VOYAGE HOME

2

“Quintan,” Tomlin said quietly as he stepped close to Callum’s back, making Callum turn and look at him, “may I talk to you for a moment?”

“Certainly, Thomas. Is there something wrong?” Callum asked as he saw Tomlin looking a bit worried.

“Yes, there is. I wanted to ask, well,…would you do me the favor of speaking to Christian about us possibly going.” Tomlin said. Callum lifted an eyebrow.

“Are you having an issue between you two?”

“Yes, he is very quiet about it. I have tried to speak with him over it and he draws away.”

“I can understand. Dustin is somewhat withdrawn over it as well. I am not quite sure what can be done with him or with Christian.” Callum said as he started to walk, Tomlin walking with him, both had their hands behind their backs, looking down at the tall grass.

“Perhaps I could speak with Dustin, give him another perspective, as you could do the same with Christian.” Tomlin said as he looked at Callum. Callum was thinking it over, Tomlin could tell, and then Callum nodded slowly in agreement to the suggestion.

“I could do that now, if you want, Thomas.”

“That would be wonderful, thank you.” Tomlin smiled briefly, Callum returned the brief smile and stopped, looking over at the other house. Callum let his hands free and raised a hand to Tomlin’s shoulder, patting it. Callum nodded once and walked to the wall, going over it and started across the new pasture heading for Harbroughs. Callum could see Holt was at the back of the house from this distance. He walked along thinking about what he was going to say as he drew nearer.

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“What is Quintan doing?” Dustin asked as he walked up to Tomlin. Tomlin looked at him and gave him a brief smile.

“I asked if he would speak to Christian for me.” Tomlin said and Dustin rolled his eyes and shook his head. Dustin started to walk away, “Dustin, I know that you’re bothered by all of this, won’t you talk to me about it?” Tomlin asked and Dustin stopped and turned to look at him.

“He is going to get himself killed, Thomas, and you know that. There is no way that this plan will succeed. Dover or any other ship involved will be not able to be close enough to help if that French bastard attacks. I know you know that, just as well as you know he’s going to die.” Dustin said in a cold voice, Tomlin just stood there, “And for what? Why are you both even considering this…plan?”

“You know why. He will succeed. If anyone can, he can.”

“Outgunned, outmanned, it doesn’t stand a chance. Thomas, you’re an officer. Think about it. The Avion is what, a ninety gunner? Tell me how a sloop can stand up to that? That’s what he is going to sail off in isn’t it, or am I wrong? A sloop has possibly four rail guns, you know that. It won’t support anything else, not a nine pounder, and certainly not a twelve.” Dustin said with folded arms over his chest, “Tell me, Lieutenant, am I wrong? What does your officer training tell you? I would like to know.”

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“Hello, Christian.” Callum smiled as he came closer to the house. Holt looked over at him and gave him a brief smile.

“Hello, Quintan.” Holt said, “Thomas send you?”

“Yes, actually, is that alright?”

“Do I have a choice?” Holt asked as he dumped the pot onto the burn area.

“You do, actually. But moreover I wanted to see how you were in all of this.”

“I think you know already. Both of you are going to sail off into certain disaster, and you well know it.” Holt said as he shook out the pot and turned toward the back door.

“I’m not so sure.” Callum said. Holt stopped and looked at him.

“I mean no disrespect, Quintan, but don’t you think that your friend Eddington might have said or thought the same thing when he set off as well?”

“I can’t speak to that, Christian, but you may be right.”

“There you have it.” Holt said, a look of frustration on his face. Holt walked to the back door, Callum followed him. Holt went to the sink and set the pot in it, pumping the handle on the pump and let the water flow a bit into the pot. Callum came up next to him. “Quintan, I have come to care for you very much and every time I look at you, I become very saddened over what you and I both know is going to happen.”

“What about Thomas? He tells me that you pull away when he tries to discuss it with you.”

“I suppose I do, as I know that Dustin is more than likely doing the same thing with you over this.” Holt said as he gave Callum a side glance, “You will recall that conversation that Thomas and I were having that day I told you that I was leaving here because of my father, the day I asked of you to teach me the sword.”

“I overheard part of it.” Callum said softly.

“Thomas was telling me that he finally realized what he wanted to do with his life. It was doing this, what we all share right now, the work with our hands, being together, being happy. He said that he was going to leave the service so we could pursue that life. You, going off and doing what you have planned is going to change all that now, and he is going to go off with you to try what he can do to help you. But as I have said before, you know what the outcome will be. And he will blame himself when it happens, and you know that as well.” Holt said as he stared out the window at the sink, leaning against the counter. Callum reached up a hand and put it to his shoulder. Holt turned and looked at him, his eyes were slightly misting.

“I’m sorry, Christian. I did not mean to have this come between you two.”

“I know. We’ll work it out, I hope. But what of you, Quintan? You have so much more to lose if you do not return.”

“If I do not return, Christian, I only would have lost my life.”

“On the contrary, Quintan, you have far more than that, you’re just being too shortsighted to realize it.” Holt said, Callum pulling back his hand and crossing his arms as he leaned against the counter. “Think not only of Dustin, but Henry as well, and then there is Martha. She has already lost one son, do you not think it would not devastate her to lose another? I have already spoken of Thomas and what this will more than likely do to him, and as well as I, as I have said. Owen, and then there is also the community at large here in Birmingham. These people respect you greatly, Quintan. I know it is your duty and your honor that drives to do this, as I feel it as well.” Holt said as he lowered and shook his head slightly, and then lifted his eyes back to meet Callum’s, “I had entertained thoughts of rejoining the regiment and to have General Emery assign me and my division to your mission, knowing full well you would refuse from the beginning, not to mention that it would be the end of Thomas for certain. I will not rejoin my regiment and join the mission because of cowardice, but more that I know what the consequences of doing so would bring. I understand this threat from this Frenchman, and what it could mean for us here at home eventually, but your plan is nothing but shear folly, we both know that just as certain as we are standing here.”

“You make a valid argument, Christian, I will say that. But I have another plan, one that I have not discussed as of yet with anyone.” Callum said softly as Holt raised an eyebrow.

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“I returned back here to the Cross later after my discussion with Christian, there in the kitchen at Harbroughs. He felt better over it, I think, even though he did not say much about it while I was with him. He also gave me his word that he would not speak of it to Thomas until I had worked my plan over more in my own mind. As a command officer himself, Christian understood what it was that I meant by keeping it quiet. I only told him to ease the difficulties that I knew he and Thomas were having with one another.” The old man said as he looked across the room and smiled softly as if there was someone there. Dustin looked over, seeing nothing but the painting that hung on the wall, a painting of Dover at full sail. Dustin looked back at the old man, putting a hand on the old man’s arm that rested on the arm of the chair. The old man shifted his gaze to the young face that sat next to him and smiled warmly at him, “Might I have a bit more coffee, Dustin?”

“Are you sure, Grandfather?”

“Well, it’s better than a sneak of the wine, wouldn’t you say?” The old man asked with a wink, getting a grin from the young face. The old man looked over at the other young man on the settee, “I do apologize, Andrew, for not being a good host. Would care for wine rather than coffee?”

“No, sir, the coffee is just fine with me,” He smiled with his reply and looked at Dustin, “and it was very good, I might add.”

“Thank you, Andrew, one of my many talents.” Dustin said as he rose off the ottoman, picking up the small pot, and walked toward the kitchen doorway. The old man watched the young man walk away for a moment and then looked back at the young man that remained near him who was also watching Dustin walk away as well.

“I wonder,…” The old man said and paused, seeing the look on the young face, “where did I leave off, Andrew?”

“I’m sorry, sir?” The young man snapped back to reality and looked at the old man, who raised an eyebrow.

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“Ah, there you are.” Callum said as he came in through the stables half doors, seeing Dustin and Tomlin standing there, staring at one another, Dustin looking very angry. He looked over at Callum, giving him the same look. Callum dropped the smile he was wearing. “Am I interrupting something?”

“No, I believe Thomas was just leaving,” Dustin glared at Callum and then looked back at Tomlin with the same glare, “weren’t you, Thomas?”

“Yes, I suppose I was.” Tomlin said, looking a bit wide eyed at being dismissed, he looked at Callum as he came close to him, “I will see you later, Quintan.”

“Alright, Thomas.” Callum said as he looked confused and then looked at Dustin, “What the hell was that about?”

“You, what else?” Dustin said as he turned on Callum fully and stepped close to him quickly, “Why would you ask our friends to get involved with something that is between us?”

“He asked if he could help work this out but obviously not from what I can see.” Callum said as he crossed his arms.

“So he said.” Dustin getting close to Callum’s face, “He also said he asked you to speak to Christian for him. I take it that’s where you’ve been?”

“Yes, I was over there, and yes, I did talk to Christian.”

“And how did that go?”

“I believe it went well. However, they do not share the same issue that we have.”

“As you said, obviously.” Dustin said, dropping his arms and walking around Callum, making him turn and follow Dustin. Callum reached out and grabbed Dustin by an arm, pulling him back, making him turn, “Get your hands off me.”

“No, not until we resolve this.” Callum said with a growl in his voice.

“There is only one way that will happen.” Dustin said with anger in his voice, going nose to nose with Callum, Dustin trying to shake his arm loose of the grip on it. Callum reached up and grabbed the other arm and leaned in quickly, kissing Dustin, Dustin trying to pull back but Callum was stronger, holding him tight to him, working his mouth on Dustin’s, Dustin keeping his lips tight together, and then as the arms slid around Dustin, he melted into the kiss, the force of it, along with the passion behind it from Callum, as Callum pulled Dustin even tighter to him. Dustin parted his lips and let Callum take him more and more, Dustin slid his hands around Callum’s waist and gripped him, Dustin ground his crotch against Callum’s, something they had not done in days, even though they shared the same bed.

Callum had so missed this between them, the touching, the warmth of this youth that he loved so deeply, and he also knew that he had hurt him, hurt him deeply, and that’s what made it even worse between them, that hurt from all of this that had happened but more from the unknown of what might be coming. For now though, Callum was loving what was happening between them at this very moment. Dustin pulled back slowly, needing a breath, a breath that had been taken from him with this passion they both felt. Their eyes opened slowly and Callum locked on those deep brown pools in front of him.

