Chapter 1: 1: 1781
It could have been rather easy to call John Segundus an unfortunate child. His father, Mr William Segundus, had been a gentleman of some standing within the town of ______ton in ______shire, but he had died in 1773 when John was only two years old.
Upon William Segundus' death, several things had taken place, not least of which being the discovery that William had inherited a great deal of debt from his own father and grandfather, which he had not been capable of discharging in his lifetime. Debts as large as those of William Segundus cannot pass down the generations forever, as I am sure you are aware; and when William died having made no payments for the last several years, his creditors decided that they had by then put up with quite enough. Thus it was that finally the creditors of the Segundus family were paid (a month or so after the funeral), with the mortgage on the house called in and the furniture sold in the process.
The result of such financial wrangling was that young John and his mother found that they must leave ______ton and return to the small village of ______ley where John's mother had grown up. Here they went to live with John's maternal grandmother, a small woman by the name of Mrs Humphrey. Yet while it is pleasant to stay with family, it is not so easy to stay in a cramped, bare cottage when one is used to a comfortable house (Mrs Humphrey, you see, being a widow, and not a very rich one). The change, I fear, did not do well for Mrs Segundus, for she died of a fever before the year was out.
Poor John Segundus! To be orphaned at so young an age! To think that he might have had a comfortable home with loving parents and younger siblings, but now this was no longer to be so! His lot was to never remember the smile of his mother, nor the laughter of his father, nor to know what might have been if they had all stayed in ______ton and their little family had grown.
Yet all was not so sad. For how can one pine for someone or something that one doesn't remember? How can one long for a life that was barely lived? No; we mustn't feel sorry for young John. He did not know what he missed. He knew only what he had; and that was a kindly grandmother who loved him dearly; a home that was well-kept, even if sparse; and the open commons and fields in which to run and play.
Do not be tempted, either, to think that John's childhood was one in which things were lacking. For, while he and Mrs Humphrey were poor, they were far from destitute. The little money that was left over from the estate of John's father had been placed on trust for young John, and a regular stipend was given to Mrs Humphrey to ensure that John was fed and clothed and that he might go to school and learn his letters. Mrs Humphrey, for herself, was the widow of the late-vicar of the parish, and in honour of his memory (for he had been a well-respected man) she received a small pension from the rector as well as several kind gifts from the Byfields, who lived in the manor house.
And so, while John may not have received all comforts, he was at least content in his lot (which is no very bad thing indeed).
John was by no means a lonely child, for there were many other children in the village with whom he could play. In particular John was close to the Harbishers, who lived in the next cottage. Ned Harbisher was the groundsman at the manor house and he and his wife did what they could to raise their young family. The eldest of the children was a girl named Ann, who was of an age with John. Ann had a younger sister, Betsy, and yet more siblings were to follow in time.
There was, as I am sure you can imagine, something of a difference in standing between John and his grandmother and the Harbishers. They may have lived in similar cottages, but all in the village knew that John's father had been a gentleman, while Ned Harbisher was only a groundsman. Happily, young children tend not to be so nice about such differences, and John, Ann and Betsy played together with no qualms. Oh, certainly, one or other of them might have noticed that Ann and Betsy wore worn stockings and frayed caps, while John's clothes were neat and not so very old, but that was hardly of interest to them when there were instead balls to catch and songs to sing and running and jumping and skipping to do.
One of the favourite games of Ann was to play at families. They would find some suitable place (a clearing between three trees, or the space between an old, broken cart and a wall, or inside a blanket that had been hung outside to dry) and they would make this their home. Ann, who always took charge in these games, knew how things must be.
"Betsy is the baby," Ann would state (and Betsy was then young enough that she did not mind being labelled so). "And I shall be mother and do the cooking and the cleaning." (For Ann and Betsy's mother did all the cooking and cleaning for their family, and even went over to char for Mrs Humphrey twice a week.) "John," Ann would declare, "you must be the father."
At this, John would most always pull a face. "But I do not want to be the father."
Ann would look at John as if she thought this a very odd way of going about. "You must be the father," she would say. "What else can you be?"
"I want to be the magician," John would say.
At this point, Ann would almost always disagree. She would explain, lengthily, that a family always had a mother, a father and a baby, and not at any point did a family consist of a mother, a baby and a magician. John was adamant in return that he would much rather be the magician than the father, but he also did not like to see Ann angry and so would often leave her to decide. It was up to Ann's mood upon any given day as to whether John would play the role of the father or the magician, or if perhaps he might do a little of both.
Such are children's games! For young girls, like Ann, what calling could they aspire to if not to be a respected wife and mother? Even at that young age, Ann knew very much where her prospects lay. But for a young boy? Why, then there may be all sorts of other options; and what John liked best were magicians.
John's love of magic was not very respectable. He did not admire those learned gentleman who sat about in their wigs and discussed the long-dead spells of the past. Indeed, John did not even know that such gentleman existed! (And what child does?) No; instead, John admired the magician in the local town, who sat in his booth in the market-place, behind a ragged, yellow curtain, and sold spells and fortunes to passers-by.
This magician went by the name of Greenhew Jack and claimed to be a distant relation of the Raven King (though some folks insisted that Greenhew Jack had in fact been christened Samuel Billington and was the son of old Sam Billington the shepherd, who lived in Church Lane). Greenhew Jack wore ivy in his hair and around his ankles, and he seemed to trade rather well, for there was always a crowd around his booth on market-day.
How John longed to go into town whenever the market was on! And if he did go, with what round eyes he would watch Greenhew Jack at work! Sadly, no matter how much he would ask, Mrs Humphrey would not spend any money on magic (she being a vicar's widow) and John had to be content with watching others get their spells and their potions.
Yet, a young boy will get his freedom in the end, and for John this came when he reached the age of seven and began to attend the grammar school in town. John walked to and from the town by himself, and at the end of the day when the school bell rang, the boys would head out into the market-place and (if it were market-day) a crowd of them would gather around Greenhew Jack.
Some of the boys bought fortunes, though John never had any money in his pocket (save that which he must give to his teacher). When one of the boys had made a purchase, however, Greenhew Jack was happy to answer questions, and this they could all listen to. From such excursions as these, the boys, and John among them, learnt that Greenhew Jack came from Newcastle (indeed, which yellow-curtained magician did not claim this?) that the Raven King had been a very wild sort of a fellow, and that Greenhew Jack's greatest spell had been to cause a great mountain to get up and walk away (for, said he, there were many mountains in Newcastle and they were very much a nuisance, as the people there got tired of climbing up and down all the time).
Sometimes it was John who was chosen to put a question to Greenhew Jack. On one such occasion, John asked a question he had been considering for many months. "How," asked John, "did you learn to do magic?"
At this, Greenhew Jack smiled and gave John a wink. "Why, son," said Greenhew Jack, "I woke up one morning with my skin prickling all over, and suddenly I found I could perform all sorts of spells!"
Can you imagine how eagerly young John thought of this answer? It took him a good few years to fully lose the hope that he might wake up one morning suddenly able to do spells himself.
I am sure that many of us have thought such a thing ourselves. And in the time of John's youth it was a right of passage for many children to slowly discover that there was no magic in England, that there had been no magic in England for many years, and that anyone who claimed to be able to do magic was no more than a liar at best and a thief at worst. For poor John, his dreams of becoming a magician and of doing magic were shattered.
But let us not feel too sad for young John, for while he had lost his faith in Greenhew Jack, he had not lost his love of magic altogether. You see, at school John had been learning all those subjects that you might expect: reading and writing in Latin and Greek so that he might study the classics, and reading and writing in French and English too, along with geography, mathematics and magical history. John was a conscientious scholar and took to all subjects well, but it was the subject of magical history that he loved the most. For within John there had been kindling an interest in history and a fascination for all things that had been once but were no longer. To learn about the great magic ages of the past was as if to enter another world, and once it had caught John's imagination it did not let it go.
By 1781 John was ten years old. He still played with the Harbisher children (and there were now many more of them) but he could not do this so often, for most of his time was taken up with school and even when it was not, John, Ann and Betsy were beginning to understand that they were not all of them on the same footing (for the older a gentleman's son becomes, the more the adults around him will make it their business to ensure that he mixes with only the right sorts of people).
Yet, at the age of ten a child is still a child and there was still room for John and the Harbishers to play. Ann and Betsy still liked to play at families, and John still found himself tasked with being the father. (And the older they became, the more John was willing to resign himself to the wishes of others so that they might be happy, but the less willing Betsy was to act the role of the baby.)
On one such occasion, both Ann and Betsy had been fighting over who should play the mother and they had rather reached a stalemate. They were sitting at the edge of the common, and Betsy was angrily plucking up the grass with her fingers. John had suggested that they take it in turns to play the mother, which had not gone down well at all.
Ann huffed. "I am the eldest," said she, "so I should be the mother."
"But why mayn't I get a chance?" pleaded Betsy.
"Because you must wait," declared Ann, confident in her logic. "I am the eldest daughter and the eldest daughter gets married first. Younger daughters have to wait."
Betsy threw a fistful of grass into the air. "That can't always happen. What if no-one wants to marry you? Then I wouldn't have a chance to get married at all!"
Ann laughed and said, "That's the way it is. I am certain. But I'm going to get married anyway so you needn't worry."
"Well I wouldn't want to marry you," muttered Betsy.
Ann shrugged at her sister then turned a smile upon John. "I'm going to marry John."
John's eyes widened.
"No! No!" Betsy crawled closer to the both of them, pushing Ann's feet out of the way. "I'm going to marry John!"
"You can't," said Ann. "I'm marrying John; not you."
There then followed a small fight between the sisters, with an amount of pushing. The fight ended when Betsy sat back, taking off her cap and pushing her hair out of her eyes. "I think John should decide," she declared.
Poor John, who hadn't said much while the fight was underway, now found two sets of eyes upon him.
"Say you'll marry me," said Ann.
"No," said Betsy. "Say you'll marry me."
John, looking from one to the other, was certain that he wanted to stop them from fighting but was utterly uncertain how to go about it. In the end, he decided that the easiest answer was to tell the truth:
"I'm sorry," said he, "but I don't want to marry either of you."
This answer resulted in much more pushing and complaining between the girls. Thankfully, at that moment Ann and Betsy's younger sister and brother, Frances and Tom (who were the age of three and four respectively), came up and dragged John off to see where the cat had caught a mouse in the yard to their cottage, and so saved him from any more trouble, for that day at least.
Chapter 2: 2: 1787
Is it odd that John had no desire to marry neither Ann nor Betsy? Hardly so! While it is understood that young girls will dream of their future husbands, no one will think it ill if a young boy has no interest in such matters (for it must be said that young boys have far greater prospects to think on).
The sisters were not to fight over John for much longer. I have previously said that children can happily play with other children, but that it does not do for young gentlemen to play with groundsmen's daughters, and this was the case with John and the Harbisher girls. The older John grew, the less desirable it seemed (at least to those around him) that he should associate with children of a lower standing, and particularly not if those children should be female. And so, as time went by, John was encouraged to spend less time with the Harbishers and a more suitable companion was sought.
One of the principal actors in this scheme was Mrs Humphrey. Whatever we think of this course of events, we cannot blame Mrs Humphrey for her actions. For she knew, full well, just how little money she had and just how little was the amount of money that had been put on trust for young John, to be given to him when he came of age. The only hope that John had of making his way in the world would be for him to marry well (though few are so lucky!) or for him to join a respectable profession (as, even if a profession was a step-down for a gentleman's only son, it had the opportunity of winning him either fortune, if he entered the law, or position, if he entered the church; and both these things, you will agree, have their own merit). Yet neither path would be easy if care was not taken to ensure that John associated with only the right type of people and so learned only the right sort of manners.
Thankfully, despite her poverty, Mrs Humphrey was well-liked in ______ley and was able to call upon the help of all the local, good families. It was in the grandest of these families, the Byfields, that a companion for John was found.
Mr Byfield owned the manor of ______ley as well as land in several neighbouring parishes. He had recently taken to politics and spent many months of the year in London, where he sat in the House of Commons. Yet, for someone with so much money and influence, all was not happy in Mr Byfield's household. For, you see, over the past several years Mrs Byfield (never a well woman) had grown thinner and thinner and paler and paler and, despite the attendance of several of the local doctors, she had finally passed away.
Mrs Byfield had only ever had the one child, and this was a boy by the name of Wroxton. Young Mr Wroxton Byfield was pale like his mother and was quiet and well-behaved. He was not one for riding or hunting or romping through the fields with his fellows and had, perhaps, a slightly melancholy turn of mind. Such melancholy could only grow worse, it was feared, when his mother died, especially with he only fifteen years old and his father away in London for so much of the year.
