Adam’s melancholy had nothing to do with the city he was leaving behind. Indeed, he felt nothing when he left London. He sang none of her songs, mourned not the loss of Drury Lane nor Vauxhall, ached not for the pleasures of Red Brick Lane. For years, he had been among the city's great patrons, at least of some of her more avant garde residents. For years, he had funded more productions, lined the pockets of haberdashers and hatters, and introduced some of the season's most gossiped-about romances.
That was over now. Now his carriage bore him home, to Heathwick and her low swelling hills, her sleepy village, her long-forgotten rooms and neglected gardens. His home by birthright, his burden by choice, Adam had not been to his family home in Yorkshire since his parents' untimely death whilst on holiday in Jersey. They had loved the country in a way Adam had not, could not, especially now that everything there reminded him of what a happy family they had once been. How he had endless summers of horseback riding, of dancing lessons and socials; winters of singing while his brother, Neil, accompanied him on the pianoforte, of drinking hot chocolate with the children of the servants and sleigh rides on Christmas eve. After the accident, he had vowed to leave Heathwick and never return. However, more recent events made staying in London even more untenable than returning home to face those particular ghosts. Adam sighed and slumped against the wall of the carriage, trying to get more comfortable.
Even the ache he normally associated with missing his family failed to pull at the strings of his heart as he glanced out the window, watching London grow ever smaller as the sun set behind the dome of St. Paul's, rendering the landmark evermore picturesque. When one took ill, it was fashionable to retreat to the country; so Adam knew he was not alone in his self-imposed exile. But unlike the coterie of unwed expectant mothers and handful of those who suffered from gout; Adam knew he was not likely to return to London. In fact, he had set all his will against it.
The chimes of the cathedral rang out her merry tune, and at last Adam awoke inside. The music of it, even the simple tune meant to thank God for the gift of an hour, was torture. For five years, music had only one name; Mr. Bradley Bell. There it was again, a stab of pain in his gut as he thought that name; a name which, like music, had once brought him incomprehensible joy. Of all his great friends in the city, Bradley had been his most constant. He had been more than a friend; he had been his inspiration, his raison d' etre, his lover.
Thoughts of Bradley, naked and unashamed, mixed with memories of their last parting and Adam felt as though he could scarcely breathe. He pulled a tin flask from his greatcoat pocket and took a long, heady drink of the scotch he had allowed himself for the journey. Adam shook the flask - he would need to refill it; as it was a long trip. No matter - the English countryside was dotted with inns and taverns. It would be charming to visit some of them. Indeed, he was to meet with his family's lawyer and executor tomorrow at Cambridge to attend to the transfer of his residence from London to Heathwick and the increase in expenditure so that his brother, Neil, might purchase a commission, having at last reached the age of majority.
This cost would be somewhat offset by the dowry for his forthcoming marriage; Neil had made himself a fine match. His prospects and his wit had made him an attractive candidate to several of the county's most eligible females, including several that had finally given up on Adam himself. Neil had only been too happy to insinuate that Adam would be remaining a bachelor and that he would ever be Adam's heir. Adam was happy that his younger brother had his pick of women. He had considered taking a wife himself to keep up appearances, but in London no one had seemed to care that he preferred men to women. Perhaps that happy social indifference would be absent in the country; he would have to be less overt outside of London. The thought made Adam shudder. It wasn’t so much that woman disgusted him; several of his close friends were women. He had even experimentally kissed a few to find that he liked it. Kissing was a natural extension of friendship amongst the enlightened minds of London who were his contemporaries and friends. Yet, when it came to anything further or to any true blending of the spirit, there really had only ever been Bradley. Bradley on stage, powdered and costumed. Bradley singing in the morning, eyes sharp and seductive and amused at everything around him. Bradley spread out on his bed, beneath him but always in control. It hadn’t always been wonderful. In fact, most times it had been downright difficult. Adam thoughtfully took another drink of scotch, emptying his flask. That hadn’t taken long, he thought, pocketing the empty container and returning to his musing.
Unsurprisingly his mind wandered back to Bradley, to their last night together. Adam could tell it was goodbye from the look in his eyes, the anticipation of the moment they would part. There had been those among their circle that had forewarned him about Bradley, about how he would latch on to a well-to-do man and suddenly all the funding problems for his theatrical ventures seemed to disappear. Adam had stubbornly told himself that this was different; that Brad was a changed man. However, in their third year together he felt that Bradley’s interest had begun to wane and before long someone with more money came along; a lord’s son. He was younger than Adam, too, and prettier. Adam had seen them talking in Vauxhall, Bradley brushing his arm casually and looking hopefully into the other man’s eyes. He had confronted Bradley about it, but Brad had brushed him off, dismissing him as jealous and foolish. Adam had believed him in spite of the growing whispers amidst their friends that something more was afoot. Even after Bradley had broken their relationship off, Adam had been determined to remain in London amid their close circle of friends, but it only took one performance to change his mind. It broke his heart to see Brad singing his heart out on stage, singing for his little Lordling. Adam had decided that very night that perhaps a change of scene would benefit him. A return home.
KRISTOPHER Allen took Katherine’s delicate, gloved hand and stepped lightly in time to the music. She waltzed beautifully; it was almost as if she could float. He was proud, in that moment, that all the eyes in the room were on her, and soon she would be his. Pride was a sin, and Kristopher tried not to dwell on it, but perhaps such small errors could be overlooked. He was finally going to ask her for her hand in marriage, after months of convincing her father that he was worthy of her. Her father had consented but had then whisked Katy off to London for a holiday, robbing Kris of any proposal opportunities. However, upon her return her father had been kind enough to throw her a homecoming party, and Kris was determined to ask her this evening.
“Mister Allen” She said, looking him in the eyes as she crossed in front of him and changed hands, slightly bobbing with one foot behind the other. “Would you like to take a walk outside?”
Kris’s jaw dropped. Katy was never this forward. Surely she didn’t mean unchaperoned?
“I think we could slip out the servant’s entrance.” She continued on her next pass. “Just nod if you’ll agree. I know it’s improper-“
Kris cut her off with a nod and tried to study the look on her face. Her smile could set his heart ablaze, but she had no smile for him tonight. She was so lovely: blonde hair and green eyes, a dimpled grin and fair complexion…Kris listed off her features as a poet might. He had, in fact, written her several poems but had dismissed them all as not worthy. They had grown up in the same town, and though her family was of a much higher station, they would dance together as often as propriety would allow. Every social event of the season would be another excuse to see her, try and win her affections. Kris knew he shouldn’t be nervous. Why, Katherine had hinted at making a life together often enough that their engagement seemed a natural conclusion. Yet there was something in her face that worried him.
After the song ended, she disappeared and Kris waited a few moments before following.
“Best of luck, Kristopher.” His brother, Daniel clasped him on the back. Kris nodded at him and started across the room. Daniel had been recently married himself, and his wife Eleanor was expecting their first child. Kristopher wondered if he, too, would be so quick to start a family. The thought formed a tight little ball in his throat. Of course, Katy was beautiful, and Kris knew what activities were necessary to have a baby. His father had explained, and of course Daniel had bragged about his various conquests even before Eleanor. He’d never so much as kissed Katy. She had given him her glove however, and he had kissed that once before tucking it in his wardrobe. Kris felt himself growing ever more anxious as he wove through the crowd.
At last he made it through the small door and out into the rear garden. Katy was standing amidst the night-blooming flowers, elegant in her simple gown. Her hair was caught up so that only a single curl fell from its binding. She looked stunning and suddenly Kristopher understood why her father had been so reluctant to give his permission. There was no way he could be worthy of her, not ever. Even so, he had to try. Kristopher walked towards her, trying to be as quiet as possible.
“Miss O’Connell.” He whispered. “Katy, if I may-“
“Of course you may. We’ve been good friends for many years, haven’t we?” She was smiling now, but it was a pressed, difficult-looking smile.