“That was very nice and sorely missed.” Callum said softly.

“Don’t go, Quintan, I beg you. I need you here with me.” Dustin pleaded in a soft voice, his bottom lip began to tremble as he searched those blue eyes he loved so much.

“You asked me to promise you that I would return.” Callum said, “I told you I would, I meant it, and I still do. You know why I must do this. I need you to remain here for me, not for what we have here, but it will give me reason to make me return to be here with you. Can you understand that?”

“I do, but,…”

“There is nothing else, Dustin. To know that you wait for my return will give me the reason I need to do just that. It will spur me, as it did at La Rochelle.”

“At La Rochelle?” Dustin asked his eyes going back and forth in question.

“When the French Infantry was coming to retake the fortress, I knew you were onboard Dover waiting for my return. When I had to fight Smythe trying to reach the beach, my only thought in that was to survive to return to you. It was the same when I fought Christian’s father, as I lay there bleeding, my only thought was of you, where you were at that very moment. I swear to you, Dustin, no matter how long it takes to find this bastard, I will return to you.”

“I wish I was as certain as you are. That’s what frightens me the most, the uncertainty of it. That’s why I want to go with you so much. I told you once that you might get lost without me at the wheel.”

“I recall,” Callum smiled softly, kissing him softly, “but if you remain here, you will guide my course but in another way.”

“If that is what you wish.” Dustin said and frowned over it.

“What I wish is to speed my way there, do this with success, and speed my way back,…to you. I have said it over and over again, I love you so deeply, you are my world. As long as you are safe, I know that everything is right within that world.”

“I do not wish to doubt you, Quintan, but I have such a bad feeling over all of this.”

“I know as you have said, but I need you to stand fast and be steady.”

“I will.”

“Good.” Callum said and kissed Dustin softly again and pulled back slowly, “Can we make love in our bed tonight?”

“Possibly, unless there is something else you might do to anger me today.” Dustin flashed his eyes a bit.

“It’s not my intention to anger you.”

“No, I suppose it’s not.” Dustin said and looked down for a moment, “I must go and see Thomas for a moment.”

“Why?” Callum asked.

“Because I was so very angry with him and even more hurtful. I must apologize to him.”

“I’m sure he understands.”

“It is only right that I go and apologize to him.”

“Very well, if you think you should.”

“I’ll be back shortly.” Dustin said, pulling free of Callum’s hands and walked away, going out the doors of the stable. Callum looked about the stable and then walked out as well, seeing Dustin’s mare coming toward him, Callum smiled and held up his hand, fingers skyward as she drew near and rested her head against his hand as they always did with one another since that first day.

“Hello, my girl.” He said softly as he used his fingers to gently scratch her tufted hair of her forelock above the white stripe, “I’m sorry to have taken the attentions of your young love away from you. I seem to have been giving him cause of great distress as of late. Worry not though, he will be himself once again very shortly.” Callum said as he stepped in under her neck, rubbing her gently along her neck with both hands. She rested her nose on his shoulder and rubbed his shirt with it.

“Papa! Papa!” Henry called out as he came down the path running, Callum looked over toward him.

“What is it, Henry?”

“There is a man here!” Henry said as he pointed back toward the house, “Aunt Martha needs you.”

“Is she alright?” Callum asked, looking up toward the house.

“Yes, she said you had needed to come quickly.” Callum turned and headed quickly up the path toward the house, going through the back door, Henry behind him, having to run to keep up, Callum went into the parlor and stopped dead in his tracks, Martha turning to look at him with wide excited eyes.

“Your Grace?” Callum asked in a whisper, “Your Grace.” Callum said, pulling himself together, and then bowed deeply.

“There you are, Callum.” Wellington said as he stood at the settee, hand on his hip, standing there in full uniform, “I must say, I had a terrible time in finding you, but here you are, and looking well I might add.”

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“Thank you, my boy.” The old man said as he took the saucer from Dustin’s hand that held the cup of hot liquid. The old man held it under his nose and took in the smell deeply, and smiled slightly, taking the cup off the saucer, lifting it slowly to his lips.

“The Duke of Wellington, sir, here in this very room.” Jamison said in almost disbelief.

“Yes, I did say that he had been here in this house.”

“What kind of man was he, sir?”

“He was a very good looking, proud man, a man of deep honor and also very pleasant with conversation. He did not speak to servants, from what I am told, rather gave them written instruction only. On the battlefield, it was said that he was quick to be critical of poor action taken by his officers and men, but was even quicker to praise those that performed their duties well. When he was Prime Minister, I was very critical over some of his policies and some of his statements and opinions, but he told me once in private that he always appreciated my honesty and valued it more because I was sincere in it rather than vindictive as others were of him. But more importantly, he was a good and trusted friend.” Callum said as he lifted his cup to his lips again, “This coffee is absolutely wonderful, my boy, I may just have to give Mrs. Ross notice.” The old man chuckled, making Dustin smile.

“Then you would have chained to the stove, Grandfather?” Dustin asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Why not? The coffee that she made once for me tasted rather more of mud from the road than anything else.”

“I do not wish to raise complaint, sir, but I found her supper this evening rather lacking of flavor.” Jamison said.

“Yes, I would certainly have to agree with you on that, Andrew. It is a complete mystery to me how her husband has survived all these years and is as larger in belly as he is with her cooking.” The old man said, finishing his coffee.

“Perhaps, Grandfather, Mr. Ross does the cooking at home rather than her?” Dustin asked and the three of them laughed over it.

“You may be right in that, my boy.” The old man chuckled, setting his empty cup down, “Well, this certainly has been a day, hasn’t it? I wonder what time it is getting to be?”

“It’s half past nine, sir.” Jamison said as he looked at his pocket watch, and then put it back.

“Good heavens, I haven’t been up this late in ages. I should be off to bed.” The old man said and slowly rose out of the chair, “I will say good night then. You two shouldn’t be up much longer yourselves.”

“We won’t, Grandfather.” Dustin said as he watched the old man walk slowly toward his room, “Do you need help dressing, Grandfather?”

“No, no, I can manage, my boy. Good night.” The old man said as he waved a hand in the air.

“Good night, Grandfather.”

“Good night, sir.” Jamison said as they watched him go into the small hallway and out of sight. Dustin smiled briefly and picked everything up from the coffee that they had had. He took it into the kitchen and went to the sink, setting it down inside, he picked up the pot and removed it from the stove. He started to wash everything as Jamison came up beside him at the sink. Dustin gave him a side glance and smiled.

“What is on your mind, Andrew?” Dustin asked softly as he started to wash the cups and saucers.

“Would you care for some help?”

“Just as long as you’re careful not to break any of these. They were his grandmother’s dishes. I was always told to handle with them with great care.” Dustin looked at him still smiling. Jamison picked up a thin linen towel and set about to dry them as Dustin washed them carefully.

“I was also wondering something else.” Jamison said quietly.

“What is that?”

“Well, I was wondering, could we have that talk that we were going to have? I mean now that he has gone off to bed.” Jamison asked as he set another cup down that was dried. Dustin stopped washing and flicked the water off his fingers and turned to face Jamison, he half turned and Dustin lifted his arms and placed them over Jamison’s shoulders, stepping a step closer to him.

“I would very much love to.” Dustin whispered and leaned in, kissing Jamison softly at first and then fell into him more.

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Callum walked through the tall grass of the pasture as he held Dustin’s hand, lifting the hand and kissing the back of it, then lowering it as they went along together. He looked over to the house and saw Tomlin and Holt, with arms about each other’s waist and shoulders, waving their free arms, Callum waved back as he and Dustin continued on toward the back end of the pasture. They did not say much, only talking about the sky, the light clouds, and Henry and his schooling that was to come.

Callum felt happy to be here like this, happier than he had known in quite a while, just walking along, no care in the world, and then it happened. Callum saw it, his eyes going wide over it. He stopped but Dustin kept going, walking toward it without him. Callum called out to him, or so he thought, but there was no sound that came from him.

Dover slid through the tall grass as if were in the waters of The Channel, stopping short before running into Callum, making him look upward at the bowsprit, all sails of the jib were out and taking the wind fully. He stepped away from her, looking down her port side where Dustin had disappeared, he was thinking that she had run him down in the tall grass and was almost horrified over it. He looked and did not see anything of him, and then he looked up at the railing. They were all there, tipping their hands to him, showing their obedience to him, and manned the side, waiting for him to climb up through the gunwale. He could see the officers on the Quarterdeck, waiting for him, their hats in place, waiting to take them off when he would come aboard her. He looked aloft, and all plain sail had been set and was billowed fully in the wind, but she did not move.

“She waits for you.” The voice said behind him, he turned and looked at a smiling Dustin, their eyes met, and Callum looked back at Dover, “You need to set sail while there is a good wind.”

“I can’t,…not yet.” He whispered in reply.

“Soon then.” Dustin said as he went around him and walked toward the ship. Suddenly he was on the Main Deck, looking back down at him, “I have the course already. I’ll be at the wheel.” He said with a smile and then a nod.

“Wait,…Dustin, don’t go.” He whispered as the ship moved away from him, turning, it slowly disappeared from his sight in the tall grass as he dropped a tear from his eye and sank to his knees in the tall grass. He felt a gentle touch to his shoulder and looked over and then up behind him. It was Dustin’s mare standing there nuzzling his shoulder with her nose. “I’m sorry, my girl, he wouldn’t wait.” He reached up touched her. He looked back toward where Dover had gone, but couldn’t see her or him anywhere. He dropped another tear. “Soon,…”

“Dustin,…” The old man said softly as he sat up in bed in the darkness.

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The old man was out at the bottom of the knoll at the stone wall. He wore his long pants and his boots with a billow sleeved shirt of old style. He wore a heavy jacket over it and the wind this morning was blowing his silvered hair about as he looked out across the pasture of the property known as Harbroughs on the Road. He could see the smoke from the stack at the back of the house across the way, the stack at the back of the house, the smoke being taken by the wind and carried away. He knew that Henry was up and had the stove going and was starting his day there. He smiled softly to himself over it.

Dustin had risen and was dressed and had come down into the kitchen. He looked out the window and saw the figure out at the wall and did a double take over it, putting his face closer to the glass. He heard something behind him and looked, seeing Mrs. Ross coming into the kitchen. Dustin turned and looked at her with an excited face.

