Chapter 11- A Family Visit
It was late summer and the Crawley family was headed to London for the season. Edith had written that she would be home to coincide with the family return from London. Tom and Cora discussed the situation and to prevent the rumors from starting up all over again, Tom decided to move to one of other houses that belonged to the estate. The Estate Agent's house was rented and the current tenants had another two years on the lease.
Things had settled down in Ireland, but Tom was still not able to return. He was making a good living now and sent for his mother to come over for an extended visit to help him set up house and take care of Sibby. Mary had taken the regular Nanny with her and Tom had hired a local girl to care for Sibby until his living arrangements were sorted out. Before the family left the house, it had been arranged with Mrs. Hughes that Tom would take his meals downstairs to allow more of the staff to have time off.
"It's time to put the awkwardness aside, Mrs. Hughes," Tom had told her. "I work for the estate the same as the rest of the staff. I am a family member but I'm also an employee."
"Very well, Mr. Branson, if that is your wish," Mrs. Hughes had replied. She didn't think it was right for Tom to be eating downstairs, but then the young man had his own ideas about most things.
Tom's mother arrived and immediately began cooing over Sibby and making plans for the move to Tom's new house. A huge pile of furniture was dug out of the attics, cleaned, repaired and loaded onto a lorry. Tom was so occupied with the estate he was quite happy to leave all the details up to his mother.
Kieran, Tom's brother arrived to visit with their mother for a few days and was quite happy to be eating downstairs instead of the formal dining room where he had been entertained on his first visit.
"I'm glad to see you've come to your senses and are taking your meals down here," Keiran proclaimed loudly in front of the staff his first evening.
"We're eating down here to allow more of the staff to have the time off they deserve," Tom informed him tight lipped. "We'll be over to the new place next week before the family returns."
"Mr. La-de-da, I'm surprised you aren't wearing your fancy clothes and dressed for dinner," Kieran baited Tom. He knew he had hit on a sensitive point with Tom and couldn't help needling him the same way as when they were children.
"Kieran, stop pestering your brother," Mrs. Branson demanded. "And Tom you never mind your fancy airs or I'll rap both of you on the knuckles."
Her proclamation was greeted by a round of giggles from the junior maids and Tom rolling his eyes in exasperation. "At least we can walk down to the pub after dinner and no one will mind," Tom thought.
"I'd like to know why neither of you are married," Tom's mother continued oblivious to the rules of not discussing your personal life in front of the staff. "No one wants a crusty confirmed old bachelor with grease under his nails Kieran. And you Tom, it's been two years. Neither of you are getting any younger. It's time to think about these things. I can't stay here indefinitely to keep house for you."
"Ma, not now," Tom hissed turning bright red.
Kieran had started to laugh at his brother's discomfort.
"Maybe one of these lasses'll have me," he said inclining his head at the row of maids down the table. "How about it girls any takers?"
"Kieran! Stop it!" Tom growled tight-lipped at the chorus of giggles that came from down the table.
"What's the matter, Tom? You got another one of those toff girls lined up? Maybe one for your brother?" his brother questioned with a loud gruff laugh.
"That's it," Tom said in exasperation suddenly standing up. "I'm going to the pub. Are either of you two coming?"
"Now you're talking," Kieran proclaimed jubilantly jumping to his feet and making for the door.
"Not before the two of you clear your spots," their mother informed them.
"Yes, Ma," the two brothers replied in chorus.
"And the pair of you had better not come back drunk to the gills or I'll box your ears."
"Yes, Ma," came the second chorus.
Once the men had left the room, Mrs. Branson looked at Mrs. Hughes.
"You'd think I'd raised those two in a barn with all the manners they display," Mrs. Branson stated before she headed out the door of the servants' hall and up the stairs to see to her granddaughter.
As soon as Tom's mother was well out of earshot the entire room broke out in laughter. Once Mrs. Hughes had recovered from her first round of giggles and wiped the tears from her eyes, she opened her mouth to say something dignified to the rest of the staff but it was no use as she collapsed in yet another fit of laughter.
