Actions

Work Header

Bloody Front Porch Revisited

Work Text:

Clive was in his office, pretending to read a business report his secretary had sent from London.

His wife Anne and his daughter had left in the car that morning to visit some relatives in Yeovil. They would be home by supper, but until then, the house would be despairingly empty.

He looked up when Simcox entered the room. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ the butler said. ‘This telegram was just delivered.’ Taking the sealed brown square of paper, Clive felt his heart race. A wire never bore any good news.

As he studied the print, the world around him collapsed noiselessly. Meet me at north gate at 3 this afternoon – AS it read. It could not get any worse than this.

He looked up at Simcox again. The butler, who had been in service on Penge for over thirty years, must be in his seventies. Clive had never liked him. His sparse, neatly combed hair, which must have been bright red in his boyhood, was now a dingy mixture of grey and yellow. His piercing, green eyes and the way he sometimes hoisted his left shoulder – a nervous tic – always seemed to say: 'I’m on to you, young master.'

Clive thought himself terribly unfair. Ever since he and Anne had returned from their honeymoon, the butler had taken over many tasks in the house, the maids often being too busy. From the very beginning, Clive and Anne had had their last cups of tea of the day or glasses of brandy brought to their bedrooms by him.

The old man had done even more work when most of the staff had left after the outbreak of the war – the men to fight at the front, the women to work in factories. If it had not been for the trustworthy Simcox, the house would have become an utter mess. Yes, he was a good man.

‘I won’t send a reply,’ Clive said. ‘You can go now.’

***

The sheets on the bed in the room behind the dog kennel were crisp and clean. Alec stretched languidly, exposing his gorgeous, sinewy body, and folded his arms behind his head. ‘It’s more comfy than it used to be,’ he sighed contentedly. ‘I really like the improvements. A new bed, a carpet, a dresser...’

He turned his face to Clive. His shining, jet-black curls and his warm, brown eyes under the long lashes were unchanged. Now his sensual lips curved into a smile. ‘A love nest, eh? Tell me, who’s the lucky bastard who gets to do some drilling here?’

Clive turned onto his side, musing, while his hand slid from Alec’s chest to his bellybutton. Yes, there was someone, down in London – Douglas, his own private secretary. An Oxford graduate, powerfully built, blond and deliciously freckled, a gentleman in the making at the office but a beast between the sheets.

Douglas preferred to have his private moments with Clive at the flat in London. He felt too grand to meet his lover in a dog kennel. No, Alec would never know. It was none of his business anyway.

Alec sat up, gently pushed Clive onto his back and kissed him. ‘No need to tell me, Clive, I just found out you’ve widened quite a bit down there…And all the while I was thinking you’d be completely Clivey-wifey with yer missus by now. Wouldn’t blame you if you were, she’s a pretty one with her dark eyes and her black curls.’

Clive pulled Alec onto him and gently ran his hands over his back down to his buttocks. When his fingertips reached the secret spot, Alec froze. ‘Stop it, mate. That’s Maurice’s turf.’

So it was true after all. ‘How is Maurice?’ Clive asked. ‘He’s fine,’ Alec mumbled. ‘Became a clerk in an office in Bristol right after he got back from the front, bought out the owner, got himself a car and a house in Nailsea. I live there, too. As a servant, officially…’

Alec sat up, crawled over to his own spot and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He rummaged through his duffel bag, took out an object wrapped in pretty paper and tossed it towards Clive. ‘He told me to give you this.’

It was a small selection of poems by Emily Dickinson. There was a note in it, saying Dear Clive, I hope you and your loved ones are well. It has been years since we last spoke. Please accept this gift as a token of my friendship and my fondest wishes that you will come and visit me so that you and I can bury the hatchet, if there ever was one. Yours truly – Maurice.

Clive was moved. Maurice had suddenly left without a trace in 1913. Yes, I’ll write back, he thought, and I’ll promise him that there’ll be no more bad feelings between us and that we’ll become real friends.

‘Put that away. I’m not here to talk about yer precious Maurice anyroad,’ Alec grumbled, stepping into his drawers.

‘I figured as much,’ Clive said, feeling inexplicably happy. ‘Well, we could…’

Alec pulled on his undershirt and slumped down on the bed, sending up a cloud of feathers from a rip in the pillow. Some serious damage had been done to the interior during the preceding hours.

He turned around and looked at Clive. ‘I’m here to see me son. I’ve got a right to.’

Ever since the eventful summer of 1913, Clive had dreaded this, hoping against hope that Alec would forget in time. As the years went by with no sign of life from Alec or Maurice, he had come to believe that the whole business had indeed gained a thick layer of dust. But it would all come to the surface now – the worst possible event in the book.

‘No, you won’t,’ Clive said. ‘My family is no concern of yours. We agreed on this when I made the proposal, didn’t we?’

