i: In Which Tristan Jarrett Does Not Fall
Barringford, Cumberland, January 1803
The Honourable Mr Tristan Jarrett turned in the saddle to see his father striding across the frosty yard from the stables, his angry expression marking one of his lordship's bad days. Tristan turned back to his brother. "Why does Father call you Penrith, David?" he asked. "I have been wondering for ever."
"It is my title, Tris," David replied as he bent to adjust Tristan's left stirrup.
"Well, I know that. But why does he not call you by your name?"
"I don't know," David said quietly. "It is just his way. Hold the reins. Sit calmly." He stroked Dauntless' neck, then turned and made a bow to their father. "Sir."
"Penrith, it is not the duty of a viscount to teach small boys to ride!"
"No, sir. Of course not. I was only helping my brother up into the saddle. He already knows how to ride, don't you, Tristan?" David turned and gave Tristan a wink.
"Yes." Tristan wanted to canter across the yard in proof of this, but David had told him to sit calmly, so that was what he did. David said there was a point at which, in settling upon a horse's back, one was as steady as one could be, and that it was the ability to find that point and always return to it that made a real horseman. Tristan found it now.
If his lordship the Earl of Barringford observed his younger son's excellent seat, he did not comment upon it, but only barked, "Where is that fellow? What's his name? The riding master."
Tristan said, "Mr North does not come back until February, Father."
"You, sir!" his father shouted. Tristan observed in some trepidation that his face was growing very red. "I was not addressing myself to you. You will remain silent until spoken to, do you hear me?"
Dauntless tossed his mane. David leant toward Tristan and said out of the corner of his mouth. "Do not distress yourself, Tris. He'll be gone in a moment."
"Is that not your horse, Penrith?" their father bellowed.
"It is one of them, sir."
"What is the boy doing up on him?"
"He is eight years old, sir. He cannot go on riding a pony forever. And he is very tall for his age. He has grown while I've been away at school."
After another disapproving remark or two, his lordship the Earl of Barringford could not find anything farther to cavil at in his sons' riding, and strode away across the yard toward the kennels, his approach triggering joyous barking from within. Tristan watched him leave with a sense of relief. Lord Barringford was less surly to his dogs than to his sons, and Tristan had concluded some time ago that the dogs must do less to displease him.
"Try not to let him upset you, Tristan," David said. "I think Mama's confinement worries him."
"It ought to worry him!" Tristan said.
"Tris, do not speak so. Father's sharp words are more than enough for everyone."
Tristan understood a confinement to be very dangerous for his mama, and mention of the subject caused him a deep dread. He took a deep breath and let it out, reminding himself of the new brother or sister he was supposed to have at the end of this ordeal. David said that a horse could tell when its rider was agitated (Mr North declared this to be patent nonsense), and Tristan felt that was reason enough to learn to be calm.
"Now, then, Tris, what is the first thing you must remember?"
"To know my horse."
"And what do you know of Dauntless?"
"Well, that he is your horse, David."
David laughed. "He is, but he knows you, and he is not so spirited that he will object to a good rider like you upon his back! What else?"
Tristan looked out over the top of David's head toward the frosty fields of Barringford. "He is very tall!"
"He seems so now. One day, I wager, you will ride an even taller horse. If you grow into those enormous feet of yours, you will be taller than all of us. Do not let Dauntless' height trouble you. Never fear your horse, Tristan. Respect him, let him know that he can trust you to direct him, and you will both be at your best."
Tristan was not perfectly certain what David meant by all of this, but because David said it, he listened. David was the best horseman in all of Cumberland--maybe in all of England--and Tristan did not care that Mr North called his horsemanship wild and ungentlemanlike. He loved to see his brother ride.
"And what is the second thing to remember?" David asked him.
"Ignore what Mr North says and do what you have shown me."
"Good man! Let me see you direct Dauntless to walk around the paddock."
Tristan pressed with his thighs and Dauntless began to move, shoulders and haunches rolling as iron-shod hooves struck the frozen ground. Once they had crossed the stable yard and entered the paddock, Tristan pressed again, and clicked with his tongue, and Dauntless broke into a canter.
"Tristan! Wait!" David called, sounding alarmed.
"David, do not be such a scold! I know how to ride. You have just said so yourself." Tristan wanted to laugh at the way Dauntless' cantering motion made his voice bounce out of him in pieces. When he had cantered halfway around the great paddock and was on the point of leaving it for the open fields beyond, he looked back and saw David leap up onto Bellator in the stable-yard, and urge him into a trot.
Snow was beginning to fall in earnest now, and Tristan knew there might be no more occasion to ride before David went back to Eton. He leant low over Dauntless' neck and said, "How would you like to run?" and, quite as if he understood English, Dauntless shook his long grey mane. Tristan turned his heels in and gave a shout, and Dauntless stretched out joyfully into a gallop.
Tristan was flying. Dauntless thundered out of the paddock and into the open grazing land of Barringford. Sheep bleated and scattered in his wake. Tristan hung on with his knees and matched the horse's rhythm with his body. David was shouting behind him, and he could hear Bellator's hooves pounding closer. Tristan glanced over his shoulder. David was gaining on him, looking terrified.
"Tristan! Rein in! Slow down!"
