Thank you for your kind comments concerning chapter 1 of FLIGHT AT PEENEMÜNDE. I was surprised to find so many of you are as hopelessly addicted to history and those last fleeting moments before empires collapse and the world loses much of its beauty. I hope this chapter hooks you even more strongly to my tale. <G>
FLIGHT starts out slowly which many English novels do -- here, my excuse for this is that I want to develop the characters and the strong bond his Lordship feels toward the land.
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After leaving Elizabeth, I climbed the stairs to my rooms. Molloy's call had been tucked away in the back of my mind since the morning, but it was now centred in my thoughts.
What could he have meant with his damned telephone call? It had been so strange and uninformative. Lewis Carroll would have been hard-pressed to have confused his poor Alice more than my oldest friend had confounded me this morning. But, then, Molloy had always had a touch of the Mad Hatter in him -- every since our first year at Rugby.
All I was certain about was that whatever he was planning concerned Germany. But he had said that nothing would happen until the autumn. The lad did like to plan ahead, but this was ridiculous. What did he expect me to do -- become a spy?
I could speak German, of course. I had studied the language since I was twelve and had been the friend of both German boys at Rugby and had spent portions of several holidays with each of them. At Oxford, Janus von Kys and I had seldom spoken English, unless Molloy was with us. Six years ago, von Kys had been a victim of the Angst that the Germans have about getting back in touch with the soul of the land. I had spent the summer of 1932 tramping along the Rhine with von Kys. Molloy had rightly stayed in England and let me go off searching for elusive Rhine maidens and even more elusive dwarves with von Kys. Damn Wagner anyway!
I had to admit, though, that it had been an enjoyable summer. The hike from Holland down to Switzerland had proved to have more outstanding vistas than the wild coast of Cornwall. The people of each region had been friendly and welcoming.
Yet, I could not see how my fluency could figure into a plan that the Foreign Office might hatch. It was my understanding that spying was the domain of the War Office -- with some sort of overlap with the Home Office, brought about by the Irish revolt at the end of the Great War. The Foreign Office seemed well out of it.
So, what could Molloy be planning that involved me? I reached my apartment and had no better idea of his intentions than I had when I had been speaking with the man. I could only wait until Molloy sprang his plan on me. I forced curiosity from my mind as I made my way to my bedroom. I was resolute about not fretting with something I could do nothing about. I was much too young to begin developing ulcers.
My thoughts turned to Aunt Alice. She was becoming damnably insistent about Elizabeth's matrimonial state. But lurking not far behind that was her growing interest in mine. The woman seemed hell-bent on marrying both my cousin and me off at the soonest possible moment.
I smiled as I slipped my trousers over my legs and moved into the bathroom to draw a bath. If my dear old aunt had shown even a little artifice in her manoeuvring during the last year I suspected she could have trapped me into demanding Eliza marry one of the men she'd picked for her. But she hadn't, fortunately for me. I still had an ally in my cousin.
It was Elizabeth one week and me the next -- without fail and without alteration. It was impossible not to see through her stratagems. Supporting Eliza had become instinctive for me; otherwise, I would have to face the full force of Aunt Alice's attempts to have me producing the next Baron Petersholme. And I was definitely not ready to marry. I supposed I would eventually, of course. It was my duty, after all. I simply saw no need to rush it.
Molloy had married; but he had had his father arranging it for him whilst practically threatening his life. He had been given the choice of being disinherited or marrying. Max, quite logically, had taken the path of least resistance. He had, however, always been a bit too open about his Socratic tendencies, and the Earl had most firmly put a damper on them as soon as his son graduated Oxford.
Fortunately, Aunt Alice did not hold the power over me that Earl Molloy held over his eldest son. She also had no cause to suspect of me what the Earl had of his son.
I settled into my bath and soaped up my flannel.
Of course, Max was constantly up for a buggering. The lad could drop his trousers and bend over faster than even von Kys could; and I had accommodated both of them often in my rooms at university. Though not privy to the machinations that led to his sudden marriage, I had always suspected Molloy bent over for one of the Earl's farmhands and learnt the hard way why gentlemen should leave servants alone.
Aunt Alice could not use something like that on me because I gave her no opportunity to do so. I did nothing at Bellingham Hall, not even in Northamptonshire. Even in London, I ensured there was never a boy in my Mayfair house, word of which would quickly get back to her.
* * *
The next evening, I'd stepped out onto the terrace and was leaning over the railing. The sun was just setting and I breathed deeply as I watched the sky slide from white to gold. It was a visage I could never see in London. Not even in Coventry. It belonged to Bellingham Hall as singularly as did my soul, no matter where my body might be at that moment.
