Matthew shifted uncomfortably in the lurching, swaying train car as they approached Downton station. He glanced over at his wife seated quietly beside him, her deep brown eyes fixed on him, always conscious of his discomfort, though she never mentioned it.
“Almost there,” he spoke casually to break the silence, and Mary answered with a prim nod before turning to gaze out the window. It seemed like ages since she’d been back, and she was eager to see her family and to give them the good news of her condition. Almost as soon as her thoughts turned in that direction, she gasped, her hands flying to cover her lower abdomen.
“Darling, what is it?” Matthew asked, instantly concerned.
“I just…I think I just felt him move!” Mary responded breathlessly, still in awe over what she’d just felt.
“Truly?” His eyes were wide and full of wonder.
Mary nodded, her smile bright as she exhaled a brief, joyful laugh.
“Is this the first time you’ve felt it?” Isobel asked as she placed her book back in her valise.
“No,” Mary answered thoughtfully. “It happened a few days ago, but I wasn’t sure what it was. It just felt like…bubbles.” Her cheeks warmed with embarrassment at discussing so intimate a matter, but she was so happy she couldn’t completely care. “It was so brief, I hardly had time to notice before it was over.”
“That’s so wonderful, darling,” Matthew spoke quietly, reaching to take one of her hands in his. Isobel politely turned her gaze to the passing scenery.
“I’m so glad to be going home, even if it’s only for a brief visit,” Mary mused aloud as they carefully stepped down onto the platform several minutes later. “I didn’t realize until just now how much I missed it.”
Matthew smiled indulgently at Mary’s sentiment, though he couldn’t say he shared it.
“I’m glad to be going home too,” Isobel chimed in as they all scanned the area for any sign of the car or the chauffeur.
“Oh, where is that Branson?” Mary lamented when they realized that their ride was nowhere to be found. “The train was ten minutes late, for God’s sake!”
“Isn’t that your father’s car there?” Matthew asked, pointing to an approaching vehicle a good way down the road.
Shielding her eyes with one gloved hand, Mary squinted into the distance before announcing, “Yes, it is! I can’t imagine what kept Branson, but I’m sure Papa will have something to say about it when I tell him how long we’ve been waiting.”
“Well, why don’t we withhold judgment until we hear his explanation,” Isobel countered. “I’m sure he has a perfectly good reason for keeping us waiting.”
“He’d better,” Mary concluded as she slipped her arm though Matthew’s, who was shifting his weight uncomfortably from foot to foot.
As the car grew closer, Matthew was the first to realize its driver wasn’t the chauffeur in question after all. “It isn’t Branson at all. It’s Edith,” he announced, much to the surprise of the ladies.
The brakes squealed as the car skidded to a stop, sending gravel flying dangerously in every direction. A frazzled-looking Edith emerged from the driver’s seat, her face flushed and her hair slightly askew.
“Edith, what on earth…Where’s Branson?”
“Get in, quickly,” she interrupted her impatient older sister. “Something happened…Papa will explain everything when we get to the house.”
Matthew’s expression grew concerned. “I do hope it isn’t serious.”
Edith looked up at him, her expression one of irritation with a hint of sarcasm. “Well, nobody’s died,” she quipped before disappearing into car again.
Mary and Matthew shared a brief glance before boarding the vehicle as quickly as possible. Gone were all their dreams of a pleasant evening spent among family in shared joy for the future. Their thoughts were already miles down the road at Downton, wondering with an unsettling sense of dread just what sort of misfortune they’d find when they arrived there. Mary could only hope Edith was being dramatic and that there was really nothing terribly wrong. But one look at Carson’s grave expression as he opened the car door for her put an end to Mary’s hopes…
From A Love to Lean on, Chapter 9