More Than Duty Chapter 49

"Your lordship, here are the books you requested. I fear they may be a bit dusty from their time in the attic, but if you give me a moment, I shall see to it that they are properly cleaned," Carson said as he brought in a stack of law books in the sitting area of the bedroom.

"A little dust never hurt anyone," Matthew replied, eager to start his search.

"Perhaps not sir, but neither has a skunk. Yet we wouldn't invite the skunk inside," Carson replied in a low voice so as not to wake Mary. "And Lady Grantham would not take kindly to a pile of dusty books in her bedroom," he added.

"Very well, clean the books then," Matthew said with a soft chuckle.

"Skunk?" Lizzie asked, looking up to Matthew from where she, Robbie, and little Hal were playing on the floor.

"A very stinky animal," Matthew replied, causing her to wrinkle up her nose.

"Why stinky?" she asked.

"Well would you want to eat something stinky?" Matthew asked.

"No yucky."

"Well see, the skunk is stinky so no one will want to kill it and eat it," Matthew explained.

"Ah. Skunk is smart!" Lizzie pronounced with a grin.

"You best hope she does not refuse her bath tonight so she can be stinky too based on that same logic," Mary said from the bed.

"How long have you been awake?" Matthew asked.

"Just a few moments," Mary replied with a smile as she pushed herself into a sitting position. .

"I should have taken my work and the children down to the library so you could sleep better," Matthew said.

"I'm the one who asked you to stay here," she reminded him.

"I know, but even so, we're disturbing your rest darling," Matthew said.

"You make it sound as if I haven't rested at all, when in fact, I've slept for nearly two hours. And any way, after being apart for so long, I rather like having you close," Mary admitted, and Matthew couldn't help but smile.

"Mama better?" Lizzie asked as she approached the bed.

"Getting better darling," Mary assured her, holding out a hand to help her climb up onto the bed.

"Hello baby," Lizzie said, placing her little hands softly on Mary's stomach. As soon as she did, the baby kicked causing the little girl to gasp and look wide-eyed at her mother.

"He's just kicking sweetheart," Mary explained.

"Bad baby. Mama hurt. You no kick mama," Elizabeth scolded, wagging her finger to emphasize her point.

"It's alright Elizabeth. It doesn't hurt at all. He's just letting everyone know he's there," Mary said, remember how relieved she felt when the baby begun kicking an hour or so after Dr. Clarkson's examination last night.

"Oh," Elizabeth replied with a nod, but she still wasn't sure. Didn't mama tell her kicking was bad?

"Victoria kicked my mama all the time," Robbie informed them from where he was playing with Hal on the floor.

"Yes, babies do that. It's just their way of saying hello," Mary said, watching as Matthew wheeled over next to her and placed his hand against her stomach. She smiled at him when she felt the baby's firm kick against his hand.

"Hello baby," Matthew said. While he had felt the kicks dozens of times before, each time brought him the same joy and amazement he had missed during Mary's first pregnancy. Mary seemed to understand that and never shooed him away when he wanted to feel the baby kick, even if they weren't in private. In fact, on a few evenings, Mary had even grabbed his hand during dinner and clandestinely moved it to touch her stomach under the table unobserved.

"Did Carson find the books you wanted?" Mary asked.

"Yes, but they were a bit dusty. While I wasn't inclined to care much about that, Carson reminded me that you would not on that and suggested they be cleaned first."

"He was right. After all, what difference does an hour make?" Mary asked.

"I just want to settle this for you as soon as possible," Matthew replied.

"I know you do," Mary said, squeezing his hand in a show of support.

"Matthew, you've been at those books for hours. Won't you come to bed?" Mary asked when Anna finished readying her for bed.

"I won't be able to sleep yet, but you go to sleep. No need to wait for me darling," Matthew replied, booking up from his books and glancing at his wife across the room.

"Perhaps you could work from the bed. I find I sleep better when you are beside me," Mary said.

"God knows the same is true for me," Matthew said, thinking how nothing calmed more him when he woke from a nightmare about the war than the sight of his wife lying next to him. Leaning over to his side of the bed, Mary pulled the chord to summon Bates to assist Matthew.

Shortly later, Bates had assisted Matthew into pajamas and then lifted him into the bed before quietly exiting the room.

"I don't think I shall ever get used to the indignity of having to be lifted into my own bed," Matthew muttered when Bates had left.

"There is nothing undignified about it. Besides, we've slept apart far too many nights of our marriage. Now that you're home, your place is right here with me. I'd lift you myself if there was no other option," Mary replied causing him to laugh softly in spite of himself.

"I doubt very much a little thing like you could lift me," he said, dropping a kiss on the top of her head as she settled against his chest.

"Well, then it's a good thing we can afford servants to help or I might be forced to sleep right in that chair with you, and I can't imagine that would be very comfortable for either of us."

"It's a very good thing then, for I should hate to be the cause of your discomfort," Matthew replied. "I love you my darling, so terribly much," he added. Truly the words seemed to understate the way he felt about her. Before his injury, he always harbored a tiny doubt that perhaps his love for her was greater than hers was for him. But ever since his arrival home, Mary had proven herself to be not only a devoted nurse, but she did everything in her power to show him that he was no less in her eyes than he was before and that never ceased to amaze him. Even now, as Matthew watched as Mary kissed his hand that has been stroking her cheek, his breath catch in his throat as his heart swelled with love for her.

