“Quintan Callum!” Martha said as Callum had his back to her. He was standing on the flagstone talking to his group there. He cringed slightly hearing her scolding tone and it told him that she was not happy in the least. Everyone went wide eyed when she called to him, and had there been any place they could hide, they surely would have ducked for cover. Callum turned slowly and looked at her.
“Yes, my dear?” Callum gave her his best look.
“Where did this beast come from?” She asked as she pointed at the dog that sat looking up her, Henry was standing behind her and was trying to hide as best he could as well.
“Why, I thought you knew?”
“What was it that I am supposed to know?”
“That Callum’s Cross has become a sanctuary for all those that are in need. Our wayward mongrel here is simply following all of the signs that have led him here.” Callum said and gave his best little boy look he could muster. She shook her finger at him.
“This walking clump of hair and fleas is not going to set one foot into this house until he has had a proper bath and if he so much as chases one hen or steals an egg…”
“We’ll see that he doesn’t, won’t we, Henry?” Callum looked at his little one, who nodded.
“Do not think for one moment that this sweet child is going to help you get out of this one.” Martha said, shaking her finger again.
“Perish the thought, dear lady,” Callum said, “but I think he is going to help me with giving him that bath. Aren’t you, Henry?” Callum used a little voice of authority, and raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, sir.” The little voice said, and walked toward Callum. Martha smiled softly. The dog followed Henry toward Callum.
“Well, gentlemen, it would seem that I have a new task to undertake at this time. My part in the shutter construction will have to wait for now.” Callum said as Henry walked up to him and the dog sat down. All eyes of the group of men were looking at the sight that was in front of them, Callum, Henry, and the wild haired dog. Everyone became all smiles, except Callum. “Alright, Henry, you go the soap from Aunt Martha, I’ll get the water in the tub.” Callum said and the little one scooted off to the back door. The dog just sat there, looking up at Callum with those sad eyes of his, “You, sir, are going to get me into more trouble than I’m sure I will know what to do with.” Callum said to the dog and shook his head. The dog sneezed at him. “No back talk from you either.” Callum said. Everyone was chuckling as Callum turned and went to the new tub and set it under the pump. He began to pump water as Henry came running out with soap, cloth and a large cup. Callum heard the knock on the window. He looked up and Martha was there.
“Not a single flea is to be left on him!” She said through the glass. It sounded muffled but Callum knew she was shouting. He nodded his head at her several times in understanding. She turned and walked away from the window.
“Trouble indeed.” Callum said as he pumped more water into the tub as the dog sat by it with Henry standing there. He stopped pumping and rolled up his sleeves as he looked at the pair. The others were walking away toward the path, chuckling as they went toward the stable. Callum got down next to the dog and picked him up and put him in the water. Henry watched as he set him in the tub. Callum took the cup and started to pour water over the dog and his bushy fur. Callum took the soap and dunked it and started to rub it in his hands, making it lather up. He started to wash the dog and the water in the tub was going brown almost immediately.
“We may have to do this again, Henry.” Callum said, looking at the little one, “He’s almost as dirty as you were when I gave you your bath.” Callum washed the dog and tried to use his fingers to get out some of the knots in his hair. “My word, you certainly are a mess.” Callum said, his arms covered in soap now. The dog shook hard, Callum turned his head to the side quickly and Henry laughed hard as Callum was making a scrunched face. Callum opened his eyes and saw the little one smiling wide, “Oh, you think that’s funny, do you?” Callum asked and the little head nodded rapidly and chuckled a bit. Callum reached down a hand and splashed some water toward Henry, making him back up and laugh again hard. Callum chuckled, “Alright, come on, you have to help me. Take the cup and pour some water over him to get the soap off him.”
The women were watching the production through the windows of the kitchen, chuckling now and then as Callum was getting a soaking between the boy and the dog shaking all over him. They could see all the faces that Callum was making while everything was going on with the bath. Martha and Marlene started laughing a couple of times as Callum caught more than one mouthful of soap.
“That’ll teach that scamp.” Martha huffed and then chuckled again. Marlene looked at her shaking her head.
“Oh Martha, you shouldn’t be so hard on the boy. He’s only trying to do what’s right for that little one, you know.”
“I know that, Marlene, but honestly, all at once? Give a body a chance to catch her breath at least.”
“I can see where you might think it a bit much.”
“Oh, it’s not that much. I’m just concerned about that little one out there. Have you seen the way he looks at Quintan?” Martha asked.
“I think we all have, especially this morning when he came in here. It was absolutely precious to see them together, and then Owen came in, and teased your Quintan about having children. Honestly, when I know that Owen would give anything to have what your Quintan has right now.” The two women went to the stove and started supper side by side, leaving the girl, Callista, to watch out the window. Her lonely eyes just watched them outside, silently for a few minutes.
Callum had the dog rinsed and took the cloth and started to dry his back. Henry was watching him closely as Callum rubbed him all over slowly and gently. Callum set the cloth down and picked up the dog and set him down on the flagstone. He picked up the cloth again and went to start to rub him when the dog shook hard again, sending water all over Callum, making him turn his head away.
“My word, now I need a bath.” Callum said and looked at the dog as he dried his head, “Thank you very much.” He said to the dog. Callum looked at Henry. “Henry, do you know what my trunk looks like down in the stable?” The little head nodded, “Inside the trunk are my combs and brushes. Would you go and get me a comb, please?” Callum asked, the little one turned and took off on a run. Callum went back to his drying the dog. “Well, you certainly smell better after all of this, but I certainly don’t, now I smell like wet dog.” Callum kept drying and the dog just looked at him with sad eyes and then sneezed, “Is that right?” Callum looked up as Henry came running back to him with a comb in his hand.
“Here.” Henry said, as Callum put down the wet cloth and took the comb.
“Thank you, my lad.” Callum said, “Now, you stand right here in front of him and let him see you while I comb him out. That should keep him still long enough for me to make him look better.” Callum said and Henry moved around to stand in front of the dog. The dog looked at Henry with the sad eyes. Henry started to pet him on the top of his head.
“It is going to make you feel so much better when he gets done with you, you know.” Henry said to the dog, Callum looked over at him and smiled, “I had a bath the other day too, and I felt so much better after mine, and when he gets done, we can go play.” The little voice was making Callum’s heart swell with love for this little one. He was talking and talking to the dog, who seemed to listen to every word and seemed to understand it as well. Callum finally finished with the comb and then stood up, wiping in on his now wet and dirty pants. The dog looked at him again with sad eyes and then shook again. Callum smiled and looked at both of them.
“Alright, run along you two, I’ll clean all this up. Remember to stay on the property Henry, don’t go past the fences.” Callum said.
“Okay.” He said, and then looked at the dog, “Come on, let’s go.” Henry said and went running off, the dog right with him as they bounded down through the tall grass to the bottom of the knoll. Callum watched them for a minute and then turned to cleaning up. He dumped the tub off the flagstone and then turned it upright and pumped some more water into it. He washed it out with his hand and dumped it, then pumped more water and swirled it about, then dumped it. Callum turned the tub over and against the wall to drain and dry. He picked up the cloth and shook it out, but it was covered in dog hair. He laid it out on the wood stack to dry and took the soap cake into the kitchen. He looked up and all eyes were upon him.
“What?” He asked, and then the two women at the stove chuckled, “What is so funny?”
“Nothing, my boy, which a good scrubbing couldn’t cure.” Martha smiled and then chuckled again, turning back to the stove. Callum looked at her and then down at himself. “Oh, the life of a Squire, to be sure.” Martha said and the two women chuckled together. Callum lifted an eyebrow, and little Muriel came into the kitchen up to Callum.
“Pardon me, sir, where is Henry?” She asked Callum.
“He is outside, running out in the grass with the dog. You should go and see what they’re up to, my miss.” Callum smiled as he cradled her chin in his hand for a moment. She went to the back door and went out, smiling wide. Callum walked over to the dry sink. He opened the door under the sink and put the soak cake on the little shelf inside, closing the door. He reached over and pulled Martha’s apron strings, as she chuckled and her apron started to drop away.
“Scamp!” She said and tried to swat him with a spoon in her hand.
“I think I have earned a cup of coffee with all of this today.” Callum said as he took a cup off the shelf and reached for the pot. “I beg your pardon, Marlene.” Callum said as got closer to her as she was slicing potatoes. She leaned back from him a bit.
“I will put some water on for you, Quintan.” Martha said.
“What for, my dear?”
“So you may wash the smell of wet dog from you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I do not wish to offend, especially if I do smell like wet dog.” Callum said as he went toward the table.
“It might do well for you to gather some clean clothes. You could wash down at the stable, out of sight of everyone.” Martha said, giving Callum a one eyed look from the stove.
“Well, since I seem to be of offense to everyone, I suppose I should take my coffee outside.” Callum said, trying to sound regal. The two women chuckled softly. “You may call me when my bath water is ready, my good lady.” Callum said as he opened the door. He went out as they watched him, his nose in the air.
“He certainly has a wit, that one.” Marlene said.
