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Mr Norrell, ladies' man

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Christmas Eve, 1807

Mr Norrell did not like Christmas dinner. It invariably started late and lasted for what seemed like hours, involved socializing with crowds of people and centred on goose, which did not agree with him. On top of that, there was dancing after dinner!

As by far the wealthiest man in the country for many miles northwest of York, however, he had long been expected to provide a feast for his elite neighbours on this one occasion each year. At least, so Childermass said, and Childermass knew about such things. Now that he had moved to London and suddenly achieved great fame with his ship illusions and other magical feats directed against the French, the obligation was even greater. Childermass assured him that he should use the holiday as an occasion to reciprocate the considerable hospitality that he had enjoyed in the homes of the elite of London. He had reluctantly agreed.

For the party Mr Norrell’s dining table had been considerably extended and was now lined with high government officials and their wives, as well as the many high-society couples that Christopher Drawlight and Henry Lascelles had introduced him to.

Drawlight had chosen the decorations and menu, of course. He had banished the things that Mr Norrell liked to eat, saying they were insufficiently-festive. He should like to know what was un-festive about a very little chicken breast, some carrots and boiled potatoes, and a dessert course of gruel with a dash of cream. If feeling less-than-irritable, Childermass would even draw a holly-leaf on it in jam, and there could be nothing more festive than that, after all! Childermass, for all his faults, knew how to provide him with little treats of that sort.

So Mr Norrell traced restless patterns on the tablecloth with his fingers, while he tried to tune out the sounds of five different conversations all equally-distant from him. He wouldn’t like people to try to engage him in conversation, it was true, but he felt horribly bored with nothing to really focus on.

Mr Norrell could not understand at all why reading at the table was rude. Other people could entertain themselves with conversation, which seemed to please them as much as reading pleased him. Since he did not force them to read, why should they expect him to talk? He would certainly not take his important books to the table to threaten them with gravy, but he could comfortably have scanned some of his notes and thereby gained more than he could by not-quite-hearing several conversations.

There were two upcoming aspects of the evening that worried him far more than the current dinnertime conversation.

First, there were several middle-aged ladies present, and they all had marriageable daughters in tow. Inevitably at least some, if not all, of them would introduce these young ladies to Mr Norrell, and these young ladies would flirt with him or expect him to flirt with them and would in general make him very uncomfortable indeed. He had been subjected to such torment during his Christmas banquets at Hurtfew Abbey. He had, however, expected that in London the high-society guests would all be so well-off as not to be so interested in his status as a very wealthy bachelor. He had been astonished to learn from Drawlight, however, that there were many families living very luxurious existences who were not only in need of money but were actually deep in debt. The predatory looks he was noticing from the aforementioned middle-aged mamas seemed to confirm that claim.

Second, there was to be dancing after dinner, with a noted chamber group hired to provide the music. The mamas and their daughters might try to inveigle Mr Norrell into dancing, of all hideous activities. Even if they did not, he would stand or sit by the wall, bored to tears for a couple of hours. His beautiful library would call silently out to him, but he could not answer that siren appeal. The dancing would last so long that he would be too sleepy to read a single page afterwards. His only consolation was that Childermass would probably take pity upon him and gently help him into his night-clothes and tuck him into bed and perhaps console him with some kind words of praise for his patience throughout the evening. There might even be some kissing and cuddling. He wished that the time could flit by until that moment!

For now, Mr Norrell ate a spoonful of each dish, and hoped they wouldn’t disagree with him. At any point when he glanced up, there was likely to be one or two hopeful mamas staring at him and murmuring encouragement to the daughters sitting beside them. Each seemed to radiate an awareness of how much money Norrell was “wasting” on having a library rather than a family.

Finally the dessert arrived, and Mr Norrell dreaded having a slab of heavy, rich plum pudding set down in front of him. He glanced around as such slabs were delivered to those seated near him. To his amazement, however, a small bowl of sweet, creamy gruel appeared before him, and there was even a holly leaf drawn in jam on it! He looked around and saw Childermass hovering in the shadow of the doorway to the kitchen, where he had been all evening, supervising the serving of the meal. Mr Norrell wished he could catch the man’s eye and give him a grateful look, but Childermass was too busy to notice him. He dipped his spoon into the gruel and ate it slowly, savouring every bite and especially the ones with jam in them.

