You're back for more???? Wow!!!! Thank you for the vote of confidence that implies.
Please let me know I'm succeeding in entertaining you at vichowel (that's one 'l') at aol.com.
With this chapter, we're ready to leave rural England to enter London and its political intrigues. Hopefully, I've grounded Robert's moral compass firmly in Bellingham Hall as well as developed the characters closest to him.
I'll stress that the English simply didn't know much about Americans in 1938. They'd seen some of the American army in 1918, but most American troops were landed in France where they were closer to the front lines. Earlier, Britons who lived in the cities and were middle-class or better had seen one or more of Buffalo Bill's tours. And, of course, Hollywood's cowboys could be found at the cinema IN the larger towns and cities. The American Ambassador and Charles Lindberg were very publicly saying that the German eagle would destroy Britain and France if there was a war. The image, then, Europeans generally and the English specifically had of Americans was a warped one.
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 happy that they are free, donate a couple of bucks to Nifty so that those stories will remain free to you.
"I would speak with you, dear, if you have the time."
Elizabeth looked up from her book and saw Alice Adshead standing just beyond the open door of her drawing room. "Please, do come in," she answered, smiling at the older woman. The curtains had been pulled back and the windows opened to catch the air in the August heat. Sunlight filled the drawing room. "Would you care for tea?" she asked as Robert's aunt approached her and sat in the chair beside her.
"I think not, Elizabeth. I won't intrude upon you long." Alice looked around the room, and the younger woman instantly realised that she was avoiding eye contact.
"Whatever is wrong, dear Aunt?"
"It's..." Alice shut her eyes and began to wring her hands over her lap. "I feel quite uncomfortable even discussing this with you – with anyone really."
"What is the matter?" Elizabeth demanded.
"It's that servant boy Robert took on here at the farm for the summer."
"He's not really a servant. In America, young men from even good families take on jobs beneath their station for the money or the experience. Their president's son is even a cowboy on someone's farm in their west."
"Elizabeth Myers, that boy's mother is Jane Murray's sister. He is a servant – and the son of a tradesman."
"He is, but the Americans don't make the same distinctions between people that we English do. It must be much easier to improve one's lot over there. His father was appointed as a high ranking member of the American government, you know. Why! The senior Mr. Alexander is even the chairman of some commission or the other that regulates their stock exchange."
Alice studied Elizabeth for several long seconds, but the younger woman waited patiently for her to return to whatever was troubling her. "You haven't become enthralled by this boy, have you, dear?" she asked finally.
Elizabeth laughed then and settled back into her chair, sure now that she knew what was bothering the older woman. "Dear, dear Aunt Alice, I'm certainly not enthralled by any man I have ever met. I am quite fond of Barry Alexander, but only as a dear friend – nothing more."
Alice Adshead nodded slowly. "Robert assured me of the boy's intentions back at the beginning of summer. He also told me the lad was – was a..." She paused and shuddered. "An invert ..." She squeezed her eyes shut. "There! I gave voice to that vulgar expression in this house."
She took a deep breath and obviously reclaimed her thoughts. "I have watched him closely these past two months and have seen nothing that would suggest a romantic interest in you, Elizabeth." A smile played across her lips. "Actually, you two, at least, often seem like children simply enjoying each other's company."
"Well, there you have it, Aunt Alice," Elizabeth offered smartly. "It's as Robert told you. Barry and I are friends, and neither of us is entranced by the other."
The older woman nodded. "I have become quite comfortable having him around you. What has come to bother me is..." She paused, her brows knitting. A moment later, she continued: "Knowing that he is a – a homosexual, I couldn't understand why he would want to associate with you for a long time. I understood when I saw that boy gazing worshipfully at Robert."
"Oh, Barry simply dotes on Robert."
The younger woman smiled. "But he respects me for my mind, Aunt Alice – something no man or boy I've met these past six years has. It is so pleasantly refreshing not to have a man trying to visualise me without my bodice."
