Chapter Nine

So there I sat in the dark with a lapful of softly snoring Scotsman. The same Scotsman I’d loved and lusted after for lo, these many years, the selfsame man who had cared for me, rescued me, advised me, and haunted my waking and sleeping hours with his adroit grace, brilliant intellect, and exquisite arse. He had quoted Oscar Wilde. He had heard me break the silent habit of years to call him by his Christian name. He had kissed me–firm, certain, gentle and commanding, and my mouth still tingled with the taste and pressure of his–and he had called me Dominic.

And then of course he had leaned blissfully against me and apparently gone to sleep, due to a slight excess of the juice of the bless’d grape. Or bless’d grain in this case.

And the bloody bollocksed stupid fist-clenching trout-headed arse-wiping Code of the Monaghans prevented me absolutely molesting him in his unconscious state. Prevented me, really, from doing more than sighing heavily, shifting on my buttocks in a vain attempt to ease my achingly stiff erection, and stroking his hair.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Heaven knows that before that kiss, I would have been thrilled beyond scientific measure to run my fingers through his fine, soft hair, to have him drool gently upon my waistcoat and–oh great merciful saints–wriggle his warm weight even closer to me, arms limply draped about my middle as his cheek and nose pressed into my thorax.

But there was the bally rub, one must admit–before that kiss. Before that kiss I had never done more (outside the fantasies of my bath or lonely bed) than shiver to feel his hand accidentally stroke my arm as he bunged me into the soup and tails, or thrill to the brush of his fingers as I accepted one of his marvelous brandy and sodas. That kiss–that kiss which defied superlatives and had left me panting here in the dark–had taken me right past contentment with my lot in life to pretty urgent discontent. To put it another way, how was I supposed to stay down on the farm, now that I’d seen Paree? I was as far beyond my depth as that Cardinal cove in Shakespeare’s sea of glory, and my mind, never my most powerful organ if truth be told, reeled as I tried to encompass what the next step in this merry jig might be.

My thoughts were interrupted by outside influences; Serkis snored, snorted, and abruptly sat up. He was still obviously tanked to the gills, but had apparently forgotten his quest to do mortal harm to Boyd’s edible frame, for he muttered something to himself, bunged into the doorframe, and wandered away, rubbing his head as I watched with my eye to the closet door.

Which left the coast clear, but I found myself strangely reluctant to stir. Well, not strangely, really–I was in a prime position here, let’s not forget. But would Boyd be so happy to recognize the position as such upon regaining his compos mentos? Dim-witted though I may be, even I could see that Boyd might possibly be a wee bit embarrassed to come to with his nose about two buttons down from my neck and his body curled into my lap. What to do?

I decided that discretion would be the better part of valour in this particular case, as in others, and with a whimper of regret, removed him from my frame. It was not a simple task, as he clung in rather the manner of a particularly determined limpet, nuzzling into my ribs and making the kinds of soft sounds that would provide me with fantasy materiel for years.

Finally, though, the goal was achieved, and I sat back and waited, examining him minutely as he slept. The bally conscience tried to raise a quibble on this score, but I squashed it like a mosquito, with vigour and delight. At least–I mentally berated the damned thing–I was not actually caressing him. I was not slipping my hand beneath his starched dickey to touch warm smooth skin; I was not running my palm along his woolen-clad thigh, toward that warm, doubtless delectable juncture of leg and pelvis… My conscience piped right down, though Dommie Junior had a few words to say on the topic. I ignored him and entertained myself with watching Boyd. He slept neatly, lips and eyes serenely closed, though his cupie-bow mouth pursed occasionally, as in thought.

As soon as I saw his brow crease and eyelids tighten, as soon as he began to show signs of joining me in the mortal realm again, I drew on my years of acting in evening revues and village treats. I took a deep breath and reached over to shake his shoulder gently.

“I say, Boyd. Look, Serkis has just got up and left–alley alley all-in-free and so on.”