At last the meal was over, and Childermass stepped forward to open the doors and admit the group into the ballroom, a chamber that had not been used at all in the nine months or so since Mr Norrell took up residence but which was looking bright and festive on this particular evening. He could not help but look at the walls and imagine how very many books the room would accommodate if shelves could only be installed. It was distinctly larger than his library.

The musicians struck up a dance tune, and soon the central floor was filled with couples executing the intricate steps of the lengthy dances currently in fashion. Ordinarily Mr Norrell would have been expected to lead off the dance with some lucky young lady, but even Drawlight realized that no such thing would happen. Instead Mr Lascelles did the honours.

Mr Norrell made himself as inconspicuous as possible, sitting on a chair in the far corner of the room. The problem was that there were empty chairs on either side of his, and one eager mama soon brought her somewhat pretty, blonde, thin daughter over, introduced her to Mr Norrell as Miss Mapplethorpe, pushed the girl into a chair beside him and immediately made an excuse to leave the two of them together.

Mr Norrell’s conversational skills were taxed even when his company was limited to a few gentlemen of his acquaintance, and he could think of nothing at all to say to a vapid-looking young lady. He nodded and gave her a rather pained smile.

Miss Mapplethorpe looked nearly as uncomfortable as he, but she apparently had a little more backbone than her appearance would suggest. She managed to stammer out, “Are … you enjoying the dancing, Mr Norrell?”

“Not in the least. Dancing does not interest me. I would much rather be in my library reading.” He paused and asked, without much hope, “Do you enjoy reading?”

She looked at him wide-eyed for a moment and, pulling herself together, replied, “Well, I, um, do enjoy the ladies’ magazines. Such pretty pictures of the latest fashions from London and even Paris! And the gossip columns of the newspapers are sometimes quite entertaining.”

Mr Norrell looked at her with such horror that she recognized her failure. After an ice-cold silence had reigned between them for nearly a minute, she excused herself with a look of distress, rose quickly and returned to her mama. Mr Norrell concluded from the expressions on the two ladies’ faces that Miss Mapplethorpe had admitted her defeat. He ceased to pay any attention to them, for immediately another grand-looking lady brought her daughter over and introduced her to Mr Norrell.

This young lady, Miss Whitworth, was very pretty indeed, with her hair cut surprisingly short in the latest style and curls framing her face. She expressed her enthusiasm at being introduced to such a great man and sat down immediately in the chair recently vacated by Miss Mapplethorpe. She smiled delightedly at Mr Norrell, who looked back at her with a dubious expression. Her mama appeared quite satisfied and also soon made an excuse to leave the two of them together.

Miss Whitworth waited until her mama was out of earshot and said to Mr Norrell with a mischievous grin, “Well, I hope our interview will be of longer duration than yours with Miss Mapplethorpe!”

“Interview?”

“Well, conversation. I mean to say, every single young lady here is being introduced to you as a prospective bride. It must be terribly tedious for you.”

“It is indeed,” Mr Norrell replied. Miss Whitworth seemed a singularly insightful girl, and an honest one. It occurred to him, however, that his response to her remark might be considered something of an insult to her. “That is, uh, well, some of the young ladies do tend to natter on about things that are of no interest at all to me. I’m sure there are exceptions,” he said, with a little smile and nod to imply that she was no doubt one of those exceptions.

Since she had been so honest, he decided to be so with her. He went on, “Really, it is all such a waste of time, since I have no intention of marrying, however charming and attractive some of the ladies I am introduced to might be.”

“No, I should think you do not. After all, you are … do you mind my being so bold as to inquire your age?”

“Why should I mind? My age is a simple matter of fact. I am forty-two.”

“Ah, I suspected something of the sort. Well, a wealthy and congenial gentleman like you would have had any number of opportunities to marry, and if you have reached the age of forty-two without doing so, I assume it must be by choice.”

“That is a most logical assumption, Miss Whitworth. I do admire a logical mind.” It was something he had never expected to say to a young lady.

