Hello all! I found this old fic that I never posted and decided to offer it up in the spirit of Christmas.
Deck the halls with memories of Captain Crawley!
SONNET 30 - William Shakespeare
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
Unexpectedly Captain Matthew Crawley was back at Downton Abbey. He had been given the afternoon to return by his superior General Strut. They were to start recruitment tours in the morning, but for now he stood in the Abbey quite out of place. He had spoken to his mother, and he had spoken to Mary. Now he didn't know where he belonged. What should he do? What could he do? Lavinia would be with him the next time he walked through the Abbey. That thought brought him some peace of mind at least. Although he felt she should be kept away from seeing the soldiers, it would do no good for her fragile nerves. He didn't want Lavinia to see their injuries and worry about his own odds of fatality. They had such brief moments together after all; he felt no guilt in wanting to censure the war from her so they could remain happy. His female cousins, however, were different. Matthew knew; a Crawley could face anything.
As Downton was being converted into a retreat for convalescing soldiers, all of his family was supporting the war effort, they were united and yet independently making their own contributions. Matthew found Mary's contributions to be especially bountiful. The thought amused him. Mary as a nursemaid, she would be quite strict he imagined. It would be her rules and her decisions to follow, much like a superior officer in the army. She would be able to endure and command and make quick decisions. Matthew touched the little dog she had given him. He wanted to tell her how he had it with him always, but he was reluctant somehow. They had shared a moment on that train platform, but it was only kindness. Sybil would have done the same for him he suspected. They were family, and this was war. He must not let himself forget that.
Matthew didn't quite know how to occupy himself though. He didn't know how to be idle. Even in France with the perpetual waiting there was always something to be done. Now all he was doing was standing on his own two feet. He watched the Downton staff servants mingle with the officers. Matthew smiled at Sybil as she attended to a wounded veteran. When she approached him, he knew he must look as out of place as he felt.
"Matthew," she said serenely. "How wonderful to see you," she greeted him.
"You look very smart in your uniform," he said to which she smiled and winked at him.
"I could say the same to you," Sybil said her eyes glancing up and down at his appearance.
They stood together silently for a moment as others bustled around them.
"If you want, Papa has a section of the library screened off just for himself," Sybil's voice sounded eager to assist him. "You are free to go there to wait. I'll tell Isobel where you are."
Matthew felt his social skills were quite rusty. And for the first time he realized what was bothering him about Downton. Even with the hustle of so many new faces and strangers, it was too quiet. He could hear himself think, and that was not entirely a pleasant sensation. The ground beneath him did not shake; this great house would not collapse at any moment. But this certainly did not bring him relief. Matthew longed for tomorrow in a most peculiar fashion. He enjoyed having orders to follow it took precedence as it should over anything else that fluttered into his thoughts.
Once again he was impressed by his cousins. He had meant what he had said to Mary; Downton was the sort of place General Strut should visit. They should all have their share of glory because their hard work was noble and should be rewarded. Sybil was an impeccable nurse. Matthew looked into her eyes and saw her kindness. It was indeed her turn for a grand gesture as he had predicted; she was now standing on the train platform with him. It would be Edith's turn next no doubt. They all had their roles to play. It was quite the magnificent achievement that Downton should be offered up on a silver platter as a convalescent home after all. In London Lavinia had filled a small chest worth of blankets she was going to donate. Her last letter had detailed her good deeds. Matthew had enjoyed that letter immensely. The simple details of colors and sizes of the blankets dimensions offered moments of distraction. It was something to memorize it was something from home. It did make Matthew feel vindicated when he was at home. Home. Such a strange word. Downton was his home just as much as a bunker carved out of the muddy French dirt.
"Thank you," Matthew finally spoke. "I will do as you command Nurse Crawley," he said with a playful wink. She touched his arm and gave it a good squeeze. Everybody always touched him as though he might disappear, and he might. For he had been very lucky already… after all… Jenkins… Matthew bit his lip.
