Callum reached and pulled Henry off the saddle and set him on the grass. He led the mare down to the stable and tied her off on the corner. Henry was joined by the dog, which was wagging his tail and licking the sweetness of the peppermint stick off Henry’s face. Henry was giggling and turning his head back and forth trying to get away from the dog, but stood still. Callum watched the two as he unsaddled the mare, smiling and then chuckled as the dog was relentless in his pursuit of the sweetness on the boy.
“Henry, run up to the house and tell Aunt Martha and Thomas that we have returned. Then wash your face and hands at the pump to get the sticky off you.” Callum smiled. Henry nodded and ran off. Callum carried the saddle into the stable and set it on the wall of the stall for Dustin’s mare. Callum grabbed a brush out of the stable and came back to her, starting to brush her out. She loved the attention as Callum did every part of her. She drank from a tub as he worked her coat with the brush, and then Callum untied her and led her into the stable. He tied her and walked over and got some grain, she went after it when it was poured and Callum treated the other mare and the stallion as well with more grain.
“Papa?” The little voice called at the doors of the stable.
“Yes, Henry?” Callum smiled at being called that by the little one.
“Aunt Martha is upset, she is yelling.”
“Oh? What is she yelling about?” Callum asked as he closed the stall door of the stallion’s stall. He walked up to Henry and looked at him.
“All those men in the kitchen, they are making a mess.” The little one said and looked back toward the house. Callum looked up toward the house himself.
“Well, we’d better go and have a look.” Callum said, leading Henry out of the stable and closed the half doors. They walked up the path toward the house as Callum held Henry’s hand but looked at the workers going at it on the addition. Callum stopped for a moment but Henry pulled on him, Callum started again toward the house. He saw most everything was out of the kitchen and out on the flagstone, there must have been a dozen men in there working as they were chopping into the wall of the staircase to make the new pantry under the stairs. Martha was in the kitchen and saw Callum out on the flagstone through the window. She tried to get to him but men were blocking the way of the door. Callum saw it. He let go of Henry’s hand and went to the door.
“Gentlemen, one moment, please.” Callum said in his voice of authority, “Let’s let the lady of the house out and out of your way.” The men all tipped their hats or hands and got out of her way, begging her pardon as they were not paying attention and apologizing to her. Callum took her by the hand and guided her out onto the flagstone. “There you are, safe and sound.” Callum smiled, holding her hand. She looked back at her kitchen as hammers were being swung and the stone and plaster of the walls was breaking apart.
“I’ll never get it clean.” She said, as she shook her head.
“Of course we will. Don’t fret so, my dear. I only wished that I had had some warning over this myself.”
“That Clyde Muir, I should go and give him a piece of my mind for sending this rabble into my kitchen like this.” Martha huffed as she watched the kitchen wall crumble.
“Now you must know what Marlene felt when her own house was destroyed.” Callum said softly into her ear and she looked up at him, as he cocked up an eyebrow.
“You’re right, I didn’t think, I apologize.”
“Well, you don’t need to apologize to me, my dear, you may need to apologize to them if you were chasing them about with a fry pan or something.” Callum smiled. She huffed, putting her hands on her hips.
“Come, let me show you what they have gotten done, then you can see what I was trying to explain to you about the size of your room before the storm came.” Callum said and took a hand, leading her around the side of the house. She gasped as she saw it all. Bockman came up next to them and looked nervous. “Mr. Bockman, would you be so kind as to give the lady a tour of the new wing to the manor?” Callum said in his prudish voice of aristocracy and gave a formal bow. She rolled her eyes at him.
“Scamp.” She said again. Callum stood and chuckled.
“Right this way, ma’am.” Bockman said. Some of the workmen saw her coming onto the floor of her new room and got out of the way. She could see it now that walls were framed. Her eyes were wide and she looked about and went to the glass and looked through it. She let out a breath.
Holt was talking to the Magistrate in the drive next to his carriage as Dustin stood near the cart. He put a pistol on the seat and leaned against the cart. He thought to himself that if only Quintan had been here, it might have gone a different way. Dustin shook his head to clear his thoughts as he looked at Holt, not hearing what was said between he and the Magistrate, but there were nods to each other and the older man climbed into the carriage and the driver turned the horse in the drive and set off toward the road. Holt looked after them as they drove away while he walked toward Dustin.
“So what are we to do now?” Dustin asked as Holt came near.
“Now that the bodies have been removed, I would like to tend to the horses in the barn. After that, we should see about supper in town.”
“What about the house?” Dustin asked.
“I’ll secure it of course, but I really don’t wish to go back in there ever again.”
“Neither do I.” Dustin said rolling his eyes a bit.
“But, I must when my mother’s cousin comes in the morning. Dustin, if you wish to return home ahead of me, I would understand completely.”
“I can’t leave you, Christian. I know the danger is past now, but if I returned without you, I can just see the look on Thomas’ face, can’t you?” Dustin asked, and screwed his face up making Holt laugh loudly.
“That would be it exactly.” Holt laughed and pointed at Dustin, “How did you know?”
“I’ve seen that look before, believe me.” Dustin rolled his eyes again. Holt was still laughing as he put an arm around Dustin’s shoulders and led him up the side of the house toward the barn. Dustin still had the other pistol in his belt as he put an arm around Holt’s waist as they walked and laughed together.
“So, my dear,” Callum said as he took her hand and helped her through the open wall, “now do you understand what I was trying to explain to you?”
“I do.” She said sounding excited, as he leaned against him, patting his chest gently, “You spoil an old woman so, Quintan.”
“Nonsense, my dear, if anyone deserves it, it’s you for putting up with all of this, what did you call it,…rabble?”
“You scamp, you use my words against me.”
“On the contrary, I should have used it myself a few times with the crew when they were unruly.” Callum said with a chuckle. She pat his chest again, “That reminds me, Henry and I brought something back from Dudley for you.” Callum said and turned and looked down at Henry, “Where is that bag from the shop we were at?” Henry went wide eyed and ran off toward the stable. He opened the door and went in, and then came back out and closed it behind him, running back up the knoll with the bag in his little hand. He handed it to Callum, “Thank you, my lad.” Callum opened the bag and looked inside. He saw what he was looking for and looked at her, “Hold out your hand, my dear.” She did what he said and Callum reached in the bag and pulled something out and put it in her hand.
“What is it?”
“Have you ever had a lemon drop?” He asked, she wrinkled her eyes and shook her head, “Take this and put it in your mouth, don’t swallow it, you suck on it.” She smelled it and liked the smell and her eyes brightened. Henry was wiggling with being excited. She looked down at him and he was smiling so big, she thought his dimples were going to rupture. She took it and put it her mouth and the tang was almost too much for her. The look on her face was priceless and Callum laughed long and hard seeing her reaction. He calmed himself as she reached up to take it out. “No, no, wait a moment, you’ll get used to it, then it will be fine. It’s your first one ever.” Callum said and laughed again loudly. She worked it and then she slowly started to get used to it and then she finally liked it. Callum handed the bag to Henry and looked at him, “Go give one to Thomas, Henry,” Callum said and winked, “tell him I said to try it.” Henry nodded and smiled wide and then ran off. Callum chuckled.
Holt and Dustin fed and watered the horses in the barn as well as the two outside in the pen. Dustin marveled at their beauty and flash of their coats in the low light of the barn. He was sorry that they had been so frightened by the pistol shots from earlier as they seemed to be nervous now and even the slightest touch made them flinch and jump slightly. Holt saw it as well.
“They’re Thoroughbreds.” Holt said.
“I’m sorry?” Dustin asked as he filled a tub from a bucket.
“The horses, their breed, Thoroughbreds, they have a nervous nature about them, but have great strength and stamina.”
“What is to become of them, Christian?”
“I was giving that some thought as well.” Holt said as he stopped carrying water, and came close to Dustin and the stall he was coming out of, “Quintan was asking me the other morning about a barn and its construction. He had said that he possibly wanted to have a herd. Most farms that I know of have a use for their horses, such as Owen and his father using them for freighting. I did not ask Quintan what he wanted to do with a herd however.”
“Well, as far as I’m concerned, a horse is a spirit to be admired and watched, not to be set to task, like Owen’s mare out in the drive at the cart. There is such grace and beauty in the way they walk and when they run, it is a sight to behold.” Dustin said as he ran his hand along the back of the mare he was standing next to.
“I agree.” Holt said, “As you know, my father bred them for steeplechase, but as far as I’m concerned it is far too dangerous a sport for such a beautiful animal. If they are left to their own devices, they become like your own mare, gentle and caring. My father had a different view however. They were simply used like one would use a tool or something of that nature. I never agreed with his opinion.” Holt said as he stared into space.
