A/N the First: Hello! So this isn't normally my stomping grounds (well, alternate universes are, Downton Abbey not so much), but the story wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote it. This one is mostly finished already (I'm working on the second-to-last chapter as I write this note), so no need to worry too much about this ending up in the Sea of Text. I hope. Anyway, I hope you like it. I'm trying to write the dialogue as British as I possibly can, but both my beta and I are American, so there will be a deficit of the letter "u" and I'll be switching "s" and "z," I'm afraid. Also, thanks to the one, the only, the fantastic mxpw for being the best beta on the planet, to all of the encouraging people on Tumblr and Twitter, and to Silvestria, whose Tumblr posts about titles have been the most marvelous help ever.
In Which There is a Death in the Family
"What will you do with the house, do you think?"
Mary looked up from the letter she had been penning—it was tedious to respond to such false overtures of sympathy, but one simply didn't neglect a baroness—and across the study at the set of eyes that matched her own, if not in color but in shape. "I suppose," she said, "that I'll sell it. I see no reason to continue living in Manchester."
"Better not let Sybil hear you say that. She'll be heartbroken to hear you're not offering it up to one of her charities."
"She'll simply have to find her own wealthy heir to marry and subsequently outlive shortly afterward, then, won't she?"
Simon Crawley winced. "Mary…"
She knew she'd stepped over a line, so Mary kept her gaze focused on the letter. Very few could convince her to temper the forked tongue some days she was positive sat between her lips, she knew. Right now, however, she didn't want to be the polite drawing room miss. Nor would she feel shame, not about this, and most certainly, not from Simon.
Even so, Sybil was family.
"You know I don't mean it," she said. "Sybil will hardly be heartbroken. For all of her progressive notions and fanciful ideas, she's a Crawley. Above all things, we're pragmatic."
"Too right," Simon said, and sighed. He fiddled with the cuff of his jacket, never at ease when forced to remain still and indoors. Mary reckoned that too much longer of a stay in Manchester might drive her brother, generally the most genial of the lot of them, to drink. He preferred fields to ballrooms and farmlands to dinner parties, and Downton above all else. With the earl needed at home to handle matters on the estate, though, the task of assisting Mary in Manchester fell to him. For the most part, he had been helpful, though Mary knew he'd rather be out on his horse, barreling through a field or a forest somewhere.
Mary almost wished he would return to Downton and leave her to her thoughts.
"Seems a pity to sell the house, though," Simon said.
Mary pushed her letter away. She could complete it once her brother gave in to the restlessness and went for his daily ramble. "I've no connection to it. We kept it so that Edmund could remain close to his factories. Since I intend to sell those as well, there remains no need to keep the house."
"Oh, I know. I just fancy the electricity here. Papa's considering installing it at Downton."
"That ought to give Granny something in which to latch her teeth."
Simon's grin was quicksilver, rather like a roguish version of their mother's. He'd inherited her father's optimism, and their mother's dignity besides. As she did, he favored their mother to the point where it was impossible to look at Simon Crawley and Mary Cavendish, née Crawley, and see anything but the obvious sibling resemblance. Perhaps because of this, Mary had always felt like the darker half to their coin, her wit more cutting, her dignity less natural and more of a protective cloak to be drawn around her and made to hide a deep unhappiness she could never shake.
"Yes," Simon said, "I suspect that Granny will enjoy another topic over which to complain, though she likely doesn't care what it is, just that it is there. Where will you settle, if not here? London?"
"Perhaps." She'd given it a great deal of thought, but London held little charm for her at the moment. "In time."
"It might be prudent to travel while you're confined to the black. You're quite wealthy, you know, able to knock about in style."
Since her late husband had settled almost an obscene amount of his fortune on her, as well as his munitions factories and the house in Manchester, Mary knew "quite wealthy" was more than a minor understatement. She had in essence become her Aunt Rosamund, without the twenty years of marriage to precede becoming a widow. Because she had yet to fully sort out her feelings about that, she considered Simon's idea. It had crossed her mind that two years of limited social engagement, though she'd respected and had been fond of her late husband, now stretched out in front of her like an impossibility she might never overcome. Knocking about in style as she saw the world might ease the burden.
