Barry watched as Willi burrowed deeper into his coat. They were alone on the railway station platform in the village. The sun was bright, gleaming off the rails as they could see. For several minutes, the boy attempted to amuse himself by exhaling and watching his breath condense.
"It's so cold," he groaned finally and, throwing his arms around Barry's waist, pressed his body harder against his leg.
"Want to go inside?" Barry asked.
At that moment, a shrill whistle sounded beyond the trees and Willi pulled away. "No!" he answered. "I want to see the train."
He looked down the track, in the direction of the sound. Unable to see past the first line of trees, he leaned forward, his hands on his bare knees, to try to follow the gleam of the tracks through the woods. The cold was forgotten. Barry's hand found his shoulder.
"May we get closer?" He grabbed Barry's hand with both of his and looked up at him. "Please?" he pleaded.
"Not too close. Stay back from the edge, Willi." Barry smiled and, taking one of the boy's hands, stepped closer to the tracks. "Think you could see better if I put you up on my shoulders?"
"Ja!" the boy cried, momentarily lapsing into German, his eyes wide instantly at the unexpected treat.
Barry lifted the boy, swinging him onto his shoulders. Barry's hands covered his reddened knees. "Your hands are so warm," the boy told him, wiggling around on his shoulders to find the most comfortable place. "They feel nice."
"Can you see better now?"
"Much better now, Uncle Barry." He peered down the track and saw puffs of steam and the gleam of metal through the trees as the locomotive came nearer. Its brakes had become a constant squeal. "Do you think Dagi will like Bellingham Hall?" he asked over the noise.
"He liked the house in London, didn't he?"
"Yes, but there he was always talking about the things he could do in London, Uncle Barry. Things that big boys can do. I don't think that there's that much around the farm for them to do."
Barry snorted. "Christmas is a time for family, Willi. It doesn't matter if it's your own family or one you adopt for the season - it's the warmth and love that makes it Christmas."
"Well, your Uncle Robert and I - and Elizabeth - have sort of become Dagold's family since he came back to London with us. And we've become his family too."
"Ja." He raised his bottom off Barry's back and leaned over to look upside down into the American's face. "He was in love with Vati, wasn't he? Like you and Uncle Robert are in love?"
Barry blushed. He couldn't help it. His face suddenly felt far too warm for the middle of an English December. "Why do you think that?" he asked carefully.
"I could tell. They were always together. And they were always sending me off to play when I was with them."
"What do you know about love, Willi?" Barry asked carefully, wondering how much he was going to have to explain to the child. Blood pounded in his temples.
"I know a lot!" he answered indignantly and pulled Barry's orange stocking cap off his head, holding it as far over himself as he could.
"And what is that?"
"My Vati loved me. He loved me so much that he asked the best man in the whole world to bring me up when Mutti killed him."
"You loved him, didn't you?"
"Ja! But I also love you and Uncle Robert. You love me too."
Barry chuckled. "Yeah, we love you too, brat - even when you're bad."
"What is this word 'brat'?"
"It means a mischievous little boy - like you are, Willi."
"What does this 'mischievous' mean?" he asked suspiciously. Before Barry could answer, Willi hollered: "There it is! See?" His thighs tightened around the American's neck as he raised up. The engine cleared the trees. "The train is so big, Uncle Barry!" he said as the engine began to bear down on the station. "It is like a - what is the word? - a house. A mountain even - how do trains ever move?"
"They do weigh a lot, Willi," Barry answered slowly, trying to remember a little of his year of high school physics. "But they burn coal inside this furnace thing that takes up all of that front part-" He pointed to the engine that was now almost upon them. "That heats up the water and makes it into steam. That keeps building up pressure until it forces the wheels to start to move-"
He couldn't see the boy's face, but he could already tell that he had lost him with his explanation before Willi spoke again. "Do you think Dagi will still like me?" he asked as the engine began to pass them, its brakes screaming as it continued to slow.
"Why wouldn't he?" Barry asked as the coal car eased past them.
"I think that I said a naughty thing about him when I was angry that Uncle Robert was going to leave me."