“We have. In fact, I’ve been meaning to speak with you about that.” Kris stammered a bit, looking toward the moon momentarily. It was easier than looking at her.
“I hope we’ll remain good friends for many years to come.” Katy continued as if she had not heard him. “Perhaps our children will play together as we once did.”
Kris was confused. It was terribly forward of Katy to talk about having children together before they were even engaged. He frowned slightly.
"Our children?" Kristopher finally stammered. "I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Not our children” Katy stammered, blushing. “I meant our respective children, of course.” Kris gave her another bewildered look and she glanced around nervously. “I know you spoke to my father before we departed for London." Katy continued, clearly distraught. "Of course he didn't mention it until it was too late."
Kris felt his hopes sink like a stone tossed into a pond.
"Too late?" Kris repeated. "But I haven't even asked you-"
"I met a man in London. I should say, we were introduced. He's heir to the largest estate in Yorkshire. He, well he spoke to father and my parents...they thought it would be a good match."
"I...I had spoken to your father...I shouldn’t have procrastinated, but Katy – I thought you knew. Surely you knew."
"Kristopher. You know that I hold you in the greatest esteem. But my parents told me he is afforded 800 pounds a year. Can you imagine such a sum? I'd be able to make sure they are well taken care of. It would mean better social arrangements for my sisters. I'd be able to make charitable donations, put some of that fortune to good use." Katy swallowed hard. "My parents thought it would be for the best, Father decided-"
"That you should marry some swell you don't even know because his pockets are well-lined?"
"Kristopher, he is a good man. His family is socially impeccable, save for his elder brother, but-"
"You don't even know him. Katherine...Katy." Kris's voice was soft, pleading. He took a step closer to her and gently placed his hand on her arm. "What of the plans we spoke of? My studies are almost complete and I am set to take my vows next week. We were going to find a small parish out in the country that had need of a pastor and we-"
At this, Katy brightened.
"That is the good news, Kristopher. Heathwick is large enough that it has a parish of its own. The church is attended by farmers and the townspeople from the surrounding villages. Neil mentioned that their pastor had recently been called to Heaven and I mentioned you. He... he spoke to the Bishop and if you'd like it, the church would be yours. The parsonage too, it's located on the grounds of the manor. Neil - my fiancé, his brother purchased him a commission in the Army so he will be away much of the time. He thought it would be nice for me to have a friend close by. Perhaps, if you took a wife, she and I could be good friends as well."
Kris's mind was reeling. He had always dreamed of a parish of his own and had thought it would be years before he attained that dream. The dream had always included her as his wife, however, and the idea of having her so close at hand yet out of his grasp was difficult to bear.
"I must say, my heart is...Katy I thought we had an understanding. If you really intend to marry this stranger I must confess my disappointment."
"Please, Kristopher. I feel as though this is the best way forward. I have always thought you would be part of my life. Nothing has changed other than the role I thought you would play. Accept the posting.”
Kris blinked back tears. Good God, he couldn’t cry. Not in front of Katy. He turned away for a moment, trying to breathe deeply. It was this motion that enabled him to see a tall, dark haired man walking towards them in the moonlight.
“Are you here, my love?” the man asked and broke into a bit of a trot when he saw Katy, obviously eager to be at her side.
“Ah, you must be Mr. Allen. “ The man bowed slightly, and Kris returned the gesture. “Katy’s told me so much about you. I do hope you’ll accept the posting. We do so need a man of your conviction, especially with my elder brother returning. He’s been in London so long he’s practically a heathen!” Neil laughed at his own joke, winking at Kris as to show he was kidding.
“We really must be getting inside, my love.” Neil continued, kissing Katy’s hand lightly. “Your father wants to make the announcement.” He turned back to Kris, bowing again. “I’m sorry, you must think me terribly rude. I’m Neil Lambert, of Heathwick. Miss O’Connell’s intended. “
“Ah, no. Not at all.” Kris stammered, bobbing his head in return.
“Katy’s spoken so fondly of you. She tells me you’ve been like a brother to her. I hope we shall be like brothers too. The parsonage is lovely – very close to the main house. Why, when Pastor Robbins died I wept for a week. I practically grew up at his knee. The old man taught me how to play rugby, if you can believe it. I’ll bet you’re a rugger. You’ve got the makings of a fair scrum half.” Neil gestured towards the house and Kris walked next to him, Katy his other arm demurely.”
“I, ah… No. Well, yes I’ve played but not regularly enough to have a position.”
“A shame I’ll be off for Spain so soon. Why, we’ll barely have time to get settled before I have to leave again. If I had longer we could organize a match; get all the local lads in for a weekend. What a lark!” Neil seemed to be an amiable fellow, but Kris could tell he was trying to draw Kris into conversation. Perhaps he wanted to see if he refuted Katy’s claim that her affections towards him were sisterly. No matter the case, Kris tried to steer the conversation away from the wedding. Inspiration struck.
“Does your brother play?” Kris asked suddenly, remembering that Neil was the heir to Heathwick, not the owner. “That is, is your brother often at Heathwick?”
“Adam lives in London, and no-“ Neil chuckled and dropped his voice low, leaning closer to Kris “-he doesn’t play rugby. But the lads about town tell me he’s not one to turn down a scrum. If you follow.” It took Kris a moment and a suggestive arch in Neil’s brow, but after a moment spent reflecting on the proximity and position of rugby players engaged in a scrum, he did indeed follow. Neil was implying that his elder brother was a sodomite, if Kris was reading him correctly. It would certainly explain why Neil was to inherit rather than any future offspring of the elder Lambert brother.
“Once Katy and I start a family, my allowance will double. Since Adam refuses to take up residence at Heathwick, it was always our agreement that I would raise my family there. As mother and father are no longer with us, there’s no one to force him to marry – so he’s decided he won’t. Stroke of luck for me – I doubt pretty Kate over here would have given me a second look without Heathwick.” Neil kissed her on the cheek as she swatted him good-naturedly.
“Neil!” She chided him, giggling.
“I jest, my love. Your kindness and generosity would of course lead you to take pity on such a humble specimen as myself. A creature of your loveliness would be wasted on a fellow like Kristopher here, who is not homely enough to appreciate what beauty looks like. Why, he can see it in the mirror – why look elsewhere?”
“Neil!” Katy said again, laughing openly now, a joyous sound that made Kris’s heart ache. He makes her happy Kris realized, smiling a little wistfully.
“Oh come now, Mr. Allen. Do let’s be friends.” Neil said, smile fading a little when Kris did not join in the laughter. “I hope I didn’t cause offense. Katy will tell you, I always run on at the mouth. It’s a dreadful habit, but she does encourage it. I shall have to be very firm with her. Perhaps, as our liaison to the Almighty, you can intercede on my behalf? ‘Dear Lord, please grant strength to my dear friend Neil Lambert so that he doesn’t act up to impress his intended i I n front of her old friends.’”
Kris couldn’t help but join in the laughter this time, and Neil patted him lightly on the shoulder.
“Please Kristopher, do say a prayer for me.” Katy asked, wiping a tear as she came down from her fit of laughter. “I fear I shall need them.”
“I will.” Kristopher promised. “ Might I have a moment with your intended, Mr. Lambert? If that won’t strain the bonds of our new acquaintance?”
“Of course, my good man. I am sure you have a lot to discuss to plan the ceremony. You’ll be officiating, of course. Comes with the territory. Ah! Now you see my ulterior motive!” Neil bowed again, offering Kris a rakish grin before heading into back into the O’Connell residence.
Katy stood in silence a moment, looking at Kristopher sadly. Kris took a deep breath, unsure of what had just transpired. He only knew that he had come outside intending to propose and was coming back inside having agreed to marry the woman of his dreams – to another man.
