Thomas Barrow, Downton Abbey
AU or maybe just a stop along the way to Downton.
Title: No Place For Me
Length: 5 chapters
Thomas Barrow wasn't always a malevolent schemer.
Society as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer;
- Oscar Wilde
Andrew Barrow stood at the doorway into the workshop, watching his son at one of the benches. Thomas had always been a curious child and he was happy when his curiosity turned to interest in clock making. Now entering the second year of his apprenticeship, he was showing promise. He understood clocks, their inner workings and seemed to have a feel not just for repairing, but also for building them. He looked forward to the day he would be able to change the business name to Andrew Barrow and Son.
He looked up from the pieces spread out in front of him.
"How's that mantle clock coming?"
"It seems to be a minor crack in a spring, but you should look at it when you can."
"Fine, I'll do that later, but if that's what you think I'm sure you're right. I'm going to deliver the Yardley's clock."
"Isn't someone going to pick it up? Do you want me to take it?"
"No. It's on my way to the station. You know what to do if anyone comes in with a repair or an order. You can take the repair, but a custom clock you should leave to me and I'll contact them. I'll see you tomorrow."
"All right, father."
Thomas settled back to looking at the parts, making sure there was nothing else wrong. He found clocks comforting; all the parts fitting together, running smoothly and when they didn't he could fix them. It was a comfort he didn't have in his own life. There were things in it he didn't know how to fix. An hour or so later, he sat up straight on the stool and stretched. He had been leaning over those parts, inspecting and cleaning them, for too long and his shoulders hurt.
As he got up to move around, there was a knock at the back door. When he opened it he found a boy about his own age, cap in hand. His clothes were grimy, his face covered in black dust, a shock of red hair above it all. Despite all that Thomas noticed his smile.
"I wanted to tell you I left your coal in the shed."
"You're not the regular coal man."
"No, that's my brother. He's took on another route and got me this one."
"So you'll be doing this all the time now?"
As he was closing the door, the boy asked.
"Could I have some water?"
Thomas looked at him more closely. He was about his height but almost painfully thin. He wondered how he managed to lift the bags of coal. Beneath the dirt his skin was pale and he was trembling. It was cold, but he was only wearing a light jacket and had no gloves.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm just thirsty."
"Come in and close the door, but I'm going to have to ask you to stay here. I can't let too much dust get onto the parts unless I plan on cleaning them all over again."
He could see the boy blush and regretted that he had made it seem he wasn't good enough to be there.
"Just wait here a moment."
Thomas went into the main area of the workshop and brought back one of the stools.
"Sit down while I get you that water."
The boy sat without speaking and bowed his head, looking at his feet. Thomas poured some water and brought it back.
The boy took the glass without looking up, spilling some on himself before taking a drink. Thomas noticed that his hands were red and bleeding, his nails broken and encrusted with coal dust. His clothing wasn't just dirty, it was threadbare with patches everywhere and the kerchief around his neck was stained with sweat. The boy took another sip and handed the water back.
"Thank you," he mumbled and got up to leave.
"Wait. Is that enough? Do you want to get warm before you go?"
When the boy turned to look at him, he could see that tears had cleared some of the grime from his face, partially revealing a long scar down his right cheek. Thomas reached out and grabbed his arm.
The boy wiped his eyes, then his nose, on his sleeve.
"At the last place when I asked for some water they said no and shut the door on me."
"Well I didn't, did I?"
The boy shook his head.
"Then sit down for a little longer and get warm. Do you have much more to deliver?"
"No. You're my last."
"So what's the hurry?"
"I have to get home or my father. . ."
"Will five minutes make much of a difference?"
"It might, but it is warm here."
The boy sat back down.
"What's your name?"
"Charlie. Charlie Alders."
"I'm Thomas Barrow. You can call me Thomas if you want."
Thomas reached out his hand. Charlie hesitated. This wasn't how things worked. Usually people just looked through him. They seldom asked his name and certainly never told him theirs. He wiped his hand on his pants before shaking it. He peered over Thomas's shoulder into the workshop.
"What do you do here?"
"We make and repair clocks."
"And do you own it?"
Thomas laughed but was sorry as soon as he saw the hurt look on Charlie's face.
"No. My father does. I'm just an apprentice."
"Yes. I'm learning how to be a clock maker."
"Well, I didn't have to learn anything about being a coal man but how to lift and carry."
His smile took Thomas by surprise, flustering him. He asked before thinking.
"So, does your father own the coal business?"
It was Charlie's turn to laugh.
"My father doesn't own anything. Just sits at home and drinks. Me and my brother work. I was at one of the mills for five years 'til it closed. Now I'm doing this."
"How old are you?"
Charlie looked at him, trying to figure out why he was asking.
"Sixteen. Look, I have to go. Thanks for the water."
He got up, opened the door and left without another word.
As Charlie picked up the horse's reins, he wondered why Thomas had been so nice. That hadn't been his experience when dealing with people. Either they just ignored him or stepped back if he got too close as if he was going to get them dirty just by standing there. He had a filthy job, he had the clothes on his back and not much else, he was poor, his father drank whatever money he earned, but he shouldn't be treated like that. He realised he should have asked what time it was. The horse and cart still had to go to the yard, the left over coal had to be put back and if he was late getting home his father would make sure he regretted it. He moved the cart down the alley toward the street, hoping the damn horse didn't bolt again.
Thomas looked at one of the clocks. It was time to close up. He made sure the back door was barred, turned out the lights and locked the front door behind him. He and his father lived just a few blocks away on one of the side streets, so he didn't have far to go. After his mother had died there was only the two of them. They had a maid who came in and a cook, but she would be gone by now, leaving him a dinner. His father wouldn't be back. He visited his brother every Wednesday and always stayed overnight.
He thought about Charlie and wondered if he would see him next week. If he did, he would make sure to give him a pair of his gloves if he still wasn't wearing any. Those hands of his were pretty beaten up. It couldn't be easy doing his type of work in the cold without gloves. As he thought about his clothes he knew that gloves wern't all he needed, but he wasn't sure he would willing to take anything else. After all, he didn't know that much about him. He felt sorry for him and that might be exactly what he didn't want. He would wait until he saw him again and try to find out a bit more. Something about him made him want to help. Maybe it was that smile, maybe he sensed they were more alike than either expected.
As Charlie pulled the cart into the main street he saw Thomas a short distance away. He smiled and waved.
Thomas hurried up to the cart.
"Will you be coming the same day next week"?
"Yes, that's what the owner says. Weekly on Wednesday unless you have a special order. Why?"
"No special reason. My father's always gone on Wednesday and it's quiet. I would like to talk again."
Charlie looked at him strangely.
"Maybe I won't have time."
"Well, if you don't, at least knock on the door to let me know you've been."
"I can do that," Charlie answered, still puzzled. Few people ever wanted to talk to him, maybe that was why he had told Thomas more in the last half hour than he could remember ever telling anyone. So no matter what he had said he would try to make the time. Being kind, asking his name, now wanting to talk. Thomas Barrow certainly was different.
"Good night, then."
Charlie slapped the reins.
"Good night, Thomas."