"You didn't mean it, though?"
"Nein, I didn't mean it. I was angry and was afraid for Uncle Robert."
"Dagold didn't hear it either, did he?"
"Of course not, silly. He was still in London yesterday."
"Then, he won't know about it and won't be mad at you."
"But if it was a naughty thing-?"
"If you feel that way, then you should tell Dagold what you said - that and ask him to forgive you."
"And if it was really, really naughty, Uncle Barry?"
"Are you ashamed of saying it?"
Willi was silent for a moment. "I didn't mean it," he said slowly. "I don't even know what it means. But, yes, I am ashamed-"
"Then you need to tell God in your prayers and ask him to forgive you. And, if you still feel bad about it, you need to tell Dagold and let him forgive you too."
Steam billowed into a cloud around the engine. Metal squealed harder on metal. Barry looked out at the carriages beginning to cross slowly in front of them and his gaze followed them back towards the line of trees. He saw the blond hair first. In moments, he could make out the German's face as well.
Barry shook his head slowly. He couldn't believe it. The damned boy had opened his window and stuck his head out to watch his arrival in Bellingham. The nut was going to have his face covered with a sheet of ice! And soot too!
"Do you see Dagold, Willi?" he asked.
"Ja!" he cried. Barry felt the boy wave. All of his small body seemed to become a part of his greeting. "Dagi! Dagi!" Willi cried, his body bouncing on the American's shoulders.
Dagold waved, and Barry smiled. The German was one of the best looking men he'd ever seen. The only one who looked better was Robbie. The man pulled back into the carriage and disappeared. Only a minute later, he was standing at the top of the steps at the front of the car as it shuddered to a stop. He waved to them again.
Barry grinned. Yeah, the boy shouldn't have stuck his head out of the window. He'd washed the soot off his face, but that shade of chaffed red just did not go with his ash blond hair at all.
"Let me down, Uncle Barry," Willi demanded and the American quickly lifted him over his head and lowered him to the platform.
Barry watched the boy walk slowly to within a couple of feet of the train and stop. He was surprised at the grave dignity that the five year-old took on. Willi raised his head and seemed almost to come to attention. As Dagold stepped onto the platform, Barry heard Willi say: "Welcome to Bellingham Hall. We are happy that you could come." Metal screeched again and the train shuddered to a stop.
Dagold was obviously having none of the boy's formality, Barry decided. He scooped him up and hugged him. Willi laughed and threw his arms around his neck.
* * *
"What does 'whore' mean, Dagi?" Willi asked as he pulled Dagold Jorsten's arm around his shoulders. They walked through the garden between the manor and outbuildings. Willi had insisted on showing the young German Bellingham Hall almost before their car had pulled into the estate's drive. Dagold had laughed and agreed that he did indeed want the Graf von Kys to show him around - but only after he'd put away his bag.
"What?" he yelped and stopped to look down at the boy. "What did you say, mein kleiner Graf?" he demanded as he squatted before his dead lover's son and looked into his face
"What is a 'whore'?"
Dagold blinked. He wished he knew how to answer the boy. Almost anything he said could be wrong. They had been speaking in German and the boy had used the German word. He reckoned that he could dismiss the idea that the boy had learnt the word here in England. That left Germany. "Where did you hear this word, Wilhelm?" he asked more sharply than he'd intended.
The child looked down, unable to continue to meet the man's gaze. "Mutti used it, Dagi-"
"It is a very vulgar word, kleiner Graf. A gentleman would never lower himself to use it - your mother called someone this word?" Willi nodded and looked away.
Willi tried to pull away. "Please, Dagi - I don't want to say."
"Wilhelm, Graf von Kys, look at me."
Willi slowly brought his gaze up to meet the only man who worked with his real father who had been his friend. "You aren't going to like me any more, Dagi," he sniffed. "You're going to hate me."
Dagold pulled the boy to him and hugged him. "I could never do that," he whispered against his ear. This boy was his one remaining connection to Janus. He could never hate him. He loved him. "Who did the Gräfin call that word?"
"You," Willi sobbed.
