Mary never imagined herself to be a maternal type of person. She had no younger cousins she could remember holding or even touching. She never liked dolls. She liked horses, being outdoors, rolling in the grass until she was scolded to act like a lady. But even then she had the horses. She could pet their pretty noses and feed them carrots behind Lynch's back to her heart's content.
She vaguely remembered Sybil as a baby, but nothing before her youngest sister was already toddling about, reaching for the back of Mary's dress, and following her everywhere. "You mustn't be a nuisance," she scolded Sybil, mimicking something Granny had told her. "We must be ladies." And everywhere Mary went Sybil went too.
Then suddenly Mary was grown up and it was all about marrying Patrick which was all about Downton which was all about providing an heir which, perhaps, should of had her pondering motherhood but the only thought she had on the subject was an overwhelming fear that there would be no boys. Dear God, what if there were no sons? When Matthew came, there were moments before she closed her eyes at night, where she imagined the two of them, with a baby in their laps, with his eyes and her hair but that dream had been so brief she dismissed it. Sir Richard had inspired no maternal images whatsoever. She hadn't even questioned what kind of father he would be, which now seemed like the most important question to ask someone you might marry. But she hadn't asked it of any of them, not really. She hadn't thought it through and no one had explained it to her. Even Mama, marrying Papa, knowing that he didn't love her but needed her money, did she think for a moment: when we have a family what will he be like? Papa was wonderful of course. But what if he hadn't played and laughed and cuddled his three girls?
Mary knew she was pregnant before the doctor in London pronounced her as such. She'd been a little sick in the mornings and she was more tired than usual. She considered confiding in Granny but she couldn't bear to speak of it, not then. The fact was that she was simply on her own now or rather that they were on their own now. She imagined that some people, that most people, would abhor the circumstances of how this child had been conceived. But Mary had a more pragmatic view. Plenty of children were conceived in the beds of loveless marriages, old husbands devirginizing young wives, men ploughing without any thought to the woman who lay beneath him. More than that, there was a deep sense of betrayal on her part. No one had protected her–they only handed her off to one man, and the next, and then the next, as if she was a horse, until one of those men had done the worst. Really it was only a matter of time. If a horse is owned by enough men, at least one would be sure to use a whip.
And she did not know how to protect herself. This baby, her baby, would be protected. Mary did not believe she was particularly good at loving people. But she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she already loved this child.
"Mary!" Cora gasped upon seeing her eldest daughter so obviously with child and with that tilt of the chin, that daring arch of an eyebrow. Was Mary proud of herself and her situation? How could she be?
"Well now you know, but I still can't come back with you. You must understand why, now that you've seen me."
"Mary..." Cora felt behind her for a chair and sat with a very unladylike thump. "Who...How did this happen?"
"Are you asking me if an angel appeared to me and told me that God would place a child in my womb? Will this be a virgin birth?"
"Mary!" Cora hissed. "I do not want jokes. I do not want platitudes. I have been so worried about you and Matthew and I came here..."
"Matthew is here?" Now suddenly, there was fear in Mary's voice. Her shoulders wilted, betraying her confidence. "He can't come here. I won't see him."
"He's checking into a hotel. I wasn't sure what type of reception I would get from Mama after she told me it wasn't ideal to come..."
"She was protecting me. But no, Matthew cannot come here. I won't see him," she repeated.
"Is he...Is he the father?" Cora asked with a trembling voice.
"No, he is not." Mary snapped, and up went her chin and up went that eyebrow. "And that is all I will say on the subject, Mama."
"But Mary how can we not discuss..."
"Mama," Mary interrupted. "You will find me very determined on this subject. This is my baby and I will be very happy to meet him or her when he or she arrives in a few more weeks."
Cora remembered that brief moment when she'd assumed Sybil and Tom would live together unmarried and the shock and the horror in her chest. That was nothing compared to this. "Mary," Cora wet her lips. "You must see, you must know that it is only that I love you."
"I know that you love me, Mama." She rubbed her belly a little. "I know that now more certainly than ever before."
"If you won't come with me..."
"But would you take me, Mama?" Mary asked sadly. "Would you really bring me back to Downton like this? Would Papa let me stay? Would he set up a nursery?" Cora was speechless. She did not have an answer. "I don't want this baby to ever feel...ashamed or any kind of shame for simply existing. He or she did not ask to be born."
