Christmas Eve, 1938
Barrow was setting a tray of food on the hutch beside the table as he watched the family start to trickle into the dining room for their first meal of the day. It was Christmas Eve and every who was immediate family was in the house to celebrate the festive season. The house was bustling and beautiful and the joy of the Christmas season had affected them all. The tone of happiness in the house was palpable. The day would spent playing games and making merry and the night would be full of dancing and drinking and more making of merry.
Downstairs was as busy as they had ever been and they were relishing in the season as much as the upstairs was. The food preparation had begun the day before and they were all looking forward to their day off the following day. After dinner was served they would be free to celebrate amongst themselves of their own accord. The day could not go fast enough.
Mary, Tony and their girls came into the room and greeted Edith and her husband who were already seated. Marigold had come down with her mother, but sat on the opposite side of the table from her. They had spoken already that morning of Edith's desire for Marigold to return again to Italy with her family. Marigold did not want to go, she loved being at Downton Abbey and the two of them had quarrelled. It would be resolved in time, but Marigold was not in a good humour. She may have been the only one.
Violet, Charlotte and Elizabeth sat at the small table that had been set up for them in the dining room and the three of them schemed of what their adventures would be while exploring the huge house later in the day. Elizabeth wanted to play around the tree. They had decorated it the previous day and she was obsessed with the dangling ornaments that hung off of it. Her sister and her cousin agreed to do that for awhile, but then they would have some real fun. Barrow set three plates of food in front of the girls and they ate quickly hoping to get their adventures on the go.
As Robert and Cora entered the room, their family welcomed them and Cora went to her seat at the table She didn't normally eat breakfast in the dining room, but she was so overjoyed to have her family there that she had dressed early to come downstairs.
Barrow intercepted the Earl before he sat down and pulled him away to the far end of the room to have a word with him about a matter that had been brought to his attention early that morning. The two men spoke for some time, and the family wondered if they should go ahead and serve their plates. Robert finally approached the table, rested his hands on the back of his chair for a moment and then bid them to continue without him. There was something he had to take care of immediately and he left the room with no further word.
“Where is Sybbie? Should we wait for her?” Edith asked to one in particular.
“I think she went to say hello to O'Malley. He was supposed to be back this morning from a visit with his family.” Marigold told her mother.
Cora had a strange expression her face as she told everyone to go ahead and eat. She had wondered for weeks if there was something happening between the chauffeur and her granddaughter. And Sybbie had been moping around for the past week while O'Malley was visiting his family in Ireland. She had hoped to have a chance to talk to Sybbie about it, but the opportunity hadn't yet presented itself.
The girl that she had just been thinking about came into the room then and Cora gasped. Sybbie looked like she had hardly slept and her eyes were swollen like she had been crying. There were no tears now, but the evidence of their recent departure from her eyes was obvious. Sybbie sat quietly at the table after politely saying good morning to her family. Cora paused before raising to fill herself a plate and caught Sybbie's eye.
“Are you alright my darling?” She asked Sybbie with compassion in her eyes. The girl shrugged and looked away. “Is it something to do with O'Malley?”
Sybbie's eyes shot wide open and she stared hard at her Granny.
“Yes. He gave his notice this morning. He's leaving to go back to Dublin this evening and we will likely never see him again.” The young woman stood up, not knowing who to lash out at. And she could tell of no one why she was upset so she ran out of the room. A few eyes followed her, but no one knew what had just happened. Cora just sighed. That was not the reaction of a girl who had simply been fond of the chauffeur. There had been more.
“She is too much like her mother sometimes. So dramatic.” Mary watched her go and pitied her just a bit. They all sat down to enjoy their meal, not knowing the tender heart of Sybbie had just been broken.
Robert came back in, served himself a plate and sat down without saying a word. They did hear a set of familiar voices in the hall and Mary stood up and went to the door.
“Tom, Lily we're just having some breakfast. Please come and join us.” She waited while the voices got closer and everyone turned their heads and stopped eating to greet the surprise. The couple weren't expected until later in the day.
