Disclaimer: I don't own Downton Abbey, or any of the characters. If I did, Mary and Matthew would have five kids by now.
"Doesn't she look lovely!" the whisper followed Sybil up the aisle, and her father's face was one of admiration and affection, the kind only a father can produce. And yet this did not deter her, quite the opposite, it made her all the more determined to strip of the façade of the blushing bride, to expose this engagement for the shambles it had been. Oh so many would wonder why she was making such a fuss, why she was so preoccupied with love when she would be Lady Grey with fifty thousand a year. No one would see her point and they would depart from the wedding with a lesser view of her. Another girl would see these as obstacles, but for Sybil they spurred her on. To hell with the fine dresses and the polite conversation! To hell with enduring a life of misery for fifty thousand a year and a good looking husband. Sybil wanted people to think of her as spoilt, and headstrong, for people to gossip about her and prophecy about her dying an old maid. Because above all, she wanted them all to see that she didn't care.
The Archbishop was a doddery old man. His days of waving his arms and shouting about the terrors of the fire of hell were behind him. His voice was hoarse, and his withered arms were too rheumatic for the display they had done for forty-five years. He was old and tired, and yet he could still feel the pleasure of these ceremonies, and the joy of pronouncing a couple man and wife. There had been forty peeresses in his career, some smiling, some nervous, some looking as if they were walking to their death. And yet, after forty five years, he could not place the expression on the Hon. Sybil Crawley's face. He was getting on, he reasoned, and his eyesight was going. He really ought to see some sort of specialist, he had heard of a good one in Kent…realising that he had fallen in to a doze, he cleared his throat and greeted the congregation in a thin, reedy voice. As his lips opened to form the words "Dearly Beloved…" Sybil cut him off.
"Archbishop, please do not go on, there is no need to continue. There shall be no wedding today. It is finished." She turned to Larry. "Don't you see, idiot boy? It is finished." The gasp of shock from the great aunts was all she needed. She picked up her skirts, and walked; calm and dignified, towards the church door. She turned around, and Larry Grey's eyes were shining brightly, his mouth compressed in to a firm line to suppress the words he wanted to hurl after her.
"So, you will really do it, Sybil? Ruin your name? Drag your family's honour through the mud? Dear God, how stupid you are." He strode over to her and grabbed her wrists. Whilst her face was a mask, (she was beginning to feel a sort of respect for Mary for being able to do this so easily,) inwardly she was filled with terror. He wouldn't hurt her, not in front of everyone, surely? And yet he was hurting her now. His grip on her wrist was painful, his thumb pressing down, leaving bruises all up her arm. She had many bruises from that man. He had struck her, many, many times. A fading bruise above her eyebrow had been covered up with powder – her mother had brushed over it, accepted Sybil's explanation that she had walked in to a door. She could not strike him; she was not strong enough. And she had been willing to go with minimal fuss, to leave him to feel ashamed.
"You are the most despicable, wicked foolish and most wrong man ever to have existed! Do you think you can force love with blows, with unkind words and cruelty? If you think I could ever love someone like you, someone who feels no shame in closing his fingers around a girl's throat, then you are all of those things I called you, and worse! I cannot live out my life as nothing but a hostess, trapped in a sham of a marriage. Do you think I can survive with not one drop of kindness, without one gentle word? Oh you would tell me you loved me, and that I meant the world to you, but how can it be love when you are willing to hurt me so? Perhaps, in your own selfish way you feel some love, or longing for me, but only because I am the unattainable, the one thing you are denied. And I will not give you the satisfaction of winning the hunt. Now my family and I will leave, and you will perhaps see the other guests out. Goodbye Larry." And with that she held up her head and ran from the church.
