Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
- Albert Camus
The horizon trembles as the planes roar overhead, and the teacup rattles dangerously on its saucer.
There’s no peace, not in Europe, nor in Dowton. Matthew thinks -- and he’s aware that this a very middle-aged thought to have, but -- it seems like the world has become too noisy, too smoky, just too much. Even the quietness of the castle is no longer sacrosanct, from his bedroom -- the Earl’s bedroom, though he can never think of himself as the Earl of Grantham, that title belonged to Robert Crawley, a decade in the ground - you could hear the faint noise of trucks rumbling down the road, the war at work again.
The house is full again, full of the Crawley sisters, and their children, though now all of them are quite grown, or almost so. Even Sybil is here, and it’s a shock to see a streak of gray in her dark hair. Mary writes that she quite refuses to dye it, something about being true to Tom’s memory, though Matthew doesn’t quite know how that works. She is still strikingly, tragically beautiful and Matthew thinks -- another foolish middle-aged thought -- that he should have told her that before she ran off to Dublin, and disappeared for twenty years. But here she is again, with her four children, all rambunctious and energetic. Loud too, but this is forgivable, for they all have their mother’s eyes, large and gray and full of intelligence. Perhaps there is something of Tom Branson in them too, but Matthew cannot tell...
Edith came down a month ago, in a flurry of bags and trucks and packages for the children. Her husband was off somewhere -- war work, she said breezily and Matthew wonders who this sleek creature is and what she has done to dowdy Lady Edith. She had travelled the farthest and come back a habit of smoking foreign cigarettes that make Matthew’s lungs ache and also a love for American jazz. He has never met her husband, also an American. Perhaps he is the one that gave her a taste for jazz.
Mary is one of the last of their set to leave London. He’s sent off letter after letter, telephone-call after telephone-call, asking, then begging her to come away before it was too late, before a German bomb crashed on her head. But so far she has refused, making excuses after excuses. She argues that her life is in London now, that she’s vested in what happens to her adopted city, and after all, the presses must keep printing, the people must know what is happening to their sons and to themselves.
Finally, he loses patience and tells her that if she doesn’t come back to Downton, he’ll go to London and bring her back himself. She laughs -- a sound that thrills him even after all these years -- and says that she’d like to see him try.
“I would, I’d take my cane and batten down the door at Grosvenor Square and - and - well, carry you off.”
She sighs. “I will come. Soon.”
He waits, and wonders if this how she felt during their first separation.
It is a full month before the telegram arrives from Mary, a month full of bad news and dark skies. Barrow’s son, a slight, dreaming boy of just nineteen, who had nothing of his father’s guile, is killed in France. The butler takes it well, or perhaps he doesn’t take it at all, the man is so secret, so severe, that Matthew feels that it is impossible to know him exactly. Matthew tries to pry loose some words from him, any emotion, but he’s greeted with a smooth mask and calm demeanor. They have nothing of the late Earl and the late, the great Carson's easy relationship at all. Nothing is easy with Barrow.
But still, the telegram does come, and says that Mary is to come on the twenty-second.
He snaps at servants, he is rude to Edith, and when Mrs. Mason explains that she cannot make Mary’s favorite dessert with their rations, he explodes. One of the children starts to cry, and Matthew cannot stand the noise at all, even though he knows he’s the cause. He escapes out the door before anyone can stop him, and it is Sybil who comes to find him, sitting -- huddling -- underneath one of the Lebanon cedars.
She sits next to him, and waits for him to speak.
“I want her not to regret coming. But she will come, and see how things have changed, and it will hurt her.”
Sybil has always been soft-spoken, but no one has ever have trouble hearing her. She takes his hands -- and Matthew notes with surprise that she had rough hands, like his mother’s, hands that have known hardship. She says with conviction, “Mary loves Downton. She will be happy here. With us. With you, if you let her.”
He cannot speak, and so he nods instead. She gets up and offers him her hand.
He accepts it.
“Onward, Christian soldier,” she says.
He waits for the sisters to settle -- Sybil and Mary have their arms linked together, and even Edith hovers at the edges, peaceable, for now. They ask for news about John, Mary’s boy, who has come down from Oxford, and is now training to be officer in the army. “He made some noise about joining up as a foot soldier -- I blame that on you, Sybil, for giving him such ideas -- but I made him see the light.”
Sybil laughs and Edith says, “Honestly, Mary, you’re getting as bad as Granny.”
“Oh no,” said Mary, a smile playing at her lips, “I wear much better hats.”
Finally, after what seems an eternity, she turns to him. How, he thinks, half-desperately, how can she still look the same as she did on the first day I met her? Give or take a few lines on her face, and yes her hair is not so adamantly dark as it once was, but in essentials she is the same. She is more.
He loves her. Through the wasted years, and all the bitter words, that has never changed. It would never change. On the other side lies only love, that endures long after all thought of hurt has gone. He never had a chance with anyone else.
“Welcome home, Mary,” he says, and means it with all his heart.
She takes his hand and all is quiet.