Tristan looked ahead again and saw the low stone wall just before Dauntless took it at top speed. His stomach dropped and everything seemed to go completely silent as he sailed over the obstacle on Dauntless' arching back. Then Dauntless came down, fore-hooves striking the ground with a force that made Tristan's teeth clack together and almost caused him to lose his seat. He found his bearings again, reined Dauntless in with a soothing word, and turned to see David coming over the wall on Bellator, his face white, his coat flapping behind him.
Bellator had barely come to a stop when David was leaping down and running to him. "Tristan! Are you hurt?"
Tristan looked at him curiously. "No, David. Of course I'm not hurt. I did not fall off my horse."
David reached up and hauled Tristan down out of the saddle as if he were a little boy. "Do not do such a stupid thing again!" he shouted, shaking Tristan's shoulders. "You could have been killed, you idiot!"
"David!" Tristan pulled away from his brother's grip in some annoyance. "I am not a baby."
"You are! You are just a stupid baby who can't obey the simplest instructions!" David knelt in front of him in the mud and shook him again.
"But David! I did not fall off! And did you see? How we jumped over that wall? It was like flying!"
David's face, rosy now from his exertions, and his relief, and the cold winter air, broke into a reluctant smile, though he tried to hide it. "It was very good. Wouldn't Mr North just have an apoplexy!"
"What's an apo--apoplexy?" Tristan asked.
"It means he would fume, and frown, and become very angry and red in the face."
"Something like Father, yes." David laughed and pulled Tristan's woollen scarf up around his ears. Tristan squirmed away. "You must be more careful," David said, growing grave again. "That was a lucky jump. You could have just as easily broken your neck."
Tristan wanted to argue, but David was very serious. "I will be more careful, David," he promised.
"Good. Then we shall canter back to the stables together. Not gallop. Idiot." David went back to Bellator and swung himself up into the saddle.
"You are just afraid that I shall grow up to be a better horseman than you."
"I am no such thing, brat!"
"You are." Tristan smoothed his rumpled coat, snugged his gloves more firmly over his cold hands, and looked up at Dauntless. "I say. David?"
"Will you give me a leg up, please?"
ii: In Which John Acklebury Draws The Sun
Winchester, February, 1803
"Maître Jean, veuillez remettre vos dessins maintenant. Votre père a demandé votre présence."
"Très bien, Mademoiselle. J'y vais."
At Mademoiselle Claude's request, John Acklebury put aside his pencil. He was attempting to draw a lion. Having never seen a lion, but only pictures of them, he was unsure of what he was doing, but he had lately read descriptions of lions in an article about the exploration of Africa that had appeared in one of Uncle Martin's periodicals, and supposed that, as lions were great cats, he might as well start with an ordinary cat and make it more ferocious. It was not proceeding as he had hoped, for Sir Lancelot, the housekeeper's inaptly-named feline, was a poor model of ferocity, preferring a nap by the fire to every other activity. John carefully turned the drawing over and got up.
He suffered his governess to smooth his hair and straighten his coat, then left the schoolroom to descend to his father's study on the ground floor. The bells of the cathedral clock tolled the quarter-hour, and from the quality of the winter light coming in at the window, John supposed that it might be a quarter past two, or possibly a quarter past three. He had been intent upon his drawing, and had not noticed which hour had recently struck.
"Ah, John. Come here, please," his father said as John entered the study. The Reverend Doctor George Acklebury put down his pen and favoured him with a serious smile. John crossed the carpet to the desk behind which his father seemed perpetually to be writing, when he was not delivering one of his sermons. "You may sit down."
John took a seat in the chair next to his father's desk. His feet touched the floor now. He had perched upon that chair to hear his father's instruction, his praise, his advice, and, upon rare occasions, his censure, all through those of his twelve years that he could recall.
"At your baptism, nearly twelve years ago now, your mama and I made a solemn vow on your behalf, that you and Margaret would be raised to obey the laws of God and the Church, and to follow a path of righteousness."
John refrained from pointing out that he already knew this, for his father always showed disappointment when John forgot his manners so far as to interrupt the speech of another. John looked at his father's face and noted the similarity between the shape of his nose and that of Uncle Martin, who had lately been visiting.
"Now that you and Margaret are old enough to understand what this means, and what your duties are as Christians, tomorrow you are to be confirmed."
John stopped examining the features of his father's face when he realised that it must be his turn to speak, and said, "Yes, Papa. We have been studying for our confirmation this age."
The Reverend Doctor laughed gently. "I am sure it seems an age to you, son. I believe you have been studying for four months now. Please tell me what the bishop will ask you to declare."
"That we...well, that we promise to keep the vows you and Mama made for us at our baptism."
"That is right. And what will the bishop then do?"
John thought a moment. "He will ask the congregation to pray for us."
"And from which chapter of holy scripture is that prayer derived?"
"From Isaiah, Father. Chapter two, verse eleven."
"No, John. Think again."
"Oh, no! Chapter eleven, verse two. That is it."
"Very well. And can you tell me what chapter eleven, verse two of Isaiah says?"
"I think so, Father." John had drawn a picture to help him remember, one that his father would have called irreverent, and disapproved of sternly. John brought it to mind now, a man with a dove sleeping on his head. "'And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,'" John recited.
The man had a long beard, and held a sword in one hand and a book in the other; each of these meant something. "It is...several things. Wait, I know them. 'Oh..." he screwed up his eyes. "It is to do with the spirit of power... and...oh...wisdom! Wisdom and understanding. Oh! And knowledge..."