John Segundus was at this time thirteen (far too old for it to be acceptable for him to continue in his association with the groundsman's children) and it was thought on all accounts to be highly desirable to bring the two boys together. John would be a regular visitor at ______ley House and would become intimate with the family, learning all such niceties that it was necessary for a gentleman's son to learn. Young Mr Wroxton, meanwhile, would have a friend to keep him company and so raise his spirits. The arrangement was a perfect one! And if, as it happened, the manor of ______ley also came with the gift of the living for the parish, then what better thing for one boy, whose prospects might well lie with the church, to become familiar with the other who, in time, would be able to grant him a position!
Previous to their introduction in this way, the two boys had not known each other so well. Despite living near to each other, Mr Wroxton Byfield rarely left the grounds of ______ley House and John Segundus had rarely entered them. Nor did Mr Wroxton attend the school in town with John, for Mr Wroxton had been tutored at home with no little expense. Nevertheless, it seems as if all involved had chosen the two companions well, for once they had been introduced to each other it took only a short time for John and Mr Wroxton to become fast friends.
Both boys, you see, were of a similar turn of mind. Mr Wroxton, as we know, was a quiet, thoughtful soul, and John was the same. While other boys might prefer to ramble and ride and jump hedges and climb trees, you would be far more likely to encounter both John and Mr Wroxton inside, talking eagerly over the globe in Mr Wroxton's schoolroom or sitting, each with a book on their lap, in the library.
Indeed, the time spent in the schoolroom was particularly beneficial. John still attended the school in town, but he found that he was often called upon to help Mr Wroxton with his lessons. Mr Wroxton was not fond of his tutor (and, perhaps, if you had met the man, you might not be either) and did not take to his Latin nor his Greek as easily as he ought to have done. However, Mr Byfield soon noticed that Mr Wroxton's comprehension grew better once he had sat with John for an hour or so and they had gone through his most recent lesson together (John being younger but a willing and able scholar, particularly in his languages). Mr Byfield was so grateful for this that he even on one occasion condescended to thank young John for his help; and to see with what blushing pride John received such words!
Yet, for all their time spent in the schoolroom, it was the library of ______ley House that John liked the most. And who can blame him? To John, being welcomed as a guest into the Byfield's home was a wondrous experience. We must remember that John did not remember the fine house into which he had been born; all John knew was Mrs Humphrey's small, bare cottage. To go from such a cottage to ______ley House, which was grand and bright and comfortable, was a thing indeed! All the rooms inspired him with awe, from the great entrance hall with its pillars and its black and white chequered tiles, to the drawing room with its soft chairs and soft carpets and polished mirrors. This was as nothing, however, compared to the library.
When one has known only the small, meagre bookshelves in a grammar school, the library of a grand house is a shocking sight. Not only does it have plush furniture and tall windows, through which the sunlight streams, but it also has bookcases lining every wall. Rows and rows of books! And all of them bound in the most uniform and pleasing way. What a delight it must be to pick a book from a shelf and sit in one of the comfortable chairs, doused by the light from the garden!
All libraries in great houses are wonderful things, but to John the library at ______ley House was particularly so because it contained a great number of books about magic. The late Mr Byfield (being Mr Wroxton's grandfather), you see, had been a magician. I don't mean to say that he was one of those uncouth fellows with a raggedy yellow curtain, like Greenhew Jack, but that he was a respectable magician, who had spent his time reading and discussing magic with his fellow gentleman-magicians, without any one of them having claimed to have come from Newcastle or to have moved a mountain or any other such nonsense.
Mr Wroxton's grandfather hadn't written much about magic, but he had been a great collector of books, and he had acquired a copy of all the magical publications of the past century. Before this point, poor John had had to make do with a few scrappy magical history books at school, and hadn't even realised that there existed magical books enough to fill a whole library!
It was the library, then, that John liked most about ______ley House, and his greatest joy was when he and Mr Wroxton sat in there together and read and discussed magic. For discuss it they did, very much. At first John had been keen to learn about Mr Wroxton's grandfather, for he had never come so close to a gentleman-magician before. Mr Wroxton appeared rather taken with John's admiration for his family and so told John all he could, taking care to draw attention to his grandfather's portrait above the fireplace, with its noble and scholarly bearing (it is a fine artwork and has the late Mr Byfield sitting proudly at his desk, with his long, grey wig falling over his shoulders and his well-manicured hand set upon an open book).
This knowledge, however, did not sate John's appetite fully and soon, with Mr Wroxton's approbation, he was opening up books and reading all he could. Young Mr Wroxton had never before been much interested in his grandfather or his grandfather's work. How things change in the light of someone else's enthusiasm! For John learnt about magic so eagerly and talked about it so happily, putting such interesting questions, that Mr Wroxton quickly joined in, and it was not long before John's passion (for passion it was) had spread to them both.
One of the things that John liked to read about and discuss most of all was how magicians of past ages had learnt their magic. (He was still, you mustn't forget, somewhat disappointed that Greenhew Jack's claim of waking up one morning with his "skin prickling all over" had been nothing more than a fabrication. And though John had discovered that magic was no longer commonplace, he was still young enough to nurse the hope that someday he might uncover the secret that would allow him to learn how to do magic himself.) Soon John had thumbed through all the magical biographies in the library and discussed, endlessly with Mr Wroxton, the events that were documented in each.
Oh, such joyous days! I am sure we can all remember back to a time in our own childhoods where everything was golden and full of the delightful freedom of youth (even if it did not feel so as we were living through it). For John, these years at the Byfield's house were that time. What better than two boys, the best of friends, reading and talking and laughing about the subject they adored?
Yet all things must come to an end, and this was no exception. Both boys grew older (as boys are wont to do). For Mr Wroxton this meant growing taller and longer of limb until he had almost reached the height of his father. He also took to wearing a wig, which made him look very distinguished, if still a little pale. Poor John, however, did not match him in either particular. He had never been a tall boy and his body did not deign to grow much taller with age (indeed, he was younger than Mr Wroxton, but further years would not come to add anything substantial to John's height). Also, while John's clothes were reasonable enough (if slightly more plain that Mr Wroxton's) there was no way that the small stipend paid to Mrs Humphrey each quarter would stretch so far as to allow for a wig.
Nevertheless, it was neither their differences in height nor dress that brought this happy period to an end. The reason instead was this: in 1786 Mr Wroxton, at the age of seventeen, left ______ley and went to take his degree at Cambridge.
John, being then fifteen, was too young to follow, as he still had schooling to complete, and so the two friends were forced to part (at least for the length of the academic term). Do not despair too much for them, though. Admittedly, while they found that corresponding by letter did not suit them so well (Mr Wroxton being a rather infrequent, and often entirely negligent, letter-writer), they nonetheless knew that only a few months would part them. Besides which, Mr Byfield was good enough to allow John to continue his visits to ______ley House, even without Mr Wroxton there.
And so, in those weeks of the Michaelmas term, John would walk to the house each day and call in upon the servants in the kitchen, one of whom would show him up into the library (and, more often than not, was also happy to provide John with something to eat or drink should he ask for it). Once in the library John would read, perhaps even more voraciously than before, for now he had no one to stop and talk to when he reached some interesting line or other.
John continued on with his study of the biographies of the great magicians, for he still hoped that he would be able to discover all the ways in which one might learn magic. Unfortunately, John was slowly coming to realise that the ways in which the magicians of the past had learned magic were not so mysterious at all. Indeed, for most magicians, it appeared that they found some spell, had a desire to practise it, and did so. There was nothing more to it than that! The further John read, the more John realised (as did many children of his time) that he would never discover the secret to learning magic, because there was no such secret to be discovered. People could do magic in the past because the past was magical, and people in the present could not, because in the present magic was not possible.
Yet John, while understandably disappointed at such a realisation, was not to be put off. For, while magic may not have been possible in the present, there was still plenty of it to be found in the past; and John found that those tales of magic from centuries ago were as intriguing as they must have been when they were still fresh and new (perhaps even more so, for now they had the golden hue of history lingering upon them). Thus John continued to read and read, and read some more.
Soon enough the term ended and Mr Wroxton returned to ______ley for Christmas. How excited John was to see him and to discuss all that he had discovered in that library! Yet it seems that this was not so easy as John had assumed. Oh, the pain of an interrupted friendship! Sometimes when two people have been as friendly as can be, they can meet after a parting such as the one John and Mr Wroxton had experienced and can resume their intimacy as if no time at all had passed. But sometimes it is not so. Sometimes these two friends can find that they have grown apart somehow and that, in the intervening time, they have quite forgotten how to go about being friends with each other.
So it was, I am sorry to say, with John and Mr Wroxton. For while John, aside from reading more, had not changed so very much, Mr Wroxton on the other hand appeared to have changed a great deal. Oh, to be sure, on the outside Mr Wroxton appeared much the same (aside from being even taller and from having acquired several new and worthy pieces for his wardrobe) but his manner had changed. He seemed, at times, more proud, and also, at times, more hesitant. It was almost as if he knew that he now cut a fine figure in the world, but that he wasn't entirely sure that this was what the world wanted. And with John Mr Wroxton was particularly hesitant. Mr Wroxton would oftentimes be quiet or distant when they were together, as if he were thinking about other things (when before their parting John had been graced with Mr Wroxton's full attention).
In short: the ease which had existed between the two boys beforehand had now all but gone.
Thus, when John went to discuss magic again with Mr Wroxton, Mr Wroxton didn't quite seem to hear him at first. John then repeated what he had said, which led Mr Wroxton to shrug and say, "I'm sure you would know more about that than I, John."
Poor John did not know what to think, other than that Mr Wroxton no longer cared so much for his company. And to John this explanation seemed as clear as day. For, when Mr Wroxton had such fine acquaintances at university (who were doubtless all as rich and fashionable as he), why would he need the company of a quiet, young boy who spent his days thinking of magic and nothing else?
John, however, was tenacious enough not to give up. He first engaged Mr Wroxton in a discussion of his time at Cambridge (which discussion Mr Wroxton did not appear to care for either), and then recounted all the events that Mr Wroxton had missed in ______ley (which Mr Wroxton seemed to care for a little better), and then (with unfeigned praise) made several agreeable compliments and enquiries into Mr Wroxton's new mode of dress (which Mr Wroxton appeared to care for a great deal). Soon enough, such talk had loosened Mr Wroxton's tongue and he seemed happier to discuss magic when John finally came around to the subject again. To be sure, their conversation was not as comfortable as it would once have been, but they were still able to rediscover something of their shared enthusiasm.
Christmas passed with this awkward sort of friendship and then Mr Wroxton was off to Cambridge for the Lent term, leaving John with the books. So John read more and thought more, and by Easter when Mr Wroxton returned, John resumed their conversations. Sadly Mr Wroxton was still as hesitant as before (perhaps even more so), but when after Easter he left again for Cambridge, he did so with a promise to ask his tutors several of the questions about magic that he and John had discussed in their brief time together (and he even, in the second week of term, wrote to John to report that he had done just this, but that none of his tutors knew the slightest about magic).
Was John despondent about this change in his friend? Perhaps a little, but he resigned himself to it. He understood, or thought he understood, why Mr Wroxton acted so, and contented himself with the fact that, while he may no longer have been Mr Wroxton's favourite friend, they were at least still friends of a sort.
John's logic, however, was at fault (which we might blame upon his youth or upon his modesty). Either way, he soon came to discover his error.
In the summer Mr Wroxton returned. He had spent a full three terms at Cambridge and would now be at ______ley for many weeks before he was required to go back for the new academic year. On the first few days of his return all was as usual and he was as distant as ever. Yet, on the third day, after his father had left to see to urgent business in London, this changed.
He and John were sitting in the library. It was a warm day. The sashes of the windows had been thrown open to let in the birdsong, and the bright sunlight smiled upon everything it saw. It was not so long since John had arrived that morning and, after an awkward greeting, they had each of them picked up a book and sat down to read in silence.
Mr Wroxton, however, did not appear to be reading. He flicked through the pages of his book, put it down, then picked it up again. Even so, he did not read it; instead he looked over the top of the book at the empty fireplace, at John, and turned around to look out of the windows. Finally, he put the book down in his lap and stared at its cover.
A few moments passed in which Mr Wroxton frowned at his book and did nothing else. Then, taking a deep breath, he put the book on a side-table and stood, after which he walked over to where John sat upon the sofa, and sat down beside him.
"John," said Mr Wroxton, "I have something important to discuss."
At this, John put the book he had been reading to one side. The tone Mr Wroxton had used was serious enough that it was with a frown of concern that John turned to him. "What is it? Are you...?"
"John," said Mr Wroxton and he laid his hand upon John's wrist. He swallowed and looked John in the eye. "John, I love you."
