Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fleur de Lys Part 12


These were our children who died for our lands: they were dear in our sight.
We have only the memory left of their home-treasured sayings and laughter…
The flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given
To corruption unveiled and assailed by the malice of Heaven-
By the heart-shaking jests of Decay where it lolled on the wires… 
To be senselessly tossed and re tossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater. For this we will take expiation.
But who shall return us our children?
Rudyard Kipling
“Why don’t you get some sleep Alick?”
Alick looked up from the table, startled. It was approaching one am on a restless night- Dev’s first two hours of sleep had been broken, as it often was, by a severe nightmare from which there was no question of him risking returning to by once more falling asleep. Deverel was wandering by the open window, dressed as though by getting dressed he could ward off sleep that bit more effectively. Alick, for want of anything better to do, had taken the persistently slow running clock down from the mantel and had taken it apart to mend, and he paused, penknife still in the screws.
“I’m all right.”
”Balls.” Dev sat down on the window seat and looked at him directly. He sounded off hand, if somewhat nervous, but sincere. “I can’t sleep at night. You can’t sleep in the day. I know you can’t. I’m all right here and you’re knackered.”
”I don’t want you to be on your own.” Alick said bluntly. Dev shrugged.
“I’m not, am I? You’ll wake up if I yell. Come on man, be reasonable. You look awful.”
“Thank you sir.” Alick said dryly. Dev smiled. Properly.
“I put a lot of practice into pacing up and down. I don’t need an audience to do it well.”
Alick hesitated, considering. A month ago he wouldn’t have trusted Dev out of his sight, especially at night.  But he was undeniably better. Calmer. Oriented, and the waking dreams were becoming rarer and rarer. The doors out of all the rooms were locked as Alick kept them at night in case Deverel became confused and wandered, he would be safe enough.
“Just be sensible.” He said, getting up. “Please.”
“If I need you I’ll call you.” Dev licked his finger and crossed his heart. Alick shook his head at him and went into the bedroom.
“Just an hour then.”

He lay down on the heavy four poster and was instantly aware of the luxury of relaxing his spine on a flat surface. For weeks he’d slept only when Dev did and with one ear permanently tuned to him. Dev’s outline blocked what little light came in through the curtains and Alick heard his smile.
“What is it you say? Give up man.”
"You couldn’t talk good Yorkshire to save yer life.”
Dev chuckled, then the connecting door opened to the next room. Alick tensed, listening for him, then heard the lid of the piano lift, and relaxed. Once Dev started to play it usually held his attention for several hours. He was used to Dev playing now and knew most of the pieces from the repetition. Sometimes he would play one single piece or passage all night. This piece he had only heard fragments of – something quiet with a delicate rhythm. Dev played the fragment a few times, then paused and began the piece from the beginning. He was stumbling over a phrase without stopping- where usually he would have returned to the beginning and repeated and repeated that section until it was right- when Alick realised that Dev was playing not for himself, but for an audience. For him. The realisation made his eyes sting.
He listened for a long time in the darkness, and finally dozed off, lulled by the piece as it gradually grew in shape and confidence under Dev’s hands.   

