For Sydney’s Sake
~ By Mary Thornell, 2019
Annie was known as a worthy scullery maid, quiet in her service, unfailing in her duties, and meek to the most boorish of customers. In the smoky room of noise and wine and degradation where she worked, resident rags, wrapped themselves in the solace of their own dregs, whirling like flotsam in the vortex of poverty and decline. Through all their grasping and grime, amid debates of American rancor, while the Year of Our Lord, seventeen hundred and seventy-five mingled there with spirits, Annie passed and escaped notice.
Except from him.
He, who lounged in the darker corners of the tavern, soaked in his own careless despair, spoke remonstrance of the manners with which she dealt, encouraging an unspoken agreement between them.
She had not long worked in the tavern when he noticed her. Even when he was most derisive of human failings, he became a vacuum in the whirling vortex for her, a stillness she was drawn to time and time again. Annie, therefore, was protective of this man, a counselor, whose abilities and potential were crippled by insobriety and resignation of its blight. Their undeclared watch grew into a fast friendship.
One night, he was there in a smaller segment of the tavern, not alone. A Frenchman with the demeanor of one just released from hell sat with him, vaguely lit by the candlelight. Annie felt sorry for the stranger. Her careless friend seemed bent upon antagonizing him, claiming indifference and throwing his wineglass against the wall, looking as though he did not want to care.
Annie, however, knew her handsome advocate well enough to recognize something had touched him that day. When the foreigner left, she overheard him reflex in the mirror what her blue eyes might have seen if he had been in the foreigner’s place.
In the months that followed, it became clear to Annie that he had been inspired by an association with her, a golden-haired doll of pure devotion and charity, and so unreachable from his depths, there was holiness in her name. Annie discovered a strong response rising within her as well, stubborn in its vehemence and tender in its respect.
“Up, luv, there ye are,” said she, helping him up the staircase to his chambers where she let him fall upon his bed, ribbons of dark hair falling over his pale, handsome features. Tonight was one of those nights when she would leave the tavern to guide him home in deep intoxication. She wavered between hope and humility when he was in this condition, an insane emotion of opportunism that tempted her to admit her own regard for him, gambling the chance that he would not remember.
“Annie,” he mumbled, fighting with her fingers over loosening the scarves at his neck. “Annie, you’ve done enough. Leave me alone.”
“Have I? Is it enough to leave ye choking in your own clothes? Is it enough to leave ye in the street for beggars and thieves to mangle ye in your stupor? When that is enough, I will leave ye alone, Sydney.”
He studied her for a moment and Annie recognized the piercing look as one that assesses such as a counselor would employ in a courtroom.
“When have you become so determined for my sake?” he grunted, trying to battle the sputter of wine-soaked brain as he sat up.
“Since I discovered ye in the street, making love to the cobbles, an’ a guttersnipe sneakin’ to ye with mean intent in his eyes. I’ll warrant ye, ye’d have worse things to object to if I’d not come,” Annie preached, fidgeting over air to keep the blush from showing on her face. He meant something beyond protection and relief from squalor, but how could she, a scullery maid, distract him from an unobtainable aspiration?
She caught him staring at her and felt her heart twist. This young man, so hard and precise in his profession, appeared utterly wasted and humble in his own downfall.
“I’d object to making love to cobbles had I been aware of it,” said he, cocking an eyebrow meaningfully.
Annie blushed deeper and pushed him backwards.
“Go to sleep.”
She pulled his shoes off and threw the blanket over him, hoping he would fall to consciousness once more. She blew out the lantern.
She stopped in the dark room, a vague question of the time wandering through her thoughts. She should get back.
“Dear Annie. My life…because of you…” he trailed off, muttering.
She scampered down the stairs and into the streets before emotion betrayed her.
Several years ensued, and he swung in and out of his own dark habits, frequenting the tavern when pause in the Court allowed. He had reached some kind of peace, waiting and watching for something he might do to prove himself to her, although he never spoke of that defining moment when he found it.
Annie waited, too.
He came to the tavern one night, a light of purpose flickering in his expression. He sat her down in a corner, giving a sharp look to the tavern keeper as he hovered in curiosity and irritation.
“You must listen to me, Annie,” her friend said, dark eyes urgent. “I am called to a journey that will take me in to France.”
She held her breath in fear. Rumblings of revolution in France and the vengeance sprung upon its nobility had long become an ugly fact in the conversations of the tavern. Any traveler, citizen-born of France or not, was urged to avoid crossing paths with the insurgents.
“Listen!” he commanded, touching her chin. “I am uncertain of my length of stay there. I need your help. Would you grant me a favor?”
She nodded, numb. His absence had always been temporary, but instinct detected some sense of permanence in his tone.
“My quarters. Would you see to them? Heaven knows I have hardly used them, but it would please me that someone in need would have access to them.” He pressed his key into her hand.