Boyd’s eyes fluttered open–have I mentioned his eyelashes? They deserve sonnets, truly–and he gazed blankly at me for a moment. I was too wrought up to meet his gaze, so I stumbled to my feet, giving him a moment to compose himself. From the corner of my eye I saw him go red and then white, and from thence to an interesting shade of green.

He struggled gamely to his feet, though. “I apologize, sir.”

Was he apologizing for the kiss? Or for going horizontal? Or for standing up after I had just now? “Oh, ah. Say nothing of it, Boyd. I imagine it was rather stressful, having Serkis out for your blood.” I’d take it as the nap. Except that that left us back where we’d begun, before that kiss, and then again Boyd might believe I didn’t want to talk about the kiss, when of course I did, though talking wasn’t what I really wanted to do at all, was it? I stepped out of the closet, trying not to look at him, miserable in every pore. “You still look knackered, old son–why don’t you take some time for yourself to restore the spirits, what?”

“Thank you, sir.” His step was unwavering, though his facial colour still most closely resembled clotted cream. He passed me and then turned. “I apologize for my state, sir. I shall be back to my old self quite soon, I assure you.” His accent was still heavy, but expression had fled from his smooth visage and it was the old Boyd who regarded me with polite expectation.

I–” oh blast! Blast blast blast! I felt as though my heart was being strained through cheesecloth. “Very good, then, Boyd. Thank you for all your care. For–” kissing me, finally— “all the care you take of me.”

“It is my pleasure, sir.” He made for the door, turning upon the threshhold. “And sir?”

“Yes, Boyd?” O hope! the lover’s staff that I might go forth with or somesuch!

“Should you find Colonel Bean importunate, a word about the closeness soldiers develop while in the field, followed by an inquiry after Mr. Serkis, should calm him nicely.”

Blasted and withered hope. “Oh. Yes, certainly, thank you, Boyd. Brilliant as usual.” And if my smile looked slightly sickly, I assure you that I could not contain my misery any better.

“Thank you, sir.” And he was gone.

I stood alone for a moment, seething like a tea kettle with frustration and despair, before I exited the room, craving only solitude.

There were Liv and Miranda, curse them to the lowest depths of some Dantean hell.

“Dommie darling!” Liv fluted, swinging over to me on the crutches. I morosely avoided a blow and watched as Miranda, never far behind, scowled up to join us. “How is your head, dearest?”

“Pounding, thank you, and I’m just off to have a soak and a lie-down,” I snapped. “Excuse me, please.” I noted with satisfaction how her enormous blue eyes began to swim. Miranda said something rather sharpish and to the point, and then I was away, dashing up the stairs at a pace no gimpy gawd-help-us could think of matching.

Halfway down the corridor I was confronted by Bean, who leapt suddenly out at me. “Monaghan!” he roared.

“Oh, shut it Bean,” I roared right back without breaking stride, “or I’ll tell the bloody gossip columnists all about your undying love for your manservant Serkis.” He recoiled and I rounded another corner, feeling a sort of grim joy welling up in my heart.

Anyone else?

Apparently so, for Bloomers was waiting in my room, looking sad and thin and pathetic. “I say, Dommie,” he began, and before he’d finished I had him on his feet and halfway through the door.

“Not now, Bloomers you old ass, absolutely not now, I’ve thought of nothing to further your cause, but I can tell you this.” I faced him squarely and poked him in the chest. “You can rethink your original assumptions about that young American, and rethink them well, and stop acting like such a prize booby. That’ll be a start.” And I shut the door.

I threw myself on the bed, only wishing that Doodle would pop out of the wardrobe so I could savage him along with everyone else.

I lay there bubbling angrily for a while, and then… I sniffled myself to sleep, shirt and trousers and shoes all still on.

~*~*~*~

“You really should have called me, sir.”

The room was dim, winter twilight creeping in about the curtains, and I woke to feel Boyd settling me gently upright and divesting me of my jacket. I scrubbed hastily at my face and blinked a few times, feeling decidedly more like a thinking beast than I had before. “How’s the old bean, Boyd?” I ventured to say.