“Thank you! I might add that, also logically, for all I know, you might prefer the company of men to that of women, even in intimate situations.”

Mr Norrell’s little smile disappeared. He did indeed find men more appealing than women, but should that fact become public knowledge, the anti-buggery law might put him in some danger. He frowned slightly, since it seemed rather odd that the young lady should make such a remark. He wondered if others had similar thoughts about him.

Miss Whitworth noticed his reaction. “Oh, you need not worry that I suspect such a thing about you! But if you did have such a preference, I assure you, I would not consider it unnatural. I am very free-thinking about such things. At any rate, whatever Mama might believe, I have no intention of trying to lure you into asking for my hand.”

“Oh! I suppose you are in one of those situations where you are in love with some worthy but poverty-stricken young man of whom your mama heartily disapproves.” What little he knew of popular novels and theatrical entertainments suggested that such situations were extremely common.

She smiled. “Something of that sort, yes. But I would appreciate it if we could have a conversation so that Mama will think I am doing my best. She would scold me were she to learn what I have just told you.”

Mr Norrell was quite willing to oblige Miss Whitworth, considering that she seemed far more intelligent and likable than Miss Mapplethorpe and, he suspected, than most of the other young ladies who were waiting to take her place beside him. Besides, she seemed to be able to keep up her side of the conversation and possibly much of his side as well.

Sure enough, Miss Whitworth immediately remarked, “Mr Norrell, I must say that my real interest in you lies in your marvelous magic!”

“Oh, dear! I hope you do not expect me to do some sort of little magical trick, like those disreputable street magicians that everyone seems to find so amusing. I really do not—”

“No, not at all, I assure you! No, I am referring to the extraordinary magic you did at York Minster some months ago. I read Mr Segundus’ account of it in the newspaper over and over. And I have followed your feats since your arrival in London. The ships made out of rain were a stroke of genius. How I wish I could have seen them!”

Miss Whitworth went on in this vein for some time, since she had obviously been following Mr Norrell’s achievements and indeed the war in general quite closely in the press. Mr Norrell listened with delight, realizing that he had been quite right about how intelligent and likable the young lady was.

“It is such a pleasure, my dear Miss Whitworth, to meet a young lady who is not obsessed with novels and the latest fashions and that sort of frivolous nonsense.”

She laughed. “Well, I must admit that I do try to dress stylishly, but I do not let fashion consume too much of my time. And I do read novels, but other sorts of books as well—books on art and history and travel and biography.”

Mr Norrell replied enthusiastically, “Oh, then perhaps you would be interested in a project that my colleagues and I are just arranging. We shall be publishing a new periodical entitled The Friends of English Magic. We hope to have the first number available in February. I should be very happy to send you a copy.”

“Would you? That would be most kind of you! I should like nothing better.”

By this time the pair were talking quite animatedly and smiling at each other. Miss Whitworth glanced over at her mama, and Mr Norrell’s eyes followed hers. The good lady beamed and waved at them. A number of the other ladies, both middle-aged and young, however, were staring daggers at Miss Whitworth.

That young lady laughed and said, “So far, so good. Would you mind dancing with me?”

Mr Norrell’s face fell. “Couldn’t we just sit here and talk? I never dance. I dislike it intensely.”

“Oh, dear! Is it that you don’t know how to dance? Have you ever tried it?”

“Yes, when I was about fourteen I was forced to take lessons, but I hated it from the start. After my uncle’s death twenty years ago, I gave it up with considerable relief. At any rate, I have probably forgotten everything I learned.”

“Nonsense! One never forgets these things. And although the current dances are lengthy and somewhat complex, it is really just a matter of following the couple who goes down the set before you. You need not essay any of the more complicated steps as you progress. I would be happy to signal to you if you go wrong—which is really very unlikely. Please, Mr Norrell?”

Her smile and the pleading note in her voice made Mr Norrell waver in his determination. “But why are you so set on dancing?” he asked.

“I think it would thoroughly convince Mama that I have done my best to lure you into falling in love with me.”

“Perhaps, but then she would eventually realize that nothing had come of it.”

“True, but that would not be my fault. She can hardly force you to marry me, however charmingly I behave to you.”

