Note: I really, really wanted a scene where Thomas explains his new status to the Downton crowd. There was no way to make it work in the main story. So now, let us imagine that Matthew has invited a group of young lords and heirs to Downton for a sort of professional conference on modern methods of estate management. We’ll ignore all of the reasons, canonical, historical, and logistical, why this would not have happened, and join Thomas and Gerald on the afternoon of their arrival at Downton.
“Now,” Thomas said as he gave Gerald’s lapels a final brushing, “you do know you’d better not ask me to have tea with you and the rest of the guests, don’t you?”
“Yes, I know,” Gerald said. They were in one of Downton Abbey’s guest rooms, Gerald having been asked, quite out of the blue, by Mr. Crawley, who had arranged to bring together several young lords or heirs to great estates, that they might discuss modern methods of estate management. Gerald had been surprised to be asked—he’d only met the man once, having been introduced by their mutual acquaintance, Alistair “Ace” Langley-Smythe—but had agreed to come, despite some misgivings. He’d thought that Thomas would be unnerved by this return to Downton Abbey, and at times he was, but at others he seemed to be enjoying this reversal of their roles, taking great pains to explain points of Insensate etiquette to him. “What will you do?” he asked, returning to the subject of tea.
“If you don’t need me there, I’ll go down and have mine in the servants’ hall,” he answered. “And meet you back here at the dressing gong.”
“I expect I can manage,” Gerald said.
“Good. If you do need me, Carson or one of the footmen can come down and fetch me.” Finished with Gerald’s coat, he turned the brush on himself, flicking a speck of dust off his lapel.
Thomas had grown much more confident and at ease in the last six months, Gerald thought as they made their way downstairs. He saw Gerald to the door of the library, where he smoothly handed him over to Carson, the butler.
The discussion was mostly inane chit-chat so far—a few of the gentlemen hadn’t come down yet—so Gerald turned half an ear on Thomas.
“—case you have forgotten, Mr. Barrow, in this house, valets do not use the front staircase.”
“I’m not a valet, Mr. Carson,” Thomas said calmly. “I’m a Guide. And I would defer to your sensibilities while we’re here, but Lord Pellinger sometimes needs a bit of assistance on stairs—a war injury. So I’m afraid you’ll have to cope.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Carson said, “You’ll use the servants’ stairs when you aren’t with him.”
“Of course I will.” With that, Thomas’s footsteps went off down the passage. Carson returned to stand by the library door, looking disgruntled.
Score one for Thomas.
As Thomas reached the bottom of the servants’ staircase, he saw Jimmy coming toward him, carrying a tray of cakes. This was the moment he’d been dreading. Stepping aside, he said with a nod, “James.”
Jimmy passed him without a word. Thomas resisted the temptation to try to engage him further in conversation, or even to look after him wistfully, and continued into the servants’ hall, where Ivy was laying the tea. A couple of visiting valets were there, along with Bates, Anna, and—naturally—O’Brien. Thomas took a seat near the visitors. “Got your gentleman unpacked, then?” asked Morrow, a valet Thomas had met in the luggage room.
“I have,” Thomas answered.
“It’s evening dress tonight, isn’t it?” the other valet asked.
“Yes,” said Bates, from the other end of the table. “They can wear black tie for the other evenings if they like.”
“Is Mr. Branson wearing white tie, then?” Thomas wondered. He hadn’t owned any when Thomas was here last.
“Mr. Matthew convinced him to,” Bates answered.
“Talking of ties,” O’Brien spoke up, her voice was honey-sweet, always a sign of danger when it came to O’Brien, “I’ve never seen a valet wear one quite like the one Mr. Barrow is wearing.”
He was wearing an ordinary valet’s suit, with a tie in the colours of Bellerock’s livery. “As you know, Miss O’Brien, I’m not precisely a valet.”
“Then what are you?” Daisy asked, coming in with more crockery.
“I’m a Guide,” he answered. “His lordship’s personal Guide.”
“I’m sure we all know what that means,” O’Brien noted, cattily.
“I’m sure you don’t, actually,” Thomas answered.
At the same moment, Ivy asked, “What’s she talking about?”
“Never you mind,” said Mrs. Hughes.
To Thomas, Daisy said, “What does it mean, then?”
Having brought the subject up, Thomas supposed he had to answer, but it was difficult to come up with a response that would make sense to them. “Guides are a bit closer to the family than even valets and ladies’ maids,” he said.
Was there anything he could say that she couldn’t make into a double entendre? “Since having us nearby help settle their senses, we spend a good part of the day upstairs with them. For instance, we usually take tea with them in the afternoon.” See what she could make of that.
“You never,” Daisy said.
“’strue,” Thomas answered. “I’m only not now because I thought the shock might kill Mr. Carson.”
“Next you’ll be saying you dine with them,” Bates scoffed.
“Not in the dining room,” Thomas allowed. “But if they have trays in their rooms; then we eat with them. And at picnics, and once in a while, if some of the family’s out, they have luncheon or supper in the breakfast room and we eat with them.”
“Sounds a bit confusing,” Anna said.
“Sounds uncomfortable,” Morrow added.
“Not any more confusing than here, once you get used to it,” Thomas answered. “And there are a half a dozen of us Guides, so it’s not like I’m all on my own.” Enjoying the attention, and momentarily forgetting O’Brien, he went on, “I go riding with him, too.”
“Do you, now?” O’Brien said snidely.
Thomas ignored the insinuation. “Yes, I’ve my own horse now; got it for my birthday.”
“Why not make it a unicorn, if you’re telling fairy stories?”
Thomas flushed. He should never have told her about his fondness for unicorns. “Because unicorns don’t exist, Miss O’Brien,” he said, in as patronizing a voice as he could manage. But O’Brien wasn’t the only one looking skeptical. “Really,” he said, “I only got it because I’m too tall for the ponies they keep for the other Guides—they’re a small race, at Bellerock—and his lordship’s groom didn’t much like me riding his lordship’s horses.” That was a slight oversimplification, but it was true that Berry was a gift more for Clint than for him; new riding clothes had been his part of the present. When his lordship’s string had consisted of only three horses, if one of them went lame or needed a rest, that left Clint without one to ride, and apparently buying a horse for Clint would have crossed some sort of line.
“So it’s not really your horse,” Daisy said. “I mean, you can’t take it with you if you leave.”
“It’s really my horse,” Thomas answered, not wanting to get into the question of why he wouldn’t be leaving, with the horse or without it.
He was spared further questions by the arrival of Mr. Carson, trailed by two more visiting valets and Alfred, who gave Thomas a look of intense dislike. As everyone stood up, Carson introduced the two newcomers, “Mr. Barnes, valet to Lord Shipley, and Mr. Turner, Lord Bagley’s man. Now everyone’s here, Alfred will show you where you can put your things. Mr. Barnes and Mr. Morrow, you will be rooming together. Mr. Harris will share with Alfred, and Mr. Turner, you will share with James, the first footman. Alfred will show you where to find everything you need.” As Morrow and Harris went to join Alfred and the others, Carson added, “Mr. Barrow, I will see you in my pantry.”
Thomas didn’t need O’Brien’s knowing smirk to figure out that it was not a request. Silently, he followed Mr. Carson to the butler’s pantry.
“Shut the door,” Carson said as he sat down behind his desk.
Thomas did so.
“I do not know where would be the least objectionable place to put you, Mr. Barrow. As you might expect, neither James nor Alfred is eager to share a bedroom with you; nor do I wish to subject our guests’ valets to your…behavior.”
Thomas’s resolve to get through this without shocking Carson’s sensibilities vanished in the face of this insult. “It really doesn’t matter where you put me, Mr. Carson,” he said smoothly. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but as you’re so concerned about it, I might as well tell you, I’ll be sleeping in his lordship’s room anyway.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“My lordship, that is, not yours,” he added—he hoped unnecessarily. “It’s quite wrong to put a Guide in the servants’ quarters anyway. We always stay near our Sentinels. The correct thing to do would be to give Lord Pellinger a room with a dressing room, and make up a bed for me in there. But don’t worry; I’ve explained to his lordship that the household isn’t set up for Sentinels, and you wouldn’t know how to accommodate him properly. We’ll make do.” Thomas wavered over whether to make that sentence even more outrageous by adding a wink, or less outrageous by suggesting—untruthfully—that he would sleep on the sofa. He compromised on neither.
“You most certainly will not.”
“I’m afraid I will, Mr. Carson. If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to take it up with Lord Pellinger—but then you’d have to explain to Mr. Matthew why one of his invited guests has been driven out and…well, it would be a great deal less awkward for everyone if you simply don’t concern yourself with where I’m sleeping.” Thomas nodded crisply and left, without waiting to be dismissed.
Deciding it would be best not to be within Carson’s reach for the next little while, Thomas went upstairs on the pretext of making sure his lordship had everything he needed. He had forgotten that, with Carson and Alfred getting the visiting valets settled, that left Jimmy on duty at the library door. “What are you doing here?” he hissed under his breath.
“None of your business,” Thomas answered, looking for his lordship—who had evidently heard him; he’d just abandoned his teacup on a side-table and was heading straight toward them. Thomas hurried forward to meet him, feeling Jimmy’s gaze burning a hole in his back. “I just wondered if you had everything you needed, my lord,” he explained, knowing that Jimmy was likely eavesdropping.
Taking his arm, his lordship drew him into a corner of the room, saying, “Yes, I’m glad you came; I wanted to ask you something about something….” Both tone and content got less convincing as they got further out of Jimmy’s earshot. “That was him? Your footman?”
“Yes,” Thomas said.
“I can see why you fancied him. Not my sort, of course—I like them dark and broodingly handsome.”
Thomas smiled involuntarily, then quickly straightened his face; he didn’t want Jimmy reporting to Carson that he’d been displaying emotions in front of the quality. “By the way, Mr. Carson might be about to come complaining about me.”
“About coming down the front stairs?”
“No; he’s over that. I told him I’d be sleeping in your bedroom.”
“I thought we weren’t going to tell him that.”
“He made me angry. He was going on about how he didn’t know where to put me that I wouldn’t ravish anybody in their sleep, so I told him not to bother himself about it.”
“Ravish? He said that?”
“No, he just implied it. Said he didn’t want to subject anyone to my ‘behaviour.’”
His lordship shook his head. “Try not to let them upset you. If anyone—there he is.”
Thomas carefully didn’t look. “Carson?”
“He can’t yell at me up here; that’s why I came.” Now he could see Carson out of the corner of his eye, but he was heading for the tea-table, not for them. Good.
“He can’t yell at you at all; you don’t work for him. Maybe I should speak to him.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.” Now Carson was being buttonholed by Lady Grantham. “This would be a good time for me to escape, if you don’t need anything.”
“All right; go.”
Thomas hurried back downstairs and was back in his place in the servants’ hall, where Ivy and Daisy were loading the table with tea, sandwiches, and cake, well before Carson reappeared. Carson wouldn’t normally hesitate to dress anyone down in public, but Thomas was betting that he wouldn’t speak on this subject in mixed company. And with tea about to start, he couldn’t demand to speak to Thomas in private without inviting speculation. Thomas was betting he wouldn’t want to do that, either.
He bet right. Carson glared at him, but didn’t say a word, as he and Mrs. Hughes took their places and started the meal.
But he hadn’t bet on Jimmy, who scurried in a few moments late, and no sooner had put his pert little bum on the chair than he said, “Mr. Carson, what was Mr. Barrow doing in the library? I wasn’t aware visiting valets were meant to be up there.”
“Decided to have your tea up there after all?” O’Brien asked, before Carson could answer.
“Not that it’s anyone’s business,” Thomas said, as calmly as he could, “but I was checking if Lord Pellinger needed anything.”
Carson said, “I expect if he had, he would have asked me or one of the footmen.”
Thomas shrugged. “While we’re on the subject, when the gentlemen are conferring over the next couple of days, if he asks for anything in particular, send me up with it. If he has any trouble with his leg or his senses, he’ll want me, and he might not want to say so.”
O’Brien tittered. Carson cleared his throat. Mrs. Hughes said, “Are there any other special instructions, Mr. Barrow? We haven’t played host to a Sentinel in my time here.”
“Yes,” Thomas said. “Don’t send anyone in to light his fire in the morning—they’ll wake him, no matter how quiet they are, and he doesn’t like strangers coming in his room while he’s asleep.”
“Then how does he cope with you?” Jimmy asked, under his breath.
“James!” said Carson.
“I’m his Guide; it’s different,” Thomas said, responding as if the question had been an innocent one. “And I’ll change the bed; he doesn’t like it smelling of other people. Apart from that, the maids can do up the room as usual when he’s not in it.” Glancing up at Daisy, who was coming around with the teapot, he added, “He’ll want a cup of tea at half-seven, and a breakfast tray at eight. I’ll come down for them; just please have them ready. And I have breakfast in his room, so put mine on the tray too.” That one, he thought, was not going to go over well.
He was not surprised. Carson set his teacup down, closing his eyes with a pained expression. “Will you.”
“Yes. Sentinels don’t like to eat by themselves, and his lordship doesn’t like coming down to breakfast.”
Ivy asked, “So do I save you something from the downstairs breakfast, or do you eat what they eat?”
“At home, we eat what they eat,” Thomas answered, with a wary glance at Carson, “but it doesn’t really matter. Whatever Mrs. Patmore thinks best.”
Looking around at all the visiting valets, Mrs. Hughes said, “Did all of you find what you need in your gentlemen’s rooms?”
The others made a few requests—an extra blanket for Lord Bagley, who slept with the window open no matter how cold it was, a hot water bottle for Harris’s employer, who was cold no matter how warm it was, that sort of thing. “Where do you keep the liquor?” Morrow asked. “Mine won’t make it through the night without a brandy and soda.”
“You’ll have to see Mr. Carson for that,” Mrs. Hughes told him.
“I’ll have a decanter and siphon left in his room,” Carson told him.
“Whiskey and soda for Lord Pellinger,” Thomas said. He’d been thinking he’d just fetch it from the library rather than make any more requests of Carson, but since Morrow had brought it up….
Carson eyed him. “One glass, or two?”
“Two, since you asked,” Thomas answered.
“Sentinels don’t like to drink alone, either?” Anna asked.
“His lordship doesn’t,” Thomas said. “I’m not sure about the rest of them.”
“That must suit you,” Bates said dryly.
“Well,” said Mrs. Hughes, “I for one am glad that Thomas has found a position which suits him.”
Thomas might have appreciated the sentiment, if he didn’t know how much fun O’Brien would have with the way it had been expressed. With a knowing smirk, she murmured, “So to speak,” into her teacup.
Carson started to puff himself up like a toad, and Thomas wished earnestly to disappear, but before Carson could actually explode, Bates said, “It’s not funny, Miss O’Brien.”
That was the last thing he needed, Bates of all people leaping to his defense. “I already told you, Mr. Bates, it isn’t like that,” Thomas said, holding on to his temper with both hands.
“And if it was, it wouldn’t be funny.”
It was his “I am the only reasonable man left in the world” voice, and suddenly Thomas could stand it no longer. “Oh, thank God you’re here to recalibrate all our moral compasses for us, Mr. Bates,” Thomas said, as his temper slipped through his hands. “None of the rest of us are capable of working out on our own that it wouldn’t be funny if I was actually prostituting myself.”
Carson rose to his feet, propelled by sheer indignation. “Mr. Barrow! There are ladies present!”
“I’m not the one who brought it up,” Thomas said, with a glare that encompassed both O’Brien and Bates.
“Be that as it may,” Carson said, “if you cannot conduct yourself as a civilized person—” Apparently unable to come up with a sufficiently dire threat, he sat down again, sputtering.
Now all of the visiting valets were looking around as if they weren’t sure how they’d ended up in a madhouse instead of a normal country home. Morrow proved himself the bravest—or perhaps stupidest—of the lot by saying, “I get the impression I’ve missed something.”
“Hmph!” Carson said.
Mrs. Hughes answered, “Mr. Barrow used to work here. There was a bit of unpleasantness, which will not be dredged up any further.” She gave O’Brien a look that would have quelled anyone else. Thomas doubted it would have much effect on O’Brien.
“Indeed, it will not,” Carson seconded, with a similar glare at Jimmy and Thomas. Jimmy passed his share of the glare along to Thomas, who did his best to appear unruffled.
Anna gulped—almost audibly, in the ringing silence, and said determinedly, “I wonder if our visitors had a chance to see any of the village on their way in? The church is quite lovely; it’s 18th century.”
Mrs. Hughes picked up the thread. “Yes, it’s quite worth a look—and right next to the post office, which makes it quite easy to find if you need to send any telegrams….”
“—been selecting cows for high milk production for generations, but for the male half they’ll use anything with horns and balls—I beg your pardon, Lady Edith,” Shipley said. Gerald suspected that he’d forgotten her sex, Grantham’s younger daughter had been participating so knowledgeably in the discussion of dairy modernization.
“Quite all right,” Lady Edith said. “You were saying?”
“Right-o,” Shipley said. “So my plan is to acquire a pedigreed bull, good milk producers on both the sire’s and dam’s side, and make him available to the farmers at reasonable cost. The only problem I see is getting him to the farms where the cows are—there’s a reason they usually use the closest bull, geographically speaking.”
“It might be better, in the long run, to bring the cows to the bull,” Lady Edith suggested. “They’re so much easier to handle.”
“They are, but I don’t see the farmers agreeing to that, old thing,” Shipley said. “It would be a fully day’s work for the dairymen to drive them down, and the same back again, and meanwhile the flesh is melting right off them from the effort.”
“Perhaps if you underwrite the cost of transport,” Gerald said. “Get a lorry and send it round—tell them it’s included in the stud fee.”
The dressing gong rang. “Oh,” Lady Edith said. “We’ll have to continue this later. Lord Pellinger, Lord Shipley.”
The rest of the family and guests scattered; Gerald lingered until Thomas came to help him up the stairs. Or perhaps it was Barrow, from the stiff way he carried himself. He essayed, “Barrow, seems like I haven’t seen you for quite a while.” Hardly at all since Christmas, in fact.
Thomas smiled a little, weakly, at the joke. “No, it’s me. Here.” They’d reached the bottom of the stairs, and he offered his arm. After they’d managed the first few steps, he added, “It’s not easy, bein’ back here.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t have come,” Gerald said. They’d discussed it, at some length, and Thomas had insisted he’d be all right. Gerald wondered if he’d say it again.
Instead, he side-stepped the issue and said, “Mr. Carson might complain to you about my using vulgar language at tea.”
Gerald sensed the beginning of a pattern—“Mr. Carson might complain to you” was clearly going to be Thomas’s formula for confessing his misdeeds. “Oh, dear,” he said. “How did that happen?”
“I lost my temper.” As they paused on the landing, he continued, “I blame you, by the way. That’s what comes of encouraging me to be open about my feelings.”
“I’ll tell Mr. Carson that, if he does come complaining.”
Thomas glanced over at him sharply. “Really?”
“I won’t tell him you said it. I assume you were provoked in some way?”
He’d hoped to get Thomas to share some details, but he just said, “Yes,” and ushered Gerald towards the next flight of stairs.
Remembering the lessons of last autumn, Gerald didn’t press. But once they were in the room, and Thomas was getting out his evening clothes, he brought it up of his own accord.
“She was saying things, about us. Not really saying them, but insinuating them. You know.”
His former-best-mate turned archenemy. “What sort of things?”
“Well, like Mrs. Hughes said she was glad I found a position I liked—she’s the housekeeper—and then O’Brien said, ‘So to speak.’”
“Goodness,” Gerald said. “Does she think saying ‘knickers’ in church is the height of humor, too?”
“Possibly,” Thomas said grimly. “And then Bates got in on the act, saying how it wouldn’t be funny, if it was like that. And then I thanked him for reminding us all that it wouldn’t be funny if I’d been forced into prostitution.”
“Goodness,” Gerald repeated. “I’m not sure which of us should be more flattered.”
“I know,” Thomas said, taking off Gerald’s jacket. “It isn’t like that,” he muttered, under his breath, to himself or to the back of Gerald’s head.
“Of course it isn’t.” Gerald was glad this O’Brien hadn’t had a chance to get her hooks into Thomas the last time they visited Downton, before they’d come to their understanding. “I expect it’s rather difficult for Insensates to understand.”
“Suppose it is,” Thomas said.
His air of anger and hurt had eased a bit, enough that Gerald dared to venture, “It sounds rather as if Bates was trying to help.” Thomas, he knew, had a very difficult time distinguishing between an attack and sympathy that he didn’t happen to want.
“I don’t need his help, do I?” Thomas snapped, proving the point.
“No, I suppose not.” He sat down on the edge of the bed. “Is there anything you’d like me to do?”
“No.” Thomas took off Gerald’s shoes, then his trousers. “How’s the leg?” he asked.
“All right.” He helped Gerald into his evening trousers. “I’ll come back up here and pretend to be unpacking, after you go down. Servants’ dinner at Downton is after yours, so there’s no need to go down there and give myself more chances to get in trouble.”
“That’s fine,” Gerald said. “And if you can’t face dinner, we can always say I require a midnight snack.”
Thomas shook his head. “Can’t do that; they’d know I was hiding.”
“Ah.” Gerald had nearly forgotten about that—Thomas’s need not only to hide how he was feeling, but to hide that there was anything to hide. “Well, then, if it’s too dire, I can have some sort of mysterious Sentinel emergency.”
“I’ll be fine, my lord,” Thomas said.
With that, Gerald supposed he really had to let it drop.
After seeing his lordship down to the library, Thomas hung his daytime clothes and then curled up on the sofa with a book—he’d developed a fondness for Sentinel adventure novels over the last few months. This one had Lord Abernathy and his plucky Guide Benjamin solving the mystery of Machu Picchu, and spending a great deal of time huddling together for warmth in their camp in the ruins. Thomas occasionally wondered how cold it could really be—wasn’t South America supposed to be warm?—but didn’t really care.
Around the time that the sacred idol went missing—there was always a sacred idol, in these books—and Abernathy and Benjamin had to go on the run from bloodthirsty natives who thought they’d pinched it, the bedroom door banged open. Thomas jumped a mile—whether because it was a tense moment in the book, because he was about to be caught sitting on the sofa, or because he was about to be caught reading a not-really-dirty-but-slightly-questionable book, he wasn’t sure.
“Mind the wallpaper, Alfred,” Mrs. Hughes’s voice said, followed a fraction of a second later by Alfred himself, backing into the room. Thomas hastily stuffed the book under the sofa cushions.
Before he had a chance to ask Alfred what the hell he was doing, it became clear that he was carrying in a bed—a servants’ quarters one. And on the other end was—oh, yes, because this couldn’t get any worse—Jimmy.
He let his end drop when he saw Thomas. “What’s he doing here?”
“Well, get it out of the doorway, for heaven’s sake,” came Mrs. Hughes slightly peeved voice from the corridor.
