Epilogue: Chapter 20
5 weeks later
Late January, 1939
Tom stood in the graveyard with his son in his arms staring as the undertaker shovelled dirt into the new grave. He wiped a tear from his eye but one had already fallen off of his chin onto his son's tiny face.
The baby whimpered a bit and he leaned down to kiss the face. That quieted him a bit. Jack had grown very well since his birth and was thriving nicely, and was such a joy to everyone. His christening had been the week earlier and it had been a much happier occasion than the day current. The week had transitioned from the celebration of a new life to the mourning of the end of one.
Tom couldn't handle the sound of the dirt hitting the wooden coffin anymore so he took a few steps back and looked around. Everyone else was gone. There was a tea being served for the family at Crawley House and he had promised he would be there shortly. There was just one more grave he wanted to stop at before he headed back to the gathering of the people who had loved the departed woman so very much.
He walked slowly to the grave of his first wife and knelt down beside it with his son still tucked into his arms.
“Hello my darling.” He spoke it quietly though there was no one around except the undertaker and he was listening.
He wasn't sure what to say next but he always thought that Sybil could hear him when he was there. He wasn't sure why he felt that way, but her presence was always strong at her grave. He laid the baby down on the dry, wintery grass and wiped his eyes again.
“I just wanted you to meet Jack. He's my son. And he is as great a joy as Sybbie was to me. I just wanted to show you how happy I am finally. It was a long wait and I never stopped loving you. I never will, I just had to move on. I hope you know that and understand.”
The baby looked up at something and Tom could have sworn he had a tiny smile on his face. He smiled himself to see it.
The slightest gust of wind blew across them then and Tom felt gooseflesh rise on his skin. Like had happened once before, a tiny white feather fluttered down and landed near Jack's head. He felt it was a message from Sybil that she was happy for him. He picked up the feather and tucked it into his pocket and looked up and smiled.
“I love you.” He said it to the sky. Another feather drifted down and he watched it hit the headstone and fall gently to the ground. He left that one there.
He knelt for a few minutes longer and decided that Jack must be getting hungry. The baby was starting to fuss just a tiny bit, the only time he ever did was when he was hungry. Tom stood up with his son, tucked him in his arms comfortably and started walking back to Crawley house.
He passed a few of the village folk who all stopped to offer him their condolences of the loss. She had been a great woman, and Tom agreed. She would be missed terribly.
When he entered the house he looked around for one person immediately. Most of the Crawley family was there and they all greeted him with a reserved hello. The mood was sombre, as it should have been. Cora and Robert were sitting in the parlour with George in between them. He had taken the passing particularly hard. He and Isobel had been so close and he had been devastated when his Grandmother had passed in her sleep a few days after the christening.
Tom would never forget what the old woman had done for he and his family. Jack and Lily would probably not be there had she not helped Lily through the difficult labour. He owed her everything and her passing had hit him hard as well. He continued walking through the house looking for his wife. Mary was standing near the kitchen and directed him upstairs. Lily had gone to lay down, she was still quite fatigued from her experience at Christmas but was getting better all the time.
He knocked gently on the guest room door and opened it just a crack. Lily was laying on the bed facing the door but her eyes were closed. He went in and shut the door behind him. He sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned down to kiss her tenderly on the cheek. She smiled gently and opened one eye.
“I'm sorry to wake you, but Jack is hungry.” He smiled down at her and she sat up a little on the bed and reached for their son.
“I knew you'd be back soon.” Tom watched her as she fed their son. The birth had been so difficult for her and she had been very sick for weeks afterwards but she seemed to be on the mend now. She smiled at him again and reached for his hand. “What are you thinking?”
“I was just thinking about how happy you have made me. I never thought I would feel the joy of life again after Sybil died, but you came into my life and now I can't imagine it any other way. And now we have Jack and I can't tell you how happy I am. Only to make sure you are happy too.” He squeezed her hand that was holding his.
“I can tell. You have a look on your face that I haven't seen much in the past few months, but I can see that you are happy, and that makes me happy. You look calmer and happier than before and I'm proud of you. We have to enjoy life, not be worried by it. Promise me?” Her blue eyes were glossy with potential tears and his matched hers.
“I promise. I will always worry some, but I won't let it control me anymore. You just need to stop worrying me.” He laughed.
Lily smirked and reached out to hook her hand behind his neck and she pulled him close. Their lips met in a tender kiss that went on for longer than either of them meant for initially. They both smiled at each other lovingly and knew that their lives would be so wonderful in the next months and years. They had each other, and now they had Jack as well to bind them together for as long as they lived.
Tom pulled away eventually and watched as she took the swaddling off of Jack. He took his son and patted his back gently and they both just stared at him. The baby looked back, his blue eyes were the same as Lily's and Tom smiled at the thought of seeing those eyes in his son.
Someone knocked at the door and Tom called out for them to enter. Sybbie poked her head in.
“Are you both decent?” She smiled at them all.
“Yes. Come in darling.” Tom gestured for his daughter to join them on the bed.
