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Last Night of the Fair

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Childish. Dogmatic. Prescriptive. Resistant. Proud. Rebellious. Controlling. Obsessive. Narrow minded. Selfish.

Any of these terms might describe her better than stubborn, thought Mary with depressing self-knowledge.

But call it what you might, she simply could not do it. She could not marry Matthew. Her determination was all the greater for realising that there was a seed in her that would not object so much if she did.

It was still a tiny seed for the moment, but she could feel it germinating, and growing, and expanding inside her heart every time he did anything at all to prove his worth and suitability for his new role. Every time he sought her eye across the room and met it. Every time her father praised his growing devotion to the estate. Every time he demonstrated his intelligence and humour in his words or actions. In short, every time she saw him and quite often when she did not as well.

Eventually when every other avenue had been exhausted, her father would propose the match again and she would murmer a reluctant sounding agreement whilst inwardly exulting, just as women sold in marriage had been forced to answer since time immemorial.

It was intolerable.

Nor could she rely on any help from Matthew himself. Oh, he had no intention of marrying her at present and that was something to be thankful for, but she had seen the look in his eyes and heard his tone of voice when he had said that her plight troubled him and that he cared about her. All she had was his belief in her antipathy towards him – men could be so blind sometimes – but one day he would become enlightened. And then what defence could she possibly have to fall back on?

"Will there be anything else, my lady?"

Anna's question finally penetrated her consciousness and, startled, she looked into her maid's rather exasperated gaze in the mirror and realised that this had probably not been the first time she had been asked.

"No. Thank you, Anna."

She stood up and looked around. "Where are Edith and Sibyl?"

Anna had seemed in a hurry to get to the door but paused and replied off-hand, "They've already gone downstairs."

"Thank you... Is everything all right, Anna?"

She opened her mouth and then closed it again. Mary thought she discerned a blush and raised one eyebrow as she preceded her out of the room. She was glad of any distraction from her own thoughts.

"You don't have to tell me anything of course," she added in a tone devoid of any interest.

"No, no, there's no secret. It's only I wasn't sure you would approve. It's the fair, my lady."

"The fair! It is still there then?"

"Oh yes, tonight's the last night. There's going to be a big dance after dinner and since I did not go the other day, Mrs. Hughes has said I may go tonight."

"All alone?" inquired Mary.

The blush returned. "Mr. Bates is coming as well, and I think so is Branson."

"A very nice ratio of the sexes for dancing!" said Mary humorously, before it occurred to her that Bates probably could not dance. "I hope you have a very pleasant evening, Anna," she added quickly to cover up the potential faux pas, but if Anna had noticed it she did not say anything and they parted at the top of the stairs.

Matthew was not dining at the Abbey that evening which was both a relief and a disappointment to Mary, and she felt angry at her weakness in acknowledging any disappointment at all.

Nevertheless, the lack of any addition to the family party, for even the Dowager was eating at home that evening, made them all seem particularly dull. Her father was led to comment on it.

"It's when they aren't here that I really feel how much Cousin Matthew and his mother have become part of our lives!" he said genially in a particularly long pause during dessert.

The Countess pursed her lips at this statement and Mary felt a wave of affection for her mother who would not accept things as they were and would continue fighting for her even when she did not deserve it and could not win. Women did not need the vote to be extraordinary.

His remark having fallen into dead silence, Lord Grantham tried again. "I would even go so far as to say that our family circle seems somewhat lacking without them, don't you think?"

"I never felt anything lacking," lied Mary, stung into response. "Anyway, one can have too much of a good thing."

"Well, I like Cousin Matthew!" said Edith.

"Mind you don't have too much of him then: you'll be sick."

"Girls, please!" interrupted Cora. "I would like to finish my meal in peace!"

A sullen silence fell once more.

After dinner was finished they all went to the drawing room together and Mary felt the walls close in around her. Another evening just the same as the previous one. Another evening of listening to Matthew's virtues praised and her own passed over. Unbearable.

