Male/Male
Thomas Barrow, George Crawley, Original Characters, Downton Abbey
Title: The Lonely Sea
Length: 4 Chapters


Chapter Two

The room wasn't busy. There were a couple of late holidayers, the ones who came for the coastal walk and not the strand; Thomas could always tell from their shoes. He recognised a few local faces as well.

They found a quiet table near the window and had just settled in when the waitress came over.

"Mr. Kirkwood, nice to see you. And Mr.," she paused, not sure how to continue. Although Thomas came in for lunch a few times a month he had never spoken to her much beyond ordering. He pulled out his best smile, something he hadn't used in a while.

"Barrow. It's Barrow."

"And Mr. Barrow," she went on, relieved. "Lovely autumn day."

"Yes," Allan replied. "It is indeed."

"If you would like a few minutes to decide I can come back."

Thomas didn't need the time.

"I'm going to have the sandwich plate." He looked to Allan.

"Good choice. I'll have the same, Millie."

As she walked away Thomas realised he hadn't known her name before today. He was also starting to understand that, while he was glad he had decided to take Allan up on his offer, he had already faced some unforeseen and unpleasant truths, but it hadn't been all that bad. He found that he resented it and didn't want anyone to know more, made easier because eventually there was no one tell. When he came to Tardon it just seemed natural to continue keeping himself locked away. Maybe it was time open up, difficult as that might be after so long.

The chance hadn't presented itself before because no one had deliberately gone out of their way to show an interest, invitations to play cards aside, and besides, he had done nothing to encourage it. Allan apparently didn't need encouragement, which made Thomas curious. Something about Allan told him that he should try. What remained to be seen was how successful any of this would be.

Allan opened his serviette, setting it on his lap, and waited for a moment to see if Thomas was going to speak. When he didn't, he decided to make the first move.

"So Mr. Barrow, what would . . ."

"Wait."

"Pardon?" Allan was too taken aback to say anything else. Jesus! What did I do?

"I think you should call me Thomas."

Allan wasn't sure if Thomas's half-smile was because he had asked him to use his first name or because he had managed to pull Allan up short with his "wait". As far as he was concerned though, it didn't matter; he was going to treat it as a small victory.

"So Thomas, what would you like to know about me? I mean we've been living under the same roof for six months, but this is the first time we're actually going to talk."

Allan thought Thomas was likely anticipating questions about himself, but this was better. He would share some things and Thomas would feel obligated to share as well. He hoped.

"I expect you don't know much more than my name."

Thomas just nodded. So, not the direct approach then. He knew full well what Allan's game was, but it was going to be played by Thomas's rules. Just because I don't know you doesn't mean I don't know about you.

"Well, let's see. Your father is Peter and your mother is Adelaide. You have a brother named Aaron whom you don't particularly like and a sister Camelia whom you do. You were born in London and you were forty-two last February, the twelfth I think. You used to manage a Saville Row tailor. You were in the last war and were wounded in the leg. You own the building your shop is in. How am I doing so far?"

"Uh . . . surprisingly well."

"I'm sure there's more but one last thing. You arrived in Tardon last year out of the blue, as if whisked away by the fairies and dropped here, with enough money to buy that building. I would suspect that you had committed some crime and were on the run from the police, but you're hardly hiding away. I imagine the real reason is just as interesting."

Thomas was tempted to reach over and close his slightly gaping mouth. Hmm, thank you Allan, it seems if you get me going some of the old Thomas comes through.

"You see, you can learn a lot from just listening around the dinner table or from occasionally sitting by the fire and reading instead of going to your rooms while someone's playing cards." But mostly by being Mrs. Purdy's confidant. The woman, bless her, does indeed love to gossip - with the right person.

Any further conversation was put off by the arrival of their tea and sandwiches. After Millie left, Thomas reached for the pot.

"Shall I pour?

"I think you better."

At that Thomas started to laugh and set the pot down.

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to be a show-off."

"Are you sure?"

"All right, maybe a little. But it's not wise to make assumptions about someone you don't know. And before you say anything, yes, that's my fault, not yours."

He picked up the pot again, holding it over Allan's cup without pouring.

"You put your milk in first don't you?"

"Ah yes, I . . . And you knew that, obviously. Fine, point taken." With milk and tea added in the right order, he stirred in some sugar and reached for a sandwich. "So, was this a bad idea? You and I having lunch."

Thomas had already taken a bite of one of his and held off answering.

"I don't think so. I've enjoyed it so far, haven't you?"

