Chapter Fifty-Five

Yes, I have finally started to continue this story again. My break this past time was not just a long spell of writers block or life getting away from me though…my mother passed away last Fall. The loss was very hard for me and so has the mourning, but I'm slowly starting to work my way out again. For those of you who are still here, thank you! There should be only a few more chapters, before this saga of mine is complete. Thank you for reading!

Tom

I truly must have been in hell. The air around me was frigid, the cot beneath me, hard and unyielding, but the biggest indicator of all was the fear and anger I felt inside. It had been days since I had slept or even taken a bite of the food the guards would shove the through the bars of my cell. The memory and strong image of being mobbed by the police the second I had stepped off of the ferry in Dublin, a screaming Sybbie yanked from embrace, would not release its hold on me. It had been an ambush plain and simple. I knew they had been waiting for me, but I gathered they hadn't known I would have a child with me. I had fought back when they had ripped her away from me. Threw punches, leaving bruises and breaking bones in my fury. I would have gone farther if they hadn't overthrown me and bound my hands behind my back, but they did and I was left to watch as they carried her away.

At some point after being brought to the jail, they told me she was safe, but I didn't believe a word that came out of their mouths. They told me I was being arrested for my involvement with the Republican party and the revolution. I did not offer a word up in my defense, I was shaking with anger and fear and at some point had rationalized it was better to remain silent simply for the sake and safety of my daughter.

Day after day in the dark damp cell I was left to my own thoughts and fears. I knew it wouldn't take long for anyone to notice I was missing. My mother had been expecting me, Tom and Mary knew where I had gone and Kate would soon figure it all out. It did not take a lot of thought on my part to figure out who had brought all of this on however. I knew Alec had taken care of things when I had seen I had come to Dublin all of those months ago to see Kate. Someone had come in behind him, hell bent on making our lives miserable and reversed it. The Duke of Anbury was a piece of garbage and the moment I was able, I would take my anger out of him tenfold. What I couldn't figure out however, was how they had known I was coming.

I had lost track of the days and the time, but not my hope that I would soon be free of the prison and reunited with Sybbie. When I heard an iron door creak open soon after day break and the mumble of a voice that sounded somewhat familiar, I felt my optimism perk and I quickly stood and went to the bars just in time to see Alec come into view. I ignored the guard who stood next to him and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Thank God I found you." He also seemed relieved. His hand came through the bars and patted me on the shoulder. "Are you well?"

I nodded my head. I was exhausted, hungry and above all worried sick for Sybbie, but I wasn't dying. "Sybbie…"

He stopped me with a nod of his head. "Don't worry, we have found her. Robert and I located her last night just after getting in, about three miles from here in an orphanage."

"What?" I raged, my hands gripping the iron bars tightly.

"Robert stormed in like a mad man, I've never seen anything like it." Alec shook his head with a slight smile. "Made the poor matron shake in her slippers. He took her out of there in a flash and back to our hotel. She seems to be shaken up, much as I would expect, but otherwise she is fine." He frowned. "She keeps asking for you and Kate."

"How is Kate?" Now that the fear over Sybbie had been put to rest, my thoughts now turned to my very pregnant wife and how this whole situation might have affected her.

Alec paused for a moment, as if he was trying to find the right words to say to me. It stroked my anxiety. "Is she all right?"

Finally he nodded. "Yes, she's fine. She's in London. I wouldn't allow her to come. I'm sorry if I've overstepped my bounds, but in her condition—"

"No," I stopped him. "I would have strangled you if you had."

A slight smile crossed his lips. "Thank you for that. Now, as for why you're here."

"They told me."

"I swear to you Tom, I don't know how it could have happened. I was sure I had fixed it all. We may not have known one another well at that time, but you can trust me when I say that."

"You know who is responsible for it as well as I do."

"You and Kate seem to be of one mind on that subject." He sighed. "I can't get you out of here without proof of what he's done however, or at the very least convincing someone with the power to reverse it that you're not a threat to the country's security."

"Jesus." I shook my head at the thought.

"I am doing everything I can. I have several of my staff working back at the offices in London and I have put people here to work here. We will find out what happened and we will fix it. The law side I can handle, but I have to know, what on earth were you doing here?"

"To see Mrs. Roark." I told him, feeling foolish. "There was a maid at Downton that told me Kate had said something about missing her and wanting her there when the baby was born."

His brow raised. "Kate didn't tell you this herself?"

I shook my head, but as I did the pieces began to come together and I looked at Alec with wide eyes. "She set me up."

"Tom, I-"

I knew what he was doing. In the mere months I had known Alec he had shown himself to be very practical and never quick to throw judgment around, really the opposite of who I was in that latter respect, but how could he deny this. It fit too perfectly. "She wanted me to leave and come here. What other reason can there be? She's probably working with that piece of—"

"It is all a bit farfetched." He interrupted with a shake of his head. "Malevolent maids with ulterior motives? Sounds like something out of those ridiculous novels that my mother reads."

"I don't care what it sounds like, it's the truth. What other explanation can there be?"

He sighed heavily. "I don't know, but there could be one. Without definitive proof I can say nothing with any certainty."

I closed my eyes against the answer. I was tired and weak from my ordeal and had no wish to fight with him. I knew I was right though. My gut told me I was. I closed my eyes against the feeling and let my head fall. I felt Alec reach through the bars and place another brotherly pat on my shoulder. "We'll figure it out, Tom. I will get you home."


