Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Jimmy sat at the piano trying to decide what to play. The servants' hall was eerily quiet, a far cry from the days when he could hardly move without tripping over someone. He launched into "The White Cliffs of Dover" but stopped after a few bars. The piano needed tuning and the sound was a bit unnerving. Like a lot of things at Downton, the last couple of decades had not been kind to it. The Depression had hastened the decline. By the beginning of the war it was a shadow of its former self. The third floor was closed entirely and only the east wing on the second was open.
With those changes came others. There was no need for butlers and hall boys, kitchen maids and footmen. Now in 1942 all that remained were two house maids who were girls from the village, a cook and himself, more a jack-of-all-trades than anything else, helping out as needed. None of them lived in. The family had decided it made more sense to find him one of the houses in the village and increase his wage as compensation rather than keep one room open on the third floor. The family, like the house, was not what it used to be. Mary Crawley, who had never remarried, and her son George. Robert Crawley had died in 1938 making George the 6th Earl of Grantham.
Jimmy continued to play with the keys of the piano despite its unsatisfactory sound. This time it was "Roses of Picardy"; a song from another war.
"Very nice, Jimmy."
Jimmy jumped to his feet.
"Your Lordship. Welcome back"
The man smiling back at him wore a Captain's uniform. Jimmy wasn't sure what he did – Something in the War Office that no one spoke of - but he hadn't been overseas. No trenches this war, but that didn't mean he would be safe. Hell, it's not safe most places.
"Thank you. Sit down. Keep playing."
"It sounds pretty bad."
"The piano maybe, but not your playing. It reminds me of some good times."
Jimmy blushed and started again.
George Crawley walked over and stood beside him. He had known Jimmy his entire life. Now in his late forties he seemed too old to be a brother, but he thought of him as an uncle. Of course they still stood on ceremony. Always James. He was Master Crawley, then Mr. Crawley and now His Lordship. Except on those days when he was feeling miserable or lonely or when there was no one around. Then he was George or, if it was Thomas talking, "Boyo". They were Jimmy and Tommy, and although he knew Thomas hated that, he never corrected him. He watched Jimmy's hands as the glided across the keys. He grew up with the two of them always keeping an eye out. When he went off to Eton he missed them as much as he missed the rest of his family. Jimmy finished with his customary flourish.
George gave Jimmy's shoulder a squeeze.
Jimmy smiled up at him. He always asks.
"He's recovering. The stroke was a minor one and you would hardly know it happened."
"You know, though?"
"Yes. When you've been friends as long as we have, lived in each other's pockets so to speak, you learn all the small things that others don't notice. He's back to work though."
"If it's okay I'll drop by tomorrow evening. You're both at home?"
"Yes. Thomas is back by around five and I'm only here at Downton Wednesday evenings. I know he would really like to see you."
"Around seven, then?"
"I'll let him know. He likes to fuss and he would be upset if I sprung this on him."
Jimmy looked at the clock.
"I must go. Some bits of furniture to move so the maids can clean. It's wonderful to see you again, Your Lor .... George."
George watched after him as he headed down the hallway. Dear Jimmy. Friends indeed. He found out about them quite by accident. Home on a break from Eton when he was seventeen he had set about exploring the house once again. There were so many rooms he liked, each so different that entering each was like entering a new world. He was turning the corner on the second floor when he heard something from an open door. Doors weren't usually left open unless the room was being aired out when someone was expected. Besides, no one uses this section anymore. He glanced in and caught their reflection in a mirror. Thomas's arms were around Jimmy and they were kissing. At first he wasn't sure if it was just a trick that the light was playing with the mirror so he moved closer to the door. It was no trick.
George was far from naïve; he was at Eton, after all. Still this shocked him. How long has this been going on? I never suspected. They had obviously been careful. He supposed they thought they were alone since they were in one of the deserted areas of the house. Should I say something? Should I tell someone? This is illegal. He continued to watch, feeling somewhat guilty to be intruding on what was meant to be private, until they broke away to just rest their foreheads together. They were speaking quietly but he still overheard.
"I don't know what I'm going to do, Jimmy. No job. I know I'm not the only one, but still."
Jimmy pulled him down to sit on the bed, holding his hand.
"We'll manage. We always have. I'm still here and working. I don't need a lot of money. We can share until you get on your feet. You got two months' pay and they found you a room in the village to live. That's a help."
"Yes, but what skills do I have to offer. I'm almost fifty and all I've done is wait on someone or help them change their clothes. Besides, what's in the village? A few shops and a pub."
"That new bookstore? You like to read."
"That hardly qualifies me."
Jimmy kissed his hand.
"You'll find something. I know it. We haven't spent the last sixteen years together just to lose each other now."
George suddenly realised how embarrassing this was and crept away. He had been listening to intimate details of their lives, details he never would have imagined, details that spoke of love and devotion much more than friendship. They were still Jimmy and Tommy, nothing would change that. What right did he have to interfere.
Thinking back on it now, he realised he had made the right decision. He got up and went in search of a good bottle of wine for tomorrow night.
~~ End ~~
The title comes from the full title of the iconic WWII song of peace and hope, "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover" sung most notably by Vera Lynn in her 1942 recording.