He slid the offended garment from me and turned to hang it. “Quite up to par, thank you for enquiring, sir.” He looked as though our entire closeted tete-a-tete had never occurred, but I braced the beating heart–it had, and I knew it. “The cocktail hour is all but over, sir, and the dinner bell but a few moments away; I thought you might be hungry after your earlier exertions–” had he paused? Was that a hesitant beat?– “and so I took the liberty of waking you.”

“I’m deuced glad you did, Boyd, I’ve an appetite like the lions in the Tower,” I said, surprised to find it true. “I don’t suppose there’s time for a quick soaking of the bones?” I began divesting myself of my crumpled clothing in preparation for the full dog and pony.

He turned back to me, his face pale and composed. “I’m afraid not, sir. Perhaps before you retire this evening.”

“Jolly good then, Boyd.” I stood and he began to dress me, nimble fingers holding shirt, dickey, waistcoat, etcetera just as usual, but I fancied his hands were kinder and gentler than before. Probably just my imagination, but I tidied the thought away for future musing. “I say, my good man, I took your advice with Colonel Bean.”

“Did you, sir?”

“Worked like a pip, I’m chuffed to report. First I ticked off the revolting Liv, then the revolting Bean, then the revolting Bloomers, and then I slept like a baby of the calmer sort and now I must say I feel quite refreshed.” I lifted my chin to allow him to tie the whirligig.

“I am pleased to hear it, sir.” He finished the tie and straightened it carefully, knuckles brushing my neck in a way that made the heart pound and the trousers tighten. “What occurred with Miss Holm and Lord Bloom?”

I told him about my encounters. “I do feel a bit ashamed about Liv, do you know. Bit rummy, snapping at a girl like that. I’ll apologize right off I see her, but it did ease the straits amazingly.”

“No doubt, sir. Your jacket.”

I slid my arms in and turned to face him. “Am I presentable?”

“Well beyond presentable, I should say, sir. I mean to say–” Boyd flushed, he did! “Ahem. I wanted to suggest…”

I closed my mouth with a snap, feeling the old joie-de-vivre springing up and coshing it violently. So he flushed. Do be quiet, Dommie Junior. Pipe down there. “Yes, of course, Boyd. Go on.”

“If I may be so bold, sir, you might invite young Lord Bloom and Mr. Wood up for a drink after dinner.”

“Oh heavens, Boyd, are you certain?”

“I will see to it that Mr. Wood comes up a significant amount of time after Lord Bloom, sir. I would like a chance to hear what he has to say on the topic of his love without the object of such being present.” He brushed a speck of dust from my sleeve and stood back.

I chewed this over. “So you want Bloomers to talk without Wood being here?”

“Precisely, sir.”

“And you think this will help?”

“I venture to say that it will have a salubrious effect upon the situation as a whole, yes, sir.” His hands clasped behind his back, Boyd rocked slightly upon the balls of his feet.

“Well, Boyd, you’ve never yet thrown me in the soup, so I shall bow to your intellect and do as you say.”

“You flatter me, sir.”

I’d rather bugger you, you delicious thing. “Pish tosh. Now off to the trough, eh, Boyd?”

“As you say, sir. Enjoy your meal.”

“And you’ll be here afterward?” I couldn’t help the slight note of anxiety that crept into my voice.

“Of course.”

“Alright then. Pip-pip and so on.” I exited the room.

You may be asking yourself what had brought about this strange change in my mood. How had I gone from the fearsome Dominic who had callously driven stakes into the hearts of no fewer than three persons in three minutes, to this jaunty, cheerful cove with the spring in his step and the twinkle in his eye?

I’ll tell you. It was memory did the trick.

The fact of the matter undoubtedly was that it was Boyd who had quoted Wilde at me. It was Boyd who had called me–oh my heart!–Dominic, and Boyd who had touched me and brought my lips to meet his. I could still feel the way his fingers had threaded into my hair, and how his lips had moved upon mine. In vino veritatum or something of that nature, and I would find some way to communicate my very real enthusiasm for that kiss–I would. So it was that I went to the board with hope in my heart and a song on my lips.

