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Shatter'd, Unsunder'd

Daegaer wrote, @ 2004-08-16 14:59:00
With thanks to louiselux for the beta this so greatly benefited from. The title is adapted from a line of Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade. Fenndom, Banner/Gregg. (Captain Banner was, in my opinion, infantry not cavalry. We are never told his first name, and I have given him a commonly used one, John).

As he looked at the breakfast his housekeeper had placed before him, Captain Banner reflected that he had become quite content in his quiet life. Over the months he had developed a daily course of action for himself; he rose early, not wishing to allow his army habits to lapse and after his breakfast took a short stroll about the town. His doctors had promised him that with time and exercise he would no longer need the aid of his cane, a day he eagerly looked to. After his walk he went back to the house he had taken to read the paper and attend to any correspondence that had arrived in the morning post. After a light lunch, taken either in his own home or that of his friend, the Reverend Gregg, he walked a little more then read until dinnertime.

'I am become very staid,' he said genially to Gregg one day. 'No one would see in me now a man of military bearing and vigour.'

'Nonsense,' said Gregg. 'You are merely regaining your strength. You can still march about when you have a mind to.'

Banner smiled and did not argue. Gregg, being a civilian, had somewhat unformed ideas of the rude level of health Banner had once thought necessary for a man following an active life. Poor Gregg wheezed if he walked up hill too long and was undeniably too fond of his cook's excellent meals. Thinking of such matters, Banner vowed that he himself should eat less in future. A man who could not run and take vigorous exercise had no business eating large amounts of food, he thought. He should not like to become fat. No sooner had he thought this than he berated himself mentally for unkindness to Gregg, who accompanied him on his walks and never complained if Banner went too slow or if, when the captain's leg felt stronger, that they walked too far. More than once Banner had overexerted himself and would have been quite lost without his friend's aid. Gregg never chastised him, merely allowing him to rest and rubbing his leg to ease it, then putting an arm about his waist and walking slowly back. 'Shall I carry you as Aeneas carried his father?' asked Gregg teasingly on one such occasion, taking his hand and laughing as Banner tried to remember who Aeneas might be. Thinking back on his friend's continual good humour with him, Banner was ashamed to be disparaging of him, even in thought.

He found his days disrupted during the summer by a visit from his sister and her children, the former of whom had to be shown about the town and introduced to his neighbours and the latter of whom rampaged through his house and made him long for the peace of the battlefield. While he was fond of his family, their presence made his normal day an impossible dream and his only exercise walks were taken with a small nephew clinging tight to one hand and a very slightly bigger one running circles about him and shrieking in a high-pitched voice. It was with great relief that he sat in his accustomed pew on the Sabbath, the children's shrieks for once silenced and his sister making no amused comment on the gowns worn by ladies so far outside London. Gregg's voice washed over him soothingly, circling from a Gospel story to the simple quality of Greek used by the Evangelist, who, being St Peter's secretary, was no doubt more polished in the language of the Hebrews, although many of the ancient writers of Judaea were as skilled in the speech of the Hellenes as anyone could wish and had, no doubt, studied at the feet of eminent scholars of their time - as for instance had St Paul, sitting at the feet both of Gamaliel and teachers in Greek, as the rhetorical structure of his epistles showed most plainly - and writing their books in accordance with the best literary styles, taking as their models some of the greatest writers of both their own time and their past, becoming, as it were, the modern - if one but placed oneself in the time in which they were writing - Xenophon or Thucydides, or on a par with Plutarch, the humble and unlearned style of the Gospel in question therefore reminding one inevitably of the vanity of worldly pomp and the Lord's choice of a working man's life before His mission.

'Amen,' murmured Banner, who was used to Gregg's sermons. His sister awoke with a little start beside him and frowned.

'Is he always so boring?' she whispered as they filed out of the church.

'You just have to accustom yourself to his method of exposition,' said Banner, feeling himself rather guilty to wish that Gregg might have been more straightforward just this once. He found he had little time to speak with Gregg before his sister had ushered him away, and indeed did not see him for a full three weeks, other than at church, his sister having pronounced Gregg the most dreadful bore and avoiding inviting him to visit, filling the house instead with female visitors whose unmarried status she remarked on significantly when she and her brother were alone. When she and the boys left Banner sank back into his day's routine with deep satisfaction, and felt a great happiness that he could resume his habit of dining with Gregg several times a week. He was more pleased than he knew how to say to see his friend's pleasant features facing him over the table once again.