"Elizabeth, how dare you talk like that!" Alice groaned, her face screwing almost as if she were in pain. "Oh, merciful heaven, is this how you shall become once you become a university student?"
"You're concerned for me, Aunt Alice – as you should be. After all, you've taking responsibility for Bellingham Hall ... And I truly appreciate your concern – I always have." Elizabeth reached over and took the older woman's hand in both of hers. "But, dear, dear Aunt Alice, isn't it a relief to you that Mr. Alexander's intentions are such that you shan't have to worry about them when I am away to university?"
"But such language as you use!"
"I have such need to be able to speak freely about what I feel." She smiled at the older woman and patted her hand. "You cannot begin to understand how it pleases me to do so with another woman, rather than with Robert or even Barry. There's never been another woman with whom I could say what I felt and thought. Would you deny me that freedom even when we're alone, Aunt Alice? You're almost a mother to me as you are with Robert. Mayn't I say how I truly feel with one so close to me? I need you, Alice Adshead, as one adult woman needs another – as an adult daughter needs her mother."
Alice hung her head, unwilling to meet the gaze of her sister-in-law's daughter. Elizabeth, however, sensed that the woman was savouring the new bond she was offering her. She smiled to herself. "I need our young Mr. Alexander, Aunt Alice. There is a sense of rightness to the friendship he and I have been developing over the summer." She smiled more broadly. "He is such a breath of fresh air."
"But he seems so taken with Robert!"
Alice's voice lowered and she leaned closer to Elizabeth, turning to face the younger woman. "Only this past week, I've noticed Robert beginning to look at that boy in the same way."
Elizabeth giggled at this confirmation of what she had sensed in Robert. Her cousin was beginning to accept Barry as the handsome man he was – and as a possible suitor, or whatever homosexuals called their partners.
"It is not funny!" Alice groaned. "Our Robert cannot become embroiled with a – with someone like that."
Elizabeth studied the older woman for a moment. "You don't know then?"
"Know what?" Alice demanded quietly.
Alice Adshead stared at the younger woman in shock. "I will know what is going on at Bellingham Hall, Elizabeth!" she said finally, drawing each word out to emphasise it. "Especially how it relates to Petersholme." She was very obvious in extricating her hands from the younger woman's.
Elizabeth was not sure she should have spoken. She was certainly not privy to Robert's confidences, only Barry's. But there was a strange sense of power that she now felt within herself. It was pleasant! In a queer sort of way, it was even empowering. The reality behind her knowledge was simply too good to pretend it didn't exist. And the power that her knowledge – and Alice Adshead's lack of it – gave her made her giddy. "Our Robert is a homosexual as well," she said quietly.
"Oh, dear!" The older woman's jaw gaped. "He – this is a disaster. He cannot be. He's quite civil to women. I've heard nothing about him and any of the men of the farm..." She prattled and Elizabeth understood she was seeking to regain her control over herself.
Elizabeth recoiled at what she had done. Robert was her dearest friend. Even her protector. Yet, she had revealed his darkest secret to his aunt. And who knew what Alice Adshead might do with her new knowledge.
As the older woman struggled to re-establish her control, Elizabeth thought that she had rather liked gossip – the power she had felt as she engaged in it. The best gossip she decided as Alice continued to prattle was that which took its listener totally by surprise. It gave the teller such a sense of power.
Of course, that wasn't her at all. No. Definitely not. As she thought further on it, she did not really like the sense of power she had felt. But she had enjoyed wielding it. Yet, she had quite obviously put poor Robert at a disadvantage regarding his aunt. She had also shocked poor Aunt Alice, although she suspected the older woman did need to be awakened to modern realities forcibly.
The power she had felt – of catching the older woman unawares, even besting her in her knowledge of the household – it wasn't what she wanted, pleasurable as it had been. It was the power that only the helpless held. Women held within the bonds of their families – away from the great flows of reality all around them. It was a demeaning power, belittling another to make oneself appear in a better light.
