Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Length: 9 chapters
This is a sequel to The Faces of Love
Thomas helped Algernon Neilsen on with his coat and handed him his hat and gloves.
"Mrs. Neilsen and I will be returning late Mr. Barrow. There is no need to wait up."
"Thank you, sir."
"Come, Algie, we don't want to be late," his wife called from the open door.
"Yes, Cynthia, but we have plenty of time." He turned to Thomas once again. "I'm sure the boys won't be any trouble."
"Of course not, sir. They never are."
Neilsen gave him a quick smile and a nod then took his wife's arm and guided her out the door. Thomas locked it behind them, but didn't throw the bolt, knowing they would be locked out if he did.
"So they've gone then, Mr. Barrow."
"Yes, Lawrence. We won't have much to do tonight." He raised an eyebrow at the young footman. "I don't suppose you'll object to a quiet evening."
"Not at all, Mr. Barrow. I'll check the rooms to see if there's anything that needs clearing away. Then I wonder if I might go out as well."
Thomas smiled at him.
"Louise awaits, I take it."
Lawrence blushed and nodded. "I said I'd take her to the cinema if I could get away."
"All right. I don't see why not. They wouldn't mind." Thomas paused. "Have I told you how lucky we are here?"
"Only once or twice, Mr. Barrow," Lawrence laughed.
"Off with you then. I'll take care of the rooms. You be careful though. Little surprises can come along in nine months."
Lawrence's blush deepened.
"I would never ..."
"Of course you wouldn't. Go."
A smile spread across Thomas's face as he watched Lawrence leave. His year and a half with the Neilsens had changed him; it had taken the sharp edges off those aspects of his personality that had always made him distrustful of others. At first he wasn't sure if he liked it. Those same sharp edges had stopped him from being hurt and, in the past when he had let his guard down, it seemed that hurt was all he could expect. He had also come to learn that in this house he didn't have to plot and plan to keep ahead or protect himself. Perhaps Mr. Neilsen was right when he said it was a matter of respect. You get what you give. Jesus, I'm going soft.
He went from room to room, checking for stray glasses and dishes, then turning out each light as he left. Downton of course dwarfed the Neilsen's home, but it was still a large house; a main floor with a saloon, library, drawing room and dining room, two upper floors with twelve bedrooms and then the servant's quarters on the top floor. Although they were still technically in the attic, this too was no Downton. The male servants' quarters held only his room and Lawrence's; the spare rooms were for visiting servants. The Neilsens preferred to keep a minimal number of staff in the house and have the rest live out. And there was no valet or lady's maid. Mr. Neilsen had confided in Thomas that he never understood people who seemed incapable of choosing their own clothing and dressing themselves.
Thomas knocked at the eldest boy's room.
"I'm retiring for the evening, sir. I just wanted to see if you needed anything."
The young man looked up from his book and took off his glasses.
"Ah, no Mr. Barrow. I can always go down to the kitchen if I get hungry."
Thomas glanced around the room. It was a mess. Clothes, books, records scattered everywhere; the bed was unmade and the pillows were on the floor. Jeremy only let the maid in once a week because he said he could never find anything after she left.
"Very good. I'll check with your brother."
"I believe Harry may be asleep. He wasn't feeling well."
"Good night then," Thomas replied and left the room. Harry was the complete opposite of his brother. Where Jeremy was outgoing, impulsive, and untidy, Harry was quiet, methodical and neat almost to a fault.
He tapped softly at his door.
"I understand you're not well."
"I wasn't, but I'm feeling better now," Harry smiled at him from the bed. While he liked both boys, he found he had a soft spot for Harry and they got along very well. He remembered Carson saying something about a butler having his favourites. Thomas was still conscious of the master/servant line, but it had blurred considerably.
"You know your parents will be back later than usual." Harry nodded as he set down his book on the coverlet. "I'm going up to my room, but if you feel ill again ..."
"Yes, Mr. Barrow, I know where to find you. Thank you and good night."
As Thomas climbed the two flights of stairs to his own room it occurred to him that something like this would never have happened at Downton. The aristocracy assumed that servants knew their places and, Lady Sybil aside, would seldom conceive of any degree of true familiarity. The Neilsens, nouveau riche though they might be, didn't aspire to imitate them. Algernon Neilsen was unusual in his approach to his servants, or employees as he preferred to call them. And that attitude extended through his entire family.
As Thomas opened the door to his room he was reminded once again that this was not Downton. A gas fire welcomed him from one wall and when he flipped the light switch what he saw made him feel at home. It was quite a change.
On the day he arrived, he was taken aback by two things. First it was Mrs. Neilsen who greeted him and showed him up to his room. He was still coming to terms with that when she opened the door. It was large, bright, and airy, but save for a bed and a dresser it was empty – no chair, no pictures, no rug, not even a coverlet on the bed.
"We decided to clear out everything, except for that dresser. It's a beautiful old piece, don't you agree?"