It was after a delightful lunch in the vicarage one day that disaster struck. Gregg was showing him the new roses that had been planted earlier in the year and exclaiming over their vigorous growth while Banner listened to the sound of his voice rather than his words and vaguely regretted not bringing his nephews to visit, for they could have played in the garden while he enjoyed Gregg's company without interruption. Not looking where he was going, he strayed into an area Gregg had had dug up, and found a hole where none had been before. His foot turned beneath him and down he came, landing heavily on the knee of his bad leg.

'Damn me!' he cried as tears forced their way to his eyes.

'Banner! Oh, here, let me assist you!' cried Gregg, fussing about him and pulling him to his feet in a way that made things worse. 'Are you all right?'

'Yes, yes, of course,' snapped Banner. 'It was just a --' he broke off with an indrawn hiss of breath as he took a step forward and a thrill of pain shot through his leg.

'My poor friend, this is my fault for not warning you,' said Gregg, his face pale. 'Lean on me, I'll help you in.'

Banner bit back the retort that not digging traps in one's garden would have been of more help as Gregg put his arm about him and slowly drew him into the house. 'I will summon the doctor,' said Gregg, carefully lowering his friend's weight to a chair.

'No!' said Banner, 'I'll not be lectured on the need to look where I step. It's not the wound, it's just a wrench to my knee,' he continued, with less attention to accuracy than to his wish for privacy.

Gregg looked at him uncertainly. 'Well, if you are sure,' he said. He gnawed his lower lip worriedly. 'But you must have a cold compress put on it, right away.' Banner nodded, seeing that he would not be left in peace until Gregg had assuaged his guilty conscience, and the servants were at once called to prepare the compress. Banner looked about the parlour wearily. His whole leg was by now aching terribly; his doctor's advice was at such times to lie down, but Gregg had only armchairs and no couch.

'I hate to be an inconvenience,' he said. 'I should return home and go to bed. I'll recover quickly enough once I have a chance to lie down.'

'Nonsense!' cried Gregg, 'you will rest here until you feel better. Ah, here is Cook with the compress. Come along, come along, Banner, you can lie down upstairs.' Taking no notice of Banner's complaints he helped him ascend the stairs slowly, the cook following carrying clean cloths and the maid behind her, bearing a bowl of cold water. Banner found himself brought into a bright room, the table by the neat bed piled high with books in Greek and Latin. Gregg took the bowl and placed it on the table, carefully moving the books so they should not be splashed. The servants withdrawn, he looked at Banner, saying, 'You are sure you will not have the doctor? Well, then, let me make you as comfortable as I can.' He indicated the water, saying, 'You will have to disrobe.'

Finding that his knee had stiffened and did not wish to bend, Banner gratefully accepted aid and lay upon the bed in his shirt. The touch of the cool damp cloth was a relief and he sighed deeply. As the heat of his body warmed it, it was replaced with another cool cloth. Banner saw suddenly that Gregg's gaze was not on his knee but some inches higher, and he felt himself blush, for although Gregg had massaged his leg before when he was tired, he had always been clothed. No one but doctors had seen the wound since he was released from the hospital, and he wished the ugly thing were not on view.

'Does it hurt very much?' asked Gregg, his tone of voice making it clear to what he was referring.

'Not so much now,' said Banner brusquely. 'It aches mainly when I'm tired or when the weather changes - such a stupid thing for it to do.' He shifted uncomfortably under Gregg's fascinated gaze.

'What - how did it happen?' asked Gregg in a rush, as if his curiosity could no longer be contained.

Banner lay back and resigned himself to telling the story. He sighed, not wanting to become a bore who regaled audiences with tales from his army days. 'A rifle shot,' he said. 'It went straight through and broke the bone. The doctors said I was lucky.'

'Lucky?' cried Gregg.

Banner nodded, saying, 'A little lower, they said, and it would have taken my knee. I'd never have walked again. A little higher and it could have caught the great vein and I'd have bled to death. I'm alive, I'm not completely crippled - I was lucky.' He stared at the ceiling bitterly, hearing once more the cries of the battlefield and then feeling the awful pain as his leg went from under him. 'I thought at first a horse had kicked me,' he said angrily, 'until I saw all the blood. You must think that very foolish.' He propped himself up, unsure he had heard Gregg's response correctly.

'May I touch it?' asked Gregg again, and before Banner could say no he lightly ran his fingers over the puckered and scarred flesh. It felt most peculiar to Banner, as if the area belonged to someone else. 'Am I hurting you?' asked Gregg.

