Chapter 26

For the life of her Gwen Dawson did not know what Lady Sybil Crawley could want from her at half twelve on Boxing Day night. And especially not when she had Branson with her.

But as she made a pot of tea for the three of them to share, she was pretty sure she was not going to have to wait long to find out.

If the truth was known, she had missed Lady Sybil since she had left Downton. She did not care what anyone said – the two of them had become true friends, and it was only really up to Lady Sybil that she had got where she was. True she had been the one to take the typing course in the first place, but she did not know if she would have taken rejection after rejection. And she certainly would not have got her place with Mr Brommage who was a very kind and considerate employer.

She had been getting up to speed when they had first begun and as any one did in a new place she had made her fair share of mistakes. But he had patience with her, and she was efficient enough now.

"This is a lovely place you have Gwen," said Sybil looking around the flat to her wondering if this was the sort of place she and Tom were going to share when they got to where ever they were going.

"Well, of course it is a bit smaller than Downton Abbey but it suits oall my needs and I pay the rent on it. I'm proud of it," she said as she got two mugs and a cup and saucer out.

Sybil saw this and gave a smile. She could only guess old habits died very hard.

"It is lovely," she said as she looked round. "You do not have any regrets do you?"

"Over leaving? Forgive me, my lady, but I do not."

"There is nothing to forgive – and please stop calling my 'my lady'," Sybil said but even though Gwen did not know what she was not saying, she knew her well enough to know that there was something.

"My L – I do not mean to speak out of turn, but why are you here? I can't think his lordship or her ladyship has given permission to be out so late."

Sybil shook her hand as she reached for Tom's hand. It was all she had to go for Gwen to understand.

"My Lady – Branson, oh my word," she said as she tried to take it in.

The two of them were together, eloping? Well, she had known since the garden party that Branson had been sweet on Sybil, she just had no idea the feeling was mutual. And if she was honest, then it did seem mad to her. If not talking about the house was the first rule of service, then surely the second had to be that you were not to fall in love with any member of the family that you served.

And nor did you run away with them.

She did not know what to say or to think.

Playing with her hair which had been braided for the night, she dared to look back at the two of them.

"I do not mean to be so desperately disappointing to the two of you. But what do you want? Not to be rude – I am so glad to see you."

"We just need a bed for the night," said Sybil, understanding the reaction from her old friend. It was going to take some time for people to come round.

Tom gave a soft smile as he watched Gwen try to come round to what was going on.

"We had planned to try and get a little further on tonight but the car has broken down and we need some where to lay our heads. Gwen, please it is just one night."

"Well, of course you can stay, of course you can. You are my friends," she said as she turned to finish making the tea.

But her mind raced with the consequences. If they were caught Tom was going to go to jail. And Sybil – she did not know the earl and countess well but she did not think they were ever going to be able to forgive her.

As she out the pot on the table, she smiled. "I heard the countess had a baby boy?" she asked.

Sybil nodded. "Yes, Lord Robert arrived four months ago."

It was only then that Gwen realised she probably did not want to talk about the family that she was leaving.

"Where will you go?"

"York... London, Dublin, somewhere the two of us can get lost in the crowd for a while. There is a war on," Tom sighed. "Trying to find the third born daughter of any earl is not going to be the top of anyone priorities if we are lucky."

Gwen held her tongue. But in her head she knew that finding her was going to be the only priority in Robert Crawley's life.

XXX

As long as the two of them lived, neither Edith or Mary Crawley wanted to see their mother in the state she was in that night.

As she sat in the library with her hand over her mouth, Cora shook. She was struck again by what she had thought that night. She was a mother first and she was always going to be a mother first.

"I want my baby," she sighed and for the first time in over four months when she used that word, she was not referring to her son.

"We will find her and we will bring her home, dearest," said Robert as he returned. He had been in the hall way talking with Carson and the police.

"It is not two hours since she has gone and she cannot have got far in the dark," the earl told himself as much as her as he cupped her cheek and kissed her forehead. "I need you to be strong for me as much as I need to be strong for you."

Cora nodded but she could not – she could not control herself.

