Pennysort…a nickname from his school days, but it has stayed with him, and for good reason. Albert Bancroft was his real name, named after his father, and his father before him. Gangly in stature, Adam’s Apple standing very proud, and when he spoke in his soft spoken, almost feminine voice, it moved at almost a violent pace, sliding up and down shifting his necktie and high shirt collar.
Had anyone that had the chance to take in his sight without any benefit of clothing, they would have thought that he was near starvation, or just beyond. His body was actually more than gangly, almost grotesque in showing every bone under the skin. Ribs, pelvis, humorous, ulna, all bones of the body revealed under the beyond pale skin. It was as if he was death itself, but somehow alive in it all, ‘the skin that moved’, some had referred to him as.
Pennysort had come by the name at school, as some boys tease, with really nothing else better to do, and they find the target that seems to be easiest, those that cannot readily fight back for themselves. Albert was that sort. He absentmindedly would sort the pennies that had been given to him by his mother once a week. Those pennies would pay for various things needed at school, ink, parchment, and the occasional sweet when enough were saved. Albert would sort those pennies by date of stamping, spending the older ones first, hence, Pennysort.
“I beg pardon, My Lord.” The soft voice almost feminine said as he stood before the desk. The man behind the desk knew he was there and had heard him but did not look up from what he was writing.
“What is it now, Pennysort?” The gruff voice asked.
“My Lord, the Guardsmen are overdue from Birmingham.”
“And that concerns you, Pennysort?” The man behind the large desk asked as he continued to write.
“I would think, My Lord, that it should concern you.” Pennysort said as he clutch a group of papers in one hand, holding them tight to himself with his thin bent arm. The man stopped writing and stared at the quill in his hand.
“It might.” The man said, then moved his hand slowly and dipped the quill in the inkwell and tapped it. His eyes lifted and he gazed at the gawky man standing before him on the other side of the desk, “It means that they have failed in their latest attempt.”
“Yes, My Lord, it seems so. It also seems that this being the third attempt by the Guardsmen to obtain the boy, and if they have failed,…”
“Then I will find another way, Pennysort.” The eyes were burning into the gawky man that was standing and then an almost what could be described as an evil grin began to creep over the lips of the man behind the desk, “The game is well underway, Pennysort, and nothing will stand in my way to see it done.”
“This Captain,…Callum seems to be quite formidable, My Lord.”
“Quintan…” The man whispered. He cleared his throat and the eyes changed slightly from a glare to a softening at the mention of the name, “Captain Callum is a man of deep feeling, of great compassion, Pennysort. He cares about those about him. A bit too much, I think. That will be his undoing. Did he receive the letter that was sent?”
“Yes, My Lord.” Pennysort said and bowed slightly, “But, the messenger was sent away and was given no reply.” The eyes of the man behind the desk shifted back down to the paper before him. His left hand became a fist and then eased.
“I should have sent Regulars, but Wellesley might have asked questions about it.” He said with almost a growl in his throat, “Damn.” He said and set the quill down. He laced his fingers together and rested his elbows on the arms of the chair he sat in and looked at the man on the other side of the desk, “What do think, Pennysort, of this Captain Callum?”
“As you say, My Lord, he is a man of deep feeling, obviously. However, it is said that he has ties to His Grace, as well as Lord Eldon, even though they are not close. Lord Hood, as you know, has a very high opinion of him, and Lord Fitzwarren has thought of him as a son at one time, but he seems to have fallen out of favor with Lord Fitzwarren, why I have not been able to ascertain as of yet. As far as what I think of the man, I would need to meet him first, My Lord, before I could answer that question for you.”
“He will come then.” The man said and gave a brief smile, “He will come to London to find out what is going on here, and you might have your chance, Pennysort. Have our man that is watching Wellesley report on anything that he might see. I need to know when Callum arrives.”
“As you wish, My Lord.” Pennysort said and bowed slightly, “I take it that you wish Callum to be killed?”
“No, not yet. But, it will come to that.” The man said and tightened the grip of his fingers on each other, “Callum has caused me much difficulty in less than a year. He has made me alter plans that have been ongoing and has proved to be an unknowing adversary, a rather painful one I might add. The loss of Smythe and what he could have done on the Continent with the invasion force has made me change tactics more than once.”
“If we were to simply end Callum, My Lord, once and for all….”