'No,' said Banner, looking at himself in disgust. When he bathed he did not look at his leg more than he could help, and the red and white scars were as repulsive to his eyes as they had been when first the bandages had been removed and he had seen that he was no longer fit for duty. 'How can you bear that?' he asked, not keeping the distaste from his voice, 'I'm disgusting. They should have taken the leg off, rather than leave me so.'

Gregg looked up sharply, his fingers stopping their gentle movement. 'You're not disgusting,' he said, 'don't speak that way - an unfortunate occurrence doesn't make you disgusting.' Banner made no reply, wishing he had kept silent and stayed at home, for that matter. 'Did you hear me, my dear fellow?' asked Gregg quietly. 'You were lucky, as you said. It is only a scar, it is not you.' He went back to his work of putting the cool cloths upon Banner's knee.

'My lieutenant disobeyed me,' said Banner unhappily, spurred by misery into telling Gregg more than he had wished of a tale he had previously represented to the clergyman as evidence of self-control under enemy fire. 'I told him to take all the men forward and leave me to be found by an ambulance patrol. He pretended I was made incoherent from pain and had me carried back by three of the men.'

'Then you owe your luck to him,' said Gregg. 'Have you written to him?'

'He was killed,' said Banner, 'With many of the company. The Russian guns --,' he let his voice trail off. 'I had no business surviving.'

'No more!' cried Gregg. 'You were spared for some purpose. Your poor lieutenant would be horrified to hear you speak so.' He took Banner's hand in his own, continuing more gently, 'you must miss them so.'

Banner took a breath and forced a hearty note to his voice. 'I'm sorry, my dear Gregg, it's just that one gets these bouts of melancholy - the doctors said it happens quite often, after a wound. I mustn't give in to it, that's the thing. You see, I am quite recovered again. Not quite the hero of your friend Achilles' stamp, eh?'

'Oh, but you are at least a warrior,' said Gregg gaily, taking his cue from Banner's tone. 'I can but perform some of the other actions of the heroes. Achilles and Patroclus bound up each other's wounds and here I am tending to your souvenir of your combat with my garden.'

'I'd rather fight your roses than the Russians,' admitted Banner. 'Modern war isn't as cheerful as it is in your books.'

'They wouldn't make good bedtime stories if they were like modern war,' said Gregg, and to Banner's astonishment he leant over and kissed him on the brow as if he were bidding a child goodnight. 'You rest now. I'll sit by you in case you need anything.' He pulled a straight chair to the bedside and sat there, a book in his hand. After a minute he leaned over and took Banner's hand once more, saying, 'would you like me to read to you?'

'No, that's all right,' said Banner, feeling that he could not bear Greek. He blushed a little as Gregg stroked his hand comfortingly and said, 'But you might - that is, if you don't mind - I mean - you really don't think it too vile?'

Gregg looked at him quizzically and then said, 'Ah, I thought you were dissembling when you said it was just the knee.' He freed his hand and placed it gently over the scars. 'Does this help?' he asked, rubbing his fingers first over the neater scar where the bullet had entered and then the angry and ridged larger scarred area where it had left Banner's thigh in an explosion of shattered bone and pulped flesh. Banner, who had never imagined that anyone seeing his leg could bear even to be in the same room as him, felt a tightness grow in his throat and told himself fiercely not to be such a child as to snivel. He was sure he had made some noise, for Gregg shifted to sit on the bedside, awkwardly twisting so that he could run a hand over Banner's hair at the same time as rubbing his leg. 'I'm sure I have some liniment somewhere,' he said, 'shall I see if I can find it?'

'No, no,' said Banner, 'don't, it'd be so smelly. You're all twisted - you can't be comfortable --' Wanting the comfort of Gregg's touch to continue, he tugged at his arm until the man gave in and lay beside him. The room was very warm; Gregg was breathing fast and wasn't quite looking at him as he kept up the gentle touch on Banner's leg, too light now to be called a massage. It seemed to Banner that his friend had worked some miracle and restored full feeling to his thigh, for the gentle touches on his scars were quite discernible, no matter how light. It was queerly pleasurable, in a way that he had all but accepted he would never again experience. Gregg showed no inclination to cease the delicate movements of his fingers, and at length Banner found it easy to slip an arm beneath his friend's head and after but a little longer to turn to him and watch how he shivered at the touch of Banner's breath on his face. It seemed only right to finally touch their lips together. Gregg drew back, his eyes wide, but not at once. Made devious with almost forgotten longing and not wishing to let him flee, Banner said cunningly, 'Your old heroes, didn't they fall on their friends with kisses after heroic combats?' Gregg, although still looking unsure, did not pull away once asked to prove, as it were, his devotion to both his friend and the Classics, not even when Banner teased his lips open with kisses and embraced him passionately and eagerly. He made no protest after that, putting his free arm about Banner tightly and sighing softly into his mouth as Banner stroked his back. Only when Banner drew his hand away from the scars and up his thigh did Gregg resist, lifting the hand to stroke his face and tangle his fingers in Banner's hair instead. At last he sat up and stood, smiling uncertainly down at Banner, who stared up at him, feeling bereft.