"Beautiful, isn't it, Lord Petersholme?" Barry asked, his American-accented voice breaking through my contemplation. I looked down the stairs and found him sitting on the bottom step, leaning against the house, and looking up at me.
"It is that," I allowed, irritated that my solitude had been interrupted. And even more irritated that the boy looked so damnably enticing. "Are evenings as beautiful in America?"
"Every bit as beautiful, sir." I noticed that he spread his legs and arranged himself so as to expose his groin. I glanced quickly back at the house and saw that the ballroom was dark. No one was about between the manor and its outbuildings. Young Barry and I were alone. I felt decidedly uncomfortable and wondered if I should be so rude as to retreat into the house immediately.
"Thank you for wearing your vest this evening, lad," I told him, looking for a way to reprimand him for his sexy display without seeming to do so.
He stood and brushed off the seat of his trousers, his gaze remaining on me. He climbed the steps leading up to me until his left foot was on the terrace. "I took it off hoping you'd notice, Lord Petersholme." He hung his head. "I didn't think of anyone else seeing me that way."
"Barry!" I gasped and stared at him.
He remained where he was. His eyes didn't meet mine. "You're one of the most handsome men I've ever seen, my Lord. I hope you're like me and that you're interested in me the same way I am in you."
"Barry!" I cried.
"I haven't been with anyone in more than three weeks and when I saw you yesterday morning..."
"That is more than enough, young man," I growled.
"We could go to your rooms ... No-one will know."
"I said that was more than enough."
He looked up at me then. Even in the growing dusk I could tell that he was blushing deeply. There was almost a haunted look about his eyes. "Jesus! I've blown it good now," he groaned.
I took a deep breath, wishing my erection would disappear. "We'll just forget this conversation ever took place."
He looked up again, his eyes wide and watching me closely. "You mean it, sir? You aren't going to fire me?"
"I said we'd forget this meeting."
"And you won't hold my intent against me?"
I chuckled, beginning to relax. "There are enough examples of Wildean behaviour in public school, Barry. I knew a few lads like you. Just don't become involved with any of the lads here at Bellingham Hall, mind you. That would have Alice Adshead and my farm manager both demanding your immediate dismissal."
He nodded. "That's not going to happen. I want you, not some dumb yokel."
"Barry, even those sentiments can't be expressed again. You can't have me. I would not take advantage of anyone who worked for me. And I definitely would never become involved with anyone here at Bellingham Hall -- it just isn't done."
He slowly nodded his understanding and gazed out at the copse of trees behind the outbuildings. I wondered if I could yet gracefully excuse myself, "Could I use your library when I'm not working, sir?" he asked suddenly. "I need something to occupy my mind."
I frowned. I'd never had a retainer ask to use my library -- not among the house servants or even the brightest students at the village school. But I couldn't see why he shouldn't use it. After all, he wasn't really a servant. He came from a good family in America and would be going up to university in the autumn.
"Of course, you can," I told him. "I have my texts from university there -- I also stock the latest releases from British authors."
He faced me and I could see the white of his teeth. "Thank you, sir."
"Good night, Barry," I told him and entered the house.
* * *
Elizabeth took Marx's Das Kapital from the shelf and crossed the room to the chair facing the two windows. She wrinkled her nose in disgust as she made herself comfortable. She was going to understand this man's socialism, even if doing so burnt away every shred of her desire to learn. It almost had done just that this past fortnight as she forced herself to read about the communist utopia.
"Yes!" Barry growled softly as he stood in the doorway of the library and looked from one wall to the next.
Elizabeth heard the unfamiliar young male voice and looked around the side of the chair. Pools of sunlight spread across the carpet on either side of her. A warm, gentle breeze billowed the curtains until they almost touched her. It took her a moment to recognise the handsome red-haired youth standing there and staring open-mouthed at the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. She frowned slightly as she remembered he was the new under-gardener.
"Why are you here?" she asked and watched him look towards her, surprise showing on his face.
He stepped back and said: "I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I was just looking, seeing what was here."
"And why are you inside the house? Estate workers seldom are invited inside."
His gaze had become puzzled. "I live here."
Now, she felt confused. A under-gardener living in the servant quarters? That certainly made no sense.
"I'm Barry Alexander. I'm staying upstairs with my Aunt Jane while I'm here this summer."
"Your Aunt Jane? Is that Jane Murray, our housekeeper?"
The youth nodded and Elizabeth had the mystery of the boy's presence in Bellingham Hall solved. But she now had two more that were not explained. She knew very well that Robert rarely employed temporary labour for one thing -- especially with this nasty depression that continued to linger over England. The other was that this boy was obviously an American and that simply made no sense at all.
