It was not, at least, raining.
John Segundus was glad for that. He had set today to be the day one or way or the other. He had needed to so that he did not lose his nerve and put it off over and over until it was too late. So he had said today was the day he would do it and he dressed and left his lodgings to raised eyebrows around 8:00 in the evening. The eyebrows were only raised because it was known that he did not often spend an evening out and that he was behind on his rent.
There had been no way to find out what he needed to find out beforehand. He was planning to engage in two kinds of illegal activities and thus, had needed to keep his intentions for this evening as secret as he could. So, he wandered in the cold night, his feet sore after a while, simply glad that it had not rained.
Segundus decided on a street corner after a long night of walking. It was as good a start as any would be, besides approaching men and asking them if they would have him, and he stood and he watched the passing people.
Church bells chimed as the tip of his nose began to numb and he knew that it was eleven. He wondered if he should give up the search a patron for the evening. Client, Segundus corrected himself, lifting a hand to wipe at his nose with his handkerchief. He could not allow himself pretenses if he were to succeed at this endeavor. He found himself oddly disappointed he had passed the evening without selling himself. He needed the money and he had steeled himself for it to happen tonight.
Segundus was about to turn from his corner and return home when he felt eyes on him and he looked up to see a man watching him. He had stopped in the street and the people on their way home pushed past him as he stared at John Segundus. He looked around and then took a step toward Segundus.
Is this he? Segundus thought. The man who will be, in all ways, my first?
The man was tall, his clothes even older than Segundus’. He was not reputable; unshaven, long haired, but Segundus did not fear him and his heart stilled. The man had large eyes, brown eyes, Segundus saw, and when he met them, Segundus did not fear.
“Sir,” the man whispered when he was feet from Segundus.
“Sir,” Segundus repeated with a nod.
The man looked around again.
“What is this?” he asked. “Are you…”
He did not finish his sentence. Segundus had to assume the man was asking if he was a whore, which he was attempting at least to be, so he nodded.
“Yes,” he said.
The man sighed and his eyes continued to roam the dwindling night crowd.
“We must speak,” he said. He growled.
“Whatever you wish,” said Segundus.
An odd feeling surrounded John Segundus, that had nothing to do with cold, or nerves, or fear. It was, in fact, an intensely happy feeling he got. He felt he was surrounded by a thin blanket, a very thin blanket, one filled with whispers.
“Of course,” said Segundus and the man began to walk.
Do I ask his name? Does he tell it? Do we know nothing of each other? Segundus did not know, but he followed the man step for step.
“We are not seen,” the man said. “Just stick to the shadows.”
Segundus understood now that this man, this man he followed through the streets to allow to buy him for the evening, was of all things, a magician. He, John Segundus, had a spell put over him and the excitement stilled him and allowed him to forget a moment what was happening. He reassessed his assertion that he did not fear this man, but still he followed.
They approached the back door to an inn and when a maid stepped out, John Segundus followed the man through it and into the kitchens. They passed by quickly, up a set of stairs and down a dark hallway. The man took a key from his pocket and opened the door. When they were inside, Segundus felt the spell fall from him.
There was a magician on the street.
John Childermass did not know how, but there was a magician on the street, a brown haired man who looked very cold.
He had not meant to stare, but the magic, the potential for it, caught Childermass and tugged him back toward the man. He only stared at first, until he knew he must approach.
The man, the raggedy and unexpected magician, responded with the same, with a nod.
Childermass peered again into the crowd. He knew he must not be heard.
“What is this? Are you…”
He could not ask on the street what magic the man knew and he was not surprised that the magician’s response was quiet. But he agreed to come with him, and with as much subtlety as he could manage, Childermass covered them in shadow and walked them to the room he had taken for the evening.
It was a small bed.
Segundus did not know how they would both fit into it. He did not know in truth if they would use the bed, he realized as he watched the man light a candle. He had only assumed, but he sat down on it after hanging his coat.
Segundus and the man watched each other once the room was lit. Segundus was not surprised that he felt he had done something amiss. But the man came and sat next to him on the bed. Segundus jumped at a spark of magic from the man and the man stared at him open mouthed.
Segundus could think of nothing to say to begin. He whispered ‘sir’ again.
“We have much to talk about Mr-”
Segundus shook his head. But he felt as well relief that he now knew one thing at least: there would be names.
“John,” said Segundus. “Please.”
The man- the magician- paused.
“John.” Segundus watched the magician’s brow knit together darkly. “Please, no jests.”
“I do not understand. It is my name.”
“I apologize. It is my name too. I thought I was being mocked.”
There was another spark of magic. The man frowned at the space between them.
“You may stop with that as well. The sirs. They are not needed.”
Segundus nodded. Then there was quiet.
Was it time to begin?
The man stood and went to his coat, where he began to search the pockets. Segundus reached to his throat and untied his cravat.
When Childermass turned, his pipe in his hand, the magician was undressing. He had removed his shoes: his cravat and vest sat next to him on the bed.
He blushed when he was seen.
“Is it correct?” John asked.
“Please,” he said. “I do not know.”
Childermass began to sweat.
How this man knew his secret he did not know. He did not look like anyone Childermass should be scared of, with his shaking hands and large eyes looking like he might cry.
“Please. I have no experience.”
“With what?” Asked Childermass.
The man reached to untuck his shirt and looked at Childermass. He was crying now, but held his head as if determined to have dignity despite it.
Childermass walked to the bed and sat next to John, put a hand on his to stop the untucking of the shirt.
“Why would you cry and undress?”
“I do not know,” John whispered. “You will not tell me what I should do.”
Childermass thought on those words, his confusion at them. His hand was still on John’s he realized. John turned his hand over so that their palms touched.
“I have no experience,” he said again.
The magician, the other man named John, had a rough hand. Segundus could feel more of his magic when their palms touched. His breath caught and so did John’s.
He looked up. I must try harder, Segundus thought. I must try harder to be pleasurable.
He leaned over and lifted his head so that his mouth was touching John’s.
John pulled back and his heart stopped. If he changed his mind, this man, who knew what would happen. Segundus could be beaten, arrested if he was reported. But the man stared and nothing more. Segundus slowly moved toward him again and the man did not move away. He put his mouth to John’s again and this time, he kissed him. And John let him.
He had not expected it to feel so nice. He had wanted to kiss a man for most of his life and was surprised now that he was at how it good it felt, how right.
The kiss ended but Segundus did not move his face far from John’s. There was so much that could still go wrong.
“What is this?” asked John. Segundus realized it was the second time it had been asked to him this evening.
“I do not know.”
He pulled John close and kissed him again. He did not know; he had never touched another person in this way, but he lay back and pulled John with him. John was unresponsive at first, not bending to meet his body. Segundus let go of John’s clothes.
Segundus had gone hard during the kiss. He had not known that would happen so quickly, but he was overwhelmed by the newness of what he felt. He blushed and then blushed harder that the man noticed. Segundus was still terrified of being rejected and as his cheeks warmed and he was studied, he cringed.
“John?” the man asked.
He took the man’s hand again, felt the jolt of the magic at first. He brought the hand shakily to his lips and kissed it.
“Am I safe? John?” Segundus asked.
“You are. Am I?”
He nodded again. He still held John’s hand and he took it and placed it on the hardness he felt straining at him. His breath caught and so did John’s. Segundus did the only thing that felt right and moved John’s hand along him over his clothes.
Childermass did not know what this man was playing at, but he had lost his reason at feeling him in his hand.
He leaned down to kiss John, their hands still moving together. John wrapped a leg around him as he let go, his breath fast. Childermass had not moved his hand and he watched John close his eyes.
“Shall we undress?” Childermass asked.
“It is up to you.”
It was an easy movement, from lying next to him to on top of him. John pulled at his clothes and he pulled at John’s.
John was soon bare chested, his breeches unbuttoned. He was more hesitant with Childermass, pausing as he reached for different items of clothing, as he touched them and held them and loosened.
“Are you well?” he asked John.
“I have said…”
“I have no experience. I am untouched. I know for a woman that has certain value. I was not sure…”
He was not sure he could do this after all, but John reached up and touched his face. Childermass looked down at the thin bare chest under him, at the breeches pushed down one hip. He could see all of John from above him; the dark hair, the swollen cock.
“It is fine,” said Childermass.
John exhaled hugely, obviously relieved.
“You will have to tell me,” John said. “How would you like this?”
Childermass rubbed the bare hip exposed by the breeches that had ridden down pulled them further. John shuddered at the friction.
“You may have me, if you like,” said Childermass.
“You may. If-”
John swallowed and breathed out shakily.
“I am not sure...given my lack of experience. Is it...will it be enjoyable?”
“I do not mind the other way. “
John held his hand again. Childermass noticed again how clean they were, how soft. He did not have so much as a scar, this John. His nails were pristine. He had not worked. Whatever else he was; he was a gentleman. John stared at their hands together a moment, pink lips open. Childermass felt it too, the magic. He knew that part of it was his, but the other belonged to this odd man in his bed, this odd man who wanted him and had, with no last names exchanged, offered himself to him within moments of meeting. Childermass was not sure if John had figured out what it was, what it meant, this feeling.
“If you’re amenable-” said John.
Childermass pulled the breeches down the rest of the way, slid them off John’s white feet. He undressed himself the rest of the way.
John trembled as he was approached, stared without concern at Childermass’ aroused body. Childermass had not been sure of his claim of virginity until now. The man was not under forty, but Childermass thought, as he leaned into John and felt his shaking, that this could be no act. He had known no one and now would. This man had come to his room and decided that instead of speaking of magic that he would give himself to him.
“Can you tell me?” asked John. “What you will do? At first at least? I am not sure if I can ask, but- but in truth, I am scared.”
Childermass studied the shivering body next to his, all its pale curves. He was more confused than ever, apprehensive at the circumstances that had led them from the street to the shadows to this room and this bed, but he could not deny his want.
“I will need to spread you. I will need to open you.”
“Of course,” said John. “Will it hurt? Oh, I forget myself.”
“I do not think that it will hurt.”
He parted John’s long, white legs and lifted his bottom from the bed. John closed his eyes as Childermass’ finger entered him, very slowly.
John spoke in a ragged gasp. His thin chest heaved.
“Should I stop?” asked Childermass.
“You may do as you like. You do not have to ask. I am yours, John.”
John gripped his wrist, but he did not hold Childermass in place. Childermass thought it was an act of desire, one of wanting to touch more of him. His eyes opened to see if it was accepted and closed again when he saw that it was. John was warm and soft and smelled of well bathed skin. More proof if Childermas needed any of what this man, at heart, was.
“You will feel more of me,” said Childermass.
John’s body went stiff as he held a long breath.
“You were right. It does not hurt. Thank you.”
He talked John through several minutes of gentle movements, of loosening and readying. He was afraid John would spend himself any moment so visibly aroused was he, but John seemed not care for himself as Childermass’ fingers slid out of him.
“Now, it will be me you feel,” said Childermass.
John, this patchwork magician he had found on the street, gripped at the blanket as he was entered and he cried out when he was taken in hand moments later, when the rhythms in him and on him synched.
John begged him, once he was he stroked, once he was thrust into, for Childermass not to stop. It was his only concession, Childermass thought, to his own body. It was the only time he forgot to be unconcerned with his own pleasure.
Segundus was sweaty afterwards, despite the cold of the room. John drew out of him and fell to the bed.
It had been, despite the initial discomfort, an experience among the most enjoyable he had felt; John had looked at him while it happened, had, in a moment of passion, struck his mouth with a hot, desperate kiss. Segundus had been handled with skill and care and had his own pleasure as well, in this man’s hand as they rocked together.
I will always remember this room, he thought as his body settled and he heard John breathing next him This shade of faded yellow on the wall, the cut of our coats together in the corner, the fraying of the blanket in one corner. And then, he thought another thing.
I have not set a price. He knew he was a fool then, for not settling the money sooner, for not speaking of it it at all. Now he was alone with a man who had had him and with no promise of anything to come. And still behind on rent.
John was, he thought, a decent man. He had treated a common whore like a man but they had not known each other an hour. He did not know how far his decentness reached.
John turned his face to look him, his large brown eyes tired. Segundus wondered if could ask now or if it was all ruined. He felt tears come to his eyes as John took him into his arms.
John went rigid in his arms and Childermass felt a tear slide down his chest A quick lifting of his eyes told him that John was crying.
Before he could ask what was wrong, John had begun speaking.
“I know it is my fault, sir, for not settling this before. But please. Please, I need the money. Very badly. You must pay me.”
The chill started in his gut and spread. Money?
“Please,” said John again. He would not look at him but stared up at the ceiling. He clutched the blanket in his hand. “Just remember...I was good?”
Childermass pushed himself up and looked at the skinny prostitute lying in his bed and and staring up at him with fear and desperation.
The chill had overtaken him, and it had settled. He had been, while touching this man, while reaching to hold him, content for a while. He had not fully explained John’s insistence on this to himself until suddenly, it had been explained to him. He did not think John meant to do it, but he had been a target and he had fallen for it.
“Of course,” he muttered. He turned his face away from John and his pink, nude body as he stood from the bed. “No, do not be sorry. And do not worry. You will be paid. I did not mean to frighten you.”
He walked to his coat, where he took out the money that he kept there from his pocket. He did not know how much he took out, did not care, but he walked back to the bed with it and handed it to John and John stared it in his hand.
“Is it because...because I was a virgin? I was not expecting- thank you, John.”
The softness in how he said his name stalled him, the relief in his large eyes.
Childermass knew he had been ill used, but there was no malice in this man. He had been truthful from start to finish, from his shaking on the street to this moment, his legs crossed and money in his hand. Childermass had just not seen
There was a washbasin in the room, full of water, and his own cloth lay beside it. He handed it to John to clean himself with and watched the man wipe his chest and legs clean. He then watched John dress. Childermass would stay here and he let himself remain unclothed.
“I hope you enjoyed yourself,” said John softly. “I was so concerned. I did not want to displease.”
Lovely. He did not say it. Instead, he watched John retie his cravat messily.
“I was worried when I came out tonight about who would find me, but I feel I am lucky. You have been kind.”
John pulled on his shoes. They had not blown out the candle but it flickered now.
“I will go home now,” John said. “We are not, two men like this, at too much liberty.”
Childermass nodded wearily at him.
“I will send the shadow with you. You can leave safely.”
John’s eyes widened when the magic covered him and he stood dumbstruck in the middle of the room for a moment before turning to leave. Childermass could not at all find a bad feeling for him, for someone who still looked so naive after all the evening had brought.
When Childermass felt that John was on the street and safely out of the inn, he let the magic loose. Then he lay down and waited for morning.
Two weeks later, the weather was bitterly cold and business had regrettably taken Childermass away again. He had decided to stay the evening in town and leave early the morning and arrived later than expected. Childermass was not accustomed to the feeling of tiredness that permeated activities he had once done with ease. He had aged, was aging.
Childermass did not want to acknowledge the feeling of magic that hit him again as he took a late evening pipe. He did not want to feel it, but he did. He coughed with the surprise of it and smoke filled his chest.
John, the magician and the prostitute, was near.
Childermass decided he would do his best to ignore the sensation, to let the man do what he would do. Childermass had been left ego-bruised and saddened by the experience and did not look to repeat it. He could not forget the hurt he had felt at John’s frantic request to be paid despite his ignorance, or his guilt at watching the big eyed man stare down at the money he had been given for their encounter. He had thought of John with compassion in the last weeks, but he had no energy to spare.
The magic burst in little twinkles in the air as Childermass smoked. He could not forget the question that had stayed with him since the day he had met John; how did a magician, or a man with the potential for magic, end where John had ended?
The magic made sound like a sigh. Childermass looked up despite himself.
John was there, walking past the inn in an inadequate coat, rushing.
The magic went out from Childermass mostly without him meaning it to have. Childermass cloaked the man in a shadow. John stopped on the street and looked up, jumping from the path of a person who could not see him.
“John!” he called.
A few people turned to look at the source of noise, but were content in the cold weather to move along quickly.
John climbed the steps of the inn toward him. The magic fell away but no one paid much attention to a second man there on the steps.
“I am surprised to see you again, sir,” said John. Childermass had not forgotten the soft sound of John’s voice. To hear it again opened back fresh what he had been trying for a fortnight to forget.
“And I you.”
Their easy conversation was depleted.
“I am just as surprised that you would speak to me,” John whispered.
“Why?” Childermass sighed a mouthful of smoke into the brittle air. “Were we not partners in that endeavor?”
John looked around nervously, his hands balled tightly in the pocket of his thin coat.
He was cold. Childermass could tell that much. And he was pale. Childermass remembered the feeling well from his childhood, from his youth. His resolve, as much was left of it, crumbled.
“Have you eaten?”
“Not this evening.”
“Would you like to, Mr-”
John stepped back.
“You have nothing to be afraid of.”
“No,” said John. “I do not feel I do. I am John Segundus.”
“I think I know that name.”
“I think not.”
It came to Childermass then where he might have seen the name; in a scholarly publication. One of magic. He did not broach the subject.
“I am John Childermass. Would you like to come inside and get warm? I have not eaten yet either.”
“Thank you, but I cannot presently afford it.”
Childermass stood to his full height.
“Don't concern yourself with that. Come.”
Luck was with him that night. Segundus knew when he felt the shadow overtake him.
He had none finding a client for the evening and he wasn't sure that John would be one again, but his spirits lifted at the sight of a face he thought of as friendly, and lifted more at finding John spoke to him so agreeably when they spoke.
It was his first outing in his new trade since his experience with John two weeks before as he had been too frightened to venture it again. He felt lucky in his clientele with John, lucky to have done what he had with no repercussions. He did not want to court trouble, but it was now necessary to try again. The money from the first time was spent and his expenses still loomed.
Segundus had been scared from his corner by too many eyes on him and was returning home when the shadow found him and he looked to to see John smoking on the steps of the inn where he had lost his virginity a fortnight ago.
He tried to deflect the offer of dinner when it came, but it was cold and he was hungry. And John was kind.
Segundus followed him into the inn where the two took a table.
A redhaired maid brought drinks and later food. John- Mr Childermass he now knew- smoked his pipe and watched the room, much more interested it seemed in it than the food. Segundus, for his part, ate hungrily until he felt magic surround him again, magic with a noise like dried flower petals rustling. He lifted his eyes and swallowed quickly so that he could speak.
“Sir. Mr Childermass. Are we hidden?”
“No,” he said. “But we are not heard. I wanted to ask you something I did not want others to hear.”
Segundus took a bite of stew and put down his spoon.
“Mr Segundus. I think you have come down far in life. You are a gentleman. You are learned. How did you come to be doing what you were doing last time we met?”
Segundus stared down at his greasy spoon.
“It has been a hard few years. The move to York depleted what little resources I had, but I knew some kind people. Recently, my landlady, who was one of them, retired to live with her sister and sold her home. The man who purchased it noticed immediately how lenient Mrs Pleasance had been with me regarding the rent. He called it in on threat of eviction. The first installment is due next week.”
Segundus toyed with a corner of his cravat and then nervously picked up his spoon again to stir his stew.
“I could think of nothing else. I sold all I could. I considered employment, but I am trained for nothing; only to read and write my scribbles and think too much. There was only that last option.”
“And you took it.”
“There was nothing to be done, sir. It was that or prison, or the streets. I know it is wrong, but…”
Segundus watched John fill his mouth with smoke and breathe it in. In his sheltered life, he did not think he had met someone like John before.
“And you were out again this night? For the same?”
Segundus blushed deep into collar.
Mr Childermass took another long puff from his pipe and set it on the table. Again, he scanned the room.
“If you are in no hurry and would have me again…”
“Only if you are agreeable.”
Again, Segundus knew that luck was with him. If it must be done, let it be done with a man who treated him like more than a body for his use, with a man with kind and tired brown eyes, a man who kissed him.
“I am agreeable.”
Childermass had not wanted to get involved.
He had been determined not to from the first when he felt the magic of John Segundus hit him. But he had not counted on the effect John Segundus’ honest face would have on him.
In the hall, he obscured them so that they could enter the room unseen. Segundus’ face when he encountered magic endeared Childermass to him further, despite his knowledge that it likely was not wise. He knew what he did was right; to help Segundus. Nor could Childermass deny that he wanted to see this man again.
They hung their coats and Segundus stood waiting for some prompt from him, an action which he now understood.
“Here,” said Childermass. He reached into coat pocket and handed the money he took out to Segundus. “So that there is no question.”
“You...you know I am no innocent any longer. You yourself bore witness to that. And still you pay so much?”
“You do not feel it is right?”
“I do not know.”
“Then, forget it, John. Forget it and come to bed.”
Segundus’ eyes widened further at the last sentence. He put the money in his own coat pocket and and followed Childermass to the bed.
“What would you like to do now?” Segundus asked when he had sat.
Childermass sighed. Segundus’ eagerness to be agreeable and pleasurable to him was like nothing he had ever experienced; disarming and disconcerting. Segundus’ clothes were old and worn, but the clothes of a gentleman. When he spoke, it was the speech of a man with education. To see him in those clothes on his bed, to hear his voice offer its frequent supplications to him was not a thing Childermass could fathom.
“In truth,I would like to sleep, Mr Segundus. I am not a young man.”
“Younger than I.” Childermass sighed again. “I will have another pipe, Mr Segundus. A last one of the day. And we will lie here for a while, shall we? You look like your day has been long.”
Childermass took his pipe from his pocket and after kicking off his shoes, leaned back onto the bed. Segundus took his own shoes off and, as Childermass watched with unexpected interest, his stockings well. Segundus tucked them into his shoes and crawled to Childermass on the bed. Segundus kneeled in front of Childermass expectantly for a moment before positioning himself under the crook of his arm with his head on his chest and arms wrapped around him.
“Your hair smells very clean, John,” said Childermass.
“Thank you. I enjoy the smell of your pipe.”
“You do not have to think of a compliment in return. I only noticed and thought I would say.”
“Thank you,” said Segundus again.
Childermass closed his eyes. Segundus’ face made a spot of warmth on his chest that was the most comfort he had felt all day. With his free hand, he reached and stroked Segundus’ neck and the soft ends of his hair. He had thought only to sleep, but the proximity of the warmth and softness of John Segundus had begun to call to him.
“It is a different room. Than last time,” whispered Segundus. When he spoke, Childermass felt the small movements of his words, of the movement of jaw against his chest.
“There was a crack in the ceiling of the last room. It looked a bit like a dog. I do not know if you noticed it.”
“I did not notice.”
Childermass set his pipe on the table. Segundus shivered at the feeling of fingers on his neck.
“Did you pass the night well?” Segundus asked. “ After…”
“In truth, I could not sleep.”
Segundus, polite as he was, could not think of an immediate response and lay quietly against Childermass’ chest. Childermass was not surprised when Segundus lifted his face from where it rested against his shirt and kissed him. His coat pocket was full of money given to do such things. Childermass understood it, understood that Segundus was here because of a cold night and money offered. He understood that this was different from last time, when he had engaged in this unknowingly. But it was a sweet kiss and the night was cold for him as well.
“You are sure?” asked Childermass. “You can change your mind, if you wish.”
“I am sure, Mr Childermass. John.”
Childermass lay back on the bed and Segundus moved on top of him, legs on either of his body.
“John,” said Childermass.
He allowed Segundus to begin undressing him when he moved to do it. Childermass did not say for him to, but Segundus kissed his chest when it was bare. Childermass was not used to leisurely love making and the feeling of lips softly on his skin was one he had forgotten, if in truth he had ever known it well enough to forget. He closed his eyes rocked gently underneath Segundus until he lifted his lips.
“You...you enjoy it?” Segundus asked.
“Shall I undress too?”
Childermass found himself nodding and Segundus reached up to pull off his own shirt. How does a man reach his age and have not one scar? Segundus’ chest was white, unmarred.
Half undressed now, Segundus leaned down and kissed Childermass’ neck and then his shoulder.
“You must say, if something is not right,” Segundus mumbled.
“Please, do not ask any more,” said Childermass.
“No. Please, John. It is just, I want to…”
He wanted to enjoy it. He wanted to enjoy John Segundus. The thought did not settle easy, but in proximity to each other, they had both become aroused. Segundus shifted on him, unsure how to navigate their bodies now.
“You can do it like that, you know.”
“I did not,” said Segundus. “You have the sum of my experience.”
“Let us undress, and I will show you.”
Childermass reached up to pull down his breeches, but Segundus’ hand arrived before he his and pulled back and let himself be undressed. Segundus tensed at the sight and feeling of Childermass underneath him.
“Do not worry, John,” said Childermass. “I will tell you what to do.”
It was the closeness that surprised Segundus the most.
He had prepared himself for many things, but to lay with his head against a man’s chest and to breathe in the smell of his pipe smoke was not one of them. It was not disagreeable to him, only shocking that it was something he had a chance to experience. When he had learned of love and realized what it meant to him, he had assumed there were some things he would not get. Overmuch affection was one. But now, he found himself in a moment of peace in a room scented with pipe smoke.
For a moment, he thought John had fallen asleep and he was unsure how to proceed. But then John gave a small cough and Segundus looked up to see John looking down at him.
Segundus was not as nervous as he has been the first time he had done this, but that was to be expected, he thought. He had had this experience, and with this man. Another thing Segundus had not accounted for was knowing the same man twice. But as he listened to John’s body against his ear and looked up at him, he remembered some things from the time before and felt comforted that he had experienced once before this man’s body. Yes. He had seen the line of that frown before. He had seen hair hit John’s shoulder just that way.
Segundus reached up his face and kissed John.
