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by Flaulus

Chapter 3

The last few days had been a bewildering succession of new experiences and attitudes, and the idea he could be openly gay and already had a boyfriend — crowded his thoughts. He found Paul's attitude confusing and amusing in that Rick was lord of all he surveyed, providing he did as he was told. Tourists on their way to the castle stopped and stared as the carriage passed, locals paused and waved while Rick, thoroughly embarrassed and unhappy at being the centre of so much attention, managed to smile back. He wished Paul was with him, and it was worse at the church. Rick had the impression it was old and beautiful, but he had to deal with the crowd, and had no idea what he was supposed to do as Sebastian indicated he should step down first.

Standing by the gate was an old lady. Although she was supported by her frame, she was breathing heavily and looked tired.

"I don't think we've met before." Rick said.

"No, My Lord. I'm Eliza Forbes, I was the postmistress until I retired. You're the third earl I've seen make his inaugural appearance, and dare I say it, you're the most handsome."

"You may say it as often as you like." Rick laughed, "Would you like me to walk you in? Do you know Mr. Forbes, the harbourmaster."

"He's my brother-in-law. The paperwork should take a couple of hours, but he's got arthritis. It takes him all day now. You really should walk in alone.

Despite her flustered objection , she let go of the frame and grabbed his arm. Rick was aware of little bobs of the head and curtseys from islanders. His gesture was being well-received, and he had an excuse to get inside as quickly as possible. The rector offered his hand which Rick shook, and then they were inside. Again, Rick would have preferred the anonymity of the back row, but he had been briefed. Allowing Mrs Forbes to settle into her usual spot, he walked to the front seats.

"Nicely done." Sebastian wh ispered, "There's one or two you should have spoken to, but you weren't to know. Looking after Mrs Forbes will forgive a lot more than that."

The rector began the service with, "Usually when we greet our new earl, it's tinged with sadness at the loss of the old. Today is unique in that the old earl is still with us, so let us rejoice."

To his amazement, Rick enjoyed the service. The readings and the prayers were all about rejoicing so cheerful, and the hymns were just as lively and simply filled the church by their volume, though he prepared to get bored when the rector began his sermon.

"Our island's future rests with the young man we're greeting today. Young men get bored easily, so in his honour, I'm aiming for the shortest sermon in the history of our church. If you have a good heart, when your time to meet your Maker comes, you will face Him knowing you left us better than when you arrived. You'll make mistakes, and I hear you have your own ways of sinning. It's all part of who you are, so just remember, God sees the whole and judges the whole. Our final hymn will be No. 415, To God be the Glory."

It was another rousing hymn and Rick was confident enough to sing out with the rest. He was expected to join the rector as he said goodbye to the congregation, but then it was all over.

"You're lucky." Sebastian chuckled, "The previous rector believed the more important the occasion, the longer the sermon. Rev. Doyle is an islander and understands we have a sense of fun."

"It's amazing. I still can't believe it's happening to me." Rick said, "Why do I keep hearing a steam train?"

"Because we have a railway. I keep forgetting you've only been a here a couple of days. Since the war, the attitude is if we need something, how would it attract tourists? Roads big enough to take cars and lorries didn't fit the bill, and we need transport so an old army supply line has been adapted."

"I should have guessed." Rick exclaimed, "It's doing my head in."

"I'm not surprised. I honestly did not expect you to be the senior line. It's a great load off my shoulders, but a great weight has fallen from a great height onto yours. Let's process the paperwork, and we'll discuss your future when it's all done. Now, I'm ready for my morning coffee. How about you. Are you ready to be gawped at in the café?"

The café was packed except of course for their reserved table. Rick was dressed the part so interest was more reserved.

"Do I get any sort of allowance?" Rick asked as they sat there.

"Your own bank account, you mean?" Sebastian asked but before waiting for an answer continued, "Yes, but do you need one? If you go into any island shop, just show them what you're taking, and it'll go onto the castle account. If you go to the mainland, you take what you need out of petty cash. Do you have anything in particular in mind?"