"And why would I be angry with you for what she said?" he asked, nuzzling the boy's ear with his cheek. The memory of kneeling naked before the fat woman, looking up at her and the pistol pointing at him, flooded through his mind. He could still taste the fear that had paralysed him as he accepted that he was going to die.
"I-" The boy sobbed and began to shiver.
"Come, kleiner Graf. There is nothing to fear. I am your friend."
"I said it yesterday. I called you that-"
"Why?" Dagold asked softly.
"I was angry, Dagi. Uncle Robert goes to France tomorrow. Mutti will find him there - I know it!"
Dagold pushed the boy back a step and held his chin, forcing him to meet his gaze. "You were angry - and frightened. You said something bad, but did you mean it when you called me that?"
"No!" Willi threw himself back against the man. "Never. It was just that I was so scared. I didn't want Uncle Robert to go. I don't want Mutti to have a chance to do to him what she did to Vati. Uncle Robert said that you would be here with me - I told him that I didn't want you." He sniffed. "I didn't mean it, Dagi."
"I know." He patted the boy's back and continued to hug him close. "It's all right."
Willi pulled back and studied the man. "You forgive me?" he asked softly.
"Of course, I do." Dagold leaned forward and gave the boy's nearest cheek a small peck. "Willi, France is not like Germany. Your mother cannot hurt Lord Petersholme there. The insanity that has taken over our old country is there only. The French are not crazy - they're like the English."
"I promise. Shall we continue our walk then?"
Willi extended his hand and Dagold took it as he stood. "So, what does 'whore' mean, Dagi?"
"It's a very naughty word."
"I promise not to use it - ever. I just want to know what it means."
"It's a woman who makes love for money."
Willi thought about the explanation for several minutes as they continued along the path in silence. Finally, he stopped and turned to look up at Dagold again. "How can that be?" he asked suspiciously.
"You say a whore is a woman - but Mutti called you a whore. You're a man, Dagi."
Dagold force a smile to his lips. He had no idea of how to handle the question that lay behind this one. The boy was only five years old. "I am a man, yes," he said, deciding to answer the boy's specific question.
"But Mutti called you that - why?"
"Your mother can think some very strange things, Willi. I suspect she meant it only as a nasty insult to me."
The boy continued to study his face for another moment. He nodded slowly then. "Mutti is like that. She gets very naughty sometimes."
"And, now, are you going to finish showing me your new home, mein kleiner Graf?" Dagold asked, breathing a mental sigh of relief.
* * *
I looked up at the open door. Dagold Jorsten stood there, his face red from the cold. I smiled. "Come," I told him.
"I would speak with you privately, if you can permit me the time, sir," the German said as he entered my study.
I chuckled. "Lad, I'll permit you the time only if you'll relax a bit. This is England, and we don't want people to be automatons."
Dagold appeared surprised and, then, a guilty look stole across his face. "I have done something wrong, sir?"
"Relax and take a seat over by the fire," I told him as I stood and began to move around the desk. I watched young Dagold cross the room and was struck by his - I wasn't sure of exactly what it was that had struck me. There was an aethereal aspect to him that I couldn't put my finger on. I could, however, see why my friend Janus had been so struck by him. If ever a man could be described as truly beautiful, this was the man.
"I meant," I began as we sat across from each other in front of the fire, "that you need to relax, Dagold. You are among friends here at Bellingham Hall. You do not have to behave formally at all times with us."
"But you are a Baron-"
"And you are my invited guest. We are both men, held close to our family's bosom at Christmas time. And, before you say it, my family is yours, Dagold. You are a member of this family here as long as you want to be."
"And this means-?"
I laughed. "It means, dear boy, that you don't have to stand at attention or click your heels. You don't have to run to get whatever it is that one of us may want. You are here with us, one of us. You're not our servant. It means that you should relax and have a good time with us." I glanced to the sideboard. "Would you like a whisky?"
Dagold Jorsten continued to sit by the fire as I mixed our drinks. It was obvious that something was bothering him. I forced a smile to my lips as I handed him his whisky and sat down. "What's the matter?" I asked.