He was soon astride the man, pulling off Childermass’ clothes as if he knew what he was doing. Segundus was overtaken and kissed his chest once he could see it. He felt he should be ashamed to find any sort of joy here, legs on either side of a half dressed man who had paid him to be there. John did not seem to mind at all that he kissed him on the chest; a thing which Segundus had never thought of before he did it. In fact John’s eyes closed and he began an unsettling and thrilling rocking against him.
The feeling of their bodies so close, both awakened by the stimulation of John’s rocking, caught Segundus unaware.
He paused, staring down at where their bodies met. It was difficult for him not to stare at John now that he was was unclothed. Segundus found himself fascinated by the differences between John’s body and his. John had such long legs. The dark hair on his body was speckled with gray; not abundant, but enough to notice with ease.
John noticed his pause and told him that he would tell him how it was done. Segundus tried to relax, remembering that despite this man’s disreputable air and the dangerous magic he was able to do that he felt safe with John. He knew little of the man, but he felt with certainty that one thing he did know was John would not hurt him.
“Why don't you undress fully first?” John suggested. He held Segundus by the hip for a second Segundus thought that it was like the holding of the handle of a tea cup. “It is earlier than last time. We can perhaps go more slowly.”
Segundus was clearly able to watch the impact of a thought John had cross his face. He removed his calloused fingers from Segundus’ hip and placed them behind his head.
“If you feel it is a fair use of your time,” Childermass said.
Segundus slid of him and sat on the bed. He did not want to mention the money, so he spoke next as vaguely as he could.
“Considering, it is more than fair.”
John removed his hands from behind his head and turned over on to his side to look at him.
“You are no innocent any longer, but you are not experienced either,” said John.
“Far from it. As you know.”
“You do not mind, do you? To undress in front of me?”
He sighed with a finger still on the top button of his breeches.
“I cannot say what I like or not very well yet. Thank you for your concern though.”
Segundus unbuttoned his breeches and slid out of them. He thought to drop them on the the floor, but folded them instead and placed them next to his shoes. He straightened himself to see that he was watched.
“What have you done for all these years Mr Segundus?” Childermass asked.
“Very little of consequence.”
John frowned at him and as Segundus watched the increasingly familiar lines of his face.
“You truly think so little of yourself?”
“Sir. How could I not? You see what I sit here doing.”
John sat up on the bed.
“Mr Segundus, I am the last person to judge a poor man what he needs to do to get by. I have never been a gentleman, but I do understand fear and poverty.”
Segundus shook his head. He wanted to tell John that he was too kind, but he did not. John seemed not like when he was overly deferential.
“It is of no concern. Let us to other things, John.”
John took his wrist in his rough hand and held it for a moment. He had missed this magic. Then, he gently pulled Segundus to him as he rolled over on to his back.
“I shall resume my place?” Segundus asked.
“Yes,” said John.
Segundus lowered himself onto John’s stomach and John’s hands reached around him and held him at his back side.
And John told him what to do.
Segundus and Childermass part ways after their second meeting, but are soon reunited.
He did not rush to leave this time, though he thought he should, for his safely and Mr Childermass’. His breath and heart had not quieted from the movements of their bodies in the bed. He could feel at the small of his back and just above his hipbone ten indents, made by Mr Childermas’ fingernails from where he had been held in place.
The bed and the long legged body of the man in it with him were warm and the room cold, the window beginning to frost in a delicate pattern, so Segundus did not move after sliding from Mr Childermass’ body and lying next to him. He rested his forehead on Childermass’ shoulder and an arm wrapped around him.
Segundus knew enough this time to not be scared when he was taken into Mr Childermass’ arms, when the covers were pulled over them.
“Sleep,” said Childermass. “There is time.”
And he did, for just a little while. Segundus thought that it was the first time he had ever, for reasons not purely practical, shared a bed for sleeping with another person. He was unlikely to get more opportunities as he had given up, for many reasons, the idea of marriage. Just as well. Let me enjoy what I have and not take it for granted, even if I am here as I am.
He woke to the sound of a match being stuck, a brief flash of orange as he opened his eyes. Mr Childermass blew out the match he had used to light his pipe. The room was dim; the candle sputtering in melted wax.
“You sleep quite deeply,” said Mr Childermass around the mouth of his pipe. “You’re very lucky.”
Segundus stretched, closed his eyes again. He felt a hand on his head, John’s fingers in his hair. There was the sound of another match. The room brightened when a fresh candle was lit.
It had started to snow by the time Segundus dressed a quarter of an hour later. Mr Childermass smoked his pipe sitting on the bed, still nude, and watched the flurries coming down.
“Can you get home safely?” Mr Childermass asked him.
“I can. Thank you.”
Childermass yawned and scratched at his chest. Segundus continued to button himself into his well mended clothes and make himself presentable for returning home; an unenviable task after an hour and a half of sleep that had flattened his hair and left the side of his face that he slept on a warm pink.
“Your coat is very thin, Mr Segundus,” Childermass said, his eyes looking to the
corner where that garment hung.
“I am aware of it. The purchase of a new coat is very low on my priorities just now, however.”
Mr Childermass blew smoke from his mouth and looked for a moment like a fearsome creature from a story. It was the last of it and he set the pipe aside.
“You make me sorry that life has been so unkind to someone who I imagine has never hurt anyone.”
“I have been meek, Mr Childermass,” said Segundus. “Perhaps too much so. Perhaps I have been forgotten.”
Childermass said nothing but Segundus’ name under his breath.
“I feel I should say goodbye. We do not know when we will meet again, if we will.”
“If you must, Mr Segundus, say goodbye then.”
Segundus swiveled on the bed to see Childermass better.
“Do you know? I find myself missing when we only knew Christian names. It is nice to be called John. Even if it is a name I must share.”
Childermass laughed at that.
“Would you really like so badly to forget my surname?”
Segundus paused in the act of adjusting his stockings into place over his calves. His eyes got large with the wonder of a question he had just thought of.
“Could you do that? With your magic? Could you make me forget your name?”
Childermass crossed his arms over his chest.
“There are many things I could do, I suppose, with learning and practice. There are spells for forgetting, to be sure. I’m unlikely to get either learning or practice, though. I am content with what I know, however, for the time being. It is more than most will get.”
“It was more than enough to impress me.”
Segundus was dressed now, waiting to make the move to leave. John gave a gruff cough as a prelude to speaking.
“There is something I feel I should tell you, Mr Segundus,” said Childermass. “In the name of returning the honesty you've showed me.”
“What is it?”
“Your name was not as unknown to me as mine was to you. I have read your writing and I recognized your name when you told it to me earlier.”
“Oh. That piece about Dr Pale published a few years ago?”
“The very one,” said Childermass.
“I want to ask what you thought of it, as you are the first true magician I have ever met, but that would be vain of me.”
“It's a fruitless effort to try to avoid all sins.”
“As I am aware, John,” said Segundus softly.
For the first time, John looked uneasy. Segundus put a hand on his bare knee to show him that all was well between them. How odd, to be here as I am, comforting this man.
“You write well,” said Childermass. “And your grasp of the subject of fairy servants is admirable considering the reading I imagine you've had at your disposal. I would like to see what you could produce with more and better material to study from.”
“Much like you, I am unlikely to get the learning I would very much appreciate. Not for lack of effort though. I have searched everywhere for the books I need, but I am always just in time to see them slip away from me.”
An odd look crossed John’s face then, one that clearly belied a measure of guilt.
“With any luck, one day perhaps I will be in time to get one of the books for myself,” said Segundus.
“It is doubtful.”
Childermass shook his head at him when Segundus opened his mouth to speak.
“I shall leave you now, John,” said Segundus after a long stretch of confused quiet. “If we do not meet again, thank you. I think you are a good man and a good magician as well. My life has been a little easier and more interesting for finding you in it.”
“You really should not thank me.”
Segundus stood from the bed then and walked to the door, where he put on his thin coat.
“Goodbye, Mr Childermass.”
“Goodbye, Mr Segundus.”
The shadow covered him again and Segundus left the inn and went out onto the snowy street.
John Segundus celebrated the Christmas season quietly in his home, which he had been able to stay in no small part thanks to the generosity of his client, Mr John Childermass.
The money given to him by Childermass for the two nights they had spent in each other’s company had gone a long way toward appeasing his new landlord, who no longer threatened to evict him though the full sum of the rent Segundus owed was yet to be paid. Segundus was grateful that no lawyers had been involved and that he had managed to navigate the whole affair with his reputation in tact.
Segundus could count easily on the fingers of one hand the number of times in his life that he had lied intentionally; once when he was a child to save another boy punishment that he thought would be less for him, once to a young lady whose feelings he had sought to spare, and the last time when he gave the rent money to his landlord.
“You have come into money, Mr Segundus?” the man asked.
He was shorter than Segundus, a balding man with a round paunch of a stomach and expensive clothes he looked to be in danger of bursting with his next large meal. Thinning hair lay in a limp swirl on the crown of his head.
“An elderly relative whom I visited frequently in my youth remembered me on his deathbed,” Segundus said as straight faced as he could. But he could not meet his landlord’s eye and a blush creeped up his chest into his collar.
The landlord was appeased by the story even if the lie weighed on Segundus, even if Segundus felt that he was not fully believed if the upward tilt of the landlord’s eyebrow was any indication. He knew that to live a life free of all wrongdoing was impossible, but much worse was to lie when those instances arose. There was nothing to be done, however, he decided. Segundus knew he could not very well say to his landlord that a rangy man with a thick Yorkshire accent had given him the money in exchange for a few hours of sexual pleasure.
Christmas Eve found Segundus at church. He had not gone in a very long time but thought this year he would. He was thankful to have reached the end of December, thankful he could return to his little room when the service was over, thankful indeed for Mr Childermass.
Christmas day found him the reluctant guest to dinner of his landlord, who Segundus sensed had not wanted to invite him, but had done so for not having a good reason not to. He allowed himself an extra glass of wine to dull the awkwardness, but did not think that it was noticed since his landlord had partaken of most of the previously opened bottle on his own. Segundus was exceedingly glad when the meal was done and he could retire to his room to change into his nightshirt and spend the rest of the evening in his bed with a book.
January came and Segundus learned of Gilbert Norrell. That same month, he and Mr Honeyfoot traveled together to meet the man and see his library.
Segundus lived in fear of Honeyfoot finding out what he had done to get the money to keep his lodgings. Honeyfoot was a true friend. He had spoken for Segundus at the meeting of the Society when Foxcastle had been so dismissive. Honeyfoot had invited him to his home to meet his family. Segundus hated the thought of losing him, his first real support in York since Mrs Pleasance had left, to the knowledge that he had twice sold himself.
Luckily, Honeyfoot suspected nothing and was not inclined to look for anything to suspect. His excitement about the meeting slowly put Segundus at ease as they rode through the drab and frozen countryside. He told Honeyfoot his story of the man he had met in London years ago who had told him about the supposed magicians to come, two of them of which he was not one, and he let that thought occupy his mind for the duration of the ride.
He dozed after a while on the road, and dreamed of shadows, of the creeping frost on on the window of an inn in York, of a dirty pool of wax and the stub of a candle.
Nothing of Mr Norrell’s appearance or manner, when they met him, surprised Segundus. His tense, tight handwriting and the sarcastic tone of his letters had prepared Segundus well for seeing the man in person.
What Segundus had not accounted for at all was the name Norrell said when discussing the chatty bookseller who had been spreading his business, the name Norrell said was that of the person who had warned him about that bookseller and his loose tongue.
Segundus swallowed a yelp.
It could be none but the same man, the Mr Childermass of the two cold nights in York, Mr Childermass of the shadow, Mr John Childermass of the handfuls of money and his own virginity. It was an unusual name and there could not be more than one man called the same in the vicinity.
The afternoon only became more disconcerting and very quickly as Segundus and Honeyfoot were shown down the hall toward the library. The closer they came to Norrell’s library, the more Segundus felt something was deeply off inside of him. He could not find his bearings at all and he felt sure the cause was magic. A look to Honeyfoot told Segundus that his friend felt nothing of the same sensation.
And then the door to the library opened and there he was, leaned over the corpse of a book he was in the process of rebinding, his brown eyes wide with shock. Mr John Childermass.
Norrell introduced Childermass as his man of business and went on to talk about his books.
They were all here, each book he had looked for and many besides that he had not because he did not know enough to know that they existed.
And they all sat in the same room as the man Segundus had last seen lying naked on a bed in an inn in York, his pipe on the bedside table and his clothes on the floor.
It could not be.
The magic of John Segundus crawled ahead of him down the hall and under the door of the library. It sat at Childermass’ feet, nuzzled against his leg as if to better announce its magician. Childermass nearly dropped the tool with which he was working.
It could not be, but it was. He was here, at Hurtfew. John Segundus, the raggedy magician and the unlikely gentleman prostitute.
His first thought was of the number of secrets to be kept, and most of them Segundus’. Norrell would care little if he found how Segundus supplemented his income and with whom, but he would care very much about Segundus’ magical potential. In all the years Childermass had been here, he had never known Norrell to feel magic like he did, but Childermass had also never felt magic like he felt Segundus’.
He could hear Norrell speaking as he and the guests approached the library and the tone of his voice told Childermass that for now at least the secret was not known. Norrell would not be so calm if he knew a man who might, however unlikely, be a practical magician one day had walked into his home where his books were.
The moment before the door opened, Childermass cursed in surprise. It had hardly left his lips as the others entered. He and Segundus stared at each other as Segundus and his companion came into the library with Norrell but they were not noticed.
Childermass composed himself as he was introduced to the guests. Segundus turned his attention to the books he had come to see. Seeing Segundus with a group of gentlemen, no matter how shabby he looked compared to Norrell and to Honeyfoot, only made it clearer that these were his people, where he at heart belonged. No one in the room besides he and Segundus knew to look for anything between them. And so no one did.
His work resumed, Childermass listened to the conversation being had by the party of gentlemen.
Childermass knew what would happen when they left. The moment they left, the forgetting would begin. Already, the spells were in place and working.
Childermass had never once felt bad for any magic Norrell had done on another person. The occurrences were few and necessary to protect Hurtfew and the magic Norrell did there. Never once before had he felt bad, but, he did now.
He looked up to see Segundus blink away a bit dizziness and lack of focus from his eyesight. It had begun already; the inability to really see what was here. His eyes darted to Childermass as if for explanation but Childermass looked away as he must.
It would continue while they were visitors to this place here and follow them home, where it would continue to work on them until it had whittled down all comprehension of Hurtfew. Segundus and his friend would suffer days of forgetting this visit, days of losing each detail. Childermass did not think that Honeyfoot would be much affected, but he could tell Segundus would feel it all. He looked already frantic at the feeling, overwhelmed by it and the sight of all of the books of magic in front of him.
Childermass tugged a thick stack of pages together. John Segundus’ magic ran between him and Segundus several times. Segundus’ eyes flickered back toward Childermass like he could feel Childermass’ magic as well as Childermass could feel his. Segundus seemed not to realize the magic that emanated from him, though to Childermass it was a strong current, something nearly visible in the blackness of his blinks.
Why was he so concerned about this man in particular when years had gone with him paying no concern to the targets of his master’s magic? Was it, he wondered, because the intimacy he had shared with Segundus? Because he knew how vulnerable the man was?
Norrell made his proclamation that he was a practical magician, the first time Childermass had ever heard him be open about his abilities to people outside the home. Segundus looked up at him in the shocked silence that came after.
There was just enough time for Childermass to nod at him.
His head hurt. It hurt very much.
It was what Segundus was thinking when Childermass’ magic found him; that his head hurt and his eyes stung so that they closed or looked around too much, were unable to settle on one thing for very long at all. He knew this magic though, this magic added to the one making his head swim; he was in shadow. He was in Childermass’ shadow. And that his voice was muffled to any but the man looking at him, the man who had cast the spell.
Segundus had excused himself to the disorienting hallway, which was where Childermas followed him to. Honeyfoot and Norrell were still inside and Segundus leaned against the wall, nauseated from from the exposure to whatever was going on in Norrell’s library and in this hallway where his senses were so confused. His eyes were still closed when he heard the click of the door shutting, when he was wrapped in shadow and silence.
“Sir,” said Segundus.
“You still call me that? Though you know I’m a servant now.”
“I am much less concerned that you’re a servant than whose you are, John.”
He opened his eyes. Childermass looked down at him with a concerned frown.
“Do you feel it? The same magic I do?”
“I’m accustomed,” said Childermass. “The magic I most feel at the moment is yours.”
Segundus was so concentrated on taking a breath meant to refocus him that he hardly heard Childermass’ words at first or took in their meaning. Then, he turned his face to Childermass.
“Mine? You must be wrong. I have none.”
Segundus braced himself against the wall and pushed himself into a standing position to speak to Childermass better.
“When I mentioned my trouble acquiring books last time we met, why did you not say that you worked for the man who took them from me at every turn?”
“It would have done no good for you to know, Mr Segundus. Just as it will do no good now. This is my job. Norrell asks for things to be done and I do them. I have only that description of my job, actually.”
“And you feel it correct of Norrell to what he does?”
“I feel I have no right to judge it as correct or incorrect. He uses his money as he sees fit, to better his chosen career. Then he pays me for my help.”
The moment before Segundus swayed where he stood and nearly fell over, John put a hand out to steady him. Segundus allowed Childermass to keep a hand on his arm for a long pause while he regained his footing. After all, there was nothing to fear, here in the shadow.
“He does all of that at the expense of others,” said Segundus. Childermass looked up in a movement very much like a roll of his eyes, which Segundus had not decided that it wasn’t. He let go of Segundus to cross his arms.
“At the expense of men like the ones in the Society.”
“I am in the Society.”
Segundus closed his eyes and slumped back against the wall. He heard a tired sigh come from Childermass.
“I had no way of knowing that. You did not tell me your occupation. I discerned it from your name and my own reading, and that I did not know at our first meeting.”
Segundus let his head droop forward. He was very tired.
“Mr Honeyfoot and I must leave soon as it’s already growing dark. Forgive me if I've been rude. I'm really not feeling well at all suddenly. And I was surprised to see you here, but please know it was not a bad surprise at all. Thank you for keeping my secret.”
Segundus waited for his response, which was a nod, a hand on his elbow to help him stand again.
“I must tell you something. You will not remember I have said it, but I will, for all the good that will do. Norrell has enchanted the house. You will not remember much of anything of this afternoon but that you’ve been here. I am sorry. There’s nothing I can do for it.”
“Then why have you said anything at all?”
“I do not know, Mr Segundus. But I have.”
Childermas let the magic fall away.
It is too bad, Segundus thought as he watched him walk inside the library again. It is a very nice sort of thing to feel. John Childermass’ magic seemed to agree with him.
By the time Segundus and Honeyfoot were on their journey home, Segundus had begun already to forget the warning issued to him by Mr Childermass. He had begun to forget there had been any warning at all.
He remembered a conversation, nearly falling over for some reason. It had happened in a hallway. He had been righted from the fall just in time. Mr Childermass had smelled of glue. And his pipe! There was a moment he remembered that too. He remembered that pipe smoke well.
But what was this conversation that a part of his mind so badly struggled to show to him? Clearly Segundus remembered thanking Mr Childermass for keeping his secret, but that was the bright spot in the dark water of his memory.
He wished he had come with paper to write on. His fingers itched and he drummed on his own thigh. Segundus knew he must write about the books. The scenery passed by the window. Segundus blinked. He had just been thinking something moments ago and it seemed so important. Now he could not at all remember what it was.
Segundus entered his home wondering why Mr Childermass had looked so sad.
He hung his coat wondering if Mr Childermass had in fact been sad at all. Why should Mr Childermass be sad? Perhaps he was upset to see him, upset that their two encounters be exposed. Perhaps he did not wish to see someone who had done what Segundus had done. No. That was not right. Segundus knew that at least.
He looked up at the sound of footsteps approaching. His landlord entered the room, hands crossed in front of him.
“Mr Segundus. If you have a moment, it is necessary that we speak about the remainder of your rent owed.”
Two curious things happened in Hurtfew at the start of February.
The first was that Norrell issued a challenge to the York Society of Magicians. That was curious but not entirely unexpected. The second was so shocking that it upset Norrell for several days and caused a black mood in the house.
A magician would not sign. John Segundus would not sign. This was the news Mr Robinson gave sitting there in the library. The contract was spread in front of him, full of a great number of signatures in neat lines of black but not all, and Mr Robinson held a teacup in his hand that he sipped from as he told the story.
Childermass was not surprised that Segundus would fight for magic as he did. But to hear the name spoken at Hurtfew was still a shock.
“Segundus? He is the one who came here!” said Norrell. “Childermass, why would he do this?”
“How would you have reacted fifteen years ago if someone had tried to stop you studying?” Childermass asked in return. Norrell huffed in exasperation to show that what he would have done and what Mr Segundus did were in no way comparable.
Childermass first calmed Norrell enough to convince him that one lone man could do him no harm if he were a society to himself. Let the man avoid the contract. Norrell knew that he would come out victorious and the days of the York magicians being magicians were few. One theoretician with nothing to study was harmless. Norrell did not know that the man Childermass had swayed him into keeping his profession had actual magical potential. That first task done and the lawyer sent to tell Foxcastle, his job then became to convince Norrell not to immediately change his mind and send him to run after Mr Robinson.
Childermass did not bother sleeping the night of the magical display Norrell had planned. There was plenty of work to keep him busy in the library for hours. He sat alone long after the rest of the house was quiet. Then he went to his room to change his clothes and to smoke and to consult his cards about the night ahead.
There was no question that the magic would be done. He did not need to be told that. But he wondered how things would go for the men of York society when it was done, especially their newest member, the one he had twice paid to have, the one he had spent so much of the last fortnight protecting from Norrell’s interference.
An hour before it was time to leave, Childermass changed his clothes and went to the kitchen where breakfast had been left for him.
He rode into the town in Norrell’s coach with Mr Robinson, who would also be in attendance.
The good I have done is very small, thought Childermass, if it good at all to leave a man a career but no one to practice it with and nothing to study. But maybe it will be enough to help Mr Segundus for a while at least.
Childermass and Mr Robinson walked together through the snow to the cathedral.
Segundus had forgotten all over again that Childermass was Norrell’s man. He stepped back in shock when he saw Childermass standing on the snowy steps. He did his best to calm Segundus with a nod before turning his attention to the other magicians, who would soon be no such thing.
Segundus was the last man inside the cathedral and there was a moment he and Childermass stood alone in the night.
Childermass stood at the back of the room and he watched the faces of the men as the statues came to life. He had not seen this magic before and it was as new to him as to the men of the society, but he watched it with a calm that they could not.
Childermass thought he understood the look of sadness that crossed Segundus’ face as the statues calmed back into stone. The man was, again, alone. But he breathed, Childermass watched it roll back his shoulders and straighten his spine, and then he reached up his hand like he could feel the magic lifting from the room and wanted to make a last memory of it. Childermass had once felt the same, as a much younger man learning that magic lived. He and Segundus were the same in that; with magic they could not be truly unhappy.
Segundus drifted toward Childermass as the other men began to leave, some gaped mouthed, some huffing. More than a few whispered tirades against Norrell as they looked over their shoulders. Segundus smiled at the feeling of the magic of silence Childermass did on them as he reached the corner where he stood.
Not for the first time, Childermass found himself admiring the look of wonder magic put on John Segundus’ face.
“You were not surprised to see me here,” Segundus said.
Childermass tugged on his gloves.
“I was not. I learned at our last meeting that you are a magician. Where else would you be this morning but with your fellows?”
“I have thought...I have thought for weeks the strangest thing.”
“And what was that?”
Segundus shook his head. He frowned around the cathedral, half empty of his friends and mostly empty of magic.
“It is not important.”
“Are you well, Mr Segundus?”
Segundus looked around the room. Only a few more men of the society were present now, shuffling around and peering up at the now blank faces of the statues.
“I do not know,” he said. “I am very tired.”
“Have you walked far?”
“Not so far. And the sun will be up soon.”
Now they were alone but for Honeyfoot and Mr Robinson, each engaged in a task of their own: Mr Robinson doing a last check of the contract as he folded it and Mr Honeyfoot staring at the statue of the young woman whose story has so moved him.
“May I ask about your situation?” asked Childermass. “Has it improved?”
“It has not worsened.”
“That is something, is it not?”
“I suppose it is, Mr Childermass.”
They spent a quiet moment, wasting the spell that hid their words and watched Mr Robinson and Mr Honeyfoot.
“I shall have to let this magic go soon,” said Childermass. “But I want to know, before I do-”
“Yes. It may become necessary again for me to...engage clients.”
The magic fell. Neither of the other men in the room noticed.
“And yes,” Segundus whispered. “Yes to our meeting again, should that be the case.”
Honeyfoot approached and with a nod, Segundus stepped away.
Segundus reaches out to Childermass after the disbanding of the Society. Childermass makes plan to help Segundus.
He risked the letter to Mr Childermass, but only after several drafts that led him to something he thought was safe.
With no Society to occupy his time and no clear plan on how to move forward as a magician without it, Segundus had hours each day to consider his situation. It was not, from any way he looked at it, a good one. He took many long walks in the days following the magic at York, first in the snow and then as it melted, to clear his mind and gain perspective. He stepped around muddy puddles half filled with ice. His shoes grew damp, his feet cold.
Segundus often returned after the sun had set and ate dinner alone before going straight to bed. One night he came back so late that he ate in the dark of the kitchen, standing. His fingers thawed as he had his dinner and tingled at the tips while he gripped his spoon. His eyes stung from the wind but calmed in the warmth of the kitchen.
There was magic to think of, his now suspended studies to think of. There was his rent. He liked his home. That night in the kitchen, his body warming as he had his dinner and felt the numbness of cold leaving him, he had thought again that he was lucky to have a warm place, a place with food left for him and a bed.