“No, not yet, it would raise suspicion. I am certain that my name has come up more than once in various meetings at the Admiralty. No, we will wait for him to make his move and then I will act to counter it.” The man behind the desk said and then thought a moment, “Send word to the elder Phelps in Bristol, to proceed with the second plan into the Indies. Then send word to Commodore Phelps in Southend. Tell him I wish to meet with him tomorrow evening, here.”
“Yes, My Lord.” Pennysort bowed slightly and turned and walked toward the door of the larger room. The man behind the desk watched the gawky man walk away and smiled wryly.
“And when you come, Quintan, I will have you right where I want you, in the palm of my hand, just like before.” The man said in a whisper as he became alone in the room.
Callum opened the back door of the house and stepped aside for Dustin to enter then closed it behind the both of them. He saw Martha at the table sorting what was in her basket, vegetables and the like, purchased from the marketplace in the Square. Callum smiled at her briefly and went to the stove reaching for a cup on the shelf above and poured coffee from the pot. He turned and saw Dustin next to her and then he glanced in the direction of the doorway that led into the parlor. Henry stood there. They made eye contact.
“How was your trip into the village?” Calum asked the small boy after he sipped the hot liquid. Henry looked at him.
“Owen let me drive the coach.” Henry said with excited eyes.
“Did he now?” Callum asked in reply and heard Martha huff a bit.
“He did, and I will say that it was a very bumpy drive as well.” She grumbled without looking up, “Jostling an old woman all over the seat like that. It is a good thing that I did not have eggs in my basket, not a one would have made the journey without cracking.” Callum chuckled at hearing her and looked at Henry, who hung his little head a bit.
“As I said before, my dear, perhaps we should see about a dog cart for you and your trips into the village. It seems to me that the more practice Henry would get in driving, the better he becomes and would be less apt to jostle you about.” Callum said. Dustin went around her as he knew what was coming and was getting out of her way as she lifted her head and glared at Callum. Henry was practically beside himself with the thought that Callum might obtain a cart for him to drive.
“Scamp! I told you that there was no such reason to have one, and to have that boy drive me?” Martha asked. Callum was grinning from ear to ear. Martha saw the look and eased herself as she knew Callum was teasing her. She shook her head and then her finger at him, Callum chuckled again.
“Well, what is for supper then? I am absolutely starved.” Callum said and then sipped more coffee from his cup.
“You’ll know soon enough.” Martha said as she came toward him at the stove. She slapped his arm and he stepped out of her way, “Tease an old woman the way you do, I never…”
“It stirs the blood and is good for you.” Callum said above a whisper and when she turned to give him that look he kissed her forehead. She sighed and forgave him without saying it and then blushed a bit over it all.
“You scamp. Now take your lot and get out of my kitchen and let me set to it.” She said and smiled out of the corner of her mouth. She turned and Callum pulled her apron string and walked away letting the apron drop to the floor. He flashed his eyes at Henry making Henry turn and get out of the kitchen in a flash. Dustin just shook his head at Callum, who winked in reply, “Scamp!” Martha cried out as they were in the parlor now. Callum chuckled and looked at Henry.
“So, my lad, how about we do a bit more reading then before supper?” Callum asked. Henry nodded in answer.
“I think I’ll go upstairs and have a change.” Dustin said softly as he leaned close to Callum.
“Why is that?”
“These clothes have a bit of a…stink to them.”
“Ohhh.” Callum said knowing what Dustin meant.
“I’ll join you both in a minute.” Dustin said and walked toward the stairs. Callum went over to the settee and picked up the pocket book and sat down. Henry came over and climbed up next to Callum and sat as Callum opened the book.
“I wonder where we left off, do you recall?” Callum asked as he thumbed pages knowing full well where it was but wanted to see what Henry remembered.
“I think it was where the ship was sailing into that storm.” Henry said as he stared at the pages and the small print.
“Oh yes, I believe you’re right.” Callum said. He turned back another page.
“Is that the book that I saw in your trunk, Grandfather?” Dustin asked. The old man smiled and nodded.
“Yes, I have kept it all these years. I read it to your father actually twice. Once when he was little when I first purchased it, the second time was later when he was older and before he went off to school in Brighton.” The old man said.
“I didn’t know he went to school in Brighton.” Dustin said as he sat at the table in the kitchen near the back door.