With a poisonous glare at Thomas, Jimmy picked up his end of the bed again and helped Alfred move it a few feet further in, enough that Mrs. Hughes could edge through the door. “I’m sorry, Mr. Barrow,” she said. “I thought the room would be empty.”
“It’s all right; his lordship’s gone down. What are you doing?”
“Mr. Carson told me you’d be sleeping in Lord Pellinger’s room,” she explained. “Aren’t you?”
“Oh—yes, that’s right.”
“Put it over there, by the wardrobe,” Mrs. Hughes directed the footmen.
Jimmy shot another glare at him as they obeyed. Once the bed had been shoved into place, he said, “If that’s all, Mrs. Hughes, Mr. Carson is going to want us to serve dinner.”
“Yes, James, you may go.” As the footmen left, she continued to Thomas, “I’ll send one of the maids to make it up. If you aren’t comfortable in the servants’ hall, perhaps you might like to use my sitting room?”
Because, naturally, he couldn’t be in a bedroom at the same time as a maid, no matter that they all knew he was as bent as a corkscrew. “Thank you, Mrs. Hughes.” Checking to make sure that his scandalous book was still hidden, he followed her out of the room.
“As you told Mr. Carson, we weren’t entirely sure how to accommodate you and Lord Pellinger properly,” Mrs. Hughes said as they started down the servants’ stairs. “As you know, our guest bedrooms don’t have dressing rooms. I hope this will be all right?”
“Ah, yes, it’s fine,” Thomas said. “It’s the same way at the Duke of Norfolk’s place—we sleep in our Sentinels’ rooms there.”
“Mr. Carson will be relieved to hear that.”
Thomas couldn’t tell if she was serious or not. “He might also like to know that he should call Lord Pellinger ‘your lordship,’ not ‘my lord.’”
“Yes, perhaps you should tell him that.”
Thomas had been hoping that she would. “It’s true,” he muttered. “I’m the only one’s supposed to call him ‘my lord.’”
Mrs. Hughes paused on the stairs to look over her shoulder at him. “I believe you.”
Somehow, Thomas doubted that.
One of the unacknowledged annoyances of being crippled was that it was difficult to casually leave a conversation one did not wish to have. When standing up took a good minute and a half, one couldn’t just paste on an expression that suggested one had just noticed someone across the room that one just had to say good evening to, and be on one’s way.
And even worse, sometimes the person one was talking with felt that they couldn’t just drift away, either. Gerald had stationed himself on one of a pair of sofas before the library fire. Lord Grantham had sat across him on the other one, and now he didn’t seem to know how to leave, despite the fact that they had nothing to say to each other, once the subjects of how welcome he was at Downton and how glad he was to be here had been exhausted.
“You still have Thomas, I see.”
Gerald started. For a second, he thought that Grantham was referring to the difficulties they’d had, how Thomas had almost left him—or had left him, leaving Barrow in his place, depending on how you looked at it. But no, Grantham just thought…well, Gerald wasn’t sure what he thought. That Gerald might have got tired of him, or found him unsatisfactory, or something. “Yes. He’s doing very well.”
“I’m glad to hear that—if a bit surprised.”
Gerald reminded himself that Grantham had no idea how rude he was being. “He’s a very good valet.”
“Yes, well,” Grantham said, sounding like he regretted bringing up the subject.
“Guides don’t usually work quite as hard as he does at that side of things,” Gerald continued. “There have been a few bumps in the road getting him settled in, but it’s worked out nicely.”
Grantham made a sound of disapproval or incredulity—Gerald wasn’t sure which. “I admit, I’d always heard that Guides were known for their agreeableness and even temperaments. Not qualities I particularly associate with Thomas Barrow.”
“That…comes more naturally to some of them than others,” Gerald said, feeling slightly like a zoo exhibit. But if Grantham understood about Thomas, that understanding might trickle down to make things easier for Thomas in the servants’ hall. “They learn it, if they’re brought up by Guide parents.” Indeed, Gerald suspected one reason he was unusually agreeable for a Sentinel was that he’d been brought up by a Guide mother—Euan’s mother, to be precise—rather than a trained nanny who had devoted her life to raising Sentinel children instead of her own Guide ones.
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Grantham said.
No, he wouldn’t. “It makes quite a difference. That, and Thomas was never happy here—it’s hard to be agreeable and even-tempered when you’re not happy.”
“The others seem to manage.” Grantham seemed to realize that he was almost snapping, and reined himself back. “I’m quite pleased for him, if he finds things more suitable where he is now.”
Smiling tightly, Gerald said, “Yes, I believe he does.”
“What are you doing in here?” came the unmistakable dulcet tones of Miss O’Brien, from the door of Mrs. Hughes’s sitting room.
Thomas considered and rejected several possible responses before settling on, “Reading,” which had the virtue of being true. For the last half-hour or so, he’d been comfortably ensconced by the fire with a pot of tea, a newspaper, and no company but his own.
“Does Mrs. Hughes know you’re in here?”
“Yes,” Thomas answered, feigning intense interest in the livestock prices.
She stepped inside, pulling the door closed behind him. “You’ve a lot of nerve, bringing your fancy man back here.”
“If you mean his lordship, Mr. Matthew invited him,” Thomas said, turning the page.
“I wonder, do you call him ‘his lordship’ when he’s buggering you?”
She was clearly trying to provoke him into another display of temper. Knowing that didn’t make it much easier to avoid rising to the bait. Still, he managed to keep his voice level as he replied, “I’m not sure how that’s any of your business, Miss O’Brien. Perhaps I’ll ask Mr. Carson if he thinks it is.”
She shot back, “Perhaps I’ll ask your lordship what he thinks of some of the things you’ve done in the past.”
If Thomas’s relationship with his lordship had been other than what it was, he might have quailed at that suggestion, but as things were, it was more amusing than anything else. “Which ones did you have in mind?”
“Well, there’s so much to choose from, isn’t there?” she asked, her voice dripping with honey and poison. “I might start with how you got your Blighty. Or all the stealing you’ve done. Or perhaps the Duke of Crowborough—does he think he’s your first, I wonder?”
“Hm,” Thomas said, relishing the moment. “Yes, I suppose you could—except that he already knows about all of that.”
Her look of surprise was almost comical.
“He knows things about me that you don’t even know,” Thomas continued. “You won’t catch me out that way.”
“Won’t I,” O’Brien said, trying to be mysterious, and swept out with a crafty look on her face.
“I’m so glad everything has turned out all right for Thomas, after the…misunderstanding,” Lady Grantham said when she turned to Gerald at the start of the fish course.
By now, Gerald was starting to get a little annoyed with the Crawleys’ fussing at him about Thomas. If they had been a Sentinel family, he would have thought there was nothing more natural in the world than that they would ask after a Guide who had left their household for his. But considering how they had behaved when Thomas had worked here, Gerald rather felt that they didn’t have the right.
But he just smiled as naturally as he could manage and said, “So am I.”
“I’m sure my maid, O’Brien, will be glad to see him again. She’s always been so fond of him.”
“I’d heard,” Gerald answered. More than Lady Grantham had, apparently.
“He had a few…ups and downs, while he was here,” Lady Grantham went on.
Gerald wondered what she was alluding to—the rivalry with Bates? The stealing? Kissing that footman? “It’s difficult for Guides on their own.”
“She said he was never really satisfied, with his job.”
“No,” Gerald said. “He wasn’t. I’ve never met a Guide who liked being a footman.” Before Thomas, Gerald would have said flat out that none of them did, but he’d learned over the last year or so that there was a lot about Guides he didn’t know. “Standing around in a dining room not speaking or being spoken to is a bit of a bore for them. I suppose it would be for anyone.”
“I’d never thought of it that way before,” Lady Grantham said.
“I gather he thought being valet would be more interesting,” Gerald explained, because he couldn’t really say, He thought if he was valet your husband would like him. Quite aside from any effect it might have had on Lady Grantham, Thomas would not be at all pleased by him sharing that information.
“Well, I hope his troubles are behind him.”
“They are.” Or they would be again after this visit was over, at least.
“What’s this?” his lordship asked as he preceded Thomas into the guest room they’d been assigned.
The bed that Mrs. Hughes had had the footmen bring in was made up now, and half-hidden behind a screen. “S’where I’m supposed to sleep,” Thomas explained. “I told them how I’d normally be in your dressing room.”
“Ah. That was kind of them.”
His lordship tended to assume, absent any evidence to the contrary, that any given gesture was kindly meant. Thomas wasn’t sure why. “Maybe.” He went to the wardrobe for his lordship’s pyjamas and dressing gown, changing the subject as he did. “I wish they’d put you in any room but this one—no, I tell a lie. There is one that would be worse.” The one where they’d put up His Grace the bloody bastard of Crowborough.
“I take it there’s some horrible story associated with this room?”
“Yeah, I suppose I haven’t told you about that one.” Thomas hung the pyjamas and dressing gown on the back of a chair and detoured for the decanter and glasses that Carson had sent up earlier. “There was this Turkish ambassador come to stay—this was before the war. They had me valet him. Very, uh, very good-looking; he was flirting with me the whole time,” he explained as he poured two glasses. “And with Lady Mary, as it happens.”
“Just how bad is this story?” his lordship asked, looking concerned, as he accepted one of the drinks from Thomas.
“Well, it’s not what you’re thinking. Whatever you’re thinking,” Thomas added as he settled on the sofa next to him. “He was sending out all the right signals, so when I was undressing him that night, I made a move—and he came over all offended.”
“Seems to have been a bit of a pattern with you,” his lordship observed.
“Maybe, but I think he was doing it on purpose, because of what happened next. He started in on how he ought to report me—I forget if he said to Mr. Carson or Lord Grantham; he didn’t bring up the police, at least, but that would have been bad enough. Then he changed his tune and said he’d keep my secret if I came back after the house was asleep and showed him where Lady Mary’s bedroom was.”
“Cad. Him, I mean. Was she expecting him, or….?”
“I didn’t know. Still don’t. I couldn’t ask.”
“I take it you did it.”
“I couldn’t exactly tell him to publish and be damned, could I? I stayed in the passage for a bit after he went in, so I’d be there to hear if she screamed rape.” He took a sip from his glass. Even as he’d lingered, he’d not been sure what he’d do if she did scream. With any luck, no one would be listening to anything Mr. Pamuk had to say for himself, but coming to Lady Mary’s rescue could raise questions about why he’d been so conveniently on the spot, when there was no good reason whatsoever for him to be near the young ladies’ bedrooms. “She didn’t, so I went back up to bed. Didn’t have an easy night, though—there was no guarantee he’d hold up his end of the bargain and not report me anyway. The next morning I took his tray up, and he was stone dead in the bed.”
“What?” His lordship looked over at the bed in alarm.
“I don’t think it’s the same one—they redid the room, switched the furniture around,” Thomas assured him. “Anyway, I’ve no idea what happened. There were times I suspected Lady Mary’d killed him, somehow, but I’ve no idea how he could have ended up back here—the family’s rooms are clear on the other side of the house. I was more than a bit worried there’d be an inquest and the whole thing would come out, but apparently they were satisfied it was a natural death. Either that or Lady Mary really did kill him and they hushed it up.”
“Based on my admittedly brief acquaintance with the lady in question, I have to say it seems a plausible theory. She wasn’t married to Mr. Crawley yet at that point?”
“No, they didn’t marry until well after the war.”
His lordship shook his head. “Things just happen to you, don’t they?”
“Yes,” Thomas said, glad that his lordship saw it that way. More than once he’d been accused of bringing this sort of thing on himself. “Speaking of, Miss O’Brien might be about to happen to me.”
“In what sense?”
“She threatened to come bearing tales to you. I told her you already know everything, but that doesn’t mean she won’t try.” Thomas scrunched himself down a bit and put his head on his lordship’s shoulder. “If she does come up with something I haven’t already told you about, she’s lying. Well. Either that or it’s something I forgot.”
His lordship chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind. You’ve nothing to worry about, you know. Whatever she says.”
“I know,” Thomas said. He very nearly believed it.
Gerald had just about sorted out that the part of Thomas’s story about the Turk that he was supposed to be appalled by was the bit where he’d led the bounder to the virgin’s bedroom. Not the one where Grantham had callously lent a Guide out to a complete stranger of unknown—and, as it turned out, dubious—character.
In the circumstances, he wasn’t sure what else Thomas could have done. It wasn’t as though these people would have blamed anyone but him, if he’d gone to the butler and reported the incident, as a properly brought up Guide would have done. If he’d been put in such an awful position to begin with. Which he would not have been.
It was useless to expect the Crawleys to have looked after Thomas as any decent Sentinel family would have looked after Guide—and even now, Thomas himself would resent the suggestion that he had required looking after. It was a different world from his own.
“I can hear you brooding,” Thomas said, turning in Gerald’s arms to face him. “What is it now?”
“Nothing. It must have been a ghastly shock, finding that fellow dead.”
“It was a bit,” Thomas admitted. “I dropped the tray. Mr. Carson was quite angry.”
Of course he had been. Whatever had been on the bloody tray had probably meant more to all of them than Thomas himself. Greatest treasure of the house, indeed.
“What with everything else that was going on that morning, I’m sure he didn’t have time to scold me for more than about ten minutes,” Thomas added. “I’m quite recovered from it.”
“That’s something. I wish you’d been with us. At Bellerock.”
“So do I, as it happens. But it’s all right now.” Thomas leaned in and kissed him. “I wonder if I ought to go over and muss up that other bed.”
“So it looks like I’ve slept in it.”
“Will anyone notice you haven’t?” If anyone at Bellerock ever did, they certainly didn’t comment on it.
“Depends who they send to do up the room, I suppose.”
Thomas kissed him again, and Gerald quite forgot all about the other bed. At least, he forgot about it until the next morning, when Thomas set up his breakfast tray and then went over to rumple it.
“Decided to do that after all?” Gerald asked, sipping his tea.
“I got enough grief over having breakfast up here. I don’t really want any more.”
“Speaking of breakfast, are you going to eat?” He wondered if anyone had really given Thomas “grief,” or if perhaps the topic had simply been mentioned. You never knew, with Thomas.
“In a minute, yes.” True to his word, once Thomas had finished artfully arranging the other bed, he came over, perched next to Gerald, and helped himself to a piece of toast and the second teacup—a thick crockery one, unlike the delicate china Gerald was sipping from.
“What’s this stuff?” he asked, prodding a bowl of some beige-colored mush. It was in a crockery dish, too, so perhaps Thomas was meant to eat it. “Looks like something Clint would mix up for a sick horse.”
“Porridge,” Thomas said. “What, you’ve never seen it before?”
“Not that I know of. Georgie and Simon had a tutor once who tried to make them eat the stuff,” he recalled. She had claimed it “opened the bowels.” Gerald’s siblings had mutinied—quite rightly, it seemed, if this stuff was a fair sample.
“They do have it in the servants’ hall at Bellerock.”
“Really? Does anyone eat it?”
“Not much, since there’s always eggs or sausage, too.” Finished with the toast, Thomas claimed a sausage from the china plate—from his plate, if Gerald was reading the dishes correctly. At least he didn’t feel shy about it, being back here.
“You don’t get that here?”
“Not every day.” Setting his teacup down on the tray, Thomas leaned back against the pillows and smiled. “Bellerock’s better in all sorts of ways.”
“I’m glad you think so. Not interested in being Grantham’s valet anymore?”
“Not even if he begged me,” Thomas answered. “If Bates, Carson, and both footmen fall down the stairs and break their necks, he’ll have to dress himself.”
“Damn right he will.”
The next bit of the morning passed without incident, if you didn’t count Mrs. Patmore asking, “Too good for my porridge, now, are you?” when he took the breakfast tray back on. (Thomas said simply, “Yes,” and swept out.) He got his lordship settled in the library, where the gentlemen were having their meeting, and took himself to the servants’ hall, where he read the newspaper in a pointed manner until the other visiting valets trickled in and started up a game of cards.
“This must be nice for you,” Bates said at one point. He and Anna were sitting at the other end of the table, Anna doing a bit of mending and Bates brushing a hat.
“What do you mean by that?” Thomas asked suspiciously.
“It must be a bit of a holiday for you,” Bates explained.
“I did all of my cleaning and mending before we came.” He wasn’t twitting any of the other valets for playing cards in the middle of the day, was he?
“I’m sure you did.”
Mr. Morrow spoke up. “I don’t mind having a bit of a holiday myself. Though I wonder if anything will come of it. With the gentlemen, I mean.”
Bates said only, “Mr. Crawley has all sorts of ideas about the running of the estate,” so he was willing enough to be civil to the other visitors.
Whatever Morrow—or anyone else—would have had to say about that was cut off when Carson came in, with Alfred at his elbow holding a coffee tray, and everyone stood up. “Mr. Barrow,” Carson said disapprovingly. “Lord Pellinger has asked for coffee. As you said you wished to be sent up with anything he wanted, here you are. I trust you won’t mind taking some to Lord Shipley as well, while you’re about it.”
“Sorry,” Thomas said, not very sincerely. “But I can’t.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’ll take my lord’s up, of course, as I said, but I can’t wait on anyone else. Guides don’t. My lord wouldn’t like it.”
Anna looked up from her sewing. “Really, Thomas?”
“Mr. Barrow. And yes, really. I don’t even take a drink to his lordship’s brother unless Lord Pellinger asks me to himself.”
At Carson’s loud sigh, Mr. Barnes—Lord Shipley’s valet—looked around in rabbitlike confusion. “I can take my gentleman’s coffee up, if it’s a problem.”
“No,” said Carson. “We do not need a parade of visiting valets in the library. Alfred, take the tray up. If Mr. Barrow wishes to accompany you, that is his own affair.”
Wonderful. Now no matter what he did, it would look like he was making things up. “I’ll just be a few minutes,” he told the other valets. “Deal me out on the next hand.”
Alfred gave him several dirty looks on the way up the stairs. It wasn’t clear whether he thought Thomas ought to have taken the tray up himself, or stayed downstairs, or perhaps stopped breathing entirely. Thomas didn’t ask for clarification, as he didn’t particularly want to know.
He did feel like a bit of an idiot, taking a coffee cup off of Alfred’s tray and carrying it the dozen feet or so from where Lord Shipley was sitting to where his lordship was. The feeling got even worse when his lordship said, “Oh, Thomas. What a lovely surprise,” and there was absolutely no chance Alfred hadn’t heard it.
“Will there be anything else, my lord?” Thomas asked.
“Just this for now, thank you.”
Alfred glared at him on the way back downstairs, too. Then he said something to Carson that Thomas couldn’t quite overhear, and Carson joined in the glaring.
He hadn’t said his lordship definitely would want him. Just that he might. Really, they could at least listen to what he said before deciding he was lying about it.
“—no, no,” Mr. Crawley protested. “I’m not saying you need to force any tenant farmers out, far from it. But with smaller families and more professional opportunities opening up for the working class, there are likely to be some farmers who are open to the idea of leaving, particularly if you put it to them that buying out the lease or the freehold may provide education or a start in business for a son.”
Mr. Crawley’s ideas about consolidation and automation were, Gerald was sure, very forward-thinking, but he quailed at the thought that some of the Guide farm families might be interested in leaving. He supposed it would be all right if the other ones did. If any of the Guides wanted to be greengrocers or chartered accountants or whatever Mr. Crawley had in mind, they could set up shop in the village.
Then again, he suspected that just might be the sort of attitude Thomas found patronizing. He’d have to ask him later.
It was on that note that Carson came in and announced luncheon. Gerald happened to be seated in a somewhat squashy armchair, and found himself struggling to get up out of it. The nearest footman was the odious Jimmy, and he was reluctant to ask him for help. Fortunately, just as he was about to decide there was no getting round it, Branson, the Downton estate manager, came over. “Can I give you a hand?”
“Yes, thanks.” Branson hauled him quite ably to his feet, both the natural and artificial ones. “Sorry about that. War wound. Usually I manage all right, but certain chairs I get stuck in.”
“I understand completely.”
On the way to the dining room, Carson stopped him. “Shall I summon Mr. Barrow, your lordship?”
“Hm? No.” Gerald would ask him about the Guides later, and anyway, that couldn’t possibly be what Carson meant. “There aren’t any stairs between here and the dining room, are there?”
“No, your lordship.”
“Then I expect I can manage. Thank you.”
The card game broke up as the upstairs luncheon was going up—several of the valets had other things they wanted to do before the servants sat down to luncheon. Thomas wished he’d thought of something he had to do as well, when Miss O’Brien came in and sat beside him, rather officiously opening her sewing box.
Thomas shifted his chair away from hers slightly, reluctant to give any more ground than that.
“I had the most interesting conversation with her ladyship this morning,” she said, under cover of the sewing box lid.
“Did you.” Thomas didn’t bother looking up from his newspaper.
“Yes. It seems she and Lord Pellinger discussed how very nice it is that all of your troubles are in the past.”
“She’s very kind to take an interest.”
“I began to wonder what your lordship would make of if it seemed that they aren’t so far in the past after all.”
“You won’t get anywhere telling him lies about me. He knows all about you. But you’re welcome to try; I could use a laugh.”
“Hm. We’ll see who’s laughing, won’t we?” With that bit of would-be mystery, O’Brien closed her sewing box and removed herself to the other end of the table.
Some time later, after O’Brien had been rung for by her ladyship and the maids had started laying the table, Bates shifted himself down to the seat next to Thomas and said, “You shouldn’t antagonize her.”
“Who’m I antagonizing now?” He’d barely so much as looked at Anna; if Bates was leaping to the defense of the little woman, he was mad.
“You know who I mean. Miss O’Brien. You’re only here for two more days and Saturday morning; even you ought to be able to manage that long without any unpleasantness.”
“If you don’t want unpleasantness, it’s her you ought to be talking to, not me.”
Bates let out a long-suffering sigh. “I would, but I don’t think there’s much point. Unpleasantness is its own reward, with her. As you’ve moved on and claim to be quite happy with your new life, perhaps you might try to be the bigger person. Avoid giving her the satisfaction.”
“I am quite happy,” Thomas snapped. “And I haven’t done a thing to her.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
He was still simmering with the injustice of it when the meal began and Carson, enthroned at the head of the table, directed several disapproving looks in his direction. “Mr. Carson, would you like to tell me what it is you imagine I’ve done now?”
“Since you ask, Mr. Barrow, I find it odd that after you made such a point about attending to Lord Pellinger, I found Mr. Branson assisting him into the dining room for luncheon.”
Thomas frowned. “Did he ask for me?” Because he certainly hadn’t heard anything about it.
“By the time I inquired, Mr. Branson already had the matter in hand.”
“Well, then,” Thomas said. What did Carson expect? It wasn’t as though Thomas could read his lordship’s mind.
“I am aware that, as you pointed out yesterday, you no longer work under me, but since you ask, I feel that you could be more attentive.”
