Craving for the Cane
|by Jolyon Lewes|
Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 25 Feb 2018
Linden tried hard to be brave as his father drove him to Heathrow Airport but the news that Frederic was critically ill was too much to bear and he alternated between periods of tense, forbidding gloom and bursts of weeping. When he asked what was wrong with Frederic Mr Arkwright wasn’t sure but thought it was a rare blood disease.
That’s why they had to cancel their visit to Oxford; Frederic was in hospital for tests. His father
asked me not to tell you because Frederic was adamant that you weren’t to be worried.
This had Linden crying again. He remembered that morning in Mistral when Frederic came to see if he had a headache; it was the very moment when their love for each other sparked into flame, a flame that had since grown stronger and stronger.
Linden’s father told him to prepare himself to see a different Frederic this time.
weak, old chap. He wants to see you but he mightn’t be fully conscious. Needless to say, the Caribbean
trip is postponed until he’s well again.
But will he get better, Dad? Will he?
I really don’t know, old chap.
Linden’s mother was there at Heathrow and gave him a big hug before saying they’d be boarding very soon. As Linden sat in his school uniform, waiting for the summons to board, an overwhelming feeling of numbness developed. He’d cried all the tears he had and just sat, hearing nothing, seeing nothing and unaware of the bustle around him. Passing before his glazed eyes was image after image of Frederic. Each time he was looking into Linden’s eyes with an expression of ineffable sadness. His sweet brow was knitted more tightly than ever. Linden so wanted to be near him and to touch him, to feel his warm, smooth skin and to know he was going to be safe.
Linden remembered nothing of the night flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle, nor of the taxi that sped to the private clinic where his dearest friend was being treated but he’d never forget walking to the ward, clutching his mother’s arm, fearful and filled with dread.
Frederic was in a room by himself. Through a window was the Eiffel Tower, brightly illuminated in the dark, December sky. Linden had expected Frederic to be hooked up to all manner of things, and tubes to be passing into his precious body but he just lay between crisp white sheets, propped up on two fat pillows. He was asleep and beside him sat his mother, ashen white. His brow was perfectly smooth, with not a crinkle to be seen.
Frederic’s mother stood to embrace first Mrs Arkwright and then Linden. She gave him a long, silent hug. While this was going on Mrs Arkwright was stroking Frederic’s hair but there was no reaction from the sweet boy. Then Frederic’s mother said Linden could sit and talk to Frederic; he might be able to hear so Linden should talk about their times together.
If he responds to anyone, it will be you, mon petit. He talks about you so much. Never
anyone else, just you.
Linden was close to breaking down but knew he must be strong. The two ladies left him with his sleeping friend and he sat down beside him. He reached for his hand and choked with emotion as he touched Frederic’s perfect skin and folded his fingers gently around his. Frederic was breathing but so lightly his chest was hardly moving. Linden was completely alone with Frederic and he began to speak, very quietly.
He recounted the times they’d had in Mistral and in Sussex. He mentioned Serge the steward and the skateboarder and how in their different ways they’d both exuded sex appeal. He talked about the pompous millionaires they’d had to be polite to in Monte Carlo and at Glyndebourne. He didn’t say anything about the fun they’d had in bed because to do so would have been indelicate and in any case, Linden would have collapsed into sobs. He paused for a minute at a time, just holding Frederic’s hand and watching his beautiful face for any signs of wakefulness.
Linden was heartbroken but didn’t cry. He hoped Frederic might wake up and see him there. He reminded him of their catch phrase.
Mmm, so tasty! he repeated, tears filling his eyes.
Linden could now see only a blurred image of Frederic’s face and it was a tiny squeeze of the fingers that told him he was conscious. Wiping his eyes Linden saw he’d moved his head very slightly and that his lovely eyes were half-open. Yes, Frederic was actually looking at him!
Oh, Frederic, have you any idea how much I love you? said Linden, at normal volume, immediately
panicking that someone else may have heard. But the door was still closed and he was alone with his beloved
Frederic squeezed Linden’s fingers again, a little more firmly this time. Then his eyes closed and his fingers relaxed.
Oh Frederic, please don’t leave me! beseeched Linden.
I love you so very much!
Frederic’s eyes opened again and his dear little tongue peeped from between his lips, just briefly,
did a little wiggle and then retreated. His eyes fixed on Linden’s and his mouth opened again, just for
long enough to whisper
Mmm, so tasty....
Then his eyes closed and he lay still.
Linden was enveloped in cold, paralysing darkness. It seemed to last ages but it probably wasn’t long because people came into the room and he was ushered outside and into the arms of his mother. In her warm embrace his will dissolved and he convulsed into uncontrollable weeping as he began to realise the significance of what he’d just witnessed. He’d lost the dearest friend he’d probably ever have.