“Yes. That was where he met your mother actually. The school that he wanted to go to taught farming and he wished to become an animal doctor.” The old man said, “What with all of the horses about here at the Cross, I thought it was a fine idea. The sea never truly interested him. He had heard me speak of it when I would come home but he did not fancy it as being what he wished to do in life.”
“I had no idea.” Dustin said.
“I struck a bargain with him after he finished school. He would tend to the horses and raise them for what purposes that he felt best and I would take care of his expenses. It was a way to keep him close here and to me. It was Dustin’s dream actually to have horses about and Henry followed in that love.” The old man said and smiled at the memory, “He always had a way with them, and they in turn responded. Your father became quite a renowned racer, none could best him when he was younger.”
“I have heard him speak of that, but not much.”
“Yes. Your mother put a stop to it after he had taken a rather bad fall during a cross country race. He broke his arm and collarbone. It was just before your brother, Robert, was born. I remember that day of the race. It was a bit rainy and there was a good wind. The ground was rather soft and I think that was actually what saved your father’s life. Had it been dry and firm, he might have been trampled to death by the other racers.” The old man smiled at the young man, “You should ask him sometime. I’m sure he would tell you.”
“I will.” Dustin smiled back at the old man and nodded, “Would you care for more coffee?”
“Yes, I think so, thank you.” The old man said and looked over at Andrew, who sat at the other end of the table, “You’re awfully quiet this morning, Andrew. Is something wrong?”
“No, sir. I was just thinking a bit is all.”
“Oh? And what about?” The old man asked as Dustin set the freshened cup in front of him.
“The publishing, sir, of your story. I have been wondering how to actually put it into a volume and present it to the publisher.”
“Are you having issue with the telling then?”
“No, sir, no, not at all. It is quite thrilling to hear you describe it, all of it. But, I was thinking that they may wish to read it as another way, as an adventure, not as fact as I would like to present.”
“I see.” The old man said and pursed his lips a bit, “We had this discussion at the onset of this as I recall.”
“Indeed we did, sir.” Andrew said and looked concerned.
“As I recall, I think I said that it was not an adventure.” The old man said and Andrew nodded, “Then write as you would a journal, a diary, but without dates, as they would escape me in trying to recall exactly.”
“A journal?” Andrew asked softly, but more to himself, “Yes, I see your point, sir, a brilliant idea. Present it as a logbook as it were.” Andrew said and brightened, his problem solved.
“Exactly.” The old man smiled briefly and picked up his cup.
“Yes, I can do that.” Andrew said excitedly, “If you would excuse me, I want to try and transfer some of it.”
“Of course.” The old man said and watched the young man get up from the table and walk out of the kitchen. He turned his gaze back to his grandson as he was joined at the table, “Are you two alright?” The old man asked quietly. Dustin narrowed his eyes a bit and gave a look of question.
“Why would you ask that?”
“Because, my boy, it has been rather quiet around here the past couple of nights.” The old man said and put his hand on Dustin’s. The look on Dustin’s face became one of shock, and then he blushed in embarrassment. The old man smiled and pat the back of the hand under his, “It’s alright, my boy. I was merely concerned, that’s all. I want to see you happy, Dustin.”
“I am, Grandfather.” Dustin smiled softly and then nodded toward the empty doorway to the parlor, “He makes me that way.”
“Good.” The old man said and winked, “I like him very much.” Dustin leaned forward a bit toward him.
“I’m glad that you do. And as for making noise, we stay quiet so you do not have to play your music box, you sly old thing.” Dustin said quietly and raised an eyebrow as the back door opened. The old man looked up and saw the towering form of Robert, his eldest grandson standing there.
“Robert.” The old man said and smiled wide.
“Hello, Grandfather.” Robert smiled wide as well and warmly, he put a hand on the young shoulder at the end of the table, silently telling Dustin to stay seated, “Hello, little one.” The muscled man said and moved by his youngest brother and went to his grandfather and bent down and gently hugged the old man, who wrapped his arms up and around the broad muscled shoulders, “I have a surprise for you both.” Robert said as he straightened and looked at the back door. There stood Henry, the middle brother.
“Henry.” The old man said and smiled wider as Dustin stood and practically jumped into his brother giving him a big hug. Henry was similar in appearance to his father and his youngest brother but had grown larger than both. The other difference that was striking were the deep green of his eyes rather than the brown that was shared by all.
