Author's Notes: There are spoilers for the s3 Christmas special, so if you haven't seen it, I wouldn't read this. There is also a character death at the end of this. With the exception of this first chapter, every other chapter will be told from Mary's point of view.
Disclaimer: I don't own the show.
A Ghost In The Fog
Chapter One: Death
By Duckie Nicks
Downton Abbey was the closest estate to the road, Haxby Park more than twenty minutes away by foot, and it was not unusual for a confused motorist to ask the nearest footman for directions. This very phenomenon had caused Robert ambivalence for as long as he could remember, for, though he had a duty to be polite and acquiescent when possible, the undo burden it presented to his staff was typically unwelcome. Not surprisingly Carson had been the most opposed to the continued existence of said road, though he like Robert understood that the dirt path would remain, protested or not. And so nothing had ever been done about the nuisance, and an uneasy détente settled across the area. Yet when a young man came bursting through the doors of Downton, this was too much to tolerate.
Robert was in the midst of starting another drink. Afternoon inebriation was not a habit of his, but the birth of his grandson, the continued promise of his line, and the certainty that Downton Abbey was secure made him happier than he'd ever believed possible. He had been saved from ruin. Cora had forgiven him. The treachery of Sybil's death loomed in the background, as much a physical presence as if his youngest and sweetest were in the room celebrating with them. His grief gave him pause, finger trailing the lip of his glass before he decisively took a sip. She would not want him to be sad though, not today, he told himself.
He looked over to Cora, whose uneven smile suggested his thought was a shared one. His hand longed to caress hers, but his fingers failed to move. With the Dowager in the room, he had no interest in provoking her insight, which he feared this would. Mama was a full glass ahead of him, and her wisdom had a tendency to become barbed when mixed with a certain amount of drink. For this particular reason, Robert was almost pleased when a young man could be heard shouting in the hallway. Seizing the welcome distraction, Robert excused himself with a thin-lipped smile and left his wife to deal with his mother in the study.
He was not prepared for the sight that greeted him as he exited the room.
"We must make the call!" the young man shouted, almost frantic. "You must let me get the phone."
Carson, who must have found the yelling the definition of rude, held him back. "You cannot come into Downton Abbey in your current state," he said firmly. "You will need to wait here." The young man pushed back as best he could, but he was no match for the taller and larger Carson. "You must stay –"
"No!" There was another attempt to shove Carson out of the way.
This time Robert saw the blood.
Perhaps fear was the appropriate response, but he didn't feel afraid.
"Excuse me," he interrupted, making his presence known. "What is the meaning of this intrusion?"
Carson stiffened and pulled away from the man. "I apologize, My Lord."
"There's no need, Carson," Robert dismissed. The noise had originally captured his attention, but it was of less concern to him now that he could see the source of it. To the nameless, he said, "But surely, my dear fellow, there is no need to –"
"I'm sorry, My Lord, but we must hurry. There has been an accident, and I am afraid he will die if we do not get help immediately." The rudeness of the interruption no doubt galled poor Carson. The color of his face matched the shade of red smeared along the younger man's hands. Not even the threat of death could shake Carson's belief in decorum.
Robert's curiosity, however, left him more yielding. "Who will?"
The question seemed frivolous and inappropriate. As Mrs. Hughes, apparently also drawn by the noise, mentioned that she would call for help, he recognized that his own response was a testament to the shortcomings in his lordship. He had been born a leader, but leadership was not a natural quality in him.
As if to reinforce his failures, the man answered, "It's Mr. Crawley. He is gravely injured."
There were no questions, no hesitations from that point onward. As it had during the war, Downton Abbey became alive with new purpose. Mrs. Hughes darted for the telephone. Carson hurried to find Branson to take Robert to Matthew. O'Brien, wicked as she was, would tell the woman she was uncommonly devoted to, Cora and by extension Robert's mother as well. Edith no doubt would aid the young man in washing his hands. Everyone had a role.
Robert just hoped his would not include telling his eldest child her husband was dead.
He had seen death in war. He had watched it come into his home and claim his daughter. This was different.
With Sybil, there had been shock that Clarkson could be right, that Sybil could be in real danger. Because of that, there had been hope. As if providence had promised that senseless death could not come to a young woman, to a Crawley woman, Robert had believed until the end that she would pull through. If she could become a pants-wearing, nursing suffragette and marry the Catholic chauffeur, surely this twenty-four year old, this lioness could best childbirth, illness, anything. But instead, it was the first and to his recollection only instant where his belief in her had led to his indescribable disappointment. It had taught him God had made no such bargain with his family.
