Male/Male and General
Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Andy Parker, Sybbie Branson, Mary Crawley, George Crawley
Title: Saying Goodbye
Warning: Character death
Although written after the others, this is the third part of an initially unintended and admittedly loose four part series. Sybbie's Bunny and We'll Meet Again precede it, while In My Heart follows it. More on that at the end.
Thomas looked at the two suitcases that were sitting open on his bed; one was full, but the other still had some room. He was glad when he had taken stock of his clothes and his other possessions a few weeks ago that he had decided to buy another one. Not all that much for almost fifty years I suppose. Then he remembered Jimmy when he was leaving Downton. Everything he owned had fit into one small case. Although it's not surprising I guess. We never needed a lot.
Before he had started packing he had glanced around the room that had been his home for so long. Not really a home in the true sense, but the closest I've had since I was a child. There was nothing in it that belonged to him other than the framed photo of Jimmy and him on their trip last year to the seaside.
As they wandered along the seafront finishing their fish and chips, Jimmy stopped in front of one of the shops - Warren Grady, Photographer.
"I think we should get a picture taken," he announced
"Sure. How about that." He nodded at a board depicting a buxom bathing beauty and her dashing, swim-suited beau. "We just stick our heads through those holes and smile."
"Youre mad, you know that right?"
"And you're no fun."
"You didn't say that last night."
"Shh, not so loud," Jimmy warned as his cheeks flared pink.
"Now look who's no fun."
"Still, all joking aside, I want a photo taken with you."
"All right, but a regular, serious one."
They got rid of the greasy newspapers and entered the shop. After looking around, Thomas chose a painted seaside backdrop and the photographer had them sit side by side on two chairs.
"Jesus," Jimmy complained, "we'll look like a couple of stuffed dolls." He crossed his ankles then leant back and put his arm around Thomas's shoulders. "Put you hand on my knee."
"It's just my knee, Thomas."
"That's still not right," Jimmy complained.
"Gentlemen," the photographer interrupted, "you must hold still, at least for a few seconds."
"Just a minute, please" Jimmy asked. "We should be looking at one another." He stood up and pushed the chair out of the way
"But shouldn't we face the camera?" Thomas asked. "I mean isn't that the point of a photograph?"
"Gentlemen, please." Grady was losing his patience, partially because he now had to refocus and redirect the camera.
"That's the point of a portrait, Thomas. I want this to be about us."
Jimmy moved so he stood beside Thomas, leaning in slightly and placing his hand on his far shoulder while Thomas shifted so he could look up. Jimmy smiled at him.
"That's better. Now we're ready Mr. Grady."
Thomas now picked up the photo and set it into the case on top of his underwear and socks.
His two other suits and shirts were loosely packed in the other case and his shoes were carefully wrapped and tucked along the edges. He crossed to the dresser and put his shaving gear, brushes and other personal items into the small travel kit he had purchased; there would be room for that in the same case as his underwear. There was only one drawer in the dresser to empty but since he had lots of time he decided to leave it for a few minutes. He sat down in his armchair where his cup of lukewarm tea waited on the side table.
There were times when he still couldn't believe that he was going to leave, not that he had much choice. Downton had been on a steady decline since before the war; no matter how they tried to avoid it, parcels of land had to be sold beginning in the 1930's. Finally though George Crawley, now Lord Grantham, and Lady Mary had decided that the house would be closed and most of the remaining land sold to pay taxes and debts and to provide for Lady Mary. Part of the decision was also because it was almost impossible to find servants; no one wanted the hours or the work. She would move to the old dower house where all she would need would be a cook and a part time girl from the village. Luckily she had been able to find one after a long search. Thomas knew how difficult the decision had been. He had actually been part of the discussion, but it still had surprised him that Lady Mary would be without a lady's maid.
"I'm nothing if not resilient, Barrow, you should know that and needs must. Sadly though, George will be an earl with little land. I'm only happy that my parents aren't alive to see this."
"Now, mother," George interrupted, "it's not like we'll be destitute, far from it what with the remaining capital and the rents from the properties we still own. You know that we just can't keep up with the house; it would drain the money in no time. But I agree it is sad after all the work that you and the family put into keeping Downton going over the years."
He turned to Thomas.
"However, Barrow, that's not why you're here. You deserve to know what's happening and that we have made provisions for you, if you wish to take advantage of them."
"We still own two houses in the village and three or four cottages. We will provide you with a life tenancy for any of them for £1 per annum and we've also arranged for a pension. It's not a staggering amount of money, but it will help make things more comfortable. I've assumed of course you have some savings."
"Yes, My Lord, I have a tidy sum put aside, but both of the offers ease any worries I have." He paused. "I don't want to sound impertinent, but you also own a few houses in London, do you not." He knew that George was successfully involved in the property market in London.
