It’s a shut-up flat they find themselves in, only two streets over from the Bransons’ own. Sybil doesn’t like staying so close by; if the police do come for her, she says, surely they shan’t have far to look.
“That’s why it’s safe,” Thomas explains. “Who’d think you’d stay so close?” Well, anyone might who understood the condition Sybil is in. Safety’s a nice argument, but the truth is, Thomas doesn’t like to take Sybil any farther than he has to, and not just because the sight of a woman nine months’ pregnant scurrying through the streets is so dangerously memorable.
“They can’t catch me, Thomas,” Sybil pleads. “They’ll use me to blackmail Tom into giving himself up, and he mustn’t.”
“Now you give a care for your own preservation,” Thomas says. “Now when it’s Tom’s head on the line.”
Sybil only smiles. She’s impervious to all Thomas’s barbs; she always has been. Not that he’s sharpened the ones he’s aimed her way, not for a long time now.
She looks a little less weary once she’s settled on someone’s dustcloth-draped chair. Her coat’s pulled hard around her. They dare not start a fire in the grate; someone’s bound to come looking if they do. “I’ll see if there are any blankets packed away somewhere,” Thomas tells her.
A person might say it’s natural, a man who used to be a footman feeling uneasy when his hands are still. Most days Thomas would laugh their face. He’s well fit for a life of leisure, if only the world saw fit to grant it to him.
This isn’t most days, though. Tom’s out there somewhere, idiot patriot that he is, and Sybil’s in here in Thomas’s own personal charge - If you won’t get your hands dirty, Thomas Barrow, then will you please watch over my wife?. As Thomas hunts dust-laden cupboards for something fit to grace Sybil Branson’s shoulders with, he catches himself wishing for Downton’s endless clean stacks of linens, tucked safe away from revolution and intrigue.
He shakes it off. He’s mindful of his own health, sure, but he’s come here, hasn’t he? Seeing to it the aristocracy get theirs, even if they are Irish instead of English, is more entertaining than anything happening back home.
He returns to the sitting room with the best of the blankets, and Sybil gives him a wan smile. She’s distracted, mouth pinched, and he assumes she’s thinking of Tom. “Do you want something to eat?” he asks. “We’ve got almost anything you like, as long as you like it cold.”
Sybil smiles again, but it’s a sad attempt. Thomas doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t see what there is to do for it. “I’m not hungry,” she says.
“Thomas,” Sybil says suddenly. “Tell me about something.”
“About what?” Milady, Thomas barely keeps from adding. He’s free and a serving man no longer, but old habits die hard, and he’s found they die hardest around her, despite all her efforts.
You’ve been Thomas to me as long as I’ve known you, she told him the day he arrived on the island. I can hardly begin calling you ‘Mr. Barrow’ now. You’d better call me Sybil.
“About anything,” Sybil says carelessly. “The customers at the shop, or something from the war. It doesn’t matter what.”
She’s never asked him about the war before. He’d have thought she saw quite enough of it when they both attended the hospital. Anyway, he’s got nothing to say on the matter. He tells her about the shop instead, about Mr. Grady, whom he works for, about the sentiments he hears muttered back and forth. Tom found him the job, so of course it’s a socialist establishment. Thomas sees that as rather a contradiction in terms, but he’s smart enough to mind his own thoughts on the matter.
Sybil doesn’t really seem to be listening, but whenever he trails off she gives him another wan smile and tells him to go on.
Finally they both fall to silence. Sybil’s eyes are closed, though she hardly looks relaxed enough for sleep. Thomas is giving a thought to dozing a bit himself when Sybil says, “Thomas,” she says. “I’m going to have the baby.”
“That you are,” Thomas agrees heartily. He hopes she won’t need much more soothing than that; this is not an area of Thomas Barrow’s expertise.
“No, I mean now.” She has her hands wrapped underneath her belly, and it’s when he notices that that Thomas takes her meaning.
“Oh, no,” he assures her. “You’ll want to wait for Tom. And who’s that doctor you said you wanted to come round? Shaughnessy, was it?”
She laughs. It’s a short, breathy sound that Thomas doesn’t like in the least. “I’d like that, yes. But I don’t have Tom, and I shan’t have Dr. Shaughnessy, either, because I’m secreted away in someone else’s flat while my husband hides from the police, and I dare not show my face. I haven’t got anyone, Thomas, except you.”
“Don’t say that, Sybil,” he says feebly.