Segundus came back from his daily walks chilled and sore. After the third day of walking, he also came back sick. He spent three more days in bed and by the time he was well, he was resolved. He would have to attempt to sell himself again.
There was no other hope of money. Three days in bed had given him plenty of time to think of every option and then to think of it again. There was nothing to do but try to earn money as he had before. Segundus was terrified of the thought of going out again to the street where he felt all the eyes of the passers-by on him, of how he might be treated this time if he succeeded in finding an interested client. He could not forget the vulnerability of the first time he had come to the room with Mr Childermass, how it had felt to undress in front of someone with no knowledge of how he would be received or what would happen after. He was just as terrified of reaching the date his landlord had set with no money to give him.
So, he wrote. He was not sure if Mr Childermass would want to meet again as they had previously, but he was a man Segundus trusted, one whose company he enjoyed. Was it right of him to want enjoyment from these encounters? He was sure it was not, but he did. He still thought of John’s kisses, of him lying in the bed in the inn, smoking with not a stitch of clothing on his body. It was with excitement he thought of those things and with fondness the feeling of rough fingers gentle in his hair. Segundus very much wanted to see him again and as he wrote to Mr Childermass, he felt as though it was a love letter he composed, and smiled down at the paper before beginning to feel foolish that he did.
Segundus had as much time as he could want for drafts of the letter, for rereading them and thinking over much about what he had written. He finally produced a version he thought he could send safely and then, he made himself spend a night of sleep away from it. He read it again in the morning and found it well.
He sent the letter to Hurtfew Abbey, addressed to John Childermass.
John Childermass rarely received correspondence. He did this day though, a gray day near the end of February when the wind tugged at the windows like a child at his mother’s skirts. He knew, though he had never seen the man’s handwriting before, that the letter had been written by John Segundus. The writing was as neat as he, as careful, as precise.
Childermass put the letter in his pocket for the duration of the morning, completing his work with it there and wondering what Mr Segundus had written about. Certainly Norrell would not be pleased to hear that the last remaining member of the society he had disbanded had written to his man of business. He was careful to keep the letter secret. It was not until the afternoon when Childermass had a moment to read. He took his pipe outside and stood for few minutes in what little sunlight tried to break through and he read.
Mr Segundus, of course, began with an apology should the letter cause any discomfort or inconvenience. He went on to say many things about the magic at York, and to pose many questions. Segundus referenced, when he spoke of magic, books he had had a chance to read and as he read the letter, Childermass found himself forming rebuttals to his points. It was not for some paragraphs before he reached his point about meeting again. He disguised everything in vague enough terms, and enough like a gentleman, that there would be nothing for anyone to suspect who did not know that the two had shared a bed and enjoy each other’s bodies twice now. Segundus stated no less than three times in three different ways that Mr Childermass should not concern himself if it was not something he wanted. But hidden in those statements was clearly the hope that it was something Childermass did want.
Childermass folded the letter and put it in his chest of drawers, where it would be safe for the rest of the day.
He spent the afternoon thinking of a response and it was not until the night, alone in his room, when he had a moment to begin writing. He smoked with his right and with his left, he wrote to Segundus.
He decided that the best response would be a short one. Yes, he said, rather simply. And he proposed a date and a time to meet.
His candle out, he laid in bed. Childermass wondered if he should feel used to hear from Segundus in a time of need, but decided that Segundus was incapable of using anyone. He was scared and reaching out to a person who had showed him kindness. He might not have realized it, but Segundus wrote more as a magician than he did anything else. It was a thing Childermass understood, to have questions about magic and no one to answer them. The poverty Segundus faced was a thing he knew as well, though his had taken the form of cold nights and an empty stomach instead of threadbare vests with missing buttons.
As he laid in bed, Childermass began to form a plan for the meeting that he thought might be even more beneficial to Segundus than a handful of money.
The reply came quickly. Mr Childermass would like to meet, and soon.
Segundus felt as light as he had in weeks. The letter was short, very short, but he understood, he thought, Mr Childermass’ way of communicating; to not spend many words when few would do as well. It was as different from his own winding explanations as could be, but not at all an unfriendly sort of letter to receive.
He wrote back with uncharacteristic spontaneity that the date suggested by Mr Childermass was convenient.
There was a week to wait until that date arrived. It passed slowly for Segundus and in his spare moments, he reread the letter Childermass had sent. It was only a few lines, but he enjoyed reading them, imagining them said in Mr Childermass’ voice. He imagined as well that he could feel Mr Childermass’ shadow tickle his neck.
Segundus was not a man of many friends, but he realized that he thought of Mr Childermass as a sort of one; he asked about him when they met, and had listened when Segundus told him how he had fallen on hard times. He had treated Segundus well at every turn. It had not gone unnoticed.
He was invited to Honeyfoot’s home for dinner the day before he was set to meet Childermass again. Honeyfoot has busied himself with his project of justice for the young woman of the statue at the cathedral and spoke of his work with fervor that captivated Segundus. After dinner, Segundus helped him with his research until late. The two sat alone in his warm and well lit study. Segundus wondered what it was like for Mr Honeyfoot to have so few concerns with matters of money. It was not a thing he could ever begrudge his friend however, especially as generous as he was.
“How do you fare, Mr Segundus?” Honeyfoot asked. “Have you find ways to occupy your time?”
“Being sick was very efficient in that regard.”
Honeyfoot, who had been frowning at his paper, looked up and frowned at Segundus.
“Oh, I am so sorry I did not know until earlier today. You should have found a way to send a letter.”
“All is well, thank you. Nothing more than bad cold. And look, here I am.”
“That you are,” said Mr Honeyfoot with a laugh.
Honeyfoot, Segundus thought, would doubtless not approve of him seeing Mr Childermass, no matter the context. Segundus had the feeling Honeyfoot viewed him as a bit of a scoundrel, though he was far too polite to say so. He did not mention their correspondence or their planned meeting.
He and Honeyfoot worked so late that Segundus was offered a spare bed in his friend’s home for the night. Mrs Honeyfoot stirred herself to settle him in when she heard she had a guest, fussing over blankets and quilts. Segundus thought that he could not consider himself so very unlucky when he had such friends, and a comfortable night in their home. He slept well and wasn’t woken early. Mrs Honeyfoot had pitied their late night of working and she said was worried Segundus was still ill, being so recently recovered.
He returned home after breakfast. The sky itself seemed to have iced over during the night. A mirror-like sheen of hard looking white clouds covered everything. His landlord was not at home when he arrived and the house was silent.
The meeting was not set until the evening. Segundus decided on a warm bath to drive away the chill of the day and to pass the long late morning. He soaked and scrubbed and when the water was cold, he indulgently filled the tub again. He knew that he should not, but he was full from a large breakfast and happy still from the evening with Honeyfoot. He also knew that part of his excitement was due to being close to the meeting with Mr Childermass. Segundus found himself forgetting for large stretches of time the true intention of it and only thinking of the questions he had about magic, and of the warmth of John’s body. He frowned when he remembered.
Segundus scrubbed his hair last. Hadn’t Mr Childermass commented only the last time they had met about the clean smell of his hair? Segundus had thought over cleanliness a bit fussy of himself, unmanly, but John had said it fondy. He dressed when he had dried off and brushed his hair. He did not think he looked bad at all when he was done. He chided himself a bit then; for too much warm water and fuel used, for vanity. But his mood stayed bright.
He ate his lunch alone in a very peaceful quiet. Then, he read until it was time to leave for the inn.
Childermass was numb by the time he arrived in town. It had grown dark while he rode. Spring was still far away for bright evenings.
Segundus had arrived before he did and sat waiting at an empty table, his hands in his lap, watching the room. He looked small sitting alone at the heavy table surrounded by empty chairs. Segundus’ back was to the door and he did not see Childermass enter. Childermass watched him scan the room, his eyes darting away when he thought he saw someone look at him. Not for the first time, Childermass was glad of his pipe that gave him something to do at such times.
Childermass rented rooms before walking to where Segundus sat, now playing with a loose thread on the sleeve of his jacket. He had about him, about his pink and white skin and shining dark hair, a scrubbed clean look. Segundus did not see him approach, but his spine straightened and he turned to look at Childermass as he felt the magic that would cover their conversation wrap around him. His smile was wide, unrestrained, showing boyish dimples.
“John!” Segundus caught himself, corrected. He half stood, but sat down again. “Mr Childermass. You are here.”
“Am I late?”
“By no more than a few minutes, if anything. But I do not currently have a watch.”
“I hope you haven't waited long.”
“I arrived early. The waiting is all my doing.”
Segundus noticed that Childermass did not sit, did not move toward the table, and he looked up at him with concern. Childermass adjusted the bag slung over his shoulder.
“If you have not eaten, please, do. You can put it on my bill.”
“I…thank you. I do not think I could accept again, however.”
It was a long moment before Childermass responded with a shrug and set a key down on the table in front of Segundus.
“I will go upstairs first. Join me when you're ready. There is a room for you as well, so nothing will be suspected when you go upstairs.”
“I will see you soon then, Mr Childermass. You have taken care of everything.”
A shudder knocked Segundus when the magic fell; his mouth opened a little, making a weak o shape for a second before he closed it. Childermass left him in the dining room, under the attention of a smiling maid.
In the room he had rented, Childermass laid out the tools he had brought with him; a book he had secreted from Norrell’s library, a small basin, and a mirror. Childermass, to fill the wait, lit his pipe and smoked.
It was over an hour before Segundus knocked on the door. The dirty window was cracked a bit to let out the pipe smoke and Segundus shivered when he came in. Childermass stood to close it and set down his pipe. As the window shut with a clang, Childermass realized that there were two possible reasons for Segundus’ shiver: cold or magic. He removed his coat and hung it in a movement now familiar to Childermass and stood rubbing his arms.
“I thought it best to wait until I could hear no one in the hallway,” said Segundus.
“It is was wise.”
Segundus did not move from the door. He looked at the materials assembled on the bed.
“What is this?”
“Come, Mr Segundus. Sit down. I thought I might show you something.”
Segundus cautiously approached the bed. Nervous fingers lingered at his throat where skin met cravat.
“John. Is that a book of magic?”
“It is. Sit, Mr Segundus. Please.”
Segundus did, but rather like he was terrified of what he saw on the bed, not sitting too closely or letting his hands rest near the magician implements.
“Why have you brought these things?”
“I thought that I would teach you some magic. If you are interested.”
A hand hovered over the book; a move toward it stopped and begun again. He finally picked it up with a quick motion like he knew he would lose his nerve if he did not do it soon.
“Mr Childermass. Do you mean practical magic?”
“You've had ample theory.”
Segundus put the book back down, shaking his head.
“It is not possible.”
“You haven't tried.”
He stood from the bed, but Childermass grabbed his wrist. Childermass dropped quickly it when Segundus jumped.
“Did you not have questions?” Childermass asked, sure to keep his voice gentle.
“Then allow me to try to answer them.”
Segundus sat stiffly when he sat again, his back and shoulders held in a tense line. He would not look at what was assembled in front of him. Childermass reached to put a hand in his knee but was met with a startled jerk backward and he again retreated.
“I have told you before that you have magic, Mr Segundus. You seem to not believe me.”
Childermass realized as he said it that he had had this conversation with him in the hallway at Hurtfew, a day Segundus would not remember. He could not meet Segundus’ eye in the moment and looked away, catching his own reflection in the mirror in the room.
“I do not believe it because it is not true.”
The firmness of his own statement seemed to shock Segundus and he hurried to explain.
“I do not accuse you of lying. I only think that you must be mistaken.”
“I am not.”
Hair fell across Segundus’ forehead when he shook his head again.
“Will you at least try? There can be no harm in that, can there?”
“Only to my pride,” muttered Segundus. The light caught the gray in his hair when he moved it away. Childermass thought he could smell the soap on him from where he sat.
Childermass reached for the book now, and he opened it to a page he had marked.
“I want you to read this,” he said. “Just read.”
Segundus took the book and looked down at the words in front of him. He was rather like a startled animal when Childermass reached for the mirror sitting next to him, but at a calming nod, he resumed his reading.
“Many spells use mirrors.”
“I am aware,” said Segundus.
“This one is harmless, useless even. It shows the magician nothing more than himself ten seconds previous in time. But it has a pretty effect on the mirror that is worth seeing. It also needs nothing but a magician to say the words and the mirror.”
“Does your master know you have this book?”
It was the first thing that had given Childermass pause since he arrived.
“He does not.”
“Does he know you think I can do magic?”
“He does not.”
Someone walked past the room and gave a cough just outside the door. The book slipped from Segundus’ hand but he caught it just in time.
“Will you try it?”
Segundus scanned the words again and turned his face away, but he nodded. Childermass took his hand and placed it on the mirror. The person who had coughed outside the door earlier had reached the end of the hall. He, this unseen person, made a loud clearing of his throat, jangled the key to his room. Childermass removed his hand from Segundus’ and sat back on the bed.
The first words of the spell came out as a whisper. And then there were no more.
“At least attempt to read it through once.”
Eyes closed, he began again, opening them when he reached the point he left off before. Childermass could hardly hear his voice as he spoke. The spell finished. Segundus stared down at the mirror, a plain mirror with none of the pretty effect described by Mr Childermass, and his own blinking reflection; as he was just then, not him ten seconds before.
“Try again,” said Childermass.
“I have no magic, sir.”
“I have no magic.”
And that was when he began to cry.
Segundus had been looking so much forward to the meeting, to an evening away from the dullness of his little room and his own company. And he was happy to be here with John. He had never thought he could do magic; not really. So he did not know why he cried now, when magic failed to happen.
It felt like a long time before arms encircled him, but he knew it could not have been.
“Please, Mr Segundus. It's alright. It is only one spell.”
“I know. I know. I don't even understand why I am so upset.”
John did not embrace him comfortably, like a man used to lingering intimacy, but he did not let go and the two relaxed into the feeling of holding each other. John was rough against him; face and clothes and hands and his voice when he spoke was rough as well.
“It is magic. It is your life. That needs no explanation. Not to me.”
Segundus rested his head on Childermass’ shoulder but the tears did not stop. He felt like he was a child again, playing magicians and having grand dreams he needed to stir himself painfully from.
“I was not wrong about your magic,” he heard Childermass say.
And then fingers pushed away the collar of his jacket and lips brushed against his neck. Segundus tensed again at first, but that made the kissing stop.
Segundus lifted his face and John moved in to kiss his mouth. The taste of his pipe, remembered now, the occasional tremble of John’s magic working into him, sent warmth into him, and longing.
He felt John pull back, leaving room for him to take more control. He was not sure of how to proceed, but he began with lying John back on the bed. John groaned at the feeling of his weight when Segundus climbed on top of him.
“I am ready, I think,” Segundus said. “I can try, if you like-
Segundus was cut off at the end of his sentence with a kiss. John took all his breath with the kiss, but filled him what felt like large, weightless bubbles of magic that burst in his chest. He had thought of this feeling often since the last time they had met, but it was better than he remembered, more. To feel John’s tongue against his lips, to fill himself entered by the man’s magic as his body became aroused right there, right against his own swelling; it was nothing at all to his memories.
When the kiss broke, John lay propped on his shoulders. Segundus reached down to slip off John’s boots and he dropped them to the floor.
He continued to work at the man’s clothes as they kissed again. John’s body moved underneath his just as he remembered John’s body moved and his face formed into the same face of pleasure he had thought of in the months since they had met. Each time he moved, or John did, he lost a bit more of himself. He moved from the fog that had rolled over him only slightly at the sound of his name, at feeling John open himself to him more. He blinked down at John.
“I-I have missed you,” said Segundus.
There was no more talking while they finished undressing. John moved his body to help position them for what was to come.
He didn't ask before he did the magic over the room to keep them in a haze of quiet. He was hardly thinking of anything then but of being filled with John, of John’s cock, of John’s movements and of his own aching.
I should have asked, Childermass thought, but too late, only after it was done. Look what has just happened, how magic has upset him. But the effect of the magic was only a contended gasp from Segundus as the feeling filled the room, washing over them, for him to murmur ‘yes’ and ‘John’, for a gulp to slide down his throat.
Childermass had never been with anyone who could feel magic in the way Segundus could, much less been had by one. The gasp, the dropping open of John Segundus’ mouth made him do something he had never tried before and he let himself think of the magic getting stronger around them, thicker. He felt then that it was so.
Segundus, inside him, called out and leaned forward like a puppet with cut strings, his breath caught. His fingernails dug into Childermass’ shoulder as he soaked it in. There was another noise in the room that Childermass realized was his own voice swearing loudly.
Segundus would not have believed him, but as Childermass magic grew stronger, he thought he could hear Segundus’ magic humming between their panting and their other noises. He knew he could feel it, feel how the magic worked with Segundus with each movement, feel how it stroked him.
Wild, Childermass threw all of his magic into the room, and John Segundus screamed and thrust so hard that he screamed again at friction their bodies had created and looked down at Childermass in apology. The screams had rocked him and he held his breath at the feeling of John so deep inside him.
It was soon over after that, Segundus draped over him, reaching for a hand to hold.
“John,” said Childermass.
But Segundus shook his head, not wanting to speak. He held Childermass tightly and ran the toes of one foot up his ankle and calf. They lay in quiet, the magic seeping from the room. Segundus had said earlier in a moment of laying himself bare, that he had missed him. Why had he not returned the sentiment, when he knew that he had missed Segundus as well? He did not pine like a maid in a story, he told himself, but when he thought of Segundus throughout the day from time to time, when he hoped he was well; he knew that was missing him.
The next Childermass was aware Segundus was stirring against him and he realized that he must have slept as well.
“I must go,” Segundus said, sitting up.
Childermass followed and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
“What are you doing?” Segundus asked when he stood.
“I am going for your money.”
Segundus blinked and his eyes became a bit watery.
“John. I did not think...It seemed this time…”
He sighed instead of finishing the sentence he had started.
“John, we did not speak before, did not make any agreement. You consented to be with me, but never to pay. I cannot accept.”
Childermass stared down at him.
“I cannot accept,” he said again.
“John. Your rent.”
Segundus waved his hand in dismissal, but he would not look at Childermass. He had never looked as vulnerable as he did then, tired and naked on the bed, the cold beginning to work into him and goosebumps appearing on his body.
“I will find another way. Something else.”
“Please. Allow me to help.”
“You have. Very much. Can I…”
Segundus put his hands on his knees.
“Can I please have this evening with you as a friend? As a lover? And not as a whore? Even if it is only this once.”
Childermass stumbled back to the bed, silent. Segundus put a hand on his thigh and several quiet minutes passed.
“I really must go now.”
Childermass watched him dress and then go for his coat.
“I do appreciate your concern. It makes me happier than ever that we were together as were.”
Childermass pulled the quilt over him when Segundus was gone. He felt that a bit of Segundus’ magic lingered with him throughout the night, hiding under his fingernails, worked into the scratches on his shoulders.
The walk home was icy.
It had drizzled while he was inside the inn and the drizzle had begun to freeze in the chill of the night. In the dark, he slipped a few times and fell once against a tree, scrapping his palm. But he made it to his home more or less in safety.
Segundus knew that what he did was right, to refuse the money. He also knew that it had been what he wanted then and he was proud to have asked for it. But he had no plan to move forward and he was scared. The walk home had only filled his head with worries, but he tried to put them away so he could rest.
He made his way through the dark house and up the stairs to his room, where he undressed, washed the cuts on his palm, and got into his bed.
The fear of the future did not leave him, but neither did the feeling of contentment when he thought back on the evening he had had with John. No matter what else, he would have that. He would have the swirling magic John had created working through him. John had accepted him as a man and had tried to teach him magic. It had not worked but no one had done such a thing for him before.
Segundus did not sleep again that night, not really. He lay in bed still and curled on his side, watching the door until a light shone under it when his landlord woke and went downstairs.
Tomorrow was the day he was supposed to speak to his landlord about rent. But today had just started and he would allow himself that that.
His landlord was not a bad man or a greedy one. Segundus knew that. Mrs Pleasance had been exceptionally generous and he had been grateful, but he could not grudge the new owner of the house the money he was owed.
Segundus dressed and prepared to face breakfast with no money to give. His landlord did not mention it first thing however. Segundus steeled his nerves to bring up the subject himself to have it over with, but could not quite. Instead, he sat mute and squirming in front of his plate. The rest of the morning passed slowly. He could not sit still or concentrate on anything. He was brought tea to his room and he spilled all over his papers, but he thought as he threw them away that he would not miss them much.
Shortly before lunch, a letter arrived for Segundus. He was called down from his room to receive it.
He did not recognize the handwriting of the person the letter was from and stood confused with it in his hand. His landlord came into the room to watch him open it.
Segundus read the short letter through twice quickly.
A young man of York wanted a tutor in magic. And John Segundus was the only one for it.
He knew without asking that Mr Childermass had arranged it.
Segundus settles into tutoring and Childermass prepares for his move to London
Sir Gabriel Waters was eight years old and he did not want to study magic. His mother very much wanted him to study the subject, however, which was why John Segundus came each morning to his home.
When the letter arrived requesting a tutor for a young man, Segundus had assumed he would be meeting a youth at the cusp of adulthood, someone as tall as he, someone who shaved. Sir Gabriel turned out to be a boy of eight years old, hardly to his tutor’s elbow, with neat blond hair and neat dark clothes and neat white fingernails.
His mother, the diminutive and youthful Lady Waters, showed Segundus into the home at their first meeting. She had a great quantity of curls the reddish brown color of half turned fall leaves piled atop her head and another great quantity of freckles spread across her nose and the apples of her cheeks. When she thought her son could not hear her, she railed in whispers to Segundus about the damage Gilbert Norrell had done to Northern English magic.
“It is not to be borne!” she hissed as she poured tea. “If my father had been alive he would not have signed that wretched contract either. Mark my words! I have the greatest respect for you, sir.”
Segundus accept his tea with a nod and skirted the matter of Lady Water’s respect.
Segundus had read the work of Sir Gabriel’s grandfather and Lady Water’s father, Horace Warren, a well respected member of the York Society of Magicians who had died ten years previously and was often spoken of still at meetings. Mr Honeyfoot himself had praised the man on more than one occasion. Segundus was able to agree with the man’s daughter that he doubted Mr Warren would have thought much of Norrell’s scheme.
Lady Waters nodded proudly, first at her guest and then at the wall where Mr Warren’s portrait was hung next to her husband’s.
“But the magic, Mr Segundus? What was it like?”
Segundus would never forget the creaking movements of the statues, their gravely voices speaking dead languages.
“Incredible, madam,” he whispered. “Incredible.”
Sir Gabriel sat through their first meeting quietly while his mother outlined for Segundus her plans for her son’s magical education.
“The magic of the North must not die,” said Lady Waters. “The magic of John Uskglass must not die. Thanks be for men like you to keep it alive. And soon, my son, who was never the subject of any sour man’s meddling. If I had been born a man, Mr Segundus, I would stand with you now.”
Sir Gabriel, not yet to reach nine years old and the master of his late father’s house, stared down at his shoes and accepted that his mother would make him a magician.
The boy was a diligent student, all any tutor could wish for, and from head to toe the quiet leader of his home. He was ready to work when Segundus arrived each morning, stood politely to greet him when he entered a room. When Segundus said to know this or that thing by the morning, Sir Gabriel knew it. At the end of a lesson that had gone long, or on a rainy day, Segundus was invited to lunch, or offered rides home in the family's coaches.
But he did not love magic and he was not happy. Segundus knew as much from the first look he got of Sir Gabriel’s face when he watched his mother speak of her plans. It was a fact that became cemented more and more each day.
Segundus would get lost for long stretches of time speaking of magic during the mornings spent in Sir Gabriel’s library, but the same fire did not live in his pupil, who sat taking diligent notes because he had been told to.
Segundus was happy to teach him and could not fault the boy a thing as his tutor or in any other respect, but he worried that no good would come from Sir Gabriel engaging daily in work he found joyless when his life reached so far in front of him.
“Yes, Mr Segundus?”
Young Sir Gabriel’s task the evening before had been to read a chapter in a book written about the life of Ralph Stokesey and to state his own opinion on the importance of the man to modern magic and his opinion of the text. Sir Gabriel had produced an efficient but listless page. He sat equally deflated in front of Segundus, waiting for the verdict on his work. Segundus gently put the page down and addressed his pupil.
“If you had a choice, what would you do?”
“I want only to make my mother’s life as easy as I can. She is a widow, sir, and I am her only son. My duty is her care and safety.”
“You are correct. But surely there are more ways than one to be a good son to your mother?”
Sir Gabriel shrugged.
“It is what she wants dearly and it causes me no harm. I will study magic and she will be happy. She will not again be sad like she was after Father’s death.”
And so, each morning, Segundus woke and he dressed and he ate his breakfast and then, he walked to the house of young Sir Gabriel Waters to make him, as much as he could, Yorkshire’s youngest and saddest magician.
John Segundus sent one letter to John Childermass in regards to the matter of arranging his employment. It said only the two safest words he could think of, as he doubted Norrell knew that Segundus tutored magic or that Childermass had a hand in arranging it.
“Thank you,” he wrote.
Segundus’ landlord was more than happy to extend him the time he had to repay his rent money as he now had a source of income. Segundus handed over each bit of money he was given by Lady Waters towards his debts and soon saw them decreased.
And when he walked in the mornings to the Waters’ home, Segundus saw green break through the gray of early spring. Against all odds, he was still a magician, very much employed respectfully, and watched the number written in landlord’s account book go down each month.
