Mourning!Mary, with a brief appearance by Isobel. Another reflection piece, I toyed with the idea of taking it further - to some sort of resolution between Mary and Isobel, and the beginning of healing for Mary, instead of these dark thoughts re: Matthew's death, her own future, and her poor baby son but...I didn't, lol. So, it's not a light read and I wrote it quite quickly so I apologise for content, lack of editing, maybe I should think these things through better before just deciding to post them but - Anyway. Thanks again.
What an heir was he, Mary thought, as autumn came down around them in a flurry of crunching leaves and crisp air, half dead during the war, finished himself off this time.
Oh wasn't he the worst man next in line for the Earldom? Wasn't he the most conflicted, self-loathing distant cousin they could find? Certainly, Patrick was a senseless boy at times, but he was raised a Crawley and knew what it all meant, but of course he went and died, too.
Then he showed up, Isobel in tow, moral to a fault, wavered off track now and then, beating himself up and damning himself those long months after Lavinia died. He joined the war and stayed away for two years, he kissed Mary when he could walk again, and then pushed her away when they buried the pretty young woman. He talked of going back to Manchester, all but abandoning his future with the estate, though he never did quite leave.
No, he only half left all of those years he was with them – half to war, half to injury, half to self-hatred, half to musings of a simpler life in Manchester where Mary's relationship with Sir Richard and Lavinia's death couldn't torture him so badly – but now he was fully gone, dead from a car collision, a dent in his head, blood congealed in his blonde hair, skin grey and eyes stuck open.
She had to identify him, and of course it was him, Downton wasn't a metropolis, they all knew this was the heir to the Grantham title, died in a ditch from some senseless, stupid accident. Stupid, Mary had thought every day since, how careless and stupid.
It had been she to reach out, her own eyes stuck open in fear and wonder, disbelief and sorrow, and close his pale blue ones, her fingertips grazing his lids and there was no warmth left in him.
You should have died in the war, she thought as the brutal realization weighed onto her, and she wished for nothing but taking all their time together back. Their short time of happiness couldn't possibly balance this pain, this loss, this devastation.
He should have died in the war and spared them this, the whole damn family, his own mother, this senseless, aching, sudden thing. If he'd died in the war, at least she could have reasoned with it. She would never have known his love, would never have been his wife, never bore him a son, but what did any of that matter in the end, anyway? It was the end, the end to their short time, the end to his. They would have found another heir if he died in the war, but no, now Mary was widow and mother to one of the last Crawley males.
His love couldn't make up for this hurt, she thought, he was a fool and he dared leave her, and she found no strength in memories for the first few weeks. All she could think was of how lifeless he had been, and how unlucky he was to only know his son for a few short minutes, how damned he was to leave them behind, and what kind of lives would they have now? Broken ones.
She thought of his funeral and how warm the day was, how George lay quiet and slumbering in Isobel's arms, and how much she hated black, how much she hated him for forcing her to dress like this again (once, twice, thrice for Crawley members dead).
You foolish man, you must not have known me at all to be so stupid to leave me like this.
What she could not bear was when they went to the cemetery, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and watched as they threw dirt down onto his casket, deep below the surrounding tombstones. Matthew was within that casket, he rested there, a man broken and defeated by life, too young and too blessed with love to be there, and Mary held her breath until she saw spots and couldn't imagine never breathing again, never seeing light, still and lifeless and nothing in the ground.
That's all he was now.
Carson was the first to embrace her after it all happened, birth and death, celebration and loss, days later, after the funeral, and she was rigid and upset, and wept quietly into the old butler's shoulder like countless times before.
Nothing could be worse than this, milady.
Knowing his father was no longer flesh and blood, was cold and decomposing, Mary found she couldn't look at George without that pain deep within her chest flaring, her lungs sore from sobbing and wheezing. Her resentment for his father shifted to their son, and soon she longed simply for solitude.
She could do nothing for the child when she ached desperately anytime he cried, anytime she saw those familiar eyes blink up at her. She nursed him and sent him back again. Mary knew someone cared for the child, knew the nanny or Edith, or her own mother, whomever, tended to him and she was thankful for that, but also very, very indifferent – perhaps she should have felt responsibility and protective, but as long as she didn't have to look at the baby whose life would never be what they had dreamed together it could.
Then the weather changed nearly as sudden as her life had. The warm rays of the sun faded to pale blue skies that smelled of smokey, freshly lit fires and the slow decay of nature around them. As nature crumbled, she felt the resolve within her crumble as well, the defiance and anger weaken, and then the emptiness consumed her.
