augrah wrote a lovely Sybil/Branson piece called "Your Hand in Mine" per my challenge on the Highclere forum, and though she didn't ask for anything in return, I know she has a soft spot of Evelyn Napier:)
It was no secret that the Viscount and Viscountess Brankson were notorious for being completely and utterly in love.
"Childhood sweethearts," it was explained to those less well acquainted with the couple. "Some have put it down to a marriage of convenience, for you must know that her father's property runs right alongside his, and she is to inherit everything."
Fast upon the heels of their marriage, the current gossip over teacups and biscuits dwelled on little else than that fascinating couple. The considerable advantages of the match seemed to belie the quaint stories of eternal love and childhood promises that made the rounds throughout fashionable drawing rooms, and there were those who raised an eyebrow or coughed politely when first regaled with the genuineness of their affections.
"It was a rather tidy business, I grant you," it was told to those who persisted in disbelief. "But believe me, I've known them my whole life, and the children had decided on the match long before the parents ever had the notion in their heads."
However much – or little – the claims were accepted, time would determine their accuracy; and as the years went by and not a whiff of a mistress could ever be found associated with the Viscount's name, and rarely would one make even an appearance without the other, it could no longer be denied that their love had indeed proven equal to the test.
Such devotion was by all at first declared excessively charming, later deemed barely tolerable, and by ten years time decried as insufferably tiresome. Fortunately for the parents, by then most conversation had shifted from themselves to the much more interesting topic of their heir.
"And what of the son? Evelyn?"
"A very fine boy, by all accounts, though not very clever. I suppose he must take after his father in that respect. But they say he'll be just as handsome – which most would take over cleverness anyway – and that he's been favored with his mother's sweet nature."
"But what of his inheritance? Is he really to get everything; his father's title and his mother's fortune?"
"Every penny. But I wouldn't place any bets just yet. He's had quite an example from those parents of his, and I have a feeling he'll surprise us all in the end."
"Yes, their influence will no doubt be strong," it was bemoaned by those whose disinterested queries were anything but. "I'm sure he'll marry for love. He's practically destined for it."
1. Miss Emma Jones
"Come now, Evelyn. Aren't you going to wish me joy?"
Evelyn was determined to do no such thing. Miss Emma sat kneeling in front of him, her blue eyes level with his brown, and both arms outstretched toward his small figure in expectation of a return embrace. Her smile faltered slightly when he refused to budge and his bottom lip protruded in a boyish pout.
"Evelyn? My dearest, what's wrong?" she asked, her arms slowly dropping to her sides; her head tilting in inquiry. Evelyn's own short arms came up to fold tightly over his chest in further defiance, and Emma had to tuck in her chin and inch her voice closer to firm reproach when she added, "I had thought you would be happy for me."
The lip began to quiver, and Emma's confusion became mixed with alarm as she saw a few small tears gather in his eyes. The signs she was sure were the beginnings of a tantrum, which generally were not tolerated, were proving instead to contain a sorrow more genuine than immature petulance.
"How can I be happy when you are going away?" he asked between sniffles.
Sincerity, that complete lack of guile to be found in a child, was what had drawn Emma to her job, and what had made her care for Evelyn as if he was her own. A tug on her heart removed any lingering doubts, and her own eyes began to fill as she gathered him in her arms and hugged him fiercely.
"Oh, my dearest! I shall miss you too," she told him. When she felt his sobs subside she held him back again at arms lengths. "But you shall still see me, sometimes, about the village. Or perhaps I shall come and visit you especially."
"Even so, you're going off to marry the coachman, when I wanted to marry you myself," he informed her quite seriously. Emma bit her tongue to keep from laughing at the childish notion.
"But Evelyn, that's impossible! I'm only a nursery maid and you're –" she stopped, the image of her young charge fully-grown – tall, handsome, with a grand title and estate to his name –sprang suddenly to her mind "– you're the heir to a Viscount," she finished in almost a whisper.
"I don't care a fig for that," Evelyn protested. "Papa says I should marry only for love, and I love you, so I shall marry you!" It was said just as childishly as his first proclamation, but this time Emma found nothing to laugh about. She briefly pondered what it might be to be loved by the man this boy would one day become.
"That's very true, and perhaps we might, if you were older. But you still have some years yet till you're grown enough to be a husband, and by then I should be much too old for you." She bestowed a warm smile and placed a gentle hand to his cheek. "It's much better this way, for me to marry now, while I'm still young and pretty."
Evelyn clutched the hand set on his cheek, before gallantly crying, "You shall always be pretty to me, even if you were a hundred years old!"
However small her inclination towards vanity, Emma couldn't help but feel a short burst of pride at his bold declaration, and had to struggle to suppress the smile that threatened the seriousness of their conversation.
"Even if I looked like your granny?" she asked gravely.
Evelyn's gaze dropped down to the floor in concession. He really could not argue with that logic. Emma recognized his look of defeat and pressed on.
"There, you see? Now don't be unhappy, Evelyn, for I'm sure one day you will find a girl that will love you just as well as you love her," she said. Seeing defiance muster once again on his brow she hastily added, "And who is a bit closer to your age."