The private section of the library that still belonged to Robert was empty of his presence. The fireplace was lit, and Isis came up to him with a fond wag of her tail. Matthew completed the final steps of his journey and sank into the sofa. Matthew petted her for several minutes. Isis then lay down and released a hiss of satisfaction. Suddenly Matthew felt himself release a similar groan. It did feel good to be finally off his feet. He leaned back against the cushions and stared at the fire. The flames made quiet but alarming noises as they popped and crackled, so he closed his eyes to escape.
The walls of the bunker were collapsing, but, not on him. He was outside looking in. It was an avalanche of mud and soot and shell fragments. The timber beams cracked into two from the explosion. He wasn't sure if it had been a grenade or a shell. How did it happen so quickly and without warning?
"Captain!" the word as loud as the explosion still ringing in his ears.
What could he do? What next? What now?
Matthew had allowed Jenkins into his bunker for ammunition so he could reload his revolver. He had been generous to share his supply rather than have the man trek across camp to the artillery supply. It was a simple act for a Captain after all. He was supposed to look out for his soldiers, to assist them whenever they had need for direction. But then a shell had hit his bunker. Mere seconds after the explosion, Matthew did not think as he awkwardly jumped down into the pit that now held Jenkins. He felt his left ankle twist, but he didn't care as his foot ached its disapproval. Through the soot and ash he started to dig through the debris. He could hear his soldier screaming. But he couldn't see. He could only hear. His senses were muffled; he gagged. Matthew knew is efforts were futile.
Private Frederick Jenkins, age thirty-one, rest in peace.
"Captain," he heard suddenly. "It is no use." He felt arms tugging him. The arms of a giant, Dirksen he felt rather than saw. Dirksen was the tallest man he had ever known. It was quite the disadvantage in the trenches. The walls made him stoop as he walked. The man would practically be better off shuffling on his knees. Dirksen's arms released him all of a sudden. Sparks from the smoldering ash were being blown in the wind and Matthew saw them land on his gloves. The shards of fire spun around him they too were trapped in the hole the shell had made. The hole that had been his bunker it was his home after all. The death that should have been his, but he was lucky. Another man had taken his place. That was the business of war.
"Sir," he heard another voice calling him from above. The voice was almost lost in the wind.
"Use Dirksen as a ladder," it was perhaps the oddest sentence Matthew could ever remember hearing.
Suddenly he felt as though Atlas was standing behind him, the weight of the world failing on him. Matthew turned his body and inhaled smoke as he saw Dirksen's facial expression only inches from his own face. His helmet dug into his scalp as Matthew tried to turn around. It was then he realized there was a sliding corpse behind him. Through the haze, he could see blood dripping down Dirksen's face. He was too tall for the trenches. It had only been a matter of time before a sniper had picked him off.
Lieutenant Howard Dirksen, age twenty-four, rest in peace, Matthew thought.
"Sir!" he heard the voice calling him again this time. "Captain!"
His title being shouted rang through him with much more impatience and perhaps a further degree of panic. He did as he was told and grimacing as he used his twisted ankle to climb a dead man. Matthew felt arms pull him out, giving him that extra push. The ground shook beneath them. He saw Private Fitzgerald, their best resident sniper firing his weapon allowing them some protection as the artillery fire continued jettisoned back and forth above their heads.
"What next?" Private Sloane asked him frantically as they waited for their chance to move. Matthew felt the soft push of Mary's dog from his jacket pocket as they lay face down in the mud. He had been very lucky today.
Matthew awoke to a pinching sensation and the focused eyes of his mother. He stifled a yawn and their eyes meet. She smiled her entire face beaming at him briefly. Matthew yawned again this time unable to suppress it, as though she had coaxed it out him. He felt as though he was immerging from a trance. Matthew could tell from the set of her eyes as she concentrated that she was following a hunch. His mother was currently a very engaged nurse. She had already removed both of his boots, the pinching sensation he had awoken to became clear now; as she inspected his ankles. Matthew watched as her hands diligently found and then un-wrapped the tight bandage around his left ankle. He did nothing to stop her. What could he do about it now? What could he do about anything?
