Having a secret was nothing new to Thomas, it had been part of his entire life. But it felt more tangible now than it had in a long time, he had some one and some thing to hold onto. Which made the token Richard gave him feel like the most important thing in the world.
He had been exchanging letters with Richard nearly regularly. Richard told him about his life, his job, and his travel. Thomas didn’t want to talk about his past so he wrote about what was on his mind, which primarily consisted of how lonely he felt. It embarrassed him, yet Richard was unfailingly encouraging. In response to Thomas’s laments, he’d guarantee that things would get better, that Thomas was more than impressive at his job, and that if he wanted to leave service the world was his oyster. Thomas didn’t know if he believed all that, but he did appreciate being tolerated. Their conversations became a lifeline for him.
Thomas kept the letters locked up in his room but the pendant he kept with him in his pocket. Although he regularly admonished himself for not leaving it in his room where it would be safer, he couldn’t bear to physically part from it. As if it would stop being real or what it represented would vanish if he were to let it out of sight. Just having it, knowing it was there could be enough. But he frequently reached back for it, sometimes without even realizing, just to remind himself. It grounded him and even though it might’ve been less safe on him, he felt safer.
During a brief and all too rare moment to pause, Thomas reached to his pocket, subtle enough to not be conspicuous in front of anybody else bustling about downstairs. Anticipating the firm feel of metal he instead felt nothing at all. His heart lurched for a moment and his face went cold. But it must be there, he must have just missed it. He put his hand back into his pocket not casual at all this time and felt all over. Nothing. It wasn’t here, wasn’t on him, wasn’t visible anywhere nearby. And now his moment had gone by and there was no time to go looking for it. He had dinner to prepare for.
Dinner was a distraction and a welcome delay from the likely panic that would return later. Serving and listening occupied Thomas’s attention enough that neither his mind nor hand returned to the matter. But the second he was free, before he even realized what he was doing he was reaching back to the pocket it was usually in. All over again his heart stopped.
* * *
When everybody was off to bed, Thomas tore through the pantry. He pushed everything aside, felt everywhere he could, making a mess of papers and supplies which in the end only made it harder to find a damn thing. Standing in the office that now looked as if it had been upended by a storm--although one that was nothing compared to what he was experiencing inside--his breathing was getting increasingly uneven and his eyes pricked with forming tears. He tried to will himself to stop. There were still places to look.
On his way to bed he passed Mrs. Hughes in the hallway.
“Mr. Barrow, you look upset. Is something wrong?”
“I’ve just misplaced something.”
“Oh alright, good luck finding it.”
“Thank you,” he managed to say with some pleasantness. “You ought to be getting home, it’s late.”
In his room, Thomas got to work on making the same furious search that he had made in the pantry. The room was small and didn’t take long to search but that didn’t stop him from feeling around every single corner until his hands and knees ached. It was hopeless. With no other next step in sight, Thomas sat on his bed and let himself cry.
How many do-overs does somebody like him get before he’s out of chances?
Stupid fool. He berated himself. You allowed this to happen.
And, he realized, the worst was yet to come. His chest tightened and his face felt cold all over again as it set in. He’d have to tell Richard it was gone.
The next morning Thomas woke up from a restless sleep. He reached for the spot where he usually kept the pendant at night, wishing in vain that it had just been a bad dream, but it wasn’t and the spot was empty.
He had some time before he had to get going on his day and he took it to begin a letter.
In his letters he had been trying to work up to more familiar phrasing, intimacy you might even call it. But to do so now felt presumptuous.
I hope you are doing well. The better you are, possibly the less what I have to tell you will upset you. Of course, I’d want you to be well even if I had good news or no news at all.
He was spouting nonsense. Where was the poised and controlled Thomas? Why couldn’t he tap into that when he needed it.
My bad news is that I lost the gift you gave me. I don’t know how, and I'm truly sorry. I had been keeping it on me because I thought that was safe but only now do I see how wrong I was. I convinced myself it was safe because I wanted to hold it as much as possible. I was short-sighted. I’m sorry to have been so reckless with your token and with your trust.