Kate

A shake of the train car followed quickly by a loud whistle blowing, yanked me from my dreamless sleep. The compartment I sat in was empty, Mr. Barrow no where to be seen. Outside the window, I spied the tell tale color of dusk in the sky. I hadn't been asleep long and in my condition probably should have closed my eyes and tried to capture more, but instead I sat up straight and shrugged off the coat that had been slung over me as a makeshift blanket. It was Mr. Barrow's.

I gathered he had needed a moment to himself and stepped outside for a stroll among the cars. After everything that had happened in the last three days I could not blame him.

My plan was so far, working perfectly. We had managed to sneak away from Alec's home with our light luggage in tow, without incident and checked off the first step on my list the next morning by showing up at Sir Richard Carlisle's London office. It had been months since my first and only encounter with the man, but my intuition told me he was the place to start. There had been a momentary fear that he would refuse to see me or not even be in at all, but I had been surprised on both counts.

Though I had been out of work for months, I tamed my emotions and located the forthright journalist within me once I was safely in his office. Mr. Barrow had sat next to me, quiet yet supportive.

"Lady Wyatt." He had said to me, "It's a pleasure to see you again."

"Mrs. Branson now." I had reminded him.

"My apologies."

"Do you know why I'm here?"

He adjusted a wayward pencil on his grand oak desk, letting the slight pause linger in the air between us. It was a power move and he was foolish if he thought that I would not know that. "I imagine it has to do with the Duke of Anbury." He finally said.

"Why did he seek you out all of those months ago?"

He leaned back in his chair, pressing the tips of his fingers together. "When information is needed, I have the sources to find it."

"Such as my parentage?"

"That is correct."

"His plan was to do blackmail me, is that correct? All for the inheritance I had no choice in receiving?"

"It was a great deal of money, Mrs. Branson."

"Enough to bankrupt a man." I had answered back with level confidence.

There was some satisfaction in watching him waver then at my words. The self assurance vanished from his expression and he swallowed back hard, putting his hands on the arm of the chair. It was a clear answer that my suspicions had been right about that all along. Next to me, Mr. Barrow let an almost smile dance on his lips.

"What is you want, Mrs. Branson?"

"I want to know why." I began, holding my straight and steady. "I want to know why the money was left to me. I want to know what kind of damage it has done to him and I want to know why my deceased father in law saw fit to leave it to a woman he had never even met."

"And you believe I have those answers?"

"Yes, I do. You're a man who values information. If the Duke wanted your help in uncovering secrets from my past I have no doubt you would have done it without knowing the reason why. You're not a bad man, Sir Richard. You are hard, but any good businessman is. I know Lady Mary wouldn't have let herself become engaged to you all those years ago if she considered you at all evil."

"Now you're using my own past against me?"

I shook my head. "Of course not. I am however, appealing to your human side. Your conscience. My husband and daughter are missing and I know the Duke is behind it. You were my first stop and I intend to gather as much information as I can before I confront him. I am sitting before you, worried, scared and as you can tell heavily pregnant. You will help me. You know we have been wronged and you do not owe the Duke any loyalties."

His lips pursed and he was quiet for a long moment. I looked over to Mr. Barrow to keep myself calm. He had said nothing and remained quiet still since we had arrived, but his presence on my side grounded me.

"The former Duke left you the money because he could not leave it to your deceased husband." He finally said. I turned back quickly. "I believe it was always his intent to leave the money to Lord Wyatt, but after his death you, as a daughter of sorts, you were the only logical choice."

"Logical? That doesn't sound at all logical to me. I had never met the man."

"I can only tell you what I know. The will was an iron clad document and the executors were carefully chosen to ensure you received the money."

I had taken a deep breath then, absorbing the information. "Why was I told I couldn't give it back? If it was mine then why couldn't I do what I wanted with it?"

"I am sure because the will stated as much."

I chose not to continue further with that line of questioning. "How badly has it damaged its finances?"

"I doubt the estate will make it far in the new year. The manor is older than Downton and requires constant repairs. The taxes on the land are even worse."

"How many tenants?"

"I couldn't say."

My knowledge on the running of aristocratic estates and the tenants who lived on them was limited to what I had heard Tom speak of. He had a knack for the business of it all, whether he wanted to admit it or not and knew when and where to put the money when it was needed. Clearly my former brother in law did not have the same sense.

"You said David's father had always intended to leave the money to him, why is that? Why leave it to a younger son?" David had never let on that he knew this either, but I kept that part to myself.

"The present Duke has always been reckless with his finances." The words and information now flowed freely it seemed. "He does not have a mind for business and always preferred to spend money rather than make it. The title was always going to be his, there was nothing anyone could do to change that, but that did not mean the money had to go to him."

"What will he do when he loses it all? He had a family David said. A wife, children, what will they do? What will his sons inherit?"

"Again, I could not say."

"And the blackmail? Why do all of this if I could never give the money back to him?"

"His plan was to marry you to someone he could control and thus control the money. I do not know to who, only that that was his plan."

Mr. Barrow and I left soon after that, realizing we had gathered all of the information we could from Sir Richard. From there we took a car to the train station and started the journey to Somerset. The conversation and information I had gathered from Sir Richard had left a heavy stone of apprehension in my stomach, but though I still felt myself wavering, I knew confronting The Duke was the only way to stop this madness and keep my family safe.

And that, was all that I needed to know then.