“I don’t understand why we’re having fireworks on the fifth of November.” Branson sighed.
“Because, dear chap, it’s traditional.” Lord Grantham had replied.
“But it’s anti-Catholic.” Branson protested. “At least promise me that you won’t burn a Guy.”
“My dear fellow, we’re having a traditional Bonfire Night and that’s final.”
So, come 5th November, Thomas found himself organising crates of fireworks for Lord Grantham’s Bonfire Night festivities; though Lady Grantham had at least persuaded her husband to dispense with the burning of a Guy.
Thomas conducted an inventory of the fireworks. There were rockets, banshees and Cathrine wheels, in all colours and sparklers for the children to wave. The bonfire had been set up and Thomas had made sure that warming drinks were on standby, cocoa for the children and whisky for the guests and the rest of the family. As a special treat, the children were allowed to stay up and watch the fireworks, though they were to be kept at a safe distance at all times.
Thomas finished his list and called for Andy to help him set up for the evening’s display.
*** *** ***
The Crawleys and their guests stood on the lawn, cheering as a shower of gold sparks lit up the night sky. On the sidelines, Thomas was walking around with a tray, carrying the sparklers. The loud bangs were calling back memories of the war, of the blinding flashes and deafening bangs of the shells exploding. Instantly, he was back in the trenches, men surrounding him, wounded and bleeding, so many injured men, too many. He didn’t know where to go first, who to help, he was a literal medic on a battlefield. He felt himself shaking and tried to pull himself out of it. Thomas tried to find something to focus his mind on. He looked over to where Lady Mary held George’s hand, Edith balanced Marigold on her lap and Tom crouched next to Sybbie, as the children watched the display of bright colours in awe. They were pure and innocent, untouched by the war and the joy on their faces was so angelic, it grounded Thomas and helped him to return to the moment. He went over.
“Master George, Miss Sybbie, Miss Marigold, would you like some sparklers?”
He held out the tray offering them to the children. They took the offered rods and eyed them curiously.
“May I have one?” Came a voice from Thomas’ right. He turned to see Evelyn Napier standing beside him, smiling, looking very dapper in black tie, covered with a thick winter coat.
“Of course, Mr Napier.” Thomas offered the tray to Evelyn and he took one.
“Here’s what you do,” Thomas explained to the children. “You hold the sparkler out in front of you and when it’s lit,” Thomas reached forwards, striking a match and touching it to Evelyn’s sparkler. A bright light fizzed at the end, the children gasped, “if you move it fast enough, you might be able to write your name with it.” Evelyn demonstrated with several flicks of his wrist. The children grinned excitedly and, with Thomas’ help, and under the strict supervision of their parents, the children were soon making patterns with the sparks.
“It’s so pretty.” Sybbie observed.
“Look, Mr Barrow, I can write my name!” Squealed George.
Marigold looked up at Edith uncertainly, but Edith guided her hand and they eventually wrote her name.
Thomas smiled at the children’s happiness, their faces half lit by the bonfire nearby. The sudden movement of sparks caught his attention. He looked over to see his name being written in mid-air. He recognised the figure behind the sparkler, it was Evelyn Napier. He grinned at Thomas, who felt himself involuntarily grin back as Evelyn made a heart in the air with the sparks. Thomas felt something else sparking in his chest. Evelyn’s sparkler died and he lowered it, coming towards Thomas again.
“Thank you, Barrow.” He said, putting the rod into the bucket of water beside him. He flashed Thomas another smile, his eyes glinting in the light of the bonfire. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you, actually, if we can find somewhere private.”
An ear-piercing shriek sounded from behind them and Thomas flinched violently, Evelyn also jumped. There was a loud bang and a shower of emerald and red sparks showered down.
“Barrow, the children are getting cold.” Lady Mary informed him. "I don’t suppose you could take them inside and fetch them something to drink? They can watch the display from the window.”
“Of course, Lady Mary.” Thomas said as George, Sybbie and a slightly fearful looking Marigold came towards him.
“Come on, children, let’s get you inside and warmed up.” Thomas led them in through the front door and went down to the kitchens, where, Mrs Patmore handed him a tray of hot cocoa for the children and told him that “it’s all well and good inviting more people, but they might have told me to make more canapés.” He went into the Library, where they were sitting with Lady Edith, looking out.
“There you go.” Thomas set the mugs down for the children.
“Thank you, Mr Barrow.” They chorussed.
“Can I get you anything, Lady Edith?”
“I might like a gin and tonic.” She replied. Thomas busied himself with the drink. The door opened and he heard Lady Edith’s voice.
“Hello, Mr Napier, are you cold too?”
Thomas turned to see him in the doorway, looking Thomas up and down.
“I was rather hoping to warm up in here, yes.” He replied.
“Would you like a drink, Mr Napier?” Thomas asked, giving Lady Edith hers.
“I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a Whisky Mac? It’s a tradition of mine, I always drink a Whisky Mac on Bonfire Night.”
“Certainly.” Thomas replied, getting out the measurer and preparing his drink. Evelyn sat down with Lady Edith and they clinked glasses, before taking a sip.
Lady Grantham walked in.
“We’re about to start the Catherine Wheels, if you wanted to come out and see them.”
The children cheered loudly and finished their drinks, rushing past her to go back outside, Lady Edith went after them, taking her drink with her. Lady Grantham paused in the doorway.
“Aren’t you coming, Mr Napier?”
“I shall catch up with you, I’ll just finish my drink.” Evelyn smiled at Lady Grantham, who turned and left.
Evelyn took another sip from his tumbler.
“Now we’re finally alone.” He said, draining the last of his Whisky Mac. “I have something I wish to say to you.”
Thomas stood by the bar.
“And what would that be, Mr Napier?”
Evelyn got up and walked back over to him, standing very close and setting the glass down on the counter.
“I’ve been meaning to say this for so long, I don’t know why I’ve held back, but I just can’t keep silent any longer. I’m mad for you, Barrow, I have been for so long and after all this time, I had to tell you. I understand if you don’t want to, but if there’s even a chance that you feel the same way…”
Thomas gaped at him.
“You have feelings for me?”
“Of course you wouldn’t return those feelings, silly of me to even hope that you would, but…”
“Of course I do, ya daft beggar.” Thomas laughed. “Come here.”
Thomas reached for Evelyn and pulled him closer by the lapels. Evelyn’s hands met Thomas’ neck and he tilted his face to meet Thomas’. Their lips met in a searing kiss that made them feel as if a crate of fireworks had exploded in their chests. Thomas deepened the kiss, running his fingers through Evelyn’s slick hair and Evelyn clung on to Thomas for dear life. At the window behind them, fireworks exploded, lighting up the sky with thousands of rainbow sparks.