Mr Norrell wavered further. In his moment of uncertainty, Miss Whitworth stood up with a little bounce and grabbed his hands, pulling him to his feet. Before he knew what was happening she had dragged him to the line-up for the cotillion. “Just follow the men in the line before you and meet up with me after we go round,” she whispered. Mr Lascelles had chosen a leading lady to call out the initial steps, but the musical group included a dancing master who soon took over from her. They launched the lengthy process of couples dancing down the set.

Mr Norrell found that the steps that he had learned long ago had not entirely deserted him, though the movements were at times unfamiliar. As Miss Whitwort had said, the modern fashion was for embellishment. Still, he was able to keep up by carefully observing the others and by just doing little skipping steps to fill in when he could not manage to imitate what they were doing. At one point as they circled the floor, Mr Norrell glimpsed Childermass, who had moved into the room to make sure that the wine was served and that those who wanted to sit down could find empty chairs. Now, however, he was staring in surprise at the unaccustomed sight of his master dancing with a young lady as his partner. Mr Norrell seldom could surprise Childermass about anything, so he was almost pleased that he had accepted Miss Whitworth’s invitation to dance. Not that he had had much choice, he admitted to himself.

At last the dance ended, and he and Miss Whitworth returned to their seats. She said cheerfully, “Why, you’re doing fine, Mr Norrell. And not even using magic!”

He relaxed slightly at that. He had not exactly enjoyed the dancing, but he had to admit that it was probably no worse than having the company of another string of young ladies—probably more like Miss Mapplethorpe than Miss Whitworth—foisted upon him.

As they rested, Miss Whitworth again initiated the bulk of the conversation, asking him about his library and his magic. Her questions were interesting and intelligent, and he quite enjoyed answering them. He wished that some of the officials from the admiralty that he dealt with regularly had half as ready a wit as Miss Whitworth.

She suddenly looked off to one side. “Do you see that very pretty blonde in the ivory dress with crimson ribbons?”

“Where? Oh, yes, I see her. Is she a friend of yours?”

“Yes. I wonder, would you mind dancing with her as well?”

Mr Norrell stared at her. “Why? I thought that we were trying to convince your mama that I was enjoying your company. Would changing partners now not make her assume the opposite? Besides, I am enjoying your company. I suppose if she is a friend of yours she must be reasonably intelligent and pleasant, but really, if I am to dance again, I would rather just dance with you and then sit down again afterward.”

Miss Whitworth looked him in the eye, seeming to hesitate about something. Finally she replied softly, “You see, that lady is Miss Bastable, and I am in love with her. That’s the main reason why I have no intention of trying to lure you into marrying me. I want to be with her—forever.”

Mr Norrell frowned in puzzlement. “In love? Can two young women be in love—beyond being close friends, I mean.”

“Yes, they can. Just as two men might be in love, as we hinted at earlier. In fact, that is why I would not think you unnatural if you preferred being with a man. If I thought that, I would have to think myself unnatural, which I certainly do not.”

“So you mean, you …” He looked around nervously and whispered, “… wish to have … a-amorous congress with her? Is that even possible between two women?”

“It is possible, though I don’t imagine that you want to learn how.”

Mr Norrell winced. “No, definitely not. But I still do not understand why you want me to dance with her.”

“You said you liked my logical mind. My request is quite logical, believe me. You see, Dorothea and I spend a lot of time together. Recently Mama saw us being affectionate with each other. Since then she has been discouraging me from seeing Dorothea. Obviously she suspects that we have an ‘unnatural’ passion for each other. I thought if Mama were to see Dorothea dancing with you and flirting with you and so on, she would decide that she was wrong and that Dorothea is a nice, normal young lady with whom I could remain close friends. A clever plan, don’t you think?”

“Well, I suppose it might work. I take it that you and Miss Bastable planned this out between you.”

“Yes, she knows that she is supposed to appear to be trying to attract you. She’ll dance with you, chat with you, just as I did. I promise, though, that she has no matrimonial designs upon you whatsoever, for she is quite as much in love with me as I with her. In case you are wondering, she is an expert dancer. Just tell her that you need a bit of guidance, and she will take care of you.”