John's father sighed.
The most scandalous part of the picture had been Meg's idea: the wise man held up his robes, frightened of a mouse that scurried past wearing a little waistcoat emblazoned in red letters with "THE LORD". John swallowed a giggle and finished "...'and the fear of the Lord.'"
John had asked his father on two or three occasions what it meant to fear the Lord, and why anyone should wish to do so, but he could never remember the answer. Now the Reverend Doctor Acklebury shook his head. "I do not yet entirely despair of your following in my footsteps into the Church, John, but I am afraid that my hopes fade. You are an odd child."
John did not think he was especially odd, and had lately begun to think it inevitable that he would disappoint his father, for he did not know how to become something he was not. "I try to remember scripture as it is written, Papa. But I do not know why one word must come before another, so long as all the words are there."
His father looked at him with a sad smile. "It is holy scripture, John." He placed both palms flat upon his desk, always the signal that their interview was at an end. "I did not ask such questions at your age. You are more like my brother every day." John liked his Uncle Martin very much, but he was aware that his father did not intend his words as a compliment. "It is as well that we did not send you away to school," his father went on, "for they do not tolerate such questions at school."
John had seen boys from Winchester College, jaunty and a bit wild in their caps and their black gowns, barely holding themselves in orderly ranks as their professor expounded upon some detail of the cathedral's architecture or history. He thought he might have liked to go to school, but he knew that his father did not care for the way religion was taught there, and that his mother who had grown up in France before the Revolution, shuddered at the crass inelegance which the schoolboys evinced in their manners and their dress.
"Very well, John. You may return to your lessons."
"Thank you, Papa." He was halfway across his father's study when another thought occurred to him. "Why would a lion eat straw, Father?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"In Isaiah, chapter eleven, it says that lions will eat straw."
"It is a prophecy of peace, son. It means that at the coming of Jesus, violence will be at an end." John's father had already put his spectacles back on.
John knew that his father was trying to complete work on a book of his sermons and would brook very little more delay, but he pressed on. "But it is not at an end, Papa. Only yesterday, I read in Uncle Martin's newspaper that Edmund Despard is to be hanged, drawn and quartered."
Reverend Acklebury removed his spectacles and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Despard is convicted of high treason for attempting to kill the King. And I wish you will not read the newspapers. I must speak to Martin about that."
John, too, wished very much that he had not read the newspaper, for he had vaguely imagined that someone would have the unpleasant task of drawing a picture of Edmund Despard upon the gibbet before his dead body was taken away to his quarters, and when his uncle had explained what "drawn and quartered" really meant, he had felt quite sick. "Well, I do not think lions will ever eat straw, Father. It is not in their nature."
John Acklebury was confirmed a Christian and a member of the community of Christ in the Church of England on Candlemas Day, 1803, in the Lady Chapel at Winchester Cathedral, along with his sister Margaret. The Right Reverend Bishop North had, indeed, called upon the small congregation to pray for them, and somewhat to John's amazement, they had done so. What he principally remembered from this important sacrament, when he thought of it afterwards, was trying not to catch Meg's eye and laugh whenever the Bishop said "fear of the the Lord," which the Bishop had done quite a lot; and hearing the rain lash against the cathedral's great stained-glass windows.
As a gift for his confirmation, his elegant mama presented him with a box of pastels. "They are not new," she told him. "I have had them since I was a girl. When this horrible little Corsican man has been dispatched, perhaps we may once again get good French things." She sounded bitter. "But I did not use them very much, and I know that you will make me many pretty pictures with them." She kissed his forehead, but he was already lost, looking at each of the colours in the large, flat wooden case.
"Merci, Maman," he said absently, trying out the crayon whose paper wrapping said ochre jaune.
"Do not become too engrossed, chéri," Mrs Acklebury said fondly. "The Italian master will be here within the hour."
"Si, Mamma," John answered. He was already busy drawing the sun over the plains of Africa.
iii: In Which Three Young Gentlemen Enjoy a Snack
Winchester, Autumn, 1811
To the many difficulties any young man must have in starting at a new school at the advanced age of sixteen, the Honourable Mr Tristan Jarrett was able to apply several advantages: he was an excellent sportsman, his friendly nature quickly overcame the general awe, not to say the antipathy, in which the very wealthy and idle younger son of an earl might otherwise have been held; and he was preceded to Winchester College by the rumour of his having been already expelled from both Eton and Harrow, a circumstance that made him interesting to nearly every boy in the school.
This rumour was not true, but, want of wit not being among the charges laid to his account, Mr Jarrett did not trouble to correct it, and by this simple omission, he soon found himself the object of a general admiration.
Almost immediately upon his arrival at Winchester, he made two unlikely friends by the simple expedient of sitting down between them at breakfast. One was Mr Josiah Wheaton, a ginger-haired boy with a comically glum expression whose first words to Jarrett were, "Oh, you're the new boy. If you need any advice at all for getting on here, you may call on me, for every boy in my family for the last four generations has gone here and I know where all the bones are buried."
The other was Mr Henry Dauncey, who seemed scarcely to tolerate Jarrett, but who looked up from reading Aristotle long enough to join the conversation. When Wheaton said, "The worst teacher here is Youngblood," Dauncey scowled and said, "No. It is Milford," then turned his attention back to his book with reddened cheeks as if he had said something shocking.