"Yes, of course, but we thought you would want to stay here. Would you prefer London?"
"I believe I would, if it's possible."
"It's most certainly possible, but we would have to increase the tenancy cost and you would most likely have to pay the rates."
"I understand that, My Lord. And I was wondering, would I be able to share the house with someone?"
"You mean a lodger?" He looked at his mother. "I don't see why not. They are all large enough, three bedrooms each. Although I think we would ask that you not have more than one lodger."
"Just one would be my intention, My Lord."
"Very good then. You'll have another two months here, time for us to make arrangements to ensure the house you choose is vacant. One near the Heath already is, mind you, so it would be advantageous if that's the one you choose. I'll have details sent over tomorrow."
"Thank you, My Lord."
"Good night, Barrow."
"Good night, My Lady."
Thomas had chosen a house in a quiet neighbourhood not far from an underground station and within walking distance of Hampstead Heath. As soon as he had it all confirmed he had called Jimmy to update him.
"That's wonderful, Thomas. And did they agree to a lodger?"
"They didn't even hesitate. You're going to really like it. It's a perfect location. The house is on the same underground line as the restaurant so it would be convenient; a lot better than Battersea. His Lordship had the whole place done over a couple of years ago too. We're bloody lucky."
"And no more being apart, only seeing each other every few months I can't believe that's happening after all these years. When are you here?"
"About a month. That should give your flatmate time to find someone, right?"
"He won't have a problem. I mentioned that I might be moving and he actually seemed pleased."
"The cheek," Thomas laughed.
Thomas got up from the chair and pulled out the bottom drawer of the dresser. It didn't contain clothes, just a collection of keepsakes he had acquired over the years. He smiled as he thought how people would react if they were to find out that Thomas Barrow was a sentimental old sod at heart.
There were a few photos of his family. One that had started to curl at the corners was of his mother sitting in a wicker chair flanked by his brother and sister with Thomas sitting cross-legged on the floor in front. His father stood behind them scowling. Thomas shook his head. He couldn't even make an effort for that day. She was dying and he knew it. All she wanted was a nice photo of us together. Oh well, at least four of us look good. He set the collection of photos on top of the dresser.
There were some postcards and Christmas notes from Phyllis Baxter. She and Molesley had finally taken the plunge shortly after Cora Crawley had died. He figured that Molesley had seen his last chance slipping away because Phyllis was leaving Downton and screwed up what courage he had.
"You're what?" Thomas asked, almost choking on the smoke from his cigarette.
"I'm marrying Joseph. He asked last night and I said yes." Beside her, Molesley smiled nervously.
"You're not joking?"
"No, Mr. Barrow, I'm not. And I want you to be happy about it."
"Oh, I don't know if I
"I want you to be happy because you're going to be the best man and we can't have a grumpy one."
I'm going to be what?"
"You heard me, Thomas." She never used his first name in front of anyone and seldom even when they were alone. He got the hint.
"I thought it was up to the groom to decide these things." Thomas made a last attempt to escape.
"Oh, he did," Phyllis insisted as she linked her arm through Molesley's. "Didn't you, Joseph."
"Indeed, Mr. Barrow, I did. You're the closest Phyllis has to family and I have none so I would be honoured."
Thomas glared at him. A likely story.
Thomas set the postcards and letters with the photos and took them over to the waiting suitcase. Looking back, if he were to tell the truth, Thomas wasn't all that unhappy at having been asked, but he would never admit that out loud.
He returned to the dresser and pulled out a few odds and ends, things he wasn't sure why he kept, but they would be going with him too. Then he found Sybbie Branson's stuffed rabbit tucked at the back. Smiling at it fondly, he picked it up. She had finally come back from America for a visit in 1938 just a few months before her grandfather died.
There had been a lot of changes at Downton since the Bransons left. It had fared better than a lot of the other homes, but time had taken, and was continuing to take, its toll. As they waited at the front door, there was only Thomas, Andy and two maids among the servants. The chauffeur had long gone - Andy filling in when necessary - as had the position of head housekeeper. Thomas oversaw everyone; not a great task since most of the house was closed and what furniture remained in the unused rooms was shrouded in dustcovers.
When the young woman stepped from the taxi Thomas was shocked by how much she looked like her mother. The entire family was there of course, George home from school, Lady Edith, her husband, and Marigold from London. They enveloped her and swept her through the door.
"So, that's Miss Sybbie," Andy commented as he picked up two of the cases, letting Thomas take the other two. They left the obviously heavy trunk for last.
"Yes, but I understand she prefers Miss Branson now."
"She's a looker."
"Don't get any ideas, Andy," Thomas warned as he followed him up the stairs. "She's your employer's granddaughter and it would be worth more than your life."