She stood and crossed the room to stand before the youth. "Jane Murray has family in America?"
Barry grinned. "My mother, her sister, married an American after the war. Father's with the government now."
"I see," Elizabeth said and didn't see at all. "And now you're here in England and employed at Bellingham Hall?"
"Right." His face brightened. "But only for the summer. I wanted to get to know Aunt Jane and see something of the England that Mother's always talking about before I enter the School of Economics in London this fall. Aunt Jane talked his Lordship into letting me work on the estate here until I start school."
Elizabeth nodded. This Barry Alexander's presence now made enough sense that she could relax. "Servants don't normally explore their masters' houses," she said gently.
He blushed. "I've just never seen a baronial manor except in books. And this one, it's so old."
"It's quite well preserved," she answered defensively.
His face turned even redder. "I said that wrong, Miss. I'm interested in architecture and -- well -- Bellingham Hall is really interesting to me. How old is it, anyway?"
She smiled then. "Henry VII created the first Baron Petersholme for his support in the War of the Roses. Bellingham Hall was built then."
His eyes widened and he shook his head slowly. "Almost four hundred years old," he mumbled.
"You seem awfully interested in the library, Mr. Alexander."
"Oh, yes." He looked past her, and Elizabeth was sure she saw longing in his eyes as his gaze move across a wall of books. "Father has a pretty good collection of books but this..." He shook his head as if to clear it. "One large room -- the whole thing -- full of books. It's like the public library back home in Rye. I could get lost in here and never find the door." He realised she had a book in her hand. "What're you reading, Miss?"
She looked down at book. "This? Karl Marx's Das Kapital."
His eyes widened. "You're a communist?"
For a moment, she stared at him in shock. "A communist?" she finally managed.
"You did say you were reading Karl Marx, didn't you?"
"Oh!" She looked down at the book and blushed. "I'm sorry. No, I'm not. I'm trying to understand how he would have the world operate in his utopia. But it is so absurd."
Barry grinned. "I thought so too. And dry? When I was reading it, I'd have to get up every half-hour to get a glass of water or I'd fall asleep."
Elizabeth chuckled. "Would you like me to ask Lord Petersholme if you may use the library during your summer here?" She wasn't sure why she was making such an offer. She didn't see where it would cause any harm but knew Aunt Alice would be against it. She had never heard of anyone giving a servant access to one's library, and that would be enough to have the older woman against it.
Barry smiled. "His Lordship's already given me permission to use the library, ma'am."
* * *
I was tired as I walked up from the stables on Saturday afternoon. I had ridden most of the morning but I now had what I felt was the best sense of the farm that I could have. I was well-prepared for Monday morning's conference with my farm manager.
My heart sank instantly when I saw Aunt Alice open the door and stand there to wait for me. All thought of the farm, the beautiful weather, and the multitude of other things that had made the day such a pleasure to me disappeared as I approached her.
"Robert, I must speak with you now!" she informed me as I came upon her.
I forced a smile to my face. "Of course, Aunt Alice," I offered, keeping my tone light. "We're already speaking, aren't we?"
She glowered at me. "In your study, Robert -- or in your rooms." She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "I certainly would not want any of the servants to overhear us -- not with this matter."
"The study then."
She marched through the house with me following behind her. Aunt Alice was fuming, and I could not imagine what could have possibly set her off so.
I held the door for her and, stepping in behind Aunt Alice, shut it behind us. "What's the matter?" I asked.
"Not more than an hour ago, I found her in the library with a man, Robert! A young man. The nephew of our housekeeper, Jane Murray!"
"In the library you say?"
"There was a servant boy in your library, Robert. I've never heard of such a thing! And chatting away with your ward as if they were dear friends -- or..." She rolled her eyes. "Or lovers."
"I gave him permission to use the library, Aunt. He appeared to be interested in the latest Huxley and Waugh..."
"Yes, Aunt Alice?"
"That servant boy was alone with your cousin. Whatever would people think of her if they knew? What would they think of us?"
"Were they doing anything untowards?"
"No. But that means nothing; they could have heard me approaching. This simply cannot happen again, Robert!"
I stepped up to her and took her hands in mine. "Aunt Alice, young Barry was authorised to use the library. Eliza is a member of the family and, thus, has the right to visit any part of the estate of her own free will -- as you or I do. Apparently, both of them chose to use the library at the same time." I smiled down at her. "That shouldn't imply to anyone that they're having an affair or that Eliza's virtue has been compromised."
"Why were they talking -- even laughing?"
"What do you do with Miss Murray or Cook?"
