Chapter Four

Nothing like a spot of self-abuse (and the knowledge that one has put off seeing a soupy bird for another few precious hours) to cheer a fellow, and when I climbed out of my second batch of bathwater, I was feeling chipper. I slipped on a pair of silk pyjamas and my dressing gown and pottered about the room, sniffing out the places where Boyd had hidden all my goods.

I was just putting a record on the gramophone when a tentative knock came at the door, like twilight, a timid fawn, and so on. “Who is it?” I inquired as I crossed to the door, fearing Olivia, though I hoped the stairs might prove a barrier, what with her dicky leg and all.

“Doodle,” came the reply, so I opened the door without any inkling of the trouble I was setting up for. I daresay that’s how poor Pandora felt–she probably had no idea when she cracked that pretty box to take a peep inside.

No sooner was he through the door than he’d kicked it closed behind himself and he was on me.

Now, when I say, “he was on me,” you might be picturing some cheerful schoolboy tackle, a bit of jocular rough-housing between the lads. That picture would be wrong.

Wood was on me like the Loch Ness Monster on haggis, to coin a phrase from Boyd’s native land, and it quite took me aback. I mean, one doesn’t quite know what to say–or how to say it, of course–when a bloke one met two hours before has his tongue down one’s throat and his hands in the front of one’s dressing gown.

“I–hoy, I say, Wood, what’s this all about?” I gasped when I managed to pull my mouth away from his, apparently freeing it only so that he could begin licking my neck enthusiastically. I squirmed away from him–it tickled, quite apart from any feelings of wrongdoing I might have suffered–and put a little table between him and me. I wiped my hand across my mouth. He’d tasted of drink. Quite strange, when one considered his virginal upbringing. I’m bound to say that his lascivious approach to current events wasn’t doing much to confirm such an upbringing, and I wondered as to the truth of previous reports.

“Oh, come on, Dommie, I saw the way you looked at me when I first came into the dining room. And don’t tell me that was a lousy kiss, because it wasn’t.” He circled the table, unbuttoning his shirt, and I sauntered sideways in response, keeping a safe distance. “I’ve been bored out of my mind here. You’re the first thing that’s smelled like fun since I arrived in this frozen wasteland.” He tossed the shirt into the corner.

“Oh, ah, I do see, but really–” I countered a quick lunge to his left by making one to my left, then leapt around the bed just for a cushion of space. “And I’m quite, ah, flattered, really, but I say, Doodle. I mean, you can’t just–and how did you know I’d like being kissed by a lad, anyhow?” I put my hands on my hips, feeling rather put out.

Wood laughed. “Oh, Dommie, seriously. You’ve got ‘Nancy’ tattooed across that lovely forehead of yours, practically.” He really was a pretty thing… Shut up, why was I listening to any organ other than my brain? And how could said organ have much to contribute after our tête-à-tête in the bathroom just a few short moments before?

“Doodle my lad, you’ve got me all wrong. Well, not really all wrong, but there are facts you don’t have within your grasp!”

He stood hipshot for a moment, arms folded across his (narrow, smooth, muscular–shut up!) chest. “What facts are those?”

“I, ah, erm…” Inspiration struck. “Bloomers! Orlando, that is to say, he thinks you’re frightfully cute, and he plays for Magdalene as well, as they say. He’s quite smitten with you.”

“Oh, him.” Elijah seemed happy to brush all thought of Bloomer away. “He’s fine looking, but a smashing bore, doncha know. Clean as a whistle–handed me a glass of orange juice in the library, can you imagine? I had to slip the vodka in when he wasn’t looking.”

My mind boggled at the thought of Bloomers as clean as a whistle–the same Bloomers who’d once been done by the entirety of the upper-class footie team in a legendary after-game round-robin?–and Doodle took unfair advantage of my distraction, sidling toward me so I only just escaped.

“Even so!” I squeaked–yes, I can admit it–“thank you very much, but no thank you.”

