by Olympian Heights
Sequel to Keep Your Distance
It was true the gypsies were dancing when the old Queen had left them but this was only to keep warm. Their campfire's gay flames had given up after a downpour just about coffee time. Only Val and his best friend, Rodney, had chosen to stay at the encampment; the others had sensibly decided to cut their losses and return to the delightful homes in Harrowgate, having sworn not to return until the first of July and the start of the ratting season. In an atmosphere of gloom and despondency Lord Bodie joined the gypsy tribe, at present five in all, but with the help of the caravan light they managed to get the camp fire going. New as he was to these things Lord Bodie insisted that he should leap through the flames with his lover in his arms. He had read of this kind of conduct being de riguer with the better class of travelling folk. Rodney, Val's dark, sloe-eyed, doe-eyed companion, warned against this course, but to no effect. Old Penelope did not need the help of either the tea leaves or the runes to know this enterprise would come to grief.
"Don't do it, young master," she shrilled. "You're mad!"
"Mad, yes, old one, but not bad or dangerous to know." He threw his arms open in a gesture of loving acceptance to welcome Doyle. "Trust me, Raymond!"
Doyle saw, as for the first time, the pale, Byronic good looks, set off dramatically by what was still, by any standards, a pathetic collection of flames. Magnesium flares would not have helped him see more clearly that romantic gestures of this kind belonged firmly between the pages of a book, but he was blinded by his love for the strange, compelling Bodie. He would trust him anywhere. On the count of three, and with Bodie's left arm around his waist, he launched himself into the air and across the four inch flames.
"I love you," he choked.
What followed was a series of unhappy accidents, partly due to lack of experience, since enthusiasm was not lacking. Ankle length cloaks fringed with silk are not the first choice of the successful fire leaper, but it was what Bodie had decided to throw on for the special occasion. While Doyle's trust was total, the moment the acrid smoke hit his lungs a reflex cough started. The take off was faultless, the landing a disaster. In his anxiety to let Doyle down gently, Bodie had tensed his body. He had overestimated the height of the flames, at the same time underestimating Doyle's weight. The atrocious weather conditions however dealt the final blow to Lord Bodie's brave attempt to come to grips with Romany ways as he saw them. His whole weight, and Doyle's, landed on a small, slimy pebble in a patch of mud. His leg buckled under him, the ankle snapped, his knee was badly wrenched, the fingers of the hand he put out to break the fall were cruelly bent backwards, and his head struck the wheel of the deux chevaux with a sickening thud. Doyle landed on Bodie but was only slightly winded and shaken. Val and Rodney looked in horror at the scene while Queen Penelope threw her apron over her head to block out the dreadful picture.
It took the three men, once Doyle had untangled himself, to lift the victim into the caravan and lower him onto the bunk. Doyle looked around in desperation; this was serious, and certainly not what he had had in mind when he had invited his lover to join him in a life on the road.
"Speak to me. Say you forgive me!"
He tried to shake some life back into Bodie; it had always worked when Cowley had done it to him.
"Don't move him, dearie! I'll minister to the young master. We Romanys have secret physics and strange ways that will restore him to complete health in no time."
"Are you sure? He looks very bad to me."
"Never fear, my angel. The sovereign remedy for broken bones is an odd sock, not more than three ears old, filled with garlic and soaked in dew gathered at midnight. Back in a jiffy."
The old crone bustled out to collect the items she needed, while Val and his friend departed to slip into something less formal. Doyle was left alone to contemplate the dreadful state he had reduced Lord Bodie to in under six hours. Even allowing for Bodie's already delicate condition due to overwork and nervous prostration, he had done a first rate demolition job. Bodie groaned and tried to move from his cramped position, the groan gave way to a scream as the full force of the wave of pain broke over him. He was overwhelmed by it.
"Raymond, I'll be recovered soon," he gasped as he looked up into those guilt-ridden green eyes.
"It's all my fault, I never should have..."
