Gwen's departure to become a secretary had left a void at the house. Though it hadn't come as a shock that she was leaving, the staff at Downton still felt the loss rather painfully. They knew that she would make a fine secretary, just as she had a maid, but her absence was not one that they were going to get over quickly. Of course, the ladies of the house missed her somewhat too; her contented nature was always a pleasure to have around. It was Sybil, however, who longed to see Gwen the most out of everyone.
Sybil had wondered for a while as to what the true natures of her feelings for the housemaid were. She wondered if it were just a longing for friendship that she felt — or could there have been something more to it? No, she thought, there couldn't have. Though with Gwen no longer at the house, Sybil found herself growing impertinent. She silenced her mother if there was ever a mention of her acquiring a husband in future, turned her nose up at any conversation with her sisters about marriage, and begrudgingly attended arranged dinner parties with potential suitors.
All of this they brushed off as Sybil advocating for women's rights, but Sybil knew that there was something more to it than just wanting equality. She couldn't even stand to be chauffeured by Branson anymore, especially after his incredibly unpleasant confession that he loved her. She thought she ought to have been flattered, at least that's what she said to him in reply, but the truth of the matter was that she wasn't, only rather uncomfortable.
The lack of letters from Gwen had left Sybil feeling despondent. She had made her promise to write as often as she could possibly manage, and yet she had received nothing for weeks. Sybil sighed, pressed her cheek into the palm of her hand and gazed thoughtfully out of her window.
Perhaps she was overreacting and Gwen was simply too busy to write. Even so, Sybil's heart sank at the thought of being forgotten by her so soon. Of course, she could be the one to initiate, maybe Gwen too was waiting for Sybil to write to her. Sybil tapped her fingers on her desk absentmindedly, her vision unfocused and staring out upon the grounds as she pondered.
The tranquility of silence only lasted a moment longer before it was broken abruptly by a knock at her bedroom door.
"Yes," she called, turning around to welcome the visitor.
"Lady Sybil," said Mr Carson as he opened the door a crack to poke his head in, "Do pardon me if I am disturbing your ladyship."
"Oh, not at all, Mr Carson! Please, do come in. What was it you needed?" she said, beckoning him in.
"I have a letter for you, from Gwen."
At that, Sybil shot up from her spot on the chair immediately and crossed the floor to where Carson was standing by the door. He was visibly shocked at the eagerness Sybil displayed, though he pretended to pay no notice.
"Here you are, milady," he said, passing her over the envelope. Tentatively, she took the letter from him and allowed herself to break into a smile.
"Thank you, Carson," she said, with a hint of excitement Mr Carson noticed, before he left the room with a simple: "You're welcome, milady."
As soon as the butler had left her bedroom, Sybil sat down on the edge of her bed and ripped open the envelope fervently, pulling out a neatly folded piece of paper. To her surprise, when she opened it up, she saw that Gwen hadn't written to her using her typewriter, but had rather taken the effort to write her words out by hand in shaky cursive.
Sybil's hands trembled and her pulse quickened, a sort of fluttery feeling filling her stomach. Ignoring these sensations, she pursed her lips and began to read the letter —
Dear Lady Sybil,
I write to you from my new position as a secretary. I'm so very sorry for the tardiness of this letter, I had promised that I would write sooner, but it has been hectic here what with the war and such. I hope it not discourteous to say how much I have missed your ladyship's company. It often feels quite lonely here, even though I do have a few coworkers, it just is not the same. What is it like at Downton now? Do catch me up on all that I have missed, including any gossip you have managed to come across. I have not written to anyone else at the house yet, so you are the first. More importantly though, how are you, Lady Sybil? Have these past weeks treated your ladyship well? Do come and pay me a visit soon, you are welcome any time.
Sybil couldn't believe what she had just read. Gwen missed her, and seemingly longed to see Sybil just as much as she longed for Gwen. Well of course, she thought, Gwen and I were friends. But what pleased Sybil the most was that Gwen had not written to anyone else before her, not even Anna. Feeling a bubble of excitement build up within her, Sybil folded the letter again and placed it back tidily in the envelope, before rising from her bed and ringing for Anna.
Fidgeting with the envelope in her hands, Sybil anxiously awaited the arrival of her maidservant, Anna. She never usually takes this long, she thought impatiently. Though within the next minute, Anna had arrived and gave a knock at the door.
"Your ladyship called," she said upon entrance.
"Oh yes, Anna! I have received a letter from Gwen —"
"Gwen! She’s written?" Anna joined in excitedly before rectifying her mistake, "Sorry, so she's written, milady?"
"Yes! And she wants me to go and visit her at her new place," Sybil added eagerly, awaiting the approval from Anna.
"Oh, well that’s just wonderful, milady!"
"Isn’t it just! You will make up a bag for me to take, won’t you Anna? I intend to leave as soon as possible, really. The work at the hospital has become a bit overbearing, and it would do me well to take a couple of days’ leave. Father won’t mind, he and mama are always blethering on about how I need to take some time off to rest. You can come too!" Sybil’s sentences flowed so quickly that Anna was having trouble keeping up.
"Is Gwen expecting you, milady?"
"Well, she said that I was welcome to visit any time I pleased! I’m sure she wouldn't mind if we were to pay her a surprise visit," Sybil’s smile faded as she saw a look of uncertainty spread over Anna’s face. "Do say I can go, Anna."
"If your ladyship doesn’t mind my saying, I think it would be best if we were to invite Gwen here instead. That way we don’t just show up out of the blue," she suggested. "Here, why don’t I fetch you some writing materials from the library and you can send a letter back to Gwen?"