Mum's operation is tomorrow, but we weren't sure whether I could visit. I'd like to go on Tuesday."

"Ah! We have something better than an allowance, we have Mrs Wilson." Sebastian chuckled, and in a slightly louder voice, "Mrs Wilson, would you join us, please?"

Sebastian quickly explained and Mrs Wilson said, "Excuse me, while I'll make some enquiries. It shouldn't take long."

Rick beckoned Paul to join them and felt better to have a friend nearby, but Mrs Wilson was back before they had finished the ir drinks .

"It's short notice, so the helicopter can only pick you up about eleven. Is landing in Gresham Park acceptable. There will be a car waiting for you."

Rick just stared.

"I can go by train. You needn't do all that." he gasped.

"We'll have to discuss island finances, but it can stand you the odd trip." Sebastian said, "Is there anything else?"

"No, not now." Rick replied.

"Wrong answer." Sebastian said, "What is it?"

"There's a couple of guys I know. I kind of like Will , and I think he's gay. We reckon his dad beats him up because of it. I've been thinking of him because he hides in the library until it closes. He loves history and stuff. I'm not so sure Steve is gay, but he looked out for Will, but he got laughed at because his clothes were always second hand. I was wondering if they'd like to stay here for the holiday. It's a lot to ask, though."

"Richard, I'd have to ask you if I wanted a friend to stay. You don't have to ask anyone, you tell us. You're also saying you need the helicopter because you haven't time to spend eight hours travelling if you're going to look for your friends ."

"I'm still not thinking like the earl, am I?" Rick replied.

"Give it time."

Rick turned to Paul, "Do you mind about Will."

"Of course I don't, you idiot. At least, providing you help me. There's someone at school. His dad's well up in a supermarket chain and all he can say is, Charles should be respectable. The dad doesn't drink, so I'm not respectable living in a pub."

"But you think Castle Bovaline might be a respectable address, even if he'll be staying with two guys from a council estate."

"Charles will see the funny side." Paul said, " He tried introducing me to his Dad. I got a grunt, we just about touched hands when we shook, then he was moving on to talk to someone else. Poor old Charlie felt so bad. Are you OK with the boyfriend bit?"

"Yeah, and we've got the rest of the day."

"I'm catching the 4.30 boat. Mum and Dad want me to have a meal with them, so I'll have to go soon. Sorry."

"I need to phone Jimmy about yesterday. I'll see what he can suggest."

"The island way is to go and see him unless it's an emergency. Besides, he'll have a lot more to suggest."

"It's my turn. You won't mind?"

"No." Paul turned to Sebastian, "Sorry, we shouldn't be talking like this."

"Don't mind me. With Cousin Robin off my back, I feel better than I have in a long time. If you're giving Richard incentives to settle here, I can put up with a lot more."

A little later and Rick had changed into shorts and T-shirt so was able to stroll down to the pontoon unnoticed by the tourists, just surprised when he got there. Neatly painted double yellow lines had been painted along the edge behind which were No mooring signs. Two signs had been erected on the corner of the walkway which read: Unattended boats will be removed .

Jimmy hurried over, "Are they OK, sir?" he asked.

"They're very good." Rick replied, "I wondered if this is your day off."

"I don't have them. Between ferries, I can do what I like providing everything is orderly. If I want a break, one of the fishermen will take over.

"Not nine to five then." Rick chuckled.

"No sir. The locals are moaning about those signs though. They reckon we managed well enough before."

"Ask them what you should do if some toffee-nosed yachtsman blocks their access."

Jimmy grinned, "That'll help. I'm sorry if I was rude to your cousin yesterday."

"Am I rude to you?"

"No sir."

"Don't let anyone else be."

Jimmy smiled his thanks, so Rick added, "Paul reckons I should get those shorts off you. Interested?"

