PART I – Matthew Returns to Downton
“That’s it, Lady Mary,” Lynch said and smiled at his young mistress. “Tighten the reins a bit. Good, good.”
Mary was perched on Diamond. It had been two weeks since she had managed to convince her father to allow her to ride Diamond. After Lynch had assured Lord Grantham that his daughter had taken to the sidesaddle quite easily, Lord Grantham had reluctantly agreed to let her ride the spirited animal. It was hard for him to accept that his eldest daughter was a young lady and quite an accomplished rider. He often had to remind himself that Mary was no longer the little girl he had lifted onto her first pony, watching her hold the reins so tightly. Lord Grantham’s consent to let Mary ride Diamond had been given with the condition that she promise to stay in the paddock. Mary had accepted this as a small victory in her quest to make Diamond hers.
Mary executed the next maneuver expertly and Lynch nodded his approval. She steered Diamond towards the stable manager first, now noticing that they had a spectator. She shaded her eyes as she looked at him, then let out a not so very ladylike squeal when she recognized him.
Lynch glanced at Matthew Crawley over his shoulder and nodded to him as the young man waved to Mary. Turning back to the horse and its rider he grabbed the reins to steady Diamond. Mary held out her arms and he helped her down. She patted Diamond’s neck and stroked his soft muzzle.
“Thank you, Diamond. You were wonderful.” She smiled at Lynch. “Thank you, Lynch. What pray tell can I expect on your report on my progress to my father?”
Lynch chuckled, detecting the eagerness in her voice. “You did excellent, Lady Mary. Diamond seems to really like you, milady.”
Mary smiled, trying hard to hide her pride at his words. She had known all along that if she was just allowed to ride Diamond, everyone would see how they belonged together. She patted Diamond on the neck one last time before she headed towards Matthew. She smiled widely at him and had to stop herself from running to him.
Matthew held the gate for her and offered her his hand to help her cross a muddy puddle.
“Hello Mary,” he said and grinned.
The two stepped aside as Lynch and Diamond walked by. Mary watched Matthew as he looked closely at the horse. Finally he turned to her again.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you were coming?” she asked and made a face at him.
Matthew looked down at their clasped hands and stroked the back of her hand with his thumb.
“I wanted to surprise you. Were you?”
Mary laughed and nodded. “Very much so. I honestly don’t know how I managed not falling off the horse in surprise at seeing you.”
He laughed and looked over his shoulder at Lynch who was now removing Diamond’s saddle.
“You looked magnificent, Mary. Just like I always knew you would.”
She smiled and tilted her head. “Thank you. I’ve been trying so very hard to learn to ride sidesaddle.”
“You looked so grownup,” he said softly and sighed. He looked her in the eyes. “I’m so glad to be back, Mary.”
She placed her hand on his chest and leaned closer to kiss his cheek. “Welcome back, Matthew.”
He grinned and tugged at her hand. “Come, I’m sure you would like to get back to the house. It’s almost tea time.”
She nodded and together they walked towards the Abbey. Mary smiled at Matthew and curled her fingers around his.
Mary was giddy with excitement as she hurried upstairs to take a bath and get changed. Matthew was staying at Downton for the summer. His mother would only be staying until the annual garden party, but Matthew would be staying on until he had to return to school in September.
“Hello Rosie,” Mary said absentminded as she swept into the room.
“Milady,” Rosie said and smiled. “Your bath is ready.”
Mary was so deep in thought about all the wonderful things she and Matthew would do together this summer she barely noticed the maid removing her clothes. She smiled at her as she held the robe for her. Glancing at the clock one last time, Mary hurried into the bathroom.
She sank into the warm water and scooped up a handful of suds. Her cheeks flushed a little pink as she remembered the time when Matthew had been sitting outside the bathroom talking to her. It seemed so long ago. Was it only a few months ago?