The days continued to follow the laid down pattern without wavering. Alick gently hustled Dev through the rituals of shaving, washing, dressing; they went down into the garden no matter what the weather and outside, and usually, Deverel would sleep; they came inside for the silver serviced civility of afternoon tea; Alick insisted on the nightly bath and massage that seemed to wring the worst of the tension from his mind and body; and handled with persuasion and firmness he would sleep again for at least the first hour or two of the night.
He was tangibly and horribly afraid of falling asleep. Alick, who had woken him and calmed him out of dreams that left him still shaking nearly an hour later, and encouraged each time until Dev haltingly described the bloody and murder-filled atrocities his imagination wrought out of his memories, had every sympathy for that fear. He suspected, left alone, that Dev would have fought off sleep in any way that he could: spending his nights pacing and smoking in front of the open windows, or depending on alcohol to numb him past dreaming. It took work each night to persuade him to go to bed, and he would defer it on any of a whole range of pretexts, avoiding the central issue or the admittance, that he was driven purely by gut fear. Alick understood, but kept on gently insisting, knowing that eventually this would subside, he would sleep through the night again, and that he needed to keep the habit intact.
But he was stronger. The doctor on his weekly visits was pleased with the progress of the shattered knee: it was unbandaged now and the wound had closed, although it would be stiff most likely for the rest of his life. He had tried on several occasions to persuade both Deverel and Lord Standen to consult one of the eminent London specialists regarding the state of Deverel’s nerves, but Deverel tended to pay him very little attention anyway and Lord Standen consistently and bluntly refused to compel his son to do anything at all. In this quiet routine, solitary, withdrawn from the rest of his house and his family, he was getting by.
“It sounds to me like Horatio knew what he was going to do.” Alick said stubbornly. Dev dropped the book in the grass with open exasperation and lay back to draw on his cigarette, staring up at the blue sky above the lawns.
“Of course he doesn’t. They only know each other from the University, Horatio doesn’t understand him that well.”
”You read the beginning again.” Alick finished the shirt he was mending and threw it over Deverel’s face. “Sounds like there was more going on there than they wanted anyone else to know about.”
Deverel pushed the shirt away and tipped back his head to glare at him.
“Then what about Ophelia?”
“She sounds wet as a bloody lettuce.” Alick said succinctly, putting the needle and cotton back in his pocket. Deverel pitched his cigarette butt into the bushes.
“You’re a savage. They were supposed to be engaged, and you’d have it that Horatio is rodgering Hamlet on the battlements-“
”Hamlet doesn’t know the first thing about Ophelia.”  Alick pointed out. “Nothing he says to her means half as much to him as what he says to Horatio. Several times I was thinking Horatio knows what Hamlet’s doing and what’s going to happen, he just doesn’t try hard enough to stop him.”
”And you would?” Dev demanded.
Alick lay back on the grass, linking his hands behind his head. “Either that or I’d have helped him come up with a stronger plan for doing away with his uncle.”
”And what would you have done with Hamlet?” Deverel said impatiently. “PRINCE Hamlet for pete’s sake, you couldn’t throw your weight around with him you oaf.”
”I’d have got him out of that bloody castle for starters. Maybe they should have stayed on the ship.”
”There was a plot to kill them!”
”Never difficult to slip away in a harbour- all the confusion of bringing a big boat like that into dock.”
Dev groaned and lay back down beside him. “That text is nearly four hundred years old. I sat through YEARS of school having it technically and structurally dissected and you wade through it twenty minutes.”

”It were nearly as daft as that Swiss Family Robinson, always praying when they should have been fishing.”
“And Hamlet you’d sort out with a good hiding?” Deverel said in a fair imitation of Alick’s thick accent. Alick rolled over and grabbed him, digging his fingers into Deverel’s ribs and Deverel fought him off, laughing.
“Can’t you hear the language though? The beauty of it? God, what am I saying, I couldn’t hear it myself when they told me about it at school. Listen you philistine.”
”I heard you.” Alick said as he reached for the book. “Goodnight sweet prince and flights of angels. Sounds like Cam Lindley.”
Dev choked and dropped heavily on Alick’s chest, flicking through the book.
“What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason. How infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable.”

Alick looked up at him. They were lying, jackets open over their shirtsleeves, in the grass by the lake. Smoking. Talking. As they did every morning. In their routine so exact it was military. The bolt of insight hit Alick out of blue, as cold as it was accurate.

This isn’t living, this is eternity in a rest camp. Any minute now the word will come and we’ll pick up our weapons and go back to duty, this is why he can cope. We’ve just created a context he knows.