That night he slept in the same room as his mother as he couldn’t bear to be alone. They flew back to London next day and went home to start the Christmas holiday. Except at night, Linden was hardly ever physically alone but sank into a dark little world of his own, numb to the festivities going on all around. His parents let him take the Christmas card which pictured poor Frederic. The more he looked at it the more sorrowful seemed Frederic’s expression, as if he knew what was happening to him. Linden kept the card in his top drawer.
He tried to cope with Christmas but thoughts of Frederic never left him. How long had Frederic known he was ill? He’d tired quickly when walking on the cliffs near Seaford. His mother had cried when he was playing the piano. He’d said they should never look too far ahead. Were these signals Linden should have spotted? And what about his father caning him and making him wear shorts in the Paris winter? A burning hatred of Frederic’s father kindled in Linden’s head. It’s just as well the Arkwrights weren’t invited to the funeral because Linden would have let Frederic’s father know exactly what he thought of the way he’d mistreated and humiliated his son.
Linden had nobody to talk to about his love for Frederic. His mother was brilliant when he’d had his first, hysterical outpouring of grief but he could hardly sit down and tell her – or anyone else – about why Frederic meant so much to him. He just kept it bottled up and lay in his room for hours on end, thinking and crying. He felt utterly empty. He was there on New Year’s Day, 1983 when his mother came up with some sandwiches and cakes and said he must eat something or he’d waste away.
Seeing Frederic go was truly awful, darling, she said.
But you’ll make new friends and
one day you’ll be happy again. Oh and I’ve just had a phone call. It was Alex Matthews, the boy who looked
after you after the car accident. He said he’d be passing tomorrow and could he call in. I think it would
do you the world of good to have someone about your own age to talk to so I invited him to stay the night
and he accepted! He can sleep in the room next to yours.
Thanks, Mum but I won’t be very good company, said Linden.
It dawned on Linden that Alex was the one person he could talk to about Frederic. He’d told Alex after he’d rescued him from that Oxford hospital about how he and Frederic felt for each other and he’d seemed to understand.
Alex arrived in the funny little Peugeot he called Doris. He gave Mrs Arkwright a big bunch of flowers. Then he beckoned Linden into the hall.
Your mother told me about Frederic. I’m most dreadfully sorry, Linden. I know you and he were
very special friends. Look, after lunch, can we go for a walk or something?
He drove Linden to Box Hill, a local beauty spot on the North Downs. It was a cold, bright afternoon and perfect for a brisk walk. They walked to the viewpoint known as Saloman’s Memorial and looked southeast over The Weald. The trees were bare and wood-smoke hung in the air. A vapour trail made a curved line in the pale blue sky. The low, wooded hills went on for miles, as far as a high ridge in the hazy distance – the South Downs, which led eastwards to Seaford, where Frederic and Linden had been so deliriously happy only five months earlier. Somewhere, just over that ridge, was the hotel near Lewes where they’d spent the best night of their lives.
Alex saw the tears rolling down Linden’s cheeks.
You can tell me all about it, you know. Get it
off your chest. Nobody else can hear.
With streaming eyes gazing blearily towards the South Downs, Linden told Alex about the sudden visit to Paris, about the time he’d spent alone with Frederic, about his hatred of Frederic’s father, about his feelings of despair and terrible sense of loss. He didn’t tell Alex about what Frederic and he did in bed or about their catch-phrase, Mmm, so tasty! Some things were too private for anyone else to know.
What you’ve told me is sad beyond compare, said Alex.
You said some of this at my aunt’s
cottage, especially about your feelings for Frederic. He must have felt the same about you. Love is a
wonderful thing and your memories will never leave you. I wish I could say something constructive but
I don’t have the words. It’s a privilege to be taken into your confidence.
I can’t tell my family, Alex. Obviously. So it’s a miracle, you turning up like this!
Not quite a miracle, Linden. I’ve been meaning to visit you and your mother very kindly asked
me to pop in and stay the night. I wanted to see you again. The night I met you was fraught with drama
of all kinds and we didn’t have time to say all we wanted to. And now there’s this terrible business with
poor Frederic. I just want to help, if I can.
That evening, over a cosy family supper, Linden was less withdrawn than he’d been since Frederic’s death. Knowing Alex understood his feelings helped hugely. He was glad he was staying the night.
After supper it wasn’t long before Linden said he wanted to go to bed, as he could feel himself sinking back into melancholy and didn’t want to burden everyone with his misery. Alone for the first time for about ten hours, he felt the now familiar blackness descending and flopped onto his bed for a good cry. After an hour of grieving he undressed for bed. In his bathroom he blundered straight into Alex.