"Can I get to know you better, sir. You're a bit scary at the moment."

"I should be scared of getting beaten up, so I get it. I'm going down onto the beach for a swim."

"That's for tourists. The local s go round the coast a bit."

"I want to be a tourist. I can get lost for a while."

Rick wandered onto the beach looking for a spot to leave his stuff. As he pulled off his shirt, another boy came up to him.

"Are you with your parents, too?" he asked.

"No. I'm staying with my cousin ." Rick replied, "My mum's having an operation tomorrow, and my boyfriend's going back to school on the ferry, so I'm a bit lost."

The boy stared at Rick but said, "You're gay, I'm not. Are you going for a swim?"


It was what Rick needed, fun with someone his age with no complications. The boy, Alan, took Rick over to his family and introduced his family: parents and sister and offered Rick a can from the cold box.

"You say your Uncle lives on the island." Alan's father said, "I bet he's got a few stories about that castle lot and their better-than-you ways."

"Probably. I'm more concerned about Mum at the moment. I like the locals though."

"I can't imagine why decent folk would want to live here. It's OK for a holiday, but you don't want some nob telling you, you can't have a car."

"I've got to go." Rick said, "I want to see someone off then get something to eat."

"Now see what you've done." Alan's mother said, "You've scared the boy off."

"I'm only telling you as it is." Alan's father exclaimed, "I'm sorry about your Mother though. Let's hope she gets well soon, and you can get away from here."

"Why don't you go as well, Alan. I'm not going to shut your father up for a while yet. Be back at the chalet by nine though."

Alan caught Rick's cheerful nod, and they set off.

"Sorry about Dad." Alan said, "He claims to hate the place, but they come back every year, and he still does the castle tour. Won't your boyfriend mind if I'm with you?"

" No. It'll be fine."

Rick was right. Paul, grinning at seeing Alan, said, "I see you're not pining away."

They waved as the ferry cast off, and that was it.

"I'm going to get something to eat. Coming?"

Alan checked the money in his pocket, "It won't be too expensive, will it?"

"I was going home, not a restaurant." Rick replied.

"I thought this road only led to the castle."

"Whatever happens, it's my treat." Rick said.

Alan was as curious as he was nervous. There was something not quite right, but he could not put his finger on what. The café was crowded and Alan was a little relieved. He could not afford much. He became alarmed as Rick led the way to his table and sat down. Too nervous to sit down himself, he watched as the waitress took his order. Then the waitress approached him.

"You can sit down, you know. Guests of his Lordship are welcome."

Alan was too stunned to do anything except obey and order a burger. He looked at Rick.

"I'd heard something but is it really you?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm definitely me." Rick chuckled, "For the record, we'd have to build bigger roads before we allowed cars on the island, We'd also probably need a car ferry. Your Dad was making me uncomfortable though. Now, you know two of my secrets."

"OK! Why were you slumming it on the beach though. I had no idea."

"Friday morning I was just going to a comprehensive school and living on a housing estate. Today, I'm the Earl of Westmark, and the guy your dad moans about. I need space where I don't have to worry about anything."

"We're doing the annual tour tomorrow. I wish I could tell him."

Rick looked along the other reserved tables.

"We're in luck," he said as he beckoned Jeff over.

"This is Alan. His family is doing the tour tomorrow. When you see them, will you give them the VIP treatment and show Alan to my room, please?"

"Just Alan, sir?" Jeff asked.

"I'm getting my own back. His father thinks I'm too much up myself, but he's still doing the tour."

"In that case I'd prefer not to be involved. If you annoy the father, you'll be safely in the castle, and Alan will have to deal with it, but I do see a dilemma. Alan should not lie about who he has made friends with."

"What do you suggest?" Rick asked.

"Reserve a table for them to offer refreshments as thank you for their kindness today, but do not join them because both you and the father would be too uncomfortable."

"Yeah, but won't that make me snooty and aloof?" Rick asked.

