Wollaton Hall, Nottingham
You need to get rid of
him; he is just an urchin from the streets; you have had your fun, now it is
time for him to go back to whichever slum you found him in.
He is a very good
Arthur, he is no such
thing. His accent is common and his expression impertinent; he seems unable, or
unwilling, to hide his contempt for us.
Sir, he is always polite,
he is intelligent, and without doubt he is the best servant that I have ever
We have learnt to live
with your mixing with riff-raff in Nottingham, your excessive drinking and your
whoring. But to have someone like that here at Wollaton; your mother does not
There is a laugh, that laugh,
the memory of which still makes my heart shake with delicious joy, and then
with a oh sir he swiftly walked out of the room, fortunately I had
anticipated him and was standing nonchalantly on the other side of the hall
when he came out of his fathers study.
Arthur looked at me
searchingly, silently questioning whether I had overheard the conversation with
his father, but I looked back at him impassively, and after a moment he
Come Gregory, we are
going to paint in the gardens. And off we trooped, I laden down with his
canvas, easel and paints, plus a coat in case it rained, whilst he strode ahead
of me; young and uncaring, and I could not but help be infected by his
The house looked a deep brown
in the afternoon sun; vast and ageless, built at the time of Good Queen Bess
according to Arthur. It was full of rooms and the grounds stretched out on all
sides. I could never have imagined living in such a beautiful place, I who had
always lived in mouldy rooms and crowded corridors. Whilst Arthur painted, I
smoked a cigarette; he seemed at ease now, doing what he liked doing best; his
parents disapproved of his awful daubing and his friends either
mocked him or fawned upon him, depending on their wealth and character, but
when he painted it was the only time when he seemed to lose his restlessness
and be content.
What do you think?
I gazed at the swirl of colours that covered the canvas; and eventually it
started to make sense; was that a naked woman peering out from the window? And
in the distance, I thought that I could see torches and swords and hear the
chants of the peasants ready to burn down Wollaton and slaughter those within,
and I gazed appalled at what he had created; perhaps it was a great work, but I
thought it was disordered and gratuitous, but Arthur seemed proud of it.
And then I realised that he was
stroking my thigh, casually but deliberately, slowly enjoying the feel of my
leg, and then I forgot all about the painting, and just hoped that we were not
being spied upon by a curious servant, or even Arthurs parents. I could
smell wine on his breath, but whilst he was sober enough to paint and walk
steadily, he was being over daring, and taking foolish risks.
To my relief he murmured,
I think we had better go inside, his voice thick with lust, and I
gathered up the implements and followed him indoors, a smile on my face despite
my best efforts to appear a solemn and respectful servant.
Arthur laughed with joy as I
helped him to dress.
Oh dear, have I come to
this, a vain popinjay? A strutting cock?
You look very handsome
Thank you, Gregory,
he said patting my bottom absent-mindedly, and what are the most recent
rumours about me?
This was his usual line of
questioning; he did not realise that the servants rarely talked to me, that
they were as snobbish as his parents. I did overhear the occasional titbit of
gossip regarding him; usually about that vagabond of a servant. But
I could usually make up something or at least embellish the few whisperings
that I have overheard.
They think your father
might cut you off, because you have been secretly wed.
For a moment he looks uneasy,
so they have heard that have they? he murmured as if to
Is it true? I asked
You know me better that
anyone, what do you think? Now just check I am ready for this dreadful
I could not imagine anyone
looking so handsome and perhaps seeing the love in my eyes he kissed me plumply
on the lips; his bristles leaving a red mark on my face and I prayed that
nobody would notice as we took the carriage into the city for yet another ball
and for Arthur to find the wife that his parents so desperately prayed for.
She was large, but I could see
that she was beautiful, and for just a moment I envied her husband the gardener
who came home to this Venus every night, and I wondered if he knew that she was
sitting naked and proud in Arthurs bedroom as he painted her. She shifted
herself briefly and caught my eye; I could tell she wished I was gone, perhaps
she hoped to seduce her young Lord or at least earn a favour or two. I stayed,
resolutely looking at her, my eyes unyielding, I wasnt going
Arthur seemed to be
concentrating fully, there was a glass of something that smelled pungent and
rather sickly, by his side, and every so often he sipped from it. Marie sniffed
slightly in disgust; I knew that she was an abstainer and attended chapel in
the city, and I wondered what the congregation would think if they could see
Marie now, in her nakedness. Mind you they were a hard-headed lot, these
chapel folk, and believed strongly that servants should obey their masters and
had no objection to the gathering of money, so perhaps they would turn a blind
A bell tinkled from below us
and Marie flinched, but Arthur was oblivious and kept on painting, a look of
deep concentration on his face.