“I do wish you every happiness, Katy.” Kris started. “I just wish that it were me.” He said softly, before shaking his head to clear the thought. “No matter. It’s for the best, as you say. And I wouldn’t stand in the way of your future. I shall be satisfied as to my part in it, as best I can.”
“Oh, Kristopher.” Katy closed the gap between them and embraced him. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know and by the time I did – “
“Do not worry yourself on my account. He is a good man. I can tell.”
“That means very much to me, Kristopher. I treasure your good opinion.”
“May it long be so.” Kris took her hand and kissed it gently. “But I believe you have an announcement to make, and I should let you return to your guests.” He said, turning her towards the door.
“Aren’t you coming inside?”
“I believe I shall walk home. Would you be a dear and send Daniel after me?”
Her face fell somewhat, but she nodded.
“Of course. Goodnight, Kristopher.”
“Goodnight, Miss O’Connell.” He said, returning to formality and relishing the few opportunities to use her maiden name that he had left. He watched her enter her house before departing, making his way through the back garden to his family’s land by moonlight.
“Guide me.” He implored the heavens, though there was no earthy direction he sought. He could have made his way home in pitch-blackness. No, Kris prayed for a new north by which to aim the compass of his soul; the old stars would no longer do.
THE meeting with the lawyer had gone well, and his journey had progressed slowly northward towards North Gate, where Heathwick was located. Adam took his time in a few of the towns, trying to remember what it was like to live in a place so full of quiet. After his third such extended stay, he realized that he was simply putting off his return to Heathwick. A journey that should have taken the better part of a week turned into a fortnight, but Adam had run out of pastoral villages. The only town in front of him was his own, and he could see the winding road that would take him out of the village and to the manor and church that were his birthright.
Heathwick. One look at her and Adam was instantly transported back to simpler times: before his parents had died, before his relocation to London, before Bradley Bell. The graceful white columns still stood majestic atop the stairs, which spilled down onto the hills like an invitation. The parsonage stood snug between two oak trees, and Adam followed the footpath from the front door of the little stone cottage, across the river to the church – which was strangely occupied.
“Driver!” Adam rapped on the roof. “What day is today?”
“Saturday, June 14th, m’lud.” Came the chipper reply.
“Then why…?“ The carriage was drawing near the church now, and Adam rapped on the ceiling again.
“Let me out, I’ll meet you at the manor. You can bring my bags in, I’ll leave you the key.”
“Right-o, sir. Will you be long?”
“Only a moment, I should think. I’ll have your fee presently.”
Without waiting for the carriage to stop, Adam swung down and began walking towards the church. Perhaps he shouldn’t intrude – it could be someone’s christening, he warned himself, but his curiosity was piqued. Last he heard, old Pastor Robbins had died, and the church had been unable to find a pastor willing to relocate this far out for this small of a congregation, much less one located on a manor that had been all but abandoned.
Adam put his hand on the pull of the church door, feeling the pitted metal even through his gloves. He had almost pulled it open when he heard a sound-
The church organ, blasting out a chord, followed by a voice, sure and strong. The singer’s pure tenor was golden, as warm as the June sun on Adam’s dark coat.
“Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.”
Adam felt as though he had been kicked in the gullet as the rest of the congregation joined in the song. It had been a favorite of Bradley’s; he had insisted on playing it even though Adam had tried to banish religious songs from his townhouse.
“It’s beautiful.” Bradley had said, smiling as he pressed the keys. “Just because you don’t believe it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beauty of it.”
“It’s about death-“ Adam had protested.
“It’s about a love stronger than death. A thirst to be together even though you might feel abandoned and alone. Maybe you can relate?” Brad had stopped playing and kissed him – there was never any arguing with him.
“ad te, Deus.“
Adam was transfixed by the resolution of the final chord, having followed the tenor throughout the piece. The fact that there was indeed a service taking place occurred to Adam at last, and he removed his hand from the door, not wanting to interrupt.
“We are gathered here today to celebrate the holy matrimony of Neil Lambert and Katherine O’Connell“
The same tenor voice, so uplifted in song, sounded muted and sad speaking, the words so infused with emotion that Adam almost didn’t catch the name. When it registered, Adam pivoted on his heel and burst into the church. It was his brother’s wedding, God damn it, and if anyone had a right to interrupt, it was Adam.
KRISTOPHER was sweating. It was his first full service as a newly ordained priest of the Church of England, and it was a wedding at that. Not just any wedding, either. The wedding of the woman he had spent the last three years assuming he would one day marry to his new landlord’s affable and wealthy younger brother. Katy looked radiant, though it was clear she wasn’t looking at Kris. For Neil’s part, he didn’t seem to notice the tension; he seemed as eager as any groom on his wedding day. Their wedding was to have been months off, but last week Neil had received orders that his regiment would be leaving for Spain. Neil had begged Katy to move up the date; should something happen to him in the fighting he wanted to make sure she was well taken care of.
The organ began Kris’s favorite motet, a Palestrina, based on psalm 42.
So as the deer longeth for running water, yea, so my soul longeth for you, oh Lord. The words of the motet were simple but evocative. Kris couldn’t help but think that his deer was bounding out of his grasp at last, having drunk her fill. It was an uncharitable thought, and he banished it to the back of his mind and let his voice carry his emotion instead. Katy’s airy soprano and Neil’s hesitant bass were no match for him, but the rest of the congregation supported them all. It was a beautiful sound, and joyous. Everything was almost as it should have been.
As the song faded, Kris began the words of the ceremony. He looked past Katy and Neil, not wanting to see the excitement in her eyes as she looked up at her soon-to-be husband, their names falling from his mouth with much practiced diction. He hoped he didn’t sound as shaky as he felt, and secretly prayed for deliverance.
The church door swung open loudly and Kris caught his breath. The late afternoon sun backlit the figure, as tall and straight a fellow as Kris had seen. The man seemed to forget himself for a moment as he looked around the small church, surveying the scene. With a graceful gesture, he swept his top hat off his head and slipped his black gloves from his hands.
“Brother!” Neil called, cutting through the silence of the moment. The man stepped forward, the door swinging closed behind him so Kris could get a good look at him.
He looked like Neil, but at the same time, nothing at all like him. Whereas Neil’s face was bright and happy, his elder brother looked morose and pale. Where Neil’s hair was dark, his brother’s was fair – a golden – copper. His eyes swept over the room like a bird of prey, scanning the crowd for familiar faces, looking Katy up and down as if to find fault, and finally settled on Kris himself.
But the lads about town tell me he’s not one to turn down a scrum. If you follow. Neil had said. Kris supposed he should be repulsed, but Neil hadn’t seemed so, and as Adam gazed at him appraisingly, Kristopher Allen drew himself up to his full height. He had always been able to feel the hand of God in his life, and Kris felt it now, pushing him from behind ever so slightly towards the intimidating figure in front of him. What was behind this man’s evident suffering? Why had his own brother not bothered to invite him to his wedding? Was he really the sinner that Neil had so cheerfully painted him?
“Neil.” The man spoke, his voice high and cold. “I see congratulations are in order.”
“Adam. Don’t be cross with me. I did send a letter to your flat in London. My orders require me to report for duty next week and I, well, we wanted to g be married before I left.” Neil had left Katy at the altar and was walking hurriedly towards his elder brother, Adam. “Please. Join us in front. “ Neil waved aside his attendant, and escorted Adam to the place of honour at his right.
“Adam, this is my bride Katherine – Katy. Katy this is my brother, Adam.” Neil introduced. “Oh, and our new pastor, the Reverend Kristopher Allen.”
“How do you do.” Adam bowed his head slightly, looking longer at Kris than he did at Katy, though he did return her smile. It rang hollow to Kris, though Katy didn’t seem to notice.
“You may proceed, Reverend.” Neil said, but Adam tugged his shoulder and whispered something. Neil looked at him oddly and whispered back.
“I understand that, but I’m the one that’s paying for it. I shall have my say.” Kris heard Adam mutter angrily.
