Rachel left them on the Tuesday, much to everyone’s relief, apparently even Richard’s. By Monday it had become very difficult for anyone to find anything to talk about with her, apart from the most bland commonplaces. Hers were the sort of opinions which were not negotiable. They were stated and you either accepted them or risked the appalling rudeness of downright contradiction.
She had opinions on everything. Her ideas on private schooling, for instance, might not have been unpalatable to Henry in certain moods. But he resented the implication that he was not qualified to have an opinion by virtue of being anyone other than Rachel. And it was surely terribly impolite, he thought, to go into other people’s houses and criticise to their faces the way they were educating their children.
As the car took her off to Church Stretton station on Tuesday afternoon the very house seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. But Dad said that she and Richard had taken a very fond farewell on the platform. Henry concluded his brother must see things in Rachel that he simply did not.
Henry decided to take a walk when he got home that evening. It was a glorious early July day, the penultimate week of term. He changed rapidly into his favourite shorts and tee shirt and ambled up to Trewern woods. It had been weeks since he had last been there. He ended up at the nettle-filled clearing and found his way into the little network of paths.
He smiled to himself. It had been a week since he had anything resembling sex with Edward, only a quick blow job in a groundsman’s shed. His libido was crying out for release. He stripped and ran naked through the bushes, his erection straining and bobbing in front of him. He lay down on a small patch of cool woodland grass, and squirmed around on his back, fondling his balls and dick. He made a long, slow wank of it, finally spurting one jet high over his shoulder. He impressed even himself.
He didn’t get the usual feeling of reaction, but was happy to just lie there, stroking his relaxing dick, the sun dappling his white skin and the light breeze stirring his body hair.
Abruptly, without being in any way sleepy, he knew he was asleep, or was he? He was certainly in that strange sleep state where you are divorced from mundane reality and the ordinary rules do not apply. This had to be the case because squatting opposite him in the small clearing was another naked boy, a very beautiful naked boy, his balls and long dick hanging to the ground. Undressed, he was slender like Henry, with pale skin and dark curly hair, very abundant around his genitals, and he too was erect. It was Jehoiadah Scudamore.
Henry sat up, and Jed smiled at him. Nothing was said, but the other boy suddenly got off his haunches and crawled over to Henry, sitting down next to him. It was warm where the skin of their flanks touched. Jed seemed to be alive and breathing, he took Henry by the shoulder and kissed his cheek, as he had done before. Henry’s hand strayed to the other boy’s growing erection. It felt like Ed’s, warm and velvety. He heard Jed’s breath catch, and there was a gasp. Henry turned his face, and their mouths met. He pushed Jed down and began seriously making out with him. Their groins met and the thrusting began. It was amazing. It seemed to go on for ever.
It was as Henry’s ejaculation was rising through his cock that Jed pushed Henry’s face back, smiled up at him gloriously, with eyes dilated, and gasped, ‘Oh, my Nathaniel, how I do love you.’ Henry shot his load — astonishingly, considering how recently he had jerked off - and as his orgasm almost stopped his heart with its power, he realised he had brought himself off against the grass, leaves and dirt underneath him.
There was no boy there, his belly and chest were a mess, and his cock was in a truly disgusting state, filthy with soil and scraped on the underside.
‘So you had a mutual masturbation session with a dead guy … that’s necrophilia isn’t it?’
‘No, it fucking well isn’t!’ retorted Henry hotly. Ed was looking amused.
‘Oh come on, Henry. It seems harmless, the way you tell it … even sexy. It sounds like the best wank in your life. Why are you so disturbed about it?’
‘It’s not over, that’s why. Also, think about it, it’s a step further. Jed’s got his kit off now, and the sex is getting more active and intense. It’s out of control too. I’ve got no say in what’s going on. It’s as if it’s not my body, and yet it is. He thinks I’m Nathaniel. They did it there, in that place, I’m sure of it. And the scariest thing is …’
‘… that Jed was found dead in Trewern woods. Whatever those two were up to in the autumn of 1795 ended up with the death of Jed. I’m being taken there. That’s what scares me. I’m going to see it happen, and … I don’t want to, Ed. It’s really horrible.’
The smile was wiped off Ed’s face by now. ‘I’m sorry, Henry. I don’t know how I could be so uncaring. Come here.’
Henry was folded into his arms, and was comforted. They were in a study carrel in the block, with the door window blocked by Henry’s hanging prefect’s gown. Henry was sitting on Ed’s lap, and they began kissing with passion. It went on and on, until Henry broke off with a sigh. Ed looked at him in a troubled sort of way.
‘One good thing,’ he said.
‘Well, in a week school will be over, and in a fortnight you and me will be with your parents abroad. Jed and Nathaniel aren’t going to catch up with us there, are they?’
‘No,’ Henry said, and felt himself a little cheered by the reflection.
‘What’s an exchange, by the way?’
‘We’ve done it before. Clergy don’t have a lot of spare money for holidays. So what some of them do is to swop parishes for a month in the summer. Last year Dad took over the Anglican chaplaincy in Grenoble in August, and the chaplain came here. It was a brilliant exchange, although it would have been better in December, I’d have got to ski! Why he didn’t go for Nice, I’ll never know … too much competition for the Mediterranean ones, I suppose.’
‘So he still has to work, just in a more exotic location.’
‘Yeah, but the guest parish doesn’t expect him to do more than preach and take the main services. There was a retired priest in Grenoble who did all the pastoral stuff and funerals. So it’s only a Sunday duty.’
‘It’s really kind of your dad to take me like this,’ Ed said.
‘Nuts. He likes you a lot, and so does Mum. Er … Ed?’
‘They know, I think.’