“Good for you,” Thomas muttered, wishing he had not, in fact, asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Nothing, Mr. Carson.” Like a journey into the past, it was. Mr. Wells, I appear to have located your time machine.
The day’s serious discussion ended with tea-time, on the grounds that all work and no play made Jack a dull boy. Some of the other gentlemen decided to play billiards, but Gerald decided on a walk, and asked the footman who wasn’t Jimmy to send Thomas up, with his coat.
Thomas arrived a few minutes later, looking a bit pinched around the edges. “Have you had your tea?” he asked.
“No, but I’ll give it a miss if you want something.”
Damn. “I thought a walk, but it can wait.”
“No, that’s fine. I’m not very hungry anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, my lord,” Thomas said, with a whiff of anxiety and anger about him. The two tended to mix, with Thomas.
And it was no use asking him about it here. Or at all, perhaps, but definitely not here. “All right, then.”
Thomas helped him into his coat, and they went out. “Gardens, or village, my lord?” Thomas asked.
“I don’t care. Village, I suppose.” Less chance of running into anyone from the house that way, and Gerald supposed Thomas might appreciate that. They started down a gravel drive, and it seemed to have been a good choice—Thomas seemed to relax a bit as they got some distance from the house.
“How did it go, today?” Thomas asked after a while. The tag my lord was conspicuous by its absence; apparently Thomas was ready to stop standing on ceremony now.
“Well enough. I’ve gathered some good ideas about dairy modernization. I’m not so sure about this consolidation business—buying up the small farms and running them as a larger unit, with hired labourers instead of tenants. I can see how it’s more efficient, but I’m not sure Mr. Crawley’s right about the tenants not objecting to it. What about you?”
“Let’s just say I’m glad to be out of the house for a bit,” Thomas answered.
“I see,” Gerald said, and did not pry.
His forbearance was rewarded when Thomas went on, “Miss O’Brien thinks she’s got something up her sleeve. Don’t know if there’s anything in it or not.”
“I don’t see how there could be,” Gerald pointed out, reassuringly. “It can’t change what I think of you, and who cares about the rest of them here?”
“Right,” Thomas said, a bit wanly. He took a deep breath. “And then there’s Mr. Carson.”
“What’s he done?”
“Only said he doesn’t think I’m being attentive enough.”
“Attentive to what?” Gerald asked, baffled.
Oh, dear. There was no accusation better calculated to get under Thomas’s skin than that one. “Well, in the first place, he’s wrong, and in the second, it isn’t any of his business anyway.”
“I know,” Thomas said gloomily.
“I can’t even imagine what he might have in mind.”
“Oh, I know. Apparently there was something about Mr. Branson helping you into the dining room.”
It took Gerald a moment to remember the incident. “It was out of a chair, not into the dining room. One of those too-soft ones with no arms—you know.”
“Yes, you shouldn’t sit in those when I’m not there,” Thomas said darkly.
“How do you even know about that?”
“He said something to me about it.”
“He who? Carson or Mr. Branson?” Mr. Branson had seemed perfectly pleasant about the whole thing—but then, he hadn’t noticed anything in particular about Carson’s reaction, either.
“I should say something to him,” Gerald decided. He’d wondered if the constant criticism Thomas felt he encountered here was to some degree exaggerated or imagined, but perhaps not, if this was a sample. “He asked if I wanted him to send for you, and I said I didn’t. And he has no place reprimanding you anyway.”
“He’ll say he only mentioned it because I asked.”
“Did you?” Gerald wasn’t sure why he would have, unless Thomas was a secret glutton for punishment.
“He was giving me these looks, and it wasn’t long after Miss O’Brien threatened me, so I thought she might’ve made up some accusation.”
Oh. “He shouldn’t be giving you looks, either, but I’d feel like a bit of an ass making a point about it.”
“My poor Thomas,” Gerald said, shifting his cane into his other hand so he could pat Thomas’s shoulder. “So put-upon. Shall I take you to the tailor’s for a new suit after this? Will that make you feel better?”
Thomas managed to make their walk last until it was time to dress his lordship for dinner, but after that he was forced to go back down to the servants’ hall. But he was surprised to find things looking up a bit—as he was trying to decide on the least objectionable place to sit, Mrs. Hughes came up to him and said, “Mr. Barrow, I hope you’ll feel welcome to use my sitting room during your stay, if you don’t feel entirely comfortable in here.”
Thomas examined the remark from every angle, but there didn’t seem to be anything snide in it. “Thank you, Mrs. Hughes. I might do that.” After taking a look round to make it all clear that he was leaving because he found the company unpleasant, not because he’d been driven out, he went to the housekeeper’s parlour.
Not only that, but once he’d got settled, in came Daisy with a cup of tea and some sandwiches on a tray. “I know it’s not long till dinner now, but we kept these back for you, since you weren’t here.”
“Thank you,” Thomas said, wondering if Miss O’Brien had had a chance to put poison in them.
Daisy put the tray down on the table and bobbed up and down in what Thomas eventually figured out was meant to be a curtsey. “Can I ask you something?”
“Did you really not know you were a Guide? Only I wondered if--” She paused, and then the last words came out in a rush. “If that’s why you never really fancied me.”
“Not exactly,” Thomas said. “But—something like that.” It hadn’t been anything about her, was what he meant, but didn’t know how to say.
“Oh,” she said, and with a flash of insight he wished he hadn’t had, Thomas realized she’d been hoping he’d say that he had really fancied her.
He couldn’t say that, but…. “I don’t know if it makes a difference, but there were times I wished I did.”
Apparently, that was almost too subtle—Daisy looked confused for a moment, then ventured, “Fancied me, you mean?”
Because holding hands and going to the fair with the kitchen maid would have been a whole lot easier than having his heart broken by the Duke of Crowborough and getting blackmailed by the Turkish ambassador. But he couldn’t exactly say that. “It just seemed…like it was nice, for William. Knowing what he wanted, and not having to care who else knew it too.” And that was getting almost too close to the truth, right there. “You’d better get on, before Mrs. Patmore starts bellowing. Thanks for the tea.”
“This is going to sound like an odd question,” Gerald said after dinner, when he happened to find himself with Mr. Branson and no one else in earshot, “but did you mind at all, helping me up, earlier?”
“Of course not,” Mr. Branson said. “Why do you ask?”
Gerald shook his head. “Carson said something to Thomas about it. Seems to have upset him a bit. He takes these things to heart.”
“Thomas does?” Mr. Branson asked. “I’m sorry, it’s just—you know I used to be chauffeur here. I couldn’t say I know Thomas well, but—” He cut himself off and smiled stiffly. “My late wife was fond of him. They worked together in the village hospital, during the war. I’m sure he has many fine qualities. I’ve just never…witnessed them personally.”
“Oh,” Gerald said, realizing. “You’re the chap who married Nurse-Crawley-Lady-Sybil.” He ought to have just said “Sybil,” but that was how Thomas always referred to her.
“Yes,” Mr. Branson said. “That’s me.”
“He’s spoken of her a few times. She was kind to him.” Thomas had never quite specified how, except that the subject tended to come up in connection with his blind Lieutenant.
“She was a very kind person.” Blinking rapidly, Mr. Branson turned away for a moment. “Pardon me.”
“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have brought up such a painful subject.” Gerald would not have precisely welcomed a perfect stranger bounding up to him in a drawing room and talking about Euan for no particular reason.
“No, it’s…fine. Sometimes it seems like no one else remembers her.”
“Ah,” Gerald said, and they stood there awkwardly for a moment.
“I’d offer to intercede with Mr. Carson,” he went on briskly, “but I’m afraid he disapproves of most things I do as well, so I don’t think it would do much good.”
Gerald found himself rather charmed by Mr. Branson referring to the butler as Mr. Carson—very likely because it reminded him of Thomas. “Perfectly all right. I only wondered where Carson came by the idea that it was a problem.”
“Not from me.”
Time to change the subject, Gerald thought. “While I have you here, I wonder what you’ve been hearing from tenants about this consolidation idea….”
Once he and Branson parted on a businesslike note, Gerald made the rounds of the drawing room, carefully avoiding anything more than a nod and a greeting to his hostess, who he suspected of passing information back to the wicked Miss O’Brien. He was quite relieved when Carson and the footmen arrived to restock the drinks tray and collect abandoned glasses; that meant the downstairs dinner was finished and he could retire to his room with Thomas.
At least he hoped it did. He decided he’d better ask, just to make sure he wasn’t making Thomas miss two meals in a row, but when he asked if dinner had quite finished downstairs, the butler responded with a blank look and an, “I beg your pardon, your lordship?”
Gerald decided not to try to explain his thought process. “Please let Thomas know, when you have a moment, that I’m ready to go up, if he has finished.”
“Certainly, your lordship. James—no, Alfred, take that message to Mr. Barrow, please.”
The tall footman departed. So he was Alfred; Gerald would have to try to remember that. Behind Carson’s back, Jimmy gave Gerald a look of unbridled dislike, only to rearrange his features into a more neutral expression when the butler turned round.
It was times like this that Gerald regretted he was a gentleman. He’d have liked to say something that would take both butler and footman down a peg, and he knew precisely what it could have been. Something on the theme of how Thomas had always spoken with approval of Carson’s high standards, and how disappointing it was to see that Thomas must have been mistaken about that. The accusation of lacking standards would have left Thomas seething with misery, which he suspected was a pretty good indication that it would cut Carson to the quick as well.
Unfortunately, to insult Lord Grantham and Mr. Crawley’s servants while a guest in their home would be an inexcusable lapse in manners—and the treatment his Guide had received was not quite enough to make him forget that he was an Englishman.
Fortunately, Thomas arrived before his resolve had time to waver. “My lord?” he said.
“Are you ready to go up?”
Thomas glanced over at Carson. “Of course, my lord.”
“You’ve had your dinner and everything?”
They started out, only to be interrupted by Lady Edith. “Going up already, Lord Pellinger?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“I hope you’ve found everything to be quite as it should be? I think some of the other gentlemen are getting ready to play cards.”
“You’re very kind, but all I want is to put my feet up and be with my Guide for a bit. Good night.”
By the time he’d struggled up the stairs, Gerald really was quite earnestly looking forward to taking his leg off and putting his foot up, but in the doorway he stopped short. “Someone’s been in here.”
“One of the maids, I expect,” Thomas said.
“No. I mean, yes, but….” He sniffed. “It’s that Jimmy. Is there any reason for him to be here?”
“He and Alfred brought the bed up yesterday,” Thomas offered.
Gerald shook his head. “More recently than that. Within the last few hours, I think. No earlier than this afternoon.”
“There’s no reason for him to have been here today that I know of,” Thomas said grimly. “I’d better check none of your things have been stolen.”
“Yes, do,” Gerald said, and limped around the room, trying to scent out where the footman had been. Having no particular training in detective methods, he couldn’t ascertain much. “As far as I can tell, he just wandered around a bit and then left.”
“Your cufflinks are all still here,” Thomas reported. “And your shirts. Mine, as well. Perhaps he was on the hunt for something incriminating?”
“You think he and O’Brien are in cahoots?”
“She likes to have a minion,” Thomas answered. “I don’t know what he’d have expected to find, though,” he continued. “It isn’t as if anything that suggests we might be sleeping together would be actionable—or news to anyone.”
“No,” Gerald agreed. “Perhaps he just hoped something would turn up. Or he’s just a nosy fellow. I suppose there’s even an outside possibility that your Mr. Carson sent him up with something.” He’d have thought that possibility the most likely one—Thomas did have a tendency to see threats where none existed—but the footman had been unmistakably hostile.
“Maybe,” Thomas said, abandoning the wardrobe and wandering over to the whisky decanter. He picked it up, then hesitated. “Perhaps we ought to check this for poison.”
“I hope you’re joking,” Gerald said.
“I am. Mostly.”
“Bring it here,” Gerald said, sitting on the sofa. Thomas did so, and he sniffed carefully. “Well, it doesn’t smell like bitter almonds, so there’s no cyanide in it. I’m afraid that’s the only poison I’d recognize by scent.”
“I’m almost certain that Miss O’Brien’s never deliberately murdered anyone,” Thomas mused, taking the decanter back.
Gerald wondered if she’d ever murdered anyone by accident. And what did it say about Thomas’s life that he was only almost certain? “If we’re done playing Sherlock Holmes for the evening, I’d like to take my leg off,” he added as Thomas returned the decanter to the dresser.
“Oh, right,” Thomas said, grabbing his pyjamas and dressing gown, and bringing them over. “I wish we knew what he was doing in here,” he said as he helped Gerald out of his trousers and got to work on the straps that held the false leg on.
Gerald was glad of the “we”—whatever was or wasn’t happening, at least Thomas seemed to realize that they were in it together. “It’s probably nothing to worry about.”
“I hope you’re right,” Thomas said.
Once Gerald’s leg was off and he was re-dressed in his pyjamas and dressing gown, Thomas brought them a drink and settled on the sofa next to him, tucked up companionably under his arm. “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time,” Gerald said. “You’ll let me know if there’s any way I can help?”
“I will. But I don’t think there is. We’ll be going home soon, at least.”
They shouldn’t have come in the first place—but giving Simon the opportunity to represent Bellerock at this conference hadn’t exactly been a thrilling option, either. And if Thomas had gotten the idea that Gerald was sitting it out in an effort to avoid upsetting Thomas…well, that would have upset Thomas. And it wasn’t as though Thomas couldn’t handle a few days of moderate unpleasantness—it was only that Gerald didn’t want him to have to. “Yes, we’ll be home soon.”
“And it’s not so bad, really,” Thomas went on. “I’ve got someone to talk to, and I can have a drink without having to steal it.”
“I’m glad you mentioned me before the whisky. That’s very flattering,” Gerald said, and kissed him on the temple.
After a drink and a cuddle with his Sentinel, Thomas felt a bit better about things. He slept better than he would have expected—and, in fact, better than he should have. The first thing he knew in the morning was when a female voice said, “Oh my goodness!”
Picking his head up off the pillow and prying his eyes open, Thomas saw one of the maids—Alice, he thought—standing in the doorway. “What are you doing in here?”
“Thomas,” she hissed. “What are you doing?”
Next to him, his lordship stirred. “Thomas, what—oh, good morning,” he said as he caught sight of the maid. “What is it?”
“I’m sorry, my lord. I didn’t realize you were still—it’s nearly nine; all of the gentlemen are in the library. I—oh! Mrs. Hughes. The gentleman’s still in there,” she said over her shoulder. “And Thomas.”
“Then shut the door,” said Mrs. Hughes’s voice, from the corridor.
The door, mercifully, shut. “I believe we’ve overslept,” his lordship noted.
“Yes,” Thomas said. Getting out of bed, and wrapping his dressing gown around himself in case Alice decided to pay another visit, he went over to the screened-off bed. The alarm clock was set, and the pin pulled out, but…. “I may have forgotten to wind it.”
His lordship sat up and rubbed his eyes. “We’d better get up and get dressed.”
“Yes, my lord,” Thomas said. He stood for a moment, looking about him, unsure what to do first. “Do you want tea?”
“Desperately, but I don’t think we’d better take the time. Oh, blast.”
Thomas managed to get himself dressed and presentable, and his lordship dressed, in record time. While his lordship was shaving, Thomas galloped downstairs and twisted Daisy’s arm until she made some tea and threw it on a tray, then rushed back upstairs with it. Fortunately, he managed to avoid Mrs. Hughes, Alice, and Carson throughout the whole expedition.
“Bless you,” his lordship said when Thomas gave him the tea. He downed half of it in a gulp and went on, “Now, try not to spend all day brooding over this little mishap, all right?”
“Yes, my lord,” Thomas said sulkily. More of an utter disaster than a little mishap, if you asked him.
His lordship gave him a soft look. “Really, it’ll all be all right. If anyone gives you a hard time, refer them to me. Please.”
Thomas hesitated a moment, then nodded. “All right.”
After seeing his lordship down to the library, Thomas went back up to the bedroom on the pretext of having to put his things back in order after the morning’s hasty start, but really because he hoped to avoid seeing or being seen by anyone else for as long as possible. His retreat didn’t remain secure for long, though. He’d just finished putting away the shaving kit when Mrs. Hughes tapped on the door and stuck her head in. “Is it all right to do up the room now?”
“Yes,” Thomas said. And, on the theory that an offense was better than a defense, he added, as she entered, “Is there any reason for James to have been in here yesterday?”
“James? Not that I know of.”
“His lordship said he was in here. Wondered why.” He had a vague notion that if his scandalously late rising hour became an issue, he could accuse James of having sabotaged the alarm clock, even though he was nearly certain that he’d just forgotten to wind it.
“I don’t know,” she said. Leaning closer to Thomas, she said, “I’ve made sure Alice knows that she’s not to speak of anything she may have seen. She oughtn’t to have entered the room while Lord Pellinger was still here.”
“No, she shouldn’t have,” Thomas snapped. “Not that there’s anything in it. He’s my Sentinel; I’m allowed.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Hughes said, with a tight smile. “But you know how Mr. Carson feels about…goings-on.”
“Yes,” Thomas said grimly.
He went downstairs, leaving the room to Mrs. Hughes and the maids. Mustering every scrap of pride at his disposal, he managed to avoid slinking into the servants’ hall, and instead walked in with his head held high.
“Good morning, Barrow,” said one of the visiting valets. “Had a late night?”
Thomas glared at him icily. He wasn’t sure whether the man meant anything by the question or not, but he didn’t want to take a chance.
“He can’t have done,” pointed out Alfred, who was playing cards with Jimmy. “Lord Pellinger went up first thing after dinner, and—ow!” The expression on his gormless face strong suggested that Jimmy had kicked him under the table.
In the resounding silence that followed, Thomas heard Bates saying to Anna, “The very same one. I don’t know what to make of it.”
“I do,” said Anna. As Miss O’Brien chose that same moment to come in, carrying her mending basket, Anna glanced back and forth between her and Thomas. “Which one of you was it?”
“Her,” Thomas said. He didn’t have to know what “it” was to know he hadn’t done it.
“I’m sorry,” Miss O’Brien said sweetly, “I’m afraid I’m not sure what we’re talking about.”
Bates looked back and forth between them too. “Someone’s been playing games with his lordship’s snuffboxes. Again.”
“Really,” Thomas said. “You might at least have come up with something new. What’s that in aid of?” He glanced down the table at the footmen. “If she’s told one of you she knows how to oust Bates and make you valet, she’s lying.”
“Was that what all that was about?” Bates said, with the tone of someone who has finally remembered a word that has been on the tip of his tongue for hours. It would have been funny, except that Thomas was more than a little bit stung to realize that his nemesis has trounced him without ever quite realizing what they were fighting over.
“I have missed your wild stories, Thomas,” O’Brien said, shaking her head and taking out a needle and a spool of thread. “Downton must be such an exciting place in your imagination.”
Thomas decided not to rise to that particular bait. “What did you do with it, then?”
“With what?” she asked.
“The bloody snuffbox.”
O’Brien tsked. “Such language, Mr. Barrow.”
“I wouldn’t mind knowing, either,” Bates said. To Anna, he added, “We did latch the door last night, didn’t we? So she can’t have put it in our house?”
“Oh, you bitch,” Thomas said, realizing.
Bates said, sharply, “Thomas,” but Thomas ignored him.
“And you,” he added to Jimmy.
Jimmy gave him a flat, reptilian stare. “I don’t know what fantasies you have about me now, Mr. Barrow, but I wish you’d keep them to yourself.”
“His lordship knows you were in his room yesterday,” Thomas informed him. “Tell me where you put it, I’ll give it to Mr. Bates, and he can put it back before this goes any further.”
Bates gave Thomas a strange look but said, “We can do that.”
Thomas thought that Jimmy looked a little rattled, but he leaned back a little further in his chair and said, “I think you have me confused with someone else, Mr. Barrow. I’m not the one who goes creeping about in other people’s bedrooms.” He started to chuckle a bit, but trailed off when he saw no one else was laughing—not even O’Brien.
“She’s just using you, you know,” Thomas informed him. Somehow, despite everything, he felt some mad impulse to save Jimmy from himself. “Whatever you think she’s helping you with, she isn’t.”
“Thomas is right,” Bates spoke up. “Words I never thought I’d say, but there you are.” Thomas hadn’t thought he’d ever hear him saying it, either. “She just wants someone to do her bidding—he’d know, since it used to be him. And look what happened to him.”
“As far as I can see, nothing’s happened to him. Nothing he doesn’t enjoy, anyway,” Jimmy added snidely.
“What nearly happened, then,” Bates said. “I don’t think Thomas being a Guide is a circumstance even Miss O’Brien could have anticipated.”
Before Jimmy could answer that, everyone was getting to their feet as Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson turned up in the doorway. “Mr. Barrow,” Carson said. “If you would step into my pantry, please.”
Thomas wondered if it was the snuffbox, or if Alice hadn’t kept her mouth shut after all. He wasn’t kept in suspense long—when they arrived in Carson’s pantry, the snuffbox was sitting in the middle of Carson’s desk.
“Mr. Barrow,” he said. “Would you care to explain how this--” he pointed to it “—came to be found under your pillow?”
“I can explain,” Thomas said, his stomach sinking. “But you’re not going to believe me.”
“Please do,” Mrs. Hughes said, with a kindly smile that seemed at odds with the situation.
“Fine. Miss O’Brien either nicked it, or told Jimmy to nick it, and then he planted it in our room.” It didn’t even sound plausible to him. “His lordship knows he was in there yesterday—we couldn’t figure out why.”
Carson sighed heavily. “And what possible reason would either of them have to do that?”
“To get me in trouble.”
“And why did you not step forward to report this nefarious plot on your own?” Carson asked.
“Because I just put it together a few minutes ago, when I heard Bates say it was missing.”
“It didn’t occur to you to wonder what it was doing under your pillow? Did you think Father Christmas had left it?”
“I didn’t know it was under the pillow.”
“How could you not have noticed?”
Thomas hesitated over that one, long enough that Mrs. Hughes said, “For heaven’s sake, Mr. Carson, he didn’t sleep there.”
Carson went blank for a moment, then cleared his throat and said, “I see. But that does not alter the fact that the rest of your story is somewhat lacking in plausibility.”
“I can’t help that,” Thomas said. Really, if he was making it up, he’d have taken care to make it more plausible.
“Why don’t we see what James and Miss O’Brien have to say about this?” Mrs. Hughes suggested.
Mr. Carson didn’t ask him to leave—perhaps he didn’t want to let him out of his sight—so Thomas stood there and looked on as they each, in turn, categorically denied having anything to do with the snuffbox, and cast aspersions on his sanity in the bargain. He was careful not to let anything show on his face, but was conscious of an acidic churning in his gut, tremor in his jaw, and a sort of clogged-up heaviness in his throat. His lordship, if he were here, would doubtless diagnose him as being “upset” or possibly even “in a bit of a state.”
