A tale of loss from the eighteenth century
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by Andrew Lee-Hart




I woke up with joy in my heart; He had come to me in the night after so long away, and more passionate than I had ever known him so that I thought that I might burst wide open. At the moment of passion I forgot everything but when, all too soon, He left me then I felt bereft not knowing when He would come again to unite His body and spirit with mine; my love, my one true religion.


“You seem happy” Adele said as she devoured bacon and kidneys with relish. When we first married, I had told Adele how much I detest the smell of cooking meat, but she is a carnivore, and I am unable to deny her, her needs. Groves, our young butler, stood behind her, looking nervous as our servants tend to do when dealing with my wife; who having been constrained for so long, now feels she can release her anger and sarcasms on those paid to wait upon her.


“And you my dear,” I asked her, dearly hoping that she was.

She spat a globule of fat onto her plate, “how could I not be?” she asked.

There was a plate of toast on the side, so I buttered a couple of slices and took them with me to the study and was soon engaged on accounts whilst Adele organised the house, shouted at the servants and did what she would, which I am happy with so long as she does not disturb me; surely making it the happiest of marriages.


After lunch I walked the grounds whilst Tallis and Byrd, my two black Retrievers, ran ahead of me. Our lands were sadly diminished during my grandfather’s lifetime, but even so I can look south and east and see acres upon acres of my fields, well-farmed and prosperous which will probably go to my nephew James, a noisy dolt of seventeen, but who I love most dearly for the sake of his mother, my beautiful sister, Rebecca who I miss every day. Adele still hopes for a child of our own; and although the prospect seems unlikely and unnecessary, she is strong enough to contend against nature, so James may lose out on his inheritance after all. Whatever happens he will be rich enough, however I do hope he inherits Leyton.


I saw a dark figure loping towards me, who I soon discovered to be Reverend Thomas Andrews; I wish that he was as scared of me as he is of my wife, but for some reason he sees us as fellows or – god forbid – friends. He was too close for me to pretend that I had not seen him, and whilst I was tempted to swiftly head in the opposite direction, I knew that it would be unkind to someone whose living I had control of. I therefore stood waiting and watched Tallis and Byrd chase each other.


Andrews’ parish is small and undemanding and his wife seemingly kind and compliant – although I have some doubts as to her good nature in private - , and his three girls, quiet and pretty, but even so I wonder how he finds time to haunt me out and engage me in endless conversations. I attend St. Luke’s regularly, give money to his various causes abroad and even paid for the vicarage roof and yet he still wants more. What more can the man want? My soul?


“Lord Leyton”

I bowed faintly, and I hoped aloofly.

“How are you this fine morning?”

He was right it was a fine morning; I love Autumn best, with the smell of decomposing leaves and the chill wind that invigorates. And I thought of Rebecca and our long walks in the countryside when we were young, Rebecca who is now mouldering in Yorkshire soil many miles north from here.

“You seem distracted my Lord.”

“I was thinking of my sister and how she would have appreciated such a chill day.”


Andrews petted Tallis, who fawned upon him, imbecile that he is, whilst the more wary Byrd hung back, ready to run or fight if necessary.

“I was going to visit your wife, I have a few things I wish to talk over with her.”

I nodded and we headed back towards Leyton Hall; its red walls clear against the white sky, the dogs running ahead of us full of uncomplicated joy. Whilst all around me I could feel Him, as if His hand was in mine, His breath against my face; as close as two beings can be, if a being is what he is.


“Your maid Sarah left I hear.”

I shrugged as if it was unimportant.

“My wife deals with such matters. Is that why you are going to see her?”

“In part yes.” And I realised that Andrews appeared a little flushed and anxious.

“Molly was a silly girl, was easily affrighted.”


“Sarah, indeed.”

“Forgive me, but she never struck me as such; a sensible well-balanced young woman. It would take something most strange, most strange or supernatural to make her flee.”

He then looked at me with a look that could almost have been construed as impertinent… almost.


The dogs disappeared around the back of the hall, whilst I led Andrews into the morning room and went to find Adele. She was talking to the cook in strident tones, who stood flushed and on the verge of tears, like an errant schoolgirl, rather than a matron with five grown-up children of her own.

