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A Close Call

Chapter Text

Alfred was still mildly drunk in the carriage on the way back from church.

As any good soldier, he was hiding it superbly and the coffee at breakfast helped. If anything, perhaps he seemed a tad more cheery on this merry morn… especially as urges to grin still kept hitting him as he remembered the intimate little night party he, Edward, and Charlotte had thrown themselves, and he stared intently at park outside the windows to give the impression of perfect ordinariness.

But to be fair, he had never thought he would say this, but Charlotte could be a laugh.

 

POP!

‘Shhhhhhhh!’ Edward hushed as Alfred had managed to completely botch his attempt at opening the bottle of champagne quietly or without having the foam drip all over the carpet.

‘I’m sorry!’ he whispered between giggles.

Though Edward had promised Charlotte to get her real food, that plan had failed once he realised the pantry door was closed at all times and the sole key that opened it was hanging on a nail in the housekeeper’s room. Not wanting to wake any servants, they had to make do with the only food left available: a bowl of apples and grapes.

There was no lock and key on his liquor cabinet, though.

So, they gathered in Edward’s cosy library lit quite well by the full moon and opted for fermented sustenance instead, and given the fact that Charlotte was having less than the time of her life, they thought it was justified if a little naughty of them.

‘What are we drinking for?’ Charlotte asked.

‘Can’t one drink champagne for no particular reason?’ Alfred asked feigning innocence.

‘No, one must celebrate something.’

‘Well then,’ Edward raised his glass, ‘To the Queen’s health. Long may she reign. And to you Charlotte, my only sister and favourite sibling and the most brilliant woman I know, and to your happiness moving on. And to you Alfred, my only love and the most brilliant man I know and the most handsome and wickedly beautiful and accomplished and splendid— sorry Charlotte.’

‘Let us just drink, shall we?’ she said rolling her eyes, and they did.

‘To Edward, also,’ Alfred piped up before they could take a second sip, still in the mood to salute. ‘The best of men, the man of my dreams, my love… and to his most shapely bottom,’ he quickly added mischievously just before they could drink so it would be valid.

‘Ngg-- Alfred!’ Edward exclaimed, nearly getting the champagne dripping down his chin. Alfred was doubling over from laughing.

And so was Charlotte! Laughing at last, after such a long time she had lost track.

More champagne was poured quickly.

‘To the smooth repeal of the Corn Laws!’ Edward saluted sarcastically, accepting congratulations as they drank.

And the night went on with drinking to a wide assortment of things: to Lord Anglesey’s seat, to the Duke of Wellington, to Dickens, to Rochester going blind because they decided he deserved it, to the new kittens of the cat that had taken to sunbathing in the Drummonds’ garden – it had apparently given birth to three adorable little ones, to the Ladies of Llangollen, to the Mexican War ending soon now that the fighting ceased according to Palmerston’s latest correspondences, to the exceptionally good year it was for port (crates of which had been freshly delivered from Portugal to the Palace)…

‘To… Mendelssohn’s Elijah being loud enough,’ Charlotte added.

‘Why?’ Alfred asked, noticing it might be almost dawning outside…

‘I was enjoying myself most immensely throughout the piece with Agnes in the little room between the box and the corridor at the Birmingham Festival last month.’

‘Charlotte!’ Edward exclaimed utterly scandalised, wishing he didn’t know that but it was too late now and they drank to it.

‘To the new prince or princess!’ Alfred said once he got over Edward’s face at his sister’s escapade. He let surprise wash over the other two before throwing a grape up in the air and catching it in his mouth and adding: ‘Only joking.’

‘To Arthur and Florence!’ Edward saluted without cynicism now.

‘To Arthur and Florence,’ she seconded. ‘May they have many happy years and many loud, loquacious children.’

And they drank.

‘To Eagle’s placing fifth at the Grand National race!’ Alfred said from the window – it was definitely about to dawn.

‘But didn’t Peel ride it--?’ Edward questioned.

‘He did. Only fifth, as in the last to finish? Beaten by a horse racing for the first time ridden by an unknown jockey? He’d have been livid! Let’s drink to that!’

And they drank.

‘To the Lady Agnes Drummond, Viscountess Strathallan.’ Charlotte said, towards the end of the bottle. ‘What, it was their wedding day after all.’

