Hibernian letters – Part 1: Prologue


imageFandom: Downton Abbey
Genre : General, Epistolary, Friendship,
Characters: Tom Branson, Original Character
Synopsis: Before he had Sybil as a confidant, had Branson anyone back home to confide in? And before he arrived at Downton? Let’s say that he had someone in his family who partly understood him and shared some of his concerns. This will lead to interesting exchange of letters through the years, and sometimes a few one-to-one conversations. Series of one-shots.

.Part 1 – Prologue

  1912, Ireland.

“Tom! Don’t leave your cousin stand here all by herself… Go and ask her for a dance!”

“But mummy–” said-Tom tried to drawlingly plead with his mother.

“No ‘but’, m’lad” a kind-faced woman in her late forties intervened between mother and son. “Your mum is right: young people are to enjoy themselves among themselves; you’d rather go and spend time with Joan than keep company to grey heads like us and let her be a wallflower”

“Your hair is not grey at all, cousin Janet” Tom playfully retorted straight off, “I even doubt I’ve ever seen a single thread of silver on that raven-black head of yours!”

“My, my! Isn’t this young man a well-mannered charmer to the middle-aged ladies?” she rhetorically asked the lad’s mother, laughing. “You’ve brought him up well! You can be proud…”

“I am,” her cousin fondly answered. Then she turned to her grinning son: “Don’t let that go to your head, you!” She went back to her first cousin: “But if you ask me, I’ll be even prouder when he drops these foolish ideas of his, stops attending these rallies, and finally marries a nice–”

“MUMMY!” he indignantly cried out, awfully embarrassed.

“Oh, come on, we’re just among ourselves here, there’s nothing to be blushing about, sonny!”

“I’m NOT blushing!” vehemently stated a reddening Tom Branson. “As for my politics, don’t expect me to ever let go of them, unless we’re finally living in a fair and equal socialist world.”

“Good luck with that!” ironically wished his cousin Janet. She then turned to Tom’s mother: “I swear, you’d think you’re listening to Joan and all her fanciful nonsense…” the poor mother sighed. “No wonder nobody is ask–”

“Tom” his mother cut off with a smile, “go and dance with Joan” she demanded in a no-nonsense tone. And all the while smiling politely. He really should learn that trick of hers, it could prove useful.

Anyway, he knew this tone well enough to know there was nothing to do but comply, so he crossed the room towards his eighteen-years-old second-cousin, who was absent-mindedly nursing a drink while looking at the groom – her brother – and the bride try some sort of two-step in the middle of the room.

“Hey” greeted Tom with a smile, rather brightly.

“Hey Tom, are you enjoying yourself?” she gleefully smiled back.

His own smile faltered a bit. “Yeah, that’s nice. And I’m very happy for Pierce. And for… err, what’s her name, already?”

“Glenda” Joan provided.

“Yeah, sorry, ‘Glenda’. It suddenly slipped my mind,” Tom sheepishly admitted. “D’you know her well?”

“Oh, we’ve all known her forever” Joan answered. “I like her. She’s a good person, has a good heart. She’s the daughter of one of dad’s co-workers. We grew up in the same neighbourhood, went to school together. Mum and dad were rather thrilled; they’re all for ‘breeding among people we know’. Same world, no bad surprise and all…”

“Hmm” Tom wordlessly acknowledged his understanding of what she was implying. “Talking about that…” he began, then stopped. He suddenly looked uncomfortable and awkwardly ran an unsteady hand in his hair, making a funny mess of it.

His young cousin arched an interrogative eyebrow while sipping her drink.

“Our mums want me to ask you to dance” he blurted out.

She let out a small chuckle.

“Very subtle, isn’t it?” she pointed out.

“I’m afraid subtlety is the least of their concern in that matter” he answered, rather dejectedly. Through this answer, she could nearly hear him roll his eyes. And she was herself fighting the urge to do the same.

“Well,” she told him, “I don’t dance anyway”. Her eyes went back to her brother and her brand new sister-in-law, a fond smile playing at her lips.

“Please…” Tom nearly begged, “Otherwise mum will read me the riot act!”

“But I don’t dance, I’ve never really learned nor practised much!” she argued.

“Well, that makes two of us, then!” he answered, holding his right hand to her while gesturing to the dance area with his left one. “Please…” he added

She peeked a look at her mother and cousin standing at the opposite side of the room and found both of them looking straight in their direction.

“Alright,” Joan agreed, accepting his proffered hand and taking it in hers, “at least as long as I’m dancing with you – or rather trying to – she won’t try to send me anyone else…”

“My, my, I’ll try not to let your high praises go straight to my head!” Tom joked.

