It's been over two years (!) since the last update, so my memory of this story was a little dusty when I decided to open it up again. There's something about stressful times that makes us return to things we find comforting. In my case, this happens to be fanfiction. Also cookie dough. But FF is undoubtedly a healthier coping mechanism, so here's another chapter.
"Coming, coming," Mary muttered under her breath, hearing Edith's call. She slipped on her second glove and looked around her room, mostly certain she wasn't forgetting anything—but just checking to make sure.
Anna appeared, adjusting her cap. "They're waiting for you downstairs, m'lady."
"I'd guessed that, judging by Edith's increasingly strident calling," Mary rolled her eyes. "I do wish you were coming with us, Anna."
"Well, I can't, m'lady—I'm still a housemaid, after all."
Still, Mary had gotten used to Anna after traveling with her for seventy years, and had forgotten that there was a time when she hadn't. There had to be a way to get her promoted to a full lady's maid before she got married. The less she had to do with O'Brien, the better, in her opinion.
"Seems a pity, though, that Bates and O'Brien will come with us, and you won't. I'll talk to Mama about it—it's Sibyl's coming-out, after all, and I'm sure Mrs. Hughes can spare you here."
Anna smiled, although she did still look rather bemused. She knew from listening downstairs that the changes Lady Mary had undergone in the last year and a half had not gone unnoticed—and she'd had a ringside seat to them herself. Privately, she wondered if the changes had something to do with young Mr. Crawley's presence, but since Lady Mary hadn't said anything about it, she wouldn't jump to any conclusions.
"Right, then—I'll speak to Mama, and we'll try to get you down to London by the end of the week, if possible." With that, Mary swept out, shutting the door firmly behind her.
The train ride, during which Mama slept, Edith read, and Sibyl grumbled about not being allowed to wear harem pants, offered little opportunity for discussion. It was only once they had arrived at the townhouse, changed out of their traveling clothes and sat down to tea that Mary broached the subject with her mother.
"Mama, I've been thinking…"
"Yes, dear? What about?"
"About Anna. She still works as a housemaid, and I was wondering if it wasn't time we made her a lady's maid."
Mary took that as encouragement to continue. "Well, seeing as we're going to be so busy with Sibyl's Season, I don't see why we shouldn't—"
Mama shook her head. "But can't O'Brien see to the three of you as well?"
"It might be a stretch, since all three of us need to be gotten ready, with extra care given to Sibyl."
"I didn't have a lady's maid for my first Season," said Edith.
Mama patted her hand. "But you were still very nice-looking, dear."
Mollified, Edith returned to her tea.
"Besides," added Mary, "she would have become my lady's maid by now, if I'd married Patrick and he hadn't gotten himself drowned."
"Mary!" Edith glared at her, twin spots of color burning on her cheeks.
"Now, Mary, that wasn't very kind of you," her mother reproved her. "But I suppose I do see the wisdom in having a separate maid for the three of you. We'll send a telegram to Downton tomorrow, and have them send Anna down in a day or two. Oh, but it would be so much faster to telephone—I must convince your father that we should have one put in at home."
"I'm going out to see Murray today," the Earl announced at the breakfast table the next morning.
"What about?" asked Mary.
"There are some new investments I've been thinking about making."
Alarm bells rang in Mary's head. "Anything specific? She asked lightly, to prevent suspicion.
"There's a railway in Canada I've been told will do very well in the future; I thought it might be prudent to buy shares in it."
Far from it, thought Mary. There had to be some way of avoiding it—but Papa would never listen to her. Clearly he hadn't last time. In a final bid for control, she looked up at the Earl.
"Could I speak to you after breakfast, Papa? It won't take a minute."
"Only a minute, mind," he nodded. "I'm a bit pressed for time this morning."
Outside the breakfast room, Mary looked up at her father, the betrayal plain on her face.
"You told me you wouldn't invest in the Canadian railway, Papa."
Her father looked stern—more so than he had in a long time. "But I've done a lot of thinking since then. In a few years, the railways are going to be the big thing in Canada. There's no way this can go wrong; it's the safest investment we could make."
"What made you turn around like this?"
"While you've been off at teas and visits with Granny and dress fittings, I've been running an estate," Robert informed her. "We could use the money, and investing is the quickest way about it. You've heard of that fellow Ponzi in America; he guarantees tremendous returns on—"
"Papa. Tell me you haven't invested in a Ponzi scheme."
"Never mind," she shook her head impatiently. Ponzi and his schemes were, quite literally, a conversation for the future. "But Papa, you can't sink everything into one venture. Even you know it isn't sound."