“Hello, Grandfather,” Henry grunted as Dustin practically squeezed the air out of him, “my, let me get my breath, Dustin.” Henry grunted and pulled Dustin off him but was smiling. Henry went around his brother and went to the standing old man and hugged him tight, patting the old back gently, “So good to see you.”
“And you, my boy.” The old man said as he was let go, “What do we owe this unexpected but welcomed visit to then?”
“I came to speak with Father but thought I would stop in to see you first.”
“I see. Most welcomed and a bit overdue.” The old man smiled and put a hand on the muscled shoulder, “You look a bit pale, Henry, are you doing alright?”
“When was the last time that you ate?” Dustin asked feeling the ribs under the shirt from behind and getting a back glance from his older brother.
“Is this an inquisition then?” Henry asked.
“I told you they would be on you for not coming sooner than this. It’s your own fault you know.” Robert said as he turned from the stove with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“Yes, you did.” Henry said and then looked at his younger brother, “Alright then, I do not recall fully. I have been a bit busy as of late.”
“Sit yourself down then, I’ll get you something.” Dustin said with an almost frown.
“Here, what is this then? Where is Mrs. Ross?” Henry asked.
“She has found other arrangements, Henry. Dustin does all of the cooking and the housekeeping around here.” The old man said as Henry looked back to the old man.
“And quite well too.” Robert said after sipping the coffee, “This is simply wonderful, little one.”
“Thank you.” Dustin said but was looking at Henry, “Sit down, I will make you sausages and eggs then.”
“When did you learn to cook?” Henry asked as he and the old man sat at the table.
“You have missed a few things being in town the way that you are.” Dustin said.
“Yes, well, that might have a bit of a change.” Henry said. All eyes but Robert’s were on him now.
“Why is that?” The old man asked.
“I came to speak with Father about possibly taking my old room back.” Henry said.
“Really? I think that’s wonderful.” The old man said, “Are you in a bit of difficulty?”
“No.” Henry said and looked down a bit.
“Henry?” The old man asked knowing the look. The green eyes looked up and Henry tilted his head a bit, “You can tell us, we’re family after all.”
“Well…there is a bit of trouble…in town…” Henry said and looked a bit sheepish over it, the old man raised an eyebrow, “I am trying to…distance myself…from a certain…”
“Oh, for God’s sake, just say it, will you?” Robert asked as he came near the table rolling his eyes a bit. Henry glanced up at his older brother and got the look from him.
“I have been seeing…a young lady…and she wants to be a bit more…” Henry said and the old man eased and sat back in his chair.
“I see. She wants to get serious and you do not.” The old man said, “I can understand that. Do I know of her?”
“She and her family have settled here from the north just recently, you would not know them, Grandfather.” Henry said.
“I see.” The old man said and folded his arms. Dustin busied himself at the stove cooking for Henry when Andrew came in through the doorway and looked a bit surprised to see the two arrivals there. Henry gave Andrew narrowed eyes.
“The bow rose and then would fall into the water bringing the spray up and over the gunwales of the deck. The men moved about to secure lines and stays as the good ship moved toward the darkening horizon. The clouds began to blacken and threatened to let loose their fury that seemed to be held back until they reached the point…” Callum read but was interrupted.
“Is it really like that, Papa?” Henry asked as he looked up. Callum looked across and down at Dustin on the floor in front of him and then over at Henry sitting next to Callum on the settee.
“Sometimes, yes.” Callum said, “I have been in many storms at sea. So has Dustin.” Henry looked at Dustin, who nodded in agreement.
“It must be very scary.” Henry said.
“It can be.” Dustin said softly and gave a brief smile. Henry moved a bit closer to Callum and nestled in next to him.
“I remember when it would rain hard when I lived in my crate in the alley.” Henry said, acting like he was cold suddenly, trembling slightly at the thought, as Callum could feel it next to him.
“What do you remember, Henry?” Callum asked him softly.
“I would get very wet at night with the rain and then cold because of the wind.” Henry said as he stared blankly across the room, “It made my tummy hurt as well from being cold and hungry. My shoes always got tight when they got wet and made my toes hurt.”
“I’m sorry, Henry, so very sorry that you had that happen to you.” Callum said and closed the book. He put his arm over and around the little one next to him and pulled him to him even tighter, “You’ll never have to go through that again, I promise.”