On his third day, Mr Jarrett was able to determine the matter for himself, and concluded that Dauncey, and not Wheaton, had the right of it. Youngblood had only droned through a lecture on Shakespeare's King Henry V, and while Wheaton declared this an unforgivable sin, it was as nothing to the unseemly look Professor Milford gave Jarrett when he came early for his geography lesson. Jarrett found himself the first pupil to have arrived in the classroom, and Milford's eyes, in travelling over Jarrett's person, lingered where they ought never to have rested at all. He did not smile--not precisely--but his expression became avid, and Jarrett realised with a sinking heart that Winchester College would be no different from his other schools.
Mr Jarrett became assiduous in avoiding the notice of Professor Milford. He allowed himself to be unkempt; he never missed a lesson and was never late or early, coming to the classroom and quitting it always in the midst of other boys; he wrote out his lessons in a fashion that was neither good enough to draw praise nor poor enough to require censure; and by these means, he began to feel that he had made himself wholly uninteresting to the man.
One of the last fine days of autumn found Messrs Jarrett, Wheaton and Dauncey seated together at the public house in the St Cross Road, a place that enjoyed their regular custom. Under the unfinished sign of a leaping stag-like creature with no name, this establishment boasted a larder that had proved an excellent source of sustenance in the long interval of near-starvation between luncheon and dinner, and as the publican would draw a tankard for anyone with money to buy it, nothing was wanting for all three gentlemen to deem the place entirely satisfactory.
In the present instance, Mr Wheaton's attention was divided between the little snack of bread-and-butter, pickles, half a pork pie, a large wedge of Stilton cheese, six boiled eggs and the flagon of ale he had ordered, and the pretty maid who was placing it all before them. Mr Dauncey's attention was entirely given to Mr Jarrett.
Mr Jarrett, disregarding for the moment Dauncey's rather longing look, was intent upon watching a young man who sat in the front window of the common room, drawing in a large sketching-book. The sun came in through the window behind him, illuminating light brown hair that fell in thick curtains to either side of his face, and highlighting the angle of a strong cheekbone. He wore a coat of grey wool with black velvet lapels that looked very fine to Mr Jarrett's eye, and he seemed in every particular a gentleman.
"Have a boiled egg, Jarrett," Wheaton said.
Jarrett slowly withdrew his attention from the artist. "I beg your pardon, Wheaton. What did you say?"
"I said, 'There are elephants parading down St Cross Road.'"
Mr Dauncey snorted at this.
"You are very preoccupied today," Wheaton said. "I have never known you to refuse food."
"Oh, yes. Boiled eggs. Thank you, I will." Jarrett's attention was soon drawn once more to the young man and his sketching. "He is drawing us, I believe," Jarrett said, his mouth full of egg.
"Well, we are very interesting," Wheaton conceded.
Just then, the artist looked up and met Jarrett's gaze. As if caught at something untoward, he quickly turned his attention elsewhere.
"How old do you think he is?" Jarrett asked under his breath.
Wheaton shrugged, and Dauncey said, "Pretty old. Twenty. Twenty-three, even. Why do you care?"
Wheaton looked from Dauncey to Jarrett and said, "Nineteen or twenty, probably, but really, Jarrett, your stare would discountenance anyone! Look--I have brought a riddle."
Jarrett glanced at the paper in Wheaton's hand. It appeared to be a Latin rebus. He entered into the game not from a wish to please his friend, but from a desire to make himself more interesting to the artist by appearing interested in something; but the rebus, being of quite a ribald character, soon enough engaged him, and when he next looked up, the artist had gone.
Mr Jarrett saw him upon only one other occasion, in the cathedral close. It was an overcast and windy autumn day, and the artist sat upon on a low wall, sketching not the cathedral, but the face of a gardener who worked in the grounds. Jarrett, unwilling to interrupt such passionate absorption, could think of no means by which he might begin a conversation. He nevertheless did not leave, but made much of studying the cathedral's buttresses and otherwise lingering in the vicinity until the young gentleman gathered his drawing things and went away.
That evening, Jarrett waited until Dauncey had left the dining hall before mentioning to Wheaton that he had seen the artist again. Wheaton's expression turned speculative, and he said, "I think Dauncey is jealous."
Jarrett thought so too, but deemed it simpler to say nothing that would lead Wheaton to enquire farther into what he and Dauncey had been doing together in the stables the other day, for Wheaton had already pointedly observed that Dauncey had no interest in horses, and he was not one to let an interesting story go unexamined. Jarrett remained silent, therefore, and Wheaton continued, "One cannot help noticing that the artist is a very handsome fellow."
Jarrett laughed rather too loudly. "Is he? If you say so, Wheaton, I believe you, for I know you like a pretty face, and that is why we are friends."
Wheaton only snickered and threw a bread-roll at his head.
The following day, after a sculling race, Mr Jarrett lingered too long in the boat-shed, imagining that the artist had been present to draw a picture of his victory, and did not notice the time until the silence around him made him realise that he had heard the tower clock strike four some minutes earlier. Despite the considerable speed his long legs lent him in running across the grounds, when he opened the door to Professor Milford's classroom, the lesson was in progress. All eyes turned to him.
Professor Milford said, "Jarrett. You are tardy."