Wedding night now, she thought to herself bitterly.

‘To love,’ Edward said.

‘To love,’ Alfred seconded, his heart melting.

‘To love,’ Charlotte said, giving in, remembering it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Even if it was going to be a while before she truly understood that.

 

‘Mr Drummond,’ a page boy stepped into the office at the House. ‘The Duke of Wellington is here to see you.’

‘T-The Duke of Wellington?’ Edward stuttered from his heap of paperwork. ‘T-thank you. Do send him in.’

He scrambled to put his cluttered desk in order within the few short seconds he had before the Duke arrived – it wouldn’t do to give such a messy impression!

‘Drummond!’ the Duke greeted him, walking confidently into the office.

Edward stepped to him for a handshake. ‘Your Grace. To what do I owe the pleasure of this surprise visit?’

‘Ah, just an informal discussion, really.’

‘Please, sit.’

‘Thank you.’

‘May I offer you anything?’

‘No, thank you, I am just on my way to lunch with Russell and Palmerston, no doubt they’ll want to drag it out with more courses than needed on a Wednesday.’

‘They do take their time when it comes to food, particularly when it’s relief for the Irish, I must say. But, if you’re not here to talk politics, what is this mysterious informal topic you have come to discuss with me, Your Grace?’

‘I take it you are good friends with Lord Alfred Paget, Anglesey’s son?’

Edward tried to seek signs of disapproval or something that was cause for suspicion and worry in the Duke’s expression but found none.

‘Yes, we are, very good friends.’

‘Good! A fine man, he is. A few days ago, he mentioned you stayed on as Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition.’

‘I have, Your Grace,’ Edward confirmed, glancing around the relatively small, cluttered office, which had one large window but that was mostly shaded by an old oak tree blocking much needed light.

‘Well, that’s a fine decision, Drummond, and I would not dare to criticize it if that is your heart’s desire. However… am I wrong in thinking the new position is not entirely suited to all your talents?’

‘It is an excellent position, though one prefers one’s party to be the governing one. But I have to agree, Your Grace… If I am honest, I am beginning to feel that my daily efforts are rather going to waste rather than into use.’

‘Yes, I assumed so. What would you say if I had a proposition?’

‘What sort of proposition, Your Grace?’

‘I am not suggesting you give up your current position but you might be able to spare some of your energy to another occasional task… Have you ever thought about teaching?’

‘Teaching, sir?’ Edward had to ask, somewhat taken aback.

‘Not schoolboys, do not worry, I have not gone senile,’ the Duke replied, amused at the very thought. ‘Have you heard of London University?’

‘I certainly have.’

‘It is a fine institution, albeit new.’

‘It is, but is it not only one that grants degrees?’

‘It is, but there are vacancies for experienced and learned scholars of law at the University College. I believe you could be an excellent asset, even as a guest lecturer.’

‘A guest lecturer.’

‘Indeed. You do not need to give an answer presently, but should you find you have the affinity for it, do send word to me and I shall arrange a place that is convenient for you.’

‘But Your Grace…’ Edward blurted out, not quite believing it. ‘Thank you. I feel honoured that you should have such confidence in me as to suggest this in the first place.’

‘Oh, you should have more confidence, Drummond. You are remarkably brilliant, you mustn’t waste years here while the Whigs are in power.’

Drummond smiled, no, beamed at the Duke, grateful as ever.

‘Well, I should get going if I don’t want to be late from my lunch. Would you care to join us?’

‘I am sorry, Your Grace, I have a previously arranged engagement.’

‘Not to worry. But I will take my leave now,’ the Duke said, standing, and Edward following him out. ‘So will you consider the position at the college?’

‘I will, definitely!’

‘Good. And send my regards to Lord Alfred when you see him.’

‘I will. Thank you, Your Grace.’

Ah, Lord Alfred – just the man Edward was about to see.

 

‘Teaching?’ Alfred asked once they were riding in the park an hour later. ‘At a college?’

‘What’s with the tone of disbelief? I do know my law,’ Edward replied from his own horse trotting next to him.

‘It’s not at your brilliance that I am surprised, my beloved,’ Alfred said without thinking, both of them glancing around in fear of anyone overhearing them. ‘It is at the offer itself. I don’t think it would have occurred to me but, now that I think about it, I think you ought to take it!’

