Jean Grant smiled as she watched them loading their bags into the carriage. She had been concerned at first when De Lancey had told them he was applying to attend the recently established Senior Department of the Royal Military College in High Wycombe and had suggested that Colquhoun do the same, but she knew she could not hold onto her son forever so she had agreed it was a splendid idea and written to Colonel James Grant of the 11th Foot for a recommendation.
Her husband’s esteemed relative had replied with great enthusiasm, promising that he would not only provide a recommendation but also pay the fee of thirty guineas if Colquhoun should succeed in passing the entrance examination (of which he had no doubt). He was also pleased to inform her that the regiment was promoting Colquhoun to the rank of Captain.
Grant had jumped at the prospect of training to be a staff officer. She had seen his face light up thinking about the opportunity to study the subjects he loved and learn about new ones and at least this way he would be safe for a year or so while he continued to recover. Besides, she thought, laughing as De Lancey tried to squeeze a large bag into a much smaller space on the roof of the carriage, he will not be alone.
“Right. I think that is the last of it.” Grant emerged from the house carrying his hat and sword. “Farewell mother, we will come and visit if we can.” He kissed her on the cheek and climbed into the carriage.
“See you soon, Mrs. G.” De Lancey waved cheerily as he jumped in next to him.
“Look after each other,” she called as they drove off, adding silently and be careful - not everyone will understand you boys the way I do.
As it happened, she had no real reason to worry. Although they spent every day in the same lessons, they had little time alone together and nighttime visits to each other’s rooms at the inn where they were quartered were out of the question. Grant’s nightmares came less frequently now anyhow, and the amount of effort that he put into his studies left him little time to dwell on other thoughts.
The college had set a strict six-day working week with core courses in mathematics, drawing, fortification, French and German but Grant’s favourite lessons were ‘General Jarry’s Instructions.’ The college’s founder was of the firm opinion that subjects should not be learnt parrot fashion and a staff officer should be able to think for himself so he stressed the importance of personal reconnaissance, tactical sketching and simple map-making and taught them subjects such as cavalry and infantry manoeuvring, field fortifications, the siting of artillery, the choice of routes, the conduct and control of marches and the choice and selection of camp sites.
Of course for Grant and De Lancey, the absolute highlight of any week was when they got the chance to practise the sword exercise with Le Marchant himself.
In the summer they joined a team of students conducting a survey of the south coast from Rye to Sandwich. After another morning in the sweltering heat, they found that they had made good time and as they were not expected at the Deal barracks until the evening, they stopped in St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe and headed straight down to the bay.
Given permission to abandon their map-making duties for the afternoon, the young officers started stripping off and plunging into the calm blue sea.
“Come on, Grant!” Captain Abbott was being his usual obnoxious self. “Not afraid of the water are you?”
Sitting with his back against the wall of the Coastguard station, Grant looked longingly at the cool water but just smiled. “I would rather stay here and make a sketch of the cliffs.”
He could tell Abbott was not going to leave it alone but De Lancey, who understood the real reason Grant did not want to remove his uniform, grabbed the other man’s arm and dragged him towards the sea, glancing back apologetically as he went.
Grant tried to focus on his drawing but he could not help watching them messing about in the water. De Lancey was showing off his ability to hold his breath and dive to the bottom and clearly enjoying the attention he was getting from the other officers, particularly Abbott, who seemed intent on holding him under the water at every opportunity.
He sighed, packed up his kit and set out on the five mile walk to Walmer. Although he was tempted to look back and wave, he doubted that De Lancey would even realise he was gone.
De Lancey came splashing out of the water with a large crab in his hand and ran up the beach towards the Coastguard hut.
“Grant! Look what I found …”
He pulled up short and was still looking around in confusion when Abbott caught up with him and laughed. “Do not tell me you have managed to lose your shadow.”
He grabbed De Lancey’s arm and tried to pull him round the back of the building. “We should make the most of this opportunity!”
“I have told you before. I am not interested.”
“Oh come now. I have seen the way you look at Grant. You cannot expect me to believe you don’t want it. Surely it is not just that damn Scotch bookworm who gets your blood hot?”
De Lancey pushed him away angrily. “Do not speak of him like that. You have no idea what you are talking about.”
