Chapter Seven

I can attest to the truth of the supposition that those upon the brink of death see their lives pass before their eyes; indeed, mine did so, and was only remarkable in its sad unremarkability. I had no time to ponder on this, however, beyond a brief flash of chagrin that I had never managed to get my hands into Boyd’s flawlessly pressed trousers or his into mine, because Bean, having got so far, shook me in much the same manner a terrier shakes a rat. My musings upon Boyd’s unattained charms, therefore, were cut short due to my head rattling alarmingly back and forth.

“What do you say to that?” Bean asked me next, ceasing to whisk me like a recalcitrant egg.

“I, ah–hmm. I’d rather you didn’t?” I whinnied. Talking, talking, must keep him talking; perhaps if we chatted gaily on for a few minutes someone would happen along, and surely he wouldn’t defenestrate me in front of witnesses. I hoped.

“I don’t know,” he mused, pressing me painfully into the wainscoting again. “I’ve heard you’re engaged to Liv, and the thought of her being hurt in the slightest way, as she doubtless would be if wed to an award-winning booby like yourself, puts me right over the edge.”

“I’ve no desire in the world to injure Liv’s feelings,” I wheezed with the hand upon the heart, so to speak. Really, of course, my hands were plucking ineffectually at Bean’s sleeves.

He gazed at the wall behind my head as though deep in pensive thought. “Yes, yes. But you will, Monaghan, because you’re not exactly her type.” His frankly liquefying green eyes suddenly focused sharply upon me. “Are you?” His fingers tightened in my flesh and I remembered, suddenly, that old Bean, back in the school days when he’d been called Kidney rather than Colonel, had been one of those upperclassmen, high above me in rank and years, who frolicked (albeit sullenly, on his part) in the locker rooms after a football game or such. Goodness. Perhaps that was why his engagement to Liv had ended…

This line of thinking, while fascinating, was not really germane to the crisis at hand, however. I summoned up the Monaghan wit for a sparkling reply: “A rather rummy kind of question to try and answer off the cuff,” I managed, thinking as quickly as I could–the wheels were spinning and I fancied I smelled burnt ganglions. “If you’d like her back I’d be happy to help you out there, old school chum,” I added.

“No, no.” He absently flexed his fingers and my eyes rolled back in my head. Bit painful, that. “I don’t want her back. But I don’t want her hurt either. And you–you prancing milksop nancy-boy poofter pantywaist–you will certainly not do her any good.” I wanted to point out that she would certainly not do me any good, either, so his accusation was somewhat one-sided, but Bean’s eyes gleamed fanatically and his grip tightened again. I was preparing to meet my Maker when an ex machina in the startling form of a servant deused onto the scene.

“Colonel,” this vision in spats said. Strong, thick fingers pulled gently at Bean’s shoulders, and Bean, amazing as it seems, actually let go my arms without demur. As he backed away I got a better look at my rescuer. About thirteen stone of dark-haired, muscular manservant greeted my gaze, his pale eyes fixed on Bean’s savage visage as he peeled him from me like so much flypaper. “Now look, Colonel, you can’t go exciting yourself thuswise,” came a soothing Cockney voice as he turned the beast toward him, making chickenlike clucking sounds as he smoothed the rumpled suit jacket. “Remember what the doctor said about your temper, you must be careful not to overexert yourself. Does you no good at all. Now why don’t you pop up to your room and I’ll bring you a bite to eat like, alright Colonel?”

I watched with astonishment as Bean shrank from eight feet to about seven, his frenzied expression fading to something, if not quite human, then at least akin to it. “Perhaps you’re right, Serkis,” he murmured, stumping away down the hall.

Serkis, if such was really his incredible name, watched him go and then turned to me with an apologetic leer. “So sorry, there, Mr. Monaghan. I daresay you’ve known the Colonel longer than I, you know how carried away he can get. He’ll be fine once he gets his nosh.”

I gaped at him until he seemed to shimmer before my eyes and disappear–apparently he shared Boyd’s uncanny ability to vanish–then I sagged weakly against the wall I had so nearly been osmosisized into.

Where in the world was Boyd? The day was turning into a regular minefield and I longed for just a glimpse of his rosy face and limpid eyes; my desire to speak to Lord Holm, never what you might call high, had ebbed to such singularly low levels that I felt my heart sloshing about somewhere in my boots. Not that I was really wearing boots, because morning attire does not include boots unless you happen to be an equine-loving fanatic like Miss Otto, which Dommie Monaghan does not happen to be. But speaking in a purely metaphorical sense, my heart was, indeed, sloshing about in my boots. My soul longed for congress with Boyd’s–a mere sneaking glimpse of him, an overheard snatch of song hummed under his breath, perhaps–oh, perhaps–a small smile bestowed upon me… I sighed.