“Yes, it is difficult to stay angry with him for very long, the charmer that he is.” Martha said as she went back to the stove. She looked down and saw her apron on the floor and huffed, “Oh that scamp.” She said and bent down to pick up the apron.
Callum watched Henry, Muriel, and the dog running around in the tall grass, laughing and playing with each other. The dog seemed to have a new lease on life all of a sudden with his new bath and his new friends. Callum chuckled softly as they went about at playing some kind of tag game. Callum went slowly down the path, seeing his group near the stable.
Owen had led out the stallion and had set a tether around one fetlock to keep him in an area to graze, the mares were wandering about behind the house up on the knoll, grazing as well. Callum was watching his group going in and out of the stable with soiled straw, walking it around the back of the stable with the pitchforks that they had. He looked to his right and saw a tall pull cart with two horses come to the gate. Dustin went on a run toward the gate to open it for the driver.
Callum watched Dustin run, loving the way he moved, his slender body, his pony tail bouncing behind his head as he ran, everything about him was beautiful to Callum. Dustin waved at the man driving the cart as he came close and Dustin reached the gate, he undid the post ring and swung the gate in, the driver turned the cart and came up into the property toward the stable, Dustin closed the gate behind him as his mare came down to stand behind Dustin as he secured the gate. He started to walk after the cart and the mare paced with him, walking beside him. Dustin reached up and pat her gently on her neck as they walked together. Callum smiled, being pleased that she liked him so much, and really, why wouldn’t she? He being such the gentle soul he is, and she obviously knew it and loved him for it.
Callum looked over the other way, seeing the children running, still laughing and the dog now, having the time of his life. It made Callum think for a moment how sad his four legged life must have been up until now, right now, with children to romp and play with in green grass, feeling good from having a bath and just enjoying life, the way it should be. Callum saw all of this, his new son, the love of his life, all of them around him, happy to be where they were at this moment in time. Callum looked over and saw the tall cart being unloaded of the new straw, all of them working to do it, new pitchforks that Callum had purchased at the mill when he ordered the straw with Owen, the wheeled cart, the barrow that was new was being unloaded as Callum sipped the last of his coffee.
“Quintan, I think the water is hot enough for you!” Martha called from behind him. Callum turned and smiled up toward her.
“Thank you, my dear, I’ll be up in a bit to fetch it.” Callum called back to her. He loved her so, her ways, her manner and he knew that she loved all of them in turn, as if they were her very own, her sons, and her grandson. Callum felt something inside of him and it popped, loudly, within his chest. He suddenly realized that he was happier than he had ever been in his entire life, all of this, everything that led to this, showing him, teaching him, what life should really be like. And, as he felt it start when he left London that day, the service, the Admiralty, his duty, and he climbed up on that mare, he felt only a part of what he felt right now, the relief of being free to live his life the way he wanted, surrounded by love, his family, friends, all of it. He thought, ‘if I were to die right now, I would have no regret, and could journey in peace, founded by love and happiness.’ Callum looked around one more time to all sides of him, and then walked toward the house, up the path.
He had set the new tub inside the stable, in the middle of the floor of where they were all now sleeping at night. He added the boiling water to it and had set off to the pump to fill the pot with water from there. He carried it back down and emptied it in the tub. He set the pot down and mixed it about with his hand as the others were milling about with the new straw. Callum smiled at them all, they knowing what he was going to do. Callum went back up to the house with the pot, pumped in more water and carried it in the kitchen and set it upon the stove. He opened the cabinet and pulled out the soap cake with a small cloth and closed the door. She had set out another large cloth on the back of the chair for him.
“Supper in just a while.” Martha said.
“I’ll tell them.” Callum said and went out the door, cloth over his shoulder, soap cake in his hand, the dog was now following him down the path, as Henry and Muriel were back in the house. Callum came into the stable and set everything down near the steaming tub. He went over to the trunk and opened the lid. He pulled out new clothes, the long blue pants that Dustin had picked out for him and another shirt, darker in color than the usual white cotton, it was almost a brownish color. He looked at it and smiled. He set the clean clothes on the trunk lid, and started to pull off his boots and then his dirty clothes, dropping them in a pile. He looked down at the boots and thought they needed a good rubbing. He was completely naked and stepped over to the tub and stepped into it. He used the smaller cloth and soaked it and started to use it on his body. All eyes, especially Dustin’s were on him, loving his body the way he did. Dustin’s thoughts went back to that evening at the baths, the way they were together in the water.
“I could use that as well, Quintan, when you are finished.” Holt said, “I have so much sweat on me from the last couple of days,…”
“It will be cold and spent by the time I get done, Christian. Come over here and join me, get yourself washed if you wish.”
“I can wait.” Holt said softly.
“Suit yourself, if you like cold water.” Callum said as he soaped himself. Holt looked at Tomlin, seeing him smile softly at Holt. Tomlin rolled his head to suggest to him to go and join Callum.
“You said that you didn’t want to smell up the stable. Go and join him while the water is still warm.” Tomlin said. Holt smirked and started to pull up his shirt as he walked to join Callum at the small tub. Callum was washing his chest and stomach as Holt pulled off his boots and dropped them, then his pants and stockings.
“I will make some room for you.” Callum said as he handed the cloth to Holt and stepped out of the small tub.
“I do not wish to crowd you, Quintan.”
“You won’t. As slender as you are, Christian, you couldn’t.” Callum smiled. His eyes wandered over the fully naked tight body in front of him. Holt took the cloth and started to get himself wet with it. “Although, all that defined muscle you have, might have pushed me out of the way.” Callum smiled out of the corner of his mouth. Holt blushed.
“You have quite a bit of definition yourself, Quintan.” Holt smirked, as he let water run down the front of him, he was looking Callum up and down.
“It is from all that chopping of those trees I have been doing.” Callum replied, “But yours comes from something else, I think.” Dustin, Tomlin, and Owen were watching the two of them at the tub, bathing together. They watched with wide smiles and Owen was trying to continue to move straw from time to time.
“Christian said it was from pulling a cart around, Quintan.” Dustin said.
“Is that right?” Callum answered, looking toward the other three, “Well it seems to have worked. Perhaps I should find a cart myself to pull about.”
“No, I think you should keep chopping, it has certainly helped make you tight,…in all the right places.” Dustin smirked as he moved his pitchfork about. Tomlin chuckled and gave Dustin a side glance.
Holt began to wash himself with the soap that Callum handed to him, washing all parts of himself, and Callum was giving him small looks from time to time, seeing the sculpture of his wondrous body. Callum was envious of not only his definition but of his thin frame that carried it. Callum was larger built, but only slightly, and he himself was muscular but not as defined. Callum came to the edge of the small tub and took the small cloth that Holt had put on the edge. Callum soaked it and started to wash off the soap. He handed the cloth to Holt.
“When the soap starts to dry, it becomes difficult to remove.” Callum said. Holt looked at him as they stood facing one another, looking at each other’s bodies. Holt smiled softly as he took the cloth and bent down to soak it. The three others watched as they went on washing in front of the other. Holt had removed most of the soap. Callum looked over at the three and cocked his head to one side.
“Which of you is going to help us wash our backs?” Callum asked and the three smiled back to him, as Holt was looking at them as well. Owen was leaning on a pitchfork, Dustin was draping his arms over a stall wall, and Tomlin was leaning against it, on the other side next to Dustin.
“You have been giving us quite a performance so far, why don’t you continue and wash each other’s backs. Besides, Quintan, you seemed to very verse in bathing others at this point, Henry, as well as the dog.” Dustin smirked, Tomlin looked at him and chuckled, Owen cleared his throat.
“As you say,” Callum said to Dustin lifting an eyebrow, then looked at Holt, “turn around, Christian.” Callum exhaled. Holt turned around in the small tub. He soaked the cloth and put it to him. Callum rubbed the soap cake all over his back and washed him down to his tight narrow cheeks.
“Now, don’t miss anything, Quintan.” Dustin said with a grin now, as he nudged Tomlin with his elbow. Tomlin chuckled again. Callum gave Dustin a bit of a scowl.
“If you are not careful, I might be doing you next after the water turns cold.”
“At your service, my Squire.” Dustin said tipping his hand from his forehead and then chuckled himself. Callum looked at him again as he washed Holt’s tight muscled cheeks, and then rinsed them. Callum handed Holt the cloth, and turned around.
“Step into the tub, Quintan.” Holt said as he stepped out. He soaked the cloth and Callum stepped in and turned around.
“Don’t you miss anything, My Lord Earl.” Tomlin chuckled as he watched with his arms folded over his chest. Holt looked at him and shook his finger at him a couple of times. Tomlin and Dustin chuckled. Owen came between them and watched now.
“Perhaps we should find a way to charge patrons to view this.” Owen said with a smile, “I for one would give a shilling.” The three laughed together. Callum looked over his shoulder at Holt.
“I think they tease us far too much, Christian, what do you think?”
“I think they are enjoying themselves far too much.” Holt said as he went back to looking at Callum’s backside.