In silence, Annie agreed.
“She has endured much,” he continued, more to himself. “Her husband is in grave danger and I must go.” Since her marriage to the French foreigner he had been so hostile toward so many years ago, he had not spoken her name, although Annie knew it like a chant. “They have shown me much compassion and it is little enough for me to seek some influence for their need.”
Annie nodded again, heart sinking. Her waiting had come to an end.
He was calling to her and she broke from a strange reverie where she threw herself at his feet and declared her own devotion, weeping over her self-imposed silence. But the words never came and he held her hand, urging their friendship to a different dimension now. One that meant he would be apart from her. Perhaps forever.
“Annie,” he was saying. “We have known each other in the worst of times, yet they always seemed to bring the best out of your. As one so sweet and watchful, will you hold some memory of me, the one so utterly lacking in control and ambition? I must know, before I leave.”
It took every ounce of courage and resolve Annie had to hold her voice steady and answer ‘yes.’ When she did, he nodded as if relieved and downed a glass of wine, as if to lengthen the fuel of his purpose. Annie recognized her safest response was to act with as much bravado as possible. She unfastened the locket from her throat in a casual manner, and handed it to him, saying,
“It is only right you should have this in return. Come, you might have need of it someday. It is of some value,” she urged, pressing it into his palm. “For friendship’s sake.”
He looked at her in amazement, then acquiesced, smiling.
“Very well, then. For friendship’s sake.”
They shared a bottle of wine and then he picked up his coat and left. Annie used every opportunity of work to scrub away the loss, letting her own regret mingle with the soap and grime of the tavern.
It was the leonine Stryver who had come prowling for him, his jackal of old who had drunk heavy with him in the earlier days. Stryker unwittingly lent Annie the hope that perhaps her friend would return. This lion of law, so obtuse and so full to the ears of unmitigated success, brashly confided in her presence his conviction that Sydney had no more resolve to aid than he had of being an advocate.
As angry as this made Annie, some new hope born in her heart led her to the ferry where travelers passed over the English Channel. Here, she told herself, is where he would come back. Here she would renew her wait.
Annie watched passengers board and passengers arrive for a week, searching for the face she held dear. Ferry after ferry pulled into its dock. Annie ignored any curious people who stared back, until she saw them, faces still carrying the grayness of heartbreak and relief.
There she was.
The golden-haired one, the one who had so captivated him, the one who so filled his heart with pure and unconditional love.
Annie recognized the Frenchman, Lucie’s husband, of that night in the tavern with Sydney. He looked intent and stunned, hovering around Lucie and their daughter as if for strength, while porters unloaded baggage to the mail back to London. Their shoulders sagged, as if released from holding back the anxiety and terror of the last year. They were home.
Annie saw his coat, then, draped carefully over a suitcase, forlorn in its singularity, put aside by the foreign man.
Annie found herself drifting towards them, toward the coat, wanting to gather it up and run, pulled toward it by the realization that he would not be sauntering down the plank.
Lucie’s keen blue eyes caught Annie’s. Cheeks flushing in recognition of shock, she rushed toward the maid, eyes filling with tears.
“You knew him, did you not?” Lucie breathed, hands shaking under Annie’s cold fingers.
Annie could scarcely feel herself nod, so she nodded harder, till she stood trembling with her head on Lucie’s shoulder, sobbing. The others surrounded her and waited until she looked up again.
She had seen it in Lucie’s eyes.
He wasn’t coming back.
“I did not know he was in Paris,” Lucie began, patting her. “If I had known he was near, what he was planning…”
“He put his life in place of mine,” Charles Darnay concluded for his wife. He looked down at her, humbled at the enormity of sacrifice.
“I…I don’t understand…” Annie blinked at the implication of his words. He was so much like him, so much what Sydney could have been.
“Sydney gave his life for us…” Charles was unable to go any further. His shaking hands rested on Lucie’s shoulder.
“He died for you,” Annie repeated in a whisper.
“‘To keep a life you love’, that is what he told me…that is what he did…” Lucie’s voice took on an urgency that brought Annie to attention. “We must never forget. You must say of your friend, that he died to free us.”
There was a small noise behind Charles as their daughter gathered up the coat. Papers fell from the pocket and as the child bent to retrieve them, a golden object glinted from a chain around her neck.
Annie felt herself go white.
Lucie saw Annie’s face and her blue eyes widened momentarily. She turned to the child and coaxed the locket from the little girls neck.
“I found it in there,” Little Lucie said, indicating the coat. “It reminds me of Sydney.”
“I know, dear. He shall be cherished. But it belongs to her,” Lucie consoled.
Annie began to protest, except that the singular look Lucie gave her spoke her understanding.
Unfolding Annie’s hand, Lucie deposited the locket and closed the fingers over it like a benediction, meeting Annie’s eyes directly.
“For Sydney’s sake.”