"Of course, I would see it as an honor to assist you in traveling or settling. Brother's honor," Simon said, prattling on as he usually did whenever Mary considered something. "Whichever you wish. Even if it is as far away as Timbuktu."
That coaxed a laugh from her. "You needn't fear that," she said. "I have no desire to see Timbuktu. I've accepted Papa's offer to wait out my mourning period at Downton."
"You have? When?"
"I sent the letter with the morning post. While you were still abed."
Simon grinned, unrepentant. Mary knew he considered any day in which he had to rise before noon as a wasted day. "Excellent! When do we set off?"
"I have matters to handle." Mary glanced at the mantle clock and set her pen aside. "It's for the best to return to Downton, I think. I'll only be a nuisance to Edmund's family if I take up Mrs. Cavendish's offer to stay at Coventry House. Peter Cavendish has already told me there will always be a place for me there, you know."
"Kind of him." Simon gave her a lazy smile. "I see you've hoodwinked all of the Cavendishes."
She wrinkled her nose at him again like they were back in the schoolroom, and Simon laughed, waving away the matter. "And of course, you'll always have a place at Downton while Papa and I are there. And my future issue, naturally, will fear their Aunt Mary too much to ever cast you off."
Though she often wished her brother would be more serious, his particular brand of humor had been something of a godsend among the constant stream of Friday-faced mourners through the drawing room, all wanting to pay their respect to Edmund Cavendish. "Am I such a monster?"
"Hardly," Simon said, and the door to the study opened, admitting the butler.
Hatch stepped through. "Mr. Babbett and Mr. Crawley, my lady," he said, giving a short bow.
"What could Patrick be doing here?" Simon asked, rising to his feet. "He's supposed to be on his way to Southampton."
The young man that followed Babbett, Edmund's lawyer, was not Patrick Crawley, however. He was somebody Mary had never seen before. Babbett, she knew because he had visited several times to discuss Edmund's estate and how it pertained to her. But she had not met the man in the well-cut if otherwise unremarkable suit that trailed behind him. He turned impossibly blue eyes on Mary and for a split-second, she forgot what it meant to breathe.
"Lady Mary." Mr Babbett made his bow, and the moment passed, though her heart seemed to moving a little too quickly for comfort. "Lord Downton. Thank you very much for agreeing to meet with me. May I present my associate, Mr. Matthew Crawley? He's the brilliant legal mind we've snatched straight from the jaws of the competition, as his knowledge of industrial law is unparalleled. Crawley, this is Lady Mary Cavendish and Simon Crawley, Lord Downton."
Mary murmured the proper greeting, but it was Simon that grinned broadly as he shook the young solicitor's hand. "You wouldn't happen to be related to the Earl of Grantham, would you? Could we be cousins?"
"You'll have to forgive Simon," Mary told the lawyers. "His many other stellar qualities make up for the enthusiasm, I assure you."
Matthew Crawley, however, seemed to take it in stride. He did glance at Babbett, as if for guidance, but his reply was remarkably composed. "I do believe there is some connection to the nobility, quite some time back, but I'm not certain," he said. "My mother would know more."
Mary bit back a quip that every lawyer should bring a copy of the family heraldry to any meeting with a client and instead offered them tea. The little moment upon their entrance had flustered her, which was both a bit awe-inspiring and puzzling in itself. She hadn't even had that strong of a reaction to Edmund when she had first seen him across Lady Branksome's drawing room, and she'd married him. She was a widow of two weeks. She had no right to a reaction of that sort at all.
She glanced at Matthew Crawley as Babbett and Simon exchanged pleasantries. Matthew Crawley looked away very quickly.
She was spared by the arrival of the tea, which they took sitting around Edmund's monolith of a desk, large enough to fit at least three men to a side. Her husband had spent hours there, overseeing the demands from the factories he kept in Manchester, often working past sundown and even occasionally until the sun graced the sky anew. Though he could have settled into the life of untitled gentry, Edmund Cavendish hadn't sat well as a country gentleman. He'd had too much drive for that, instead leaving the estate to his younger brother Peter and managing what had been his uncle's factories instead.
Mary had envied him the ability to avoid a life of idleness.
