"Branson! Branson, wait!"
The chauffer turned to find Anna running toward him. He had just returned from dropping Lord Grantham at the station for a trip to London, and was walking from the garage to his cottage. When the housemaid had caught up to him, he spoke.
"What is it Anna?"
"A letter came for you, Branson," she explained, handing the spoken item over to him. "It's from Lady Sybil."
Branson's eyes snapped up to Anna's as he took the letter from her. She smiled quickly before running back up to the house. Branson stood for a moment longer, his fingers playing with the envelope that had his name in a gentle script. He pushed the letter into his inside pocket, before hurrying along to his cottage.
Once in his private cottage, he removed the letter from his pocket. His fingers trembled as she broke the seal and removed the letter.
I am sat here at this desk, hardly knowing what to write, but knowing that I must. You see, I feel we may have parted on bad terms. I was not surprised to hear your confession to me, I must admit. I believe it was merely the timing of it that startled me. I want terribly to give you what you wish, and yet I do not know how I may do so.
I am tired of pretending Branson. I can no longer deny how dear you are to me. I try to imagine what it may be like if you were no longer around for me to talk to or to just sit with. I look forward to any moments we may steal as our own. You are my best friend.
The work here in York is hard, and the room that I am staying in is nothing like my own at Downton. I share with two other women: Sarah and Giselle. They are lovely people. I confess I do not miss my old life. I rather enjoy having the ability to do things for myself. That day when I made a cake with Mrs Patmore and you were stood there drinking tea and smiling at me. I felt like I had really achieved something then, and here is no different. The hours are long, I am on my feet for nearly fourteen hours a day with hardly any break, but it is rewarding. I love it.
I fear I shall never get any sleep tonight if I continue to write right now. I do hope Anna passes this along to you, and I eagerly await your reply.
Branson smiled softly as he read the words on the page. How she could ever think he might have held a grudge for that day, he did not know, but he was pleased to hear from her. He took a seat at his table, and pulled his own writing equipment from its position. He wanted to write to her now and send it right away, so that it may get to her in the next day or two.
Giselle had gone to collect their post whilst Sarah and Sybil neatened up the room before the Matron came around.
"Sybil, there's one here for you," Giselle called as she entered the bedroom. "Doesn't look to be the same handwriting that usually comes for you. You got some sweetheart you're hiding from us?" she teased.
"He's hardly a sweetheart," Sybil argued, as she went to retrieve the letter from Giselle, who moved it out of her reach with a grin.
"But it is a he!"
"Yes, he is a he, but he is not a sweetheart. Now may I please read my letter?"
Giselle sighed, but handed over the letter anyway. "If he's not a sweetheart," she said, rolling her eyes, "then you can read it to us."
Sybil looked between Giselle and Sarah, both of which had sly smiles on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. It made Sybil realise that she wouldn't get this at home, or with her "friends" of her class. This was almost childish, but it was fun. Of course, she couldn't read out Branson's letter in case it revealed her class, or what he had said nearly two weeks ago now when he dropped her off.
"I shan't read it out to you," Sybil told her friends. "Not until I've read it to make sure it is suitable. It may contain something private."
Giselle immediately piped up, "I thought you said he wasn't a sweetheart? If he isn't a sweetheart, then surely there can't be anything to hide?" Sarah nodded in agreement.
Sighing, Sybil resigned herself to the torture she would now endure. The only way to stop them asking questions would be to tell them the truth. It wasn't that she thought they would judge her, she knew that they also had some, if only a mild, interest in removing the class division and women's rights. She just didn't want them to think she had actively lied to them.
"I could not tell you the contents of this letter initially because I have kept some things from you," Sybil began. "I am not just an average woman who wanted to become a nurse. I am the daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham, and I had to fight to be allowed to do something other than knit socks. The letter is not from my family, however."
"Wait a minute," Sarah interjected. "You're a Lady, and you never said?"
"I am," replied Sybil. "But I didn't want to be treated differently. I'm doing this because I want to make a difference, and I want to help. I didn't want people to act as if I were Lady Sybil here, because I wanted to be Nurse Crawley."
"But don't you miss all your pretty things?" Giselle asked. "I've seen some fine materials in my time as a maid, and the furniture… why, here is nothing compared to that!"
"I do not miss it, no. I was not lying when I said I believe in equality and women's rights. I don't want to marry someone twice my age who I have no interest in for money and status. I want to marry for love, and to someone who respects me and my views. To a man who will fight with me, who is passionate."
"Sounds like you have someone on your mind when you say that, Sybil," Giselle said with a smile, gesturing to Sybil's hands that were toying with the edge of the envelope. "Is that the one you have on your mind? Your man who isn't a sweetheart?"
Sybil smiled and looked at the letter. She exhaled and moved herself to sit between her two friends.
"About a year before the war began, my father employed a new chauffer. He was Irish, and a socialist. Very political. He believed in the same things I did. He would sneak me off to political meetings without telling my father, and he would give me pamphlets on what I was interested in. He never treated me as if I were too delicate for such things. The same with the war. I would sit in the garage with him for hours at a time, just talking. He became my best friend. When he took me here I hardly wanted to let him leave. I told him it was because he was my last tie with home, and he told me that he wanted me to marry him, if not in those exact words. He swore to devote every waking minute to my happiness. Those were his exact words."
"Wow," breathed Giselle. "That sounds like something right from a book. It's so romantic. What did you say to him?"
"Well before I could say anything he was promising me that even if my family were to cast me off he knew it wouldn't be for long, and that they would soon welcome me back. He promised to make something of himself. He wanted me to choose him, not someone who my family thought I should marry. And then I told him I was flattered. And he says, 'Don't say that, it's a word posh people use when they're about to say no'. And that hurt me, because he was right. I was going to say no. So I wrote to him, to apologise for the way I acted. I'm finding he's the only one I miss from home, but I don't understand it. He's a chauffer and I'm a 'Lady'. It can't possibly work, can it?" Sybil looked desperately between Sarah and Giselle.
Her two friends each put an arm around her and leant their heads against hers.
"I think," said Sarah, "that anything is possible, if you want it to be."
"I agree," Giselle added. "I think that if you love him, you should accept him. Why should your family stop you marrying who you love? They'll understand, if they love you. If they don't come around, then maybe you're better off without them."
Sybil smiled at her two friends. "When did you two get so wise?"
"We've always been wise," Sarah told her. "We're like the wise men, but we're women. And there's two of us, not three."
"So really," Sybil laughed. "You're nothing at all like the wise men?"
The three girls laughed together, before walking together to the ward. Branson's letter lay heavily in Sybil's pocket, giving her something to look forward to that evening.