"And Patrick is bringing the Duke of Carton with him," Sybil informed her older sister brightly. "I heard Carson telling one of the footmen."
Mary looked at her younger sister with surprise. At age eighteen, recently presented at court, Mary thought herself as much a part of the adult world as her parents and expected to be informed of such important things as visiting Dukes. "Why wasn't I told?"
"I gather it was very last minute," Sybil shrugged. "And it isn't as if it means anything for any of us. Edith and I aren't out yet, and you have an understanding with Patrick."
"I do not," Mary scowled into her mirror. Of course, the entire family wanted her to have an understanding with him. She probably would have an understanding one day. And really, even without an understanding, there was the entail, which would probably ruin any chances she had with someone so far above her as a Duke. That stung. "Anyway, I hope this Duke is more interesting than Patrick."
"I like Patrick."
"I didn't say I didn't like him, only that he's not terribly interesting," Mary rolled her eyes. Her family refused to understand the difference between the two. She wouldn't argue (couldn't argue, really) that Patrick was sweet. He was. He was also perfectly mundane, not overly attractive, and in short, boring. If it weren't for the fact that he was the future heir presumptive to her home, she would have cheerfully left him to Edith.
Well. That and the part about 'leaving him to Edith'. She never left anything to Edith, if she could help it. The last thing she'd left to Edith was a hat she'd outgrown that she knew Edith had coveted for years. Once the other girl had it, she'd immediately dismissed it as 'an old cast off' and found something new to want.
"Bother, now I'm going to have to decide what to wear all over again before I dress."
Sybil frowned. "But why? What you've chosen is perfectly nice."
"For Patrick, yes, but it won't impress a Duke."
"But why do you care if you impress him? Nothing will come of it."
Mary sighed and turned back to her darling youngest sister. "Because, Sybil, I have nothing to do or think about other than looking as good as possible. Therefore, I want every man in the room to appreciate my efforts, whether anything is going to come of it or not. That includes Papa and the servants." That reminded her of something and her expression fell into a positive scowl. "I suppose that new footman will be serving?"
"Thomas? Of course he will. That's his job," Sybil laughed a little. "Why, don't you like him? I think he's handsome."
"All good footmen should be handsome," Mary informed her, a prim snap to each word. "It's their job. And no, I don't like him."
"Why? Is he boring to?"
"He never looks at me!" Mary threw her hands up in the air. "No matter what I do or what I wear, I could be part of the furniture for all he minds. I might as well come down in a maid's frock."
"You'd never be involved with a footman."
"Of course not. What a daft suggestion! He should still look. It's only polite."
Sybil did a poor job of stifling a laugh at her sister's indignation. "Carson would have a fit if he knew you were trying to get the footmen to look at you."
"Don't you dare tell."
The Duke of Carton was far more interesting than Patrick, and far better looking. Most importantly, though, he paid attention to Mary. In fact, she thought he seemed genuinely interested and was most put out that he kept deferring to Patrick when it came to the two of them conversing. After all, there was no real understanding there, not yet.
"Do you like to hunt, Duke?" Mary asked, smiling artfully and flirting with natural ease. Patrick looked a little crest fallen at the attention she was paying to the other man, but he'd get over it, she was certain. "We've plans to ride out Saturday, if you're still in the area."
Her father looked as if he might say something about her inviting a stranger on their hunt, but the Duke beat him to it. "While I do love hunting, I'm afraid I need to be in London by day after next. If I hadn't suddenly had business in York tomorrow and just happened to run into Mr. Crawley, I wouldn't have been able to be here at all."
"That's too bad." Mary was disappointed, but didn't let it show overly much. Instead, to appease her father and keep from being accused of fastness, she turned to Patrick. "You'll still be here, won't you Patrick?"
"Of course I will," her cousin smiled at her, all dimples and sweet things, sort of like a very large puppy. He was a nice boy, but so much better suited for Edith. Ah well, perhaps in the end she wouldn't have to settle for him, somehow. "And you know I love hunting."
That was a bald faced lie. Patrick hated hunting and could barely stay on over some of the jumps, but it would be the height of impropriety to say anything. "Indeed," Mary smiled at him, all politeness as Thomas leaned forward next to her, a tray of lobster in his hand. She helped herself, eyeing him covertly as she did so. Sure enough, his eyes remained on the plate full of cooked crustaceans. They weren't even locked there, as if he were struggling desperately to keep from looking at her, no! If anything he looked like he was hiding boredom. She turned quickly back to Patrick before someone (probably Edith) noticed she was frowning at the footman and started asking questions. "I'm certain we'll have a very merry time of it, as always. Perhaps the Duke can join us on some other occasion, if he's ever out this way again."
The Duke gave her a polite smile.