Boyd was doubtless hard at work in the bowels of the house, and if I didn’t face Lord Holm I would have to face Liv, so I once again girded up the old loins to beard the lion in his den. Right after a quick brandy and soda bracer, light on the soda, heavy on the brandy.

~*~*~*~

Lord Ian was found, after inquiries with a housemaid, in the library with a thick tome and a cup of coffee by his hand. I sidled in diffidently and pasted a gooey simper on the old mug. Lord Ian frowned at me. “Can I help you, Mr. Monaghan?”

Really he wasn’t such a bad old blighter. If he hadn’t sicced his deuced offspring on me and thereby forced me to act loonier than a bag of cats, we might have quite liked one another. Well, as they say, under different circumstances and all that rot, and now we were down to brass tacks. I perched on the edge of a sofa and mopped the b. with a trembling h. “I say, m’Lord. How are you this morning?”

“Nearly noon, isn’t it?” He favoured me with what you might call a gimlet eye. “Bit late to be facing the day.”

“Oh, rather, been up for ever so long, you know, just popped in for a bite of breakfast, had a quick natter with Colonel Bean in the hall there.” That’s when the throat closed up, I’m afraid.

“Did you now?” Lord Ian raised one shaggy eyebrow skeptically. “I was quite sorry to lose him as a potential son-in-law,” he said.

I forced air though the passages with a sound like an express train. “Well, you know how it is with these girls today,” I blathered. “Light as a feather, settling their fancy on one chap and then another.” I took a deep breath. “Speaking of which.”

“Yes?”

“Well, ah. Hm. You see, Miss Holm came to see me yesterday. And she told me about the unfortunate, ah, derailment of her planned nuptials with the Colonel. And she–and I–” Blast! She bloody well steamrolled me into an engagement which I don’t desire any more than you do, m’Lord, so please please please help me get out of it. “She and I are engaged again is the long and short of it. My Lord.”

“Mister Monaghan.” His voice was chilly, rather. Reminded one of penguins. “My daughter knows, as do I, that your–how shall I say it? Your mental delicacy does not allow you to become involved in such romantic entanglements.”

I don’t want them! my whole being cried out. Not with anyone but a certain handsome Scot! But I had a part to play. “I’ve received treatment,” I said. “Quite a lot, you see, and so really, at the moment, there’s no reason that I can’t make Liv quite. Erm. Happy.” I nearly laughed hysterically, but the thought that Boyd would find a way out of the difficulty buoyed me up and I squelched down the absurdity of the whole idea and faced Lord Ian with aplomb.

Lord Ian was breathing rather heavily through his nose. “I see.” He stared at me. “And Liv is in favour of this match.”

“All for it.” I tried to smile brightly, but I am afraid it wasn’t one of my better efforts; Lord Ian snorted and rang the bell by his elbow.

“We shall see,” he muttered, then spoke right to me. “Just you settle in with a book, why don’t you, and we’ll call Liv in and see what this nonsense is all about.”

I did, of course, wandering round the shelves till I found some rubbish or other to stare at as I sat in a chair across from the old trout; I was about as relaxed as a well-wound lute string. A manservant was sent to find Liv, and she hobbled into the library approximately eight thousand years later.

“Daddy,” she said happily, whanging him in the knee with a crutch. “So Dommie’s told you all about the joyous news?”

His nostrils flared alarmingly. “So it’s true then? You really want to marry this–this–this?” He massaged his leg and glared at me as though I were the crutch-wielding menace to society.

“Oh, I do. Dommie’s lovely, he’ll make a wonderful husband.” Her eyes glowed, her face beamed, her crutches flew in every direction, taking out figurines and vases and stray servants like a sharpshooter.

“Right then, right then!” Lord Ian finally appeared to recognize his danger. “Very well!” He skipped away and popped for the door. “I’ll just leave you two alone–Dominic, if I may call you so, you can help Liv to the dining room.” For the lunch bell had just gone. “I’ll just dash ahead and see that they’ve a chair ready for you,” and dash he did, making impressive speed for an older gentleman.

It was left up to me and the unfortunate manservant–never did get his name, poor blighter–to herd Liv and her arsenal of weaponry toward the dining room. She chattered on about destiny and fate and dear goodness me, can’t you fellows help a girl out at all, and he and I ducked and cringed and bit down on some pretty rummy phrases as we were given the once over.

We’d got all the way to the door when Miranda charged in.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” she growled. “All men are hopeless,” and saying so, she neatly ducked under a flying crutch, tossed it away, caught Liv as she swayed, and helped her out of the room, all without a scratch and with a tender expression on her heretofore fierce face.

“I’ll be getting back to the kitchen,” my friend said, rubbing his elbow and head simultaneously.

“Oh, ah,” I agreed, and scooped up the abandoned crutch. I limped along after the two entwined girls, watching thoughtfully as Miranda squeezed Liv quite chummily. And quite low on the old waist, don’t you know.

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