Robert had seen to her being able to escape that helplessness. Barry Alexander had helped, of course. It had been the American who dared to tell Robert he was full of a past that meant nothing today. But it was Robert who was sending her to university. And it was there that she would learn the power that any accepted equal had in a congress of equals. She would no longer have need of subterfuge and superior eavesdropping abilities. That was for women still caught in the last century and unable to free themselves, like Alice.
"Well!" Alice grumped. "That boy shall certainly not accompany you and Robert on your weekends in the future."
"Why in the world not?" Elizabeth asked in surprise. "I've been trying to break through Robert's reserve these past two months just so he would notice Mr. Alexander."
"You have what?" the older woman growled, again emphasising each world. "How dare you, Elizabeth! You are saying you have been abetting these two men in sin."
"Sin? Dear Aunt, where is the sin in love?"
"There's duty. Responsibility. Those take precedence over this love you would allow to develop. That lad is just a servant boy, but Robert is a – a nobleman. He's responsible for the entirety of Petersholme!"
"I thought he was doing quite well, living up to the responsibilities Uncle's death forced upon him. He's not had to let one man go at the factories in Coventry or here at Bellingham Hall. He provides rather well for you and me. He's lived up to his responsibilities. Doesn't he have the right to a bit of pleasure too?"
"Aunt Alice, my cousin is a male. We both know that, if he were interested in women, he would find some trollop in London or in a backstreet in Coventry – to relieve himself with. It can be assumed that he probably does that when he goes up to London – only it's with a boy. Wouldn't you prefer he have his sport with a clean young man we know, instead of some dirty urchin from the streets of London? One who could carry some disease?"
"Oh, my!" Alice mumbled, her face blanched.
Elizabeth took the older woman's hands again in hers. "Robert has never once sought to take his sport with any man here or in his factories, Aunt. He is behaving quite responsibly, don't you think? He provides for us, he provides for all those dependent upon him, and he never asks for relief for himself. Isn't it time we consider his needs too?"
Alice stood, pulling her hands from the younger woman's grasp. Her eyes went to the window. "It's a sin we're talking about, child. But I can see your point. I..." She shook her head slowly. "I have to think about this. If Robert is like that, perhaps there are other men of our sort who are too. It would be much better if he were paired with one of our own than with a tradesman's son."
She turned back to face Elizabeth. "I won't stand in the way of the three of you being each other's companions; but, please, don't continue to humour their interest in each other. We must think of our good name."
* * *
Leaving the car parked in the drive, I entered the great hall, loosening my tie as I closed the door behind me. After another monthly bout with my managers, I had learned that I was still solvent and both factories had actually increased their sales over the year before.
"I didn't, Aunt Jane!" Barry yelled angrily from the general direction of the kitchen. "I didn't do a thing but protect myself."
In the nearly three months that young Barry had been at Bellingham Hall, I had never heard him raise his voice. I found it difficult to believe he was doing so now with my housekeeper, his aunt. I stepped across the hall and started along the corridor towards the back of the house.
Miss Murray had her nephew cornered against the larder at the corner of the kitchen. Cook wrung her hands, stared at vegetables lying on her cutting table, all the while pretending not to notice that things were nastily awry. Barry stood defiantly before his aunt, not threatening her but not cowering either. I noticed a bruise on his cheek as I started towards the scene unfolding before the larder.
"I say!" I said as I came up on them. "What is the matter with you two?"
Miss Murray turned and her face blanched as she recognised me. Her gaze immediately left mine and fell to the floor. Young Barry glared at his aunt and refused to look at me. Cook clattered knives and cleavers on her cutting table behind me.
"Nothing, sir," Barry offered, an undertone of anger still in his voice.
"Nothing?" I stared at Miss Murray, knowing I would get an explanation from her, even if I didn't from him.
"He...!" my housekeeper began only to fall silent. Aunt Alice took that moment to materialise at my side.
"That's a right nasty bruise, lad," I told Barry as I peered closer at his cheek.