Alec shot him a venomous look. ‘Some proposal that was. I wouldn’t do it, but you wanted an heir and you said you could never touch a woman, you were pleading and begging and offering me more money every day, so then I thought: well, my brother Fred bought me a boat ticket to the Argentine but I’m not going, so I’ll grab this dough and pay him back and then auf Wiedersehen…’

‘It was a huge sum,’ Clive remembered. ‘Enough for you to live on for years without having to lift a finger, and you didn’t have a very unpleasant time earning it, my dear.’

Alec uttered a malicious laugh. ‘You really think so? Hardest work I ever did in this rotten place, I tell you...Climbing the ladder to yer room at night, getting you all warmed up like you told me to, then changing into your pyjamas and putting on your shaving lotion – yuck! – and then having to tiptoe to yer missus’ room in the dark and repeat everything because you still would not touch her…’

He smirked. ‘She loved it. She wouldn’t let me go and I had her crawling up the walls, yelping for joy like she was stark raving mad...But then I’d have to go back to your room and leave through the window, that is when I was lucky enough to find the ladder still in its place, because sometimes those bastards downstairs had taken it away while I was inside…By then I’d be so knackered I could barely stand on me feet, but I’d still have to walk half a mile to the boathouse to have Maurice repeat the whole bleeding business with me…And he’s a heavy one…We didn’t even have a bed there, only smelly horse blankets and a wooden floor…I got pretty bloody sick of it, and so did Maurice…So he got us two railway tickets to Scotland and we left…thank fuck for that.’

Looking more relaxed now, he lit a cigarette and took a swig from a bottle of stout. ‘So now you know you can’t keep me from seeing me son. I’ve put in too bloody much work for it. I’m sure there is a son and that he’s mine. I used to be a gamekeeper, remember? I never miss when I shoot.’

Feeling defeated, Clive got up and fished for his drawers. When he had put them on, he turned around and looked at Alec. ‘In fact, it’s a daughter,’ he said, hoping this would prompt Alec to leave immediately.

‘A girl?’ Alec squealed, nearly dropping his bottle. ‘Really?’ His eyes grew soft and his lips trembled. ‘A girl! Oh, that’s grand, that’s wonderful…’ He walked over to Clive and cradled his hands on his chest. ‘Please, let me see her…Only once, I won’t do anything strange…Let me look at her…My daughter…What’s her name? When was she born?’

He's an orphaned father, Clive thought. It would be rotten to deny him a basic human right. Besides, if I don’t grant him his wish, he’ll be likely to stay in the area and raise hell.

‘Her name is Sarah Margaret Anne Durham,’ he said. ‘She was born in April 1914.’

He thought feverishly. ‘Meet me at the henhouse at seven tomorrow. I’ll just pretend to Anne I want an early morning stroll. Sarah always goes there before breakfast to feed the chickens…She’s nine now and very shy, she won’t talk to you, but her nanny will be there too. If questions arise, just tell her you’re a friend of the gamekeeper’s and that you’re staying at his cottage.’

‘All right,’ Alec said. ‘I’ll be there.’

***

Sitting at the elegant desk in his bedroom, Clive stared at the pristine sheets of paper in front of him, despondently gnawing the tip of his pen. After breakfast, he had feigned illness and had retired to his own quarters to write a letter to Douglas. Like his namesake who had been Oscar Wilde’s lover, he was becoming too much of a spoiled pet, keeping him from his work and demanding more money.

Alec would never show up again. That morning, after Sarah and her nanny had fed the chickens, he had given Clive a look that told him he was ready to kill him.

It was nearly eleven o’clock in the evening now, but no writing had been done. All Clive could think of were the words Alec had spoken when the child and the servant were out of earshot, in a low voice, but piercing like a saw.

‘What’s all this? Did I travel all the way to bloody Penge for this? I used to call you daft, Clive, remember? I won’t now, it wouldn’t be nearly enough…I'm not surprised you’ve widened, mate. Your head is so far up your arse that you don’t see a thing. I wonder what the weather’s like down there – no, I don’t…I’m going back to Bristol.’

Standing there, all alone, cigarette in hand, Clive had thought, as he did now, about what Alec had seen: little Sarah, joyful and careless as only a nine-year-old girl could be, so pretty with her bright-red ringlets and her sparkling green eyes and the endearing way she hoisted her left shoulder a bit, which she always did when she felt ill at ease in a stranger’s presence – Clive’s and Anne’s daughter and heir, the princess of their hearts.

He felt interrupted when there was a knock on the door. ‘Come in,’ he said feebly.

There was Simcox, carrying a tray with two glasses of brandy. The trustworthy man put one on the desk next to the sheets of paper. ‘Shall I take the other glass to her ladyship’s room, sir?’ he asked.

‘Please do,’ Clive said. ‘And that will be all. Thank you, Simcox. Goodnight.’