For a moment, John's eyebrows rose, but only for a moment. Then he smiled and covered the hand at his wrist with his own. "That is very kind of you," said John. "That is very kind. And you should know that I love you too. You are a dear friend."
"No," said Mr Wroxton fervently. "You know that is not what I mean. I do not love you like... I am in love with you, John. I have been for longer than I can..." He paused, breathing quickly, and John watched him with eyes widening.
"I..." said Mr Wroxton. Then he looked to John's lips and leaned forward.
"No!" Hardly even realising what he did, John found that he had taken Mr Wroxton by the shoulders and pushed him away before they could kiss (for, indeed, a kiss had been Mr Wroxton's intent). "I am sorry." John shook his head. "But I do not want to..."
Mr Wroxton's shoulders had gone stiff beneath John's hands. His face was pale and there was something almost like a look of horror upon it. He took a gasping breath, staring wide-eyed at John all the while, then stood and fled the room.
What a shock this was to poor John! It took several moments of his staring at the fireplace before he had the wherewithal to get up and run after his friend. However, Mr Wroxton was not to be found. John went through the house calling his name, but there was no reply. So John took to the gardens and ran through the grounds but he could not find Mr Wroxton there either. Not knowing what else to do, John returned to the library and sat back down, but he was so full of nervous anxiety that he was not able to remain there for more than a few moments. It was abundantly clear to John that Mr Wroxton did not want to see him at that time, and so John took the obvious option: he left ______ley House and walked back home.
Can we begin to imagine what John was feeling at this time? His mind was a riot of new and unexpected thoughts. Not once throughout their entire friendship had John conceived the idea that Mr Wroxton might have felt all those passions and tender feelings which can ignite a desire for a kiss. But it seems that Mr Wroxton had most certainly conceived it, and indeed had thought on it a great deal.
Do not, here, make the mistake of thinking John so naïve that he did not realise that such things could happen. He did, after all, attend school with many young men and boys and had seen through his fellows that some boys can fall in love with others (indeed, what boy attending school has not seen this?) John also knew (from the talk of his school-mates and from the stern warnings of both the vicar and the schoolmaster) that a love between two boys might lead to a desire to kiss (and indeed, to a desire to engage in other, more frowned-upon, activities). Not any of this was a surprise to John; what was a surprise was that these any of these notions of love and kissing might apply to him.
You see, John had not once happened to fall in love with any of the boys or young men he knew. For, just as John knew that some boys were inclined to fall in love with others, he knew also that some boys were not; and so John had accepted that he was one of those boys who did not. But I must make it clear that John had not declined to take part in such romance because he thought it wrong. Certainly, he had heard many lectures as to how it was wrong, but John had always been confused as to why it must be so. For, even though it was claimed to be against all morality, John could not see how anything which stemmed from love could be immoral. (Needless to say, John did not voice these opinions to the vicar nor to his schoolmaster.)
No. John did not avoid romance with other boys from a sense of righteousness; he did so instead for far simpler reason, which was that he had never once been filled with any romantic desire towards them. Even when faced with the love of his best friend, John found that he did not reciprocate the feeling. (And you must realise that that night John agonised over whether he might indeed be in love with Mr Wroxton but merely in denial of his feelings. Yet hours of thought brought again and again the same answer, which was that John was not in denial at all: he loved Mr Wroxton, but as a friend, and as a friend only.)
Poor John was most upset that he could not give Mr Wroxton what he wished for and so must hurt him with a refusal (which is perhaps why he spent so long trying to see if he might conjure such affections in his own breast). And for John to remember the look of horror upon Mr Wroxton's face when John had pushed him away! Oh, it was all too easy for John to imagine just how wretched Mr Wroxton must feel, and just how fearful Mr Wroxton must be that John might judge him for his actions.
After laying awake for much of that night, John came to realise what he must do, which was to explain himself fully to Mr Wroxton. He must say that he did not judge Mr Wroxton, that he was indeed flattered by his affections, and that it was only shock which had caused him to push Mr Wroxton away so forcefully. For, as dear a friend as Mr Wroxton was (and he was so very dear, John would say) John did not love him in the way that Mr Wroxton wanted.
Such a conversation would be difficult, of course, but John was resolved upon it for the sake of their friendship. Thus, even though John felt a tightness in his throat and butterflies in his stomach, even though he could barely eat any of his breakfast, John put on his shoes as soon as he had left the breakfast table, and made the walk to ______ley House.
Can you imagine, then, the surprise that John felt when, upon being received by one of the footmen at the door, he was told that he was not allowed inside?
"But I am here to see Mr Wroxton," said John.
To this, the footman glanced out above John's head and said, "I'm afraid that Mr Wroxton doesn't wish to see you today."
How despondent John was to walk back down the drive to his home! On his way, he turned and looked up at the windows of the house, but he could not see Mr Wroxton in any of them.
John tried again the next day, and received the same response. Not to be put off for a second time, John went immediately around to the kitchen door and asked if the servants there would let him in. He was met by a kitchen maid who gave him a sad smile and told him, "I'm sorry, son, but Mr Wroxton doesn't want to see you."
There was nothing to be done. With Mr Byfield away, young Mr Wroxton was the master of the house and his wishes could not be gainsaid. So John went away once again and did the only thing he could do: he sat down and wrote Mr Wroxton a letter. In this letter, John was very careful to only make allusions to what had happened between them (lest someone else read it by mistake), but he tried his best to set forth what he had wished to say. In particular, he made it clear that he did not judge Mr Wroxton for any of his actions, and that he would be very glad, more than glad, to remain friends.
Thus the letter was sent, and John waited all day for a reply. Then he waited for the next day, and the next. A week passed, and then two, and slowly (agonisingly so) John came to realise that a reply would never be forthcoming. John had attempted to visit ______ley House a few more times but with no more success. Eventually, after three weeks or so, Mr Byfield returned from London, which meant that John could have appealed to him had he wished to. But John did not turn to Mr Byfield to help, for what was the use? By then, John was full aware that Mr Wroxton no longer wanted to have him for a friend, and no amount of persuasion from Mr Wroxton's father would have been able to change that.
Chapter 3: 3: 1790
Was John upset at this sudden loss of a friend? Of course he was! Who does not think of lost friends with anything but mournfulness and regret? Yet John was also of a practical turn of mind, and so he did his best to accept the loss and continue on.
For John, the loss had been a double one: not only had he lost his best friend, but he had also lost his access to the Byfield's library of magical books. We can only imagine with what concern Mrs Humphrey had watched her grandson sigh over his breakfast or sit listlessly in the corner of the room (yet, when Mrs Humphrey had questioned John about it, he had not given her any answer of substance).
But do not think that John was entirely without companions or entertainment at this time, for he would sometimes walk to town to see his school-fellows, or would sometimes play with the young village children, and they were company enough. He had even resumed his acquaintanceship with the Harbisher family (though he had to make do with the younger children, as both Ann and Betsy had gone to the next village, there to work as laundry maids in the big house). John was also one of those lucky few who can enjoy their own company, and for many days that summer John would walk off into the fields, or down to the river, and would there sit and stare at the clouds and think great thoughts about magic.
Summers, be they happy or sad, do not last for ever, and soon the time came which saw Mr Wroxton leave once more for Cambridge. It was then that John did something which he knew he should not, for John (on the first day that Mr Wroxton was no longer there) had walked up to ______ley House and asked Mr Byfield if he might be allowed into the library, just as he had done when Mr Wroxton had been at Cambridge before.
If Mr Byfield knew of the dispute between his son and John he did not let it sway his opinion, and he welcomed John into the library as if nothing whatsoever had happened. This, then, was some consolation: John might have lost a great friend, but he had not lost his access to the Byfield's books. Every day thereafter John went to the library (all the while trying not to remember what had happened there) and he read and read and read about magic.
Thus the next two years passed: John visited the library whenever Mr Wroxton was away, and then stayed away from ______ley House during those short times when Mr Wroxton returned. It was not ideal, but was the best that John could hope for. Besides which, John soon had greater things upon his mind. For in the summer of 1789 John finished his schooling and left ______ley to enter university.
This move to academia was encouraged upon all sides, as the small amount of money held on trust for John included a sum specifically allocated for him to take his degree. As I have said before, it was thought that John might make his way in the world by entering the church or the law, and the older John became the more suitable the church appeared to be (and not least because John bore some resemblance in face and manner to Mr Humphrey, his late grandfather, who had been a churchman himself).
Thus it was that the plan for John to enter the church was now put in motion. It was hoped that John would attend university, and then take Holy Orders, and then surely some suitable living would be found for him. (Oh, certainly, it seems that the living of ______ley would be closed to John since he had fallen out with Mr Wroxton, but England was full of many more parishes and John could hardly afford to be picky as to which would eventually be his). All who knew John approved of this plan: Mrs Humphrey, though she would miss John, knew that she must see him go at some point; both the vicar and the schoolmaster thought it a worthy course for a boy with John's small prospects; and even Mr Wroxton, we must imagine, would approve, for John would not be going to Cambridge where they might be brought closer together, but was instead headed for Oxford. And so, with sad farewells from some and sombre farewells from others, John left ______ley and went to make his way in the world (or, at least, in Oxford).
Need I describe a university town to you? With all its liveliness and bustle during term times, the students in their gowns conducting their scholarly (and not-so-scholarly) business and the good townspeople attempting to conduct their own business around (or in spite of) the university? Need I describe the old buildings? The small roads and the gates and the quadrangles? Or the new buildings constructed at every turn, new jostling with old, just as the students jostle with everyone else? And what learning there is in a university town! What libraries! What discussions! And what depravity lies alongside them! The fashionable students with their new hats and new coats and new horses, riding and gambling and drinking whenever they get a chance!
For John, who could not remember his early life in town and knew only the small village of ______ley, Oxford came as something of a surprise; but it was a good surprise, we must think, for he took to the life of a student well. As we have seen, John was a ready and able scholar and he found this no different at Oxford; he worked hard and studied well and was a favourite with his tutors. However, it was not his official studies that John liked best about Oxford. No indeed; what John enjoyed most was the opportunity to learn about magic.
Oxford, like any town, had its own complement of street-magicians in their ramshackle booths (and they plied a rather successful trade amongst the students), but it was not these that had John so in awe. What John liked the most were the libraries, and can anywhere boast that same concentration of libraries as a university town? For every college has one. Some libraries (belonging to the poorer colleges) are small and not very well-kept, but some libraries (especially those belonging to the very wealthy colleges) are grand indeed! Such a variety of books and manuscripts and papers! And that is not even to mention the Bodleian with its great collection.
John started with his college library, and then moved to the Bodleian, and had soon come to know the keepers of every library in town. (For John was a regular visitor to every library, even the ones in which he would not normally have been allowed admission.) And in each library John entered, he set about finding and reading all their magical books.
The greatest part of John's time at university was spent upon the study of magic. (Indeed, he spent more time on this than on anything which he should have been studying for his degree.) All of John's friends (for he had acquired a few) knew of his peculiarity in this way, and while they did not share his enthusiasm, they tolerated it quite happily. Indeed, whenever a question even slightly related to magic happened to be raised between them, one of them would invariably suggest: "You should ask Segundus; he spends so much time at his magical books that he must know all there is to know upon the subject."
Now, John's love for magic was not his only peculiarity amongst his peers, for there were many parts of student life in which he did not take part. We have already discussed how John could not afford a wig; neither could he afford most of the fashionable clothes and accoutrements that so many of his fellow students indulged in (for, while his small trust of money might stretch to a university education, it would not stretch to buying new clothes as regularly as fashion would dictate). Nor could John afford to ride, or to gamble, or to drink in taverns, or to take part in any other of the most common entertainments. For John, this did not much affect him: he did not overly agree with gambling or drinking to excess, and as he had rarely ridden before, he did not miss it much. No; it was only perhaps in his deficiencies in dress that made John regret his lack of ready money.
There was, also, one other way in which John appeared to differ from his peers, and it was not due to a lack of money (though in some cases money could certainly ease this pastime). You see, John did not care for women.
Oh, do not take it in that way. I do not mean that John did not like women. On the contrary: John enjoyed the company of women very much. He had ever loved Mrs Humphrey, his grandmother, and we have all seen how he had enjoyed playing with the girls in ______ley when he was a child. As an adult John had less contact with women (the university being a very male place) but on those few occasions when he was invited to people's houses to dine (or even to dance!) John most always found it agreeable to converse with the women and the girls he found in those places.
John liked women, but he did not seem to like them in the way in which most of his fellow students did. There was hardly a moment in which at least one of John's friends was not sighing over some girl or other (and sighing particularly hard over those girls who might have a large inheritance attached), or scheming to meet further girls (and scheming to do other, less-savoury things with girls as well).