As much as she wanted to linger in the bath, she was anxious to get downstairs. Matthew was back. Matthew was back! She let out a joyous laugh and stepped out of the tub. Not waiting for Rosie, she grabbed the towel and dried herself.
“Mary, there you are,” Lady Grantham said and smiled at her daughter. “How was your lesson?”
“Very exciting, Mama,” Mary said politely and sat down across from her mother. She looked around the room for Matthew, but he was not there.
“Your father was not very happy with your choice of horse, and I cannot say that I blame him.”
“Diamond is evil,” Edith said smugly. “He bites, and kicks, and he’s not nice at all.”
Mary rolled her eyes. “He’s a smart horse and he was absolutely wonderful today.”
“You will have to tell your father all about it later, dear,” Lady Cora said and smiled at her.
“Where’s Matthew?” Mary blurted out, unable to resist the temptation any longer.
“Matthew?” Edith exclaimed with a laugh. “Did you fall and hit your head?”
“Now Edith, be nice,” Cora said and smiled at her middle daughter. “Cousin Matthew is in fact here at Downton. He will be staying with us for the summer.”
“Why?” Edith asked and made a face.
“Because his mother asked your father if he could. It will be good for him not to have to spend the entire summer in Manchester.”
“I cannot see why anyone would spend time willingly in Manchester,” the Dowager Countess said, and made a face.
Mary giggled at Granny’s words, but immediately stopped when her mother shot her a sharp look. Before they could discuss the matter further the door opened and Carson announced Matthew’s and Isobel’s arrival.
“I hope that you found everything in order, and have settled in fine. It’s so nice to have you both back here at Downton,” Cora said and smiled warmly at Isobel and Matthew.
“Thank you, Cousin Cora,” Isobel said and nodded in Cora’s direction. “I cannot thank you enough for allowing Matthew to stay with you for the summer. It will surely be much better for him with some fresh air and country activities than riding his bicycle on the streets of Manchester.”
Violet snorted and busied herself with her sleeve. Isobel shot her a sharp look, but left it alone. Before anyone could comment, the door opened and Sybil swept in followed by a slightly frazzled Carson.
“Lady Sybil,” he said and sighed as he watched the girl run through the room heading directly towards Matthew.
“It is you!” she exclaimed and threw her arms around his waist.
Matthew laughed and wrapped his arm around her. She looked up at him and they grinned at each other.
“Hello Sybil,” he said fondly. “I’ve missed you.”
She sighed heavily, which made Mary roll her eyes at the drama of it all. Cora chuckled to herself watching her youngest daughter with Matthew.
“I’ve missed you something awful,” Sybil said with a huff.
“Well, I’m here now,” he teased and affectionately pinched her cheek. “And I’ll be staying all summer.”
“You are?” she gasped. She looked at her sister for confirmation. Mary nodded at Sybil’s clear excitement. “How wonderful!”
Sybil took Matthew’s hand and pulled him over to the sofa, happily chatting about all the things they would do, from swimming in the pond, to playing croquet.
“Sybil, darling, Matthew will be here all summer. There’s no need to fill his time every day,” Cora said with an amused chuckle.
Sybil made a face and then looked at Matthew. “I am so very, very glad that you’re back, Matthew.”
He nodded and his eyes met Mary’s over Sybil’s head and they shared a smile. It was good to be back at Downton. Suddenly Matthew could not wait to spend time with his cousins. September seemed so far away, and the warm summer days were theirs to spend doing all sorts of wondrous things.
“Mary, Mary, Mary!”
Mary groaned. Why did God create little sisters, she thought darkly. “Sybil. Go. Away.”
Sybil crawled across the bed and sat down straddled over Mary’s back. Mary squirmed under the covers trying to toss her little sister off. Sybil laughed and pulled at the duvet until Mary’s head appeared. Her hair was a tousled mess and she glared bleary eyed at Sybil.
“Matthew asked me to wake you,” Sybil said happily.