“If you ask me,” Jimmy said, “you ought to ring the police. They might have let him off for the other thing, but this’d be a bit different, wouldn’t it? And it’s not as though it’s the first time he’s stolen anything.”
“Thank you, James,” Carson said repressively. “If I want your opinion, I shall ask for it. I don’t think it necessary to involve the police, as the situation is…ambiguous. However, I will have to inform his lordship—that is, both Lord Grantham and Lord Pellinger.”
Jimmy smirked a little at that, but Thomas suddenly straightened up, the greater part of his nausea fleeing. “Do that,” he said. “In fact, tell him now.” Everyone looked a little startled at that—Jimmy, Carson, and Mrs. Hughes—but Thomas pressed on. “Send one of the footmen up for Lord Pellinger.”
Mrs. Hughes took a breath, sighed, and said, “Thomas, I believe the gentlemen are busy.”
“I don’t care. If you don’t want to have one of the others get him, I’ll go myself.”
“Just so we’re clear,” Mr. Carson said, “you wish for me to send one of the footmen to tell Lord Pellinger that his valet wishes to speak with him?”
Faced with this question, Thomas experienced a slight niggling of doubt that his lordship would be entirely pleased with this request, but he wasn’t about to back down now. “His Guide. And yes.”
“Very well,” Carson said. “On your head be it.”
Lord Bagley was droning on about sheep diseases, for some reason Gerald couldn’t quite grasp, when the tall footman let himself into the library. He wasn’t carrying anything, so it wasn’t time for the coffee break yet, more’s the pity.
To Gerald’s surprise, the footman came to his side and bent to say near his ear, “I’m sorry, your lordship, but…Mr. Barrow’s asked for you?”
Oh, dear. Something must have happened. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” Gerald said as he began the process of getting up from his chair. Everyone, including Lord Bagley, diverted their attention from the poor sick sheep to look at him. “Please, Bagley, don’t let me interrupt. I’m sure I’ll just be a moment.” But it wasn’t until he was nearly out of the room that Bagley picked up the thread of what he’d been saying. “Ah—where?” Gerald asked the footman, looking around the hall for some sign of Thomas.
“They’re in Mr. Carson’s pantry, your lordship. It’s just this way. I’m sorry to have bothered you, but apparently he was most insistent that it couldn’t wait.”
“No, you did quite right,” Gerald said, going through the cleverly-concealed door that the footman was holding open. Behind it was a rather steep and narrow flight of stairs, which he supposed must be the ones the servants used. It was a wonder they didn’t break their necks, carrying things up and down all day. Gerald had to lean heavily on the banister and keep a very close eye on where he was putting his feet—particularly the artificial one—and was glad to reach level ground again at the bottom.
The butler’s pantry was near the foot of the stairs, and when he entered, Thomas sprang into action to help him into a chair. The chair faced Carson—standing behind a desk—and once Gerald was in it, Thomas took up a position behind his right shoulder. It appeared that Gerald had been summoned not so much to speak to Thomas as to intercede on his behalf. Gerald refrained from twisting around in his seat to get a look at his Guide, but could feel the tension coming off of him. He did seem to be in a bit of a state. “What seems to be the trouble?”
Carson took a deep breath and folded his hands; he seemed to be getting ready to speak, but Thomas got off the mark first. “That turned up under my pillow, and they think I stole it,” he said baldly, indicating a small object sitting in the middle of the butler’s desk.
“How extraordinary,” Gerald said. “Er—what is it?”
“It’s an 18th century Russian cloisonné snuffbox,” Thomas answered.
“Oh,” Gerald said, enlightened. “So that’s what your footman was doing in our room yesterday.”
“Yes,” said Thomas. Suddenly, he seemed a great deal less tense. “Only I’m sure he didn’t think of it on his own.”
“Is it the same one, by any chance?”
Gerald was a little bit pleased to see that Carson was looking confused by this interchange. “I see.” To Carson, he went on, “And you believe that my Guide…stole this object?”
He hoped his tone indicated how displeased he would be by the suggestion, and something of it must have gotten though, because Carson temporized, “He has been unable to provide a satisfactory alternative explanation for how the maid came to find it among his things. He has suggested that James, the footman, placed it there. And that Miss O’Brien, Lady Grantham’s personal maid, was involved in some way.”
So Thomas had explained that already. And Carson hadn’t believed him. Gerald wished he was surprised. “And you…feel that this explanation is not satisfactory?” he asked, just to make sure that he grasped what Carson was saying.
“Your lordship, I am sorry to have to tell you that this is not the first time that Mr. Barrow’s honesty has come under question in this house. Before the war, there were several unexplained thefts in a short period of time; in one of those cases, he convinced a young girl to present fabricated evidence implicating another member of staff; she later confessed that she had not in fact witnessed anything. On another occasion I personally witnessed his involvement. In fact, Mr. Barrow was on the point of being dismissed for theft when he left voluntarily to begin his war service.”
Gerald wanted to say that he knew about all of that, but before he could, Carson went on.
“It was in appreciation of that service and in hopes that the war had improved his character that Lord Grantham elected to give him another chance. It is for these reasons that I am highly skeptical of his story.”
“Carson, it is very clear that neither you nor Lord Grantham saw active service in the war—if you had, you’d realize how unthinkable it is to suggest that bloody mess would improve anyone’s character.” Catching sight of the housekeeper, he added, “I apologize for my language, Mrs. Hughes—I meant it as an adjective of quality rather than an expletive. But that’s neither here nor there.” Turning back to Carson, he went on, “I’m well aware that Thomas had some difficulty in finding his way. I know all about the mistakes he has made in the past, and the reasons for them. I suspect that this incident has been engineered in part to make certain that I do know about them, and I do not like it.”
“I apologize, your lordship. I felt it needed to be said.”
“And I feel that my Guide has not been treated with appropriate courtesy while we’ve been guests here,” Gerald said, with equal frankness. “Not only has he been harassed with this ridiculous accusation, but since our arrival he’s had to deal with the sneering of your staff, and with accusations that he isn’t doing his job properly, from individuals who clearly have no idea what a Guide is.”
“I’m not sure what he’s been telling you, your lordship, but he has not brought any complaints to my attention.”
“I’m sure he hasn’t,” Gerald snapped. “To return to the matter at hand, you must see that at present there is absolutely no reason for Thomas to have taken—that.” He gestured at the snuffbox that sat before them. “I’m afraid I couldn’t say what Thomas—or anyone else, for that matter—might want with an 18th century Russian cloisonné snuffbox, but if he for some reason became convinced that possession of such an article was essential to his happiness, I would buy him one. And I’m entirely confident that he knows this.”
“Your lordship,” Carson said, “I do not imagine that Mr. Barrow took the snuffbox because he wanted it.”
“And I don’t imagine that he took it at all, so we seem to be moving closer to an accord,” Gerald said coldly.
Carson attempted, “I merely thought that you should be apprised of the situation; it is of course your decision what to do about it. As the snuffbox has been returned, the matter need go no further.”
“I’m afraid that won’t do,” Gerald answered, his anger now roused. “Now that the matter has been raised, I should like to uncover precisely what has happened, so that my Guide’s innocence may be established.”
Carson blinked at him slowly. “I see. And how would you like to do that, your lordship?”
“Sorting out what this James was doing in our room yesterday, if not hiding snuffboxes, would be a place to start,” Gerald answered.
The housekeeper, who had been a silent witness to all of the foregoing, spoke up. “Mr. Barrow had asked this morning—before the snuffbox was discovered—if I knew of any reason for James to have been there. I certainly hadn’t sent him there. Had you?”
“Of course not,” Carson said.
“He was there,” Gerald said. “It isn’t the sort of thing a Sentinel is likely to be mistaken about.”
“Very well.” Carson’s tone was grudging. “I shall question James again.”
“I’d like to be there when you do.”
“It will have to be after luncheon,” the butler said. “It’s nearly time to prepare the dining room, and I’ll need James for that.”
The morning was getting on, wasn’t it? “Of course. I’ll get out of your way, so you can carry on with your work.” Gerald hesitated. He ought to be getting back to the discussion—but he wanted to talk to Thomas first. “Is there somewhere I can sit with Thomas for a bit? Our room is rather far away.”
“You can use my parlour if you like,” the housekeeper offered.
“You’re very kind.”
Thomas helped him up, and showed him into the parlour—simply furnished, but rather more comfortable than the butler’s pantry. Gerald had been a guest in more than one butler’s pantry in his day—usually under much happier circumstances than these—but he thought this might be his first visit to a housekeeper’s parlour. Thomas steered him to an upholstered armchair, and Gerald waved him into the rocking chair opposite.
Thomas sat, briefly, then hopped up and went to examine a small grille on the wall. Returning, he explained, “Just checking—if the vent’s open, they can hear in here from the servants’ hall. But it’s shut.”
“Good.” Sighing, Gerald rubbed his eyes. “What a morning.”
“My lord?” Thomas said, wary.
“You were right to ask for me,” Gerald said, after a moment’s consideration of what Thomas might be seeking reassurance about. The footman had certainly seemed to think there was something odd about it, so that seemed the most likely thing for Thomas to be worried about.
He’d apparently guessed right; Thomas relaxed a bit and said, “I thought I might be. I told Mr. Carson what must have happened, but he didn’t believe me.”
“Well you can fill me in,” Gerald suggested. Thomas ducked his head and looked ever so faintly betrayed, so Gerald added, “I think I grasp the essentials, but I may be missing some details.”
So Thomas explained how he’d come down to the servants’ hall in time to hear Bates and his wife discussing the theft. The valet had gone on to ask Thomas and O’Brien which of them had done it—which Gerald bristled at, but he supposed, from Bates’s perspective, it was a reasonable enough question. O’Brien had gotten the better of the exchange, saying she had no idea what they were talking about, while Thomas—he heard with a bit of fond amusement—had replied, “She did,” which certainly suggested guilty knowledge of some kind.
“Then he finally said it was about a snuffbox, and I realized what must have happened. I’m sure she gave Jimmy the idea of taking it and planting it. I told him if he’d just say where he put it, we could have Bates put it back and that would be the end of it. I didn’t –I don’t like the idea of O’Brien manipulating him, and him thinking all along she’s his friend.”
Thomas looked a little sheepish about that, so Gerald said, “That’s very kind of you. I’m not sure the fellow deserves it.”
“Maybe not.” Thomas hesitated. “You see, the thing is, Jimmy always reminded me a bit of myself. When I was just starting out. That’s why I…I only ever wanted to help him. It’s a bit stupid of me, I suppose. It’s just that O’Brien was the only one I ever had helping me here. And I think I might have done a bit better on me own, actually.”
“No, I understand.” Gerald had been—and would have liked to remain—completely indifferent to Jimmy’s fate. But now that Thomas had said that, it wouldn’t be enough simply to clear Thomas’s name and let the chips fall where they would. Somehow, he’d have to uncover whether Jimmy had, in fact, been the unwitting dupe of a female Iago, and if he had, to make that plain to everyone, including Jimmy himself.
In short, he had to do for Jimmy what he would have liked someone to do for Thomas, in the same situation.
Damn it all.
“So then Jimmy tried to suggest I was making it all up because I had a fixation about him—I’d gone from fantasizing that he loved me to fantasizing that he’s persecuting me. He must be reading Freud. Or newspaper articles about Freud; something,” Thomas explained. Thomas had ended up telling his lordship rather more details about that humiliating interview with Carson than he’d planned. Normally, he wouldn’t have liked revisiting all of the nasty things that had been said to him, but his lordship’s reactions made clear that he didn’t think for a minute that any of them could be true. It was gratifying, being understood and believed.
It was just what he’d always secretly longed for: someone to take his side. When he’d been younger, and faced with some injustice, he’d daydreamed of someone—anyone—coming to his defense. “Fortunately, Mr. Carson wasn’t terribly interested in hearing about that. So then Jimmy said Mr. Carson ought to ring the police—and it was about then that I asked for you.”
“If a similar situation ever arises again, you might ask for me sooner,” his lordship said.
“I didn’t think of it right away,” Thomas admitted. It was a situation he’d faced so many times before—being called on the carpet by Carson, Carson not believing or even really listening to what he had to say about it—that he had almost forgotten that he had advantages now that he hadn’t had then.
“I’m glad you did think of it. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
He hoped they would. It was one thing—a very pleasant thing—to have his lordship immediately believe he hadn’t done what he was accused of. But it would be even better to be able to rub it in a few people’s faces.
“Will you be all right now?” his lordship went on. “I should probably get back; I’m sure they’re all wondering where I went.”
“I’m fine,” Thomas assured him. He was, now.
He helped his lordship back up the stairs and into the library. On his way back down, Mrs. Hughes met him at the foot of the stairs. “We’re just getting lunch on the table,” she told him. “Would you like a tray in my sitting room instead?”
Thomas hesitated. He had a feeling that going into the servants’ hall would involve some sort of confrontation that would upset his appetite, and he’d already missed breakfast. “Yes, thanks. I could use a bit of peace and quiet,” he explained, to make it plain that he wasn’t running or hiding from anyone.
“I thought you might. I’ll send Daisy or Ivy in with it.”
It turned out to be Ivy, bearing a tray. “So what’s all this palaver about, then?” she asked as she laid the things out on the table.
Mindful that whatever he said was likely to be reported back to the rest of them in the hall, Thomas said, “It’s just a matter of Miss O’Brien being spiteful, I’m afraid.”
“Miss O’Brien, spiteful? I’m shocked.”
“Only they’re saying you stole one of his lordship’s knickknacks, and Mr. Carson’s keeping you penned up in here until he decides what to do.”
“Who’s saying that?”
“Well…Miss O’Brien, mostly. I suppose that’s what she would say if she’s being spiteful.”
Finished with both table-setting and intelligence gathering, Ivy took herself out, and Thomas applied himself to what was really a rather decent slab of pigeon pie. Around the time he finished, Mrs. Hughes herself came in with tea and pudding. Thomas wondered about that—if, perhaps, Ivy’s tale was right, and she’d come in here to make sure he didn’t escape—but she just made a few inconsequential remarks as she dished up and poured. “I hope the lunch has been all right, at least,” she said as she sat across from him with her own plate and cup.
“Yes, thanks. There isn’t a lot I miss about this place, but Mrs. Patmore’s cooking has always been all right.”
“I’ll tell her you said so.”
“If you like.”
“I hope you don’t mind my saying, you’ve changed since you’ve been away.”
Was she going to start now? That was all he needed.
“I just mean you seem happier,” she went on.
“So what if I am?”
She gave him a reproachful look. “I think it’s quite nice.”
Oh. “I suppose I am, at that.” He hadn’t thought about it much. Funny, considering his lordship’s persistent asking about what would make him happy had thrown him into a panic, not so very long ago. “This was never the right sort of place for me. I just didn’t know it.” Or rather, he had known—but he hadn’t known what would be right.
“No, I suppose it wasn’t,” Mrs. Hughes said.
If it had been Miss O’Brien talking, she would have meant something slyly insinuating by such a remark.
But oddly, it didn’t seem like Mrs. Hughes did.
“Only I hope there’s nothing wrong,” Lady Grantham said as they took their seats in the dining room for luncheon.
It was the last of several delicately-worded inquiries about the circumstances of the footman’s coming to fetch Gerald from the library, which everyone seemed to consider a most extraordinary occurrence—enough so that Mr. Crawley had apparently told his mother-in-law about it. Unless she’d had the tale from the odious O’Brien, somehow. Gerald hadn’t quite decided whether he ought to say anything, but if they were going to keep asking…. “As a matter of fact, there is. Your butler has accused my Guide of stealing.”
“Carson has?” Lady Grantham asked, and the butler, presiding by the sideboard, stiffened slightly but perceptibly.
“I’m afraid so.”
“I’m so sorry you were troubled by it…but Carson would never make such an accusation if he didn’t have reason to think it was true.”
“He’s mistaken,” Gerald said tersely. The situation strained his habitual good manners.
“I certainly hope that he is.” But Lady Grantham’s tone suggested she thought that would be a vain hope.
“I’ll be helping him look into it. After luncheon.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“It’s rather important to me to clear my Guide’s name,” Gerald said, with some asperity.
Mercifully, the conversation was allowed to turn to other subjects for the majority of the meal. Afterwards, he rejoined Thomas, who seemed comfortable enough in the housekeeper’s parlour. “I hope Carson hasn’t forgotten we want to speak to Jimmy,” Gerald fretted when they had been waiting there a few minutes.
“They have to finish clearing the table first,” Thomas pointed out. ‘Takes a bit of time. They can’t really leave things sit, or they’ll be cluttering up the servery when it’s time to get everything ready for dinner.”
“Oh, right,” Gerald said, a little embarrassed that he hadn’t thought of that. Of course, the dishes didn’t carry themselves away after the meal was finished.
Finally, they reassembled in the butler’s pantry, without Mrs. Hughes this time. Jimmy seemed nervous even before they began, standing rigidly and giving Thomas little looks of dislike and alarm as Gerald got himself settled in a chair. And before Gerald had even asked him anything, he blurted out, “I didn’t have anything to do with it, your lordship. The first I knew about any snuffboxes was when Mr. Bates mentioned it in the servants’ hall, and Thomas accused me of taking it.”
That was such an obvious lie that Gerald didn’t comment on it. “What were you doing in my room yesterday?”
“I wasn’t,” he said immediately. “I had no reason to be there, did I, Mr. Carson?”
“You did not,” said Carson gravely.
“Yet you were there,” Gerald said. “Sometime between when I dressed for dinner and when we went up.”
“I’m sorry, but I wasn’t,” Jimmy said, his heartbeat accelerating and his scent becoming sharp with anxiety. “I was serving dinner then.” He looked at Carson in mute appeal.
Thomas, who had once again elected to stand at Gerald’s shoulder, spoke up. “We both know there are plenty of chances to slip away, and you only needed a few minutes.”
Jimmy stared at him for a moment, then shook his head. “What—what makes you think I was there? You can’t say you saw me.”
The remark was addressed to Thomas, but Gerald answered. “I smelled you. I am, as you’ll recall, a Sentinel. Do you ever read detective stories?” he asked, hoping to lead Jimmy to realize that Gerald knew what he was speaking of.
“No,” Jimmy said. “I don’t like that sort of rot.”
“All right, but you’re surely familiar with the idea of dogs tracking a fox—or whatever—by scent,” he tried again.
“Every living thing leaves traces of its scent where it’s been, including people. Now, I haven’t had the training that Sentinels on the police force get, so I couldn’t tell you who has been where all over this house, but in a closed room that only a few people have been in—I can tell if someone was there who shouldn’t have been.”
Jimmy moistened his lip with the tip of his tongue. “I wasn’t there yesterday, but I was the day before. Taking in the bed for Mr. Barrow, along with Alfred. Mrs. Hughes told us to. I’m certainly not saying you’re lying, your lordship, but perhaps you’re mistaken.”
“I am not,” Gerald said.
Glancing over at Carson again, Jimmy said, “Maybe I stepped in there, looking for a different room or something. I don’t particularly remember doing it, but if you’re so certain I was in there, perhaps I was. Doesn’t mean I was planting snuffboxes anywhere.”
“What would you have been doing in any of the rooms on the bachelor corridor?” Carson asked.
Jimmy’s anxiety rose to near panic at that question, but outwardly he barely twitched. Apparently Thomas’s complete lack of emotional expressiveness was more normal for Insensate servants than Gerald had thought. “I don’t know,” he said. “Nothing.”
Gerald didn’t think it would do anyone much good to have the conversation detour into a discussion of the possible reasons that a footman might have had for being in a strange man’s room, so he said, “Do you know anything at all about the history of that particular snuffbox?”
Gerald would have been willing to swear in court that Jimmy’s bafflement about that question was genuine. “I think someone mentioned it’s18th century? And—Russian?”
“I speak of its more recent history. Shortly before the war.”
“I wasn’t here yet then.”
“I know,” Gerald said. “But did anyone tell you anything about it?”
“No,” Jimmy said.
Carson was looking puzzled as Jimmy was about this line of questioning. Gerald hesitated to enlighten them, as the story was not his to tell, but Thomas said, “But you remember this morning. Bates said someone was playing games with the snuffboxes again.”
“And you said—something about Miss O’Brien making somebody valet,” Jimmy remembered. He looked from Carson to Gerald and back again. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
“I begin to have an idea,” Carson said, looking disapprovingly at Thomas.
Thomas laid his hand on Gerald’s shoulder and said, “The thing is, back when Bates first started here, O’Brien gave me the idea of nicking that very snuffbox and planting it on Bates, to get him sacked.”
“What?” said Carson.
Thomas glanced at him for a fraction of a second, then turned his attention back to Jimmy. “It didn’t work out—Bates tumbled to it and turned it back on us. But it seems like an astonishing coincidence that yesterday she made a threat about doing something to make me look bad to his lordship here, and then the same snuffbox turns up in me bed.”
“And we know you were in the room,” Gerald added, “when, as you say, you had no reason to be. You’re not helping yourself, Jimmy. No one thinks you came up with this all on your own, but by denying everything, you’re only digging yourself in deeper.”
Gerald hoped that understanding would be Jimmy’s Achilles heel, as it was Thomas’s—and he was proved right, though not in precisely the way he’d expected. After gulping and looking around wildly for a moment, Jimmy said, “You’ve got the wrong idea about Mr. Barrow, your lordship.”
“I beg your pardon?” Gerald said, as Thomas’s hand clenched on his shoulder.
“There’s something not right about him. I don’t mean just—you know. The sort of thing he was arrested for. When he came in my room that time, after I shoved him off me, he started blubbering about how there was something between us, all the things I’d said—and there was nothing between us; I’d never said anything. He’s mad. O’Brien says he was the same way before, over some Duke who was courting Lady Mary, and then when Thomas finally got it through his head the man wasn’t in love with him, he tried to blackmail him over it. Maybe it’s driven him insane, bein’ the way he is; I don’t know. Miss O’Brien’s the only one who sees it, and we agreed he’s got to be stopped, somehow.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” Thomas said. “You blithering idiot.”
“What?” said Jimmy.
“O’Brien. Told me. You fancied me. She said you were always going on about me. That was what I meant when I said that about the things you said. The things she told me you said.”
“But--” Jimmy shook his head. “She knew I weren’t that way. I’d told her how uncomfortable I was with the way you were acting—touching me and that. She said I had to let you do it or you’d make trouble for me with his lordship.”
“I’m sure she told you that,” Thomas said. “And meanwhile, she told me you were loving every minute of it and Alfred was sick of hearing you talk about how wonderful you thought I was. She played us like a couple of puppets.”
“Why?” Jimmy demanded.
“If the sheer amusement of it wasn’t enough? I’d guess because we’d stopped being friends not long before—about when Alfred showed up—and she knows I know all about…things she’s done that she wouldn’t like her ladyship to find out about. Get me sacked or arrested, and I’ve never be able to tell, or be believed if I did. Only then this happened,” he added, gesturing over his shoulder at Gerald.