“Christian,…” Dustin said softly as he came close to him. Holt snapped out of it and smiled at Dustin.
“I would say, we halter them and then lead them all back to Birmingham. They can follow the cart, I can ride one and bring up the rear, if you would drive. We can take the north roads again and cut across country again like we did to get here.” Holt said flatly.
“Are you serious?” Dustin asked.
“Yes, why not? Quintan would get the herd that he would want, and all of them would be well cared for.” Holt smiled.
“But they belong to you, not to Quintan.”
“No, they belonged to my father, and Quintan bested him, it is his prize for his courage and valor.”
“But Quintan did not…”
“He most certainly did, Dustin. I may have struck the final blow, but Quintan beat him at his own game. No one had ever lasted as long as he did against my father, even though he was a professional duelist and I for one take great pleasure in knowing that Quintan is the better swordsman. I look forward to his healing so I may receive another lesson from him.” Holt smiled wide. “Now, we should see about securing everything. The afternoon is slipping away. I have a few things to take care of in the morning as you know.” Holt said, and Dustin nodded.
Callum, Martha, and Henry went to the back door and saw the men working quickly to remove the rubble that they created in the stone and plaster wall of the staircase in the kitchen. Some of the men were chiseling away at the edges to make it smooth to prepare for the beams and framing for the new pantry opening. Callum smiled as they were working quickly.
“Well, I’m not certain how I’m going to prepare supper now.” She said. Callum looked at her and smiled.
“I had an idea about that actually.” Callum said, “Let us go around to the front and see about Thomas, shall we?” They walked around the house and in through the front door. Thomas was folding a blanket as they came in. He looked at them and gave Callum a slight frown. Callum held his laughter knowing the lemon drop had done its job. “Thomas, you seem well enough.”
“Yes, no thanks to you. I thought my mouth was going to pull itself apart from that thing that Henry gave me to try.” Tomlin said.
“You seem to be no worse for trying it. Even our dear lady had one, she survived the experience.” Callum grinned.
“You can be such a devil, Quintan.”
“So, would you be up for a bit of a walk this evening after your experience?” Callum asked.
“Into the village?”
“Yes. Our newfound work force seems to have the kitchen in quite a state and our dear lady is concerned about our supper and its preparation. I would suggest that we go into the village and have supper there.” Callum said.
“And where would you suggest?” She asked, now hearing of his idea.
“There is a tavern and an inn there, is there not?” Callum asked her. She nodded and gave him a curious look. “Good, then we can have supper there, if that is alright with you.”
“I have never eaten in the village before, besides at homes of friends.” She said with a wide eyed look.
“Well, it sounds like it might be overdue then.” Callum smiled.
“What about breakfast?”
“We will have to wait and see.” Callum said, “All will be well, I’m certain. I’ll go and have a word with Bockman and find out what he had in mind. Now rest yourself on the settee and enjoy yourself for a moment.” Callum said. He walked toward the kitchen and left the room.
Dustin stopped at the back door of the house, putting his hand on the butt of the pistol in his belt. He followed Holt into the house, Holt closing the door and locking it behind them. Dustin stood in the middle of the kitchen looking around.
“You think there might be spirits in the house, Dustin?”
“Not so much spirits, Christian, as much as there might be some other monster of a man to step out of a shadow to reach for my throat.”
“I know what it is that you feel as I feel it myself. I must retrieve the keys for the lock of the door.” Holt said.
“Where are they?”
“Possibly in my father’s study, he has a large desk in there. The keys should be in one of the drawers I would think.” Holt said, his eyes flashed a nervous look, “If you would stay close, I would feel more comforted.”
“As would I, believe me, I will stay very close.” Dustin said as they walked out of the kitchen and into the hallway. Holt led the way to the other side of the drawing room to a door that was ajar. Holt pushed on the door and did not enter right away. He looked around the room, Dustin almost breathing on the back of his neck. Holt swallowed hard, as he had never been allowed in here while his father was alive. He stepped over to where the desk was near the window, the heavy draperies were closed. Holt pulled on one side, dragging back the drape and let the light into the room.
“Let’s go through the drawers and see if the keys are there.” Holt said as he opened the first one, looking under papers and envelops, then moved on to the next one. Dustin opened one and went through it and saw keys. He pulled them out and jingled them on their ring as he looked at Holt.
“Those would be them.” Holt smiled, closing the drawer he had opened, as did Dustin, “Let’s get out of here.”
They walked through the house and went to the front door. Dustin still had his hand on the pistol as he stood out on the brick step waiting for Holt. He closed the door and put the key to the lock and turned it, hearing the click of the lock. He pulled the key and put the ring in his back pocket. He stopped for a moment staring at the door.
“What is it?” Dustin asked.
“The last time I was here.” Holt said as he looked at the door, “Thomas carried me out of the house, through this very door to a waiting carriage there where the cart is now.”
“So much has happened since then, Dustin.”
“I know.” Dustin said, putting a hand on Holt’s arm, “And so far, I think we have all done well, don’t you?”
“We’re alive.” Holt said, “I have a terrible need to see and feel Thomas next to me.”
“I know, I feel the same about Quintan. As soon as you have your business concluded here, we can be on our way.” Dustin said softly.
“You’re right, of course. I suppose I’m just haunted by the events of the past couple of days.”
“It’s understandable, Christian, truly.” Dustin said, squeezing the arm a bit more, as Dustin looked up and over the front wall of the house, “This house makes me feel uneasy.”
“Yes, it always made me feel that way as well, even when my mother was alive.” Holt said, smiling briefly, “Come, I will wine and dine you this evening.” Holt said as he started toward the cart. He looked at Dustin, “I know the best place in town.” Holt said and Dustin felt a little better as they neared the cart.
Callum walked up to the organized chaos of the construction and all of the men about. It had only been a short bit of time since he had been out here and it seemed to him that more was done, a lot more. He stared at all of the construction as Bockman walked up to him.
“Captain, what do you think?”
“Mr. Bockman, words fail me. I would think that at this rate you and your workers will be done by nightfall.” Callum said marveling at the entire thing. Bockman chuckled a bit.
“Hardly, Captain, it might seem as such, however there is quite a bit to do. We will work until near dark and then return in the morning. With any luck we should be completed by tomorrow evening. I’ve never seen them work as fast as they have been, as we even got a late start this morning.”
“Yes, and speaking of the morning, the lady of the house has a concern growing in her over her kitchen.” Callum said, he raised a hand to ease Bockman as he saw the look on his face, “I wish not to raise a complaint, so do not misunderstand my intention, she is concerned over the use of the kitchen in the morning, as I have supper organized already for the evening.”
“Perhaps I should have a look. I have been a little preoccupied with all of this out here.” Bockman said.
“That’s very understandable.” Callum smiled and put his raised hand on the shoulder of Bockman. They walked together to the flagstone and went in through the backdoor. All of the workmen and Bockman talked for a minute about the new pantry area. Callum was listening to them and looked over seeing Martha standing at the doorway of the parlor. They all had a plan and Callum was at ease in hearing it. He looked at Martha and gave her a soft smile and a wink. She let out a breath. Bockman went to her and explained what the plan was and assured her that all would be organized and cleaned for her to use the kitchen in the morning. She smiled briefly hearing the reassurance.
Holt and Dustin were sitting at a finely set table in a true dining house, the table was draped in heavy white linen, and fine china was preset on each table along with flatware and crystal. Dustin had never been in a dining house before. He felt very much outclassed by some of the men that were at other tables. This was not a tavern of any type that Dustin was used to. The other patrons were rather finely dressed, and he and Holt had been placed at a table that was near a wall. They drew looks from some of the patrons, especially some that were seated near them.
“I have never been in such a place before, Christian. It is a bit unsettling. We seem to be not only underdressed but out of place and rather dirty.” Dustin said softly as he leaned over the table slightly. Holt smiled at him in reply.
“Pay them no mind, Dustin. We have had a very rough time of it today and I feel this is just deserved, don’t you?” Holt asked.
“It is fine, truly.” Holt said, “Sometimes it can a good thing to spark a little interest and stir things up a bit. Besides, the color of our money is the same as theirs.” Holt smiled as an older woman walked up to the table.
“Good evening, gentlemen. What would care for?”
“Good evening.” Holt said, “I think we would care for your roast beef and potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and some of that wonderful bread that I smell baking. Along with that, I think also we would care for a bottle of a good burgundy.”
“Very good, sir, you seem to know of what our fare is.” She seemed to eye them carefully as if they did not have any money.
“Yes, but it has been some time that I have been here in this establishment.” Holt said.
“Oh, if you are familiar with our fine house…”
“Yes, I must apologize for our attire, we have been travelling and have been in a bit of an incident today at my home.” Holt said as she was obviously eyeing the dirt on their clothes.
