All characters, as well as a stray bit of dialogue, belong to Julian Fellowes.
Written in response to Batwings79's 2012 St. Paddy's Day challenge and according to her guidelines. Which means it contains alcohol consumption and the effects thereof. Also, here is where I finally reveal the source of the title, if you haven't already guessed.
Recap: In the morning, one of Tom Branson and Lady Sybil's famous garage conversations goes characteristically awry. The afternoon finds the chauffeur back behind the wheel to take Lady Mary into Ripon. By evening he's in none too happy a mood, and who should turn up then but everybody's favorite malcontent, Thomas Barrow. Dun-dun-dun.
Many thanks to those of you who have taken the time to post reviews, and heartfelt thanks to the ever supportive Mazzie for sending the quotation below - a bit modern, and Jobs wasn't an Irishman, but it was just so fitting for Branson.
"...have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." - Steve Jobs
My Heart Beguiled
Chapter 3: A Future That's Worth Having
"Money," announced Thomas, when they'd been at the whiskey a while. "It's all down to money."
"What's down to money?"
"This life. Can't do as you please unless you've got money. Or can get it."
"I don't know about that," said Tom. Money or no, his lordship's heir, Mr. Crawley, had come home from the war a broken man. And then there was Lady Mary, giving orders and living among all manner of fine things, and yet the walls of the house might as well have been the bars of a cage...
"Don't know about money?" Thomas was saying. "I reckon that makes two of us. It's not as though we ever see any."
"No, I only meant money might not leave a man free to do as he pleases. Mind you, it has its uses," added Tom, thinking back on a fine evening or two.
"Of all the money that e'er I spent,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that e'er I've done,
Alas, it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
To mem'ry now I can't recall.
So fill to me the parting glass.
Good night, and joy be with you all."
"What was that?" said Thomas.
"Something we used to sing in Dublin."
"Give us the bottle, then," said Barrow. "If I'm to be made to listen."
Drink made some men freer with their talk and laughter, and others with their fists. Then there were those fellows who couldn't touch whiskey or beer without turning melancholy, and Thomas, it seemed, was in the last group.
"We're the same, you and me," he told Tom after they'd had a bit more of the drink.
"What do you mean?"
"Just biding our time, the both of us, till the day we see the last of this place."
"What? Like prison?" said Tom lightly. But the words had left him uneasy, and brought to mind another talk he'd had, not on an whiskey-sodden evening but in the sober light of day.
You won't be content to stay at Downton forever, will you, and tinkering away at an engine instead of fighting for freedom?
The guilt had returned too; he hadn't drowned it, though not for want of trying.
"I've reason enough to be here," he said, a bit too forcefully, and picked up the bottle again. "And you - well, you wouldn't want to break Miss O'Brien's heart now, would you?"
At that Barrow snorted, and took another pull on his cigarette.
"Besides," added Tom, "you had your chance at freedom."
Thomas turned to look at him. "I went to war. And I was shot."
"So you were. Only you came home, and not to die."
"Blimey, you're a cheerful one," muttered Thomas. "I'd rather hear you sing than talk, at this rate. That farting glass thing again, maybe."
"It's parting glass. Parting glass."
"If I had money enough to spend,
And leisure time to sit a while,
There is a fair maid in this town
That sorely has my heart beguiled.
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips,
I own, she has my heart in thrall.
Then fill to me the parting glass,
Good night and joy be with you all."
"Money again," said Thomas. "It's always money."
But Tom was barely listening. Money, leisure - what did any of it matter when Ireland was on the other side of the sea, and Sybil Crawley on the other side of that wall, and the one was as distant as the other, and as likely to come to him.
No, no, that wasn't right. She had come to him, earlier that day; he'd forgotten that, and how she'd smiled at him, not at all like a girl who meant to tell a fellow to pack his bags and be off. What a fool he'd been not to see it.
"Thomas, did you ever think what you might have done? If you'd seen how things really were, I mean."
For a moment the footman sat there without answering. "Sometimes." He threw his cigarette to the ground and crushed it beneath one heel. "Not often.
"So, that song - has it got another verse?"
"O all the comrades that e'er I had
Are sorry for my going away.