"You're not like that with me, and I'll tell you what I'd like to do. Get a sleeping bag and sleep on the battlements." Alan said.

Rick's eyes lit up at the idea, then frowned, "Yeah, but they're part of the tour."

"The first one is at ten, but maybe not tonight." Jeff said, "Alan, I assume this was the only week your dad could get off work, so you were allowed to skip school."

As Alan nodded, Jeff continued, "Tomorrow most of the island children will be at school. Why not visit, tomorrow. I don't know if you'll be attending next term, but you could also invite your possible classmates, and make some kind of party."

"I hadn't thought about it." Rick said, "Won't I be sent off to some posh school?"

"I don't know. It's a family matter. It's just my suggestion if you want to make friends on the island. I'm not sure about a group of youngsters running around the battlements but what about a ghost theme in the dungeon?"

"I like it." Rick exclaimed, "How about Friday when Paul gets back. Alan?"

"It sounds like fun. I'll help get it ready." Alan replied.

"I think you have another task: telling your father who your holiday pal is." Jeff said.

Alan grimaced and nodded. They chatted further before Alan got up to leave.

"We're going to the clubhouse for a meal." His mother said, "Why not invite Rick. He's a nice lad, it might stop him worrying about his mother or has your dad scared him off?"

"It's something like that. I had a meal at Rick's place, but it was weird."

"How come?"

"We went up to the castle and ate at the café. Dad, you know how you hate those reserved tables. Well! We sat at one."

"Oh! So his cousin works at the castle. It must be very interesting for Rick."

"We sat at the earl's table and no-one minded." Alan said.

His parents stared at him, his mother genuinely puzzled, his father not wanting to understand.

Finally, his mother said, "It sounds as if you sat with the earl. How come?"

"Rick told you, he was staying with his cousin because his mother is in hospital. It's all true. Before he got here, he thought the Castle was a pub his cousin owned. You've heard the story about the new earl."

"Rick. Richard. The boy earl is Richard Blatcherfield. Oh my! He seemed such a nice boy."

"He is, mum. What with his mum, finding out who he was, he just wanted some peace and quiet and then Dad started up."

"You mean he was laughing at us, the whole time." His father interjected.

Alan rolled his eyes up in frustration.

"He's got other stuff to deal with, and he just wanted to be a kid from a housing estate again." Alan snapped, "You spoilt it for him."

"He's just suckering you in. You'll see."

"Well mum might like this bit of suckering. After we do the tour, there'll be a table reserved for us in the café. Morning coffee and all those cakes you say we can't afford. Don't worry, Rick won't be there. He doesn't want Dad having another go at him."

"Shower and get ready." Alan's mother said firmly, "Albert Black, this is our holiday, too. Alan's found a holiday friend, and I'm not going to spend another day with you trying to prove how rotten the class system is. Maybe it is, but tomorrow you are going to enjoy it whether you like it or not."

Alan managed a quick call to Rick.

"Jeff was right. I thought about her weak spot and mentioned cakes, so Mum's on side. She gets fed up with Dad too. We only come here because it's so cheap ."

Alan's father was on a zero-hours contract so money was always tight. Worry about money made him resentful, but he was basically a good man and tried to give his family the best. Rick's mother had struggled to provide, so he understood. Alan's father was quiet that night and remained subdued until they got to the castle. Jeff recognised Alan and hurried over to greet the family.

"Richard's at the school, so he apologises for not seeing you. Please make yourselves comfortable at your table. I'll come for you when the tour starts, but while you're waiting perhaps you'd like to discuss with Gladys what you'll have later."

"Thanks, Jeff." Alan said.

"Richard says he'll ring you later, but between you and me, I think he'll be waiting for the hospital to call."

"I'll hang around if that's OK. He might want company." Alan said.

"Yes, of course. I'll let Earl Sebastian know. He's concern ed for Richard as well."