‘You think so?’ Edward replied with a grin.

‘I think you already want to.’

‘Oh, Alfred… I think I do. I really do.’

‘Well, then you shoul—’ Alfred began but he fell silent at a distinct scream and shouting for help nearby.

Alfred steered his horse and sped off at once to the source of the commotion, Edward trying to keep up with him. Once there, Alfred assessed the scene at once – a lady was fallen over, a constable helping her up, passers-by crowding around it.

‘He robbed me! He took my purse!’ the woman was shouting to the constable that seemed to be struggling to stand himself.

‘Where has he gone?’ Alfred asked urgently.

‘There, that way!’ the woman cried. ‘A tall man with a brown hat! There!’

Alfred’s gaze followed the direction in which she was pointing and caught glimpse of a man running in the distance from his vantage point in the saddle. With not a moment’s hesitation more, he rode after the thief as fast as he could.

Edward had to gather all his courage to follow suit – he could never ride like Alfred could!

Once Alfred seemed to catch up with the burglar – still no able constables around in the middle of the vast St James Park, he called after him:

‘Hey, stop! In the name of Her Majesty, I order you to stop!’

The thief did not obey but instead climbed over a hedge, park benches, and a little pond with large rocks, across which Alfred’s horse would not have taken him.

So he jumped off his horse with the skill of an acrobat, and chased the thief on foot, making Edward’s heart stop because he was being immensely reckless! What if the thief had a knife??? He seemed a lot larger than Alfred!

But Edward had hardly managed to get off his horse by the time Alfred had disarmed the thief and overpowered him by knocking him down face first on the ground, locking his hands behind his back and kneeling on him until some constables arrived.

Edward watched it all with a gaping mouth, the way Alfred took charge of the situation, fought down this huge man with his bare hands with no concern for his own safety, and handed him over to the police. Once he was rid of the thief, Alfred merely dusted his clothes off, fussed with his hair a bit, and readjusted his top hat. Some pedestrians were applauding but he only nodded their way humbly before walking back to Edward and the horses.

‘Sorry,’ he said brightly to Edward. ‘Where were we?’

‘Alfred,’ Edward breathed, still floored. ‘That was…’

Alfred smirked – he knew that face. This really wasn’t the time for Edward to get ideas or put ideas into Alfred’s head, not when a dozen strangers were watching them. He got back on his horse.

‘Come on… Professor Drummond,’ he said cheekily and trotted away, knowing the effect he had on Edward.

Well, Edward had to hold that thought until they could meet in private again…

 

Finding an opportunity was not as easy, of course. As Edward was still working late all week, a few days later dinnertime found Alfred at his club as he had received no note that would suggest Edward would be home sooner than expected. He had been neglecting his friends outside the Palace and it was only right he should visit. Alas, he had barely opened a volume of Keats poems and ordered his entrée that he heard an all too familiar voice call his name.

‘Lord Alfred,’ William said, approaching his table. ‘I was hoping to see you here one day. You wouldn’t have your friend tagging along, not here with the Whigs.’

Alfred did not look up from his book. ‘What was the matter with Tory clubs? Or have you run out of prey there already?’

‘Never hurts to seek new hunting ground, that’s true. May I?’ William threw it back unfazed and sat at Alfred’s table without waiting for an answer.

Alfred sighed in frustration and put down his Keats volume. ‘Or are you just scared of you Papa?’

‘It takes more than him to scare me, Alfred.’

‘Such as?’

‘A thousand French and Indian soldiers marching against me with loaded guns?’

‘Ah, yes, India, I forgot you were there. How was the food?’

‘Exotic. Spicy. Hot. But you know I prefer British cuisine. Particularly, shapely, fair Welsh biscuits.’

‘Biscuits.’

William winked at Alfred. Biscuit. Alfred was a biscuit.

‘Well, all this talk of food and I have rather lost my appetite,’ Alfred said, standing.

‘Oh, come on, Alfred, stay for a bit. I’ll behave. Just let us talk. Just for a little while.’

‘No, thank you,’ Alfred said without looking back. ‘Enjoy tonight’s biscuit.’