“I know.” Henry said and looked to Dustin, seeing his eyes welling a bit with his own memories of something very similar to that from his own younger life, “I have a nice room and a very warm bed now.” Henry said and looked up at Callum, “Thank you, Papa.” Callum’s throat was tight and he wanted to burst inside, his chest hurt with listening and his eyes burned from holding back tears. Callum kept his composure and smiled down at the little one.
“You’re welcome, Henry, you deserve it.” Callum said and then looked over at Dustin as a tear dropped from one of Dustin’s eyes, “You alright?” Callum asked and Dustin nodded his silent reply.
“Ah, there you are.” The voice said and all looked up and saw who had said it.
“Good evening. I hope I’m not interrupting.” Thomas said.
“No. We were just doing a bit of reading is all. How are you feeling?” Callum asked.
“As well as can be expected, what with these stitches and all. The question is, how are you feeling, Quintan?” Thomas asked.
“A bit of tightness in my shoulder, but hardly bothersome. What brings you over here?” Callum asked.
“I came to speak with the lady of the house about supper tomorrow evening, but did not wish to be rude and not say hello.” Thomas said and smiled.
“Good of you, my friend.” Callum said and gave Henry a bit of a squeeze with his arm and then pat his little leg once. Henry scooted out of the way.
“He looks a bit tired.” Thomas said and Callum looked down at Henry as he got up off the settee.
“Yes. Are you tired, Henry?” Callum asked. Henry nodded his head. Dustin got to his feet and reached out his hand toward the little one.
“I am as well. Let us go and rest in your room for a bit before supper, Henry.” Dustin said taking the little hand in his. Henry scooted off the settee and they walked together to the small hallway and then into Henry’s room.
“What was that about?” Thomas asked quietly.
“Henry was hearing about a storm at sea from the book I am reading from. It seems to have stirred up some bad memories.” Callum said and thought for a moment, “And not just in Henry it seems.”
“That must be quite a book. You must let me borrow it when you are finished.” Thomas said.
“My Lord,” Pennysort said after he opened the door and bowed slightly, “Commodore Phelps to see you.”
“Send him in.” The voice behind the desk said flatly. Pennysort turned slightly and held out a hand and bade Phelps to enter, “That will be all, Pennysort. I shall not require anything else for this evening.”
“As you say, My Lord.” Pennysort bowed and closed the door behind him. Phelps held his broad hat under one arm and came before the desk and waited. He watched the man behind it write more and then shift the parchment to a stack on the right. Phelps went to sit down in an armchair seeing that he was done.
“What do you think you are doing?” The man behind the desk asked softly.
“I was going to sit down. I thought…”
“That’s just it, isn’t it? You thought.” The man said, his voice had a grave tone to it and gave Phelps a chill, “You thought wrong…again.” The man said and then got up from his chair behind the desk. He went to his left toward a sideboard that was under a large window covered by shears to filter the light and put his fingers on the sideboard as he looked out over the Thames, “You continue to disappoint me, Phelps. Twice, you have had Callum in your grasp, and twice you did nothing. Why is that?”
“If you are speaking of the boy…” Phelps said and was cut off as the man wheeled and glared at him, the eyes flashed and there was more than anger in them. Another chill went down Phelps’ spine.
“Did I say anything about the boy just now? Did you not hear what I just asked?”
“Of course I did.” Phelps said quickly and swallowed hard.
“Then answer the question asked.”
“Callum? He had me at a point to where…”
“You could do nothing.” The man said slowly and turned back to face the large window. He reached for the decanter and pulled the crystal stopper out of it. He picked up the decanter and poured a single glass and set the decanter down, “I think that you are afraid of Callum, Phelps. What have you to say to that?” He asked and put the stopper back in the decanter and picked up the glass as he stared out the large window again.
“He is formidable, yes.”
“It would take a real man to admit that he was afraid, Phelps. It would seem that I need to rethink your position in all of this.” The man said as he sipped from the glass.
“My Lord, but…why?”
“Because, Phelps, I need a real man to deal with this and not someone who is going to try and hide behind those under his command. True leadership comes from those that will take a step forward, would you not agree?”
“I have sent word to your father to begin the second part of the plan. You will take your ships and will sail to Cartagena. I want a blockade of the port there and those ships seized that carry the Spanish gold. The crews are to be turned over to the plantation owners and the gold will be brought back to Bristol.” The man said in a matter of fact tone and was not to be questioned.