Doodle looked hurt, and he blinked his big blue eyes at me. “But why not? I saw how you leered at me. That leer didn’t say ‘Keep away,’ exactly.” And he clambered over the bed and tackled me. I found my back pinned against the French windows, and my front pinned against a compact, attractive American with his tongue down my throat–again.

There is no telling how things might have gone from there. Dommie Junior was reviving amazingly, the stupid sodding idiot, and my knees were getting rather weak as Doodle’s hands slid down over my hips and inward–

Someone knocked at the door. I shoved Elijah away and then, with a presence of mind I could later but admire objectively, I pushed him down and under the bed, one of those high, downily quilted affairs so common in country homes of the finer sort.

“A moment!” I sang merrily to the unknown applicant for entrance, and leaned down. “Stay under there and stay quiet!” I hissed.

“I can wait,” he whispered.

I crossed to the door, retying my jacket and smoothing my hair as best as I could. “Who is it?”

“It’s Bloomers,” came the reply, and I opened to him.

“Bloody hell, Dommie, what took you so long?” he complained, breezing past me. “Are you alone?”

“Do you see anyone else?” I gestured to my apparently empty room.

“Hmmm.” He turned on me. “So what did you think?”

“About?” Play it dumb, Monaghan–gets ’em every time.

“Elijah,” Orlando said, rolling his eyes heavenward like some Renaissance madonna. “Has there ever breathed a more beautiful boy? He’s like a cherub. No, what’s higher than that? Aren’t there some sort of ranks? Whichever angel is the admiral of the ocean-sea, that’s Elijah. Those eyes, those lips, those raven locks–”

“Did you have a point, Bloomers?”

“I just wondered. What you thought, that is.”

I think he’s an undersexed loon who needs to learn to think with his brain rather than his cock. As do I. “He seems, erm, nice enough. Now really, Bloomers, shove off, won’t you? I’ve an express train rocketing through my head, and I’d like to be left with it.”

“Yes, yes. If you see him, tell him I’ll be in the smoking room, won’t you? I can’t think where he’s got to.”

Ten feet in front of you and under the dust ruffle. “Right, right. Off you go, now, Bloomers. Have a fag for me. Cheerio.” And with similar sentiments I got him out, shutting the door with relief. I leaned against it, breathing deeply. If ever a chap needed Boyd, now would be the–

“Nice work.” It was breathed into my ear, in a charming American voice, and that was probably a charming American hand sliding over my arse down there…. I squawked and leapt–the harts that pant for water have nothing on the Monaghans, I can assure you–and backed away, hands out to ward off the undersized Romeo, who was stalking me across the carpet.

“Listen, there, Wood, I’ll need you to shove off, too, if you don’t mind. You’re a lovely boy, none lovelier, but I’m not in the market for your particular brand of fruit at the moment.” I tripped over the corner of the hearthstone and stumbled backward, then wrenched myself upright–oh, my back!–and took a stand beside the enormous wardrobe. “See here, Wood, this is my room–” he just kept coming– “and you can’t just come bouncing in here and expect to have it all your way–” he looked like a tiger, all sharp teeth and lazy grace, and shut UP you stupid imbecilic lump of brainless meat, you are not getting hard, you are not— “so I’ll ask you to please leave.” I fiddled with my arms for a moment and then folded them defiantly across my chest. So there.

“Oh, I’ll leave.” He came closer and closer until his jaw was jutting right at mine and I could feel the heat from his bare chest on my arms. “Right after you’ve fallen asleep because you’ve been shagged through the mattress. Dommie.”

And then, dammit–no, thank heavens!–there was another. Knock. Upon. The door.

“It’s like the bloody treaty at Versailles,” I said as I pushed Wood into the wardrobe and slammed the door on his grinning face.

“May I help you?” I was saying in an exasperated tone as I swung the door to my room open.

I stopped the exasperation right there, and replaced it with something more akin to complete dismay at the sight of a girl, drooping upon her crutches and regarding me with that soupy, sappy, terrifyingly drippy expression which I had seen only in nightmares since that summer at Underwold.

“Liv!” I exclaimed brightly.

“Oh, Dommie,” she said. “How good it is to see you again.”

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