There was one thing that dampened the easy feeling of that spring. It was when he read in the newspaper that Norrell would be moving to London. Segundus knew that meant Mr Childermass would be as well and though Segundus had not seen him since they parted in the inn the last time, he felt sad to know that Mr Childermass would be so far away. He kept that newspaper in a drawer in his room and he brought it from time to time for no reason he could immediately identify.
That spring, Norrell’s house was packed away for the move to London.
He could hardly bear it, but Childermass’ job was to make him, and he did. He made Norrell make lists. He sat with Norell when the lists changed. When Norrell ignored a question, Childermass repeated it until it was answered. Trunks arrived and things went in to them. Norrell took them out sometimes and Childermass made sure they went back in.
Norrell paced the library, changing his mind every few moments about which books were immediately essential in London until Childermass made him sit with a cup of tea and stood close by to watch him mourn the change his library had undergone. It would have been warm enough for open windows, but Norrell would not have it. The room had become stuffy as the morning went on and dust jumped into the few bold pockets of sunlight that had made their way around the closed curtains and in to the library. Norrell seemed affronted by the brightness of the natural light and asked for candles to brought in and sat next to him like wax body guards.
“That trunk is ready,” Childermass told the men who had come pack away the first of the things to London.
Norrell watched with wide eyes the trunk be lifted and taken from the room and he made several movements to put his shaking tea cup down like he might stand up and run after it. But he did not.
“What if they open the trunk and read them?” asked Norrell when the door closed.
“How long did those books take you to understand?”
Childermass let his silence answer for him and Norrell soon understood it. He picked back up his tea but he frowned at all the empty places on his library’s shelves.
“I wish there was magic that would reach the books in London,” said Norrell.
“Very soon, sir,” said Childermass. “Very soon.”
Norrell had sent as much magic as he could with them, and had strengthened the spells on the library that would hold when he left, but for a day, while Childermass followed behind, the books would be as vulnerable as they had since they came into Norrell’s possession.
Norrell grimaced at the taste of the tea, which had gone cold and bitter, and pushed it away with a delicate clatter of the cup knocking against the saucer. He moved a candle closer to him and peered over his shoulder at the window. Childermass stood at the end of the desk, checking the list of books that had been packed away. He knew that Norrell watched him and the silence in the room had become weighted as Norrell made it clear his intention to speak.
“Yes, Mr Norrell?”
“I was wondering if you remember that man who came here that one time? The one with the shabby clothes who did not sign the contract with the other members of the York Society.”
To know that Norrell thought at all of Segundus put Childermass ill at ease, but he could not show it. Norrell knew him better than anyone did though and Childermass was sure some of his hesitation, the hesitation he could not help, showed through anyway. He spent a while inspecting a title on the list of books and then the place on the shelf that had once been its home.
“John Segundus? What of him?”
“What do you think he will do when I leave Yorkshire? I will be so far away. I do not like it, to leave a magician here where he may do whatever he pleases.”
“What can he do? He has no colleagues and all his books, their books, are here with you.”
“There are others. Inferior, but there are other books. They are printed frequently.”
“I do not know what you want me to do, sir. John Segundus, with your permission, did not sign. And I cannot stop a printer from doing his job.”
Eyes turned up and half closed, Norrell considered the last statement for a long time in a wistful sort of way, like he imagined a world where it was not so. He sighed after turning his thoughts over several times and finding the world still a place where printers were out of his reach.
“Would you do something for me, Childermass?”
The answer was a long look down at Norrell. There was no question. When Norrell asked, he complied.
“You have your cards. Would you tell me what they say about the man?”
But Norrell stared, unbending in his request. The one of candles that Norell insisted on having lit had burned down unevenly and sagged to one side. Childermass put down the list in his hand and reached into his pocket.
“You do not like them. You have often called their magic base and unreliable.”
Norrell made a pinched face at being reminded of what he had said at an inconvenient time.
“They are good for some things.”
Norrell watched him until he laid the first card on the table. Childermass’ breath caught at what he saw and he cursed himself after that he had shown so easily what he felt. The Magician stared up at him and Childermass felt sorry in the moment that he spent so much time drawing the eyes that now bore into him. There were many ways to read what he saw, but he knew what it mean for whom he read.
“What does it mean?”
“Magic,” said Childermass. “Do not look so shocked. He is the only magician besides yourself in Yorkshire.”
Childermass was certain that this meant one day John Segundus would do magic of his own.
Childermass laid down another card and was unsurprised to see the Page of Cups. It seemed a natural fit for Segundus and he gave it some consideration while Norrell picked up his reading spectacles to look more closely.
“Education, scholarship, as I read it. Once again, there is no surprise. These two things, as you know, have comprised the man’s life. For all of this information, you could have asked anyone who had known him for more than a few minutes.”
“A last card, Childermass. Please.”
It was a strange card that faced him, one he was not sure he liked to to see in a reading of what lay ahead for John Segundus; the skeleton form of the Nameless Arcanum, reversed and turned from him. Norrell peered at the card, moved closer as if would make more sense that way.
“What is it?” asked Norrell.
“He will face some sort of betrayal, I think. I cannot say more.”
“It could be. As you have said before, the meanings can be vague.”
Childermass felt as he said it though that he was right and he knew that Norrell sensed his certainty.
Norrell nodded at the collection of cards and then waved at them with his head turned away for Childermass to put them back. The look on his face would have suggested he smelled something unpleasant.
“You are satisfied, Mr Norrell?”
Norrell huffed and looked at Childermass again only when the cards were in his pocket.
“Can we speak again about the things that will leave today?” Norrell asked. “I want to make sure…”
As easily as that, the subject was changed, but Childermass thought still of the cards he had read and of their meaning for John Segundus. The last card had scared him for Segundus and he was soon to be too far away to do anything to help when this betrayal came.
John Segundus woke with a shadow at his temple.
His breath caught and he sat up in bed at feeling its kiss. It came from the hallway, from the man he knew must be there, hiding himself from the rest of the household. John Childermass was in his home, doing magic outside his bedroom door.
“Mr Segundus?” His stony whisper followed the shadow into the room. “Are you awake now?”
Segundus scrambled from the bed and pulled his dressing gown around himself as he rushed across the room. He had it tied before he reached the door. Segundus creaked it open carefully and thought only after looking at Childermass standing in the hallway that of course he would have ensured they were not heard.
“Mr Childermass? This is very much a surprise.”
“I have news, sir. I thought it best I tell you myself and quickly. May I come in?”
Segundus stepped back before he had much of a chance to think of it and Childermass entered the room. They stood together for a moment while Segundus looked around for a place for him to sit, as he felt he should offer one. Finding none, he took a hesitant step back toward the bed and Childermass followed.
“How did you enter the house, sir?” Segundus asked.
Segundus blinked, for a moment mute, as he realized that would be the entirety of his answer. Childermass unbuttoned his coat.
“You are still in Yorkshire?”
“I have just returned from London on Friday. I set up the first of the belongings and now I’ve come back to escort Norrell and the rest. May I sit, please, Mr Segundus?”
“I...yes, yes. There is only…”
He shuffled again toward the bed, pulled the dressing gown closer against him. Something about his feet being bare made him feel very exposed. Segundus nearly forgot that the man in front of him had seen him naked three times now.
“I do not mind the bed,” said Childermass. He pulled off his gloves and stuck them in the pocket of his coat. “But the sun will be up soon and I need to speak to you, so decide for yourself how modest you must be and let’s speak, please.”
Segundus ducked his head and made the first steps toward the bed and he heard Childermass follow.
“What is so urgent that you had to come to my home in the middle of the night?” Segundus asked as he sat down. Childermas removed his hat and set it next to him on the bed. The familiar smell of pipe smoke brought Segundus back to the beds in the inn, to sleeping against John’s chest, to the room with the crack shaped like a dog where he had first been with John. The magic he had done in the hallway filled Segundus with its familiar warmth.
“There has been news,” said Childermass. “Cordelia Waters had a horseriding accident yesterday. She died earlier this evening.”
Segundus put his hand to his mouth.
“Oh, poor Sir Gabriel. He has already known such loss. What will he do?”
“He has an aunt in the countryside who will take him. That’s why I’m here. You will no longer able to tutor Sir Gabriel after he moves. I’m sorry.”
“Oh. Of course.”
Segundus startled at an imagined noise in the hallway and he saw from the corner of his eye John lift his hand as if to comfort him, but he dropped it before before touching Segundus at all.
“I am sorry,” said Childermass again. Segundus thought that his mood changed here, that he softened in his speech. “I know how much you needed the money. I tried very hard…”
“I know you did. I am sorry for his loss, but Sir Gabriel...he will be fine, without tutoring, without magic. He is free of one future now, but burdened with another.”
“He has asked for you.”
“How do you know that?”
“It does not matter. But a kindness would be to dress and go to him first thing this morning. He is a strong for a child, but he is still a child.”
“I will do it,” said Segundus. “Thank you.”
Childermass stood from the bed.
“I must leave now.” He picked up his hat, rested it in the crook of his arm. “But Mr Segundus, you look well. It is good to have seen you.”
While he thought of a response, John moved closer and Segundus looked up. He did not move at first while John leaned down and placed a kiss on his forehead and then when he placed a another kiss on his mouth. John held him at the shoulders first and then his hand moved to touch his face. The smell of tobacco, the rustle of the magic John did to keep the room quiet playing in his ear.
“Goodbye, Mr Segundus. I hope that all ends up well for you. If there is help I can give, I will give it.”
In a moment of boldness, Segundus stood as well and pulled John to him in a last kiss. His blood ran hot at the magic spark he felt when he did and his his dressing gown came untied.
“Goodbye, Mr Childermass. It was good to have seen you, too.”
John Childermass and his shadow left the room and Segundus gathered his clothes.
The word came down through the lines of communication the servants of the large houses of the area kept: there had been another tragedy in the Waters home. The lady of the house had succumbed to her injuries, leaving her son an orphan. Once the news came to Hurfew, currently a maze of packed trucks and covered furniture, the female servants could be found in whispering huddles that scattered when a room was entered.
Childermass was not surprised to receive the note that the boy asked for his tutor. Segundus’ gentleness, the gentleness Sir Gabriel sought in his time of need, had been what made him arrange to have him at the Waters’ in the first place.
He had to wait until late to leave to visit Segundus and the ride was long. Childermass could not deny that sending a letter in the morning would have made but a few hours difference and been much more efficient. In truth, he knew that as much as anything, he wanted to see Segundus’ face, that things went well for him.
Once inside the house, it was not hard for Childermass to find the room where Segundus slept. He followed the magic to his door.
Segundus’ room was small, clean, and bare. He had few things; the shelf in his room was half filled with second rate books of of magic. His quilt was thin and reminded Childermass of nothing so much as dough stretched too far. His dressing gown was similarly frayed and threadbare, clutched around his thin body. He noticed as well a sewing kit set next to a waistcoat with a missing button on Segundus’ desk among his papers.
It had made Childermass sad to see, especially with the news he brought, that the small respite from the winter’s tough times had ended. But Segundus bore it as Childermass knew he would.
There was a moment when he knew he would not leave without kissing the man and felt more the fool for it after coming all this way in the dead of night as well. He watched Segundus tug at that thin dressing gown and he knew. His gentle magic seemed to play with Childermass’ hair and he knew.
That Segundus kissed him as well, pulled away from him with his dressing gown
open and stood in front of him in his night shirt in his own bedroom was a surprise, and one that made the long ride worth it. Childermass would be in London soon and it was as much of a goodbye as the two would get.
Halfway back to Hurtfew, the rain began. It was a powerful late spring rain that turned the roads to mud and threw torn branches into the path. It lightened as he neared home, but there was no sunrise to be seen. Childermass was greeted at the door by a cluster of frazzled maids, all saying that Mr Norrell asked for him, that Mr Norrell had become agitated to wake and find Childermass gone. Norrell himself came into the room then, rushing into the foyer from the hallway. The maids flew in each direction at the sight of him and Norrell rushed to where Childermass stood.
“There you are! Where have you been? We leave for London this evening.”
“There was a note. I said I would be back by breakfast and look, here I am.”
“Yes, I saw it,” said Norrell. He stopped and stared at Childermass, who hung his coat at the door. “You’re wet.”
Norrell threw his hands in the hair in exasperation.
“There is work to do, Childermass. Much work to do.”
Norrell turned to walk down the hallway and Childermass followed him.
Segundus arrived at the Waters’ house and was shown in to see Sir Gabriel as his uneaten breakfast was being cleared away. The morning had turned stormy and nearly as dark as night. Many candles were lit on the table and their flames followed the movements of the people in the room, bending to the little breezes they made rushing by.
Sir Gabriel sat alone at the long table and a tall woman with a long, thick braid very much like a sturdy rope stood nearby. Segundus had never met her before, but her high collar and somber clothes, the primness of how she held her hands, gave her away as a governess immediately. Of course, Sir Gabriel would have a governess, Segundus thought. It was too easy to forget that he was still a very young child.
He had been crying. The sight of it was a shock to Segundus as Sir Gabriel had always been so very even tempered and composed in everything. The redness around his eyes and nose were the only signs of untidiness however. He was dressed as nicely as Segundus had ever seen him, his hair combed as well.
His chair pushed back with a loud scraping, Sir Gabriel ran to Segundus.
“You are here!” he said. It was only after he embraced Segundus that Sir Gabriel seemed to realize that Segundus was soaked from his walk, but he did not let go.
Segundus met eyes with the governess and her expression softened. A maid rushed by with the last of the breakfast dishes and Sir Gabriel let go of Segundus and straightened himself.
“Sir Gabriel, I was so sorry to hear this terrible news.”
Sir Gabriel set his face straight and nodded.
“Thank you, Mr Segundus.”
“She was a good woman, Lady Waters. It is a great loss to us all.”
Sir Gabriel jumped when the door shut suddenly as the maid the the room and one of the flames mimicked his movement with a leap of its own. They were alone now, Segundus and the child and his silent governess. When Sir Gabriel understood it, after a quick look around, his shoulders slumped and the carefully arranged lines of his face relaxed.
“I can hardly comprehend...to have a mother one day, and then no more. But forgive me. You’ve come all this way and look; your clothes are dripping.”
“Shall I call for one of the maids to bring a towel, sir?” asked the governess. Segundus was not surprised to hear that she sounded every bit as Yorkshire as the pounding rain at the window. “And show Mr Segundus to a room where he can dry off?”
“Please, Miss Mills. Thank you.” Sir Gabriel looked now to Segundus. “I will wait for you in the study.”
Miss Mills called for a maid and soon, it was only she and Segundus in the dining room. Segundus felt that he was watched carefully by the woman, and so intently that he began to fidget and soon could no longer ignore the scrutiny he was under. He had just determined what it is that he would say when Miss Mills spoke.
“You are all wrong,” she said, taking a step toward him. Just the two of them in the room now, Miss Mills changed a little, her accent rougher and her primness all but gone. She pushed the heavy braid from her shoulder and it fell down her back. “You are not one of Joan’s.”
“Black Joan. You were never one of hers. But still her boy sees after you, doesn’t he? You'd think the man didn't have enough to keep him busy as it was, what with that master of his.” Miss Mills huffed here.
“I am sorry,” sputtered Segundus. “I don't know any Black Joan.”
Miss Mills rolled her eyes in a playful way and her mouth turned up in a lopsided smile.
“Of course you don't. Haven't I said you're all wrong? You’re too much a gentleman to have ever been one of Joan’s. But you know her son and he looks after you just as though you were one of our wild pack, finding you places and keeping a roof over your head when he can.”
“Are you speaking of Mr Childermass?”
“Who else?” Miss Mills whispered, hissing through her teeth. She lifted her chin proudly. “Near a dozen of us in houses thanks to him, a dozen of the old crew, working in fine homes. If old Joan could see her boy now! If she could see little Amity Mills!”
Segundus was interrupted from asking Miss Mills how she'd known Mr Childermass’ mother by the door opening and maid stepping into the room with a towel. She nodded her head at Miss Mills as she handed off the towel and backed from room.
“Follow me, Mr Segundus,” said Miss Mills. She straightened her posture again, but leaned in toward Segundus for a quick moment. “Don’t be fooled, sir. John Childermass is a good man, always has been, but there is more of East Riding in him still than most of you can see.”
Segundus was offered a room to stay in for the evening as the weather only worsened throughout the day and Sir Gabriel was, in any case, reluctant to see him leave. The two had a pleasant dinner together with the vicar who had come to offer condolences and speak to Sir Gabriel and then returned to the study, where they had earlier sat for the morning and the afternoon in quiet. The resumed the evening with the same, each reading a book of his choosing. Sir Gabriel, no longer a student of magic, sat with a novel in his lap, but Segundus noticed that had had hardly turned the pages all day.
Sir Gabriel’s grandfather had a small collection of books about magic worth reading that had come into his possession. Segundus had made his way through the better part of one of those books when Miss Mills came in to collect Sir Gabriel for bed.
“Your aunt arrives very early tomorrow and there is much to do,” said Miss Mills. “Perhaps it is time for bed.”
Sir Gabriel put down his book and stood from his chair.
“I will retire as well, I think” said Segundus. He stretched his legs as followed Sir Gabriel in standing and walked to the shelf to return his book to its place.
“Please, keep it,” said Sir Gabriel.
“Keep the book. Take them all, in fact. My mother and grandfather would want to know they had gone to someone who could appreciate them. I never will.”
“It is too generous,” said Segundus. He could not help but catch Miss Mill’s eye as he looked to Sir Gabriel.
“No, not at all. I will have them packed for you in the morning. If you like, you may think of it as a loan until I am older and return to my home.”
Segundus brought the book back to himself.
“That is kind of you. I will enjoy them very much.”
“I am happy for you to have them. I hope they further the cause of English magic in your hands. A very good night, Mr Segundus.”
They left the study together, the three of them, and Segundus went to the room that was his for the evening. He spent hours after changing into a borrowed night shirt reading. He fell asleep thinking of the strange set of circumstances that had led him to this place, to being the guest of his young pupil, benefitting still from the generosity of John Childermass.
Segundus struggles with the ramification of losing his tutoring work.
Childermass settles into London.
Another magician appears.
“Oh, Mr Segundus.”
The account book loomed, sitting between them on the desk in his landlord’s study. Segundus’ name was at the top of a column, a long list of numbers under it, many crossed out, all of them decreasing in value. There was one left at the bottom though, one Segundus knew as well as his own shadow.
When Mrs Pleasance had been here as the landlady, the room he sat in now had not been used. Segundus, in fact, had never seen inside of it at all until the day his former landlady cleared the room prior to leaving for her sister’s. It had been where her late husband, a lawyer, had worked until it was nothing, shut away after his death. It was now a room used again, filled with a man’s things; a sturdy desk, a chair behind it and another in front. Segundus’ landlord was an amatatuer bird watcher and his shelves were filled with books on the subject. Behind him was a small watercolor portrait of a finch of some sort, the artist’s name scrawled in the bottom corner.
“I am so very sorry,” said Segundus. It was a hot late spring day and the sun had settled on his lap like an eager cat. “As you know…”
“I heard of the death of Lady Waters, of course,” said the landlord. A bead of sweat dripped down his temple. “And of course, it is a tragedy of the most profound nature. A young woman hardly thirty years old, a widow as she was and son an orphan. It is scarcely imaginable. It is why I let a month a pass before calling this meeting, sir. I know you had grown close to the family, that Sir Gabriel had come to view you as a dear friend.”
“Thank you,” muttered Segundus.
“You have done well,” said the landlord softy. He patted at his balding head with a yellowed handkerchief. “The amount you owe is small now. I hope you do not think me some sort of...I don’t know, Mr Segundus, some sort of tyrant.”
“Of course not, sir.”
The landlord shut the book, a small move that allowed Segundus to uncoil the tenseness he held in his body.
“Mrs Pleasance was lucky. Her husband was very frugal in their life, left her enough that the generosity she showed you was within her reach. She is to be admired for it.”
“I agree,” said Segundus.
“But this is my livelyhood. It is my income. The number you owe is is such that now it does not concern me much. But your ability to pay in the future...that very much does, Mr Segundus.”
Segundus pulled at his collar, looked down at his dusty shoes. When he lifted his eyes, he thought he was watched by the small black eyes of the painted finch behind his landlord’s head.
“What do you say? Let’s speak again in a week’s time and see what sort of plan you have been able to make.”
“It is very reasonable, sir.” Segundus pulled himself up from his chair, his legs weak. He held on to the side arm of his chair and when he looked down, his knuckles were stretched taught and white. “And do not shortchange your own generosity or patience.”
The landlord was struck silent. It was seconds before Segundus turned away from the desk finally and the two nodded at each other before he left.
The walk to town was pleasant, sunny. It went quickly, as well. Far too soon, he had arrived and his task was at hand.
Segundus wished tonight that he was a man who drank. It would make this much easier, to not feel himself as much as he did. He was very much grounded, however, stuck in the doldrums of his own thoughts, facing quite clearly the evening he had planned. He knew each pounding beat of his heart, the sweat at the small of his back that dripped to his thighs.
There was no hope of Mr Childermass on the steps of the inn this time. No hope of a dinner under the cover of his spell of silence, no hope of a kiss alive with magic. There was no hope of the warmest of shadows finding him and putting him at ease. Mr Childermass was in London and he, John Segundus, was alone.
York was lively on this evening. People had come out to enjoy the last of the sunshine, the most gently scented of breezes. Segundus blended into the crowd with ease, which was not exactly to his purpose. He needed very much to be noticed by at least one person.
And soon, he was.
It was so different than with Mr Childermass. A coach passed by, the noise of its horses’ neighs and the stomp of their hooves loud in his ears. A man had walked past him once on the way into a shop. Segundus had thought he was noticed then and he knew it when the man returned from his errand. He purposefully crossed the street again to walk near Segundus and then he went to a public house near where he stood. The bells of the nearby church told Segundus that an hour passed before he came out of it, his eyes searching immediately for the spot where Segundus had waited. The man grinned when he saw him still there.
It was so different. With Mr Childermass, Segundus had felt at ease when he looked at him. It was not so now.
Segundus lifted his head to meet the man’s gaze, to show his acceptance even as a sick feeling bubbled up in his stomach and sent bile to scratch the back of his throat. The man stepped toward him.
He could not have been more different from Mr Childermass if Segundus had somehow set out to create a man that was his exact opposite. Slight and fair haired, in light garments for the warm weather. He had a neat little moustache above a mean, red mouth. The hat on his head was new, tilted to the side just a bit.
The man acknowledged Segundus only with a movement of his hand as he passed by again. Segundus waited a few seconds and followed.
Segundus did not lose him in the crowd. He watched the new hat set atop the man’s head at that leering angle disappear down an alley.
At the entrance to the alley, Segundus stopped.
The buildings on either side had created plenty of darkness for the man and he waited in it. He said nothing when Segundus appeared. The first step into the darkness ventured, Segundus could not make himself immediately take the second. The man put a hand on his slender hip. Segundus lifted his foot to walk into the alley, but instead of stepping into the darkness with the man, he ran.
“Oh, Mr Segundus!!”
Mrs Honeyfoot set her book down and jumped from her chair when he was shown into the drawing room. Segundus was not sure exactly of the time and after his sprint to the Honeyfoot's he was only just becoming aware of his surroundings again; the faintness of the sun on its way to setting, Mrs Honeyfoot’s clothes, which luckily assured him that it was not too late if she was still awake and dressed.
“How very unexpected,” said Mrs Honeyfoot. She stopped just in front of her guest. “Is Mr Honeyfoot expecting you? He is normally so very good at letting me know these sorts of things.”
Segundus mopped at his forehead with his sleeve. He had just now noticed a hole in it that he would need to tend to.
“No, madam. He is not expecting me. My apologies.”
“Well, it is a pleasant surprise, in any case.” Mrs Honeyfoot walked up to Segundus and put a hand on his arm and guided him into the room. There was still a tiny bit of sun in one corner near the window, but the first of the evening’s candles had been lit. “Sit down, Mr Segundus, please. You look like you have seen a ghost.”
“Thank you,” Segundus said, lowering himself into the chair Mrs Honeyfoot had brought him to.
“Let me get a drink for you, and tell my husband that you’re here.”
Segundus rested his head against the back of the chair and soon, a cool glass of water was placed into his hands. He drank and then closed his eyes again. There was quiet in which he was sure he watched by Mrs Honeyfoot. He was sure he heard a small, motherly tut. Then, the door opened and closed and he was briefly alone.
“Well, well,” said Honeyfoot cheerfully as he entered the drawing room. Segundus could hear exactly when his friend got a proper look at him, at his sweaty hair and washed out complexion There was a sharp intake of breath and Honeyfoot rushed to where he sat. Segundus reluctantly opened his eyes.
“What has happened?”
“Nothing, Mr Honeyfoot.” Segundus swallowed deeply, looked over into the corner that had once held light and now only played host to its absence. “I was only in the area and…”
Honeyfoot frowned. He studied Segundus and then looked to his wife in confusion.
“Mr Segundus. It is not like you to be even in the slightest untruthful. You must tell me what it is the matter, because nothing could be more obvious than that something is.” He put a hand on top of Segundus’. “Come, come, we will speak in private.”
Segundus could not but stand and follow him to his library.
It was late by the time Segunudus left and he felt heavy with exhaustion, but there had been some resolution at least, as uncomfortable as reaching it made him.
To look at Honeyfoot when he told of his money troubles was impossible, so he did not. There was no way to mention what he had done with Mr Childermass, what he had tried to do tonight to support himself. Mr Honeyfoot would never have guessed anyway. He only knew that his friend was in trouble and that his employment had recently ended.