When her mother suddenly remarked, "Where is Sybil?" she seized the opportunity to jump up, exclaim, "I'll find her," and leave the room as quickly as possible.

Sybil had not lingered in the dining room. Mary went slowly upstairs and saw her coming out of her room, wearing a long coat and a guilty expression.

"Where are you going?"

Sybil hesitated and then shrugged defiantly. "I'm going to the dance. The fair, you know? It's late but I should be able to catch the last few dances at least!"

"Dance... with commoners..."

"Why yes, I do intend to." Sybil grinned mischievously suddenly. "Come with me, Mary!"

Mary opened her mouth to reply that it was quite out of the question to even contemplate something so inappropriate. To the surprise of both sisters what she actually said, "All right. Why not indeed?"

Sybil's eyes opened wide but she only smiled. "Good! But you'd better hurry. Branson is waiting with the car."

Mary darted into her room and threw on a plain day coat over her evening dress and a hat. Sybil grabbed her hand and pulled her down the stairs. They ran softly across the hall and, with a nervous glance towards the drawing room door, outside to where the car was waiting. Mary's heart was beating strongly and she felt very conscious that she should not be going to the fair like this with the servants and that she should try to stop Sybil. Nevertheless, she found that she was laughing silently. She had not felt so alive for weeks. Not since... well, perhaps better not to go there.

Within minutes they were on their way to the village. Mary found she had plenty of questions for her sister and indeed, for the new chauffeur, such as how precisely he came to be driving Lady Sybil Crawley to a dance in the village without the knowledge of her parents. She decided to deal with that afterwards. For the moment she looked for the first lights strung up among the trees on the village green with as much anticipation as her sister.

A marquee had been erected on the green and boards put down in its centre to make a smooth dance floor. Chairs had been brought out from the inn and placed round the edge, spilling onto the grass outside. At the far end a raised platform had been constructed for the band, which consisted of two fiddles, a flute, a bass, and an accordion. When Mary, Sybil and Branson arrived, they were going at it with vigour in a kind of gallop. Whatever sort of dance it was meant to be, it seemed to involve the entire village (not to mention all the neighbouring farms and hamlets) muddled together in what had probably started off as two circles one within the other, joining hands with their partners and rapidly two-stepping in one direction and then the reverse before doing various turns, stampings and clappings. Unfortunately for the overall effect of the dance on its spectators, a general consensus seemed to be lacking on the direction of the turns and circles.

"You're surely not going to dance, are you?" exclaimed Mary in horror. "It's like – like – it's quite unthinkable in this crowd!"

Sybil grinned broadly. "Only you would come to a dance and then refuse to take part!" She turned pointedly away from Mary and held out her hand. "Mr. Branson, will you do me the honour?"

Mary stared. Mr. Branson stared back at her over Sybil's shoulder then shrugged apologetically. He took Sybil's hand and replied with a twinkle in his eye, "The honour is all mine, Lady Sybil."

Within minutes they had somehow squeezed themselves into the outer circle of dancers and had whirled out of sight.

Mary felt that she ought to be horrified at her sister's lack of delicacy or her chauffeur's disgraceful presumption or that she ought to have tried to stop them in some way. Instead she merely felt a kind of detached amusement. It was all very silly. Why should not Sybil dance with Branson if she liked? What was a dance compared to what else she could do? At least she dared... With a curious subtle movement of resignation that was nothing more than a slight settling of her features, she walked slowly towards the nearest chairs. There was one free in a group of three. She realised that it was next to Bates and Anna.

"May I sit here?" She gestured to the empty chair. A man's jacket was draped over its back.

"Lady Mary," was all Bates said with a nod.

"Of course you may!" exclaimed Anna. "Please join us. I did not think when I mentioned the dance to you earlier that I would see you here as well!"

