Thomas had always been the children’s favourite, offering them piggy-back rides and taking part in their tea parties, so he had got to know them quite well over the years; as a result, he instinctively knew when something was bothering them. That was why, when Master George and Miss Sybbie came into the Servants’ Hall, looking curious yet determined, Thomas knew that something was on their minds.
"What's the matter, Master George, Miss Sybbie?” Thomas gave them an encouraging smile. The children were silent for a moment, Master George shifted slightly, gathering his thoughts, then Miss Sybbie answered.
“We were wondering, did you know my mummy and George’s daddy?”
Thomas sat up. He had known that they would one day want to know about their parents, they were getting on for 10 now, so it was only natural for them to ask, but no doubt they would have heard stories from the rest of their family about their parents, so Thomas was curious as to why they were asking him. Then again, he had been incredibly fond of both of them, which was probably why he was so fond of their children. If they wanted to hear about their parents from him, then couldn't hurt to tell them.
“I knew your mummy and George’s daddy very well.” He smiled warmly. “I worked with them for a long time. They were both very kind people, champions of the downtrodden; they made the world a better place just being in it. I miss them both very much.”
Miss Sybbie and Master George were hanging on his every word.
“What’s brought this on?”
“We went to the big cross in the village today and Granny and Donk put some poppies on the big cross.” George explained. “Then a man said there was a war. Mummy told us that Daddy fought in the war and lots of men fought in the war.”
Then it hit him, the family had been to the Remembrance Day service that morning. Thomas hadn’t sat with them, the family had their pews at the front of the church, the likes of him sat at the back, then they had gone to the war memorial and the village had laid wreaths of poppies in memory of the fallen. Thomas supposed that the children must have been with them.
As it happened, the tenth anniversary of the armistice had fallen on Remembrance Sunday.
“Is it true that mummy was a nurse during the war?” Miss Sybbie asked.
“That’s right, I worked with her in the hospital.” Thomas replied.
“Wow.” Sybbie looked impressed. “So you both made people better?”
“We certainly tried. Your mother was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known and you’re getting more like her every day.” He smiled indulgently. Sybbie beamed at him.
“What was my daddy like?” George asked.
“Your daddy was a brave and noble man; he fought during the war, but he fought for justice throughout his life. He would be so proud of you, Master George.”
George grinned at him.
“So, they’re both in Heaven?” Sybbie asked.
“Well I don’t know much about Heaven, but I know that that’s where both of them would be. Yes.”
They both beamed at him. The children jumped down from their chairs and ran out of the Servants Hall, calling “Thanks, Mr Barrow!” as they left. They looked as happy as Thomas had ever seen them.
Thomas sat back in his chair. He smiled fondly at the memory of all of them, of Sybil in her nurse’s uniform, helping darling Edward with his cane. She was a jewel amongst women, the only woman that Thomas had felt drawn to. Thomas remembered the way Matthew used to look at him, those nights they’d spent together. Stolen kisses during stolen moments. His eyes began to water at the memory of his handsome former lover. Of the people he’d loved.
Thomas heaved a sad sigh. How he wished they had all lived.