Hours of back and forth later, a quiet deal was made between friends. If there was no other opportunity forthcoming within the next week, Segundus would allow Honeyfoot to make him a small loan for the remainder of his debt to his landlord. He was not exactly comfortable with the arrangement, but Honeyfoot had shown such true care and concern that he had been convinced to allow it.
Segundus did not wake in time for breakfast the next morning. He heard the house stir, but ignored it and pulled the covers over his head. When he did rise, he spent the day listless, reading in fits and starts, by turns unfocused and disproportionately annoyed with the opinion of an author in one of the books given to him by Sir Gabriel. He declined to eat with his landlord for fear of offending him with the attitude he could not shake. Segundus did not feel truly well or settled again until a message arrived from Honeyfoot in the evening, inviting him to horseriding the next day as though the previous evening had never happened.
London was busy enough that for days at a time, it was easy to not think over much of John Segundus and if life was kind to him.
In truth, Childermass was tired, more tired than he had ever previously felt.
The house was settled now, but taking Norrell from place to place was wearing. The daily task of making Norrell go where he did not want to go and do what he did not want to do was wearing. Settling in the servants, many of whom had never been from Yorkshire and were frightened of the city, was wearing. Knowing all he needed to know about London was wearing. To know Yorkshire was like knowing his own reflection. Hurtfew was as comfortable as his worn clothes. London was new: new and vast. Despite its vastness, Childermass knew that he must know it, and so he did. And he was tired from it. If they had done this ten years previously, he would have slid through the city with ease, he thought. But ten years ago, Norrell never would have.
Childermass woke early, his bed and body sweaty. It was a fine room he had in London, a good bed; new. The purchase of it had been an unexpected gift from his master.
London noises were not easy to grow accustomed to and he was in any case a light sleeper. Childermass took his pipe in his room and then dressed to see to the house.
The halls of Hanover Square already murmured with the noises of the kitchen, of the maids starting their work.
At every corner, a nod.
“Good morning, Mr Childermass.”
At quarter to seven there was the servants’ breakfast, and he had his place there.
After, he brought Norrell his own breakfast, the post, and the newspapers and pointed out the things that were important in them. Norrell was slow to see how anything that was not magic counted as important, but Childermass persisted.
After eating, Norrell dressed and went to the library. He did not like the London library well, he complained. The house was too new, it did not feel correct to do magic here. He did not like the view of the buildings across the street nor the smell of the city in the summer, which he mentioned daily made him nauseated. There were far too many people, said Norrell; people on the street, people who visited. But it was what they had and Norrell worked here because he must. The other additions, the dark haired man and the light haired one that now came some mornings to whisper in Norrell’s ear felt more off to Childermass than the newness of the London home or anything else, but they were a necessary change as well. They knew London like he did not. They knew the people Norrell must know.
This was life now, London life.
John Childermass had never put much stock in dreams.
When he woke, he was not sure why he had dreamed of John Segundus, a disjointed dream of him and the streets of York and the hallway of Hurtfew outside Norrell’s library there. But more: there was Segundus in the strong summer sun, pushing through a crowd, the front, graying locks of his hair damp with sweat. There was Segundus, staring ahead of him in fear into a dark pocket of York. And then, he was awake. Childermass was not sure why the images clung to him, why they made his stomach drop. They were things that had already happened, or that he could not be sure had happened at all. There was no substance at all to what had happened, yet it had felt as though he were alive in the moments.
It was dark and he pulled himself from the bed, lighting a candle by feeling for a match on his bedside table. Even this late, there were noises in London. Childermass heard, through his open window, a lone set of footsteps down the street, drunken singing preceding the owner of the feet that made the noise.
His room lit, Childermass pulled on trousers and a shirt. He had no plan but leaving the room, which he did with the candle in his hand.
In the hallway, he decided. Absurd as it was to act on a dream of a man he hardly knew, he must know that Segundus was well. He climbed the stairs and stood outside the library.
Childermass had never done this magic before, the magic he planned to do tonight. There had been small successes with magic throughout the years; the shadow he could wrap himself in, the silence he could call. A few spells practiced with Norrell that had grown weedy blooms under his hand. There had been large successes: his cards, magic that he had brought with him to his service with Norrell. The magic that he thought to do now was something he had seen done countless times but never tried himself.
He unlocked the library and went inside. Childermass set the candle on Norrell’s desk, leaving the door to the library open. The basin was there on the shelf, as it always was, next to the empty pitcher that he went back downstairs to fill.
There was a clock in the hallway, bought only recently at the suggestion of Christopher Drawlight, supposedly a fashionable and coveted thing. Its noise greeted him at the stairs, trailed him into the library. He took the basin from its place on the shelf and set it on the desk.
John Childermass poured the water and he looked down into it. He saw his reflection every day, but something about this wobbling version of himself on the water’s surface looked older than the one he saw in glass.
He knew the spell by heart after watching Norrell do it over many years, though he had never performed it it on his own. He said the words for the first time as he put his finger to the water, drawing on its surface a cross to quarter it. Magic words felt well passing his lips. Childermass said as well, for the time since coming to London, the name John Segundus. It felt well and sounded well too.
There was a clamor as the hour struck. Childermass did not catch which as his attention was held by the basin, but it was a small one.
Nothing happened. The water remained as it was and ChIldermass blinked down at himself.
He started the process again, called on what magic that he knew he had, small though it seemed to be.
John Segundus; the name said more loudly this time, like the water was old and deaf, needed him to speak up. He even leaned forward toward it, like there were ears to hear him more clearly if he were closer. Childermass felt first petulant, like he would show the magic it would be done. The image from his dream was still clear; of Segundus walking in the evening sun, of a crowded street, of his eyes wide, looking at something Childermass could not see He must know if it were true. He cowered now and imagined that he asked the magic nicely to be done. Again, he saw nothing in the water.
Childermass’ shoulders slumped forward. He watched it happen in the water’s surface. His whole body moved in a downward slump like he had lost all of his bones. The magic would not work.
He picked up the basin in his hands and went across the room, where he opened the window and dumped the water on to the street. The singing man from earlier had gone now; the street was silent and he heard clearly the splash as water hit the stones. The basin returned to its place on the shelf like the last minutes had never happened and he stood for a moment with his head in his hands.
Norrell stood in the door. He held a candle of his own in front of him, thrust out into the room.
“What are you doing?” he asked. And Childermass did not answer.
“It is late,” said Norrell. On alternate beats, he shuffled his feet and the clock ticked.
“It is,” said Childermass finally. There was nothing else to say to it. And he was now so tired.
“Don’t you think you ought to sleep?”
Without speaking, Norrell turned and left. Childermass walked to the door and stepped into the hall, where Norrell waited at the top of the stairs. With a loud click, he locked the door to the library.
“It is very late,” said Norrell again. And he put his foot on the first step.
In his bed, the wait for morning was long.
John Segundus’ handwriting on the outside of a letter was an unexpected comfort and an undeniable surprise.
It was Childermass’ third correspondence from the man and as with each of the two previous, he hid the letter until it was safe to read.
Segundus’ words this time could not have been more shocking.
He wrote as a courtesy, he explained. He thought Mr Childermass should know. He had met another magician, a man whom he witnessed himself doing powerful magic. Segundus described with his characteristic wonder of magic what he had seen done and the effect the spell had had on his body. The man’s name was Strange and he would soon be in contact with Norrell himself.
The letter ended with a question.
Is is normal? To feel it the way that I do? It feel magic in my very blood? I was so frightened, for a moment.
It was late when Chidermass read the letter and he had the night to think of what to do.
Over breakfast, he showed Norrell Segundus’ letter without mentioning any other contact between them. Norrell read the letter and as he did, his cheeks grew pink spots of frustration.
“But why does he write to you? What does he mean it is in his blood? Who is Jonathan Strange?”
“He knows that I am employed by you, Mr Norrell. That he writes to someone works for England’s only practical magician should not be confusing.”
Norrell was so agitated by the news of an imminent magician that he soon forgot Segundus had any more importance than as a means to information. Childermass came to his point relying on that very fact.
“Do you not think, sir, that it might be helpful if I were to gain more information from the man himself about who Strange is and what he can do? I could as well ease your mind on what Segundus does while you are away.”
Norrell agreed and he was off by the afternoon.
Childermass arrived late morning on a cold but bright fall day and was seen inside by Segundus’ toad-like landlord, who asked him, with a sideways glance at his dusty clothes and sun browned face, to wait in the drawing room while Segundus was retrieved from his room.
Segundus nearly tumbled into the room with eagerness, smiling.
The landlord stepped from the room with what felt like a warning look at Childermass. No refreshment was offered.
“What brings you from London?” asked Segundus.
Segundus blushed. It deepened as Childermass pulled silence over the room.
“Your tales of magicians and breaking by accident into their spells was too compelling for me not to hear for myself.”
A pause formed like a bruise ripening.
“I see,” said Segundus. He looked down, slipped his thumb through a hole in the sleeve of his jacket.
Childermass allowed himself a deep sigh.
“That is not to say…It is not only magic.”
He stopped again. He had pushed himself on the ride felt the ache of it throughout him now that he sat.
“I have wondered how you were,” Childermass said at last.
“Well enough, Mr Childermass. Thank you.”
But a close look at Segundus told Childermass that sadness had found its way deep inside him. His small frown was far too comfortable tugging at his lips.
“I have wondered how you were all well,” said Segundus. “Does London suit you?”
“Well enough, Mr Segundus. Thank you.”
Segundus smiled again.
“Have you found employment?” asked Childermass. He regretted the question as it left his lips. The brief smile again vanished and Segundus’ eyes trailed down.
“Not as such. Though I have attempted-”
Though he knew no one could hear them, Childermass looked up to the door before he spoke.
“John. Please, can you look at me for a moment? John, have you again been at…”
“Unsuccessfully. That is to say, I have-”
Childermass slumped down in his chair. He put a hand to his temple.
“I did not, after all,” said Segundus quickly. “I was too much a coward, in the end.”
Childermass leaned his head back on the chair. It had been a long ride. He should have stopped for longer last night and he regretted now that he had not. He had a thought he could not push from his mind and did, as he found now, not want to.
“There is an option open to you that you have not yet explored,” said Childermass to his knees.
“It is not…” Childermass looked again at the door. “It is not how you would prefer it, I know. But it is something I can do. And an evening with you....”
When Childermass looked over at him, Segundus stared a stare that slowly turned into a nod.
“You agree to it?”
“I do,” said Segundus. “Shall I come to you this evening at the inn?”
Childermass stood from the chair feeling every long year of his life.
“I will come to you, sir.”
Childermass took a room in the York inn he had so often frequented. He cleaned away the dirt of his journey and ate lunch alone. The day was spent in quiet in the room he had taken, writing letters and seeing to leftover business in York. In the evening, he fell asleep waiting for it to be a late enough hour to leave for Segundus’ home.
He woke to a chilly breeze coming through the cracked window.
Childermass walked through the quiet streets to Segundus’ home, where every window was dark. After entering the house by coaxing the lock to open, he walked through the dark drawing room and up the dark stairs undetected by any but the mousing cat, who followed him for a bit before lying down for a nap.
He knocked on Segundus door after expanding the quiet that surrounded him.
“Come in,” said Segundus from inside.
He opened the door. This room was dark as well, no candle lit, but positioned for a bit of watery moonlight to fall into it.
John Segundus sat on the bed, wearing only his thin dressing gown tied loosely around his middle. His legs were tucked under him, the dressing gown ridden up all the way to one thigh. The front opened a gaping v that exposed his chest and between his legs was only partially covered.
“I thought...I to make the most of our arrangement. To show gratitude. I thought…”
Childermass closed the door behind him. There was no place to hang his coat, so when he unbuttoned it to join Segundus on the bed, he let it drop to the floor and did not think again about it.
John Segundus’ body, soft skinned, pink, and unblemished, felt like a luxury.
Months of hard work in London, of the reality of being away from where his heart felt at home, the long ride; all of it fell from Childermass in the bed when he felt Segundus’ body meet his. Segundus’ bed was a small thing and the mattress thin, but as his back hit it and Segundus’ body moved on top of his, Childermass felt like a king.
He had to will himself not to sleep when it was done. Segundus’ magic did well for that though, sending currents him through him every few moments when he shifted: that and the need to keep his own magic over the room in place.
“Would you like me to answer your question?” asked Childermass. He studied the books on Segundus shelf, which he now noticed was much more full than it had been when he was here before on the day of Cordelia Waters’ death. He was distracted by their presence, by reading their titles, but was easily returned to the conversation by the sound of Segundus’ voice.
“If it is normal, to feel magic as you do.”
“Yes, please,” said Segundus. “If there is an answer, I would relish hearing it.”
“In truth, you are the first I have known. I don’t know what it means.”
“How very curious.”
“At the least.” Under him, Segundus stretched groggily. Morning neared and neither of them had slept. “There is the other thing, Mr Segundus. The magic of this Jonathan Strange.”
“It was as you said? There is another magician? One that is Norrell’s equal?”
“Mr Childermass. There were always to be two.”
Childermass lifted his head from Segundus’ chest and looked up at him.
“I am sorry,” said Segundus. “I never mentioned it before. There was....there was a man with a yellow tent and he said there would be two. It was all I knew, but that I would not be one of them.”
Childermass pushed himself away from Segundus’ body and sat up in the bed.
Childermass took Segundus’ slender wrist in his hand.
“John, this is very important.”
“I'm sorry. That was- there was no more.”
He let go of Segundus’ wrist, only just aware of how tightly he held it.
“And there was a tent?” Childermass made an effort to soften his voice by way of apology for too much enthusiasm previously.
Segundus put his hand to the place where Childermass’ had just been and Childermass’ eyes followed. He noticed just then a thin line of darker pink that ran diagonal to Segundus’ wrist. A scar; brand new and his first.
“What happened?” asked Childermass.
“Oh. I fell returning home from the horseriding where we met Mr Strange. I was still very unsteady. It was quite a mess, at the time. Mr Honeyfoot ruined his handkerchief using it to bandage the wound. It was monogrammed as well…”
Segungus continued to rub at his wrist and Childermass watched the small movements of his fingers, guilty that he might have accidentally hurt him. The room became still and quiet and they both heard a door close downstairs
“The maid is awake,” said Childermass. “I will leave you.”
Segundus lay down without speaking. Childermass picked his clothes from the floor and pulled them on, his back still to the bed and the man in it. He took little time for neatness; the day would spend riding.
“I have done wrong. It was not purposeful. I am very sorry if I have hurt you.”
At his back, there was quiet and then a very soft sigh.
“No. I am not hurt. Not in my body, Mr Childermass. I have just never had to contend before with it; how much Gilbert Norrell’s man you are and what that means to me.”
Childermass yanked a knot into his cravat.
“It is not Norrell,” he said. “It is magic.”
His coat retrieved, Childermass reached into the pocket and procured the money for Segundus. He left it on the desk and sneaked from the house as the sun rose.
After the unfortunate incident during Childermass' visit to York to gather information on Strange from Segundus, the men part ways but are later reunited with Segundus' life drastically changed.
It was not hard in the end for Segundus not to sleep after Mr Childermass left him.
He closed his eyes a few times, but was jolted by even the smallest of noises; a wardrobe door closing in his landlord’s room, the meow of the mousing cat, who had come upstairs and now stalked outside the doors.
Segundus abandoned the thought of having more rest fairly quickly and got up from his bed to dress.
When he opened the door to his room, the cat rubbed against his legs and Segundus picked her up and carried her with him downstairs. She had an ear in each of her prominent colors, black and white, and he scratched behind them as he descended to the drawing room. The landlord stood there in front of the maid, a young woman, who had covered her face with her apron and sobbed.
“Mr Segundus! What a relief to see to you!” cried the landlord and he threw his hands into the air. The man’s complexion had taken on a green tint, enhancing his already unfortunate similarity to a frog. The cat squirmed and placed a soft paw against his chin and Segundus set her on the floor.
“What is the matter, sir?” Segundus asked.
“Poor Caroline has just had the worst scare!”
“There was a man in the house!” said the maid. She dropped her apron from her face. “I saw him close the front door and leave myself. He was tall and black haired, like some sort of nightmare!”
“Oh dear,” said Segundus.
“Indeed!” The landlord patted the maid on the shoulder. She was around a head taller than he was and he had to reach up to comfort her. “I’ve inspected the house. We have not been burgled. Caroline is frightened but unharmed. It seems he was nothing but a bothersome intruder of some sort. Did you see anything, Mr Segundus?”
“I have been in my room,” said Segundus. This was the truth, of course, but the truth was also that he had seen the black haired man and knew just who he was. He did not like the many small untruths he had told recently, but they were as necessary as the breath he took.
“Breakfast will be late!” said the landlord. Caroline the maid sobbed again. “Please be patient, Mr Segundus!”
“It is no inconvenience. I am not hungry anyway. Excuse me. I may go for a walk.”
The landlord nodded, but as Segundus turned toward the door, he grabbed his arm.
“Take care, sir! The intruder may still be nearby!”
“I will, thank you,” said Segundus. His arm released, Segundus moved toward the door quickly.
He walked away from the house with no plan. He only wanted space and time to think, which was as well as he was the only person on the street.
Segundus was blocks from his home before his landlord’s words found a place in his thinking and by then it was too late. He began to shiver and he shoved his hands into his pockets. Why the sun was hardly risen! He could not think what he was doing outdoors after all. A neighbor opened her front curtain and he felt the need to explain his presence on the street at this odd hour.
What a frustrating morning, he thought, and followed by such a pleasant night as well.
Segundus did not walk far in the end after all, but turned back toward his house. Without a coat and with no place to escape from the chill, there was little choice.
Outside the house, Segundus saw a pattern of footprints in the frost that were unmistakably Mr Childermass’. He ran his own feet over them before going inside.
He arrived to find Caroline the maid sitting in a chair still sobbing, her cap in disarray and letting loose strands of brown hair, and his landlord pacing in distress. The cat meowed at Segundus when he came in and rubbed against his leg again. Segundus picked her back up and took her to the kitchen, where he set out a bowl of water and saucer with some of last night’s dinner. The cat knocked her face against his hand in gratitude and gave his thumb a gentle lick.
It did not take long for Segundus to find the things to make tea. When it was done, he assembled the teapot and cups on a tray which he brought into the drawing room.
“Mr Segundus?” asked the landlord.
“It is nothing. Please.”
Segundus set the tea on a table his landlord shuffled over to pour a cup, which he held out to Caroline.
“There, there, Caroline. Look what Mr Segundus as done. See, all is well.”
Segundus poured himself a cup as Caroline lifted her face and sat up to take hers. By the time they had drank, the house had a more settled feel.
In his room later, Segundus fell asleep a few sentences into the chapter of a book Sir Gabriel’s grandfather had written the forward to. He woke to a dark afternoon, his candle extinguished, and meowing at the door.
Childermass closed the door and stomped away from the house. He had never struggled before to keep his magic in tact, but he grasped at it for a moment as he made his way out into the morning, feeling as though he chased a soap bubble floating away from him, one that would burst if he moved incorrectly.
It was early for a first frost, but there was one sitting lightly on the road and the dying grass. His footprints disturbed it, making a path behind him that followed him closely. Would it give them away somehow? Could it? It seemed to him that the pattern of his feet spoke loudly in the quiet of the morning.
Childermass, when he was far enough away from Segundus’ home, let free the magic he had placed over himself. Once returned to the inn and his room, he took a moment to tidy himself; to tie his hair back and neaten the clothes he had given so little thought to when he left Segundus’.
It had been wrong to come, he thought. He had only made things worse for John Segundus, despite the money he’d been able to provide, despite the pleasantness of the night they’d shared. He should have stayed where he was; found another boy for Segundus to teach, perhaps, if there was another to be found.
He saw again and again his hand on Segundus’ wrist, heard the desperation for knowledge of this second magician in his own voice. He saw his own weathered hand, the newness of the scar on Segundus’ wrist.
No, he should not have come. John Segundus had been better off when he was in London, when he was far away and could not do him harm, could not meddle.
His thoughts went to the magician Segundus spoke of.
His task now would be to see what he could discover about Jonathan Strange. What sort of man he was, Childermass knew, would be the best indication of what sort of magician he might turn out to be.
Childermass paid his bill and left York, oddly glad this time to put the place behind him.
It was an accident, that Childermass saw him at all, and owed not in small part to a large amount of luck that he should be on the same street at the same time as John Segundus, who should not have been there at all.
His hair was a bit grayer now, but his clothes newer. Segundus stood outside a London bookshop, looking in the with the wistful way he had of admiring books. The feeling of magic on him, whatever else had changed, was just the same however and it cut through the crowd to reach Childermass.
Segundus turned, having presumably felt Childermass’ magic, and saw him standing across the street.
Did I look any different, Childermass wondered? Segundus, for what seemed like a very long time, watched him and then, he smiled. At the same time, they stepped toward each other. At the same time, they stopped. A current of people moved between them and then, Childermass stepped again. Segundus waited.
“Mr Childermass,” he said softly when Childermass reached him. Or maybe it was not softly. It was possible that the crowd muffled his voice. He looked down at the ground, drawing Childermass’ eyes to a pair of shoes that were unmistakably new.
“You are in London?” asked Childermass.
“It appears so.”
Segundus did not ask what he did these days. The whole country knew each bit of magic Norrell, and now Strange, did. And where Norrell was, so was John Childermass. But no one knew of John Segundus of York. Childermass was jostled by the crowd, pushed forward. The tips of his feet nearly touched Segundus’
“It should be no surprise, considering how long it has been since we’ve seen one another, but your clothes are new. They…”
Having had his clothes brought to his attention, Segundus gave his jacket a self conscious smoothing with his hands. But there was an undercurrent of pride that warmed Childermass’ heart to see.
“You could not have heard. But I have a patron now.”
A hand reached on instinct to his collar, which was pristine white and starched to stiffness.
“A patroness, actually. Mrs Sarah Lennox. The clothes are a gift from her. She sent me here, as well.”
The street and its noises were a good cover. Childermass watched as Segundus studied him between glances at the crowd and slowly relaxed.
“It’s been a long time since we have spoken,” said Childermass. “But I do not blame you.”
Segundus rubbed one of the buttons on his cuff, which from what Childermass could see was pearl. He looked well in these less drab colors, like the soft bud on a spring flower.
“I do not blame you,” repeated Childermass in a whisper, edging closer. The spring sun shone on Segundus’ gray hairs and they had a silvery shine. “My behavior last time-”
“Do not mention it again,” said Segundus. “It is done now.”
It was not imaginable, to doubt something that John Segundus said, and Childermass relaxed to hear him say that it was put behind them because he knew that it was so. He unfolded his arms from across his chest. The flush in Segundus’ cheeks, how he came to a place in height just under Childermass’ chin made him feel like embracing the man.
“Can I make it up to you? As a farewell to the topic? Would you mind a meal together?”
The pause was graciously short and Segundus’ smile showed the dimples Childermass had nearly forgotten he had.
“I would enjoy that,” said Segundus. “In truth, I am quite hungry.”
They joined the crowd at the same step, but Segundus soon fell just behind Childermass and followed him where he led.
It was unfathomable that in a city this large that they should be on the same street at the same hour, but yet it happened.
The magic of John Childermass, as unforgettable as anything, sneaked up under the new collar he wore and stroked his neck.
He had been in the process of pricing books for the school when he felt it. He turned toward the source of the magic without thinking and looked into the eyes of John Childermass.
Segundus had wanted so much to be angry from time to time at Mr Childermass, or if not angry, disappointed. But he each time he had thought on what had happened, he only understood Childermass more. After all, what could Mr Childermass do but the work that Segundus knew quite well he did: work to aid Gilbert Norrell. It was not Childermass’ fault that Segundus was surprised by what should not have been surprising.
When he turned and saw, as he knew he would, John Childermass standing across the street, there was no trace of any emotion but happiness. Why, he was just the same as he had been. There was scarcely, despite London, any change in him at all.
In the public house where they took the lunch offered by Mr Childermass, Segundus sat and watched him have a pipe after they had finished eating and he was glad, very glad, that they had seen each other. Life had taken so many unexpected turns of late. This was another pleasant one; that he should again be sharing a meal with John Childermass and enjoying the smell of his pipe. He sipped his coffee and watched the people pass by out the window.
“You smile, Mr Segundus.”
“Well, I am in London having a meal with a friend. I am quite happy.”
When he lowered his pipe, Mr Childermass smiled as well. When smiling, his face formed lines that gave Segundus a most contented feeling, especially when paired with the smell of his pipe, which Segundus found much joy in remembering and in watching him smoke.
“It good to hear you say that we are friends. I was afraid I had damaged our camaraderie for good with my thoughtlessness last time we met.”
“Not at all,” said Segundus. He became more somber, cast down his eyes. “You have treated me well at every turn, even when others would not have. I have always felt respect from you and it has meant a great deal.”
The feeling of silence working over them. Segundus had not realized exactly how much he had missed the sensation of magic either, just how much more alive he felt in its presence.
“A private conversation, sir?” asked Childermass.
Segundus set down his cup
“You are very serious.”
“I only wanted to thank you,” said Childermass. “To thank you for patience that I am not sure you realized you displayed with me. And to say with true sincerity that I am glad we met again.”
To feel his magic was to remember his body, to remember what it was like to be burned on the soft skin of cheeks and neck by his rough facial hair.
“I am glad too,” he whispered.
Segundus felt a pink heat move across his neck and cheeks at how long Mr Childermass watched him.
“You said...one time when we were together, you said it felt like we met as friends. As lovers.”
“I did say that.”
“You would not leave the room with us as anything but, then.”
A silence of a different sort, worked not by magic, but by their own quiet.