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had
Would wish me one more day to stay.
But since it falls into my lot
That I should rise and you should not,
I'll gently rise and softly call,
Good night, and joy be with you all."
Joy. Of course there'd be none of that, this evening or the next morning, when he'd pay the price for how he'd spent the last hour. Still, there was nothing for it but a night's sleep.
"Right. We'd best go in." Queer, how his own voice sounded - as though it were coming from far away - but Tom decided to think on that later. With a mighty effort he got to his feet - but it wasn't his feet that were the trouble, of course; it was his head.
Then he noticed that not only wasn't Thomas standing next to him, he hadn't so much as stirred from the bench. In fact he was completely motionless. Dear God, he couldn't have taken that much of the whiskey - though certainly he'd had enough of it.
"Thomas,"said Tom anxiously, clapping the footman on the shoulder. "Thomas." At the touch Barrow flinched, but he made no effort to rise.
"Come on. I'll not leave you here to - "
"Thing is, I do see," said Thomas abruptly. "Did see," he amended, bowing his head.
Now here was a conversation Tom didn't remember beginning. "See? What do you see?"
"How things really are."
"Do you now."
"Always have done," said Thomas, staring out into the darkness, the bottle still gripped in one hand and another cigarette slowly burning itself out in the other. He was in a bad way, worse than Tom had expected. And it would be job to get him indoors without Mr. Carson noticing.
"Come on," Tom said, half ready to pull or even lift the footman up from the bench, but to his surprise Thomas got to his feet with very little urging, though not as quickly as he might have done sober.
"Doesn't stop it all going wrong, though," he was saying. "Not always."
"No, not always," echoed Tom, grimly pushing him in the direction of the house, and almost tripping and falling to the ground when when Barrow suddenly turned round.
"I tried," he said. "I tried..."
"I don't doubt it," said Tom, firmly laying a hand on his shoulder and nudging him back the other way. The pair of them should take the whole night to reach the house, at this rate.
"Of course they pushed me around," mumbled Thomas. "Same as always."
"Then you have to fight back. You have to keep fighting."
But Tom was just clear-headed enough to recognize the hollowness of his words. Keep fighting. And how was he to do that when he hadn't yet begun, when he hadn't so much as set foot in Ireland in a great while? He'd talked often enough of playing his part, and Sybil had taken every word to heart, but the truth was he'd done nothing, nothing...
"You know, when you talk like that, I almost believe you," said Thomas, his voice breaking.
Oh, no, not this, thought Tom, and inwardly cursed himself for ever letting Barrow have so much as a drop of the whiskey.
"He wasn't ready," went on Thomas. "I told them that. I told them. Didn't count for anything," he added bitterly. "My word against his. Who are they going to believe, a working-class lad or Major Clarkson?"
"Major Clarkson," said Tom unthinkingly. "Come on. You'll have an aching head, come morning. No sense catching your death to the - "
"Mind you, she couldn't stop it happening either."
"She?" asked Tom.
"Who d'you think?" said Thomas, swaying slightly but still managing to fix an eye on him. "Nurse Crawley."
There it was; that had sounded like Thomas Barrow. But it wasn't so much the sneer as the mention of Sybil's name that caused Tom's fists to clench.
"No, that's not fair," went on Thomas, the bitterness suddenly gone from his voice. "Only one of them that could be bothered.
"Clarkson told her they weren't in the ballroom anymore. Didn't want to know what she thought. 'Why should I?' he said. Now he's dead."
"Dr. Clarkson?" said Tom, no longer sure what to make of any of this.
"No! Not him. Not him." Thomas's voice trailed off, and now it was clear he was fighting back tears. If Tom hadn't seen it, he'd never have believed it. But he'd have to get Thomas indoors as quickly as possible, and hope they'd both have forgotten this by morning.
Again he laid a hand on the footman's shoulder. "Yes, that was a bad business with William. He was as good a man as any of us - better, maybe.
"Mind you, I'd no idea you were so fond of him." Or fond of him at all. Or fond of anyone.
"All right then, not William," said Tom, finally losing patience. "Some other poor bastard they sent over the top. But you couldn't stop it happening, no more than I could have. Or anyone."