Allan almost spit out the sip of tea he had taken.

"Don't worry it's your chance now, but turnabout's fair play first. What do you know about me?"

He listened as Allan went over the little that Mrs. Purdy had told him.

"So that's it then? I wouldn't want you to write my biography."

"As you said it's not my fault I don't know you so I don't think you should complain."

"True."

Thomas took another bite from his sandwich before he went on.

"All right. I was originally meant to be a clockmaker like my father, even apprenticed for a year, but circumstances prevented that so I ended up in service. Hall boy, footman, under butler, then butler. There was a break as a corpsman during the Great War where I got this."

He held up his hand which was gloved as always. He had become so used to wearing it that it was second nature to put it on in the morning. I'm sure this has been a mystery he's wanted to solve.

"What circumstances?"

I thought that would be the question.

"Ones that you might learn about later."

"I was right about Yorkshire?"

"For about forty years I was with the Crawley family of Downton Abbey. First with the old earl and then with his grandson, the current Lord Grantham, until I came here. But we weren't in Yorkshire all the time. The season was spent at the London house, at least while there was any season to speak of and any reason to go. I even went to America once."

"And your family?"

"My parents died long ago. There's only my sister Margaret now; she was widowed this year, lives just outside of Manchester. We haven't seen much of one another for years, but she's planning to visit next month."

"You never married?" Allan had left that detail out of what he had told Thomas that he knew.

"Few men in service, at least those in the house like footmen and butlers, ever married."

Thomas refilled his half-empty cup and took another sandwich.

"And what's your reason?"

"Reason?"

"Why you never married. I'm going to guess you had plenty of prospects, as they say, and none of the constraints of service. You're decent looking, have a good upbringing and are generally successful from what I can tell. And yet here you are living the solitary life, playing cards with Ted, gossiping with Mrs. Purdy, having lunch with me."

"I suppose it just wasn't for me." Decent looking? I've had better compliments.

"Indeed."

Allan didn't know if that meant the reason was good enough or if Thomas had reached some conclusion. From his tone he suspected the latter, but just what that conclusion was he had no way of telling. As he finished his last sandwich he realised that he had gleaned some new things about Thomas's background, in particular his hand, but there was a lot still to learn. It was still early days and it paid to be patient; he couldn't expect to get everything in one short lunch. In a way they were even now - family, work, war - and maybe he knew a bit more when it came to detail

"More tea?" Thomas asked. "We seem to have finished this pot."

"Unless you want to leave."

"No. As a matter of fact I was eying those pastries."

He caught Millie's eye as she came from behind the counter.

"We'd like another pot, but just enough for two cups please. And maybe you can tempt us with something sweet."

Allan took this as a good sign. If lunch had been a disaster there was no way Thomas would have wanted to prolong it.

Millie returned with the tea and a selection of pastries; they each took one.

"Quite good," Thomas announced after his first taste. "It reminds me of one that our old cook used to make."

"Do you miss it? Downton I mean."

"Not really. I miss some of the people, but it changed; it wasn't the same. Which I suppose is a good thing. That era of being waited on hand and foot by people who are at your beck and call all hours of the day is all but gone, as it should be. Soon you'll only find it in history books and romantic novels."

"And yet you stayed."

Thomas took a last forkful of pastry before setting the rest to one side.

"When you have limited options, or believe you have, you keep with what you do best. It became comfortable, maybe too comfortable, but it also gave me a decent and, as it turned out, secure living."

"So you have no regrets then?"

Thomas shrugged.

"Do you not have regrets? But I think that's a discussion for another day." And besides you've got a bit more out of me today than I intended. Still it didn't really upset him. Something about Allen made it easy to talk about his life. Perhaps it was just because he had given him an opportunity that he hadn't had for years or perhaps there was something more. He took a final drink of tea.

"Let's settle the bill shall we."

He pulled out his watch as he stood.

"I want to go to the bookstore and the chemist before I meet Lord Grantham."

"This is my treat . . ."

Allan was half way to his feet and stopped.

"Lord Grantham? Here?"

"Yes. Didn't I say before?"

"No. I think that's something I would have remembered."

Thomas didn't smile, but his eyes gave him away.

"Odd. Anyway, you see my old life is hanging on a bit but not in a bad way at all"

He stretched out his hand and Allan shook it.

"Thank you for lunch. Next time is on me."

Thomas was gone before Allan realised that apparently they were going to continue their talk and they were going to have lunch again.

Well I'll be damned.