You have better go
Marie I told her after a few moments, and with a fearful glance she
quickly dressed herself whilst Arthur busied himself with the canvas, not
acknowledging her, although no doubt I would be sent to bring her some coins
later that evening, which she would carefully hide away and not tell her
As she left the room she could
not help but glance at the painting, and I saw her flinch with a horrified
look, because rather than the voluptuous and lovely woman that she undoubtedly
was, Arthur had painted a naked devil, full of lust with an expression that was
unmistakeable in its lewdness and needs. Marie gave me a terrified look, as if
it was all my fault and then hurriedly left the room, weeping as she did so.
Arthur laughed maliciously and continued to touch up what he had created.
I sat in a café mulling
over what I have just seen; the naked limbs, so closely entwined that it was
impossible to guess whose were whose, the smell of drink that made me stagger
as I entered the room and the groans of lust; Arthur and our landlady, the
elegant Madame Allard oblivious to all but themselves. Stunned and hurt, I
hurried out of the house, desperate to find somewhere to sit and ponder.
I slowly sipped at some cheap
wine and felt heartburn reach out and grab my body, and I tried to breath,
controlling the acid in my stomach so that eventually it subsided. Over at the
far side of the café was a young woman who had always seemed to be there
in recent days, watching Arthur and me. Just another drunk wasting away her
life; I could almost smell her despair from where I sat, she glanced over at
me, perhaps in sympathy and then looked away, but moments later she appeared to
pluck up her courage, perhaps recognising something similar in me too, because
she stood up and came over and joined me.
To my surprise, when she
started speaking, I discovered her to be English.
Are you his
I looked at her;
valet. I corrected her.
Still a servant, and you
knew who I meant.
Who are you? I
asked curiously; I think if I had not just seen my master and our landlady, I
would have told her to leave, but I wanted company, even of the cheapest
My name is Helen and I am
I glanced at her and smiled
I doubt he will admit it,
and perhaps the ceremony was not legal, although there was a clergyman and
witnesses, so I suspect it was. But I am his wife under God, and he is the
father of my child.
Helens eyes were dark
brown and she was looking at me intently, as if weighing me up.
What do you want
then? I asked. She was attractive but close up I could tell she that her
clothes were old and worn and there was a smell of sweat about her, which made
me feel a little sick.
Money. He has enough, his
parents give him an allowance I know. I dont care if I never see him
again, but I would like something to help me settle down, and to pass on to his
son. I can write to his My Lord, his father, but I thought I would give him a
chance. For all his faults he was a generous man and I think that he truly
cared about me even if he left me without a word.
How old is the
He is three, living with
my sister in London. I called him Arthur too, he is just like his
I bought her a drink and for a
few moments we were both quiet.
I met him in London three
years ago, when he was staying there with his parents; he painted my portrait
and then slept with me, and promised to marry me, and eventually he did when I
told him I was with child, probably because I threatened to cause a
So you followed him
I have been living here
with someone else, a young gallant, but he left me, as they all do. And then
one of the servants at Wollaton wrote to me and told me he was in Paris. He
wasnt hard to find
I shrugged. He has some
money but he is not wealthy; he came to France to be taught by a famous artist,
Monsieur Caminade; his parents keep him on a short allowance in the hope of
forcing him back to England, they are not happy that he is here. He has enough
to get by, but that is all.
I will go and see
him Helen replied unconvincingly but instead she continued to drink and
when she had finished I bought her another glass and we continued to talk as
the afternoon drew on, and I wondered if Arthur was still abed and if he was
thinking about me.
He had found me in Nottingham,
just another young man hanging around street corners looking for a way to make
a penny or two. My father had drunk himself to death; dying in his own filth
and then my mother had thrown me out as I got in the way of her whoring,
telling me I had to earn my living, and I had done, scavenging, using my wits
and learning to get by, and when this handsome man, about my age, accosted me,
I recognised that this was a chance and I was determined not to throw it
What is your name?
he asked me, his expression kindly and curious.
I am Arthur. Do you think
that you could work for me?
