Hi All: This story was written post season three and before the Christmas Special. It is in three parts and takes many twists and turns you might not expect. Please read to the end of each chapter and don't make assumptions Part one is about Tom struggling to fit in his new life. Part II features Kieran Branson and Young Sybil as she grows up. Part III features Young Sybil as she decides what to do with her life when she grows up. Edith, Mary, Lord and Lady G and the Dowager Countess just keep showing up. Part IV is about the younger generation managing through WWII.
Chapter One – Getting Dressed
Tom Branson pulled on the riding boots that had belonged to the fifth Earl of Grantham and regarded himself in the dressing mirror in the corner of his room. He looked the perfect Earl's son-in-law in the riding jacket, britches and helmet. The clothing was a bit old fashioned as it had belonged to Lord Grantham's father when he was a young man. Tom had put his foot down at the proffered frilly shirt, but the rest served the purpose for what Tom needed, or at least he hoped it would. "How did these aristocratic types wear some of this stuff," he thought to himself. "These britches are so tight they are indecent." The jacket he had on over a white shirt didn't come down far enough to hide anything. Wearing pants this tight on a regular basis would take some getting used to.
He sighed as he removed the helmet from his head, pushed back his hair, picked up his gloves and headed for the nursery to kiss his daughter good-bye before he left the house for the day. His new job as the Estate Agent required that he look the part. None of the tenants or villagers would ever take him seriously if he dressed as a field hand. He needed to inspect the pastures and there was no getting around it. The most logical way to accomplish the task was by horseback and to do that he was going to have to put his limited riding experience to work, dress up like a dandy and show off his backside for the entire world to see.
As he headed for the front door he spotted Thomas Barrow checking the clock in the main hall.
"Mr. Barrow, I'm expecting a large package delivered to the house in the next few days, please have it sent to the garage when it arrives," Tom said. He could feel his cheeks coloring slightly as Thomas Barrow regarded him in his riding clothes.
"Very well, Mr. Branson," Thomas replied with a small grin of appreciation as if he was perfectly aware of Tom's discomfort in his tight trousers. "Will there be anything else?"
"That's all. I won't be back until well after lunch."
"Very good, sir. I'll make sure Mrs. Patmore has been informed," Thomas replied with a syrupy smile.
Tom turned and strode out the front door. Thomas stood and watched him go. The two men had never gotten along particularly well when they had worked together. They had been civil to each other and spoken when necessary. Thomas had always suspected that Tom Branson didn't like him very much, but the man had kept to himself. No wonder when he had been chasing after the Earl's youngest daughter the entire time. Now that Tom Branson was an accepted member of the Crawley family their exchanges were even more distant than they had been before, although Thomas couldn't help but admire the way the other man could carry off formal attire as if he had been born to it. Tom Branson was quite a sight in those riding britches. "The local lasses will have an eyeful today. He certainly made my day," Thomas thought to himself as he turned and headed downstairs.
Tom Branson arrived at the stables and eyed the spirited collection of horses in the paddocks with trepidation. These animals were a far cry from the old plow horse he had ridden bareback at his Grandfather's every summer when he was a lad. He just hoped and preyed he could stay on long enough not to embarrass himself or break something if he was thrown.
Billy, one of the young grooms was waiting for him with a horse already saddled as Tom approached.
"Morning, Sir, I've saddled Morning Star for you. I hope she meets with your approval."
"Yes, she looks fine," Tom replied barely glancing at the mare. He was so nervous he was almost sick as he placed the riding helmet on his head and pulled on his gloves. Tom grabbed a handful of the horse's mane and was about to stuff his foot into the stirrup and mount when Billy's voice interrupted him.
"Aren't you going to adjust the stirrups, Sir?"
Tom groaned slightly at the question.