"Yes. I beg your pardon," Jarrett replied, moving toward his place.
"Mr Jarrett, at Winchester College, pupils address their teachers as 'sir.' It does not matter whether these pupils be the sons of gentleman farmers or the sons of earls. Do I make myself clear?"
Milford's words, his unctuous, taunting tone, caused Jarrett's ordinary restraint to fail at just the moment when he ought to have depended on it most heavily, and a potent mixture of fear, anger, and pride made him drawl, "Oh, certainly" in his best imitation of the bored and idle younger son that Milford and everyone else supposed him to be. "Sir," he added after a suitable pause.
Snickers arose from several pupils around him in the classroom, and a look of respect and awe was evident on many of the faces turned towards him. A covert glance revealed Dauncey's to be not among their number, his expression being rather one of pity, as if he thought Jarrett very stupid, and viewed with horror the likely consequences of that stupidity.
Professor Milford said, "Jarrett, you will stay after class."
Jarrett's rage evaporated on the instant. As the geography lesson resumed, he stared at his book, unseeing, unhearing, bitter with himself for what he had done. When at last he looked up, Milford was gazing at him with a slight, satisfied smile. Jarrett felt his heart grow cold.
iv: In Which Giovanni Becomes a Fresco
Venice, Easter 1812
John Acklebury pushed up his sleeves and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his bared arm. His hands were black with charcoal, as they generally were in the morning at Maestro Fiorio's workshop. Mornings were the best time to draw, for the light slanted in through the dusty windows set high in the east wall of the studio, and fell softly upon the occupant of the raised wooden platform.
Today this was a youth perhaps seventeen or eighteen years old, with dark curls, smooth olive skin and a slight, well-made frame. John had not easily hidden his blushes upon first seeing one of Fiorio's models disrobe insouciantly to pose on the dais. He had been uncomfortable upon realising that most of the women were prostitutes, and scandalised to learn that some of the young men were, too. One morning he had arrived early in the studio to find one of these young men already present with Maestro Fiorio and wearing nothing but a long white shirt. When the maestro had slapped the young man's posterior and flung him a coin, John had been nearly overcome with shock to recognise what that must mean.
Three months, however, had accustomed John to the ways of Maestro Fiorio and his workshop, and these unclothed bodies were just shapes and lines to be perceived and drawn, no matter in whose arms they might have lately lain. As today's model sat upon a stool, his hands gripping the edge of the seat between his spread thighs, the bone of his shoulder was...John softened his gaze and looked, really looked, letting his charcoal stick trace the line of what he saw...thin, bony, angled upward. He glanced at Signor Ossatura, the human skeleton that hung, wired together, from a rack in the corner, and then back to the boy. Understanding of the shoulder's structure flowed from his mind to his hand and onto his paper.
When John next glanced up, the boy was gazing at him, and, upon catching John's attention, he shifted his hips very slightly. This movement was not so great as to alter the pose he had struck, but enough to draw John's eyes downward to the enlivened condition that had not earlier been apparent. He then quirked an eyebrow in such a knowing way as to make John look quickly down to his paper again.
"Usa tutto, Giovanni," Maestro Fiorio said softly, coming up behind John. "Use everything." He said this often, and John only nodded. He tried to continue his figure drawing, but his concentration was lost, and he turned his sheet over. "La sua lussuria," the maestro continued, la sua paura, usa le tutte." There was no point, Acklebury knew, in protesting that he had neither lust nor fear to use in this moment, only discomfiture at the boy's wantonness; Maestro Fiorio would probably not believe him. "Draw your homesickness! Paint your anger! Even your English nature," Maestro Fiorio added, shaking his head doubtfully. "There must be a use in painting even for that!" Acklebury repressed an impatient sigh. He had heard all of this before.
The maestro clapped his hands loudly and the boy on the stool got down. Renato and Massimo, the other two students, immediately left their easels, with crude gestures and ribald laughter to disguise the uneasy glances that they cast at the young model-- and at l'inglese.
"Go! Eat!" the maestro told them. "Giovanni, stay. I want to speak to you."
John wiped his hands on a rag and rolled his sleeves back down. "Yes, Maestro?"
"I want you to pose for me."
The rag went still in John's hand.
"Oh, do not alarm yourself, Giovanni," he said with a grin. "Your English virtue is safe with me, isn't it, Primo?" He directed this last to the model, who had not yet finished putting his clothes back on. Primo's white smile flashed as he looked over his bare shoulder. Maestro Fiorio leant very close to John, and said in confidential tones, "You are a bit older than I like."
John reminded himself that if he wanted to learn what he had come here to learn, he must bear with Fiorio's constant teasing. He thought he had gained a modicum of sophistication, but to hear a grown man--a man of forty!--speak so openly of a preference for boys was not something he knew how to respond to, and Fiorio knew it.
"I will not pose unclothed, Maestro. You know that," John said.
Fiorio slapped his shoulder and said, "Good! Because I do not think the Church would care for it."
"Pardon me?" John felt lost, as he often did in Venice, wondering if he had missed some nuance in Italian that would have been clear to him in English or French.
"I am to make a small fresco of the Last Judgement in San Sebastiano church, and I want you to be my San Gabriele, for you have the face of an archangel, Giovanni. You will pose, I will make the cartoons, you will come to San Sebastiano and learn something about fresco, eh? And you do not pay me for this. What do you say?"
