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This chapter plays exclusively in London. Earlier, Petersholme tried to understand that he really could love another man. Now, Barry has to confront his insecurities. If you will, this is the romance part of FLIGHT. Please remember how absolutely stupid one or the other lover (or a more minor player) in a romance behaves in a romance. I do hope you'll find my depiction of the fomulaic romance a bit humorous.
The story will be told in rotation from one to the other side of the channel. The atmosphere of the story will be considerably darker in those parts of the story that has his Lordship in Germany.
The copyright to Flight belongs to me. It cannot be reprinted in any medium without my express permission. If you're under 16-18 yos, you shouldn't be reading stories from the Nifty archives -- however, this story will not lead you into orgasmic prurience (mum and dad can read it over your shoulder, in other words). If you enjoy reading stories stored at Nifty and are delirious that they are free, donate a couple of bucks to Nifty so that those stories will continue being free to you.
Alice Adshead sat uncomfortably in Robert's chair in his study at Bellingham Hall and studied the instrument in her hand. It was her first time using the telephone, and she had been more than a bit suspicious of it as she put the call through to London. It seemed almost immoral to cast aside distances as if they didn't exist and speak to someone almost two hundred miles away as if they were in the same room.
She squared her shoulders and reminded herself such things as the telephone and the wireless were the future. Elizabeth came on the line then, and she no longer had time to muse at how rapidly the world was changing about her.
"How are Robert and that American boy doing?" she asked her niece once she had determined that Elizabeth was comfortably settled into the Mayfair house. She felt more trepidation at asking the question than her voice showed. Although the servants in both houses would consciously take themselves out of the two rooms so as not to overhear either side of their conversation, there was still the fact that others houses were on the same line as Robert's in London. Bellingham Hall had the only private line in the county, and she was sure London had many more lines than Northamptonshire. They could be overheard. Robert could be exposed.
"I think they have consummated their friendship, Aunt Alice," Elizabeth answered without thinking.
"They what!" Alice forced herself to lower her voice. Her throat stinging, she continued: "Please, girl! We both understand that men are truly some of God's strangest creations -- especially when they gossip about each other. We don't have to lower ourselves to their level and suggest things that are unseemly or that could never be."
Elizabeth instantly accepted the older woman's rebuke. She accepted that she had again fallen into the trap that gossip was -- a feeling of superiority available to the weak that only served to demonstrate their weakness. She couldn't understand how she could have ignored the fact that Robert had a party line and that someone could have overheard her.
"They seemed to enjoy being together before Robert left," she offered contritely. "We took in a play in the West End last night before he caught the early train to Dover."
"Where is that boy gone now?" Alice growled in surprise.
"That's the funniest thing, Aunt Alice. He said he was attending some agricultural conference in Berlin. Told us all about it the day after we arrived at the house -- but I don't remember him saying a word about it at the Hall."
"Berlin?" the older woman yelped, struggling to gain comprehension of this example of her nephew's insanity. "On the continent?"
"That's what he said. I thought it passingly strange. I've never known Robert to go to conferences and exhibitions -- have you?"
"No, I haven't." She was silent for a moment. "This is most unlike Robert. Are you sure things are relaxed between him and that American boy?"
"Robert seemed a bit perturbed when he remembered that Roger was Barry's grandfather. You know -- how he might view things. But, other than that, I would say their friendship has expanded rather smoothly."
"They haven't been obvious about their intentions in front of Roger or his wife, have they?" Even as Alice cringed at the thought of that, she found herself increasingly intrigued that her nephew had gone to Germany without telling anyone at the farm.
"No, not at all. But, dear old Roger actually seems to have perked up a bit with the two of them here in residence."
"Well, keep me informed, Elizabeth. It just will not do for Robert to make a fool of himself in front of the servants. Even in London, it must be kept quiet."
"It's almost as if you've come to accept this, Aunt Alice," Elizabeth said, daring to hope that the older woman had come to take joy in his happiness.
"I'm a woman just as you are, Elizabeth," she said into the instrument and took a deep breath. "It is our duty to endure each of the stupid and, too often, unmentionable things men force upon us."
* * *
It was hot in the lecture room of the Tate Museum. The windows were closed against the autumn chill and there wasn't even the hint of a breath of air. Perspiration beaded on Barry's forehead as he tried to keep his eyes open and his mind concentrated on the speaker's words.
She wore the silliest hat he thought that he'd ever seen. And her voice! It was a high-pitched twang that grated at a man's nerves, like fingernails scratching across a blackboard. He allowed himself to wonder where she was from -- the accent was British but one he'd never heard before.
And why would anyone care about the future of the League of Nations? It wasn't stopping the Italians in Ethiopia or the Japanese in Manchuria and Mongolia. The Germans seemed pretty well to be ignoring it as well. It seemed to be just one more debating society. One for diplomats. He looked up at the speaker. The League's supporters sure were boring too. No wonder America had decided not to join.