Yes, My Lord.
He looked me up and down and
clearly was happy with what he saw; he bought me clothes and installed me in a
room and taught me what he wanted from a servant. I realised that this was my
way out and that it was in my own interests to learn quickly and to please My
Lord Arthur, and when he invited me into his bed I saw that as part of my
duties and one of the more agreeable parts.
I proved to be a quick learner
and in a very short time I was brought to Wollaton and announced as his
servant. I was given a smart uniform and my own room, never had I known such
luxury. I paid attention to everything around me, read everything I could get
my hands on and tried to fit in, but there was something about me, a stain from
the gutter perhaps, that would never leave me, and meant that the other
servants did not trust me, let alone Arthurs parents. But thank God
Arthur did not see it or did not care. And he stuck by me; he may have been
promiscuous and thoughtless, but he has been loyal to me in his way, and he
rescued me, even if it was just a whim or lust.
I escorted him to Monsieur
Caminades studio; it was on the rue Murillo; a dark, damp street some
distance for where we lodged. Arthur had corresponded with Monsieur Caminade
for weeks before we left for Paris and was now his pupil. I enjoyed going with
Arthur to his lessons; I would sit on a broken-down chair which was rather
comfortable and gaze out of the window at the life below me whilst Arthur
painted and Monsieur Caminade watched, barely saying anything; I felt contempt
coming from the teacher, but there was little but the occasional grunt and
unintelligible muttering so who knew what he truly felt?.
This time Arthur smelt of drink
and for once it seemed to be affecting him, his face was red and his walk
seemed less sprightly. Under his arm was a canvas which he refused to allow me
to carry, and he patted it as we walked along, as if it was something precious,
his child or a large amount of money.
This will show him
he said to me mysteriously and continued to walk ahead, bumping into the
Parisians as he made his way down filthy streets. A child asked him for some
money, and he gave him all the change that he had in his pocket, barely
acknowledging the childs thanks, and soon there was a trail of children
following us, hoping for more coins from the profligate Englishman.
Monsieur Caminade, was not in a
happy mood when we banged on his door; he was only partially dressed and looked
tired, he scowled at us as we entered his studio, and then glared at the canvas
under Arthurs arm.
What is that? he
said as if Arthur had brought a particularly pungent dead cat into the
Let me show
It was a portrait of Madame
Allard, in fact little different from the nudes he used to paint at home at
Wollaton; naked, lustful, but perhaps this was a little more skilfully done, he
managed to capture her beauty and dignity. I am no artist, so I dont
know, but he did seem to be improving. Monsieur Caminade, however did not like
What is this
pornography? he asked and then tried to grab it out of Arthurs
arms, who, realising that his teacher meant the picture harm, refused to hand
it over and soon the two men were fighting over the painting, whilst Madame
Allande looked on naked and unashamed. Caminade may have been old and frail but
Arthur was very drunk so that they both fought ineffectually and rather
pathetically, with grunts and curses.
At first I watched, neither
could hurt the other and I hoped that one or both would become embarrassed and
stop this farce, but both were too stubborn to do that, and in the end,
wearying of the whole thing, I pushed them apart from each other and stood
You are no artist
monsieur Caminade told Arthur, puffing angrily; I dont care
for your money, no longer will I humiliate myself teaching such a fool.
Arthur glowered at him, hurt and angry, but unable to think of anything to say,
and so after a moment he stormed out, carrying his canvas with him, and I
followed more sedately, as I left I tipped my hat to Monsieur Caminade, who
despite his recumbent position I could not help but admire and suspect was a
As I followed Arthur away from
Monsieur Caminades studio, in the distance I could see Helen, just
watching, for a moment our eyes met and then she disappeared down a side
street. I slowly followed Arthur home, eventually he grew tired of carrying the
canvas and left it outside a boulangerie, for the owners to make of it what
Arthur drank more that evening;
he was depressed and less aggressive than he had been in the studio.
I need to be an
artist he confided to me, or else what am I? I cannot go back to
England, just another fool chasing servants and eating too much.
Monsieur Caminade is just
an old man who had had a bad night. Dont be dispirited.
But what if he is right?
He is the only true artist that I have met. I am rich, a Lord and so of course
everyone I meet is going to tell me I am great. But what if I am not? What
Then go back to Wollaton
and be a Lord; your parents will be pleased and you would have plenty to occupy
Maybe he muttered,
maybe you are right. Perhaps I need to stop pretending I am something
special and do as my father wishes.