“Well, I suppose …”

Miss Whitworth looked across at Miss Bastable, who had been watching them, and nodded. At once that young lady turned to her own mama, who was talking animatedly with a very elderly gentleman, and nudged her, calling her attention to Mr Norrell and the fact that one of the chairs beside him was empty.

Mrs Bastable’s face lit up, and she took her daughter across to introduce her to Mr Norrell, who stood up and managed a reasonably friendly smile. As in the two previous instances, Mrs Bastable soon absented herself, and this time Mr Norrell found himself with a very attractive young lady seated on either side of him.

Miss Whitworth whispered, “Now, Mr Norrell, ask Dorothea to dance, please, and I shall wander back to dear Mama and report to her that you are quite the flirt and have deserted me for another woman. But I shall assure her that though Dorothea has stolen you away for now, I am certainly determined not to be shut out of the running in this matrimonial race.”

Mr Norrell remained somewhat dubious about giving up one dance partner whom he enjoyed talking to for one he did not know at all, but Miss Bastable was smiling encouragingly at him. Perhaps he would enjoy her company as well.

As the two approached the center of the floor and the next dance began, a murmur went up around the room. Given that everyone was staring at Mr Norrell and his partner, it appeared that they were gossiping about him, presumably concerning the rare sight of him dancing with not just one but two beautiful young females. Those mamas who had not yet had a chance to introduce their daughters looked a trifle uncertain, no doubt hoping that on the one hand he might wish to dance with a whole series of other young ladies in the course of the evening and fearing on the other that Miss Whitworth or Miss Bastable might prevent that by monopolizing him. The gentlemen were watching with a mixture of astonishment and envy. Mr Norrell noted that Drawlight was looking on with a disapproving expression and Mr Lascelles with one of amused surprise.

To Mr Norrell’s relief, Miss Bastable proved every bit as expert a dancer as Miss Whitworth had said. He fared quite well, but after a second lengthy dance of nearly half an hour, Mr Norrell was feeling distinctly fatigued. Miss Bastable insisted that they should sit down for a time and partake of a glass of champagne. Mr Norrell accepted a glass from a passing servant, since he quite approved of champagne. He took nothing stronger than Madeira-wine or sherry, but champagne was even mild and delightfully sweet and bubbly.

Fortunately Miss Bastable also proved as charming a conversationalist as her friend. She shared Miss Whitworth’s admiration for his magic and listened with apparent fascination as he told several dry anecdotes about his work for the admiralty. At one point she looked across at her mama, as Miss Whitworth had done, and again the result was a cheery wave from that good lady. Mr Norrell noticed that those mamas who had not yet introduced their daughters to him were decidedly unhappy.

Rather to his surprise, Miss Whitworth returned and sat on the chair she had earlier vacated. The two young ladies managed somehow to talk with each other while appearing to be vying for Mr Norrell’s attention. At intervals he cast brief glances at their respective mamas and found that they were closely observing the conversation from afar, each anxious that her own daughter should prove the more fascinating to the great—and wealthy—magician.

At last the musicians completed the final dance, and the guests gradually made their way out, stopping to thank Mr Norrell for the evening’s entertainment. He stood in the hallway and tolerated this as well as he could. Both Miss Whitworth and Miss Bastable gushed over how much they had enjoyed talking and dancing with him. They also competed noticeably for his attention and generally put on a good show of being rivals for his affections.

Ultimately he was obliged to kiss the hand of each young lady. Both mamas urged Mr Norrell to pay them and their daughters a visit as soon as might be. He nodded with a forced smile in both cases but did not commit himself to any such ridiculous notion. The two departed with daughters in tow, looking somewhat triumphant, in that they had succeeded where the other mamas present had failed. Nevertheless, they exchanged cool looks with each other.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

After the last guest had bade him good-night, Mr Norrell retired to his library and sighed with relief at the peace and quiet of that lovely room. Not as lovely as his large library at Hurtfew, to be sure, but a considerable contrast to the crowd of guests he had just endured. He sat on the sopha near the fire, which he noted with pleasure had been built up to a merry blaze, no doubt by Lucas in anticipation of his retirement there after the party.