For John, such discussions seemed to him to be entirely foreign. He could understand how one might want to recount a conversation one had had with a girl or a women (particularly if it was an interesting one, as many of John's conversations with women were), but he could not understand how the most important part of any encounter with a woman was what she looked like, or what she was wearing, or how she might have laughed at this or blushed at that. And when it came to the other activities that his fellows students liked to engage in with women (and generally with the sort of women who charged for such services), John could not even countenance the thought of it! Not only was John unmarried, and thus he considered that he had no business in any such activity, even were he married, he was unable to see what the appeal might be!
This, I am sure you will agree, is odd behaviour for a young man. Certainly, when John had been but ten years old, it was quite understandable that he had not wished to marry any of the Harbisher girls no matter how much they might have argued over him. For what boy at the age of ten has an interest in girls? But by the age of nineteen (as John was, it being now 1790 and him in his second year of study) most young men had discovered that the prospect of a girl's affections (as well as her, shall we say, more carnal prospects) were altogether rather alluring.
Not so for John; but as with everything else it did not bother him overmuch. Sometimes, it is true, he felt a little at a loss when his companions were discussing activities (romantic or otherwise) in which he hadn't taken part, but generally John was happy to leave them to their passions so that he might spend more time on his own (this, of course, being the study of magic).
Most times when John's friends went out drinking, riding or gambling (or all three), John could either be found in some library or other, or in his rooms if it was after curfew. But John was not always alone, for not all of his friends ventured out on every occasion. Indeed, what gentleman, no matter how young, can seek endless pleasure at all times? There will always be occasions on which he has quarrelled with his father or uncle and so is out of money, or has drunk too much the night before and so feels unable to do much of anything that day, or even (the most shocking of all) must diligently study lest he face the wrath of a tutor who has been disappointed on too many previous occasions.
One of John's friends who ventured out the least (and thus kept John company the most) was a young gentleman called Jem Campbell. Now, Campbell did not particularly seem to be the sort of person who enjoyed staying inside after curfew, yet nevertheless it was the case that often (maybe once a week or so) he would not join their other friends in their fun but would instead be found in John's sitting room of an evening. (John had never asked why this was, for it would not have been polite to do so, but he supposed, despite the appearance given by Campbell's well-made clothes, that Campbell, like himself, was rather the worse off for money and could not afford to join their friends in all things.)
Campbell, regardless of his financial situation, did not appear too discontented at this state of affairs and he would talk to John quite happily. More often than not, for poor John could not help himself, they would find themselves discussing magic. Campbell did not trouble to read about the subject nor to learn any more than John told him, but he appeared quite willing to talk about magic with John and to hear about John's latest researches. (It would seem, almost, to anyone listening in on their conversations, that Campbell derived his enjoyment from seeing how enthused John was about magic, rather than harbouring any strong enthusiasm for the subject himself.)
Engaging John in a discussion about magic was just what Campbell did on this occasion. It was a cold November evening in 1790, and most of their friends had left the college after dinner in order to partake of everything (wine, dice, women and more) that Oxford's many taverns had to offer. John, instead, had returned to his sitting room to look over the notes he'd made that day at the Bodleian. He had found a biography of Martin Pale just the day previously, which he had discovered to be altogether rather interesting. (Martin Pale, you see, was unique in that he was generally thought to have been the last magician to have performed great feats of magic in England.)
As John was thus sitting at his desk and reading, there came a knock upon his sitting room door. Without waiting for an answer, Campbell (for it was he who had knocked) threw the door open and entered.
"Good evening, Segundus," said he, kicking the door shut behind him. "Any luck with the magic today?" (This was Campbell's customary greeting to John.)
John looked up with a smile and stood. "Perhaps," he said. "Would you like something to drink?"
Campbell waved him back down with a hand (Campbell, you will discover, rarely took up an offer of a drink from John, for John generally only had small beer in his rooms). Then Campbell sat down in one of the chairs beside the fire, put his feet up on the other, and took out his pipe to fill it. He threw John a grin. "'Perhaps', you say? Why, you are optimistic today, Segundus. What is it that you have found?"
John smiled in return and sat back down at his desk. He ran his eye over his notes as he said, "I have just started reading about the magician Martin Pale. The life he led was fascinating; I should have looked into him long ago."
"And who was he, this good fellow?" Campbell pulled out an ember from the fire in order to light his pipe, then tossed it back. He turned to John. "Some friend of the Raven King?" (To Campbell, almost every practising magician must have been a friend of the Raven King.)
John laughed. "Well, I suppose you could say he was connected to the Raven King; for Pale claimed to have learnt his magic from Catherine of Winchester, and she is said to have learnt her craft from the Raven King himself."
"Oh really?" Campbell sat back and took a drag from his pipe. "Learning magic from a woman is unusual enough, I suppose. Did he do anything else, then, this Pale?"
So John (a little surprised that Campbell did not appear to have heard of Pale at all) told Campbell all he knew; which at that point was, admittedly, only a little. Yet Campbell listened and asked questions, and on several occasions John found himself writing down notes for things he must look up later.
"How taken you are with this magician!" exclaimed Campbell when their discussion had finally come to an end. "I can see that you'll have discovered enough to write a whole biography of him before long."
John laughed and said that he did not think he could achieve such a feat as that (for the exploits of Martin Pale were too numerous for anyone to encompass sufficiently, even though some had clearly tried).
"You are too modest by half, Segundus," said Campbell, while he was busy lighting his pipe for a second time. He waved his hand in John's direction. "But I am disturbing you from your work; do not let me do so. I shall enjoy the fire quite happily while you continue on."
This, again, was not an unusual request from Campbell, which meant that Segundus was willing to do as asked without worrying that Campbell would feel ignored. Thus, they each fell to their own activities: John working on his notes, and Campbell smoking by the fire, occasionally picking up one of John's books to leaf through it in a casual manner.
After twenty minutes or so of this, Campbell appeared to grow bored. He tapped out the remaining ash from his pipe, then returned the pipe to his pocket. As he did so he said, "You did not desire to head out with the others this evening, Segundus?"
"Hmm?" John looked up. "No," said he. "My pockets are not so heavy that I can afford to go gambling."
"Ah," returned Campbell, knowingly. "But I did not think that gambling was their aim tonight. I rather thought that they were off to find some female company." He looked at John.
With a slight blush, John said that he could not afford that either.
Campbell regarded him for a moment, then looked down and appeared to inspect his shoe from several angles. "It is hardly fair on you, Segundus," said he, "that you must miss out on these things purely from a want of money. Perhaps I should persuade one of the others to advance you some so that you might join them."
John's eyes were wide as he shook his head. "Thank you, but I would not want to accept a loan; especially as I know I would have difficulty in paying it back."
"It is hardly that much money," exclaimed Campbell, looking up at him. "And, you know, if you can persuade a woman who is keen on you then you will not have to pay at all."
John blushed further. "I would rather not." He looked down at his notes (though he did not appear to read them).
"Well then," said Campbell brightly, not seeming to be shocked in the slightest by this admission from John. "That makes two of us."
John raised his head. "You do not wish to either?"
"I do not care for it," said Campbell, waving a hand. "I am happy to drink or to play billiards or to do any such thing. But women are boring."
"Ah," said John, and he was going to retort that he would not agree that women were boring but he had not the chance, for Campbell spoke again.
"Pshaw!" scoffed Campbell. "If the others enjoy it then good for them, but I know that I have far more to enjoy here, what with the comfort of the fireside, and a well-filled pipe, and a good conversation."
"Thank you," said John, with a small smile. "I am glad that you find our conversations interesting."
At this, Campbell laughed out loud. He threw John a grin, then stood up from his chair and walked the short distance to John's desk, which he promptly sat upon. "Now then," said he, looking down at John, "what's say we make them more interesting still?"
John's brow quirked in a frown.
"Let the others have their fun," said Campbell with a smile, meeting John's eyes. "Meanwhile, we can have some fun of our own." And he reached across to cup his hand over John's jaw, his fingertips brushing that small space between John's collar and John's ear.
"Oh," said John. "Oh!" He sat back out of the way of that hand, wide-eyed. His cheeks were red as he looked up at Campbell. "I... I..." stammered John. "I am sorry, Campbell, but I do not wish to..."
"Come, Segundus." Campbell smiled down at him. "You needn't be like that. I can assure you that no-one else will ever find out; I am as discreet as anything."
John shook his head. "I am sorry, but no." And he tried, in the desperation of that moment, to remember all the things he should have told Mr Wroxton, had he had the chance. "I... I am flattered, Campbell. I am very flattered, but I do not take an interest in engaging in... in... with men. And you must know that I do not judge you; I would not dare to..."
"Oh!" cried Campbell, jumping down from the desk to stride out in the room. "How very lenient of you not to judge me! I am glad that you say so, even when your very act of denial is a judgement in itself!"
John flushed hard.
"You think you are so high and mighty," cried Campbell as he stalked angrily in a circle. "I cannot bear such smug pride." He turned to John. "You know, I am sorry for you, Segundus. You put on your air of morality and piety, but you are only hurting yourself. Do you really think that denying yourself makes you so much better than the rest of us?"
"You are mistaken!" John shook his head. "I do not deny myself. It's that I have no desire to..."
Campbell scoffed. "Save your preaching until you take your Holy Orders, Segundus. No-one likes a lecturing layman; it is most unbecoming." And with that he stormed out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him.
Poor John could only stare at it in silence.
For the rest of the evening John neglected to return to his research on Martin Pale, for he found he had not the heart to work at it. Instead he took himself early to bed and lay looking up at the ceiling. With much sorrow he was forced to acknowledge that it had happened again: he had turned down a friend and brought forth their anger. John was the sort of person who could not bear the thought of doing anything to make anyone angry, but he did not know what else he could have done. He had tried to explain why he had not wished to engage in any acts with Campbell, but Campbell had not understood.
Fearing further wrath, John did not press the issue over the coming days. He left the topic aside quietly and Campbell did the same. Indeed, this was perhaps the only thing that could be done because John and Campbell did not find themselves alone with a chance to speak again. Instead, Campbell stopped his visits to John's rooms and made no more effort to seek out John's society. They couldn't avoid each other entirely, for they still shared many friends, but whenever they did meet Campbell appeared to do his best to ignore John's presence.
Poor John naturally felt hurt at such treatment, but in a way he was almost comforted by it; for, if Campbell could act thusly, then perhaps the loss of his company was a blessing rather than otherwise. Yet still John found that he had learnt a lesson, and that was this: it is best not to grow too close in friendship with others, for only misunderstandings and unhappiness will ensue.
Chapter 4: 4: 1807
It seems that John took his lesson to heart, for many years passed before he formed a friendship that would lead to such difficulties again. Instead John concerned himself with other matters, chief of which was his research into Martin Pale (and this he grew more and more enthused about the more he learnt of that great magician) and the completion of his degree.
As we have seen already, John was an able scholar and suffered no difficulties with his studies, and after four years at Oxford he was nearly ready to graduate. Yet before he could do so, in his last year of study, two events of great moment occurred in John's life. The first was that at the end of a cold winter his grandmother, Mrs Humphrey, passed away. John had been in Oxford at the time and her illness had been quick; John had not even realised she had been unwell until a brief letter arrived from Mr Byfield to inform John of her passing.
We shall not dwell on how John felt to lose the kindly woman who had been his only family; such thoughts will only serve to make us sad. Instead we shall briefly consider how John (given leave by his tutor) made the journey back to ______ley for the humble funeral and to tie-up Mrs Humphrey's affairs. Of belongings and money, Mrs Humphrey had had little and her cottage, with most of its furniture, reverted back to the landlord upon her death. The execution of her estate was therefore a simple matter: John was left with a small purse of money from the sale of her clothes; a faded hand-mirror with a few other trinkets; and a set of books and sermons that had once belonged to Mr Humphrey, his grandfather.
Though the servants from ______ley House were kind enough to John, as were those Harbisher children still left in the village, John found that there was not much reason to stay in that place now that his grandmother and the cottage he had grown up in had gone. Besides which, the presence of Mr Wroxton at ______ley House (for he had finished his studies and had returned from Cambridge for good) gave the village a rather melancholy air, at least for John. Thus, when all that was required of John had been completed, he left the village inn (where he had been lodging) and returned to his studies in Oxford. He never visited ______ley again.
The other event of moment in John's life at that time was of a happier nature. For in that year, it being 1792, John finally came of age and so entered into his inheritance. The trust from his father's will was wound up, the investments were sold, and the proceeds were handed to John for him to use howsoever he saw fit.
I am sure it will not surprise you to learn that the final sum given into John's hands was not very much money; and yet I should make it clear it was not so small an amount either. All told, the money John received would be enough to keep him comfortably for about seven or eight years (presuming he didn't enter into the extravagance of a wife and family, which, as you know, John had no wish to do). For a young gentleman, eight years is a good amount of time; it would allow John to take his Holy Orders, to secure a living, and to there settle himself into his new profession (or indeed to settle himself into whichever other career he so chose, be it law, or medicine or even architecture).