“Your home is here, sir?” She asked.
“Yes, out on the Klinedell Road. My name is Holt.” Her eyes went wide, and a few sounds of silver clanking against china could be heard from the tables that were near them. Most eyes were looking in their direction now, and Dustin saw it as he looked about.
“Christian…?” Dustin said softly through clenched teeth. She curtsied to him.
“I will see to your order right away, sir, and bring your wine.”
“Thank you.” Holt said softly, nodding toward her. He looked over at a nervous looking Dustin and smiled out of the corner of his mouth as he placed a linen napkin on his lap, “It will be alright, Dustin.” Holt said just above a whisper. One of the men at a neighboring table leaned toward them a bit.
“I say, I beg your pardon, sir. I couldn’t help but overhearing, are you perhaps the son of The Earl, the Royal Marine Colonel?”
“That is correct, my good man.” Holt said as he looked at him and sat back in his chair. The man stood, holding his own linen napkin in one hand. Holt looked up as he stepped forward.
“A pleasure, sir.” He bowed his head slightly, “Have you returned home?”
“For a short time, yes. I have brought my father home for burial.” Holt said as he fingered a knife on the table, looking at the man. The man’s eyes flashed and he looked down at the man that was at the same table with him and then back to Holt. Most of the patrons within earshot stood up from their tables as well.
“Your father is dead then?”
“Yes.” Holt said as the man took a step toward him and put out his hand. Holt looked at it and reached out his own hand. They gripped each other as Holt rose from his chair.
“I knew of your father, sir.”
“Yes, most within the district knew of my father, I’m sure.” Holt said as he looked around as most were coming closer. Dustin was sure there might be a fight and clenched his fists.
“Was he…?” The man started to ask as he took his hand back.
“He was killed in a duel.” Holt said, looking about at all of them, “My traveling companion and I will be seeing to the estate and closing it up, and then returning to my new home in Birmingham.”
“I am sorry for your loss, sir.” The man said bowing his head slightly.
“Thank you,” Holt said, seeing the others bowing their heads as well, “thank you to all of you. Please, go back to your dinners. I did not wish to interrupt.” Holt bowed his head slightly. They all started to go back to their tables and sit back down, talking to each other and giving side glances now and then toward Holt and Dustin. Holt sat back down himself. “There, you see?” Holt asked as he put his napkin back in his lap, “All is well.” Holt smiled softly and Dustin eased a bit and unclenched his fists.
Callum went to Martha as Bockman went back outside to continue to oversee the work. The workmen in the kitchen continued what they were doing, and Callum wrapped his arms about her shoulders, pulling her gently to him.
“There, there, my dear. I told you all would be well.” Callum said as he rested his chin on top of her head, as he pat her back gently, “I know you do not care for change, but I think once it is done, it will be a great improvement for both you and the house.” Callum pulled back from her, “But as Bockman said, we need to go and clear out the pantry before they cut through the wall.”
“Yes, of course.” She said and pat his chest with a hand.
“Let me give you a hand with that, and then we can go off to the village.” Callum smiled, as they went toward the old pantry. It took only a few minutes to empty what was there as there was not much. They stacked everything at the trunk and the settee by the window, and all was well for her now. “I would like to stop at the mercantile as well for a few minutes before we have supper.” They all walked out of the house, Callum wrapping her new shawl about her shoulders, then he picked up Henry and put him up on his shoulders and they all walked toward the village, chatting as they went on about the day and the construction.
At the mercantile, Callum set Henry on the floor and saw Mr. Saunders, he asked about a few more things for Henry, some toys for him, and more importantly some books to start to teach him how to read. Callum also asked about a small stove for Martha’s new room. Saunders opened a book and showed what could be had. Callum showed Martha and they settled on a small one, Saunders said it would be ordered with a letter in the post. Callum found a couple of shirts for himself to replace the one he lost in the duel and the doctor cutting it up even further.
Everything was bundled and purchased and Saunders was thanked. They left the mercantile and went on to the tavern down the side street. The inn was quiet as it was tucked away. They went in and sat down. Martha had never been in here in all the years that she lived in the area, and she did not know the innkeeper or his wife. They were all introduced and of course, Callum was known to them, by reputation as well as looks, looking identical to his father, whom the innkeeper had known very well apparently as a regular patron, Callum was told.
Cider was poured and was brought for Martha and Henry, as well as tea for her. She had never been out to have a meal in a true establishment, only supper with friends at their homes, so this was quite a treat for her. Supper was ordered and was brought to the table, pork roast and roasted carrots along with greens mixed with northern beans, a bread that was not familiar to her at all, and the innkeeper told her it was from the northlands as his wife was Dutch, a soda bread that she delighted very much in. The butter that was also brought to the table was finely churned and was light in taste, with very little salt. She thoroughly enjoyed having someone else cook for her and soon, they all settled back as Callum and Tomlin were enjoying ale.
“Well, that was quite excellent, I must say.” Martha said, “I have never eaten so well in my life.”
“It was rather good, wasn’t it?” Callum asked as he leaned over, “Did you like it, Henry?” The little one nodded and smiled. He looked a little sleepy to Callum. “Perhaps we should get you home, you look a little tired, my lad, it has been a busy day for you.” Callum cupped his little chin in his hand. Henry’s eyes blinked long. Callum let him go and got up from the table. He went to the counter where the innkeeper was. Callum paid for the fine supper and gave the man a few more notes. “The men that are working on our home, I will be sending them in for whatever they would like before they all go to their own homes as a thank you. I hope this will be enough to attend to their wants, if not you can let me know.”
“That’s very generous of you, sir.” The innkeeper said.
“Not nearly as generous as they have been with all their hard work, I assure you. Thank you, my good man, and our compliments to your wife.” Callum pat his hand once and walked back and collected his group. They left the inn and walked toward the Cross, Callum carrying Henry again, as Tomlin carried the bundle from the mercantile, Martha between them.
Dustin and Holt finished their very fine dinner and Holt was greeted by several of the other patrons. Most had a look of relief hearing about his father and his death. It only confirmed to Holt that the town on the whole had a poor opinion of his father, and it saddened him slightly to think that he had been so feared or possibly even loathed. Holt paid for the meal and the wine and he and Dustin finally set off for the inn. Holt knew of it, of course, but it was Tomlin that had told him to stay there, the one he was to stay at when he had come to Cambridge, that day Tomlin had rescued Holt from his own home and certain death.
Holt pulled the cart around the back to the barn behind. The large young man, the one who had driven the carriage with Holt and Tomlin to the Admiralty was there and unhitched the mare from the cart and took her in and took good care of her. Holt did not remember him clearly, but the large young man obviously remembered Holt and was more than happy to see that he had survived.
Inside the inn, the large woman knew very well who Holt was and clearly remembered him and was overjoyed that he was well and healed. She reached out and grabbed him, giving him a big hug and told him that the room that Tomlin had taken was still paid for, as he did not use it. She refused to take any further money for it and then showed them up to it.
She had asked if they required another room, and she was told no, the bed was large enough to hold the two of them quite nicely. She left them alone and as they settled in, she returned with water for the basin and some nice looking cloth to wash and dry themselves with. Dustin thanked her as did Holt and she left them alone for the night. They removed their shirts and Dustin looked his over, seeing it was streaked with dirt on the back. He shook his head at it, and then looked at Holt.
“This poor shirt of mine, Martha is going to tan my hide for sure over its condition.” Dustin said and Holt smiled.
“I am probably in the same shape, am I not?” Holt turned and had Dustin look at his back.
“You don’t seem to be in as bad of shape as I am.” Dustin said, as Holt turned around and looked at Dustin again, seeing all the bruises and discoloration on his neck, the scratches on his cheek when the housekeeper had clawed at him. Holt stepped closer to Dustin and reached up and touched him gently. Dustin flinched slightly at his touch. Holt looked into his eyes.
“I’m sorry.” Holt said softly.
“It only aches a bit.” Dustin said as their eyes met.
“That’s not what I meant.” Holt said softly as he pulled his fingers back. Dustin cocked his head a little, “To put you through all this, with what happened today.”
“I’m glad I was here with you.” Dustin said softly, “It might have had a different outcome had you been alone.” Dustin scanned his face and Holt nodded a bit.
“I thank you, Dustin.” Holt said softly, leaning closer. Dustin licked his lips, seeing it, a part of him wanting this beautiful young man and his hard muscled lean body. Their lips met and the kiss was tender and brief, they pulled back and looked at one another for a long quiet moment.
“That was nice, and you’re welcome, Christian.” Dustin said.
“Something is wrong, isn’t there?”
“I cannot betray Quintan.” Dustin said, Holt smiled briefly, then looked down for a moment, “However tempting you are, Christian. And I don’t wish to hurt you either.”