“Oh, come on, y’know what I mean…” she said while setting her other hand on his shoulder. “Besides, I don’t think you need any praise going to that already swelled head of yours. I know you already think very highly of yourself – don’t even try to deny it, Mr I-may-be-a-servant-but-I’ve-already-read-thrice-as-much-books-as-my-boss!”

“And why would I deny it, if I’m right?” he asked, playfully faking self-righteousness.

“As I said: cheeky.”

“Not that you’re not that way yourself, miss Being-a-housemaid-is-not-intellectually-challenging-enough-for-me!”

“Fair enough, I guess,” she admitted. “Let’s call it a score draw, then.”

“So… truce?” he asked.

“Truce” she confirmed.

“Then why are you tormenting my poor feet and fancy shoes, crushing them every three steps?”

“Sorry,” she said, not sounding sorry in the least. “Warned ya I’m a terrible dancer.”

“I thought you were exaggerating,” he explained, “because you didn’t want to play along your mother’s plans.”

“Well I don’t want to play along her plans. And I can’t dance either. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Whirling around with his partner in his arms, Tom caught a glimpse of his mother and cousin Janet eyeing them attentively. He sighed. From the look Joan gave him, she too had noticed the two eager mothers, and was equally pissed by it.

“Yeah,” Tom said, “it’s rather annoying to have them breath on our necks like that…”

“You can say that again!” Joan said, seconding his thought. She frowned and looked at him, then brightened: “But still, I’m glad you were able to come today, though…” she went on. “And I suspect mummy is even more glad about it,” she added, giggling. “How did you manage that?”

“Well,” Tom answered, “I’ve been lucky. And the mistress is really a nice lady: she agreed to give me the day off. Said she didn’t plan to go anywhere today nor tonight, so she could spare her chauffeur anyway. I’m taking the first train tomorrow: the night will be short, but with some luck I’ll be able to grab one hour of catnap in the afternoon.”

“Let me guess, you charmed her with those smiles and sweet-talking of yours, didn’t you?”

“Oh, what d’you imagine? Told ya, she’s just a nice and kind old lady. And what about you? How did you manage to escape our lives of servantship for today?”

“Not as easily as you did, if you may know. But I repeatedly told the housekeeper that a brother’s wedding was a very important event and one that didn’t happen every other day. And once I convinced her, I had to do it again with the butler. Well, you know him, you’ve briefly worked there too. And he finally agreed to give me the afternoon and the night off. Of course I inadvertently forgot to make clear how many siblings I have…”

“So… until the next wedding?” Tom asked.

“As long as it’s not ours!” Joan answered, laughing.

Tom made a face. She swatted his chest: “Hey! That’s not very flattering towards me!”

“Well,” Tom retorted “you started it!”

They burst out laughing. Then, he casted a glance over her shoulder: “Careful, the mothers look pleased!”

“Well, isn’t that what you wanted? You seemed to be rather afraid of yours, earlier.”

“I’m not afraid”, he replied, indignant.

“Oh! Then it was a very good imitation of it!” she teased him.

She then seemed to think a bit, frowning. “But this may be a thing…” she mused. “We could seem to… err… appreciate each other, so that they… y’know…”

“But we do appreciate each other!” he asserted. “Even though we’re not seeing much of each other anymore, now. Haven’t for some years. But–”

“Yes of course we do, but… not in that sense, I mean,” she clarified. “Anyway, we could somehow have an understanding, there…”

“An understanding…?” Tom repeated, having an inkling of what she meant.

“Yeah, to keep any prying and matchmaking parent at bay: we appear to simply appreciate each other, enough to prevent them from feeling the need to throw any other guy, or girl, in our way, but not too much in order to avoid making them too eager or pressing…”

“Entertaining the silent flicker of hope, but not making them too excited, that’s the idea?”

“My thought exactly, Mr Branson.”

“That’s a fine line you’re about to make us walk on, miss Kinsell. I hope you’re aware of that!”

“Well, if it can spare us a few months or years of nagging… give us a few months or years of peace… I’m ready to give it a try” Joan offered.

“Yeah… well… it’s not too much trouble anyway, so it can be worth it. And the company won’t be that bad!” Tom added.

“Well, thank you!” she replied in a playfully flattered tone.

“No,” he laughed, “I meant me!”

“Oh, you bloody smug bugger!” she exclaimed, a bit too loud maybe, because a couple dancing nearby turned to her. She smacked his chest. He made a show of faking hurt and indignation.

“But you’re right,” she went on smiling, “the company wouldn’t be that bad…”

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