I managed to apologize to Liv with the soup, but she was noticeably chilly about the whole thing. Curious that; I spotted her eying me rather suspiciously throughout the meal, and she and Miranda seemed to be communicating by means of telegraph or something–though they were seated four people apart, a constant flicker of intelligence between them seemed to take place. Could it be that she was rethinking her engagement to me? Better and better. Bloomers had little to say to anyone, and Bean simpered most satisfactorily whenever I happened to catch his eye. Lord Ian looked positively dyspeptic; Lady Vencible and the other ancients at the far end of the table chattered cheerfully enough, but their gaiety did not reach to my end.

Of all the trenchermen setting fork to plate down at the more youthful spit of table, only Doodle and I seemed really willing to appreciate the fine art of the chef, and we ate and chatted cheerfully. I made my invitation to him and Bloomers to join me in my room after dinner, and proceeded to stuff myself silly.

Just as we wandered from the table into the smoking room, Boyd poured in, a slip of paper in his hand. I waited expectantly for him to approach, but he drifted to Wood’s side and handed him the telegram instead, then floated away.

Doodle bounced up to me. “I’ve got to make a trunk call,” he chirped. “Seems the mater has gotten wind of a rather hefty sum I dropped at the hurdles in November, and wants to have a word with me. I’ll be up after I’ve soothed the savage beast.” He leaned closer. “And see if you can get rid of Bloomers, will you? I wouldn’t mind some quality time alone with you.” He leered and vanished.

This must be the diversion promised by Boyd; I sighed and a few moments later Bloomers and I made our way up to the old home away from home. I trusted Boyd implicitly, of course, but I certainly hoped he hadn’t got his tails over his head (mmm, lovely image that) over all this. I mean to say, making a party of it with Bloomers was bound to be thick going, and add Doodle to the shaker and it seemed we were in for more of a drag than a jog.

Boyd was waiting for us, standing most properly by the drinks tray, though there were several unfamiliar decanters by his elbow. “Would you care to refresh yourselves?” he asked.

“Brandy and soda for me, Boyd, and be sure to splash the brandy about pretty well, won’t you?”

“Certainly, sir. And for you, Lord Bloom?”

Orlando looked rather longingly at the sherry, but sighed. “Have you anything without the demon alcohol, Boyd?”

“Knowing your current aspirations, sir, I took the liberty of procuring some milder libations.”

Bloomers rubbed the bridge of his nose. “So you have juice there, you say?”

“Yes, sir. If you will allow me to mix you something, I think you will be pleased with the results.”

“Carry on, then, my good fellow.” Bloomers sank into a chair with a moan; Boyd busied himself with the drinks. “Dommie, old man, I’m dished, simply dished. I have tried and tried to be kind, gallant, and good, but I cannot get through to Elijah. I’m pining away–pining, I say!”

“Oh, that was very good, friend of my youth, excellent scansion.” I crossed my legs and dug my cigarette case from my pocket. Boyd brought us our drinks–mine a honey of a refreshment, just enough water that the brandy wasn’t actually evaporating, Bloomers’s the livid red of a tropical sunset–and then leaned to light my fag. I breathed his scent in–soap and tea, all scent of the whisky gone and I wondered if I kissed him right now, really searchingly, with quite a lot of tongue involved, obviously, would I get a lingering taste of it? Then he straightened and the possibility, faint though it had been, was gone.

Bloomers was blathering on about Wood–Doodle this, Doodle that, Elijah, Elijah, heavenly Elijah, and I tuned out but for the occasional “Oh, ah?” and so on. Boyd kept him well-supplied with the blinding fruit juice mixture, and me with brandy and soda, and listened sympathetically, while I mentally catalogued exactly the ways in which I should like to ravish and be ravished by Boyd. William.

I had descended into a pleasurable haze of alcohol- and lust-induced entropy when there came a knock at the door. “Elijah!” Bloomers shrieked, leaping into the air.

“Shall I, sir?”

I waved my hand gently through the air, unsure as to my walking abilities and happy to keep the other hand sensibly in my lap. Boyd granted Wood entrance, and he immediately bounded over and settled on the arm of my chair.