“And you haven’t, my friend.” Holt said.
“But I will tell you, if we did not have them in our lives, you certainly would not get any sleep tonight.” Dustin smiled as he put his hands on Holt’s hips and kissed him softly again for only a moment, and then flashed his eyes.
“You tempt me, sir.” Holt smiled a smile that was full of mischief, “Now, let’s wash some of this dirt of us and go to bed. I for one am completely done in.”
“As am I.” Dustin smiled and rested his forehead to Holt’s, and then let out a breath. Dustin pulled back and turned for the pitcher and the basin. He lifted and poured, setting the pitcher back down. They washed as they looked at each other and then Holt washed down Dustin’s back, and then turned around, Dustin doing it for him. They looked at the water in the basin, seeing it being tinted with the color of the dirt that was on them. Holt took the basin and went to the window, opening it and looking below, he tossed the dirty water and closed the window. Dustin got undressed and set his pants on the foot of the bed, standing there in his underclothes. He pulled back the covers on one side and climbed in as Holt had set the basin down and came and sat on the bed, pulling off his boots and setting them down. Dustin settled back in the bed and folded his arm, putting his hands behind his head. Holt chuckled softly to himself.
“What is so funny?”
“I was just thinking, we left Thomas and Quintan in the same bed at the house when we left.” Holt said and looked at Dustin, who smiled.
“You’re right, we did, didn’t we?” Dustin turned his head a little and looked at the muscled back and the long scar that ran near his spine between his shoulders, “I was going to ask, but I keep forgetting, how is your wound?”
“The one on my back?” Holt asked as he stood and undid the flap on his pants, “It aches as I’m sure your shoulder does. But when I was chopping that tree apart at Owen’s with Quintan, it relieved it some.” Holt said as he reached for the covers on his side of the bed and got in and settled on the pillows under his head. Dustin rolled his head.
“I marvel at the way you look, Christian, the muscle and definition that you have, I know I’ve said it to you before. Could I ask you that you help me with that when we return home?”
“I said that I would, remember?”
“I know, but I thought possibly that you had forgotten.” Dustin said softly.
“No, I have not.” Holt smiled and looked over as his arms were folded on his chest over the top of the covers, “This is only the second time that I have shared a bed with another man.” Holt said with a smirk.
“You get used to it, I suppose.”
“Have you shared a bed with another, other than Quintan?” Holt asked as he rolled and propped up on an elbow. Dustin was slightly wide eyed at the question.
Callum had gone to the workmen outside and told them that he had paid for all of them to stop at the inn and tavern for whatever they wanted before they went on home. They all nodded and tipped their hands to him, thanking him. The walls were being covered now with lath and being prepared for a plastering on the outside. The men were sealing it up and were standing about as Callum and Bockman talked about the progress. The slate tile for the roof would be put on tomorrow and cut into the wall of the house and mortared against rain and then the old pantry would be torn apart creating a hallway of sorts and then the doorways would be cut in as well. Bockman explained that straw bales were being brought tomorrow to go inside the walls and then more lath on the inside and then it would be plastered over. Bockman assured Callum that the two rooms would be far warmer than the rest of the house, especially if the small stove was put in place. Bockman had mentioned that Dustin was going to see about one, but they had failed to talk further about it. Callum said he had remembered and ordered one at the mercantile. Bockman smiled and then said good night. Callum thanked them all again for all their hard work as they all started to leave.
Owen was standing at the stable and Callum saw him there and went down to him as he was tending to the horses. He was brushing the stallion down as Callum walked up to him. They smiled at one another.
“Good evening, Owen.”
“Good evening, Quintan.”
“May I lend you a hand?”
“I’m just about done here, actually. I fed and grained them all. I was just giving him a brushing. I understand that you had your supper at the inn this evening.”
“Yes, we did. Martha seemed to enjoy it very much. She has never done much eating at other places before. She was quite impressed with it. I think she might be a bit jealous over the innkeeper’s wife and her skills in the kitchen.” Callum smiled as he stood with folded arms.
“I have tasted her cooking before, it is quite good.” Owen smiled.
“Does something trouble you, Owen?” Callum asked. Owen stopped brushing the stallion.
“Why do you ask that?” Owen asked as he started brushing again.
“You seem…distant as of late.” Callum said and Owen stopped brushing the stallion. “Tell me. I’d like to help, if I can.”
“I know you would, if you could…but you can’t.”
“Owen,” Callum said as he came up next to him, resting his hand on the back of the stallion, the other on Owen’s shoulder, Owen looking out over the top of the stallion’s back, “we have shared a great many things, you and I. You are one of my closest friends. I truly hate to see you in such a state. Please, if you wish to talk to me, what is said between us stays between us. I would not even speak of it to Dustin.”
“I know, Quintan, and I appreciate your concern and your silence.” Owen said and brushed the coat a bit more as he thought. Callum took his hand away from his shoulder and stayed where he was. “You are a fortunate man, Quintan.”
“You have everything that a man could want, right here at your fingertips. A home, a family, and someone you can love.”
“I see what it is now that burdens you.” Callum said softly, “It wasn’t always so, you know?”
“A man with your looks, I doubt seriously you have ever had any difficulty in being alone.” Owen smiled softly.
“Companionship is one thing, Owen, being lonely is a constant in this world. Stand on the deck of a ship in the dead of night at sea, and then you know what loneliness truly is. The sea can be unforgiving that way, even if there is someone at your side, someone you might love and who loves you in return. The sea can make you feel small inside being out there like that, making you feel truly lonely deep down in your soul. I have felt it more times than I care to.” Callum said.
“I had no idea.”
“I’m sorry, I did not mean to ramble and distract from your troubles.” Callum said.
“It’s alright, Quintan, my troubles are still there.” Owen smiled and Callum smiled as well.
“So tell me, is it just being lonely, or is there really something else to it?” Callum asked, and the smile disappeared from Owen’s face, “Is it the other house and its contents?”
“Partly I suppose.” Owen looked embarrassed and turned away, going back to his brushing.
“You will recall what I said about that.”
“Yes, I know. I have given that some thought as well. I would not wish to fuel a fantasy between two that I know. I think they should be destroyed when you destroy the others.” Owen said.
“As I said, they are yours. If you wish to have them burned, I would not stop you. I think you know that.”
“I do, and I thank you for that.” Owen said with his back to Callum.
“I think we will do that tomorrow then, if it will help put your mind at ease.” Callum came close to him again.
“May I ask you something else?” Owen stood, his back to Callum still.
“Do you think that I am,…” Owen started to say as he slowly turned around, Callum waited for him to finish, but Owen kept his head down a bit.
“What?” Callum asked softly.
“Do you think that I am,…fetching?” Owen asked and Callum smiled softly.
“I do, and I’m not alone in that opinion, obviously. And that has nothing to do with the paintings either.” Callum said and stepped closer to him.
“Then why do you think I have,…trouble….”
“In finding companionship?” Callum asked, “It may have to do with the fact that there are not many around here that feel as we feel about finding comfort with another man. I have noticed however that there are several young ladies in the village that follow you intensely with their gaze. If you could find comfort in a woman’s bosom, then you would more than likely have any of them to choose from. But you do not, and so…”
“How are you so fortunate that way?”
“I sailed with Dustin for more than two years before I realized how he was feeling about me. Thomas was a complete shock as was Christian. It is only good fortune they were with me.”
“Have you,…had them as well?” Owen asked quietly.
“No.” Callum said and then cleared his throat, he rolled his eyes a bit and then looked at Owen again, “I have had a thought or two about Christian, but I could never do that and betray Dustin in that way. I love him too much to hurt him.”
“I can understand that.” Owen said softly, and then looked embarrassed again, “Forgive me, I was not trying to imply anything.”
“And you didn’t, my friend.” Callum said as he touched Owen’s shoulder again, “I do find you to be very good looking, and quite desirable actually, but I will not tread on our friendship either in that way.”
“And there is Dustin.”
“Yes, and he is the heart of it for me.” Callum said.
“As I said, you are very fortunate.”
“And you will be as well. It will come, I’m certain.”
“You give me hope, Quintan, thank you.” Owen smiled.
“You’re welcome, my friend. If there is ever a time that you wish to talk, I am always at your disposal, you know that.”
“I do.” Owen said and reached out and gave Callum a tight hug. Callum pat his back and then they pulled back. “Would it be alright if I stayed here tonight?” Owen asked.
“Yes, certainly. I can have you stay up with me and Henry, if you wish.”
“No, I wish to be alone actually. I would like to stay here in the stable, if that’s alright?”
“If you wish.” Callum said, looking at him with narrow eyes, “I’ll go up to the house and get you some bedding. I’ll be back in a few moments.”
