Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Morning Train

By David Allsopp.

My dearest Gwen,

Where do I begin? How do I say what I feel needs to be said, when it has remained unspoken for so long?

You know I’m not a man who decides upon a course of action quickly, but as events continue to unfold so rapidly this evening I find myself struggling to take it all in and keep up with my own thoughts.

I can only imagine the turmoil you must be going through right now, and I wish I could have been here for you in your darkest hour.

* * *

In hindsight, Thomas should have known something was terribly wrong when he didn’t see Gwen’s smiling face when he returned from his journey to Dunstan’s Mill. At the time he just assumed she was busy with her duties – attending to Lady Burnley in some manner – and that he would see her later that evening at supper. He couldn’t have guessed what had happened, or how dramatically his world would be changed.

After stowing away the parcels he’d returned with, Thomas walked into the kitchen to look for Mrs Livermore, the cook. He came across her two assistants, Susie and Jayne, furtively whispering about one of the servants having being dismissed. The conversation ceased as soon as he entered the room, but as Thomas only caught the end of the conversation he thought little of it at the time – just that he’d walked in on the girls having a private gossip.

Needing to attend to Lord Burnley presently, Thomas decided that he’d take a chance and return upstairs to the residence via the staff quarters to see if he could check-in with Gwen on his way. Walking past her room, Thomas could see the door was ajar.

He knocked gently, and when there was no answer he took the liberty of glancing inside. Everything seemed in order, with all of Gwen’s belonging in their usual place. Not having time to dally, Thomas continued on into the residence to lay-out the evening attire for Lord Burnley.

His Lordship entered as Thomas was brushing a dinner jacket, and awkwardly announced that he would be dressing himself that evening. Something about Lord Burnley’s manner was seemed ‘off’, and his reluctance to address his Valet directly – or even look him in the eye – was most unlike their usual easy discourse.

At first Thomas wondered if he’d done something to cause offence, but then he got the impression that Lord Burnley felt as if he’d been the one to slight Thomas in some way. Rather than acknowledge any issue, Thomas simply took his leave and left Lord Burnley to his own devices, as per his wishes.

Returning below stairs, Thomas passed Emily, the housemaid, who seemed startled when he greeted her. She hurriedly walked away, giving Thomas a sinking feeling in his stomach and causing him to wonder once more what he had done to offend the household.

The staff had started their evening meal downstairs, and as he walked down the hall Thomas listened in hope of hearing Gwen’s voice. Instead, there were more furtive whispers about someone being sent away after being found in a compromising position with Lord Burnley. Once again, the whispers died-down when Thomas entered the room, and the servants sat in relative silence while they ate. Awkward glances passed around the room, as though they all wanted to say something but were holding their tongues.

Gwen’s absence was the elephant in the room, and Thomas’ heart sank as he started to put things together in his mind. The silence became deafening.

It was Mrs Livermore who eventually broke the silence when she returned to the kitchen, taking Thomas aside to break the bad news.

* * *

Mrs Livermore did her best to break the news to me in a delicate manner – eschewing gossip and sticking to the basic facts: that something had happened in the afternoon when you were upstairs, and that Lady Burnley had found you in a compromising position with his Lordship and immediately dismissed you from service.

All I could think of was finding you – not to question or accuse, but to provide comfort and seek understanding. I’ve always known that I could find the truth of any situation in your eyes, and I regret not declaring my devotion to you every day of our time together.

* * *

Mrs Livermore was telling Thomas that Gwen had been driven down to The King’s Arms in Wharton when they were interrupted by the call for dinner to be served upstairs.

Carl, one of the footmen, had spilt some soup on his shirt, so Thomas quickly volunteered to begin the service upstairs in the dining room in his place. It wasn’t the done thing for a Valet to serve dinner, but protocol be damned – he needed to get into that room and look Lord Burnley in the eye to uncover the truth.

When someone has spent a significant amount of time in service they pick-up on the unspoken words and body language of the family they serve. As soon as Thomas saw Lord and Lady Burnley at the dining table he could tell from their stony silence and awkward posture that something major had caused a divide between them. When Lord Burnley sheepishly couldn’t meet Thomas’ gaze when he addressed him, Thomas knew that what he’d been told must be true.

After the entrĂ©e was served (and Carl had found another shirt), Thomas took his leave and found himself back in the staff quarters walking towards Gwen’s room, where he found Mrs White, the housekeeper, packing Gwen’s belongings into suitcases.

Mrs White, who it seemed had known how Thomas felt about Gwen long before he himself had recognised the truth, told him that Watson was to take the car and deliver the luggage to The King’s Arms that evening. Gwen was staying there until she could catch the morning train to London.

There seemed so little time to think, let alone act, but Mrs White suggested that if Thomas were to quickly write a message she would see that Watson delivered it along with the luggage that evening.

* * *

Whatever happened this afternoon I want you to know that you have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to be sorry about.

It is I who should apologise.

I’m sorry to have caused you any pain. I wish I’d been brave enough to speak my heart’s desire and have spared you the heartache you must now be enduring. It shames me to think that I could have prevented this circumstance had I not been so wrongly beholden to the positions in which we serve.
The four years we’ve spent in service together have been the best of my life, filled with moments I will always cherish. Our lunches together. Those long conversations in the gardens. Our afternoon walks. It has felt like we’ve been living in a dream, separate from the cares of the world outside the grounds of this estate.

But like a dream that ends when you awake, I know now that those days are gone.

You’ve been my dearest friend, and the last thing I wanted was to risk losing that closeness which I have come to rely on so much. But I now understand that it was much more foolish of me to live in fear of my own feelings and desires, forgoing the chance of true happiness that had been in front of me all this time. I realise what a fool I’ve been to not have told you how much I loved you every day we were here together, and for that I now desperately seek your forgiveness.

Without you here, this place no longer holds any meaning for me. While I can’t change the past or undo what has happened today, I can try to make a better future for us both, if you’ll have me.
If you can find it in your heart to accept me for the fool that I am, I will walk with you to the ends of the earth to start a new life together, knowing that I would have the strength to face the unknown if you were by my side.

Yours always,

* * *

Hurriedly finishing the letter, Thomas rushed to the garage to hand it to Watson just as the driver was placing Gwen’s luggage in the motorcar.

Walking back to the staff quarters, he prayed that the letter would safely reach Gwen that evening. Whether she could love him now or not, however uncertain and scary the future might be, at least now Thomas knew what he had to do.

He’d pack his belongings, write a letter of resignation, then find a way to be on that platform before the morning train to London departed.

The rest he’d just have to take on faith.

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