It was a dark and stormy night, of which Downton didn't see many, but Mary had read a horror story or two that started that way. All of your fears can hide within the dark, so it is the perfect place for horror stories to begin, all ones ghosts prowling in the darkness, just over your shoulder, taunting and teasing.
The rain fell nearly sideways, forced by the howling wind, and it blew through the house like a gale, the sound echoing through empty hallways and drafty rooms. Branches snapped from trees and knocked against windows, around which the rain seeped, the rug damp from that and a leaky roof. The electricity was in and out, already dim lamps dimming further as the wind gusted, and it wafted through like someone walking quickly away. Mary checked around her several times, for she so often felt a presence with her, she almost expected one of these times to find the source of it there.
She heard doors bang as the servants closed the house up for the night, while clocks chimed, and the flame wavered on the candle lit at her bedside, next to their wedding portrait. The room was cold, even though the weather was not, as it was a mild sort of storm event.
Mary sighed as the cold breeze sent a shiver down her spine, goosepimples creeping up her flesh, and she folded her book into her lap, looking at the clock. It was nearly that time, she thought. It had been going on for weeks, at this time, when the room turned cold signaled it, and she feared it would wake the children. She especially expected it on a night such as this, a night from which ghost stories were made, with the flickering lights casting odd shadows, and the noise of the storm outside hiding other noises deep within the house.
The great house was old, of course, and it creaked and groaned at the best of times on its own, and surely contained as many ghostly occupants as living ones. There were enough whom lived and died here, or even whilst away like James and Patrick. It could be spooky at times, for certain. When the Crawley sisters were young they would play in the attic and scare themselves with made up tales, or they would explore their deceased Grandfather's old study and run screaming that they swore they saw him there by the bookcase.
Mary got out of bed, though, despite these thoughts of all the dead occupants, some kind, some angry, that had once roamed these halls and could very well be doing so again. She donned a black silk robe over her white cotton nightgown, picked up the candle in its holder, and sighed at the photo of them, his face such a comfort even on these strange nights alone, and set off out of the bedroom.
Most were in bed, except perhaps Carson who she considered fetching for the task at hand, but decided to press on herself as she heard the knocking all the way down the hall from the nursery. She couldn't wait for Carson because at that volume the noise would most certainly wake the babies! And there would be no getting them back to sleep with the storm raging on, eerie wails of the wind all through the house.
She walked quicker as the knocking continued, and she felt herself nearly angry, for none of this had happened before – before any men had been to the house, or before Anthony had proposed to her so spontaneously, and kissed her so warmly – and she wondered if he was just being childish and acting out because he was jealous. She didn't blame him for it, and wanted him to know she still loved him so, and wore her wedding rings on her left hand as if he was alive, but she felt annoyed at his displays!
The sound of her footsteps was lost in the noise of the night, but her shadow on the walls showed the speed at which she moved, nearly sprinting to the nursery door, stopping as she grasped the handle and her candle blew out all at once.
Mary pushed the door open, and of course it was the one thing in the house not to creak, and the Nanny was gone just like the other nights this had happened, off to make a bottle, or some late night sewing, whatever drew her away, or perhaps his presence forced her off.
And there he was, of course, just like the other weeks this happened, though Mary could scarcely make him out on this particular eve. She was nearly thankful her candle had gone out, for the light from it would have shown off his blonde hair, and the blood congealed in it, stuck to the side of his face and along his ear, running from the wound that had killed him the autumn before.
It did not scare her when she saw it, because nothing could scare her since the first time, when they brought her to see him, cold and bloodied and bruised on a table. There was nothing to scare her after that, and even him now, grey and dead and still bloody, was not the worst of her nightmares. She had already lived the worst. Even so, it was not a pleasant reminder.
Mary cast an eye to the cribs, where the babies slumbered peacefully, and a detached part of her reminded that Sybbie was more a toddler than a baby now. Imagine that, how time flew by…
"You know that rocking chair knocks against the wall when you rock it," Mary spoke to the spectre, though he was too solid and sickly looking to be a glowing, comforting spectre.
He acknowledged her by turning his head, hiding the side that bore his fatal wound in shadows, and slowing his rocking.
"Nanny will be back soon, you're going to make me look mad if she walks in to this," Mary said and though she spoke in a tone that told him she was at her wits end, she felt her hands shake at the idea of him, even if he was an annoying haunt, it was still her husband doing so.
"I don't mind you looking in on him, but must you antagonize me as you do? Honestly, Matthew!" She huffed, and the rocking stopped altogether, the banging of the chair against the wall quieting the room.
The wind still howled, but she sighed, relieved the babies would sleep in peace.
"You know if you were still here, I'd have you do the midnight feedings instead of Nanny or myself," She thought she heard laughter, ghostly and dead, and her goosepimples were back. "Since you so seem to like keeping us up late."
The figment, shadowed and eerie, spooking her but making her stand her ground, too, faded some and she softened at the prospect. Even if he was causing a stir, at least he was there.
"The room gets so cold when you show up, too, I wish that wasn't the case," She whispered across the room, and if she were a different person, braver or voyeur, she might try to touch him, to heal him. "But not another peep tonight, mmm?"
A mobile that hung in the room swayed suddenly, melodic chimes, and she knew it was his agreement, his sweet defeat, and she felt warm as the music played for a minute or two. The hair brushed behind her ear, and her annoyance was less, as she heard my Mary whispered into the night, and the pale corpse of her beloved husband was gone before her eyes.
Mary inhaled a breath, straightened the curtains and rocking chair, and sighed as she left, expecting the same antics if Lord Anthony ever showed up again.