Anna was there one second and then gone the next. Sybil supposed it would be kind to invite Gwen back to Downton, even if it meant having to share Gwen’s attention with the rest of the people at the house, she knew it would be the right thing to do. After all, now that Gwen was no longer a maid, Sybil could address her more as a friend than her servant. They would be able to go on walks and into town together with no interference. Thoughts of the endless possibilities filled Sybil’s mind as she flopped backwards onto her bed, awaiting Anna's return with the writing materials.
The following week went by so painfully slowly. Sybil had been making a mess of all of her nurse’s duties because her mind was, needless to say, elsewhere. She had been reprimanded multiple times by Mrs Crawley for tripping up, and the berating did not end there, for her grandmother was starting to become suspicious of Sybil not having a beau. Though Sybil adamantly refused that there was anyone she was remotely interested in, her grandmother said: "I know love when I see it, I haven't grown so old that I don't recognise when a girl has feelings anymore."
And so, it was a relief when finally Sybil could take the day off to prepare for Gwen's arrival the next morning. Excitedly, she helped the maids ready one of the spare rooms, insisting that it be as close to her chambers as possible, in case she needed anything of course. Gwen was to have the finest treatment, by Sybil's own orders, and was even to join her family for dinner in the evening. She was no longer a lady's maid, and Sybil was determined to make sure of it. After all, Gwen had managed to leave service and pursue her ambitions of becoming a secretary, she deserved to be rewarded.
And it was with Sybil's help that she got the job. In a way, she felt guilty, for she sometimes wished that she hadn't helped Gwen find a job away from Downton. She missed her terribly, and the house just wasn't the same for want of her. Sybil knew, however, that she was being selfish for thinking such things, and that she should just be happy for what Gwen had achieved. Yet somehow, she couldn't quite bring herself to be.
Later, that evening, Sybil paced backwards and forwards in the boudoir nervously, running over the plans for tomorrow once, twice, and then three times over.
"Whatever is the matter, Sybil dear?" Mary asked as she came through.
"Oh, pardon? No, no, it's nothing," Sybil assured her. "Only stressing about tomorrow, is all."
"Come now, you needn't stress! We're only having a few guests over tomorrow, they're friends of Matthew's anyway. Why, have you got your eye on someone —
"What? Oh, no. I wasn't stressing about that nonsense."
"Nonsense is what you may think it to be, dear, but evenings like this are of great importance. Who knows, you may even meet a suitor," explained Mary, somewhat abrasively.
"How many times am I going to have to explain to you and everyone else that I am not interested in finding a suitor! I'm much too young anyway," she bemoaned.
"All right, I shall back off. But what is it you're so worked up about then?"
"Well you see, Gwen is coming by tomorrow and she's staying for a couple of nights, I just want everything to be in ship shape for her," said Sybil.
"Gwen? Who's that?" asked Mary, incredulous.
"Gwen Dawson," Sybil clarified, but the look of loss on Mary's face conveyed the message that she did not know of whom she was speaking. "Gwen Dawson, our former maid, with Anna."
"Oh! That secretary one!" Mary exclaimed in recognition. "But why on earth would you be stressing over someone as inconsequential as her?"
"She is not inconsequential, she is my friend. I know you don't have many of those so I don't expect you to understand," she huffed and crossed her arms indignantly.
"You have quite the tongue on you, Sybil. You should be getting to sleep, you have bigger fish to fry tomorrow evening."
And with that, her eldest sister made for her bedroom, leaving Sybil alone in the boudoir once more. I do not have my eye on anyone, Sybil scoffed to herself, though even as she thought it, she didn't quite believe it.
Sybil rose the next morning having forgotten her conversation with Mary the night before completely. She had only one thing on her mind; Gwen. Anna hadn't even come to wake Sybil yet and she was already up and dressing herself when the maid walked in.
"Oh, beg your pardon, milady, you're up early," she said, holding back her astonishment.
"I am, aren't I? I guess I just couldn't wait for the day to get going! Early bird catches the worm and all that," said Sybil, putting on her earrings carefully. "How do I look?"
"Wonderful, milady," Anna replied warily, not knowing quite what to make of Sybil's less than usual behaviour.
"Do you know when Gwen should be here?"
"I should think at around noon," she replied, glancing over at the clock on her right. "You have a couple of hours to go yet, milady. Why don't I make you a cup of tea?"
"Yes that would be lovely," Sybil smiled. "Oh, but before you go, Anna, can I ask you something?"
"Of course, milady."
"Do you think... oh don't worry, it was silly," she brushed off what she was about to say with a flick of her wrist.
"No, you can tell me, milady," Anna said, taking a step further in.
"Well, I was wondering, what you thought of Gwen," she replied, adding, "I mean what do you think Gwen thought of me? Did she... say anything to you about me when she was here? About any of us?"
"She was very fond of you all, especially you, milady."
"Of course she was, you helped her realise her dream of becoming a secretary. I don't actually think she ever stopped talking about you," Anna chuckled.
"That's very sweet, thank you Anna," Sybil said before Anna bowed her head and left the room.
Sybil was beaming. She didn't think she'd been so happy since... well, since she last saw Gwen. Time could not go any slower, she thought to herself.
When the doorbell did eventually ring, at nine minutes past noon, Sybil noted, she bounded down the stairs to the main hall, only to find that everyone had already gathered around the door to welcome Gwen inside.
"Let her in!" Mr Carson bellowed, carrying Gwen's small suitcase of luggage inside. "I hadn't realised the hall had become such a place of congregation. Back to your duties!"
"Out with you all," chimed in Mrs Hughes, "I'll not be having this house turn into a shambles for one guest."
With the crowd gone Sybil could now see Gwen. And oh how fine did she look, she thought. Her hair was neatly pinned back under a hat, and she was wearing the most beautiful dress. Once Mr Carson had taken Gwen's belongings, she turned and saw Sybil before her.
"Lady Sybil," she breathed.