John thought that of the many things he could not comfortably write to his father about--of prostitutes, and human skeletons, and nude bodies, and the unseemly relations of grown men and boys, perhaps this might be the most shocking. Dear Father, he imagined writing. I hope you will not mind, but for the next three or four hundred years, my face will adorn the wall of a Catholic church.
"This amuses you?" Maestro Fiorio asked.
"No. No!" John forced his expression back from the brink of hilarity. "Of course, Maestro," he said. "I would be honoured to pose for you."
v: In Which Tristan Cannot Honestly Answer No
Barringford, Cumberland, Easter 1812
When the Honourable Mr Tristan Jarrett emerged from the carriage in the great sweep before Barringford House, he had not seen his family for nearly six months. David and a young lady whom Jarrett presumed to be his new sister-in-law were waiting to greet him, and behind them stood a phalanx of liveried servants. His mother and father were not to be seen.
"Good God, Tristan!" David exclaimed, laughing, as Tristan got down. "You have grown a foot, I declare!" They embraced, and Tristan realised with a start of surprise that he could, indeed, now see over the top of his elder brother's head. David clapped him upon the back, still laughing, his evident happiness making Tristan glad, for once, to be home.
"Charlotte," David said, turning to the elegantly-dressed but rather plain young lady who stood looking on with an anxious smile. "Allow me to present to you my brother. Tristan, this is Lady Penrith."
David looked eagerly from Tristan to his new wife and back, as if to assure himself that they would instantly esteem each other as much as he esteemed them both. Tristan smiled and gave her his best formal bow. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance--my lady. I am sorry that I could not come to your wedding."
"David has explained to me that your education has been interrupted a good deal, and that his lordship wished you not to come all the way from Winchester during the term," Lady Penrith said. "Nothing is so important to a young gentleman as his education."
Tristan began to think her a poor sort of thing, neither pretty nor lively and therefore not good enough for David, when she suddenly laughed. Her face was transformed by it, and when she said, "Oh, David! What a dullard I become when I am nervous!" then turned a bright smile on Tristan and added, "Forgive me, brother! It is delightful to meet you at last, and I hope we shall be very good friends," Tristan thought she might not be so bad after all.
He did not see his mother or his father until they went in to the dining-room an hour later. There, with five people arrayed along a table made for twenty, waited upon by six footmen and the butler, Tristan Jarrett saw his family and his home as if through the eyes of his new sister, and wondered at her willingness to become a part of it.
"You are come home, Tristan," his mother said in tones of mild surprise.
"Yes, Mama. How are you feeling?"
"A little better," she sighed. Tristan knew that she took something to ease a nameless pain that she had suffered for much of his lifetime. "You have grown very tall, my dear. How handsome you have become." She patted his hand, and her eyes filled with tears, as if, in looking at her younger son, she saw someone else.
"Penrith!" Lord Barringford said loudly. "You will speak to the boy about that letter."
Tristan cast a questioning look at his brother, who only shook his head minutely before saying, "Yes, sir. After dinner."
The conversation at table consisted principally of David's plans for the rehabilitation of the old house at Ravensworth, and Lord Barringford's criticisms of these plans. When this tax upon everybody's civility was paid, and the ladies had withdrawn, David said, "Will you excuse us, sir?"
Lord Barringford, being by now much the worse for wine, did not appear to care that they left him alone in the dining room.
David and Tristan walked together to the conservatory, Tristan growing uneasy at his brother's uncharacteristically serious manner. "Leave us," David said to the footman hovering near the doors. Inside the humid, plant-filled room, he turned to Tristan. "What I have to say is not easy to speak of, Tristan. It principally concerns these...proclivities of yours that have arisen in boarding school."
Tristan stared at him, quickly cataloguing his sins and wondering which he would be asked to account for.
"Boys--outgrow these things," David went on. "I blame myself! If I had been more watchful the year we were both at Eton, if I had insisted more forcefully upon your being removed from Wickersham's sphere...or perhaps it was Quigley, at Harrow who caused you--" David halted, clearly very ill-at-ease. It was a moment before Tristan could overcome his own discomfort at the mention of two such hated names, and realise what David must be trying to speak of. Somehow, Tristan thought, he must have heard about Milford.
"Why was I removed from Eton?" he asked, growing angry. His voice sounded cold and haughty to his own ears, and he did not trouble to soften it.
David stopped in his pacing. "What? To remove you from the influence of Professor Wickersham, of course. I thought you understood that, Tristan."
"Let me put my question differently," Tristan said. "Why was not Professor Wickersham removed from Eton?" He took a step toward David, his temper rising. "Why was it, I wonder, that the eleven-year-old son of the Earl of Barringford must be taken away, while the grown man who had the effrontery--the wickedness!--to--to--" Tristan dashed a hand through the space between his brother and himself "--to treat me as he did continues to teach there to this day?"
David looked at him, horrified.
"How is it that the Earl of Barringford had not the power to relieve such a person of his position? How is it that my father saw fit only to send me to the next school, and the next, but to do nothing in my defence--the defence of his younger son?" Tristan spat the two hated words at his brother.
