Disclaimer: I don't own Downton Abbey. I never have and never will.
As promised, this is a sequel to my previous story, The Right Man. It isn't necessary to read it before to understand this story but it might give a bit more insight into how I see the Branson/Sybil relationship. I had originally wanted to make this a one-shot but thought it best to divide the chapters. Apparently I have quite a bit to say about this elopement.
For those of you unfamilar with Gretna Green, I once heard it described as the Las Vegas of Great Britain. It's a town just on the other side of the Scottish border where, due to the Hardwicke Act, young women and men in the 18th-19th century often flocked to get married. Scottish marital law was rather lax requiring just intention to marry by the two parties involved to be married. No priest, no license, no banns to be read, and best of all no parental consent. It is part of numerous plots for novels during the late 18th century and into the 19th (no to mention romance novels). For Austen fans, it is where Mr. Wickham is supposed to take Lydia Bennet for a quickie marriage (they get detoured in London). In 1856, one was required to have a 21 days of residence in Scotland in order to get married there. Gretna Green is still a popular place for weddings today but the parameters of Scottish marital law have since changed and are more "traditional" (and you don't need to be resident for 21 days any more).
For the purpose of this story, I am foregoing the 21 day residency requirement. Makes it a little more spontaneous, doesn't it?
They were young and impulsive. But they were also in love. And there was only one place for them to go; in fact, young, impulsive couples had taken the road there for over a century. Disapproving parents hated it. Young couples loved it. And this place could only be Gretna Green, where quickie marriages were a matter of pride and 'til death do us part' was delivered with speedy efficiency.
And that was where Tom and Sybil were headed tomorrow night. They had made plans days ago, late at night, in bed, after the declaration of war and after they had made love. It seemed the most natural thing to do, elope.
Sybil knew her parents would not understand. She knew they would forbid it or worse try every way to prevent it. Send her to London. Send her to a nunnery. To the Continent. To Siberia. Anything to keep the smudge of a bad match off her title and theirs.
And that was nothing to what they would do to Tom. At the least he would be sacked. At the worst sent back to Ireland.
So it was an elopement for them. She had told Tom it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. An engagement could be broken, a marriage could not. And they couldn't annul, not if the young couple consummated their love. (Oh and consummate they would)
The secrecy of it all was bothersome. She knew it was best they kept their engagement and impending marriage a secret, but it was so..difficult. She hated lying, hated the deception. She was in love with a wonderful man. He didn't have a title or money, but he was sweet and kind. Why couldn't she shout it from the roof of Downton Abbey? Hold hands in front of someone other than Mrs. Hughes? Tell her parents and sisters the good news?
Although secrecy was exciting at times. Their entire courtship was in stolen glances, covert letters, and secret meetings. Even the morning after they had made love they shared a passionate kiss in the library. He had surprised her. She had been perusing the shelves, trying to appear normal, when her heart was near bursting with love. Suddenly his hands turned her around and she found herself pressed up against the shelves, his lips on hers. Her body had reacted with eagerness-she grasped the back of his coat, her finger curling into the fabric. His lips had devoured hers, as if imprinting her taste, her texture onto his memory. She knew because she felt the same way. Every taste of his tongue, every brush of his lips was delicious. She had moaned softly and he tore his lips away. She had seen reflected in his eyes her same emotions; love and arousal. It was a potent mix. He had taken a step back, his hands holding hers, brushing his thumb over the band on her hand. She had moved it that morning, not wanting anyone to get suspicious but she couldn't take it off.
"I love you. Meet me tonight. We'll discuss the details," he had said, his Irish accent hoarse with unspent passion.
"I love you too and I will," she had replied.
And with that he had been gone, as quickly as he had entered. And the entire lunch hour she had to hide her bemused smile and swollen lips.
But their days of hiding were limited. Tomorrow night they would take the train to Scotland. No one knew of their plans. And no one would.
The night before their elopement, Sybil sat down to pen a letter. It was necessary as she was certain her family might think her kidnapped or worse. At least they would know she was safe, even if they were furious. So she wrote:
Papa and Mama,
I am not kidnapped. Nor am I in any danger. Quite the opposite actually, I'm in love. With Tom Branson. Yes, Branson, our chauffer and we are currently eloping.