She did not know this Tom Branson from Adam if the truth was known. He was a part of the staff and they rarely spoke about anything unless it was when she had wanted the car.

Which he had wantonly stolen along with her daughter.

But she did not care a fig for that.

All she wanted was her daughter back.

"My Lady, I am sure she is going to be back soon," O'Brien tried to comfort her. The lLadies maid was not going to be leaving her that night.

Cora nodded – the fact was it had to be. Sybil had been away for longer than she would be already.

"We do not know this man – Robert, what if this is a one way thing, what if he has hurt her?" she said as images flashed through her mind.

"Mama, she made it look as if she was asleep in her bed," Mary sighed. As much as she was as furious as the two of them, she did not think it was reasonable to blame Branson for all of this. Especially not when she had seen for herself that Sybil had very much been in league with him, if that was the way her parents wished to see it.

"How do we know he did not force her to do it?"

"Because one of us would have heard her scream mama, " said Mary as she tried to reason with her.

She could see it in her eyes that Cora did not want to believe that her daughter had done this to them – but she had too.

Mary looked down as she felt a pair of eyes upon her.

"You knew," Robert realised. So that was two people who he could not trust as he had thought he was able to. Carson first and now Mary.

Mary nodded. "I made her swear to talk to me before she did anything stupid."

"Oh Mary," Cora sighed in disbelief.

As much as she was angry with Mary for not coming to her, she knew her daughters were close. It was Mary's trust who had been betrayed as much as theirs. There was no point in fighting among themselves.

"Oh my lord," she said as she felt tears leek down on to her face.

Edith sat quietly on the sofa and Robert sat at his desk. The two of them caught each other's eyes but said nothing for there was nothing to say. Mary, however, was incapable of sitting down suddenly and paced as she occasionally threw a look at her distraught mother. She felt guilty. She was angry. And she wished Matthew was with her. She did not know what he could do the others couldn't but it would make her feel so much better if he was there with her.

All four of the Crawley's jumped as there was a knock on the door.

As they looked on the door the same thought was in all of their minds.

"My lady, I am so sorry to disturb you but Lord Robert needs feeding," Cora did not think she had ever been so disappointed to see Miss Burrows.

"Make a bottle and feed him yourself, please," she said as she looked back to the fire.

"No," Robert shook his head and his wife looked at him as if she wanted to throttle him. "Darling, you can do nothing for Sybil here and I will not allow our son to suffer because of this."

The two of them looked at one another waiting for the other to back down but it was something neither of them was in the mood to do. She knew he was right but it did not make it easier.

"I just want her home."

"We are going to bring her home. But our baby needs you now," he said as he moved to her side and cupped her cheek. "Please darling."

She looked as if she was going to protest further before she looked in to his eyes and nodded. He was right. Of course he was right. There was no reason for Robert to miss out.

"Edith, Mary will you go with mama please?" Robert asked not wanting Cora on her own and wanting to distract the girls at the same time. They both nodded, not wishing to agitate him further.

"Come on, mama," said Mary as she helped her to her feet and then with Edith, the two left the room.

Before the door shut though, Carson came in.

And the silence that hung between the lord and butler was terrible, the like of which Carson had never known.

When the police had arrived he had, of course, had to say what he knew.

And that had been how is lord had found out that he had very much been left out of the loop.

In a way, even then, when he felt as if he was angry with the very world in which he was living Robert, could see why Carson had kept his mouth shut. He did not know if he was able to say he would have done different if there situations had been reversed.

But it was very unlike Carson to keep anything from him. Especially something as big as this

"My lord, I know I did wrong – but I just did not want to alarm you. Not on your first day home."

"Well, I wish that you had - but you tried your best to get rid of Branson," He said as he sat back down and tried to curb his anger at the Irish man. "She is going to be home soon."

He had to keep saying that.

He had to believe it was true.

XXX

Gwen and Sybil sat on the formers bed with the second mug and cup of tea of the night in their hands. Tom had of course gallantly offered to take the sofa.

"When the two of us are together it is as if none of the other stuffs matters. It is just the two of us against the world," Sybil explained.