“It was important to me,” said Segundus. He looked down into the stillness of his coffee, saw himself blink. There had been a mirror, that time, and he had looked down at himself then, much the same as now. “And it remains, that night, a most pleasant memory for me because of it, because you did not pay for me but had me from a feeling in your heart.”
A clatter; an overturned bowl at another table and a shout as a man jumped out of the way of hot soup spreading on the table. Childermass and Segundus finally met eyes.
“I would like, perhaps, to meet again like that,” said Childermass. “If you would also.”
“That would be…” A memory of large hands undressing him; a memory of the feeling of those hands on his body, bringing him to pleasure. “It would welcome, sir. I have been busy of late, but much alone.”
“Aye,” said Childermass.
Segundus watched a man walk past them, surprised that he could not feel the magic surrounding their table, surprised he did not walk into it and harm himself like it was a pane of glass, so solid do it feel to him.
“Do you know where Mr Norrell lives?”
“Of course, Mr Childermass. The whole of the country knows.”
Childermass reached for his pipe again but he did not seem to know when he had it in his his hand what he intended to do with it and put it in his pocket.
“Perhaps. Tonight? Will you stay in London through the night?”
“I will,” said Segundus.
“The house will be settled by 11:00. If you came to the back door at the kitchen…”
“I will see you then.”
The magic lifted from around them. Segundus found his eyes watching the air like he would see it dissolve. He took a last sip of his coffee and soon, the two men parted from each other until the nighttime.
The end of the day was a busy time for John Childermass, but then, most times were.
Mr Strange was indefatigable and would have worked very late if Mr Norrell had not been too tired to continue.
When the final thoughts had, as they did, turned to many final thoughts and last things to say and points to make and Mr Strange had at last departed for his home, it was necessary then to help Norrell organize the library before departing it for the day, and then to bring his dinner to his room and help him to prepare for bed.
The last thing to was to sit with the notes that had been taken during the day’s study and read them back to Norrell as he lay propped against the pillows in his bed.
“Oh, I am not sure at all Mr Strange understands, sometimes,” said Norrell after hearing read back to him something his pupil had written that afternoon. He shook his head. “I am not sure at all he sees the danger in some magic. In much of it. He sometimes acts as though he is still in the nursery and has been given some very special toy.”
“He is a very good magician though.”
“He is, Childermass. He is at that. And an intelligent young man. Though, do you not feel he is of late distracted by...matrimonial matters?”
“Mr Norrell, I think if Mr Strange was with his wife any less, he might forget he was married at all. We must disagree on this point.”
Both men shrugged and Norrell pulled the covers up to his chest and reached behind him to arrange his pillows.
“You may leave, Childermass.”
Childermass walked through the house once to see that everything was as Mr Norrell liked it, and speak with the other servants who needed speaking to before the day’s end; the cook with her bills and receipts for approval, the head maid with her complaints about a lazy girl, the footmen about arranging to have the horses reshoed.
At last, he was allowed to his own room with only half an hour until John Segundus was set to arrive. He lit the candles and pulled the curtains. He did not at all know how one had a lover in his room, what things a man might do to make a space comfortable for a romantic encounter. He settled with knowing that his room was clean and well furnished and that John Segundus was unlikely to be particular.
At 11:00, he stood at the door to the kitchen and he waited.
“Mr Childermass?” Segundus whispered though the crack between the door and the frame, his nose against the wood. He could see no light inside. In the alley behind him, a stray dog roamed and sniffed at the ground.
He felt through the door Mr Childermass work the magic of silence and shadow and then, the door opened and he saw the man himself.
“Come in,” said Childermass.
Segundus found himself, after a single step forward, in a dark kitchen, only lighted by the candle in Childermass’ hand.
“Oh! But it's so grand,” he said as he shut the door behind them. The stoves were dark, looming shapes, still giving warmth, and the shining floor stretched around them like an undisturbed pool of water. Childermass looked around for a moment like he was not sure about what Segundus spoke.
“You are here each day though, I suppose. It is usual to you, this very large kitchen Mr Norrell is so very wealthy.”
Segundus’ eyes traveled to where the what was left of dinner sat under a cover of glass that shone in the candle light; a large pork chop and three whole potatoes.
“Are you hungry, Mr Segundus? I assure you, Mr Norrell will not notice if you have a portion or all of it, in fact. And if it was noticed, I would say I had eaten it. It is very much allowed of me.”
Segundus wished so many things did not make him blush, but he felt the familiar warmth work its way to the top of his skin.
“It is a bad habit of mine, late night eating.”
Childermass removed the cover from the plate and picked it up in his hand.
“Come, Mr Segundus. We will eat in my room. Together.”
Segundus’ breath caught again when Childermass opened the door to his room.
“What is it?”
“This is...this is yours? All of it?”
It had been only half an hour ago that he had looked at this room with Segundus’ preferences in mind. He looked around it now, at the ample space and the large bed and tried to see it as Segundus saw it.
“Yes,” he said. “Mr Norrell has provided quite well for me. I have done the same for him though, I suppose.”
Childermass kicked off his shoes and walked to the bed. Segundus followed him in both actions. He and Segundus sat on the bed with the plate between them. He picked up a potato with his hand and tore it apart, handing half to Segundus.
“Mr Norrell is fussy with his food. The potatoes were over-spiced for him and he did not want any.”
Childermass watched Segundus eat half of his portion in one bite, a line of butter dribbling down his chin that he shyly wiped away with the side of his hand as he tried not to grin.
“They are delicious.” Segundus finished the potato and lifted his fingers to his lips and licked away some of the butter there and from where he had used it to clean his mouth.
Childermass pulled away some of the meat from the chop and handed it to Segundus as well.
“It is a feast!” said Segundus, laughing. “I am as spoiled as a prince, Mr Childermass.”
Watching Segundus laugh, Childermass felt a wobble in his magic. Segundus felt it too, Childermass could tell by how he stopped chewing and looked up at him.
“Are we quite concealed?” Segundus asked. “I doubt that your master would be pleased to find me only a few doors down from him, eating the remains of his dinner in his man of business’ bed.”
“Yes. We are safe. There is no need for concern.”
He picked up another potato and handed to Segundus to move them past the moment. Segundus took it with a smile.
“I have not mentioned, Mr Childermass,” said Segundus, still grinning. “When we last met, you gave a maid quite the scare when she saw you leaving the house. Caroline is her name.”
“Well.” Childermass leaned back against the headboard, a grin of his own. “I hope poor Caroline is recovered.”
“Very much. In fact, the scare gave my old landlord the courage to approach her and seem valiant doing so. She is now the mistress of the house and I don't imagine the shock of it has worn off. Even when you have departed, you manage such interesting feats.”
“And your landlord? Did you settle with him in the end?”
“I did,” said Segundus. He picked up the last of the potatoes and began to eat. “Sir Gabriel Waters commissioned me to collect his grandfather’s work and to write an introduction to it for publication and paid me far too much for the job. After that, I met Mrs Lennox, and now I am here and my landlord is a tired new father.”
“I should have known you would have parted with him on good terms. To dislike you, Mr Segundus, is impossible.”
When they had finished the food, Childermass put the plate on the floor.
“Look at how messy we are,” said Segundus. He held up his hand, shining with butter and grease. He smiled a smile that was the warmest Childermass had ever seen. He was, then, all heart; a heart filled with affection for this man in front of him. Childermass held his up as well and they put their palms together and laced fingers.
Segundus’ breath caught and he squeezed his eyes shut.
“It is the magic,” said Segundus softly, holding tightly to Childermass’ hand, his knuckles getting white. “Oh, God, but it feels so good, Mr Childermass. I had forgotten.”
Childermass thought on the magic, pushed more of it forward and Segundus’ mouth dropped open.
“Oh, God,” Segundus said again. Childermass leaned in to kiss his still open mouth.
When they kissed, there was a moment, after a small hesitation, where Segundus licked Childermass’ lips. Childermass’ eyes opened in shock the feeling and they pulled apart. They loosened their fingers and Segundus lifted Childermass’ hand to his mouth and slipped his ring finger, to the knuckle, inside. In that way, he cleaned Childermass’ fingers and then licked away the grease on his palm. The room remained silent as he lifted his lips from Childermass’ hand.
“I do not know where the desire to do that came from,” said Segundus breathlessly. He felt still a little grease at the side of his mouth and his face hot and pink, he licked that away as well.
“It was not unwelcome.”
Neither man moved Then, Segundus lifted his hand.
While Childermass watched, Segundus cleaned his his own palm and fingers with his tongue. When he reached his thumb however, Childermass reached over and carefully took Mr Segundus by the wrist. Segundus held his breath while Childermass drew his hand to his to mouth. He slipped Segundus’ thumb between his lips and past his teeth. Segundus’ eyes closed and he released the breath he held in a long moan.
Segundus was on his back and at his neck, John Childermass worked to loosen his cravat and his collar while he kissed him. It had happened so quickly that he hardly remembered how he had gotten here at all from where he had been moments ago. He thrilled at the heavy weight pressing down on him, the growing feeling of John’s arousal against his thigh.
He could never have guessed that when he dressed this morning that someone else would undress him, much less that it would happen in the house of Gilbert Norrell.
At the sound of his name, Segundus opened his eyes.
But instead of answering Segundus felt cool air on his neck as it was exposed and then his shirt was pulled from his breeches and he cried out as he felt hands put down them, as John took him. Then, it was Segundus who said John, said it with each slow stroke. His back arched and his stomach pressed into John’s. He reached up to hold Childermass by the neck and found, by accident, the tie that held his hair back and pulled it free.
He had not known that he could be this hard, was amazed at the feeling himself in Childermass’ hand. It nearly hurt, to want this much. Even as he begged for it not end, he pushed harder, told Childermass in his ear that he wanted still more. His were eyes were still closed when his breeches were pulled down his legs. A shock; more bare skin met his, Childermass’ hardness against his. Each bit of skin exposed as he was undressed, the magic crawled over it.
John Segundus gripped at his shoulder.
He could not know how that feeling, fingernails in his skin, spurred him on, or perhaps he did. Childermass continued to work between Segundus’ legs with his hand and Segundus held him.
Segundus fell back onto the bed when Childermass let go to begin undressing himself. The man was all breath; panting shallowly with his mouth dropped open and chest heaving desperately. His skin was so hot and his hair was heavy already with sweat. He looked so different here than he had when they first met this morning, tidy in his new clothes. The man on the street looking quietly at books, the one so careful to not be in the way of the people who passed him, could hardly be imagined to be the same one here underneath him; groaning and flushed, worked into a fever by his touch. But he was still John Segundus, always. Segundus’ smile when he opened his eyes to see what it was Childermass did was still somewhat shy, especially as his eyes travel over his body.
“Please, let’s now,” Segundus whispered. “I do not think I could wait any longer for you.”
He was still what he would be through and through; John Segundus, from skin to his center.
Segundus was sure that as his moment arrived, John Childermass called him beautiful.
He was surprised, but there was so much just then to command his attention; the final thrusts that brought Mr Childermass to a finish that then pushed him forward to his own. He was, as always, shocked at hearing his own cries, that he could make such a noise. Then, full weight of Mr Childermass as he drooped onto him, putting a messy kiss to his mouth as he did. The feeling must had been as pleasing for Mr Childermass as it was for him as he did not move for some time. When he did, he rolled to his side with an arm still across Segundus’ chest.
“Mr...John?” asked Segundus.
“May I ask you something?”
Childermass nodded as he yawned.
“What is that you said? Just…” He did not have words to describe the action. “Just then.”
Childermass opened his eyes.
“So, you heard.”
“It would have been hard not to,” said Segundus.
Though his face was turned away, Segundus sensed Childermass’ sheepishness, so uncommon a thing that he was instantly endeared.
“I said that you were beautiful. It was what I felt, in the moment.”
The proclamation knocked all sensible thought from him. Eventually however, words did take form in his mind and he managed to move them to his lips.
“What does one say?” Segundus choked out, “when one has been called, of all unlikely things, beautiful?”
“I am afraid you have asked the wrong person that question, Mr Segundus. It’s not a thing I have ever been accused of being.”
Childermass laughed through another yawn. He placed his stubbled cheek back against Segundus’ chest and they lay in quiet.
“Do you sometimes, like I do, dream of a whole night? Of being able to stay when all is done?” Segundus asked.
“It bothered me when I was young, at times. Much seemed very unfair then.”
Segundus did not press further.
“I suppose I should...perhaps, at that, I might consider leaving soon.”
“It would be sound.”
Childermass lifted himself away and Segundus sat up.
“Many thanks to Mrs Lennox, for sending you to London,” said Childermass. “And for taking care of you so well, it seems. You seem in high spirits and look as well as I have seen you.”
“She has been very kind. I am lucky. I seem to always find, at just the moment, a kind person when I need one.’
Childermass watched him pick up his shirt; new and bright and now wrinkled from the floor.
“You have said that she is your patron, but what is she patronizing? I suppose she does not have enough money to pay a man to wear new clothes in London to no purpose.”
Segundus pulled his shirt over his head.
“Well, she would like to help me found a school.”
“Yes,” said Segundus. “A school of magic.”
The seriousness in Childermass’ voice made him turn quickly, his collar still loose around his neck.
“You should not have told that to me,” said Childermass. “It would never pass Mr Norrell’s approval.”
“I did not know it had to.”
There was a long stare, a barely contained rolling of his eyes.
“Please, sir, understand- if he finds out and when, he will make a way to stop you.”
“Then, I will fight, as I have always fought, for magic.”
Childermass lay back in the bed with a grunt.
“Will you tell him?” asked Segundus.
“I will let this be between us for as long as I can. Mr Norrell will find out though. Whether it is from me or from another. But I will...if there is a way that it is not I who tells him, I will make it so.”
“I would like that very much.”
“Take care, please. You have seen what Mr Norrell can do, will do. I do not want you in his path. I do not want to be the one, John, to tell him and to bring you there.”
Segundus had finished dressing and he turned to look at Childermass and that he was watched intently.
“And Mr Segundus? I am glad to hear that you would fight for magic. It is a thing I have come to admire about you.”
“That means more than you can know.”
He knew that he must leave, but Segundus felt as though he had to pry himself from the side of the bed.
“You have the shadow with you, John,” said Childermass.
“Until we are brought together again, sir.”
Segundus stepped into the hall and walked through the still dark house at Hanover and out to the street.
Childermass and Segundus remain separated, but the plans for the school move forward, and important changes happen in London.
John Segundus now used his old clothes, the one he had worn before meeting Mrs Lennox and had once thought quite acceptable for going out in, only to clean at Starecross.
Mrs Lennox said that she would send people to clean the building, servants of hers. She did, but Segundus worked as well with them, spending each day scrubbing floors and windows and making plans for each room in between important meetings about the future of the school.
“Sir, you look a fright,” she said. Mrs Lennox had just come for an unexpected visit to check on her investment. When she arrived, Segundus scrambled to have tea made for her and to make himself presentable, no easy feat considering that his face was red from a morning of work in the stuffy upstairs of Starecross and the sweaty, dusty state of his clothes and self. He had, it seemed, not done very well in that endeavor.
“My apologies.” Segundus pulled on his jacket, which he had thrown over his arm before running downstairs and leaving the soap and sponge in the library. His hands were now rather raw and wrinkled from the scrubbing, but there was no hiding them.
“No, need, Mr Segundus. It is refreshing to see such dedication. It makes me feel more than ever that my choice was a correct one. Mr Segundus, there is dirt on your nose.”
Segundus hurried to wipe it away while Mrs Lennox sipped her tea.
“Have you as well been corresponding with potential students and their families?”
“Many of the old York Society were heartened by the example of young Sir Gabriel and his mother. Though they may not study magic, no lawyer has been able to find any mention in the contract set by Norrell that magic may not be studied. They are looking for young cousins and nephews who might be sent.”
“Very good.” Mrs Lennox nodded.
She looked around the drawing room, which was not, if Segundus told the truth, in a fit state to receive visitors, full as it was of still covered furniture and the the windows as they were without any drapes. Segundus was mortified to think that he saw a mouse scutter in a shadow, but he was in the end unsure if he had only imagined it due to nerves.
“Are any nieces to be considered, Mr Segundus, or female cousins?”
Segundus shifted in his seat and wet his lips with a drink from his own tea cup.
“What is your opinion, madame? Should young ladies be accepted? I had not quite...that is, I wrote to Mr Strange and he seems to perhaps think it might not more convenient…”
Mrs Lennox put down her tea and folded her hands in her lap.
“This is not Mr Strange’s school. It is mine. Mr Strange may open a school of his own and admit who whom he pleases, but you and I choose the students here. Will you teach them, the young ladies?”
“I will,” said John Segundus, sitting very straight in his chair,“teach anyone who wishes to learn magic.”
“Then it is settled. Let us see how the young ladies’ relations feel on the subject.”
“There is a very long history of women doing magic, Mrs Lennox, for example-”
Segundus stopped with the familiar feeling of the start of a blush rising to the top of his skin. He knew that it would not do to hold his patroness while he expounded on his particular interests.
“I not keep you with a lecture, madam.”
“Very well. Let's save those for the students, shall we?”
He gave Mrs Lennox a tour then, showing off the work that had been done. In the library, now mostly clean after his morning of work, the only books on the shelves were the ones he had been given by Sir Gabriel.
“What is to be done about that?” asked Mrs Lennox, waving toward the ample space on the library shelves that sat empty. Segundus frowned.
“I don't know. I can purchase books, as many as you like, but they will never be the most beneficial ones for instruction, I'm afraid. Perhaps it is as well. Only two people in the country can do magic, after all. The rest of us must be content with theory and history.”
Mrs Lennox raised an eyebrow with a look that took in the room, Segundus and all.
“As you wish, Mr Segundus. But perhaps it is worth another letter to your friend Mr Strange. If anyone has influence over such things, it is he.”
“I can try.”
“Let us hope Mr Strange is the magical revolutionary he styles himself.”
The tour of Starecross was long: Mrs Lennox had many questions and Segundus’ answers were detailed. It grew late while they spoke, the air coming through the windows slightly cooler, the shadows perched in different places around the rooms and the light softer. Segundus had fallen into the habit of eating alone while he worked in his study, but with Mrs Lennox there he had the table set and dined with her.
The end of the day found Segundus working until late in his room, writing some of the letters requested by Mrs Lennox.
Midnight found him asleep at desk. He woke when the clock struck the hour. Segundus straightened his papers with a hand slightly numb from having been used as a pillow and stretched his aching back. I must be more careful, he thought, rubbing at the dull pain that had developed. I am old enough that my body feels these things profoundly now. But he thought it fondly. He was happier now that he had been as a young person by far; employed and happily busy and with memories even of romantic encounters, and the bittersweet feeling of caring for someone who was very far away.
Segundus undressed and changed into his night shirt before getting into bed.
Life went very well for him and though he was exhausted, John Segundus fell asleep happy. He felt that he had found at last his calling, the true work of his heart. He slept in a room as bare as any he ever had, but he felt at home in a way he never had before, ignited with purpose.
Tomorrow, he thought, rolling over onto his side and toward the window to catch a breeze and kicking the covers from his feet, he would write to Mr Childermass. He was very happy but felt, as he had for some time, as though he were separated from his kin in magic, from the person who understood magic in the same way he did. It would only make him happier to write to Mr Childermass, he was sure.
“He cannot go!” said Norrell.
“He is,” said Childermass with all the evenness Norrell lacked. “But not tomorrow, so please, Mr Norrell, change and go to bed. He will be back in the morning and you can speak of it to him then.”
Jonathan Strange was going to war, taking magic to fight for England. It was the news that had been broken earlier that day and since, Norrell had been unable to think of or speak of anything else. Mr Strange had eventually left the house much earlier than normal, unable to extract from Norrell anything but lectures and warnings about his safety. Mr Drawlight and Mr Lascelles had stayed far too long after and had needed to be asked to leave by Childermass before doing so. Mr Lascelles in particular had needed an additional distant nod from Norrell before finally leaving.
Calming Norrell then became Childermass’ unenviable job; dinner had stayed uneaten and had eventually gone cold while Norrell paced, and a carriage was very nearly ordered to take him to Mr Strange’s home so that he could continue to implore him to stay. The footmen, however, after being halted by Childermass with a subtle nod had held off until Norrell was dissuaded against the trip across town. Norrell was finally exhausted and had been led to his room, where his pacing made helping to bed extraordinarily difficult.
“He does not understand the danger!”
“He is thirty five years old,” said Childermass. He adjusted his master’s wig where it sat on a stand in his room. “I am sure he does, Mr Norrell. He just thinks differently of it than you do.”
Childermass handed Norrell his night shirt and he took it with a huff. Norrell fumbled with the buttons on his vest as he continued to speak.
“There must be something that can be done,” Norrell said.
Childermass reached over and removed Norrell’s shaking fingers from his vest and began to undo the buttons himself. Norrell sighed and his body relaxed in relief, shoulders unknotting.
“To keep him here?” asked Childermass. “I am not sure that there is. But if you are truly as concerned as you say you are, then there is something you can do help ensure he comes back safely.”
Childermass slid the vest from Norrell’s shoulders.
“The books, Mr Norrell.”
Another sigh from Norrell. He had seemed, in the hours since Mr Strange’s announcement, to grow smaller under the weight of it, like it pressed down on him. Childermass folded Norrell’s clothes as he undressed and pulled the nightshirt over his head.
“You recommend it, Childermass?”
Norrell, Childermass could tell, had stopped fighting. He was tired, glad to have a course of action to follow, to have been told what was best. His mouth dropped open in a yawn and he rubbed his watery eyes.
“Tomorrow. Tomorrow we will choose, then, the ones that will go with him. I do have some ideas, however. I wonder what sort of magic he plans to do? Childermass, we must be sure to consider how English magic will behave outside of England.”
With another yawn and a scratch of his head, Norrell pulled back the covers and got into the bed. Childermass blew out the first of the candles in the room, sending a ripple through the warm wax and instantly making shadows over half the room
“Will he be well, do you think?” asked Norrell. He pulled the covers over his thin legs.
Childermass stepped to the window and pulled back the curtains against the still bright summer evening and then stood at the foot of the bed.
“I could not say if he will be well or not.”
Norrell spent a long time watching Childermass as he stood still and waiting..
“I will sleep now,” he finally said. And Childermass left. When the house was calm and in order, he was at liberty to attend to something that had been on his mind since the morning.
There had been, that day, a letter from John Segundus. It was the second that had come since Segundus’ visit to London and their unexpected meeting and evening together.
Childermass had kept so very few secrets from his master since coming into his home that it was easy to feel as though they had multiplied greatly since meeting Segundus. There was the magic that sat just under Segundus’ skin, the job Childermass had procured for him with Sir Gabriel, and the school as well now. None of this he had told to Norrell. The letter did not mention the school of magic explicitly, but its absence was conspicuous.
Childermass read the letter in his bed after undressing and wondered if he should respond and how. Segundus spoke cheerfully in the vaguest terms about finding his calling, about his excitement at his new life.
The house is so old! wrote Segundus. It will be cold in the winter but it is fine in the summer, rather pleasant. I have chosen a room for myself. I think I have said that already. It is at the top of the stairs. Have I mentioned the windows? There are so many tall windows and I have cleaned a good number of them in the past weeks. I don’t feel I have ever sweated so much or been so tired.
Childermass could only think, as he read the letter. how of little time Segundus might have with this happiness and how he would extended it if he could. There may be, he knew, little he had power to do to help Segundus in the end, however.
Segundus wrote much about the summer in Yorkshire at the end of the letter, about the warmth that kept him from sleeping at night, about the nest of birds in the tree outside his window that woke him at dawn. As a safe topic, it filled the page so that Childermass was treated to more of Segundus’ handwriting, which he had been charmed by since he first saw it.
He would decide tomorrow what his response would be.
Childermass did not hide the letter, exactly, but put it in his desk, out of view. Did they count as another secret, it and the other letters that sat with it? He was not sure.
The start of a letter formed in Childermass’ mind as he fell asleep.
Sir Gabriel Waters arrived at Starecross for a visit of his own at the summer’s height, bringing with him his aunt and governess Miss Mills.
He was as happy as Segundus could have hoped he would have been after his mother’s death and much changed physically; taller now and thinner, his face beginning to mature. He was, however, just as neat and just as gracious as he had ever been.
Miss Waters, a sister of Sir Gabriel’s father’s, surprised Segundus with her exceptional youth. She could hardly be twenty years old to Segundus’ guess and was a quiet woman very similar to her nephew in appearance and demeanor; thin and pale and blonde and neat in her pink dress and bonnet. Miss Mills at times seemed to be caring for the both of them, standing close to Miss Waters and answering her whispered questions nearly before she could ask them. Segundus had all the time expected a gray haired maiden aunt or widow, but could not have been farther from the truth of the pretty young woman staring at the floor as he showed them inside.
After dinner, Miss Waters and Miss Mills retired to the drawing room and Segundus showed Sir Gabriel the school.
“My grandfather would have very much enjoyed this,” Sir Gabriel said. He and Segundus were in the spacious library, which was now clean and well furnished but for the lack of books. “I don’t think he felt his colleagues in the Society did quite enough for the cause of English magic. He would love nothing more than for me to donate to the school in his name using some of the money he left to me.”
“That is very generous of you.”
“I have only one concern.”
“What is that, sir?” asked Segundus.
Sir Gabriel turned from the line of tall shelves and toward Segundus.
“My aunt. As you may know, Mr Segundus, my father’s family is not as wealthy as my mother’s. The situation has only worsened in recent years. I stand to be able to greatly increase Aunt Miranda’s chances of a good marriage, or any marriage at all, by providing for her. My mother was a dear friend of hers and she was beloved by my father. I would do disservice to their memories by letting her flounder. Plus, she has been so very kind since I became an orphan.”