“Perhaps you’re right.” Callum said as Holt ran his hands over Callum, washing off the soap.
“There you are, Quintan.” Holt said as he stood up.
“Thank you, Christian.” Callum said as he stepped out and picked up the large cloth and began to dry himself. Holt had watched him bend over and now watched as he dried himself. Callum handed him the large cloth. Holt took it and dried himself and set the cloth down as Callum was dressing in his new clothes.
“Wait a moment, Christian.” Tomlin said as he walked toward his small trunk near where they slept. He opened it and got new clothes out for Holt, closed the lid and walked over to him. “Now that you’re clean, put these on.” Tomlin smiled at him.
“Thank you.” Holt said softly and smiled. Holt took the clean clothes and started to dress.
“I, for one, feel much better.” Callum said.
“As do I.” Holt answered as he pulled up the clean pants, tucking himself into them. Callum looked over at the dog as the tail was thumping on new straw. The half door opened and Henry came in. The dog went to him and stood, tail wagging.
“Supper’s ready.” Henry said, looking at Callum.
“Thank you, my lad.” Callum said, “Run up and tell Aunt Martha we will be there shortly.” Callum smiled and nodded at the little one, who had a hand on the dog, they turned and ran back out the door together. Callum smiled. He looked over at Holt, who was slipping on his shirt. “Christian, could you lend a hand with this tub?” Callum asked. Holt nodded and came over, picking it up with Callum, they walked it out and went around the corner and dumped the water. “I’ll take it up and rinse it out.”
“We’ll meet you up at the house.” Holt said and went back toward the stable.
Supper was wonderful as always. Callum had brought out some wine and poured from most of them to enjoy. Clyde, Owen’s father, had joined them. Everyone had noticed that he seemed to be looking better in his expression, but still remained somewhat quiet through supper. Callum had also noticed the looks that his group was getting from Owen’s sister throughout the entire time they were all in the kitchen during supper.
After their meal was finished and the two women were cleaning up, Callum went into the parlor. He looked about seeing the little bed that was for Henry, and the new mattress that the girls were using. He saw that things were tidy around the room and everyone seemed to be becoming used to the cramped quarters of the small house. Callum went back to the kitchen to see about more wine for everyone, but no one but he, Holt, and Tomlin wanted any more. Callum also noticed that Owen and his sister seemed to be missing. He looked out the window and saw them together outside, walking in the tall grass behind the hen roost, Owen was nodding his head now and again as she was apparently talking to him. Callum sipped his wine and turned back to the others that were there.
“I was told that they are starting tomorrow to make repairs.” Clyde said softly, as he stared at the table.
“I should think that is a good thing.” Callum said, giving him a soft smile. The older man nodded in silence, “I spoke to Bockman this morning and offered assistance to him. He was hesitant about it.” Callum said, and then chuckled, “I asked him why, and he said without giving me insult that I would be more in the way than a help.” All eyes looked at him, “I can only think that he feels that a ship’s Captain, is rather ham handed and at best would only hinder progress of his skilled tradesmen.” Callum said and then chuckled again. Dustin smiled at him.
“I hope you were not wounded by that?” Dustin asked.
“Not at all, as you know, I am fully aware of my short comings. Our dear friends’ home is not to be treated like patching up a cannon ball hole in a ships railing.”
“I for one think you are quite capable, Quintan.” Tomlin said.
“Thank you, Thomas. But Bockman was correct in turning me down. I would probably end up barking orders and just adding to the chaos. Perhaps I could just watch from a distance and possibly learn something from it.”
“A sound plan.” Tomlin said, “I have no skills as such myself, only ever overseeing repairs of any kind aboard ship.” Callum lifted his glass slightly toward Tomlin.
“But tomorrow, I think our dear Master Perkins will give us all something to think about when he leads us in constructing those shutters.” Callum said, and Dustin went wide eyed.
“Me?” Dustin asked.
“Certainly.” Callum said, “You were the one to come up with the idea, I think you should be the one to lead in the building of them.” Dustin seemed to be shocked, “Was I mistaken in that thought?”
“I have never really built anything myself.” Dustin said, “I didn’t even think before I suggested it.”
“Well, now you have something new to think about.” Callum smiled and finished his wine. He set his glass down on the table as he heard the clink of plates behind him. He turned and walked over to the dry sink, leaving Dustin to look at all about the table, who were grinning back at him slightly. Dustin swallowed hard. Callum went between the two ladies that were washing dishes. “I know what the answer will be already, but, I must ask the question anyway.”
“No, you may not help us.” Martha said as she looked up at him, “Tomorrow is wash day, if you and your lads would gather your clothing and bring them up to the pump, I can take care of them in the morning.”
“I think we can certainly do that.” Callum said as he pulled at the apron strings behind her, “But I would certainly like it if you would let me ask the question first, before answering it.” Callum said and kissed her forehead. He pulled the apron strings again and walked away. She reached back and swat him with a wet hand.
“Scamp.” She said and felt her apron fall to the floor. Marlene chuckled softly as Callum walked away.
They all gathered their dirty clothing and walked them up to the flagstone, putting them on the wood stack. Owen was down at the stable, leading the stallion inside and putting him in a stall of his own. Dustin went back and led his mare into the stable, the other two mares followed behind her. Callum and Holt were walking back to the stable as well, Tomlin was helping bring in the other two mares now. All were placed in the three stalls and set with fresh water and a bit of grain. Owen was brushing the mares down and Holt came up as Owen was finishing.
“Owen, may I brush the stallion down for you?” Holt asked. Owen smiled at him and handed him the brush. Holt returned the smile and went into the next stall and started to brush him. The stallion reacted to him and his touch and was almost purring, leaning toward him a bit to get closer to him. Owen watched Holt and his way with the stallion and was more than pleased, seeing how the two were together.
“Christian, I was wondering, Dustin mentioned to me that you have horses as well.”
“Actually, they are my fathers. He rears them for steeplechase.”
“Really, I have heard of those races. It is said they are very dangerous.” Owen said.
“Yes, for both horse and rider. I have actually raced once. I enjoyed it very much but it is for those with a hard heart toward their animals to put them through such a race. Horses to me are gentle spirits that need to be treated as such and not mistreated at all.”
“You feel the same as I do then about them. I have thought as I grew up that they were sometimes overworked by my own father, but the more I saw it and the way he was toward them, I saw that the horses had found a purpose in their work.” Owen said.
“I have thought that as well with some that do freight as you do, but then there are others that mistreat their animals as well, and that saddens me to see.” Holt said as he continued to brush the stallion down, “Had you thoughts of having him work in a team?”
“No, I wanted to use him for sire and for riding. But, I found that when I tried to ride him myself, we did not mesh together.” Owen said with a sad tone. Holt stopped and looked over at him, “I was told by Quintan on our way into the village that when he was freed of the limb of the tree that trapped him, that you were the one that kept him from bolting and calmed him. I saw it when you led him up to me while we were trying to break through the stone wall to free him, the way he is calmed by you, you two seem to blend together as one. It gives me pause to think that I may have made an error in thinking that I could have him as my own.”
“Owen,” Holt said as he stepped toward him, “I think I know what you are about to say, and I want to stop you from going any further. It is not my intention to come between you two. You just need more time with one another to get to know him, and he you.”
“I thought that as well, but the more I think of it, the more I think he will always be more yours than mine.” Owen said, and looked toward the stallion, “Look at him, Christian, even now he waits for you to touch him, to be with him.” Owen nodded, Holt slowly turned and looked toward the stallion, and their eyes met as the stallion had looked back as if to ask him to keep going with the brush. Holt smiled at him, and then turned back toward Owen.
“What are you suggesting, Owen?”
“I am not sure. But, tomorrow, I would ask you to take him and try him, to make certain he is sound. I know you can ride, and ride well, especially after what I was told of you in your deed of freeing him.” Owen said softly, Holt stood there with his mouth open, looked in a blank stare. “Would you do that, for him, as well as for me?”
“I would be most honored to do that, if you so wish.” Holt said softly.
“Good, it is settled then.” Owen smiled and put a hand on Holt’s shoulder. He turned and walked toward the piles of straw as the others were standing there in the middle of the stable listening to what was said. Holt turned and went back to brushing the stallion.
“Well, I’m going to go back to the house and get Henry ready for bed.” Callum said, “Does anyone need anything from the house while I am there?” He looked about as everyone was silent and just milling about, doing various things to keep their hands busy, “I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then.” Callum said and walked out the half doors, latching them behind him and walked up the path.
Henry was getting into his nightshirt when Callum came into the parlor. He smiled at his little one being so independent and watched as Henry was folding up his little clothes and putting them next to his bed. Callum came over and knelt down near him. Henry looked at him and smiled as he wiggled a bit in his nightshirt, adjusting it. He stepped to Callum and put his arms around Callum’s neck and hugged him tight for a long minute and then let him go. Henry went to the end of the bed where the little pillow was from the settee and pulled back the blanket. He climbed in under it and pulled it up to his little neck and wiggled a bit under it.