“That fool Andrews is here,” I thought that Adele probably shared my view on the man, although she never stated this explicitly, saving her insults for the servants “he has a bee in his bonnet about the maid.”

She looked at me, “I don’t understand it myself. I will go and see him, but don’t stray too far.” And she strode off; straight of body and of mind, whilst the cook sighed with relief at her departure, and gave me a curtsey.


At first He is cold inside me; deadly cold and His stomach and chest chilly and dry against my back but then He scorches like steam from a kettle, and I scream in sweet agony, before slowly He ebbs away, leaving me naked on my bed. What noises do I make at the height of it? Is that why the silly wench Sarah left us with God knows what tales? Or more likely was it my wife with her harsh tongue and her tendency to slap or reduce to tears with just a few words?


Adele found me in the library browsing Shakespeare’s sonnets.

“He wants us to pay some money to Sarah.”


“Apparently she is very upset, and her parents are talking, saying God knows what; he is worried that the story will spread.”

“They do not even live in the village” I reminded her.

“They are nearby, and they could cause trouble,” Adele paused, giving me the withering look that she normally reserves for the servants, “anyway it is your decision, I am not sure why he needed to speak to me about it.”

We stared at each other for a moment and I realised that she was on the verge of tears.

“I just wish…” she started, but could not carry on, and left me.


After a moment I went to the study to sit with Andrews and work out something appropriate. Relieved that I had solved the problem, but as so often wondering what Adele knew and thought.


I could have told all to Andrews, but I imagine he would have run screaming from the house and either have me burnt at the stake or taken away to an asylum with fantasists, idiots and perverts.


a little line



He came to me when I was still a young man, before I inherited the hall and when Adele was just one of many names dangled in front of me as a possible bride by my anxious father.


My father constantly wrote to my rooms in London, saying that I needed to marry and come home, that my life was dissolute and was causing him shame. Perhaps he was right; or perhaps I was just searching; on a quest for peace and contentment, but if that was the case my quest had failed. Certainly, there were moments of peace and joy; a tightening in a man or a glorious sunset, a young boy’s voice in a choir or a laugh uninhibited and everlastingly joyful; just fragments gone before they could be appreciated, and after that, hours of loneliness.


In truth I missed my sister desperately. Ten years older than me, and more a mother than a sibling, I yearned for her so much that I could not cry or even talk about it. After she married, I was just as often in Yorkshire staying with her and her kind but dull husband and her three unpromising children, than I was at Leyton. But then she died in agony from a growth inside her and life was never the same again. I galloped away like a horse out of control, its carriage full of screaming passengers, full of anger and fear.


Soon after she died, I left Nottinghamshire and found rooms in London; I told my father that I was going to be an artist and whilst it is true I have a fair talent, particularly for sketching, all I wanted to do was to hide and forget myself and my family, just lose myself in pleasure and self-indulgence.


My companion on many of these jaunts was Smythe, a friend from my youth who I had kept in touch with and had fallen back into the way of, now that I was in London where he lived. Dark and quiet, he accompanied me on my night-time escapades; always watching, but rarely participating. He was a connoisseur of music and we often attended St. Andrew’s Church in Moorgate both morning and evening which had a full choir and a musical director of talent.

“Oh how beautiful” he would explain as he listened to a young choir boy sing something heavenly, and the otherwise still and placid Smythe would take my hand for a moment as we sat together listening to the choir harmonise, their music reaching for the heavens.

“Of all that I have seen this is the closest to heaven,” he once murmured, and he seemed to swoon for a moment, and I could not but feel the same, unmusical that I am. And that passion and beauty stayed with us, even after listening to the old fool of a vicar prosing on afterwards.


And then we would go to his rooms and Smythe would embrace me before undoing and stroking me, until I reached another kind of ecstasy, and he would kiss me on the mouth, as if a continuation of the music we had listened to; music made manifest.


 And then one time as we lay in each other’s arms, he looked at me with a curious look on his face, as if nervous.

“Pray with me” he asked and both naked we knelt by his bed.