"Neither did I," replied Mary honestly. "Whose is-"

"That's only Mr. Crawley's. He left it with us after the last dance. It's very hot in there with all those people!" added Anna with a smile.

"Ah, Mr. Crawley's!" Mary briefly laid her hand on the soft fabric of the jacket before she sat down. It was the same grey coat he always wore. She should have recognized it immediately. Perhaps at some level she had.

Her heart had leapt at his name and the unwelcome thought passed through her mind that she had only come with Sybil because she had hoped Matthew might be there. He did live in the village after all.

To distract her from the fact that he was there and would soon be returning to claim his coat, and to stop her from searching for him among the dancers as they passed before her, she asked her companions with more interest than she might have given to servants otherwise if they were enjoying themselves.

"Very much thank you, my lady," replied Anna. "Such a lovely entertainment hasn't been seen at Downton for years."

"No," said Mary, suddenly struck by an idea. "It certainly seems very popular."

Regular dances had not been held in the village since the tradition of assemblies had died out. Perhaps a dance once every two months or so could be arranged in the village hall. It would be big enough, she thought, twisting in her seat to look down the green in the direction of the hall.

"That fellow by the pole over there has been eyeing you for at least ten minutes. He'll ask you to dance if you only look his way," Bates was saying to Anna. "I wish you would; I am quite happy here."

"How often must I tell you, Mr. Bates, that while I do like dancing, I like sitting here with you more!"

She was speaking in an undertone and Mary wished she could not hear her. How strange to think of the ever self-possessed Anna having real feelings and for a man of her father's age! How amusing life was! But at the same time she felt a moment of irrational envy. How easy it would be to love someone if she belonged to that class! She shifted slightly away in her seat, wishing to leave them alone together.

Presently the gallop ended and with much applause, cheering, and general confusion the couples began to disperse from the dance floor to find new partners or remain to talk with their friends.

Mary saw Matthew as he broke from the crowd but immediately looked down as if she had not seen him. He had seen her though and his look of surprise quickly turned to pleasure. Mary liked that about him. Not many people looked pleased to see her at the moment.

He came up to where she was sitting, drawing a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiping his brow. His face was flushed, his hair did not lie flat as it usually did, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. He looked vigorous, healthy, energised, and completely unlike the Matthew Crawley she had come to know. She liked it. As he approached them, she could see his chest rising and falling still as he caught his breath and an image flashed into her mind of what he might look like exhausted and out of breath from a different kind of exercise. The very thought was enough to make her tremble and go pale and then blush and it took a great amount of will to be able to meet his eye and reply coolly to his pleasantries. She did not think her voice shook however and was proud of her self-control.

"I saw your sister and I wondered if you had also come," Matthew said, "but I was not sure you would. It doesn't seem-"

"It doesn't seem quite my style, you mean? You are right; I'm not sure why I came."

"Well, I'm very glad you did. Will you dance with me?"

He held out his hand with that open, appreciative and hopeful smile that was his trademark. Mary felt her heart melt a little but she had to be tough. The line had to be drawn somewhere.

"Oh... cousin... I couldn't." Mary looked at his hand. She wanted to take it. It was odd, this wanting, quite unlike anything she had felt before, even with Kemal. But dancing like this in public? She really shouldn't.

Matthew eventually lowered his arm, a little foolishly. But he smiled again a second later, saying, "In that case, I shall be happy to rest a while. May I get you a drink? A beer?"

Mary laughed. She couldn't help it. "Beer? Really, cousin Matthew!"

"I suppose beer is beneath Lady Mary Crawley even when she has deigned to come to a village dance."

Mary glared at him though not without fondness. He was goading her, she knew that, and it was working. "Several hundred years ago we would all have been drinking more beer than water," she replied evenly. "I suppose if there is nothing better to be had..."

He looked at her sideways as he walked away from the marquee towards the inn. He looked triumphant. Subtly so, but she could tell.

Mary stared straight ahead. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Bates. He looked as if he was trying not to laugh. She wondered where Sybil was. She wondered what beer tasted like.

