William De Lancey ran into the farmhouse waving a piece of paper and grinning from ear to ear.
“They approved my transfer! I am joining the 45th Foot.”
Grant glanced up from his book. De Lancey looked so happy and he wanted to be pleased for him but all he could think was
The smile faded from De Lancey’s face as he crossed over to the armchair by the fire that Grant had occupied every day for the last few weeks.
“What? God no. Of course not.” He sat down on the arm of the chair. “The regiment is in the West Indies but I have permission to remain here until they return.” He took Grant’s hand. “You know I will stay as long as you need me.”
A shadow crossed Grant’s brow. “I cannot ask you to put your career on hold for my sake. I will be alright.”
“You are not asking.” De Lancey squeezed himself into the chair next to Grant and put an arm around his shoulders. “And I am not going anywhere.”
Jean Grant watched them from the doorway, unable to suppress a shiver as she remembered the night of the storm. She had rushed back to Lingieston with the search party when the news that Colquhoun was safe had reached the village and had found this man cradling her son in his arms as he wept uncontrollably.
Her first instinct had been to rush in and take his place but the look in De Lancey’s eyes, themselves wet with tears, had brought her up short.
When the men standing behind her had started muttering under their breath about how the Grant boy had always been a little different, he had just held Colquhoun closer and glared at them like a wild animal protecting its wounded mate: This one is mine. I will defend him with my life and woe betide anyone who tries to take him from me.
So she had sent the others away with an equally fierce expression and embraced the man who had brought her son back to her, inviting him into her home and never questioning his right to be there.
In the weeks that had passed since that night, ideas and actions that would have given most people pause for thought at the very least had seemed as natural to her as breathing.
When De Lancey had rushed to Colquhoun’s side on hearing him cry out in his sleep and held him until the nightmare had passed, she had simply made up the second bed in her son’s room and said it would be more convenient for him to sleep in there.
When she had absentmindedly opened the bedroom door one morning and found them curled up together in the same bed, all she had noticed was the peaceful look on her boy’s face and, even in sleep, the protective and determined frown on De Lancey’s.
And as she watched them now and heard Colquhoun sigh contentedly as De Lancey stroked his hair and kissed him gently on the forehead, she smiled to herself, perhaps my boy has always been a little different, but I cannot see it is a bad thing if it brings him comfort in his hour of need.
As winter turned to spring, Grant started to show more of an interest in his surroundings.
He was reluctant at first when De Lancey urged him to take a walk in the foothills, but the mountain air restored some colour to his cheeks and glow of the afternoon sun seemed to chase away some of the worry in his eyes.
De Lancey had brought a sketchbook along and he sat quietly and watched as a wonderfully detailed image of the windswept landscape took shape under Grant’s skillful touch.
“It is so beautiful here.” He looked around at the peaks still wearing their glistening caps of snow. “I can understand why you used to talk about it so much.”
Grant just shrugged. “I cannot see it.” He put down his pen and closed the book. “The beauty, I mean. I cannot see it anymore.”
De Lancey moved closer and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You will. One day you will.”
A few days later, De Lancey noticed Grant looking wistfully at the sabre propped up against a chair in the corner of the room.
“Would you like to go through the exercise?”
“I do not know.” Grant looked at his hands as if he were not sure they belonged to him. “I do not think I remember how.”
But De Lancey had already picked up the sword. “Come on,” he said, pulling Grant to his feet, “it will do you good to start practising again.”
Grant followed him out into the field next to the house and watched as he unsheathed the sabre and went through the moves with his usual elegance and style.
He passed the sword to Grant.
“Give it a try.”
Grant took the sabre and held it in front of his body, waiting for De Lancey’s nod before beginning the exercise. His body remembered the form as if it were yesterday and he executed the first three cuts with slow but sure moves, but when he shifted into the next position a jolt of pain shot through his back and shoulders and he lost his concentration.
“Damn it!” He shouted and lashed out at the nearest tree in frustration, hacking at the branches over and over as the anger and shame of the last two years finally broke through the walls he had built.
Fearing that Grant would injure himself, De Lancey reached out to take the weapon back, but it was still in motion and the blade opened a wide gash across the palm of his hand when he tried to grab it.
Grant stared at the blood pouring from the wound and dropped the sword, his face ashen as he turned and fled towards the farmhouse.
De Lancey cursed and ran after him, but when he got to the house Grant had already disappeared up the stairs and into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
He made his way to the kitchen and filled a bowl with water, wincing as he pulled the edges of the wound apart to wash out the dirt. With his back to the door, he froze when he heard footsteps approaching from the hall but immediately realised they were too light to be Grant’s.
“Here, let me look at that.” Jean Grant put down her bag and crossed over to the table where he stood, reaching up to wipe away the tears that were running down his face to join the water in the bowl.
“Oh William,” she sighed, examining the deep cut across his palm, “I know you are trying to help but I fear you might be pushing him too hard.”
She grabbed a bottle of whisky from the cupboard and poured a good measure over the wound then fetched a tin box from the side and pulled out a strip of gauze.
De Lancey picked up the bottle and took a long swig of whisky to try and dull the pain as she bound up the injury. She worked in silence but when she had finished tucking in the ends of the bandage, she kept hold of his hand and looked up at him with those deep brown eyes that reminded him so much of Grant’s.
“You love him, don’t you?”
The question caught De Lancey off guard and he barely managed to compose himself before answering. “Of course. He is like a br.....”
She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head in exactly the same way as his own mother used to when he had tried to fool her as a boy, and he heard the familiar warning in his head as clear as day: Do not you dare lie to me, William Howe De Lancey.
“Yes,” he admitted helplessly, “yes, Mrs G. I do.”
Jean Grant hooked her bag over her arm and pulled on her gloves as she walked to the door, pausing with one hand on the frame and looking back at him with a small nod.
“Well then.” She smiled. “Do you not think you should go up there and make sure he knows it?”