For the time being, however, John used his money to fund the completion of his degree. This was accomplished without fault by the summer of that year, allowing John to enter those ranks of gentleman who may happily declare themselves a graduate of the university at Oxford and a Bachelor of the Arts.
His degree taken and his pockets full of money, John now found himself at liberty to start upon his new path. It was at this moment that John made what he knew to be the most reckless and most irresponsible decision he had ever taken; for it was then that he decided not to enter the church or the law, or even to enter medicine or architecture. No indeed; John did not choose any of these things. Instead, John decided to become a magician.
I know full well what you are thinking: but how may a magician earn enough money to live upon, especially in those days when the national interest in magic was low? What livings are there given to magicians? And what fees might a magician charge? The answer, of course, is that there were none. It was not the business of magicians to make money; it was the business of magicians only to study magic (anything else and they would be no different from those ragged charlatans in their scruffy, yellow-curtained booths). Oh, to be sure, a gentleman-magician might write books and pamphlets, but the demand for these items was so small in those dark days that any attempt at publication would be more of an expense than a way of making money.
John, however, had made up his mind. Indeed, it was almost as if he had not taken a conscious decision at all, but had known that he must be a magician all along (for the study of magic was to John as water is to a fish: the separation of the two felt as absurd as it was inconceivable). Yet do not think that John entered into this lightly; he was not an incautious man. For many days John counted up his money and made his calculations. By these he worked out that his small sum, which would allow a single gentleman to live comfortably for seven or eight years, could, with much care and frugality, be made to last for about twenty.
And then? God willing, John did not plan to leave this earth before the age of one-and-forty, so how did he intend to keep himself once his money had run out? Well, that is not so difficult. If John was able to learn how to be a churchman, or a lawyer, or a physician, or even an architect, in 1792, then what was to say that he wouldn't be able to learn these things just as well in 1812? In a way, John saw his becoming a magician as merely a stalling of the inevitable: he would use his money to study magic for as long as was possible, and when it was no longer possible, then John would take up whatever profession (or even, Heaven forbid, whatever trade) was open to him. (For if he was unable to study magic then what does it matter what he did with his time? All other occupations were one and the same.)
John put his plan into motion immediately. Upon leaving his college he moved into the cheapest lodging-house he could find and there determined he would stay. He calculated how much money he would be able to spend each quarter on all those things that a magician needs: pens, paper, ink, candles, and books (though John intended to make more use of other libraries than to buy books for himself). All other things John could do without. He decided that as his clothes were not too old they would serve him well for a good few years yet. Nor did John purchase any of those items which you might expect a young gentleman to have: a horse, a pocket-watch, a cane, a wig (though this last was not much of a loss, for wigs fell out of fashion but a few years later and John then found that he needed only to crop his hair short in order to look respectable). John's life would not be comfortable by any means, of course, but through the study of magic it would be happy, and John considered that to be of far greater importance.
Thus John settled into his new profession of magic. It was not, it must be admitted, so very different from his time as a student, save for the fact that he now received fewer distractions from his magical researches. John continued to visit all of the libraries in town and continued upon his study of Martin Pale. For company John slowly began to attend more meetings of the small Oxford Magical Society (and indeed, he had become more welcome there; the members, as with all who live in a university town, having a distaste for undergraduates).
Yet this did not last forever. After but a year or so, John found that he had exhausted all of the libraries in Oxford, and had also exhausted all of the knowledge of his fellow magicians in town. This is not so surprising as it first sounds, for while Oxford is renowned for its learning upon many subjects, magic is not one of them (it being seen as far too unruly and Northern a subject for any respectable Southern town to pursue seriously).
In particular John had read all the books in Oxford that there were to be had about Martin Pale, but he knew that his knowledge of that magician was still woefully meagre. And so, if one wishes to learn more about the good Martin Pale, then where must one go but to Warwick? (Pale having lived there for a good part of his life.) John did just this. He said goodbye to the few people he knew in Oxford, packed up his scant belongings, and crossed the border into Warwickshire.
At that time a goodly number of papers about Martin Pale could be found in Warwick, and once there John visited all the gentlemen and all the places that had hold of them. John also joined the local society of magicians so that he might learn from them the magical history of the town. Yet after but a few years John had exhausted the magical learning in Warwick also, for he had read all there was to be read and had talked to all those there were to talk to. He had, however, heard of a further cache of documents about Martin Pale which were to be found in Northampton. Therefore, once again, John packed up his belongings, said goodbye to his acquaintances and crossed the border into Northamptonshire, there to take up his research once more.
This series of events happened several times. Each time, once John had discovered all there was to discover in a certain town, he moved on to the next place, following tales of papers and documents and libraries. In this way John travelled from Northampton to Bedford, from Bedford to St Albans, and from St Albans to London. And in each place he lived, John read and wrote and published and joined magical societies to converse with other magicians.
John was not in London for long, and yet it was something of a turning point in his life (as it must be, one imagines, for all who stay for a time in that metropolis). Upon arriving, John was first struck by how large it was and how busy! Fine houses stood side by side with evidence of the extremest poverty, and everywhere there was a sea of faces, a multitude of tongues, and the stench of many, stagnant sewers. John had travelled to London for he had in mind to visit some of the great libraries to be found in that town (not least the library at the British Museum). It was not long, however, before John wearied of his stay; everything came at great expense, the place was so full of people, and the libraries were not nearly as helpful as John had hoped (for is there anywhere that dislikes the North and "Northern magic" as much as the Southern capital, London? Indeed, in London even Warwickshire may be termed "Northern" and treated as if Martin Pale were a Northumbrian and his home-town of Warwick were Newcastle itself.)
Thus John was left feeling rather despondent. He was walking through the bustle of Threadneedle Street one morning and wondering if it would not be better for him to leave London and go somewhere else, when he came across a magician (or rather, the magician came across John, for he ran halfway down the street after John to catch his attention). I say that this man was a magician, but you must understand that he was not a respectable magician like John. Far from it: he was ragged and dirty, with odd blue skin that showed through his open shirt (it being high-summer), and a yellow-curtained booth in which he plied his trade. His name was Vinculus.
John had not had contact with street-magicians since his dealings with Greenhew Jack, and he did not particularly desire any more. But Vinculus would not be put off; he was so adamant that he had an important fortune for John, and made such an embarrassing commotion about it as he followed John along the street, that in the end John agreed to hear it.
Thus Vinculus took John back to his booth, extracted a good deal of money from him (which John was not so reluctant to pay as might be assumed, for it seemed something of a charity to give money to someone so ragged and thin), and then told John his fortune, which was this: that one day magic would be restored to England by two magicians.
John looked at Vinculus incredulously. "You will forgive me for asking," said John, "but where does this fortune come from? Why must I believe you?"
Vinculus coughed heavily, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "It is a prophecy," said he.
"And how may you prophesise when your very own prophecy states that there is no magic currently in England? You must admit that is a conundrum."
Vinculus grinned. "You will find me quite capable of prophesying, sir," said he. "Why, I have been able to divine the future ever since I woke up one morning with my skin prickling all over..."
John looked at him with wide eyes, for a moment seeing a different magician, one with ivy in his hair and a crowd of young boys around him. Vinculus grinned some more.
With a frown, John cleared his throat and took a breath. "And who are these two magicians that shall restore magic to England?" he asked. "Are you one of them?"
"Not I," replied Vinculus airily; then he turned serious of a sudden and grabbed at John's hand to peer at his palm. "But you on the other hand..."
"You know I'm a magician?" asked John, rather startled.
Vinculus, however, ignored this question and continued his examination of John's palm. "What is your name, magician?"
John told him.
Vinculus snorted, and appeared to be thinking. "Write it down," he suggested after a moment, letting John's hand go and staring him in the eye. "Write down your name."
"Is this going to cost me more money?" asked John cautiously, though he found his heart racing all the same.
But Vinculus merely shrugged as if the question were of little interest to him. "Write it down! Write it down!"
So John did as he was asked. He pulled out a pencil and his notebook (for Vinculus had no paper) and wrote his name upon a blank page. He then handed the notebook to Vinculus.
Taking it, Vinculus stared long and hard at the page (and at this point John fancied that this was indeed merely a ruse to get more money, for it was clear that Vinculus could not read; he was looking at John's name upside down). Vinculus held the notebook up to the light, then held it down toward the floor; he turned it all sorts of angles and squinted at it; and finally he handed it back to John. Vinculus coughed again, a rattling sort of noise. "It's not you."
"Oh," said John, rather surprised (and disappointed) at this outcome. "It is not?"
"Sorry, my good sir. Nothing I can do." Vinculus sniffed. "Would you like any more magic doing for you instead?" He grinned once more. "I make a wonderful love potion."
"No," said John. "No, thank you." And so, feeling rather confused (and his pockets feeling lighter than he would have liked), John stepped back out into the bustle of the street.
This event left a great mark upon John's mind. But was it really so odd an occurrence? For surely it was commonplace for street-magicians to give out fortunes. Indeed it was, and John knew this was so. Yet, there was something about Vinculus' manner that had left John curious. Certainly, he thought, the prophecy must have been false, but over the next few days John could not stop himself from thinking upon it.
Thus John's next course of action was decided. As I have said, he had already intended to leave London, and now he had a destination. For Vinculus' strange prophecy about the restoration of English magic had left John with a question: why was it, indeed, that magic was no longer done in England? Where had all the magic gone? Was there some way in which magic might truly be brought back? John had not asked himself such things since he was in the library at ______ley House all those years ago. He had dropped the questions then as being childish, but now John could see that there was something important in them also. He did not believe the prophecy that two magicians should restore magic to England, but he also considered, for the first time, that the restoration of English magic might somehow be possible. After all, this was the modern age! Surely with all the advances of technology and learning, something might be done about it; surely, were the great magicians of the time to put their minds to the question, they might find some way of dragging England out of its drought.
The more John thought upon it the more excited he became, and he decided to steer his research in that direction. Where had the magic in England gone? And how might it be returned? Simple questions, perhaps, but John knew of no-one who had an answer. Therefore he determined that he must ask more people; and if one wishes to discover the answers to the most fundamental questions about English magic, then where does one go but to the home of English magic? John decided to travel north.
Upon leaving London John moved to Lincoln; from Lincoln he moved to Doncaster; and from Doncaster he moved to York. As before, John spent his time in these places reading what books he could find and seeking the company of other magicians. This time, however, whenever he met those magicians he did not ask them about Martin Pale; instead he asked them about the future of English magic.
Anyone familiar with the nature of magicians will not find it surprising that these enquiries did not go down well (for who likes to be asked a question that they cannot answer?) And the further north John travelled (and thus the larger and more distinguished became the magical societies he encountered) the greater the disagreements were until, putting his question to the York Society of Magicians, John worried that the gentlemen there might come to blows over the question, so unable were they to agree.
Such is an account of these years of John's life where magic was concerned. But what of the romantic troubles he had encountered in Oxford and ______ley? Had they been repeated? I am glad to say that they had not. At first John had taken his own advice to heart and had been very careful not to grow too close to any friends or acquaintances he might make, lest it sow the seeds of unwanted notions in their minds. But it seems as if John's caution was unnecessary. For, while a young gentleman with his prospects ahead of him appeared to have been an attractive prospect, it was clear that a dowdy magician, with old clothes, quiet habits, and living in the smallest, meanest way possible, was not so enticing. This effect only grew the greater the older John became, so much so that he began to forget his previous cautions, and eventually his lack of great intimacy with any friends was due only to his moving so often rather than from any intention of reserve on John's part.
John arrived in York in 1806, being then five-and-thirty. His sense of purpose by this time was so singular that he joined the Society of Magicians there immediately and put his question to them (why was magic no longer done in England?) at the first meeting he attended. As I have already made clear, the question was not well-received.
Yet not all was lost, for it was through this meeting that John met a gentleman by the name of Honeyfoot. This gentleman was particularly taken with John's ideas upon magic and, being an enthusiastic soul, had soon struck up an acquaintance with John. Their friendship progressed unusually fast (for John), but how could it be any other way? Not only was Mr Honeyfoot something of a kindred spirit with John when it came to his notions upon magic, but who could turn down an offer of friendship when it was extended by so kind, so jolly and so pleasant a man as Mr Honeyfoot?
John was invited to Mr Honeyfoot's house on many occasions and soon became known to all the family (this being Mr Honeyfoot's wife and three daughters, all of whom were as kind and jolly and pleasant as Mr Honeyfoot himself). And for a man who lived in John's small way, what better thing than to become the intimate of such a family; to join them at their well-stocked table and to partake in all the conversation and entertainment that a genteel family can offer?