“Mrs. Ross, good morning, could you light the stove for me, please?”

“Certainly, sir. Is something wrong?” She asked as Dustin went to the back door.

“I hope not.” He said quickly as he went out the door and down the knoll quickly toward the figure at the wall. Dustin walked over to him, with a look of concern on his face.

“It looks as if your father is already up as well.” The old man said without looking at the young man. “I am wondering if he is alone this morning.”

“What do you mean, Grandfather? What are you doing out here in the wind? I think it might rain very soon. You must come inside.”

“I mean, my boy, that your father and your mother might soon be having a parting of the ways. I’m sure he wanted to tell you himself, but it would seem that he was rather busy with your brothers last evening.”

“What? A parting of the ways? What do you mean?”

“I mean that he and your mother had words yesterday, strong words, and that’s why your father came back over here when we were reading my letters. Perhaps you should go over and talk with him yourself.” The old man smiled, “I’ll go up and see about breakfast. Hopefully she won’t burn the eggs this morning.” The old man rolled his eyes and started to walk toward the house. Dustin looked after him, noticing something.

“Grandfather, where is your cane?”

“I must have forgotten it this morning in my room. I don’t think I need it right at this moment.” The old man smiled and turned to continue on. Dustin watched him and then hopped and jumped to run up beside him.

“You look to be walking much better this morning.” Dustin said and the old man put an arm around the young shoulders, pulling him tight to his side as they walked together.

“It must have been the coffee.” The old man winked, making the young man smile wide.

“Would you care for more this morning?”

“What about Mrs. Ross?” The old man asked.

“We can send her packing.” Dustin smiled wider as he put an arm around the old man’s waist, “I wouldn’t mind being chained to the stove.”

“Or the bed?” The old man winked, making Dustin stop and stare at him with his jaw on his chest. The old man stopped as well and raised an eyebrow. “I may be old, but I’m not deaf.” The old man winked.

“Grandfather,...” Dustin looked embarrassed and blushed.

“Let me tell you something, just between us,” The old man said as he came closer to the young man, “when my Dustin first came here to be with me. We made so much noise, that my Aunt Martha made comment of it the next morning. We were embarrassed and shamed at first, but she was accepting of it, as I am. What you do in the privacy of your room is your business, my boy. But,…” The old man cracked a sly grin, leaning in a bit more, “make sure that I’m totally asleep first, and perhaps I’ll start closing my door as well.” He winked and turned back toward the house. Dustin was quaking in his shoes as he was still shocked. The old man waited at the flagstone for him, looking back at him, and Dustin started toward him, meeting him there.

“You are a pure devil, Grandfather, pure and simple. You tease me so.” Dustin said and the old man chuckled. Dustin went to the back door and opened it, going into the kitchen. He started to make coffee as the old man came in.

“Good morning, Mrs. Ross.” The old man said as he slid out of his heavy jacket, folding it over his arm.

“Good morning, sir.” She said as she was watching Dustin making coffee, being confused by it, she looked at the old man, “You look well this morning, sir.”

“I feel well, thank you. I wanted to let you know that we will be taking supper this evening in town.”

“In town, sir?”

“Yes, in town.” The old man smiled, “I have an appointment this evening.”

“I see, sir.” She said, looking at Dustin and then back at him, “What would you like me to do today, sir?”

“I can’t think of a thing actually.” The old man said, touching a finger to his lips in a thoughtful pose, “Can you think of anything, Dustin?”

“Not a thing, Grandfather.” Dustin said and then looked over at her, “Mrs. Ross, can you think of anything?”

“No, sir.” She said, shaking her head.

“Well then, why don’t you take the day off, my miss, in fact, why not take the rest of the week off. I will pay your wages for it, don’t worry.”

“The rest of the week, sir? It’s only Wednesday, sir.”

“Quite. Think of it as a holiday, a paid holiday. Would you like your wages now?” He cocked his head as he leaned on the table, “Dustin, would you get my purse off my bureau for me?”

“Certainly, Grandfather, I’ll only be a moment.” Dustin said with a nod and went to get it. He was gone less than a minute and came back with it, handing it to the old man, who took it and opened it, counting out a few notes and handed them to her. She was shocked and surprised and looked up at the old man.

“Are you sure, sir?”

“Quite. I’m certain Mr. Ross might like to have you about the house for a few days.”

“I’m not sure about that, sir.” She said and rolled her eyes.

“Well, you never know, he might like it.” The old man smiled and nodded, “I’ll see you on Monday next, my miss.”

“As you wish, sir. Good day to you.” She curtsied slightly and looked at Dustin, “Good day to you, young master.”

“Good day to you, Mrs. Ross.” Dustin smiled and nodded, going to the stove. She gathered her things as the old man walked out of the kitchen and went to his room, putting his jacket away as well as his purse. He heard the front door close as he hung up the jacket on the hook and walked out and into the parlor. He went to the door and looked out the glass, seeing her walking toward town on the road. He smiled. He went to the kitchen.

“Well, she’s gone.” The old man sighed and sat down at the table. Dustin checked the coffee. He looked over at his grandfather and put a hand on his hip.

“Just what are you up to, Grandfather?”

“Why don’t you go up and check on Andrew?” The old man smiled. Dustin’s mouth fell open a bit. “Go on. The coffee won’t be ready for a few minutes yet, I’m sure.” He said with a wink. Dustin dropped the hand from his hip and started that way, putting a hand on the old shoulder as he went by him. The old man smiled at the touch.

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Dustin opened his bedroom door quietly and stepped in the room, closing the door behind him. He slowly went to the bed, taking in the sight of what was lying in his bed before him. He stepped to the beds edge and stopped taking in the sight before him holding his breath for a long minute.

Jamison lie there sleeping, the sheet barely covering him as he lay on his back, his length was firm as he was his norm in the early morning, as Dustin was the very same way every morning himself when he rose from bed as well making Dustin smile in seeing it, the skin of Jamison’s body was pale in the limited light of the room, the dawn light now coming through the window. Dustin took in the sight below him, wanting to touch him, but also didn’t want to wake him.

Andrew had his arms spread out across the bed as he was lying almost in the middle of it. He and Dustin had slept together in the middle, Dustin smiled again at the memory of them being together last night after making love to each other. They had held each other talking softly to one another until they drifted off into a very restful sleep, just holding one another. Dustin thought to himself, is this what his grandfather and his Dustin had done together in this very room? He must ask him, as this so very new to him, and he had loved it so much and wanted more, as he looked down at the beauty of this young man in the bed, his lover he thought. He smiled for the last time and then turned and went to the door, going back downstairs quietly. He thought he heard something as he came down the stairs, soft voices. Dustin went around the corner into the kitchen and smiled at what he saw.

Robert, Dustin’s eldest brother stood in the kitchen, holding his grandfather tight in a hug, rubbing the old man’s back with his large hands gently. They had been speaking to one another, but as they were now hugging, they had fallen silent. Dustin couldn’t see the face of his grandfather, but he knew there were tears of joys as the old man seemed to be sobbing silently as he was being held. Dustin stepped in and was met with a smile and a nod from his brother being acknowledged from being seen. Dustin knew his turn would soon be at hand in sharing his own embrace.

////// ////// ////// ////// ////// ////// //////

Andrew pulled in a breath through his nose and let it out as his eyes opened slowly. He moved his arms about, reaching and feeling with his hands, but he couldn’t find what he was looking for, he knew now he was alone and it gave him a sinking feeling as he lifted his head off the pillow. He looked to confirm that he was indeed alone and it saddened him. The memory of last night with Dustin flooded his mind, seeing it happening before his open eyes as he looked at the soft warm bed, bringing a slight smile to his lips. He dropped his head back on the pillow as he relived it all, feeling it almost as it were as it happened before him.

Dustin and he had explored each other slowly, tenderly, as they had come together in this room, in this bed. Their hands had explored each other as they had kissed with such passion, such animal like feeling driving them further. He loved it so, and as they shed their clothes, knowing full well what each wanted, but being so new to this, their first time with someone else, they fumbled around with each other, seeking to gain not only their own pleasure, but to pleasure the other as well.

Dustin had been more of the aggressor of the two, and it made Andrew smile more in the memory of it and he sighed as he lay there reliving it all, remembering that Dustin had finally encased Andrew’s hardness in Dustin’s warm mouth, never having had that happen to him before, but he wanted it again, that feeling. Andrew had done it to Dustin as well and loved it very much, and with that memory and him now being alone, he felt a deep loneliness inside him. He stopped his smiling and tossed back the covers and got to the edge of the bed, hearing voices now as well as soft laughter. He reached for his clothes that were strewn about on the floor and dressed.

////// ////// ////// ////// ////// ////// //////

Robert was the tallest of the three brothers. He was powerful in his muscled stature, but he was also the quietest of the three. Henry, the middle brother was the loudest of them, and was the prankster of the group. He was forever teasing the young Dustin and was relentless in that fact. Robert on the other hand was gentle with Dustin, had always protected him from the middle brother as they grew up at Harbroughs on the Road, always coming to be here at the Cross to join and just be with their grandfather in daily activity once their grandfather had retired from service in The House of Commons and public life.

“So, little one, tell me how you’ve been. I have not seen much of you at all.” Robert said after he let his little brother go from the tight hug. Dustin was a half head shorter than his older brother and had to look up at him slightly as he held onto the pants at the waist.

“I have been well, thank you. You have been too busy with work for me to see you.” Dustin smiled up at him.

“I suppose I have, but after Father came to me yesterday, I think that needs to change.” Robert said in his deep voice as he smiled in return, “If Mother leaves, Father will need help at home. I am sure that Henry will help him as well.”

“What of Henry?” The old man asked as he wiped the tears from his reddened eyes and cheeks with the back of his hand. He had stood back as Dustin had come in and taken the old man’s place in Robert thick muscled arms.

“He has his work in town as you know, Grandfather, but I have not spoken to him yet after Father came to me. You know how Henry can be, any wind can blow him.” Robert said giving a soft smile to the old man.