And yet he doubted the truth of the words as soon as he spoke them. He might've stopped it happening. He might've, if only he'd been in Dublin that day...
But all his guilty thoughts came to a stop with a most unexpected noise.
"...since it falls into my lot
That I should rise and you should not..."
Thomas's voice trailed off once again, in what sounded dangerously close to a sob, though Tom couldn't say for sure. But he did know what had to be done next.
"Right, that's the lot," he said briskly, easing the now empty whiskey bottle out of Thomas's grip. "I tell you, you're an odd one, Thomas Barrow," he said, once more guiding the footman in the direction of the doorway. "You've a heart like flint, but a drop of the craythur and one sad song and you're ready to top yourself - "
"You bastard." Thomas swung round and grasped Tom's coat, thrust his face forward till they were nose to nose. "You Irish bastard, he was worth ten of you, ten of you!"
Tom felt himself staggering backwards, and the whiskey bottle slipping from his fingers. And he felt - and heard - the fist striking his jaw.
"Have you gone mad?" Again it seemed as though his voice were coming from far away as the noise of the scuffle - grunts, muttered curses, and blow after blow - filled the air. But Tom hadn't drunk so much that he couldn't hold his own in the fight, even if Thomas did seem to be in the grip of some strange, unexpected battle frenzy.
Then all at once there were other voices calling out across the courtyard, and the rough sound of shoes scraping against dirt and gravel, and the thud of a cane striking the earth as the other servants came out to see what was happening. Tom spotted a crisp white apron and cap, and recognized Anna and, next to her, Mr. Bates, who had dropped his walking stick and was trying to seize Thomas about the shoulders when both of them lost their balance and went over like ninepins. Even with his senses dulled by drink, Tom winced at the force with which Bates hit the ground, though it wasn't as bad as it might have been, as just at that moment O'Brien had come up behind him - to take her part in the donnybrook, perhaps - and down she went as well, legs flailing, petticoats flashing.
Everything seemed to stop then, as a tall figure in black loomed above the lot of them, and a second, smaller figure, also clad in black, hurried to his side.
"Enough! That's enough!" the second shape was crying out with the authority of God Himself, though Tom had to wonder at God having a Scottish accent, as well as the voice of a woman.
"Now this is going to sting," said Mrs. Hughes crisply, and Tom didn't know whether to take it as a warning or simply a statement of fact.
She had taken the nursing duties upon herself, with Anna and O'Brien assisting, and though the women were gentle enough - yes, even O'Brien - as they went about their work, no one seemed of a mind to linger. But if the truth were to be told, there wasn't much to be done, as Mrs. Hughes had put a stop to the fight before either man came to grievous harm.
Besides, the true pain and suffering should come afterwards, and not only from an aching head.
In the morning Tom rose early, as befitted a condemned man. He'd no appetite for breakfast - his throat was like a chimney, and his mouth tasted as though some foul beast had crawled inside and afterwards died - but Mrs. Hughes was unyielding. On her orders, Daisy brought strong tea and dry toast, and the housekeeper herself took charge of the teapot, pouring out generous and very strong cupfuls for Thomas and himself, and overseeing every swallow and bite.
And unlike Daisy, she kept a merciful silence.
Thomas was as pale as a ghost, but managed as well as he might with the toast and tea, and even rose smartly to his feet when Mr. Carson entered the room - though Tom was certain he saw the footman wince with the effort.
"As you know, his lordship will be making an early start this morning," announced Mr. Carson in a great loud voice. He might as well have fired a gun, or perhaps a cannon, right beside Tom's head. "But before you go about your separate duties, I should like to have a word with you both."
And with that, Charles Carson - judge, jury, and executioner - led the way to his office.
"I am less concerned, Mr. Branson," said Mr. Carson sternly, "with who struck the first blow than with your bringing such dishonor upon this house. Excessive drinking - yes, I know about the whiskey - and brawling like common hooligans? His lordship is a fair and generous man, but I do not think he would wink at such goings-on. Nor shall I."