For all the food and familiarity, however, it was not these but the discussions about magic with Mr Honeyfoot that delighted John the most; and these discussions were as lively and as lengthy as any magician could wish for. Chief amongst the topics of discussion were the future of English magic and the reasons why it could no longer be performed. Such conversations led Mr Honeyfoot to write to a Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey, and which in turn led John and Mr Honeyfoot to visit that gentleman just a little while later.
I need not tell you what happened next. For who does not know the story of how Mr Norrell, in 1807, used magic to turn the statues in York Minster to life; of how he forced the York Society of Magicians (or at least all of them save John) to give up magic; and of how, thanks to a letter to The Times from John, Mr Norrell travelled down to London with great pomp, restored Lady Pole from the dead, and became magician to the government?
In this tale we are not concerned with the doings of Mr Norrell, however. We are concerned with John. How to describe the wonder John felt when he saw magic performed for the first time? He who had spent his whole life studying magic, yet under the belief that magic was a thing of the past and no longer possible? It was a marvellous experience, and John was so taken by it that he fell into something of an illness of the senses from which he did not recover for many weeks. And yet how cruelly Mr Norrell had treated the magicians of York! The knowledge that John alone was saved from this torment did not do anything to endear Mr Norrell to him. Imagine how it must have felt to have rediscovered something that had been lost for so long, only to find that the person responsible for such wonders was as petty, small-minded and unlikeable as Mr Norrell!
It took John some time to adjust himself to this new world in which he found himself living (indeed, so did everyone in England at that time). Chief amongst John's concerns was the happiness of his friend Mr Honeyfoot, for that good gentleman had been forced to give up magic along with everyone else. Fortunately Mr Honeyfoot's disposition was such that he could not be unhappy for any length of time and he soon busied himself upon another project, which was to discover all he could about the murder that had been related with such passion by one of the statues in the minster.
Thus they continued on, with John trying to learn how a magician might carry on his business when he has no fellow-magicians and but few magical books to aid him, and with Mr Honeyfoot conducting his researches. Meanwhile, John continued to be a frequent visitor to Mr Honeyfoot's house, partaking of all the comfort and company available there (and in such disordered times, this must have been very welcome indeed).
It was now just beginning upon autumn in 1807, when some of the trees had turned to gold and when there was enough of a chill in the air that windows must be shut up and small fires lit about the house. On this day John had dined with the Honeyfoots, and Mrs Honeyfoot and her daughters had just removed from the dining table to the drawing room. This left Mr Honeyfoot and John to talk at their leisure.
Sometimes on these occasions Mr Honeyfoot and John would discuss magic, but often they would not stay long at all before they joined the ladies in the drawing room (for John was not one for smoking or for drinking hard liquors, and Mr Honeyfoot found that he missed the company of his wife and daughters). However, on this occasion, once the table had been cleared and the drinks had been poured, Mr Honeyfoot turned to John and said, "Tell me, my dear Mr Segundus, what do you think of young Jane?" (Miss Jane was Mr Honeyfoot's second-eldest daughter.)
John found himself a little confused by this question, but he answered amiably: "I think Miss Jane a pleasant young woman; kind and clever, as are all of your daughters. And she is much interested in magic, which is pleasing; I imagine she will take after you when she is older."
Mr Honeyfoot laughed. "Perhaps she will," he said. "Perhaps she will. But I am glad; I am glad you think so." And he gave John a knowing look.
John's brow quirked.
"My wife and I," continued Mr Honeyfoot, "were discussing Jane the other day; she has grown so fast. (Don't children all?) She is the age now, you know, when we really should be looking for her to be married."
Mr Honeyfoot did not appear to notice that John had turned a little pale. "You are right, sir," continued Mr Honeyfoot, blithely, "that Jane is interested in magic, and I see that she always enjoys her conversations about magic with you. How splendid that is! There can be no better foundation for a partnership in marriage than a shared enthusiasm. And, as Mrs Honeyfoot has said, who would not wish for young Jane to marry someone so kind and so gentle as dear Mr Segundus?" Upon pronouncing this, Mr Honeyfoot folded his hands across his stomach and gave John a great, wide smile.
Oh, poor John! How must it have felt to discover that he must once more ruin a friendship by turning down an offer? "You..." said John, with his mouth dry. "Mr Honeyfoot, are you proposing...?"
"That you marry Jane?" cried Mr Honeyfoot happily. "Indeed I am, sir! And what could be better? You and Jane are perfectly matched. And wouldn't it be wonderful to have you as part of the family? I said the same to my wife, 'What better thing than to have dear Mr Segundus as one of the family?'"
John swallowed. "And does Miss Jane know?" he asked. "Is she the one who...?"
"Oh, no; not yet," admitted Mr Honeyfoot. "But you should not worry on that score, for I am certain that she will agree to it once you propose. She holds you in great esteem, you know."
"Ah," said John, finding himself visited by the unhappy memories of his previous misfortunes in this area. The last thing John wanted to do was to lose the friendship of the Honeyfoots, but he also knew, first-hand, how insulting a straight rejection could be. Even were he to explain that he did not wish to marry anybody, John doubted that Mr Honeyfoot would see it as anything other than a slight upon his own daughter. Thus John desperately cast around for reasons that Mr Honeyfoot would be able to understand. "It is very kind of you to offer," said John (receiving another smile from Mr Honeyfoot in return), "but are you sure I am a favourable match for Miss Jane? I am so very much older than she. Surely a younger man would be more appropriate."
"Oh, pish!" cried Mr Honeyfoot. "You are hardly so old, sir. What are you? Two-and-thirty? Three-and-thirty? Why, I know of far older men who have married women as young as Jane. For a man to marry in his thirties is quite a noble thing. Plus, you have all the knowledge of experience. I would not want Jane to marry some young man who knew nothing of the world. You are a man of caution and sense, sir; it would be quite perfect."
"I beg your pardon, Mr Honeyfoot," said John, "but are you sure Miss Jane will feel the same way? Certainly, I cannot claim to understand the hearts of young women, but surely she would prefer a younger and more fashionable man? For I am, in truth, six-and-thirty, and do not have any of the graces that I imagine a young woman would like."
"Do not fret so, dear sir," replied Mr Honeyfoot, shaking his head. "Your modesty does you credit but you must not worry. Jane has always been a sensible girl. She would see the benefits of the match once explained to her; I am quite certain of it."
Therefore, growing even more pale, John desperately played his last card. "Mr Honeyfoot," said he, "you have been very kind, but I must tell you..." John licked his lips. "I apologise for raising such an ugly subject, but perhaps you do not realise how little money I have? For I am very poor; I could not afford to keep a wife and family."
"But Jane shall have a marriage portion," said Mr Honeyfoot encouragingly. "Do not think that she will not."
"That is very good of you," said John, "but I am afraid it still won't be enough. You have seen the state of my clothes, and if you knew of the small, mean way in which I must live, you would not think me a good match for your daughter at all." He gave Mr Honeyfoot a frank look. "My dear Mr Honeyfoot, I hate to disappoint yourself or Miss Jane, but there is no way I would willingly lower a woman to such poverty; I could not bear myself if I did so."
"Oh." Mr Honeyfoot sat back in his chair and stared at the tabletop. "Oh," he said again. For, while Mr Honeyfoot was prone to bouts of enthusiasm, he was also sensible upon matters of money, especially where his family was concerned. After several moments he looked up. "Thank you," said he, "Mr Segundus, for telling me. A lesser man would not have admitted of so much. And as always, you are right; we must think of Jane's comfort first." He sat forward, smiling once more. "Let me shake your hand, sir. A better friend a man could not have. Let me shake your hand."
And so they shook hands, while John hoped that the relief did not show too much upon his face. Mr Honeyfoot pressed the matter no further and they left to rejoin the women in the drawing room.
The proposal that John marry Miss Jane was not mentioned again, and John was glad of it (and, for once, was very glad of the state of his finances). If Miss Jane was informed of the conversation, she did not let it show. Indeed, it would almost have been as if the conversation had never happened were it not for the increasingly kind behaviour of Mr and Mrs Honeyfoot. For, over the next few months, John was invited to dine with the Honeyfoots even more often than was normal, and Mr and Mrs Honeyfoot both heaped little kindnesses upon him. John would have been confused by this behaviour were it not for the pitying looks bestowed on him every now and then by Mrs Honeyfoot, particularly when he was seen talking to Miss Jane. It was this display of pity that allowed John to understand what had happened: Mr Honeyfoot, presumably, had talked the situation over with his wife, and they now saw John as the poor lovelorn man, unable to ever enjoy the happiness of marriage due to his reduced circumstances.
John did not disabuse them of this belief.
Chapter 5: 5: 1819
Need I describe what happened next? For I am certain you know much of it already: how, through Mr Norrell, magic became fashionable once more in England, yet how, also through Mr Norrell, barely anyone save for Norrell himself was allowed to study it. You also know, indeed, about the work conducted by Norrell in the war, and about the strange illness that had set upon Lady Pole since her restoration.
Much of this took place in London (as do many great events), but what of York? Well, John, being one of the few remaining magicians in the country (a state he still could not quite believe), continued upon his magical research as best he was able. Since John's great question upon the future of English magic had been answered, he had found himself somewhat at a loss as to where to turn next. It seems, indeed, that he had spent so much of himself over the past few years upon the answering of that one question, that he now felt rather empty at the thought of his own success.
For some time John tried to turn back to his researches upon Martin Pale, but he found that these no longer interested him as they once had. Perhaps you might say that John should have begun researching the modern magic of Mr Norrell, but John found so little to like in the behaviour of that gentleman that he could not bring himself to do so.
Thankfully, such aimlessness in John was not to last. For a while he set himself to aiding Mr Honeyfoot with his enquiries into the long-lost murder at York Minster; these led Mr Honeyfoot, and John with him, to Wiltshire. Here it was, as I am sure you know, that John and Mr Honeyfoot visited the Shadow House and there met with the other great magician of that age: Jonathan Strange.
How to describe Jonathan Strange? He was everything that Mr Norrell was not: quick, jovial, open and excellent company. Yet he was fully as adept at practical magic as was Norrell. What wonders Strange could perform! It is not surprising that John and Mr Honeyfoot took to him immediately. This meeting resulted in Strange's journey to London and his setting up with Mr Norrell as Norrell's apprentice. Then, of course, followed their great feats of magic, Strange's campaigns in the war, and then their quarrels and disagreements. That you already know.
For John, the meeting with Strange was an unlooked-for relief from the troubles that had weighed upon him. It was as if the sky had cleared after years of endless rain. John had not quite realised how burdensome the knowledge of Norrell's monopoly upon magic had been, until that monopoly was broken by the presence of another. For who would wish all of English magic upon a man like Norrell? Strange, merely by his presence, had brightened everything.
John was lucky enough to have struck up a friendship with Strange, and hardly a day went by that John was not awed at the thought of it. They did not, admittedly, see each other very often (Strange being in London and John in York), but they corresponded a great deal (if a little infrequently, for Strange was so busy that he would often forget to write for months at a time). Suddenly all sorts of new avenues of magical enquiry opened themselves up to John. Strange shared much of the knowledge that Norrell had imparted upon him, and all of it was so interesting that John hardly knew what to look into first! And, what was more, Strange often sought John's help in many matters and even tasked John with the conducting of spells for him. (Such spells, we must realise, were never successful for John no matter how closely he might follow Strange's instructions; yet we should not discount the pride that John took in the knowledge that Strange, however mistakenly, thought John equal to the task.)
Such happy days these were! England had two practicing magicians and John passed his hours in fruitful study as a result. Meanwhile, John's friendship with the Honeyfoots continued unabated and all disconcerting thoughts of marriage with any of Mr Honeyfoot's daughters had long been put aside.
Yet, as John was all too aware, happiness is not infinite; and thus these joyful days, like so many others, came to an end. If we were to enquire into the cause of John's misfortune this time (as we must) we would find that it was due to a lack of money.
I have related how, upon graduating from Oxford, John had decided to become a magician rather than take up any other path. At that time he had well known that his being a magician would not be able to last forever, for a small sum of money can only be eked out so far. So it happened that in 1815, with he four-and-forty, Mr Segundus' meagre savings had become almost all exhausted. Now was the time that he must give up magic and find some more advantageous career, lest he wish to end up starving and homeless.
Oh, poor John! Long had he dreaded this moment! When he had set out upon this path over twenty years before, such a future had seemed so distant as to be inconsequential. It had not mattered then what he might do to earn some money, so he had not given the subject a great deal of thought. Now, however, with the necessity of occupation looming, John was at a loss for how to proceed. Oh, certainly, he had originally thought that he might now take up Holy Orders and enter the church, or study the law and so become a lawyer, but these things, John found, appear far easier when one has not devoted twenty years to another profession entirely.