“How do I know this isn’t just another fairy story?” Jimmy asked.
Gerald was a bit stumped by that one—he knew it wasn’t, but he didn’t see how to prove it. But Thomas said, “This business about me being mad, and the story about the Duke—did she tell you that back when I was still here? When you were making the decision to have me arrested?”
“No—she didn’t know me that well then, and she didn’t want to bear tales.”
“And did she get over her reluctance to bear tales around the time it became generally known that Lord Pellinger was coming to visit, and bringing me along?”
“She said I ought to know, in case you tried anything else, while you were here,” Jimmy explained.
“James,” Carson broke in, “I must tell you that, while I have had numerous occasions to doubt Mr. Barrow’s honesty—and, indeed, this story about the snuffbox and Mr. Bates increases my doubts—I have never doubted his sanity. And he has never to my knowledge been accused of making improper advances to a Duke or to anyone else—besides yourself.”
Gerald decided to proceed on the assumption that what Carson did not know, on that score, would not harm him.
Carson went on, “And by your own admission, you refrained, on Miss O’Brien’s advice, from making it plain to Mr. Barrow that his…actions were repugnant to you. That he came to the conclusion that you might welcome his attentions seems… not entirely irrational. Although I do wonder, given what he’s said about the state of his friendship with Miss O’Brien at the time, why he was not more skeptical of her claims regarding your reciprocation of his feelings.”
“I—wanted it to be true, I suppose,” Thomas said.
Carson huffed; Gerald reached up and patted the hand that rested, still, on his shoulder. “We’ve gotten rather far afield,” he noted. “Jimmy, will you tell us exactly what happened with the snuffbox?”
Haltingly, Jimmy did. It seemed that Jimmy and O’Brien had had several brief but intense conversations since Thomas’s arrival, in which she drew the footman’s attention to the evidence that Thomas was still in the grip of the mental disturbance she had ascribed to him. Gerald was treated to a distorted mirror image of some of the events he’d already heard about from Thomas, such as the outburst in which he denied being a prostitute. “She were needling him, I suppose I can see that, but flying off the handle didn’t exactly make him look any saner, did it?”
Gerald felt Thomas go tense behind him. Gerald said, “Thomas has grown rather unused to being so shabbily treated, I’m afraid. My own household operates on much more harmonious lines.” He flicked a rebuking glance over to Carson at that before saying, “Do go on,” to Jimmy.
“Well, anyway, she said something ought to be done. I said maybe one of us should tell you, your lordship, about the sort of things he’d been doing and saying, but Miss O’Brien said she didn’t think you’d believe it without some kind of proof.”
“About that she was quite correct,” Gerald noted.
“So I said, let’s keep our eyes open for some proof, and then after tea she drags me into the old scullery and hands me this snuffbox. She said she’d gone ahead and gotten it for me; all I had to do was put it in with Thomas’s things. Before I had any chance to think it over, she’d gone and I was stuck with the thing. I had to get rid of it somehow, before I was caught with it myself.”
“You could,” Carson pointed out, “have returned it to his lordship’s dressing room. Or reported the matter to me.”
Jimmy’s expression tightened at the rebuke; by imagining Thomas in his place, Gerald managed to muster some amount of sympathy for him. “In any case,” Gerald said, “I think it’s quite clear that James has been led astray. I hope you won’t be too hard on him.”
“James,” Carson said severely, “ought to know better than to engage in this sort of behavior, regardless of what poison Miss O’Brien has been dripping into his ear. I shall certainly have to inform Lord Grantham as to what has gone on.”
“Of course,” Gerald said, with a genial nod. He could always intercede with Lord Grantham on Jimmy’s behalf, if Thomas wanted him to. “If you don’t mind my saying, if it were my house, I’d be most grateful to hear about Miss O’Brien’s part in things. Particularly as involving other members of staff in her intrigues seems to be a habit with her.”
“Indeed. Thank you, your lordship,” Carson said, giving Thomas the barest hint of a suspicious glance.
Gerald supposed it was a good time to clear off and let Carson get on with his day. He extended his hand for Thomas to help him up, saying as he did so, “And thank you for your candor, James.”
James bobbed his head nervously. Gerald thought that the footman might be in for a rough afternoon and evening—but Gerald couldn’t find it in his heart to object too strongly too that.
Thomas expected that he’d end up spending the rest of the afternoon until tea-time hiding in Mrs. Hughes’s room again—either that or sitting in the servants’ hall pretending he wasn’t bothered by anything at all—but instead, his lordship said they ought to go for a walk.
“Don’t you want to get back to the library?”
“To be honest, I’m having a bit of trouble focusing on estate management today.”
So Thomas fetched their coats, and they walked, in the gardens this time, since they’d seen the village yesterday. He had the sense that his lordship had something he wanted to say, but he didn’t come out with it. Figuring that, whatever it was, it must have to do with something he’d just heard in Carson’s office, Thomas decided he might as well introduce the subject. “I wasn’t blubbering, whatever Jimmy says about it,” he said firmly. “And I’m not mad.”
“I believe you,” his lordship said, sounding a bit distracted. Perhaps he was actually brooding about something that wasn’t Thomas—unlikely as that seemed. As Thomas was struggling to fit this concept into his worldview, his lordship said suddenly, “It’s this business with O’Brien.”
“What about it?”
“She seems to be going to a great deal of trouble to discredit you.”
“Yes,” Thomas agreed.
“If you’re right that it’s all about her wanting to make sure you don’t reveal her secrets….”
“It occurs to me that whatever it is you have on her must be rather significant.”
“It is,” Thomas confirmed.
His lordship hesitated. “Perhaps my imagination’s getting the better of me. But…well, last night you said you were almost certain she’d never killed anyone deliberately.”
Feeling a bit queasy, Thomas nodded.
“Has she killed someone…by accident?”
Now it was Thomas’s turn to hesitate. It was the only one of the secrets from his Downton days that he hadn’t told his lordship about—not that it was really his secret to tell. “In a way. Not really. I don’t think.”
“All right, you’re going to have to tell me what you mean by that.”
Thomas swallowed hard. “It was back before the war.”
“Her ladyship—Lady Grantham—was in the family way. Only she slipped, getting out of the bath, and lost it.” Up to that point, what he’d said was generally known by the servants who had been in the house at the time. Thomas’s mouth went dry as he moved on to the next part. “O’Brien was that torn up about it—seemed to be taking it almost as hard as her ladyship. You wouldn’t think it, an old battle-axe like her, but…well, it was when we were still friends, so I tried to tell her I didn’t see how she could be blamed, it wasn’t like she had pushed her—and then O’Brien said she as good as did.”
“She almost didn’t tell me, but I eventually got it out of her. It turns out she left the soap right where her ladyship would step on it, as she was getting out of the tub. She says it wasn’t premeditated—she just did it, on impulse. She’d got the idea that her ladyship was sneaking around trying to replace her, and didn’t even have the decency to let her know she ought to be looking for another job. She was that angry about it. I don’t know if she was thinking about the baby then, or if she just hoped her ladyship would end up with a bruised bum; she never said. But the miscarriage started right after, so there’s not a lot of doubt that’s why it happened.”
“And—no one else knows about this?”
“I can’t imagine she’s told anyone else,” Thomas said.
“And you didn’t tell anyone?”
“She’d have been ruined. I don’t know if you can go to prison for something like that, but even if not, she’d never have worked again. Even after we weren’t friends anymore, I didn’t want to ruin her life.” Not even when she had decided to ruin his.
“And I suppose you didn’t…think about it from Lady Grantham’s point of view.”
He hadn’t. Seeing Jimmy falling into O’Brien’s web, believing she had his best interests at heart when really she was just using him for her own purposes, had given him a pang of sympathy and recognition. But it hadn’t even occurred to him that Lady Grantham was similarly ensnared. She trusted O’Brien implicitly—a fact they had used to their advantage more than once. “Not until just now, no.”
His lordship’s expression was grave. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”
The words—and more than that, the disapproval behind them—cut like a blow. Thomas supposed it had to happen that eventually something would shake the unnaturally high opinion his lordship had of him. But it did seem dreadfully unfair that it would end up being be something O’Brien had done. “It isn’t as though anyone would have believed me if I had told,” he said miserably.
“It was around the time I was leaving for the Medical Corps.” Scrambling to get out before he was sacked, as his lordship knew. “I had a few other things on my mind.”
“No, I see that.” But the assurance wasn’t nearly as warm as it usually was. “But it’s the sort of thing Lady Grantham really ought to know. I understand that you didn’t like to bear tales about your friend, but—I don’t know either if it’s quite a criminal matter, but—it’s rather more significant than nicking bottles of wine and spreading scurrilous gossip. You see that, don’t you?”
“Yes, my lord.”
His lordship glanced over at him. “I’m glad to hear it.” They walked on in silence for another few moments, then he said, “The only thing for it, is that we’ll have to make it right now. Better late than never.”
“Tell her, you mean?” Thomas refrained from hunching his shoulders, with an effort.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“She won’t believe me now, either,” he pointed out. “And there’ll be questions about why I didn’t speak up sooner.”
“I expect there will,” his lordship said. “And she may not believe you, but you’ve got to at least try.”
For a moment, Thomas entertained the notion of refusing. What could his lordship do, after all—not sack him.
But he’d probably disapprove some more. And—now that Thomas was thinking about it—he had a point. Her ladyship ought to know what sort of viper she had pressed to her bosom. If there was someone like O’Brien at Bellerock, he’d want his lordship to know.
Except that the nearest thing to O’Brien at Bellerock was him, and his lordship did already know. “What if I tell her, and it she decides it’s all right? To let bygones be bygones or something.”
“That seems unlikely,” his lordship said, “but it’s Lady Grantham’s business what she does about what you tell her. I’m not saying you should tell to get O’Brien in trouble; you should tell because it’s the right thing to do.”
“Oh. Right. That—slipped my mind for a moment.”
“I’ll arrange for Lady Grantham to see us,” his lordship went on.
“You’re going to be there?”
“I thought so—if you want me to be.”
“I do.” He felt a bit better about it, that way.
Gerald was trying studiously to avoid the gazes of both Carson and Jimmy—a feat that was helped along by the fact that they seemed no more eager to lock eyes with him—when Lady Grantham sailed over. The gentlemen’s meeting had broken up, to the relief of everyone involved, with the arrival of afternoon tea and the ladies.
“Lord Pellinger,” the countess said, shepherding him gently toward an isolated corner.
Gerald, seeing that the corner had a table where he could set his cup and plate down—it being quite impossible to eat or drink either, while holding his tea at the same time—consented to be herded.
Besides, he’d rather suspected that she would be seeking him out.
Once they were settled, and presumably out of Insensate earshot, Lady Grantham began bluntly, “My maid, O’Brien, has been telling me more about these terrible accusations against your valet.”
“Guide,” Gerald said. “Has she.”
“She says he seems to think that she was involved somehow.”
“Yes, he does.”
“I hope you know it’s quite impossible.” Lady Grantham’s words were rushed, almost clipped—it was clear she was quite angry, though trying not to show it. “She’s been with me for simply ages, and she’s so devoted.”
Oh, dear. “Indeed. Er. As a matter of fact, Thomas has told me about a matter, touching on Miss O’Brien, that I rather think you should hear from him directly.”
“What sort of matter?”
“I’d rather not say. I’d like to bring him to you so that he can explain things himself, when you have time.”
“To be frank, Lord Pellinger, I’m not certain that I wish to hear it. O’Brien tells me that he’s been making all sorts of wild accusations—not to mention unseemly outbursts. She’s tried to be a friend to him, as I hope you know, but she says he’s always been a troubled soul, and even more so since the war. Apparently he injured himself deliberately so that he’d be sent back to England.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Yes. He’d been at the Front for two years by then, with no end in sight, and it was more terrible than you can imagine, particularly for--” Thomas wouldn’t thank him for saying, particularly for a Guide. “For anyone of sensitivity and imagination.”
“Well, he certainly has imagination,” Lady Grantham observed dryly. “If what he’s been saying lately is any sample.”
Gerald clenched his jaw, and reminded himself that he was speaking to a lady.
“At any rate, she thinks it likely that he’s making up quarrels, or at least exaggerating old quarrels, because he thinks she ought to have done something to prevent him from being arrested.”
“That is,” Gerald said carefully, “very different from what I’ve heard from him. And Thomas is not in the habit of lying to me.”
“Nor is O’Brien in the habit of lying to me, I’m sure.”
Gerald understood her reaction, in a way—in fact, it seemed entirely natural to him that Lady Grantham would defend her personal maid; it was the first he’d seen of any of the household behaving toward their servants in a way that he thought was normal. “The difference is, as a Sentinel, I actually know that he isn’t.” Not that Thomas had begun being honest with him out of any particular sense of moral virtue—as Gerald understood it, it was largely a matter of having exhausted all the alternatives.
Lady Grantham’s eyes narrowed, and she made a sound of disapproval or disbelief; Gerald wasn’t sure which.
“I’m sorry that there’s been such—disruption,” Gerald went on, as politely as he could. He did feel it was a bit unfair that he be required to apologize when he was, after all, trying to help, but he forced himself to remember that from her perspective—an exercise his childhood nanny had frequently required of him—it likely looked as though he was involving himself in a petty dispute that was none of his business. “But I do feel that, in your place, I should like to hear the information which Thomas has recently related to me. If you would rather not, of course that’s entirely your decision.”
“No,” she said. “On balance, I think that I would like to hear what Thomas has been saying about O’Brien. Carson.” She raised her voice slightly for this last, and turned her head toward the butler, while keeping her eyes focused on Gerald. “Please tell O’Brien and Thomas that Lord Pellinger and I should like to see them in the morning room.” To Gerald, she added, “I think it right that she be present to hear what she’s been accused of.”
“As you like,” Gerald agreed.
Thomas smoked his way through several cigarettes, first in Mrs. Hughes’s parlour, then in the servants’ hall when she asked him to please stop imitating a bad chimney in her room. Jimmy was absent—upstairs serving tea to the family and guests—but O’Brien was a hostile, smoldering presence at the other end of the table.
It was almost a relief when Carson turned up in the doorway. Once everyone had scrambled to their feet, he said, “Miss O’Brien, Mr. Barrow, her ladyship and Lord Pellinger would like to see you in the morning room.”
Thomas stubbed out his cigarette, half-smoked, as O’Brien turned a look of triumph on him.
Thomas felt a bit ill, though he didn’t know why. However this went—and Thomas was far from certain that Lady Grantham would believe him, even with his lordship’s backing—it would be all right for him. She had absolutely nothing on him that Lord Pellinger didn’t already know, and it didn’t matter what Lady Grantham thought of him.
He let O’Brien lead the way up the stairs—it seemed safer not to turn his back to her. The morning room was a small sitting room the family hardly ever used—it hadn’t been redone since the Dowager Countess’s day, and looked it. Lady Grantham was sitting in the middle of a horsehair sofa, while his lordship perched on a similarly-upholstered chair, his cane planted in front of him as if to keep him from sliding off of it. Thomas immediately took up a position at his shoulder, for the reassurance it provided. That left O’Brien standing on her own facing the sofa, her hands folded in front of her.
“Thomas,” Lady Grantham said, “Lord Pellinger tells me you have something you wish to say to me.”
Wish was definitely too strong of a word. “Yes, your ladyship.” Now that he was standing here in front of her, he wasn’t quite sure how to say it. He’d pictured his lordship smoothing the way for him somehow. “That is, my lord thinks it best that I tell you.”
“I do,” his lordship affirmed.
“Then please get on with it,” Lady Grantham said sharply.
“It’s a delicate subject. You’ll have to forgive me for discussing it in mixed company.”
Her ladyship didn’t respond, just looked at him with an uninviting expression.
“Right.” He took a deep breath. “It’s to do with—before the war. The, ah, the loss you suffered just before.”
O’Brien broke, turning to look at him with mingled incredulity and loathing. She didn’t quite go so far as to curse him in front of her ladyship, but Thomas had no doubt that she would have if the company had been any less exalted.
“I fail to see how that loss is any of your business,” Lady Grantham said.
“It isn’t, your ladyship. Except that, right after it happened, Miss O’Brien told me she’d—in a moment of anger, she’d caused you to fall. By, ah, by placing the soap, deliberately, where you’d step on it. She…felt badly about it. That’s how I came to hear of it in the first place.”
Lady Grantham turned to look at O’Brien, her mouth falling open in shock. Thomas could practically see the realization cross her face, and he could just as clearly see her put it aside. “This cannot possibly be true.”
“It isn’t, my lady,” O’Brien said immediately. “It’s true, I felt badly about your fall, and what happened to the poor baby. I may have told Thomas I felt responsible—that if I’d been there, or if I had noticed the water spilled on the floor, I might have prevented it. But I certainly didn’t cause it deliberately.”
“Of course you didn’t,” her ladyship said. “And I must say, Thomas, I think it very wrong of you to tell such lies against a woman who has been nothing but kind to you, and concerning such a painful subject.”
“I’m not lying,” Thomas said quietly. He wouldn’t have answered back like that if he still worked here—but then, he’d never have said any of it if he still worked here.
“He isn’t,” his lordship added. “And she is. In case you wondered.”
“I do not,” said Lady Grantham. “All I wonder is why Thomas has chosen to come forward with this outrageous tale after so much time has passed.”
“That,” his lordship said, before Thomas could say anything, “I can explain.” He related the affair of the snuffbox, emphasizing that Jimmy had already confirmed O’Brien’s involvement, and that Carson—reluctantly—supported Thomas’s version of events as more plausible.
When he touched on the earlier snuffbox theft, Lady Grantham broke in to say, “You have stolen from this house before?”
“Yes, your ladyship,” Thomas said. “The snuffbox, and quite a few bottles of wine. O’Brien helped me drink some of them.”
For some reason, it was that detail that seemed to shake Lady Grantham’s confidence. Turning to O’Brien, she said, “Is this true?”
“He did steal, my lady,” O’Brien said. “And I may have accepted a glass of wine or two that he was sharing, but he didn’t say where they had come from. Mr. Carson was about to dismiss him when he left for the war—you can ask him about it.”
“And yet you encouraged me to have Dr. Clarkson find a place for him at the village hospital, and to put him in charge of the convalescent home?” Her ladyship asked.
O’Brien’s face paled to milk as she realized her misstep. She opened her mouth, closed it again, and said weakly, “My lady.”
“We were friends, m’lady,” Thomas pointed out, pitying her. “She wanted to do me a good turn. Keep me safe.”
“I did,” O’Brien said. “I didn’t like the thought of him being killed over there, all on his own.”
“That’s true,” his lordship noted, glancing up over his shoulder at Thomas and then back at Lady Grantham. “In case anyone wondered.”
Thomas had, even if her ladyship hadn’t. “Good,” he said. “And I—I didn’t speak out about what she’d confessed to me, because we were friends. She was sorry about it, and I didn’t want to see her ruined. Not even after--” Looking directly at O’Brien for the first time in the interview, he said, “I wouldn’t have told, not even after what you did to me. That is what it was all about, wasn’t it? Even the business with Jimmy. You wanted to get me before I got you.”
O’Brien didn’t answer, but he could tell from her expression that he was right; it showed the sort of numb shock that came from realizing that the things you’d always thought you had to do to protect yourself were only making things worse. Thomas knew that expression from the inside out.
“You didn’t have to. I wasn’t going to hurt you just because I didn’t have any reason not to. Most people won’t. I’ve just been figuring that out.” He kept an eye on O’Brien as he spoke, but she didn’t seem to waver in her determination to deny everything, or to show any hint of remorse.
His lordship reached up to squeeze his hand. “Thank you, Thomas. So, to end the tale, what brought us here today is that after hearing from James, I asked Thomas what secret O’Brien had that she would go to such lengths to discredit him before he could reveal it, and he explained it to me. I hope you understand why I felt that he should tell you.”
“If you believe it to be true, you were quite right to have Thomas tell me,” her ladyship said, her voice tight. “If you’ll excuse me, Lord Pellinger, I have a great deal to think about.” She stood, and his lordship made an effort to stand as well, though she was halfway to the door before he’d made much progress.
“My lady,” O’Brien said, hurrying after her.
“Not now, O’Brien!” She turned, set her face sternly, and said, “I shall ring for you when I wish to speak to you.” With a crisp nod, her ladyship about-faced and left the room, leaving O’Brien standing there, frozen in mid-step, her face a mask of confusion and grief.
“I know you don’t like to cut and run, but I really think we had better,” Gerald said. He was sitting at the small desk in his room, trying to figure out how to word a telegram telling Bellerock to expect them back early. Meanwhile, Thomas was bustling about the room, doing things that could not with strict accuracy be described as either obeying or disobeying Gerald’s order to begin packing. For instance, at the moment he was very slowly rearranging the shaving kit in its case. “It isn’t just that things will be difficult for you in the servants’ hall. Mr. Crawley may have invited me, but Lady Grantham is still my hostess, and I’ve accused her maid of being the next thing to a murderess. Even if she believed us, we might find it awkward to face each other across a dinner table.”
“I suppose there is something in that, my lord,” Thomas said grudgingly. He stopped fussing with the shaving kit and took one of Gerald’s shirts out of the wardrobe, looking as though he was thinking about, perhaps, folding it. “Only O’Brien will crow about how I’d not have run away if I were telling the truth.”
“And you shan’t be here to hear it, so I don’t know why it should bother you,” Gerald pointed out. “I do rather wish we could have convinced Lady Grantham, but…perhaps now that the seed has been planted, she’ll be more wary. At least I hope--”
He was cut off by a knock at the door. Thomas put the shirt down and went to answer it. “Lord Grantham,” he said—whether in greeting or announcement, Gerald wasn’t sure.
“May I come in?” Grantham asked, looking past Thomas.
“Of course,” Gerald said.
He began fumbling about with his cane, giving Grantham plenty of time to say, “No, no, don’t get up. I’ve come because I’ve just heard some rather troubling news from Lady Grantham.”
“Yes, about that.” Gerald glanced past him at Thomas, who had taken up a position by the door, his hands behind his back. Playing footman, Gerald supposed. “I rather think it might be less awkward for everyone if we left. The next good train is first thing in the morning, but if it would be easier for Lady Grantham, we can sort out some way to leave tonight.”
“That’s kind of you,” Grantham said. “But I hope you won’t leave just yet. You see.” He paused. “I have never had quite the same trust in O’Brien that Lady Grantham does. She is very reluctant to believe that there could be anything in what Thomas has said.” Grantham half-turned to look at Thomas. “Myself, I’m reminded of the old saying that when thieves fall out, honest men get their due. I’d never imagined that O’Brien could do anything quite so black-hearted, but I can’t completely discount it, either. I came to ask if you are absolutely convinced that Thomas has spoken truthfully about what he knows of this matter.”