Matthew! It all came back to Mary and she rubbed her eyes. The curtains were still closed and the room was dark, but even so she could tell that it was not as early as she had first thought.
“All right, darling,” Mary said and poked Sybil.
“Mary! Stop it!” Sybil shrieked and scrambled to get away from her sister’s nimble fingers.
Mary smirked at her. “That’s your punishment for waking me. Now up with you so I can ring for Rosie.”
Sybil laughed and jumped off the bed before eagerly pulling the servants’ chord. Mary tossed the covers back and stretched. She sat on the edge of the bed for a moment. Sybil skipped over with her robe and Mary smiled at her. She caressed Sybil’s hair and took the robe from her. A knock on the door startled them and they both looked in that direction. A second later Matthew’s blond head poked through. Sybil squealed and ran to him.
“Hello there, darling girl,” he said and grabbed her, swinging her around, much to Sybil’s delight.
“Good morning Matthew,” Mary said and tied the robe around her a bit tighter.
“Good morning. I apologize for barging in on you unannounced when you’re still in your nightclothes, but the door was open and I thought that…”
Before he could finish, Rosie appeared, and Matthew and Sybil left to allow Mary to get ready. Mary frowned wondering what Matthew had left unsaid.
Matthew’s arrival had been followed by three days with drizzling rain that prevented any and all outdoor activities. Confined to the house, Mary had curled up on the sofa by the fire in the library, reading. Enjoying the quiet that allowed her to get swept away by the excitement of the tale, she looked up, slightly annoyed, when someone entered. When recognizing the intruder on her private haven, she smiled at him.
“You know, it still surprises me every time I see you, Matthew. I cannot fully believe that you’re really here.”
“I fear that you are indeed stuck with me for the summer, Mary,” he teased. He gestured to the sofa she was sitting on. “May I?”
She nodded and pulled her feet closer to her. He sat down sideways, facing her.
“How was school?” she asked, feeling slightly awkward not knowing what to talk about.
“Not too bad,” he said and smiled. “I only got into trouble once or twice this semester.”
“Oh Matthew, not you. Surely you’re not being serious,” she teased.
“I’m afraid that I am. Have I disappointed you?” His eyes twinkled with mirth as he confessed to his crime.
She chuckled and shook her head. “You were up to all sorts of mischief over Christmas as I recall.”
His face felt warm and he looked away. “Well, that is true. I must confess that I’ve missed Downton… and you.”
She gently touched his arm. “I’ve missed you too, Matthew. So very much.”
“Have you really?” he asked quickly, hoping that she was telling the truth.
Mary nodded. “You’re my best friend,” she whispered.
He scooted a little closer to her and she looked up at him, then nervously glanced at the open door. He smiled and touched her cheek.
“And you’re mine. You’re still the prettiest girl I’ve ever known, Mary, and the smartest.”
Mary giggled and her dark eyes twinkled. She felt her heart beat a little faster. He was sitting awfully close to her and he was still touching her.
“Oh Matthew,” she said and rolled her eyes. “You say the funniest things.”
“I mean it,” he said seriously.
“Well, thank you then, I guess.”
Mary nervously played with the corner of her book. He moved her hand aside to read the title. Recognizing it he grinned widely at her.
“I read this to you!”
She nodded. “You did. I’ve read it a few times since Christmas,” she admitted. “When I missed you, it reminded me of you.” Mary blushed at confessing something so personal, instantly regretting her honest words.
“Oh Mary,” he said with a sigh. “I’m back now. Perhaps I can read it to you this summer? As I recall, we did not get a chance to finish.”
Mary nodded. She looked up and met his blue eyes. “Or you could select another one. One that I have yet to read.”
“I can do that,” he said eagerly. “Oh Mary, I think this will be a wonderful summer.”
She shifted on the sofa until she was kneeling. He took her hand and tugged a little. Her eyes closed and she sighed happily when he pulled her against him. She rested her head against his shoulder and they just sat silently together enjoying each other’s company.