Thank all of you for your kind comments. I hadn't expected how favourably so many of you would respond to a tale of your father's or, increasingly, your grandfather's era. I'm really pleased that there are so many history buffs out there; I'd thought I was all alone.
FLIGHT is copyrighted to me and cannot appear in any medium without my express permission.
I love to hear that my characters and their stories have 'pulled you in'. Please let me know at vichowel (that's one 'l') at aol.com.
Soaking in the bath on Friday night, Barry still couldn't believe what he'd been seeing. There had to be over forty guests staying at Bellingham Hall. All of them staying through the weekend, too.
He was used to parties; his father had been throwing them ever since he could remember. But they were always small affairs and usually in the afternoon so that most of the guests could get home by dark. They never had more than a few overnight guests at the house in Rye, New York -- the rest of the revellers were neighbours or, at least, people who lived in one of the upper crust townships nearby.
"Call everybody Lord or Lady -- unless you're told they're a Duke or Duchess," Aunt Jane had told him Wednesday when he'd stopped by her room to say good night.
"What do I call a Duke?" he groaned, rolling his eyes.
"Your Grace, Barry."
"I thought you told me to keep out of their way?"
"Oh, fiddlesticks, lad! It's impossible to stay out of everyone's way the whole weekend -- you're a house servant, after all."
"I'm what?" he yelped.
"You're a servant attached to the house, of course."
"Aunt Jane," he groaned, "the Alexanders are hardly anybody's servants. Dad runs the Securities and Exchange Commission for the president."
"Perhaps in America, lad; but you're in England now. And you're attached to Lord Petersholme's service until you enter that university up in London in October. So, that makes you a servant."
"All of these people coming to this thing -- they're nobles?"
She looked at him as if he'd lost his senses. "Do you expect them to invite servants? Or, God forbid, tradesmen? The Petersholmes have been gentlefolk for more than four hundred years now."
The Hall had begun to fill up on Thursday, the rooms on the whole first floor of the house and half of the second had guests in them by Friday evening when Barry made his way up the back steps to the servants quarters and the room next to his aunt's room. It felt as if he'd picked up half of them from the railway station in the village.
This being a servant definitely did not look like it was going to be fun, Barry Alexander decided as he rinsed the soap from his arms and stood. Pulling his towel to him, he began to dry himself. While no-one in their right mind in America would consider inviting his gardener to a ball, if that gardener's son had become the local state assemblyman or worked his way up in one of the brokerage houses as his father had, an invitation would definitely be in the post. Even the local sheriff got invited to a party in America -- it was just plain good politics.
Only, it didn't look as if people ever got a chance to better themselves here in England. It appeared that even succeeding generations got labelled and stigmatised. He sure as hell had -- because of his mother and aunt.
He was horny after a week on the ship and more than four weeks here at Bellingham Hall. So horny it even hurt sometimes. That damned Petersholme was as queer as a three dollar bill -- or whatever they had that was just as queer here in England. Only, the good-looking bastard had most firmly made it clear that he wasn't going to do anything with Barry -- because he was a goddamned servant and the grandson of a servant. His Lordship had been polite about it, of course -- but it still boiled down to class prejudice and Barry being on the wrong side of it.
The bitch of the thing was that he really wanted to get Petersholme into bed. The man was a real looker, that was sure. And, Barry had to admit it, he really got off on the man's manners as well as his damned looks. How could anybody be perfect all the time? Knowing just the right thing to say, even to make an insulting put down sound pleasant?
* * *
Saturday morning, he watched from his window as Lord Petersholme and a good two dozen other men tramped off towards the copse of trees behind the house. Each of the men was carrying a shotgun; they were all chatting and laughing. A small group of kids from the farm led the men, most of those were carrying bags slung over their shoulders.
"What the hell?" Barry Alexander growled under his breath and unconsciously scratched his bare chest. The old grounds keeper had given him the day off, and he had slept late. So, this was an English hunting party! he said to himself. He had read about them, of course -- in every book that chronicled the leisure class of the empire upon which the sun never set. The men in their tweeds, the farm boys ready to flush out pheasants for those men to shoot.
Barry had never seen where the sport was in that. Boys rousting the birds and an army of men with guns waiting for them to take wing. The bird never had a chance. And he couldn't see that it took any skill for twenty or more men to kill a poor bird. It was nothing more than a shooting gallery, a damned turkey shoot. Enough buckshot peppering the area where the bird was flying meant the bird went down.