"That's different." Her jaw seemed to set.
"They're women, Robert. We can talk about female things. And, as you are aware, I'm the first one the women on the estate will come to if there is illness."
"You don't talk to the farm manager, Aunt? A man if I remember correctly."
She glared at me. "To decide what is to be slaughtered -- so I can make up the menus."
"And you never pass the time of day with him? Neither of you ever smiles at the feel of the warm sun on your face?"
She frowned. "Robert, I'm an old woman. None of the men here are going to look at me and think wicked thoughts."
"And Eliza has grown up here. She was a girl of -- what? -- nine when she and her mother came to Bellingham Hall. We have become her home and family. She's even come to go with you on some of your sick calls this past year -- that Hays boy with the mumps last month, remember?"
Alice Adshead frowned. "You think me horribly old-fashioned, don't you, Robert?"
I hugged my aunt to me and she permitted it, laying her head against my jacket. "I think that you are concerned about Eliza and me -- and Bellingham Hall."
"A nasty old busybody with her nose always in your business."
"Not really," I told her and pushed her from me so I could see her face. "But this is 1938, dear old aunt of mine," I chuckled, hoping to strike just the right tone with her. "Things have changed a bit since you married Uncle Alfred, and we all need to relax a bit."
"God rest Alfie's soul," she mumbled and tears welled in her eyes.
"I wish I had known him better, Aunt Alice," I told her and pulled her back to my chest. She sniffed and I could feel her pain at his loss, even after twenty years. "I'll talk with young Barry, Aunt. I'll remind him to ensure doors are open and that nothing untowards happens if he's alone with Eliza."
"You do that, Robert," she mumbled and sniffed again.
"He's a good lad. In America, he's much like our sort, Aunt Alice. I'm sure that he understands proper respect for a lady." She continued to lean against me, the resolve gone from her.
I grinned as a thought suddenly popped into my head. It was sure to distract her from her memories of my uncle and their too short marriage. "Who have you got me escorting at this party of ours next week?"
I felt her stiffen before she pulled away from me and gazed directly up at me. "I had thought to mention that to you. I thought you might lead out the dance with Lady Allyson Molloy. You went to school with her older brother."
"Max's little sister?" Aunt Alice nodded. "Is she even old enough to have been presented at Court?"
"She's Eliza's age."
"Max will be coming too then?"
"I think not. Lady Allyson's sister-in-law, Lord Molloy's wife, will escort her. But I believe Lord Molloy is in America for the month."
I nodded even as I wondered what Molloy was doing in America and if it had anything to do with his plans for me in the autumn. "Just don't push her on me, Aunt. I'm nowhere close to wanting to hear wedding bells."
"Why do I even bother?" Alice Adshead groaned.
I grinned. "Because you so enjoy playing matchmaker."
I sent for Barry Alexander. I had no intention of belittling the American for chatting with Eliza in the library. He had done nothing wrong, and I was quite comfortable that Elizabeth was as innocent as the boy. Still, I could see where it might well be a good idea that he ensure that doors were open if he found himself alone with a female member of my household in the future. A word to the wise and all that; it would at least keep Aunt Alice's mind on the household instead of our personal lives.
There was a rap at the study's door as I sat in my favourite chair facing the sofa. "Come," I called.
The American entered and shut the door behind him before turning to face me. "You sent for me, Lord Petersholme?" he asked and I sensed a hesitancy about him.
"Do come in and sit on the sofa there," I told him and hoped I had dispelled his suspicion.
He sat up straight, his hands on his knees, and watched me. His red hair caught the sunlight from the windows behind me and flamed. I smiled. "Is there anything wrong, sir?"
"Have I messed up again? I've been wearing my undershirt like you told me to do."
"I've heard no complaints, Barry." I took a deep breath and started in. "I hear that you've met my cousin Elizabeth."
He smiled at the memory of their meeting earlier. "She is a really interesting woman -- smart, witty, attractive. It seemed that we had known each other forever; we talk about just about everything."
"That certainly sounds like an endorsement," I chuckled. "You wouldn't be becoming interested in Eliza, would you?"
Awareness grew in his eyes and his jaw hardened as I watched him clamp his teeth together. "Lord Petersholme," he said stiffly. "I am sexually attracted only to men; I've told you that. But Elizabeth is a fun person to be around, one I'd like to get to know and enjoy as a friend."
I stiffened at the thought of my cousin simply associating with this lad, as two men would -- the idea of it seemed discomforting in a way I could not put my finger on. "You have no reason to doubt my intentions towards her."
"But you would want to engage in friendly exchanges with her?" I mumbled, seeking to grasp this concept that was uncomfortable to me. "As two chums from the same school would?"