Mr Norrell sat down on the sopha near the fireplace and was just beginning to feel somewhat calm and relaxed when Childermass came in. He closed the door, leaned back against it and folded his arms. His expression was amused, and Mr Norrell realized that he was about to be teazed.

“Well, well, well,” Childermass drawled.

Mr Norrell sighed resignedly. “Well, what?”

“Mr Norrell, ladies’ man. I never thought I would live to see the day.”

“What in the world do you mean? I have no particular interest in the company of ladies.”

“No? That did not appear to be the case just now. You spent nearly the entire dancing portion of the evening in the company of two very lovely ladies. When I was supervising the servants in providing the guests with their outer wear at the conclusion of the evening’s entertainment, I heard quite a few remarks about how pleasant your conversation with those ladies appeared to be—and how you even danced with them. Danced! Something you have never done at the many dinners and balls you have attended since your arrival in London or indeed those back in Yorkshire, to my certain knowledge. There were two or three specific references to you as a ‘ladies’ man’ and some speculations about wedding bells.”

“I—”

“So, which of them do you favour as your bride? The dark one or the blonde? When is the wedding to be? As I am no doubt the one who will need to arrange the event—under the guidance of Mr Drawlight’s impeccable sense of fashion, to be sure—may I be the first to know?”

Mr Norrell pressed his lips together during all this. At least he had for once recognized that Childermass was teazing him. Obviously the man could not actually believe any of the nonsense he was spouting. The only way to handle him, however, was to let him amuse himself by having his say.

After looking at him with raised eyebrows and a little smile, Childermass went on, “No plans as of yet. Well, I can imagine that you are having difficulties chuzing between the two. You will need to pay calls upon each and consider the matter before making such a momentous decision.”

Mr Norrell shuddered at the thought and prepared to endure more of the same.

Childermass seemed, however, to have satisfied his desire to teaze his master. He paused and then asked, “Are you ready to go up to bed, sir? Or would you like something? A cup of tea, perhaps?”

“Tea, definitely. I am still a little too nervous to go to bed. Something small to eat as well, sitting here by the fire. I am still not quite warmed up enough. The ballroom was warm enough, but the hallway became rather drafty as the guests departed, and so many insisted on lingering to chat with me—especially the hopeful mamas.”

Once Childermass had returned with the tea, accompanied with some very welcome sweet biscuits, he leaned against the desk and stared at his master curiously. “Seriously, did you enjoy the evening, sir? I was surprised to see you participating in the dances. I had no idea that you even knew how to dance.”

“Well, I cannot say that I enjoyed the dinner, though by eating very little I managed to avoid a stomach upset. To my surprise, I rather did find talking with the two young ladies agreeable. I could have done without the dancing, but I did remember enough from lessons in my youth that I did not embarrass myself too greatly.”

“Well, tempted though I was to watch you throughout the dances, I was too busy to do so. Still, I would say that, though you were by no means an expert, you managed to keep up fairly well. Your pleasure at talking with the young ladies, however, astonished me as much as the dancing.”

“I suppose it was partly because I had expected the dancing portion of the evening to be quite dreadful. The first young lady introduced to me by an overly optimistic mama was appalling. Her reading, what there is of it, consists entirely of fashion and gossip. Can you can imagine such a life? I expected more of the same through the course of the evening, but I was pleasantly surprised by Miss Whitworth and her friend Miss Bastable. They were interested in respectable magic, not the low, yellow-curtain variety. I would much rather have been here with my books, but they helped make the evening more tolerable than I imagined possible.”

“Well, given your new reputation as a ladies’ man, if you do not make an engagement soon, you will have many more daughters introduced to you.” Childermass chuckled.

“Oh, I hope not! A ladies’ man, indeed! You are perfectly aware that I have never had the slightest intention of marrying. Moreover, I’ll have you know that neither of those young ladies had any desire to marry me, whatever hopes their mamas might have had. And do you know why?” He shook his head in amazement. “Because they were in love with each other! They were using me to hide their romance from their mamas. Did you know, Childermass, that two ladies can feel romantic passion for each other?”

“Aye, I’ve heard of such things.”

“Of course, you would know. You know everything. It came as quite a surprise to me, I assure you.”

