by Flaulus

Chapter 17

Rick was nervous when he visited the hospital. The local newspaper had made the most of the school's future sports plans and Rick, the local boy who had done so well for himself.

"Your mother has seen the paper." the nurse said, "I don't know why, but she seemed angry."

"Do ever see those stories of someone winning the lottery and saying it's not going to change their lives?" Rick asked, "That was Mum's idea. Have any reporters asked to speak to her?"

"She refused to see her. It's fair enough she doesn't need a lot of excitement yet. Have you given any thought to home care?"

"I have, but it's convincing Mum." Rick replied, "I'd better go in."

Before he reached her bed, his mother snapped, "You're making a fool of yourself again, aren't you. When are you going to stop this gay nonsense?"

"I'm not because it's not nonsense." Rick replied, "When you leave, are you going to stay in the castle, or do you want your own cottage?"

He had given up on friendliness and was trying to be businesslike.

"We're going back to the flat, and that's the end of it. You can go back to your old school and help me after."

"Mum, I can't go back to my old school because I own it. It won't be Will's parents, but I bet someone will try to get hold of me. We'll need a security guard at our front door. Don't you see, it's not the same any more."

"All I see is you being corrupted by that place. I'm sure the police will have something to say about it."

"Mum, give it up, please." Rick exclaimed, "I am not coming back here, and you can't make me. Will's care worker, Justin's probation officer and the police who dealt with the Absolom stuff all know about us, and they don't care. If you carry on with like this, all you're going to do is make yourself ill again."

"Go away, Richard. It's either me or that boy Will. I don't want to see you until you choose."

"If that's what you want. Can I at least arrange a nurse for you when you go back to the flat?" Rick asked.

"You won't even come back to look after me? I'm so disappointed in you."

"If you came to Bovaline you could see me every day. The whole island would look out for you and you could have a complete rest. You've seen the papers, so you know I can't go back to Gresham. What sort of job would I get round here. Everyone knows I'm the Earl of Westmark so who would give me a job when I'm already richer than their bosses? Don't you see it's all changed too much."

"Go away, Richard."

Reluctantly, Rick complied, defeated.

That evening Sebastian listened to Rick's account of his visit.

"It's time to bring in the big guns." he said, "Leave it with me."

A few days later, Rick's mother had a visit from Aunt Sybil.

"It's good to see you looking so well, My Dear." Aunt Sybil said as she sat down, "How are they treating you? I remember visiting Lord Cardew, and it was a terrible place despite the fees they charged. So, are you being treated all right? You hear such things about National Health Service hospitals."

"They're looking after me very well, but I'm so looking forward to being back in my own home." Rick's mother replied.

"Now what was that Australian chappie's name? Anyway he was homesick too. Charles, no, it'll come to me. Where was I? The Australian chappie … Australians are such nice people, but everyone can be if you give them a chance … well Noel Coward could be a bit prickly, and he was such a dreadful snob, but he could also be very kind. Now where was I? Oh yes! Noel Coward was gay. Everyone knew it. I met him when it was still illegal, so he hid it well. Now what were you saying about that Australian."

"Nothing. You were telling me he was homesick."

"Was he? Just like Charlie Fenton. He was Australian too."

Rick's mother was trying to keep up. At times, it seemed as if Aunt Sybil had met just about everyone and done everything, but no-one was sure how she managed it.

"It's so nice of you to visit." Rick's mother said, "How was your journey?"

"Not nearly as bad as that trip on the Orient Express. The engine broke down in some mountains near Sofia. Of course, it was all before everyone used radios, and it took hours before a relief train arrived. It was so cold. This charming young man suggested that two naked bodies lying together under all their blankets would be warmer. Yes, well, it's not my adventures you're interested in, is it? Young Richard is doing better than anyone could have hoped."

"It's not what I hear." Rick's mother replied, "You might not understand, but his behaviour is disgusting."

"Oh, I don't know. He said he just a railway employee. It turned out he was a Russian prince. He certainly had princely assets under his trousers."

"Who did?"

"Oh, do keep up dear. The young man on the train of course. Mind you, Charlie was just as well-endowed, but that was Calgary. Have you ever been to Canada? You must go sometime, now we were talking about Richard. He's doing very well, but do you think he'll marry Vanessa?"

"Who's Vanessa?"

"His cousin of course, but I wouldn't worry. He's far too young to be thinking about the thirteenth earl."

"Are you saying that my fifteen-year old son wants to start a family?"

"I didn't know you had another son. He is a bit young to be thinking about it all, isn't he?"

"You were talking about Richard."

"Yes, I was, but I'm getting confused, who wants to get married so young?" Aunt Sybil asked.

"You told me Richard did."

"Did I? Why would he want to do that when he's so happy with William for now?"

"You don't approve of his relationship, do you?"

"Whose relationship? Are we still talking about Richard?" Aunt Sybil asked, "It's such a relief he's such a kind young man, and they're safe with him."

"Who are safe with him?"