“Good morning.” Tom greeted everyone with his arm around his very pregnant wife. “I apologize that we're early, but it's snowing so badly out I thought we'd come before we weren't able too.”
No one minded one bit and they were greeted happily by the family. The only one who didn't greet them was Robert. He sat eating from his plate while the couple made room at the table. Lily started chatting with Marigold who was sitting beside her and didn't notice Lord Grantham's silence but Tom did. He had barely sat down with a plate of food after he had served his wife before Robert glared at him across the table. Tom looked confused.
“When were you going to tell me?” Robert's eyes were dark and narrowed.
“Tell you what Sir? I don't know what you mean.” Tom genuinely was confused as to why the Earl was mad at him.
“When were you going to tell me that your daughter and the chauffeur employed by this house were romantically involved with one another. Why am I always the last one to find these things out?”
Tom dropped his fork onto his plate in complete shock. The clatter of it drew the attention of everyone around the table and they all sat looking from Robert to Tom and back again. It was obvious that Tom had not known, and even Robert came to that conclusion and regretted his tactlessness.
Tom stood up.
“Where is Sybbie?” He looked at Marigold especially, she would know all of Sybbie's hiding places. Edith's daughter just shrugged at him.
“She ran out of here not fifteen minutes ago, quite upset about something.” It was Mary who spoke to her former brother in law.
Tom flew from the room after his daughter and left the rest of them sitting there in complete shock. Lily tried to stand up, but she was needing some help in her gravid condition. Tony stood up to help her out of her chair and she followed after her husband at a much slower pace. She had really wished that O'Malley had told Tom before it came to this. Now it was just going to be a problem. She could help calm Tom down and everyone knew it.
“It seems she is more like her mother than any of us knew,” Mary spoke it and took another bite from her plate. She glanced sideways at her husband who gave her a disapproving look but also covered a slight smile with his napkin.
“Well, O'Malley gave his notice this morning and has already left the house, so I think it will turn out to be nothing in the end,” Robert spoke and cut the silence of the room.
“Oh Robert. How can you be so heartless sometimes.” Cora spoke to her husband and politely excused herself from the table. Some of the merriment of the morning had already dissipated.
The rest of the family finished breakfast in silence and excused themselves to avoid the tension clearly emanating from the head of the house.
Tom had looked everywhere except one place. He entered the garage of the house and brushed some of the snow from his shoulders. It was falling heavier outside and the wind was picking up. Quite a nasty blizzard was settling on top of them and he was glad no one had to travel. George and Isobel were somewhere upstairs and everyone was where they should be. He heard the muffled sobs of his daughter before he saw her. She was tucked in behind her car and the back wall of the structure. When she saw her father standing there, she wanted nothing more than to run into his arms and be comforted, but she wasn't sure she could anymore. Tom crouched down in front of her.
“Why didn't you tell me?” His eyes had tears in them. He wasn't mad, he seemed more hurt.
“Because you were so worried about Lily and the baby I didn’t want to add more to your worry-load.” Sybbie broke out in tears again. This time Tom took her in his arms and held her.
“So then, why are you so upset?” He asked her, his mouth close to her ear.
“Because I thought James and I had something special, but he came back this morning from visiting his family and told me we could never be together. Out of the blue, he left. He's gone Dad.” Her last words were barely audible as she lost herself to her tears.
“Do you love him? I mean, really love him? It's more than just a teenage fancy?” Tom held his daughter back so he could look into her eyes. He could see her sincerity. He always knew when she was fibbing. The pain in her eyes was more than just an adolescent crush. She truly did love the young man, and Tom had missed it until now.
“I thought we would get married.” Sybbie spoke through her sobs, her shoulders shaking. Tom looked up and he saw Lily approaching where they were. He looked to her gratefully.
“Why did he leave then? Was he afraid of the reaction of everyone in the house?” Tom helped Sybbie up to her feet and she wrapped her arms around her father.