Matthew seemed to take an absolute age to return and Mary felt awkward in the interval, waiting for him. The next dance had started and she caught sight of Sybil once more. She was now dancing with the post master's brother, a nice boy who helped out with deliveries. It could be worse, Mary thought; Jim had always seemed polite. But it did not do to get so familiar with him all the same. On the other hand, she looked like she was enjoying herself which Mary, sitting primly on the sidelines, was not.

Matthew eventually returned with four tankards.

"I thought you might like drinks too," he said, putting two down on the small table between Anna and Bates.

"You're very kind, Sir," said Bates, "but we could not possibly accept. How much do we owe you?"

"Nonsense!" cried Matthew, drawing up a chair and sitting down next to Mary. "If you are bothered, then you can buy me a drink later, Mr. Bates, but don't let's discuss it now."

A moment passed between the two men and Bates stopped his hand on the way to his pocket. "Well, thank you then, Sir."

Mary thought, He relates to the servants as equals but there is no lack of delicacy. He still knows what is due to his new position.

He then turned more completely towards Mary and handed her the tankard. She was glad that it was a small one. He bumped his against hers. "Your health!"

He kept his eyes on hers as he drank a swig. Then she raised her glass to her lips. As she sipped, his face was fragmented by the glass patterning but she kept her eyes fixed to the blur of cream that was Matthew refracted. The beer left a bitter after taste on her tongue. She could not say that she liked it but she could at least drink it.

She lowered her glass and raised her eyebrows at Matthew. He leaned forward. "Impressive."

"You did not think I was going to drink any of it."

"I was hoping you would."

Mary felt that they were verging upon dangerous territory. The conversation was nonsense of course. Most of their conversations were. But they had undercurrents, tugs of something she could perceive but could not explain. She felt that, with her superior knowledge of men and relations with them that she had gained from her experience with Kemal, she ought really to understand this subtext that was continually present with Matthew, yet she did not. It frightened yet attracted her. The more she felt threatened by what it could mean, the more the stubborn and resistant part of her ran at it, chased it, tried to master it, even if the last thing her rational self wanted was to provoke a confrontation.

"And what do you hope from me now that I have drunk it?"

"Only that you'll change your mind about dancing with me." His gaze was steady on her.

"I would cut a poor figure here, I dare say. My dancing lessons did not prepare me for this."

"You don't need to afraid of that, cousin, if you only follow my lead. Then, if we go wrong you will be able to enjoy blaming it all on me."

Afraid? Afraid of missing her step here of all places? It was hardly St. James'! Or afraid of something else? Either way, Mary resisted the label.

"With such an incentive it would be foolish to refuse any longer." she replied with a wry smile. "Come, then."

She stood up and walked towards the crowded dance floor, assuming that Matthew would follow. The band had struck up a quadrille and Mary had hardly become aware of the increase of temperature in the marquee and the distinct odour of sweat before she found herself face to face with her sister, flushed and having lost several hair pins.

"Mary! You have come just in time. We need a fourth pair."

"Who's 'we'?" asked Mary, her hand going automatically to her hair as she felt herself jostled from behind.

"Me and Branson of course. And here we have Mr. and Mrs. Huggarty, and Pauline Yates with - I beg your pardon- I have forgotten your name?"

"Jack Lewis, my lady," put in a sandy haired, pimply lad of about nineteen who was clutching the hand of a farmer's daughter.

"Jack, I'm sorry," continued Sybil, "who has come all the way from Ripon tonight!"

She beamed at Mary, who was hardly listening because she had become aware of Matthew standing so close behind her that she could feel his shirt flutter lightly against her back through her thin evening dress every time he took a breath. There was barely a hair's breadth between them.

She cleared her throat and managed a rather faint, "How do you do?" which was completely lost in the general noise.