It was not shaping up to be a particularly good letter, far from what Richard would want to be receiving. But at least he had gotten it out.
I’m still looking, but as you can imagine there’s only so much I can accomplish without arousing suspicion. Please know that I want to find it. Badly.
He’d leave it there for now. Time to get on with the day, there was plenty else he had to think about.
Over breakfast, Mrs. Hughes brought the issue right back to the forefront of his mind.
“Mr. Barrow, were you able to find what you were looking for last night?”
“No,” Thomas answered, trying to mask his dejection with politeness. “Unfortunately I wasn’t.”
“Do you need assistance cleaning the pantry?”
“No, thank you but I’ll be fine.” Thomas said “And I’ll get to it right away.” He added for Mrs. Hughes’ benefit.
She nodded approvingly. “Good. perhaps it will still turn up.”
Thomas smiled, in part just to reciprocate her congeniality but also partly because she had an ability to make him feel slightly better about himself.
* * *
Baxter knocked on the door while Thomas was straightening the office back up.
“You said you had lost something?” She asked.
“Yes,” Thomas answered wearily.
“Can I help?”
“It’s not here, I’m pretty convinced.”
“Tell me what it is and I’ll keep an eye out for it.”
“I don’t know if I should involve you.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s something that,” he paused, unsure of the way to say it. “I shouldn’t have. If its origins were found and I was linked to it, that would be very bad.”
“Something of somebody else’s?”
“I do want to help you, but I can’t get involved in any stealing again.”
“No, not like that! I didn’t mean. It was a gift. From a friend.”
“But that’s nice and--oh, I understand.”
“How long have you had it?”
“Not very long. But, a little while.”
“Who is it from?” Something in Thomas’s reaction must’ve conveyed total petrification because she quickly withdrew the question. “It’s okay, I don’t need to know, do I? I do need to know a little about what I’m looking for?”
Thomas described it, but he could only bring himself to do so vaguely.
“A housemaid may have thought it belonged to somebody in the family and put it somewhere. I’ll talk to Anna and some other maids and see if anybody knows anything.”
* * *
For days he heard nothing and no news was not good news this time around. Perhaps it was time to let go of the hope that the pendant would resurface.
When nearly everybody had gone to bed, Thomas sat at his desk, mulling over his letter in front of him. He couldn’t make himself decide on either option. He was ashamed to send the letter now and foolish to continue stalling.
There was a knock at the door. Thomas concealed the letter in a drawer. “Come in.” He responded.
Anna walked in and without further preamble began, “Lady Mary asked me if I knew anything about the new trinket that’s in Master George’s room.” She said. “I didn’t look at it myself but what she said didn’t sound unlike yours. I mentioned to her that somebody downstairs said they’d lost something recently.”
“Did she say anything else?”
“Just that she’d have a talk with George tomorrow about it.”
Thomas’s chest twisted with a very conflicted feeling. “Thank you, Anna.”
“You can relax now,” she said chipperly as she walked out. “Goodnight, Mr. Barrow.”
He didn’t feel like he could relax just yet. He had no idea what would come of Mary’s talk with George, but he felt it might end badly for him. How had George ever gotten it? He had never once taken it out of his pocket around the children, he wouldn’t dare to. The masters tolerated him and his circumstance and even allowed them near their kids--not something many people do--but he didn’t presume that they wanted children to know about his peculiarities. Maybe someday when they were grown it was a talk to be had, if the Crawleys were truly progressive. But until then he wanted the status quo to remain as it was. Thomas genuinely liked the children and he wanted to be trusted to be around them, which could cease to be the case if he was thought to be indiscreet.
* * *
“Barrow,” Lady Mary said the next day in the library, she was nudging George up towards Thomas. “George has something that he’d like to tell you.”
Thomas knelt down to be at eye level with the young master. “Yes, Master George?”
George held out his hand to Thomas. “You dropped this and I picked it up. I meant to give it back but I forgot” He placed the pendant in Thomas’s hand. “I didn’t mean to take it.”