"Even if it's a sure thing? Mary, you simply don't understand how safe this is. It's practically free money."
"Did Murray tell you that? Because I highly doubt it."
"Well… he knows it's a sure thing!"
"No, no, no! If he has told you so, it's because you're an Earl and he doesn't want you to feel like a fool."
The Earl of Grantham's face turned thunderous. "Did you just call me a fool?"
"No, but I will in a few years!"
There had to be a way to make him understand. There had to be. So Mary flung all her metaphorical cards on the table.
"Papa. Listen to me, because I am only going to say this once. There is going to be a war—a long and terrible war that will ravage not only us, but the whole world. I know this railway venture looks good from here, but you'll be kicking yourself once 1919 comes around and you realize you've squandered all of Mama's fortune—because that is what you're going to do. And there's no money coming this time, because no one with money is going to marry into the family anytime soon. So if you do this, it will be the end of Downton. You will be the Earl who sunk us all. Do you want that?"
Her father stared at her dumbly. Where on earth had that outburst come from? Railways, a war, 1919? He shook his head, and pulled the bell to call Carson.
"I suggest you spend the morning in bed, Mary. You are clearly not yourself."
With that, he shrugged into his coat, took up his umbrella, and stepped out into the rain, where the car waited for him, leaving Mary in the entrance, tears of helplessness and rage rolling down her cheeks.
"Hello, operator—get me Rippon 1593."
Mary stood by the hall phone, the series of clicks and hums signaling that her call was being put through to Yorkshire.
Finally, the call was picked up by the secretary at Harvell and Carter. "Hello, Harvell and Carter. Can I help you?"
"Hello—yes, I'd like to speak to Mr. Matthew Crawley."
"One moment, please. Whom should I announce?"
"Lady Mary Crawley."
She heard the phone be put down while the secretary went in search of Matthew. She heard footsteps approach, and the phone was picked up again.
"Matthew." She felt herself breathe a sigh of relief. "It's so good to hear you."
"Likewise, I'm sure—but you don't sound overjoyed yourself. Is everything all right?"
"No—it jolly well isn't. The fact of the matter is, Papa's just left to go make some very unsound investments."
"And you know this because…?"
"Because he told me! Not that it would be unsound—quite the opposite, in fact—but he's off to put the principal of Mama's fortune on one rather risky venture."
"Gosh. But what am I to do about it? I'm in Yorkshire, after all."
"You were going to come down for Sibyl's coming-out anyways—I don't suppose you could come down early? He'll listen to you; you're the heir, and what's more you're a man, which gives you an advantage I don't have in his eyes."
Matthew's sigh crackled down the phone line. "And if I were to tell you that I don't much care what happens to Downton?"
"Then I wouldn't believe you," she replied promptly. "Please, Matthew—if not for Papa's sake, then for mine."
"And who's to say he'll listen to me?"
"You're one of us now, Matthew," she allowed herself a smile, "and you also happen to be the heir. At this point, he's more likely to listen to you than to Granny."
"Fine. I'll be down tomorrow—but I'll have you know I'm not doing it to dig your father out of any hole. This is for Downton, and for you."
Mary was waiting in the car to pick Matthew up from the train the next day. She saw him emerge from the station, looking around for an empty cab, carrying a pathetically small valise in one hand.
"Matthew!" She got out of the car, waving so he could see her.
His eyes lit up. "Mary! All this for me? I could have taken a cab, you know."
She shrugged. "But we have a perfectly good car at our disposal, and a chauffeur who needs to drive it. Why should you?"
Matthew bit back a list of reasons, beginning with his middle-class origins and ending with his desire to make as little of a fuss as possible, and joined her in the back seat.
As they pulled away, Mary turned to him, her dark eyes serious. "I want to thank you for coming like this," she said, her voice low. "I know it was a bit much to ask, but I didn't know what else to do."
Matthew shook his head. "It wasn't much. We're not too busy at work, and I was planning on coming down anyways at the weekend."
They drove in silence for a little before he broke it. "Do you have a plan?"
Mary sighed. She had hoped something would come to her during the night, but nothing had. "I hope all it'll take will be you making the same points I did—it's an unsound venture, it's risky to put all one's money into one investment, and so forth. But if it doesn't work, we may have to go see Murray ourselves to see if anything can be done."
She heard Matthew hum. "I'm not sure it can. I'm the heir, but I have very little legal power over the estate. Murray's likely to tell us that there's nothing we can do."
"It's worth a try, though."
