15 January, 1926
That’s it, then; he is all packed. Ready to move on. To move home, that is. It’s funny how moving back to Downton feels so much more like moving forward than anything ever has. And not just forward, but upward. Butler of Downton Abbey. What would his mother say?
Thomas smiles, and runs his finger carefully over the edge of his case. Once he gets home, he might spend some time thinking on what his mother would say, if she were alive to see what he has accomplished. And if he can’t think what it might be, he knows a few people who could help fill in the gaps.
The train whistles as it enters Downton station, and Thomas leans toward the window. He can’t quite look out though; the frigid morning light is too bright—nearly blinding. He suppresses a grin as the train comes to full stop. He stands from his seat, grabs his cases, and steps out onto the platform. All he needs to do is find a cab back to the big house, and then—
He turns around, and rolls his eyes, but smiles, too. “What on earth are you doing here?” he asks.
Phyllis steps forward and embraces him—it’s alright to do that on a train platform, after all. “What do you mean, what am I doing here?” his sister (near enough) answers. “I couldn’t wait to see you,” she says.
He shakes his head, and leans down to kiss her cheek. “Well, I don’t mind a bit,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to see you, either.”
When he straightens up again, he sees she is holding a package in her hands, wrapped in white paper, and tied with a string. She hands it to him. “I also didn’t want to wait to give you this,” she says.
He gives her a bit of a suspicious smile. “What is it?” he asks.
She tilts her head. “Thomas,” she says. “Did you think I’d forgot?”
Now he laughs a little. “No,” he answers. “I may have tried to forget, but I should’ve known you wouldn’t.”
“I know it was yesterday,” she says, softly now. “But you still ought to be wished a happy birthday.”
He busies himself with removing the string and paper, and finds inside it… “Mittens?” he asks, a little confused.
“No, but look,” she says, and takes them out of his hands. “There’s a little flap here, and when you pull it back…” she demonstrates, pulling back the top half of one of the mittens, to reveal fingerless gloves underneath.
“Isn’t that clever?” he finds himself saying. “Now I can smoke without my hands freezing completely.” She smiles, clearly pleased with herself. “And if I’m not mistaken, they match my scarf as well.”
She nods. “Anna gave me the rest of the wool she bought last summer. But only on condition that I make something for you.”
“Well, they are my color,” he concedes. “Thank you, Phyl. Thanks for remembering.”
She smiles up at him. “I’ll always remember your birthday, little brother,” she answers.
“Shall we get a cab back, then?” he asks.
Phyllis shakes her head. “Oh, no. There’s no need for a cab.”
“His Lordship sent you in a car?” he asks, a bit impressed. What a lovely gesture his former, now new, employer has made.
But she shakes her head again. “Not exactly,” she says. She opens her mouth to explain the rest, but is cut off.
“Barrow!” Lady Mary’s voice precedes the clicking of her shoes on the wood of the platform. Thomas manages a half second of widened eyes in Phyllis’ direction, before turning to Her Ladyship.
“Milady,” he says, trying desperately not to laugh. Suddenly the question, ‘What on earth are you doing here?’ takes on new meaning. Lady Mary is followed immediately by Mr. Branson, who steps forward and offers his hand to Thomas.
“Barrow,” Tom echoes warmly. The two shake hands for the first time, as Thomas continues to try to understand what is happening.
“Mr. Branson offered to drive me here to collect you,” Phyllis explains gently.
“And I thought I’d come along,” Mary supplies. She turns directly to Thomas. “We all thought you deserved a bit of a to-do.” Thomas and Mary both look down for a moment, blushing at the sound of that. Lady Mary softens her tone somewhat. “We’re all ever so glad to have you back, Barrow,” she says. “And to see you looking so well.”
Thomas nods. “Thank you, milady,” he says. Mr. Branson gestures toward the street where the car must be waiting, and Thomas picks up his cases again.
They exit the station together, but then… Oh, God. The car. The family’s car… where are they all going to sit? Phyllis bites her lip, and he knows she is wondering the same thing, but is afraid to ask. Thomas and Phyllis both stop, and stand awkwardly on the pavement, and for a second or two, Mr. Branson and Lady Mary continue on. When she realizes they have nearly lost half their party, Lady Mary turns around. Once she ascertains the reason behind their reticence, she rolls her eyes.
“For God’s sake,” she says, though not unkindly. “You two sit in the back. It won’t kill me to sit up front with Mr. Branson.”
Thomas and Phyllis exchange bewildered glances, then both shrug silently, and once Thomas has strapped his cases to the boot, they both climb into the back seat.
And so, the butler and the lady’s maid are driven home from the station by a pair of toffs, as though this sort of thing happens every day. It is Downton, after all.