“He just said his family did not approve and then he said goodbye. He's gone to catch the train.”
“Well, I can still catch him then. No man breaks the heart of my daughter in such a way with such a pitiful excuse. I'll go get him and we can have a proper talk.” Tom gestured for Lily to take his place at Sybbie's side. He ran back into the house to get his overcoat and his hat and was back in a flash.
“You two stay here, and I'll be back with some answers in just a while.” He kissed each of the women on the cheek and watched as they sat in one of the cars. Sybbie couldn't face the family inside yet and Lily would stay with her, but she needed to sit.
He jumped in the car that belonged to Sybbie, that she had been learning to drive with the help of O'Malley and her father, and backed out of the garage carefully. Sybbie went to shut the big doors after him as the snow flew inside the structure and then crawled back into the car with her step-mother. Lily wrapped her arms around the girl and let her cry.
“Thank you for not telling my dad. I wish we had told him earlier, now he's so upset.” Sybbie had finally stopped sobbing, but had the occasional shudder from her emotions.
“You should have told him. You are right. It wasn't my place, but hopefully we can get this straightened out. You and James are very well suited for one another. If you truly love each other, you'll find a way to make it work.” Lily's words sunk in to the girl. It was exactly what she needed. Sybbie wouldn't have responded well to a scolding, she needed to hear that what she had done was not wrong, the secret of it was wrong. Now people were hurt. Including herself.
Tom drove carefully along the roads. The snow was covering them quickly and the car fishtailed a few times but he remained in firm control of it. His eyes were peeled for someone walking on the side of the road. When he had gone back into the house for his hat and coat, Barrow told him that O'Malley had set out on foot not all that long ago. He couldn't have gotten that far. Finally, as he neared the village he saw a snow covered figure walking up ahead. He knew it was O'Malley and pulled the car up alongside him.
O'Malley pulled back his hat a bit to look at the car until he noticed it was Tom and then he started walking faster with a fearful look in his eye.
Tom opened the window.
“Slow down man! I just want to talk!” Tom yelled over the blowing snow. O'Malley finally stopped and looked at him.
“I'm sorry Mr. Branson. For everything. I can never tell you how much.” He adjusted his hat again as he spoke to the man in the car.
“How about you get in and give it a try. You're going to freeze out here.” Tom stopped the car and O'Malley went to the other side and climbed in. He rubbed his hands together to warm them up.
Finally he looked at Tom.
“I'm sorry I never told you about Sybbie and I sir. Please don't hate me.” O'Malley looked like he had been crying as well. Or it could have been his eyes were red from the blowing snow, Tom couldn't tell for sure.
“I'm certainly trying not to hate you James. You need to convince me why I should do anything for the man who left my daughter a broken-hearted mess back at the Abbey.” Tom's eyes were fierce.
“I love your daughter very much. I am more broken-hearted than she is by what I have to do.” James sniffed.
“And what is the reason that you have to leave?” Tom leaned back in his seat and looked fully at O'Malley.
He had truthfully liked the young man from the start and had secretly wondered if Sybbie might like him as well. They would be a good match in personality, as they were both fun and charming. And fiercely loyal. Tom had never imagined in a million years that history would repeat itself so obviously but apparently it had. His daughter was too much like her mother. He never once thought that was a bad thing. Not even now.
O'Malley looked down at his shoes for a minute while he gathered his thoughts.
“Well, my family doesn't know the entire truth about the accident last year. I never told them about Kevin's plans, I wanted him to...I don't know... save face in death, especially with my Ma. It would have killed her to find out what he was. He was my brother after all.” O'Malley paused while he glanced up at the other man sitting in the car. Tom listened eagerly.
“I can respect that.” Was all Tom said, as he was sure O'Malley had more to say.
“They only know that Sybbie was driving the car when the accident happened and Kevin died as a result from that crash. They hate her. And told me I would be disowned if I married that girl.” O'Malley looked so ashamed.