“I agree,” said Segundus. “She should be your first concern.”
“But let me think. It could be that I am able to help the both of you.”
Segundus accompanied Sir Gabriel and his aunt and governess on a walk after the tour of the school. He knew Miss Mills watched him closely and he tried his best to ignore it as they walked along the grassy trail observing flowers and birds the peculiar shapes of the clouds in the bright sky.
It was a very quiet stroll. Miss Waters asked a few timid questions about magic that Segundus was happy to answer and Sir Gabriel spoke a little of what had happened since they had last seen each other. That was the was summary of the conversation but for a few comments on the weather and the beauty of the surroundings and Miss Mills saying, as they stood in the shade of a large tree, that Sir Gabriel should be to bed soon.
“I would like to come back to do a sketch tomorrow,” said Miss Waters with a last admiring look at a small pond. She bent to pluck a flower to bring back to the house for for pressing. A strand of blonde hair had escaped her bonnet and she tucked it back.
“Aunt Miranda is an accomplished artist.”
The young woman blushed at her nephew’s praise and looked down at her feet.
“I will have a picnic made for you, if you like,” said Segundus. “You can spend the afternoon here and draw as much as you like.”
“You will not join us, sir?”
Segundus could hardly hear the young woman speak so quiet was her voice.
“Mr Segundus is quite busy, Miss Waters, I am sure,” said Miss Mills. “But it is kind of him to arrange the picnic.”
Segundus returned to the library after seeing his guests to their rooms. He left the door open for a breeze as he set to completing some work on potential curriculum. Not long after settling in at his desk, he looked to see Amity Mills in the door.
“I was fetching something to drink for Miss Waters.”
“You are welcome to the kitchen. Whatever she or Sir Gabriel needs or wants.”
Segundus looked back down at his paper but Miss Mills did not move from the door.
“Have you seen him?” she asked.
His quill hovered over the paper, dropped a large drop of black ink in the middle of a sentence he had been writing. A thought that moved quickly; I will need to rewrite this letter. He remembered the word stuck at the stop of his throat.
“Yes,” said Segundus. “I have seen him.”
“He does well in London?”
A chuckle from across the room.
“I never thought I would see the day that John Childermass was gone from Yorkshire for good.” There was a long pause and Segundus nearly thought he could hear Miss Mills grin though he still had not looked up again at her. The drop of ink spread, swallowing more of the sentence it had fallen on. “And perhaps he is not, at that.”
Finally, Segundus lifted his eyes. The quill continued to drip until he moved it it, placing it hurriedly back in the ink but not before a drop got on the desk.
“How much can you tell me?” Segundus asked. “About how you know Mr Childermass?”
“Most of the story is his to tell, Mr Segundus. But we grew up together in a place where it was hard to grow. I lost my parents as a small child.”
“And his mother, this Black Joan, she took you in?”
Miss Mills shrugged and her heavy braid moved with her shoulder.
“In a way. Joan had many hands working for her, all of us with nothing if not for her.” She watched as Segundus moved the ink stained paper across the desk and toward the waste basket, trying not to spill any on himself. “What can you tell me about how you know him? You have his attention and his care. I can’t deny that I am curious as to what you have done to earn them.”
At that, Segundus dropped the paper. Miss Mills stood leaned against the door with her arms crossed, watching him. He could not read if she was amused or curious by the sight of him, by figuring out his connection to Mr Childermass. Segundus wiped at the drop of ink on the desk with his sleeve
“I am magician and so is his master,” he stammered. “Our interests are much in common.”
“That is true, but it is not quite the truth.”
“And you do not like that whatever the truth is you cannot say.”
Segundus stared down at the desk, at the black smudge he’d made wiping away the ink there, and the other on the back of his hand.
“I will not press further, Mr Segundus. Forgive me. I should not have pried so. I forget myself.”
“No apologies are necessary, miss.”
Miss Mills took a step back from the door but still did not quite leave.
“A very good night, Mr Segundus. Thank you again for the kindness you have shown to Sir Gabriel. He is in need of a friend exactly such as you are. I am glad that John Childermass sent you to us. He has a habit of knowing these sorts of things, doesn’t he? What a person may need before they know it themselves.”
Segundus could not quite think of what to say in response and so nervously picked back up the paper and moved it at last to the waste basket.
“Good night,” said Miss Mills again.
Segundus was not able to focus again on his work for the duration of the evening. He succeed only in ruining another piece of paper with the start of an incomprehensible letter that he noticed was sloppily written on top of all else.
He gave up his task after half an hour and blew out the candle so that he could go to bed.
The house was quiet when when he made his way to his room, and no lights shone under any doors.
There were spaces on the shelves where the books Strange had taken with him when he left for war had once been.
Childermass noticed that Norrell looked at them, at those new spaces on the shelves, from time to time during the day, forgetting his reading for minutes at a stretch, staring at where Childermass had pushed the other books closer together to make up for the emptiness where there had once been books.
Norrell said nothing, but his thoughts were clear in his face, clear in how long he looked at the places where the books should have been and to the place where Strange normally would have sat. His sighs of frustration jostled the room. Mr Drawlight would usually make a joke then, or begin a story of some sort to lighten the mood but was never successful in bringing any sort of levity to the library and usually ended up sitting down in the middle of a strained silence or the middle of a piece of gossip left unfinished.
Six months after his departure, the first letter arrived from Mr Strange. Childermass was the first to notice the letter with the others on the table, passing the front hall to bring the down the tray with the morning’s tea. Childermass left the tea and brought the mail up to Norrell.
The usual party of Norrell, Lascelles, and Drawlight were assembled in their usual places when he entered the library with Mr Strange’s letter. Norrell was at his desk and Lascelles sat close by, work of his own in front of him, Drawlight, in a chair by the window and with no work at all to do, dozed with his face in the sun.
Mr Lascelles, in the middle of showing something on his paper to Norrell, was interrupted by the door closing and Norrell looking up at Childermass.
“What is it?” Norrell asked.
Childermass held out the letter and Norrell stood at the sight of the familiar handwriting. In his chair, Drawlight woke and with a stretch turned to take in the goings on in the room.
“Bring it here, please,” said Norrell.
Lascelles looked back and forth between them as Childermass walked toward the desk with the letter in his hand.
Norrell grabbed the letter when Childermass was close enough and tore it open. He fell back into his chair as he began to read.
“What does he say?” asked Lascelles. Drawlight stood from the chair where he had been sleeping but did not move toward the desk. When no one noticed him for some time, but for Childermass’ eyes flickering over for only a moment, he sat back down.
Norrell did not respond to the question.
“What does he say?” Lascelles repeated, a bit more loudly. Norrell’s eyes lifted briefly and were soon back on the letter.
“He is well enough,” said Norrell. His reading spectacle slid nearly to the tip of his nose and he squinted at the letter over the top of them. “Whatever that is supposed to mean. He says he has much to say about how English magic translates when done on foreign soil.”
Norrell’s voice was quiet. He turned the letter over and found more writing on the back that he took in eagerly.
“Is that all?”
Norrell continued to read and Lascelles’ lips pursed when again he was ignored. Childermass watched it all and when Norrell looked up, he looked at him.
“I would like to write back,” Norrell said.
“Of course,” said Childermass. He knew that Lascelles watched him now.
Norrell pushed away the work he and Lascelles had been doing and Childermass brought a fresh piece of paper to the desk. Lascelles inclined his head to read Mr Strange’s letter that now sat on the desk. Norrell was soon engrossed in writing back to his pupil and did not pay attention to the annoyed huffs that came from Mr Lascelles.
“Well,” said Lascelles. He spoke a bit too loudly, forcing his voice into the room and attention back into him. “If we are finished for the morning-”
Norrell nodded absently and after a long pause where he stared open-mouthed, Lascelles stood. Drawlight followed him the door of the library.
“Tomorrow, then,” said Lascelles.
“Yes,” muttered Norrell, eyes on his paper still, scratching out a sentence.
The door closed and Childermass was alone in the library with his master, almost as if the move to London had never happened. Almost that is but for the book Mr Lascelles had left open on the desk, and the empty places on the shelves where the books Mr Strange had taken with him once sat on the shelves.
Childermass knew his master well enough that he closed the curtains in the library without being asked and as Norrell fussed over a sentence, he lit a candle that he moved sat on the corner of the desk.
“Is there any news?” Childermass asked.
Norrell pushed the letter forward on the desk and Childermass picked it up.
He scanned it quickly and when he did, two words that Strange had written caught his eye among all the others;
Strange wrote only briefly that he kept in touch with Mr Segundus but if he knew of the school, he did not mention it. If he was aware at all of Segundus’ magical potential, he did not mention that either, but that did not surprise Childermass at all. Being able to feel magic, especially Segundus’ had always come uniquely to him.
“What do you-”
Norrell stopped in the middle of his sentence. Childermass lifted his eyes from the letter.
“Have you seen something of importance?”
Even with the window closed, London was not quiet. The noise of a horse passing on the street below came up clearly, the collected chatter of the people of the neighborhood.
When he did not answer, Norrell set down his quill.
“What have you seen?” he asked now. There was no avoiding a direct question such as that. Childermass felt a cough at the bottom of his throat, but he swallowed it, replaced it with the words he knew he must speak.
“Mr Strange mentions his friend.”
“Oh yes,” said Norrell. “I had noticed as well. Segundus. The one who did not sign in York. He is the one who was here that time. The one whose cards you read for me.”
“He is,” said Childermass.
“Mr Segundus does as you said he would. He studies.”
“Yes. I would not have said it if I not think it were true. You know that.”
Childermass lay the letter back down on the table and Norrell looked at the spot where Segundus’ name was written. He reread the sentence and looked up at Childermass.
“Strange finds him quite passable, as a scholar.”
“He is inquisitive and passionate about his subject. I count him as far more than passable. But you have never had a thing to worry about from any theoretician, not anything of real consequence, even one more than passable.”
“Even still,” said Norrell.
In the closeness of the candle light, Childermass saw a thumbprint on the lense of Norrell’s spectacles. There was a deep, long line at the corner of his mouth and well worn shadows under his eyes. Norrell had grown older since the move to London, Childermass thought. Did Norrell feel the same of him?
“Even still,” Norrell muttered a second time. And then he repeated another thing; a nervous whisper. “He does as you said, he would, Childermass. He studies.”
He did not move. Childermass stood and Norrell watched him he could see as Norrell read again Segundus’ name.
“And you say he is a more than passable scholar.”
Norrell watched him for a long moment and moved Strange’s letter closer to him.
“You were insistent, Childermass, that he be allowed to not sign the contract with the rest of the York Society. You were quite insistent.”
“It was the right thing to do. He was no harm then and is not now. I have never led you astray, Mr Norrell. I have done each thing you asked.”
“You have,” said Norrell. He pulled at his collar. “Even when…”
He did not finish the sentence. He began again to speak.
“Even when you are…”
Childermass had let him have this information, that he cared for Segundus, and the rest was still safe. He gave it keep the rest where it was, in the place in his dresser where Segundus’ letters were kept.
“You are still here,” Norrell finally said. “And Mr Segundus…”
“He does what I said he would do.”
Norrell picked back up his quill and turned again to the letter to Mr Strange. When he began to write, however, he held the quill as though it was heavy and he needed to force it toward the page.
“Childermass. I am tired. I do not think I want lunch today. I will take a book to my room and rest.”
“Yes, Mr Norrell.”
“But I will take tea. And a brick to warm the bed. I am very cold suddenly. I hope I am not becoming ill. A warm brick is the thing, Childermass.”
“I will arrange it now.”
“And will you send word to Mr Lascelles? Send word that he may come as usual tomorrow, as long as I am feeling well enough.”
Childermass nodded and left Norrell alone to finish his letter. Later in the afternoon, when he was done, tea waited in his room and his bed was warm. Norrell was soon asleep after lying down and Childermass returned to the library to tidy it. Norrell’s reply to Strange waited on the desk where Norrell had left it.
Childermass arranged the library so that in the morning, it would be ready for Mr Norrell; straightening papers, clearing the desk, ensuring fresh paper was ready.
He spent several moments at the shelves before he left, trying to make the spaces where the missing books had been less conspicuous. As he finished his job, the was a knock at the door and the head maid called inside.
“Mr Childermass? Mr Childermass? Do you have a moment?” The house to have gone to shambles this afternoon and I think you’d better come to see to some things, please, if you can.”
He gave the room a last look and called to the maid that would see to it all.
Segundus comes to terms with power feelings that he must acknowledge.
Childermass' loyalty is tested again.
There are many visitors to Starecross, with a variety of purposes.
Segundus knew what the meeting was to be about. He had been dreading it all through dinner, through each pointed look that Sir Gabriel gave him from across the table.
Winter had come and Starecross was nearly ready for students. Sir Gabriel had returned to speak of the matter of his possible donation to the school. Segundus sensed from the first, when coats were still being hung and inquiries made about the journey, that there was something more, or a least something not truly within the realm of business, to discuss. He thought he knew what it was as well.
Sir Gabriel’s young aunt had come along on the visit again, as had his governess. A hearty dinner had just finished and the women were in front of the fire; Miss Waters at embroidery and Miss Mills mending a stocking. Both had cheeks red from the warmth. Both women looked up at him at different times; Miss Waters quickly, her face becoming redder when she and Segundus met eyes, and Miss Mills for longer, as in some sort of understanding or even apology.
Sir Gabriel, standing at Segundus’ side, turned to him. Segundus noticed that the child now reached his chin.
“Shall we speak upstairs, Mr Segundus?” Sir Gabriel asked.
Segundus led the way upstairs and to the library. Using the candle he had carried with him up the stairs, he lit more in the library and closed the door.
“Do you still have no study of your own?” asked Sir Gabriel, looking around the now bright room.
“I do not feel the need, yet. Perhaps when the school is full I may feel differently, but for now between here and my room I have ample space to work.”
“Your natural modesty is a thing I can’t help but admire about you.”
That same natural modesty kept John Segundus from being able to find any easy response to the compliment he'd been offered. When they were seated at the library’s long table, it made him nervous, dreading the disappointment he knew he would soon bring to his young friend.
“Thank you for coming all of this way,” Segundus said. “The winter days are very dark and tiring. Your company has already brightened this one.”
“I am glad to hear you say it. Very glad indeed.”
Sir Gabriel had grown another inch at least since he had last come to Starecross in the summer, Segundus thought, and his hair had become a bit long around his ears. He was still a child, hardly eleven years old, but was as thoughtful as any man three or four times his age.
“Aunt Miranda in particular enjoyed our last visit here. She could not say enough about the inspirational nature of the scenery.”
“I do not feel I can even say thank you. The scenery is as it was when I arrived and how it has always been. But I am happy your aunt enjoyed her stay.”
“My aunt…” Sir Gabriel looked very much his age at that moment, fidgeting with the cuffs of his sleeve. Segundus wondered for a moment who chose the young man’s clothes now, wondered about all the other many small responsibilities he had taken on in his life.
“My aunt has spoken to me. I’ve come on this visit in part to make a request of sorts, on her behalf. On behalf of our family.”
“Aunt Miranda has confessed, Mr Segundus, that she developed certain feeling for you when we last visited. We have spoken and if you are in agreement, sir, I am happy that you should be married. I have no say really, not as a father or older brother would, but she has no one else to speak of these things for her.”
“Sir Gabriel,” Segundus repeated. He had never in his life blushed this copiously. “I could not...There is no way I could provide for a wife, as much as it embarrasses me to say it.”
“That is not a concern. I plan to provide her with a generous income, enough for the two of you and the school as well. I can help both her and you, sir. As you see-”
Sir Gabriel sat motionless, stunned at the force with Segundus spoke.
“I am sorry,” said Segundus quickly.
“Is there...Mr Segundus, I can see that your temperaments are well matched, and Aunt Miranda is an accomplished young woman. Miss Mills tells me that she is regarded as very pretty young woman as well, among the prettiest in the county.”
“It is not that. There is nothing at all wrong with your aunt.” Segundus could hardly look up at his guest. His face almost stung he was so red from blushing. Segundus tugged at his collar and tears come to his eyes, but he forced them back.
“Then what is it?”
Years ago, Segundus had decided that it would be unfair to enter into marriage. It had not stopped him from loving, in small and large ways throughout the years, but he never guessed that he he would one day love as he did, feel what he felt now when Sir Gabriel spoke of making a life and a future. Segundus wanted to be side by side with the person of his heart. The person of whom he thought was John Childermass.
“Sir Gabriel, I must be truthful. My heart belongs to another, one that I can’t have, one that I still pine for. It would not be fair to enter into an agreement with your aunt, when I know I cannot give my all to her.”
Sir Gabriel looked down at his clean, white hands.
“I see. It is commendable of you to be so honest. There is no rush though, sir. Perhaps in a few months, you might be more free to accept her affections? These things do change. Your heart may mend. The company of someone who loves you as my aunt does, when this other woman does not, may help.”
Sir Gabriel seemed so hopeful then, and so very young. Segundus could only think in the moment of all the sadness in the child’s life already, of his aunt’s gentleness as well, and was tempted to do what he knew would be easy, to fabricate a moment of politeness, but he could not. He could not tell the truth, that his love was a tall man, a tall man with a beard who sometimes had a bit of dirt under his nails and sometimes smelled of a day outdoors on a horse, but he could not lie outright either.
“I could say that we will see then, to have a polite and easy end to this meeting. But it would not be fair. Sir Gabriel, I feel I could never be the husband your aunt deserves. I do not want to see her unhappy, and I feel she would be with me.”
Sir Gabriel looked away, took a moment to compose himself. Segundus was not surprised to see how genuinely sad his young friend looked and his heart went out to Sir Gabriel and to Miss Waters. He could not however wish that things were different, not really. He loved John Childermass and could not imagine hoping that away, even for the ease of the life being offered to him by Sir Gabriel.
“Thank you again for your honesty,” said Sir Gabriel. “It is not easy to hear, but you have done as I knew you would, which is the right thing. ”
“I am very sorry…”
“Do not be. My aunt cares very much for you and so do I. That will not change. I was hopeful because Aunt Miranda is a kind soul and I knew she would be safe with you, and well cared for, and she has grown quite enamored, I think. There will be other chances for her, but I don’t feel I will ever be as at ease with any other man she might choose as I am with you. I still wish you the best, and am sorry I’m not better positioned to help with the school without the marriage.”
Sir Gabriel pushed back his chair and stood.
“I will leave you, Mr Segundus. I now have a very unhappy task ahead of me. It is better my aunt knows sooner that this match is not to be.”
Segundus opened his mouth but no words came out and after a few moments, he closed it.
Segunuds sat in quiet for a long time when the room was empty. There was no change of sound in the large house and eventually retired to his room, where he sat at his desk and listened for the sound of his guests come upstairs on their way to retiring for the evening.
He was happy here, had been, but in the back of his mind, Segundus had hardly been able to keep from his mind the thought that all of this was temporary, that his happiness was a thing that would not full bloom. And he wondered now if this was the start of its withering.
Dinner at the inn that evening was a roast of beef, stringy carrots sitting next to them in a brown sauce, and a thick slice of bread. The dining room was full and noisy. Tomorrow was the first day of spring and a cold, heavy rain fell outside. Likely, it would turn into the year’s last snow by sun down, or worse. The room was warm with breath and bodies and the windows had steamed up in an almost affable way, though the room smelled of food and alcohol and travelers so strongly that John Childermass’ head had begun to pound.
Childermass was not hungry despite the exertion of the day, but he made himself eat. If the room were darker, he would have cloaked himself in shadow, sat at the table unseen and in private with his unhappiness. As it was, he could not, so he filled a pipe and took slow bites of food that he had no interest in. He glowered openly at nothing in particular, simply because his mood was, as it had been for a week or more, black.
He had two days until he would arrive at Starecross to break the news to John Segundus that it was done, that the school was finished.
Do not think of it until you have to, Childermass told himself. He drank from his mug. A man at the table next to him hummed loudly, an off tune hymn. Beer dribbled down the man’s chin and the man smiled a smile full of rotten teeth. Do not think of it, Childermass told himself again. But it was not a thing he could do. His thoughts returned again and again to John Segundus and the meeting they were soon to have.
I have had, of all things, a proposal of marriage.
That was in the middle of Segundus’ third letter, after he first spoke of the trials of winter in the large, old hall where he lived.
I am not sure what you will think, but I must tell someone as I am confused and surprised and many other emotions that have nowhere else to go. I had to turn the proposal down, you see, and was heartsore on this lady’s behalf to have to, though it was correct.The young woman would make a lovely wife, should a man want one, and the man who marries Miss Waters will be lucky. I must confess now as I did then that my affections are not free.
Childermass was aware of what Segundus meant and how hard it must have been for him to say it. Segundus’ affections were not free because he had given them to him. Childermass did not return a letter to Segundus. He could not explain it himself, but he could not form any words at all in reply, though he knew his feeling was similar.
My affections are not free.
Childermass could not explain it, that he did not write back, except but that he knew he would soon bring the end of Segundus’ dream and his guilt was powerful.
In his room that night, Childermass thought of Segundus again, of the letter he had written, the confession he had made. He could confess as well, apologize for what was to come. Those were things he felt, for all the good it did either of them for him to feel it. But there would be no point in a return letter now, unless he were to deliver it by his own hand and watch John Segundus read it in front of him. He could not even be in a room at an inn now without thinking of Segundus and their first meetings and it was hard for Childermass to settle into bed. It was cold as well, as their first encounter had been, when John had trembled for so many reasons in a small bed much like this one.
What was it that Segundus had said about that room? About a crack in the ceiling that looked like a dog.
But sleep did come, after a while, as did morning.
He was soon on the road again, that much closer to Segundus and the dissolution of his dream. Childermass understood now the cards that he had read years ago now, that told of Segundus’ future, of a betrayal. He knew now that he brought it, that he would be the one.
Childermass arrived at Starecross in the late afternoon.
The weather had warmed only a little in the days that had passed. The dusting of snow from a few days ago had melted. Once, he would have been happy to sleep outdoors despite the cold, to have had a night of freedom under the stars, but last night he had again paid for the comfort of a room in an inn. You are old, John Childermass, he thought; old and sadder than you remember that you are in the middle of a busy day. When you are busy, it is not so bad.
He sat on the steps of the hall, waiting. He did not know if Segundus was out of if he was home, but needed time to collect his thoughts one way or the other. To see the place in person had affected Childermass in a way he had not anticipated, to see the small details that Segundus had mentioned in his letters, the things that had made him happy, or the things had vexed him about building. There were the windows he had washed in the summer, the roof that Segundus had needed to arrange to have mended.
Childermass sat for some time doing nothing in particular but arranging his thoughts. It had warmed in the last few days, but not enough to make the outdoors comfortable. He took off his gloves and blew on his hands to warm them. The wind picked up and made the cold more biting against his skin.
Then, Childermass saw a familiar figure approach. Childermass studied him, studied the small ways he had changed or not since they had last met; the cut of his hair, which was different, and the softness of his skin, which was not. There was a moment where Segundus was lost in thought, looking up at the sky. He did not seem happy then, or unhappy, but unbothered. The next moment, Segundus’ gentle magic rode the wind to Childermass.
John Segundus saw John Childermass and he stopped where he stood and stared at him. He knew. Childermass saw it immediately. Segundus knew what he was here for. The crashing of his dreams showed clearly on his face. He stepped back from Childermass with a small shaking of his head. Childermass stood.
“Please,” whispered Segundus. The look on his face reminded Childermass of their first meeting, when Segundus had not known him or whether to be frightened or not. It brought him back to the evening when he had nearly hurt Segundus in his fervor for information about Jonathan Strange and Segundus had stared at Childermass’ hand gripping his wrist. Childermass stood from the stairs as if to go to him, but thought better of it and did not.
“I did not tell him. I did not. Mr Norrell has heard things, but I was not the one to tell him. Do you believe me?”
“Please,” Segundus said again. He backed away more, nearly stumbled into a puddle made by the recent rain but righted himself at the last moment. To do this was worse than Childermass had thought; much worse. Segundus had been out and his cheeks were pink from the cold, his hair mussed. He did not deserve what happened to him now, not a man like Segundus.
“You must stop.”
Segundus had not taken his eyes off his visitor, but at this, Childermass looked away, toward one of the large windows of the house, half obscured by a heavy, maroon curtain.
“It is done, sir, and I am sorry.”
Segundus straightened himself to his full height.
“What if I contest this? What if I continue on?”
“You may try as much as you like. You have already discovered the limitations of the contract. But it will not work. I know that for certain. You will be stopped and it will be me who must stop you and I do not want to do that.”
His coat. Last Childermass had seen him had been in summer, but it was still cold enough by far today for a coat. The one Segundus wore was well made, thick and warm. The soft color, a very spring like green brown, suited him well and was tailored to him perfectly. Segundus had come into himself; as a magician and a man. A gentleman, of which he very much looked.
“John,” Segundus said.
Childermass wished more than anything Segundus had not said it, had not said his name. The act of Segundus calling him in a way so few did, the sound of his own name, shook him.
“John,” he said again. “What will I do now? This was to be my income. This was to be my opportunity.”
“I cannot say.”
“But you are sorry, I imagine.” His tone was sharper than Childermass had ever heard it. Segundus crossed his arms against his chest, but it looked more an act of keeping himself warm than one of anger, especially now that he appeared to be trying to keep himself from crying.
“I am sorry. But I imagine that is hard for you to believe.”
Segundus made a move with his hand toward his eyes, as if to wipe away tears, but lowered it again quickly and lifted his face to the gray sky.