Could John have become a churchman or a lawyer? Perhaps so, but thankfully, due to the efforts of his friends, he did not have to give up magic entirely. For Mr and Mrs Honeyfoot were full of all sorts of ideas, and it was Mrs Honeyfoot who persuaded John take on pupils and so become a tutor of magic.
John set upon this new course with all the success that you might expect of him. Not only was magic now so fashionable that many young, rich people wished to study it, but John, it seems, was a gifted teacher. This will not be surprising to us at all, for we have seen how easily he had been able to help Mr Wroxton with his studies all those years ago. People will disagree as to which qualities are best in a tutor, but I would venture that those qualities which John possessed in abundance (gentleness, kindness and patience) aided him greatly.
It so happened that when John had not been teaching for very long, he came across an old, secluded house in Yorkshire known as Starecross Hall and there met its owner: a widow, one Mrs Lennox. This good lady was quite taken with John and what he told her of his work and, as someone with a great mind for business, she immediately proposed that John take it upon himself to turn the then-empty Starecross Hall into a school of magic, with John himself as the master.
Oh, but I am telling you things that you already know! For who has not read all about those tumultuous days when magic in England was on the cusp of its restoration? You will know, I am sure, how the doing of magic was becoming possible for more and more people, and how this only increased the popular interest in magic. You will know how John took to the preparations for his new school with all excitement, and how it looked to be a great success until the operation was cruelly closed down by Mr Norrell (through means of his man, John Childermass). You will also know how John and Mrs Lennox then set upon the idea of turning Starecross into an asylum for the mad, where once again John's qualities (gentleness, kindness and patience) would come to serve him well.
Through the unsolicited and surprising workings of that same Childermass, Lady Pole became John's patient at Starecross, and I need not tell you with what care she was treated, even despite the fact that her presence (and, as was later discovered, the presence of the magic around her) sent John into something of an illness. Thus, even when John thought that he must give up magicianship entirely, he found to his surprise that magic was his life once more.
It is well known what happened next, for Lady Pole (and John, at her instigation) have made it so. Lady Pole was under a fairy's enchantment due to the magic worked on her by Mr Norrell, and this enchantment was ended by a token (discovered by Childermass) which was restored to her. (The restoration, of course, being effected through a magical spell performed by John himself.)
As great as these events may seem, they were only part of those astounding happenings of 1817. The fairy that had enchanted Lady Pole was destroyed and the other souls he had ensnared (being Mrs Strange and, oddly enough, Lady Pole's butler, Stephen Black) were saved (it must be assumed, though Stephen Black was never seen again). Jonathan Strange came to England in a great black tower and swept Mr Norrell off with him (whither they went, no-one knows). And Childermass, Mr Norrell's once-servant, discovered a prophecy of the Raven King in the unlikely form of Vinculus, the street-magician, who John had once met in London all those years ago.
Tales of these times may be found in any of the magical books published during the following years (and some of those books, I am happy to say, were written by John himself). Yet what those books do not say (and what John, particularly, does not deign to tell us in his own writings) is what happened next.
For, you see, England was no longer what it once was. Magic was now so abundant that it could be performed by almost anyone who set their mind to it, be they rich or poor, old or young, male or female. (There were even accounts of horses and sheep and pet lap-dogs performing spells; though how accurate these accounts are, I do not know.) What a wonderful time in which to live! To think that just a few years before, practical magic had been unknown; to have it suddenly open to all and as commonplace as the sun and the earth and the trees was so joyous an experience that words are unable to do it justice.
John, for himself, could hardly believe what had taken place. He had done magic! Poor John who had long ago written it off as impossible, now found that he could perform all sorts of spells; he needed only to think of one and try! With all that had happened in the freeing of Lady Pole from her enchantment it took John a good few weeks to truly realise what had come to pass. When he did, I am not ashamed to say that, waking up one morning with the fullness of that knowledge upon him, John lay there and wept.
Yet what was to happen to Starecross? For Lady Pole, now free again, had left that house and John was once more in want of employment. Thankfully John's friends, and Mrs Lennox in particular, had not forgotten him. With Mr Norrell now out of the country (wherever he may have been) there was no impediment to Mrs Lennox and John setting up the magical school they had once envisaged, and Mrs Lennox wasted no time into putting their plan once more into motion.
Finally it seems that fortune looked kindly upon John. The new school was greeted with every success. With magic as popular as it was, John and Mrs Lennox found themselves so overrun with potential pupils that they could only take in but a fraction of them. (Magical schools had opened throughout the country, of course, but it must be understood that a school run by one so fundamental in the freeing of Lady Pole from her enchantment and who was also a known acquaintance of the Raven King's new book and its reader, was naturally one of the most popular schools of them all.)
Soon, indeed, John and Mrs Lennox were forced to take on another master so that they might try to keep up with the demand for places. Yet still this was not enough and by 1819, two years after the school had opened, its masters were as many as four in number, with John having oversight of the other three and of the school as a whole.
I need not tell you how hard John worked upon his new cause, nor how proud he was of his students. John had never been one for making a great noise amongst his fellow men, but were you to see him in those days, with the quiet contentment showing upon his face, you would rightly have thought him one of the happiest men in England.
Yet, for John, as with us all, happiness does not last forever; not without some lull to remind us of the changing nature of fortune. (But can we truly enjoy the happiness we have been dealt if it is not punctuated at times with anxiety and misery? Of course we cannot.)
This particular lull came in the summer of 1819. Teaching had finished for the Trinity term and, as was normal whenever there was a break in teaching, John packed up his registers and his accounts and made the journey down to Bath so that he might go over the books with Mrs Lennox, his patroness, to show her how the school was performing.
In Bath Mrs Lennox lived with her friend Mrs Blake. Theirs was one of the grander town-houses, made of crisp, cream stone with large windows, all of the most perfect symmetry. Inside, the house was no less grand, and it had all the high ceilings and comfortable furnishings that one might wish for. (John considered himself very lucky that Mrs Lennox would not stand for his staying at an inn in town when he visited, and instead had a bed made up for him in one of her best bedrooms.)
On this day, John was with Mrs Lennox and Mrs Blake in the morning room, which had its windows thrown open so that the carriages could be heard passing in the street below. It was not so very long since John had arrived. He and the ladies had taken tea, and then John had set out his books so that he and Mrs Lennox might go over them (Mrs Blake did not join them for this activity, but instead sat at her embroidery by one of the windows).
After some time of this, with Mrs Lennox asking very many questions (as was her wont) and John providing her with the answers, Mrs Lennox then took off her spectacles, set them upon the register in front of her, and turned to John.
"I believe, Mr Segundus," said she, "that it is high time you were married."
What an unexpected statement! John flushed rather red. "Married, madam?" he exclaimed.
"Yes," returned she. "I have thought so for some while, and these figures have confirmed it. The school is more popular than I would ever have hoped for; in its current state there is no way we can meet the demand for places. We shall need to expand Starecross with a new wing."
John nodded uneasily.
"It would be the perfect opportunity to expand the business of the school," said Mrs Lennox, "for we may have a new dormitory and everything made up as necessary." She looked to John. "I am talking, of course, of taking on female pupils. For how better to make the school more prosperous than to open it out to the other half of the population? I know of many people with daughters who are desperate to learn magic, and who would pay a good price for the privilege." She smiled. "It would be prudent to let them."
"Ah," returned John.
"Of course," continued Mrs Lennox, "no mother will wish to send her daughter to a school run by an unmarried man. But a man with a good, sensible wife is another thing entirely, and we may then take on as many female students as we wish. Now," said she, "I am entirely confident of your judge of character, sir, and I have no doubt that you can think of some suitable woman for the position." She turned to John with an expectant air.
"Ah," said John again. For what else could he say? Turning down a suggestion of marriage made by a friend was difficult enough, but turning down one from a patroness was almost impossible! Without Mrs Lennox's goodwill, John was entirely without a home or an income. Yet what could he do? For John was certain that he still did not wish to get married, no matter how good it might be for business.
"It is a wise plan," conceded John, "but, forgive me, Mrs Lennox, I do not know many women at all. You must consider how secluded Starecross is from the world."
Mrs Lennox sat back. "You are right," she agreed after a moment, "but that is no problem." She smiled at John. "For we are not in Starecross now but in Bath, and Mrs Blake and I have the acquaintance of all sorts of women. If you cannot think of a suitable match, then do not worry; Mrs Blake and I will introduce you to society here and you may take your pick."
"Oh, but," said John, "that supposes that there are any women out there who would wish to marry me. For I have no property, and no independent wealth of my own; I am not a rich man. What could I have to offer?"
"I do, however," said Mrs Lennox, looking at him, "pay you a good wage, sir. If I do not and you are unhappy, then you must tell me. But you are correct; a wife is no small expense. I would increase your wages in compensation, and would do so again were you to have children."
"That is kind of you, madam," said John, blushing to be thought ungrateful, "and I do not mean to say that I am unhappy with my position at all. You have done more for me than I could ever have hoped for. But..." He scratched at the back of his head. "...I was merely wondering who here should wish to have me? For I doubt the good ladies of Bath would accept a schoolmaster for a husband, no matter how generous his salary."
At this, Mrs Lennox laughed. "Oh, my dear Mr Segundus, do not let Bath dazzle you with its glamour. No matter how they might wish to be perceived, I can assure you that there are ladies enough who would welcome the opportunity to marry a successful schoolmaster. Now..." Here, Mrs Lennox turned to Mrs Blake at the window. "Mrs Blake, we must think of some matches for Mr Segundus; who should we consider?"
"Oh," said John, interrupting, "but you must not forget my age. I apologise, Mrs Lennox, but even if a woman did wish to marry a schoolmaster, would she really wish for a schoolmaster who was eight-and-forty? Surely that is too old to marry."
"Nonsense," returned Mrs Lennox with a smile. "You must not let that stop you. Certainly, you might be a little old for a young woman, but who says that only young women must marry? Indeed, in this case, an older woman would be better, as she would find it easier to manage the pupils. No, sir. There are plenty of widows and older, unmarried women who would be quite happy to marry a man of eight-and-forty."
"Even so," said John, his desperation mounting, "I should not like for it to be unpleasant for her. You must consider how set in my ways I am, having been unmarried for so long. I should try to make accommodations, of course, but I can imagine it would be difficult. My habits are so quiet and plain; I would be quite terrible company for a wife, I am sure."
"But that is to our advantage!" cried Mrs Lennox happily. "A wife who appreciates quiet and order is just the sort of person we need to help run the school. And, as I have said, you must choose her yourself; I am sure you would choose someone who would be the perfect match." She looked at John (who was now rather pale) and smiled at him. "You need not worry, sir. Do not let your modesty overcome you. I assure you that there are plenty of women to be had who would think you a wonderful husband. Let Mrs Blake and I do the work and introduce you to society. You may stay in Bath with us for as long as is necessary." Mrs Lennox now turned to that woman. "Mrs Blake, I thought we might take Mr Segundus to dine with the Barnings tomorrow. Mr Barnings' sister would perhaps do very well. We can see how Mr Segundus likes her. Then the day after we may..."
"I am sorry!" cried John. Mrs Lennox and Mrs Blake turned to him, both wide-eyed. John was as white as his neckcloth and his hands were shaking. "I am sorry," he repeated, shaking his head desperately. "But I cannot get married. I cannot."
"But why...?" started Mrs Lennox.
"Because I do not want to," said John, all unhappy conviction. "I do not ever want to."
Mrs Lennox stared at him for a long time, and John appeared to grow ever more miserable under her gaze.
Eventually, Mrs Lennox said, "Very well. But you must understand that we will not be able to expand Starecross if you do not marry. For I am set upon opening a school for girls, and if it cannot be at Starecross, then I must use the money to purchase a property elsewhere."
"That is fine," said John quietly. "That is how it should be."
"I will ask you to choose a female schoolmistress for the new school, because I value your opinion of other magicians," continued Mrs Lennox. "But I cannot give you oversight of the new school; it would not be proper. The new school will fall under its schoolmistress alone."
"That is also fine," said John. "I do not wish to have oversight of another school. I have more than enough; I am quite happy as I am."
Mrs Lennox's face softened. "Come, sir," said she. "I see I have upset you. I am sorry for it."
"No, no." John shook his head. "It is nothing. I just..."
"We shall say no more about it," said Mrs Lennox. "Mrs Blake, will you ring for the coachman? Let us all take a drive and refresh ourselves after talking so much of business."
And thus the matter was left to stand. Is it odd that Mrs Lennox did not press the issue further? It would have been greatly to her advantage to have expanded her existing school rather than to pay out the money to acquire a new building. But perhaps it is not so odd after all. For Mrs Lennox had been widowed and living with Mrs Blake as her only companion for many years now, and not once in all that time had she seen fit to marry again.