“Thank you.” Owen said and went back to brushing the stallion. Callum pat his shoulder and walked up the path.
“I have shared a bed with another, yes.” Dustin said as he looked into Holt’s eyes, “Does that surprise you?”
“Well, as we talked about in London, at the inn, you know that I am relatively unknown to another, actually, was completely unknown.” Holt said.
“I wish that it had been that way with Quintan and I. I was ashamed at first when we came together the first time, out in the stable. He was so caring toward me.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.” Holt said and went to roll away, but Dustin stopped him.
“No, it’s just that I was teasing Quintan about this very thing when I interrupted you and Thomas when Quintan returned home. I was saying to him that he wouldn’t want anyone to reveal anything about us, if that someone had seen us together.”
“Did you see something?” Holt asked.
“No, I did not.” Dustin said and looked away, “I wanted to, but I,…”
“Dustin, it’s alright.” Holt said, “You needn’t say more if you don’t want to.”
“I have never spoken of it to Quintan. He has told me a little bit about when he was at school and the Headmaster and some of the other boys would take him in the night and force him, but he hasn’t said anything else of it.”
“I had no idea.” Holt said, “But what of you?”
“I have told you of some of it in the stable. I lived in the streets of Portsmouth as a young boy, much like Henry was doing when we found him. It was very difficult just to find things to eat or to try and stay warm in the winter when the snows came. There were men that would come from time to time and take their pleasure with my body, they would give me money or something to eat, and sometimes even a warm place to sleep for a night. It didn’t happen all of the time, but enough to make me realize that I enjoyed the company of another man. I was old enough finally to sign on as a seaman, and sailed on the Carlotta. That was a merchant and I thought everything would be fine, but some of the crew were far more brutal than I ever thought could be and I was finally left off the ship when we reached port back at Portsmouth. With the sailing on a merchant, I was able to sign on to a ship of the line. I served for six years on various Navy ships until I signed on as an able bodied seaman aboard Dover, under Captain Powers. I saw Quintan for the first time then, he was the 3rd Lieutenant then. We sailed together for more than two years.”
“When did you fall in love with him?” Holt asked softly.
“It was one morning, the wind was up and heavy, we were sailing to the Azores, I was at the wheel, Quintan had been given the deck. He stood there at the fore rail looking out over the bow and the Main Deck and the wind was so strong,…I was doing everything I could to just hold the wheel steady. He turned and looked at me and saw my hair blowing around my head and into my eyes. He came up behind me and took his ribbon from his hair and tied my tail for me. I fell in love with him at that moment.” Dustin said as he stared at the ceiling, his hands still clasped behind his head, “The ribbon in my hair right now is the one he placed. I will always wear it.” Dustin smiled softly at the memory.
“He is a very lucky man to have you.” Holt said. Dustin looked at him, “You have such love for him, such beauty.”
“I would to argue that last part, Christian.” Dustin smiled, “You have true beauty about you. I have looked at you more times than I care to try and count. The night that you and Quintan bathed each other in the stable, nearly drove me mad, seeing the two most beautiful men I know washing each other.” Dustin sighed, “What a sight that was. I shall never forget it.”
“Quintan truly amazed me as well, I must say.” Holt said as he rolled over onto his back.
“Oh, how is that?” Dustin asked.
“Well, the sheer size of him,…you know,…down there, it was more than impressive.” Holt said, swallowing hard, “I can’t imagine what it must be like.”
“There have been a few times I have wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, believe me.” Dustin said and chuckled, Holt smiled, “But you seem to be equipped very well yourself from what I saw. Is Thomas,…?”
“Thank you, and yes he is, about me or so in his own size.”
“I have seen Thomas in the raw before, yes, but that was not what I was going to ask.”
“You have seen him before?”
“Yes, in Portsmouth at the Heritage. There was an incident and he came out of his room into the hall with only his sword. The look on his face was priceless to be sure.” Dustin laughed, seeing the image in his mind, Holt laughed as well.
“I can only imagine.” Holt said and calmed his laughing a bit. “What were you going to ask?”
“Perhaps it’s too personal, I shouldn’t.” Dustin said pulling his hands out to roll over. Holt put a hand to his shoulder.
“You can ask me anything, Dustin, it stays between us.” Holt said.
“I was going to ask,…is he…gentle with you?”
“Gentle,…you mean as if he,…” Holt struggled for the words.
“I mean, does he,…take his time when he is with you?” Dustin asked softly as he looked at Holt.
“Yes, by gentle, he is that for certain. There has only been a few moments that we were ever…rushed. Is Quintan that way as well?”
“Yes, he is never rushed, even though I have asked him to be a few times, he always takes the time to be just…”
“Caring? Loving?” Holt asked as he looked down at Dustin. Dustin smiled and nodded up at him, “It means everything to me to be taken that way, doesn’t it you?”
“It does.” Dustin said, still smiling.
Callum got a blanket out of the trunk in the parlor. Tomlin was watching him, as Callum closed the lid and turned. He looked at Tomlin and gave him a brief smile as Tomlin was getting the mattress ready for the night.
“You’re not sleeping in the stable are you?” Tomlin asked.
“No, it’s for Owen. He asked if he could stay out there for the night.”
“Is everything alright?”
“I’m not sure to be honest. He has a lot on his mind and needs some time, I think.”
“Can I do anything?” Tomlin asked.
“I don’t think so, Thomas. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Callum smiled softly and walked toward the kitchen and the back door. Callum went out and down the path, seeing Owen leading the stallion into the stable. Callum walked into the stable and closed the door behind him. Owen put the stallion in his stall and tied him with the lead. He pat the stallion and came back out seeing Callum there with a heavy blanket. Owen closed the stall door and came over to him, taking the blanket as Callum held it out to him.
“Thank you, Quintan.”
“You’re welcome, Owen, but you know the house may be far more comfortable.”
“I know, but this will do for now.” Owen said and put an arm around Callum’s shoulders and hugged him briefly, “You’re a good friend, Quintan.”
“It is no trouble to be one, especially to you, Owen.”
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Alright, the morning then.” Callum said and turned to the door. Owen took the blanket over to the straw pile and spread it out. Callum closed the door behind him and slowly walked up the path to the house. He went in the back door and closed it behind him. He blew out the candle on the shelf near the back door and went to the lamp, turning it down to a soft glow, leaving it for Owen in case he changed his mind about sleeping in the house. Callum went into the parlor. Tomlin was in his underclothes and folded his breeches and put them on the end of the mattress, he looked over and saw Callum there. They stared at each other for a long moment.
“What is it, Quintan?”
“Owen. He concerns me.” Callum said as Tomlin got in under the blanket.
“What is wrong with him?”
“We talked for a while outside, I told him I would keep it in confidence.”
“I understand. I think I know what troubles him though, it’s not difficult to see.” Tomlin said softly.
“And what do you think?”
“He does not have anyone in his life, man or woman. He’s lonely to speak plainly.” Tomlin shrugged his shoulders as he settled.
“I suppose I was not paying attention to him, and missed that. You seemed to have picked it up fairly quickly.”
“It was easy to see. The first clue was in the paintings.” Tomlin said as Callum came over and knelt on the edge of the mattress. “I asked myself, what kind of a man would let someone paint such intimate paintings of him in the first place, either a lonely man or a lover. From what you said of the man in the other house, I can’t imagine him being Owen’s lover, especially with the other paintings about, the young boys, your father and so on. No, Owen is a lonely man. I only wish there was someone here that could be with him. He deserves that, needs that, as we do, don’t you think?”
“Yes, I do.” Callum smiled, “I was thinking about going over to the other house tomorrow, if you’d like to go over. We can destroy those paintings before Martha and Henry go over.”
“I’d like to go over there and get a start on organizing some things.”
“Good. I’ll say good night then.” Callum said and got up and went to the stairs, going up to his room.
“This bed is almost as comfortable as ours at home.” Dustin said.
“It is, isn’t it?” Holt asked, “I was very comfortable when we stayed in your bed that first night. Perhaps I’ll have a bed like that made for us when we get back to Birmingham.” Holt said and then yawned, “Excuse me, I guess I’m more tired than I thought. Thank you, again.”
“For what?” Dustin asked as he turned his head to look at Holt. Holt rolled on his side and faced Dustin.
“For being there with me today, in risking your life.”
“It’s what true friends do, Christian.” Dustin rolled toward him on his side. Dustin smiled briefly, “Good night, Christian.”
“Good night, Dustin.” Holt said softly.
Morning came and Holt was lying on his back. He felt a weight on him and looked down. He smiled as he saw the top of Dustin’s head on his chest. Holt rolled his head and looked toward the window on the wall to his left, the front wall of the inn. The sun was barely up and one ray was shining across the window pane. Holt lay there for a moment, thinking and then he lifted the covers and slid out from under Dustin.