When they reached the barracks, which were currently accommodating the 15th Light Dragoons, the rooms were already overcrowded so although the students were welcome to use the facilities, they had to set up camp in an adjacent field.
Grant sat on a folded blanket in his tent, his notes and sketches scattered around him on the ground. Despite the long walk, he found that he did not have much of an appetite and did not particularly want to go to the Mess in the barracks with the other men.
De Lancey poked his head though the tent flaps. “Mind if I come in?” He proceeded to do so without waiting for an invitation.
“They would not mind, you know,” he said, moving a pile of papers aside and sitting down next to Grant, “seeing the scars, I mean. There is no need to be ashamed.”
Grant bristled at the assumption. “I am not ashamed. I just thought that they would not wish to have their fun interrupted by the sight of such ugliness. Nor, I would imagine, would you, when you have men as pretty as Abbott to look at.”
De Lancey laughed. “Is that what this is about?” he put a hand on Grant’s arm. “You know you could never be ugly to me, and as for Abbott, you have nothing to worry about. I do not want anybody else and I certainly have no desire to go anywhere near that idiot.”
“Perhaps not, but you do have desires.” Grant could no longer pretend it did not matter. “Do you think I never felt your need in the night when you lay beside me? Do you not know how many times I have wished I could give you what you want?”
De Lancey looked confused. “Then why did you never...?”
“My scars may be fading but I fear there is something in me that is damaged beyond repair. Being close to you makes me ache with longing but my …” he looked down, “..my body does not respond as it ought and I fear it never will.”
De Lancey leant in and kissed his neck, murmuring “Let me try,” but Grant pulled away with a muffled sob.
He looked up and De Lancey recoiled in shock at the fear and pain in his eyes.
"Oh God!" He gasped. “Oh God no. It was not just flogging, was it?”
Grant lowered his eyes and shook his head.
De Lancey felt the bile rising in his throat. He lunged for the gap in the tent and just made it outside before losing the contents of his stomach all over the grass.
“Why?” He demanded when he could speak again. “Why did you not tell me?”
”Oh William.” Grant looked utterly lost. “Why do you think? I could not bear the thought of you looking at me the way you are now. The only place I felt safe was in your arms. The only time I felt loved was when you looked at me. If I told you, I would lose that forever. You could not possibly feel the same if you knew....” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “I am sorry. I wanted you to be my first. It was all I ever wanted, but now...”
His voice trailed off into silence.
De Lancey clenched his fists, his nails digging painfully into the palms of his hands. The anger he had felt at seeing the scars on Grant’s back paled into insignificance compared with the rage that was burning in his veins now but he had to control it, he could not let Grant think the hatred and disgust was meant for him.
“Don’t you dare apologise. It was not your fault. It does not change anything.”
He desperately wanted to take Grant in his arms as he had on that night in Scotland, to hold him tight and tell him everything was going to be alright, but he feared that any touch would be too much for him to bear so when Grant begged, “Please, William, just leave me be,” he simply got up and left.
After they returned to the college, De Lancey tried not to think about it but it still burned every time he looked at Grant and any attempts he made to broach the subject were met with a swift exit and excuses about the need to study for examinations.
When they graduated and the rest of the class headed to the local inn to celebrate their success and toast each other’s future, Grant slipped away early, pausing outside the window and smiling sadly to himself as he watched De Lancey laughing at Abbott’s impression of General Jarry as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
De Lancey returned to the students’ quarters in the early morning, slightly the worse for drink and fully intending to find Grant, apologise for his behaviour and refuse to leave until they were on good terms again but he found Grant’s door open and the room stripped bare.
With nobody around to tell him what had happened, there was nothing he could do but stumble back to his own room where he collapsed onto the bed, knocking the pillow out of place and sending a piece of paper fluttering to the floor.
He picked up the note and opened it with trembling hands.
My Dearest William,
I have received orders and I am sailing in the morning to join the 11th in Martinique. I did not tell you because I did not want to say goodbye but I could not leave without letting you know that you will remain in my heart no matter how far I travel. I am sorry I could not be the man you wanted me to be but perhaps the distance between us will help you to forget me and find somebody who can give you what you need.
Please do not think badly of me, I am doing this not because I do not love you but because of how much I do.