"The island girls of course. It was dreadful what they did to Geoffrey Arbuthnott. Gunpowder burns you see, just imagine having some sprinkled on your lower parts. He just did not understand how to be careful. Not so long after he recovered, he set off for Oxford to offer to supply gunpowder to the Cavaliers. He was stopped and searched by a force of Roundheads who found his papers. It wasn't so bad, but he was also supplying gunpowder to them. It was odd, but if he had simply been able to switch his allegiance, he might have survived, but he was betraying everyone for profit, so they hanged him. Both sides decided Bovaline was a threat and decided to capture it. His brother Solomon took over and tried negotiating a deal with the Netherlands, but we were at war with them. When everyone landed on Bovaline, it all became so very confused. I'll tell you about it one day but you should stay with the subject in hand. Richard. What were you saying?"

"Nothing." Rick's mother replied.

"Very wise, My Dear. Vanessa is a gold digger like her father, but she likes boys too much to ever be a loyal wife. As long as she is countess, Richard will keep Will. Of course, it'll depend on them all understanding what's needed."

"I'm not having my son thinking homosexuality is acceptable. It's not, it's disgusting."

"I must have been twenty and still at university when I met Alan Turing. He was a shell of his former self, and he committed suicide not long after. It was such a waste because he still had so much to offer. Even that young man had secrets which could have destroyed him."

"Which young man?" Rick's mother asked and instantly regretted it.

"The young man on the train. He was so polite and courteous, and so modest. You see, I got a glimpse of his passport, and his name was Romanov. The communist authorities were probably very interested in him, so he kept a low profile. I saw an artist in him, but he would never dare risk being noticed. I hope he gets to use his talents and not suppress them." Aunt Sybil said.

"He must be in his eighties as well. It's a bit late now."

"Who is? Your mind is wandering, Dear. Surely Richard is only fifteen."

"Yes, he is, and he's far too young to understand all this gay nonsense."

"His father said he was too young to understand as well. I still wonder what happened to Sam."

"Did this Sam think he was gay too?"

"Sam?" Aunt Sybil exclaimed, "Whatever makes you think that? No, we were sixteen and still at school. He asked me to pose for him and do you know, at least part of his intentions were honourable. I still have the sketches he gave me. I have the painting, and it's so sad he never finished it. The dishonourable parts definitely liked girls."

"Why what happened?"

"I told you. His father found out." Aunt Sybil explained, "Being an artist wasn't a proper job, so Sam was going to learn accountancy and join his father's firm. He ran away and no-one heard from him again. Boys can be so stubborn, don't you think? It's why Richard ran away."

"Richard? He didn't run away. Sebastian was the only family I could find who would look after him."

"I'm sure he would look after the grave, but surely you have more important matters to worry about. What about your son?"

"Isn't that who we're talking about?"

"Is it the medication making you feel light-headed? Young Richard is alive and well. Why are you so concerned about his grandfather's grave? All he saw was being trapped on Bovaline, and he wanted adventure. Richard is discovering himself on the island. Now, is there anything you need? I'm not tiring you, am I?"

"I do get tired so easily. They're worried my blood pressure is still low."

"Reginald Harcourt was told to rest and not lift anything. He insisted mowing the lawn was restful and therapeutic right up to his second heart attack which killed him. He was so frisky as well. I didn't dare visit him alone, and I was so looking forward to him getting better. Poor Jeremy felt terribly guilty because he didn't do more, but he would have mown the lawn on the Sunday, not on the Saturday when he had football. If only Reg could have been more flexible."

Rick's mother was getting tired, her head fell back and her eyelids drooped. Aunt Sybil noticed and contented herself with stories about her life and the people she had met. Rick's mother dozed, listening but unconcerned while Aunt Sybil was content to be chatting to another human being instead of her cat. Rick's mother remained interested, but it was a relief when Aunt Sybil finally left.

It was a few days later, Rick and his friends were discussing the gay weekend with Sebastian.

"Never mind." Sebastian said, "Work, beginning to think about Christmas and the weather are all conspiring against you. We've added something to the website about our end of season party, and Malcolm has a piece on his blog. There'll be a few visitors and islanders are looking forwards to letting go. It'll be a good weekend."

"I'm beginning to worry about Christmas and Mum still not talking to me." Rick said, "I'm sorry, Will. I keep forgetting you're not talking to your family, either."

"That's the thing." Will replied, "I'm talking to Uncle Roger, and we're getting on even if I don't trust him. You won't be happy until you can ask your Mother to stay."

The phone rang. Sebastian happened to be nearest, and the boys listened to Sebastian's side of the conversation.


"He's here, but I'm his legal guardian for now."

"Oh! I see. He'll be delighted, and yes, of course I'm sure he will."

"And that is good news."


Sebastian turned to Rick smiling.

"Apparently your mother had a visit from Aunt Sybil. Most people write Aunt Sybil off as a dotty old lady, but I think she's one of the sharpest people I know. You can't possibly have an argument with her because you can't keep up but when you settle back and go over her visit, you remember the points she was trying to make. Anyway, it worked on your mother, and she wants you to visit. She could leave hospital, if she could be properly looked after, so you'd better get busy. Now the holiday season is over, we can find her a cottage. We'll have plenty of help to look after her."

Rick nodded, relieved. He could understand how his grandfather could feel trapped with his life mapped out as a puppet leader of a small community, but it was all a new adventure to Rick. He had Will by his side and a castle and an island to explore. When he was older, maybe backpacking in the Himalayas would appeal, but for now, hidden away in their tower, fun and games with Will and their friends were enough.

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