"I slipped, sir. Fell down, I mean. Aunt Jane was just telling me not to be so clumsy."
I felt like a headmaster of a public school with two miscreants before me and a third hovering just beyond my grip. I wished I had a cane and could give them licks as the headmaster would give his schoolboys.
"Miss Murray, you've served Petersholme for all of my twenty-six years."
She hung her head.
"I have never known you to lie to me or not tell me what I needed to know. Father spoke highly of your service..."
I was threatening her and knew it. I also knew I didn't mean it. She would have to become a wanton murderess before I would let her go and then only into police custody. I prayed, however, the threat would loosen her tongue. Aunt Alice fortunately held her tongue.
"M'Lord, this nephew of mine..." She glanced back at Barry, something akin to disgust in her eye at his having made her forget her duty. "He was in a scrap with two of the lads just now, sir."
"A scrap, Miss Murray?" My gaze turned to young Barry. A nancy boy getting into a scrap? I realised I expected him to be bloodied and teary-eyed as a result of his sexual tastes, yet he was defiant. I had an inkling of the situation.
"It's that Clive, m'Lord – the boy whose father is in Reading Gaol. This ungrateful child..." Her face flushed as she remembered Cook and she lowered her voice to a whisper. "He appears to have made an advance to young Clive, sir."
I turned to Cook instantly. "Get the farm manager to bring this Clive up here," I told her. "Have him bring him to my study and do it quickly." I turned back to Miss Murray as Cook lay down the cleaver she had finally decided on and, pulling her skirts to her, ran to the door and out into the grass on her way to the farm hands' cottages.
"This is a man's situation," I told Miss Murray, ignoring my aunt's presence. "Will you trust me to make the right decisions?"
She nodded slowly, obviously fighting herself to give up control of a situation that affected her nephew.
"Barry, follow me," I told him without glancing at him and pivoted towards the door back into the main part of the house.
"What in the bloody hell happened between you and this boy?" I demanded as I shut the door behind us and watched him move on into the room.
"Nothing, Lord Petersholme." He refused to look at me.
"I shall have an answer, Barry Alexander," I told him, permitting my anger to show now that I would not make a public spectacle of myself. "Young Clive shall be here shortly. I shall have both sides to whatever happened. And I shall not allow anything to disturb the tranquillity in which Bellingham Hall exists. Do you understand me?"
He nodded slowly and continued to avoid my gaze.
"I would be just, Barry – any decision I make must be that."
His silence continued as he stared over my desk at my father's portrait on the wall behind my chair. "I'd give you first say, Barry – bloody hell!" I grumbled, my hands becoming fists, and stepped to the window. "Take a seat and wait then," I told him and stared out at the rolling green hills of Bellingham Hall.
Miss Murray's words came back to haunt me as I waited for him to break his silence or for young Clive to appear. She had accused this lad behind me of approaching Clive for sexual purposes.
I glanced over my shoulder at Barry Alexander but he had a determined set to his face and I suspected I would get nothing more than his name from him at this point.
Could he have been spreading his legs and sharing that bum – with every manjack in Northamptonshire? With no consideration of position? Of duty? And young Barry did have a duty to his keep his Socratic nature quiet on my estate and among the labourers I employed. If not to me, then to his Aunt Jane. Definitely to his aunt. These were her people – her kith and kin.
But, again, the young man behind me was American. While I thought I had come to understand him, I had no concept of what sense of duty, of propriety, motivated that land. As a giddy young lad at Rugby, I had read the lurid tabloid press reports of Diamond Jim Brady. I also wasn't ignorant of Mae West's lingering reputation or that of Jimmy Walker, the recent mayor of young Barry's city in that strange land that still pretended a connection to Great Britain as its motherland, uncivilised as it was.
The Barry Alexander I had come to know, however, was not a wanton hedonist. Far from it. In public, he'd proven to be a properly behaved young man. With Eliza and me, he had become a good friend who was never untowards.
Hadn't the farm manager pronounced the American lad the best grounds keeper he had seen?