“Of the circumstances concerning Lady Grantham’s miscarriage,” Gerald said, wanting to be sure. It seemed to him that one of the problems of this house was that each person often had only part of the picture, and since no one ever stopped to compare notes, each imagined that they saw the whole. Rather like the blind men describing the elephant.
“Yes, that. I suppose I’d like to know exactly what happened with the snuffbox as well, but that isn’t nearly so important.”
Gerald nodded. “Yes, I am convinced. Thomas, is there anything at all that you’ve left out?”
Thomas shook his head. “No. My lord. I did tell you more of the details than came up when we were talking to Lady Grantham.”
“I should quite like to hear those details,” Lord Grantham said.
The request delicately skirted the edge of giving Gerald’s Guide orders in front of him; Gerald wondered whether it was coincidence, or if Grantham had been studying up. “Yes. Thomas, I hope you don’t mind going through it again?”
“I can manage, my lord.”
“You should probably sit,” Gerald said to Grantham—this might take some time, and he was already getting a crick in his neck looking up at him. “And do you want a drink, or anything, before we begin?” It was Grantham’s house and Grantham’s liquor, but it would be Gerald’s Guide pouring it, and he didn’t want to give Grantham a chance to put his foot in it by asking Thomas himself, not when he was doing so well.
“No, thank you,” Grantham said, but sat.
“All right, Thomas,” Gerald said. “Start at the beginning, so we can be certain that Lord Grantham has heard everything.”
Thomas nodded. “What I said to her ladyship, just now, was that O’Brien had confessed to me that, in a moment of anger, she deliberately left the soap where Lady Grantham would step on it getting out of the bath. Causing her to fall, which then led to the miscarriage. Now, O’Brien answered that what she’d really said to me, back then, was that she felt responsible, like if she’d been more attentive to her duties she could have prevented it. But I know that’s not true.”
“How?” Grantham asked. “That seems to be the nub of the matter, and I don’t see how it can be proved either way at this late a date.”
“I know,” Thomas said carefully, “because when she first started talking about it, I thought that was what she meant. She was brooding about it, over a couple of days—she’d say things like, ‘I know it was my fault,’ or ‘If only I hadn’t….’ And finally I got a bit fed up and said I wished she’d stop carrying on, it wasn’t like she’d pushed her.” Seeming to realize that Grantham might not appreciate his speaking so lightly of the situation, he added, “I’m sorry, your lordship, but that’s what I said.”
That explanation filled in one gap for Gerald—the notion of Thomas noticing his friend’s feelings and considerately asking her about them hadn’t seemed entirely in-character for the “old” Thomas. Even now it would be a bit unlikely.
“And then O’Brien said—these were her exact words—‘I might as well have.’ And then she told me about the soap. Then we talked a bit about whether anyone was going to suspect. She said she didn’t think so—in all the excitement, her ladyship didn’t seem to have even noticed the soap, and O’Brien made it out like she’d slipped on some water that had spilled, so it ought to be all right.”
Grantham shook his head. “And it didn’t occur to you, at the time, to speak out about this to anyone?”
“No, your lordship,” Thomas said, ducking his head slightly. “My reputation in the house was not precisely high—you might remember I was about to be sacked.”
“Was that around that time?” Grantham asked. “I suppose it was.”
Gerald broke in. “At the time, Thomas felt more strongly drawn by his loyalty to his friend than to any of the other parties involved. I gather that the ways the situation affected her were quite clear to him, while the effects on yourself and Lady Grantham were rather more abstract.”
“That’s right, my lord,” Thomas said.
“I’m afraid I don’t see what difference that makes. Surely you owed a greater loyalty to your employer than to a lady’s maid,” Grantham objected.
Thomas looked at him helplessly, and Gerald interpreted again for him. “Before you judge Thomas for not thinking of your feelings in the matter, I urge you to reflect on whether you have ever thought about his.” As far as Gerald was concerned, that was the nub of the matter—Thomas was capable of great compassion, but only if you’d managed to get past his walls and convince him you deserved it. “And there’s also the matter that I seriously doubt anyone would have believed him if he had spoken out—you don’t now, and you have a Sentinel before you saying quite plainly who is lying and who is not.”
“This business of Sentinels being able to always spot a lie seems a bit of superstition to me,” Grantham said, ignoring the first part of Gerald’s remark.
“It isn’t,” Gerald said. “There are certain bodily responses associated with deception—acceleration of the heart rate, changes in scent.” On inspiration, he added, “You might talk to Mr. Crawley about it. Since he’s trained in the law, he may be able to describe to you the legal standard for assessing such claims. I gather it’s rather complex—in a courtroom it isn’t simply a matter of any Sentinel standing up and saying ‘That man’s a liar’—but it is a recognized legal concept.”
“I will ask Mr. Crawley, thank you.” Grantham hesitated. “You understand that it isn’t that I believe you are lying. But you are very fond of Thomas.”
“I am,” Gerald agreed. “And I am also quite convinced of his honesty in this matter—but of course I recognize that there’s nothing I can say to prove I’m not mistaken.” He considered. “In my own house, if it were, say, a matter of disagreement between my brother’s Guide and mine, with each of us claiming that our own is telling the truth and the other is lying, my father—or in extreme cases, our head of House—would question each and see if he could sort things out. So perhaps what’s wanted here is to bring in a neutral third party, a Sentinel who has no particular attachment to Thomas.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know any,” Grantham said.
“No,” Gerald agreed. He’d rather thought not. “The county police, in York, have at least one—he notified the Society about Thomas. Seems a solid enough chap, though definitely of the people.” He’d been kind to Thomas, at least.
“I would like to look further into the matter,” Grantham said, “but I’m not convinced it’s a matter for the police. And I shouldn’t like to have the circumstances of my wife’s miscarriage aired in public any more than is strictly necessary to determine whether or not I must override Lady Grantham’s objections to dismissing O’Brien.”
“No, I quite see. There are quite a few Sentinel lawyers, then. Perhaps the firm you use employs one, or could recommend one. And Mr. Crawley knows at least one—our mutual acquaintance, Mr. Langley-Smythe. Even if it’s not precisely a legal matter, they’d be likely to agree to sort things out, since there’s a Guide involved.” He glanced up at Thomas. “Thomas, I hope you don’t object to going through the story one more time?” He didn’t seem alarmed at the prospect, but Gerald thought it best to ask.
“No, my lord. I don’t mind.”
Gerald nodded. “Then that’s what I should recommend, Grantham.” He hesitated. “There’s also the matter of James. Your footman. Has Carson had the opportunity yet to explain…?”
“He’s said that James has admitted to planting the snuffbox, on O’Brien’s advice. And that Thomas apparently did something similar before the war. Likewise on O’Brien’s advice. I’ve not yet decided precisely what to do about James.”
“Yes. I hope you will feel comfortable taking my word for it that he was telling the truth during that conversation. Comparing his account to things Thomas has told me of his life here, it seems quite clear that O’Brien is skilled at encouraging young men to act on the less admirable parts of their characters. I should consider it a favor if, when deciding what to do, you take into account that he was badly led.”
“I’ll consider that aspect of things,” Grantham agreed, standing up. “And I do hope you’ll stay. Matthew—Mr. Crawley—is most anxious for this…conference of his to be a success. And perhaps by Saturday we’ll be able to get to the bottom of this business with O’Brien. I will make sure that there are no further opportunities for anyone to make trouble for you.”
Gerald hesitated. He knew what Thomas would vote for—staying to see O’Brien vanquished. “Can you also make sure that my Guide is treated with every possible courtesy? Because—even setting aside the snuffbox plot, I fear that he has not been.”
“In what way?”
“Your butler has apparently felt himself at liberty to criticize the way my Guide carries out his duties. A bit of confusion is understandable, given that Thomas used to be under his supervision, but I should like Carson to make a concerted effort not to reveal, through word, deed, or gesture, his feelings about matters that do not concern him. Since he’s quite capable of doing so while carrying on his duties upstairs, it seems that he ought to be able to manage it with Thomas as well. If he should have serious concerns about Thomas’s conduct, I will hear them, but otherwise I should like him to keep his opinions to himself.”
Grantham glanced over at Thomas, who was looking more than usually blank. “Very well.”
“Secondly, there have been a number of insinuating remarks made about the nature of our relationship. O’Brien has been, I understand, the chief offender, but not the only one. Thomas is my Guide, and I am his Sentinel. Beyond that, it is vulgar and indecent to speculate. I trust that vulgar and indecent talk is not the norm in your servants’ hall, but your staff may need to be reminded that such courtesies apply to Thomas. And to me.”
“I shall tell Carson and Mrs. Hughes to strongly check any—vulgarity or indecency,” Grantham agreed. “And I’ll be asking that O’Brien remain in her room while this is sorted out, so there should be no trouble from her. Is that all?”
Thomas stirred slightly. “Mrs. Hughes has been all right, really. Your lordship.”
It was fairly clear from Grantham’s expression that he had not been expecting Thomas to contribute anything to the conversation—we speak when we’re spoken to, Thomas had said once, of Downton—but he responded only, “I’m glad to hear it. Good-day, Pellinger.”
Telling Lady Grantham had gone more or less the way Thomas expected—being disbelieved and told of for telling lies. The only surprise was that Lord Grantham had at least been willing to consider the idea that he might not be lying.
Since there was nothing for his lordship to do until dinner, and they’d already had a walk, they opted to spend the rest of the afternoon in the room. Thomas helped himself to a glass of whiskey and a handful of biscuits from the jar on the nightstand, explaining, “Missed my tea again.”
“Oh dear. I could ring for a tray, and see what happens,” his lordship suggested.
“No, I’d rather not risk it. One of the footmen would have to bring it, unless I went, and—I’m fine with this.” Gesturing with the glass, he found his book and settled on the sofa with it. In truth, he could have done with a bit more to eat, but the quiet afternoon was just the thing to settle his nerves after a trying day. He managed to get to the end of the story—Abernathy and Benjamin, having found the sacred idol and placated the natives, retired to an hotel to plan their next adventure—by the time the dressing gong went.
“I suppose I have to dress and go down,” his lordship said, putting aside his own book with a sigh. “It’ll look like a snub if I don’t—and there may be some news.”
“No one ever has dinner in their rooms here,” Thomas agreed, going to the wardrobe and starting to get out the evening clothes. “Unless they’re ill…or on the run from the police.”
“Who was that?” his lordship wondered.
“Branson. Mr. Branson, I should say. He was a bit of a firebrand in Ireland—he and Lady Sybil had to come running back here with their tails between their legs for his lordship to protect them.”
“What a colorful family.”
Once his lordship was dressed, Thomas helped him down the stairs and—after a moment’s thought—turned for the staircase down to the servants’ hall. His lordship was right; there was likely to be news, and he wasn’t going to hear it hiding out in the bedroom.
It was just his rotten luck that the first person he ran into was Alfred, loitering outside the kitchen waiting for the first course to take up. “You!” Alfred said, sounding like a title card from a film. “What do you think you’re playing at?”
“Not a thing,” Thomas said, trying to brush past him.
Alfred blocked his way. “Telling stories about my aunt, libeling her good name.”
“Slandering,” Thomas said, enjoying the gormless look on Alfred’s face.
“It’s only libel if it’s in writing. And anyway, it isn’t either if it’s true. Which it is.”
“I say it’s awfully convenient, your claiming to have a conscience now.”
“Conscience doesn’t have anything to do with it.” Glancing up and down the passage, he went on, “I told her, I never planned to rat her out. She forced my hand with this business with the snuffbox. That’s what raised the question of why she’d go to such lengths to get rid of me—first before, with Jimmy, and now. Once that question was asked, it had to be answered.”
“What do you mean, with Jimmy? I know what I saw.” He lowered his voice. “You kissin’ ‘im. It were disgusting.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bates come to stand in the servants’ hall doorway, arms folded across his chest. Thomas wondered which of them was supposed to be intimidated.
Now that Jimmy knew, what had really happened was bound to get around—and on balance, Thomas thought it might as well; he’d rather be known as her dupe than be thought some sort of uncontrollable pervert who went around kissing blokes with no provocation. “She told me he fancied me.”
“Why would she?”
“It’s true, Alfred,” Bates butted in. “I overheard her doing it once.”
Nice of him to stick up for Thomas now that it didn’t really matter anymore.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Alfred asked.
“I didn’t think it my business,” Bates said. “As far as I could tell, it might have been true.”
Jimmy chose that moment to come down the stairs. “What might have been true?”
“Nothing,” Bates said.
From the kitchen, Mrs. Patmore bellowed, “Are we waiting for this soup to take itself up?”
Alfred tore himself away, saying, “This isn’t finished.”
“What might have been true?” Jimmy asked, looking wildly from Bates to Thomas.
“Have you given up on being first footman, then?” Thomas asked. “Only Alfred’s likely to bag the soup while you’re hanging about here.”
With a growl of frustration, Jimmy took off after Alfred.
Thomas took the opportunity to nip into the servants’ hall, where they wouldn’t be able to take the time to stop and chat with him on their way back. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Bates, who followed him in. “I don’t think you did take that snuffbox. Not this time,” he declared, like he thought Thomas might fall to his knees in gratitude or something.
“You’re a bit behind the times,” Thomas observed, finding a seat and lighting a cigarette. “His lordship—Grantham, I mean—doesn’t tell you things either, then?”
“We’ve moved past who stole the snuffbox to why O’Brien nicked it and told Jimmy to plant it on me,” Thomas explained. “Which I really can’t talk about. Delicate subject.”
“Is that what happened?”
“Jimmy admitted everything when Lord Pellinger asked him.”
“Really,” said Bates.
“My lord’s very good at getting people to tell him things. Can sniff out a lie like that.” He snapped his fingers.
“I can see how that skill would come in handy, having you for a valet.”
“Guide,” Thomas put in, but Bates was already working on his next thought.
“It’s hard to see why you’d be so pleased about it, though.”
Thomas considered the fact that Bates was, obviously, prying. But there was no way he could use the information against Thomas—no way anyone could use any information against Thomas. It was very…freeing. “Took some getting used to,” he answered. “But it’s all right now. He knows everything about me, so I never have to worry about things coming out. And he’ll believe anything I tell him as long as it’s true.”
“You realize that telling people the truth and having them believe you is how it generally works,” Bates said.
“Not for me. I’ve always found it easier to have people believe me when I’m lying. I bet you think I’m lying right now,” Thomas accused.
“Considering the way your mouth’s moving and sounds are coming out, it seems likely.”
“There you go. By the way, a little bird told me her ladyship’s going to ask Anna to switch over to being her maid after O’Brien gets the sack tomorrow.”
“What?” Bates said, unfolding his arms and standing up straight. Anna, who’d been a silent observer to all this, put her sewing down and looked at him.
“Yeah, I made that up. Just proving me point.” Stubbing out his cigarette, Thomas took himself off to Mrs. Hughes’s parlour.
Dinner was every bit as appallingly awkward as Gerald had expected. Gerald was seated beside lady Grantham again—he was, unfortunately in the circumstances, the highest ranking of the male guests—and she said nothing to him beyond a single remark about the weather. In such proximity, he couldn’t help but smell her anger—and, underneath it, fear and sadness. It was the anger that came through most clearly in her demeanor, though—enough so that even the Insensate guests noticed. One of them noticed that her hair was much more simply styled than it had been the other nights and—perhaps having read too many comic papers where the little woman sulked for days because no one noticed her new hairstyle—commented on it.
Lady Grantham smiled at him like a shark, then looked daggers at her husband and said, “Thank you, Lord Shipley. I’m sure the housekeeper did her best with it.”
So Grantham had managed to confine O’Brien, Gerald decided. And Lady Grantham was not in the least pleased by this display of domestic tyranny.
The meal limped to a close; Gerald had never in his life been so glad to see the women go out. But his trials were not at an end; after seeing that the other men had port and cigars, Grantham said, “Pellinger, Matthew, perhaps you’ll come into my study for a moment.”
Gerald thought he might be called upon to explain the situation to Mr. Crawley, but apparently Grantham had already spoken to him. Once they were inside and the door shut, Crawley said, “I reached Mr. Langley-Smythe on the telephone just before dinner. He says he’ll be glad to help, and he’ll take the first train from London if that’s convenient.”
“Yes, I should like to get this settled as quickly as possible,” Grantham said. To Gerald, he added, “I’ve spoken with Carson and Mrs. Hughes—and, very briefly, with O’Brien—and I begin to think it very likely that Thomas’s accusation is correct. But Lady Grantham…let us say that she hopes very earnestly that it is not true. She hopes that having Mr. Langley-Smythe question O’Brien will provide her with the opportunity to prove her innocence.”
“It’s a terrible thing. I don’t blame her for being reluctant to accept it.” In the abstract, at least, he didn’t, though having her accuse his Guide of making it up was a bit hard to swallow. “And I’m sure that having it spoken of has made the loss of the baby seem fresh.”
“Yes, well,” said Grantham, apparently embarrassed at this discussion of emotions. “If you would stay, so that Mr. Langley-Smythe can speak to Thomas as well, I’ll be grateful. The longer she remains in doubt, the worse it will be for her.”
Gerald nodded. “Of course. It sounds as though he’ll be here by midmorning, so I’m sure we can manage.” Thomas could always stay in their room if he was uncomfortable.
Mr. Crawley nodded. “I’ll telephone back to Langley-Smythe and let him know we’re expecting him.”
Taking advantage of his departure, Gerald left the study as well. He went back into the dining room, not feeling quite up to braving the drawing room, but he found that the other gentlemen had already gone through, and Carson was clearing the port glasses and ash trays. “Oh—sorry. I thought the others were still in here.”
Before he could slip back out, Carson said, “Your lordship,” in a manner that suggested he had something else he wanted to say.
Reluctantly, Gerald came further into the room, allowing the door to close behind him. “Yes?”
“His lordship has given me to understand that you feel I have overstepped myself in correcting Mr. Barrow.”
“I know that he feels that you have,” Gerald answered.
“I wish to…apologize for any misstep on my part. As you know, he did work under me for many years.”
“Yes, I know. And that’s rather why he’s so…sensitive to your disapproval.”
“I must say that I did not notice any particular…sensitivity when he worked here, your lordship.”
“No, I don’t imagine you would have. I won’t try to tell you that he remembers you with any particular warmth, but he has often spoken of your high standards, with what I can only call grudging respect.”
“That, I find somewhat easier to believe.”
“Particularly the ‘grudging’ part, I’m sure. The thing is—well, there are two things. The first is that standards in a Sentinel house are rather different, and adjusting has not always been easy for him.” That was a significant understatement, but Gerald had no desire to try to tell Carson about the dark period where Thomas had insisted on being Barrow the valet rather than Thomas the Guide. “I should hate to see him lose any of the progress that he’s made. And the second thing is, having such a high opinion of your standards, he feels there’s something pointed about it when you’ve…failed to respond to the other servants speaking about me in a way that he believes you would be unlikely to tolerate about any other guest.”
“I assure you, your lordship, that I am not in the habit of permitting the staff to speak insultingly of any guest.”
“I’m sure that you aren’t.” That was rather the point. “In any case, I’d appreciate your attention to these matters. And please tell Thomas, when you go back down, that I’ll be ready to go up whenever he’s finished his dinner.” God only knew what Carson might think Gerald meant by that, but he’d have to trust Thomas to interpret the order correctly, as meaning not that he should rush himself, but that he need not linger any longer than he wanted.
“We’re just putting it on the table,” Daisy said, coming to the door of Mrs. Hughes’s parlour. “Are you coming, or do you want a tray again?”
“No, I’ll come,” Thomas said, getting up. There was bound to be some sort of excitement, and now that he was feeling confident and secure of his place in the world, he didn’t want to miss it.
Things got off to a strong start, with Jimmy crowding around Bates and saying, “But what did you mean?”
“James, it was nearly two hours ago,” Bates reminded him. “I don’t remember.”
Thomas did. “Oh , for pity’s sake. It was exactly what you’re worried it was. He thought it might be true that you fancied me.”
“But why?” said Jimmy. “I’m not—I mean, I don’t. I’m not like that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Anna advised Jimmy.
“Why shouldn’t I worry about it?” At that moment, discussion of the subject was cut off by the entrance of Carson and Mrs. Hughes. As everyone stood up, Jimmy leaned over to Anna to hiss, “I’m normal.”
“No one’s saying you aren’t,” said Bates, soothingly.
“They’d better not,” Jimmy sputtered. It would have been funny, except he seemed genuinely upset.
Attention was diverted from the question by Alfred saying, “Mr. Carson, can I take a dinner tray up to my aunt?”
“You’ve no business being on the women’s side of the corridor,” Carson answered, then looked skeptically at the maids, seeming to wonder which one he wanted to subject to the wrath of a trammeled O’Brien.
“I’ll do it,” Mrs. Hughes said.
“Thank you, Mrs. Hughes,” said Alfred. “But I don’t see why she has to stay up there, just because Mr. Barrow’s telling lies.”
Carson a-hemmed loudly. “His lordship has ordered it, and it is not your place to question.”
“But she’s me auntie,” Alfred pointed out.
“None of us can help how we’re born,” Thomas observed, and was rewarded by Alfred looking at him in confusion. “If I were you, I’d be trying not to remind people of that connection right now,” he explained.
“In any case,” Carson said firmly, “his lordship and Mr. Matthew have a plan for figuring out the truth of the situation. Things should be resolved tomorrow. Mrs. Hughes, we’ve another Sentinel and Guide coming.”
“Who?” Thomas asked.
Carson glanced at him. “A Mr. Langley-Smythe.”
And Morgan, no doubt. He’d been to Bellerock once or twice since he and Thomas had butted heads at the Society. The truce between them was fragile.
“Will they be staying the night?” Mrs. Hughes asked.
“I don’t know; I expect it will depend on how long it takes for matters to…be resolved.”
“Very well, I’ll prepare a room, just in case.”
“Are they more ones like him?” Alfred asked, glaring down the table at Thomas.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Alfred,” said Carson, in a voice that was unusually prim, even for him. “They are a Sentinel and a Guide. Is there something else you feel you need to know?” Clearly, what his lordship had said to Lord Grantham had made its way to Carson.
For a second, it seemed like Alfred might actually be going to answer that, but he wised up just in time and said, “No, Mr. Carson.”
“I thought not.”
After that, conversation turned to other, extremely neutral, subjects, until the end of the meal. As Dasiy was coming around with the pudding and Ivy was clearing the plates, Lady Mary’s bell rang. “Oh, dear,” she said, standing up and folding her napkin. “Put mine aside for me, would you, Ivy?”
“That reminds me,” said Carson. “Mr. Barrow, Lord Pellinger asked me to inform you that he will be ready to go up whenever you have finished your dinner.”
“Did he? Good,” Thomas said, picking up his spoon.
“Are you just going to sit there?” Daisy asked him.
“Yes,” Thomas answered.