He kissed me lightly and then
went to bed and was soon snoring loudly, later on I heard Madame Allarde
knocking loudly upon his door, but there was no reply and after a moment or two
she went back down the stairs muttering to herself in French. Eventually I too
fell asleep, but slept fitfully as it had started to rain heavily and there was
thunder in the distance, and I was worried about Arthur and wondered whether he
was serious about returning home.
I was awoken by Arthurs
door slamming and then a crash, as if a fallen body; when I investigated, I
found him drunk lying on the floor.
I went back he
mumbled, I told him that I need him as a teacher. But he would not let me
in, there was a prostitute with him, she seemed familiar, like someone I used
to know. He belched and shook himself. They pushed me out onto the
street and kicked me and then left me in a puddle, I ache everywhere.
He wept with self-pity whilst I
took off his wet clothes and helped him into bed, and Madame Allarde then came
up, being disturbed by the noise, and between us we made him comfortable, and
after muttering something unintelligibly he fell asleep, hugging himself.
He stank of wine and vomit and who knew what else, and the bedding was dirty
and gross, I felt ashamed, particularly with the landlady standing next to
Madame Allarde looked at me
sternly as we left the room her immaculate eyebrows raised; she may have liked
Arthur but I knew that our time in Paris was over and that tomorrow she was
going to be looking for more respectable lodgers.
Auvillar, Southern France
We arrived a year ago in this
small French town, where the sun dominates and the golden fields stretch out on
all sides. We had enough money to live comfortably, albeit without
extravagance; Arthurs allowance continuing to appear regularly each
month. Arthur seemed happy at first with just me and he had plenty of time to
paint without any commitments, and at first he took advantage of this, being in
his studio from when he got up just before noon until the early hours of the
morning, whistling happily. He even persuaded a young maiden, called
Celestine, to pose for him, until her mother discovered the arrangement and
swiftly put a stop to it.
We had rented a small cottage,
close to the town but not of it; the rooms smelt of the fields and animals and
was rather beautiful in an austere way. One could imagine farmers having lived
there from generation to generation, working the land and being part of the
town. But now they had left it to a couple of Englishmen, outsiders who would
soon be gone.
But as the days grew longer and
brighter Arthur drank and drank and became frustrated with his art; throwing
his brushes at the walls and destroying his canvases. After six months he was
spending less and less time actually painting but just rambled on to anyone who
would listen, usually me, and drank. One afternoon I came back from a
walk to find him naked in bed with Celestine, both drunk and giggling, and then
Celestine started to vomit and cried pitifully, just a silly girl exploited by
a heartless Lord. After she seemed better, I cleaned her up as best I could and
sent her back home with all the money I could find. She wept as she left, and I
felt very angry; with Arthur and his solipsism.
She is only a child
I told him.
He looked at me wearily and
fell back asleep. Our bedroom stank of sweat, wine and sex, and I left him to
his slumbers and hoped that we would not be attacked by irate villagers, intent
on avenging the honour of Celestine.
After this episode he rarely
left our room, just wanting to sleep and drink so that I had to force him to
eat. Even his lust had disappeared and I left him to sleep on his own, just
coming in to clean up his vomit and to make sure that he did not choke. I spent
my days in the gardens reading correspondence and making plans.
One day I saw Arthur in the
town square, he had a notebook in his hand, and was scribbling something down,
but when I looked over his shoulder there were just random lines, but then
perhaps that was all he ever drew. He was too drunk to realise who I was, even
when I sat down next to him and called his name. After a few moments I left him
to it and returned home, but then when it grew dark and he had not come back I
found him still sitting where I left him, close by was a young man watching him
intently, clearly not sure what to do. We lifted him up and between us we
managed to steer him home and put him to bed.
There is somewhere to
stay for people like the monsieur the young man told me, his name was
Lille my brother works there, I will get someone tomorrow
I could have stopped him, could
have said that Arthur was being taken care of, but it would not have been true,
and I was weary of him, and the thought of somebody else having responsibility
for him was a relief. And when they arrived in the early morning Southern
sunshine, I helped them put him onto the cart and carry him away.