"Please don't blame yourself, I was so looking forward to our life together on the road."
Doyle managed to put another pillow under Bodie's head and even found some extra sacks from somewhere to cover him. Quentin looked on with distaste; they were disgustingly dirty.
"You forgive me, then?"
There was a knock on the door and the tall, slender figure of Rodney entered. "I trust you will forgive the intrusion at this difficult time. On behalf of Val, I have come to take our farewells. It appears that L'avinier has made tracks for Basingstoke and we have no time to lose before the trail gets cold. Or colder than it already is," he added bitterly. He sadly missed the warmer climate of his native shores. He took out of a small pouch attached to a shoulder strap, a box of red tablets which he handed to Doyle. "It is true you have made a most unpromising start but there is no reason why things should not improve since they could hardly get worse. I suggest you give Lord Bodie one of these to help him sleep. They should also help to fight the infection which I perceive has already started to take hold. Long life and prosperity to you both."
With these words, and a strangely unorthodox salute, Rodney left the happy pair in search of his own Hirvana.
Queen Penelope had been as good as her word; in face the strong scent to the favoured herb preceded her into the caravan, soon every nook and cranny was awash with it.
"Keep still, young master, and let the plant do its healing work," she croaked.
Ice cold water slopped about the bunk up to hip level (she had overdone the dew bit, but it was like her to err on the generous side. In this but in nothing else, she was like Lord Bodie). She patted the site of the injury and announced that what they all needed was a good, hot, filling meal, and returned in next to no time with three plates piled high with simple gypsy fare. Bodie tried to eat the hawthorn and rose-hip bake, but only managed a couple of mouthfuls before he felt sick. Doyle quickly polished off the food, although he could only go along with the hot and filling part of the old Queen's description of the dish.
Doyle decided not to wait until dark to give Bodie the red tablet and helped it down with a cracked cup of port. It certainly did the trick and in under ten minutes he was out for the count.
By now, Doyle had reconciled himself to the fact that they would have to return to Guisley Abbey; quite apart from any humanitarian considerations he had no desire to be coupled to a one-footed Bodie for the rest of his days. Worse still was the idea that his lover might die of his injuries if they stayed.
"We must go back at once, Penelope."
"Never! Not tonight. The horse has done twelve miles today. That's his norm. He won't budge now, dearie."
"But look at Bodie, that garlic is not working at all!"
"It ought to. Maybe it's because he's the wrong class, poor soul. I'll try a laying on of hands, that should do the trick."
She undid the jacket, pulled it open, undid the waistcoat, struggled with the shirt buttons; she then managed to undo the spencer, only to be halted by the first of his four vests. She gave up.
"I noticed that too," remarked Doyle. "He is very odd about his clothes and keeping covered up."
"No smoke without fire," muttered the old Queen darkly, "but I'll go and have a word with the horse."
An hour (and half a sugar loaf) later and they started sadly back. It was a journey that Doyle would never forget. Twice they lost, their way, which was the last thing they required. Bodie came round about eight in the evening with a high fever. Every attempt he made to concentrate his eyes on Doyle was prevented by the pitch and roll of the caravan. True, he had travelled in the past for his work, but the tours of the battlefields were undertaken in a civilised, well- sprung coach. He now felt as seasick as it was possible to be on land.
"First left and straight on. We're only about six miles away now," Doyle shouted through the hatchway to Penelope as they sped along. Now they were relying on Doyle's sense of direction instead of the old crone's attempt to navigate by the stars success was assured. Bodie gasped as they crashed across another deep rut and into a pot hole.
"Soon have you home. I promise!" Doyle tried not to appear anxious. It was clear that Lord Bodie was sinking fast, like an exotic hothouse plant exposed to the blasts of Greenland's icy mountains. He sat on the edge of the bunk and took Bodie's freezing hand in his.
Bodie whispered: "I dislike having to take my leave of you after so short a time. It sounded such an attractive proposition. I fear I have been a burden to you, Raymond."