It was vast and it was harsh, and the house had never seemed bigger nor more hollow, and she rarely left the bedroom. Mary hardly recalled how she'd been living, if she woke or slept or ate, if she ever held George and only vaguely knew she nursed him each day, only when Anna would bring him to her.
Those few weeks when she was just angry and resentful were the easiest to get through, for she stewed in her loss, felt sorry for herself and hated Matthew for ever knowing her, for daring to come into her life and then be ripped away.
Oh, but what a veil it was, an act and attempt but she couldn't live bitter of his memory, she couldn't make-believe he hadn't changed her life, hadn't loved her so and shared with her more than she had ever dreamed for. What a life, a grand, lovely life, they had so briefly together, what a bright future they were building, what a beautiful son they had – What a good man Matthew had been, moral and strong, a man who believed in God and saved the estate from ruin in his final months alive.
What an heir was he, Mary thought differently, weeks after his death, with regard and reverence. What a breath of life he was, an eye-opener, an outsider whom they all grew to love so, the man whom with they shared their vision for the future, the one who must shoulder more and more responsibility as life changed, and years went on, but, alas, he never made it very far.
It was back onto Robert, ageing and mourning loss after loss, his daughter and his heir turned son-in-law. George was next in line but what a long time that would be, and her Papa needed a partner in running the estate, aside from Branson, and Mary only cared about the longevity of their legacy now, for if it died with Robert, she would question if she ever had any identity at all. She wondered if it would be this to bring her out of her fog.
"Hello Mary. Have you seen George today?" Had there even been a knock at the door? Mary didn't know, and pulled her forehead off of the cool glass of the window, where she'd been standing looking out over the grounds.
Anna was near her, with Isobel in the doorway.
"What are you doing in here?" Mary asked harshly, but she lacked a filter lately, her grief and burdens pouring from her in snippy remarks.
"You said 'come in', milady," Anna informed her gently. "Mrs. Crawley said you knew she was coming."
Mary's eyebrows raised, and she evaluated the woman in black in her doorway, knowing this was not true, knowing she had not spoken to anyone alone for days, but Isobel obviously was on a mission and Mary decided to indulge her.
"Oh, yes, of course," Mary's tone brighter than it had been, false and allowing Isobel to enter.
"Have you seen George?" Isobel repeated, and they both stood widows and women who loved Matthew, dressed in black with matching hollow eyes, though Mary with hollower cheekbones, and Mary wondered if this was a look into her future – Did somethings never really change, would she be draped in black her entire life?
"Not – yet, he's not up for the morning yet, is he?" Mary directed the question to Anna, and she shook her head before Mary raised her eyebrows and gave Isobel a 'well there you have it' look.
Anna left, and Mary felt a bit of a loss whenever she did, for she was the only person Mary spent any amount of time with, especially alone. Anna was the only one allowed into her world of ghosts and grief.
"Do you see him aside from when you nurse?" Isobel persisted and Mary felt her presence was strange this late September morning.
"He has a nanny," Mary said, and she saw her own hands were bone white, she felt her frame had changed since giving birth to George, she looked sickly and grief-stricken. "And soon he'll have a wet-nurse."
"I know that," Isobel lifted her chin and Mary could pick out the features she shared with Matthew, just like she had done with George, and some distant part of herself prickled with loss. "I've been meaning to talk to you, I think now is a fair time for it,"
"Isobel," Mary said, and she spoke with warning. "I'm so far from myself that I hope you're not here to criticise me. I'm distraught and lucky I'm standing,"
"Oh my dear girl, I know you are, but you must also know oftentimes your distraught comes off as disinterest in your child,"
"It's been barely a month, I'm trying to adjust," An offhanded, bored tone.
"You were angry when it happened," Isobel said, perceptive and bold. "And you can't bear to be angry with Matthew any more, so you've put it onto George,"
Mary had thought the same thing quite recently, so she said nothing to defy this.
"It's quite plain, Mary, and it's troubling for me to see. I don't think you angry with George but I do think you resentful," Isobel spoke as if this were an easy conversation, a straight forward topic, and Mary then felt anger at her.
"Don't tell me how to raise my son just because your own is gone," And perhaps it was cruel, perhaps insensitive, but Mary regarded the woman icily, her posture rigid, eyebrows raised as if combative.