“Come my Lord” he prayed, “come to us” and I wondered who he was praying to, as his hand rubbed down my back and my bottom, getting more and more vigorous the more he prayed. The room smelt of sex and wax, as the various candles that around his bedroom flickered and smoked. And then Smythe spoke something in a language I did not know, although it sounded like an Ancient tongue; perhaps Hebrew, or Aramaic. After a moment, or perhaps after much longer, I felt a warm wind blowing down my back and I reared up and felt something more heavenly than I had ever felt before.


I do not know how long it went on for; a sense of lightness and sweetness, and yet overtly sexual. And then as I was still lying on the bed, dazed and in ecstasy, Smythe took me and I let him with pleasure, and it felt as if someone was with us, part of our lovemaking.


“What was that?” I asked as we lay intertwined in his bed.

“A Gift.”

“A Gift?”

“He comes to me sometimes; conjured up I don’t know where. Unbidden, but He is always at my back or just behind me.”

“But for how long?”

“Since I can remember; at first He was just a friend, but then as I grew older He became something more. But now He is becoming almost too much, and I felt that I needed to share Him, to ease the pressure as it were, although I could not bear to lose Him completely.”


When Smythe and I were together, this phantasm reappeared; sometimes briefly, just a quiver of something, but at other times, He dominated as if Smythe were unimportant and was almost not there.

“But what is it? A Devil or Christ?”

Smythe laughed; “I don’t think that He is Christ. You are best not analysing such a phenomena, just enjoy it. I feel that if we ask too much then He will disappear into the night.”

“That maybe so, but I do not wish to consort with a Devil.”

“But you are already doing so.” And he kissed me hard and took me.


My father was ageing and lived in Leyton Hall with just three servants; he too was never the same after the death of my sister, or perhaps he was still mourning the death of my mother, years before. He called me to him one day in Autumn, and I realised that I had not seen him since Christmas, so engaged was I in my various pursuits. I travelled up to Nottinghamshire, feeling guilty but also missing Smythe and my life in London.


He truly looked an old man now; thin and frail, whilst his voice was so slight that I had to bend down to hear him, whilst I did so, I could smell urine and something else, faint but pervasive, that I could not quite decide what it was; possibly decay. He had never been a particularly vigorous man; more a thinker, but he had always seemed healthy and fit as if he would live forever or at least for a long time yet.


“John I worry about you. This house and these grounds will be yours soon. And yet you show no interest in them or the people who farm them.”

I felt tears come to my eyes, the first time since I was a young child.

“Sir, you have many years left,” I told him, knowing that this was nonsense.

“I do not, I have months at most, nor do I want to live forever, or even for another year, my time is almost over and I am glad. And you need to get ready to assume the responsibility which is going to come to you. You have had your fun, now become a man.”

He sipped something from the glass at his left hand, whilst I watched him feeling unutterably sad and scared.


“You should come up here, learn how to manage the estate,” he continued, “and for God’s sake find yourself a wife.”

“Surely there is a long time yet until I need a wife. And I have affairs to attend to in London.”

“I have heard of your affairs;” he sneered, with an old man’s venom, “extricate yourself and come back here, and yes you do need to marry, to provide an heir to carry on our name.”


When I left Leyton Hall the next morning I fully intended to return soon, and once in London I began to organise my possessions with that end in mind. That Sunday I met up with Smythe who seemed pale and sad.

“Your father is right, you do have responsibilities; I have to stay in London, to work but you have your own sphere.”

I held him, but he was not amorous, and in the end we just lay together fully clothed.

“I am your friend,” he told me, but I think you need to leave London, go to Nottinghamshire and be a Lord.”

“But you will visit; I will need my friends more than ever.”

He looked at me pityingly and then allowed me my way as if to make up for his hard words.


“You seem troubled” I said to him the following morning as we lay together and watched the sun try to ease itself through the curtain.

“Oh, it is nothing. I feel a little odd, out of countenance.”

“In what way?”

He shrugged and got out of bed and started to dress; “I am seeing visions.”

I continued to lie there, I was intrigued by what my friend said, but also wanting coffee to wake me up and to fully understand what he was saying.

“I see people in the street and on the river, people who are not there.”

“People who live elsewhere?”

“No, people who are dead; my parents walking hand in hand in Billingsgate, my friend Harte sitting in the choir at St. Luke’s, my niece on a boat on the river.”


I dressed and we went to the bakery for a loaf.