'I promised to visit Mrs Huntly, she's ill,' said Gregg breathlessly. 'I'll be back before dinner. You rest till then. I will be back, dear fellow,' he said, and bending quickly, he kissed first Banner's scars and then his mouth as Banner gasped.

Banner stared after him, as he closed the door, and lay back, his head whirling. He felt suddenly very afraid, both that Gregg would not come back and that he would. When he was sure that his friend had left he got up and dressed awkwardly, hobbling across the floor to test his leg. It was very painful, and he knew he would not be able to walk home. He sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, and thought that he could not face Gregg. Slowly and carefully he limped to the stairs and descended, wincing with every step.

'Sir! Are you all right?' said Gregg's maid, emerging from the dining room, a feather duster in her hand.

'Go out and find me a hansom, please,' said Banner. 'And tell Mr Gregg I have gone to the doctor after all.'

'Yes, sir,' she said, and went to do as she was told.

All the way home, Banner cursed his behaviour and his cowardice alternately.

* * *

Over the next month Banner found himself wracked with torturous hesitations. He was certain that Gregg must despise him for his scandalous behaviour and made it his habit to be out at the times his friend had been wont to call on him. Likewise he did not visit the vicarage and left church services as early as he could, attempting to be out the door before Gregg could come up the aisle, and giving himself hardly enough time to say 'Good Morning' to people. While he had never before tried to pay overmuch attention to the sermon now he sat miserably watching Gregg wave his hands about excitedly while describing points of grammar, and remembering how it had felt to have Gregg's hands touch him, his mind supplying him with images of how he wanted those hands to touch him again. On the fourth Sunday the reverend gentleman managed to get from the altar to the door in a turn of speed commendable for a man of sedentary habits dressed in a floor length cassock and surplice. Banner found his escape blocked and his hand seized and, under the disguise of being shaken in a neighbourly fashion, held tight against his flight. When the last of the old ladies of the parish had been greeted and sent on their way Gregg looked at him and said simply, 'Come to lunch'.

Banner accompanied him, eyes downcast as if he were a child due a scolding. Gregg was his usual pleasant company, however, and the lunch was excellent. Banner felt quite relaxed afterwards and sat comfortably smoking and listening to Gregg further expound the theme of his morning's sermon on the undoubted links between the makers of the idols of Diana of the Ephesians and the fabled treasures of Croesus. It was all so restful that he was unprepared for Gregg's shy question.

'How may I make up my offence to you, my friend?'

'You?' cried Banner, 'don't be silly.'

'You have been avoiding my company,' said Gregg sadly, 'I am so very sorry.'

'Nonsense,' said Banner. 'You've been very kind, but I have been taking up all your time and that's simply not fair --'

'But without you I have been filling my time with reading,' said Gregg. 'I know your opinion on my reading - you don't want me to read more, do you?' They both laughed and then Gregg said seriously, 'I do apologise for my conduct towards you. Truly, I acted abominably.'

'No, no, dear chap,' said Banner in embarrassment, 'please don't --'

Gregg looked wretched, saying, 'no, I know I'm at fault. I don't know what came over me; you cannot be held responsible in any way, you were overcome with pain, but I - it was just that everything was so hot and drowsy, and --'

'And we had had wine with our lunch,' suggested Banner, and Gregg seized on his words gratefully.

'Yes, quite so - I am sorry, my dear fellow.'

Banner shook his head to indicate he was not offended, and felt a horrid false smile creep over his features as the same smile crossed those of Gregg. He did not know why he felt so awful; any silliness had been put behind them and they could go on with their lives. Smiling at him still as if he were a stranger, Gregg inquired if his leg was quite recovered and Banner assured him he was in the best of health. His heart sank as he realised that far from restoring his friend to him, this meeting had served only to embarrass them further, and he saw suddenly that they would be constrained in each other's company from henceforth. He veiled his distress in a cloud of pipe smoke and felt quite alone, the memory of his simple happiness in kissing Gregg receding from his grasp.