"Has the father refused to shoulder responsibility?" Cora asked.
"I told you I would say no more on the subject," Mary stubbornly repeated.
Cora had to change her tactics. "Matthew has been just sick since you left."
Mary laughed."Matthew's been sick much longer than when I left, when he decided to live his life as a dead man after burying Lavinia."
Cora looked at her daughter. "That's very harsh. He cares very deeply for you."
"Oh, Mama," Mary cried out a bit angrily. "Do you have any idea how many "times" Matthew has had feelings? Feelings for me. Feelings for Lavinia. Feelings for me again. Feelings for dead Lavinia. And where has that gotten any of us, the women that Matthew Crawley has his "feelings" for? Lavinia is in a grave at Downton and I am here, as you see."
"That's quite a speech." Cora wanted to admonish her daughter but a part of her agreed. She'd watched her daughter twist herself inside out for this man, an honorable man, she believed, but still.
"I'll believe Matthew Crawley and his supposed feelings the day he actually acts on them."
"So if you won't see Matthew and you...can't come home. What can I do?" Cora stood and pressed her hands into Mary's. Tears were in her eyes. "Let me do something."
Mary pressed her lips together. "I'm very proud. I don't want to ask for the thing it is that I need. Grandmother has been very generous but the baby..."
"I'll get you money. No matter what it takes." She held her daughter in her arms, feeling her grandchild kick between them. "You know us Americans," Cora said through tears. "We don't mind talking about money. We love to, you know."
"Mama," Mary whispered. "I'm so sorry for the pain I've caused you, for the disappointment...I feel like I have been the world's biggest disappointment to you but please, please don't be disappointed in this grandchild."
"My darling" Cora put her gloved hand to Mary's cheek. "I love you, both. I won't be disappointed in either of you."
She paused and picked up her bag. "But now I must go and head Matthew off. I'll tell him you weren't here. I'll tell your papa something...Will you write me, somehow? And tell me how you...the two of you are?"
Two months later Robert handed Cora a letter. "It's from your mother," he said, going through his own mail.
Cora opened it with trembling hands she hid in her lap. Quickly she scanned her mother's normally chatty letters for mention of Mary or the baby. There was none. But at the bottom of the last page, as a postscript, in Mary's hand was written:
Grace Violet Crawley.
We are perfectly healthy, perfectly lovely, perfectly happy.
Yours, MC & GC
A few weeks later, another letter from her mother. Slipped between her mother's pages was Mary's handwriting.
I am so sorry for all the subterfuge but I just feel so protective of Grace. I do not want anyone who knows about her to ever do anything but love her and I can't be sure of Papa's feelings, though I do wish I could see the two of them together. She is simply beautiful, Mama. I don't say this to brag but just so you can imagine my Gracie Girl (my sweet nickname for her) but she is the very image of me, dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin. I could wax poetic about her all day long and be very happy. Today my favorite thing about her is her eyelashes, how long and inky, how they flutter open to reveal her eyes. She looks at me like a little owl might, as if she is asking, "Who are you?" and she recognizes me and thinks, "Oh, it's only you," and falls back to sleep safe in my arms. I know I don't sound like myself. But I am happy. I don't think I have ever been so happy or ever loved someone so much. Do you know? Soon it will almost be a year that I've been gone. Sometimes it feels like ten. I feel so far from where I started, Mama.
Love, MC & Gracie
"Cora!" Violet asked from settee. "What is wrong? Why are you crying? Is something the matter with your mother?" Cora shook her head, speechless, her lips pressed together. "Is it Mary? Has she written?"
"I'm not sure if I can share..."
Violet shook her head impatiently. "Believe me Cora, I know much more about Mary's situation than you ever will."
Cora did not know what to do. Mary had asked for her not to tell anyone that would disapprove and Violet surely would. At the same time, it had been Violet's name she'd chosen as the child's middle name and Violet had been the one Mary chose to read her departing letter. Feeling as if she was taking a huge risk, she wordlessly handed the letter to Violet then walked to the doors and enclosed the two of them in the room.