The men chatting and laughing with each other as they trekked into the woods made it look as if going out to kill birds was the most natural thing in the world for men to do on a Saturday morning.
Barry washed his face and combed his hair before dressing. He took the servant's stairs down to the main floor and made his way directly to the kitchen. And stopped as he stepped through the threshold. The kitchen was a hive of activity.
"What are you doing here, Barry?" Jane Murray demanded as she approached him, her hands covered with flour.
"Thought I'd grab some breakfast, Aunt Jane," he answered as he pushed a loose hair from her forehead.
She frowned. "A bit late for the likes of that, lad." Barry's stomach growled and she smiled. "Stay here and let me see what I can find."
Moments later, she was back with a bowl of thick porridge. "Stay out of the way today, lad," she warned him and returned to the table where she was making pies.
He left the kitchen as soon as he had finished eating. Moving from room to room and staying out of the way, he watched the house staff prepare Bellingham Hall for the Petersholme party. The young American entered a part of the Hall that he had not seen before and his interest instantly perked up. He was exploring the unfamiliar rooms by the time he found the ballroom.
The French doors stood open onto the stone terrace when he entered the sunlighted room, and Barry moved across the parquetted floor to step out into the sun and fresh air. He grasped the railing, shut his eyes, and took a deep breath. It was almost like being on the back deck of his home in Rye. He smiled and took another deep breath. He could get used to this England quite easily, even if the locals were barely understandable and his Lordship was intent on hiding deep in his closet.
He spent the afternoon trying to read. When that became too boring, he strolled out past the outbuildings. Barry noticed two young farm labourers lounging beside a tractor and waved as he passed them, his thoughts already returned to trying to understand his boredom.
He'd been four weeks in England, and he'd not seen a damned thing like he had wanted to see. There were all those cathedrals and castles, the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace. All of the things his friends from high school were seeing in England and France and Italy.
Instead, his grandfather had met him at the dock in Southampton and put him on the train to the village of Bellingham so fast it was like he was ashamed of him.
His Gramps was a queer old duck. Stiff, like a damned corpse. No wonder Mom had jumped on Dad's proposal back at the end of the war. Barry doubted old Roger Murray even knew how to move his face muscles to make a grin -- or a frown even. Gramps hadn't even offered to feed him anything -- just rushed him across town to the train station.
And now this. Barry Alexander hadn't been away from Bellingham Hall since he arrived. Aunt Jane didn't want him associating with any of the farm hands -- it was like they were Negroes or something, not exactly real people and thus well below him and who he was. He snorted. From what he'd seen of the labourers, he probably wouldn't have anything to talk about with one of the yokels anyway.
But he'd still like to see something of the England he'd learned about in history. He'd like to see some of the fun-loving people Mom was always remembering. He was bored enough almost to pitch a drunk even with some of the locals.
He had hopes for Elizabeth, though, now that he'd met her. She had a sense of all that English history he'd got in school. Maybe she could show him some of the local colour on some of the weekends. Even if that was out of the question, she was interesting to be with. They could talk at least. Nobody -- not Aunt Jane or that nosy old busybody Alice Adshead who seemed to run everything around the house with an iron hand -- could get upset about two young people just talking about things.
He smiled. Maybe she could get him close to that Lord Petersholme. That would be nice. Barry was willing to bet his Lordship could be fun, if he'd ever let his hair down. Not just in bed, either. He shook his head and turned back the way he'd walked. It was like he had a fixation on the guy. He had wanted him in bed the moment he saw him, and the bastard totally turned that one down. The worst part of it was that he still wanted him.
Only, now, he wanted more than just what getting between the sheets with the nobleman would mean. He wanted to go places and do things with him. Like they were lovers or something.
He was sure that having Lord Petersholme regularly between his legs would make the years of university go by a lot faster. He nodded. More pleasurably too. Theatre and even the symphony like he'd known back in New York. He'd like that -- the guy would look great in a tux. That wide chest, those narrow hips -- yeah, he'd look great. He'd look as good as Barry did in one.
He kicked at a rock that was in his path. They might look good together all right, but there was no chance of that happening. He'd get to escort Elizabeth around the university and have to watch the guys like a hawk while he was doing it. She was one nice looking woman; and too many guys didn't have any class at all, no matter how much money was in their bank accounts. Yeah. He'd be watching over Elizabeth while Petersholme went stamping over the hills and dales of Bellingham Hall with a covey of cuties in his wake -- all going to shoot some poor damned birds!
"Hello there, lad!"
