About half an hour after Matthew had gone out – probably not coincidentally – Isobel knocked at the door of the bedroom and opened it on her daughter-in-law's low, "Come in!"
"Mary," she began, "your father's here and wants to see you. Shall I show him in?"
Mary hesitated. She felt suddenly self-conscious about being in her bed, Matthew's bed, in her nightdress with her hair loose. She even felt self-conscious of the bundle in her arms that only two days before had existed only in theory and was now a living, breathing human being. It was all so terribly new. Then she gave herself a shake and smiled up at Isobel. "Of course."
She had seen her father only once since her return from Italy when they had nodded gravely to each other at Sybil's ball as she and Matthew had passed along the receiving line. And of course since arriving back in the village, she had been confined to the house. Matthew had been up to the abbey several times, however. Her heart beat fast as he entered the room, hesitating on the threshold. For a moment they simply looked at each other across the room and Mary's bottom lip began to tremble because he was her father and she had missed him so tremendously. Then Robert's eyes dipped from her face and she interrupted the silence and her reflections, "He's asleep at the moment but you can come closer if you like."
He walked softly across the room and paused beside the bed. Mary shuffled to one side and patted the blankets next to her. She felt a strange kind of power over the situation and over her father. This was her domain and she was in charge. It was strange for at the same time she had never felt more unsure of everything.
The bed dipped and he sat down. She immediately shifted her arms and gently pulled the blanket down to reveal more of her son's small, round face. Robert drew in a breath and leaned in and for several long moments the two of them were united in watching the baby silently sleep.
"He's exquisite," breathed the earl eventually and when he raised his eyes, Mary saw that they were moist.
"Would you like to hold him?" she replied quickly. She had wept so much recently she was not sure there were any tears left in her. She did not want to be tempted to begin again.
"If – if you will let me."
"Only if you promise not to drop him!" she murmured back, already uncurling her arms and leaning forwards to make the transition easier. "He's very good, you know; he doesn't cry much."
"What a good boy," whispered her father, staring reverently down at his first grandson.
"Quite a change from Sybil. I remember she cried all the time!" continued Mary, talking quickly to cover her nervousness and the terrible sense of loss she felt at not having him in her arms even for a minute. "I was too young to remember Edith as a baby, of course."
"She didn't cry much either," said Robert vaguely. "Sybil said you'd fixed on James."
"Yes. James Henry."
He looked up at her then. "Henry after my father?"
Mary smiled and nodded.
Robert blinked and looked back down at the baby. "Thank you," he said rather thickly.
Mary pushed herself further up so she could peer more easily over his shoulder. "Granny said that she already liked him better than the last James Crawley she knew."
"Did she? Trust my mother to be on the scene before anyone else. I think – I think I agree with her though."
Mary smiled and leaned over to touch her finger to her son's cheek and lightly stroke over his face, his tiny chubby cheeks, and his little button nose. She couldn't help it; it had been too long since she had touched him. As if responding to his mother's presence, the bundle began to squirm slightly and suddenly a pair of large blue eyes opened to meet his grandfather's. Two sets of breaths were held but there was no wail. James' faint eyebrows contracted into a frown and his lips pouted and then he looked around until he found Mary's face. She burst into a glorious smile as if there was absolutely nothing so miraculous as seeing him awake and looking directly at her, and in fact there wasn't. She would never get tired of it.
"Hello, darling," she murmured adoringly.
Her father was watching them both and he said quietly, "I think he wants to be back with you."
"Oh, I don't know. He likes you. At any rate, he doesn't mind you." When she managed to tear her eyes away from her son's to her father's, she realised that tears were trickling down his cheeks. She could not remember having ever seen him cry and she laid her hand softly on his shoulder, inexpressibly moved. "Oh, papa."
He smiled through his tears and made to hand James back over, then hesitated. Looking down and rocking him gently he said, "One day this little man will sit in my seat and I'm almost sorry I won't be around to see it."
"I rather hope I won't be," replied Mary, torn before pride and sorrow at the thought, wrapping her arms round the bundle and taking him back from her father. She hugged him tightly to her with a sigh of relief. One tiny fist emerged from the blanket as she did so and latched onto her nightdress, scrabbling on her breast. She bent her head and kissed his forehead, murmuring instinctive words of devotion.
"I think he has my chin, you know," said Robert, several minutes later after he had discreetly dried his eyes on his handkerchief and blown his nose.
Mary lifted her head and raised her eyebrows. "Really? I thought he had Matthew's."
"Perhaps..." said the earl slowly, "Perhaps Matthew's chin and my chin aren't so very different after all."
She tilted her head and tickled the chin under debate. "Perhaps they aren't. It's a very distinguished one anyway, the Crawley chin." She let her eyes dance at him and he returned her smile with a rueful and very fond one of his own.
"I should leave you now to rest, Mary, but... how are you, my very darling daughter?"
She almost laughed, it seemed such a redundant question. "I am as you find me!" she replied eventually.
"Then you must be very well indeed."
He bent forwards and kissed James' head, squeezed his daughter's leg as her hands were otherwise engaged and stood up. At the door he turned and looked back at the pair of them. He smiled in silence for a moment before suddenly saying, almost diffidently, "Once you're back on your feet, you and Matthew must come up for dinner one night. Will you do that?"
Mary nodded. "Of course." She hesitated. "Don't tell Mrs. Bird, but I've missed Mrs. Patmore's cooking terribly."
"In that case you shall dictate the menu."
"Oh I say, I shall give it my best attention from this very moment."
Father and daughter grinned at each other across the room until Mary was distracted by a sharp and demanding tugging on her nightgown and the kind of snuffling that preceded a really good wail. She glanced apologetically at her father and he took his cue to leave. Closing the door quietly behind him to the sound of his grandson's crying and his daughter's soft reassurances, he came face to face with Isobel as she came up the stairs.
"He's rather special, isn't he?" she said with a smile.
Robert brushed another tear away from his eyes. "Yes. He certainly is."