'One thing you must believe, my dear Banner,' said Gregg earnestly, 'is that what I said is quite true; you must not think badly of yourself because you were wounded.' His smile was shamefaced but more genuine as he said, 'it's not as bad as you think - quite dashing, really.'

Banner looked at him in amazement and Gregg dropped his gaze, blushing furiously. 'Gregg,' said Banner and stopped, wholly unsure of what he should say next. He did not know how to ask for what he wanted, or even what that was. He was lost in thought for some moments. To say, 'please continue to be my friend' seemed so horribly childish and inadequate, to say, 'I think of that day often,' seemed impossible, but he knew finally that he wanted above all to kiss Gregg again. 'Gregg,' he said at last, 'be a good chap and come and have supper with me tonight. It will be a poor meal, I warn you, my housekeeper is gone to visit her daughter and has left out some cold meats and cheeses for me.' He held his breath until Gregg agreed, with the horrid false smile firmly back in place and then he excused himself and went to his house as fast as he could to tell his surprised housekeeper that she would have the rest of the day and the night free.

He paced up and down, waiting for Gregg to arrive, then sat and rubbed at his leg unhappily. He had gone mad, he thought. Retired army officers did not plan - assignations - with clergymen. He paused. Did Gregg know it was an assignation? What if he didn't? But how could he, expecting as he did that that afternoon was buried and past? Banner buried his face in his hands with a groan. There had been a chap in the regiment, with curly fair hair and pink cheeks like a girl. The rumours had flown thick and fast about him and the poor chap had made it his business never to be seen off duty without a girl on his arm. Banner felt sure he had never had inappropriate feelings for his pretty brother officer and was nonplussed to find he seemed to have them for a plump, scholarly cleric. One was supposed to grow out of such things, not find they cheered one's life. The doorbell rang and he heaved himself up to answer it.

'Gregg!' he said cheerfully, fighting down the panic, 'we are quite informal here tonight as you see.'

Gregg smiled and placed his hat on the hall table, following Banner to the dining room and saying something about him engaging a maid so that he did not have to bother himself with opening the door. Banner made a noncommittal sound in reply and hoped it did not occur to Gregg that he must also have carried the plates of food up from the kitchen. He offered the plate of sliced meats and they ate in friendly silence, Banner noting how Gregg restrained himself to a small glass of wine. After, over a glass of port that Gregg tried to refuse, Banner found himself amused by his friend's tale of his adventures at Evensong, when a small black-and-white dog had suddenly rushed into the church in an excess of energy and had sat itself down at the front in a most comical fashion as if eager to hear the sermon.

'I told the verger to let it be,' said Gregg, 'for perhaps the Romans had it right with their tales of St Francis preaching to the lesser orders of Creation. I don't know which caused more tongues to wag, that I had allowed a beast in God's house or that I had referred not to the ancients but to the Church of Rome.' He laughed gaily and genuinely and Banner laughed with him. The tension he had been hiding left him for the moment and he cheerfully offered Gregg another glass. 'You will have me staggering along the streets and alarming the townspeople,' smiled Gregg, accepting it with thanks. 'You must wish to ruin my reputation entirely!'

'You have devised my aim,' said Banner, rubbing his hands together like a villain in a play. He smiled at his friend, noting how the port had made his cheeks pink and how he held his glass gently and carefully just as he had held Banner on that day. Banner sat in some confusion as to how to proceed and the resulting silence grew until it seemed to him like a third person in the room.

'I mustn't keep you up,' said Gregg at last, rising to his feet. 'This was very pleasant, my dear Banner. We should have such informal meals more often.'

Banner followed him to the hall and stood there dumbly as he took up his hat. His guest's hand was on the latch when he blurted out, 'Gregg, don't go,' and before Gregg could formulate any reply, leaned in and kissed him. Gregg gasped and let fall his hat, clutching at Banner with all his might. How long they stood there, arms about each other, Banner could not say, but at last Gregg pulled away, his eyes wild.

'I - I must go,' he said.

'No! No, you must stay,' cried Banner, holding him once more. 'Please, my dear fellow.' He kissed him again, finding no resistance, Gregg's arms stealing about him and crushing him close. 'Come with me. Please,' said Banner finally, drawing Gregg towards the stairs.

'We mustn't,' whispered Gregg, 'we mustn't.' He let himself be persuaded to mount the stairs however, and did not balk at being led by the hand into Banner's chamber, where Banner kissed him again and again. 'We must be sensible,' he said as Banner loosened his collar to kiss his throat.