“You must be set for the night then.” Callum said. Henry nodded his head as he lay on the pillow, looking up at him, “Alright then, I will see you in the morning.” Callum smiled and pat a little foot that was under the blanket. Callum looked over at the little girl, Muriel, smiling at her, “Good night, my miss.”
“Good night, sir.” She said, as Callum got to his feet, he turned and went to the kitchen doorway and stopped, looking back. Henry was closed eyed and was still. Callum went into the kitchen, seeing the group in there, he went to the door and opened it to leave, the dog came in and walked through and toward the doorway into the parlor. Callum and the others watched him go by, Callum shut the door and followed the dog after he was out of sight. He stopped at the doorway as Martha came beside him. The dog had curled up at Henry’s feet on the little bed. Callum smiled and looked down at Martha, who was shaking her head.
“I don’t know about this.” She said softly. The dog lifted his head and thumped his tail as he looked at them, and then lay his head back down. “Honestly.” Martha whispered and turned back to the kitchen, Callum followed her and went on to the door, saying good night to everyone.
“Is Henry alright?” Dustin asked Callum quietly as they made up their bed in the straw.
“He is, but I may not be.” Callum said as he pulled off his shirt. Dustin looked at him.
“Why is that?”
“It seems that when I opened the back door to come back here, the dog went in and made himself at home on Henry’s bed. Martha is probably going to chastise me severely in the morning over it, I’m sure.”Callum said as he rolled his eyes. Dustin chuckled and stepped close to Callum, putting his arms around Callum’s neck. Callum’s eyes went wide, knowing they were not alone, “What are you doing?” He asked in almost a whisper. Dustin leaned in and kissed him tenderly, Callum put his hands on Dustin’s hips, responding to the tender touch. Dustin pulled back, not caring that all eyes were on them.
“Telling this man that is standing before me, the man that I love, good night and that he is completely wonderful beyond any comparison.” Dustin smiled and let him go, lowering himself into the straw and under the blanket. Callum watched him for a moment, and looked at his stablemates. All were watching the two of them, but were smiling softly at him alone. Callum smiled back at them in return. “Now, get yourself down here and settled. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.” Dustin said. Callum looked at him with a bit of surprise.
“I get chastised in the house, I get chastised in the stable, I can only think of two other places, the hen roost and the privy, chances are the hen’s will chastise me as well.” Callum said and everyone laughed out loud as he settled in next to Dustin.
“I would not exclude the privy either.” Dustin said as he rolled to his side away from Callum, giving Dustin another look of surprise. Everyone chuckled out loud.
“I would be careful with that tone, my young sir.” Callum said as he got underneath the blanket.
“Oh? And why is that? I think you are outnumbered here in the stable.” Dustin said softly. Callum reached over and grabbed him, turning him over quickly and got on top of him, digging fingers into his ribs, Dustin laughing and clenching his arms tight to him, trying to fight Callum off.
“You and your sharp tongue are going to get you into trouble, as it did in London, my lad.” Callum growled as he kept tickling and tickling, making Dustin arch and laugh, trying to fight him off.
“Stop! Stop!” Dustin laughed and laughed.
“Begging me to stop? I think I will keep going to make certain you curb your tongue.” Callum kept tickling and tickling, the other three were sitting up watching as Dustin was struggling and struggling trying to get away but laughing harder and harder. “Hmmm, what about it?” Callum growled. Dustin laughed and laughed.
“Stop Quintan, please stop!” Dustin laughed.
“Curb your tongue? Learn your lesson yet?” Callum growled and kept tickling. Dustin was dropping tears he was laughing so hard, trying to nod his head.
“Yes,…yes,…please stop!” Dustin begged. Callum stopped and stayed on him, taking his hands and pinning them down.
“Surrender?” Callum asked, Dustin nodded and gave him back wet soft brown eyes that said so much more to Callum and he wanted Dustin so bad right at that moment, but knew he couldn’t have him, not yet, soon though, and when that time came for them to be together, alone, Callum was going to make sure it would never be forgotten by either of them. Callum smiled softly and got off Dustin and settled next to him in the straw, wrapping him in an arm and pulling him to him, and rested his chin against the top of Dustin’s head.
Tomlin and Holt looked at each other and smiled, Tomlin shaking his head a bit. Owen was settling into his straw pile, smiling at what he had seen, wanting what they had so badly, but thought to himself he would have to settle for just watching them and sharing their company for now. Tomlin blew out the candle on the trunk next to he and Holt. They all settled in, under their blankets and the horses were even still for a time in the darkness.
“Brute, I think you bruised me.” Dustin said softly making them all chuckle in the dark.
Morning came again, still in darkness as Callum woke. He looked down and saw Dustin still curled up next to him in the straw under their blanket, seeing only his outline in the darkness. Callum smiled briefly at him and then slipped out from under him, getting to his feet. Callum reached for his shirt and picked it up, pulling it over his head. He put his arms through the sleeves, then tucked it in his pants. He heard the horses moving about in the stalls and went to the half doors, unlatching them and then going out, closing and latching them behind him. He stepped out from under the roof and looked up at the sky seeing the fading stars and the setting moon low in the morning sky. Something was not right in the back of his mind, something he couldn’t put his finger on. He went toward the house.
As he did yesterday morning, he looked in the kitchen window, seeing Martha at the stove, the lamp on the wall was lit, but its flame was low. Callum came in and she turned. She could the look on his face and she cocked her head slightly. Callum looked at her but didn’t say anything and walked across the kitchen to the parlor doorway, looking in the room, seeing the dog, who was thumping his tail as he looked up at Callum, Henry was still asleep in the little bed, but had turned and was facing the other way now. Callum looked down and saw Martha was beside him.
“What is it? You look troubled?” She asked softly.
“I don’t know. I had that dream again and it woke me. I feel that something is wrong, but I don’t know what.” Callum replied just above a whisper as he stared at Henry. She put a hand to his chest and pat it. She watched his face for a moment and then went back to the stove. Callum leaned against the doorway and watched the sleeping little Henry for a bit. The dog had gone back to sleep as Callum did not move.
“The coffee is ready if you are.” She said softly. Callum turned his head and looked in her direction. He stepped away from the doorway and came toward her slowly. He reached up and pulled down a cup and poured coffee, turning and went to the table.
“Quintan, are you sure that there might be something wrong?”
“As sure as I’m standing here, I just don’t know what it is, and then there is this dream I continue to have, but I can’t remember it. It is becoming troubling to me.” Callum said softly.
“Perhaps there is too much on your mind right at this time. You remember you went to Portsmouth to check on your ship, you thought something was wrong then as well, and there was nothing.” Martha said softly as she came to him, setting her own cup down as well on the table. She pulled out a chair and sat down. He looked down at her and smiled briefly.
“You may be right in that. Perhaps it is just imagination running away with me, but this feeling I have has never failed me before.”
“Yes, I have felt like this before, and each time there has been indeed a danger of some kind behind it. I have too much here now that is too precious to have anything cause any of us peril of any type. I will not permit it.”
“You may not be able to stop it if it’s true.” She said scoffing.
“I have always been able to in the past.” He said with such seriousness in his voice that she had never heard before and it sent a chill down her, making her eyes go wide.
“It’s alright, my dear.” Callum said as he reached down and took her hand in his, “As I said, I shall put it all together very soon. For now, I need to focus on the good and the bright, not the gloom and the dread.” He bent forward and kissed the back of her hand.
The light finally came and Callum was out in the tall grass near the front lower corner of the property, looking out over the neighboring pasture. He had one foot up on the stone fence and heard movement behind him. He looked over his shoulder and Dustin’s mare was stepping toward him.
“There is my wonderful lady,” Callum smiled as he looked at her. She walked to him, he reaching out his flattened palm, fingers pointing skyward, she stepped closer and stopped lowering her head, putting herself against his palm as they done that day London when Callum first saw her and decided on her right then and there, “and if you are here, then where is our love at, I wonder. He should be nearby.” Callum rubbed her gently as she stayed still. He looked about and then saw Dustin and Owen coming toward he and the mare along the wash at the bottom of the knoll. Callum waited for them.
“Morning.” Callum said as they came closer. The mare looked behind her slowly swinging her head. She stepped about and greeted Dustin with her head down. Dustin reached up and touched her near her ear.
“You are not thinking of taking my horse from me, are you?” Dustin asked.
“Perish the thought, my love. She simply came over to tell me good morning.” Callum smiled, “How are your ribs this morning?”
“A little sore, thank you, you brute.” Dustin smiled and came to him, putting his hands on Callum’s hips. Their eyes met and Callum smiled softly at him, “Something troubles you, what is it?”
“What makes you ask that?”
“The last time I saw that look in your eyes, I was run through with a sword point. Quintan, what is wrong?” Dustin asked, looking worried, “Where is Henry?”
“He should be in the house having his breakfast with our ladies. There is nothing wrong, I assure you.”
“I know you better than that, but I will let it rest for now, as you say.” Dustin eased a bit. Callum nodded to him.