The words pulled Barry from his thoughts and he turned towards the voice. A blond guy was grinning at him from the tractor seat and motioning him over. His fists clenched but he quickly forced them back to normal. He wasn't afraid of these English boys. With his blackbelt, he'd beat them within an inch of their lives if he ever had to defend himself.
"You'd be Miss Murray's nephew from America, aintcha?" the blond asked as Barry started towards him and his companion. He nodded. "Me name's Clive," the blond continued. "This here is Nevie, me best mate since we was in nappies."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Barry," he offered, struggling through the young man's accent. "Do you work here at Bellingham Hall?"
"Me and Nevie do at that, Yank. When we ain't taking our leisure, you know?" He lifted a jar from beside the seat. "Like a taste of home-made, would you?"
"Home-made?" Barry asked suspiciously.
"Plum brandy, lad," the brunet called Nevie answered between a bad case of what the American thought were drunken giggles. "The best way to spend a Saturday afternoon when you ain't got nothing better to do -- like having a firm, wide arse bouncing in your lap."
"Me and Nevie here were just talking about that and what a pleasure it would be," Clive offered and Barry noticed the blond seemed to be growing an erection beneath his trousers. "So, will you be having a swallow with us then?"
Barry was relatively certain he was picking up on the blond's interest and had already guessed that the brunet would go along with anything this Clive started. He was tempted. He'd been too long without any sex.
Only, Clive and Nevie didn't strike him as the nicest sort of guys to get into something with. The sex might be fun all right, but he doubted it would stay just between the three of them if it happened. No matter what he might like -- or even put up with -- he had to think of Aunt Jane too. She might be a stick-in-the-mud, but she was family -- the only family he had here in Northamptonshire. And she was nice to him too. Screwing around with these two and it then being spread around the estate would kill the old lady.
Then, too, there was his Lordship's admonition to stay away from the locals. If he ever wanted a chance at scoring the Baron, Barry'd better not get into something that would get back to him. He suspected that would get him fired fast.
"I should be getting back up to the Hall," he told them, making sure he sounded apologetic. "Aunt Jane wants me to be available if they need help serving the food."
Clive nodded. "You know where you can be finding us -- when you decide you want to have a bit of fun. Nevie and me'll be happy to help out."
Barry waved and started back towards the house.
* * *
Barry couldn't read that evening. The music coming through his window kept drawing him.
He guessed the band was a local one but it was good. They sounded a little like Tommy Dorsey, but there was a jazzier undertone there too -- like Ellington or even Basie. Hell! They were almost as good as Glenn Miller. He grinned at that as, still in his chair, he swayed slowly to the music. It was probably the highest compliment he could give any band. Miller was absolutely the very best.
Barry took a deep breath. When he had been little, he would have gone and sat on the stairs to listen to the music coming from his parents' parties. They'd let him mingle with the grown-ups when he was older. He'd quickly become the unofficial record changer for the Alexander house.
But here he couldn't sit on the steps and listen. And Aunt Jane would be scandalised if he actually got close enough to his Lordship's party to be seen by any of the guests. He figured Petersholme would probably fire him on the spot too. The man was that strange a duck. A good man but strange ...
He groaned as he pushed himself from the chair and stripped out of his shirt and trousers. "I might as well go to sleep," he told himself aloud. "I can't go down there. I can't go any damned where. Either I'm the wrong class or it's too far to walk." He groaned. "There's not one damned place I can go, not stuck out here in Podunk!" He threw himself on the bed, taking satisfaction in the squeaking of the springs under him.
It was impossible to doze off. He lay in his underpants and vest on top of the sheets, the cool, rain-soaked breeze from his windows caressing his legs. The music touched him, cuddling him so that he couldn't get away from it. He tossed and turned, trying to find the relief that he knew sleep would be but losing the sense of it, even as it stayed just ahead of him. The music kept drawing him.
He climbed to the terrace and glanced back down the steps to the grounds. He was alone. The French doors of the ballroom were open to the night and the cooling, gentle rain. Barry's hair matted damply against his head as he moved towards the nearest set of open doors to look in.
He hadn't meant to get this close to the party when he'd been dressing in his room. He'd just wanted to get closer to the music. But, with the rain, the terrace was the only safe place from which to do that. Anyone wanting to catch a moment of privacy from the party stayed in the house. Besides, this way, he'd be able to watch the revellers as well -- without them knowing he was there. Especially Lord Petersholme.
He couldn't remember ever having a crush on anyone like he had for his Lordship. It was almost embarrassing. It definitely was stupid. And it had him by the balls.