He gave up trying to concentrate on what the woman was saying. His love life was much more important, anyway. Robbie had seen that damned Lord Molloy the day he and Elizabeth were travelling up to London. He'd even spent the whole day with him. And half the night.
They were friends from forever -- Robbie and that guy. Best buddies, Elizabeth had told him. He could accept that. She'd also implied that they went beyond just friendship -- at least, they had when they were students. He could well imagine what they'd been doing while he and Robbie's cousin were on the train -- and he didn't like it.
Damn it! Robbie was his. They'd spent all summer getting to know each other, growing on each other even. He'd bit his tongue and waited for Robbie to come to him, and he'd fallen in love with the Baron Petersholme in the process. Now, that he had him, he wasn't going to share him with anybody -- not even with his oldest and dearest buddy.
That was the rub in a nutshell. This Molloy guy was Robbie's oldest and dearest buddy. They were both noblemen. They'd gone to the same schools together. They knew each other's friends. And they were both so -- so impeccably English.
They probably even knew what each other was thinking.
Barry Alexander knew without a doubt that he'd be unable to stop the two of them from getting together whenever they were in the mood to do so. So, how did he keep Robbie his?
Elizabeth shaking his arm woke him. "Are you all right, Barry?" she asked when he opened his eyes and focused on her. Around them, men and women were standing and slipping on light coats; most of them chatted in small clumps.
"I'm fine." He felt his face redden. "It was so hot in here -- stuffy -- I fell asleep." He smiled at her. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth, I didn't mean to embarrass you."
She smiled as she stood. "You didn't. You were really quiet. Besides, I'm the one who should apologise to you -- I convinced you to bring me here."
"That was my pleasure."
"Not when the speaker is as boring as this one was," she chuckled.
Outside, Barry hailed a cab and helped her inside. He gazed silently out the window at the dark streets of London as they rode towards Pall Mall.
"Would you like to stroll through the park?" she asked as they neared Hyde Park and touched his hand. "It would be relaxing and it's quite a nice evening."
He turned back to her and smiled. "Yeah, let's. I need to get things worked out in my head and maybe you can help."
"What's wrong?" Elizabeth asked as she watched the cab pull away. "You've seemed withdrawn every since Robert left for the continent yesterday."
"I don't know how to make it work, Elizabeth," he mumbled and started on a path into the park.
"Make what work?" she asked, following him.
"His Lordship and I -- we've been doing it since the night you and I arrived here in London."
Elizabeth stopped and studied the American who had stepped ahead of her. She didn't know whether she should be insulted by his statement or not. It certainly wasn't proper even to allude to sex -- not when it was a man and a woman who were the couple. But she was a bright girl, and she had long ago figured out the mechanics of the act. She also guessed the mechanics were similar when it was two men who engaged in the act.
When it was men doing it, it seemed that every aspect of their relationship somehow became sexual. She supposed that what was considered acceptable in conversation had to change also. If she was going to continue to be involved in Robbie's and Barry's relationship, she accepted that she was going to have to be more open to what would be impropriety -- even insulting -- if they were a man and a woman.
She giggled and he stopped to gaze back at her. "I knew that," she told him. "I could see it in your face, Robert's too -- even if I hadn't seen you come out of his bedroom the next morning." She frowned. "I thought you were walking on air while we toured the Tower of London -- and Robert was happier that evening when we got home than I've seen him for months. So, what's wrong now?"
"It's just that..." He turned away. "Maybe we should just forget it."
"Barry! We shall not just forget it. I want that you and Robbie make a go of this friendship. It's good for both of you." She stepped up beside him and put a hand on his elbow. "I like to see both of you happy."
He turned back to her and Elizabeth was certain that she saw his eyes glistening. "It's that Molloy guy -- he'd spent the whole day with him before we got in. Half the night too."
"You're the one who suspects they've done it -- were doing it back in college."
"And you think they might have renewed the physical side of their friendship?"
He nodded. "And there was another one the next day -- while we were sightseeing, Elizabeth. Some man named Alan -- Alan Dudding, I think it is."
She frowned. "I don't know him at all."
"He was at Oxford with his Lordship and that Molloy."
"Did he give any reason for meeting this Alan Dudding?"
Barry shook his head. "Nothing. Just that he had to see him about something he was doing for the Foreign Office -- for Molloy."
"That could be it then."
"Have you ever known Rob..." He caught himself. "His Lordship -- to just clam up?"
"Stop talking. He told me he was going to Berlin that night after you and I had come up from Northamptonshire. He said it right after he'd admitted to spending the day and half the night with that Molloy. I asked him why and he just stopped talking. It was like I was a little child again and my parents didn't want me to know something."
"Maybe they've asked him to spy for them at the Foreign Office. He does speak German, you know. He spent a whole summer hiking along the Rhine with his friend Janus von Kys while still at the University."