“But that will bring war with the Spanish again, seeing English ships as…”
“Let it.” The man said flatly and turned to flash his eyes once again, “Before I am done, England will be at war with the entire world. You will meet up with Ramirez before sailing into the bay of Cartagena.” The eyes bore into Phelps and if they could, they would have cut him in half, “And Phelps, Ramirez is only to get a third of the total, and…I know exactly how much is there. Do not fail me, Phelps, this will be your last chance.”
“I must say, Dustin,” Henry said as he was clearing his plate and was chewing the last with a smile, “you certainly can cook. Even Mother couldn’t do this.” All sat around the table and were watching the hungry man, who winked at his little brother, “I might take a room here instead if Father does not agree.”
“And you would be most welcomed, my boy.” The old man said and caught the look of horror on Dustin’s face out of the corner of his eye. The old man looked fully in Dustin’s direction unaware that Robert was watching the looks between them and knew in a moment what the worry was.
“I am certain Father would like the company, Henry, and will not turn you away.” Robert said and watched as Dustin physically eased a bit in his expressions. Dustin slid his foot over and touched it against his eldest brother’s. Dustin composed himself and got up from the table and picked up the plate that was before Henry.
“Would you care for more?” Dustin asked. Henry looked up at him and smiled and shook his head.
“Thank you, no. As I said, it was wonderful.”
“So what of your work in town, Henry?” The old man asked.
“It goes well, Grandfather.” Henry said as Dustin carried the plate away from the table, “It is only this young lady that I am trying to distance myself from.”
“I see.” The old man said, “Perhaps you should not wait then to speak with your father. The sooner, the better.”
“Yes. If he does agree, then I need to give my notice at my lodgings.”
“Are you still at Mrs. Colfax’s?”
“Yes, Grandfather. She has been very good with me as I have been a bit tardy with my rents from time to time.” Henry said.
“Are you behind with her now?” The old man asked.
“A week, but she understands.”
“Dustin, be a good lad and fetch my purse for me.” The old man said over his shoulder.
“Grandfather, no. Thank you for the thought and the effort, and I am not trying to slide under from her. Mr. Warrens will be paying me tomorrow when he receives his dividends, I assure you, and Mrs. Colfax is very aware of that. I have kept her up to date with all.”
“Alright then.” The old man said and raised a bent finger, “Do not hesitate to say something, Henry. We have a reputation in this community as you know and I want it to stay in good standing. There is no shame in asking.”
“Of course not, Grandfather, you and Father taught me that.” Henry said and smiled and gave his famous dimples and that twinkle from his deep green eyes that the old man loved so since Henry was a small boy and could charm him so easily.
“You rascal.” The old man said and pat the back of Henry’s hand, “It is so good to have you here, Henry.”
“Thank you. I seem to have missed it, just how much, I didn’t know until we came through the gate, Robert and I. This place has a magic to it, doesn’t it?” Henry asked. The old man smiled and nodded.
“Yes, it does. It has always been a place of home and safety to all that have come here. All those that have been here have said so, that they felt protected and safeguarded here.” The old man said as he thought of a certain few from years ago.
“Of course, and then there was your sword that did that as well, Grandfather.” Robert said and rose up from the table. He smiled down at the old man and caught the look that was given up by him and put his hand on the old shoulder. Robert bent down and kissed the top of the silvered hair, “You were the one that brought it on, that safety. The younger people say something about you being the ‘bad ass’, I believe they say?” Robert said and chuckled, the old man’s jaw dropped a bit open, “Come, Henry, let us go and see Father.” Robert said as he went around the table behind the old man. Henry rose from the table as well and leaned forward, kissing the old man on the forehead.
“We shall return in a short bit.” Henry said softly.
“You are more than welcome to have supper as well with us, Henry, and do tell Father also. You as well, Robert.” Dustin said.
“I will.” Henry said and nodded toward his younger brother, “Thank you, little bug.” Henry smiled and followed Robert out the back door, closing it behind him. The old man looked down at his coffee cup, Andrew, who was in the doorway of the parlor the entire time looked at Dustin, who looked back at him.
“Little bug?” Andrew asked.
“A nickname.” Dustin said and blushed a bit by it.
“Dustin was always the one of the three that cuddled with everyone, hence ‘cuddle bug’, bug for short.”