"I know you do," Mary replied. She could have added that she loved him every bit as much, but she could tell by the look on his face that he already knew that and that her earlier words meant more to him than a simple "I love you" ever would.

Before Matthew could respond, he felt a firm kick from her stomach against his side. "I think our son is trying to say he loves you too," Mary said.

"Either that or get to work Papa," Matthew suggested, bringing his hand to her stomach to feel the sensation that never got old for him.

"This one's a slave driver," Mary said with a laugh as she brought her hand to cover his.

"I do need to work though. You've given me so much, and I am determined to give you the safety and security you deserve," Matthew said.

"Read to me then," Mary suggested.

"You want me to read you old inheritance cases? I'm sure you'll find them dreadfully boring."

"Then they shall be just the thing to put me to sleep," Mary responded.

As it turned out, Mary was right. It took less than a quarter of an hour for her to fall asleep listening to Matthew reading aloud from his law books. Two hours later, Matthew was still reading by lamp, but the heat of the August night and the warmth of his wife's body pressed firmly against him was getting to him. Without thinking, he pulled his nightshirt off and dropped it to the floor before recalling that he now had no means of regaining it without summoning a servant. Deciding that he was far too late to call for a servant without rousing them from sleep, Matthew resolved to simply do without as there were enough blankets should he get cold later in the evening. The lack of a shirt was soon the furthest thing from his mind as he finally came across a case that looked promising. By the time Matthew finally went to sleep, he had found all legal precedent he needed to scare away Patrick should he be an impostor, but now he just needed a way to make Patrick believe Matthew knew him to be an impostor.

When Mary woke the next morning, she was pleasantly surprised to find her cheek and hand resting against her husband's bare chest. Waking up to the once familiar feeling of his bare skin against hers was something she dearly missed since his injury. While he was more than generous in seeing to her pleasure, he never removed his clothing anymore nor made any indication that he would welcome her doing so. So Mary decided to enjoy this now rare treat and let her hand wonder softly across his chest, careful to not wake him. But her indulgence was not long lived as their daughter exuberantly bounded into the room with Robbie close on her heals.

"Lizzie up," Elizabeth said with a grin as she pulled herself up onto the bed without waiting for an invitation to do so while Robbie stopped at the side of the bed, awaiting permission.

"Robbie up too!" Elizabeth demanded.

"Yes, very well, Robbie may come up too, but you must be quiet. Your papa is still sleeping," Mary said, offering a hand to Robbie to assist him.

"I'm not sleeping any more," Matthew said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"Now Elizabeth, apologize to Papa for waking him," Mary scolded.

"Sorry Mama," Elizabeth said quickly.

"You must remember to come in more quietly like Robbie does or a shall lock the door and you won't be able to get in at all until we are up and about," Mary warned gently.

"No lock Lizzie out!" Elizabeth said, vehemently shaking her head back and forth.

"Then you best come in quietly tomorrow," Mary suggested, and Elizabeth quickly nodded in agreement. "Now apologize to your Papa. He is the one you woke up after all."

"I sorry Papa," Elizabeth said, turning toward her father.

"Come and give me a good morning kiss and perhaps I shall forgive you," Matthew suggested, causing Mary to sit up and make room for Elizabeth lest her daughter simply crawl over her. As Mary did so, the blankets slipped down to Matthew's waist, further baring his chest. Elizabeth was quick to scramble over to Matthew and give him a quick peck on the lips and apologize again.

"I forgive you my darling girl. But you must listen to your mama. While I can easily forgive being woken up, I shall be cross with you if you wake you Mama up next time," Matthew warned. Elizabeth nodded in understanding, but before she could reply, she was distracted when she noticed a scar on Matthew's chest.

"Papa hurt?" she asked, pointing to the scar.

"No darling, that is from a hurt from long ago. Now it is just a scar," Matthew assured her.

"Scar?" Lizzie asked.

"Sometimes, if a hurt is bad enough, it may leave a scar even after it has healed," Matthew explained.

"Forever?" Lizzie asked, wide-eyed.

"Yes, forever," Matthew replied.

"Lizzie scars?" she asked.

"No, darling. You have had only little hurts."

"Mama scars?" Lizzie asked, looking at Mary.

"A little one," Mary replied.

"Where?"

"On my knee."

"See scar?" Elizabeth asked.

"Perhaps sometime when Robbie isn't here," Mary replied.

"Come now Mary, he's only small child and it is only your knee," Matthew said.

"Oh very well," Mary agreed, slipping her legs from under the covers and pulling her nightgown up to her knees. Matthew smiled remembering when he found that scar as he kissed his way up her leg that first week they were together properly as man and wife. Since then, he has always stopped to lavish kisses on it whenever his lips traversed her legs.

"How scar?" Elizabeth asked, shaking Matthew from his reverie.

"I fell from a horse when I was a little girl and a sharp rock cut open my knee. Dr. Clarkson had to sew it up," Mary explained.

"Mama be careful!" Elizabeth chided.

"I am careful now, but we all have our share of childhood hurts, especially boys" Mary said.

"That's it! Mary you're brilliant," Matthew said, grabbing the chord and tugging it urgently.

"Of course I am, but I'm not sure how noting that all children have these little hurts is a sign of my brilliance," Mary teased.

"Especially boys - boys who later grow into men but still bear the scars of childhood."

TBC

Up next, Matthew deals with Patrick. Feedback is always greatly appreciated!