I know you'll be angry. I know you won't approve, but I love him. I need him. We have been together so to speak since my time in London and if I'm honest with myself, I fell in love with him long ago. No, he doesn't have a title. Or money, but none of things have ever or will ever matter to me. I've always known I was different, always known that while I lived at Downton Abbey and it was a part of me, I never was part of it. I wasn't meant to be a lady. You have given me everything I could ever want or need. And none of it was enough until I met Tom. We share a connection that is special. Powerful. The same kind of love I see between you two.
There will be consequences to this, I know. You could disown me. Try to break us apart. But I warn you, I will fight for Tom. What we have can't be undone. It won't be undone.
In our world it's easy to marry for position or wealth. It's much harder to marry for love. Love takes courage and of that I have plenty. Tom and I strike out into the world, into this ever dangerous and changing world, with each other. No promise of your acceptance.
But that doesn't mean we don't want it. You can be angry. You can be hurt. But please, at least consider our happiness. We don't want anything from you. Tom's not a fortune hunter and I'm not some helpless heroine in a novel. My greatest dream would be for you to accept us (and our future children)-accept that the "Irish revolutionary" has married your daughter and made her exceptionally happy. Because I am.
We will be back in a few days and yes, I'll be married. Please take this time to consider what you will do. Because your actions here will have the same weight as my own. I will never give him up, but I don't want to give up my family either. Only you can tell me if the latter is the outcome.
I love you two dearly. I never meant to hurt or disappoint you, but I have to stay truthful to my own heart. And the only person in it is Tom Branson. That won't change.
The next day, her last day at Downton Abbey, she slipped the note to Gwen with instructions to give it to her family tomorrow morning. By then she and Tom would be long gone.
"Thank you, Gwen. I don't know what I would do without you. Good luck with your new job. I know you'll do great"
She then hugged her friend tightly. Who knew if she would be allowed back here after her elopement?
Bemused by Sybil's peculiar behavior, Gwen asked, "But it doesn't start for another week or so."
"Oh, I know. Just wanted to make sure I said it. Who knows what could happen between now and then?" she replied. The veiled reference to the war was enough to stop Gwen's questions.
The rest of the day was uneventful. She tried to contain her excitement and to stifle her sadness. She was elated to marry Tom. But she knew that in marrying him things would change within her family. They were likely to disown her and she would not be able to return. It was sad but true. Her family who loved her so much would not likely forgive her marriage to a servant.
After dinner and a long evening of idleness spent in the drawing room, everyone retired. She hugged her parents and sisters goodnight. Some tears bubbled to the surface but she shoved them back, knowing that their appearance would cause suspicion. And there she left her family-her parents arm in arm on the way to their bedroom. Mary and Edith bickering on the way to their own. She tried not to think on the shock they would have in the morning.
After Anna helped her undress, she dismissed her with a fond smile. She would miss much about Downton.
But there was much to be done. Grabbing her suitcase from the closet, she began to pack. She didn't have much to pack, merely the essentials. Toiletries, nightgowns, a few dresses, hats, and undergarments. Sybil knew that this suitcase might be the only thing she could carry away with her if she were disowned. Therefore she packed some extra sentimental things: Tom's letters, her journal and pens, some pamphlets on women's suffrage. She also packed any baubles that would fetch a price and all the money she possessed. It wasn't a fortune but it would suffice for a while. She then donned her jean skirt and purple blouse. It was plain enough that no one would suspect she was a lady.
The clock struck 11:45. Grabbing her suitcase, her hat, and coat, she made her way through the quiet darkness of Downton Abbey. It was much like the night that she first made her way to Tom's cottage after the events in Ripon (although this time she wore more than her nightgown and wrapper). She had slunk down to the kitchen and out the servants' entrance then as she was doing the same now.
As she closed the door she felt as if she was closing the door on her old life. She wasn't about to linger but she did feel some sense of loss. Not for her title or her position or even for the wealth she was so accustomed to. Rather she knew that by closing that door she risked her family never opening it again.
But it had to work out. It would work out. She needed to keep that hope alive.
Her hand left the handle and she made her way across the yard and towards the light of the chauffeur's cottage.
Her new life was starting and she didn't want to be late.
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