Since he was on English soil, his clothes and body were clean. He would hate to think of her or anyone seeing him; let alone touching him under other circumstances. His uniform was for ceremony here. He had to inspire men to enlist, on the surface; there was nothing deficient in his appearance. His khakis uniform was pristine even if his conscience felt dirty. Tomorrow he would stand proud alongside General Strut and his fellow officers. It was his duty.
"This was wrapped rather well," his mother said continuing to unravel the bandage. "Papa was with you when you did it no doubt."
Matthew was speechless; he wanted to ask how she had known. His mother had remarkable perceptions. He had of course been thinking of his father when he wrapped the bandage, grateful for all the practical medical advice he had once shared. Matthew knew he was not limping. The twisted ankle had happened more than two weeks ago and had not been giving him any trouble as long as it was wrapped tightly. He could stand for hours and walk for miles, and he had done both since the ill fated jump. In fact, his memories were a greater pain to him than the twinges from his foot. His ankle was never the first thing he thought of – nor should it be. Because he had to stand and so he did, but he didn't have to remember and yet he did.
Matthew was silent; he just let his mother go about whatever fact-finding quest she was about. He didn't mind after all. It felt exceptionally comforting to have his mother's touch on his aching appendage. It was a mental ache more than a physical pain he thought. The twisted ankle simply represented his failure.
"It is healing very well considering how much time you spend on your feet darling," he heard his mother say.
She said the words so calmly without a bit of hesitation as if she knew everything about what he had been through, about what he had seen. As though his mother was the primary authority on the brutalities of war. Matthew felt his eyes start to mist. In his genealogy, there were many guardians in heaven amongst his ancestors; who had used medicine as their sword and shield. Matthew thought of his own father again suddenly, and his heart ached anew at that very different kind of loss. He bit his lip between his teeth sucking in a deep breath.
Dr. Reginald Crawley, fifty-nine years of age, rest in peace.
Matthew flinched as his mother rotated his ankle. And yet despite the discomfort there was such a reassuring silence between them. Matthew closed his eyes; another yawn, seeming to pour out of him all of a sudden. He didn't know he was so tired, he hadn't felt it before. His mother's hands traced the outline of his khaki sock and began massaging into the flesh around his ankle. He couldn't help but release a hiss at her touch. It struck him that his mother had no scolding, no instructions or demands, only tender ministrations. Matthew had thought he was numb, but he could feel that.
His brief conversation with Mary replayed in his mind. He needed a distraction, and that was Mary's primary occupation in his life. He thought of Mary's reluctance to discuss their parents and the brewing storm between them. Matthew knew his mother had a keen sense of intervention; she had deduced his injury apparently just by looking at him somehow. What else was she stirring up? She must be driving them all mad, exposing sore subjects at every turn. He had to smile despite the tension it must be causing in the house; because for him it made sense. Especially since he was currently his mother's primary cause, it gave him certainly in a jumbled world.
Sometimes, he felt guilty that he brought Mary to the trenches with him. Her lucky charm was always with him. Matthew felt a chill, and he shivered. Needing reassurance he opened his eyes and watched his mother. He had no right to feel this utter relief and yet he craved further sanctuary. An unexpected sizzle caught his attention. The flames in the fireplace were going out. The last embers were burning their last glow. He felt, overwhelmed with comfort and exhaustion blurring together. Matthew thought he might blub any second as the peace of their situation together continued.
"Rest dear," he heard his mother say soothingly. "For now, just rest."
And so Matthew felt himself obligated to follow her advice, and he closed his weary watering eyes. He was simply a soldier following orders, nothing more and nothing less.
Thanks for reading!
Remember to check out tumblr on Christmas Day to find out what M&M have exchanged for gifts in TML.