Dev leaned his chin on his forearm and traced a finger from the cleft of Alick’s chin, down his throat to the open collar of his shirt. 
“The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.”
There was no mistaking his eyes. Alick swallowed. In all these weeks they’d slept shoulder to shoulder, but Dev had been out of reach, unresponsive, unaware. Very hesitantly Dev touched his lips. His fingers were shaking slightly. Alick had a flashing memory of the French farm, a snowy night where for a few short hours he’d seen this boy’s beautiful eyes look at him like that, with all the layers of complication stripped away.
Very gently he put a hand up to Deverel’s face and cupped cheekbone and jaw. Hard, clean lines. He saw the pupils of Dev’s grey eyes flare, then Dev bent his head and kissed him. Very inexpertly but with painful sincerity. Alick gave way under him, loosening muscles, taking the boy deeper into him, and once there he couldn’t help his arms closing around Dev, taking his weight and rolling over to teach him a much deeper and more expert way, a kiss that satisfied strength as well as tenderness. They seemed to keep it up forever: every time one drew away the other caught his head to bring him back until they were both soaked on the rain drenched grass.
Alick finally pushed Dev away and held him off, recognising the blazing in Deverel’s eyes. Alick snatched another quick, biting kiss and pulled him to his feet.
“We’re mad. Gardeners.”

”Come into the house then.” Deverel picked up the book. “The garden door. Winton doesn’t watch that one.”
They slipped in the little door at the back of the house and Dev drew Alick after him into a small stone stairwell, uncarpeted and narrow. He paused half way up, limping badly, and pulled Alikc’s head down once more to cover his mouth, then led him up flight after flight of the steps into a back corridor and into a dust sheeted room. Room led into room, led into room, all filled with furniture shapes under Holland sheets, then Alick recognised the piano and the connecting door into Deverel’s room. Dev broke away from him long enough to lock the doors, and then he stood still. Uncertain, panting, dishevelled. More beautiful now even than he had been, angry and exhausted at the rest camp in Lys . Alick sat on the edge of the bed and held out his arms.

And this is mechanical knowledge too, Alick thought as it started to get dark outside. Dev sprawled on his stomach like any other boy, arms and legs flung anyhow, his face buried against Alick’s shoulder under a swirl of dark hair. Alick ran a finger down the powerful bones of his spine. Technical knowledge. You do this and then you do that. Like loading a gun. Like filling in a requisition form. Just another skill mastered. Alick smiled a little.
Except you’re starting to know there’s a little more to it now.
Deverel twisted against him, nudging Alick’s fingers away from where they were tickling. Alick smiled and slid further down to hold him.
“Don’t give me that. It can’t have been that bad. For a start you didn’t shoot yourself this time.”

Too sleepy to talk, Deverel bit the shoulder under his chin, then turned his cheek against the mark as Alick yelped and swatted him. He was pressed against enough of Alick for the wamth to be hypnotic.
I need to get him out of here.
Alick stared at the ceiling, stroking his back. The routine had brought them so far, and it was becoming a cage in itself. This wasn’t moving on, this just recreating a situation which to Deverel felt safe. Familiar. In a way, it was playing to the shell shock, letting it dictate to them. While they continued to play this game, there was no way forward.

Deverel was playing Rob’s piano in front of the open window, still damp from the rain they’d spent the afternoon walking in, when Winton announced Cam Lindley. 
Alick faced him with open suspicion and Cam evaded him, going straight to Deverel who got up from the piano in open shock.
“ Cam ! Why didn’t you say you were coming?”
“I wasn’t sure if you’d care if I came or not.” Cam looked him up and down, gripping his hands. “My God look at you! In February this year I told Edward you were past praying for! You’re thinner than a rake but you actually look human again!”
”I hate eating, everything tastes of petrol.” Deverel squeezed the hands holding his, Alick could see the whiteness of his knuckles and the delight in his grasp. “You look wonderful. When did you get out of uniform?”
“Last month. Officially demobbed. I’ve been sleeping ever since, I think there must be about six months in missed sleep I’m trying to catch up on. Dreadful.”
”And Edward?”
Cam laughed. “Don’t you remember? He went back to France, the mad fool. He’s somewhere over there, sorting everyone out. Probably thoroughly enjoying himself.”