“Really?” Andrew asked and smiled wide as he looked at Dustin who was going redder by the moment, even his ears. He turned and busied himself at the dry sink, “You never told me that.”
“Something I would rather wish to forget.” Dustin said as he looked out the window above the sink. Andrew came over and got behind him but did not touch him.
“I think it is very sweet. He obviously loves you very much.” Andrew said above a whisper. Dustin turned from the sink and their eyes met. The embarrassment was gone from Dustin’s face but he had another look was on it now as Andrew searched it but could not put a name to it. Dustin put his hands on Andrew’s shoulders.
“I am certain that he does, and yes, that much is obvious. But, it is not like how I love you.” Dustin said above a whisper as he stared into Andrew’s eyes. Andrew went wide eyed in return, knowing that they were not alone in this room. Dustin leaned in and kissed Andrew softly.
“You love me?” Andrew asked above a whisper.
“I have told you that before.” Dustin said, “And now, there is no reason to hide it. I want the world to know how I feel, Andrew, about you.”
“Oh my God.” Andrew said still above a whisper, his eyes scanning Dustin’s, “You…are so…brave, Dustin. I could never…”
“You don’t have to.” Dustin smiled briefly and slid his hands over the shoulders before him and wrapped his arms around the back and leaned in, kissing Andrew deeply as they fell into each other, Andrew bringing his hands around Dustin’s waist and clutching at his lower back. The old man turned slightly in his chair and looked over his shoulder at the both of them at the dry sink and smiled. He silently got up from his chair and went into the parlor to leave them in their moment.
Callum walked with Thomas down the knoll slowly toward the stone fence and to the opening in it near the old stable. Callum walked with his hands behind his back.
“I am wondering or rather looking ahead, Quintan, when Darin returns from London. What if this letter that you received was not from Lord Eldon?”
“Then it means that it was a trap as you suggested, Thomas.” Callum said and stopped, his mind was racing as he thought. Thomas stopped and could almost see it, had seen it before many times when they sailed together aboard Dover, “This Upton, he seems to be one step ahead of the game at every step. There has to be a way to stop him, Thomas. I just have not figured out how to as of yet.”
“You will, we will. Together, all of us, are stronger than he is, Quintan.” Thomas said and put a hand on Callum’s good shoulder, “Fear not, for I don’t. There have been so many other times that you have come through all that was against you, and I see it as no different in this.”
“But, I do, Thomas.” Callum said as they locked eyes, “Don’t you see? If he is the one that is behind all of this that we have been through, La Rochelle, Smythe, all of it, it is different with him. He must be truly evil, and must be stopped at all cost.”
“You sound almost obsessed, Quintan. Do not let this cloud your judgement. You have been the level head in all of this so far. Without your leadership, we might have all been lost.”
“It is not just me, Thomas. Think about it for a moment. I told you what Paupling said to me about the court-martial.”
“Yes, but he was drugged by the good doctor, what with his leg and all. And add to that, Paupling is not the most trustworthy sort. Remember, he led the Guardsmen in the alley when we took Hans from them.”
“Yes,” Callum said and flashed his blue eyes, “I do remember, but, some of what Paupling has said has an air of truth to it. Fitzwarren, and then Lord Hood, and then with what His Grace did. That information coming forth so rapidly. It seems to me that I am being used in all of this somehow, what with my reactionary stance.”
“Then change tactics, Quintan, become proactive in this. Take the next step, make the next move.” Thomas said.
“And what if that has already been thought out?” Callum asked as he looked at his friend. Thomas narrowed his eyes a bit.
“Now you’re sounding like me. Too much time on my hands and doing nothing but thinking of ‘what if’s’. Quintan, one way or another we are going to need help in this, and you know that. We are too far out of our league in this.” Thomas said.
“Yes, we are, my friend.” Callum said and smiled softly, “We will have to wait until Darin returns then.” Thomas nodded in agreement.
“Where is Grandfather, little one?” Robert asked as he came through the back door. Dustin was busy at the stove with supper preparations and smiled at his eldest brother comoing through the door.
“He is in the parlor with Andrew.” Dustin said as Robert closed the door softly. Robert came over toward his brother at the stove, seeing a change in him, a change that he could not put his finger on.
“What is it with you, little one? You have an air about you?” Robert asked.
“Do I?” Dustin asked and looked back at the stove a moment and then looked back up at his brother.