All Thomas could do was nod. She started to laugh as she stood behind him
"Come now Mr. Barrow. It can't be all that bad."
"Uh, well ... I ..."
She interrupted in order to save him any further embarrassment.
"This is meant to be your home. Don't you think you should have a say in how it's furnished? We use Harrod's. Go to London later this week, choose what you want and they will put it on our account." She burst into laughter again. "Assuming of course you aren't inclined to diamond-encrusted things."
"No, I ..."
"I almost forgot, Algie asked me to give you this." Thomas opened the envelope and pulled out £200. He looked at it for a second and then at her. "Just in case Harrod's doesn't have something you want. No receipts needed, what you don't spend is yours."
A smile teased at her lips as she watched him. "The look on your face is priceless." She turned to leave, but stopped. "Have you seen that this room adjoins another one?" She pointed towards a door. "We thought you could remove the door and turn that into whatever you want. A separate sitting room, perhaps. A desk would be nice under the south-facing window in there. This house was built for so many servants it seems a shame to let the lovely rooms go to waste."
Thomas took of his jacket and hung it up, then bent over and untied his shoes which he then placed in a neat row with his other ones on the floor of the wardrobe. He started for his chair then remembered he had Jimmy's latest letter in his jacket pocket. After retrieving it he made himself comfortable, leaning back in the chair and stretching his feet out into an ottoman. Their letter writing had been faithful. Thomas had thought that Jimmy would soon tire of it, but he hadn't. A new one tended to arrive every fortnight, sometimes more frequently.
Things have been very busy, as you might imagine with Lady Mary preparing to remarry. Her fiancé seems very nice – at least from what I can tell by eavesdropping. His Lordship is pleased so that must mean something. It will be strange to have someone else living in the house, we seem to have gotten used to a smaller family now that Lady Edith has moved to London permanently.
I worry a bit about Mr. Carson. The old man is getting forgetful, which of course he will never admit. The other day I found him wandering the second floor with two candlesticks that belong in the dining room. The week before he lost the key to the wine cellar – it was on his desk. I suppose the time is coming when he will be retiring. I'm not sure if either he or I are ready for that.
Things at home go from bad to worse. It's not all Hannah's fault I know, but I find that I dread each evening. Only Gerry keeps me coming back. My bright light in all the darkness. He's a sharp little boy. Not quite two and a half and he can read from that book you sent him. I doubt he understands, but he recognises some of the words. Sometimes when I try to read to him he pulls the book from my hands and babbles on with his own story. It was about "ncrons", or as you and I would say "unicorns", last time.
When are you coming for a visit? You said that York wasn't the antipodes, but it seems it might as well be. I want you to see Gerry. And, if I'm to be honest, I desperately need to talk to you face-to-face. God I miss that.
Please continue writing me at Downton and not at home. There's no need to add fuel to a fire. More on that when I see you. I hope you're getting the hint.
Love as always.
Thomas set the letter to one side. Jimmy's letters both upset and pleased him. This problem with Hannah wasn't going to go away and part of it was his fault. He had almost forced Jimmy into marrying her. They pleased him because they had become more free, more affectionate as time passed. The idea that Jimmy would mention love, no matter how platonic, surprised him the first time. He supposed it shouldn't have when he thought back to the last night before he left Downton.
They had spent the night at the pub, talking, laughing, and drinking too much. On the walk back Jimmy was quiet, not even answering when Thomas thanked him once again for the cufflinks. When they reached the point where they were to go their separate ways, they stopped and the silence became even more awkward.
"You know I'll write, Jimmy."
"Please, let's not part like this. Say something, even if it's goodbye again."
Jimmy looked at him, then took a step closer and kissed him. Thomas was so surprised he just stood there, rooted to the spot. His surprise turned to astonishment when the kiss moved from chaste to passionate. Jimmy threw his arms around his neck and held on like a drowning man clinging to the person who was going to save him. He finally broke the kiss, but still didn't let go.
"Jimmy, what ..."
"Don't say a word. Don't ask me why because I don't fucking know. Maybe it's the beer, maybe it's the thought of losing my only friend, maybe it's ..."
He brought his hands down to Thomas's sides, grasping his waist and kissed him once again. This time it was different. It wasn't passionate; it was tender, much more tender than Thomas had ever experienced, and filled with longing.
Jimmy stepped away.
"Yes, you bloody well better write."
He turned and sprinted towards the cottage, leaving Thomas dumbstruck, staring after him.
They never discussed it, even in their letters. Thomas realised those kisses were the reason he had held off returning to Downton. He was afraid neither of them would know how to deal with it in person.
He got up and went to his desk in the other room. Pulling out an engagement calendar, he leafed through it. The Neilsens would be away visiting her mother for a week at the end of the month and the boys would be going with them. I could stay in Ripon at the hotel or even in Downton at the pub. The pub would be easier for Jimmy. I'll telephone tomorrow. He pulled a sheet of notepaper from a pigeon hole.