William enjoyed watching Alfred go for the sake of the game, but once Alfred was out of sight and he realised he was quite alone in a largely deserted dining area, his loneliness crept up on him within seconds.

‘Alfred!’ he called outside the club, chasing after him, still hastily pulling on his coat and gloves. ‘Alfred, wait!’

‘What?’ Alfred rolled his eyes, wishing his carriage would hurry up.

‘Seriously, can we not talk? I know I have behaved questionably…’

‘That’s an understatement. I know what you did, intruded on Edward in his room. You should be thankful I haven’t wiped that grin off your face with my fist, William.’

‘I did not do anything. Nor did I plan to.’

Alfred laughed. ‘And you expect me to believe that?’

‘Don’t get me wrong, he’s pretty enough, you’ve done well—’

‘Careful,’ Alfred warned, eyes shooting lightning at William in anger. How dare he talk about the love of his life like that?

‘Sorry. But I don’t really care much for your Mr Drummond.’

‘You don’t care for anyone and anything, I am perfectly aware of that, thanks,’ Alfred said, walking away as his carriage had finally arrived.

‘No, I… no… wait, Alfred,’ William stuttered, following in his wake. ‘I do care.’

‘Sure, William,’ Alfred said nonchalantly, getting into the car.

‘No, wait!’ William stopped the door from closing with one quick, strong hand, reminding Alfred he was a good soldier at least if not a decent person otherwise. ‘Please, all I am asking for is one conversation. I have something I’ve been meaning to say to you. I would like to just talk.’

‘Just talk? When have you ever wanted to just talk with anyone?’

‘Now. I want to now. With you.’ Alfred began to consider this but then… ‘I mean I wouldn’t say no to more but— No wait—’ Alfred reached for the door to slam it with all his strength but William stopped it, stifling a wince. ‘Damn, I’m sorry…’

Alfred was seething but what scared him more is that he saw what looked like genuine eagerness in William’s eyes. He feared that Edward was actually right in his suspicions that William might actually feel something for Alfred and he thought it best to not even get involved any further.

‘Please,’ William pleaded. ‘What do I need to do? You don’t know what it’s like. I’ve been in too many battles to count. I may be returning to the east within months, weeks! Just five minutes. That’s all.’

Alfred hesitated.

‘Please. Just one conversation. May I get in, perhaps?’

Alfred debated this but he remembered how hurt he was that time. And the immensity with which his confidence was shattered because of William. If he hadn’t played him like that, he wouldn’t have wasted so much time with Edward either!

‘I don’t think so,’ Alfred said coldly but his heart was pounding – he felt cruel. But William had been crueller to him and so he tapped the roof of the carriage and avoided William’s eyes. ‘Goodbye, Captain.’

The door of the carriage closed and Alfred was gone, leaving William standing alone in the dark street in front of the club.

Well, William tried the nice way.

He was left with no choice but to try in others…

 

Alfred checked his pocket watch and told the chauffeur to take a detour to Lower Grosvenor Street. His night was spoiled, but perhaps not fatally. His heart swelled when he saw that the candles were lit in Edward’s room and smiled to himself. He paid the chauffeur and sent him back to the palace without him.

It was still not late enough so he chose the front door this time. Taking tentative steps into the foyer, he saw through a doorway that Charlotte was reading in an armchair by the fire in the sitting room.

She looked up.

Alfred looked back, no excuse coming to his lips.

She needed none.

She pointed upwards.

Alfred nodded.

And took the stairs two at a time before the butler spotted him.

‘How much time do you have?’ Edward asked between fervent kisses seconds later in his bedroom.

‘All night,’ Alfred replied nearly tearing Edward’s buttons off in his haste to remove his shirt. ‘All night.’

Desire flared up in Edward even more at the sound of this.

He seized Alfred ever tighter, lifting his legs ever so slightly off the ground, and after twirling him twice around in his arms from sheer unadulterated happiness, he nearly threw their entwined, heated bodies on the bed.

How Alfred laughed! He was bursting from desire as well but he just could not help it, Edward was the most adorable man. And so keen to ravish him – really, Alfred didn’t understand just how he had got so lucky… he was so happy when he was with Edward, really he feared they were too happy, that some retribution might be lurking round the corner that would smash them apart.

‘Are you… are you sad?’ Edward asked, a frown forming on his handsome face.