“I believe you, sir. That’s quite amusing. They were clever indeed to use you in such a fashion to deceive their mamas. I actually wish that I could have overheard your chat with them. I wonder if their plan worked.” He chuckled again. “Just remember, though, that there is one important thing that no young lady, no matter how clever and beautiful, can give you.”

Mr Norrell sniffed. “I should think that there are a great many such things. Which one do you have in mind?”

Childermass moved to stand beside the sopha and leaned over to stare into his eyes. “She could never shove a big, hard cock inside you and make you squeal with pleasure.”

“Childermass!” Mr Norrell said automatically, as he usually did when Childermass said something vulgar, at least in the library. Once in bed he did not mind at all. Nevertheless, he shifted slightly against the sopha cushions at the thoughts that Childermass had conjured in his mind, and he involuntarily uttered a tiny moan.

He hesitantly asked, “Are you … are you too sleepy to, um …?”

“Not sleepy, no. I’m tired after all I’ve had to do tonight, but … well, I imagine that if we rested and cuddled a bit first, I might be able manage a quick go. Enough to leave you limp and ready for sleep. Shall I bank the fire and take you up to bed?”

“Oh, yes!” Mr Norrell said delightedly.

+++++++++++++++++++

Once they reached the bedroom, Mr Norrell moved to the bed and leaned against it, avidly watching as Childermass stripped until he was completely naked. The man moved to him and asked, “Shall I help you into your nightclothes, sir?”

Mr Norrell was still staring at Childermass’ flaccid but impressive cock.

“Not just yet. I depend upon you to warm me up. Nightclothes are for later.”

Childermass helped him off with his clothes, and they crawled into bed and lay entwined, kissing occasionally and lazily caressing each other.

Childermass soon became drowsy, yawning at intervals, but Mr Norrell’s caresses became more intense. He pressed himself against the larger man’s body, kissed Childermass’ neck and stroked his muscular chest, gently pinching the nipples. He rose slightly and flicked his tongue insistently into Childermass’ ears, moaning softly. This went on for some time, and eventually Mr Norrell was rhythmically pressing a nearly complete erection against his lover’s thigh.

Childermass lay quietly allowing Mr Norrell to enjoy his body, but he was amused and starting to be wide-awake enough to become aroused. “What’s all this, then? What do you want, hmm?”

Mr Norrell was panting by that point. “You know what I want! I didn’t get fucked last night. In fact, I didn’t even see you last night.”

“Well, of course not! I didn’t see you, either. I was up until all hours dealing with last-minute problems with the arrangements. When I came up it was late, and I could see that your light was out and you were probably asleep. I just went to my own room to try and get a few hours myself. Besides, you had disappeared quite early on in the day.”

“Naturally I disappeared. The whole downstairs was full of people decorating and shifting furniture—and Mr Lascelles had summoned the musicians and insisted on going through the programme, rehearsing each and every dance! I tried to work in my study, but once they commenced the noise filtered in and made it impossible to concentrate. Not to mention that Mr Drawlight kept bursting in and showing me bits of designs and decorations and asking my opinion—as if I had any interest in whether the place-cards were too gaudy! I retired to my bedroom and managed to take some notes at my little desk. The point is, though, that it has been forever since you have buggered me, and I need you!”

Childermass chuckled. “Yes, ‘forever.’ Night before last, wasn’t it? You randy fellow!” He put his hand on the back of Mr Norrell’s neck and pulled him in for a long, deep, sloppy kiss that had the magician moaning softly into his mouth. Finally Childermass pulled back. “I have to admit, though, it is beginning to seem like a long time, if not quite forever.”

He turned onto his side, pressing Mr Norrell to lie on his stomach.

“Here, shift up so I can put this under you,” Childermass said hoarsely, pushing a pillow under his hips and moving down to lie between Mr Norrell’s legs.

Mr Norrell realized what he was up to and bent his legs so that his buttocks parted slightly. Childermass cupped and spread them, exposing his tiny puckered opening. For a short time he massaged the buttocks and contemplated it, thinking of how he would soon sink his aching erection into that unbelievably tight heat. Then abruptly he lowered his head and tickled the little opening with the tip of his tongue.