At that Tom's heart sank. He was finished, he'd be turned out of the house without so much as a chance to say another word to -
"However," went on Mr. Carson, "having interviewed Miss O'Brien and Mr. Bates, I have found no evidence that either of you embarked on this - this misadventure with anything approaching malice." The butler fixed his eye upon Thomas. "Indeed Miss O'Brien was of the opinion that you had been out of spirits."
Too late he realized he'd chosen just the wrong expression, but he cleared his throat and went on.
"Yes. Well. On such occasions a bit of diversion is entirely forgivable - though Mr. Bates reported that when he'd heard the singing, and afterwards the altercation, he'd been fully as baffled by the former as the latter."
But he'd known to go right for Thomas. Good old Bates -
"- I dare say none of us remained unaltered by the war," Mr. Carson was saying. "Of course I need not speak of that to you," he added, turning again to look at Thomas.
"But neither shall that serve as an excuse. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Mr. Carson," said Tom penitently.
"Yes, Mr. Carson." This from Thomas, more sullenly.
The butler cleared his throat a second time. "Very well. I am persuaded that on this occasion clemency is once again in order, on the understanding that you resolve any future disagreements or episodes of bad humor without recourse to violence or strong drink. Is that understood?"
"Mr. Carson, I give you my word -"
"I do not require any further demonstrations of remorse, Mr. Branson, only your compliance."
"Then you have it."
"And you, Thomas?" said the butler, raising his bushy eyebrows.
"Yes." Then, after a pause: "Yes, Mr. Carson."
"You!" Mrs. Patmore to Thomas. "Mind where you stand, or you'll end up covered in porridge from head to foot." At the mention of food the green tinge in Barrow's face appeared to deepen, and he beat a hasty retreat as the cook continued her assault on the breakfast table. "Daisy, what've you done with the marmalade?"
"Right here, Mrs. Patmore..."
Despite all the strong tea and dry toast, Tom didn't feel much better himself, and resolved to go out and see to the motor, and maybe enjoy a bit of peace before the day began. He didn't relish the thought of ferrying his lordship about that morning, but at least he'd a job, and for that he was grateful.
He was fumbling for his cap, and within minutes of securing his escape, when Mrs. Hughes appeared at his elbow. "A word, Mr. Branson," she said in a voice fit to freeze the blood.
"Close the door," said Mrs. Hughes after they'd reached her sitting room.
Tom obeyed, and turned round to face her.
"Well, first poor William, now you," she said, with a sigh, and even a bit of a sad smile. "Thomas does have a rare talent for the harsh word, I'll grant you that, and for trying the patience, even of the gentlest souls. But you must pay him no mind."
"Mrs. Hughes, I never - "
"I said you're to pay him no mind," she repeated firmly. She regarded him for a moment, and sighed again. "Honestly, what's the use of all those fine ideals of yours if someone like Thomas Barrow can put your nose out of joint, and set the both of you squabbling like a pair of schoolboys?"
Tom felt the blood rushing to his face. He had the uncomfortable feeling he'd heard those words, or words very like them, once before...
"Now I know you have ambitions," Mrs. Hughes went on. "Even dreams, like any young man," she added, blushing faintly herself. "Don't trample them underfoot, and all for the price of a drink and a bit of nonsense."
"No, Mrs. Hughes."
"Well, I mustn't keep you," said the housekeeper primly. "Or spend the day standing about myself when there's work to be done." Her briskness was oddly comforting, and left Tom feeling bold enough to offer a smile and a nod as he took his leave.
His hand was on the doorknob when he heard her speaking to him one last time.
"You'll make something of yourself, Mr. Branson; I've no doubt of it. Mind you don't let a proud heart and a quick temper stand in your way."
She was right, Mrs. Hughes. He'd ambitions, and dreams, a great many of them.
Don't trample them underfoot.
A better man would not have wasted an evening on the drink and on self-pity, not when there was so much worth fighting for.
He'd told Sybil it was all up to her, but that hadn't been true, not in the least. He'd have to fight for her - so would any man worthy of her, of course, but then he had more to lose.
And more to gain.
"The Parting Glass" is a traditional song and near-constant source of fanfic inspiration. In this instance I've used the lyrics favored by the Washington Revels.