He gazed at me until I began to become uncomfortable. "Lord Petersholme, do you have even one female friend -- just one -- that you let your hair down with?"
"Let my hair down with?" I growled, trying to divine the meaning of something as illogical as doing that. My hair was no more than an inch long, even at its longest point.
"A woman you can completely relax with -- like you do with your best friend?" I thought immediately of Molloy at the Foreign Office -- when he was fully dressed.
"I suppose that would be Eliza," I offered slowly.
"I'd say she doesn't think that you consider her a friend -- at least, not an equal."
I stared at the American sitting before me and tried to comprehend how he had so suddenly become my judge.
"Did you know that cousin of yours is one of the smartest people I've ever met? She seems to have a pretty complete idea of what's going on in Europe right now -- and is scared to death of how England will be able to survive it. She's also got one of the best senses of humour I've ever seen in anybody, regardless of their sex. She may be scared of what those storm clouds over Germany will bring, but she can joke about it still -- just as she does about your aunt's old-fashioned attitudes."
I could not believe he was describing the same woman I had known since she was a girl of only nine. "I've never seen that," I mumbled and wondered why.
"Maybe it's because you've got used to her being a woman, one whom you're going to marry off to one of your friends -- like you'd sell a horse. You've never seen her as just another human being and judged her abilities on that basis."
"I..." I stared at him in shock.
"She's read every one of your textbooks from university. She understands chemistry a whole lot better than I do and Keynes' concepts of economics too." He paused and leaned forward.
"What was she reading when my aunt found you two?" I asked hesitantly, desperately holding on to the image of Elizabeth engrossed in some frothy French romance.
"Nothing that time. But, when I first met her, she was reading Das Kapital."
"Marx?" I yelped. Not only was I beginning to realise that I'd behaved boorishly towards Elizabeth, I now had to wonder if she'd become a damned boshie as well.
"She was trying to understand the basics of socialism so she could see how Keynes had worked Hobbes and Marx together." He paused and I slowly realised he was staring at me. "Why can't she go to university, Sir?"
"Go to university?" I mumbled, shocked even further at the new thought.
"She said she couldn't -- even though she's smart enough to. But she wouldn't say why she couldn't." He shook his head slowly. "Losing those kind of brains is such a damned waste!" he grumbled softly.
Eliza attend university? It was inconceivable. Women had no need for an education, except to read and do simple maths so they could run their husbands' households.
I shuddered and shut my eyes as realisation crashed over me. I was being as fuddleminded with Eliza's life as Chamberlain was with England's. As blind as the Whigs had been at the end of the last century when they opposed the Tories on universal male education.
No bloody wonder that Eliza resisted my aunt's every effort to put her into a marriage! The girl was not just some ornament for her future husband to show off. She was my cousin and quite an intelligent enough human being at that.
I had slipped into ignoring her, at least her human side of her. What this American was saying about her was true, however. I had taken her to enough plays in London to know her keenness. It was I who had given her Eliza as a nickname -- because we had both loved George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
Eliza would never bring herself to ask me to send her to university, though. If there was anyone in England as frugal as a Scotsman, it was my cousin. She remembered well losing her father in the crash of 29 and arriving at Bellingham Hall penniless, fatherless, and hat in hand. Losing her mother then, she had had no barrier against knowing her dependency on, first, Father and then, myself. Rather than beg a financial favour, Eliza would have quietly surrendered to Aunt Alice's stratagems, were I ever to have shown more than token agreement with them.
I forced myself to face Barry Alexander and swallowed my pride. "Will you be Eliza's friend, Barry? Protect her when I'm not there?" He nodded, a smile tugging at his lips. "What subject would she study?" I mused. "The London School of Economics does not have an arts department."
"Economics, history -- those seemed to be her primary interests every time we've met, sir."
"Will you look after her if I enrol her at this same university you're to attend?"
"You can't get her in this late -- it's almost June!" he yelped.
I smiled. "I suspect I can. Will you do it then, lad?"
He studied me carefully for a moment and smiled. "Of course I will, Lord Petersholme."
"Good. Don't tell her what I'm doing." I smiled. "I would like the letter of acceptance to come as a surprise."
I rose and watched as he stood. "As to your meetings in future, try to leave a door open so that poor Aunt Alice doesn't have a coronary the next time she finds you two together."
He grinned. "We'll be careful of her virtue, Lord Petersholme."
As soon as the door was closed behind the American boy, I called my solicitor in London at home and told him what I wanted him to do on Monday. If Eliza wanted a university degree, she was going to have the opportunity to earn one.