couple of folded pages, what appeared to be some official documents and two smaller envelopes, one thin, the other slightly thicker. Curious now she unfolded the letter, because it was just that, a letter.
Just writing the greeting took me quite some time. I'm sure that the knowledge of that will amuse you at least a little. The thought that someone who prides himself in making a living on the written word can hardly put together a greeting to a past fiancée. Yes I suppose it is funny in an odd sort of way. Before that creative mind of yours starts weaving a multitude of thoughts to what I might have to say to you, please rest assured that this letter and its contents were written in peace. I want no quarrel with you, Mary. We have brought each other enough grief to last for a very long time. Now you might be laughing, or at least one of those beautiful eyebrows has started to inch up. Yes, I do know you well. I guess it should have bothered me back then, how you never seemed affected of my admiring stares, how I could watch your face for hours and still learn new things about you, yet you seemed not even to be aware.
So what do I want, you might ask? It is quite simple Mary. I want to give you the gift of freedom.
Mary gasped and covered her mouth. "Dear God," she gasped. "Could it really mean…"
Her hand trembled and she dropped the envelopes on the floor. Bending down, she carefully picked them up, first now noticing that one of them had indeed been sent. The name on the envelope eerily familiar.
"Mrs. Bates," Mary whispered and her hand trembled again.
Unable to resist knowing what he had to say, she picked up where she had left off.
Matthew is an honorable man. No, I am not saying that sarcastically. I truly mean it, Mary. You will be happy with him, and no matter what I said to you last time – I want you to. Have you started to wonder if this letter was written by an imposter? I can see you smiling now.
She was in fact smiling and she shook her head in amusement. Richard knew her better than she had ever imagined. He really must have been trying to understand her, or perhaps he had actually been honest when he said that he loved her.
You see, Mary, something happened a few months ago. Well, I should rather say someone, and not something, because she is definitely a someone.
Mary's eyebrows shot up at this new revelation. Had Richard already found her replacement? Eager to learn the details she turned the page over.
Open the small envelope, Mary. Inside you will find a picture of Deliah. She is the most beautiful girl I've ever known, you included. No, don't make that face. You will understand when you see her.
Mary carefully opened the envelope and slowly pulled out the picture inside. It was a professional photograph taken in a studio. Even though it was sepia in color she could tell that the girl in the picture was blonde and had pale eyes, most likely blue.
"Dear God!" Mary stared at the child. The little girl had her father's eyes and she was indeed beautiful. Mary snatched up the letter again. She had to know more about this child.
She is my daughter, Mary. You see, in a weak moment about three years ago after a particularly frustrating fight with you I sought comfort in another woman's arms. No, wait, I am not blaming you. The choice was mine, and mine alone. It is unfair really how your choice to do the exact same thing would ruin you and your family should it be exposed, but for me, a man no one could care less. Well, we cannot change how society looks at these things. Perhaps someday things will change, but for now we have to live with our choices you and I.
Mary almost irritated put the page down and continued reading. "You might have had trouble with your greeting, Richard," she said with an amused huff. "but you certainly have no problem weaving an intriguing story."
Deliah's mother was someone I knew briefly, a beautiful girl, the daughter of one of my associates. I knew nothing about the results of our meeting until about six months ago when she sadly passed away. She had kept my name a secret from her family. Why, I have no idea since they clearly were not happy with the situation and I'm sure they would've pushed me into marrying her. Perhaps she did it out of love? She knew that I was engaged to you, you see. We will never know. Once her father read her last will and testament he learned about my identity and no sooner was Deliah delivered to my doorstep.
"Oh Richard," Mary said with an amused chuckle. She could almost see him, holding the toddler at arm's length, both sizing the other up.
I have no idea what happened that day, only that I fell madly, deeply in love. Deliah was crying and I picked her up. She put her little arms around my neck and snuggled against me like a puppy. We sat down by the fireplace and I talked to her. I had no idea what to say to a baby so I told her about the headline news of the day. Oh do stop laughing, Mary.