“Very well.” Neil said, face darkening. “No more music, however. My brother has a sudden aversion-“
“An aching head after a long day of travel.” Adam insisted. “I apologise.”
“Not at all, Mister Lambert.” Katy said, her voice sweet and full of the kindness Kris had so long admired. “If Adam is ill we could wait an hour more.”
“No, no. Do proceed.” Adam waved his hand. “Just…no more noise than necessary.”
After a long moment of awkward silence, Kris continued with the ceremony, unable to be nervous about the words anymore, not with Adam’s pale blue eyes resting solely on him for the balance of the afternoon.
ADAM leaned against the cherry mantle of the drawing room fireplace, contemplating his reflection in the plate glass window. He had been a boy the last time he had visited this room and now he was master of it.
"So you're married" Adam began, addressing his brother, who looked eager to get this particular conversation over with.
"So you're back home. For how long?" Neil ran a hand through his curly hair, tapping his foot quietly.
"Longer then you intend to stay, apparently." Adam poured his brother a drink. "It's good to see you, Neil. It's been far too long."
"A problem you could have remedied, had you wished." Neil bristled. "But London has its allure, I suppose. I certainly found happiness there."
"Her family is a bit lower than father would have preferred, but I suppose given the circumstances it was a good match. You might have consulted me, Neil."
"You have done as you wished for six years now without regard to familial responsibility. I've acted as head of the family in everything but name. Certainly I should be afforded the privilege of choosing my own spouse, since that is another duty you've neglected." Neil was blunt, but not untruthful. Adam had indeed neglected his duty to Heathwick. Since he would not provide the family with an heir, it was well that Neil had taken it upon himself to find a wife. In Katherine O'Connell, Neil had found a family willing to overlook the eccentricities of Adam's lifestyle and provide Heathwick with a beautiful and socially capable mistress.
"Forgive me. You've done well for yourself. I will endeavour to take more of a hand in family matters, especially now that you will be departing. Your wife is welcome to stay here, of course, provided she doesn't mind my presence."
"Why should she? It's your home as well as mine. I expect she should be grateful for the company. The only other person of note within circumstance is Reverend Allen, her childhood beau." Neil quirked a grin. "A nice enough chap, I suppose. A trifle dull but earnest enough."
"I had been meaning to ask where he came from. I am hardly a church-going man but don't the bishops usually wait till a man is out of short-pants before awarding him a parish?"
Neil chuckled, swirling the wine in his glass before taking a sip.
"Usually. It was Katy's idea. I think she felt a little guilty. Apparently he carried quite the torch for her. Her father would have been a fool to approve of such a match, his prospects being what they were. So I took pity on the poor chap and wrote to Bishop Clark. He was only too happy to concede the appointment." Neil refilled his glass and checked his ascot in the looking-glass. "Not a bad bargain. We gain an extremely grateful pastor who will likely settle down with one of the local girls and I have someone to watch over Katy while I am away...and don't look at me like that." Adam had just shot Neil a wary look. "Katy's father assured me he was extremely pious. You're probably a greater threat to her virtue. At any rate, she hardly seems like the type to make a fool of me."
"You don't need a woman to make you a fool." Adam teased, and Neil raised an eyebrow.
"Neither do you, brother, if the London gossip is true."
"What do you know if it?" Adam's mood soured instantly, and the smirk fell of his brother's face.
"I have friends in London too, you know. Your exploits are not entirely a mystery. Your motivation, perhaps-"
"Shouldn't you be returning to your wife?" Adam interrupted, not wanting to discuss Bradley, especially not with Neil, of all people. He would likely tell him at exactly what point Bradley had fallen out of love with him, and chide Adam for not recognising his treachery immediately. He would be right to do so; Adam had been a fool for love. He vowed never to cede such power to another again, and being away from London all but removed the opportunity.
"We should both join the party. Will you favour us with a song?"
Adam scowled and left the room, not even caring to dignify Neil's request with a response. He wouldn't be insulted and then expected to perform like a common fool. Neil would make apologies for his absence, and if he took offence so be it.
THE grand ballroom of Heathwick did nothing to lift Kris’s spirits. If fact, it served only to throw into sharp relief the difference in station between he and Neil. How could he compare to this grandeur? He had been a fool, a blind fool to set his sights so high. Clearly, this sort of life was the life Katherine O’Connell deserved.
"You did a fine job today, Reverend." Kris eyed Katy's father James warily. He hadn't spoken to the man since he had given his permission to ask Katy's hand in marriage. His heart was not yet ready to forgive him, though Kris understood his situation. He would have done the same by his daughter were the choice in his hands. In some ways he was happy for Katy: that at least she would be well provided for. Neil Lambert could give her much that she deserved that Kristopher would have never been able to produce. He just hoped that, in time, Neil would love her as much. Surely he would.
"Thank you, sir. Congratulations on a most fortuitous match for your daughter. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
"Wait a moment, Mr. Allen. I wanted to congratulate you on your new posting as well. A parish of your own at your age is quite an accomplishment." James O'Connell thumped Kris on the back, and Kris shirked away from the heavy hand.
"Thank you, though your son-in-law had more to do with that than I did." Kristopher glanced around the room hurriedly, looking for anyone to save him from this thoroughly awkward conversation. Everywhere, guests were arriving and mingling, people Kristopher had never met. He was utterly alone in Heathwick but for the O'Connell family.
"If you were still looking for a wife, Katy's younger sister Mary is almost of a marriageable age. Now that you are a man of some means I am sure she would look favorably on such a match." James's wife Molly offered, tilting her head to indicate the second sister, who was giggling with the youngest O'Connell girl.
"I..uh, thank you for that suggestion. I think I shall settle in to my new duties before I do any courting." Kris tried to smile amiably, but he could tell from their disappointed reactions that they could read his disinterest. He excused himself, saying that he needed to meet his new parishioners, and wandered over to take a glass of wine from the serving tray.
Kristopher ducked around the corner, happy for the few moments alone. Molly O'Connell was not the only woman with eligible daughters in the room, she was simply the most forward. Other just-as-subtle offers would no doubt be bandied about for the remainder of the evening. Of course Kris planned to move on someday. But today was not that day. Today was a day to get mildly inebriated, make an appearance, and leave before he could get publicly emotional.
"This is supposed to be a celebration." Kris turned slightly to see Neil Lambert holding two glasses of wine. "Allow me." He said, exchanging Kris's almost empty glass for a full one.
"Congratulations." Kris said, raising his glass slightly.
"I hope that smile isn't the best you can muster, or the ladies of the village will stop attending service. I thought I had left behind my most morose guest when I parted company with my brother a moment ago." Neil smiled a little too knowingly, and Kris felt his face begin to burn.
"Forgive me, Mr. Lambert, I...wine always leaves me with a headache." Kristopher lied, hoping that Neil would attend to his other guests.
"If it's stronger drink you're after, you should see the other Mr. Lambert. Upstairs on the right. In fact, you should pay him a visit anyway. You'll know him by his frown."
"I met him at the service." Kris mumbled, taking a sip of the wine.
"Seemed to me that you were quite focused on someone else. Didn't know if you got a good look at him." Kris was surprised by the ice in his tone but couldn't fault Neil. After all, Kristopher was a wedding guest and should at least pretend to be happy. "But I can't hold it against you. She looks exceedingly lovely today." Neil continued.
"She does." Kris agreed, nodding his head.
"I hope we can be friends." Neil said, offering his hand.
"I'm sure of it." Kris took the hand that was offered. "As long as you're good to her."
"You have my word."
Neil smiled at him, a genuine smile rather than his typical sardonic smirk.
"I should get back to my guests. Do drop in on my brother."
"I shall." Kris promised, watching Neil make his way towards the crowded ballroom to dance with his new wife.