"Not just gone – dead," Isobel continued, not missing a beat. She had clearly come here with intention and continued on despite Mary's hostility. "My son, George's father, your husband, died. I think I deserve a say in something for that fact. I lost the only person in the world that was my blood family, and now the only person in the world who is that, is George."
"My husband, my partner in raising our child – he was your son, you don't have to pick up all of the pieces I do without him. Someone to plan the estate, someone to raise a boy,-"
"You can raise your own boy, Mary," Isobel interrupted, in a pleading albeit stern tone, her lips drawn into a thin line. "I would give anything for my son to be here, and you sit and throw away time with your own darling child. You're the lucky one in this, because you're still a mother, while I'm nothing anymore, am I? I lost the only worth I had since my own husband died – and yet you don't see that."
"We're different people, Isobel, I wasn't a nurse nor a homemaker,-"
"Certainly, yes, I know the argument that you're high society, a proper Lady, and were never going to be in the nursery sponging out spit-up, whatever the circumstance," Isobel looked around the room, and perhaps she was stricken of the intimate environment she had entered, the only place her son had lived that she had no knowledge of – memories here that were only Mary's, her own private mourning chamber – and Isobel's eyes shone with emotion, as well as hesitation. "Could you need to consider what kind of mother you would have been had Matthew lived – what kind of parents you would have been? Because I think, perhaps, you would do things a little differently."
Mary stared at the woman, the one with the defunct title of mother-in-law, and her initial reaction was more anger, outrage at the suggestion that she hadn't considered it – because of course she had.
Of course she had thought of all they might have done together with the boy, how different this all could have been. She thought of the two of them watching him sleep his first night home, Matthew reading to them while Mary rocked the child to sleep, of them laying the baby between them in bed, marvelling over how very early and small he was, what a handsome boy was he, who he would look more like, Matthew teaching him to ride a bike, Mary encouraging him to ride horses, all they could have shared...
Yes, she had considered what kind of mother she could have been, what kind of mother Matthew would have brought out in her – for he brought out the most tender emotions, the warmest parts of her heart, and she thought that dormant maternal side of her was tied to Matthew, and however much it might have readied while she was pregnant, when her husband died...that part of her went with him. She couldn't change anything, couldn't bring it out in herself, couldn't be an affectionate mother just because she might have been if Matthew had not died. Mary recognised all she lost when she lost him, her husband, a partner, the future, and she recognised all she had lost in herself, too.
Instead of saying anything of the sort, or reminding Isobel that she was newly widowed and spent long, sleepless night torturing herself with exactly these thoughts, Mary gathered herself up, inhaled, nostrils flaring as she controlled herself, and she walked by her to the bedroom door.
"You've given me lots to think about. Goodbye, cousin Isobel," The woman, Matthew's mother, gathered herself much the way Mary had just done, and she managed not to look too affronted at Mary's dismissive words.
"Goodbye, Mary," Isobel said, quiet, without looking back and Mary gladly closed the door and retreated back into the bedroom, her living tomb.
She wrapped herself in a dark shawl, taking her place in the rocking chair by the window, perhaps the chair she would have rocked George in while Matthew watched happily from the bed, and it creaked just as her bones and heart did. She didn't mean to hurt Isobel, and dearly wanted her there for George, to grandmother and love him like he would need, but she was tired and worn out and didn't welcome any advice, well-meaning or otherwise. She decided to make amends with Isobel, eventually, when explaining herself hurt her pride less than it would now. She wanted Isobel to know that George was hers to love and protect just as she might a son, for he would need someone to look out for him the way a good parent might have, the way Matthew and her might have if...
But for now she didn't worry that Isobel felt bad, for Mary felt bad, felt low and miserable all of the time, she figured everyone else should have a taste of it.
Mary sighed, the burden of the early day already weighing on her physically, her posture slumping, her chest aching. She was sorry their son wouldn't have the parents he once might have had, wouldn't have the best version of herself as his mother – but it was hard to do anything when she lived amongst the dead.
For during the day she concealed herself in black dresses, and at night she roamed the hallways, visiting old haunts of her own, alarming anyone who might find her tucked away in some corner, swathed in her nightgown and carrying a candle, eyes searching the room for any memory of him she may have left behind.
She figured she must look batty at those times, aimless and desperate in the dark of the house, and she thought it predictable to lose her mind now, and she wouldn't, she defied that. But even so, sometimes late at night she could still hear Matthew reading in bed beside her, a low murmur, gentle and familiar. Rather than spook her awake the ghostly, dead voice often lulled her back to sleep instead.