Author's Note: Get ready for some cuteness!


Chapter Three

"Here, darling. Let's button this coat up just a bit more," Mary chirped as she set Grace down on on the park bench to fix the top brass button of her daughter's coat, a miniature really of the coat that Mary wore. It was April but it had been a cool spring.

"Yes," Grace said. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" She'd just recently turned eighteen months old and was rapidly learning new, simple words. Every time she did, Mary clapped her hands together and gave a little cheer so now Grace, ever the mimic of her mother, had taken to cheering for herself. "Yes!" she repeated and then clapped her hands and cheered.

"Would you like a cracker?" Mary asked her daughter. She'd never spoken to Gracie in that sickly baby talk. Grace gleefully said, "Yes!" clapped her hands and cheered, "Yay!" Mary handed Gracie the animal cracker and Grace studied it for a moment in her tiny palm. She held it up to her mother for Mary to inspect. "That's a lion," Mary told her and Grace looked up at her as if Mary was sharing the greatest wisdom of the world. "Gracie, what do lions say?"

Grace held her hands up, an attempt at claws, so adorable but hardly fearsome. "Ra," she said ferociously. Then cheered for herself. "That's right–roar!" Lady Mary Crawley said, holding up her own hands as claws. Grace was very good at first syllables but they were definitely still working on second. For example, both "bottle" and "ball" were "ba" and yet somehow, Mary (who was "Ma") could easily distinguish between the two words her daughter spoke.

Gracie had taken the cracker back from Mary and chewed on it thoughtfully, her little mouth crunching away. "Mo'," she asked her mother. "More, please," Mary corrected, though Grace had yet to accomplish the p sound. "Here you go, Gracie Girl." The process was repeated, Grace taking the animal cracker in her hand and then holding it up to her mother. "That's a monkey," Mary explained. "What do monkeys say?"

"Ooh!" Grace crowed triumphantly her mouth so overly round as she enunciated the syllable. Mary just had to kiss that rounded mouth. "That's right. Monkeys do say Ooh ooh ah ahh!"

"Mary?"

She heard her name, she heard the voice that spoke it. But it was impossible because she was sitting on a bench in Central Park in New York City, with her daughter chewing on animal crackers and that voice, that person was farther than an ocean or a lifetime away.

"Lady Mary Crawley?" he repeated a little less certainly.

So she had no choice but to turn in her seat so he could see her face, all while keeping a firm grip on her daughter. He looked the same and different. She knew the explanation simple but her brain was working sluggishly, Matthew's face in her eye, her daughter's hand in her own. He looked much like he had when he first arrived at Downton, the gray had gone from around his haunted eyes, his smile came easily again. "I can't believe it's you!" he said and walked closer to her, around the bend of the path so now Grace was revealed.

Mary took Gracie into her arms, who'd managed to spit half of the monkey cracker into her hand and was examining the spongey mess with determination, and stood to greet Matthew. "Cousin Matthew. What a strange place to see you after all this time!" She smiled but the whole time she was terrified, terrified that he would ask something in front of Gracie, say something in front of Gracie. Mary had no shame but she was still as protective as ever when it came to her daughter.

He squinted at her for a moment, as if he expected more. That was Matthew for you, expecting her to lay out her whole sordid tale of where she'd been the last two and a half years as if they were as close as ever. But then he looked down at Gracie. "And who is this?" he asked cheerfully.

"This is Grace," she told Matthew. "Grace, this is our Cousin Matthew. What do we say to him?" Matthew wasn't at all surprised to find that this was Mary's child. She was her spitting image.

Grace looked up from her decomposed cookie. The face she gave him was pure Mary, the exact look she gave him when he first arrived at Downton; it was priceless really, he had to grin. She must have decided he met her approval because she finally said, "Hullo," in a breathy whisper, batting her eyelashes at him, and cuddling against her mother's cheek. It was a much warmer welcome than her mother had given him at first.

"Hello," he replied with a smile and very seriously took her hand in his.

"Oh!" Mary started. "She's got..."

"A soggy cookie in her hand?" But he smiled.

"Yes, I'm afraid you are correct."

"Well I can't say that when I decided to take a walk through the park that I ever thought I would find you with such a pretty baby, making the sounds of a monkey." His blue eyes laughed at her as they once had, at the very beginning, sitting on a park bench. How young they'd been. How stupid, Mary thought.

Mary blushed while Gracie pursed her lips and made a puckering sound. "She's blowing you a kiss. It's her new trick, you see. You'll have to blow one back for her to stop." And he did.