“I suppose you’re right.” The old man said as he went to a chair at the table, sitting down, “It may take some time.” The old man looked up at his tall muscular grandson. His face was a combination of both his father and his mother, he had Henry’s brown eyes and his soft brown hair, like Dustin’s but it was rather unkempt, longer than what was the current way of fashion now. The old man looked the older boy up and down, seeing what his work at the mill had done for his body. The clothes he wore were worn in some areas, the knees of his pants for instance and the shoulders of the shirt from being stretched out from the manual labor that he did, his hands were rough and calloused, but he was very handsome and had that manly stature about him. The old man had missed him very much. Robert came and sat down at the table, putting a rough hand over the old man’s, looking him in the eyes.

“Tell me the truth, Grandfather, are you well? You certainly look it.”

“I am, my boy, I am.” The old man said as he used his other hand to pat the hand. He gave him a wink and a soft smile. “I have missed seeing you. How are things at the mill?”

“I have finally hired a man to help to oversee the daily operations. He comes from the north. He was raised in the forests of the north and seems to know what he is doing. I am very pleased with him.”

“Good.” The old man smiled and pat his hand again, “I am very happy you have found someone at last. I know that you have been searching for someone for quite a while.”

“Yes, he seems to be a good fit in it all, which will free up some time for me to be here, to help both you and Father.” He smiled again.

“That would be most welcomed, but, what of your own house, your own happiness.”

“Well, I have met someone, but it is nothing serious.” The young man smiled warmly again. The old man frowned slightly and raised an eyebrow, “I know what you’re thinking, Grandfather, but I do not wish to be tied down as of yet. Don’t worry about it though.” He winked at the old man, who only shook his head at him.

Dustin was at the stove and poured coffee in a couple of mugs and brought them over to the table, setting them in front of the pair there. Robert looked at his brother and then the old man. The old man took his hand back and smiled at Dustin.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to have coffee?” Robert asked, looking at the old man and then his brother. Dustin cocked his head slightly.

“I have decided that why not live the way I wish in the remaining time that I have. I really don’t care what that fool doctor says.” The old man raised the mug to his lips. He sipped at the coffee and then looked up at Dustin, “Excellent, my boy, simply excellent.” The old man smiled.

“Thank you, Grandfather.” Dustin smiled. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and looked over seeing Andrew standing there in the doorway. Robert and the old man looked up and saw him as well, “You’re up.” Dustin said softly. Robert shifted his eyes back and forth between his brother and the young man in the doorway, watching the young man come closer to the table now.

“Good morning, Andrew.” The old man said, turning in his chair a bit, “I would like you to meet my oldest grandson, Dustin’s brother.” The old man said and Robert stood. Andrew had wide eyes seeing the big frame of the handsome man rise up from the table. Robert put out his hand toward him.

“Robert Darrow, how do you do?”

“Andrew Jamison, I do well, thank you.” He took the powerful hand in his, giving a slight shake and then let go.

“Andrew is writing my life story for me, aren’t you, Andrew?” The old man smiled, holding out a hand to have him join them at the table.

“Really, I think that is wonderful, Grandfather.” Robert said as he looked at the old man as he returned to his chair. He looked over as the younger man took a chair at the end of the table, “I would very much like to read what you have written so far. We have all grown up hearing our father tell of Grandfather’s times at sea, the battles and whatnot.”

“Well, right now, it’s in shorthand. I have to rewrite it into actual prose to be able to have you read it. We were just discussing the events leading up to the Captain’s going back to service actually.”

“The Captain,” Robert smiled as he lifted his mug, taking a sip of it while looking at the younger man, “you call him the Captain?”

“Yes.” Andrew blushed over it, his eyes shifting between the larger man and the old man, “He had asked me to call him by his given name, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.” Andrew lowered his eyes.

“I think I can understand that.” Robert smiled, as Dustin brought another mug to the table and set it down in front of Andrew. He looked up and their eyes met, and Dustin smiled briefly at him.

“Thank you.” Andrew said softly.

“I think I’ll go down and gather the eggs now.” Dustin said softly as he bent down to his grandfather’s ear.

“Alright.” The old man said softly in answer. Dustin turned and went to the small narrow table under the back window of the kitchen and picked up the basket for the eggs and went to the door and went out. Robert had given his younger brother a look before he went out the door.

“Well, since I have the day to myself, I think I’ll go down and have a look at the stable, Grandfather, see if there is anything that needs tending to, and maybe the old roost as well.” Robert said as he got up from the table, the old man followed him with his eyes, “I’ll be back in just a bit. Now, don’t you drink all the coffee.” The large young man said, shaking a finger and giving a smile to him. He received a smile in reply. He turned and went out the back door, leaving the pair at the table. Robert went out across the flagstone then down the path and went to the hen roost and waited for his younger brother to come out. He smiled at the young man softly as he received a look.

“What?” Dustin asked as he closed the gate on the pen. His older brother was just looking at him as he leaned on the corner of the hen roost.

“Where did you find him?”

“Who, Andrew?”

“Yes, Andrew.” Robert asked rolling his eyes a bit, “He seems like a rather bit of a pretty type of fellow, little brother.” Robert said, raising an eyebrow a bit.

“He found us actually. And what do you mean by pretty type of fellow?” Dustin asked as he came closer to his brother, getting his dander up a bit.

“I was just wondering that’s all.” He smiled and got off the roost and went to walk by, Dustin grabbed a thick muscled arm and stopped him, pulling him back a bit.

“No, now you tell me what you meant by that.” Dustin said clearly with anger in his voice now.

“I see that you are a little bit protective over him. I must have struck a bit of a nerve with you, little brother.” Again the large brother smiled a smile of now mischief.

“Explain yourself, Robert, or I swear I will do something about it.” Dustin said as he set the basket down and straightened up glaring at the clearly larger man.

“Little one, first of all, I meant nothing by it but a jest. Secondly, I don’t think you want to try anything, as you know what I can do to you.”

“I’m not afraid of you in the least, Robert. I will not have you tease me or any of my friends, I assure you.” Dustin almost growled and balled up his fists.

“Little one, I don’t wish to hurt you.”

“Then explain yourself, windbag.” Dustin growled at him.

“Windbag? Brave words,…from a little mouse.” The older brother said, putting his hands on his hips and then laughed. Dustin let his temper get the better of him, losing it and with his balled right fist, he pulled back and punched into the belly of his older brother, taking him by surprise, making him almost double over and cough, Dustin swung his left and caught his older brother in the jaw as hard as he could, but it didn’t move, making Dustin shake his hand from the pain of the hit. He turned around as he shook his hand more, his mouth open wide and then he felt hands on him from behind, being lifted off the ground, one hand to his seat, the other to his shirt collar and then he was sailing through the air while hearing a growl. He had been tossed like a rag up the knoll and hit the grass there.

Dustin rolled over to his back as the form of his larger brother was over him now, grinning, bending over and grasping his shirt, pulling the cloth and the collar tight into a ball with a large hand and then was pulled, Dustin being lifted off the grass and then was in the air, almost face to face with his older brother, his feet dangling off the ground.

“So, little mouse, you wish to try and teach me a lesson? I would have thought that you might have learned better than that years ago from the last pasting I had to give you.” The older brother growled, pulling the slender body to him, hands had clutched the thick wrist that had him suspended in the air. Dustin growled and wrapped his legs around the thick muscled waist and squeezed with all his might making his brother growl deeper as Dustin locked his feet together at the ankles and then squeezed with everything he had.

“I’ll suck the breath out of you.” Dustin said through clenched teeth.

“You’ll try.” The older brother said with a tight strained sound from the tight leg muscles he felt about him. Dustin rocked and was let go and went to the ground on his back, dragging his older brother with him, making him go face first into the grass of the knoll, Dustin kept his tight leg lock on him, not letting up. Arms and hands went around Dustin and began to try and pry him off and then when that didn’t work to try and squeeze the thin body. Robert was losing the struggle and the air in his lungs.

“Surrender.” Dustin growled as he pushed his body, rolling, getting Robert to his side, Dustin grabbing an arm of Robert’s stretching it, pulling and then twisting, “Surrender.” Dustin growled again, holding on for dear life.

“Alright.” Robert said as the pain was intense and the air was escaping his lungs.

“Say it.” Dustin growled and twisted the arm again.

“I surrender.” Robert said with a choking sound to his voice. Dustin let him go, getting out from under him, rolling away and getting to his feet, fists balled and at the ready. Robert caught his breath and propped himself up on one elbow in the grass and looked at his little brother, giving him a smile, “So, you want to tell me about this young man of yours that you risked life and limb over in protecting?”

“What?” Dustin asked, holding up his fists and cocking his head a bit.

“He is obviously something special to you, for you to risk possibly being pummeled.” Robert said, raising his eyebrow again at his little brother, “Come, talk to me, little one.” Robert said as he patted the grass in front of him. Dustin closed his eyes and sighed and then opened them and looked at his brother. He came over and sat in front of him on the grass, realizing that Robert had baited him into this all along.

“How did you know?”

“Little one, I have known since you were ten. I used to watch you look at my friend Nils when he would come to the house, remember him? Your eyes would bug when he would come in with me. Remember, I’m your brother, and it’s difficult to keep secrets from brothers.” Robert said and then smiled wide. Dustin went wide eyed as he looked at his brother.

“Do you think Henry knows?”

“Of course he does, we’re all brothers aren’t we?” Robert asked as he pulled a blade of tall grass between them, “But, being the good brother that he is, he would never say anything to you about it. I, on the other hand, will tease you relentlessly over it till my dying day.” Robert winked, “Does this young fellow mean that much to you?” Robert asked in all seriousness, Dustin nodded slowly.

“He does. You will see it once you get to know him, I’m sure.”

“Well, I’m sure I will, little one. Now, you take the eggs inside. Grandfather must be getting hungry by now and will be wanting breakfast, I’m sure. I’m going to have a look at the stable. I’ll be in shortly.” Robert said, Dustin getting to his feet. He held out a hand toward his older brother to help him up. Robert smiled and took it, letting Dustin pull him up. He put a hand on Dustin’s shoulder and smiled at him, holding out his arms, Dustin stepped into them and they hugged tight.

“Thank you, Robert, for understanding.”

“Understand this, little one, if he hurts you, I will pull him apart into little pieces with my bare hands. I love you very much, little one, remember that.” Roberts said softly and then let his younger brother go. He turned and walked down the path to the stable and went inside as Dustin picked up the basket staring at his older brother for a minute and then went toward the house. Dustin came in through the back door, closing it behind him. He went to the sink counter and set the basket down in silence.