‘No, not sad… Only, I must remind myself I am not dreaming every time I get to see you.’

Edward smiled knowingly. ‘I know what you mean,’ he said, moving to place the sweetest kisses down Alfred’s neck. ‘But I can assure you, my darling. It is quite, quite real.’

‘You’ll have to pinch me to make me truly believe so.’

‘Oh I shall do better things than that…’

And Edward set out to do just that, finally, finally getting to taste the soft fair skin he had been dreaming about for days and days in Alfred’s absence.

‘Do we really have all night?’ Edward asked hungrily after having got well rid of all of Alfred’s clothes, and his own. He was nose to nose with Alfred, who was so sinfully beautiful under him, lips swollen and red, face flushed, eyes sparkling and alit with desire.

‘Yes, yes, my love, we do,’ Alfred panted, going to nibble on Edward’s ear, hands roaming his body, greedy and eager to feel the firm muscles on his back and the soft, luscious curls that were escaping the fashionable coif Edward had carefully crafted.

Alfred knew why Edward was so pleased to hear they had the whole night to spend together – aside from the fact that more time together in general was better. This meant they didn’t have to rush and they didn’t have to limit their activities. They could go all the way, which they often could not when all they had was a brief little window between after-dinner drinks and the appropriate curfew determined by when Her Majesty felt like retiring for the night. And Alfred had to find a discreet way to find a horse and go to Edward, and back! Oh, how Edward wished he lived closer to the Palace!

But tonight was one of those rare nights when Alfred didn’t have to be Cinderella and return home by midnight. His expensive silk and brocade clothes wouldn’t be turning back to rags when the magic wore off as his clothes were already lying scattered on Edward’s bedroom carpet, and the magic, the magic never wore off at all.

Alfred relaxed and placed his legs around Edward, leaving no choice for him not to be flush against Alfred’s body, feeling his arousal against his own.

‘Where’s the…?’ Alfred fumbled to reach Edward’s bedside table between kisses but seeing as his bed was enormous he could hardly do so.

Edward tore himself away from Alfred for the briefest few seconds he could manage to find the helpful little tin and returned into Alfred’s arms as soon as he did.

Alfred tightened his hold around Edward so as to urge him to do something, anything now – they didn’t have to hurry but he was impatient with desire anyway.

But Edward seemed a little lost in thought somehow.

‘What is it? What’s wrong?’ Alfred asked, breaking their kisses.

‘Nothing. Nothing is wrong,’ Edward replied, panting already too. He was observing Alfred with such devotion and hunger but he was also thinking about something, Alfred could tell.

‘Edward?’

‘Nothing…’

‘Really, Edward, what is it?’

‘I was just…’ Edward began, as bashful as in Wales when given the chance to ask anything of Alfred. ‘I was wondering if… Could I try?’

Alfred looked up at him puzzled.

‘I mean…’ Edward stuttered, fighting the urge to be utterly polite even as he was naked in bed with the person with whom he was conversing. But old habits die hard. He was starting to accept he just didn’t have it in him to come out with things bluntly. ‘I was just curious… Could I, perhaps, only if you want to of course, I wouldn’t wish to make you—’

‘Edward, just tell me what you want, my love!’ Alfred demanded. If Edward didn’t start touching him soon he would combust on the spot!

‘Could I try to… could I try it?’ he asked just as obliquely but Alfred understood when he felt the little tin placed into his hand to use instead. ‘Uh, please.’

You want me to—’

‘Only if that’s something you’d like to…’

‘I would,’ Alfred confirmed enthusiastically. ‘But, Edward, would you? Are you sure? You don’t have to, you know.’

‘But I want to,’ Edward admitted, burning from the simple sensations he was already feeling from Alfred’s body so close, and from the vision he had dreamt about quite a few times since Alfred had shown him the ways of the world…

‘What’s brought this on?’ Alfred asked, enjoying the sight of Edward struggling between being innocent and wholesome and a desirous hot-blooded man with ideas and plans and wants and needs…

‘You seem enjoy it rather.’

‘Oh, I do – in fact, have you thought about installing a mirror on the canopy of your bed, just up there?’ Alfred nodded to the ceiling of the grand four poster bed he could see over Edward’s shoulder.

‘I’m not quite sure how I would explain that to my staff.’