Surprisingly, Carson said, “Daisy, it is none of our concern how Mr. Barrow chooses to interpret his orders.”
“No,” Thomas said suspiciously. “It isn’t.”
“That’s what I said,” Carson reminded him.
When Lady Mary and Lady Grantham went up, and there was no sign of Thomas, Gerald started to wonder what was keeping him. Either things were going very well…or someone had insulted him, and Thomas was hanging about until he got the last word. The latter seemed more likely.
Matters upstairs were, at least, a little more comfortable after Lady Grantham had retired. Gerald occupied himself with the other gentlemen guests, getting filled in on what he’d missed from the day’s discussions. “We mostly talked about how some Mr. Crawley’s ideas could be applied on our own places,” Lord Shipley explained. “Or…made excuses for why they couldn’t, in some cases. Really, you didn’t miss that much.”
“If there are farmers around here eager to leave, so their farms can be consolidated, that’s all very well and good, but I’m not sure there are on my estate,” said Bagley, peevishly.
Gerald suspected Shipley was right; he hadn’t missed much. “I’m worried about that, too. I wonder if there might be some way to get many of the benefits of consolidation, while leaving the individual farmers in control. Perhaps mechanization could be accomplished on some sort of cooperative scheme—purchasing the equipment jointly to be shared among the various farms, something like that.”
“Like what they’re doing over in Russia?” asked one of the other landholders, skeptically.
“In some respects,” Gerald admitted. “But on a small scale, they might swallow it.”
“It could work,” said Mr. Branson. “Except if they each continue small, diversified operations, they’ll all want the same equipment and the same time, and you won’t be able to take advantage of the economies of scale.”
“Right,” Gerald nodded, thinking. “They’d have to coordinate.” The Guide farmers would manage to work it out among themselves, he thought, but perhaps not the others. “It’s worth thinking about,” he concluded with a shrug. “And going round the farms to feel them out on the subject.”
Gerald allowed his attention to wander again as Bagley and Hedford began disputing about why feeling the farmers out on the subject was also an impractical strategy for their estates. It was becoming increasingly clear that while some of the gentlemen were eager to figure out how to adapt to the changing times, others were primarily interested in making excuses for why it was impossible.
By the time Thomas did finally come up, he felt that he’d heard as much as he needed to about modern estate management. He excused himself to the other gentlemen and made his way over to his Guide.
“Ready to go up, my lord?” asked Thomas.
“Yes.” As they mounted the stairs, “You don’t seem to have been in much hurry to get out of the servants’ hall. Does that mean it went very well, or very badly?”
“A little of both, actually,” Thomas said, after considering the question for a moment. “I realized it doesn’t really matter what any of that lot think. Since you already know everything and like me anyway.”
“Good,” said Gerald. “Although I hesitate to ask…does that mean you serenely rose above their petty insults, or that you took the opportunity for a frank airing of your opinions?”
“Mm. A little of both,” Thomas said again.
Well, it could be worse, Gerald supposed. As they reached the top of the stairs, he said, “Langley-Smythe’s coming tomorrow, to question O’Brien and sort things out.”
“I heard.” Thomas opened the bedroom door and held it. “Anyone been in here since we left?”
Gerald sniffed around a bit. “No.”
“Good,” said Thomas, closing the door. “If she had been in here, I really wouldn’t risk the whiskey tonight.”
“I know what you mean,” Gerald said. “Tomorrow, try not to be too awful to Morgan, would you? I know you aren’t bosom friends, but they are coming to help, and an Insensate country house will be a somewhat alien environment for them.”
“I’ll try,” Thomas promised.
“—simply gone,” Mrs. Hughes was saying as Thomas came downstairs to fetch his lordship’s morning tea. “I knocked on the door and asked if there was anything she wanted. When she didn’t answer, I let myself in, and she was gone. All of her things, too—well, as much as would fit in a valise.”
Thomas paused at the doorway to Carson’s pantry—it was he that Mrs. Hughes was speaking to. “Do you mean Miss O’Brien?”
Carson drew himself up, but before he could erupt, Mrs. Hughes said, “Yes. I wonder if someone ought to try and reach the Sentinel gentleman before comes all this way.”
“I’m not sure of his telephone exchange,” Thomas said, “but his lordship might know.”
“Lord Grantham,” Carson emphasized, “might still wish for him to come.” To question you went unspoken.
“Of course,” Thomas agreed with a nod. “Let me know if there’s any way I can help.” He continued toward the kitchen.
Back upstairs, he gave his lordship the news along with his tea. “Ah,” his lordship said. “Good.”
“Good?” Thomas didn’t see what was good about it; now it would never be proved that he was telling the truth.
“Lady Grantham will be spared an unpleasant scene,” his lordship said.
Oh, that. “Suppose she will,” Thomas admitted. “And it is pretty clear she did it—she’d hardly have fled if she was innocent.”
“No,” his lordship agreed.
The story of O’Brien’s defection was all over the servants’ hall by the time Thomas went back down again for the breakfast tray. Alfred was loudly protesting that there must be some other explanation, but everyone else seemed pretty firmly convinced it was evidence of guilt—though they still didn’t know exactly what she was guilty of.
“If it were just the snuffbox, she’d try to brazen it out,” argued one of the housemaids, lingering in the kitchen.
“I couldn’t hold up my head in a house full of people who all thought me a thief,” Ivy said.
“Miss O’Brien’s never had trouble holding up her head,” Mrs. Patmore said, bustling over and putting a tray in Thomas’s hands. “No porridge this time, since you don’t like it.”
“He’s already left,” Gerald said, returning to Grantham’s study from the hall telephone. “We could try sending telegrams to the train stations on the way, but it runs as an express to York once it leaves the Home Counties. I doubt we’d catch him before York.”
Grantham shook his head. “No, we can’t ask him here and then tell him to turn around right at the end. We’ll have to at least have him to luncheon. And….”
“Well, as he’s going to be here anyway, perhaps you won’t mind having him go over Thomas’s account. Her ladyship…understands that O’Brien’s departure is strong evidence of guilt, but I should like to leave her with as much certainty as possible.”
“Of course,” Gerald agreed. “I know it’s terribly bad form for a guest to cause such distress to his hostess, but….”
“But once you knew, not to say anything would be even worse,” Grantham finished. “I quite understand. I do wish Thomas would have…but of course, not wanting to bear tales on a friend is understandable as well. Even misplaced loyalty is still a virtue, of a sort.”
Gerald had the impression that Grantham was really making an effort to see the thing from Thomas’s perspective. “Yes. He seems to have considerable difficulty deciding whom to trust, but once someone has made the list he doesn’t change his mind lightly.”
“He did at times seem to be almost defending her,” Grantham observed. “Even though, if I understand it correctly, she was behind having him arrested?”
“Yes, she was, and yes, he did. James, as well. Thomas sympathizes with him.”
“If only he could have chosen someone from the family to sympathize with, he might have been more of a success as a servant.”
“He did like your youngest daughter. Although I expect that dates from his war service—he usually calls her Nurse Crawley.”
“I’m terribly sorry; I’ve brought up another painful subject.”
“It’s quite all right. She…everyone liked her,” he said with a wistful smile.
“I’d best be getting into the library,” Gerald said. “Do let me know when Mr. Langley-Smythe gets here.”
“But you can’t mean that it would have been all right, if Jimmy wanted it,” Alfred was saying to Bates. The servants’ hall was largely empty, with the maids all upstairs seeing to the bedrooms, and the visiting valets having decamped en masse to the pub, where the planned to stay through lunch and thus be free of Carson’s oppressive regime. Jimmy was upstairs keeping an eye on the front door and on the gentlemen in the library, which left only Bates, Alfred, and Thomas himself to keep the servants’ hall warm.
And Alfred was taking advantage of the unmixed company to ask impertinent questions.
“That’s exactly what I do mean,” Bates answered him. “Like Thomas said at dinner, no one can help how they’re made.”
Internally, Thomas might have been almost as surprised at that answer was Alfred was, but unlike Alfred, he did not gape. “But you never even liked Mr. Barrow,” Alfred pointed out, once he’d recovered.
“No, but that’s because he’s an unpleasant little tit, not because he’s that way,” Bates said, unruffled.
“But what he did to Jimmy, he could have done to any of us,” Alfred protested.
“You never had anything to worry about on that score,” Thomas told him, not glancing up from his newspaper.
“What?” Alfred said.
“Just look at you,” Thomas answered, with a dismissive gesture. “I’ve got standards.”
“I see you’re just as pleasant as ever,” said a voice from the doorway. Thomas turned in his chair to see Morgan.
Bates and Alfred looked unsure whether they were supposed to stand up or not; he decided to be helpful, and after saying, “You as well,” to Morgan, he introduced them. “Mr. Morgan, Guide to Mr. Langley-Smythe. These are Alfred—footman—and Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham’s valet. And Ivy,” he added as she scampered in. “Kitchen maid.”
Morgan turned to her. “Do you think you could manage a cup of tea? And maybe a couple of biscuits or some bread and butter? I’ve been on the train since dawn.”
“’course I can,” said Ivy. “I’ll be right back.”
She scampered off, and Morgan took a seat, next to Thomas. Thomas took the opportunity to fill him in. “You won’t need to hang about long. The suspect has flown the coop. His lordship tried to telephone, but you’d already gone.”
“You’re still calling him that,” Morgan observed. “Or do you mean the other one?”
“No, I mean my lord,” Thomas answered. “And it isn’t any business of yours what I call him.”
“And you’re still dressing like a valet,” Morgan added. “I thought you’d given that up.”
“Also not any business of yours,” Thomas noted. “And you dress like a valet.”
“Yes, but my Sentinel is a middle-class solicitor, and yours is a future earl. Given what a massive snob you are, I’d have thought you’d enjoy swanning about in the Bellerock livery.”
“I don’t,” Thomas answered shortly.
“Well, suit yourself, I suppose.”
“I will, thanks.”
Bates had been watching this byplay with interest. “I take it you’ve had the pleasure of Thomas’s acquaintance,” he said to Morgan.
“Yes,” said Morgan. “I grew up at Bellerock, and Lord Gerald and Alistair have been friends since University.”
“I’m sorry?” Bates said, tilting his head quizzically.
“Lord Pellinger and Mr. Langley-Smythe,” Thomas translated. “They call him Lord Gerald at Bellerock.”
“Except for Thomas,” Morgan added. “He calls him ‘his lordship.’”
“Not to his face, surely,” Bates said.
“No, to his face he calls him ‘my lord.’ I gather Lord Gerald’s decided to find it endearing,” Morgan explained helpfully.
Now Bates looked really confused. “At Bellerock, the others call him Lord Gerald to his face?”
“Yes,” Morgan said, looking just as confused. “What else would they call him?”
“‘My lord’ for a start,” Bates answered.
“What, all the time?” Morgan asked. Turning to Thomas, he added, “Is that where you get that?”
“Yes,” Thomas said. “Every time I think about calling him ‘Gerald,’ I imagine everyone here all having a heart attack at once, and I can’t do it. Anyway, as you said, he likes it now that he’s got used to it.”
Ivy came back with the tea, on a tray with a doily, in the fourth-best upstairs teapot. “Here you are, Mr. Morgan. There aren’t any fresh biscuits made, but I brought you some of the strawberry jam for the bread, in case you want that.”
“Why’s he get such special treatment?” Thomas wondered aloud.
“Because yesterday Mr. Carson told us all that we have to show every courtesy to the visiting Guides.”
“Oh.” Thomas glanced over at Alfred. “Did you nod off while that was happening?”
Alfred was saved from having to answer by the ringing of the bell for Lord Grantham’s study. He was up out of his seat like a shot.
“That’s probably tea for my gentleman,” Morgan advised Ivy. “In case you want to get a head start on it.”
Ivy went off, presumably to do that, without giving him any cheek about it.
“This is special treatment?” Morgan asked Thomas, once she had gone, gesturing at the tea tray.
“Getting anything out of the kitchen staff without hearing any lip about it is special treatment,” Thomas answered. “Then that’s an upstairs tea service, and I don’t even know what to say about the jam. Sometimes you can get biscuits down here, but only if they’re yesterday’s or ones that came out a bit funny.” He hesitated. “Or if you nick them, or if one of the kitchen maids fancies you.”
“Both stratagems Thomas has resorted to from time to time,” Bates noted dryly.
“How peculiar,” Morgan said, looking at him oddly.
The tall footman—Alfred, Gerald reminded himself—brought up the tea tray. Ace fell on it with understandable enthusiasm, given that he’d breakfasted on the train. Gerald had a cup to keep him company, though Lord Grantham declined.
“Of course I’ll be glad to talk to Thomas,” Ace said, once he’d restored the tissues. Prior to the arrival of tea, Grantham had explained about O’Brien’s moonlight flight, but how they still had a bit of use for him after all. “But surely Pelly already has?”
“Yes,” said Gerald. “There’s a bit of concern that I may have, perhaps, missed the signs that he’s not being entirely honest.”
“Oh,” said the other Sentinel, obviously wondering why Gerald tolerated the insult, but not wanting to ask in front of the person who had offered it.
“The maid has been—had been—with Lady Grantham for quite some time,” Gerald explained. “Lord Grantham feels it would give her peace of mind to be absolutely certain of the facts.”
“Ah,” Ace said.
“And as you’re here, perhaps you could speak to James, as well,” Grantham went on.
“Why not?” Ace said. “And James is…?”
“Thomas’s footman,” Gerald explained. Grantham gave him a most peculiar look, but he was. “Had Mr. Crawley explained about the snuffbox?”
It turned out he hadn’t, so Gerald had to explain how the theft of the snuffbox, and the framing of Thomas for that theft, had led to the revelation about the circumstances of Lady Grantham’s miscarriage. “So I suppose Grantham just wants to be certain that James has told everything he knows.”
“Yes,” Grantham confirmed. “Particularly as Pellinger has asked for clemency on his behalf.”
Ace looked at him again. “Really? Even for you, Pelly, speaking up for the man who got your Guide arrested seems…very kind.”
“Thomas asked me to,” Gerald explained.
Ace nodded understanding, but Grantham said sharply, “What?”
“As many of Thomas’s own less…admirable…actions came about as a result of O’Brien’s advice, he’d like to see James given another chance. And I quite agree. It seems a pattern in his life—here—that he was able to escape the consequences of his scheming by doing even more scheming, eventually reaching a point where it was impossible to come clean about anything without causing the whole house of cards to collapse. For instance, do you remember an occasion, in his most recent tenure as your valet, when your evening shirts went missing and you wound up having to appear at a dinner party in black tie?”
“Vaguely,” Grantham said.
“Well, Thomas remembers it extremely well. It was O’Brien who took them, but he couldn’t say so because there was no way to explain how he knew without bringing up several other incidents—including the snuffbox caper from before the war. So instead he spent the next several months hiding some of your things whenever an important event was coming up, so she couldn’t do it again. Which, if you had ever noticed, would have been extremely difficult to explain as well, and likely would have necessitated some fresh scheme.”
“Wheels within wheels,” Ace observed.
“How is it that you know about all this?” Grantham asked.
“Thomas eventually decided—quite wisely, I believe—to simply tell me everything that anyone might attempt to use against him, so as to render that information harmless. If he hadn’t, I shudder to think what would be going on belowstairs in this house at this moment.”
“And this relates to James…how?” Ace asked.
“I believe he sees these recent events as a way of preventing James from falling into the same vicious cycle. Now that it’s come out, he’s in a position to make a fresh start, whereas if he has to conceal it to seek another position, he’ll have it hanging over his head forever.” Gerald hesitated. “Or it might just be that he’s still a bit sweet on him, but either way, that’s what I think.”
“Funny,” said Grantham. “I always thought the working classes had simpler lives than ours.”
“Mr. Barrow and Mr. Morgan, I’m to show you to the study,” Alfred announced.
“I know where it is,” Thomas pointed out as they got up from the table.
“Wouldn’t want you to think I’ve missed any courtesy, Mr. Barrow,” Alfred said.
They went up. Alfred goggled as Morgan, quite casually, sat on the sofa with Mr. Langley-Smythe, and as Langley-Smythe asked, “Have you had tea?”
“Yes, they gave me some downstairs,” Morgan answered.
His lordship was sitting in a chair, so Thomas went to take what was becoming his usual position for such interviews, standing at his shoulder, but his lordship indicated the footstool and said, “You could sit, if you like.”
So Thomas did that, just as Alfred was leaving.
“D’you want me to take notes?” Morgan asked Langley-Smythe.
“No—well, yes, a few. It isn’t a formal deposition, but I might need some help keeping track of all the players,” Langley-Smythe decided.
Once Morgan had his pencil out and his pad of paper on his knee, and Lord Grantham said he was ready, they got started. Having already told the tale three times, Thomas didn’t find it terribly difficult going through it for a fourth. He resisted the impulse to add or omit anything to make himself look better, such as suggesting that he’d struggled over the question of whether to inform anyone of what O’Brien had told him.
At the end of his tale, Mr. Langley-Smythe asked. “Do you affirm that everything you’ve said to me today is true?”
“Yes,” Thomas said, without hesitation.
“And is there anything further that you could add to shed additional light on this situation?”
That one took a bit more thought. “No,” he said doubtfully.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, there’s always more you could say, isn’t there? I mean, you didn’t ask about why she did it, for instance.”
“Is that important?” Lord Grantham asked.
“I suppose it is to her,” Thomas pointed out.
“Why did she do it?” Langley-Smythe asked.
“She was angry, because she’d overheard that her ladyship was looking for a new maid,” Thomas answered. “And she hadn’t—that is, her ladyship hadn’t said anything to O’Brien about it. About in what way she was dissatisfied, or that O’Brien ought to be looking for another place. Given how long she’d been her ladyship’s maid, she felt…betrayed, I suppose.”
“And that excuses killing her baby?” Lord Grantham asked.
“I don’t know that anything could excuse that,” Thomas answered, not really thinking about what sort of response Lord Grantham probably had in mind. “It’s just what was going on in her mind at the time.”
“I doubt very much that explanation will be of any comfort to Lady Grantham,” he snapped.
Thomas realized belatedly that he should have said something like, “No, your lordship, I’m sorry I mentioned it, your lordship.” He’d gotten used to his own lordship asking his opinion on things and actually wanting to hear the answers.
“No,” his lordship said, “but it is true, which is what you wanted to know.”
Lord Grantham actually looked slightly chastened at that. “Yes, of course. Thank you, Thomas. I believe that’s all we need from you. If you could send James up.”
Both Morgan and Mr. Langley-Smythe looked a little shocked at this solecism; his lordship covered it quickly by saying, “Yes, please do, Thomas—save poor Alfred running up and down those stairs again.”
So Thomas left, passed the message to Jimmy, who was on duty in the main hall, and nipped back downstairs. “Jimmy’s in the study with Lord Grantham and Mr. Langley-Smythe,” he told Alfred. “So if the lot in the library want anything, you’re up.”
“I don’t think you’re meant to be giving me orders, Mr. Barrow.”
“Suit yourself,” Thomas answered with a shrug, and reclaimed his newspaper from one of the housemaids, who had come in while he was out. “I’m just saying, there’s no one on duty up there. Mr. Carson wouldn’t have liked that in my day, but perhaps things have changed.”
It looked like Alfred was planning to sit on his arse just to spite Thomas, until Anna—who had also joined the company in his absence—said to him, “I should go and check with Mr. Carson, if I were you.”
Then Alfred went, and didn’t come back, which suggested Carson had confirmed what Thomas had said. All was peaceful—except for Bates glowing at him—for at least half an hour, until the kitchen maids started laying the table. Morgan appeared not long after, and took the seat next to Thomas.
He was followed by Jimmy, who sat next to Morgan and leaned over him to ask of Thomas, “What were that all about?”
“I assume they wanted to ask you about the snuffbox.”
“Right, but why were they asking if she ever got me to do anything else?” Jimmy demanded.
“I suppose they thought you might want to unburden yourself, generally,” Thomas suggested.
“Did you put them up to it?”
“Yes, I’m in the habit of putting Lord Grantham up to things,” Thomas answered.
Morgan, gently pushing Jimmy back into his own chair, said, “Lord Gerald seems to have some idea that it might be a nice thing if you weren’t sacked. He wanted it made plain that this O’Brien person was a bad influence on you.”
“Why would do that?” Jimmy asked suspiciously.
“Because I asked him to,” Thomas answered, realizing belatedly that he was more or less admitting that he was in the habit of putting Lord Pellinger up to things.
“What business is it of yours?” Jimmy asked, lunging across Morgan again, looking like he might be on the verge of threatening to punch Thomas again.
“I was only trying to help,” Thomas said mildly.
“I don’t need your kind of help,” Jimmy insisted, between clenched teeth.
“Fine, I’ll never help you again. Honor bright.” Thomas held up his hand.
Morgan shoved Jimmy off him again—less gently than the last time—and said to Thomas, “Yes, because you always take it so well when people try to help you. Maybe you should try doing…whatever it would take, in his place, to convince you that you didn’t have some sort of ulterior motive.”
Thomas almost asked Morgan, in turn, why he didn’t mind his own business, but realized just in time that it would rather prove Morgan’s point. For lack of any other alternative, he considered the question, and eventually admitted, “I’m not sure anything would convince me.”
“Then you might have to resign yourself to having your help go unappreciated.”
“I mean it,” said Jimmy. “I don’t want your help.”
“Jimmy,” Morgan intervened, “perhaps you’d like to sit somewhere else. Remove Thomas from the temptation to…help you against your will.”
Jimmy did so, straightening his waistcoat in a pointed way. Thomas, with a substantial effort, refrained from making any kind of parting shot. Bates filled in his vacated place, saying, “I think I can resist the temptation to go through you to get to Thomas, Mr. Morgan.”
“Thank you,” said Morgan. In an undertone, he asked Thomas, “Is it always like this?”
“Not always,” Thomas said.
“Sometimes he isn’t here,” Bates added.
Morgan opened his mouth, then closed it again.
The others took their places around the table, and Carson and Mrs. Hughes came in. Everyone stood up—Morgan looking baffled for a moment before copying Thomas. As they were all sitting down again, Alfred rushed in. “Sorry I’m late, Mr. Carson. Mr. Barrow, Mr. Morgan, Lord Pellinger and Mr. Langley-Smythe want you.”
“What for?” asked Morgan.
“They said they’re going for a walk, before the upstairs luncheon,” Alfred explained, sitting down next to Jimmy.
“Should I put something back for you?” asked Daisy, who was bringing in the stew.
“No,” said Morgan. “They won’t expect us to miss lunch to go with them. We’ll tell them we’ve just sat down, and come right back.”
Mr. Carson held back whatever remark he would surely have made if Thomas had made such an outrageous pronouncement, but he eyebrows climbed toward his hairline.
“In fact,” Morgan added, “we don’t even both need to go.”
“I will,” Thomas agreed, getting up. “As I know the house. Alfred, where are they?”