“Is everything alright with you and Robert now?” The old man asked as he looked at Andrew, who was wide eyed as he looked at Dustin. Dustin turned around from the sink and looked at the back of the old man.

“What do you mean, Grandfather?” Dustin asked as he looked at Andrew.

“Well, after I saw you being tossed through the air as if shot from a cannon, and then you taking Robert down to the grass, I can only assume that you two were having a bit of a disagreement. Correct me if I am wrong, my boy.”

“We did have words, yes, but all is well now, I assure you.” Dustin said, looking at the back of the old man, and then looked at Andrew, who was showing Dustin that there was something in his hair. Dustin reached up and pulled out a piece of grass and tossed it away, rolling his eyes a bit. Andrew smirked.

////// ////// ////// /////// ////// ////// //////

Dustin was up in the bedroom when Andrew came in after knocking softly. He closed the door and came over toward Dustin as Dustin was making the bed. Andrew took Dustin’s hand and stopped him, turning him and clasped Dustin’s upper arms, looking into those soft deep brown eyes of his.

“What are you doing?”

“Uh, making the bed.” Dustin said, slightly confused.

“No, silly, I know that, I meant what were you doing with your brother outside like that. He’s twice your size, he could have hurt you.”

“He wouldn’t. Robert’s all bluff, he’s always been like that.”

“It didn’t look like a bluff when you hit him and then he tossed you around like that. Your grandfather stopped me from going outside to help you. I was scared out of my wits. What started it?”

“I’d rather not say.” Dustin said softly.

“I’d rather you did. Was it about me?” Andrew asked, Dustin looked down at the floor, “It was. Perhaps my staying here was a bad idea. I should go back into town and secure other lodgings.”

“No.” Dustin said, looking back up at him, “You have not the money for that, you know it, and so do I. There is no harm that was done by Robert. He has always looked after me so when we were growing up, trying to protect me in his own way.”

“Yes, but you’re grown now.”

“Yes, and because we are grown up, he still tries to protect me, it’s his way, he means nothing by it. This morning I thought I certainly gave him a run for it. He’ll think twice before trying to involve himself again, that much is certain.”

“Well, you were certainly very impressive to me.”

“Thank you.” Dustin and looked rather sheepish, “I will tell you, he knows about us.” Dustin said softly, Andrew looked horrified, “I assure you, it is quite alright, he was only looking out for me as he does or tries. We did what we did as he was just trying to bait me to find out more about us.”

“Dear God.”

“Do not worry over this.” Dustin said softly as he stepped closer to the frightened Andrew, “He has always been protective over me like that, he will say nothing about it.”

“But, what did he say?” Andrew asked with the same frightened look on his face. Dustin smirked.

“He said that if you were to hurt me, he would rip to shreds with his bare hands.” Dustin smiled a smile of mischief. Andrew gulped loudly. Dustin chuckled and kissed him softly.

////// ////// ////// ////// ////// ////// //////

“Where did we leave off, Andrew?” The old man asked as they sat at the table. Andrew read his shorthand and looked up at him.

“The Duke of Wellington, sir, he was here at the house, in the parlor.”

“Yes,” The old man said. Andrew put his pencil to his notebook as Robert came in the back door, closing it behind him. Andrew saw him and tried not to look at him. The larger young man pulled out a chair and sat down, the old man looked at him, patting the back of his large hand and then looked at Andrew. “He had said to me something about having a difficult time in finding me, I believe.”

“Yes, sir,…he said that you were looking well…”

“Thank you, Your Grace. You look well also.” Callum said bowing his head, Wellington matching the bow, Callum looked over at Martha, “I am sorry, Your Grace, may I present the lady of the house, my aunt, Martha Bonnington.”

“Yes, she greeted me at the door,” Wellington bowed to her formally and she curtsied toward him, “but, surely she must be your sister, Callum, not your aunt.” Wellington said as he stood straight, keeping his eyes on her, “A lady as lovely as she, cannot be possibly anything else but.”

Wellington said with a dimpled smile toward her, reaching out and taking her hand, kissing the back of it, Martha practically swooned over it. Callum sighed softly at it all, he turned and saw Henry standing there, he held out his hand toward Henry and Henry stepped forward next to Callum.

“And if I may, Your Grace, this is my son, Master Henry Darrow.” Callum said with pride, Wellington looking down at the boy, smiling at him. Henry held out his hand toward him. Wellington looked at him for a moment and then took the little hand in his, giving it a firm but gentle grasp.

“A pleasure, young sir. Your father should be most proud of you. You have all the makings of being a fine handsome young gentleman one day.”

“Thank you, sir.” Henry said softly, taking his hand back, standing next to Callum. Wellington smiled and nodded him and then looked up at Callum.

“I am wondering, Callum, what is that wonderful aroma I smell?”

“That would be from the toils of my dear lady of the house, Your Grace. She is preparing a wonderful supper. Her cooking is the stuff of legend, I assure you.”

“It certainly smells of it.” Wellington smiled.

“You simply must join us at our table, Your Grace.” Callum said.

“I do not wish to impose.”

“It is not an imposition, Your Grace. I insist actually, as you showed great hospitality in having me for that wonderful tea in your home. Allow me to repay your hospitality with having you join us for supper. You would honor us greatly with your presence, Your Grace.” Callum said, bowing his head slightly. Wellington looked over at Martha, who was beside herself with joy in this great opportunity in having Wellington join them for supper.

“Well, if I am not putting this beautiful lady to any trouble, I accept your gracious invitation.”

“It would be the highlight of her year, Your Grace, I am most certain.” Callum smiled and looked over at Martha with a side glance, seeing her blushing so very hard like she was and about to burst at the seams with joy.

“I must see about my coach then and my footmen.” Wellington said.

“May I accompany you, Your Grace?” Callum asked.

“Yes, then you can show about your estate while we have a bit of a talk.”

“It would be an honor, Your Grace.”

“Supper will be ready in less than an hour, Quintan.” Martha said her eyes glued to Wellington.

“Thank you, my dear.” Callum said as he opened the door, allowing Wellington to go out first and then he went to follow him out. Callum winked at her. She turned on her heels and dashed toward the kitchen as Callum closed the door, chuckling. He looked down the path at the front gate, seeing that Wellington was speaking to the driver of the coach, Callum went down to join Wellington, telling the driver about Owen’s livery just beyond the square and several taverns to have supper at. Wellington told the driver to come back in three hours’ time to collect him. They nodded toward one another and the coach set off.

“It is not often that I am in this part of the country, Callum.” Wellington said, “It is very lovely here, with all this rolling pastureland. It seems to be very calm and peaceful.”

“I have discovered that it is my escape from the sea, Your Grace.” Callum said as they went back through the gate and started up the knoll, “As a boy, I did not care much for it, in being here, but as I grew older I found that I missed it very much, the peace and quiet that is here, the gentle breezes, the songbirds, and the smell of lavender and lilac along with the grasses.”

“Yes, I can understand that, it is very captivating.” Wellington said as he stopped and pointed at the house, “And what of this, your home?”

“A very simple country house, Your Grace, my grandfather built it after he and my grandmother settled here on the property. We have held it all this time. I live a simple country life and enjoy it very much with my family and friends.”

“I see, and what of that place over there?” Wellington pointed at Harbroughs.

“I have actually purchased that quite recently, Your Grace. I found that we needed the pasture for the herd of horses that you see wandering about us.” Callum said.

“Yes, I noticed them, truly magnificent animals that you have here.” Wellington said as Dustin’s mare came walking up toward them. Callum held up his hand and she stepped to his flattened palm as she always did with him resting her forehead to it. “Remarkable. She is a very gentle soul, isn’t she?”

“Quite so, Your Grace. I found her at a livery in London after the court martial. I could not resist her and her gentle ways. She carried me home.”

“I can certainly see why you could not resist her. She’s very beautiful.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.”

“I wished to talk to you about this situation that you seem to be in with Lord Hood and the Admiralty.”

“It does seem to be a bit of a situation, doesn’t it?” Callum said with a frown.

“A somewhat,…hopeless situation I would say. Callum, I have come here to try to talk you out of doing this.”

“Your Grace?” Callum asked, a questioning look on his face.

“I feel that it will be rather hopeless and another needless loss of life to follow the plan that you outlined that day at the Admiralty as I have been told of the latest catastrophe. What did Lord Hood offer you, if I may ask?”

“His Lordship said that I could write my own ticket in this, as it were, as well as all rank and privilege being restored to me.”

“Really, is that all?” Wellington asked.

“I,…would beg to ask, Your Grace,… do you think there should be more?” Callum asked and Wellington chuckled.

“I should say so, my dear Callum,…indeed a whole lot more, my friend.” Wellington smiled, putting a hand to Callum’s shoulder, turning him and they started walking through the grass of the knoll, the mare followed them closely and then the dog came down from the flagstone to them, walking beside Callum as well, “Lord Hood is trying to get out of this as cheaply as possible, I assure you, Callum. I would say that His Lordship is over the proverbial barrel right at this moment, and you have him. You haven’t sent them your answer as of yet, have you?”

“No, Your Grace, I have not.”

“I see. What if I were to say to you that you could ask for anything, anything at all, and get it? What would you like? What would make you happiest, Callum?”

“A swift end to the war, Your Grace.” Callum replied as he looked at Wellington, who nodded in return.

“The only way that is going to happen, my friend, is by invading the Continent and facing Napoleon and crushing him, or by having him assassinated. Unfortunately, neither one is going to happen anytime in the near future, and that is a true shame for I, too, long for the end of this accursed war. It is such a waste, men, resources, everything. I need time to amass our armies and get them to the Continent to launch an invasion.” Wellington said, as they continued to walk together slowly over the grass of the knoll, “His Majesty feels the same way I do, Callum, I’m sure you are aware of that, as does the Prime Minister, but I have told them both that we need time. And in that time, what do you really think about this Frenchman of yours?”