‘You’ll think of something,’ Alfred said and winked, making Edward both laugh and get all flustered. Just the memory of that day when it swam into his mind’s eye was enough to make him want to loosen his collar when it snuck up on him often in inopportune moments at the House…

‘I don’t know, Alfred… Whenever I have clapped eyes on you in your uniform? When you stand up for me against Captain Peel… And when you fought down that thief the other day… the way you took charge… Alfred…’

Edward was weak in the face of Alfred’s charms, he dived down to kiss him deeply.

‘The way I took charge?’ Alfred teased breathlessly.

‘Yes… It was… inspiring…’

‘Inspiring…’

‘Yes… Alfred…’

The heat radiating from Edward’s body, and the low, raspy voice of his that let Alfred know he was aching to be pleasured at last, these were enough for Alfred to take charge as apparently Edward so liked him to. He pushed himself up until he flipped Edward over on his back, holding his wrists down against the bed. Now they were lying the wrong way on the deep green velvet cover of the spacious bed, the firelight casting rich shadows on their bodies, dancing on their skin as they moved.

Edward didn’t know why but he enjoyed the fact that he was held down by Alfred. After his lengthy days in the office, all that responsibility and pressure, he really didn’t mind being taken care of for a change. So he let him.

Without a pillow supporting his head, Edward’s head tilted back more, revealing his neck, Alfred’s for the taking, and he took his time kissing Edward’s beautiful skin, leaving goose bumps in his wake as he travelled downwards.

Edward didn’t know how Alfred’s gorgeous blue eyes could look like that, both fiery and innocent, even as his tongue worked in sinful ways on him, his lips bringing Edward to the edge of spending… Ah but just before it was too much, he ceased what he was doing abruptly and began peppering slow wet kisses on Edward’s thigh instead.

‘Alfred…!?’ Edward couldn’t help moaning, frustrated yet loving it.

Alfred laughed devilishly against the ticklish skin on Edward’s shapely knee, worshipping every inch of skin – if he was going to do this, he was going to do it slowly. Maddeningly slowly.

‘All in good time, my love, all in good time…’

And Alfred was true to his word. As much as he wanted to just jump in and devour Edward, he was the gentlest of lovers that night, putting Edward’s comfort first always, showing him his tricks but always asking him if he felt alright with every move, telling him to say as soon as something felt wrong, and that he could change his mind anytime, to the point where Edward found himself almost begging Alfred to stop mollycoddling him and just take him, just do it, just take charge and take him already.

But it was worth it because, as unused to it all Edward was, he understood what the fuss about it was perfectly and completely. He wanted to be as close to Alfred as possible. It was all worth every second.

Afterwards, Edward was lying leant against a bedpost at the end of the bed, Alfred resting on his chest, and that’s how they shared a cheroot.

‘Professor Drummond,’ Alfred said again, just to amuse himself more than anything.

Edward snorted a little. ‘You really like that, don’t you?’

‘Oh, immensely.’

‘Though it would be easier to face teaching law if I weren't a criminal myself.’

‘Don’t think about that now. Besides, that’s not the issue with the idea of you as a teacher. I don’t think I could have concentrated at school if I had such a ridiculously handsome professor.’

Edward laughed and that turned into a yawn to which Alfred suggested they put out the cheroot and sleep a little.

The trouble was, a little turned into a lot.

In fact, they woke to the sound of much knocking on the bedroom door.

Alfred jolted awake, heart pounding. The sunlight streaming into the room was so bright he didn’t understand how he could have slept through it! It was mid-morning easily! And someone was knocking right on their door!

‘Mr Drummond?’ came the voice of the valet from the hallway. ‘Mr Drummond?’

Drummond blinked himself awake, too, his initial daze turning into panic as soon as he saw Alfred was still there in his bed.

‘Edward…’ Alfred whispered, scared numb.

Drummond raised a finger to his lips. ‘It’s locked,’ he whispered, then loudly at the door he said. ‘What is it, Clarke?’

‘Apologies, sir, but Mr Drummond senior and Mrs Drummond are downstairs waiting for you.’

Drummond’s eyes went wide. ‘M-my parents are here?’ he asked.

‘Yes, sir.’