The quadrille was danced by four couples standing in a square facing in on each other. When Mary had danced it before there had been plenty of space in the centre of the square for the necessary bowing and dosey-doeing to opposite pairs. Here, they were so close together that she could hardly help a close inspection of Mr. Huggarty's thick red beard directly in front of her, Matthew was seriously put out by Mrs. Huggarty's protruding stomach, and poor Sybil who was trying to do her opening steps opposite Jack Lewis hardly had room to curtsy. It was all rather terrible and amidst her nerves and inexplicable fear, a bubble of laughter welled up inside her at the picture they must then have presented to the world.

She looked at Matthew squashed up beside her and he happened to look down at the same moment. Their eyes met with expressions of equal discomfort and amusement and Mary had to look away, ducking her head with mirth that could no longer be restrained. Then he managed to find her hand at her side and take it in his, a completely spontaneous action that surprised him as much as her. Standing there together awaiting their turn in the dance, surrounded claustrophobically by almost complete strangers, Mary felt for the first time the singular intimacy of gloveless hand in gloveless hand.

She did not look at him again as her laughter subsided, but softly curled her fingers round his. She was rewarded by a light pressure from his clasp. Then it was their turn to take an active part in the dance and she dropped his hand.

Throughout the quadrille there was a tension between them that was all the greater for there being no acknowledgement of what had happened. He took her hand several times during the dance when it was required and each time there was a gentle squeeze that was quite unnecessary and each time she tried not to let her eyes fly instantly to his face, tried not to give herself away. But she was sure he finally knew and that her attempts to hide her feelings were in vain.

Mary knew where this was going. She knew what this nervousness, this excitement, this light-headedness portended and, with the benefit of experience, she was terrified by it. Terrified because this was Matthew and she had not thought she could have felt this strongly for him. Even more terrified because liking Matthew - loving Matthew - brought far-reaching consequences.

The quadrille ended, the Huggartys elbowed their way from the floor, Sybil shared a laugh with Branson, and Jack and Pauline melted away into the crowd. Mary noticed nothing but that Matthew remained with her, warm and solid, shielding her from the people. She could feel all the places where he brushed against her and was even more aware of all the places where he did not.

A groan came from the crowd and Mary was forced back into the present. "What is it?" she asked Sybil, forced to raise her voice to be heard.

"It's almost over and there is only one dance left!" she shouted back.

Mary stood on tiptoes and caught a glimpse of the violinist of the band standing at the front of the platform and bellowing, "I hope you've all had fun this evening!"

There was a resounding cheer and Sybil clapped her hands. Mary half turned to look at Matthew. He was holding out his hand to her again.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the last waltz!"

Mary swallowed as the accordion started a slow three-four accompaniment. Some people were leaving the dance floor. Others, who had sat out several dances, returned. For this last dance, however, there seemed no confusion as to partners. Everyone seemed clear about who they wanted to dance it with.

Mary avoided Matthew's silent request by observing Sybil teaching Branson the waltz hold and laughingly trying to invert it. "I'm going to lead anyway so you might as well-"

He took hold of her arms and gently put them in the appropriate places on his right shoulder and in his left hand. "Aren't you my mistress? Let me be the one to lead this time."

"You forget yourself!" came Sybil's reply, but she sounded more curious than angry.

Mary decided that Sybil needed a good talking to. Tomorrow.

In the meantime, there was Matthew.

Determined to recover her composure and assert her control over the situation, she turned to him directly and placed her hand straight in his. "Since we are already here, it would be silly not to dance it. I assume you do know how to waltz?"

He tugged her towards him and in her surprise at his sudden action, she allowed herself to fall forward against him. His arm was around her in seconds and he pulled her into a closer, tighter hold than she had ever before experienced in the waltz. She was flat against him, her wide-eyed, startled gaze only inches from his face. It was lucky that waltzing was second nature to her, she considered, or she would have stumbled when his leg pressed against hers forcing her to step backwards as they began to dance.