"Tristan! You must not speak so--"
"I will tell you how, for I have understood it at last. My father believes me wicked. He believes that I was at fault. He believes that I brought about the licentiousness of Professor Wickersham, and that I went on to bring about the unseemly attention paid me by Mr Quigley at Harrow, and now you are here to lecture me about having attracted the attention of Professor Milford at Winchester, and I am sick to death of it. I cannot help looking as I do. None of it is my doing, and none of it is my fault! I have done nothing to deserve these things. Do you hear me, David? Nothing!"
David was perfectly still now, staring, his mouth agape. "What?" he said in a whisper.
Tristan paused for breath, exalted in his anger, and saw the utter disbelief in David's eyes. "Oh! You did not know? You did not bring me out here to tell me that I must now leave Winchester because I have corrupted another grown man? You did not know that Professor Milford put his hands on me and said the most shocking things to me?"
David shook his head and seemed unable to speak.
"Shall I repeat some of them to you? He told me that since I could not keep a civil tongue in my mouth, he would make me put my mouth to better use upon hi--"
"Good God, Tristan, stop, I beg you!" David sank to one of the ornate iron benches in the conservatory, his face pale, his eyes wide with horror. "I had no idea! I did not know. I--will take steps instantly! If the Earl of Barringford will not do what is right, then Viscount Penrith will!" David rose. "I will write to the governors tonight, demanding this man's instant dismissal."
Tristan, having said the worst, felt his temper receding. His hands came slowly unclenched and he took a deep breath. "I am in no farther danger from Professor Milford," he said coolly. "I cannot speak for other boys, but he will not trouble me any more."
David looked at him bleakly. "I should have known. I should have come down to Winchester with you and seen for myself--"
"David! Do you not understand? My father should have done these things. He has not. I am old enough now to do them for myself."
"I--yes, I see that." David sat again on the bench, his hands loose between his knees, his head lowered, the very picture of dejection. Tristan came and sat beside him, and for a long moment they were quiet.
"His lordship wanted you to speak of something to me," Tristan said when the silence had grown too long. "It was not, after all, about Professor Milford."
David shook his head.
"Well, go on. I am equal to nearly anything tonight."
David took a deep breath. "Father has had a letter from Mr Percival Dauncey."
Tristan's heart sank and he knew a moment's fear. Surely no-one had seen him go with Dauncey to the stables, or into one of the disused classrooms--? No-one, not even Wheaton, really knew what they did there, knew the silent intensity of their meetings. "Dauncey's father? One of his brothers?" he asked.
"His father, Tris. Mr Dauncey intimates that there has been some...impropriety in your friendship with his son Henry. Has there been?"
Tristan could scarcely believe that Dauncey had spoken to his father of--of such things, but he must have done so. Disbelief gave way to a sense of betrayal. "We are not even friends," he declared, and thought, not any longer.
"Tristan! Please! Do not make this more difficult. I am asking you to tell me: have you formed an attachment--that is, was it already too late when I took you from Eton?"
Tristan looked down at the conservatory floor between his evening shoes. He noted that his feet were now bigger than David's. "I do not know how to answer that," he said at last.
"Do you have an improper attachment to Henry Dauncey?" David persisted.
"I do not think so."
"But you do not say 'no'."
"I do not know that I have an attachment to Henry Dauncey at all," Tristan clarified, thinking of how, just days earlier, he had wanted to kiss him, and how that kiss had inexplicably driven Dauncey away as all their other shared moments had not been able to do. I am not like you. Those had been Dauncey's cutting words. "I do not understand very much in that regard," Tristan added.
David sighed. "This is very difficult."
"I am sorry."
"Do you--do you touch him, Tristan, as you ought not?"
Tristan did not answer.
"Tristan! Do you approach him as--as God intended only for a man to approach a woman?"
Tristan remained silent. David turned his face away and seemed almost to shudder. "You are nearly grown up now, as strange as that is to me, and soon I shall have no right whatever to ask you such things. I suppose I must trust you to --" David shook his head and was again silent for such a long period that Tristan began to fear that disgust stayed his tongue. Memories of his interludes with Dauncey came before Tristan's mind, unspeakable and intoxicating, and he tried to push them away. At last David said, "I will ask you for your word upon two points."
"Very well," Tristan managed to reply, swallowing back his fear and his shame.
"First, Tristan, I want your word that you will never press your attentions upon any person who does not wish them or is powerless to refuse them. Do you understand me?"
Tristan looked at him, puzzled. This was not the promise of self-denial he had expected David to require of him.
"I mean that just as you would not improperly approach a young lady of good family, you must remember that your rank, your station, even your wealth, can cause people to fear the consequences of refusing you. Consult your conscience and do not ask for what is improper, not from ladies, not from persons of lower rank, not from--from boys. Do I make myself clear?"
Tristan rose to his feet. "I do not--! How could you think that I-- David! I do not importune ladies, or servants, or--or boys! If you think me so depraved, then you do not know me at all. Do you think that because I was treated indecently as a boy, I do the same? Is that what you are asking me?" He paced away, dashing a flowering vine from his face as he passed it, and causing it to break and fall. "As for Henry Dauncey, he is older than I am and well able to speak for himself, which he has evidently done, though I cannot say I think much of him for doing so. I assure you David, whatever I may be, I pose no danger to the little boys at my school. I am not Wickersham."