Tom leaned towards him.
“Do you love her?” Tom voice was strange.
“Of course I do. My heart jumps into my throat when I see her and laments when I don't.” O'Malley wasn't sure what more he could say.
“Do you love her?” Tom asked again.
“Yes Sir, I do. I want to see her smile for the rest of her life. I want to see her succeed in all of her dreams. I want to see her go to school and become a nurse and save lives. I want to see her grow old and beautiful and I want to walk in the garden together when we're too old for anything else. She amazes me daily. I love her.”
“Then you need to make a decision right now.” Tom made sure he had the eye of the younger man. “You need to make a decision about a young woman who loves you very much as well who is heart-broken back at that house. If you walk away, you walk away forever. The Crawley family is a powerful ally to have, and we will support you. Well, I will even if they won't, but they do all have a way of coming around in the end, trust me on that one. They can be a powerful enemy as well.”
O'Malley looked shocked, and thoughtful.
“Sybbie told me how they treated you when you and her mother were courting. I was scared. I couldn't stand having both families hating me so badly.”
It was Tom's turn to think. “Like I said, they have a way of coming around in the end. Your family may come around in the end as well. Once they get to know Sybbie and what a wonderful person she is, and they know the truth. I will help you. I will help my daughter to be happy. If you are the cause of that happiness then I will accept you. If you are the cause of her heartbreak, I will destroy you. So, what is your decision?”
O'Malley and Tom stared at each other in the car. Tom wasn't blind to the happiness he had seen in his daughter lately, it was only this morning that he had discovered the true reason. It was James.
“Well, if we hurry, I can still get my job back.” O'Malley dared to smile slightly. He dared to dream.
Tom smiled too, as he started the car back up.
“If you think I'm going to let my daughter marry some chauffeur you are wrongly mistaken son.” Tom winked as he pulled the car around and headed back towards Downton Abbey.
He and James spoke about what they could do to convince his family that Sybbie had, yes, been responsible for the accident, but that Kevin had been plotting to destroy them all. Tom spoke of the diary that Kevin had kept. It had been in Lord Grantham's possession the last time he had seen it. Perhaps they could ask him to help the O'Malley family come to terms with what their son had been capable of.
The roads had gotten quite treacherous since Tom had driven them not so long ago. The snow was falling heavier now and the wind was drifting it high on the roads. Despite Tom's skill at operating a vehicle, the back tires caught in a drift and pulled the car right off the side of the road. It came to a crunching halt against an old stump and the two men caught their breaths.
They looked at each other and Tom asked,
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. I'm fine. You?” O'Malley opened the car door and got out, but he was still listening for Tom's answer.
“I'm fine except for the fact that my daughter is going to kill me for scratching her car.” Tom got out as well and both men surveyed the damage. The front grill was smashed and there was fluid spraying out onto the snow that cushioned the car in the ditch.
“She's not going to kill you. But you will never hear the end of it.” O'Malley dared to laugh.
Tom glared at him briefly, and then chuckled to himself. O'Malley did really know Sybbie quite well.
The two men started walking, they knew they were within a few kilometres of the Abbey and having no other choice, they set out.
The snowdrifts were high, sometimes going over their knees and Tom wondered if the car would have made it back anyway. The roads were becoming impassable and there seemed no end to the blizzard any time soon. As they saw the lights from the house, they both smiled at each other and picked up their pace. They covered the distance quickly and went around to the back of the house to the garage where Tom had left Lily and Sybbie a few hours before. He opened the side door and he and O'Malley stepped inside and shook off the snow from their coats. Tom noticed only Sybbie was there and saw that she didn't look at him, she looked at O'Malley. She wanted to run to him, but wasn't sure how her father would react, so she stood still.
Tom took off his hat and brushed his damp hair back from his head. He looked around. Sybbie could tell he wasn't mad, and James just smiled at her. The young man didn't want to press his luck by an open display of affection in front of her father. Not quite yet anyway.