From the second Robert cast sight of Matthew's broken body and the destroyed car, he dared not hope for, much less anticipate, survival.
A man was at Matthew's side, presumably the driver of the other car. There was a gash on his forehead peaking beneath his cap where he must have hit the steering wheel. Surely in pain, he was too focused on trying to push the car off of Matthew's body. The face looked familiar, someone Robert had seen before, but the horror of what had happened prevented Robert from remembering the name – not that it mattered either way.
In that moment, of utmost importance was freeing Matthew so that his life might be spared. It was obvious that such a task might prove impossible. The way the blood poured out of his ear and down the side of his pale face was damning in its implication. His unconscious body and the unnatural angles it was currently twisted in left little hope that he might turn out all right. But united in one goal, no longer bound by their differences, the three men – Robert, Branson, and the driver – began to push at the car.
The uneven ground made the work harder. The ruined vehicle was heavy enough, but Robert found himself unable to get foothold that would give him leverage. His efforts were ceaseless though. However unlikely rescue and recovery were at this point, concession was not an option.
He couldn't fail Mary.
He couldn't fail the man who had saved him.
His hands pushed on the car, Matthew at his feet. Short fingernails scraped against the ruined paint of the vehicle, and out of the corner of his eye, Robert could see Branson straining with similar effort.
"On three," Robert panted. "We must work together."
They didn't succeed. The car barely budged. Again they tried – and several times after that. Each attempt resulted in failure, in their desire to succeed. Every renewed effort left them a little more tired, and defeat crept in as quietly as this catastrophe had. The three slowly became divided. Timed pushes and pulls devolved into the individual struggling to be the hero.
It wasn't until the ambulance and several of the staff, Jimmy, Alfred, and some of the others, came to their aid. Multiple hands joined together, the car was slowly pushed off of Matthew's lifeless body. No one paid attention to the sound of the vehicle careening into a tree nearby. All Robert could hear in his head were the minutes, the seconds that had passed that Matthew had been left to die.
As the ambulance was loaded, Robert was determined not to predict the outcome. Survival seemed unlikely, but the alternative was one he couldn't bear to consider. He knew it was possible… probable, he corrected. Unlike with Sybil, he understood death recognized no class, no privilege, no age; no bargains had been made with God Himself. Comprehension, however, was a great deal from acceptance, and Robert was not ready to rehearse what he would say to Mary should the outcome be negative. Out of selfishness perhaps, he chose intentional ignorance over the everlasting pain that would come with defeat.
But if blindness were his aim, Clarkson seemed determined to thwart his success. Long after he'd seen Matthew, Clarkson slipped out of the room Matthew was in.
"He's alive. Just barely, but he is alive."
Robert bowed his head, momentarily allowing himself to feel relief. "Thank you. That is… good news."
"I'm afraid it's not that simple, Lord Grantham. There is considerable trauma to the head. I don't wish to tell you that he will succumb to the injuries. As we both know, I have been wrong about his will to thrive before."
The accuracy of Dr. Clarkson's medical prowess evoked both the best and worst Robert's memory had to offer.
"It is possible that he will live. Possible. But I must be clear: we are not talking about if there will be complications. Those are guaranteed. The question would be how severe, how much the quality of his life has decreased."
Robert wished not to know this, understanding that he would have to say the same things to Mary and how that would break her heart. Of course, her sadness was the only real given in the situation. Matthew might live or die, but either way, Mary's life would never be the same.
"I understand," Robert said.
Then much to his surprise, Clarkson revealed, "One thing you should be aware of: he is beginning to rouse."
Although his mouth fell open in shock, Robert was hesitant to believe that that was a good sign. "That's amazing," he uttered, though his tone contradicted his words. They sounded hollow.
"I'll let you talk to him – but only for a moment."
Robert nodded his head. "I thank you for that. I will try to be brief."
"I have held off this long, because he is confused."
"Well that's understandable. He's suffered quite a blow."
"My medical opinion is that this will be your last conversation," Clarkson said heavily.
Robert didn't allow himself a reaction to that information. A reality he had been aware of all this time, it was mere confirmation Dr. Clarkson was offering in that moment. More than that though, Robert had been taught emotions were messy business, that they made no difference at all, and he knew that any sadness he might have felt could wait.