“Owen, I have been meaning to ask, is your sister alright? I noticed you two were walking last evening after supper.”
“She is…unsettled right now, and overwhelmed I think.” Owen said.
“With the storm and the house?” Callum asked.
“Partly.” Owen said softly.
“What else? I have been told by Martha and your mother that she is usually quite talkative. I haven’t heard hardly anything out of her.”
“I promised I wouldn’t say, but it concerns all of you.” Owen said softly.
“In what way?”
“She is young as you know, and is quite smitten with the four of you, Christian especially.”
“Oh, I see,” Callum half smiled at him, “Are there any other young men in the village that she has an eye for?”
“Not really, no. She seems to have the same trouble with it as I have, as I told you.”
“Ah, I’m sorry.”
“Yes, so am I.” Owen said.
“Well, we will say no about it. But, tell me, as you know everyone here in the area I’m sure, who is it that owns this parcel next to us here?”
“I spoke of him once, just the other day in fact,” Owen lowered his head slightly, “old man Barthelow, you remember me mentioning him?” Owen said softly and Callum went wide eyed remembering.
“Yes, I recall now.” Callum said softly.
“Why do you ask?” Owen asked.
“I had a thought, a fleeting one. Dustin and I had talked of it once, about possibly purchasing this piece of ground, if he would sell it.”
“Along with the house as well, I’m almost sure he would.” Owen brightened, “Would you really want that much land and another house?”
“I was thinking of the long term goal here. I wish to have Thomas and Christian with us as neighbors, possibly a place for you to graze your stock from time to time, and it would give Dustin an opportunity to increase the size of his herd that has been started. I am also thinking of Henry, as he grows, to give him something to come into after our passing.” Callum smiled at Dustin, who was barely smiling and shaking his head slightly.
“All of this, right now?” Dustin said as he put his hands on his own hips, “Quintan, you simply amaze me sometimes, taking on more and more without ever letting up and taking a breath. What on earth are you thinking? You act as if there will be no tomorrows for you at all.”
“On the contrary, my love, I am thinking of tomorrow, and many more to come.” Callum smiled and cradled Dustin’s chin in his fingers, “I do this for us, for our family.”
“I think I need coffee.” Dustin sighed.
“Yes, I could some more myself, come, let’s go up to the house.” Callum said as he put his arms about their shoulders, the three of them started up the knoll, the mare followed them.
After Callum had more coffee, Henry came into the kitchen fully dressed, the dog standing next to him. Callum smiled and reached down and picked him up, putting him on his hip. Dustin and Owen were sitting at the table as Callum was standing between them.
“I see that the dog slept in your bed last night, little one.” Callum said looking into the bright eyes.
“Yes, he kept my feet warm all night long.”
“I bet he did. And you stayed in your own bed all night as well.” Callum said.
“Yes, I wasn’t scared anymore.”
“What have you been scared of?” Callum asked with narrowed eyes.
“When I was in my box, the rats would come at night, they would bite me. I would have to get up on top of the box to keep them away.” Callum had a look of shock, Dustin and Owen looked up at Henry, Dustin knowing what he went through as he had dealt with it himself, Owen was shocked.
“Henry, Dustin and I have told you that you have nothing to be afraid of anymore, haven’t we?” The little head nodded, “There are no rats here, not like in Portsmouth. Does the dog make you feel safer?” The little head nodded, “Well, alright then, he can sleep with you, if it will make you feel safer.” Henry turned and looked down at the dog, which was wagging his tail. The dog did not seem to have sad eyes any longer to Callum, they were good for each other. Callum put Henry down. “Would you like to take a walk with me?”
“To the village?” Henry asked.
“No, not the village, we shall go and pay a call on the neighbor.”
“The neighbor?” Martha asked, looking at him from the stove, Callum looked at her.
“Yes, the neighbor. Is everything alright?” Callum asked seeing her expression.
“You may go, but he will stay.” Martha said coming over and taking a little hand in hers. Callum gave her a questioning look, “He does not need to go.” She sounded very firm in it, Callum was not about to argue it as he knew better. He looked down at Henry.
“You heard the lady, I’m sorry, but maybe next time, alright?” Callum smiled at him. He looked sad but nodded his head. Martha pat his little hand as she held it, looking at Callum, “Do I need to go armed?” He asked quietly.
“No, but you need to be guarded.” She said quickly and softly with narrow eyes.
“Alright. I will return shortly.” Dustin, Tomlin, and Holt stood as Callum turned, “What’s this?”
“If it raises concern with her, perhaps we should accompany you?” Dustin asked.
“Not this time. We will treat it as a fact finding mission for now, but if I’m not back in two hours, call out the Marines.” Callum smiled, putting a hand to Dustin’s shoulder.
“Quintan,…” Dustin said as he turned with him.
“It is a neighborly social call. I do not want to show up on his doorstep with a full crew standing behind me as if boarding an enemy ship. It will be alright, I’m sure. I’ll return shortly.” Callum smiled, opening the back door. He closed it and the dog whined a little.
Callum walked across the pasture, coming closer and closer to the old looking house. He saw a cat or two scurry off as he came closer. The house was on the gentle upslope of the property, it was stone and mortar as was his own home, a slate tile roof, several large windows and was almost square in its design, with a full second story, unlike his home. There were no other out buildings, save the outside privy that Callum had noticed as he came closer. The windows seemed dark as there was no light in them at all, with draperies no sheers. Callum walked to the front door and knocked as there was no bell to pull and ring. He turned and looked about across the pasture and the drive that approached from the road, the area around the house was barren of grass, graveled and beaten deep into the ground, making it stay bare. There was no answer to the door, he turned back and knocked again loudly, then slowly looked back out toward the pasture and home, seeing the horses moving about and others, but the distance made it difficult to see who it was.
Callum heard something to his left and looked toward the door, seeing it open and an older man standing there. Callum saw his old tired face and then his eyes go from narrow to wide in recognition. His mouth opened slightly and there was audible gasp from him.
“James.” He whispered, standing there looking his visitor up and down.
“Good morning. My name is Callum.”
“Yes, I know.” The older man said softly.
“Quintan Callum.” Callum gave him a warm smile and a nod, “I am your neighbor.” Callum said and pointed toward his home.
“From the Cross, yes, I know.” The older man said, reaching out and waving Callum to come inside. Callum cautiously stepped forward toward the door, “Come in, my boy, come in.” The older man said as Callum came into the house, the older man closing the door behind him, there was an odor and it made Callum wrinkle his nose smelling it, “You must forgive an old man, you gave me a bit of a shock. Please, come in and sit with me.” The older man led Callum into the parlor, en elegantly furnished room with older furniture in it, and a small fireplace, the grate set and ready for lighting with wood already lying in it, paper stuffed under it and ready to be struck with a match. The older man took out a cloth and smacked a cushion a few times with it as if he was dusting it off, and then held out a hand to have Callum sit. He looked at Callum and smiled, “It has been a great number of years, James, what have you been up to all this time?”
“I’m sorry, sir, perhaps there is some misunderstanding, my name is Quintan Callum.” Callum said looking at him. The old man was waving his hands back and forth in front of him.
“No, no, no, no my boy, there is no mistake, your name IS James…Quintan…Callum. You are the son of James and Catherine Callum. You were born in February,…” The older man looked up at the ceiling for a moment, counting his fingers as he did, “the seventeenth, a Tuesday, I believe.” The older man said as he struck a match and lit the paper under the wood in the fireplace. Callum was just staring at him in disbelief, thinking he was wrong or just crazy. But the birthdate was correct at least.
“How do you know?” Callum asked. The older man looked up at him as he was arched over and smiled.
“Because I was there, my boy, I was there.” He stood and tossed the match into the fireplace as the wood started to burn, “I heard a shot from the house, your house, a signal as it were, your father calling for me to come and help, it was our custom to do that. I went over as quickly as I could and found your father in the kitchen. Your mother was upstairs in the bedroom crying out in great pain as she was trying to bring you into the world by herself. I went up to her and saw it all happening. I went back down and told your father to summon help from the village, which he went off and did, and went back to be with your mother, God rest her, she was being so brave. I sat with her until some of the women came from the village and the doctor came as well. I was there as you arrived into this world, James Quintan Callum.”
“James Patrick Callum.” The older man said, “Your father and I were…old friends.”
“What became of my father?”
“He went to sea shortly after you were born.”
“Why didn’t he ever return?” Callum asked as he sat down, staring at the older man.
“What do you know?”
“Obviously nothing, that is why I ask you.” Callum said, “You knew my father.” Callum said and the older man nodded slowly, “Then you must know what happened to him?” The older man was hesitant, and tended to the fire, “Please, sir. I have asked all those that might have known, but no one has ever told me. If you know, I would be grateful if you would tell me.”
“We sailed together on a merchant, the Montrose, we left in April, twenty two years ago tomorrow actually, to sail to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. There we were to load a valuable cargo of precious stones. We never made it.”