Sybil looked across at the frost-dappled grass, and shivered as the icy wind chilled her. She looked up. The trees were ebony black, beautiful against the pearl white of the sky. It was not far to the estate, whilst Larry had insisted they get married in York, the estate was only ten miles, and most of it across fields. She took a step on to the grass, and immediately slipped in her ridiculously uncomfortable shoes. Very well, she thought, I will take them off. Her brain, it seemed, had shut down and her mind could only process the most basic of logic. And so she walked, barefoot, carrying her shoes in her hand for a mile. Her feet were purple; her face was white. But after that mile, a new feeling filled her mind and heart and made her feet break in to a run. Elation. She was free. She ripped her wedding dress from her body, watching with satisfaction as the pieces of torn silk floated to the ground. She saw pearls and diamonds scattered, and she flung aside her veil. She took buttons off her corset in her haste to get it off, and soon she was left only in her chemise. Now came the tricky part. Anna had spent what felt like a year over her hair. This was to be done carefully. She picked out every hairpin one by one, every comb, and she smashed the tiara with the heel of her discarded shoe. Finally, it was done. Her hair tumbled down her back, cascading as a waterfall does. Her hair hung down her back in a shimmering wave, and she lay down on the cold hard ground, shivering under her thin chemise. She watched as the white sky bore snowflakes, caressing her nose and face, burying her. She was freezing, her shivers wracked her body and her body was translucent with cold. Her tears, tears that were shed in total, unconditional happiness, froze to her cheeks. She was whole, still. He had not broken her.
After a while she got up. She could barely move with the cold, it was as if her bones were blocks of ice. She stumbled, and was immediately caught at the elbow. She turned around, and Mary and Edith were there, panting.
"We had to stay for a while, mama was in hysterics. Oh to think we've been such beasts this summer - Sybil, you're frozen!" Edith exclaimed, not pausing for breath, as she rubbed warmth in to Sybil's shoulders.
"I was not a beast and nor do I choose to call myself one, thank you Edith." Mary rolled her eyes. "But I do think we should have listened. No one your age should have to bear the burden you have born Sybil, and I know myself and Edith feel responsible." Sybil nodded. "You will have to be strong, now, darling. Papa looked all set to murder Larry, and we had to fetch the smelling salts for mama."
"And that's not the worst of it," Edith interrupted, "They're both terribly hurt that you didn't think to tell them he was threatening you. Papa was muttering that everything went on behind his back, and that no one confided anything in him." Sybil was outraged.
"I like that! When he told me that if I told anyone he would call off the wedding and call in the debts. If they hadn't been so busy planning my wedding, if papa hadn't locked himself in his library and refused to have anything to do with me…"
"Oh Sybil, stop these damned histrionics!" Mary's voice had a slight edge. "Save it for mama and papa, won't you? We know. We have gone through it all before. So preoccupied with organising your world they don't ask whether you want to live in it. Remember when mama took me to look at a home for Patrick and me? Remember when Edith was pushed in front of that horse of a young man and mama told her to play the piano, and then when Edith refused to play, told her she would never find a man if she didn't have some gumption? Honestly Sybil, are you so naïve that you would think you are the only person who has suffered from this?"
"Honestly, Mary, there is no need to be quite so harsh. Sybil's been through a lot today." Edith protested. Sybil shook her head, the tears which seemed to come so easily now pooling in her eyes.
"No, she is right. I am sorry. Just because you two weren't forced in to a marriage with an abusive twit," here she giggled through her tears, "doesn't mean you haven't suffered." She looked serious. "So why don't we do it together? Tell them what we think? Say that we won't take any more of it? Afterwards, I can stay with Isobel for a bit, until this whole episode blows over. Please?" Mary glanced at Edith, who nodded.
"Of course, Sybil. Together." The three sisters joined hands, and walked through the snow, the three sets of footprints firm in the white ground.
I was going to include a bit more in this chapter, including her confrontation with Robert and Cora and decision to go to uni, but decided it would wait. Next time (This is more accurate, I swear!) : Sybil confronts her parents, and makes an important decision. This has all sort of been a build up to the university chapters, so hang on!
Oh and thank you, lovely reviewers! You make me smile