The Law of Love

Fyn Alexander

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In 1920s England, the penalty for a homosexual act is two years' hard labor. Two men cannot kiss or hold hands without being blackmailed or threatened with arrest. Rafe Devonish, a landowner and a highly respected barrister, knows...
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In 1920s England, the penalty for a homosexual act is two years' hard labor. Two men cannot kiss or hold hands without being blackmailed or threatened with arrest. Rafe Devonish, a landowner and a highly respected barrister, knows the law all too well––and the dangers of being homosexual. With constant pressure from both his mother and his profession to get married, he knows he has to act soon. But then he meets Ivo Manning, young and full of enthusiasm for life. Rafe not only wants to kiss Ivo and hold his hand, he wants to take him to his bed and make love to him. Very quickly he knows that Ivo wanted the same.

With far less to lose than Rafe, Ivo is not afraid to show his love, and what Rafe wants more than anything is to marry Ivo, but that's impossible. The thing about Ivo, aside from being kind, warm-hearted and desperate for love, is his great intuition. It is this trait that allows him to help Rafe with both an important court case and a personal matter involving a tenant on his land.

As the two men spend more time together, their love grows and their intimacy, which in the beginning frightened Rafe, becomes the cornerstone of his life.

“So what are you doing today, Ivo?”

He was going to court, and he was going to pray all the way there that he would not bump into Andrew. He couldn’t possibly tell his brother what he had been up to that night at the Trocadero. “I really am going to look for employment.”

“Nothing too strenuous, Ivo. You’re not the sort.” She patted his hand while smiling tenderly. When Ivo got up, his mother followed him to the front door, past the drawing room which had been shut up for at least five years. With only a housekeeper and her husband on staff, most of the house was under dust sheets and much of the more expensive furniture and paintings had been sold.

“Why did you marry him, Mama?” Ivo asked quietly at the door.

“I loved him and I still do. You mustn’t be angry with him, Ivo.” She took his hand, holding it tightly in both of her own. “And there’s something I need to tell you, my dear. We’re selling the house and moving into a very nice flat in Belgravia, in Wilton Crescent. The man who owns the house lives on the ground floor—he’s a scholar like Papa—and we will live above. Of course there’s lots of room for you. It has three bedrooms, but we will be making one of them into a study for your father.”

The revelation came as a shock. Ivo had known for years that the money was gone, but he’d been relying on the house to support him as a writer when it eventually became his. “But this house was supposed to be my inheritance. Andrew agreed. All the brothers did.”

With an air of apology that sent guilt surging through him, his mother explained, “That was the plan when we made the will, but things have deteriorated since then. We need to sell the house and live off the proceeds. We’ll have enough to buy you an army commission or a post in the Colonial Service, but we’ll need the rest of the money to live on and the chances are I will outlive your father.”

Ivo saw the fear in his mother’s eyes. If she was left with nothing, she would have to move in with one of her children, and she’d hate that. “I understand. I really will get a job.”

“You should have gone to Oxford. Andrew is still willing to pay your fees. Then you can have a proper career.”

“I may not earn a living from writing fiction so I suppose I could go into journalism, you know, with a respectable paper like The Times.”

He didn’t actually want to work for the Times, but his mother smile was its own reward.

“That’s the ticket, dear. Your hair looks very neat today,” his mother said, stroking his cheek.

Ivo kissed her quickly and walked out into the bright morning sun, resenting every step that took him closer to court, even as he hoped he might see Rafe Devonish from afar. The man was marvelously attractive, and he seemed so honest and decent and upright that Ivo had had to lie to him. He couldn’t possibly have told a man like Devonish what he’d really done. He would not respect him, and Ivo would hate that.

“Please don’t let me see Andrew,” he muttered as he walked the esteemed and mazelike halls of the Royal Courts of Justice, looking for the particular courtroom where he was to meet his doom. Perhaps he could leave London, go to France, and hope the charge would be forgotten, or just hide out for a few weeks at the home of a friend.

On the second floor he hurried to look at the docket outside the doors of courtroom number twelve and saw Lord Andrew Manning QC, wigged and robed, standing beside it. He fell mute as he so often did at the sight of his eldest brother.

Andrew had been twenty when Ivo was born so they hardly knew each other, and he’d never been the indulgent and protective older brother Ivo had wanted. He was protective of the family name but that was all. Andrew had never put a five-year-old Ivo on his shoulders for a ride or taken him when he was older to Hyde Park to fish in the lake. No one had, his father being too old and interested only in his books, and his other brothers either away at school or pursuing their careers.

Now Lord Manning’s words to Ivo were preceded by a loud snort. “Another barrister kindly pointed out to me that I. Manning was on the docket in number twelve. I came here hoping beyond hope that it was some stranger. I should have known it was you.” He leaned toward Ivo, making him fear for a moment that Andrew might grab him by the ear as a particularly nasty master had done when he was at Eton. “Gross indecency!” Andrew hissed into his ear. “You dirty little boy.”

Cheeks blazing pink, Ivo hung his head, feeling as disgusting as Andrew thought him. Thank God he had not told Rafe Devonish what he’d done. The very thought of Devonish knowing made him cringe. He should never have gone to see the man. “People might think it was with a girl,” he said weakly.