Evelyn was far from believing his nanny's prediction, but nodded all the same. How could he find someone so pretty and kind as Miss Emma? Who never raised her voice when she scolded and who sang so sweetly he thought the dreadful birds that woke him up each morning must be quite jealous. But because he loved her so, he would let her leave and be with the one she surely loved.
He leaned in to grant the unfulfilled embrace and whispered softly in her ear.
"I wish you joy, Miss Emma."
2. The Honorable Isabella Carthwright
"Do you see that, Evelyn? I am to be a Countess!"
Evelyn could see it. He fancied half the ballroom could see the glittering rock set precariously on the hand that was now shoved dangerously close to the bridge of his nose. Such a gaudy and ostentatious stone, so out of proportion to her slender finger, couldn't have failed to be noticed from a mile off, much less several inches.
Evelyn had never expected to arrive from Oxford, eager anticipation inducing him to spend several more minutes in front of the mirror in preparation for his childhood sweetheart's coming out ball, only to find her already engaged to another man.
"I hadn't heard that you were engaged, Isabella. I must say, I'm quite shocked."
A small giggle later, and she removed the ring from his face.
"Of course you wouldn't have heard. It happened only last week." She went back to inspecting the large diamond and with another laugh said, "Father was determined that not a word would be said about it till my coming out."
"Even so, I might have hoped you would have told me," he replied, his tone constrained. "We are…friends-" he faltered on the word, "-are we not?"
"Oh Evelyn, of course we are!" she cried. Solicitousness now marked her voice and features. "But I can't see how I could have told you before everyone else."
She felt deeply the truth of her claim, even if Evelyn could not. Isabella Carthwright, barely out of the schoolroom and nary a penny to her name, denied the opportunity to declare at once her conquest in society with only fair face and sweet charm as her weapons. She was not one normally to be given over to such flagrant gloating, but her father's decree to stay her tongue from exulting over her victory, had, for the short week he required such censorship, been maddeningly insupportable.
"I suppose you could not," Evelyn conceded graciously, "if your father had strictly forbade it."
"Indeed, it was absolutely impossible! He was very severe in his order, otherwise you would have known about it directly!"
"Isabella..." Evelyn tripped over his words, uncertain how to convey the wound in his breast without mortifying its assailant. "I confess I...I thought you might have waited a few more years before considering marriage," Evelyn told her, withholding a silent, "To me! To me!"
"I suppose I might have," she sighed. "But Lord Haverford took such a quick interest in me, and before I knew it he had proposed! I could not seriously refuse such an offer, now could I? Who knows how long before another one came along, and even then most likely not half as brilliant."
His chest tightened. Was she doing this on purpose? Evelyn could not say. She spoke to him in their previous manner, all unassuming ease and friendship, except now she was regaling him with her tales of suitors and offers, rather than the scraped knees and horrid governesses of old.
"When are you to be married?" he inquired.
"Before Christmas," she happily chirped. "Mother hopes for an Autumn wedding, but father and I both prefer winter."
She prattled on about the details of her wedding–the dress she would wear, the cake they would eat–till her breezy and careless manner cleared her of any intentional maliciousness. Evelyn watched her young features light up with all the petty specifics and frivolity of a wedding, rather than with the groom to whom she would soon be wedded, and was finally convinced that she knew not how deep his affections ran, or that he even possessed them at all.
"Evelyn," she said at last, "I hope that my marriage won't change things too much between us. I've always valued your friendship, and I should like that we could remain much as we were."
Isabella's bright smile was all for him. Not the smile of a lover, but rather that of a girl still in the grips of the naivety of youth, dancing at balls as she danced through life, still sleepy to the deeper matters of world and heart, and simply enjoying what adventure came next.
"I should like that very much, Isabella," Evelyn replied. His face broke out into a wide grin.
"Now, shall we dance?"
3. Lady Mary Crawley
Evelyn was perhaps more than slightly disappointed. Lady Mary's borderline rude retreat left him with no doubt that she had little interest in hearing about his time up in Cheshire, however extraordinary of a run he had to recount. He watched her sleek form move towards Kemal– hips swaying, eyes dancing –and knew that she'd been lost to him the moment she set eyes on his Turkish friend.
"It seems we must brush up on our powers of fascination," he heard her cousin say from beside him.
He couldn't speak for the next heir to the Grantham title, but Mr. Crawley's comment hit the mark a touch too close for Evelyn's comfort. Fascinating, interesting, diverting; all adjectives that he would use to describe some of his more popular friends, but never himself. Regular, safe, mild; those were the terms he was normally associated with, both in his own mind and, apparently, that of the fairer sex.
"I was a fool to bring him here," Evelyn repined.
"Don't you like him?" Mr. Crawley asked.
"Well, I like him very much," Evelyn admitted wryly. "But so does everyone else, unfortunately."
He hadn't recognized how great a hope he had placed in the complex beauty regarding the plans for his future happiness, till he saw it all evaporate in the wake of her retreating form making its way towards his exotic friend.