Sybil doesn’t answer. She takes in a sharp breath, and her eyes squeeze shut. When the moment passes, she opens them again. “It’s all right, I’ve read books. I thought perhaps this would happen. I know the gist of it.”
“Well, that’s all right, then,” Thomas says. “Let’s hope this baby’s read the same books you have.”
“If I get into real trouble, you’ll have to fetch someone,” Sybil says. Her eyes don’t meet his, and for the first time since she rang Thomas with the news of the hunt for Tom, she looks frightened.
“That I will, because your husband won’t thank me if you escape the police only to die in childbirth.”
She rolls her eyes. “I’m not going to die, Thomas. Women have been doing this for thousands of years.”
“Yeah, and dying of it, too,” Thomas mutters under his breath.
“But you won’t leave me, will you?” She reaches out and grasps his hand.
“What, and leave Tom Branson’s wife to suffer on her own? I’d be the deadest man in Ireland.”
By her smile, she doesn’t believe a word of it. It’s all right. Thomas has long made peace with the fact that Sybil Branson believes less than half of what he says.
It’s a long night. Thomas gets her to the flat’s lone bedroom, where the bed still has a mattress, thank God. He keeps her warm as best he can; he wipes her brow and gives her sips of water from the canteen. Mostly he holds her hand as she strains through each contraction and then lies back against the bed frame, breath heaving.
“Don’t ever have a baby, Thomas,” Sybil says breathlessly after a particularly hard spell. “I strongly advise against it.”
“I’ll have you know I’m a free man now,” Thomas says. “I’ll do as I like.”
Sybil laughs out loud, and then she gasps with another pain. When it’s over, she says, “They’re coming closer together now, I think.”
Thomas has noticed. It’s imminent now, he supposes, and staunchly ignores whatever terror might want to bubble up in him.
“You know,” Sybil says, “at some point I’ll need you to look down there and see everything’s all right.”
“I will not,” Thomas says flatly.
“I can’t very well see for myself, now, can I?” While Thomas is still collecting himself over this latest development, Sybil adds, “Haven’t you ever been intimate with a woman, Thomas? Surely you’ve seen one naked before.”
“What if I have?” asks Thomas, scandalized. He, Thomas Barrow, is scandalized. Sybil has a gift for it and no mistake; it’s a wonder that the most notorious thing she’s ever done is only run off with the chauffeur.
“I mean, you’re quite handsome,” she continues. “I should think you’d have had the chance, if you wanted it.”
“Well, I haven’t been so inclined,” Thomas mutters, fidgeting at his coat.
“Mm,” Sybil hums. Thomas knows that sound. It’s the sound of satisfaction she makes when she’s had a suspicion confirmed. Her expression hasn’t changed, though, and her hand’s still firmly gripping his.
He hopes to God she doesn’t say anything to Tom. He and Tom get on now, rather.
When the time comes for it, Thomas doesn’t have the time to properly appreciate his discomfort at seeing Sybil Branson’s private glory. He’s too busy worrying about catching the baby she’s pushing out of it before the baby touches anything in this filthy, unkempt flat.
Sybil gives another sharp cry and one last push, and the babe is free. He scoops it up and stares at it. It is a baby, sure enough. A boy, Thomas recognizes distantly. Tom will be pleased.
Sybil directs Thomas through the process of cutting the umbilical cord and the equally messy and unpleasant activity of disposing of the afterbirth. The boy, Thomas wipes off – with his spare shirt; he fervently hopes this manhunt is called off soon, or that some of Tom’s contacts get in touch – and then gives him to Sybil. She wraps him in her arms and peers down at him a little while. Thomas is reminded of the Lord’s words on the cross: It is finished. Sybil looks as though she’d say the same. Although, in the circumstances, Thomas supposes It is begun would be more appropriate.
“We did well, Thomas,” Sybil says softly. She looks up and smiles. “You can give me as a reference if you like. ‘Admirable at delivering babies.’”
“I wouldn’t care to try my chances a second time.”
She reaches out and grips his hand. “I’m glad you’re here,” she whispers.
Thomas snorts. “Well, it was a bit of a lark, wasn’t it?” he says, and Sybil smiles indulgently.
The baby fusses for a bit, but eventually he settles against Sybil’s chest, and Thomas covers them both with his coat, which is a good deal cleaner than anything else he’s found in the flat. Another of the blankets will do for him instead.
He’s beyond tired – though, to be fair, likely not as tired as Sybil – but he sits watch for a while longer, just to be sure all’s as it should be.
And it is.