"One I was glad to shoulder. You must not talk of dying."
"I can think of little else. Promise me you will let the birds cover me with leaves." He closed his eyes, the breathing grew erratic. "Promise me! Don't go just yet ... don't leave me, Raymond."
"Never, Bodie, never." Doyle's hands tightened on the limp one in his when there was the sharp report of a pistol and the caravan came to a violent halt.
"Stand and deliver your jewels, old woman, or it will be the worse for you."
Bold Bodie, the bastard son of old Squire Bodie of Breakneck Hall, booted, masked, and mounted on his trusty Shetland, attempted to bar their progress.
The old Queen had no time for highwaymen even on a good day, and wrote them all off as a gang of posing jessies. By now she had started to suffer from her own cooking and was in a foul temper. She felt like hitting something and the clown in front of her fitted the bill perfectly.
"Out of my way, sonny!" she barked as she landed a stinging blow across the bridge of the masked nose which sent the villain reeling backwards into the bushes.
By the time bold Bodie had righted himself, the caravan and its precious contents were well out of the way. Bodie calmed his frisky steed, Clarissa, and cursed sadly.
"Foiled again, and by a woman's hand! I shall enter a convent at once."
It took only half an hour to convince the Mother Superior that he was a young girl dressed as a boy and forced to take to a life of crime to save her body from pollution. (The woods were full of girls disguised as boys; seldom was the reverse true as the current fashions made concealment almost impossible.) The sisters welcomed him with open arms, both parties being delighted with the arrangement. Within ten years the cloisters were full of small girls and boys in highwaymen's gear, lisping: "Stand and deliver! Is that right, Papa?" "Of course it is, my lovelies, and remember! be like me and don't get caught!" Bold Bodie omitted to mention he had never profited from his robberies; he just liked to dress up and be seduced by the thrill of the chase. Even later, in the autumn of his life, he was touched to receive constant messages from his large and highly successful family, usually with a gift of some kind, however inappropriate, enclosed. Both the boys and the girls had inherited their father's good looks, generous shape and warm nature. The girls made advantageous alliances (like their Papa they were nervous about marriage) and all the boys went on the stage.
But we digress.
Mrs Pontoon was surprised, not to say delighted, at the sudden return of the wanderers even if it meant she would have to give back her carefully invested windfall. Cowley had not yet distributed the 'Missing Presumed Stolen' notices, and went to square things with the police. This was a wise move since the art work was of a very low quality and flattered neither of the lost boys; indeed, a well written description (especially of Doyle) would have been preferable. As luck would have it, the family doctor was absent at this critical moment, swanning around the Greek islands with his best friend and no chaperone. The head groom, old Lobbard, helped Doyle to set Lord Bodie's ankle, which he kept referring to as his pastern, and suggested several times it would be kinder to put the patient out of his misery. Dry warmth, stillness, peace and quiet convinced Lord Bodie he was lying in a pile of leaves in the heart of a lonely wood; he was at once both sad and happy. He was sad that he was alone but in a way happy Doyle was not there. He did not want him to suffer any more; he felt his friend had gone through enough as it was.
Doyle crossed from the window where he had been watching the brilliant star clusters in the freezing night sky and picked up on of the battle guides from their place on the bedside table. He looked down at the sleeping figure, now so peaceful. This is where I came in, he thought. His eyes misted with tears.
"Lord Body's guide," he murmured in a shaky voice.
He was so overcome he was not aware he had made the same pardonable enough mistake in the way Bodie's name was pronounced. Lord Bodie heard what seemed to him a disembodied voice coming to him from a great distance.
"The name is pronounce, Bo-dee!" he said as firmly as he could. He opened his eyes and was amazed to find himself back in his own bed. He had no recollection of how he got there but at the moment his good breeding prevented him from putting this question to Doyle. "I am happy to make your acquaintance once again, Mr Doyle. Please sit down, you appear fatigued."