Mary covered her mouth. She was laughing so hard her eyes were tearing up. "Only you Richard would ever consider reading the paper to a two year old."
She fell asleep in my arms and we just sat like that for what seemed like hours. I have never seen anyone so peaceful and content in my presence. I think I've seen almost every other emotion expressed on people's faces, but never this. She trusted me. She felt safe in my arms. In that moment I swore to protect her with my life. So you see, I did fall in love.
Mary sighed and picked up the photograph again. The girl looked happy. She was in a beautiful dress and her hair was tied up with a pretty ribbon right above her left ear. She was sitting on a white chair holding an expensive looking doll, trees and birds in the background.
As you can imagine, my staff had to scramble to figure out how to deal with a toddler. I had no nursery set up, no crib. What do little girls eat? Hardly quail and fois gras.
"No Richard, they most certainly don't," Mary said and shook her head.
My housekeeper suggested pushing the bed in my dressing room against the wall and barricade the other side with chairs. I was not too thrilled with the idea, but it was late so I agreed. I don't think I need to tell you that Mrs. Taylor was amused at my interest in the care of Deliah. No, I have not changed any diapers, and I have no intention to do so. For God's sake Mary can you actually see me doing that? No I didn't think so. Everything has its place, and it is not mine to change a diaper.
Mary snorted. "I never thought you would, Richard. That's what we pay others to do, isn't that right?"
She woke up crying and I went to check on her. I talked to her, but she just kept crying, so I picked her up. I don't know why I said it, but I hushed her and said Papa's here. She looked at me, her eyes full of tears, and smiled a little. Papa, she said. It was the first word she had said since she came. Something just shattered inside me at that moment, Mary.
Mary wiped her cheek, chastising herself for crying. She turned the page and continued to read.
She refused to go back to sleep so I brought her to my bed. When my valet woke me the next morning we were both asleep in my bed. She was holding on to my finger as if she was afraid that I would leave her.
I could talk about my daughter for such length that this letter would become a book, but I hardly think that you would be that interested. I do hope that you will meet her some day. I would like that very much. She has made me a better person, Mary. A decent person. The Richard you knew cared mostly about power and money. I can be ruthless when the occasion asks for it, but I no longer feel the need to prove to the world that I am worthy. I only want to be the person that my daughter is proud over. I want to see her smile at me. To laugh with her makes me happier than I could ever have imagined.
I know the rush of victory, of beating an opponent. Every day is a battle in the newspaper world. Though the thought of bringing ruin to someone I once cared deeply for, loved even, no longer gives me any feeling of satisfaction. If I one day would have to explain to Deliah why Lady Mary would not speak to me, and how I had ruined you, I know she would be disappointed in me. She's only two, but I can tell already now that she's a better person than I will ever be.
That said, the remaining documents and the other letter are what evidence is left of your story. I consider it forgotten. I now know how very wrong it was of me to use it to force you to marry me. You were so right when you said that we would never be happy. Perhaps if I had behaved differently, that your feelings towards me might have changed? Maybe if we'd left Downton? Who knows? It was not meant to be. You were always destined to be Downton's mistress. Maybe someday we can rebuild the friendship we once had. I remember the young woman I fell in love with quite fondly. We did have some good times back then, before Downton.
"We did," Mary whispered and nodded slowly. "Oh Richard, I do hope that you find peace."
Burn the evidence. Keep it hidden and safe. The choice is yours. Show all of this to Matthew, or not. I have no objection. Even if I did, how could I stop you? He loves you, Mary. I have always known that. I don't think that he will ever stop. I truly am happy for you, for both of you. Writing this I am surprised to find that I no longer harbor the anger and resentment I once felt at this knowledge. I truly have changed, Mary.
As you know, I kept Haxby. I am somewhat hesitant to sell it. When I listened to you and your sisters talking about growing up at Downton I always wondered what it would've been like, and I resented the envy I felt in those moments. Perhaps I can give Deliah that sort of childhood? Still there are other places than Haxby. It does hold some unpleasant memories for me. I bought it for you, you know. The question also remains about your feelings on the matter. And yes I do care, Mary.