Oh, sorry! they both said.
D’you mind if I say something? said Alex.
I can see what Frederic saw in you. You’re beautiful!
There, I’ve said it. I’ll leave in the morning and you’ll never have to see me again.
No, please don’t go, said Linden.
You’ve made me feel so much better and I need someone
to like me now that Frederic’s .... gone. Please can we go for another drive tomorrow?
Alex seemed a bit shy at breakfast next morning.
It’s OK, Alex, said Linden.
About last night, I mean. Do you have to rush off or can you
take me for another drive?
Alex’s eyes lit up.
You mean it? I’ve all the time in the world! Fancy a trip to Wisley?
What’s at Wisley?
The Royal Horticultural Society. The gardens are marvellous and they’ll be quiet today. We could
talk our heads off and nobody’ll be around to listen.
At Wisley they walked in the vast gardens, almost the only visitors and Linden talked about Frederic. Words just tumbled from his tongue. He’d known Frederic’s company for a total of just twelve days but it was amazing how many little memories he could recount. Alex was a good listener. Later, as they walked among tall trees still sparkling with hoarfrost, Linden grew more sombre. One or two trees and shrubs had succumbed to disease and died, just like poor Frederic. Alex detected Linden’s change of mood, put his arm around his shoulders and offered some wisdom.
You must always be proud of your friendship with Frederic. There’ll be many people who won’t understand
how you felt for each other – or won’t want to. Forget them, they’re not important. Your parents
know you loved him and so do I. You and he had something unique and really beautiful and you mustn’t ever
I’ll never get over it, Alex. All I can do is learn to live with it. But I think if I had a really
hard caning it might help me to know what poor Frederic went through when his father ....
Let’s go for tea and cakes, said Alex.
The café’s not far. I need to make a phone
A pale sun managed to break through the cloud but the day still felt cold and in the café it was warm. After Alex had used the public telephone he came back to Linden who was polishing off his second cake. Alex sat down beside him and poured himself some tea.
Remember I said I’ve a friend who specialises in caning young men? said Alex.
lives pretty close by and I could introduce you today ...
I don’t want to be caned today! interrupted Linden.
I’d have to work up to it, if
you see what I mean.
I didn’t mean for you to be caned today, you sweet boy. I just thought you might like to
meet this friend and explain your needs. Then you could arrange to meet again – if you want
They drove towards Cobham and drew up beside a large and imposing Victorian house in extensive grounds full to bursting with rhododendron. To Linden it looked like one of those private boarding schools he’d read about where beating of boys took place around the clock. He was very nervous and clung to Alex’s arm as they waited for the doorbell to be answered.
Ah, come in, my master’s expecting you, said the uniformed boy who answered the door. He wore
extraordinarily tight trousers of very dark blue and a starched white tunic with brass buttons on the
sleeves. He led Alex and Linden into a vast drawing room and Linden saw a massive log fire blazing in
the huge fireplace. Then he saw the occupant of the room, a young man in a wheelchair.
Ah, Alex, my dear, said the man, swivelling his wheelchair to face his guests.
me to your gorgeous young friend!
With a shiver of fear, Linden recognised the man and his mouth went dry. It was Gustav Kimmeridge.
Oh, but we’ve already met! said a beaming Kimmeridge.
You’re the lovely young Linden, aren’t
you? We met in Monte Carlo. Come over here and let me shake your hand.
Linden went to offer his right hand to Kimmeridge but was drawn into an embrace and before he knew it he was being kissed on the cheek.
I was so sorry to hear about Frederic, whispered Kimmeridge into Linden’s ear.
Such a tragedy
and what a beautiful boy he was. Almost as lovely as you!
Blushing pinkly, Linden managed to free himself as politely as he could and moved to the chair indicated by Kimmeridge. Alex sat nearby and the other boy had disappeared. Kimmeridge manoeuvered his chair to face Linden and began to speak.
Now let’s see if I can remember – at that party in Monte Carlo you were asking me about
caning and I gave you my card and said you must let me know as soon as you’d had your first caning. Don’t
tell me you’ve escaped so far!
No, sir, I haven’t escaped. I was caned a few months ago. I’m sorry – I lost your card.
Do call me Gustav, you lovely boy. You’ve grown since we met. Must be almost six feet now. Are
you seventeen yet?
Seventeen in the autumn, sir – I mean, Gustav.
Alex told me you feel guilt about a friend you’ve lost and want to be caned as he was. I take
it we’re talking about Frederic.
Linden nodded. Then the other boy returned, with a tray bearing