The man had certainly made it plain that nothing was going to happen between them. That he wasn't going to let it. So, why did he keep hoping? That was the stupid part.
If he wanted sex, Barry was certain that he could get something going with the two farmhands from the afternoon. He would have all the sex he wanted from those two the rest of his time at Bellingham Hall -- them and their friends.
He snarled at the thought of the two men. He'd have them -- and most of the rest of the farm boys too. It wouldn't be the kind of sex he wanted, though. There wouldn't be anything mutual about it. He'd just be the instrument of relief that the boys would use -- when they got horny. He was willing to bet they wouldn't care if he was interested or not -- as long as he was getting them off. Well, let them try. Even with just his feet, he could take on four men.
Petersholme was dancing with a pretty girl in the centre of the ballroom floor, and Barry smiled as the man gave her a twirl. He was so dashing in his tux. Perfect. Barry made sure he wasn't standing where he could be seen in the light coming from the room and began to study the party-goers inside.
Petersholme smiled at something the girl said to him and Barry felt a pang of jealousy. He loved the way the light caught the man's hair and made it as gold as the sun. He wondered what it would be like to have Petersholme hold him as he was the girl dancing with him.
Everyone was good-looking he thought as he forced himself to take in one person and then another person in the room. Even that old hen who had tried to get him and Elizabeth into trouble two-weeks ago didn't look bad. Eliza called her Aunt Alice. Barry frowned. He wondered if her chat with the nice looking middle-aged woman was another planned marriage for Elizabeth in the working.
He grinned at the memory of the girl telling him about the military man and how his Lordship had protected her from things becoming too serious. It was almost impossible to believe that people still planned their children's marriages here in England. It was such backward thinking, and here Britain was this great empire too -- even bigger than America. He allowed himself to wonder how many of the married couples in the ballroom lived in arranged marriages.
"So, you're a peeping Tom now, are you?" The voice was low and next to his ear. Barry jumped and Eliza giggled.
"I didn't hear you come up," he mumbled.
"But, dear Barry, I didn't want you to hear or see me." She smiled. "And you were so lost in thought -- perhaps the music?"
"I was trying to stay out of sight but that band..." He remembered he was speaking with Petersholme's cousin. "You'd best be getting back inside, Elizabeth. You're going to get wet."
"I think I'd rather chat with you, Barry. Sometimes I suspect England's aristocracy is absolutely mindless." She giggled again. "And this is one of those times. If it isn't horses or babies, it's who's going to be married this year."
"But you're still getting wet."
Her eyes twinkled as she met his gaze. "So meet me in the library and let's have another one of our chats. Perhaps we can scandalise poor Aunt Alice. I have something I want to tell you, anyway."
"So, Barry Alexander, I know so little about you, but I think you must be the greatest sorcerer since Merlin," she greeted him as he entered the library.
He blinked and watched her cross the room to him.
"Thank you, Barry." Her voice was huskier than he could remember it.
"For what?" he asked, studying her face for a clue to this new side of the woman.
Eliza smiled back at him and he noticed her eyes were misty. "I only met you -- what? -- a fortnight ago; and already you've created a miracle in my life."
"I don't understand."
She took his hands in hers. "I received a letter in today's post -- from the London School of Economics, inviting me to attend classes in political science and history there this autumn."
He understood then but was still surprised at the speed with which the university had replied. It had taken him almost six months and a query from Ambassador Kennedy to be accepted. He squeezed her hands. "I'm happy for you, Elizabeth. It's what you wanted."
"And how did you manage to make this happen, Barry?"
"Didn't his Lordship tell you?" She shook her head slightly, pulling her hands away. "That afternoon I met you?"
"And Aunt Alice found us together in this room and became quite daft?"
"Your cousin called me in to make sure I wasn't interested in you in that way. I told him what we'd talked about, and he made a phone call to someone in London."
"He didn't!" Barry nodded. "Robbie did that for me?"
"I guess he did," he answered with a smile. "He loves you very much."
Silence grew between them as she studied the man before her. "Barry?" she asked finally, her voice subdued. "I'd not thought of how you might see me -- what kind of feelings you might have for me -- until just now."
"I see you as a friend, Elizabeth," he answered quickly. "Oh, you're an attractive woman, but I ... Well, you're my best friend in England."
Her brows knitted as she attempted to understand. "You find me an attractive woman, yet you're not interested in me that way?"
"You're a noblewoman and I'm -- I'm a servant," he offered hurriedly, expecting the explanation to make perfect sense to her.
