“I don’t know if it’s settled or not, but I feel much better,” said Dunning when he returned to their room. He had gone down to the office of the ‘Lord Warren’ and left the telegrams to be sent to the appropriate hotels in Abbeville warning Karswell of the danger in his ticket-case.
A silence fell upon them. Neither of the two seemed to know quite what to do next.
Finally, Harrington said,
“You were spectacular. I mean, the way you carried the whole thing off.”
Dunning was not accustomed to praise for anything other than his scholarly insight, so he flushed.
“I do not know if I shall be alive or sane in two days’ time, but I am certain that without you, Harrington, I would not have survived this ordeal at all or have, as you so kindly put it, carried off the ruse with anything resembling finesse. I know you had your own reasons for helping me; nevertheless, I am forever in your debt.”
“I wish we’d met under different circumstances, but having met, I can say I’m extremely happy to have made your acquaintance.”
“Come now,” said Dunning in a slightly teasing tone he’d never employed before, “we are co-conspirators, hardly mere acquaintances.”
“Hardly,” echoed Harrington. He held Dunning’s gaze for a long moment, and then slowly, very slowly, closed the distance between them.
Dunning folded Harrington into an embrace as reassuring for the giver as the receiver.
Harrington’s lips grazed Dunning’s temple as his hand dropped between them and then palmed the front of Dunning’s trousers.
Dunning grunted his assent, and soon his prick was in Harrington’s spit-slicked hand.
Dunning closed his eyes and let his jaw, indeed, his whole body, go slack.
In a few minutes, he had decorated the inferior rug which adored the floor of the hotel room with milky streaks, which Harrington, after depositing a boneless Dunning on the bed, proceeded to mop up with his handkerchief.
“You?” prompted Dunning.
Dunning inched back upon the bed, leaning upon his bent elbows.
“If you’d like, I’ll suck you. Less mess.”
Harrington smiled and crawled atop the bed, straddling Denning and moving closer and closer to his waiting mouth.
When Dunning had swallowed, he looked up into Harrington’s eyes and said,
“If it suits you, I should very much like your company until, well, until the matter is settled.”
Harrington nodded. “Please call me Henry.”
Dunning flushed again.
“It was him.”
Those were Harrington’s first words when he crossed the threshold of Dunning’s bedroom some days later. He’d been staying in Dunning’s home since they’d returned from Dover.
Dunning had been a bit anxious about his servants’ attitude toward the unexpected and almost, for Dunning had heretofore led such a retired life, unprecedented arrival of a house guest of indeterminate stay, but he needn’t have worried. For the three months that the ‘casting of the runes’ business, as Dunning was wont to call it, had plagued him, those two dear women had been beside themselves with worry about his state of health, and they warmly welcomed any change that might ease their master’s burden.
Harrington and Dunning had had news of an English traveler being struck on the head and killed by a stone falling from a scaffold in Abbeville, but Harrington had wanted to make certain that it was their man. He’d been gone all day and some of the night, calling on friends and associates in search of a definite answer to the question that haunted them.
“Then it’s settled,” said Dunning. He was already in bed.
“Yes. I could not discover if your telegrams reached their destinations, or whether, if they did, they were understood.”
Dunning exhaled. Then, by way of invitation, he threw back the bedclothes.
Soon, Harrington was in a state of complete undress and Dunning stripped from the waist down.
Harrington slicked his prick with the unguent which had found its way into permanent residence in the drawer of Dunning’s bedside table and began to thrust between Dunning’s clenched thighs. When he’d spent, he reciprocated, and when they’d both found their release, they clung to each other, kissing lips and caressing skin like young lovers.
“You’re free, old man,” said Harrington gently.
“So are you,” said Dunning.
“Yes, my duty to John’s memory is done, but I’d rather have my brother and be still ignorant of the evil that lurks in the world.”
Dunning held him close.
Some weeks later, the set of Bewick, acquired by Harrington at the sale of Karswell’s estate, lay on the desk in Dunning’s study, with the page with the woodcut of the traveler and the demon, as Harrington expected, mutilated.
Dunning and Harrington were enjoying an after-dinner port by the fire.
A silence settled, but this one not as companionable as those to which both had come accustomed in the weeks since Karswell’s death. Harrington was restless.
“In his sleep, John talked of this creature…”
Dunning got to his feet and, moving with a swiftness that strained his nature, went to Harrington and bent and covered the man’s mouth with his own.
It was a passionate kiss, a lover’s kiss, and when it broke, Dunning said,
“It is over, my dear Henry. It is settled. Let us talk of other matters or not talk at all.”
Harrington smiled, gave a nod of acquiescence, and chose the latter.