By the dim light of a single candle, Mary writes letters, long after the household has retired to bed, when the quiet sounds of the nurses on their night rounds are muffled by layers of stone and history, isolating her in her bedroom as thoroughly as if she were in another world.
She writes, endlessly, night after night, to Matthew. All the words she could never quite manage to say (and knows it's likely enough she never will) come pouring out onto the page.
I wish, more than anything, that I wasn't too stubborn to have asked you to stay. That either of us had just a little less pride, that we might have found our way back to each other.
I never wanted to be the wife of a lawyer. I did want very much to be the wife of Matthew Crawley.
If you don't come back, I will never forgive you, or myself. But I know you will.
I suspect you've handled your share of dead men by now, though I know you'd never speak of it. Would it shock you to learn I once carried a dead man through the halls of Downton? I thought it would once. Now I'm not so sure that it matters, that it ever mattered. I like to think you'd have had faith in me, even so.
I did want to honor you. And I love you.
The words sit there, stark black against the page, bold and striking and full of emotion.
She burns them all, feeding the pages into the dying fire, watching them turn to ash in the grate. In the morning, she will take a fresh page, blank and perfect, and write a suitable letter; bland, composed, proper.
Even so, she will end it with the only sentiment that truly matters:
Come back. I know you will.
There are times, in the trenches, when blessed silence reigns, when there are no shells screeching overhead, no bullets flying, no one screaming in agony.
In those all-too-brief times, Matthew composes letters in his head; to his mother, occasionally, or Lavinia, but mostly to Mary, saying everything he wishes he had, everything that staring death in the face daily makes so much more important.
I think of you always. Your voice, and that wry tone you have when you think you've scored a point in a disagreement; your face, and the way your eyes grow larger when you manage to discuss feeling something, as though you can't quite fathom having feelings to express; your hair, and how rich it looks when the light strikes it.
Mostly I think of how I love you still, and what foolish children we were, to throw everything away on pride. I didn't trust you then, and I regret it now with every breath.
He goes so far as to write out the first line once, I think of you always staring up accusingly at him from the paper, because he reasons that, when a man is likely as not to be killed each and every day, shouldn't he say what he truly feels, and damn the consequences?
Then he sees her little toy dog lying next to the paper, and feels that perhaps that's actually an abominable way to think, to assume that he won't get back again to tell Mary these things to her face, as she deserves. He looks at her last letter, at its final lines – Come back. I know you will. - and knows that to assume he won't return would be a betrayal of her faith, and between the two of them, they've had quite enough of that already.
So when he continues the letter some time later, the sentiment is altered, becoming, I think of you always when I think of Downton, and the happy days we all spent there.
Still, the ink is a bit darker and the strokes firmer in the first five words; he can only imagine that once the letter has made its battered way through the wartime post, she'll no longer be able to tell.