She kissed her father on the cheek and took the baby from him. She held her little brother resting against her bent legs and she bounced him gently and laughed.
“You are getting big!” The parents laughed as Sybbie adored her brother.
They all watched in surprise as Jack smiled his first real smile, the tiniest little dimple appearing on his cheek as he focused on his sister. The bond between them cemented for life as Sybbie completely fell in the love with the little boy then and swore silently to protect him in every way she could.
Jack Branson was one well-loved little addition to their family.
Tom asked his daughter as she continued coo at the baby,
“Are you ready to go away to school?” His face tried to cover his worry about his daughter leaving home for the first time. They both saw through his attempt as he hid nothing from the women in his life. Lily squeezed his hand and Sybbie smiled at him.
“I'm nervous, but excited. I'm going to miss you so much.” Sybbie looked so much like her mother when Tom had first met her that a tear came to his eye.
“I'm going to miss you too. More than you will ever know, but I wish you so much love and luck as you start your life. I can't wait to see what you do with it but I know you will be fantastic.” Tom smiled tenderly at the young woman who had grown up so fast that it only seemed like yesterday sometimes that she had been as small as her little brother.
“I'm only going because I know you are in good hands. I know you are happy and I won't have to worry about you.” Sybbie smiled at her step-mother. “Thank you Lily. I know you will take care of my dad and he will be loved.”
Lily hugged Sybbie, left her arm around her shoulders and rested her head on the younger woman's shoulder.
“I will love him until the end of my life. You have my word. He will be taken care of.” Lily smiled at Tom. “You go live your life now. He's in good hands.”
They all watched Jack in awe as he continued to stare at Sybbie. Despite the sad day, they all sat there on that bed and knew that they must never take life for granted. It was too short to not follow their dreams and they all thought about the years that would follow and what would become of them all, The bond of family and love would hold them together no matter what. Of that they were sure.
Tom noticed that Lily was looking tired so he took the baby from Sybbie and motioned for his daughter that they should leave the new mother for a well deserved nap. He kissed her on the forehead in an affectionate peck and Lily was already closing her eyes with a smile on her face.
Tom and Sybbie and Jack left the room and made their way back downstairs to join the mourners. Everyone was telling stories of the woman who had so greatly touched thier lives over the years. Her passing had been quick and painless, the doctors suspected her heart had just stopped beating as she slept, and for that everyone was grateful. She would be missed. By none more than her Grandson who had grown so close to her over the past year.
Tom sat down next to George on the sofa and shifted his son in his arms. George looked over at the baby and smiled for the first time all day. He reached out to stroke the baby's head.
“How is my Godson? He looks bigger than last time I saw him.” The young man's eyes wee red and swollen but it only made the blueness of them seem more vivid.
“He's great.” Tom just looked at his son, as he did often.
“How are you holding up?” Tom asked his nephew.
“I'm sad. But tomorrow is a new day. With new plans. I know my grandmother has gone to be with my father and she's probably so happy now. Thinking of that makes me feel better. George's words were very wise for his young age.
Tom couldn't help but wonder what the next years would bring for the youngest Crawley man as well. He would accomplish great things, of that Tom was sure.
“What are your plans now?” Tom didn't have to say out loud, now that Isobel was gone.
George looked at his Uncle for a time and then looked around the room.
“There is something I have been thinking of. It would involve James and I but we need your help.”
“What would that be?” Tom was intrigued, especially by the look on George's face.
“I was thinking we could turn this house into a care home for seniors who are afflicted with the same illness as my grandmother. I've spoken to the nurse, she would be willing to stay on. I think it would be wonderful for families to know that their loved ones are being well taken care of in a nice home.” George watched Tom's face as he spoke to see what his uncle thought of his idea.
“That is a brilliant plan.” Tom looked so proud of his nephew. “But how does this involve James?”
George grinned slightly.
“I was hoping we could train him to be the facilitator. It would be a decent job for him, I think he would be good at it. And it would a decent career for a man worthy of marrying your daughter. Don't you think?” George laughed as the look on Tom's face clearly showed he thought it was a delightful plan. “You letting him stay In Lily's old cottage will help, he'll be near, and he can save some money for the wedding.”
Tom was thinking.
“We can pay him a respectful salary, the estate can afford it.” Tom looked back down at the baby who was falling asleep on his father's knee.
“See? It works out for everyone!” George sat on the edge of his seat.
“Alright. Tomorrow I will discuss this with Lord Grantham and we'll get the plans started. You're a very good man George Crawley. And we just have to make sure we don't pay him too good of a salary so it takes him a few years to save up for a wedding.” Tom chuckled. So did George.
Sybbie came into the room then and took the baby from her father. She looked from George to her Dad as she settled the sleeping boy in her arms.
“What are you two on about?” She looked suspicious.
“Just making sure your future is secure.” Tom winked at his daughter. George snickered.
“As long as it involves James, I won't argue with what you are scheming.” Sybbie smiled.
The look on her face when she mentioned James let her father know that she was committed to making sure the former Irish Chauffeur was part of her future and that she cared for him very deeply. The next years would be interesting.
Whatever they may hold.
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