Chapter 3

A relieved smile softened the worry lines that had creased Matthew's forehead for most of the afternoon as he listened to a fluttery little heart beat and a pair of clear, strong lungs. Setting his stethoscope aside, he wrapped the squirming new life loosely in a clean towel and lifted her carefully in his hands.

"Well, Mrs. Phillips, you have a beautiful, healthy daughter. "

"She's alright then, doctor?" breathed a small, tired voice from the bed.

"Yes, Mrs. Phillips. I see no reason to believe otherwise."

"Oh, thank you ever so much, ! And you too, Mrs. Crawley. I was so frightened when the baby just wouldn't come!"

"You're the one who did all the hard work, dear," Isobel answered, gently patting the young woman's knee as she carefully shunted the soiled linens out from under her.

"You did very well, Mrs. Phillips," Matthew spoke gently as he placed the tiny baby in her mother's open arms. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll step on outside so you can feed her."

"Thank you, again and again, ."

"I'm happy to be of service. Congratulations on your new family," Matthew answered with a bashful grin before turning to the proud aunt hovering beside the bed with a basin of clean water and a stack of fresh rags. "Please don't hesitate to send for me should she start running a fever or if there's any more bleeding."

After accepting final thanks and goodbyes, he left the room, closing the door behind him before taking a deep, cleansing breath and passing a hand over his face. It had been a terribly long and trying evening for everyone in the small cottage. The new mother had been in need of a great deal of assistance, culminating in the discovery that the cord had wrapped twice around the child's neck. Matthew's hands had trembled as he gently freed the baby girl, his stomach churning uneasily as the young mother cried out in fear and pain as he'd admonished her to stop pushing so he could untangle the child. It had taken an agonizing few minutes to get her breathing, but, in the end, all had turned out for the best, to his tremendous relief.

The month or so since he'd started his practice in Downton Village had been interesting, to say the least. At the hospital in Manchester, he'd worked mainly with relatively stable patients admitted to the hospital for an extended stay owing to some ailment or other, never as anyone's primary doctor, but under the supervision of several older physicians. He'd been mainly on call for emergencies and routine checks and procedures that demanded more than a nurse could provide but were considered beneath the dignity of a physician. In many ways, it had been easy for him.

Here at Downton, he was called upon to handle a much wider variety of cases and, often, emergency situations, which weren't nearly as common an occurrence in his position at the hospital. Until that morning, he'd only grimaced and tried as best he could to hold his lunch as he stood as one of a dozen or so wide-eyed medical students as their instructor lectured while assisting in a live birth. When he started his own practice, he hadn't expected to ever be called upon for such a frightening and delicate task, but it seemed fate had other plans.

He quickly straightened up as the door opened again, revealing his mother's smiling face.

"Well done, my boy," Isobel praised him softly, brushing an affectionate kiss on his cheek.

"Was it? It's a wonder my nerves survived that ordeal. I'm positively knackered. You women are truly amazing creatures."

Isobel hooked her hand in the crook of her son's elbow as they made their way into the small but cozy parlor.

"Did I ever tell you that you, my boy, were born breech? Terribly stubborn little thing you were, completely determined to stay put when all I wanted was to be rid of you."

"I'm...sorry?" Matthew grimaced at his awkward statement and the mental image. "It must have been awful for you."

"Oh, it was, but you mustn't apologize, dear." She stopped walking and turned to him, placing a hand on his smooth cheek. "It's difficult for a man to comprehend, I think, but...a mother's love for her child - even her unborn child - Well, it's simply the most powerful force that there is. I would have endured anything, risked anything, even given my own life for you without a second thought. I still would."

Matthew was astonished by his mother's heartfelt speech. Isobel Crawley wasn't much disposed towards sentimentally, but she loved him as fiercely as any mother could love her child, and he was never in any doubt of it. Her dark eyes glistened as she pulled him into her embrace, patting his shoulder briefly before straightening, her composure restored.

"It's been a long day," Isobel continued. "I'm rather worn out myself."

"Mr. Phillips' brother has him held hostage at the pub. Poor man's probably under the table by now," Matthew observed with a wry smirk.

"I promised his wife we'd give him the good news and send him home on our way by."

"Shall we then?" Matthew offered Isobel his arm again, and the two set off into the cool night air.

"What a shame we missed dinner with the Turkish Ambassador's son," Isobel mused as they strolled.

Matthew only grunted in response as the mention of their broken dinner engagement brought to mind a pair of expressive dark eyes that seemed nearly ever-present in his thoughts. Mary was always so aloof with him, even cruel at times when she decided to sharpen that diamond-tipped wit on him. Despite her harshness, there was something about her, some unnamable quality, that drew him to her. She fascinated him, and, even as he dodged her poison-tipped barbs, he couldn't help but admire her.

Then there were the few, rare moments when she didn't seem to hate him so much - those fleeting minutes when he'd allow himself to hope that they could be friends after all. More than once, he'd come upon her reading and surprised her by instigating a lively debate that challenged both their wit and knowledge of literature, politics, even religion. She was intelligent and quick, easily a match for him in most any subject. When her eyes sparkled with excitement and energy, those perfect brows eloquently arched, he was invariably struck dumb by her beauty and vitality. Such moments were all too rare, and he certainly couldn't blame her for resenting him. Knowing Mary better had convinced him that there was much more to her than what she showed the world. Perhaps, like his mother, she felt more than most people but exposed those feelings less. The man fortunate enough to win her devotion would be lucky indeed.

"Yes, a pity," he spoke absently, his gaze turning unconsciously in the direction of the Abbey.

"Dr. Crawley! Dr. Crawley! Wake up, sir!"