“Have you spoken to anybody else about this?”

“Who could I tell?”

“You worry me,” I told him, “perhaps you need to rest, come up to Nottinghamshire with me.”

He laughed in a kindly sort of way, “you are probably right; I have been very busy with work. Maybe in a few weeks we could go away together for a few days into the countryside.”

“I would like that very much.”

And Smythe headed off towards Whitehall still eating and I watched him go; a small, fragile looking figure who soon disappeared amidst people, carriages and smog.


I never saw him again. We used to see each other almost every day, although we rarely made plans to do so, but over the next few days he did not come to my flat, and I did not seem him elsewhere. I went to his rooms, but nobody answered and his neighbour, a rather odd-looking young man who said he was “in law” said he had not seen him “for days”, that he thought he had gone away.  His landlord too professed ignorance, and when he unlocked the door, the rooms were empty, as if Smythe had stepped out for a breath of air and would be back shortly.


Smythe was not at our usual haunts, and nobody amongst the habitues knew where he was but then in that kind of life people came and went without giving real names or any names at all. Most of the people I spoke to did not even know him as Smythe.

“Oh your friend?” said the young woman known as Boadicea “he comes and goes, but he is a strange one; possessed. I would not chase after him, he will do you no good. Leave him be.”

And she reached for me, but I pushed her aside, albeit gently.


I knew that he worked in the Department of Trade as a secretary, which I discovered to be a more important job than I had assumed it was, judging by the fact that he had his own large office and an assistant; a tall older man who explained that Mr Smythe was “unwell.” And yet when I looked at the man I knew that he was lying and that he was frightened. There was a questioning in his eyes and a wondering, and I felt that he had no more idea than I, where Smythe had gone.


I walked through the cavernous building, feeling the eyes of various young men following me as I walked past them on my way out. And I knew that when I left that there would just be the sound of quill scratching against vellum, nothing more.


I half-heartedly continued to look for Smythe, at churches and in houses of ill-repute, but there was no sign of him. I even wrote a letter to his brother, a clergyman in Northampton, but I received no reply. I only had my Familiar to comfort me at night, and to remind me of my friend; but He never spoke, was just a presence and sometimes even less than that.


A fortnight after my visit to Whitehall I received a messenger who told me that my father had died in the night and that I was now owner of Leyton Hall. In tears I was driven back up to Nottinghamshire knowing that I was leaving my old life behind, but without Smythe it had become shallow and silly, and I had no regrets.


The first night after the funeral my Familiar came to me, caressed me until I was spent and I lay there until morning knowing that there was something of my old life left, even if I did have to find a wife and to beget children.


a little line



Leyton village was relatively prosperous; my father may have not known much about farming, but, after the death of his profligate father, he had employed a manager who did, and who did his best both for his master and the villagers. Mr Locke left a year or so after my father’s death but by then I felt that I knew what I was doing, and that I had found work that I enjoyed and that I was good at.


At times Leyton was the most idyllic of places, and whilst I did on occasion miss London, I was happy in the countryside and I rarely even visited Nottingham, which in any case was staid compared to the capital. I much preferred visiting the houses of my people, as I think that it is the only way to meet problems before they arise, and I had formed a good relationship with many of them.  Although some still preferred the “old Lord” I think they knew that I was fair and kind.


The sun shone hard the following Tuesday as I walked through the village, feeling sweat dripping down my back, going from one house to another. Fortunately nobody mentioned my Maid; presumably the money I had given to Andrews had been enough to shut her and her family up.


My final visit was to the Groves household, a slightly larger house than the others, although otherwise no different. Mrs Groves was a much heftier woman than our young butler, whilst her husband, out in the fields that day, also did not bear much resemblance to him, so I doubted that I was the only one who had cast doubt on the fidelity of Groves’ mother. Her two older daughters were also beauties and had both made good marriages and left Leyton whilst I was in London.


“Your son is doing well,” I told her, “he has picked up the job very quickly.”

“Yes, it is only six months since poor Mr Baines died, Arthur does miss him.”

“We all do” I agreed piously, although I wondered if anybody did, Baines having been a fussy man, who if he was ever content never showed it.

“We are so grateful that you allowed Arthur to replace him. Such a good boy. We are glad that he has such fine, godly people to keep him on the true way.”