"Now we've both appeared ridiculous, me making monkey noises and you blowing kisses to a baby," Mary joked but she was already looking around, making sure she had everything in her bag and that the pram was ready for their get away. "Well, we really must be going. So good to see you, Matthew."

"Oh, you have plans?" he asked, disappointed. "I would have liked to catch up."

"Well, not plans so much as a baby that needs a nap and a nappy to change."

He laughed. "I can't imagine Lady Mary changing a nappy. Perhaps I could accompany you ladies home and see for myself?"

"See me change a nappy?" Mary asked. She felt completely out of sorts. She wanted to be away from him and alone with Grace.

"And to catch up. Yes, I'd like that."

"Alright," she agreed, her mouth turned down a little on each side. But when she looked at her daughter she was all smiles again, the biggest grin he'd ever seen on Mary. "Alright, Gracie Girl. It's time to go walking."

"Me?" Gracie asked.

"No, darling, I'm going to put you into the pram. It's too far for you to walk."

"She's very independent...like her mother," Matthew remarked and Mary raised one eyebrow. "I could carry her, if it's far...and if she'd prefer it over the pram..." his sentence drowned away with the look in Mary's eye. No, she thought, I don't need you marching into my life, playing hero and entrancing my daughter. But Gracie was quick and she'd heard the word carry and she was already reaching her arms out to Matthew her little fists opening and closing, "Me!" she cried happily. "Me. Me. Me."

"You," Matthew replied and laughed before sobering and giving Mary an apologetic shrug as he took the little girl in his arms. Mary pushed the pram along, silently directing them.

"Gracie," he asked the little girl, since the mother did not seem so keen on him. "How old are you?" Very carefully, biting her tiny lip, she put her fist out in front of her and unfurled one finger, each movement requiring a great deal of concentration. "One," Matthew verbalized for her.

"Yay!" Gracie clapped.

Mary smiled at her daughter. "She's eighteen months. But I haven't quite figured out how to teach her how to communicate that."

Gracie went off in a series of syllables and Matthew tried to keep up. "Don't worry," Mary assured him. "She's between baby talk and learning real words so she's just babbling away just now, telling you some story, I imagine." She smiled and again it was for her daughter.

Matthew held the little girl and kept walking, every now and then nodding his head, or saying, "Oh yes?" to the baby who went on and on talking but all the while he was doing the math. Eighteen months. Plus nine months. January of 1920. His heart dropped out of his chest and he would have gasped or cursed but he was carrying a baby in his arms, a lovely baby who looked just like Mary who was telling him a story.

Grace pointed at Mary. "Ma," and then she took Matthew's chin in her little hands to make sure he was paying attention.

"Gracie," Mary admonished. "That's not polite."

Gracie's hands fell away but she looked into Matthew's face and again pointed to Mary. "Ma," she repeated.

"Yes," Matthew agreed. "Ma!"

The baby clapped her hands as if she had discovered the solution to world peace.


Eventually they arrived at very distinguished looking brownstone. "It's my grandmother's but she's spending more and more time on the Cape. Cape Cod." She corrected herself as if he didn't know. It could have been just a conversation they were having when he first showed up, thinking him a simpleton, a solicitor from Manchester. Now, it amused him rather than irritated him. "Ah right," he said and winked at the baby, who'd begun to curl, sweetly into his shoulder.

"Here you can take the baby and I can take the..." He started to say but she'd already carried the pram up the short flight of stairs. "How do you do that when you're all by yourself?"

She smiled at him, maybe for the first time, truly. "Practice."

She took keys from her pocket and unlocked the door and the simple domestic action was so strange to watch because he'd never seen her do anything like that in all the time he'd known her. "Hello, Mrs. Larson. We've brought an old friend with us. A cousin from England," Mary called out to some woman apparently who clanged something against a pot in the kitchen in response. "She cooks for us and stays here. Grandmother didn't want Grace and I on our own. She helps with the housework."

"But not with the baby," Matthew stated.

"No," and she smiled softly when he would have expected her to become cold and defensive. "No, that is my singular pleasure. I have to take her upstairs and change her and put her down for her nap."

Upon hearing the word nap, Gracie lifted her head from where it laid sleepily. "No, no, no, no, no." She cried. "No. Me."

Mary just smiled and went to take the baby from Matthew's arms but he shifted away. "You promised to demonstrate your skill set in the motherhood department with nappies and naps."

"No, no, no, no!" Gracie cried.