“The Montrose sank in the gales off the coast of Portugal. I have heard of her, her Captain was said to have been a poor sailor, he collided and damaged the ship that was attempting to rescue the crew of the Montrose, all hands were supposedly lost on the Montrose.” Callum said softly.
“They said that, but it wasn’t true. The Captain of the Pantigor, the ship that tried to rescue us spread it as such to save the shame to the family of the Captain of the Montrose. They were Naval officers all in service to His Majesty and could not bear the shame of our Captain panicking to try and save his ship. Several of us did survive the sinking actually, my boy, I was one. Your father was not, I am sorry to say.”
“You say I am named for my father, James.” Callum said crossing his arms over his chest. The older man brightened and came and sat next to Callum, patting his knee.
“Yes, and you must forgive me, you are the spitting image of him, as if cut out of a picture you are, just like him except for your eyes, you have your mother’s eyes. For a moment, I thought you were he, back from the dead. It startled me. Now, tell me, why have you come to visit an old man?”
“I am recently resigned from the service of His Majesty’s Navy and have taken up full time residence here in my mother’s home. I wish to raise horses, but have not the room to properly graze them. I came here to find out if you would sell a portion or all of your pasture next to me.”
“Are you being serious?”
“Of course I am.” Callum said, annoyed by the question.
“Where did you get money from, or are you going to borrow it from someone?”
“I beg your pardon, sir? Have I given you a false image of myself?” Callum stood up, feeling very insulted and very angered, “Perhaps this was a bad idea of mine, I shall be on my way, I’m sorry to have troubled you.” Callum said as he walked for the door.
“Wait, I apologize, I was merely thinking about your father and his ways. I meant no insult or disrespect. I can see now that your intentions are genuine.” The older man stood, holding out a hand as he spoke. Callum stopped and turned and looked back at him. “Please, forgive me, I seem to have had the past get the better of me. Please.” He pleaded and Callum stopped and turned slowly.
“If you must know, I am not my father. I have means and ways to support myself and my family. I have come to you to make a legitimate offer on your property. If you do not wish to sell, I understand and will contemplate another plan.”
“This has been my home for several years.” The older man looked about the room, then looked back at Callum, “I have never known anything else other than a ship to make my livelihood and perhaps it is time for a change before I grow too old. Have you ever been to London?”
“Yes, several times actually.”
“Come and sit with me. We can talk for a bit.” The older man said looking up and down at Callum and almost licking his lips at him, “You know who I am, do you not?”
“I was told your name is Barthelow.”
“Yes, Horace Barthelow.” He put out his hand, Callum took it and felt the grip was light, “Your dear aunt, is she still well?” He held Callum’s hand and pulled him gently over to the couch again and stopped. Callum nodded in reply to the question. “And did she possibly give you warning about coming to visit me?”
“Her manner was not her usual when I told her, and Owen was rather,…”
“Owen, sweet Owen.” The older man smiled softly, “Forgive me, I was having a pleasant memory. I have noticed that you have several about in your home with you.”
“Yes, I have a few but,…” Callum started to say.
“You and Owen are…”
“Good friends, nothing more.” Callum said watching the older man’s expression.
“I see, and the other young men you have with you?” The older man asked, his eyes were shifting as he scanned Callum’s face.
“Are friends as well as fellow shipmates. There is something that you are not saying, I feel as though you are leading toward something.”
“Yes, I suppose you are right in that as I have seen things from a distance. I know of your fancy and caring of one particular young man with you.” The older man said quietly with a smile. Callum felt the hand resting gently on his knee now. Callum’s eyes went wide with realization.
“You have been watching us? Spying on us?”
“Forgive me, an old man’s taste and fancy. I, too, fancy another man’s company as you do, my dear James. Owen, sweet Owen, has visited me a few times here and has let me enjoy his company.”
“What? You have been watching us. I find that rather…”
“Surprising? Repulsive?” The older man smiled briefly, “I will tell you, and you can take it as truth, your father and I had a few…meetings as well. He would enjoy my company from time to time, seeking out something he could not find at home with your mother.” The older man said softly, his hand gripping Callum’s knee firmer, Callum stood up and again gave him wide eyes.
“I have no memory of my father at all, you know that, only my mother would speak of him from time to time and it was brief at best. I cannot listen to any more of this about him and his possible tastes or trysts. I do find it repulsive that you have been spying on me and my friends and family. As far as Owen, his life and what he does are none of my affair. If he wishes to speak of it to me, then he may, as we are friends. I simply came here to offer you a business transaction. If you care to discuss it then we may. I wish not to discuss anything else other than that.”
“I seem to have upset you again, I apologize for that. It is as I said, you look so much like him and what I have seen from a distance led me to think that,…”
“What, that I would let myself be taken and tried by you? I think you presume too much, sir. Whatever happened between you and my father was between you and him and has nothing to do with me in the slightest. I am not him, as I said. Now, I will be on my way. If I am not at home in a specified amount of time, they will be coming to collect me, and I think they will be far less polite about it than I have been. Good day to you, sir.” Callum said and started to walk once again toward the door.
“In answer to your request,” The older man said as he stood looking at Callum’s back, “there are thirty acres to the property that surrounds the house. If you have the money, I will sell it to you, the pasture lands, along with the house, and most of its contents,…for ten thousand.” The older man said in a solid voice. Callum stopped once again, and slowly turned to look back at him, narrowing his eyes.
“I am not interested in the contents of the house. And as far as the price of the property, sir, I think you have your sights set a bit too high.” Callum said.
“If you think, I was speaking of the house as well.” The older man said.
“Yes, I know you were, but as I said,…”
“I know what you said, but you will also recall, I asked if you had been to London? I wish to spend my remaining years there, and if I am to sell, then I wish to do it in comfort. If you do indeed have the money, then that is the price.” The older man said, now looking firm. Callum was still looking at him with narrow eyes.
“Your living in comfort for the remainder of your days does not interest me. I, however, will make you a counter offer of half that you have spoken of, which as I know something of property values of this area is more than enough of an fair offer for both the house and its lands surrounding it. As well, I don’t think anyone else is going to be making an offer to you any time soon.”
“You seem to be a very shrewd fellow, as was your father. He would bargain for his wages before a sailing just as well as you are doing right now with me.” The older man smiled at Callum, “Perhaps I should think your offer over.”
“My offer is only good at this very moment. If I leave, the offer will only fall to a lesser amount the more time passes.” Callum said, standing firm on his word, and the older man widened his eyes. “Good day to you, sir.” Callum went to turn away.
“It is as if you hold a loaded gun to my head.” The older man said. Callum did not turn back toward him.
“No, you have the choice of turning it down. If I were holding a gun to your head, sir, believe me, at this point I might have pulled that trigger.” Callum said and took two steps toward the door.
“I seem to have to accept your generous offer,…Quintan.” The older man said softly. Callum stopped and turned back.
“There is a magistrate here in the village, is there not?” Callum asked, the older man nodded, “I shall seek him out and have the transaction drafted and then return for your signature on that document. Once it is signed, I will pay you in full. You can vacate the premises after that in short order, taking anything that you wish to take with you.” Callum looked him up and down, “I will return before this day is out.” Callum bowed his head slightly, turned and went to the door.
He was walking across the pasture slowly toward home and he saw and felt the lushness of the grasses that he walked through it. He smiled to himself knowing that his plan was starting to come together for both Dustin and for little Henry. Dustin would get his dream fulfilled of having horses about him, Henry would have something to hold to guarantee his security for the rest of his life. Callum now smiled openly about these two people that were in his life and what they meant to him. Callum looked up toward home as he crossed the pasture.
He saw two riders running two horses, he saw they were the dark colored stallion and the mare running up the knoll from the stable and then sweeping near the house below the flagstone and coming on a full gallop toward the stone fence, Callum slowed his walking even more as he saw the horses and the riders that they carried charge toward the stone fence as they reached the bottom of the wash getting closer to the stone fence and then both were up and over it side by side. Callum went wide eyed seeing them and his mouth fell open.
The horses and their riders were coming toward him now at a gallop. Callum stopped and waited as he saw it was Holt on the stallion and Dustin on his mare. Callum closed his mouth and smiled wide as they rode up to him in the tall grass of the pasture. Both riders eased the horses to a walk as they reached Callum.
“As good as my word, I see that the Marines have mounted a rescue.” Callum said, and the two looked back at him confused. They looked at each other and then back to Callum, “I did not know you could ride so well, my love.”
“It seems to be easier than I had originally thought.” Dustin said as he pat the neck of his mare, “She makes it very easy, when there is a leader to follow.” Dustin looked Callum up and down, seeing he was well and whole. “We were growing concerned that you might need assistance.”
“Oh? I wasn’t gone that long.”
“It was what you said as you were leaving the kitchen, about a certain amount of time passing before we were to mount a party to come after you.” Holt said, as he rested on his arms that were crossed over the top of the saddle. The stallion snorted and shook his head.
“Yes, I recall. However, I assure you I was in no danger.” Callum said.