My train of thought was interrupted by a rap at the door. "Enter," I called and turned to face the room. The American lad still appeared quite determined to play a statue standing at attention in the centre of my study.
The door to the study opened and my farm manager shoved two lads into the room to stand before me. I recognised both lads but could only name Clive.
"I sent Cook back to her vegetables, m'Lord," the manager told me as he pushed the two lads towards me, doffing their caps and staring at their feet.
Aunt Alice slipped into the room and shut the door.
My eyes rounded as I realised what I was looking at as I gazed at young Clive. The lad had been soundly beaten. His left eye was swollen shut and was already discolouring. His nose moved rightward at a strange slant from the bridge and I could see nearly dried blood along the flange of his nostrils where he'd missed it in what I guessed had been a hurried effort to clean himself up after he'd been beaten quite soundly.
I turned my gaze to the farm manager and arched my brow slightly.
"This is young Clive, sir."
My brow shot up and the beaten boy cringed. "And this here be his mate who shares a cottage with him." The manager puffed up his chest as if he were a sergeant major from the Great War. "They have an admission to make, sir."
I fixed my gaze between the two men standing behind Barry Alexander. "And what would you like to admit, Clive?"
I saw the manager firmly plant his knee against the lad's arse but said nothing even when Clive turned to look over his shoulder at the man.
"M'Lord," he mumbled, turning back to me. "Nevie here and me – we were only ragging the Yank around. We meant no harm."
"And what did you two lads do that meant no harm?" I asked quietly, suspecting I already had an image of the answer and not liking what I saw.
"Clive here saw the Yank mowing down by the milking barn, sir," the labourer named Neville offered quickly and avoided Clive's glare that would have riveted him. "He suggested we could have a spot of fun as the boy had to be queer."
"Did not!" the bigger labourer yelled and the manager kneed him in the buttocks to quiet him.
"They were swilling a jug of plum brandy when I came upon them – and had stripped young Barry naked."
"We were just ragging him, m'Lord," Clive offered. "Ain't no nancy boys here at Bellingham Hall, sir."
"You had stripped him?" I asked. "That is supposed to be treated as a joke?"
"I saw that they had him tied, m'Lord," the foreman continued for the two farm lads. "Young Clive had opened his flies and his mate here had untied Barry's hands but was holding on to him. I was still too far away to stop them, but young Barry quickly had it under control."
"He was fast, your Lordship," Neville continued the tale, making sure not to look at his companion. "Fast as that Batman in them action arcades over to Coventry. My mate had only put his hands on the lad's arse when he jerked free of me. This bleeding Yank then kneed poor old Clive in the bollocks, gave him a left in the eye, and a right to the nose." The man shook his head at the memory. "Poor old Clive had no chance at all, sir. He was down and bleeding so fast that I thought he'd cracked his head."
"And you?" I asked Neville. "What were you doing after you and Clive here tied up Barry and undressed him with the intent to rape him – from then until you saw your mate go down?"
"Me, sir?" The boy looked from Clive to the manager to Barry, fear in his eyes. "I was drinking a good portion of the plum brandy, m'Lord. I weren't exactly proud to be in on something like that."
"You suggested it, you bloody bastard!" Clive yelled at him.
I took a deep breath and said: "Stand outside the door, all three of you. And not a single word or look between you – else, I'll cane the lot of you." I turned to my farm manager. "Remain," I told him.
"They obviously were going to rape him," I said as soon as Barry stepped through the door and pulled the doors closed.
The foreman nodded.
"That would get them ten years at minimum in gaol were it to go to court."
The man cringed.
"Did the American boy seem to give them any indication of interest that way – today or at any other time?"
"No, m'Lord. He's been a good lad – one Miss Jane Murray can be proud of. He keeps to himself and disappears up to the Hall every night. But it probably did cause a boy like young Clive to start thinking things he oughtn't."