Deverel looked past him to Alick. Alick couldn’t read his expression. Cam though saw the glance and turned.
“And you look every inch the proper valet! Good old Alick.”
”What’s the car on the drive?” Alick said, trying to sound civil. Cam grinned.
“A Triumph 75. The product of all the back pay I ever earned and it goes like a bat out of hell.”
”Edward’ll hate it.” Dev said, limping across to the window to look. Cam snorted.
“Edward would like everyone to ride around on horses like Mr Rochester. And talk about Wuthering Heights ! This house frightened me to death when I first saw it! You never so much as hinted about a pile like this in all the time we were in France .”
“Want the guided tour?” Deverel said, grinning. Cam laughed.
“Only for Rupert. He’ll want all the gory details.”
”Are you still living with those two? Rupert and Gideon is it?”
“They’re good friends.” Cam said lightly. “They’ve both been very kind.”
He gave Alick a wide berth as they left them room. Alick followed, wary and his hackles roused without knowing why. He knew most of the corridors they walked, and he knew too that he resented Dev’s easy flow of chatter to Cam .
“THAT’s the third earl,” Deverel said, passing a portrait, “And that’s my brother with a horse on his eighteenth birthday. He nearly died of boredom having that painted.”
Alick paused, taking in the face he knew from the older portrait of Rob near their rooms. The same sweet eyes in a younger man, a kind face. Deverel averted his eyes from it as they turned the corner.
“And this is the hunting passage.”
”Reminds me of the British museum.” Cam commented. “You don’t hunt do you?”
”Not since I was a kid.”
”Edward hunts. Naturally.”
Dev grinned. “And God help anyone who heads the hounds. This is the gallery.”
He pushed the doors open. The room was long and wide, well lit by the huge windows either side, spilling sunlight onto the light wood floor. Cam frowned at the arched windows.
“Is this really an abbey?”
“Oh yes.” Dev dug his hands in his pockets. As usual he was without a walking stick, preferring to limp. “Less alterations to the basic building than any other destroyed abbey in the country. We’re in what would have been the vaults of the church now. The altar stone is two floors down in the estate office. Sick isn’t it? How many families take a consecrated building and turn it into a house? The cloisters are just as perfect. A lot of the guest rooms are down there, it’s a very pretty part of the house.”
“And yet you choose to reside in the bell tower.” Cam said wryly. “With Esmerelda?”
Alick looked at him. Deverel limped across to the window.
“It’s traditional. A family lunatic was kept up in that wing about a century ago.”
“I thought that was a story.” Alick said shortly. Deverel glanced at him, shaking his head.
“Peregrine Standen. Technically my great, great uncle. Went mad when he was seventeen, they had him locked up there until he committed suicide in his mid twenties.”
“Charming.” Cam said sardonically. “Why on earth do you stay in such a gloomy wing around THAT little legend? Darling you’re wasted in this mausoleum. Why don’t you come back to London ?”
“Maybe after the summer.” Deverel said bluntly. Cam went to join him at the window, looking down into the court yard below where the fountain was running and a gardener was sweeping the grey stone.
“A lot of the Regiments are back. The clubs are marvellous. Plenty of chaps you’d know.”
”Not yet Cam .”
”You look so much better.”
Deverel gave him a smile that Alick thought was a little uncertain.
The stairs gave Alick reason to continue to follow them: Deverel could only manage so many before his knee gave out. Otherwise he suspected that Deverel was oblivious to him. He and Cam talked effortlessly, while Alick went on choking down a growing sense of rage. He didn’t understand why. Jealousy seemed a poor excuse, and it was more than that, but Alick couldn’t define what. Cam went on chattering, about people and places Alick knew nothing of, jokes he didn’t understand, France and the company from the officer’s perspective Alick had never known. Cam came from the same stock as Dev: from the same background and training, and for the first time Alick resented it.