There followed some millennia of torture as Bloom sat in silence and Doodle chattered gaily and slid further and further onto my thigh, until I finally squirmed out from under him and curveted away. “Just need a little refresher,” I sang.

Boyd was currently at the sideboard, and I sidled up to him. “What can I procure for you, sir?”

“Have you got a few silk scarves tucked away, suitable for gagging loquacious Americans?”

“No, sir, I am afraid not.” Had he nearly smiled? “I am sorry the evening is not proceeding to your enjoyment.”

I sighed. “I just wish they would get to the point and discover that they are both filthy dirty perverts and ride off happily into the sunset.”

Boyd glanced over my shoulder. “I think if we give them a wee bit of time, your wish may be granted.”

I looked. Bloomers had risen to his feet and wandered to where Elijah was perched on my chair. “My god,” I said, noticing the expression on Bloomers’s face for the first time in ages. “He’s pie-eyed, Boyd!”

“Yes, sir.” Boyd slid away to hand Bloomers another of the vile red concoctions, returning a moment later; I watched in awe as the young pinhead knocked half back in one go and then leaned down to speak in a low, earnest voice to our foreign visitor.

“An explanation would seem to be wanting, Boyd.”

He mixed me a brandy and soda and touched my arm. “I am always happy to serve, sir, but might I suggest that we step into your dressing room for a moment to allow them privacy?”

I stared goggle-eyed as Wood slid one hand up Bloomers’s arm, and allowed Boyd to lead me into said chamber.

Not that this was such a task, mind you; I would follow Boyd to the flaming pits of hell. A dressing room–spacious, dimly lit, reminding one strongly of certain spine-tingling closet encounters–was hardly any effort at all.

“My goodness, we seem to have a running cupboard motif on this visit, don’t we Boyd?” I blathered as he closed the door upon Bloomers and Doodle. I swerved from the topic an instant later when I saw his face go cherry pink. “Now please do tell me, Boyd, what you have been about.”

He coughed once, a gentle choking, and spoke. “Certainly, sir. The only problem I saw to pairing Mr. Wood and Lord Bloom was Lord Bloom’s insistence upon purity, which he mistakenly believed was required by Mr. Wood’s, ahem, spotless character.”

“Gentleman being a rather loose description, what?”

“As you say, sir.”

“Dreadfully sorry, do go on.” There was a burst of laughter from without, and Boyd allowed himself a small, pleased smile.

“Very well, sir. In considering how best to gain the confidence of Colonel Bean’s manservant–”

“Serkis?”

“Yes, sir. In considering how best to gain Mr. Serkis’s confidence, I struck upon the use of alcohol as a… hmm.” Boyd cleared his throat. “How shall I put it?” He looked down; he failed to meet my eye; I might almost describe his posture as one of fidgeting. “It serves to lower one’s inhibitions,” he said finally. I raised one eyebrow and felt my face go hot. “I acquired some rather strong juice from an exotic grocer, mixed it with several powerful forms of liqueur, and served it to Lord Bloom.”

There was a sudden shout and fresh sounds of glee from beyond the door, followed, as Boyd and I listened intently (and with a certain amount of rising interest on my part, so to speak) by several loud moans. “It appears to have worked like a charm, Boyd–a heartily good plan.”

There was a thud and a high-pitched cry of lust. “The drink is called, one understands, a hurricane. Perhaps now would be a good time to re-establish our presence,” Boyd said, his valentine-shaped face a becoming shade of rose.

“I should say so.” I moved to the door with him on my heels, then stopped. I laid my forehead against the cool wood. “Boyd.”

“Yes?”

I had to know. It wasn’t that I was braver than the next chap, for I wasn’t; but some madness seemed to seize me then, and the next words I spoke came from some noodleheaded need to just–know.

I turned to face him. “Boyd. William–” my heart began to thud– “did you mean it when you kissed me earlier? Because I–I mean this.” And ignoring the rising sounds of unbridled passion emitting worryingly from the room outside our secluded haven, I leaned forward and pressed my lips to his.

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