Holt got his clothes on, his back to Dustin as he pulled up his pants and buttoned the flap. He sat on the edge of the bed and picked up his first boot and felt the bed move. He looked over his shoulder and saw Dustin was lying there looking at him.
“Did I wake you?” Holt asked softly.
“Yes, you did.” Dustin smiled softly, “But I’m glad you did.”
“Because we need to get up and going, to get ready to go home.” Dustin said and pulled back the covers. Holt reached out and took the covers and put a hand on Dustin’s shoulder, stopping him. Dustin looked at him.
“It’s still very early. The sun is barely up. Why don’t you stay in bed for a while. It was a very hard day yesterday, you can rest a while longer.” Holt said.
“I do not need to be coddled.” Dustin said, “What are you going to do?”
“I had a thought to go out to,…”
“You’re not going to go out to the house without me.”
“No, I was going to pay my respects to my mother’s grave actually and then come back to get you.”
“Oh, I see.” Dustin said.
Holt turned and pulled on a boot, then pulled the next one on. He picked up his shirt and put it over his head and let it drop. “I’ll return in a while, then we can go and meet my mother’s cousin at the house.” Holt smiled and walked toward the door, Dustin watched him leave and then lay back on the pillows after the door closed, sighing deeply. Dustin stared up at the ceiling of the room.
Callum came into the kitchen, carrying his boots and set them on the floor, seeing Martha was at the dry sink. She cocked her head a bit knowing he was there without looking. Callum walked over to her and put his hands on her shoulders, then kissed the top of her head.
“Morning, my dear.”
“Morning. How was your night?”
“It was a bit difficult.” Callum said softly. She smiled to herself.
“Sleeping alone can be. When your uncle passed I had many nights that were difficult. You get used to having someone beside you even if they are on the other side of the bed away from you.”
“You seem to have all the answers this morning.” Callum smiled briefly.
“Not all. I see Owen is here, and by the looks of it, he was here all night.”
“Yes, he was. He asked to stay in the stable.” Callum said and she turned in his hands and looked up at him.
“And you let him?” She asked. Callum was surprised by her, “Why on earth did he stay out there? Didn’t you at least invite him into the house?”
“Of course I did, but he asked to stay out there. He needed some time alone apparently.”
“Of all the things.” She frowned, “I should have a talk with that boy.”
“I did, last night. He needs some time to work through what is on his mind.” Callum said, giving her a firm look.
“Oh, I see.” She said and turned back to the sink.
“I think I will take him out some coffee.” Callum said and went to his boots, putting them on and then reached for two cups. He poured and took them to the door, he opened it and went out and down the knoll to meet Owen, handing him a cup.
“Are you alright this morning?” Callum asked.
“Yes, thank you, and thank you for the coffee.”
“You’re welcome.” Callum said, and sipped at his, “I was wondering, are your parents going to be looking for you?”
“They would be if the livery were back together fully, I suppose, but as the horses are here, no, they won’t be looking for me. Why do you ask?”
“I would hate to have anything cause them to worry, especially after what you have all been through recently. And there is someone else that might be worried as well.”
“Your man, Hargrove, I believe.”
“Kelsey. What about him?”
“I have a suspicion that he is part of what is troubling you.”
“I told you about him, Quintan. There is nothing between us any longer and hasn’t been for quite a while.”
“Do you think there ever could be? I only ask because he seems to be…”
“A tad bit possessive? No, Quintan, there is no room in Kelsey’s heart, except for Kelsey. He is shortsighted and truly cares for no one else, other than himself.”
“I don’t mean to pry, but there was something there once, wasn’t there?”
“To satisfy a want, a need, animal lust is all that it was.” Owen said.
“I see. I’m sorry if it brought up an unpleasant memory.”
“No, it’s not that. The unpleasant memories are across the pasture in that house.” Owen said and looked over at the empty house in the distance.
“I see. Well, Martha was upset with me because you did not stay in the house last night, and I would really catch a caning if I didn’t bring you in for breakfast. So if you would please spare me from that indignity,…” Callum said, Owen laughed, and put a hand to Callum’s shoulder.
“Of course, my friend, but I just had a vision of you with your pants down being caned by her.” Owen said and laughed again.
“I’m certainly glad I can be a source of amusement for you.”
“You make it too easy sometimes, Quintan.” Owen said as they walked toward the house up the gentle knoll.
Dustin washed his face and dried it, then went over and made up the bed, his custom after rising. He dressed and looked around seeing if there was anything of theirs in the room, but there was not. He went downstairs and came into the room where the counter was for the inn and the large lady came around the counter.
“Morning, young sir, I trust ya had a peaceful night?”
“I did indeed. The room is quite comfortable. I wish we were staying longer.” Dustin smiled. She smiled in reply.
“Would ya be havin some breakfast then?” She asked.
“Certainly.” Dustin said, and she pointed as to where to go. Dustin followed around the counter and went into a dining room and sat down at a table. The room was empty of others.
“Where did the young master go off to so early?”
“He had an errand to run. He said he would be back shortly and then we will be going back out to his home.”
“I see.” She said, and nodded to him, “I’ll just be a moment then.” She said and walked off. Dustin looked about the room, dark wood panels that glowed in the light from the lamps on the walls, the ceiling was beamed with white plaster in between the beams. It was warm and friendly feeling, unlike the other inns that he had been in. She returned with a small pot of coffee and a cup, along with a plate. She set it down in front of him and smiled. He looked at it and then up at her smiling in return. She walked away again, leaving him alone. Dustin ate in the silence of the room.
“There you are.” Holt said as he came up to the table and pulled back a chair and sat down, “I went up to the room and you were gone.”
“I couldn’t just lie in bed. I always have trouble with doing that.”
“Well, I would say, if you’re alone, yes.”
“Christian,…” Dustin said and raised an eyebrow.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to tease.”
“It’s alright. It just another side of you that’s all, one that I enjoy seeing, except when it’s at my expense.” Dustin smiled softly. Holt blushed. The large woman walked up to the table and curtsied to Holt.
“Morning.” Holt said.
“Morning, young sir. May I bring ya some breakfast?”
“Uh, no thank you, just some coffee please.” He smiled at her. She curtsied again and walked away and brought another cup and poured for him from the pot on the table. “Thank you.” Holt said and smiled briefly at her, again she curtsied and then walked away. Holt picked up his cup.
“I could never get used to that.” Dustin said.
“What?” Holt asked as he set his cup down.
“People bowing and curtsying to me all of the time.” Dustin said, shaking his head.
“They all believe that I will take up the title from my father.”
“Are you?” Dustin asked.
“No. I decided when I was at the cemetery visiting my mother’s grave. The title died with my father.” Holt said, “Besides I’m too young to be admitted to the House to take up his seat.”
“You know, I never asked, how old are you, Christian?”
“I turned nineteen in January. How old are you, Dustin?”
“I believe I’m sixteen.”
“You don’t know?”
“No, not for sure. I know my mother died when I was two or so. I have tried to keep track of the years but it was difficult to do. So many things happened. I have no idea when my birthday is, what month.” Dustin said looking a bit sad.
“Well, look at it this way, when is your favorite time of year?”
“I would say the spring, like now. It is near the end of April isn’t it?”
“It’s actually the beginning of May. So, if spring is your favorite time of year, then you should have your birthday in the spring. If you don’t know for certain, then I would say, pick your own date.” Holt said and raised an eyebrow.
“I never thought of it that way.” Dustin smiled softly.
“I have noticed that you are wise beyond your years. I have always admired that about you, since our first talks.”
“Thank you. But you know why that is, I explained that.”
“Yes, I do, which makes it of even greater value.” Holt said and drank more of his coffee. He finished it and then set the cup down. Dustin reached into his pocket and pulled out some coins and dropped them on the table for breakfast. “That was not necessary. Take your money,…”
“You’re not paying. I ate it, you didn’t.” Dustin said giving a stern look.
“Yes, sir.” Holt said with a smile and gave a fake salute.
“See, now that I could get used to.” Dustin smiled and got up from the table, “Shall we go?” Holt smiled up at him.
“Are you in a hurry?” Holt asked.
“Somewhat. The quicker we get going, the quicker we reach home.”
“Someone have an itch?” Holt smirked and Dustin dropped his mouth open. The large lady came toward them.
“Are ya gentlemen leaving?”
“I’m sorry to say that we are, dear lady. I have business to attend to at my home. Then we will be leaving for Birmingham. I wish to thank you for your warm hospitality. Our stay here was very comfortable. I will tell my friend that when I see him.”