They were drinking tea in Deverel’s rooms some time later and Cam was talking about the camp at Picardy when Deverel suddenly looked up at Alick and Alick recognised his expression with the familiar jump in his stomach. Silently he got up to find a glass and filled it with brandy. Dev sat back in his chair, folding his arms to hide the shivering. Camhesitated in mid chatter.
“Dev? You’ve gone white as a sheet.”
”I’m fine.”
”Are you sure? I’ll shut up if I’m upsetting you-“
The most stupid, tactless thing he could possibly say. Alick gritted his teeth, taking the brandy to him and Deverel took the glass, pushing to his feet and limping a few feet, fighting with the shivering. Cam fumbled for the threads of his story and lost them, watching him with distress.
“Really darling, you look dreadful-“
“For God’s sake just get on with the bloody story!” Deverel snapped. Alick saw his colour  slip from white to grey and caught him as he dropped the glass, his knees buckling.
“Is he ill?” Cam demanded. Alick put Deverel down in a chair and went for more brandy. Cam took Deverel’s hand and looked around in horror.
“Alick he’s freezing!”
”He’s all right.” Alick brought the brandy back and sat down on the arm of Dev’s chair, taking his hands to rub them roughly. His fingertips were blue, his lips were blueing slightly and his eyes were getting vague, glassy as though he was disappearing somewhere behind them. If he slipped much further into shock, he’d start his waking dreaming again, and when he got that far it usually took him several days to fully recover. His teeth chattered on the rim of the glass when Alick tipped the brandy down his throat and he choked, trying to turn his head away.
“Kicks his heart back into action.” Alick explained, seeing Cam ’s look of horror.  “Dev swallow. More. Never mind him; if you didn’t fight it you wouldn’t get this bad. Yer all right.”

Deverel’s hand closed over his wrist and clutched. Alick gripped his fingers, accepting the bruising grasp.
“Yer all right. All right son. Just wait a bit.”

Deverel gulped the brandy and sat still, eyes closed. Alick shifted his fingers enough on Deverel’s hand to feel the thready beat in his wrist start to pick up and become steadier. Stronger.
“What started it?” Cam demanded. “What on earth was that?”
“You, rambling about bloody Picardy .” Alick said shortly. Cam wiped convulsively at his mouth.
“You should have told me.”

”If you’d bloody looked at him yer might have seen for yourself.”

”Stop it.” Deverel opened his eyes and gave Alick a warning look. The grey was clearing, the glassiness gone, leaving just weariness, distress and a grim resignation behind, although he still clutched to Alick’s hand.
“It’s all right Cam . It happens sometimes. I just let it get on top of me.”

The warning came too late. Alick followed his eyes and saw what Deverel had already seen- the horror in Cameron Lindley’s still white face.
“I told you.” Cam said when the butler left them in the entrance hall. “Did you ever imagine Dev living in a place like this?”
Edward didn’t answer. He was pulling off his gloves, a finger at a time, and he dropped them into his cap when he was done. Typically he’d come in full uniform. Cam looked at him with mixed affection and apprehension.
“You won’t shout at him, will you?”
“I KNEW that wound was self inflicted-“ Edward broke off, muttering. “I do not do anything so ill mannered as shout. Although if he’s as deranged as it appears-“
“Oh don’t.” Cam said at once.
“Deranged.” Edward said sharply. “God knows we’ve seen it before. I watched young Hallett crack up, the young fool threw himself off a bridge in the end.”
”Don’t for God’s sake tell him what I told you.”
”Lack of proper bloody discipline.” Edward snapped. “That idiot child thinks he’s a law unto himself.”
”Darling that was the whole reason he was so good at command.”
”Don’t use that slosh to me.”
They waited. Cam bit his nails until Edward slapped his hand away from his mouth.
“For God’s sake, you’re a grown man.”

”This place gives me the willies. Do you know this was a church? Can you imagine LIVING in an abbey? Ghosts of monks around every corner, father bloody abbot turning up in the bathroom-“
”You’re babbling.”
”I know.”
Winton came to the foot of the stairs and gave them a stately nod.
“Good morning.” Edward said shortly. “I’m  Hayes, 10th Battalion Danby Foresters. I’m here to see Captain Lord Deverel.”
He got a long look from Winton. And then a sombre nod.
“I will speak to Mr Cowan, and see whether Lord Deverel is receiving visitors.”

Alick Cowan met them at the top of the stairs. Edward, surveying him, thought he was badly dressed, the suit ill cut and old, but the height and the breadth was unmistakeable. Cam thought he looked suspicious and grim, as though his temper wasn’t under full control. He stood at the head of the staircase, one hand on the banister and looked at them both with clear dislike.
“What do you want?”
“Deverel.” Hayes said dismissively.
Cam put a hand on Cowan’s arm and winced a little at the sheer muscle there and the stiffness of it.
“Edward’s battalion came in this week. I thought Dev might like to see him- hasn’t seen him since the gun accident-“

”Damn it Cameron we all know that was no accident.” Edward said impatiently. Cam gripped Cowan’s arm more tightly to keep his attention.
“Is Dev in? This is only a flying visit.”