Until Matthew passed.
"He is in pain. We will need to sedate him further soon," Dr. Clarkson explained. "You may not comprehend what he is saying. His thoughts are…." He stopped, as though he didn't want to spend his time reiterating that Matthew was confused. "Lord Grantham, I cannot tell you what to say."
"Speak your mind please," Robert said plainly.
"This is your time to tell him anything you might not have told him before. I'll take you to him now."
Robert hesitated. He wanted to be sure Clarkson understood. "I wish to keep his condition private for the time being. Specifically, I would ask that my daughter not be informed until she can be presented with absolute certainties of her husband's condition."
He would soon realize that this was just the beginning of not telling Mary everything. He would learn the burden of secrets. But in the moment, Robert was relieved that Dr. Clarkson agreed with him.
The feeling disappeared the second he saw Matthew.
Robert was unprepared for the sight. As bad as it had been on the road, it seemed worse now. There was life in Matthew's eyes, yes, but he looked around unseeing. The blood had been cleaned off his body, but his skin was paler than it had been. Robert had seen many men injured and dying. He had never seen anyone look as bad as this.
"Matthew," he said, taking a step forward. In his voice was an unconvincing attempt to sound positive. Robert had never felt the impulse to imitate Cora's American optimism, and so it didn't come out as effortless as hers would have. It sounded unnatural, and he supposed he'd only tried, because Matthew would appreciate it. Robert thought he would appreciate it anyway.
In fact, the effort was needless. Matthew motioned for him to come closer. When Robert nearly had his ear pressed to Matthew's pale lips, Matthew whispered listlessly, "I… I need – need you to do something."
"Anything. Please tell me what I can do."
The words came out slowly, meandered, but his request was clear. What Matthew wanted was not the desire of a dying and confused man. He meant every syllable. After uttering the sentiments for his mother, he whispered, "Tell Mary I love her. But… if I live, don't tell her that."
Robert could not refuse the wishes of his dying son-in-law, of the man who had saved Downton. Not even to tell Matthew that such promises needn't be made. Robert simply agreed.
It had been eighteen months since the accident had changed their lives, and the weight of it was killing Carson. Medically, there were a whole slew of reasons why he was dying: heart ailments, lung problems, the specific terms ones Carson hadn't bothered to learn; he would be leaving Downton Abbey, his home, his family soon, and that was the important part. There were no cures for a man his age under so much stress, but he knew – and he despised how romantic it sounded – it was the deception that was his undoing.
Knowing that his death was imminent, Carson chose to leave the hospital. He would die as he had lived, where he belonged. Mrs. Hughes had vocalized her suspicions, that he had returned in the hopes that Lady Mary might visit him. At the time he'd denied it.
Now there was no point. His heart was slowing down. This week it had been particularly erratic, at times leaving him shaking and sweating. Today was worse. Today would be the end. Yesterday would have been the end if his wrongs hadn't kept him alive.
He could not pass until he had apologized.
Until he had told Lady Mary the truth.
Having made it through the night, he was resolved to do it. When Lord Grantham had told him that his silence was of utmost importance, Carson hadn't believed him. He had obeyed not out of agreement but out of duty, nothing more. In the following months however, he'd changed his mind. He'd seen the effects of the accident, and as his own body deteriorated, he had come to understand that Lady Mary should be spared the truth.
No one had considered whether she would tolerate such a decision made for her. No one had thought she would ever figure it out. As he waited for her, Carson wondered how they could have been so blind to it. Of all the Crawley children, she had been the most stubborn. Some of the staff disliked her for it; they felt a young lady shouldn't have been so resistant to easy solutions. They no doubt believed that, because she would always lead a life of privilege, she was foolish to cling to Downton Abbey and the inheritance that was by law not hers. But Carson respected that about her. She had spirit. She was not willing to go so far as to throw away everything her heritage had afforded her, but she didn't thoughtlessly accept the life bestowed upon her either.
They should have never, Carson told himself, believed that Mary would remain ignorant. She was too intelligent for that.