ADAM began his unpacking himself, as the household servants were too busy with the wedding party below to be bothered much with him. Not that Adam had even asked. It was something to take his mind off the energetic string quartet that played in the ball room and could be heard all the way in his childhood apartments. Of course, being master of the house, he could have taken his parents’ wing, but when Adam had opened the door, two very important things rose to his attention. Primarily that the room as not uninhabited – clearly Neil had been styling himself lord of the manor and, from the flower petals scattered over the sheets, intended on doing so again tonight. Secondly, this was the first time he had set foot in his parents’ bedroom since their accident. He wasn’t sure how Neil dealt with the memories, but Adam had shut the door firmly on them long ago.
Adam folded his breeches and placed them in his wardrobe, sliding the door shut with satisfaction. He supposed he should go down and share a dance with his brother’s guests, but he had just been travelling – Neil would understand. The music was boisterous, and every note tore at his heart. Singing, dancing - they belonged to London, to a mischievous pair of brown eyes and a giving set of lips. Adam had thought to escape from thoughts of Bradley here, but today’s ceremony had proved that such escape would be impossible. Bradley followed him even here, a phantom present in every note of every song that Adam heard. He had forgotten the music of the country, how the organ at church reverberated through the hill, how the famers would sing as they went about their daily chores, how even the most modest of social engagements centred around some sort of music. If that reminder of Bradley were not enough, the new Pastor must have been sent by the Devil to torment him. He had the same color eyes, though these were wider and more innocent. Pastor Allen had the same sharp jaw, the same short stature, and the same broad shoulders that made Adam’s breath catch.
Yet as much as he was reminded of Brad by Kristopher Allen, there was an inherent innocence and goodness in him that had long ago disappeared from his former lover. Adam could tell that something had been troubling the man during the ceremony. Adam had been surprised to learn that the pastor and the bride knew each other well; Neil had said as much in their brief time alone before the reception began. Neil had not indicated the extent of their past relationship, however. Neil had mentioned that Kris was an unfortunate suitor, which was rotten luck – unless it was more than luck. Heathwick was remote, and Adam had not been expected. In spite of Neil's assurances to the contrary, Adam could not help but think that perhaps this Kristopher Allen had designs on his brother’s wife, knowing that Neil Lambert would not be around to defend his honour. Perhaps the girl’s father had disapproved of Kristopher so the shrew had devised a plan whereby they could be together under the guise of religious piety. Adam bristled. Though he was not close with Neil, Adam would not let some country cleric make a cuckold of him.
Adam’s thoughts were interrupted by a sharp rap on his drawing room door. He hastened to answer it, taking care to smooth his high collar. He pulled open the door, expecting Neil begging him to come down to the party. Instead, he found Reverend Allen, who stood a little awkwardly in the doorframe.
“My apologies if I am interrupting-“ The man began, unsure of himself.
“Not at all. Come in.” Adam was curious and stood aside. “Might I get you a drink? I was about to help myself to some scotch.” Perhaps it was fortune that sent the preacher to Adam’s door, this would be the perfect opportunity to discover his intentions.
“Normally I wouldn’t but it is a celebration, after all.” He did not look very celebratory, but Adam poured him a glass anyway, and gestured towards a set of chairs by the fireplace.
“Why aren’t you celebrating? A single man like yourself, young and with a new parish of your own – I’d imagine that every mother out there has her eye on you for one of their daughters.” Adam ventured. Kristopher took a long, slow sip of his drink before looking back at Adam, eyes full of misery.
“I could ask you the same question.” Kris dodged, placing his empty glass on the side table. Adam immediately got up to refill it, ignoring the pastor’s “that’s enough” gesture.
“I’m not celebrating,” Adam said as he poured, “because I have just travelled for two weeks, thinking to quietly settle back into country life only to find my brother getting married to a woman I’ve never even heard of, my house full of people and my head full of a string quartet that just won’t stop playing.”
“Not a music lover?”
“Not anymore.” Adam admitted softly, his stern countenance slipping a moment. “Did my brother send you to find me?”
“He suggested I seek you out if I was going to stand around looking morose. I am not sure if he thought you would cheer me up or if you would appreciate like-minded company. “
“Very pleasant of him to make a mockery of our mutual misery.” Adam supplied. “But that’s Neil for you. Always making light of everything. I suppose one of us has to.”
“So you make everything dark, is that it?” Kristopher asked, curiosity etched into the fine lines around his eyes. “Were you always the more serious of the two, or has your homecoming coincided with an unfortunate event?”
“This is a very awkward first conversation.” Adam answered, not sure of what to make of his new pastor, who looked as though the whiskey was already going to his head.
“I’m sorry. I…I actually came because I wanted to enquire if you were going to be staying at Heathwick long.”
“Indefinitely.” Adam said, finishing his glass of whiskey and refilling it, along with Pastor Allen’s while he was up. “You seem surprised.” Indeed, Kristopher’s mouth had fallen open, and Adam could not help but notice the pretty way that the firelight played on his full lower lip.
“Your brother made it sound as though Ka-Mrs. Lambert would be living here. He said that you lived in London.”
“I did until recently. And if she wishes, I suppose Heathwick is large enough to accommodate both of us. Since I am her brother now, it would be my responsibility to make sure she is well taken care of. Also it’s been many years since Heathwick has had proper inhabitants; I suppose she could use a woman’s touch.“
“Most men would take a wife of their own.” Kris suggested again, blushing a bit.
“I am not most men.” Adam replied, cocking an eyebrow. “And, I suspect, neither are you.”
“I would like to take a wife one day.” Kristopher protested, looking a little nervous.
“Ah yes, but not a wife of your own.” Adam remarked smartly. “Is that why you took this parish? Knowing my brother would be away? Or, given the way the war has been progressing, hoping that his absence would become permanent? ”
Kris rose immediately, forehead pinched together. Adam rose with him, unsure of what would follow.
“That is an insult to my honour, sir. And to the honour of your brother’s wife.” He said briskly.
“Are you going to ask for satisfaction?” Adam’s lip curled slightly at the shock on Kris’s face at his suggestion. Though not as affected as his drinking companion, the whiskey was beginning to do its work. He felt courage piping through his veins, and something else too, something darker and more desperate.
“Of course not. I shall gladly turn the other cheek, but you should know your hospitality leaves something to be desired.” Kris looked as though he was straining to remain composed, and Adam felt a cruel urge to push him further. He looked so very much like Bradley, who was probably even now in the midst of his new lover’s arms. “I didn’t come here to be insulted.” Kris was flushed, and Adam guessed that it was the whiskey as much as anything; Kris’s speech was slightly slurred and his eyes were wide.
“Then why did you come?” Adam took a step forward and placed a hand just under Kris’s chin. It was apparent that Kris had heard of his nature; country tongues did wag, and certainly there were enough disappointed mothers in the village that would have relished the chance to complain to the new pastor. “Conversion?“ Kris had frozen at the contact and lowered his gaze, but not before Adam saw something flash in his eyes, something he had not expected to see. Adam dropped his hand but did not relinquish their proximity. For his part Kris did not surrender any ground and so they stood, close in the low firelight. Adam tilted his head slightly, arching his brow. “Curiosity?”
The sound of Adam’s voice seemed to break Kris’s trance. Breathing deep, he met Adam’s eyes again, opening and closing his mouth a few times before finally speaking.
“I merely wished to better acquaint myself with the man to whom I will owe a debt of obligation. Your family has provided for the upkeep of the church and her servants for many years, and having heard that you were not a man of great faith, I took it upon myself to provide an opportunity for such acquaintance.” Kristopher swallowed hard. “ I am no papist, sir, to hear confession, so whatever sinful proclivities that weigh upon your soul are your own and I will thank you to keep them.“
“Oh come now. “ Adam interrupted, wondering if he had been mistaken in his assessment. Perhaps he had imagined the momentary flutter of interest, a trick of the firelight inside Kristopher’s deep brown eyes. “These are modern times.”