“You do, almost…a glow. And you have never been any good at keeping secrets either. All I need do is tickle you and you will spill it out.” Robert said as he drew closer. Dustin clenched and tried to move away, but there was nowhere to go, he was trapped and knew it. His eyes went wide, Robert bore down on him, “It has to do with your Andrew, doesn’t it?” Robert asked softly and Dustin swallowed hard as he stared into his brother’s eyes.
“What,…what,…what makes you think so?” Dustin stammered as he asked the question.
“I know what goes on in this house, with you and him, and what has gone on here before us. It’s him isn’t it?” Robert asked as he leaned closer into Dustin. Dustin nodded in reply as he couldn’t stand what might be coming, “I thought so.” Robert said, “You know, I had a chat with him out in the stable once not long ago and warned him, if he ever hurt you I would snap him in half.” Robert said and Dustin swallowed hard, “I meant it.”
“He would never do that.” Dustin said and looked slightly scared.
“He had better not.” Robert said and smiled at him, “You don’t love him, do you?” Robert asked. Dustin nodded, “Is that even possible?” Robert asked and Dustin changed his position and went on the defensive becoming angry, wooden spoon in hand, poking it into Robert’s muscled chest.
“And why not? Who is to say whether it is possible or not? You? Father? Anyone from town?” Dustin asked as he jabbed the spoon into thick muscle with each and every question, Robert backing up with the onslaught that Dustin was bringing, “No one, and I mean no one on this Earth is going to tell me what I can feel or do, especially when I know that it is right, to my very core! Do you understand me?!” Dustin asked and had Robert backed up to the parlor door holding up his hands.
“Is everything alright in here?” The old man asked from behind Robert.
“This bruiser is trying to ask me if it is even possible that I have feelings for another.” Dustin said as he glared up at his older brother, who was more than shocked and still held up his hands in surrender.
“Dustin, I think that the enemy has surrendered the fortress as it were.” The old man said and Dustin snapped back to reality, lowering the spoon from Robert’s muscled chest.
“That was not my meaning and you know it.” Robert said as he looked down at his brother who still held the weapon of choice in his hand, the wooden spoon.
“I remember clearly, once, being caned with that very spoon by my aunt. Dustin, perhaps it is time.” The old man said.
“Grandfather?” Dustin asked. The old man smiled and turned away from the doorway. Dustin backed up from his brother as Andrew came into view with wide eyes looking at them both. Robert rolled his head over and looked at Andrew with an almost apologetic look on his face.
The old man returned and came around Andrew and then Robert, carrying his swords in his hands. He went to the back door and opened it as he held the sword and looked over his shoulder at Dustin.
“Come with me. It is beyond time.” The old man said. Dustin was more than wide eyed and swallowed hard. He looked at his brother who simply shrugged. The old man walked out the back door and through the few dogs that were there that had followed Robert over from Harbroughs. Dustin went out behind his grandfather and was standing on the flagstone there. The old man turned and handed out Dustin a sword, “This is long overdue.” The old man said as Dustin clutched the old scabbard and just looked at it, “There are times in a man’s life when he must fight for what he believes in, Dustin. You believe in something,…very strongly. The time has come to back it up with actions.”
“I will not fight Robert, Grandfather, especially with a sword.” Dustin said and had an almost panicked look on his face.
“That is not what I mean, Dustin. You love your brother, and that much is certain. What I mean is to teach you to focus, to channel if you will, what you feel and to be able to make those around you understand those feelings.”
“With a sword?” Dustin asked as he held out the scabbard.
“Yes with a sword. The true definition of elegance, my boy. Many a dispute has been solved with a sword over the centuries. Disputes over love, property, even the control over nations, all with the sword.” The old man said and went to the end of the flagstone and stood, scabbard in hand. Andrew and Robert had followed out the back door and looked as well as they stood on the flagstone. The old man now at the corner of the house, the wind came up a bit and blew at his silvered hair and his billowed sleeves of his shirt and in his long pants and boots, for a moment it looked to them all that he was young again as he stood there, young and strong. The old man smiled and held the sword by the pommel, he swung the blade left and the scabbard went sailing out into the tall grass of the knoll. The blade flashed in the late afternoon light of the setting sun and all eyes were wide and amazed as the man stood there, left hand on hip, sword in the other hand, and was at the ready.
“Come, my boy, and let me teach you what it is all about.” The old man said as he crouched slightly. Dustin swallowed hard again.