"This is still attempted rape as well as sodomy," I told him and began to pace the width of the room. "We can't have that here. Not one young boy or girl on this estate must be put in danger – have there been rumours, anything, of that sort of thing going on?"
"Nothing, m'Lord!" he groaned and I imagined the lynching mentality something like that would bring to our tranquil little world. We would quickly degenerate into something far too close to the American West portrayed in those bloody Hollywood cowboy pictures.
I nodded and sighed. And again stood before him. "Were young Barry to bring charges and you collaborated them..."
"He can't!" the man yelped. "His aunt, sir. He has to think what something like that'd do to her, m'Lord."
"There is that," I conceded. "What would you suggest?"
"You could discharge them, sir."
I frowned. "Without public cause? For a criminal offence I could, but..." I wrinkled my nose at a new thought that had crept up on me. "They would just become two more tramps, begging for hand-outs."
The man had no doubt seen the poor lads in Coventry. He nodded. "Would you leave them to me, m'Lord?" he asked slowly.
"They won't be having any time to drink plum brandy or think dirty thoughts with the jobs I'll put on them, sir."
I smiled. My anger at Barry's mistreatment and my inability to stop it ebbed. "I want them dropping at their door and not getting up again until the next morning."
He chuckled. "They ain't even going to make it to their cottage, m'Lord – not as much manure as they'll shovel the rest of this summer."
I nodded. "They're yours then. But take young Clive into the village. I hope the doctor's still in his surgery."
"His nose, sir?"
I nodded. "I want him to be able to breathe the feast you'll be spreading before him," I said and managed to keep from chuckling. "Will you explain the facts of life to those two so they accept their punishment at your hands?"
"Aye, sir. That I'll do, down to how bad the gruel is in prison and how the buggering don't come with kisses."
I called Barry Alexander back into the study as the foreman shooed Clive and Neville towards the kitchen to find the farm lorry that they might drive into the village before the doctor closed his surgery.
"I thought we had come to know each other well enough we could speak of unpleasant things, Barry," I told him, allowing myself to sound more wounded than I was.
"It's your estate and they are your employees, my Lord," he answered. He still was not meeting my gaze, but he was no longer defiant.
"And, as Baron, I am the local magistrate, lad. I don't know if you have a similar position in your country, but a magistrate is a fully recognised member of the judiciary here."
He studied me suspiciously for several moments. "What are you going to do?"
"Will you be pressing charges? Attempted forcible sodomy – it would carry a ten to twenty year sentence."
"You're kidding me!"
I shook my head.
"I live in the Hall and I avoid them because of what you said and what any whisper would do to Aunt Jane. They thought they'd caught themselves a fairy – I couldn't let that come out in any court! It'd kill Aunt Jane."
I relaxed and crossed to my desk. The lad's English bloodlines had indeed bred true. Smiling at him as I sat down, I said: "Relax, lad – it's just us here now."
"Jesus! I'm glad that's over."
I chuckled. "I think it was over the moment you had your hands free. Gods! But that Clive looked as if he had met John Tunney in the ring." I glanced over at Barry Alexander. "What did you do to the lad?"
Barry smiled. "I've got a blackbelt in judo." He saw my confusion. "It's a type of Japanese martial arts." He sighed. "I came close to killing him, my Lord – all I needed to do was push his broken nose into his brain."
I shuddered as my stomach rebelled at the thought of that.
"So, what happens now?"
"After the village doctor has a go at him, he belongs to my farm manager – both of them do. He'll work them until they think they've found and entered the gates of Hades."
"It's over then?"
"Except for my explaining things to your aunt." I studied the young man before me for a moment. "Does she know about you?"
He snorted. "I think mom's probably told her before I was even on the boat."
"I'll explain what happened to her and point out that her name remains unsullied."
"Thank you, sir."
"You really need to get that bruise seen to, Barry."
"I wish you'd let me come to your rooms tonight," he mumbled.