"Shh, Shh," Mathew told her. "It will be alright." She looked at him to see if he was being honest, tears were in her eyes and her lower lip trembled. He thought maybe, with the way that little lip trembled, he might have fallen in love with her. "Lead the way," he told Mary.

The nursery was lavender and white, simple, but not plain. He watched Mary very take the baby out of his arms. "Hello, Gracie Girl. Let's slip into something more comfortable. Shall we? Cousin Matthew won't mind your pajamas."

Grace blew Matthew a kiss and Matthew blew one back.

"She's a shameless flirt. I'm sorry," Mary said as she laid the baby back on the changing table and began to undo the buttons.

"She's beautiful," Matthew replied. And for a moment, Mary's fingers stilled on the buttons. Matthew could do math very well she was sure. And Matthew had seen...So he knew. The fact that he would call Gracie beautiful, knowing all that, well it was simply what Mary hoped and prayed for every night. She continued on with the buttons, talking to the baby. "Shall we tell Matthew what we did today, darling?" She slipped the coat out from under the baby and then undid the buttons on the baby's dress. "We fed bread to the..." She paused, watching her girl concentrate. "Duh," Gracie responded. "Exactly!" Mary cheered. "We fed some bread to the ducks. And what do the duckies say?" She turned towards Mathew, her hand on Gracie's stomach holding her in place. "We haven't quite gotten the hang of the q sound so maybe you could help Gracie out. Cousin Matthew, what do the ducks say?" Grace strained her head to look for him in the rocking chair. It was a peace offering and also maybe a bit of a pay back for commenting on her monkey impression. "Quack quack," Mathew said in his best duck voice. Grace clapped her hands for him. "Yay!"

"She approves," Mary commented, slipping the dress off and then the undershirt and her shoes and stockings so the baby lay naked but for her nappy. "Gracie?" Mary asked. "Can you show Cousin Matthew where your belly button is?" Gracie pointed somewhere in the general area of her stomach and Matthew clapped his hands and cried, "Yay!"

"You're a fast learner," Mary told him and smiled before leaning forward to blow a raspberry on the baby's tummy who shrieked in laughter. "Oh wait, Gracie, I think...I must...yes, one more time..." and she did it again while the baby laughed and laughed and laughed as if this was the greatest game in all the world. "You'll have to excuse our impropriety, Cousin Matthew, but we have a little routine."

She made quick work of the nappy and had the baby in pajamas in two shakes. "It seems you're quite a pro."

Mary lifted the baby, closed her eyes for a moment as the baby leaned and curled into her, her face in her neck, one of her hands playing with her hair. "I've had a lot of practice. I was the opposite of a professional at first." She laughed and the baby hummed in her throat. "I'm sorry but you're in our chair."

"Excuse me, ladies," he said all politeness and she expected him to go down stairs and wait for her but he simply moved to the floor.

Mary sat in the rocking chair and the baby who had cried at the idea of a nap curved into her, one hand grabbing onto Mary's blouse. Mary hummed. "What shall we talk about now, darling? Shall we talk about the princess who was very brave and very smart who slayed the dragon all by herself?" Gracie made a sound, perhaps acquiescence but Mary just leaned back in the chair, her own eyes closed, and rocked, and rocked, and rocked even after the baby breathed evenly. She stood slowly, raising her eyebrows at Matthew not to make a sound, and laid the baby in the crib. Mary touched Grace's hair for a moment before holding a finger to her lips and gesturing for Matthew to exit with her. Mary eased the door shut as quietly as possible.

"Well there you have it. You've seen it all now."

"You're very good with her," Matthew commented as they walked down the stairs.

"I'm her mother," Mary replied.

"No, but, what I mean is..."

"Why, Matthew, you're tongue tied."

He'd stepped in it now. "I just didn't expect you to be so good at it. So perfect at it. I hope that doesn't offend you."

She smiled. "No, it doesn't offend me. I didn't expect to be much good at either. But I was determined. She's the best thing that has ever happened to me."

He could have asked her then but he didn't. There was something in her eye, as if it was a test. And besides, he could not deny that the little girl was a joy.

"Well I'm sure you have to be on your way, Cousin Matthew..." she said very politely scooting him out.

"Can I come back?" he blurted out. "I mean to say, may I call on you and Gracie tomorrow?"

Mary paused at the door. She briefly closed her eyes and he thought she would say no. "But of course," she surprised him. "It's not everyday that another Crawley is in New York."


Author's Note: Please, please let me know what you think! Reviews and Critique definitely motivate me to work more quickly. :)