Thomas closed his hand. He could almost cry but couldn’t let himself. “Thank you so much, I’m so lucky that you kept it safe for me. You’re a great friend.” He said softly. George gave Thomas a hug.
Thomas stood up and attempted to regain his composure, a huge weight was lifted off of him and he felt like he could just about collapse.
“It seems very important to you,” Mary asked. “Is it an heirloom?”
“It was a gift, M'lady.” Thomas answered, inwardly quite afraid of how to proceed further if she had more questions, but trying to keep the professional exterior.
“Well good, glad that’s all sorted then.”
* * *
He could just tear up the letter he had been writing, he realized when he took it out from where it had been stashed. The matter had been resolved, hadn’t it? Maybe in a literal sense, but just because he had found what he had lost didn’t change the fact that he had lost it in the first place. He felt like Richard ought to know. It was the truth, after all, and he didn’t want to secrets between them.
Thomas continued the letter with a summary of how it had been retrieved and continued to reiterate his regret.
I’m happy to have it back and that I can tell you this. But still I’ve let you down again, haven’t I? I wish I could tell you that this isn’t how I am. For some reason when you’re involved I become foolish. If you would like your pendant back, that may be for the best, no hard feelings. I think of you plenty even without it, I’ve had the last few days to confirm that.
Maybe someday I’ll show you a side of me other than a silly fool, but for now I can only ask for your forgiveness.
p.s. Having something of yours to hold is lovely, but it isn’t the same as you yourself, if that’s not too forward to say.
He was tempted to include the pendant along with the letter so that the burden wouldn’t be on Richard to have to ask. But he didn’t. He only just got it back. He wanted to spend a little more time with it while he could. He’d keep it locked safe this time, though.
* * *
With the letter off in the mail, things were able to go back to normal. And they almost were, with the exception of every time Thomas wondered if Richard had gotten his letter, what he thought about it, if he had written back yet, or if the letters would stop.
Finally, one morning Andy handed him a package when he brought in the mail.
“Who’s this for?” Thomas asked.
“It’s addressed to you.”
So it was. And it had the familiar postmark. Thomas took it back to his office to read the letter included in private.
I’m sorry to hear what a poor go of things you’ve had since you last wrote. I must say I think you’ve been far too hard on yourself and you will have none of that from me. Your mistakes do not make me think less of you, I care about you and I cannot let you feel badly about yourself, least of all on account of me.
In fact I feel quite responsible for the situation you found yourself in. I gave you my pendant fully hoping you’d carry it with you, it hadn’t occurred to me that doing so might lead to an unfortunate event such as what occurred. So no, I don’t think you careless in the least. Not to mention that everything worked out in the end. I don’t think if I had been in your position I would’ve had as much help in recovering it, that says a lot about you don’t you think?
Keep the pendant until you want nothing to do with me, but do so in whatever manner would allow you to feel most at ease. It is fortunate that I was already planning on sending you something else I wanted you to have. Again, It’s not much, but perhaps even more suitable to you right now. I think quite often about how I have yet to put my arms around you. The next time we see each other I fully intend to for as long as I can. In the meantime, think of this as an extension of myself. If you get cold or lonely, I’ll be there for you.
Take care of yourself, my dear friend.
p.s. would you be so kind as to include with your next letter something of yours? You’ve received twice and although I’m generous I am not intending to be a charity.
Thomas’s heart was beating so hard he was downright shaking. This was far from the response he had expected. He had braced himself for something closer to resignation, not this warm affection that he did not deserve in the slightest. What was it about Richard that made him continue to regard him so highly when he was just a string of failures? Whatever it was, it felt like standing on land after being used to being at sea, so used to the rocking and swaying that being finally stable feels unsteady.
He took so long to recollect himself that he had nearly forgotten there was more to be opened. He took the soft bundle in his hands and unwrapped it. And there it was. A scarf. It was grey and plain. Something that he could have bought with his own money in town, but he hadn’t and only he had to know that. He wrapped it around his neck and focused on the slight weight of it on his skin.
It felt good to be held.