My heart pounded in my chest. I realised ruefully I had become far too attached to this young American in my house. I looked beyond him and saw Aunt Alice watching us and cringed. "That would definitely not be a wise thing for either of us to do, Barry," I told him. " Not here." I looked down at my desk. "Go get that bruise taken care of," I told him.
The American had barely had a chance to make it into the corridor beyond the doorway of my study before Aunt Alice stepped further into the room. "May we speak, Robert?" Her voice was strained and I realised that she was angry.
I forced a smile to my lips. "Please come in," I invited her as I stood and moved around the desk to hold a chair for her.
"That poor lad was very nearly raped, Robert," she said, taking her chair.
"I know," I answered, sitting in the chair beside her.
"He did nothing to provoke what happened," she continued. "I asked. What you're going to do to those young heathens – will that be enough?"
"They've been turned over to the farm manager." I chuckled. "They will be shovelling manure every day until the cows come home, Aunt Alice."
"That boy deserves better than what he's seen of Bellingham Hall." She studied me for several moments and finally sighed. "You like that German woman, don't you?"
"That actress who left Germany when Hitler was elected and is now living in America. I recall that you were quite smitten with her in her first film – what? – six years ago."
She nodded. "That one, yes. She'll appear in concert at the Royal Albert Hall the first Saturday in September, Robert."
"She will?" I knew already that I would be in attendance. I had first seen her in the film Blue Angel the summer of 1932 when my school chum Janus von Kys, and I gave vent to our wanderlust and backpacked along the German side of the Rhine. She had not been blond then nor had she yet fled Germany, but I had fallen in love with her. Just hearing her name had me remembering her long, shapely legs, her heart-shaped face, her penetrating eyes, and her low, sultry voice. If ever there were a woman I would want in bed, Marlene Dietrich would be that woman.
"You need to go up to London anyway, Robert – to help Elizabeth situate herself at the Mayfair house and prepare herself for university." She paused then and I saw her frown. "You will need to take that poor boy with you as well. Understand that I consider nothing that happened today to have been his fault. These Americans seem almost too effete to handle our rougher English lads on a purely masculine level."
"No, Robert. If young Mr. Alexander had understood the English culture and just how rowdy our lower classes can be, he could well have prevented the situation from going as far as it did. For his own sake, he needs to be put in a safer position – with university students and artists and the like."
"You're suggesting that he leave a whole month early. What about the grounds?"
"We'll make do – I would prefer that he be safe than in constant, potential danger." She looked away then. "In London, the two of you will also have the opportunity to become better acquainted than you will here."
"Aunt Alice!" I felt the blood drain from my face.
"Oh, poppycock, Robert! Do you really think I'm so blind not to see how you've come to feel for that boy? Or so stupid that I can't understand? You have conducted yourself here at Bellingham Hall quite properly – restraining yourself admirably. But men have baser passions and you'll need to release them or there's no telling what will go on in that head of yours."
"Really, Robert. I don't mind telling you that I was shocked when I first realised that you were that way. But I've done a lot of soul-searching the past two months. You've been a good Baron, you've done well by Elizabeth and myself. I'm not as naive and old-fashioned as you may like to think – and I realise a man has to satisfy his needs. Enjoy the lad whilst he's here in England. Sow your oats, I say. When he's back in America is plenty of time for you seriously to decide on a wife and future mistress of Bellingham Hall."
I stared at her in disbelief. I couldn't believe I had shown myself to her. I was shocked that she could accept it. "You're saying that it is all right?"
Alice stood and took the several steps to stand before me. "Robert Adshead," she said, forcing me to meet her gaze. "It's sinful – what I can imagine the two of you doing. But it is also sinful what you might do with a woman unless you're married to her. I shall not condone whatever the two of you might choose to do together. But I shan't judge you by it, either. You have made a remarkably good Baron Petersholme, and I shall expect you to continue to do so."
She smiled down at me. "Now, make reservations for the three of you to attend that German woman's concert because you'll take Elizabeth with you. She's only making the one appearance, and you don't want to have to take just any seats, Robert."
My mouth was agape as I watched her leave my study.