I looked over at her, as she sat sewing, she looked calm and relaxed and I saw no sign of irony, presumably she knew of Sarah leaving, but who knew what she thought of it. I looked at her with a smile, which I hope inspired trust.

“Yes we are both very happy with him, a tribute to his parents I am sure.” And I gave her a small bow and left the house, Tallis and Byrd were waiting outside for me, eager to get on. The house had been a bit close and I was happy to get out in the fresh air.


“I met your mother today. I told her how well you are doing.”

Groves bowed slightly, “I am grateful. She worries about us, but it is a great relief to her that I have a steady job and am not working on the land.”

“But your father is one of my steadiest workers and has done well.”

It was dinner and Groves was serving me. Adele was away staying with her family in Clifton, on the other side of Nottingham.

“She was always ambitious for us.”

I nodded, “no harm in that, no harm at all.”

And then he gave me a look, just the briefest of looks but it promised the world. And then he went about his duties. I half-expected him to come to me that night, but he did not appear, and I felt sad but also relieved.


Adele returned the following afternoon, but then we never slept together, had not since shortly after we married, and Groves could have come to me anytime he liked. Adele was slightly older than me, - an elder daughter whose two sisters were all married - so perhaps she was knowledgeable enough to realise that I did not love women as I should, or perhaps she was naïve and thought that this lack of passion was usual. My wife was a strange mix of confidence and naivety, and whilst I did not lust after her, I had grown to love her, as one loves a strange Creature that one does not entirely understand and is more than a little scared of.


Whilst Groves had not come to me that night or the next few, my Familiar did, leaving me wasted and feeble each time. I remembered Smythe and how he had been wearied by the Familiar. Was the same thing happening to me? Something which had always been a pleasure, which still was, was becoming too powerful me, leaving me exhausted and spent.


As I lay there, still feeling His presence around me, I wondered what it meant. Was He pushing his immortality into me? I could not feel but that He was good and perhaps would make me immortal. Perhaps we were gods and Smythe too wherever he had gone; Divine and full of holy essence. But wasn’t the human frame to weak for such Power?


Then one night Groves did join me in my room, shortly after midnight.

“I thought that I heard you call.”

He looked flurried and nervous.

“No Groves, I did not call you.”

But he continued to stand in front of as I lay in bed. As I looked at him I felt mixed feelings; sure he was a handsome young man and yet I did not trust him and my instinct was to throw him out.

“Are you sure that I cannot help you with anything?”

And then I felt the Familiar pushing hard at my back and I invited Smythe into my bed…


Later I asked him to pray with me, but he was loath to do this.

“After what we have done?”

But eventually he knelt besides me, as Smythe and I had done, and then I prayed, the words just coming out of me; a language ancient and holy, words that possessed me and which I had no control over. And there was the strong power that I realised was being held back or else I could not have stood it and would have been burnt out by this Holy Flame. And as I prayed I felt a kind of easing whilst beside me Groves gripped my hand tightly and moaned.


“What have you done to me?” he said as he fled the room, holding his clothes, “I feel soiled, you are of the Devil.”

And I lay there feeling guilt although knowing that I had diminished the power of the Creature that had such power over my vitals. I slept feeling released but hoping that Groves would be sensible and not reveal what had happened.


“I think that Groves will have to leave us” Adele told me as we drank coffee together, “this is twice he has answered me back. And the other servants are frightened of him; they avoid him.”

“I had not noticed.”

She smiled, “but you wouldn’t. It is a pity, but I think that he has become arrogant with his responsibilities; and there is something strange about him; he makes me shiver.”

I looked at her strangely, shocked that someone, particularly a servant, could scare my wife.

“Oh, give him time,” I begged, “he is only young.”

She shrugged and conceded, but I knew that if he did not change my wife would insist on his going.


I went to London to escape the strange atmosphere and Groves’ unhappiness, I also had investments to check on and I wondered if Smythe had reappeared, although I doubted it. My trip to the bank took just one morning and I spent the rest of the time renewing acquaintances and trying to get word of my old friend.


The world that I had inhabited had changed little; the depravity and lusts were the same, but those involved were different, and even when I thought that I saw a familiar face the name was different. Only Boadicea was still there, but she looked tired and ill.