“Where's Lily?” Tom asked his daughter once he had determined that his wife was not in the garage any longer.
“Dad.” Sybbie spoke carefully. “I don't want you to panic.”
Of course Tom started to panic.
“Where is she?” He looked at his daughter with wide open eyes.
“They've taken her upstairs. Her waters have broken.”
Tom dropped his hat where he stood and took off running towards the house. He decided that going through the servant's entrance was the fastest way upstairs so he barged in the door and ran to the stairs. Carson and Bates saw him and Carson spoke in his deep voice,
“They're looking for you upstairs.”
Tom didn't stop, he just kept running.
Bates and Carson, as well as most of the people in the house remembered the last time Tom's wife had gone into labour and every single heart went to him in their thoughts and prayers that Lily would deliver successfully.
Tom passed Lord Grantham quickly in the great hall and the older man told him what room Lily had been taken to. Tom again, said noting and kept running.
It wasn't until he opened the door to the room where he had been directed that he took a breath. The room was full of people, no one knowing quite sure what to do.
Mary, Edith and Cora sat on the bed beside Lily, who looked incredibly stressed. George, Isobel, Tony and Marigold loitered in the room as well. The mumbling of everyone drove into Tom's ear and he didn't know what to do. He saw every eye in the room, except two, look at him with pity.
The two eyes that showed no pity took charge. Memories of a career long ago, were surfacing from the depths of her mind and she knew exactly what to do,
“Everyone out except for the mother, and you. I could use your help.” Isobel pointed at Mary. She also pointed to Cora, “And you, go down to the kitchen and tell them to start boiling water. And towels and rags, We need as many of them as you can find.”
Everyone just stood looking at Isobel in shock. George clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention.
“Do as she says. She's a nurse!” Isobel's grandson looked at her proudly and prayed that her memories would hold long enough for Tom and Lily. And their child that would be there soon.
Everyone who had been told to clear the room left, leaving Tom standing there, still dripping from being in the snow, looking shell-shocked.
Lily started to cry out and he snapped back to reality. He practically jumped to hold her hand and once he made contact she looked at him panicked.
“I'm so sorry Tom. It's too early.” Her blue eyes were dark, from the pain of the contraction and the fear of the result.
“It's okay sweetheart. It's not that early. George was born early and look at him now. Over six feet tall and strong as an ox. We'll all be okay.” He was convincing even himself as he spoke calmly to her.
The contraction subsided and Isobel came to her side.
“I'm going to have a look and see where you are.” Isobel spoke and Tom averted his eyes as Isobel and Mary removed Lily from her clothing and wrapped a sheet around her to cover some of her modesty. She was going to lose some shortly, it was the least they could do.
Isobel covered Lily back with the sheet and approached her from the side again.
“You still have a few hours to go by the looks of it.” She smiled warmly at the expectant mother, trying to calm her down. “I'm sorry dear, I don't remember your name.”
“I'm Lily, and this is my husband Tom.” Lily introduced herself to the woman she had known for a year now.
“It's a pleasure to meet you. I've delivered many babies before so you can be assured that I know what I'm doing. We'll get you through this just fine.” Isobel smiled again and filled a glass of water for Lily from the pitcher beside the bed.
There was a knocking at the door and Mary went to see who it was. Tom overheard George's voice speaking hurriedly and desperate. Mary shut the door and walked too slowly back to the bed. Her face looked too calm.
“What is it?” Tom asked Mary.
“I don't mean to alarm either of you, but the storm has knocked down the telephone lines. We can't get through to the doctor.” Mary's face went pale.
“Can we drive to town then?” It was Lily who asked, her voice already sounded scared.
“I just came back, the roads can't be driven on. It's not possible.” Tom looked at his wife.
They both just stared into each other. This was not how this was supposed to be. Tom had promised she would have the best doctors when she delivered and now all she had was a nurse with faltering memories and a woman who had given birth to three of her own. What chance did they have?