“The small library,” Alfred said.
Thomas trotted upstairs and found them where Alfred had said. “We’re just starting luncheon downstairs,” he said, a bit awkwardly. He thought that, on balance, Morgan was probably right, but he wasn’t quite sure enough to say outright that he wasn’t planning on going walking with them.
“Oh,” his lordship said. “Well, then.”
“Shall I get your coat?” Thomas asked.
“No, we’ll walk after our lunch, instead,” his lordship said. “If that’s all right with you, Ace?”
Mr. Langley-Smythe said it was, so Thomas went back downstairs. As he entered, Morgan was saying, “—no, we live in a flat, so I just put everything on the sideboard and eat with him, but at a place like Bellerock, the personal Guides eat downstairs at the same time as our Sentinels, and there’s another seating for the maids and footmen before or after.”
“Thomas was saying he eats with Lord Pellinger sometimes,” Bates observed.
“Not in the dining room, surely,” Morgan said, noticing that Thomas had come in.
“No, not in the dining room,” Thomas agreed.
“Not that he probably wouldn’t let you if you insisted on it,” Morgan added.
“What about the horse, did you make that up, too?” asked Alice, the housemaid.
“Alice,” said Mr. Carson reprovingly. “It’s none of your concern if Mr. Barrow wishes to…engage in exaggerations regarding his home life.” Carson sounded like he could barely believe he was saying those words himself.
“I’m not,” said Thomas. “I said I eat with him in his room, which I do.”
“Oh,” Morgan said. To the others, he explained, “Of course he does. And Lord Gerald eats in his rooms quite a bit.”
“Tell them about tea in the gallery, too,” Thomas urged.
“What about it?” Morgan asked.
“That we go, and have tea there.”
“What else would we do there?” Morgan wondered.
“Pour it and leave,” Thomas said. “Or pour it and stand there until they want something else.”
“Oh,” Morgan said. “Well, I suppose that’s a perfectly nice way of doing things, too.”
“We like it,” said Carson, disapprovingly.
“I’m sure it’s delightful,” Morgan said. “This, um…” He gestured at his plate with the fork. “This is very nice. Lamb stew, is it?”
“Mutton,” said Thomas.
After luncheon—to which Lady Grantham, to Gerald’s relief, did not come down—Thomas and Morgan came upstairs, and they set off for their walk.
“How was it?” Ace asked Morgan.
“Very peculiar. They’re all just like Thomas.”
“They are not,” Thomas said, clearly offended.
“Well, not exactly like you,” Morgan clarified. “But the way he’s so formal but somehow still manages to make sure you know he’s sneering at you? They all do that. The butler’s the worst of all of them. One of the housemaids accused Thomas of lying about—something to do with a horse, and this Mr. Carson, he says, ‘It is none of your business if Mr. Barrow chooses to tell lies about his home life,’” Morgan said, in what Gerald supposed was an imitation of Carson—though it sounded a bit like an imitation of Thomas at his worst.
“He only said that because his lordship said they were supposed to give us every courtesy,” Thomas put in.
Morgan stared at him. “What would he have said otherwise?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas said. “Probably either nothing, or something about how we’ve all learnt a lesson about believing anything Mr. Barrow says.”
“What did you tell them about the horse?” Gerald asked.
“Just that I had one,” Thomas said.
Morgan went on, “I wouldn’t have given you a hard time about being an insufferable snob, if I’d known. Did you know they’re all supposed to stand up when the butler comes in the room?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Thomas objected.
“Nothing,” said Morgan quickly.
“Well, you’ll have more opportunity to observe their habits,” Ace said. “As we’re staying the night.”
“We are?” yelped Morgan. “Why?”
“I have no idea,” Ace answered. “Lord Grantham asked if we would be, and I could tell he didn’t want us to, but when I said I didn’t think it necessary, he said surely I didn’t want to get back on the train straight away after coming all this way, and…well, I was afraid that if I insisted, it would come across like I was saying I’d rather sit up all night in a railway carriage than spend one minute more than necessary in his house. Even though,” Ace added sadly, “if we’d left right now, we could be back in the flat in time for supper.”
“We’re leaving first thing in the morning,” Gerald said. “Along with Mr. Crawley’s other guests. So you’ll be able to slip out then in the general exodus.”
“I don’t suppose we can have dinner in our rooms,” Morgan said.
“The Insensates think that’s impolite,” Gerald explained. “Unless you’re ill.”
“I could be ill,” Morgan said hopefully.
“That wouldn’t help me,” Ace noted.
“I survived dinner last night, with a hostess who thought I was encouraging my Guide to spread lies about her maid,” Gerald pointed out. “Tonight should be pleasant by comparison. And they do let you have breakfast in your room. Morgan, too, though they’ll probably try to give him porridge.”
“They won’t think Morgan having breakfast up there is normal,” Thomas warned. “But they’ve managed to survive me doing it.”
“All right, so it’s just dinner, then,” Morgan said. “Oh! What about tea? Do we even get tea at all?”
“Yes,” Thomas said. “Tea is laid in the servants’ hall between the upstairs tea and the dressing gong.”
“Perhaps I’ll skip it,” said Morgan.
“I wouldn’t,” Thomas told him. “This being the last night that the guests are here, Carson’ll probably want to put on a bit of a show for the upstairs dinner; we’ll be lucky to get ours before eleven o’clock.”
“Yes,” Gerald said, and informed Morgan, “You have to hang about in the drawing room for ages waiting for your Guide to be finished eating.”
Meanwhile, Thomas was saying to Morgan, “I had them give me trays in the housekeeper’s sitting room a couple of times, when I wanted a bit of peace and quiet. Could do that, for tea, if you really don’t want to face it.”
“Oh, yes, let’s,” Morgan said. “Then I suppose I’ll be able to manage dinner, once I’ve had a bit of a break.”
“Speaking of dinner,” Thomas added, “does Mr. Langley-Smythe have dinner clothes with him? I didn’t see any cases.”
“We left them at the station, since we thought we probably wouldn’t need them,” Morgan explained. “I expect that’s why we’re heading toward the village now?”
“Yes,” confirmed Ace. “And to send a cable to Mrs. Whittle telling her we won’t be back, so she can help herself to the sherry and take the rest of the day off.”
“You can give her tomorrow off too, if you like,” Gerald suggested, “and come back to Bellerock with us.”
“Perhaps we will,” Ace said. “Morgan?”
“I’m sure Mum will be glad to see me,” he said.
“But we’ll have to leave Sunday after lunch,” Ace went on. “I should be at the office early Monday morning.”
“Then it’s settled,” Gerald said. “I’ll cable home, too, just so they know to expect you.”
“About dinner,” Morgan said to Thomas. “I only packed his black tie. Will that do?”
“Sounds like it’ll have to,” Thomas noted. It was one of those things that could sound so dreadfully unkind, if you didn’t know Thomas. “But it should be all right. When we got here, Mr. Bates said evening dress was only required for the first night. I’ve kept his lordship in white tie, but not everyone has.”
Gerald considered saying he’d wear his dinner jacket tonight, in solidarity, but decided that it would matter a great deal more to Thomas than it would to Ace, and if Thomas wanted him in white tie, he wouldn’t argue.
After explaining to Morgan that no, they really couldn’t take the suitcases in through the front door, Thomas showed him around to the kitchen door. Mrs. Hughes met them in the passage. “Mr. Morgan, there you are. I understand Mr. Langley-Smythe is staying tonight. Are there any special requirements?”
“Ah,” said Morgan. “I don’t think so. We’ll want a breakfast tray.”
“Of course; I’ll inform the cook. Now, will you be needing a room, or a bed?”
“Ah,” Morgan said again, looking quizzically at Thomas. “We…usually have both, though I suppose if one can only have one or the other…er.”
“She means,” Thomas translated, “should they find you a room in the servants’ quarters, or should they put another bed in Mr. Langley-Smythe’s room for you. The rooms on the bachelor corridor don’t have dressing rooms.”
“Oh,” Morgan said, understanding now. “No, neither,” he said, clearly ignorant of the effect such an answer would have on Mrs. Hughes. As her smile grew rather fixed, he continued uncertainly, “So kind of you to ask.”
Mrs. Hughes nodded stiffly. “Very well. I think the room is ready, then. It’s the green room on the bachelor corridor—right next to where Lord Pellinger is staying.”
“I’ll show him where it is, if you like, Mrs. Hughes,” Thomas offered.
“If you’re sure you don’t mind, Mr. Barrow.”
Fortunately, there wasn’t anything about the room that Morgan needed to have explained to him. “What do we do now?” he asked, when he’d finished the unpacking—hanging his own and Mr. Langley-Smythe’s things side-by-side in the wardrobe.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to press his lordship’s evening trousers,” Thomas answered. After he’d said it, he had a vague sense that it might be the sort of remark that his lordship would consider unkind. Thomas wasn’t sure why—in Morgan’s place, he would have resented the implication that he needed a minder—but he added, just in case, “You’re welcome to come with me, if you don’t want to see what’s happening in the servants’ hall.”
It turned out Morgan did prefer that, saying, “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to run an iron over his shirt.”
Thomas quite agreed, but hadn’t wanted to say anything.
As they worked, Morgan asked after all the gossip from Bellerock. Thomas had to tread lightly, as he wasn’t sure who Morgan was related to. “I suppose you still see a lot of Clint?” he asked at one point.
“His lordship rides most days,” Thomas said with a nod. “But there’s never much to say about Clint, is there? Unless you really want to know about all of his lordship’s horses.”
“No, I get enough of that in his letters,” Morgan agreed. “‘Gyspy threw a shoe. Berry’s coming out in dapples. Robin jumped a cross-rail this morning.’”
“Clint writes to you?”
“He’s my brother,” Morgan answered.
“I thought he was an Owens,” Thomas said. Most of the Bellerock Guides’ surnames were either Morgan or Owens.
“He is,” said Morgan. “We both are.”
“Oh,” Thomas said. He’d always thought that Morgan was the exception to the rule that Bellerock Guides went by their first names. “Wanted you to be a butler, did your mum?” he hazarded. His lordship had told him once that Guide mothers gave their sons names that sounded like surnames for that reason.
“Yes, and she wasn’t very creative about it, was she? She was a Morgan before she married. Once I started as footman, she admitted it had been a mistake, calling me that—caused no end of confusion—but it was too late to change it then.” Morgan shrugged. “At any rate, Clint’s how I came to know Lord Gerald as well I do. Back when he and Euan were tearing all over the estate on their ponies, Clint was always tagging after them asking for rides. I’m the oldest, so I was the one had to try and keep him from making too much of a nuisance of himself.”
Thomas could very easily imagine Clint doing that. He’d probably do it now, if keeping his lordship’s horses exercised wasn’t part of his job. “He’s certainly found a job that suits him.”
“He has,” Morgan agreed. “Mum would like it if there were more of us up at the big house—but at least Margery’s there.”
“Does she mind that you’re not a butler? Or—do you count as one, at the flat?”
“No—well, she minded a bit, at first. She was always a bit ambitious for us. But mainly she wants us to be happy, of course. And with the elder Langley-Smythes being a mixed couple, I get counted as one of the family when we’re there, so that’s a bit of a sop to her snobbery.”
It occurred to Thomas to doubt what he was saying—but then, the completely true things he’d said about where he dined at Bellerock sounded just as improbable to his former workmates. “Mixed?” he asked instead. The only guess he could make was that Morgan meant one of them was some sort of native—but you wouldn’t think it to look at Mr. Langley-Smythe.
“He’s a Sentinel, she’s a Guide,” Morgan explained. “And Alistair’s siblings are a Guide and an Insensate.”
“Oh,” said Thomas. “I thought Sentinels usually marry other Sentinels.” At this point, it didn’t sting too badly to admit to Morgan that there was something he hadn’t know, but he did add, “That’s what his lordship said,” to make clear that his ignorance was not his fault.
“Titled ones do,” Morgan answered. “Because the heir to a Sentinel title has to be a Sentinel, and to be sure of that, you want an unbroken line of Sentinels as far back as possible on both sides of the pedigree. But given how Sentinels feel about us, most of them would marry Guides if they had the chance. And even the titled families have Guide ancestors lurking in the family tree—Lord Gerald and Lord Simon’s great-great-great grandmother was one. Housemaid or something like that, before she married. There are some others in the woodwork, too, but she’s the most recent.”
“His lordship is part Guide?” Thomas asked.
“All Sentinels are,” Morgan answered. “But the further back it is, the less anyone minds. Three or four generations on, the chances of having Guide offspring are down to almost nothing. It’s the generations in between where things get complicated.”
Thomas shook his head. “So what happens to the children, then? Do the ones who come out Guides end up being packed downstairs to wait on their brothers and sisters?”
“No, no. They get courtesy titles. But they can never inherit anything—if the firstborn son’s a Guide, or Insensate, he gets cut right out, even if it means going to a collateral branch for an heir.”
Thomas nodded. “That’s a bit like what happened with Lord Grantham. Mr. Crawley’s only a distant cousin, but since the children were all girls, there was nothing for it.”
“I’d wondered,” Morgan said. “But it’s a bit worse for Guides or Insensates born into Sentinel families—Sentinel mamas go to great lengths to keep their marriageable offspring away from them—since there’s no telling whether the grandchildren will be eligible to inherit—so they don’t really fit in.”
No, they certainly wouldn’t, Thomas thought. “Yes, that is different—there was no obstacle to the Crawley girls marrying into their own class. And Mr. Crawley marrying Lady Mary made for a tidy solution to the whole thing, since it puts her children at the same place in the succession as they would have been if she could inherit.”
“Yes, gently-born Guides don’t have that option. They can either stick around being snubbed all their lives, or go into the professions—or marry someone who’s in the professions, if they’re women. If they do that, they sort of drift into the middle class, over a generation or two. Alistair’s related to the Pellingers through that great-great-great grandmother. Her first son was a Guide, and he’s Alistair’s great-great grandfather on his mother’s side; her second one was a Sentinel, and he’s Lord Gerald and Lord Simon’s. Mr. Langley-Smythe senior’s got some similar connection to the House of Ruthven.”
It occurred to Thomas to wonder about something he hadn’t before. “What about working-class Sentinels? Like that police detective.”
Morgan lowered his voice. “Born on the wrong side of the blanket, usually. Or a parent or grandparent born that way. Although sometimes, a family that’s drifted into the middle class keeps on drifting.”
“So they’re all connected to the nobility—legitimately or otherwise?” Thomas asked.
“Every once in a while a Sentinel will crop up in a family that’s never had one before,” Morgan allowed, “but it’s generally believed that someone has lied about who the father of her child was. Alistair’s dealt with some cases like that for the Society. Usually the mother will eventually admit to an indiscretion—or she or the father will say how their mother or grandmother always said to go to such-and-such a Sentinel family if they had a problem.”
“What does the Society do then?” Thomas wondered. Didn’t make them ponce about in green coats; that seemed certain.
“Gets them adopted or fostered into a household with Guides in it,” Morgan answered. “It’s always infants—with their senses out of control, they never settle, won’t feed, so if they aren’t identified quickly, they don’t live long. The parents could hire Guide nurses, if they could afford it, but usually they can’t. And often the father—or at any rate, the mother’s husband—is in a great deal of doubt as to whether the baby is really his, so a quick adoption smoothes things over.”
Sentinel society—with a small ess—was much more complicated than Thomas had seen, living at Bellerock.
“Apparently,” Ace said to Gerald, as they waited in the drawing room for dinner to be announced, “Morgan and Thomas had a very pleasant conversation this afternoon.”
“Did they?” Gerald asked cautiously. It didn’t seem like Ace was being sarcastic, but….
“Really,” Ace confirmed. “The part he was most impressed with was that Thomas apparently worked out that he’s been mistaken about Morgan’s name all this time—he thought it was his surname--”
“Understandably,” Gerald noted, perhaps a little defensively.
“And Thomas just said, “Oh.’”
“Goodness,” said Gerald. “And I thought being here might cause him to revert into old habits.” Thomas had been quiet, but not particularly unhappy, when he’d been dressing Gerald for dinner, which had been reassuring, but not particularly informative.
“According to Morgan, he makes a great deal more sense after seeing him here.”
“They certainly don’t seem to--” Have much affection for him, Gerald had been about to say, but he cut himself off and assumed a neutral expression as he saw their hostess heading toward them.
“Mr. Langley-Smythe,” she said, “I wanted to say how grateful I am that you came all this way to assist.”
“I’m pleased I could help,” Ace said.
“And Lord Pellinger.” She turned to him. “I’m sorry that I was not more appreciative when you first brought this matter to my attention.”
Her manner was still fairly chilly, but Gerald could also tell that her words were sincere, so he had little trouble saying, “I understand. It would be very difficult to be appreciative of news such as that.”
“Nevertheless, I owe you a debt of gratitude for—persisting.”
“I’ll pass your thanks along to Thomas,” he said. “I’m sure he, too, will be glad to know he could help.”
“Of course,” she said, with just a trace of puzzlement. “I think Carson is just about to announce dinner. Will you take me in?”
“Certainly.” As a reward, he might have rather not, but at least it was an improvement over last night, when she’d simply stuck her arm out in his direction while looking straight ahead, stone-faced.
“Are we that dull, Mr. Morgan?” Bates asked when Morgan yawned behind his hand for the third or fourth time as they, Thomas, and a couple of other valets played a desultory game of cards waiting for the upstairs dinner to be finished.
“Not at all,” Morgan said. “I just don’t usually keep such exciting hours. Normally I’d be toddling off to bed about now.”
Thomas would have sworn there was a bit of smirking around the table about that, but Morgan didn’t seem to notice, and Thomas decided, after a moment’s thought, not to draw his attention to it.
“I expect you’ll be glad to get home tomorrow, Thomas,” said Anna, who wasn’t playing, but was sitting beside Bates anyway.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Thomas asked.
Anna smiled tightly. “No reason.”
“I’m sure the horse will be glad to see you,” added Bates.
Thomas decided to ignore that, but Morgan said, “There really is a horse, you know. My brother’s a groom at Bellerock; he’s described it to me in exhaustive detail. It’s a bay half-thoroughbred, fifteen and a half hands. The sire was the thoroughbred; the mare is of no particular breeding but ‘quite a useful hunter.’”
“And Thomas got it for his birthday?” asked Daisy, who had turned up in the room for some reason.
“My brother didn’t mention that specifically,” Morgan admitted. “Since Thomas isn’t a horse, he wouldn’t think that part was important enough to put in a letter. But I don’t see any reason to doubt him.”
“Perhaps you don’t know Thomas as well as we do,” said Bates. “He likes to make himself sound important.”
“He does tend to exaggerate, twist things around a bit,” Anna added, giving Thomas a look that he supposed he might be supposed to think was sympathetic. “That’s why her ladyship had such a hard time believing—what he said, about O’Brien.”
“I see,” said Morgan. “You do realize he’s sitting right there?”
“I can guarantee he’s said worse about each of us, at one time or another,” Bates answered. “I don’t like to be unkind—and I think it was wrong of Jimmy to report him to the police—but there’s no denying spent most of his time here causing trouble of one kind or another. If he’s managed to turn over a new leaf, I’m quite happy for him.”
The worst part was, Bates probably thought he was being entirely sincere. Thomas reminded himself that it didn’t matter what they thought of him.
Morgan leaned over to him and said quietly, “I begin to see why you were so suspicious of everyone when you first came to the Society, if this is what you’re used to.”
“I gave as good as I got,” Thomas answered, slightly put out by the idea that Morgan might see him as a hapless victim of his colleagues’ unkindness. “Or better, if I could manage it.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” Morgan answered. “It was a sort of…pre-emptive defense, wasn’t it? Not just being nasty for no reason.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, Alice was saying, “But he has done us a good turn getting rid of Miss O’Brien. Only don’t anyone tell Alfred I said that.”
“She always was worse than he was,” Anna said.
And that, Thomas thought, was as close as he’d ever get to being remembered fondly by anyone at Downton.
The next morning, as Thomas packed the last few things in their cases, he reflected on how the visit had gone much differently than he had expected. He’d hoped—he could admit to himself—for the chance to rub a few noses in his new status. And perhaps to clear a few things up with Jimmy. The latter was still a bit unresolved—Jimmy had avoided him studiously after yesterday’s lunch—but it didn’t seem to matter as much.
Instead, the main thing he’d gotten was a sense of how far he’d come, since he’d left here in disgrace. His life at Bellerock, which had seemed so alien at the beginning, now seemed much more natural and pleasant than anything he’d had at Downton. His lordship, of course, was a substantial consolation, but even the downstairs lot at Bellerock—whose simpering niceness could still grate at times—looked a lot better in comparison to his old colleagues. He’d found himself thinking that someone—someone like Mr. Clement, Bellerock’s butler, perhaps—ought to just sit Jimmy down and encourage him to work out which sex it was he preferred, and once he’d made up his mind, stop flirting with the other one, if he didn’t like people getting the wrong impression. Or Alice the housemaid—whose feelings had never crossed his mind before this visit—might find that telling Alfred she didn’t much like his aunt, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t be friends, would be a better course of action than bad-mouthing her whenever Alfred was out of the room and hoping he didn’t find out.
Of course, at Bellerock, the family would probably have gotten involved in any theoretical Alfred-Alice friendship or feud, which still seemed a bit strange to Thomas. But perhaps even that made more sense than the servants following every detail of the family’s lives, while the family remained completely oblivious to downstairs intrigues. The Crawleys had always seemed to Thomas like characters in a play, while his fellow servants were, at least, real people, even if he didn’t like them much.
As he snapped the cases shut, his lordship came in. “Are we all ready?”
“I believe so, m’lord,” Thomas said, taking a last look around the room to make sure nothing had been forgotten.
“Good. I’ve just been saying my farewells to Mr. Crawley; he says the car should be round to take us to the station any minute.”
They met Morgan and Langley-Smythe in the corridor; Morgan indicated the cases asked, “Do we have to go around to the back stairs with these again?”
“Technically, we should, but if you want to risk it I’ll join you.”
Morgan said he was game, so they all went down the front stairs together. Thomas had a bit of a turn when Lord Grantham came out of his study just as they were nearing the foot of the stairs—but frankly, he’d rather he saw it than Carson.
“Ah. Pellinger, Mr. Langley-Smythe, thank you again for your assistance. And—Thomas.”
Thomas looked at him uncertainly.
“I would be remiss if I did not express my gratitude to you as well for….” He hesitated and seemed to edit his remarks. “For coming forward. You’ve been of great help to her ladyship and to me.”
Thomas also hesitated over how to respond. It was my pleasure, your lordship did not seem entirely appropriate. Finally, he settled on, “You’re welcome.”
After telling his lordship that he hoped he’d visit again—quite insincerely, Thomas both thought and hoped—Lord Grantham took himself off. Outside, the car pulled up to the front doors.
“Well,” said his lordship. “Time to go home, I think.”
And they did.