'Why?' asked Banner. 'I should not have run away as I did. I'm not such a coward now.'

'I'm afraid I am,' said Gregg indistinctly. 'I felt such an awful coward's relief that you had gone home that day.' He hung on as tight as his strength allowed. 'How I have missed you!' He blinked in comical surprise as Banner divested him of his jacket and shirt and kissed his chest. 'Do stop, my dear,' he whispered, 'it is an abominable sin.'

Banner kissed him into silence, thinking it was not tactful with a clergyman to say that he did not give a fig for such concerns. 'Your old Greeks didn't think so,' he said, remembering how as a schoolboy he and his friends had come into possession of a text published for the masters rather than the pupils and had spent several evenings wracked with scandalised giggles. It was the only time, as he remembered, that they had truly worked hard at their translations.

'We do not live in the Greece of old,' said Gregg sadly.

'But you'd like to,' said Banner, kissing him again. 'My dear Percy,' he said, 'I am so dreadfully fond of you.' He felt desperate, thinking he had pushed things too fast and too far and that Gregg would flee and no longer be his friend ever again. 'Confound it, man!' he cried, 'don't tell me you did not attend a school for young gentlemen!' He was most relieved when Gregg laughed at him, and he cast about for what to say next. 'A promise merely of chaste kisses,' he thought frantically, 'or some apt quotation from the classics - damn my inattention in his sermons!' Feeling that soldiers could be excused bluntness he seized Gregg's face between his hands and said fervently, 'I'll take you in my mouth.' Gregg looked at him in shock, as if he had never considered such a thing, and Banner took advantage of the moment, kissing him soundly and doing his best to remove the rest of Gregg's clothing, feeling his friend's resolve weaken and urging him to lie down. Banner gazed down at him in awe, then flung his own clothes from him and lay down carefully, embracing Gregg with cautious joy. He let his hands slide over Gregg's skin and was not surprised to have a gentle, hesitant touch on the site of his wound. 'Percy,' he whispered between kisses, 'Percy.'

'John, you don't have to -- what you said,' whispered Gregg.

'A gentleman keeps his word,' breathed Banner, 'and it is nothing that is burdensome to me, I assure you.' He crept awkwardly down the bed, and was forestalled by Gregg's hand on his face.

'Wait,' said Gregg, his face shy. 'Is this all because you think you will never find a woman who is not repulsed by your wound?'

Banner surprised himself by laughing. 'Not at all, dearest Percy. It's because you're you. Don't you know how highly I regard you?' Putting aside words, he made good his promise. When he took Gregg's limp and astonished form in his arms once more he felt enormously happy and his friend's shy touches - for as he assured him, Banner did not expect Gregg to be as libertine as he - brought him deep delight.

They lay sleepily in each other's close embrace, Gregg winding his fingers through Banner's hair. 'We can't do this again,' he whispered, trailing kisses along Banner's jaw.

'Not just yet,' murmured Banner in content. He turned Gregg's face to him and kissed him to prevent any clearing-up of his wilful misunderstanding. 'Go to sleep, dear boy,' he said, and tugged the discarded blankets over them.

In the morning Gregg did not protest when Banner urged him once more to partake of pleasure, and was reluctant to rise from the bed. 'I shall have to tell some story about too much good hospitality rendering me incapable of getting home,' he said as Banner smiled. 'This can't go on, my reputation will be ruined.'

'Quite so,' said Banner easily. 'I will come to your house, and if I stay overnight my leg will easily explain matters.' Gregg looked at him as if disapproving of such propensity to falsehood and Banner grinned widely. 'I'll call on you later, Gregg,' he said. 'Your maid is a good servant, she won't disturb us until dinner. Or you could give your servants the afternoon off.'

Gregg gave him a smile that started as rueful and ended up as mischievous. 'I suppose I could,' he said. 'You are such a bad influence upon me, dear fellow.'

'You are a good influence upon me,' said Banner, kissing him a final time before opening the door. 'You give me hope that I am not yet so far gone as to be completely forsaken by love.'

'Love?' said Gregg in a wondering tone.

Banner nodded, feeling foolish and saying, 'I hope I am not wrong in thinking so. For my part - did you not know?'

Gregg smiled happily and said, 'Call on me later by all means, my door is always open to you.' So saying he walked up the street, leaving Banner to watch after him in the clear morning. Banner's heart felt light and buoyant, and although the year was turning toward autumn he felt new life bubbling within him as if it were spring.

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