Richard was more nervous about facing a class of his peers. Being cheeky to adults is part of growing up, but being accepted by a class fifteen-year olds would be much more nerve-wracking. Dealing with Mrs Wreakin, the head teacher, had been easy enough. He had been shown into her office, and they had shaken hands.

"Are you here as a potential student, or the earl?" she asked.

"September's a long way off while I get my head round everything. I want to meet guys I can be friends with, so I guess I'm using the earl to meet people."

"Let's see. You're fifteen, next year is your exam year, but have you given any thought to what you want to do?"

"Join the army like Granddad. There weren't that many job opportunities back home and being an earl just didn't come up."

"No, I don't suppose it would." Mrs Wreakin chuckled, "Let's keep to career choices for a moment. Is it an opportunity you w ould consider?"

"I think so. If there was a job application, I could fill in the form and decide whether I wanted it. Everyone takes it for granted I'm the earl, and I suppose I do, too."

"It's not the sort of career guidance I'm used to giving, either. Supposing we register you for next year, I'll get your records from your previous school and take it from there. I suppose we assume the earl would be a banker or a financier but there's no reason why he shouldn't be a chef, engineer or anything else. Does that help?"

Rick nodded, "Thanks. Is it a good idea meeting other kids like this?"

"You've got a free pass this week, but you're back in school. You're going to interrupt a lesson to discuss your social life. Again, it's unusual. I'd say you'll be seen as on the adult side, so you're not one of them, if you understand. Just keep it simple and honest, and we'll see what happens."

Rick followed Mrs Wreakin into the classroom and waited as she apologised to the teacher for interrupting, before continuing, "This is Richard Blatcherfield, our new earl. His mother is very ill, and is having a major operation today which is enough of a strain for anybody especially when he is shunted off to a distant cousin he had never even heard of. Add discovering his inheritance and landing in the middle of a family feud then you'll understand how much he has to cope with. Richard, that's the public side. How about talking about the private side."

"OK! I met Paul coming across on the ferry. He helped me tackle that family feud, and helped me realise I'm gay. After dealing with Cousin Robin, I met a holidaymaker, Alan, who had no idea who I was, and it was fun. I guess I'm hoping for friends like Paul who'll tell me what's what and others who'll be like Alan just to hang with."

"If you want that much sex, why not hang on the pontoon?" a boy asked.

"Alan is straight and this isn't a fancy way of hustling." Rick replied.

"Yeah, so you say. You're still just swanning in, from some posh school . We don't need friends like you."

"After Dad died, Mum worked as a cleaner for an agency. We live on a housing estate in a city. It wasn't the worst, but I had to be pretty careful I fitted in. Is it posh enough for you?"

It was a girl who spoke next, "It's a pity you're gay, I'd love to be your girlfriend. How's your mother doing?"

"They should be starting the operation about now. I have to wait awhile before I can ring."

"I hope it all goes well. When can you see her?"

Rick glared at the boy who had spoken first, replying, "It took me four hours to get here, so I didn't think it would be possible, but according to Cousin Sebastian, I'm posh enough to hire a helicopter, so I'm going tomorrow."

Rick waited for a hostile reaction, but a boy nodded and said, 'Go for it', and a number of the class nodded or grunted, 'yeah'.

"Thanks. I'm thinking of having a party on Friday. It'll have a ghost theme and be in the dungeons. You're all invited."

"Not if you're asking a load of tourists and off-islanders." It was the boy who first spoke.

"I'm inviting friends, so I don't think you're included anyway. Alan is, so he'll definitely be coming. Look, I don't know anyone yet, I don't know your names, so it feels a bit funny." Rick turned to the girl who had spoken, "Be careful what you ask for. You see I've got to think about the thirteenth earl."

It raised a roar of laughter, and the girl blushed slightly as she smiled.

"Dad says the island is run by amateurs living in the nineteenth century. It needs to be run properly so are you going to make any changes?" The question came from a studious boy sitting in the front row. The nerds row, Rick thought.