‘What? Did they see anything?’
‘No. But they still know. I can sense what they’re thinking, the same way they can sense that the thing between me and you isn’t any ordinary boy-on-boy friendship.’
‘Have they said anything?’
‘Not in so many words, no. But there have been looks and hints. And when they knew I wanted to be with you this summer, they moved heaven and earth to get you as part of the summer package. Ed … they don’t mind. I think they love you too.’
Ed sat with a stunned look on his face. ‘Oh my God,’ he finally said. ‘How did I ever have the luck to fall in with a boy like you, Henry?’
‘I think it had something to do with your putting your boot up my arse, Ed,’ and they laughed.
School ended all too soon for Henry, in some ways, but it was the thought of what was to come that compensated. Ed left for his parents’ and then Scotland, but he would be back in ten days, and then there would be foreign travel together and their own company for four weeks.
It was in this period of hiatus that Henry decided to follow up some leads that he’d left lie fallow. He went to talk to Dr Mac at his cottage.
‘Hello, Henry. Come in. What can I do for you … I assume this is no social call.’
‘No, Dr Mac … but how is Mrs Mac?’
‘Creaking with age, as we all are, my lad. She’s in town at the doctor’s, more medication for her arthritis. But what can I do for you?’
‘It’s this lead I was following up about Trewern in the nineteenth century. It seems from the records that there was a suspicious death in the Great Wood in 1795. I was wondering what sources there were which could tell me more.’
‘Ah. Awkward period, but not impossible. It’ll take some work though. If there was a trial then there’s the quarter sessions records in Shrewsbury. The record office will have them … you’ll find them very helpful. The press is not a dead loss. The Shropshire Advertiser began publishing in 1787. They used to have a microfilm of the early issues in the library at Medwardine. The reports are sketchy, but you could try.’
Henry thanked the old man, and since it was the morning and he was at a loose end, he rang his father and arm-twisted him into dropping him in town.
Medwardine was beginning to get what Dad called its ‘summer plumage’. The little town, with its half-timbered houses and picturesque market place, was a major draw for the tourists, and English Heritage ran the castle. Visitors were everywhere and the tea shops were full of coach parties.
The county library didn’t know where the microfilms of the paper were, and it was only by sheer luck that a passing genealogist butted into the conversation between the library assistant and an increasingly-cross Henry, with the news that the Mormons now had them.
Henry found the same pleasant elder on duty. He remembered Henry’s last visit, and was very happy to spend time showing Henry how to use the awkward microfilm reader and thread the film. It took a while, but eventually Henry was competent and the elder let him get to work.
The film was in a poor state and took a lot of deciphering, but eventually he found the broadsheet pages for 1795. It was curious stuff. The amount of foreign news surprised him, mostly to do with the progress of the French invasions of the Rhineland. The back pages had sports reports, just like in the twenty-first century, although the sports in this case were horseracing and bare knuckle fighting. The issue for the week of Jed Scudamore’s death caused him a lot of problems. The film was blurred and badly exposed, but eventually he deciphered what seemed to be a relevant entry.
SUSPECTED HOMICIDE IN TREWERNE
Thursday 5th November ye body of one Jeremiah Scudamor (some things don’t change, thought Henry) son to a respected clergyman of the county discovered in Trewerne in suspicious circumstances. The boy Scudamor was last seen in company of Nath’l Corner gent of Launde House who has been attached by ye hundred bailiff of Mediwardine. It is understood by this writer that a duello over the virtue of a fair lady of the district had been suspected, but that there were no marks of violence on the boyes bodye. The coroner’s court will meet this day week to determine cause of death, the bodye being viewed the same day.
Henry spun the film back and fore, but if there had been a coroner’s verdict, the Shropshire Advertiser had not reported it. It seemed that the incident was rapidly forgotten by the wider public, which tended to indicate that no case had been made against Nathaniel and that the verdict had been act of God, or misadventure. He gathered his notes, thanked the elder and went in search of his father.
Henry was not averse to trying to take things further. So he hitched a ride with his mother the next day to Shrewsbury. He was there too early for the record office to be open, so he went out and had the unusual pleasure of a Starbuck’s cappucino, so cosmopolitan and sophisticated for a country boy like him. He sat there trying to imagine that he was in a far away and exotic city like New York or Seattle.
At nine-thirty he was at the record office reception negotiating a day pass, and filling out forms. The lady on the search desk was brisk, but helpful when he explained his problem. She brought out several large ledgers written in fine copperplate hands, which were the records of the coroner’s court. And, eventually, there it was.
‘At a Court held in Guildhall the octave of Martinmas, 1795, 36 Geo. III, before Robert Merridew Esq. coroner of co. Salop, was read the inquest on the death of Jehoiadah Scudamore, scholar, of the parish of Trewerne in the hundred of Medwardine, co. Salop, as follows. Martin Andrewes freeholder of the parish and others (named) deposed that the body of the deceased was discovered in brushwood in the Great Wood of the parish. The body was discovered by one William Mason, a woodcutter, the afternoon of the 5th November as he cut faggots for the parish bonfire to be lit that night. The contents of the pockets (listed) and likewise the purse of the deceased were untouched. No marks were found in the vicinity and neighbourhood of the deceased. The body was examined by Matthew Collinson, surgeon of Medwardine, that same night. Cause of death was deposed as brain seizure. The body was whole and otherwise sound when opened. The attachment of Nathaniel Corner of East Hamm was revoked and no evidence brought against him as last seen with the deceased. Verdict. Act of God.’
So that was that. The public record would take him no further. Henry wrote out a fair copy of the inquest and filed it in his notebook. He would talk it over with Ed when he got back.