“The times are what they are, and I am what I am.” Kristopher stated simply, tugging on his black jacket as if to call attention to the raiment.
“I am sorry for you, Mister Allen.” Adam said, words sharp on his tongue. “I know not what trick of cruel circumstance brought you to Heathwick, but you are here and – as you noted – in my obligation. Let us not harbour any illusions about that relationship. I shall provide for you as is my duty, with the following caveats. As the gossips have told you, I am not a man of faith, and will not be subjected to any of your overtures to persuade me otherwise. Secondly, whatever torch you are carrying for my brother’s wife should be extinguished immediately. For all your recent indignation on her behalf, nothing will stain her honour more than the utterly besotted way that you looked at her all afternoon. “ Kristopher opened his mouth to protest, but Adam waved him off. “Her honour, of course, is now my honour. I care not for what you were to each other. In the future, you will school your emotions so that your lust isn’t readily apparent to every parishioner in the county.”
“My love is not-“
“Spare me your fervent denial of romantic feelings. I, of all people, know the folly in loving someone beyond your grasp.”
Adam watched as the pastor’s shoulders sank, the fight clearly out of him. He had expected to feel satisfaction in the victory, but the viciousness faded as Kristopher returned to his chair and picked up his whisky glass.
“I suppose you would” Kris remarked, swirling the liquid in the bottom of his glass. “You could have almost any woman you desired, and yet…” Kris waved a hand in a dismissive gesture that Adam found oddly charming.
“Yes. Desired being the key element.” Adam was amused - Mr. Allen had been offended only a moment ago, and now it appeared as though he was trying to understand Adam’s preferences. Adam was unused to being dissected; Bradley and he had shared a commonality of mind and therefore had never discussed it as such; they hadn’t ever felt the need. Adam’s other peers would sooner die than discuss his sexuality – yes, it was an enlightened time, but even if society was willing to turn a blind eye towards men living together, such things were not discussed in polite society.
Perhaps a love-lorn, inebriated, newly-minted pastor didn’t count himself part of polite society.
Adam became aware that Kris was studying him, so he returned the scrutiny. Had they met under different circumstances, Adam would have had to admit that he found Kristopher positively bewitching, especially sitting low in the leather chair, face illuminated by the dying fire. His hair was perfectly mussed; a happy result of a long day rather than hours of styling a la Beau Brommel. The two shared another long moment.
“I should let you to your unpacking.” Kris said, finishing his drink. He stood up, wavering slightly, and Adam reflexively caught his arm.
“Are you alright?” Adam asked.
“I never should have agreed to come here. I should have fought for her. I should have at least tried-“
“Oh, dear.” Adam felt Kristopher lean a little heavier against him as he took a stumbling step.
“I am…Forgive me. I am not acquainted with strong drink. I fear you have outpaced me.”
“I’ll walk you home.” Adam offered without thinking. Kristopher Allen had gotten under his skin, that was for certain. A moment ago he had been purposefully trying to offend the man and now he was over concerned with his well-being.
“I couldn’t trouble you.” Kris struggled to right himself.
“Nonsense. You won’t make it down the hall without me.” Adam insisted, slipping his arm around Kristopher’s waist.
“Adam…Mr. Lambert. Please. I shouldn’t be seen like this.” Kristopher pleaded. Adam considered the situation. He couldn’t very well spend the night at Heathwick. That in itself would be cause for gossip. On the other hand, his inebriated state could not be missed by half the guests should they appear downstairs now.
“Servant’s stair. We’ll leave through the kitchens.” They would be seen by servants-of course, and Adam was counting on their discretion. Hopefully the personnel Neil had chosen to employ would know better than to talk. If not, it would be helpful to know now so that Adam could have them replaced. In a way, this situation was a godsend.
Kristopher nodded his assent, and before long Adam was ushering him down the narrow, twisting staircase. Adam hadn’t been down this back stairway since he and Neil had been children, racing about the manor with abandon. This journey was much slower paced; Kristopher would only take a few steps at a time before he’d collapse against Adam, mumbling apologies. When they had descended halfway, Kristopher straightened suddenly, pulling free of Adam altogether.
“I loved her, Mr. Lambert.” Kristopher said suddenly, as if it were a great revelation. “I loved her and I never told her. I should tell her.” He turned as if to re-climb the stairs, and for a moment Adam contemplated letting him march down the main stairway and declare his affection before the assembled company. It would certainly keep the small folk from discussing his relocation. Yet Adam thrust his arm out and caught Kristopher by the tails of his black coat.
“If you love her, you will let her be happy with her new husband, tonight of all nights.” Adam said, trying to talk some sense into the man.
“Would you simply walk away from someone you loved?” Kris whirled on him.
“If they told me there was someone else.” Adam admitted. “If they confessed to love another, I would.
And I have.”
“I should not’ve given up so easily.” Kristopher said sadly. “I should’ve fought for her.”
“Nonsense. If she had ever loved you, you would not have had to fight. You do not win love. You surrender yourself to it.”
“Is love submission, then?” Kristopher asked, his voice small and soft as he descended the two stairs down to where Adam was standing. He looked at Adam with an appraising look in his eyes. “Is that how it was for you, before you left?”
“Not as such.” Adam said, regarding him cautiously. That look was in his eyes again, challenging and dark. “For me it was more like … faith I suppose. You don’t ever hear God return your prayers, and yet you’ve devoted your life to Him. I had faith that Bradley would be with me, and he was.”
“Until he wasn’t.”
“Until he wasn’t.” Adam repeated. “But this was supposed to be about you and the now-Mrs. Lambert. That is so strange to say. Mrs. Lambert.”
“’Tis stranger still to hear, ‘specially in context.” Kris shook his head, and the motion caused him to reel a bit. He leaned against Adam for balance. “It helps, I s’pose, to know someone else has loved and lost and isn’t broken beyond repair.”
“Who said I wasn’t?”
“You aren’t the one being snuck out the servant’s stair by your landlord, whom you’ve only just met and who happens to be the brother of the husband of the love of your life.”
“No, but I did return to a place I vowed I would never live again in order to avoid contact with anything that would remind me of my ex-lover, only to be confronted with a pastor who could pass for his long-lost brother.”
Kristopher pulled back momentarily.
“I see.” His brow furrowed.
“I’m sorry. I should not have said that. Please, Mr. Allen, I beg your forgiveness.”
“There is nothing to forgive. I am sorry if my presence causes you heartache. I had hoped that perhaps we could be friends. I felt that even though on the surface we are very different, we are bound together by our mutual misfortune in matters of the heart. I had hoped we could find more pleasant similarities. But if such a relationship would cause you any grief-”
“I should like that very much, Mr. Allen.” Adam interrupted. “It was unexpected, that is all. Disarming.”
“Please feel free to use my given name. It feels odd, having confessed so much, to stand on ceremony.” Kris offered, leaning his head against Adam’s shoulder and squeezing his eyes shut in an effort to remain upright.
“Then I hope you shall return the favor, Kristopher.” Adam paused a moment before letting out a small laugh. “Shall we? This is a very serious discussion to be having in the servant’s stair.”
“Thank you, all the same – for stopping me from making a fool out of myself. For listening to me when I had no one else. I really am quite alone here.” Kris said, allowing Adam to support him again.
“You came to Heathwick chasing love, and I returned to Heathwick fleeing from it. Perhaps neither of us is as alone as we felt.” Adam said, patting Kris’s side as they eased down the stair and into the starry night.
It was a short walk to the parsonage, and Adam closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of Kristoph
er pressed next to him. Not since Bradley had left had he been so physically close to another person. It was strangely comfortable, though Kristopher stumbled every few feet and leaned on him the entire journey. Adam’s arm fit nicely around Kristopher’s broad back, and when Kristopher snaked his arm low around Adam’s waist for more balance, Adam was glad for the cover of darkness as he felt a blush working its way across his face. Kristopher was not the only one feeling the effects of the whiskey.