"Cousin Robin caused trouble on the pontoon. It's run by a harbour master whose arthritis is so bad he takes all day to write a letter, and the work is done by a guy who keeps disappearing with a girl. Is that what you mean?"

The boy nodded.

"He's always there when the ferry arrives, the harbour is always clean, and I get the feeling if a yacht needed help at 3am, Jimmy would be there. Between them they got the bye-laws sorted, and the signs up overnight. How amateurish and old-fashioned is that?"

The boy stayed quiet so another one piped up, "Dad's moaning about the signs. He doesn't like being told to keep his boat away."

"Do you think Jimmy is going to all officious and act like a policeman?"

"No." the boy paused, "I get it. It's all there if Jimmy needs some back-up. I'll tell Dad."

"It is weird here. Back home, everyone would moan about the council not doing anything. Here, they have a go at me, but I think everyone is on a committee for something, and I just speak to them."

"Technically we're a ward in the local district council, and we're part of the local constituency, so we can vote for an MP." Mrs Wreakin explained, "The thing is, we have to make all the statuary applications, and the like, but the council has to consider local opinion. When that opinion comes in the form of a petition, on castle notepaper and signed by most of the island, what are they going to do? Establishments do get visits from Health-and-Safety, but I can't remember the last time anything didn't pass. I'm a councillor, and I get all sorts of reactions from pity because I have to kowtow to some upper class twit, to anger because I've so much more clout than other councillors."

"So if I start next term, you'll put me on detention just to prove you're not kowtowing." Richard laughed, and the rest of the class joined in.

"And I'm duly reprimanded." Mrs Wreakin chuckled, "I shouldn't have turned this into a lesson on local democracy."

"Yeah, but it's helpful." Ric k said, "OK! I guess I'm not an ordinary kid any more, but if anyone wants to give me a go, come along on Friday. I need to phone the hospital now."

"That went very well." Mrs Wreakin said, "I'm not sure many youngsters would miss a chance to sleep in a haunted dungeon."

Relieved that one ordeal was over, Rick relaxed, pleased to see Alan waiting for him.

"The folks are just leaving." he said, "Mum had a great time. She'd like to come back this afternoon but that's Dad's beach time. We do self-catering holidays, and we can't eat out that much, so it was a real treat for Mum. Thanks."

"I'd still rather avoid your dad, but tell them to come back tonight after the beach. My treat, whatever they like."

Alan grinned and hugged him, "Thanks, you're great. I reckon I could become gay for you. I'll tell them."

While Alan was gone, Rick spoke to Jeff.

"I'll let the staff know." Jeff said, "How's your mother?"

"I'm trying not to ring." Rick replied, "I know it's too soon, and I should wait, but it's fucking difficult."

It was the first time Jeff had heard Rick swear, but it was hardly surprising. Rick was under a lot of strain. Jeff was not sure what to say and was relieved when Alan joined them.

"We'll wait until the tour clears the hall." Rick said, "I'm still uncomfortable walking past those No Admittance signs."

"Please don't." Jeff chuckled, "We're working this spiel that if they spot some shifty looking individual eyeing up the silver, it could be you. We're thinking of adding something about a reward if they spot a real villain, and a cup of tea if it's only you."

"That should do it." Rick laughed, "I thought stately homes were all serious and about what Sir Thingummy the Whatsit did in the crusades."

"They need a bit of showmanship as well. Our history goes back to the Vikings and that's before the crusades. We deny the castle is haunted, then mention Lady Griselda's horrible murder. Of course, she's not still seeking revenge on her killer. It stops the history being too dry."

"And I'm someone real to look out for and not just a dusty old painting."

"Don't say dusty in front of the housekeeper or there will be another horrible murder."

Jeff was pleased with himself because Rick looked a lot more cheerful as the boys headed off to find Sebastian who welcomed Alan.

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