"I believe you," she said and smiled sadly.
"Who are you talking to?"
"Matthew!" she said cheerfully and turned her head to smile at her fiancé.
He bent down and kissed her cheek before taking a seat across from her. His eyebrows arched up in amused interest at the pages and envelopes strewn around her on the sofa.
"Someone has been busy writing to you."
"It's from Richard," she said softly.
"Richard?" he exclaimed and his face hardened. "What the devil does he want?"
"Matthew, please," she said and sighed. She looked up at him and smiled. "He offers peace."
"What?" Matthew frowned.
"As a wedding gift he has given me all the evidence of the Turkish incidence and promised never to publish my story."
"Are you serious?" he gasped and leaned forward.
She nodded and handed him the letter and the Bates envelope. She picked up the photograph of Richards's child and touched the girl's face with her finger. She handed it to Matthew.
"This is Richard's daughter. Apparently she's had a rather positive influence on him."
"Daughter?" Matthew exclaimed. "That happened fast." Finally looking at the photograph he made an unhappy face. "He was untrue to you."
"Yes, but as you know, a man can do almost what he so pleases without anyone even raising an eyebrow."
"And the child's mother?"
"She's dead. Her family obviously wanted their little problem gone and handed over the girl to Richard."
Mary watched Matthew as he read Richard's letter. When he finally put it down she held out her hand to him. He took it and squeezed it.
"I believe him," she said softly.
"I never thought I would say it, but I do too."
"Perhaps next time we're in London we should invite them over for tea?"
"Maybe," he said and half smiled at her. "I am afraid that I am still quite mad at him for what he put you through all these years."
"I just want to forget, Matthew," she said with a heavy sigh. "I want us to start fresh. It is all in the past. Isn't it time to bury the ghosts and move on?"
He nodded. "I agree."
She got up and took the Bates letter and paperwork from him. Without a word she crossed the floor and tossed them into the fireplace. The fire flared up and the flames eagerly licked the paper, erasing Mary's years of fear in mere seconds. She felt as the Phoenix, rising fresh from the burning ashes, guilt and pain washed off her, cleansed by fire. She sighed when Matthew's arms wrapped around her waist and she leaned against him.
"I love you so very much," she whispered.
He kissed her cheek and tightened his grip on her. "Richard was right about what he said about me. I do love you more than life itself. I will do everything I can to make you happy, Mary. Every day until the day I die."
"Let's not talk about death, Matthew. I feel as if a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel light, alive and so very, very happy."
She turned in his arms and his lips found hers in a soft kiss. They were both fully aware that they were in the library and that anyone could walk in at any moment, and therefore forced themselves to not fuel the passion beyond control. She laughed when he ended to kiss and swung her around, something that he had found out she really liked.
"Come, let's go outside. It's a beautiful day and I think it would do the trick to get rid of old ghosts."
"Yes," she said and took his arm.
Sir Richard Carlisle silently watched his daughter play from his spot by the door to the nursery. She was not aware that he was home, just continued to chatter happily with her dolls. When she turned and spotted him she laughed and ran towards him. He grinned and caught her before tossing her up in the air.
"Papa!" she squealed happily.
"Hello my sweet girl."
She kissed his cheek and he smiled at her. "Another one."
She giggled and kissed him again. It was a little game they had invented that both enjoyed.
"Papa, read a book?" she asked, turning her blue eyes on him.
"Let me tell you a story instead," he said and walked with her into his study. They sat down in his leather desk chair and he opened the paper that he had carried under his arm. The front page had a large picture of Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley, the future Lord and Lady Grantham, as they exited the church on their wedding day. Deliah looked at the picture and pointed at Mary.
"She's very pretty," he agreed with an amused smile. "Her name is Mary."
"Princess Mary?" the girl asked, again turning her blue eyes on her father for confirmation.
"No, Lady Mary," he corrected her.
"Lady Mary," she whispered. "Pretty Lady Mary."
Richard pulled Deliah a little closer and she leaned against him as he started to tell her about Lady Mary and Downton Abbey.