“I think he is a tool of Napoleon’s, Your Grace, surely it must be so, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I would agree with that assessment, yes. Napoleon fights and conquers within the rules of war, he is honorable that way, but your Frenchman is not, as evident from his actions.” Wellington said, stopping and looking at Callum, “I think you should pursue another course of action to find him. Take your squadron and hunt him down rather than this plan that you came up with. I would hate to see you counted with the rest of the dead thus far.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Your Grace, but I have an addition to my original plan. I have thought it through very carefully, and I am certain it will work. I wish not to sacrifice myself, Your Grace, I will if I must, it will be for the greater good, but I would prefer to return home in one piece with the success of this Frenchman’s capture or with his destruction, either way it needs to be done, I’m sure will you agree?”

“I am forced to agree with you in that, my friend, I am very sad to say. And I have heard over and over that you seem to be the best one to see it done.”

“I am honored, Your Grace.” Callum bowed his head slightly.

“But, you have not answered my question as of yet. What is it that you would want the most? I ask as I can see to it that whatever you wish out of this, His Majesty will be sure to have your request granted.” Wellington said, reaching into his tunic, he pulled out an envelope, handing it to Callum, “A letter from His Majesty. He gave it to me this morning when I met with him and he wrote it after I told him that I was coming to meet with you, though I did not say why.” Callum had a look of surprise and looked at the envelope, breaking the seal and pulled the letter slowly, reading it and then looked at Wellington. Callum handed the letter back to Wellington, who read it and then folded it and handed it back to Callum. “Are you alright?” Wellington asked.

“Yes, Your Grace, I am simply humbled by what His Majesty wrote.”

“He does have a way with a letter, doesn’t he?”

“Indeed he does, Your Grace.” Callum said flashing his eyes and saw Wellington was looking at something over his shoulder. Callum turned and saw Dustin, Tomlin, and Holt coming up the knoll. Tomlin was wide eyed and stopped when he recognized Wellington, Dustin and Holt stopped also.

“I know that young man, do I not?” Wellington asked as Callum stood beside Wellington.

“Yes, you have met him once before, Your Grace, in London.”

“He’s your officer is he not?”

“Indeed he is.” Callum said with a smile and motioned them to come closer, “Your Grace, may I introduce Lieutenant Thomas Tomlin, my 1st Lieutenant, HMS Dover, Lieutenant Christian Holt, Royal Marines and attaché to General Emery, and my once helmsman of HMS Dover, Master Dustin Perkins. Gentlemen, may I present, His Grace, The Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley.” The three bowed formally even though they were all three surprised and thrilled at the same time. Wellington bowed his head toward them as they rose.

“I remember you, Mr. Tomlin, as I recall with great effect, you remarked that watching over the Captain here was a full time undertaking, did you not?”

“Indeed, Your Grace. Thank you for remembering.” Tomlin bowed his head slightly.

“On the contrary, it was easy to remember, as I have shared in that duty myself once or twice.” Wellington said giving Callum a side glance, and looked at Holt, “Holt,… is this the young Marine that we were involved with?” Wellington asked as he looked at Callum.

“Indeed he is, Your Grace.” Callum said, and Wellington tilted his head up and nodded a bit.

“I understand that your father has passed. I offer my condolences, Lieutenant.”

“With thanks, Your Grace, but as you and I both know that with my father’s reputation and passing there is more than likely a great relief within The House of Lords as well as within the district of Cambridge itself.”

“You know this for certain?”

“I have seen it first hand, Your Grace, within the district.” Holt said with a slight smile.

“I see.” Wellington said. He looked over as Henry came running up to them.

“Papa, Aunt Martha says supper is ready.”

“Thank you, my lad.” Callum smiled, and winked at the boy, “Gentlemen, Your Grace.” Callum said, holding out a hand indicating the back door. Dustin dropped back with Callum.

“Why is he here, Quintan?” Dustin whispered in Callum’s ear out of ear shot of the others.

“He wished to discuss the situation with me. He had just learned of it and was somewhat concerned. We’ll speak of it later.” Callum whispered in Dustin’s ear as they reached the flagstone behind the others.

Martha had set the table with the linens from the trunk that were Callum’s grandmothers, the table was set as elegantly as could be made from what was available to her for use. The plain white china had been set on the table and glasses had been put out, not fine crystal, but elegant nonetheless to the group as they saw them for the first time. Wellington smiled softly as he looked about the now cramp kitchen. Martha curtsied as Wellington looked at her, bowing his head slightly toward her.

“My lady, it smells of absolute heaven here in your kitchen. It is no wonder these gentlemen look so healthy and fit. Your cooking must be absolutely divine and I’m sure that they eat everything until they are stuffed beyond measure.” Wellington said.

“Oh, Your Grace, thank you.” Martha was simply bubbling and blushing, rubbing her hands together, “They were certainly skin and bone when I first took charge of them. I have finally been able to put meat on them, Quintan especially.” She said giving Callum a slight scowl and then curtsied slightly toward Wellington again.

“Your Grace,” Callum said, indicating the chair at the end of the table. He came over and sat down as the others came about the table, Tomlin and Holt took the chairs on the far side, Dustin took the bench at the other end opposite Wellington, Henry on his lap, saving a place for Callum next to him, leaving the other chair for Martha. She served as Callum poured wine for all, even Dustin took some which surprised Callum a little. As Martha came back to the table after serving them, Wellington rose from his chair, for her, as the others followed his example and Martha blushed again as she seated herself.

“You certainly set a very fine table for leading a simple country life, as you put it.” Wellington said looking at Callum as he took the first bite of the beef in pastry. He looked over at Martha and flashed his eyes. “My lady, words cannot describe what you have done with this, it is truly magnificent. I am wondering, might I entice you away from his clutches to come and cook for me in London?” Wellington asked in a teasing fashion toward her making her blush deeply as she looked at him and then at Callum.

“Oh, Your Grace, you tease an old woman so.” Martha blushed again and smiled.

“I would beg, Your Grace, to not to steal her from us. We would be so lost without her here to continue her excellent fare and great care that she provides us.” Callum said with a teasing smile and then a wink toward Wellington.

“A true pity as I have never tasted better, even in the finest eating houses of London.” Wellington said as he took another bite and rolled his eyes a bit and giving a slight moan. Martha blushed even more if that was possible, the group all smiled at her knowing that she was enjoying herself immensely in all of this attention. “Mr. Tomlin, I wished to thank you, sir, for keeping up that of which I had asked of you in watching over your Captain.” Wellington said as he lifted his wine glass.

“It was rather a difficult task, Your Grace, with recent events that have occurred.” Tomlin said, looking at Wellington and giving him a slight nod.

“Oh, and how so?”

“Our dear Captain had decided to take upon himself to engage in a duel. I was not here at that moment, as we were seeing to errands in the village. The Captain had rather no choice in dealing with it however and with assistance from our brave and gallant Mr. Perkins was able to hold them at bay until we arrived to render assistance.” Tomlin said rather proudly.

“Is that so?” Wellington asked as he watched this group about him, realizing the tight knit group and the camaraderie they all shared.

“Quite so, Your Grace.” Holt said, looking toward Wellington, “Thomas had been the bravest of us all in that action, I must say. Without a single weapon upon his person, he charged into two experienced and armed Marines in an attempt to reach and rescue our brave Mr. Perkins, who had been beaten into unconsciousness, at that point, Thomas had been run through by one of them, I was right behind and managed to hold them off for another moment as more help arrived from other close friends of the village. Our dear Captain, in the meantime, was doing his best to hold off my father, whom I know that you are aware was a professional duelist. He survived long enough for the rest of us to act, and save him from an untimely end.”

“It was your action alone, Christian, that saved the situation, and I shall never forget it and will be forever in your debt over it.” Callum said as he raised his glass to Holt.

“My word, I had no idea.” Wellington said, lifting his glass. He looked over at Martha, who was now distressed over such talk at the table, “Gentlemen, and my lady, I propose a toast, ‘To great acts of valor, and to selfless bravery.’” Wellington held up his glass and the others did as well, taking a sip from it, he looked at Martha, “You should feel very proud and very safe at night, my dear lady, knowing that you have such an assemblage of valiant warriors gathered here about you. I am certain that together that there is nothing that they could not overcome or conquer.”

“Quite true, Your Grace,” Martha said as he looked at him, “together, they can overcome most things, separated, I would have my doubts.” Martha said softly and got up from the table, starting to clear away things. Wellington noticed that the group had fallen silent. Martha brought back an apple pie and set it upon the table, going and collecting new smaller plates, she set them about. She looked over at Henry and his wide eyes at seeing the pie that he loved so very much, she smiled softly toward the boy and then set about slicing the pie with a sharp knife. Wellington watched her slice it and then set about to dish it out, serving him first as their guest of honor, then Henry, then the others.

“Another bit of heaven, my dear lady, are you certain that I cannot entice you away from this group of ruffians that you seem to be in the midst of?” Wellington asked as he smelled the aroma of the warm pie in front of him. He gave her a glance and she blushed yet once again.

“Coffee, Your Grace?” She asked, giving him a slight smile.

“And where is it that you have been all this time, my dear lady? You certainly know the way into a man’s heart, don’t you? What with excellent food, a very good wine, this heavenly pie and now that wonderful smelling coffee, you are simply a true treasure.”

“As I said, Your Grace, I would beg you not to entice her into leaving us, we would simply lose our way in all of it.” Callum said, raising an eyebrow.

“Quite right. Perhaps I may be able to visit you again, my fine friend, and be invited for another wonderful supper.”

“You are most welcome at our table at any time, Your Grace.” Callum said, with a slight bow of the head, as Martha poured coffee for him, slowly going round the table, pouring for the others. She noticed out of the corner of her eye, Wellington sampling the pie, as Henry had almost inhaled his now, she saw Wellington roll his eyes at it, and she smiled at his deep appreciation of it, it meaning the world to her.

“As I have said, another true bit of heaven, my dear lady.” Wellington said. sitting back and picking up his coffee cup, “You truly know what a soldier requires from a meal, do you not?”

“I have had my experiences from soldiers in the past, You Grace.” Martha said and gave Wellington a side glance.

“Well, this will be forever engrained in my memory, I must say.” Wellington said.

“And as well as ours, Your Grace. I am certain our dear lady will have many things to share over this at services come Sunday, won’t you, my dear?” Callum smiled. She slapped his arm gently.

“I would think not, you scamp. If I did, I might be the laughing stock of the village over it. No one would believe that we had such wonderful company here at the Cross.” Martha said, and then looked at Wellington, who smiled warmly toward her, making her blush again. She went round the table and back to the stove, setting the pot back upon it. There was a knock at the front door. She went to go answer it, returning in another minute, “Your Grace, your man is at the door, he said that they had returned to collect you.” She curtsied.

