This is not the story for you if you're looking for a Mary/Tom romance. Please don't bother to leave trash reviews. I don't put them out there and appreciate the same consideration in return. Post Partum Depression and rejection of infants is a big part of the first few chapters.
Words From Beyond the Grave
Mr. George Murray solicitor to Lord Grantham and the Downton Estate arrived at the Downton Station in Yorkshire England on an autumn day in 1921. It was exactly thirty days since the heir to the Earl of Grantham had been laid to rest in the Downton churchyard. Matthew Crawley's Last Will and Testament was securely tucked in George Murray's satchel along with copies for each person named in the Will. Lord Grantham had asked him to put off the reading of the Will immediately after the funeral as the members of the household were understandably shaken up. They had not fully recovered from the untimely death of Lady Sybil one year ago and now another member of the household had been taken in the prime of their life.
The chauffeur was waiting for Mr. Murray and it was not long before he was being dropped at the front door of Downton Abbey and met by Carson the butler. Every time George Murray had previously been to the house there had been a life about it, that seemed to say, "Come what may, I will continue." Now it was though the life had gone out of the house and the very windows themselves were mourning the loss of something greater than themselves.
This was not a reading George Murray was looking forward to. Already Lady Mary Crawley had been sending bills through to the estate accounts and making decisions that had not been acted upon at George Murray's instruction. He had a feeling by the end of the day there would be slammed doors and heated words even an aristocratic upbringing would not curb. Lord Grantham was waiting in the library to greet him. As Mr. Murray entered the room he noticed Lord Grantham looked older than he had before. His hair was slightly whiter and the lines in his face were deeper. The only thing that seemed to remain the same was the Labrador retriever who was Lord Grantham's constant companion around the estate. She jumped to her feet happily wagging her tail in greeting until a word from her master settled her back on her rug by the window.
"Murray, I hope you had a good trip up. It's unfortunate you aren't here under better circumstances," Lord Grantham said slowly in greeting.
"It's unfortunate indeed, Lord Grantham, but I don't feel the reading of the Will can be put off any longer. The estate is a business that carries on one way or another and the uncertainty must be lifted so you can begin to make plans for the future," Mr. Murray replied seriously.
"It feels as though the future is gone," Robert Crawley replied looking away for a moment.
"Your grandson is the heir now. There will be a future," George Murray reminded him.
"Yes, yes, you're quite right. We have to keep reminding ourselves," Robert Crawley said. He paused for a moment. "I've asked Matthew's mother Isobel to come for two. My daughter Mary will be down as well. I thought we could meet here in the library."
"Two is fine, Lord Grantham. I've cleared my calendar for the day. Is Mr. Branson at home?" Mr. Murray inquired. "We will require his presence as well."
"Tom? He'll be back for luncheon at one. What do you need to see him for?" Robert Crawley asked in puzzlement.
"It would be best if I explained the particulars of Mr. Crawley's estate when you are all assembled," George Murray replied.
"Yes, well. I'll have one of the butlers show you to a room where you can get the travelling dust off and freshen up before luncheon," Robert Crawley directed as he opened the door to the library and gave the butler waiting in the hall instructions. Once George Murray was occupied following Thomas Barrow up the stairs to a guest room, Robert Crawley headed up the stairs to speak to his wife before luncheon. What the solicitor could possibly want with Tom Branson was beyond him.
Tom Branson arrived back at the Abbey in time to get cleaned up for luncheon. Matthew's accidental death had been difficult for everyone including him. Matthew had been his best friend on the estate. Someone he could talk over estate affairs with who had an open mind and at the same time a comrade who knew how difficult the transition into an aristocratic existence could be. He missed Matthew a great deal, but work, time spent with his daughter and juggling the responsibilities of his daily life kept his mind occupied and off the tragedy for the most part. Matthew had escaped catastrophe during the Great War but his luck had run out.
Tom's own grief over his wife had pushed him to spend a great deal of time with his daughter. Lady Mary, Matthew's widow was completely different. She barely noticed her son and seemed completely happy to leave him to the care of a nanny. When Tom went to the nursery in the evenings to read a story to his daughter before bedtime, he noticed the baby responding to his voice and waving his tiny fists in the air. More than once Tom had settled Sybie into her bed then held Matthew's son and rocked him to sleep.
Tom sighed when he thought of Mary. He had been sure she was in love with Matthew. Matthew had certainly been in love with her to the point where he overlooked her snobbery and cruel jibes at Edith. Now Tom wasn't sure what to think about Mary. She had countermanded Matthew's and his decision to have the glazing on the Abbey redone one wing every year as finances allowed and demanded it all be done at once. Her latest decision was to have a designer come in from London and redo her rooms as she couldn't bare to look at the same space where she had lived with her husband. So far the glaziers hadn't shown up and neither had the designer. Tom was groaning at the prospect of the many enhancement projects on the rest of the estate that would have to be delayed because of Mary's extravagant spending habits.
Tom arrived in the dining room to find Mr. Murray sitting with Lord and Lady Grantham, Lady Edith and Lady Mary. Mary was busy berating Edith for her latest column as Tom took his seat. His mother-in-law Cora was occupied attempting to referee between her two daughters.
"Tom, Mr. Murray has asked you join us for the reading of the Will. We've arrange two o'clock in the library," Robert Crawley said during the meal.
Tom opened his mouth to reply but was cut off by Mary.
"Mr. Murray surely you don't require my brother-in-law to be present," Mary said icily. "I would like everything settled as quickly as possible."