Chapter 6: +1: 1821
You must not make the mistake of thinking that John was against the idea of women learning magic; far from it, and he had even taught some young women himself when he had been a lone tutor. If there had been any way for Starecross to have taken on female pupils while its headmaster remained unmarried then John would have seen it done; but there was not. For, while it may be fine for an unmarried gentleman to teach a young woman magic when she is in her own home and under the watchful eye of her governess (and while it may even be fine for an unmarried gentleman to have charge of a young woman if she be married, accompanied by her maid, and also mad), it is quite accepted by everybody that no young woman should enter a school full of gentlemen which has only an unmarried headmaster to preside over them.
Thus it was that female pupils could not be taken on at Starecross, but Mrs Lennox was good to her word and purchased a property in a nearby village which was soon fitted up and opened as a separate school of magic for girls. John was delighted to see how fast this new school progressed. He had chosen the schoolmistress from amongst the female magicians in the York Society (for that venerable institution now sported a number of them), and had then helped to choose further schoolmistresses when the school needed expanding (which it did, after only a very short period of time).
Indeed, the reputation of the new school for girls grew so fast that soon it was almost as renowned as Starecross itself. (And how joyous it was to see the two schools come together on those days when, twice a year, the pupils and staff of both met for entertainments and competitions!) Starecross, under the careful management of John, continued on as popular as it had ever been, in particular finding itself with a surge of prospective pupils when, in 1820, John published the biography of Jonathan Strange which he had been working on for some years.
But do not think that John was known only for his research upon Strange. Of great import though this research was, there was yet another reason that drove numerous young men to apply to study at Starecross. This reason I have alluded to before: John, you see, was well known to be an acquaintance of John Childermass, the man who had once been Norrell's servant but who now had control of the only existing piece of writing by John Uskglass, in the form of Vinculus.
I could say that this acquaintance between John and Childermass started when Childermass first showed the spectacle that was Vinculus to the York Society of Magicians in early 1817. Certainly it was then that John proposed and Childermass accepted an invitation to Starecross so that John might have the opportunity to study the King's writing in more detail. This invitation happened to set something of a precedent, with Childermass and Vinculus thereafter visiting Starecross regularly so that Childermass and John might study the King's writing together and, later, so that the pupils at Starecross might do so as well.
Yet perhaps this is not being entirely truthful, for John and Childermass had known of each other for longer than this and had, indeed, been keeping up something of a correspondence between them (this correspondence starting, in a rather inconsistent way, when Childermass had first written to John to suggest that he become the keeper of Lady Pole).
John's first impressions of Childermass, I must admit, had not been entirely favourable; but who would blame him? For (if you remember) it was through Childermass that Norrell had destroyed John and Mrs Lennox's first attempts at turning Starecross into a school. Thankfully, such impressions were not to last. It took time, certainly, but John slowly began to see (first, through their correspondence, and then through their meetings with Vinculus) that Childermass was far from a copy of his former master.
Oh, to be sure, Childermass still had a dark way about him and he had, it is true, taken part in some of Norrell's less-than-worthy schemes, but that did not mean that Childermass held Norrell's views. Indeed, John came to discover that Childermass' views upon some points were in direct contradiction to those which Norrell had espoused. When it came to the study of magic, for example, Childermass was of the opinion that the more people who were able to learn about magic the better. To further this aim, Childermass spent most of his time travelling the country and showing Vinculus to the various magical societies and other gatherings of magicians he came across, so that as many people might be able to study the King's writing as possible (and hopefully, come up with a translation, which none had succeeded in to that date). Childermass had even assisted John in petitioning Mrs Lennox to allow two poor boys to be taught at Starecross each year.
This distance from Norrell's views, however, does not mean that Childermass instead took up Strange's cause. John found this odd, that a man with as much sense as Childermass would not hold Strange in the esteem he deserved. But when asked truly for his views upon either Norrell or Strange, Childermass would only smile an odd sort of a smile and give a vague sort of an answer. (John fancied perhaps that, because Childermass had personally known both Norrell and Strange, he was in some way still grieving for their loss.)
For John, Strange had always been the greatest of magicians, outshining Norrell in many ways (indeed, John would not have written a biography of Strange otherwise); but as his acquaintance with Childermass grew, oddly enough John began to hold Childermass in almost equal regard. Certainly, Childermass was nothing like Strange; he had none of the charm nor politeness, and neither could he perform as many spells. Yet, on coming to know Childermass further, John was surprised to find that the man held a great store of knowledge, was possessed of a sharp mind, and had a penchant for urging the most sensible course in any situation, even if it be the least extravagant (which was a trait that Strange, for all his achievements, had never possessed). No; on coming to know Childermass, John found him to be a worthy magician on many counts.
All of this meant that John was very glad of Childermass' (and Vinculus') company, and was fully aware of the privilege bestowed upon him by Childermass' choosing to visit Starecross so often. When Childermass did visit Starecross, oh what happy occupation would ensue! He and John would spend hours poring over the text upon Vinculus' skin, and when Vinculus tired of this (as he often did) then John and Childermass would spend much of their time in John's study, reading and discussing and practicing magic.
Oh but, John, do you not see? He had been so content with the flourishing of his school and the flourishing of his research and the flourishing of his publishing that he did not realise. It had been so long since his days in Oxford that John had not even conceived it as an idea.
This day was a warm one in spring. It was 1821, near exactly a year since John's biography of Strange had been published (and John was already working upon his next book, in which he meant to publish yet more of Strange's letters and papers). After half the morning spent working in John's study (for it was just after Easter and the pupils were away with their families) Childermass, who was then visiting, had suggested that he and John take a walk to refresh themselves. John had readily agreed, as the weather was warm, and who does not wish to feel the breeze upon their face when they have been reading for hours in a stuffy office?
Outside, the sun was bright, birds were calling to each other, and daffodils gathered alongside the path that skirted Starecross' orchard. What a pleasant day for a walk! Upon leaving the orchard, John and Childermass took a small path that led out onto the moor. The wind was stronger here, but not unpleasantly so, and they followed the path through the heather, talking about their latest research all the while.
What was this research they discussed? Well, they first talked of Strange and the papers of his that John had been working on that morning, and then they talked of Vinculus and of an odd symbol upon him, like an eye, which John and Childermass had spent the previous evening trying to decipher. When, after half an hour or so, these topics had been exhausted and the conversation had come to a natural pause, Childermass, clasping his hands behind his back, said, "Mr Segundus, will you allow me to speak candidly?"
John replied that Childermass was free to do so (indeed, said he, there was not a time in which Childermass wasn't welcome to be candid).
"That is good," said Childermass, watching his feet as he walked along (though his pace appeared to be slowing). "That is good. For there is something I would like to say, and I know (or rather, I hope, sir) that you will not be the sort of man to judge me for it."
John, frowning at such a beginning, said that he did not wish to bring judgement upon anyone. He turned to face Childermass as he did so, for Childermass had, in the slowing of his footsteps, finally stopped walking altogether and John had come to rest beside him.
Childermass laughed. "You are a good man, Mr Segundus," said he. "You are a good man." Here Childermass, with his hands still clasped behind him, looked out across the moor. (And what an odd expression upon Childermass' face! He almost appeared to be hesitating, though John had never known him do this before.) "And that is why," continued Childermass, turning back to John, "I appear to have fallen in love with you."
Oh, such words! Can I truly describe the unhappiness that John felt when he heard them? For John's heart sank in that moment, as he realised that his acquaintance with Childermass must now end. How was John to explain that he could not return Childermass' affections without at the same time wounding Childermass' pride and his feelings? It was not possible; John must turn Childermass down, Childermass must be wounded, and Childermass must then cast John away. Oh, unhappy day! To think that John would lose Childermass' company and, what was worse, lose his respect also! But what could be done? It had been so long since John had received a direct declaration of love that he was not at all prepared how to answer it. He had no sweet words to hand, and no soothing sentiments; he had only what he knew to be true, which was that he could not accept Childermass' proposal.
Childermass must have guessed something of this from the look upon John's face, for the brightness in Childermass' eyes dimmed a little and he huffed a small breath.
"I..." began John, somewhat tremulously, not wanting to bring the terrible parting closer but unable to halt it. "I am flattered, Mr Childermass. Very flattered by what you say."
Childermass looked out at the heather for a moment, with a small, wry smile upon his face. "And yet..." he prompted.
"And yet," continued John, "I cannot give you what you so desire." He swallowed. "You are right that I don't judge, Mr Childermass. But I am sorry; when it comes to romance I... I do not..." He sighed, defeated. "I do not."
Childermass closed his eyes and took a breath. When he opened them again, his expression had softened slightly (even if it remained somewhat melancholy). He looked to John. "It is I who should apologise, sir," said Childermass. "I had thought... I had not ever known you to take up with any women, and so I had thought that when it came to men..."
"I 'do not' with women either," explained John unhappily.
"Oh," said Childermass, frowning down at his shoe. He looked back up at John. "Not at all? With neither men nor women?"
"Not at all," confirmed John.
"Ah," said Childermass, and he gazed down at his shoe some more. For several moments all was quiet save for the noise of the birds around them, but then Childermass breathed out heavily. "I will not pretend that I am happy with the outcome," said he to his toecap, "for who is not disappointed when frustrated in love? But I see that there is nothing to be done." And Childermass looked up at John with what appeared to be an attempt at a smile upon his face. "I do hope," said Childermass, "that this will not damage your good opinion of me, and that you will allow us to continue on as friends, sir."
"You..." John's eyes widened. He looked upon Childermass with awe. "You would wish to have me as your friend?"
"Of course," replied Childermass with a frown upon his face. "I have fallen in love with you, Mr Segundus. Why would I not wish to be friends with you?"
John flushed, and several moments passed before he could admit, "That is not what normally happens."
The frown upon Childermass' face grew. "Then I am sorry for it," said he. "And I am sorry for anyone who has mistakenly lost your company, but I will have you know that I do not wish to be one of them."
John could hardly speak, so great was his relief. "It would be an honour, Mr Childermass" said he, smiling without meaning to as Childermass met his eye. "It would be an honour to have you consider me your friend."
Childermass laughed out loud. "Then I am glad." And he held out his hand.
John took it, his cheeks pink with gratitude.
"Now, sir," said Childermass when they had shaken hands and had parted again. "You must not hold it against me, but I will need some time to lick my wounds." He gave the moor a smile that was more wistful than otherwise. "I shall take Vinculus off to York for a week or two, if that is agreeable to you. After that I shall return and we may then continue on as if nothing has happened."
"Oh. Yes; of course," agreed John. "Please, take as long as you need. I will understand."
Childermass turned his wistful smile to John. "Then it is decided," declared Childermass. "Vinculus and I will leave today, and you shall see us again in a fortnight or so. I will write to let you know when we plan to return."
"Certainly," said John. "Thank you, Mr Childermass." The relief that John felt was so strong that he would have liked to have thanked Childermass a great deal more than this, but John was wary of letting too much of his happiness show, for he fancied that (in spite of Childermass' kind words) Childermass must be hurting a great deal inside. Thus John felt that it would be best if he removed his presence, so that Childermass would not suffer any more than was necessary.
"Now, then," said John, turning to go. "I shall return to the house, sir, and leave you in peace. Do you mean to take dinner before you leave today, or should I send instruction to the kitchen that Vinculus and yourself will be absent?"
"I shall talk to the cook myself," said Childermass and, surprisingly, turned as if to leave with John. He gave John a reassuring smile. "It is a fair walk back to the house, Mr Segundus; there is no point in the both of us walking alone."
And thus, when John began to walk, Childermass fell into step beside him. "Now, sir," said Childermass as they made their way back to the house. "You told me that you had a theory about that symbol, like an eye, upon Vinculus, but you didn't explain it fully. Will you care to do so now?"
John did care to do so and, filled with a growing happiness, he discussed their translation of the King's book all the way home.
Childermass was good to his word. He and Vinculus left that day before dinner, but only two weeks later John received a letter stating that they were shortly to return. Return to Starecross they did and, despite the fact that John would occasionally find Childermass looking wistfully into the distance (which looks, I must add, decreased over time), they fell easily back into their relationship as colleagues and friends both.
For John, things continued on well. He published his second book about Strange a few years later, his school continued on very successful, and his work with Childermass and Vinculus I need not tell you about, for surely everyone is aware of the conclusion of those efforts.
Yet what of romance? Was John ever troubled again with declarations of love and attempts at match-making? Well, perhaps he was, but never in a way so as to disrupt, too greatly, the happiness he had built for himself. For John had become, you see, almost as content as it was possible for a man to be. He had his magic, and he had his school, and he had his friends; and that was quite enough for him.