She sat in his chair, though it felt foreign, and listened to Babbett. It had been obvious to Mary that Babbett had disagreed with Edmund's choices to leave the factories to his wife, and it had been obvious to Babbett that Mary was not the type to go quietly into the night and take the lawyer at his word. Because of that, though, she almost believed that Babbett had begun to respect her. He certainly tried to talk around her less, especially since he hadn't found a sympathetic ear in Simon. The first time he'd attempted to cajole Simon to his side of the argument against Mary, Simon had played the "What do I know? I'm just the son of a country lord and a bit of a dunce" card so well that Babbett had likely lost all respect on the spot. Simon just as likely preferred it that way.
"I've brought Crawley with me today so that we can discuss the properties on Johnson Street and West Highclere," Babbett said. "His knowledge, like I said, of industrial law should help us avoid any wrinkles that might arise."
"Oh, is there a problem?" Mary asked, setting her teacup on its saucer.
"No, no problem," Matthew Crawley assured her. "Mr. Babbett says you intend to sell the properties, and I am here to offer my assistance in making the process as painless as possible."
Mary lifted an eyebrow at him. "Then I suppose I owe you my gratitude for that. I have not had time to review all of the paperwork you left me after our last meeting, Mr. Babbett, though I have given it my best shot. I am afraid the language is very dense."
"If you require any help, I would of course be happy to assist," Matthew said.
"Excellent," Simon said. "I've attempted to help my sister, but it all looks like Greek to me."
Mary gave him a look. "You speak Greek. Quite well, I might add."
"Doesn't mean I enjoy it."
Matthew raised his teacup to his lips so quickly that Mary suspected he was hiding a smile. Mr. Babbett's look remained neutral. "My offer still stands," Matthew said. "Though I do apologize, for I've brought more paperwork for you to read. Mr. Babbett tasked me to put together a list for you of the men who have put forth offers on the properties in question and a little information about each of them. I hope you'll find that this reading won't be quite as dense."
He held a portfolio out to her. Mary accepted it with a nod of thanks as Matthew turned to Simon. "Or as Greek," he said.
"Pity," Mary said. "I'm fond of Greek."
"You speak Greek as well, my lady?"
"'Course she does," Simon said. "Who else would I have practiced it with? She's better at it than I am. If I were inclined to be competitive, I would find it a bit embarrassing."
"Don't let him fool you for a moment," Mary said, though she wasn't fully paying attention as she unwrapped the documents Matthew had handed her. "He's very competitive, until the point at which he's beaten, which is when he pretends he was never competitive in the first place. And this is a full list of the offers, yes?" She looked at Matthew now.
Why he shifted in his seat, she had no idea, though Babbett did cast a look at his young associate that Mary couldn't quite interpret. "The serious offers," Matthew said, an actual blush rising on his cheeks. "The properties are substantial, and worth far more than we initially thought. Each prospective buyer will need to be vetted. If you are truly intent on selling."
Mary looked up in surprise. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Both of the lawyers looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Lady Mary," Babbett said, "before his death, when we spoke of his will, Mr. Cavendish expressed his wish that these factories would be kept within his family."
He'd certainly made no mention of this to her, Mary thought. Though, it had to be considered that when a man was only twenty-nine and quite healthy all around, the topic of death didn't much enter the conversation. She remained surprised every day that he had even taken the precautions to protect her after his death that he had, given that their marriage was such a new thing.
"Why not leave the properties to Peter, then? Edmund and I had no children." Society would expect her to remarry, after all, once a suitable mourning period had passed, and if she kept ownership of the factories, they would pass out of his family. It made little sense.
"Mr. Cavendish had his reasons in believing you were the better candidate, Lady Mary," Babbett said. "And he considered you family, children or no children. He was quite clear about that."
He would have been, Mary thought. Edmund Cavendish had never had a problem speaking his mind—quite clearly, often loudly. Babbett must not have liked that very much.
"So Edmund's dying wish was that I continue to run the factories in his stead?" she asked, tapping her fingers on the first of the sheets of paper Matthew had handed her. His handwriting was neat without seeming fussy. "But I've no experience with that sort of thing and I'm a…"
Woman, she had been about to say. Since that fact was blindingly obvious, and she had never had much desire to be obvious, she trailed off.