“Please do, My Lord.” She said and bowed her head slightly. Holt took her hand and kissed the back of it, making her blush. Holt looked up at her as he was bowed at her hand and her cheeks reddened even more. Dustin rolled his eyes and went to the doorway. Holt stood and let her hand go, turned and walked away with Dustin out of the inn around the side toward the back at the barn. The large young man, the son of the lady, had the mare hitched to the cart. Holt and Dustin thanked him, and Holt handed him some coins. They climbed up and the mare was reined and she started to pull the cart away, the large young man waved after them.
Owen caught a couple of side glances from Tomlin as they ate breakfast standing up in the kitchen. Owen wasn’t sure why he was looking at him like that, but he thought Callum might have said something to Tomlin about their conversation last night, even though Callum said he wouldn’t.
They all talked about the horses and they spoke of Dustin and Holt wondering if they were doing alright in Cambridge. Callum said he hoped so, but if they did not return in a couple of days that he and Tomlin would set off after them. All agreed to the plan and the possible course of action given by Callum. Breakfast was over and things were cleaned up as the tradesmen started arriving at the house. They all went outside and started to greet the workers. Bockman wanted to discuss a number of things with Callum, and Owen became saddened that they were not going to go to the house to do as they had discussed with the paintings. Callum took Owen and Tomlin aside, excusing himself from Bockman.
“Owen, I know you wish to take care of those paintings, and I for one truly want the ones destroyed of those young boys,” Callum said to Owen, and then looked at Tomlin, “and Thomas I know you wanted things to start getting organized over there, but I need to deal with this it seems. Now, I don’t need to be there, the door is open, and Thomas, it’s as much your house as it is mine. You two go on and I’ll join you as soon as I can.”
“Are you sure, Quintan?” Tomlin asked.
“Yes, I’m very sure. And another thing is I want to see about cutting out a section of the stone wall to get through to the pasture without having to jump it.” Callum smiled, putting hands on their shoulders. He pat them and they set off, Owen putting the horses up first in the stable as Callum went off with Bockman.
Captain Reginald Arland of HMS Corsair pulled up in a carriage in front of the Admiralty. The door was opened for him and he climbed out onto the wide sidewalk. He looked up at the building and then started toward the steps, he held the pommel of his sword to keep it from swinging as he came toward the doors, and Marine Sentries snapped to attention and then opened the doors for him.
He came into the great lobby area and stood, waiting for the Registrar who had his back to Arland, he was talking to three other officers, junior officers. They saw Arland standing there and tipped their hands to him, he nodded in reply, recognizing a couple of them. The Registrar turned and looked at him.
“Captain Arland, I beg your pardon, sir.”
“Quite alright. I bring reports. I need to see The First Sea Lord or Lord Fitzwarren.”
“The First Sea Lord is not here yet, sir, I’m sorry. Lord Fitzwarren is in his chambers.” The Registrar signaled to a Paige, he came over and bowed, “Take Captain Arland up to see Lord Fitzwarren.” The Paige bowed again and held out a hand. One of the three junior officers was Talon.
“Excuse me, Captain Arland.” Talon said, as he stepped forward and Arland turned slightly, “I was wondering, sir, if I may ask has the sloop with Captain Eddington returned?”
“Yes, we brought it in this morning in tow.”
“Was it damaged, sir?”
“In a manner of speaking, how does it concern you?” Arland asked, looking down at Talon.
“I’m sorry, sir, it’s just that Captain Eddington was going to Portsmouth to take command of the Dover, sir, when he returned. I was to escort him.
“Captain Eddington will not be taking command of anything, he is dead. The entire crew has been murdered by the madman we were pursuing. You will have to find another commander.” Arland said flatly and started up the stairs as Talon turned and looked at everyone in complete shock. Talon pulled himself together and went for the main doors. He went out and started down the steps, running into Summers and Middleboro as they were coming toward the building. Summers saw the look on young Talon’s face and grabbed him.
“Darin, what is it?”
“The Corsair is back.”
“And? Is the sloop back?” Summers asked.
“They’re all dead. Arland just told us, they’re all dead,…murdered. We have to get to the docks.”
“No, we will wait for orders, do you understand?” Summers asked.
“Cary, they’re all dead on the sloop. What can they order?” Talon said holding out his hand toward the Admiralty building, “They need help and it isn’t here.”
“Darin, are you sure about all this?”
“I told you, Arland just told the group of us, Collingwood and Piper were standing right there. They’ll tell you the same thing.” Talon said. Middleboro was wide eyed.
“It’s not possible, there were fifty Marines aboard that sloop. The Corsair and the Tarkington, they were supposed to be in support.” Summers said as he let go of Talon as he started to walk away, going toward the corner of the building, “Wait! Darin, where are you going?” Summers called after him, Talon turned around.
“I’m going to see about a horse.”
“I’m going to the docks to see for myself. If it’s true, then I need to tell the Captain. Eddington was a friend of his, Morris was with him at La Rochelle, in the fortress.”
“Wait! It’s none of his concern any longer.” Summers said loudly.
“He’ll be angrier if we don’t tell him.” Talon said and turned and went around the building toward the stables. Summers and Middleboro looked at each other and then went to the doors.
Tomlin and Owen went over the stone wall and started toward the house in the distance. Tomlin was giving Owen side glances again. Owen caught them, and when they were about halfway there he stopped and put a hand on Tomlin’s arm.
“Alright, Thomas, if there is something you need to say, say it.” Owen said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you keep giving me these looks. Is there something you wish to ask me or talk about?”
“Well, I…I was wondering if you had thought about the painting. We had talked about it the other day, and you haven’t said anything else.” Tomlin said and Owen just stared at him. “Is that what has you upset?”
“Did Quintan say something?”
“No, should he have?”
“I asked him not to. That tells me he is good for his word.”
“Well that goes without saying.” Tomlin said, cocking his head slightly, “Is that what has you upset?”
“Partly, but there are other things as well.” Owen said.
“I will not pry, Owen, if you wish to talk about something, I will listen.”
“Let’s just go to the house and do this, shall we?” Owen asked and started walking again. Tomlin watched him for a moment and started after him. They reached the door and Owen stopped and waited for Tomlin. “It’s your house now, isn’t it?” Owen asked and held out a hand. Tomlin reached and turned the knob, he opened the door. He wrinkled his nose and sniffed.
“I wonder what that smell is.” Tomlin said.
“It’s from the paints that he used. It’s the blend of the tints that makes that odor.” Owen said.
“Ohhh.” Tomlin said looking around. Nothing had been moved or changed since he was here last.
“I’m going up.” Owen said.
“I’ll come with you.” Tomlin said. They went up the stairs, seeing the one spare bedroom still had the door open. They reached the landing and turned along the rail and went to the front bedroom. The door was open and Owen could see the face of the portrait of Callum’s father as it stared at them both with the cold eyes.
“James Callum.” Owen said.
“Yes, so we were told. Did you know Quintan’s true given name is James?” Tomlin asked, Owen stopped inside the room and looked at him.
“No, I didn’t know that. I wonder what would happen if you were to call him that?” Owen asked.
“He would probably pound you to within an inch of your life.” Tomlin said and flashed his eyes a bit, “Quintan was adamant about those of the young boys being destroyed for sure. I’ll gather those and take them out behind the house, we can burn them out there on the gravel.” Tomlin said and knelt down, pulling out one now and then of the young boys. He stacked them and looked at Owen, who was standing there, looking at one, the one. Tomlin stopped and stood, waiting to see what Owen was going to do. Owen stayed where he was, just staring at the painting. Tomlin walked over to him, looking down at what Owen was staring at, then smiled softly. “I think I’m going to open the window and air out the room a bit.” Tomlin said and reached for the sash.
“Is this the one you were asking about?” Owen asked softly. Tomlin opened the window and returned next to him.
“Yes.” Tomlin said in a whisper.
“Why this one, Thomas?” Owen asked quietly.
“We,…uh,…that is,…Christian and I were reminded of something of us when we saw it.” Tomlin said just as quiet. Owen looked at him with his big soft eyes.
“You may keep it, if it means that much to you both.”
“Well, it’s just,…”
“You don’t need to explain it, Thomas.” Owen said softly, and smiled briefly.
“But I can see that it is troublesome to you.”
“It’s just the memory of that day, that’s all.” Owen said, and looked down at the settee against the wall, “What I did…what he did…to get me to pose for it.”
“Did he,…force you?”
“No, he did not. But I had too much to drink,…and then he,…” Owen stared back at the painting.
“Owen, you needn’t say any more.” Tomlin said and put a hand on his arm, “Let’s destroy it, it obviously is causing you some pain.” Tomlin said as he tried to comfort Owen, and Owen looked into Tomlin’s eyes.
“It’s not really pain as it is more…embarrassment and shame.”
“I can understand possibly being embarrassed, but not the shame. You are represented in the painting as being something that is very beautiful, there is no shame in that.”