Why did I continue to visit
Arthur? To watch him die? Nobody else was there, just the warders and other
Lunaticks, not that he ever had many friends, was always aloof and superior,
however much he might pretend otherwise. The keeper of the asylum came to
Have you written to his
father? he asked me, I cannot keep him here without
I have written. I
lied, and he will be here soon, and he is sending a money order I will
Monsieur looked at me
suspiciously, but would the servant of a Lord lie? I turned away, and watch
Arthur and eventually the keeper disappeared back to his work.
Sometimes Arthur recognised me;
said the most obscene things, but fortunately nobody listened to his
Gregory he cried,
or James or Helen.
When he first came here I used
to sit close by him, wiping his mouth and giving him fresh clothes, but soon I
realised that there was no point, that as soon as I had dressed him he covered
himself again in filth, and then when he was sick over me and then tried to
kiss me; his breath rank and fetid, I stayed outside looking in, the audience
for a play.
My stomach feels
empty. My medicine wont stay down. I sit in a corner and try to
empty my bowels, but there is nothing. I gaze up at the bright blue sky
through the window above me.
And there is Gregory
watching me. And who is that by his side? A young woman who seems so
familiar? But then I close my eyes and wretch. I loved Gregory, but has he
ruined me? The drink; was that him or me? I dont know, but at least we
had some fun.
I gather my strength and
pull myself up by the bars of the window. There is a foothold on the wall
so I can keep my balance. In the distance there is a hill, black against the
sun and before that there is a farm, white and brown. Three men are leaving it,
off to work on the fields. I can hear a tune that one of them sings and
laughter. I yearn to be with them off to do a hard days work.
I remember the farmers on our estate at Wollaton, and how I wished to be one
with them. Perhaps they would let me paint them, I would sit out in the
sunshine and draw away the madness within me. I call out to them over the
fields, but my voice is cracked and empty and I can make no sound at all. And
then I let go my grip of the bar and fall.
I watched him collapse and
shout for help, but I knew he was dead or soon would be, and so I turned my
head where, by my side Arthurs wife wept.
For a moment Helen held me and
I felt her body shake as she sobbed, perhaps like me she loved him for awhile
until he betrayed her, or perhaps she wept for the respectability of being his
wife that had died on a stone floor, miles from Wollaton, or for her son,
fatherless and unrecognised.
I gazed one last time at the
man who had been my lover and perhaps my friend, and then I walked over to him,
stepping over sick and vomit and bent over him and kissed his forehead; his
skin was pallid and covered in sweat. To my surprise I realised that he was
still alive, albeit only just, and he moaned slightly and said a name that I
didnt recognise. I sat with him for a while, stroking his head, I
could not accept that this feeble man, covered in filth was the same Arthur who
had rescued me from the slums of Nottingham and who had been so full of life
and lust. I was aware that Helen was waiting for me, but I stayed for a few
moments more feeling unutterably sad, and wondered if all my planning had been
I am sorry Arthur I
murmured as I got to my feet. I knew that the owner of the asylum would soon be
over asking awkward questions and that I needed to be gone.
She was waiting at the entrance
and the two of us walked back to the farmhouse, her hand upon my arm, as if we
were lovers, and as we made our way we talked of the dying man as if he were a
character in a story, unimportant and nothing to do with us, and then we lapsed
into silence, each deep within our own thoughts.
We divided the money between us
that evening, along with Arthurs fine clothes and other valuables, and
then she left; I suggested that she stay for one more night, but a farmer had
promised her a place in his cart and she was anxious to be gone.
Where are you
going? I asked her.
Back to Paris she
told me, I can set myself up very nicely with this money and what I can
get for this clothing. And maybe I can send for my son, so we can be together.
What about you?
I will travel; I can play
the part of a Lord and make something of myself. Spain I think, Arthur said it
was a beautiful country and nobody will know me there.
She kissed me lightly, I
am glad I met you she said solemnly and then she heard the sound of the
cart through the garden and swiftly she was out of the door; I heard her greet
the farmer and he touched the horse with his whip and they were off.
Sometimes I think of her and Arthur, how I imagine they looked on their wedding
day; Arthur in high spirits, careless of everything as if it was a frolic,
whilst the woman by his side, large with child looking up at her new husband
with love and trust in her eyes.
Early next morning I set off on
the road for Spain and as I walked along, through the fields of harvested corn,
I was filled with a deep, unwarranted hope that lightened my heart, whilst
above my head the sun warmed me, as if a blessing from up on high.