"I'm only commenting Mr. Barrow. I would never consider anything like that. Besides I must be almost twenty years older than her."
They set the cases down in the room and turned to leave just as Sybbie Branson entered.
"Ah, Miss Branson. We're just on our way," Thomas smiled as he nodded.
"Barrow. Oh hell, I hate that. Thomas. I wanted to get some things from one of my cases, but I'm glad I ran into you. I saw you out there, but you know my family. Couldn't stop." She smiled and held out her hand.
Taken aback, Thomas hesitated before he realised that she wanted him to shake it. He took it gingerly.
She suddenly noticed Andy who had stepped to one side when she came in and was partially hidden behind the door.
"You're Andy, am I right? You started here not long before we moved to America."
"Yes, Miss Branson."
She turned back to Thomas.
"I assume you looked after Benny as you said you would."
"Of course, Miss Syb
"Don't worry," she laughed. "I'm not here to reclaim him. You've had him longer than I did so I think he's yours now. You didn't forget me though, did you."
"Oh, that would be impossible, Miss Branson."
"That's good. Well, I need get those gifts and then back to the family. I'm here for two months so I'm sure we'll get a chance to chat later. I want to know about all the old servants, at least the ones I can remember. My grandparents will tell me if I ask, but I'm sure you'll have better stories."
Andy closed the door behind them and they started down the hallway.
"So, Mr. Barrow, who's Benny?"
Thomas gathered the rabbit and added it to the other items in his case. When he returned to the drawer, all that was left was one more stack of letters, tied neatly with string, with a photo sitting on top of them. He picked them up, but instead of putting them into the case he took them to the chair and sat down. Absentmindedly he ran his finger back and forth along the string as he looked at the photo. It was of Andy in his uniform.
Andy stood nervously in front of Thomas, twisting his cap in his hands.
"I enlisted, Mr. Barrow."
Thomas dropped his paper into his lap and pushed his glasses up onto his head.
"Did you now. Why would you go and do that?"
"For King and Country."
Thomas shivered at the familiarity of the words.
"You did you're bit the last time around so now it's my turn."
"And you're not
uh, too old?"
"I'm only thirty-four and they say I'm in excellent shape."
"I wanted the RAF, but I doubt I'll get it. So I expect the army."
"And when do you go?"
"In a fortnight."
"That soon? I'll have to do some planning if I'm not going to have you around."
"Will you inform Lady Mary? I mean, she's acting for her son while he's still at school and I thought that's who should know."
"Yes, I'll take care of that. Now off you go to bed. You're still working here for a couple of weeks."
"Good night Mr. Barrow."
"Good night Andy."
Thomas slid his glasses back down onto his nose and picked up his paper again. The words on the page blurred as he felt his eyes begin to sting. Jesus.
The next two weeks went quickly and the night before Andy was to leave Thomas knocked on the door to his room.
"So are you all set? Anything you need?"
"No, Mr. Barrow. I've put my livery away and packed what I can take. There are a few things I'll have to leave though."
"That's no problem, I'll look after them until you come back."
"Would you mind if I take any leave I get here? I mean I have no family and I don't have anywhere else that I want to go."
"Of course. But I'm sure you'll meet other men who will gladly take you home to theirs. You know what they say about soldiers' families: they welcome strays with open arms."
"Perhaps, but it's good to know you'll be here."
Thomas held out his hand and Andy seized it so hard it made him grunt.
"You'll write and let me know how you're getting on?"
"Definitely, Mr. Barrow. You'll hear about all my adventures."
"I think perhaps you could call me Thomas now, don't you."
"I'd like that."
They stood for a few seconds, neither letting go until Thomas pulled Andy into a hug, breaking the one taboo he swore he never would. He released him and stepped away.
"You be careful, hear me."
He turned on his heel before his emotions got the better of him and quickly closed the door behind him.
True to his word Andy had written him faithfully, a letter almost every week. Thomas played with the bow before turning the package over. At the back was the telegram from the War Office.
"Regret to advise
Thomas didn't have to look at it, he knew the words by heart. Since Andy had named him as his next of kin it had been sent to him. He told Thomas in one of his letters that he hoped he didn't mind that he had lied on the form that he was his uncle.
He sighed as he got up to place the letters and photo in his case with everything else. After checking the wardrobe and drawers again, he locked the suitcases and lifted them from the bed. Jimmy had moved into the house in London the week before and would be waiting for him. He looked around the room one more time before turning out the light and shutting the door.
~~~ End ~~~
For now, I'll leave it to your imagination how Thomas and Jimmy moved beyond the friendship of "We'll Meet Again."
A word about headcanons. This is set in 1952. Thomas was born in 1887 so he is now 65. Jimmy who was born in 1898 is 54. Andy died in 1943 when he was 38, having been born in 1905. Yes, I know it's all very specific.