sybil/branson: politics and tea
Title: Politics and Tea
Warnings: Potentially fluffy?
Notes: Set some time after their first meeting but before Ripon.
She twirled the pamphlet between her gloved hands and enjoyed the crunch of the gravel beneath her feet.
Everything was different here; very spartan and unfussy; yet these were the arteries of the house. This was where The Others lived. This was the other family that lurked in the corners and the shadows: the ones who emerged to dress and comb and clean and then dissipated into the air. She felt a twinge of shame at
realising the extent and wealth of the territory she had long thought it fine to go unexplored.
She reminded herself to walk confidently, though she couldn’t help the feeling of trespassing. It was his home, after all, even though his home was a part of her home which meant…? She wondered if this how the moustached viceroys felt when they set foot in Calcutta or Lahore, a sense of uneasy ownership.
The door was open, anyway, and out rippled music (Dvorak, she mentally noted, a good choice). Gripping the pamphlet, she tentatively knocked on the door.
The cottage was small and smelt strongly of oak. Books spilled out of their shelves and onto chairs, the table, even the floor. Paper scattered like snow. She smiled a little. It was what she imagined from the little contact they had had.
“Oh, Lady Sybil I—”
She hadn’t noticed him emerging from the small kitchen off the living room, cup of tea in hand. She started.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.” She looked skittishly at her feet. He must think her very, well, posh and foolish. “I just came to return those leaflets you gave me the other day.”
“Thank you.” He said, taking them from her. Then an awkward silence, and she didn’t move, and neither did he. “Would you like to come in?”
She snapped her head up. “Can I?” The note of surprise in her voice made him smile.
“It’s your Father’s cottage, isn’t it?” He said, setting down his cup and saucer. She walked in hesitantly as he turned off the music. “Would you like some tea?”
“That’d be lovely, thank you.”
They were both nervous, juvenile, aware that neither had any experience of this rather small act of rebellion over afternoon tea- the daring act of crossing over his threshold (she reasoned to herself- I am returning some pamphlets, all I am doing is returning some pamphlets. Already she was rehearsing the defenses against her Father’s inevitable venom if he found her here).
She browsed the books and papers on his table (she noted “The Basics of Automobile Care and Repair” as well). Everywhere small notes in pencils were etched in margins in neat cursive. The spines of the books were worn with use. It added to the charm of the cottage.
She felt her shoulders roll back and her muscles slacken a little. There was something immediately familiar about this place.
He seemed a little alarmed to find her flipping through his copy of Mill, and she felt all at once very ashamed. How dare she feel this sense of ownership over him, over his things, his home? She placed the book down.
“I’m sorry, I’m just—”
“You can borrow it, if you like.” He said, smiling, and she at once felt relieved.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all.” He said, placing her tea in front of her. “Books are meant to be shared.”
“I’ve seen your name on the library ledgers.” She said, smiling. “You’re rivalling my consumption of the written word.”
They both laughed, and took a sip of their tea together.
“So what did you think of those pamphlets?”
“Very interesting.” She said, placing her cup down. “Though I’m still to be converted to the benefits of militant tactics.”
They went on to discuss this at length.
“Why are you intersted in women’s rights?” She asked, leaning forward, a smile playing on her lips. “Forgive me for asking, it just seems odd for a man to be so involved.”
“I got involved with the Women’s Franchise League back in Dublin. Spent my time going to meetings, putting up posters, all that stuff.” He leant forward as well. “I want a fair society and women should be a part of that and not just the franchise— education, marriage law, medicine— don’t you think?”
She nodded in agreement.
“Women have been oppressed for too long, just like the Irish, just like the poor— in a socialist society the sex of a person wouldn’t matter— it’s a bourgeoisie concept and—” He stopped himself abruptly and leant back in his chair, making her blink in alarm.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. I just— well—”
She placed her hand on top of his. “Please, Branson. Don’t feel you have to censor yourself around me.” She paused. “It might not occur to you but I don’t have many people to talk to…”
They looked into each other’s eyes: a warm ocean current, an understanding.
She snapped upwards and withdrew her hand.
“About politics, I mean.”
“Yes, of course.” He said, clearing his throat. “You can come talk to me any time, Lady Sybil.”
“About politics.” She added hesitantly.
“Yes, about politics.” He said, taking a final sip of tea.