Thomas made his way around the table, clockwise, as was proper. Mary kept him in her peripheral vision. For all he was new to serving, there was no fault to be found with his form. He moved so silently that if she hadn't specifically been watching for him, she'd have missed his existence all together. It was a startling change from where he'd been half a month ago (from Anna's report this had involved a lot of reprimanding on Carson's part), and she'd normally have been pleased. If only he would look at her.
She was certain Sybil would have laughed if she'd been able to hear Mary's thoughts. Here she was, seated between Patrick and the Duke, with adoration on one side and admiration on the other, and she was worrying about a footman. Still, it was galling.
"How long will you be staying?" Edith asked from Patrick's other side.
Patrick's eyes went from Mary to her father to his father and back, as if wasn't quite certain whose permission he should ask. "We'd planned a week," he finally answered her with one of those dimpling smiles. Mary wasn't pleased with the idea of a full week of Edith's fawning over Patrick, but despite the hesitance of his answer the dates would have been set before he and Cousin James had arrived, so there was no real point in arguing.
It was sheer chance that she glanced over at Thomas, now serving her mother. She expected his eyes to still be on the platter, but to her surprise, he was looking up, across the table. Toward her. It was a discreet glance, and brief. If she'd not looked just at that moment, she'd have missed it.
It was focused.
It was intent.
It was everything she wanted in a young, single man's eyes when he looked her way, and then some.
She quickly flicked her attention back to the conversation, which now consisted of Edith suggesting they have a picnic at some point, if the weather held. Normally Mary would have chided her for such a silly notion (it had been raining every other day all month and they'd be lucking if the ground wasn't all mud for the hunt as it was), but she was too distracted. For a moment she thought she had to have been imagining things. When she glanced again, he was positioned against the wall, as he ought to have been, and looking straight ahead with an utterly dead stare. He might as well have been a waxwork.
But no, she hadn't been imagining things. She was Lady Mary Crawley and she did not have a wild enough imagination to dream up a look like that. Nothing so...
...hungry, she decided. It had been hungry, but he had definitely not been looking at her plate.
When Thomas next came around, she tried to work the conversation to keep him in her sights, determined not to miss another flicker of expression. She even found herself listening for him over Patrick's prattle, which had moved on to motoring. (Patrick was still unused to cars. The Duke enjoyed a nice drive through the country, but wished the roads were better for it.) Again, Thomas knelt next to her, allowing her to help herself from his plate. Again, there wasn't a flicker of interest from the footman.
It wasn't until he moved around to her other side that his eyes moved again. This time they didn't look at anyone directly, but as closely as she was watching, Mary very clearly saw them follow the Duke's hands back to his plate, then close for a heartbeat before he pulled away and continued around the table, leaving Mary staring dumbstruck at the man next to her.
"I know, can you believe it?" the Duke laughed, pulling her back to herself enough to realize how her reaction must look to the rest of the table. "I've never felt so foolish in my life, I assure you."
Having missed whatever mishap he'd just been relating, Mary had no choice but to force a laugh along with everyone else to cover her lapse. The next time Thomas came to serve them, she kept her eyes on Patrick.
Mary barely let the door to her room close behind her before she threw her hands in the air. "He's completely lavender!" she proclaimed, taking no care to lower her voice. No one would dare eaves drop outside her door anyway.
Anna, who had been readying her nightgown, jumped a bit and blinked at her. "Who is, m'lady?" she asked, punctuating the question with a perplexed expression.
"Thomas," Mary clarified. "That's why he never looks at me!" Without waiting for her maid, she started working the earrings from her ears.
The maid seemed uncertain what to do with that bit of information. "How could you know a thing like that?"
"He was looking at the Duke through the entire meal." Having freed one earring, Mary got to work on the second. Anna could do the rest, but she hated having her ears touched by someone else. "And not just looking. Watching him, really."
"I'm certain you're mistaken," Anna muttered, looking down at the fabric in her hands.
"I most certainly am not!"
Looking less comfortable with the conversation by the second, Anna was silent for a moment, then asked, almost too low to hear, "Will you tell your father then? He could be sacked."
That made Mary pause. She honestly hadn't thought that far. She should, really. It would be the proper thing to do, and it would get the galling man out of the house. She frowned. Then again, the more she thought about it, if he was like that then it was a compliment he'd never noticed her, wasn't it? Imagine, her attracting the attention of someone who liked the Duke! And she certainly couldn't fault him for his taste.
"No," she finally decided. "I won't tell Papa, or Carson for that matter. I suppose there's no harm in him, so long as he doesn't try to steal any of my suitors."
She turned her attention to getting ready for bed. Who knew, maybe she'd get lucky and he'd steal Patrick.