“I see, thank you, dear lady.” Wellington said as he touched the cloth napkin to his mouth and rose from the table, all of them joined him, “It would appear that I must be off. A pity, I was rather enjoying myself with all of this.”

“Your Grace, may I escort you out?” Callum asked. Wellington nodded, turning and looking at Martha, he took her hand in his and bowed down and kissed the back of it, looking up at her.

“My dear lady, I cannot begin to thank you for what you have allowed me to share in. I have never spent a most pleasant day or evening, and your cooking was beyond description. I can only hope that I will be able to come again and sample more.” Wellington said, kissing the back of her hand again. He let it go and looked at the group at the table, nodding toward them all, “Gentlemen, I thank you for letting me join you. It has meant more to me than you could know. A very pleasant evening to you all.” Wellington said bowing his head, and the group bowed their heads toward him. Wellington looked at Callum, who was coming round the table toward him, Wellington turned going through the doorway into the parlor, he picked up his hat off the settee and went toward the door, Callum behind him, his group following behind him, going to the front door and stopping.

Callum walked Wellington down to the waiting carriage and stopped as Wellington stopped and looked at him. He reached out his hand to Callum, Callum taking it, gripping it firmly. Their eyes became locked to one another.

“I had chance of conversation with another once, one such as you, Quintan,” Wellington said as he held Callum’s hand tight, Callum cocked his head slightly, “Lord Nelson. I found him to be quite remarkable and very intelligent, as you are, my friend. I know you will not change your mind in this matter, as he would not have either. Do not end up as him, however, and lose yourself in your battle. Find a way to survive it, the Nation needs you to survive, as well as do I.”

“I will do my best, Your Grace.”

“Arthur, please.”

“Of course, Arthur,” Callum smiled. “I have too much here to not come back.”

“Yes, quite.” Wellington smiled and took his hand back, he looked up the knoll toward the house seeing the group standing there, waiting, Wellington looked back at Callum, “Send word to me when you return safely, we will arrange an audience with His Majesty.” Wellington said, Callum nodded, “Remember, whatever you want out of this can be yours.”

“I will remember and will think about it. I thank you again for joining us, Arthur.”

“The pleasure was truly mine, Quintan. Good luck to you and Godspeed.” Wellington said and climbed into the carriage, the footman closing the door. Callum caught a look from him and gave him a half smile as he turned and climbed up to his place. The carriage set off down the road, heading south. Callum slowly turned and walked up the knoll toward his waiting group, his head was down slightly as he came close to them, all of them were waiting for a single word from him about it all. Callum reached them, in silence he looked down seeing little Henry standing there in front of Dustin. Callum smiled briefly at him and looked up at all of them.

“I think you need to write your letter to Lord Hood now.” Dustin said softly and turned into the group and walked through them into the house. Callum shifted his eyes back and forth at all of them.

“I will go and pack my trunk, Quintan.” Tomlin said, turning he looked at Holt for a moment and then stepped away, going around the front of the house toward the far corner to head to Harbroughs, his home with Holt. Callum watched him walk away and then go around the corner of the house.

“The Duke of Wellington, Grandfather,” Robert said, “I can hardly believe it.” Robert shifted his eyes toward Andrew at the other end of the table, holding his pencil to the book, writing as the old man had been speaking. The old man looked over at him and gave him a brief smile and then a slight nod.

“Yes, my boy, The Duke of Wellington. It is unfortunate that he was never able to return here to the Cross, and he made mention of it several times over the years that followed, especially when I served in The House.”

“Really?”

“Yes, he was very impressed by my aunt and her skills in the kitchen. He even bragged of it after he gave an address in The House to my colleagues when he was Prime Minister, but that came after her passing, my dear sweet lady. I find that I miss her very much, she being the mother that I never really had.”

“Father always speaks so kindly of her.” Robert said softly.

“They had a special relationship. Your father became the grandchild that she never knew, even though there were some from her daughter, and he always made her very happy and proud. He could smile at her with those dimples of his and charm her as he did me.” The old man smiled softly at the memory of it all. Dustin had set a plate in front of the old man. Buttered eggs, sausages, and what looked like potatoes, cut into small pieces. He looked up at Dustin, who was setting another plate in front of Andrew and went back to the stove, loading another plate for his brother and then brought it to him, setting it down in front of him. They looked at one another, Dustin put a hand on the thick muscled shoulder and smiled briefly at him.

“Thank you, little one.” Robert returned the smile, “This looks and smells wonderful. It’s too bad Henry is missing in this, he would enjoy it very much I’m sure.” Robert said as he took a bite of the potatoes, and smiled at the flavor of them, giving a nod, “And he might even pay you rather than the tavern cook that he goes to every day.”

“Then you must go and tell him to join us here at the table.” The old man said, “He should not be spending his money in such a way when there is an excellent meal to be had for free.”

“I will have to do that, Grandfather. But I think he needs time to himself to think over what Father has said to him.”

“I can understand that.” The old man said as he ate slowly, enjoying finally at last something that tasted far better than what Mrs. Ross had been cooking for the past few years. Dustin came and sat at the table as well, eating and looking at Andrew from time to time, who was eating rather quickly, enjoying what was before him. The old man smiled, “Andrew, I beg you, do not choke. Chew before you swallow.” The old man chuckled and Andrew looked up with wide eyes, Dustin and Robert chuckled as well seeing the look on his handsome face.

////// ////// ////// ////// ////// ////// //////

Robert had gone over to Harbroughs on the Road to speak with his father. Dustin was busying himself in the kitchen cleaning and starting to prepare not only supper for this evening but the mid-day meal, smiling softly as he did his work. The old man and Andrew were still at the table, just talking and going over what had been said and written so far.

“Yes, it does seem to be very accurate, Andrew, my compliments.”

“Thank you, sir.” Andrew said and smiled briefly at him, “I was wondering, sir, about what happened after The Duke left?”

“I drew out paper and ink and came here to the table to write that letter to Lord Hood. I gave much thought to what The Duke had said, about telling me that I could ask for anything in response to undertaking this mission. It weighed heavily on me, but I reread the letter from His Majesty and I could not bring myself to ask for anything other than what was offered to me. A mistake, now that I look back at it, not a regret, but a mistake nonetheless.”

“What would you have asked for, sir?”

“I would have asked for a posting at the Admiralty. In time, over the course of years, it was eventually bestowed upon me, but at the time, if I had asked, I might have been able to carry out another plan that I had thought of previously, a rather daring plan.”

“What was that, sir?”

“Possibly a swifter end to the war and the defeat of Napoleon. My plan was to divide the fleet into thirds, sending one third to the north to blockade ports of commerce and supply in the north of France, another third in the Mediterranean to bottle up the Spanish and French fleets, the final third of the fleet to sail along the west coast of France and Spain, supporting the blockades to the north and the south. As you may know, we did not support an active role in offensive measures, rather a defensive posture reacting only to threats and maintaining only various patrols of those coastlines. Had we been more aggressive, we might have turned the tide much sooner, choking off Napoleon’s supplies even further, making him vulnerable to attack from both ourselves and our allies as well as from the east from Russia. That would eventually happen, much later after a few years, but had I asked for that, it might have happened much sooner and might have saved countless lives.”

“I see.” Andrew said.

“Well, no matter. History made and days passed.” The old man sighed, “So, I wrote my letter to Lord Hood,…”

My Lord,

      It is with a deep sense of honor and pride that I write to you, giving you the notice that you requested of me. I accept this summons of return to service that you have made, service in the name of His Majesty.

      I should inform you that I have received a letter from His Majesty, thanking me for this return to service, and with that I have a request to make in the pursuit to a successful end to this and ridding our Nation of this menace that plagues us. My request is that along with the sloop, and command of HMS Dover, that two other ships of the line, harbored in Portsmouth, be made available to render assistance in support of this action, overall command of this action must be left to me, and the Masters of those vessels be made aware of that fact. I shall be reporting along with my 1st Lieutenant in three days’ time from this date.

                                                                    Your humble servant,

                                                                    Quintan Callum

                                                                    HMS Dover

Martha looked over Callum’s shoulder as he finished writing the letter. She had set a cup of coffee down near his hand as he placed the quill back in the inkwell. Henry was leaning against his leg, watching as he wrote the letter, not knowing what it is was or all about. Martha put a hand on Callum’s shoulder and he looked up at her and gave her a brief smile.

“Three ships, Quintan?” Martha asked, “I know of what this is all about, but three ships against just one?”

“Yes, my dear, three against one. I know it seems to be rather one sided, however you must understand that this one ship is very powerful and will have us all outgunned, unless we take him all at the same time.”

“But, surely there are just as large of ships that we have in the navy?”

“There are, Aunt Martha,” Dustin said, “but they will not be made available in this. Will they, Quintan?”

“He is right in that, my dear. The Admiralty will not risk them or their possible loss against this Frenchman.” Callum said as he looked at the letter again.

“Then why do this, Quintan?” Martha asked. Callum pulled out the letter that was given to him by Wellington. He held it up with two fingers.

“This should answer that.” Callum said, not looking up. Martha looked at it as Dustin came up next to her, she took it and opened it, pulling the letter out, she saw the Royal Crest and the Seal of Buckingham on the top of the letter and gasped a bit, “His Grace gave that to me earlier when we were talking, His Majesty gave that to him this very morning.”

“What does it say?” Dustin asked Martha softly.

“Callum, I wished to thank you for your service to us in a great time of need. I need not go on as I know that you feel as I do about our great Nation,” Martha said, as she paused to look at Callum for a moment and then back at the letter, “the sense of duty and honor that you possess runs strong in you as I clearly noticed it when we met that one day.” She looked at him again for a moment then back at the letter, “You inspire others about you and that is the mark of a true leader, never lose sight of that and we will always be victorious, George III. Dear God, it is from The King.” Martha finished with a whisper. She sat down in a chair at the table. “First The Duke and now The King,…you actually met him.”

“Yes.” Callum said, as he checked the ink on the paper making sure it was dry. It was not yet. He looked at her with a side glance.