Matthew groaned as Moselely's voice pulled him back into unwelcome consciousness. He knew immediately upon opening his eyes that it was early yet, meaning he couldn't have been asleep for more than three hours at best. His body ached as he pulled himself up on one elbow, rubbing the sleep from his bleary eyes.

"Moseley, what seems to be the trouble?"

"Young Mr. Branson from the big house has been sent to fetch you at once. He says it's urgent, sir."

Matthew's feet were immediately on the floor, his hands fumbling with the clothing he'd discarded on the back of a chair the night before in his haste to fall into bed.

"Is it his lordship?" he asked, panic beginning to set in at the thought that...No, he couldn't think about that, not if he were to have any hope of functioning normally.

"He didn't say, sir, just that you were to be brought to the Abbey as quickly as possible."

Moseley's eyes grew wide as he saw Matthew step into the creased and soiled trousers he'd worn the day before.

"Oh, here, sir, let me take those old things. I've got a fresh set all laid out for you in your dressing room."

"Thank you, Moseley," Matthew answered gratefully, if a bit tersely, before rushing into his dressing room to ready himself for what was already proving to be another trying day.

Upon arriving at the great house, he collected his bag and jogged to the entrance, greeting an obviously distraught Carson before catching sight of Robert, standing tall and healthy in anticipation of his arrival.

"Robert, thank God," he breathed in relief. "What's happened?" As soon as he spoke the words, a cold rush of dread chilled his veins at the thought that, if it wasn't Robert, it had to be some other member of the family. It could be...her. "Is Mary alright?" he asked without a second thought, interrupting Robert's first attempts at explanation.

The earl looked confused for a moment before his eye took on a knowing glint and a small smile appeared to tug at the tense lines of his mouth. "As far as I know, Mary's just fine. No need to worry, my boy. It's...Well, you'd better come with me."

Matthew blushed but turned to follow Robert up the staircase, knowing he had revealed more of his interest than he ought. He wouldn't have minded so much if he had any chance at all of winning her, but she had made her feelings on the matter abundantly clear to him. Mary might be beautiful, intelligent, and fascinating, but he didn't have the privilege of allowing himself to wish they might be real friends, let alone anything more.

"Here we are," Robert spoke as he stopped in front of one of the bedroom doors, interrupting Matthew's musings. "I should warn you, Matthew, what you're about to see is rather distressing."

"Then I'd better take a look," Matthew responded, reaching for the door knob, his heart-rate increasing with trepidation that belied his confident words.

His eyes fixed instantly on the bed, or rather on the wide-eyed occupant of the bed. A powdery paleness had settled over what was once a robust olive complexion, making it immediately obvious to Matthew that the unfortunate gentleman had met an untimely fate during the night. Indeed, the deceased man appeared no older than Matthew himself, and he couldn't help but feel terribly sorry for it.

"What a tragedy," he spoke softly, showing respect for the departed. "This must be the Turkish Ambassador's son."

"Yes," Robert answered simply, "a terrible thing, indeed, but I fear that this won't look good when word gets out. Can you tell what happened to him?"

"I can try," Matthew responded, drawing the blankets back to inspect the body for any evidence of a struggle. Seeing no marks on the smooth, bare torso, he steeled himself and wrapped two fingers around one cold wrist, lifting it briefly before settling it back on the mattress. "Rigor mortis has come and gone. This poor chap's been dead for several hours, probably since around an hour or so before dawn. We should have him removed before he starts to bloat."

"Good God." The earl withdrew his handkerchief, covering his nose in a gesture that Matthew found rather dainty for a gentleman, but he didn't say anything. Returning his attention to his work, he opened his bag and withdrew the needed instruments before turning to Robert again. "If you wouldn't mind, I need more light."

The earl pulled the cord to summon William, who held a candle carefully in place so Matthew could inspect the dead gentleman's airways.

"There doesn't appear to be any blockage," he concluded at last. "In that case, I'd say it was his heart. It's possible he was born with some defect that went undetected until...well, until..."

"A terrible tragedy, to be sure," Robert muttered, putting away his hanky. "If you would, please write out a statement clearing this house of any possible wrong-doing. We wouldn't want this to become any more of a scandal that it already will be."

"Of course," Matthew agreed soberly, mentally preparing to sign the first death certificate of his medical career.

As much as he would have liked to have gone home to bed, Matthew felt it his duty to remain at Downton with the family until things settled down. He watched with a deep frown as the body was loaded into the coroner's wagon and taken away before allowing Robert to usher him into the library for a brandy. It was early in the day, but they were both in need of fortification.

Some time later, after ordering a breakfast that she couldn't eat on a tray in her room, Mary appeared in the great hall, her eyes locking immediately with Matthew's.

"Cousin Mary," he greeted her with a slight nod, his brow creasing with concern at how distressed she appeared. Her delicate face was pale, and her eyes showed evidence of recent tears. "I see you've been told."

"Oh...uh...yes. Anna told me," she answered, her voice softer and more strained than Matthew had ever heard it.

"I can see you're troubled by the news. Of course you would be. It must have been a terrible shock for all of you."

Mary only nodded, avoiding his eye. Her obvious distress touched something inside him, giving rise to an almost undeniable urge to reach out to her, to shield her from whatever it was that saddened her. His hand moved as if to reach for hers, but he quickly withdrew it as a masculine voice from the top of the stairs spoke her name, drawing her attention away from him. He eyed the approaching gentleman curiously as he descended, assuming that this must be the Honorable Mr. Napier, their second guest and, he suspected, suitor for Mary's hand.

Suddenly feeling every inch the unwanted third party, he bowed his head and quietly withdrew.

Thank you to all who reviewed the last chapter! Your feedback touches me more than you know. :)

I also want to give a shout-out to my wonderful beta, Willa Dedalus, who has a new story that just started posting. It's called This Modern Love. Check it out if you enjoy modern M/M.

Thanks for reading!