Another snort of disgust set the tone for all that was to follow. “Gross indecency is a crime very specifically committed between two men. No one will think it was a girl because if it was, it would not be a crime.” There was a brief pause before Andrew continued, “Oh no, please! Don’t let Devonish know. He’ll be in silk within a couple of years and he’s always been a worthy rival in court. I’d hate him to have something like this over me.”

Ivo turned to see Mr. Devonish striding toward them and, despite the circumstances, could not help but think that while the wig and robes made Andrew look only severe and rather scary, Rafe Devonish looked handsome and elegant in his robes and wig. A moment later his shame deepened. Devonish was going to find out the charge.

Handsome face lighting up in a warm smile, Mr. Devonish said, “You did talk to your brother. I’m so glad, Ivo.”

Ivo could neither look at him nor speak. His fair skin always gave away his shame or discomfort. He probably looked an absolute fright, and he could feel tears pricking his eyes.

“What’s this?” Andrew asked after a long pause during which Mr. Devonish gazed back and forth between them. “Ivo, did you consult with my learned friend?”

“Yes,” Ivo whispered. “Sorry.”

Confusion creasing his smooth forehead, Mr. Devonish said, “It was a very brief consultation. I advised your brother to plead guilty. It’s only a drunk and disorderly. The gutter press won’t be interested.”

When neither he nor Andrew responded, Rafe Devonish took a step closer to the docket. After a moment he said quietly, “Ahh. I see.”

“Sorry,” Ivo muttered again. “I lied to you.”

“I’m not sure how you thought I could advise you if you didn’t tell me the truth.” The tenderness in the man’s tone sent the tears rolling down Ivo’s cheeks.

“Stop that!” Andrew said quickly. “Haven’t you done enough to shame the family? A charge of this sordid nature and now blubbering in public.”

“Dear boy, don’t cry. It’s not that bad,” Mr. Devonish said, pulling out an ironed and folded handkerchief and thrusting it into his hands. Mopping his face, Ivo turned away from the passersby whose attention he had drawn, but both the gesture and the kindness of Mr. Devonish’s tone made his shoulders shake, and he sniffed loudly.

“Stop it at once,” Andrew said under his breath. “I should thrash you for this.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Ivo muttered. Without thinking he took a step closer to Mr. Devonish and rested his forehead on the man’s shoulder, immensely comforted when the man patted his back before firmly setting him aside.

In a low tone, Rafe Devonish said to Andrew, “Look here, my lord, perhaps we could talk to the judge before Ivo enters court and ask for leniency. Tell him about the embarrassment this will cause your family and that Ivo made a simple mistake. We’ll say he thought the individual who approached him was a girl. It was dark out, and he was rather drunk. Ivo was as shocked as anybody when he found out.”

Looking at Ivo with rage in his eyes, his brother said, “If I had my way, I’d throw him in gaol just to teach him a lesson.”

Feeling hopeful and very nearly in command of himself once more, Ivo asked, “Can you do that, Mr. Devonish? Speak to the judge?” but when the man placed a hand on his upper arm and squeezed it gently, he broke down again and stood quietly, listening to the hushed conversation between the two older men.

“Why would you help us?” Andrew asked. “We’ve been rivals in court often enough, and we’ve never been friends.” Ivo knew his brother would never have gone out of his way to help someone, especially with a charge of gross indecency, and he found it impossible to believe that Mr. Devonish would put himself out for near strangers.

“I just don’t think one mistake should ruin a young man’s life. It’s not as if he robbed an old lady or beat an old man. He got up to a bit of high jinks when he was very much the worse for drink. Didn’t you ever do that?”

“No, I didn’t as a matter of fact,” Andrew said sharply.

“Well, I’ve done a few regrettable things in my time.”

Ivo met Mr. Devonish’s gaze.

“You’ll never do such a foolish thing again, will you, Ivo?”

“No, sir. I really am very sorry. Andrew, you won’t tell Papa, will you?”

“And bring on his death from apoplexy? Of course I won’t! Stupid boy.”

“You wait there, Ivo,” Mr. Devonish said. The two men strode down the corridor and through a door. Both hopeful and relieved, Ivo walked over to a bench by the stone balustrade and sat down, watching for their return.

According to the clock on the wall twenty minutes, which felt like hours, passed while he wiped his face and composed himself. What a lovely man Rafe Devonish was, handsome and gentle, yet he must be eloquent and ready for a fight to be a good barrister.

“I. Manning?”

Ivo looked to his right and saw a man in a shabby suit and a bowler hat sit down beside him. “Who are you?”

“I was speaking to the other bloke. He’s blaming it on you.”

“It wasn’t my fault. He approached me!” Panic rising in his belly, Ivo felt ill. When would the day be over? He wanted to go home and hide, but his father would be there, demanding to know if he had spent his day wisely and secured a job.

“Don’t say a word, Ivo,” Rafe Devonish called out from ten feet away. Ivo looked quickly around to see him bearing down on the man in the bowler hat, his robes flying about him like a soaring raven.

“You! Get out of here or I’ll have you thrown out.” Mr. Devonish’s face was like thunder, and when the man did not move, he grabbed him by his greasy lapels and dragged him to his feet. At the top of the wide, stone staircase, he made as if to throw the man down.

Copyright © Fyn Alexander


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