Alick looked from one to the other of them, still wary.
“He had a rotten night, I don’t think he’s up to talking to you.”
Cam cleared his throat.
“He looked so much better when I saw him last week- look Alick. We know what the problem is, we both saw him inLondon- you know we tried to help.”

”Aye, I heard about your help.” Alick said stiffly. Cam ’s voice gentled.
“Look we thought it might help him to see Edward. Get things in perspective. We were all there together Alick, we all know what he went through.”
Edward shook out his cap with one decisive flick.
“I’m not prepared to stand here discussing it with you Cowan. I want to see Captain Lord Deverel now. Stand aside.”
It was all there. The tone and the uniform. There was no refusing either. Alick had the sense of being knocked over by a tidal wave as Hayes passed him on the stairs. All the authority of England .

Deverel was sitting on the window seat, white as he had been since Winton told them who was downstairs. Camswooped on him, arms held out.
“Look who I found in London !”
“Edward.” Deverel looked up, and Alick saw, despite the uncertainty, the genuine pleasure that lit his face.
“Well youngster?” Edward said fairly kindly. “Still no manners?”
Dev stumbled to his feet and gripped Edward’s outstretched hand, gradually cracking into something approaching a smile.
“Oh God it’s good to see you.”
“Sit down and look civilised.” Edward thrust him gently down on the sofa. “I heard what you did to your knee.”
Deverel flushed a dark red. Cam sat down beside him.
“Darling boy, if you’d done it over in France I’d have understood, but why hurt yourself here when it was all over? What were you thinking?”
“It was me, wasn’t it?” Edward said grimly. “That slanging I gave you for getting yourself into trouble with Marsh. You deserved every word of it, but there was no need of this.” He put his cap and gloves down on the table and dug his hands into his pockets, looking Dev over. “What the devil have you done to yourself since I left? Eh? I heard all about this performance you’ve been staging. What were you playing at here on your own?”
“I had Alick.” Dev said unsteadily. Alick, stomach chilling, saw the look pass from Edward to Cam .
“And what about your family? Eh? What about your responsibilities there? What do your parents make of you hiding up here?”
“I’ve barely seen them.”
Alick moved behind Dev and saw in his hands the beginnings of deep, serious shaking. It was the first storm cone. Edward looked up and pale blue eyes passed right through him.
“That’ll be all, Cowan.”
Alick looked at him. There was a horrible silence, and within the silence Alick knew Dev could fall either way. To him or to Edward. Hayes stared at Deverel and finally Deverel’s eyes slid down to the floor. Alick swore quietly and went out into the hall, shutting the door on them. Outside, he put his back to the wall, slid down and sat on the floor.
“You should be careful about first name terms.” Edward said grimly. “Cowan isn’t from the servant class. Miner or something, wasn’t he?”
“Fisherman.” Deverel said tonelessly.
“What possessed you to employ him? Other than Cam being stupid enough to send him to you. He never knew his place in the blasted company, he’ll be an embarrassment to you here. And in all fairness to the chap, he’ll never be comfortable in a house like this, or with the other servants. Best thing all round would be to turn him off and look for someone trained.”
“He’s taken good care of me.” Dev said quietly. Cam reached for his hand, looking anxiously between him and Edward.
“Someone needed to. I saw the state you got yourself into.”
Edward perched on the edge of the table. “And it was typical of you, Cam , to choose someone who’d play along to him. I’ve heard about the mess you’ve got yourself into young man.”