"Does this count?" he spoke into her ear, his breath hot on her cheek.

She pulled back enough to look straight at him. "It seems I was mistaken about your grammar school education. It appears to have taught you one useful skill at least!" She wanted to keep the atmosphere between them light and mockery was always a good start, even if her breathlessness negated her attempt at levity.

He chuckled but did not relax his hold on her. "Only one? Still, I must take any encouragement that I get."

"Then you should be encouraged," replied Mary with a small smile before she could help herself.

"Do you mean that?" And again he was looking at her in an intense way that made her feel a shiver of danger. She was not ready for this.

She looked away over his shoulder again. It was impossible to dance the waltz properly in this crowd. Their arms were jammed against their sides and their steps were more shuffles in which Matthew tried to keep them from backing into anyone else.

"You know me, Matthew," she replied eventually. "Do I ever mean anything?"

There was an even longer pause before he replied, "To those that love you, always."

Mary did not have anything to say to this that would not have sounded trite or even more insincere than usual. Fortunately for the purposes of letting the conversation drop Matthew had managed to dance them into a corner of the marquee and there was the necessity of apologising, assessing the situation, and then resigning themselves to spending the next few minutes going in small circles on the spot and shuffling backwards and forwards.

"I had an idea," he said presently. "I don't know what you'll think of it."

Mary signalled her consent to listen by saying nothing.

Matthew continued, "This dance is giving so many people so much pleasure here. Why doesn't it happen more often? It would be easy to arrange. Hire the hall, book an orchestra – we can get something better than this lot – and charge such a small fee for entrance that even the lowest labourers could afford it. What do you say?"

Mary pulled back again to look at him with the full force of warm surprise. "I think it a very good idea. I thought of the same thing earlier myself."

She faltered as his expression turned from hopeful anxiety to something more than beaming approbation. "You did!" he cried meaningfully.

"Yes, but if Papa approves then you can do better. The hall belongs to us so you need not charge any entrance fee at all."

"Will he approve, do you think?"

"If you suggest it, I'm sure he will!" she replied dryly.

"Mary-" he began, her name a reproving caress, and for a moment she feared that he was going to touch her cheek and she had already tilted her head towards him, before she quickly interrupted, "How silly! The dance has ended and we did not notice."

"Mary," he repeated, sounding resigned this time.

Don't do it! cried Mary to herself. Don't force me to make a choice now. Don't force me to face up to my feelings and to what I did and why I can never-

"I must find Sybil," she said, stepping out of his hold and feeling instantly alone.

Matthew looked frustrated but Mary was hard. She had to be. She was too truly affected by his nearness, his obvious admiration for her and his equally obvious desire to express it precipitously if she would only give him sufficient encouragement, to remain in that intimate position, his arms round her, her hand on his shoulder, hardly moving at all.

Dreading silence and wanting to return their conversation yet again to less personal topics, she said as they threaded their way slowly through the crowds, "I hope you will not think too badly of Sybil for her choice of partners. I doubt she means anything by it."

This was altogether an idiotic thing to say considering that Matthew was of all people the least likely to judge Sybil for preferring her chauffeur to anybody else to dance with. Nevertheless it served its purpose in turning the conversation.

"Not at all," replied Matthew. "Do you disapprove very much? Should I? You must remember that I am still new to all this maze of propriety."

Mary shrugged. "I? Not really. But I wish she would be more discreet about it. People do talk so."

"I can't really see Lady Sybil of all people actually doing anything irretrievable; she hardly seems the Miss Julie type."

Mary was glad that she was in front of Matthew and he could not see her wince. "Miss Julie? Who's she?"

Matthew laughed, sounding a little embarrassed. "Oh, only the heroine in a Swedish play I saw not long before coming to Downton. Not the sort of thing I imagine would appeal to you."

"A Swedish play? A tragedy, I presume!" Mary was not sure where this was going.

"Yes, and a very odd one too. At first it made me rather worried about what to expect here. But Downton is not like it at all."