"It's the kleiner Graf, my Lord," the German said. "I am concerned that I have handled his question the wrong way for him-"
"It seems that he called me a whore. He asked me about it just now. I told him what the word meant-"
"Not graphically, I hope!"
His face flushed instantly. "No! Nie, Baron! Only that it was a woman who sold her love-"
I smiled, though I suspected that I would be as uncomfortable with the subject as he was were I trying to answer my newly adopted son. "And-?"
"He asked how I could be a whore then."
"Deucedly embarrassing moment, I would imagine."
"And you said-?"
"Only that the Gräfin was capable of wrong-thinking, my Lord."
I pursed my lips as I sought to figure where Dagold was carrying this.
"The boy is very bright, my Lord. Perceptive is a good English word with which to describe him. I fear that his curiosity may grow about the Graf and me - and perhaps about you and Barry. I'm sorry. I never thought that I would be an embarrassment to you, to your household."
I gulped my whisky as I attempted to sort this out. "Jorsten, do not think that you have been or will be an embarrassment to Petersholme or me personally. You're much too nice a sort for that ever to become a problem." I finished the spirits in my glass. "As you said, Willi is perceptive. He is quite bright. But he's also quite young. He can't understand what you and his father were doing together. I reckon that you two were usually rather circumspect. By the time he can understand, his memories of you and Jani together will have faded."
Jorsten relaxed, a smile creeping across his face. "I was so worried, my Lord. I thought that I'd handled it wrong."
"You love the boy, don't you?"
He looked down at his glass in his lap, studying it for several moments. "Yes. He is all that I have left of Jani - of the Graf."
"I think it's time you knew the whole truth then, Dagold."
The young German looked over at me, his eyes wide. "The truth, sir?"
"That night in the stables - you heard the Gräfin say that your brother had been killed, didn't you?" He nodded slowly.
"Not only is he all that you have left of von Kys, Willi is all that you have left of your brother as well," I told him and stood. I needed another whisky. Perhaps two.
"Emil? My brother? How?"
"It seems that Gisele had an affair with your brother - understand my only source of information here is what von Kys told me-"
"Emil did like large women. My parents and I - we never understood. He was so handsome and athletic. But the Gräfin?"
"Von Kys married her to give Willi a father. I suspect that the reality of the growing possibility of a Nazi state was involved too. He would be married, with a child. No-one would assume that he was an invert."
"Yes! That explains it." He nodded his head vigourously. "I finally understand now."
"Von Kys loved the boy. He was raising him as his son. He also loved you."
Dagold's face spread with a smile. "The kleiner Graf is my nephew then?" he asked hesitantly. I nodded.
"You will make him a father of whom he will be proud, my Lord," he said.
"And you will be an uncle of whom he can be proud. I hope you will join Barry and myself in raising the lad to be the best man he can be."
* * *
Clive nipped at a jug of plum brandy he'd lifted from his mum. He'd sat down on the ground inside the tractor shed. So that he wouldn't be caught, he'd told himself. Sunday drinking was what had got his dad sent off to gaol and the folks at the Hall seemed to always be watching him to see if he was going to be like his dad.
He heard voices from up closer to the manor and put the stopper back in the jug of plum brandy. He eased his way to the front of the shed, making sure not to make any noise. He saw the Hun brat first. Then a young man who had his arm around the boy's shoulder. He listened hard but couldn't understand a single word. "Hun talk!" he growled to himself.
He thought to go back to the jug of plum brandy. The youth, however, held his attention. Clive had never seen a man or woman as ... He wasn't sure of how to describe the man. Blond and slim, he was beautiful. Clive's lip formed a snarl. Men weren't beautiful. They couldn't be. But this Hun was.
Like one of the angel in those paintings at church, he was. Perfect. Clive had never seen anyone like him. He'd never imagined anyone looking like him.
The brat seemed to be calling the angel Dagi. What a dumb name for a man. He wished he knew what they were saying.
The man held the boy to him and, moments later, Clive watched them move back along the path towards the house. He wagged his head slowly as he re-entered the shed to retrieve the jug.