Alfred truly panicked now, at a loss as to what he could do. The servants staircases were out of the question, he couldn’t waltz down through the main staircase and out the front door without being seen by Edward’s parents, and he couldn’t jump from the window as even if he didn’t break his limbs in the process he would still be landing in front of the sitting room where they would surely still see him fly into the begonias.

‘I’m afraid they are quite impatient, Mr Drummond,’ Clarke said uncharacteristically. He was usually the most patient of valets, the only reason why he would dare to mention this was because Drummond’s parents were probably livid with being kept waiting and expressed this to the servants.

‘Dress. Get dressed,’ Edward uttered quietly, fear striking his every fibre.

They hurried to get dressed, throwing items of clothing to each other in a mad haste, while Edward spoke to his valet.

‘Thank you, Clarke,’ Edward said loudly to the door. ‘Please inform my parents that I shall be down within five minutes.’

‘Shall I draw a bath, sir?’

‘No, no, thank you, I mustn’t keep them waiting.’

‘May the maids come to make the bed?’

Alfred froze as he was buttoning up his waistcoat.

The maids.

They hadn’t thought of them!

‘Uh, yes,’ Edward said, causing Alfred to shout soundlessly at him in outrage. Edward mouthed an apology to him. ‘Just not right now, uh, I am still not fully decent.’

‘Very good sir. I shall send in the maids in five minutes sharp.’

‘Thank you Clarke.’

‘Sir.’

And the valet left.

‘Now what?’ Alfred whispered in panic.

‘Well, hide… it’s only a minute, while they make the bed, you can… you can go… uh…’

There was no directly adjoining room to Edward’s bedchamber, no cabinet the maids wouldn’t want to use, no gap under the bed, and no balcony.

Edward’s gaze was finally caught by the top of the sturdy four poster.

Alfred followed, realising what he was about to ask of him.

‘No.’

Edward looked back at him with pleading eyes.

‘Please, Alfred, my parents are waiting downstairs and the maids will be here in a second.’

‘Absolutely not.’

‘Please. I’ll make it up to you.’

‘God, Edward…’ Alfred rubbed his eyes in frustration. ‘Help me.’

Edward linked his hands so that Alfred could step on them and helped him on top of the four-poster bed. It was so large and tall Alfred could not be seen from there.

‘It’s really quite filthy up here, you know,’ Alfred complained.

‘Shush, my love,’ Edward said, splashing his face with some water and considering himself presentable just in time for the maids to have arrived. He unlocked the door and let them in, making his way downstairs.

Alfred flattened himself against the dusty wood, trying not to move to avoid any creaking. He really hoped the structure would hold him up. There was no way he could explain this away, were he discovered.

‘Not like Mr Drummond to sleep in, is it?’ one of the maids chattered below.

‘No, not really. But I guess he deserves it, working all day.’

‘Well, we work all day, too, but we don’t get to sleep late!’

‘Oh shush, you. My aunt and sister are slaving away day and night for half of my wages! They have to take in extra washing and mending. Compared to them, we have it good.’

‘Not as good as Mr Clarke, we don’t!’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I wouldn’t mind swapping the washing and cleaning to drawing Mr Drummond’s bath!’

‘Oh, Millie!’

And the maids giggled, all overheard by Alfred. Well, he couldn’t exactly argue with their sentiments but he had to bite his lips to prevent actually laughing out loud. But in his distraction, he breathed in a copious amount of dust and had to stifle a sneeze or two, which he just about managed, givign only an awkward gulp.

‘What was that?’ Millie asked.

‘What was what?’

‘Nothing… Old house, probably full of ghosts!'

'Is this new, then?'

'What?'

'This cravat? Don't remember this one.'

Oh damn, Alfred thought up on the bed top. He forgot his cravat on the floor.

'Who knows? You'll have to ask Mr Clarke. Now, come on, we have to make Miss Drummond’s bed too.’

‘Not that she’ll need it, I bet her parents are about to take her away to a convent.’

‘A convent? On the contrary, they’ll be pushing her to marry some gentleman any day now…’

And the maids left.

Oh, so both Edward and Charlotte were downstairs with their parents and by the sound of it they were going to have a difficult time. Well, difficult or not, Alfred wondered just how long it would take as he had to stay there on top of Edward’s dusty bed until Edward returned!