They reached the cottage at last, and Kristopher extended his hand at the doorway.
“I shall see you at service tomorrow, I hope?”
“Of course.” Adam said without thinking. He had not been to mass in years, but the happy smile on his new friend’s face coupled with the buzz of the alcohol in his blood made him return the grin brightly. “I am looking forward to it.” He said, and found it was not a lie.
KRIS awoke to a thumping in his skull and a churning stomach. It took a moment before he realized that the non-stop thudding was being matched by a rapping at his front door.
“Breakfast, sir. With Mr. Lambert’s compliments.” One of the servants from the main house handed him
a small basket and bobbed her head before turning around.
“Wait. Which Mr. Lambert? Kristopher called after her, rubbing his eyes in the morning light.
“The elder.” She said, bobbing her head again. “The young mister is still abed.” The woman added, her face suddenly flushing. “Good day, Pastor Allen.” She giggled, obviously eager to be away.
Of course it was from Adam. If Kris had woken up with Katy in bed, his first impulse would not be to send breakfast to one’s preacher. Kris looked in the basket and found a modest breakfast of fried eggs, toast, and a sausage. There were two silver flasks, the larger of which held chilled water. After unscrewing the cap to the smaller flask, nausea washed over Kris as the smell of whisky overpowered his senses. He hurriedly closed the flask and sat down, head between his legs until the worst of the feeling had passed. He looked inside the basket again, hoping that the sight of the food would invigorate him. Lifting the plate of eggs, he saw a white piece of paper had slipped beneath the plate.
The Reverend Mister Allen,
I understand that my brother has not yet assigned you any help and that you have been fending for you
rself like a common farmer. I have no doubt that, in spite of your modest protestations to the contrary, you would appreciate such assistance with day-to-day chores, so please expect someone from the house each evening to take any laundry, perform mild cleaning, and prepare you with an evening meal. I do hope you will join us for breakfasts in the morning room, but if your solitude is preferable I shall arrange for your servant to accommodate.
The whiskey is for just prior to the service. I find that a nip of it will allay most of the headache you are most likely suffering. My apologies, incidentally. I look forward to further conversation with you – though perhaps next time I might forgo insulting your honour and you might forgo becoming so inebriated you cling to me like a besotted shepardess. There I go insulting you again. Forgive me, Kristopher, I am a dreadful person. If we are to be friends, you ought to know.
Mister Adam Lambert
Kristopher laughed a bit as he read, blushing as the memory of his intoxicated stumbling came back to him. He had been forthright with Adam, almost too forthright. There was something about the man’s demeanour that was at once intimidating and at the same time encouraged utter frankness. The evening had passed strangely for Kris, starting out with the sharp agony of having to watch the woman of his dreams dancing with her new husband and ending with a desire that Kris had long ago banished to the deepest recesses of his mind.
It was certainly the most memorable church service Adam had ever attended. Kristopher looked as though he had witnessed the actual crucifixion; his pale skin was a bit green, particularly when he held up the bread and wine for God’s blessing. Best though were the sly glances he kept sending as if his sickness was shared joke.
For his part, Adam’s stomach clenched whenever the organ sounded. The reaction was visceral; one chord and he felt as though he was back in London, back with Bradley. The feeling only intensified when he heard Kris carrying the congregation in song, voice strong and clear as the morning light.
“Can we expect you for Dinner, Pastor Allen?” A sharp eyed woman had cornered Kristopher after the service, a veritable flock of daughters in tow.
“I, ah...that is to say...” Kristopher was sweating, and at the mention of dinner he looked even worse than he had during communion. He cast a pitiable expression in Adam’s direction, and Adam felt compelled to rush to his aid.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Greene” Adam stepped in, smiling with the full force of his not-inconsiderable charm. “I asked Mr. Allen to dine with me, as it’s my first evening back home – well, without my home full of revellers, that is. I am sure that he can attend to your lovely family another night this week, perhaps?”
Kristopher nodded his head enthusiastically. Mrs. Greene accepted his regrets and was about to leave before she turned her eyes on Adam.
“It is good to see you again, Mr. Lambert. Perhaps after so long in the city you are eager to settle down yourself? Seeing your brother happily married before you have yet to achieve a desirable match... less charitable souls would call it queer.” Adam bristled, trying hard not to outwardly show his annoyance. She was only saying what most of the county would soon be remarking upon.
“My younger brother is married.” Kristopher interjected, looking offended on Adam’s behalf. “I suppose th
at makes my situation just as queer.”
“Oh, pardon me, Pastor Allen. I meant no offense, to either of you.” She flushed crimson. “I am sure the both of you will find lovely wives in no time.”
“And I am sure Mr. Greene will eventually find men willing to divest you of your many daughters.” Adam said, smiling as broadly as he could muster.
Adam stayed by Kris’s side, greeting his old neighbours as they reintroduced themselves. It was surprising how little their faces had changed in the time he had been gone. Adam felt like he had completely transformed in the intervening years; he scarcely felt like the same person.
KRISTOPHER hesitated a moment before rapping at the door. Perhaps Adam had only been jesting when he invited Kris to dine with the family. It was possible that he had merely been providing Kris with an excuse to spend the evening alone. However, an invitation was an invitation.
“Come in, Mister Allen.”
Kris stepped out of the twilight into the shining foyer of Heathwick, feeling much better for the afternoon’s respite. The servant dropped a polite curtsey and took his hat. He had changed into a green coat and tan trousers, finding that he missed colour after spending the weekend in black. The fact that he had gotten sick all over his last clean black shirt had also figured into his decision. Nevertheless, he was hungry; the small breakfast having long since ceased to sate him.
He stood awkwardly, not sure where to go in the large house. He turned back to the servant, but she had already vanished from sight in that quiet way that the gentry so prized in their hired help. He took the moment to admire the family portrait hanging on the wall in the gallery just off the foyer. It was clearly about ten years old, as the Adam that looked back at him with painted blue eyes was on the cusp of manhood. His face was slightly rounder than the Adam Kris knew now; the freckles more pronounced. He did not smile the way his younger brother and mother did, which Kris thought was a shame.
“It’s not a very good likeness, she was much more beautiful.”
Kris turned to see Adam staring at him, in the flesh this time but with very much the same expression as he wore in the portrait.
“In truth, I hadn’t studied her yet. I was regretting that you chose such a serious expression. But I am sure she was. Very lovely. That is, she is lovely in the portrait so I can assume she was more so in life. As you say.”
“Tell me, Kristopher, do you always carry on so – with or without a few drinks to loose your tongue?”
Kris flushed, grateful that he high collar of his shirt hid the crimson creeping down his neck.
“No. Only when I’m humiliated, sir. What you must think of me...If you haven’t written to the bishop already I’d thank you to give me another chance. I do not normally make a habit of drinking.”
“I must remind you to call me Adam, and certainly feel no shame on my account. You have a bold spirit when you are in your cups, I admire it. It would be a shame for you to banish it entirely. No, I insist you and I have a drink together again sometime. Though not this evening, I think.” Adam answered, with a hint of mischievousness in his eyes. For a moment, he looked younger than the portrait.
“I think not.” Kris laughed in spite of himself. “But if you please, I would be happy to attend to you after dinner at the Greene residence this week. Perhaps you would be so good as to join me, considering it was you that promised me there in the first place.”
“I saved you from getting ill all over yourself in front of your parishioners and this is how you repay me? Here I thought you were possessed of some manners at least” Adam placed a friendly hand on Kris’s shoulder.
“Speaking of my social graces, or lack thereof, I must thank you for your kindness this morning. The arrangements you have made for my living situation are beyond what I had expected.
“They are nothing more than what should be afforded to a man of your station. Perhaps you are unused to it, but I would be remiss if I neglected such niceties. Believe you me, I’ve looked at the books. Reverend Robbins burned through twice as much as I shall spend on your account.”