“If I may ask, Quintan, what does your letter say that you wrote?” Dustin asked as he moved to another chair at the table to Callum’s right, sitting down. Henry moved over to him and sat on Dustin’s lap.

“It asks of His Lordship for the ships for this task and tells him when I will be arriving.” Callum said in a low voice.

“When is that?”

“Three days from now. We must be out in the North Sea before the loss of the moon.” Callum said softly as he looked at Dustin with sad eyes.

“Three days.” Dustin whispered and wrapped his arms around Henry tighter. Dustin sighed softly and pat Henry’s little chest with one hand. Dustin cleared his throat, “That does not leave much time for,…”

“I know.” Callum whispered.

“As you have said in the past, quicker there and quicker to return.” Dustin said as he tried to be cheerful, feigning a smile, he looked at Henry on his lap, “We need to get you ready for bed, my lad. It’s been a long and busy day for you.” Dustin pat the little chest again. He set Henry on the floor and got up from the chair.

“I am going over to speak with Thomas. I will return shortly.” Callum said as he rose as well, turning to look at Dustin, who was fighting against tears, and then nodded, then guided Henry into the parlor and toward his room. Callum looked down at Martha who was lost in thought over it all. Callum put a hand on her shoulder and then went to the back door. He opened it and the dog came in.

He closed the door behind him and started down the path toward the stone fence and saw Owen in the rapidly approaching darkness. They waved at one another and Callum kept going on his way, Owen watching him and then went about the chores for the horses.

Callum knocked on the door of the house and waited for it to open, looking out across the pasture he had just crossed. The door opened and Tomlin stood there, puzzled that Callum was at the door in the almost darkness.

“Quintan, is everything alright?”

“Yes, Thomas, I was wondering if I might have a word.”

“Of course, please, do come in.” Tomlin said and opened the door wider, letting him in, then closing it behind him.

“Where is Christian?”

“He is upstairs, please, come in.” Tomlin said and guided Callum into the parlor. There was not much furniture there as most of it had been burned as it has been old and tattered when they took possession of the house. There were a couple of chairs that were there, Tomlin had shown Callum to one, having him sit down, “I’m glad you’re here actually,” Tomlin said as he went to the sideboard against the far wall, taking glasses and opening a decanter that belonged to the previous owner, the older man that Callum had purchased the property from, “Christian and I were talking about pouring this out and replacing it, but I found it quite good sampled it and didn’t want it to go to waste as it’s almost full.” Tomlin said as he poured the sherry. He put the stopper back and lifted the glasses, turning and stepped over to Callum, handing him one, “I would have thought Dustin might have come with you.”

“He is seeing Henry off to bed.” Callum said taking the glass from Tomlin, “Thank you.”

“What did you wish to speak of?” Tomlin asked as he sat down.

“I wrote the reply to Lord Hood. I will see it go out with a special messenger in the post tomorrow morning.”

“Alright. When do we leave?”

“That’s what I wanted to speak to you of.” Callum said, taking a sip of the sherry and then sat forward in the comfortable chair, “Thomas, I want to emphasize that you do not have to do this with me.”

“Quintan, we have had this discussion already. I gave you my pledge of service, I stand behind it.”

“I know, Thomas, and I thank you for that, but as I said, you do not need,…”

“Good evening, Quintan,” Holt said as he stepped off the stairs, coming into the parlor, “I beg your pardon for interrupting, but, yes he does need to. It would be sound military practice for him to be there and you well know it. If you are to survive this, Quintan, you will only do so with officers that you can trust and count on to support you. Thomas is that officer, and you know that. You and I discussed that very thing as well.”

“Very true, Christian. However, my guilt with it seems to be getting the best of me with all of this as time draws short.”

“You think because of me, my being here and being left, with Thomas going off with you?”

“Well,…yes to speak plainly.”

“Put it out of your mind, Quintan.” Holt said sounding a bit upset as he went to the sideboard, pouring himself sherry as well, leaving the stopper out, picking up the glass and knocking it back hard, then refilling it his back to them, “I need to report to the Garrison before month end anyway. There will be much to answer for if I do not.” Holt knocked the next glass back and refilled it again. Tomlin and Callum just watched him. Holt turned and looked at them, “It’s too bad, really, that the three of us won’t be involved in this together, if you carry out the plan that you outlined to me in the kitchen.”

“Yes,” Callum said slowly, as he looked at Holt.

“What plan is that?” Tomlin asked.

“A wondrous idea that our dear Captain has devised.” Holt said and drank half the glass, and looked at Callum, waving the glass in the air a bit, “It has the makings of remarkable stuff, if he can carry it off.” Holt said, drinking the last of the sherry in his glass, he turned and refilled it, “I have not breathed a word of it, Quintan, fear not, as I know that you asked me to remain silent, but I have been thinking further on it, and I was wondering, and perhaps you can clarify it for me, me with not being a naval officer and all, I could not begin to even think of how fast a ship can travel in winds, headwinds, whatnot. So, if you try and carry this out,…”

“What plan?” Tomlin asked as he got to his feet, looking at them both, Callum turned and looked at him, smiling briefly.

“Another thing I wished to speak to you of.” Callum said softly.

“And where pray tell, where is Dustin?” Holt asked as he downed the sherry.

“Christian, perhaps,...” Tomlin went to say.

“Now, now, Thomas, my love,…” Holt said as he poured another glass, then turned back toward them, “weren’t we saying just the other day that we should get rid of this and start with new?”

“Yes, I was just saying that very thing actually, but not all at one time, and certainly not by yourself.” Tomlin said.

“Quite right. Where are my manners? Good heavens,…Quintan, please, let me refill your glass.”

“Thank you, no, Christian, I am fine with this.” Callum said slowly as he looked at Holt.

“As you wish.” Holt said and drained his glass again, clearing his throat, “Rather nasty stuff, isn’t it? Has a sharp aftertaste, hmmm. We shall have to go into the village and find better when we replenish our supply.” Holt said, leaning against the sideboard lifting an eyebrow.

“Christian, what has gotten into you?” Tomlin asked.

“I was just doing some thinking upstairs is all, and then discovered much to my delight that we have a wonderful caller here with us this evening, to share in this, our soon to be empty new home.”

“Thomas, perhaps,…” Callum said as he set his glass down.

“It is true, isn’t it?” Holt asked, “I go off to Cambridge and then return, and you lovely gentlemen are going to go sailing off into certain disaster, while I will be shipped off to God only knows where. And then there is this poor old lovely house,” Holt said as he looked around the room with only his eyes, “indeed a shame, to be empty yet once again, as if it were a curse.” Holt put his empty glass down and chuckled, “You know, I was just thinking, wouldn’t it be ironic if I were assigned to my father’s regiment in Scotland, yes it certainly would be, wouldn’t it? Leave it to the powers that be to do the correct thing.” Holt chuckled and went and sat down in another chair, “But, how rude of me,…Quintan, you were going to explain navigation, and with your plan, what does it all mean?”

“I will not bore you with detail, Christian. We can have that conversation another time.”

“Ah, but time is short, is it not? When did you say you were sailing?”

“In three days’ time.” Callum said flatly as he looked at him.

“Whew,” Holt tried to whistle but couldn’t, “that is short. Thomas, we need to get you packed and ready.”

“I already am packed and ready, Christian.”

“Oh, so you are, I forgot.” Holt said, and watched Tomlin come to him and scooped him under one arm, lifting him out of the chair, “What are you doing?”

“I am taking you upstairs and am going to put you into bed.” Tomlin said.

“Do you wish some help, Thomas?” Callum asked, Tomlin looked over at him and shook his head.

“I can manage, thank you. I’ll return in a minute.”

“That’s alright, we can speak in the morning.” Callum said, “I’ll see myself out.” Tomlin nodded and walked Holt to the stairs, taking him up slowly and carefully. Callum went to the door and looked at them as they were going up together, Callum could hear Holt arguing with a silent Tomlin about not wanting to go to bed. Callum went out, closing the door behind him. He hung his head as he went back across the pasture the way he had come, looking up at the soft lights of the Cross as he went along in the darkness. He knew that Holt was upset, but he thought that that had been settled after their talk in the kitchen this morning. Callum realized that this was going to get worse for all involved, but he also knew that he had to see this through, too much was dependent upon him being successful. He walked up the path after looking at the stable, seeing a candle glowing through one of the shutters, he knew Owen was still here. He went to the back door and opened it, going in, blowing out the candle and then lowering the lamp on the wall, he went to Henry’s room and opened the door quietly, seeing the small boy sleeping already, the dog at his little feet, thumping his tail on the comforter. Callum pat the dog’s head and then bent down and kissed the boy on his temple, smiling at his little charge, tucking him in more, putting a hand to his soft hair. He went out and closed the door quietly. He went upstairs, opening their bedroom door. Dustin was sitting on the bed, still dressed, waiting for him.

“Why aren’t you in bed yet?”

“I was waiting for you to return.” Dustin said softly.

“I was just checking in on Henry. Did you wish to talk?”

“Yes.” Dustin said as he watched Callum come to him and then sit on the bed next to him, “Did you speak to Thomas?”

“Only briefly. Christian was very upset and I did not get a chance to talk to Thomas about everything I wanted to. I suppose it will have to wait. Do you know what is troubling Christian so?”

“I do.”

“What is it, I mean beyond the obvious of Thomas going to sail with me?”

“He received a letter this morning from General Emery. After he returns to the Garrison, he is to be reassigned apparently.”

“That must be what he was meaning then.” Callum said.

“Why, what happened?”

“It was a total shock to me, but Christian started drinking quite heavily and rather quickly. He was going on and on about all sorts of things, ramblings mostly.” Callum said.

“He said something that he may be shipped out to either Greece or Libya. There had been talk about it a while back at the Garrison apparently.”

“I can see what I can do. All I need do is rewrite the letter to Lord Hood.”

“He would not ask you for special favor, Quintan, and you know that. He also said that he assumed that you would not want him with you on the sloop. Is that correct?”

“That part of it is correct. Why did he not say anything of this letter, I wonder?”

“I’m sure he might have if The Duke had not been here. But, Christian is like you, Quintan, full of mindful pride. He might not have said anything about it at all. I only knew because he said something to Thomas while I was there after coming back from getting the post.”

“I feel that our world is falling apart all around us, Dustin.” Callum said softly as he put his hand on Dustin’s.


 

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