It was Mary's turn to break the next silence. "What I find so galling is that I thought I had made progress. He told me he wouldn't make any investments of this sort last year, and seemed to be concentrating on shoring up the estate, rather than letting it hemorrhage money. Now, it feels as though it was all a lie—you and me taking over the modernization, preparing Downton for a new era."
"I do have a question, though, Mary," Matthew cleared his throat. "You seem so sure about all this. Why?"
She turned from looking out the window, taking his hand in hers. She had played all her cards with Papa yesterday, and he hadn't believed her. The chances that Matthew would were quite slim. "Matthew," she said slowly, picking her words carefully, "there are some things that I just...know. I can't explain it to you, but I might be able to some day. Just...not now. Don't ask me to, please."
She tried to withdraw her hand, but found that he held it fast. A warm tingle spread up her arm and into her body. Instead of pulling her hand from his, she let it remain. After all, she had to admit that it was nice to hold his hand again after all this time.
That evening after dinner, Matthew joined Mary in the drawing room.
"I have both good and bad news, I'm afraid."
"Good news first, then."
"Well," he began, "the good news is that Cousin Robert hasn't actually invested anything yet, because Murray, bless his soul, told him to think it over."
Mary nodded, considering her father, sitting across the room with the Dowager Countess, who was holding court with tales from her own Season. "And the bad news?" she asked quietly.
"The bad news is that he's still considering the Canadian Trunk Railway."
Mary collapsed onto a sofa. "Damn," she whispered. She looked up at Matthew. "I truly thought you'd be the thing to change his mind."
Matthew joined her, sitting stiffly at the other end of the sofa. "Not for lack of trying, I assure you," he muttered.
"No, that's not it. I thought he'd listen to you because you're a man, the heir. If he won't even listen to you, he must be deeply entrenched in his decision." Mary felt a wave of hopelessness wash over her. If she couldn't change this, Downton would be lost once again.
"There is another way."
Mary cocked her head. "Is there?"
"We could try to steer him towards another investment. You...seem to know things, Mary, and I can only hope and pray that you came by this information legally. But with your knowledge, we could provide him with options that you don't think will fail as spectacularly as his current choices."
I don't think time travel counts as insider trading, thought Mary. And she had been sent back to right the wrongs of history, so she had to assume that using her knowledge was permissible.
"We could direct him towards another railway—one that won't go bust. Or a stock that will really do well in the coming decades, like Coca-Cola." She remembered meeting some millionaires who'd invested in the stock early, and it seemed like a safe investment. After all, Americans would always love their sweet, carbonated drinks.
Matthew frowned. "Coca-what?"
"It's a rather popular drink in America." And clearly, it hadn't made it overseas yet. "I think our best course of action is to divert his attention towards a portfolio of smaller investments, and have both you and Murray convince him to hold off on any large investments until after the...for the next few years, at least."
They sat in silence, the only sounds coming from the fire in the grate and the ticking of the clock in the hall.
"Not to divert the topic of conversation too much," Mary finally broke the comfortable silence, "but since you came early, did you bring enough clothes to stay through the weekend?"
A mildly irritated huff from Matthew. "I'm not totally oblivious to your way of life, you know. I asked Molesley to bring them down with him, when he comes later this week."
"You mean to tell me you not only asked you valet to come down for Sybil's coming-out, but also to pack your clothes?" Mary grinned. "My, you are catching on!"
"Speaking of Sybil," Matthew said, "what happened at dinner?"
"You mean the part-lecture, part-argument as to why women should have the vote? It seems that Sybil has discovered politics."
"Which in turn makes Cousin Robert see red, based on his reaction."
Mary chuckled. "Indeed. I agree with her, but I know better than to get involved."
"I admire Sybil's passion, though."
"One of her best qualities, in my opinion. But then again, I like a good argument, and Papa does not."
"Well, if you like a good argument…"
"Yes?" Mary was keenly aware that they were recreating one of her fondest early memories of Matthew. Would he finish it the way she remembered, or would the old memory be replaced with a new one?
"We should see more of each other."
I'm still a little amazed that I've come back to this story. It had reached firm hiatus status at this point, with more than two years' absence, but I didn't want to let it go entirely. The good news is that this chapter is a Part 1 of sorts for Sybil's season, so I can't leave it hanging there for ever. According to my outline (yes, there is an outline), we're approaching the end of Season 1, and the beginning of the Great War. Things are about to get very interesting...
I really do need feel the need to thank everyone who commented, favorited, and followed this story, even when it seemed like there would never be an update. You're an optimistic lot, but the proof that people still read this story did convince me to air it out again. We'll see where we go from here.