“Martha will be relieved in that fact. She has been positively beside herself watching out the window ever since you went over the stone fence.” Dustin said, as the mare was bobbing her head a bit, wanting to go again.
“I’m sure she has. I will speak to her about that point when I reach home.”
“Is something wrong, Quintan?” Dustin asked cocking his head slightly.
“I seem to have been given some new information about my family history that my dear aunt has not told me of.” Callum smiled briefly and then frowned, “I will speak to her about it.”
“What of the pasture?” Dustin asked.
“Oh, that? Yes, I have now extended the lands of Callum’s Cross. It is thirty acres, along with the house as well.” Holt and Dustin looked at each other with wide eyes, then back to Callum.
“Then…” Dustin said and then paused.
“There is much to discuss about it.” Callum said and looked directly at Holt, “What I have said to you and Thomas, Christian, remains as such. Once the house is vacated by the current owner,” Callum said, as he looked over his shoulder toward the house he had just left, then looked back at his companions. Callum reached out both hands touching both horses in front of him, the mare lowered her head a bit, “I would love to have you both settle there as our neighbors.”
“Quintan, I…” Holt said with a look of disbelief on his face.
“Christian, I stand by what I said, and you should know by now that I always keep my word.” Callum smiled, “Now, you two continue on your way, I need to gather my thoughts about what I am going to say to our dear lady at home.” The two looked at him with worry on their faces now. They backed and turned the horses and rode off toward home. Callum continued his walk toward home as well.
Callum opened the back door of the kitchen and closed it behind him. Martha was standing there, her hands clasped in front of her as Callum just looked at her.
“You’re home.” Martha said with a look of relief on her face.
“Yes, my dear, I am home.” He said as he stepped toward her.
“Something troubles you.” She said softly as the others were in the kitchen as well. Callum ignored them as he came closer to her. He nodded his head slowly. “He told you, didn’t he?” She asked softly. Callum nodded again as he stepped closer to her, looking down into her face.
“Yes, he did.” Callum said barely above a whisper, “I would have thought that you might have, but I had to hear of it from a complete stranger. Why?”
“It was your mother’s dying wish. I could not betray that.” She said as tears filled her eyes. Callum put his hands on her arms below her shoulders.
“I can understand you keeping your word to her, but you know so much more, don’t you?” Callum asked in his whispered voice. She nodded and lowered her head. He lifted her chin with a finger gently, “My dear, I have grown to love you deeply, you should have trusted in the fact that you could have shared this with me and in such a way not betray her request. She is gone now, and my memory of her is not tarnished by this in the least. I never knew my father, but you did. And to learn what I have learned of him not only saddens me but wounds me, because you knew.”
“It was not meant to wound you, my boy, believe me when I say that. I think of you as my own. I would do anything to keep you from harm and what this might have brought to you.” She said as the tears ran. Callum slid his hands around her and held her to him tight. She sobbed into his chest.
“I love you so, my dear, always know that.” Callum whispered and kissed the top of her head, “You are a very brave soul to have carried this for so long in your heart.” He whispered and pat her back gently, “There is too much pain and heartache here inside this house. From now on, it will stop, there will be no more.” Callum said in a whisper over her head. He pulled back from her and looked into her wet eyes, “Now, dry your eyes. I need to go into the village and see the magistrate.”
“Why?” She asked as she sniffed, lifting her apron to her eyes.
“Because, my dear, I have just bought the property next to us and its house. I need to have that purchase documented.” Callum said and she looked as if she was going to faint.
“You did what?”
“You heard me. I shall return shortly.” Callum said to her.
“He will sell it to you?” She asked.
“You seem surprised, my dear. Yes, I gave no choice in the matter after everything was said. I am doing this for several reasons, none of which concern him or my father’s memory.” Callum said, his expression was one of stone to her, cold and solid, “I shall return later.” Callum turned and went to go out the back door, Henry was standing there. Callum looked down at him.
“May I go with you?”
“Of course you may. But when we come back here, you must remain here while I go over to the other house, do you understand?” Callum smiled briefly, the little head nodded, “Good.” Callum went to the door, the little one following him.
Callum walked slowly back home, his little one walking beside him, holding his hand. Callum noticed that he was quiet, almost too quiet as the little one had been very chatty on the way into the village on Callum’s mission to have the document drafted for the purchase of the property. Callum thought about it a bit more and came to realize that Henry had noticed his mood was rather downtrodden since seeing the magistrate. Callum thought to himself he should change it, and took the little hand he held and pulled on it a bit and the bright face looked up at him. Callum smiled wide and reached down and picked him up, putting Henry up on his shoulders. Henry giggled at being picked up and Callum began to trot down the road with him, bouncing him, making him laugh now.
They trotted and bounced along coming to the front gate of the Cross and Callum opened the gate, and ducked slightly so Henry wouldn’t bump his head on the overhead trellis. Callum turned and closed the gate as one of Owen’s mares was out in the front grazing. Callum stopped on the path and watched her for a moment and then bounced Henry on his shoulders as he stood in place. Henry was giggling again and then Callum smiled and walked along the path toward the house and went around toward the back and the flagstone rather than through the front door.
“Where are we going?” Henry asked as he had stopped giggling.
“I want to see where everyone else is and what they are doing.” Callum said as he looked up slightly. They came round the corner of the house going by the kitchen windows, Martha had started to hang the washing out on the lines that came out and away from the house on the knoll. “It seems that Aunt Martha is doing the wash. I wonder what Dustin and the others are up to.” Callum said as he swung Henry down off his shoulders, setting the little one down on the flagstone, Callum looked down at him, as they had stopped next to Martha as she scrubbed some clothes in the tub. “Henry, why don’t you run down to the stable and see where they are, tell Dustin we are back, alright?” Callum asked with a smile and the little one ran off. He turned and looked at Martha as she was looking up at him.
“Did you see the magistrate?” She asked. Callum nodded and pulled out the document out of his shirt and held it in his hand. “Are you sure you wish to do this?”
“And why wouldn’t I? I said that I was doing it for several reasons, one of them just ran off.” Callum said.
“Quintan, I can’t help but think you are doing this for something else, other than for him.”
“I said there were other reasons, Dustin is one, to see his dream realized, Henry, to give him a future after I am gone, Owen and his parents to help with their stock to give them pasture, and for Thomas and Christian to make sure they can have a place to be happy with one another.”
“I have said that your heart knows no bounds.” Martha said as she dried her hands on her apron and stepped closer to him, “You are nothing like your father, except in looks. He would have never thought of doing something like this for the benefit of others.”
“The difference between me and my father is that he had never taken the time to care for others as I have learned to do over the years, a difference between a sailor and an officer.”
“There is a sailor here with you as well, you forget. He has learned what you have learned and gives to others freely as well.”
“I could never forget that or him.”
“Your mother would have never told you, and after this morning, I feel that I must. Your father could be a cruel man. He was rarely kind to her in the time they were together, but she loved him, why, I don’t know. I hate to say it to you, but, I was relieved when he did not return home.” She said softly.
“You say he was cruel. Was he cruel to her?” Callum asked as his eyes misted a bit, she nodded her reply, “He hit her then?” She nodded again and looked sad.
“She had told me of it.”
“I am so sorry for her.” Callum whispered, “No one deserves that.” Callum turned and looked in the kitchen window, he didn’t see anyone inside, “Where is everyone?”
“They went to see about the house. They all left shortly after you did.”
“I see.” Callum turned and looked at her and gave her a brief smile, “Well, I shall go and see this man and conclude our business. You can rest in the fact that there will be nothing after this to safeguard as you have been doing till now.” Callum smiled briefly again and walked away from her. She watched him cross the flagstone toward the path to the stable as Henry came running up to him.
“They are down at the stable. I told Dustin for you.”
“Thank you, my lad.” Callum said with a wide smile and picked Henry up again, putting him on his hip, tickling him a bit as he did it. Henry giggled and squirmed. “Let’s go and see what they are doing before I leave again.” Callum said as he looked at the bright little face. Henry put an arm around Callum’s back as he held on. Martha smiled softly as she watched them walk down the path and then turned back to her washing.
Callum set Henry down and he ran off toward the group and the tail wagging dog at the stable. Henry came up to the dog and pet him as the dog licked his face, making Henry giggle again. Callum smiled as he came closer seeing his group looking over the window opening.
“Do you have it figured out yet?” Callum asked. They all looked at him.
“I’m still trying to figure it out.” Dustin said.
“I’m sure you will, given a bit of time, or would you like to wait for Bockman to return?” Callum asked, Dustin looked at him and frowned. “If you do, there is no shame in it. None of us it seems have any true building experience.”
“I suppose you’re right in that.” Dustin said sounding almost defeated, “But I would like to try at least.” Dustin said.
“Points in that, my love.” Callum smiled and put his arm around Dustin’s shoulders. He touched Dustin’s head with his, “Now, I must finish this task that I have started.” Callum said as he dropped his arm away. Dustin looked at him and stepped closer.
“Quintan, is everything alright between you and Martha?” Dustin asked.