She shook her head. "No, no, my dear Barry Alexander. My one connection to England's peerage is by being Robbie's cousin -- I'm just plain Elizabeth. You will not beguile me with an escape into class consciousness. I already know you, you see -- and I know you don't think that way." She smiled. "Now, you simply must tell me what it is about me that is so unappealing to you."
Barry blushed. "What possible good would that do?" he managed.
Elizabeth seemed to have been taken aback. "Is there something here I'm not understanding, Barry?" she asked quietly.
"It's not you. You've got to understand that."
"If it's not something about me, then what is it?"
"I..." He wondered if he should tell her. He could easily lose a friend by doing so. But, then, she probably already knew -- just like the farm hands he'd encountered at the barn did. Aunt Jane would have discussed him with her closest friends among the servants and her employers -- and Barry knew how gossip spread. He'd seen it too many times back home.
His Lordship knew about him too. There was no way that some version of his being queer hadn't got back to this woman.
"It's not you, Elizabeth. You're really an attractive woman." He looked down at his hands. "It's just that -- that I'm not attracted to women."
The silence that followed was deafening. Barry could not bring himself to look up, even as he felt her gaze on him. It was damned obvious that whatever Aunt Jane had told anyone hadn't got back to Elizabeth.
Eliza finally asked in a small voice: "You would find pleasure with men?"
"I'm what they're calling a homosexual these days, Elizabeth."
He heard her take a deep breath and braced himself for a stream of condemnation from her. Instead, she slowly moved to grip his shoulders. "I apologise for putting you in the position of having to make that confession, Barry. I had thought to be playing some word game with you ... Forgive me, please?"
"I walked right into it, didn't I?" he mumbled and forced himself to meet her gaze.
"Am I forgiven?"
"Huh?" He stared at her in surprise.
"Am I forgiven?"
"Of course you are. But there's nothing to forgive." He snorted. "I could have come up with another answer -- it's just that I thought you already knew."
"I didn't, Barry. I also see nothing wrong with it, if you're enjoying yourself with a man of similar interests." A frown tugged at her lips. "I would suggest that you not become involved with any of the farm hands, though. Some of those lads are quite simple from the little I've seen and heard."
"I've been as celibate as a Catholic priest, Elizabeth."
"Oh?" Dimples spread down her cheeks as she smiled. "There's not even a man at Bellingham Hall who interests you?"
"Just your cousin." He shuddered as he realised what he'd just admitted.
He swallowed hard. He'd opened this can of worms, he was going to live with it. "You really are going to hate me now, Elizabeth, but -- yes -- Lord Petersholme is one of the most attractive men I've ever seen."
"You really do find him handsome then?"
"Can't you see it? He's just about perfect!"
Her smile grew fuller. "Is Robert aware of your interest in him, Barry?"
"Your cousin isn't interested in me, Elizabeth."
"I don't see why not." She giggled. "To use your own words, you are just about perfect."
"Ha!" The full impact of her words struck him then and his curiosity grew quickly. "But why do you think his Lordship is like me?" he asked.
"It would explain so very much. I have never seen him call on a woman, except when there was a party. And, then, it is never the same woman. You would think that a twenty-six year old man would be sweet on one along the way, wouldn't you?" She nodded slowly. "I have been the woman he escorted other places, like the theatre or the symphony -- ever since Mama died six years ago. And, when he wasn't going to a party or escorting me, he was always with his chums from university. It fits ever so nicely, don't you think?"
The information fitted in with what Barry had already surmised. It also made him feel Petersholme's rejection more fully. "Well, if he is homosexual, I'm not what he wants," he grumbled.
"I don't see why not! You're far more handsome than Lord Molloy who was Robert's best chum both at Rugby and Oxford." She grinned. "More intelligent too, I suspect. That man is so boorish -- just like his wife there in the ballroom."
"You think Lord Petersholme and this Lord Molloy were lovers -- and the guy has a wife?"
"There was some little talk several years ago about how quickly the man was married off -- and really below his class too. Or so Aunt Alice thought. She wouldn't discuss much of it with me, of course; but she did go on about it for weeks. And Robert did seem a bit peevish about the whole thing -- I don't think he's seen Molloy since he was married." She studied him appraisingly for a moment. "You're interested in Robert then?"
"He's not interested in me, Elizabeth. I'm a servant, the grandson and nephew of servants," Barry growled, his bitterness showing through. "He's not willing to see me behind all the class distinctions you guys have over here. I could be Roosevelt's son, and he's still see me as Aunt Jane's nephew