"Elizabeth, your cousin is a farmer. He has a couple of factories. He's well-heeled all right. But a spy? Those guys get special training and everything. Sending his Lordship to spy for England would be like putting a pointed revolver in his hand, pointing it at his head, and telling him to pull the trigger."
"Still, Barry, he was acting a bit strange the last day or two before he left for Dover and the continent."
He sighed and it seemed to Elizabeth that he actually deflated in the moonlight. "Okay. Let's suppose, just for a minute, that he really is over there in Germany doing something for England. That he met this Dudding guy and Molloy and that their meetings were all business." He paused, gathering his thoughts. Elizabeth waited.
"He's known this Molloy since they were in high school together, right?"
"Infant's school, actually." She nodded.
"And you think they were doing it when they were at Oxford? I can tell you right now that his Lordship is an experienced lover, Elizabeth. He knew what to do and how to do it -- and well."
"I'm sorry, Elizabeth." He hung his head and looked away from her. "Maybe I shouldn't be unloading this stuff on you."
"No, it's all right."
"But sex is part of it -- there's no way I can explain what's going through my head without mentioning that too."
"It's all right, Barry. I've been brought up to be uncomfortable at having anything physical discussed. I've already accepted that I'll just have to get used to it if I'm going to be a good friend to you and Robert."
He shrugged. "Elizabeth, I don't think I'll be able to stand it if your cousin is doing other guys -- even guys he's known for a while. I love him, but I've got to have all of him. A piece of him just isn't going to do it for me."
"Molloy is married, Barry."
He snorted. "That doesn't plug any holes."
She ignored the implication in the words. "Why do you think Robbie would be interested in other men now that he has you?" she asked. "He became quite infatuated with you over the summer and he was certainly happy the two days that you two were together here in London."
"Look, Elizabeth, this Molloy guy has known his Lordship forever. They go back to when they were kids. He's a nobleman too -- like your cousin is."
"And this Mr. Dudding? If he had been from a noble family, I would have heard about him -- probably even met him."
"They're both English. They understand how things work here, just as his Lordship does. I'm the outsider." He snorted again. "I'm just the queer servant boy."
"You're not just a servant, Barry -- invert or not. And Robert doesn't think you are, either. Not as fond of you as he's become." She took a deep breath. "Actually, he's come to think of you as being of our class."
"Okay. But the rest of it..."
"No. Barry, as far as we know, there is no rest of it."
"What you're feeling right now is insecurity. This friendship has been growing between you the past four or five months and you have only now consummated it -- only to have Robert just leave for the continent with no explanation. Think about it, Barry. He travels to Berlin before the newness of your relationship wears off -- telling you nothing. That makes you start doubting everything that exists between you." She chuckled. "You've come to see bogeymen under the bed, my friend."
He studied her doubtfully. "Maybe..." he forced himself to admit.
"Give Robbie a chance, Barry. Let him return from the continent and we'll both watch him. If he appears to be chasing after Lord Molloy or other men, then we can confront it -- confront him with it."
"So, why did he up and go to Berlin with no explanation?"
"Barry, we English -- and especially the men of our nobility do grow up together. Most of us are even related to each other. We've come to know each other -- the women knowing the other women of our sort, the men knowing the men." She shook her head slowly, trying to find the words that would give logic to the reality of English life. "We've come to know who amongst us we can trust."
"You're telling me that this Molloy guy just ups and asks his Lordship to go to Berlin?"
"There's probably something happening there, Barry. Something that has interested the Foreign Office. Molloy knows Robert, he trusts him -- and Robert speaks German. So, he asks one of the few men he knows and trusts to investigate. They've probably got a spy there -- one of ours or, perhaps, someone the French have there -- but Molloy and his superiors will listen to Robert and believe his report before they believe the spy. That's how we work."
Barry stared at her in disbelief. "That doesn't make a bit of sense," he groaned.
"But it's how things work here. A whole political scheme like giving women the right to vote is decided at a weekend hunting party at Chequers."
"If he's over there playing spy, he's in danger," the American growled. "He never acted like he was stupid."
Elizabeth chuckled. "All Molloy would have to do is convince my cousin that his country needed him to do whatever he's doing. King and country means a lot to us."
"I'd put my head in a noose if I was convinced it would help my country. So would Robert. So would any of us -- even the lowest factory worker or stevedore. It's how we've built our empire."
"You think I'm being foolish, don't you?"
"No." She shook her head. "I think you're in love and you're frightened because Robert isn't here to comfort you." She touched his arm. "Let's go home, Barry."
As she unlocked the door for them, she said: "I promise to be your friend, Barry Alexander. If there's any reason for your doubts when Robert is back in London, we'll find a way to keep him yours." She smiled up at him as she pushed the door open. "You're good for him -- and he's good for you."