But even still, he felt no anger, no bitterness; he'd never mastered the fine art of resentment or grudges, and with perfunctory effort let go any residual hard feelings. He knew he could not blame Pamuk, any more than he could blame Lady Mary for finding him a complete bore. Such was life, Evelyn mused, and he would find a way to move on.
He saw Lady Edith smile awkwardly, walking in his direction, and decided that his time to move on, quite literally, was now.
"Excuse me," he said, making good his escape.
4. Lady Clara Ridgewood
"I see. And is that your final decision?"
Evelyn knew that it must be. Passion for this woman still burned in his heart, hot blue flames that threatened to consume him. But he could not overlook the words he'd just read, black ink piercing through flesh and faith.
"I'm not sure how it can be otherwise, not after what I've discovered."
"Really, Evelyn!" she cried. He could see only white, so far were her eyes rolled back in their sockets. "You take things too close to heart!"
"Too close to heart?" he repeated her accusation, incredulous. "Need I remind you exactly what you wrote about me in your letter to Miss Winfield? 'Boring as a stone wall, but rich enough to keep him hooked'."
"I told you I was only having a bit of joke!" she explained with a desperate laugh. "It's what we ladies do. We might have a laugh or two at our beaus' expense, but we don't mean anything by it!" She pursed her lips coyly and lowered her lashes dangerously. "In fact, I think I should be the one put out," she teased. "After all, you read my letter without permission, which I can't think at all very gallant of you."
Evelyn was a man possessed of general strong will, but had to use every ounce of it now to maintain his composure. He wondered how he could have been so mistaken about the character of the woman who had nearly been his bride.
"Please, Clara. Don't speak so flippantly. It will only make things harder." His words melted any residual smiles from her face, which now retained not a thread of their former playfulness.
"All right, then," she snapped, bitter resolve ugly on her brow. "You no longer wish to marry me. I don't like it, but I will have to accept it." She paused to regain the breath that ran ragged through her short speech. "I wish you the best in life, Mr. Napier."
"Oh, Clara," Evelyn said, voice thick with emotion. "I do wish to marry you…I love you!" He paused to shake his head and confirm his own conviction. "The problem is that you do not wish to marry me! If you had never cared for me, truly, then I wish you would have just said so."
"And for what? To spare your feelings?" She laughed bitterly. "So you can move on to someone else who liked you even less, and leave me a poor, old spinster? You were my chance, Evelyn, and I took it!" She squared her shoulders as she added, "And I'm not sorry for it."
Evelyn was shaken.
"Are you really so mercenary?" he asked, aghast.
"I'll be whatever I need to be to secure my future." Her features lost some of their steel; sorrow began to creep into her eyes. "A rich, privileged heir would know nothing about that."
"No. I suppose I would not," he conceded. He moved to the door and she looked up sharply.
"I shan't let you judge me, Evelyn," she warned.
"Never," he agreed, before leaving the room.
"What are your orders, Lieutenant Colonel?"
Evelyn had no answer to give his second-in-command. He had no answer for himself.
His regiment sat waiting–hands gripping reins tightly, mounts jumpy with the dense anxiety weighing down the air–while they awaited his command. Evelyn knew the order from above was foolish. To charge on the Germans' position in this way would spell ruin for them. Could he disobey his orders? Lead his regiment away from this mission of suicide and suffer the consequences? Evelyn twisted the leather in his hands tightly till his eyes stung with the pain of constriction.
"We will follow our orders," he said, low, terse, and with grim finality. "Major Stetson, prepare the regiment for forward advancement. We will charge on my mark."
The orders were given and relayed to the back; his men arranged themselves in neat stacks behind their commander, ready to follow him to whatever destiny sat beyond the short stretch of land between ally and enemy.
Waiting for the men to finish positioning, Evelyn glanced idly to the surprisingly empty finger set fourth on his left hand. He was not ignorant of his reputation. Not so long ago, in a time, in a world that appeared now to be so much simpler than the reigning chaos that was almost commonplace, Lady Mary had once remarked about his well known regard for the matrimonial state.
I know what high hopes you have for the institution.
And it was true. He'd seen the happiness that enveloped his parents, cloaked in a shield of love so thick and binding as to render them impenetrable to the arrows of distress that such a world invariably lets fly. But break that shield, tear the cloak in two, and the half remaining would be utterly exposed to world's cruel weapons; constantly injured and broken down, too reliant on the strength of their missing counterpart to rebuild their defenses on their own.
No, Evelyn reasoned, it was better this way. He'd never found the love his parents shared, and though his failure had once pained him, he now felt a small measure of gratitude that the partner of his heart had somehow eluded him. He had viewed too closely the endless hollow that comes from affection divided: his own father, left a walking specter of his former self, haunting rather than living in their country home after his mother's early death.
At least now there would be no widow nor orphans to leave behind him, he rationalized. Evelyn's gaze fixed out onto the horizon as he pondered his fate, and withdrew his sword from its scabbard.
"Ready the mounts! First line on me, the second will follow Major Stetson! Prepare to advance!"
Perhaps, he mused, his destiny was not for Love after all.
"Steady on men, for God and King! And for England!"
Perhaps, it was always for Glory.
Sorry about the sad ending, but I'm pretty sure Evelyn will get an off screen death in season 2:(