Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Sybbie Branson, George Crawley, Downton Abbey
Title: Sybbie's Secret
Sybbie and George try to have an early Christmas by themselves
"Hurry up, George," Sybbie whispered as loudly as she dared. "We're already later than usual. Everyone else will be up unless you get a move on."
"Don't talk nonsense. It's just gone three in the morning, no one in this house will show their face before eight." He stopped in the hallway again. "I don't like this."
"Shush, George. You say that every year."
"But what if Grandpapa catches us."
Sybbie couldn't understand why George thought their grandfather would even care, because she knew he wouldn't. She turned, pulling him into an alcove. "Why do you always worry about things that don't matter. It's not like we're planning on burning the place down. For heaven's sake, you're nineteen, you're in the army and it's Christmas. What is he going to do? Send you to bed without your pudding."
"It's all well for you, Sybbie. I'm ..."
"Yes, George, I know. You're the heir and you're supposed to act grown up and responsible while I'm just a silly girl who people expect to do frivolous things."
"I've never said you were either silly or frivolous."
She reached up and touched his face. "That's because you know better than to get on my bad side."
George wasn't sure if the glint in her eye was one of humour or warning.
"Now let's move, you trying boy. I want to see what you got me this year."
George smiled at her back as she led the way. They had been getting each other little gifts, secret gifts, for years, then opening them under the tree early Christmas morning when no one was around. It was never much - a book, some socks, cologne, gloves - but it was something for just the two of them. It was childish and he didn't know why it was important, but he never denied that it was.
As they rounded the corner leading onto the gallery, Sybbie stopped suddenly and he almost bumped into her.
The tree lights are on. No one ever leaves the tree lights on. She waved him back as she crept forward to peek over the balustrade. She couldn't see anyone, but she heard movement and muffled conversation. Quickly tiptoeing back, she grabbed George by the sleeve and pulled him far enough down the hallway so she could speak.
"There's someone down there."
"What do you mean, there's someone down there?"
He made a move toward the gallery, but she stepped in front of him.
"Where do you think you're going," she whispered urgently.
"What if someone broke in?"
"Why? So they could sit under our tree? And what do you propose to do? Throw Christmas ornaments at them to scare them away."
"Well," he answered lamely, "no one should be down there."
"Does that mean us too?"
"No, we're different. This is our home, our tree. We belong here."
"And yet, you still worry about Grandpapa." She shook her head in despair at how her cousin thought sometimes. "Besides, if it's not some dastardly villains planning on robbing us or murdering us in our sleep, doesn't it make sense that it's someone who belongs here too."
"I suppose so," George admitted.
"I'm going to look again."
"I'm coming with you."
"Oh no you're not, George. Not with your galumphing feet. Wait here. I promise to scream if I'm in danger."
Once again she moved quietly into the gallery, but this time further along the balustrade so she could peer around the tree. There was enough glow from the Christmas lights that she could just see the backs of two figures sitting close together on the floor. From what she could gather they must have just exchanged gifts because there was wrapping paper strewn in front of them. So we're not the only ones. Because she couldn't make out who they were from her angle, she carefully took a few steps down the stairs and crouched to look through the railing - just in time to see them kiss.
It took a few seconds to sink in. Barrow and James? Her hands gripped the railings tightly as her mind raced. She knew about Thomas Barrow. Her father had slipped up one day last year and the cat was out of the bag. The implications - although she was sure she didn't know them all - didn't shock her. Despite growing up in a house like Downton, she hadn't led a sheltered life. After all it was no secret that her Uncle Eamonn was "that way" and her father's family, from what she could tell, didn't seem all that concerned despite the church and the law. The only thing that shocked her about this was James. She rocked back on her heels and sat on the stair.
She found it strange that she had never thought about the servants' love lives before. Maybe it was because she assumed they were like everyone else. If they were lucky, they dated, they fell in love, they got married. Or they did some of those things. But now she was face-to-face with the reality and an unusual reality at that.
Tommy and Jimmy. She had always called them that when she was younger. Tommy in particular looked out for her, rescuing her more than once when she found herself in a mess of her own making. George had said that was because she was his favourite. She just accused him of being jealous. But for some reason it made her feel special that Barrow, as she had been informed by her grandmother she was now to call him, took such an interest. Sneaking another look down at them, she also realised why it was Tommy and Jimmy. They always seemed to be together and now she knew why.
When they began to gather the wrapping paper she knew they were getting ready to leave. She stood quietly and retraced her steps to find George waiting impatiently for her.
"It's just Barrow and James. They had the same idea as we did. Let's give them a few minutes."
"They shouldn't be there. I'll have to tell Grandpapa."
"So you're saying they don't belong here?"
"Not up here. Not when they're not needed."
"George, you can be such a prig. I find it odd that you seem to forget who I got to drag you up to your room those nights two summers ago when you rolled in drunk. Or who you followed around like a lost little puppy for years, always getting under the feet of one or the other of them. Do you want me to go on?"
"Good, because there are a few other things. Like that barmaid. Wouldn't Grandpapa ..."
"Fine, fine," he interrupted. "I guess there's no harm done."
"That's my Georgie." She smiled at him sweetly. "We all have secrets that need kept."
~~ End ~~