Gwen saw in her eyes how much she believed it – and it made her fear for her friend. She longed to feel the same way she did. And who knew? Perhaps she was going to one day.

But from where she was standing, she saw only the downsides to what they were doing.

If they were caught before they made it out of Yorkshire, she did not like to think life was going to hold for Tom Branson.

She liked him and he was a good man.

If something happened to him...

"You doubt us?" asked Sybil as she tried to read in Gwen's face.

The sectary shook her head.

"Not the two of you, but the rest of the world. I know it may seem as if the divide doesn't matter... but it does. Do you parents know where you are?" she asked again.

The young lady shook her head.

"Then you know it matters."

She nodded though she did not want to concede to what she was saying.

"Maybe in a few weeks when it has all calmed down a little..."

"Lady Sybil, this is going to take months to calm, down if not years. And that is only if the two of you do manage to make it out of the county. I am sorry for saying this to you. I do not mean to hurt you."

Sybil shook her head. She guessed she was a little sorry that she was not more caught up in the romance of it all. But she had known she was going to have to get an outside view of it all sometime or later and it was far better that she did get it from Gwen than anyone else.

She was saying what she felt she had to say to be a good friend, nothing more. Just like she was going with Tom because it was something she felt she simply had to do.

"I know you are not – and I know you are probably right – but we love each other too much to give up now."

XXX

Tom lay on the sofa tossing and turning for most of the night as he went through the way Gwen had reacted to the news. The situation between himself and Sybil was unusual and no one outside of the pair of them could have predicted it.

Even those who had known the two of them for the longest time were going to need convincing. He just hoped they were going to get the chance they needed to convince people.

Why on earth had the car had brake down on them? They could have made it to Liverpool, or to York by now.

They would have been out of Downton's grasp.

Sybil could have written a letter to calm her parents and they could be beginning a new life.

But as it was, they were still not out of the Earl of Grantham's reach and Tom knew if he could take his daughter back then that was just what he was going to do. He saw Sybil as a child.

But she knew her own mind.

She really did. And Tom trusted her judgement – she knew her heart, the same way he knew his.

XXX

When they had begun the search for Lady Sybil that night, the one hope her mother had had was that by the time the morning came once more, her baby would have been found safe and well.

However, as the sun rose over the Abbey, Cora felt as if she was going to be sick. In just a few hours her baby would have been missing for twelve hours. And she hadn't been seen anywhere according to the police.

"O'Brien, what if we never find her?" she asked in a whisper that belied nothing of Cora's fear. With great tenderness, the ladies maid helped her lady change.

"She is going to be back in a shake of lamb's tale, just like she was before. Please try not to worry my lady. We'll find her."

Cora had to hold on to her hope.

She had too.

As it was, Sarah did not think she had ever seen her mistress so over wrought. In her mind, Lady Sybil had a lot to answer for.

XXX

"There are police all over Ripon," said Gwen quietly as she returned from running over the milk float to ask for another bottle.

The plan had been for Sybil and Tom to go at first light – yet it seemed as late as they had all stayed up talking, they had slept through sun rise.

Thus when Gwen got up to get ready to go to work, she had had to wake them both.

"You'll have to try and fix the car today Tom," the red head sighed as she tried to figure out how they went forward. "Lady Sybil, you are going to have stay inside. The two of you have got no chance of getting away today. Not now. You can go nowhere without the cover of darkness."

"Suppose the police are not here for me. Papa would not have called them out – not over this, surely?" Sybil sighed once they had seen Gwen off to work. She found it odd that she had to work so hard over the Christmas period – but then by the same token, if she was where she should be, she would be in the wards of the hospital.

And for that she did feel guilty. She believed in duty, to a degree. And she had not meant to live them short staffed. She hoped they were coping.

Tom's face said what he did not. That she should not be so naive. Of course, her father would send the police to fetch her home. He would do everything in his power to achieve his goal.

Reaching across the table, she took his hand and sighed. This was so not how they had planned it to go. But sometimes you had to deal with what you were given.

And as long as the two of them were together, Sybil had a feeling she could do that.

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