“Why do you ask?”
“She wept openly after you and Henry went to the village.” Dustin said, Tomlin and Holt were looking at him as well.
“Yes, all is well between us, I assure you gentlemen. My dear lady has been holding things inside her for quite some time, and now that they have come to light, she feels better I’m certain.”
“She would not say anything to me about it when I tried to comfort her.” Dustin said as he squared off with Callum.
“I should think not.” Callum said as he looked Dustin in the eye, “It was a promise made to my mother on her deathbed. Martha is, was, only keeping that promise.”
“Your mother?” Dustin asked softly, Callum nodded and then smiled.
“Yes, apparently it was a secret involving my father, whom I had never known. Did you know that I was named after my father?” Callum asked as he glanced around at them all, Dustin shook his head, “I am. My actual given name is James Quintan Callum.”
“James?” Dustin asked.
“Yes. His name was James Patrick. Where Quintan comes from, I don’t know as of yet. Perhaps one day, I will find out.” Callum smiled and nodded, “Now, I will be on my way and will return shortly.”
“I would really like to come with you, if that’s alright?” Dustin asked, Callum stopped and narrowed his eyes at him, “Please?” Dustin asked, Callum was about to say no, but the way he asked made Callum think better of it.
“Alright, if you wish, what do we do about Henry?”
“We will keep an eye on him, Quintan.” Holt smiled, and then looked at Tomlin, “Won’t we, Thomas?” Tomlin went wide eyed. Dustin smiled knowing what Holt was doing.
“I suppose we will.” Tomlin answered, giving Holt a look.
“Alright. I am not sure how long this will take. Martha is up doing the wash if you need help with him.”
“He will be fine, do not worry about him at all.” Holt smiled, then looked at the little one, “Henry, how about we go and try out the stallion?” Holt asked and the little one lit up, nodding his head so fast that it was almost a blur. Holt elbowed Tomlin and got him to move as well. Callum chuckled softly. He and Dustin turned and walked away.
The door of the house opened and the older man went wide eyed seeing Dustin standing with Callum. There was that look again that Callum saw this morning as if he was licking his lips.
“James, I see that you have brought company with you as well.” The older man said and Callum angered slightly by his use of that name. “Forgive me, I should have said, Quintan. It will take some getting used to, I suppose.”
“Once our transaction is concluded, I doubt there will be time for you to become accustomed to using my proper name.” Callum said coldly. The older man bowed his head slightly and stood out of the way of the door.
“Gentlemen, please do come in.” He waved a hand. Callum went in, followed by Dustin. The older man was looking Dustin over very carefully, as he closed the door, sighing slightly to himself, “Shall we go into the parlor?” He said as he stepped around them, “Please, make yourselves comfortable. Would you care for a sherry or a glass of port?”
“No, I am fine.” Callum said.
“A transaction such as this requires a bit of proprieties.” He smiled and looked Dustin over again, “Yes, is certainly does.” He sighed looking at Dustin. He turned and went to a small table where there were two decanters and some glasses. Callum looked at Dustin and lifted an eyebrow, Dustin rolled his eyes. Callum smiled briefly as they heard the chink of the stopper and then something being poured. The older man turned back holding two glasses, containing different colored liquid each. He handed them out to both. “I would think sherry for you, Quintan, and port for you my handsome young man.” They took them in their hands, as he turned back and picked up another glass and turned back to them, “It is not often I have such good looking company, and I never have sherry when I am alone.” He smiled, holding up his glass, “Owen did care for the port when he would come to see me. He would actually have to have a couple of glasses of it to get himself,…relaxed first.”
“I am not interested in hearing about our friend and his…manner in that respect. I have the document from the magistrate for your approval and signature.” Callum said as the older man sipped from his glass.
“Fine, fine. But, Quintan, if you would allow me to say that you have exquisite taste.” The older man stepped closer to Dustin and stopped a step away from him. Dustin was guarded and Callum stepped closer to him.
“The document.” Callum said, holding it up in front of his face.
“Quite right, the document.” The older man sighed and took it in his hand. He went over and sat in an overstuffed fabric covered chair, setting his glass on a small table. He unrolled it and read it, bringing it close to his face. He hummed softly as he read it and then looked up. “I see that by the wording that you wish to take possession of the house immediately.”
“Yes, the magistrate’s idea, actually. Your possessions can be packed and freighted out to wherever you wish in London. I will give you a weeks’ grace period to see to it.” Callum said in a cold voice. The older man smiled.
“You sound exactly as your father when you speak in that voice.” The older man said, losing the smile, “It chills me to the bone.” He slowly rolled the document and handed it toward Callum, “No, I shall require no time such as that. I have given it some thought actually. I said that you may have the contents of the house, and even though you declined, I will not be taking them with me. The only things I require are my clothes and some small items of a truly personal nature. All else is yours, if you indeed have the money.” The older man was now trying to be cold, but didn’t quite have the talent for it.
“As I said this morning, I am genuine in my request. That document requires your signature first, and then you will have your money.”
“It appears to me that we don’t trust each other completely. It’s too bad, your father trusted me.”
“I am not my father.” Callum said flatly. Dustin was looking back and forth at the both of them with only his eyes as they started this tensioned talk.
“Clearly you are not, only in looks. Your manner is quite commanding in nature, unlike your father. At this point, he might be standing over me, either enjoying himself immensely or slapping me.” Dustin went wide eyed and his mouth fell open, nearly dropping his glass. Callum was angry again and he could feel the rage building in him but did not move.
“You shall not have the pleasure of either from me.” Callum growled in a controlled tone.
“A pity, either would be welcomed.” The smile that crept over the lips disgusted Dustin.
“A quill and ink.” Callum growled, “You are testing my patience.”
“I was hoping I might.” He said softly as he got up from the chair, “They are over here on the desk.” He stood now and held out a hand to show the way. Callum set his glass down as he followed the older man. Callum unrolled the document and placed it on the desk. The older man dipped the quill in ink and held it in his hand as Callum pointed where to sign it. He put the quill to paper and scratched out his signature. He handed the quill to Callum, who took it and gave the older man a side glance then signed his name below on the line indicated by the magistrate. “Now, time for truth, the money.” The older man said as Callum put the quill back and reached into his back pocket and pulled out his leather purse. Callum opened it and started pulling out large pound notes, counting to the agreed price. He closed the purse and put it back in his pocket.
“As promised.” Callum growled.
“A man of your word, I can truly see that. I apologize if I had thought otherwise.”
“We shall take our leave of you.” Callum said as he rolled up the document and put in his shirt, “We will take possession in a week. Dustin.” Callum said and walked toward the door, Dustin setting down his glass as the older man gave Dustin a smile and this time he did lick his lips, Dustin watched him as he walked to catch up with Callum.
“This is why I wished to come alone.” Callum said quietly as they walked across the pasture.
“What he said about your father, could there be any truth in that?” Dustin asked as he looked at Callum.
“From near as what I can piece together so far, yes.” Callum said softly, “But let’s not speak of it to Thomas or Christian.” Dustin nodded his understanding.
“What about Owen, do you think…?” Dustin started to ask, but Callum stopped, looking at him.
“What do you think about Owen?” Callum asked softly with soft eyes.
“I have come to care for him as a true and good friend to the both of us.”
“And if he were…at one time…with that…that pig of a man?”
“I would not think any less of him.” Dustin said as he put a hand on Callum’s chest, “My own past has many demons in it such as him. He disgusted me. And to think that our poor Owen had to seek…comfort with that…” Dustin said softly as he gave Callum such a look of tenderness and deep caring.
“Your own past? You have never spoken of it, my love.”
“Because it does not matter. I have you and that does matter to me. I have suffered from the cruelty and callous nature of some men just in order to survive before I joined the service and finally had a way out from the time of being Henry’s age. If Owen had to find comfort with that man, he knows now he doesn’t need to and from the sound of it, it must have been quite some time ago.”
“Yes, it would seem so. I will not bring it up with him unless he feels the need to himself.” Callum said.
“I agree.” Dustin smiled and slid his hand to Callum’s shoulder and then added the other to the other shoulder, “Quintan Callum, I love you more than anything else in this world. I want you to know that, and to always remember that for the rest of your life.”
“I do know that.” Callum said looking into those soft eyes that he loved so much, “What is this all about?”
“I don’t know, but I felt the need to say it to you. And I want to make love to you right here in the tall grass of your new pasture.” Dustin stepped closer and kissed Callum softly.
“That may not be such a good idea right at this moment, my love.” Callum said softly.
“Because that pig of a man told me this morning that he has been watching us since our return home. He was a sailor and undoubtedly is using a glass to watch our every move. I have no doubt that he is actually watching us right now.” Callum said and Dustin went wide eyed as he looked over Callum’s shoulder at the house some distance away. Dustin changed his expression and looked back at Callum.
“In that event, I would say simply, let’s give me something to watch then and to make him cry out in frustration as you own this land now.” Dustin had a devilish grin on his face as he lowered himself into the very tall grass. Callum smiled as he followed him down.