“I need to leave” she told me, “head out into the country, away from London.”

“What will you do?”

“Maybe work in an inn or find a husband.”

We drank rum in her room and she fed me on iced buns, and before I left I gave her some money.

“Please use this to help you escape.”

She tucked it away, but I had no confidence that she would spend it wisely. As I walked the streets through the dawn, I felt sad and uneasy.


After I returned from London I continued to feel distracted and strange; I could not do my work, but rather wandered around the estate or sat in the library reading poetry. And my Familiar was there as strong as ever, leaving me wasted and unbearably tired. He had disappeared whilst I was in London, perhaps grown fastidious, unhappy with seedy beds filled with sweat I had inhabited whilst I was away, although I saw no reason why he should have become so fussy. But then back at Leyton he returned with vigour, and when I looked in my looking glass, I saw that I was pale and my veins blue underneath my white skin.


“What have you done to me?” muttered Groves, as he helped me with breakfast.

I ignored him, realising that Adele was right and that he would have to go, but then there would be the scandal. There was hatred in his face as he served me coffee; hatred and fear. And she was right, the other servants seemed to avoid him and when I visited his family they looked at me with resentment and something that might easily be called hate.


Adele stood in front of me as I sat reading.

“I am worried about you,” she told me, “you seem distracted.”

“I am well my lady, but I thought I saw Rebecca yesterday; she was walking around the house. I was staring out of the window and there she was looking up at me and beckoning me down, but when I came down to her, she was gone.”

Adele looked at me perturbed, and I did not know why, thinking that she might share my joy.

“I know that she is dead” I told her, “but she has come to me nonetheless, but I was not scared; I felt at peace. And I have missed her, so much”


My sister appeared again two days later as I walked Tallis and Byrd through the fields, chasing all manner of creatures, whilst I enjoyed the Spring Sunshine. She came towards me, looking the same as last time she visited us, six months before she died; unknown to us all the cancer already eating away at her. She was even wearing the brown dress that her husband had picked up from Paris, and which she wore on the day she had arrived at Leyton that April.


“What are you doing here?” I asked, “the others will think that I am mad.”

“I had to visit you. You seem so lonely now; lonely and sad.”

“I am married and have my friends.”

She looked at me with that knowing look of hers.

“You are lost, even amongst your lands and the village, you are alone.”

“What can I do?”

“Travel, leave this place. Adele will be happy here on her own, and you need to give her something before you go.”

I looked at her and started to weep, “I miss you.”

She held me close like a cold mist, a mist that evaporated and left me standing alone, until the dogs barked at my feet, and I led them home.


Andrews came to see me. He looked both embarrassed and full of self-importance. He asked me about my sister, Rebecca.

“Your wife says you see her, here.”

I nodded, “she looks the same as she always did.”

“But she is dead.”

“I know, I know.”  

He asked to pray with me, but I could not help but think of Smythe and me, naked in his rooms, and then Groves reluctant and angry; all three of us devoured by this phantasm, and I refused him and went to my bedroom.


Adele came to me in the early hours; pushing the bedroom door open, and standing in front of me with in just her robe.

“My Lady?”

She let the robe drop and joined me in bed. And as I did my duty and felt her trembling and moaning below me, I felt Him at my back; also pushing, and I gasped with pleasure, and then lay in her arms. I wondered if she would produce a child and what it would be like and whether I should stay away from it, cursed as I was.


She left me in the early dawn, with the room still dark, just her pale body glimmering slightly in the starlight.

“Goodbye my love” she said, “goodbye.”


And then I awoke and there was Groves and two other men standing round my bed as I lay there naked.

“It is time to go.”

Roughly they grabbed me and dressed me. It was still dark as they took me outside to the waiting carriage, and the house was quiet, not one face looking out as the carriage drove off.

“Where am I going?” I asked.

“On a trip.” Groves told me as he sat besides me, and I noticed that he had a pistol tucked in his belt.

“But where to?”

But there was silence around me, and as the carriage rattled away down the drive, leaving my wife and her unborn child behind.


And then as I sat in despair, too sad to even weep, Rebecca was by my side, she held my hand tightly as we drove away into the morning sunlight.




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