Tom had arranged to take his brother fishing the next day. Fishing was one of the few things Tom hadn't messed up in his life as the estate agent. He didn't totally see the point of the elaborate casts of fly fishing but casting your line into a stream and letting it float was easy enough. Both brothers were slightly hung over from the pub the evening before and were perfectly happy to sit by the side of the stream munching on sandwiches from a picnic hamper and drinking cider.
"So you thought about getting married again?" Kieran asked Tom after a bit.
"Some. I don't know if I could ever go through another woman having a child of mine," Tom replied. He had taken Sibby and gone to visit Kieran for a few days when Mary was due. There was no way he could face another woman giving birth in that house. "What about you?"
"Me?" Kieran exclaimed. "What would I do with a wife? She would have to like cars, be a good cook and not mind when I drank ale. Where would I find one like that?"
"I don't know. It might not hurt if you looked around a bit and got Ma off my back," Tom replied. "You sure won't find one hiding under a table in a pub."
"Such sage dating advice from my younger brother," Kieran replied. "What's the real reason you're moving out of that fancy house?"
"Who says there has to be a reason?" Tom replied evasively.
"You never do anything without a reason and you're always serious. There's a reason or you've suddenly changed the color of your feathers."
"There was some gossip last year about me and one of the daughters. It's better if I'm not there when she gets back," Tom replied at long last.
"The blonde one? She's a piece of all right. You think she likes cars and drinking beer?"
"You just hold your tongue."
"What's the matter, were you doing her in the stable?" Kieran exclaimed with a loud coarse laugh.
"Why you dirty minded …" Tom didn't get the rest out before he his fist connected with Kieran's eye.
Kieran threw his fishing rod to the side and launched himself into the fight. Tom was in better shape and landed more punches easily dodging Kieran's more awkward swings although a few managed to get through and make their mark. The two of them were winded quickly and wobbling unsteadily on their feet by the time Kieran finally spoke.
"What are we fighting about anyway?"
"You insulted my sister-in-law."
"I did no such thing. I only asked if you were sleeping with her."
With that Tom landed a blow squarely on his brother's jaw knocking him out cold. Kieran came to a few minutes later when Tom poured a bottle full of stream water on his face.
"Touchy, touchy," Kieran scolded his brother as he sat up. The two of them punching each others lights out was nothing new.
"That shouldn't have happened," Tom said helping his brother to his feet. "If anyone had seen us, I'd be the laughing stock of the county, yet again."
"What's really going on?" Kieran asked once he had taken his seat and picked up his fishing rod, rubbing his jaw and checking his teeth.
Tom screwed up his eyes and thought for a moment before he blurted out the entire story to his brother. He didn't leave out any of the details of his embarrassment at wearing the wrong clothes or the fiasco at the shoot.
"The worst of it is," Tom continued. "Everywhere I go on business there is someone introducing me to their daughter as though they are serving them up on a platter. Then even old lady Grantham informs me I should be marrying her granddaughter. She's my wife's sister for God sake."
"Your former wife," Kieran corrected. "I believe it was until death do you part and that's been and gone. You could do worse. A lot worse."
"But I don't think of Edith that way. She's a nice woman and good company. We're friends and we work together on the estate business. Besides Sybil's death is my fault."
"Your fault? Are you daft man? That wasn't anyone's fault. She got sick. She died. End of story."
"You don't understand. I got myself in that mess in Ireland, me and my big mouth and my high ideals. She shouldn't have been traveling that close to having the baby. If I had stayed out of it, if we had been able to stay in Dublin, she would have been in a hospital. She would have received treatment. She wouldn't have died."
"Christ Tom, that's a lot of ifs. If you had stayed in Dublin and if she had been in hospital she might have died anyway. You said she died from some disease that has no cure."
"She did, but there is a treatment if they find it early enough. There was a slight chance she could have survived."
"Listen to yourself. You're talking in ifs and slight chances and second-guessing yourself. What's important is what is right now. The reality is you're a single father with a good job. You need to get on with things."
"Maybe you're right."
"Of course I am. It would have been a sight to see you in those tight pants though."
"I'll take you riding tomorrow and you can wear them."
"Maybe I'll catch some lass's eye," Kieran exclaimed jubilantly. He was never one to stay on a depressing topic for long.
"Maybe you just might," Tom agreed feeling better than he had in a very long time.