"Tristan! Consider the position you have put yourself in, and do not take an angry tone with me. My forbearance is your only surety against Father's learning of your...your nature. I will tell him that the Dauncey boy has made up a tale to harm you out of spite, or--or envy, and do my best to make Father forget this. But I must understand the truth, and I must have your word."
"Well, you have it." Tristan could not bear to look at him. He stood next to the vine-covered column and scowled at the floor.
"I can ask for no more upon that head," David said. "Come, sit down again, please." He patted the place next to him on the bench. Tristan turned his face away and remained standing. "Look at me, Tris. Please. This is very important."
Tristan glanced at David's face, just long enough to see how strained, how earnest, how sad he looked--how very much unlike his usual self--and then turned away again. He did not think he could bear very much more of this conversation, and hoped that it would soon reach a conclusion.
"The other promise I will ask of you is that you will remember your duty to the family name and honour, even if your inclinations should not lead you to--family life." His tone was one of barely concealed disgust.
"I will remember," Tristan answered, stung. "Though why that should matter now that you are married, I do not know."
David made a sound, nearly a shout, of frustration. "You do not understand what you are saying, Tristan! If you truly cannot change, you must be seen to have changed." He rose, took a pace toward Tristan, then, when Tristan still did not look at him, turned and sat again. He ran a hand through his hair and let it fall listlessly to his thigh. Tristan waited, still and wary.
"I knew a boy at Eton," David said finally, in a quiet voice. "His name was--well, it does not matter what his name was. He was not--not--that is, he was quite an ordinary fellow. No-one realised, I suppose, that his preference for the society of other boys was more than..."
Tristan stole a glance at him, afraid of what he was to hear next. David had picked up the vine that Tristan had broken earlier, and was shredding it.
"Well," David went on, letting the bits of leaf and stem fall to the floor between his feet, "he was not able to overcome his inclinations. Rumour about him arose while he was at Cambridge and pursued him into his adult life. No gentleman would ever speak of such things, but someone, someone who bore him a grudge, accused him of--of what is best not spoken of."
David did shudder then, at the mention of this unspeakable thing. Tristan looked at his brother now, openly, a horrified fascination overcoming his pride.
"He was tried, Tristan, at the Old Bailey!" David said in a tone that was almost pleading, as if begging Tristan to understand him fully. "Every detail of his unseemly practices was brought out into the light of day for the scrutiny of the common man. His letters--which his...his particular friend was foolish enough to preserve--were read out in his trial and published in the newspaper. He was found guilty, and was sent to gaol, and so he lost everything: his inheritance, his family, his name and reputation, and finally his health. He was not very much older than I, and two years in gaol destroyed him. I heard that he fled to the Continent upon his release, and for all I know is living there in penury, if he even still lives."
Tristan felt cold inside. He did not know precisely what this old schoolfellow of David's might have done, but it was clear to him that David was trying to draw a comparison between it and what Tristan had done with Dauncey. Tristan understood that those meetings must remain secret, that they were shameful and even sinful, but that they were a crime for which one might be tried in court, like burglary or murder, was terrifying to him. He swallowed and said nothing.
David went on. "He was my friend for a time in school. I liked him. He was not a monster. He enjoyed a ride, or a song, or a spring day as much as the next fellow. But in that one particular he was not like other boys--not like other men--and there was finally a terrible price to pay for that difference." David bowed his head for a long, silent moment. Then he took a deep breath, and when he looked up, he met Tristan's eye squarely. "Promise me that you will remember."
"I have said that I will."
"Then that must be enough for me." David sighed and scuffed at the bits of vine that he had scattered on the conservatory floor, as if to make them vanish. Then he rose and came forward to put both hands on Tristan's shoulders. "I--forgive me, Tris."
"For hoping that you will yet change."
Tristan reflected that he had never had a pleasant school holiday at home, and chided himself for having hoped that this one would be different. "I have always tried to be what you would wish me to be, David. Perhaps I will change."
David gave a small, sad smile. "You are my dearest little brother and, I hope, still my friend. I break my heart knowing that I have failed you. Truly, the happiness that I have found in marriage to Charlotte is what I would wish for you. I shall not despair of your finding such happiness."
Remorse filled Tristan's heart at the certainty of his inability to gratify David in this wish. "You have never failed me," he said, not wishing to make some promise he could not keep. "I am not a little boy, David. I ought never to have been your responsibility, but I truly am not your responsibility any more. I am mine."
"You will be my responsibility as long as I live," David said with a heavy sigh. "I can scarcely describe my trepidation at that prospect!"
Tristan searched David's face. He saw anxiety there, and sorrow, but not the contempt or disgust that he feared, and his relief at this made him almost giddy. "Confess it, David: I keep you from becoming bored and complacent," he rejoined, trying for a light tone that might break the disturbing mood of the evening. Encouraged by David's short, rueful laugh, Tristan said, "What do you say to a game of billiards?"
Still looking rather shaken, David said, "Perhaps Charlotte will excuse me," and Tristan remembered that his brother was not altogether free any longer. "I suppose a short game..."
"Oh, well, it goes without saying that the game will be short, for I will thrash you pretty quickly."
"Do not imagine that because you have grown so strangely tall, your skills have in any way surpassed mine," David said, as they walked out of the conservatory and back along the hall.
Tristan laughed, surprised that he was still able to do so. They passed through Barringford House to the billiards-room, and if David looked at him differently than before, at least, Tristan consoled himself, it was not without love.