He had realized this too late. Even when she'd started to suspect, he'd tried to allay her concern. He had lied. Ever the pragmatic, she'd believed him. With no one to discuss the matter with, she'd come to think that the alternative were possible, but how could it be really? Met with a lie she had yet to recognize, she'd apologized and retreated into the annals of Downton. She had chosen to trust him over the proof she'd seen with her own eyes. It had been proof of the faith he didn't deserve. Carson suspected that was why the falsehood hadn't prevailed. He felt like a scoundrel for abusing her trust, and she must have seen it. She must have known for she eventually began to suspect again. When that happened, none of their lies had been enough to appease her. In her eyes he had seen disbelief, anger, and for a moment, Carson had believed they'd been transported back decades. The woman before him had returned to the little girl he had once known, and if she hadn't been so tall, he might have thought then that he was trying to convince her that Father Christmas existed. As it had been before, it had remained then; she hadn't believed him. They should have predicted this.
They hadn't, but then he supposed it didn't matter. Matthew Crawley's wishes had been clear, and given all he had been through, there was no defying them.
But Mary knew.
The charade continued from then on, despite all involved recognizing the act for what it was. Her anger was born under the lie, her self-imposed isolation the only way she could remain at Downton Abbey with the people who were keeping her from her husband.
Knowing this, Carson would understand if she failed to keep vigil at his deathbed. He had sent their bond on this trajectory; she was just seeing the matter through. He understood that, though the possibility of her absence made his heart pound violently against the confines of his body. He sympathized and knew that he would not be so forgiving in her position, but he wanted to see her. He would die either way.
His predicament weighed heavily, and yet, just when it felt unbearable and he was ready to slip away, the door to his bedroom opened. In anticipation he glanced to see who it was. In relief he realized it was her.
"My Lady," he said shakily, smiling through the pain.
Her dark eyes showed no sign of being pleased to be here. Whether that was because she was furious or sad to see him die, he couldn't be sure.
"Carson." She was coldly dutiful, and to his disappointment, he had an answer. "I was asked to see you. I could not deny a man who has been so kind to me." His heart's beat sped at the sound of her voice. The proverbial chink in the armor revealed, it was enough to quell the feeling of imminent death. For all of her efforts, she couldn't repress her affection for him completely.
He didn't bother to hide his. "I am happy you came. They have told you my condition."
"Of course. I am informed of everything, am I not?" Her tongue sharpened, she was here, but she had not forgiven. She was making that fact known.
"I am afraid that my time is coming to an end," he said slowly. He was having trouble breathing, the air somehow refusing to go where it belonged. "I know it won't be long. I have accepted its inevitability." She frowned at the remark. However long her anger had lingered, there was still enough affection to keep her ambivalent about his suffering. Slightly bolstered, he confessed, "What I cannot accept is dying knowing that I have failed you."
There was no response, no whispered utterance that he had not done as he had believed in her eyes. Although he had marred their relationship with a lie, she wouldn't behave in kind. Instead she turned and shut the door behind her. It was as much a sign as any to continue.
"I thought I was protecting you," Carson explained. "It was hardly an easy task, but as your humbled servant, I felt it was my duty to –"
"I know why you did it," she interrupted impatiently. Stepping closer to him, she sat down in the chair by his bed. "Why everyone participated. You know this isn't what I want to hear. Of course, my father would want to spare me that pain, and you would want the same thing as well for me. That is not what you need to tell me, Carson."
He nodded his head once. As ever her perception was sharp.
"I am sorry," he said weakly. He wished he sounded sure with conviction, but it was becoming harder to breathe. His entire body wracked with each inhale, and the enormity of the confession suddenly felt physically painful. His heart seemed to twist into itself then, his fingers going numb. "I'm sorry," he repeated, the words slurring together though he couldn't understand why.
Mary's brow knitted in sympathy, deep lines of concern etching themselves on her face. "Tell me the truth, and I will forgive you. That's all I need. Then you can rest. I'll have Mrs. Hughes bring you a glass of water."
It was a needless offer. His body was becoming colder. Even as he remained conscious, he could feel the life slipping from his body. A drink wouldn't change that. Her forgiveness would ease his suffering though. And so he blurted out the very thing she had suspected, the unacknowledged truth that was slowly driving her mad:
"Your husband... survived." He swallowed, started over. "Matthew is alive."
The weight was lifted, though the pain had now reached its zenith. Mary's eyes filled with shock and relief. He had finally told her the truth.
He was at peace, and, with Mary by his side, Carson no longer fought the disease killing him. He sighed, smiled, and died.
To be continued