A few weeks later another missive arrived at Violet's home in Mary's hand. It was easier this way. She wrote:
Dearest Granny and Mama,
First, Mama, I am not angry that you confided in Granny. I wanted to tell you, Granny, but I did not want any one to bear a responsibility that is mine alone. Mama, I am sure that Granny has shared the truth of the matter and now you will understand my determination not to speak of it. Gracie is mine and mine alone. I love her and when I look at her I only see my darling girl and nothing else, nothing, nothing, nothing else. Have I made myself clear? I don't wish to discuss it any further and I don't think I can make myself plainer. Please, if you love me, and if you love her, you too will think of her as just mine and mine alone, and yours too of course, your granddaughter and great granddaughter too. Her hair is growing in so thick now and she chews very happily on my fingers. Grandmother and I have had a few rows over the issue of a nanny. She insists. I'm sure if I were at Downton you would stand with her, Granny, and perhaps you too, Mama. But I just couldn't bear it if it wasn't me bathing Gracie, feeding Gracie, rocking her to sleep, telling her fairy tales, even changing her nappies! Do you think I am crazy? I am. Crazy in love with the sweetest baby in the entire world.
All our love,
Mary & Grace
Granny and Mama,
Grace had her first doctor's appointment today. She is a very modern baby, you know. And she is three months old so she must go see the doctor, just for a check up. I must admit, I wept a little when I realized she is already three months old. Oh, Mama! All those times I blamed your American heritage on your emotional outbursts. I'm realizing it's just part of being a mother, really, letting your heart live outside of yourself in someone else. Everything is as it should be. She is slim and long and beautiful. She likes my lullabies but they keep her awake rather than put her to sleep. She's started to grab for things and makes a fist. I'm still nursing her and she is a hearty eater, I must say. I am tired and sometimes I dream in a silly baby voice but truly I am so happy and so blessed.
And then months later, two photographs arrived, one for Violet and one for Cora. On the back, in Mary's hand she'd written Grace Violet Crawley, 9 months.
"What are you two cooing over?" Robert asked as he briskly walked into the sitting room and to the couch where both women sat close to one another, practically aflutter with giggles. The sight was such a rare one that he was more than curious over what had caught their fancy.
"Nothing!" Cora cried, slipping the photograph in between the cushions. Violet held hers discreetly in her hand. "Nothing at all, my dear. How are you this morning?"
"What's that you're hiding in the cushion there?" he asked.
"Nothing, darling!" she chirped.
"I can see it there, sticking out," Robert insisted.
"Oh really?" Cora warbled.
"Cora, really, you were not meant for the stage. I've never seen a worse actress." And with that Violet handed Robert the photograph. "That is your granddaughter and she is a happy and a healthy and a loved child and if I hear you say anything against her or her mother or anything other than a positively glowing response, I will never speak to you again and I feel very serious about this."
"But who is...who is the father?"
"Robert," Violet snapped. "I warned you. That question is unacceptable. Now give me that photograph back. It is very dear to me. Then I am going. I will not speak to you while you are behaving so unsympathetically..."
"I'm not behaving unsympathetically!" he retorted. "I was just handed the photograph of a baby I know nothing of. I'm trying to understand."
"Then understand this, my son, you may ask Cora any number of questions. But you may not approach the question of how that baby came to be made. Or the father for that matter. I must insist upon this."
"Really, Mama, you expect me..."
"No, no," Violet interrupted. "I am completely determined on this. You must swear to me you will not even approach those questions. You must swear to me on your father's grave."
"Well then what am I supposed to ask. You expect me..."
"I expect you," Violet snapped, "to ask: is Mary well? Is the baby healthy? How old is she? What is her name? Was the birth difficult? What is she like? Where is she? When can she come home? And I am ashamed at you, simply ashamed that you would think of any questions before those."
There was silence in the room. Violet had never chastised her son in that matter in his entire life. But, Violet felt, very strongly, that not enough had been done for Mary, not to break the entail, not to ensure her happiness, not to protect her from Carlisle. Now, she would be protected. And the baby. By God, the baby.
"Alright," Robert replied quietly. "I agree to your terms."
"You must swear. You must swear on..."
"I swear on Papa's grave."
"Now give me my photograph of my beautiful great granddaughter. I am going."
Author's Note: Matthew, Mary, and Baby Grace are all over the next chapter. Promise.