Deverel attended the family dinner downstairs that night, simply because Edward ordered him to, sharply refusing all excuses. Alick caught sight of Dev in the hall, standing at Edward’s side, upright, cleanly shaved, hands behind his back like a well brought up schoolboy. And his eyes attending to the conversation because Edward’s sharp eyes never left his face. Lord and Lady Standen’s delight was painful. Alick vanished into the servant’s corridor feeling physically sick. In years of war he had never felt so helpless or so murderous. He wandered while Deverel ate, in the room of white marble where Edward and Cam ’s well bred tones mixed with Deverel’s parents. Not of rank enough to go down into the servants hall, or to have reason to be near Dev, Alick had nowhere to go. Nothing he could do to help. Divide and conquer. Hayes knew his tactics well.
Winton caught him in the corridor near the dining room, looking anxious.
“What’s this about?”
“I don’t know.” Alick said frankly. “I don’t trust Hayes further than I can spit. Is Dev all right?”
Winton glanced back at the dining room, his usually impassive face distressed.
“He’s eating. The Major ordered him to. After he ordered him to sit up properly and stop fiddling with his cutlery. Lord Standen looks terrified.”
”What about Dev?”
Winton winced. “That hunted look he gets? Stay nearby, Alick. I’ll try dropping a word in his lordship’s ear, maybe he can get rid of the Major before he does any harm.”
“It doesn’t take Hayes long to do harm.” Alick said savagely. “It never does.”

He was pacing in the corridor in the growing darkness when the door clicked and he spun, hoping for Winton and news. Even after several months of civilianship he still snapped to attention at the sight of the moustache and the pale blue eyes of the man who came towards him. Hayes closed the door and put his hands behind his back.
“Stand easy Cowan. I want to know about this gun incident. It was a self inflicted wound, wasn’t it?”
“Couldn’t say sir.” Alick said stiffly. Hayes frowned.
“Now that won’t do. I’ve been speaking to the footman- James is it? He says that you and Lord Deverel are – to quote – ‘thick as thieves’. You’ve dressed the wound for him, haven’t you? Is it self inflicted? Were you there when it happened?”
Alick stared over his shoulder at the whitewashed wall. Hayes’ moustache jumped.
“Lindley tells me he employed you on Deverel’s behalf. He also heard that you and Deverel were seen together on the night he had the accident with that revolver. Was that wound self inflicted?”
Alick shut his teeth. Edward sighed.
“Deverel and dramatic gestures. Did he threaten to shoot himself?”
“He didn’t threaten anything.” Alick said bitterly.
“In other words it was the means of forcing you to come with him.” Edward concluded quietly. “I see.”

”What do you see?” Alick snapped. “He came to you and Lieutenant Lindley for help, he told me what happened-“
”And then blackmailed you by harming himself, because neither Lindley or I would let him cling. We made him stand on his own feet, Cowan, just as you should have done.”
“You didn’t see him.” Alick said through his teeth. “You stupid git, he was desperate. He didn’t know what else to do.”
”He’s very young and rather spoilt.” Hayes said detachedly.
Alick shook his head. “You don’t know anything about him, you never did.”
”Lindley said you’d be like this.” Edward surveyed him, analytical and mildly interested. “He tells me you were always obsessed with Deverel in the line. He is an extremely magnetic character of course. Very charming.”
”The guts SHONE out of him.” Alick said flatly.
“Yes, I’m sure.” Hayes delicately opened a small cigarette case and withdrew a cigarette, offering the case to Alick. “But of course you must see you’re merely aggravating his problems now? Cameron and I were most careful to not to give him the means to hide behind us. He has to learn to face the real world again, and he never will while you encourage him to take refuge in this kind of hysterical self indulgence. Lindley saw this arising and was quite right to tell me. Deverel has you jumping nicely to his tune. It really isn’t your fault, you’ve been very patient with him, but it won’t do any longer.” Hayes smiled gently. “He mustn’t be allowed to exploit you in a house like this. Of course he wouldn’t realise how uncomfortable he’d make you or how inappropriate it is, he really is very much of a child. My dear fellow, at best you’re a constant reminder of France for him. The very thing he needs to put behind him. How much is he paying you?”
“It isn’t the money.” Alick said savagely. 
“No, of course. And you’d want to act in his best interests. This should cover your trouble.”

Alick stared at the envelope outheld. Edward slipped it gently between his fingers.
“I’m sure he’s grateful. Now be a good chap and slip out quietly. I’ll keep him occupied downstairs.”
~ * ~
Continue on to Part 13 of Fleur de Lys
Copyright Ranger 2010

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