Doyle took the outstretched hand in what started as a very formal handshake, then broke all the rules by gently stroking his middle finger up and down Lord Bodie's palm, making him shudder for a moment. He sat on the very edge of the bed, being careful not to jolt the invalid.
"Equally pleased to see you again, Lord Bodie. My card."
He produced the visiting card the old Queen had given him and which he was now entitled to use. Bodie tried to read it but his eyes would not focus properly and the black copperplate lettering danced about on the highly polished pasteboard leaving a series of brilliant after-images.
"Forgive me, Raymond, I cannot make it out."
Doyle quickly retrieved the card and put it carefully away in his pocket; he did not as yet own a card case. "Raymond, Lord Doyle of the Ridings and rightful Earl of Ealing."
"My most sincere congratulations, How did you gain this title?"
"It seemed I was always an Earl but got lost rolling under a hedge when dropped off my horse during the Judas hunt. That sort of thing seems to be quite common."
Bodie tried to nod, but quickly stopped.
"Anyway," continued Doyle, "all my wicked uncles are dead and the Ridings are mine. They are delightfully situated high on the hills. On a clear day you can almost see the shepherds at their ease under the old bush. As soon as you are well enough you must come south with me for a visit. The old Queen told me about the title before she made off to Bognor to tell fortunes."
Mention of the crone suddenly made Bodie's blood run cold. Just who had undressed and put him to bed? What if it had been the Queen? Simply because he was so anxious he decided on a sideways approach.
"Raymond, Mrs Pontoon did not place me here, did she?"
Doyle bent forward and planted a firm kiss on the worried brow. (Rule 1: always reassure the patient). "No, I would not let her, although she wanted to give some extra service for all that money you left her."
"She must not think of such a thing. Was it my doctor perhaps?"
Doyle smiled and shook his head and once more kissed his lover. "Your doctor was away. Old Lobbard helped me set the break. Don't look like that -- I saw your modesty was preserved from all eyes but mine."
Lord Bodie blushed to the roots of his delicately ruffled hair. Doyle kissed the patient's mouth. "Make up your mind, I love every inch of you, could not stop even if I wanted to."
The blush faded till it coloured only his cheeks and the base of his throat. He felt the same way about Doyle "It's mutual. Raymond, would you help me to the bathroom? I can manage from there."
"Are you sure? All right, slow down, it's not a race!"
The trek to the toilet (or lavatory as Bodie called it) passed without accidents of any kind, but back in bed once more he still seemed worried and unable to relax.
"What is the matter. You can tell me, I know I have your complete trust."
"Promise you will not be angry... it's Quentin. Where is he? He was so looking forward to making a good match, or at least debauching a demi-vierge."
Lord Bodie was on the brink of tears, feeling he had betrayed the poor creature who had such simple ambitions.
"Lie back and listen carefully." Doyle made sure he had Bodie's attention. He could tell his lover was genuinely distressed over the fate of his stoat. "He was sorry he could not say goodbye to you in person but asked me to do it for him. You were not yourself when he left with Val and Rodney. He decided to become their road manager."
"You think he will be happy with them? I hope they keep a good table, he is used to the best."
"It was their excellent cellar that won him over in the end. He still thinks the world of you, Bodie, and will write when they get to Basingstoke."
"That seems perfectly satisfactory," yawned Lord Bodie.
"You must try and sleep now. You are exhausted."
"Goodnight, Raymond. I don't mind at all ..."
"Don't mind what, Bodie?""
"That you're not a blackamoor, or even a gypsy."
I should hope not. What would be the point of being the Ethiopian Earl of Ealing, apart from the alliteration, and even if I was we would still be in the same position as we are."
"I suppose so, Raymond. Goodnight."
"You know so, Bodie," whispered Doyle in his lover's ear. "Goodnight, Bodie."
-- THE END --
The Bodie motto is actually 'Toujours le double'('entendre' being understood)