"I assure you, Lady Mary, Mr. Branson's attendance is imperative as is your mother-in-law's," George Murray replied. He wiped his mouth, excused himself with the pretext of checking over some other papers to do with estate business while he was there and quickly made a hasty retreat to the library.
"I'll make some calls and rearrange my afternoon schedule," Tom said dumping extra milk into his tea and swallowing it in one gulp. "If you'll excuse me."
In fact Tom had the afternoon free. He had planned on going to check on the harvest but the supervisor at the site was more than competent and could handle things in his absence. Tom climbed the stairs and spent a few minutes in the nursery before he heard activity at the front door that announced Isobel Crawley's arrival.
Tom entered the library and greeted Isobel Crawley. She was looking frailer and quieter every time he saw her. She had always been a woman that seemed to embrace life. Now with the loss of her son she seemed old and disinterested in topics that had previously occupied her time.
"How are the children?" Isobel inquired as Tom took a seat beside her.
"They're both doing well," Tom replied. "I've just come from the nursery."
"I'm glad you're finding the time to spend with my grandson," Isobel commented then squeezed her lips shut.
Once everyone was settled, George Murray handed out the copies of the Will he had brought along. It was a thick document full of legal jargon that Tom couldn't make heads or tails of at first glance.
"Before we begin," George Murray said. "Let me say Mr. Crawley made out this Will shortly after he inherited from Mr. Swire. He ammended it only six months ago. Mr. Crawley was concerned the estate and his bequeath be intact for the benefit of his family and any offspring he might have and that financial pitfalls be avoided."
"Yes, we understand," Robert Crawley replied. "No one expects to die before their parents."
"Yes, quite so," George Murray said. "We'll start with the smaller bequests. I will direct your attention to page three paragraph two, Mrs. Isobel Crawley." George Murray paused while everyone found the page. "Mrs. Crawley your son has left you a generous allowance that will be paid twice yearly. You should have sufficient funds to live comfortably for the rest of your life as long as you manage your funds well." Mr. Murray mentioned a sum that made Tom's eyes open slightly. As far as he was concerned four families could easily live on the amount Matthew had left his mother.
"Also on page three," Mr. Murray continued. "Mr. Crawley has left a sum to be held in trust for Sybil Branson's education. Should she not attend university or has not completed her studies by the time she reaches the age of thirty, the funds will revert to the estate."
Tom could only nod around the lump in his throat. He wouldn't have to worry about Sybie's education. There was more than enough funds listed in the Will for her to follow any dream she had in the future. Matthew had known how his own lack of formal education bothered him and made provisions so his daughter would never have to face the same issue.
"Now for the bulk of the estate," George Murray said. He looked over to see Lady Mary straighten her back and get a small self-satisfied smile on her face. The others were serious and looking rather choked up with the proceedings so far. "I will direct your attention to page five paragraph three."
George Murray took a deep breath before he continued.
"The Will states that should Mr. Matthew Crawley be survived by any natural offspring the bulk of his estate will be held in trust until his heir turns twenty-five. Lady Mary as the surviving widow, you will receive an allowance commiserate with the clothing and expense allowance you have been receiving from your husband. It will be paid twice yearly." He paused to let his words sink in. "The trustee and governance of those funds that will be held for your son and the person Mr. Crawley has left in charge of his affairs, is you Mr. Branson."
"This is preposterous," Mary stormed jumping to her feet. "My father should be running things as he always has. You can't mean to put a man who was a servant and is still an employee in charge of my affairs."
Tom looked as if he had been slapped. He was in shock from the news he had just heard and now here was the high and mighty Lady Mary referring to him as an employee. It was suddenly clear to him. All her cooing over baby Sybie had been an act to pull Matthew in closer and to convince him to relinquish the thing he had and she wanted, her sister's child.
"I don't understand," Tom said once he had managed to close his mouth and form a coherent thought. "Why would Matthew put me in charge?"
"Quite simply Mr. Branson, Mr. Crawley felt you understood the changing times and needs of the estate better than anyone. You have demonstrated through your actions your honesty and willingness to put the needs of your daughter and the next generation above your own."
"We'll take this to court and break the Will," Mary said imperiously.
"I assure you Lady Mary the Will is iron clad," George Murray replied.
"Mary, enough," Robert Crawley said as he finally regained his composure and rose to his feet. "Matthew had his reasons. Whether we understand them or not the important thing is the estate will remain intact for your son."
"Your father is right," Isobel said suddenly. "Matthew always did things with good reason. If he felt Tom was up to the task he has left him, then I'm sure he is."
"You can't expect me to accept this," Mary spat out.
"We do and you will," her father replied sternly.
"There are a few other matters I must point out," George Murray said. "Inheritance tax will take a considerable chunk out of the available funds. Some of the projects around the estate may have to be cut and you will be left with a shortage of cash for sometime. I have already taken the liberty of cancelling the glaziers and the interior decorator you ordered, Lady Mary. Quite frankly you did not have the authority or the funds to undertake either project."
Mary turned a cold, angry gaze on Mr. Murray then on Tom as she rose to her feet and sailed regally out of the room slamming the door behind her.
"That says quite a bit," Isobel commented dryly.
"Perhaps we could take a short break, to allow everyone to collect themselves," George Murray suggested. "I believe Lord Grantham and Mr. Branson we should go over the accounts so you will know exactly what you are dealing within the next few months."
"I…I don't know what to say," Tom finally managed to stammer. He was still in a state of shock.
"There isn't much to say," Isobel said reaching over to cover Tom's hand with hers and give it a reassuring squeeze. "You and Robert have an estate to run and children to provide for."
Robert stood and went to the window.
"Matthew was right about the modernization," he said slowly. "I just hope to God he was right about this as well."