"The manager Mr. Cavendish hired is a good man," Matthew said, as Babbett looked a bit like he had tasted something sour. "I've been down to speak with him, as several of the buyers on that list I provided you have visited him. I fully believe he could steer you aright, should you wish to keep the factories. And of course, you would have myself and the other associates at Mr. Babbett's firm to provide you with any counsel you may wish to seek."
"Why hasn't this been mentioned before?" Simon asked, idly flicking at the heel of his boot where it was crossed at his knee. "The Lady Mary and I had been quite under the impression that there was nothing to be done but to sell the factories to the highest bidder."
"Lady Mary told me early on that it was her sole intention to sell," Babbett said.
If Matthew Crawley hadn't brought it up, Mary thought, she would never have known the wishes of her late husband. She cast him a shrewd glance, but he was busy looking into his teacup and not at his boss.
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Babbett," she said. "I see you did. I will speak with my brother and give the matter some thought about what I wish to do with the factories, of course, and review these papers your associate has given me. Was there anything else you required?"
There was, of course, as Mary had discovered dying was a frightful business, fraught with more paperwork than even her father's estate generated. She listened to Babbett, nodding at the appropriate intervals as they dealt with the specifics of the rest of the estate Edmund had left for her. Occasionally, her eyes and thoughts strayed to the now-silent Matthew Crawley. Why had he even brought up Edmund's wishes, when it was obvious she couldn't fulfill them? She had never considered the idea of keeping the factories. It simply wasn't done.
But it was 1912, wasn't it? Hadn't things begun to change, for the better?
Once Babbett had finished, she rose to see him and his young associate to the front door, her mind still whirling. Simon followed them out, getting a promise from Matthew Crawley that if they were related, the lawyer would let them know, as finding new family was always a joy. Matthew looked a bit nonplussed at this as he left, donning his cap.
The instant they were gone, Simon turned to Mary. "Well," he said. "Well, well, well. Looks like I was right. There was something old Babbling wasn't telling you."
"Babbett," Mary said, though the nickname made her smile.
Simon lounged back against the chaise. "Wonder what else he isn't telling you."
"Probably quite a lot." Mary lifted the folio, raising her eyebrows slightly at how hefty it felt. Matthew Crawley had done his research. "Edmund wanted me to run the factories. It boggles my mind. I never understood what was going through that man's mind while he was alive, and I find him even more of a puzzle now."
Simon sobered. "I suspect," he said, "he's looking out for more than your financial security, sister mine."
"What do you mean?"
"It's as plain as the nose on your face, isn't it? You'll grow bored within a month of wearing widow's weeds and as good at it as you are, you never much liked paying calls. Before long, that tongue of yours would get you into trouble. Ed did the best thing he could possibly do for you: he left you with a challenge to occupy your mind and your time."
"Oh, Simon, do be serious. It would make more sense to leave these factories to somebody like Sybil. I haven't had a single bit of experience in this area."
"I am serious," Simon said. "Quite so. You were raised by a countess. If that isn't a suitable pedigree to manage a group of wild, unruly people, I'll eat my hat."
Mary doubted that preparing a menu had much in common with things she had heard Edmund say, like profit margins and acceptable loss. Having been raised on Mrs. Patmore's cooking, she knew the loss of a single burnt griddle cake was not considered acceptable.
"Still, this makes me fear my late husband was mad," she said, looking down at the portfolio Matthew Crawley had given her. "A woman, running factories?"
"Think of it as an adventure. I'm quite envious, you know. It would be quite nice to have a purpose on this planet."
Mary looked up, but Simon didn't have the pensive look on his face that she feared. Instead, he was idly admiring the end of his cuff. "I don't suppose you'd like to give it a try?" she asked, folding her arms across her chest as she raised her eyebrows at him.
"Goodness, no. I think I'll go for my walk. This is too fine a day to be stuck inside with paperwork like I see you intend to do."
Mary looked toward the windows, outside of which April was at its grimmest. "As ever, your definition of 'too fine a day' differs from the rest of society," she said, but she waved him off to enjoy his rambles about Manchester while she looked over the packet Matthew Crawley had given her. Her eyes fell on the half completed letter to Baroness Sutcliffe, which had represented the upcoming tedium of her existence. Now, it seemed far less daunting. She had, she realized, quite a lot more to think about than she had known.