“Then perhaps I should be more discriminating.” Kris laughed, moving closer. “I’ll have to ask you to show me where we’re dining. I didn’t get a tour of Heathwick.”
“You didn’t?” Adam asked, feigning shock. “My brother has been neglecting you. We have awhile before dinner, and I would be most pleased to show you my home. That is, if you would care to see it.”
Adam made a splendid tour guide, colouring obscure details of the architecture with stories of his family. Adam’s upbringing had greatly differed from Kristopher’s own. The Lamberts were very liberal with their children, allowing them great freedom at an early age. While he was impressed with the legacy they had left their children in the form of the house, he could see that the lessons they had imparted to their eldest son were more valued than the great wealth that Heathwick provided.
“It must have been hard. Their accident.” Kristopher said after Adam had recounted listening to his father’s will in the handsome, book-lined library.
“It was shocking to hear, to be certain. My heart didn’t really believe it until the day I heard the lawyers address me as if I were father. It was terrifying. I always knew I would have to make the decisions one day, but I had always pictured it as so far off. I…I’m a bit ashamed of my behavior actually. I moved to London, leaving Heathwick in the hands of our lawyer and Neil. I made sure I had reports, of course, but still. I neglected my responsibility for something that turned out not to be as worthy as I thought it was.” Adam paused and regarded Kristopher carefully. “Will you inherit, Kristopher?”
“Not as such. I am the eldest son, but my family does not have much to speak of. In truth, my parents thank Heaven that they had no daughters. Dowries would have proven difficult. We are an old family, but my grandfather ran up a debt that he couldn’t repay in one lifetime. My father has done well in repaying it, but it has cost him. At an early age, father decided it would be best for me to enter the clergy. He thought Daniel would enlist, but he found a wife whose family owns a mill. He works for her father. It’s not a glamorous life, but it’s an honest one.”
“Why the clergy for you? Why not the Navy? I would wager you could have been accepted as a Midshipman.” Kristopher swallowed hard. It was once his life’s ambition to join His Majesty’s Navy, particularly once war with the French broke out. He blushed deeply before speaking, wishing he had some of the whiskey he had nearly drowned himself in the night prior. Though if anyone would understand…
“I had a close friend growing up. Mark Thompson, the innkeeper’s boy. He grew up working in the Inn, you see, and was far worldlier than I. He told me a story once, the story of two sailors that had returned home during leave. They shared a room, as is common for midshipmen. They had ordered bathwater and when Mark delivered the steaming tub, the two men were engaged in…” Kris coughed uncomfortably, and Adam burst out in laughter.
“Clearly I should have joined the Navy.”
“It’s a hanging offense.” Kristopher stated simply. “They begged Mark to keep silent, on account that it was a hanging offense to do ... what they were doing. They even paid him, but he told me.”
“Did you tell on them?” Adam asked, voice soft and distant.
“No. But Mark wanted to try what they had done. Said it must be pretty good if men were willing to die for it. He was my best friend and so I...” Kris walked hurriedly to the arm chair next to the fireplace and sat down. Hr e couldn't bring himself to say the words, even after all these years. It was not disgust that held his tongue, it was the fear that Adam would hear in his voice that Kris had enjoyed it. That in spite of his protestations at the time, it had felt natural. When Mark had whispered the suggestion in his ear, Kristopher had been just as eager. He had even volunteered to go first.
“Kris, you don’t have to continue.” Adam said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I understand.”
“But that’s why I want to tell you. I’ve never been able to discuss it. Father came upon us, upon me, I should say, on my knees in front of Mark. We were just boys. I don’t even think I understood what I was doing.” Tears stung Kris’s eyes just as a clap of thunder sounded. Rain began falling, pattering angrily on the domed copper roof of the library. “Father was horrified, of course. He would have been just as horrified had I been between the legs of some milkmaid, but since it was another boy he was afraid for me. After that I he sent me to study with our Reverend. I wasn’t allowed to see any of my friends. That’s how I came to know Katy so well – she and her little sisters were the only children who lived nearby. Certainly, any thoughts of the Navy were put aside. Father wouldn’t risk it, and I was determined to make him proud of me again.”
“I am sure you have.” Adam said, voice wavering. It was a brief rain shower. The drumming on the roof let up, but the thunder continued rolling outside, an ominous undercurrent to Kristopher’s story.
“They were so pleased when I told them that Mr. O’Connell had given me his permission to ask for Katy’s hand. It was as though they could finally stop worrying about me. Katherine was to be my redemption.”
“You don’t need to seek redemption. You were just a child. Boys are curious by nature. I bet your friend Mark didn’t have to seek redemption.” Adam gently reproached.
“He should have.” Kristopher pulled a handkerchief from his waistcoat and dabbed at his eyes. “He joined the Navy at fifteen. A year later they send his sea chest home. Killed in action, they told his parents, but another friend of ours heard the truth. He was hung under article Twenty-Nine.”
“I’m so sorry.” Adam said, kneeling down in front of Kris’s chair. Lightning flashed bright through the windows, illuminating the landscape outside. It was a fierce spring storm; only hours ago the skies had been clear.
“So the priesthood it was for me, and by the grace of God, I have never been moved to sin in that manner again.” It was not a lie, but not a whole truth either. As much as the feminine form excited Kristopher,he found the male body just as enticing. Though he had never given in to the longing, it had remained though banished to the deepest recesses of his mind. Being near Adam was casting candle light on parts of his past better left in the dark.
“It was just a curious phase. Some boys go through them.” Adam assured him, rising. “Some boys never grow out of them. I was fortunate in that I had no experience with such matters until I moved to London. In London, in certain parts of London, no one cares. Of course, no one cares in thecountry either, not as long as you are discreet. The military has their own code of conduct, and the Church has their predispositions, but thankfully my father and mother raised me to be myself. Smartly myself, I should add. Were they still alive, I am sure I would have been encouraged to take a wife. As that isn’t the case, I look forward to growing into my dotage as a crotchety old bachelor. No one will look twice at dotty old Uncle Adam.”
Kris burst into laughter at the idea of an elderly Adam. It was somewhat ridiculous.
His laughter was cut short, however, by the flash of light coming through the south window that nearly blinded him.
“That must have struck somewhere.” Kristopher said, rushing to the window.
“A tree, perhaps?” Adam offered hopefully, straining to see though the dark.
“I could have been wrong, I suppose. It was so bright.”
“Let’s hope you were.” Adam said, clearly not as concerned with the storm. “Kristopher. I want you to forgive yourself for what happened all those years ago. You were just a child, and you have done splendidly for yourself. You said that Katy was to have been your redemption. I still do not think you need redemption, but she has brought you here. For that I am grateful, as I hope you are. Let Heathwick be your redemption, then, as she will be mine as well. Redemption not for a supposed sin, but from placing such cruel burdens on yourself, and from the pain of shattered expectations.”
“I’ll try to think of it that way.” Kris said, brightening.
“I hope you shall.” Adam said, a wicked smile spreading across his face. “For if sucking prick is truly a sin, then not all the papists in Rome could save my soul.”
Kris burst into laughter, the sound exploding from his chest. Adam joined him, unable to refrain. It was a musical thing, Adam’s laughter, and Kris found that he loved the sound of it. The amused look on his face quickly morphed into a look of horror, however, as Adam looked out onto the south garden again.
“The parsonage!” Adam exclaimed, dashing towards the window. Kris turned and watched in shock as yellow and orange flames billowed from the parsonage – only too recently his home. “We have to stop it before it spreads to the church.” Adam tore from the room to call for help, but Kris remained frozen, watching as his new life went up in smoke.
“Reverend!” Adam called back, and the sound of his title snapped Kris to attention. “We’ll need every man.”
Kris followed Adam into the night, praying that what little effort they could muster would be enough to salvage something from the fire.