“I think it’s awful, the way she’s treated you.”
Matthew looked up.
“Just for the record.”
He smiled slightly – Sibyl was the youngest in so many ways, wide-eyed, idealistic, romantic. “Thank you. I’ve hardly been a paragon of virtue myself, but...”
“It doesn’t excuse her. I love my sister, deeply, but I do despair of her.” Sibyl sighed, shaking her head.
He stood beside her, offering his arm, which she took. “Funny, my feelings run much the same.”
She laughed. “Do you think you’ll marry, one day?”
He didn’t answer, simply looking ahead as they walked further into the grounds, into the quiet. Sybil was about to take this as her answer and bring up a new topic when he finally spoke;
“I’ll marry. But I don’t know who I’ll marry.”
She turned to him, watching his face – he was betraying nothing.
“What about you?” He turned to face her, something of a wicked glint in his eye and a smirk appearing across his lips. “Will you marry?”
She looked away, not able to meet his eyes for this, looking over in the vague direction of where the chauffeur lived. “I suppose I’ll have to.”
He followed her gaze. “I’m presuming you don’t think you’ll marry the man you want to.”
She looked down, letting her blushing cheeks answer for her.
“I don’t think any of us will get what we want.” He replied thoughtfully.
She looked up again, and if there was something distant in her eyes he didn’t comment on it. “Perhaps I could go to university. I’d rather like an education.” She glanced at him, smiling thoughtfully. “What do you think?”
“I think you’d make a fine educated woman. I know my mother would be on your side, for what it’s worth.”
“It's worth a lot. Your mother is a right-thinking woman; I’m very fond of her.”
“She’s rather fond of you, too – I think there are moments when she wishes that...” He cast a sidelong glance at Sibyl, at their linked arms. She was blushing again, but refusing to speak. He’d said too much. “She raised me well, if I say so myself.”
“I think you have every right to.” Sibyl replied simply, looking at the grounds around them. “I suppose we should be getting back to the garden party. I know that you were leaving, but – “
“Ah, yes, I was about to borrow your Branson.”
Matthew grinned at her mischievously. “He’s your driver, after all, not mine. Interesting ideas, focussed on social change. I can’t help but wonder what his motivations are.”
“He’s an idealist, a socialist – he wants to go into politics, and it’s – “
“I think you’re missing his main motivation.” Matthew whispered in her ear, noting the way the chauffeur was looking at him. He released her arm. “Thank you, Sibyl, you’ve been a great comfort. I should really pass my regards to your father.”
She nodded, watching him go, an odd sensation in her stomach.
In the next few moments, her world – and everybody else’s – would turn upside down as her father announced to those gathered that they were at war. Her thoughts would immediately go to Branson, and those few brief moments with Matthew would mean next to nothing.
There would be moments when Matthew would consider the three Crawley sisters – surveying those churches with Edith, nights that felt as if they should last forever talking to Mary, and those moments in the grounds with Sybil. He cared for them all, in different, strange ways, and when he heard the news of war he’d realised how much.
It would’ve been a lie to say that he hadn’t thought of Sybil like that again – even on his wedding day, he’d met the eyes of the bridesmaid for longer than necessary, longer than he should’ve done.
She’d returned his look, smiled demurely, and for a moment they both wondered what could have been.
And then, of course, he saw his bride, and the moment passed – as moments do, as moments must.
You couldn’t live in a moment forever.