“You’re very kind to say that, Thomas, but it’s shame in what else occurred during that day, and right there on that settee.” Owen said as he looked over at the settee again.
“I see.” Tomlin said, as Owen looked back at him.
Talon took a horse from the stable and rode toward the docks. He trotted through the streets until he reached the last gate, seeing the masts and lines of the Corsair. Several Marines were standing guard near the gangways of the sloop that was now docked and tied off at the stern of Corsair. Talon dismounted as sailors and a few officers were organizing the unloading. Talon watched as one of the seamen leaned over the rail and hurled his stomach out into the waters of the Thames, obviously sickened by what he was seeing aboard.
Talon went toward the sloop and was stopped by a Marine Sentry. Talon gave him a look and the Marine stepped aside as Talon went up the gangplank and stopped at the gunwale. He saw the carnage aboard, bodies and parts of bodies were being picked up and put into haversacks. Talon looked at a young officer who just stood silently, staring down at something on the deck. What he was looking at was blocked from Talon’s sight from the slide hatch over the aft companionway. Talon stepped forward and came up beside and behind the silent officer. Talon winced at what he saw, there on the deck was a dead Lt. Morris, a broad axe buried in his skull. Talon looked away for a moment.
“Who are you, sir?” The voice asked and Talon looked back, seeing the officer was now looking at him, his face was a blank from all of the horror about them.
“I was looking for Captain Eddington.” Talon said softly as they stared at each other for a long moment.
“He is over there at the wheel.” The officer said and swallowed hard, “Do you serve with him?”
“He was to be my commander aboard the Dover. I was to escort him to Portsmouth.” Talon said softly.
“I am sorry.” The officer said, and saw Talon start to move that way, but stopped him and shook his head at him to tell him not to go, “No one needs to see him like that.” Talon looked toward the wheel but couldn’t see Eddington, and then looked back at the officer, “Perhaps you should be on your way now.” He said softly as he leaned toward Talon, then backed up. Talon looked into the blank eyes and nodded slowly, then turned to head for the gangplank. Several sailors were carrying haversacks down the gangplank to a waiting wagon.
Arland stood at the center of the long table as Fitzwarren read the report and then watched as it was dropped to the surface from his hand. Fitzwarren sat in silence for a long minute, staring at the parchment, and then lifted his gaze to Arland.
“You saw this first hand?” Fitzwarren asked pointing at the report.
“Yes, My Lord. I boarded the sloop myself with only two of my crew. No one else went aboard. We rigged tow lines and brought her directly here.”
“She is still out in the North Sea. We did not sight her as we were working from opposite directions with the sloop between us.” Arland said, his hat tucked in his arm, his other hand on his hip. Fitzwarren was looking at him as he thought Arland was holding back from saying something.
“We need to send word out to her to report back to port.” Fitzwarren said. Arland bowed his head slightly, he turned to leave the room. “Arland, I was not finished with you yet.”
“My Lord, there is nothing more to say.” Arland said as he turned back.
“Have a care, sir.” Fitzwarren growled, “There is action that needs to be taken.”
“Perhaps My Lord, I would suggest that you go down to the docks yourself before you present another possible course of action to be taken. It might give you more insights before we follow something as wasteful as this was.” Arland bowed his head slightly and Fitzwarren glared, “If you will excuse me, My Lord, I have a sloop to be cleansed of…sailor’s blood.” Arland turned and walked toward the door. Fitzwarren glared after him.
Dustin and Holt pulled up the drive of Holt’s home. They saw the carriage there in the drive waiting for them. A man looked over his shoulder as he sat in the open seat, seeing them, he rose and reached for the handle of the door and opened it, climbing out, his driver sat on the bench. Dustin had the cart pull up and stop near the corner of the house and tied the reins off on the seat, as Holt climbed down, going to meet the man that was coming toward them. Dustin climbed down as Holt and the man clasped hands and talked for a moment and Holt turned to look at Dustin. They walked over to Dustin.
“Dustin, this is Severus Hollander, my father’s solicitor and my mother’s cousin. Mr. Hollander, may I present my travelling companion, Dustin Perkins.”
“A pleasure.” Hollander said, bowing slightly toward Dustin. He looked over at Holt, “Christian, I think we need to take an inventory of the house first. You said you wanted to sell it and its lands, I have an auctioneer at my disposal that we may ask of his services if you wish.”
“Yes, that would be fine. I was giving some thought though about some of the items in my room that I would like to keep however and possibly a few personal items of my mother’s.”
“If you wish. These items of yours, will they be taken with you in this cart?”
“No, there is not the room. I will have to arrange for them to be freighted. I was going to take some saddles and tack for the horses when we leave, as we are taking the horses with us.” Holt said.
“Very well. Shall we go in then? I need to have a look in your father’s study, he has his copy of his will there and I need to see if he made any revisions to it so it matches my copy. Any disputes will have to be taken up with the Magistrate.” Hollander said.
“I understand.” Holt said with a soft smile.
“While you are doing that, I will go and feed and water the horses.” Dustin said.
“Thank you, Dustin.” Holt said and turned to walk toward the front door with Hollander. Dustin went along the side of the house toward the barn. He drug his fingertips along one of the rail boards of the pen area, the two horses in there followed him as he walked along. He went past the pen with a smile and walked along the wall of the barn to the doors at the center and went in. As he stepped in he stopped, several pairs of eyes were staring back at him. Dustin lost the smile that was on his face.
Holt opened the door of the study and Hollander followed him in, both of them going to the desk. The drape that Holt had pulled back yesterday was still open. He walked over to open the other one to let even more light in for Hollander to do his search. Holt pulled the heavy drape back and looked out on the grass of the back outside the window. He could clearly see that the grass out there had been trampled recently and some of it had been kicked up as divots, it was rather wide he saw. He followed the trail with his eyes toward the doors of the barn, and then threw his eyes wide open, turning and dashing for the door of the study.
“Christian!” Hollander called after him, “Is something amiss?” Hollander set the papers down that he had in his hand and followed after him.
Holt ran through the front door going across the front of the house to the cart, sliding up to it in the gravel. The driver of the carriage saw him and was watching him with a curious look as Holt pulled two pistols off the floor from under the bench seat, tucking one in his belt and then pulled a heavy sabre. He ran as fast as he could along the side of the house toward the barn.
“I asked you a question, boy!” The Marine growled as he had Dustin by the collar, he looked down at Dustin as Dustin was trying to push back away from him, the others were closing around them. “Where is Gamblin?”
“I told you, he’s not here!” Dustin yelled back, trying to push the big man away.
“Where is the Colonel?” The big man growled. Dustin went to answer him but was cut off before he could say anything.
“Let him go!” Holt yelled, pistol in hand, leveled, sabre in the other, standing just inside the doors. All of the men in the group looked up and glared at him. All hands went to their sword pommels. Holt saw it, “First man that pulls his sword is dead!” Holt said loudly, “Now, stand fast! Let him go!”
“Brave words, boy.” The big man growled, letting Dustin go, but not letting him away, “Who be you anyway?”
“The question, sir, should be, who are you and what you are doing here?” Holt asked.
“I be McKenzie, Colonel Holt’s 1st Sergeant. Who be you?”
“I am Lieutenant Christian Holt.” Holt said in a firm voice, “I’ll ask again, what are you doing here?”
“We were ordered to report to the Colonel, sir.” McKenzie said in a snide tone. He looked about at his men with just his eyes, “Where be the Colonel? Where is Gamblin?”
“His services are no longer required here. As for my father, he had another appointment. Now, let my friend pass.” Holt said with narrowed eyes, regripping the pistol. Two of the men parted in the front of the group, letting Dustin walk away, coming toward Holt.
“You be the son of the Colonel, the one he always,…speaks of.” McKenzie said as Dustin reached Holt and pulled the pistol from Holt’s belt. He cocked it and stood ready.
“Yes, I’m well aware of my father’s opinion of me. Now, Sergeant, you and your men will take your mounts and leave. You have no further business here.”
“I’d be likin to hear that from the Colonel,…sir.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. My father is dead.” Holt said flatly. The Marines looked stunned, “The appointment I spoke of is with a gravedigger that should about ready to lower him in as we speak.” Holt cocked his head slightly, “Now, I suggest you get your mounts and leave my property. Report back to your division. You can consider that an order,…Sergeant.” Holt said in a voice of authority. The Marines followed the Sergeant’s lead and went to get their horses. Holt and Dustin backed up into the grass as the squad of men came out and mounted up. They walked across the grass the same way they had come into the property, the far gate in the fence to the road. Holt kept his pistol cocked and ready until they were out of sight on the road beyond.
“Alright, NOW can we go home?” Dustin asked cocking his head as he looked at Holt’s back.