Mr Norrell whimpered and closed his eyes, gasping as the tongue circled and flicked and poked at his hole. The wet stroking went on for minutes as Childermass worked to open his master and prepare the way for him to penetrate into the hot channel that would give him such ecstasy.

Finally he lifted his head and examined the area. “That looks wet enough to let me in,” he remarked. He rose to his knees and stretched out his long arm to fetch a jar of salve from the bedside table. “Do you want to be up or on your knees?”

Mr Norrell scrambled up, putting the pillow a short distance from the headboard of the bed. He placed his knees on it and grasped the top of the board as Childermass smeared the salve liberally over his own cock. When he was finished he ran his fingers over and into Mr Norrell’s hole to use the salve remaining on them around it. They made a moist little squelching sound, and Mr Norrell winced at the obscene noise even as his erection twitched in reaction.

“Relax now,” Childermass said, tapping the insides of Mr Norrell’s thighs to get him to spread them further. He obeyed, arching his stomach forward a little so that his cleft and slightly gaping entrance were again fully displayed to Childermass.

Childermass looked him up and down and then edged forward on his knees until he was between the spread legs. With a faint growl of lust he seized his master around the chest with one arm, pulling the man’s back against himself and using his other hand to maneuver the tip of his cock into place. He rubbed it against the relaxed ring, stretching and gently opening it further until the tip slid easily in.

He paused as Mr Norrell strove to adjust, bearing down slightly to bring the top of the shaft inside as well. Childermass began to thrust slowly and with short strokes, going just a little way further in with each.

Soon Mr Norrell’s body jerked in his embrace, and the magician uttered a long, hoarse groan. Childermass lengthened his thrusts, opening the tight, moist passage with maddening slowness.

For a few minutes he sought to hold back, listening to Mr Norrell’s rhythmic moans and adding some himself. Finally he asked, “Should I finish this or go on?”

For a moment he thought Mr Norrell had not heard him, but soon he replied, “Keep going. It’s … it’s just perfect.”

Childermass slipped his other arm around Mr Norrell and hugged him tighter against himself. They were both sweating by now, and their bodies slid against each other as they moved as one.

At last Mr Norrell began to press backward into each inward stroke, his body struggling to create more pressure against his pleasure point. Childermass needed no further urging, and he clutched at Mr Norrell’s swaying cock and pumped it as he drove more forcefully and deeply.

Almost at once Mr Norrell gave a strangled howl and then whimpered with joy, writhing in Childermass’ arms as his ecstasy washed over him and slowly faded to a last few fillips of pleasure. Childermass at last let his own climax hit him, and he leaned forward over Mr Norrell, fucking him hard while it lasted. He let go of Mr Norrell’s shrinking cock and put one hand against the headboard, panting and holding his master up as they calmed.

Realizing that they were both exhausted and nearly falling asleep, Childermass slid off the bed, pulling Mr Norrell with him. They both washed at the basin, and Childermass helped Mr Norrell into his bedclothes. By this time the chill air in the room was making them both shiver. They hastily climbed into bed and pulled the heavy layers of blankets over themselves.

Childermass held Mr Norrell close as he seemed to drift off to sleep. He gently ran his hands over his master’s buttocks and thighs and back through the flannel of his nightshirt and trousers and kissed his forehead and cheek.

Mr Norrell stirred and opened his eyes slightly, looking up at Childermass. “What was that? Did you hear something?” he murmured drowsily.

“I just heard the clock chime midnight. Merry Christmas, sir!”

“Merry Christmas, Childermass!”

“How do you plan to celebrate, sir?”

“Oh, a day of reading in my study after all tonight’s nonsense. And … well, the best celebration would be to do this again, I think. What could be better?”

“I think so, too, sir. For now, sleep peacefully.”

“You as well. Oh, speaking of celebration, thank you for the jam holly-leaf. It was the high point of my meal.” He cuddled closer to Childermass and drifted off.

On some nights after exchanging pleasure with Mr Norrell, Childermass pondered in puzzlement as to why he should love this brilliant but often maddening little man, but not on this night. Tonight it did not seem odd in the slightest.