"And exactly how would I do that?" he asked with the blush rising to his cheeks yet again for the second time that day. For all he appreciated the trust Lord Grantham and Matthew had put in him by making him the estate agent, they couldn't have found anyone who felt more awkward with the lifestyle. Tom worked hard and he knew they appreciated his efforts but at the same time he was sure the staff both inside and outside had a good laugh at his expense on a regular basis as he fumbled through an array of activities that most of the middle class people in the area took for granted.
Tom's upbringing had been one of hard work and going without more often than not. When he had finally relented and played cricket for the first time in his life, he had enjoyed it, but he had been aware of the strange looks he received from the villagers at his complete lack of style or skill at the game. He and his brother had been lucky to have a ball to kick around in the streets when they were at home. In the summers he had been sent to his grandparents' where his life had been more work and very little play. The best part of the day had been when his grandmother called him in from weeding her massive vegetable garden and sent him to the fields to take his grandfather and the workers their lunch. He had ridden Betsy a retired plow horse out with the lunch in bags draped over her withers. To say he had ridden her to the field was a generous statement. Betsy had been well over thirty years old. The only way to stop the old mare from stopping to eat every blade of grass along the lane had been to smack her on the rump with a switch the entire way. Most of the time even the switch hadn't deterred the animal from a particularly appealing tidbit. Now he was standing here about to mount a highly bred animal with very little knowledge or skill at what he was about to attempt.
If Billy was surprised by Tom's statement he had enough sense not to show it. He calmly moved to Tom's side and showed him how to measure the stirrup length against his arm to get the length.
"If you mount from the block, Sir, I can adjust the stirrups for you once you're mounted."
"Yes, fine," Tom said blushing even more as he walked towards the block and waited while the horse was lead over.
"You won't have to worry about Morning Star, Sir," Billy said as he adjusted the straps and redid the buckles. "She's as gentle as a lamb."
"That's good to know," Tom replied.
"Forgive me for asking, Sir," Billy said looking up at Tom. "Have you ever ridden before?"
"A little and never with a saddle," Tom replied. He was sure his face was as red as a tomato.
Billy looked up at him with one eyebrow cocked.
"Right then, a little instruction before you go anywhere and you'll be just fine," Billy replied with a knowing smile.
Robert Crawley, the sixth Earl of Grantham was just leaving the library and heading for the stairs to change for dinner that evening when he spotted his son-in-law Tom Branson entering the Abbey through the front doors. The man was visibly drooping but straightened his back and walked forward to greet his father-in-law as though nothing were amiss the second he saw Robert.
"Tom, how was your day?" Robert inquired. "Did you get around to the fields you wanted to inspect?"
"My day was busy, thank you. I got around to most of the pastures. I'll have to go out again in a few days to check the ones on the south side of the estate." From the way Tom's muscles in his legs, back and abdomen were protesting from his day spent on horseback, Tom was sure he wouldn't be able to get his leg over a horse for at least the next two days.
"Did Leech set you up with a decent mount? Nothing too slow I hope?"
"The mare was fine. She did the job well enough," Tom replied. He didn't add that Leech, the head groomsman had informed him that starting tomorrow he would need daily riding lessons if he wasn't to embarrass the family by falling off his mount at the next hunt, or to quote Leech's exact words, "You'll fall on your arse like a sack of Irish spuds and make the house a laughing stock if I don't teach you a thing or two about riding and jumping." Tom had groaned inwardly but agreed to riding lessons early every morning for the next six weeks or so. His riding was dreadful and there was no way he had attempted anything beyond a slow trot today.
"Well, I'm just on my way up to change," Robert said. He noticed the younger man eyeing the stairs ruefully. "There's nothing wrong with you a hot bath and a good meal won't fix." He added with a cocked eyebrow and slight chuckle, when he sensed Tom's discomfort after a day of unaccustomed activity.
Tom only nodded slightly and started up the stairs, gritting his teeth against the screaming muscles in his legs. At the moment he had no idea how he was going to get up the stairs and into the bath, let alone dressed for dinner in a reasonable time. "These toffs are all a little insane," he thought as he began the slow steady ascent to the upstairs. "I wish my parcel would get here sooner than later."