"I should think not!" Mary began to relax again in this neutral discussion of literature. The crowd thinned on the edge of the marquee and they began to be able to move more easily. "But pray tell me, what are we not like? You have made me curious now about this odd Swedish play of yours!"

"I was reminded of it tonight because of a similarity of setting: Miss Julie, the Count's daughter, dances with her father's valet at a party on midsummer night."

"So far so good!" cried Mary with a laugh, looking back at him. "Only it is not yet midsummer. What then?"

Matthew stopped walking. "Well, er, they continue the dance, er, more- I- look, cousin Mary, it really is a very odd play! I do not wonder you haven't heard of it."

"They make love, don't they?" she said, looking straight at him. "There's nothing to be ashamed about in that."

"You are not ashamed."

"No. It happens. More often than not, I believe, else the world would not be half so well populated!"

It was a great effort to keep her tone steady, flippant even. She walked on again.

"Look! Anna and Bates must have left already. But here is your coat."

She picked it up and held it out to him. He took it loosely in his hand but made no move to take it off her.

"Yes, they make love. Then Miss Julie is overcome with remorse and in the end Jean, her lover, persuades her that the only way out is suicide."

Mary shivered. "And is it? That is, do you think that was the only way out for someone in her situation?"

"I don't think Miss Julie should be used as a model for anything, especially morality." He shrugged his coat on and Mary let her hand fall back to her side. "As you said, the Swedes are inclined to make a tragedy out of everything!"

"Yes, quite so."

Mary fell quiet as he helped her into her own coat. The night air was chilly after the scrum in the marquee and being so close to Matthew for so long. The space between them as they stood together and waited for Sybil and Branson felt charged and Mary shivered again.

"You're cold!" Matthew started shrugging off his jacket again and Mary reached out and put her hand onto his arm to still him.

"Don't bother. I'm quite alright."

"You're shivering."

"It is only the contrast in temperature. I am a poor object on which to waste chivalry."

"I am chivalrous? Is that more encouragement?"

"Don't fish for compliments, cousin, it doesn't become you."

She walked several paces away, wrapping her arms round herself and smiling inwardly. If only he were not so easy to tease!

A car horn blared and Mary looked up to see Branson in the front of the car and Sybil leaning out of the back window bumping down the road towards them.

"Get in, Mary! How did you enjoy the dance, cousin Matthew?"

Branson jumped down and opened the car door for her and she sat down next to Sybil. Then she hesitated and looked out. "Well, cousin, I suppose I should thank you for the dances, and for the beer of course."

She had put her hand on the edge of the window in the hope he might take it, but then Sybil moved next to her exclaiming, "Did you really drink beer, Mary? I've always wanted to try it! Was it nice?"

"It was vile." She rolled her eyes at Matthew. Any chance of a moment between them had passed without resolution. This was, of course, a good thing.

Matthew smiled faintly in return. "I'll come and call tomorrow, if I may. I think we should tell your father about your idea for a regular dance in the village."

"Our idea!" replied Mary, immeasurably pleased. It had been no more than an idle thought at first but Matthew's enthusiasm gave it life and made her determined to do something practical about it. There were so many things he wanted to do and that made her want to do them as well and in those moments in which she contemplated real, useful activity and improvement, she felt some stirring of a new fervour and interest in life. Was it in her or only Matthew's reflected? She did not know.

Now he had put his own hand on the window edge, inches from hers. "Well, until tomorrow then!"

Did she dare put her hand on his? She wanted to show some signs of acknowledgement. No, not in front of Sybil. The glow in her eyes would have to do. She did, however, brush her fingers accidentally against his as she raised her hands to make a minuscule adjustment to the position of her hat.

"Drive on, Branson!" she cried. The car leapt in motion and Matthew stepped away from the window. Mary looked back at him for a moment as the car drew away but resisted turning too obviously. She had given him far too much encouragement already tonight.