“I would like you to leave, please. This is still my home, unless your master would like to chose as well where I may live?”
Childermass stepped away from the stairs.
“I will leave you. If this is the end of our acquaintance, I still wish you well.”
“You cannot truly, and still come here on his business like this.”
Segundus had finally reached the point where he needed to reach into his pocket for his handkerchief to wipe at his eyes. Childermass hear his horse neigh where he was tied to a tree several yards away.
“I did not expect you to understand,” said Childermass.
“That is a thing a man says when he does something he knows he can’t excuse, to place the blame on the person he has harmed. I understand, Mr Childermass, and very well.”
The horse neighed again and Segundus shoved the handkerchief back into his pocket.
“Goodbye, John,” said Childermass. “And again, I am sorry.”
He turned away. There was at first no sound, but then, as he walked toward Brewer, Childermass heard the crack of a branch under Segundus’ shoe and the front door to the hall close. Childermass pulled himself onto his horse and rode away from Starecross and from John Segundus.
This long journey, for only a few moments of conversation. But it was what was needed. If I must do this thing, Childermass thought, I must at least take with me the knowledge of what it has done to him.
The ride back to London seemed much longer than the one from it. Childermass was weary when he arrived back to Hanover Square. There was much work to be done though, as always. In the morning after his arrival home, he was pulled back into his routine. It happened first with a knock on his door.
“Mr Childermass?” A whisper from outside the door.
“Mr Norrell is awake quite early. He has been anxious since you left. He wants to know if you have returned, Mr Childermass. Can you come to him?”
Childermass sat up in his bed.
“Aye. A minute please. I will be right there.”
The end of March was a trial for John Segundus.
It was at first a trial of letters; to Mrs Lennox, to Jonathan Strange, to the erstwhile students of Starecross. He spent his days writing, though he felt in his heart that the cause was lost. Mrs Lennox urged him to fight. Jonathan Strange did not respond at all. As Segundus knew would be the case, however, there was no resolution. April began with plans for the school completely dissolved.
Segundus was lucky in that Mrs Lennox had no qualms about him staying on as a resident of the hall despite the fact that their business venture was halted. Spring bloomed slowly, with Segundus having no purpose any longer, and feeling more and more listless each day. He read each of the books given to him by Sir Gabriel and felt only guiltier then, even as he knew he had done no wrong in turning down Miss Waters’ proposal.
It rained heavily for many days. Mr Honeyfoot came for a long visit to help and Segundus’ spirits cheered considerably at his company.
Mr Honeyfoot’s youngest daughter had just married and though Segundus had been invited to the wedding, he had been unable to attend. Honeyfoot came on his visit full of stories of the event of how his calm life had changed and become even calmer with the leaving of his last child. He sat over tea in the afternoon, helping Segundus sort through the correspondence and passed the time with family stories.
“But there will be a visit from our Charlotte in late May, we believe, with the new baby once they are both strong enough to travel.”
Segundus smiled at his friend over the letter he held he held in his hand.
“You had not mentioned. Congratulations, sir. Another grandson?”
Mr Honeyfoot beamed.
“A granddaughter, Mr Segundus. A granddaughter at last! Louisa, she is called. With a head of red hair, her mother writes. Red hair! But Mr Segundus, when our work is finished, why stay here by yourself? Take some time from your troubles and return to York with me.Come and be a guest at our home. Mrs Honeyfoot would be so happy to see you and you can be surrounded by friends for a while, meet my redhaired granddaughter.”
“Thank you.I think I might do that, after all. There is no happiness here for me at present, and summer is so very far.”
Segundus could see no reason to remain here as he was. The thought of a peaceful fortnight in the company of people who cared appealed greatly to him in the moment.
“While we finish our tea, tell me more about Louisa,” said Segundus. “I can tell that you are anxious to share the news. Leave off work and let’s talk of happy things.”
Mr Honeyfoot did not need to be much compelled in this. Soon Segundus, was listening contentedly to his friend and felt much at ease for it, for stories of a domestic happiness, for Honeyfoot’s cheerful voice.
He began to make plans in his mind that night to leave with Mr Honeyfoot and felt peaceful for it. Segundus lit a candle and crawled into bed with the book he read, thinking of things to pack and do and last letters to write to before he left. Perhaps he would return renewed in spirits.
Two days later, the newspaper reported a most astonishing thing; that a servant of Gilbert Norrell’s had been shot in his defense, on the street and in the middle of the afternoon.The servant was not named, but Segundus knew who it was, which servant was the one to risk his life for Norrell’s. He could think of only one man with that loyalty. He did his best during the day to not show his anxiety to Mr Honeyfoot as he knew there was no way he could explain why such a thing would worry him as it did. At night, he wondered, and he waited. Eventually, the papers reported that man would live.
Segundus, alone in his room, held the newspaper in his hand and he cried as he read it.
A week later, a letter arrived from London, from a man named Walter Pole. He wrote to request a visit, to meet Segundus and see if he and Starecross Hall might suit to the care of his wife.
The letter filled him first with confusion. He was no physician for a sick woman. How had he come to this man’s attention?
And then, as it hit him, that this was another favor, one from John Childermass, it was anger that he felt, that after that had happened that he should interfere in this way, presume as he did that Segundus wanted his help.
The anger then softened into something he could not name. He recalled crying only seven days ago at the news that John Childermass would live. He was exhausted, but he wrote to Sir Walter Pole that a visit would be welcome and told Mr Honeyfoot the visit to York would need to be delayed.
He had forgotten how young she was.
Not that John Childermass had many memories of Lady Pole at all. He did not know the woman much outside that his master had raised her from the dead. That and the fact that whatever magic had done it had, at the time, nearly made him retch with its strength. That such magic, magic to raise the dead, might be stronger than any he had encountered before was not surprising, but there was something else, something that chilled him in its feeling. This was also not surprising, but frightening nonetheless.
That he had not forgotten, the magic itself, but he had that the woman the magic emanated from was so very young.
Childermass was supposed to see Sir Walter, to see if there was not something he could do to ease his mind about his wife’s condition while making it clear that Norrell could offer no help.
Childermass had felt it when he stepped into the house, felt the magic pulsing downward through the ceiling from a place upstairs. He had ignored it as best he could as his coat was taken, as he was shown into a room where he waited to be received. Childermass soon felt, however, like he was swimming against a strong current he knew he was soon to drown in.
He sat in his comfortable chair and he drank tea and he spoke to Sir Walter as firmly as he could, but did not forget gentleness as well in the presence of this clearly broken hearted and exhausted man with dark circles under his eyes. But the magic pulsed still and Childermass could not ignore it, as much as he tried.
Then, the magic became stronger, with a sudden force. The room wobbled in Childermass’ vision and his hands shook. For a moment, the room went black and Childermass was sure he heard a scream as though from far away. Sir Walter had been attempting to ignore Childermass’ unsteadiness for the sake of propriety, but it reached the point after a while where Sir Walter raised his eyebrows and nearly asked after Childermass, but continued on with his conversation instead.
Lady Pole stood at the bottom of the stairs, in a nightdress though it was well into the afternoon, her hair loose. She was small, thin, and she was very, very young.
Childermass dropped the tea. He could not help it. The strength of the magic was such that he lost himself completely.. His foot became wet and the teacup rolled under the chair. Sir Walter called out in surprise.
“I am sorry, sir,” said Childermass.
Childermass opened his eyes for long enough to see a maid run down the stairs and approach Lady Pole. The maid took her carefully by the arm and tried to guide her up the stairs. Childermass kept his eyes open long enough to see Lady Pole turn hers to him.
“You,” Lady Pole said to Childermass. She yanked her arm free of the maid’s grip and tried to walk to him, but was restrained again and struggled against the woman who held her. “You know. You know and you do nothing, just like your master.”
Sir Walter stood from his chair. There was enough time for Childermass to see the immense pain Sir Walter was in watching his wife fight as she was held, and Childermass closed his eyes again.
“My apologies, Childermass. My wife is not well. Please, miss, take her upstairs before she does herself harm.”
Lady Pole grunted as she was moved away, but eventually stopped her struggled and let the maid take her back upstairs. The feeling of the magic lessened as the maid took Lady Pole away, but still, Childermass reeled.
“Are you quite alright?” asked Sir Walter.
“Yes, thank you. I am sorry about the tea.”
“No matter. It’s easily cleaned.”
A moment of disbelief when the feeling of magic returned. Sir Walter’s butler Stephen Black stepped into the room. He blinked at Childermass’ obvious discomfort, as if like Lady Pole he was aware that it was an indication of some sort of knowledge he could not share, but said nothing as he picked up the teacup and put it on the tray with the rest of the things.
When Childermass left the house, he stood for a long time on the street, shakily smoking a pipe as the feeling of the magic lifted from him.
“And what place is this?” asked Walter Pole.
“It is the library, Sir.”
“In a madhouse?”
Sir Walter paused, considering how to smooth over the indiscretion in the face of his host’s polite silence..
“My apologies, Mr Segundus. I had quite forgotten your other venture for a moment.”
Segundus brushed aside the apology with a gentle wave of his hand.
“The library is not well stocked, unfortunately. Does Lady Pole read?”
Sir Walter Pole stared at the mostly empty shelves and he sighed.
“It was, at one point, a favorite hobby of hers. She is an intelligent young woman, Mr Segundus.”
Segundus watched Sir Walter look every place but at him and took time to think of what he might he say that could put him at ease.
“I have not had the pleasure of meeting your wife. But I look forward to it, if this is what you choose.”
Sir Walter turned to him abruptly.
“I have asked about you.”
“When you were recommended, I asked after your character, your disposition, before I wrote to you. I did not see any point in proceeding if I heard unsuitable things.”
“I hope what you heard was to your satisfaction.”
“It had not been, I would not be here.” Sir Walter turned away again. “Mrs Strange told me, when I came to speak to her husband, that if she had a sister who needed such care, that it would be you she would choose. You have made quite an impression, in your short meeting with her and in your correspondence with Mr Strange.”
“It is a high compliment.”
Sir Walter became quiet again and Segundus stood aside and let him take in the room. He was bleary eyed, Sir Walter, and his entire body slumped like he was much older than his face implied.
“What do you say to dinner now, Sir Walter?”
“Thank you. I am feeling very tired.”
The day before Segundus was to leave for York to finally join Mr Honeyfoot on his holiday while Sir Walter made his final choice about sending his wife to Starecross, one of the servants that had remained with Segundus, a young man named Charles, came to him in the library.
“Mr Segundus? You have a visitor.”
“Who is it?”
“I do not know him, sir, but he is from London. A fine gentleman.”
Segundus went through many thoughts very quickly; that Mr Childermass had returned, then that it was Norrell, since he was a fine gentleman. But then he knew it could be neither.
“I will be right there. Please make sure he has tea.”
Segundus pulled on his jacket and was soon downstairs.
There was a man waiting, a tall, fair haired man in very expensive clothing. His jacket was a lush green velvet that reminded Segundus of moss. The man did not stand when Segundus came into the room, or speak, only stared with his light eyes.
“Good afternoon,” Segundus said.
The man looked Segundus up and down in a way that made him begin to blush.
“You,” said the man, “are not what I had thought at all.”
“I am afraid I do not know you, sir.”
“My name is Henry Lascelles. I’ve come to speak with you about a...business opportunity, of sorts.”
“I see. Henry Lascelles. I know your name and for whom you work. Were you as well sent by John Childermass?”
Henry Lascelles’ lip crawled upward in a tilt reminiscent of a smile.
“Not exactly. But we should speak in private, Mr Segundus. This is not a matter for open spaces.”
Charles entered with the tea then, and set it on the table before leaving the room quickly.
“This is not private enough, Mr Lascelles?”
Ignoring the tea, Henry Lascelles stood. Though it was his own home, John Segundus hesitated a moment before leading him up the stairs.
“There is,” said Henry Lascelles. “No delicate way to phrase this.”
“To phrase what, Mr Lascelles?”
The library felt overwarm to Segundus, his clothes too tight. He did not know why he should ne so afraid of a man he had just met, but he was.
“You have had physical relationships with men.”
“Sir, please-” stammered Segundus. His heart pounded and he looked toward the door.
“For money. Specifically several times with John Childermass.”
Segundus gripped the chair next to him to keep himself standing.
“Please. Mr Lascelles. I have left that behind me. We have left that behind us. I was desperate and had nowhere else to turn. I am quite alone in the world. I beg you to not expose me or Mr Childermass.”
“You have left it behind you, you say?”
“I assure you.”
“I see. Then my trip is, I suppose, wasted.”
“I had come to make an offer of an evening with you. A very generous one. But if you are retired from that…”
Segundus sunk into the chair that he held on to.
“Perhaps you want to think on it.”
There was a knock on the door and Segundus jumped.
“Lunch, Mr Segundus,’ said Charles.
“Yes, thank you.’
Segundus looked up to see Henry Lascelles leaned against his desk, waiting for an invitation to his table.
Mr Henry Lascelles was not impressed with the lunch on offer at Starecross.
Segundus could tell though he said little. Next to nothing, in fact. Mr Lascelles’ eyes were very expressive as he took in the table and his host both.
Segundus was unable to say much or eat much either. The conversation in the library and its implications had burrowed deep in him, upsetting his stomach to the point of nausea.
He jumped at the sound of his own name. It was, however, only Charles, hovering behind his chair. He frowned heavily.
Henry Lascelles watched them and he set down his fork next to his plate. He had left most of his roast untouched and when he put his cutlery on the table, Segundus watched his eyes linger on a loose thread on the napkin he placed it on.
“Please be careful, Mr Segundus. I fear you nearly fell from chair just then?”
“Thank you, Charles.”
“Do you need to retire to your bed, sir? You seem quite ill.”
Segundus picked up his own napkin and wiped at his sweaty forehead. Bile rose to the top of his throat.
“Not just now. I have a guest.”
Mr Henry Lascelles continued to sit at the other end of the table in silence. Charles nodded and kept his place behind Segundus’ chair.
“Mr Segundus? Will your guest stay for dinner as well? It’s just... the cook will want to know. And if he will stay overnight, I will need to make up a room.”
“Unnecessary,” said Mr Lascelles. “I will leave after lunch.”
He wiped at his mouth, a sort of mirror of Segundus’ action earlier dabbing away sweat from his forehead, and then sipped at his water.
“Yes, Charles. Mr Lascelles plans to leave after lunch.”
“But I will take tea.”
“Of course, sir.”
Charles looked back at Segundus before leaving the room. Segundus tried a comforting nod back at him, but he knew it did not amount to much.
The room was silent. Segundus reached for his water to cool the hot, sick feeling in his mouth, but his shaky hand knocked over the glass and it spilled onto the table. Mr Lascelles made a quiet noise of derision into his napkin, but said nothing. Segundus sighed in defeat at the water soaking into the table cloth.
“Please, Mr Lascelles. Please, stop this campaign.”
“What campaign? I am only trying to help. You need money and I have it. This is nothing you haven’t done before. There is no need to look so frightened.”
But he was.
“You will not use this information against Mr Childermass?”
“How could I, without implicating myself as well, now that I have propositioned you? Do you smoke, Mr Segundus?”
“Hm. Well, it can be quite calming. You must relax. It is not as though anything is to happen at this moment.”
Henry Lascelles said nothing further. Charles creaked the door open and poked his head into the dining room.
“I will clear the table, Mr Segundus, if you like. Tea is ready.”
Lascelles stood and Segundus rushed to his feet as well. Charles held the door open and together, Mr Lascelles and Mr Segundus went into the drawing room.
Segundus remains nervous of the intentions of Lascelles, but what will he decide?
An invitation takes Segundus away from home.
When the man named Henry Lascelles left, Segundus excused himself to his room.
Tea cups still on the table. Why had Segundus never noticed before the flower pattern on this set? It must have been something Mrs Lennox had supplied. Charles had brought cake for Segundus and Mr Lascelles and stood with it in the doorway, a plate in each hand.
The ordinary journey upstairs took all the rest of his energy. Even on the stairs, Segundus heard the sound of Mr Lascelles’ coach leaving. Charles called his name once, feebly.
“I am well.”
Segundus took two more queasy steps.
“I am well. Very well, Charles. Excuse me.”
Another step. His vision went fuzzy as though he were drunk. His two feet, for a moment, became four. Grasping at the banister, Segundus felt the sharp, concentrated pain of a splinter goin go into his palm and he pulled it out.
A small spot of red at the place where the splinter had been removed.
In his room, Segundus fell to his bed.
Charles knocked on his door a few times over the next several hours and after being told each one that Segundus did not want any dinner or anything else, he left and did not return.
The afternoon darkened to evening. Segundus heard Charles go about the normal chores of settling the house for the night. When there was no noise in the house, Segundus dared to get up from the bed where he had laid trembling for hours.
He tried for silence as he moved to his desk and lit a candle there.
The plan was to write a forceful letter to Henry Lascelles, refusing the offer he had come so far to present. Segundus’ thoughts had been muddled by embarrassment and the proximity of Mr Lascelles, who had made him so nervous, but now that he was gone, Segundus felt more confident.
He smoothed his clothes wrinkled from hours in bed and neatened his hair. A swallow cleared the scratchy feeling from his throat. There must be some way to refuse and still keep secret what all had happened, some way to help him and Mr Childermass both. The blank piece of paper he pulled out did not have the answer.
The quiet of the county night surrounded him and as it pressed in, the silence made it hard for him to think. Segundus wished for a noise other than the beating of his own heart.
The trembling from earlier had not quite left him, either. His hand shook. Was it the cool of the evening as well? A breeze moved his curtain in a slow wave that Segundus found he could not stop watching, so much was it like how a body might move, like the muscles of a man's stomach when he moved from lying down to sitting.
Segundus looked over to his rumpled bed. He could still see where he had spent the afternoon, a clear imprint of his body. He only wanted to return to that bed now, to sleep. In truth, he wished he were in York, at the house of his friend Mr Honeyfoot, full of a good dinner and listening to the sounds of Mr Honeyfoot’s family.
Segundus left his room and went downstairs. Dinner was still in the kitchen waiting for him, cold now but there. He lifted the cover from the plate, poured himself a glass of water.
Segundus’ anxiety was still such that he was moved to nausea, but he managed a few bites of food and his head felt clearer for it and for the glass of water. The muddled events of the afternoon separated and cleared in his mind: he remembered again the soft, green color of guest’s jacket, the clinking of his fork against a plate. Mr Lascelles had worn scent as well, light but distinctive, and Segundus smelled it still.
I cannot write, after all, he thought. I cannot, not tonight.
John Segundus returned to his bed after taking from the cupboard an extra blanket to ease the night’s chill and his own shaking.
He tried to tell himself that there may not after all be anything to fear. Mr Lascelles must have been in possession of this information for some time and had done nothing with it. Perhaps this was all he intended, confusing and intimidating as his actions were. Segundus pulled the covers over his head.
Perhaps I have misunderstood him. Segundus thought on this. Perhaps my own fear and shame have led me to a wrong conclusion.
Sleep is the thing. It is better to think of this in the morning, when the day is bright.
It was not like Henry Lascelles to be away for long and as it turned out, he was not.
His trip had been undertaken suddenly and he returned within a few days, offering no explanation of where he had been. Lascelles was simply back in the library one day as though he had never gone, and once again, the light smell of the scent he wore traveled the room with each breeze.
Lascelles smiled when he returned to the library at Hanover Square for his usual work and it put Childermass out of sorts. He kept some secret and it seemed to Childermass that he wanted it to be known that he did. Childermass was left feeling like a moth pinned under glass in a collection.
He hummed a little, an act most unlike him, and a song Childermass was sure he knew but could not place.
“Where is Drawlight this morning?” asked Norrell.
“I don’t know,” said Lascelles. He was settled comfortably in his usual place and did not look up as he began writing, but he smiled. “I have not been back long. In fact, I arrived home late yesterday evening.”
“I see,” said Norrell.
“I am actually very tired.”
A pause heavily weighted by its emptiness. Norrell looked at Lascelles and squirmed in his chair.
“Childermass. Some more tea for Mr Lascelles?”
The pause, Childermass’ this time, was short. Childermass waited only a second before moving toward the door to do as he was asked. It was noticed, however, and Norrell and Lascelles looked up at him.
Childermass nodded as he took the first step toward leaving the room. The scratching of quills resumed as he shut the door and Henry Lascelles gave a satisfied cough.
It was not often that John Childermass was alone with Henry Lascelles, but when he walked into the library this time, a few days after Lascelles’ return from his mysterious trip, he was.
Childermass had been sent out on an errand that morning and after returning, found the library empty but for Lascelles, alone at the desk.
“Where is Mr Norrell?”
“He has a headache and he has gone to his room until after lunch.”
Lascelles, occupied in quiet reading of a thin journal whose title Childermass could not see, did not look up.
“A fascinating topic,” Lascelles said.
Childermass said nothing and Lascelles happily repeated what he had said.
“A fascinating topic.”
“Martin Pale and his fairy servants.”
“You have never taken any real interest in magic history before. Sir.”
Lascelles turned a page and read the first sentence on it while Childermass watched.
“Perhaps it is that I have not had the benefit of the best authors on the subject. This man, however, is quite well informed and compelling.”
Blue eyes scanned the page. A quick blink. That was all and Childermass felt unsettled. He kept his face as composed as he could.
“Good for him.”
“You are interested very much in magical history, Childermass.”
“I wonder if you have read this particular article.”
Lascelles held up the journal in his hand. Childermass knew it well. He had come to it many times after meeting John Segundus, to reread this work of his. He had made notes in the margins, always thinking he might speak to Segundus about it one day.
“I think you have, maybe.”
“I think you know that I have. My notes are in the margins.”
Lascelles closed the journal and tutted at it.
“Such a shame, isn’t it, that a smart man and one as hardworking as this Mr Segundus should come to what he has.
Especially after meeting him, I am shocked. He hardly seems capable of it at all.”
What do you mean? Childermass thought he asked this question, but the room was quiet. He tried to speak again but could not. Lascelles retrieved his watch from his pocket and looked at it.
“Oh, I have just seen the time. I really must be going. Please tell Mr Norrell that I hope his headache is better. ”
Henry Lascelles pushed back his chair and by the time Childermass had begun to think clearly again, he was gone from the room.
Lady Pole’s servants arrived before she did.
They came with a bed and other furniture, trunks of clothes to prepare for her arrival. There was a room that had been chosen for Lady Pole for its peaceful view of the grounds soon her husband’s servants had made it a comfortable place indeed.
The hall was noisy while they worked and the house seemed cheerfully full. Charles in particular enjoyed the company and moved through Starecross with renewed energy as he helped with the preparations for the arrival of Lady Pole. What food did she prefer? A room must be prepared for a lady’s maid, he reminded Segundus, and was left to sort these things with Segundus’ permission and the money Sir Walter had sent.
Segundus, meanwhile, could not settle.
Jonathan Strange had invited him to London to a reading of the first chapter of his new book and to the farewell party that he would throw before his departure for Venice.
The day after that invitation arrived, another letter did, a very short one. This was the cause of his anxiety.
It was from Henry Lascelles and it invited Segundus to his home while he was in London, to discuss their previous arrangement. How Lascelles had known he had been invited to London, Segundus did not know, but despite the very little Segundus knew of the man, he was somehow not surprised.
He responded to Strange that he accepted. Mrs Lennox, as payment for a spring’s hard work in finishing the closing of the school, had sent a bank draft to Segundus which she said she hoped he would use to have a holiday. Segundus wrote as well to Sir Walter Pole to inquire if his wife might like to meet him before her move. For the first time in months, he wrote to Mr Childermass. Segundus was sure that Childermass was aware of his visit, as Mr Childermass was usually aware of everything, but he wrote anyway. He could think of nothing at this point to be lost.
The letter from Henry Lascelles sat on his desk for days. Then, Segundus moved it to the drawer so that he did not have to see it. He still did not write back. The hall filled with voices, the sound of moving furniture, Charles’ laughter. Segundus packed for his trip and spent the days busy ensuring that when he returned from London that everything would be prepared for Lady Pole’s arrival.
The letter from Henry Lascelles stayed out of sight, but all the time, Segundus knew that it was there.
There was a short heatwave in London and it was in its height at Segundus’ arrival. Segundus arrived at Soho Square in the afternoon, dizzy and sweating from the ride in the sweltering coach. .
Jonathan Strange’s house was oddly cluttered and empty at once. Much of the packing for Venice and emptying of his house for the extended trip abroad was done, but touches of Mrs Strange still hung about the home, things Segundus got the impression Strange did not have the heart to move or leave or get rid of. Segundus noticed a basket of knitting still by a chair, a woman's coat hung by the door.
Strange himself came to greet Segundus when he arrived, but distractedly, hardly looking at Segundus at all as he shook his hand and asked after his journey. Mr Strange was, to Segundus’ guess, much worn down, but filled with a contradictory nervous energy. Strange moved frequently, even while standing still, but his face was thin and pale. Deep hollows, purple in color, had settled under his eyes.
A servant showed Segundus to his room. It was large and made bright by tall windows that let in the sun. The bed was covered with a plush down quilt that would not be needed in the heat.
Strange worked in his study until dinner and Segundus had no plans. He was oddly nervous to go out for a walk and just as nervous to go around Strange’s home. He stayed in his room with a book for hours until dinner was announced and he washed the sweat from his face before going downstairs.
Mr Strange’s pupils were in attendance at dinner as well. Segundus sat quietly and listened to them talk of their plans for magical study, trying not to be jealous and stories of war and life and London and of their obvious closeness to each other and to their teacher. He focused on his food and let his thoughts wander far from Jonathan Strange’s dinner table.
“But Mr Segundus!”
His attention was draw back by the animated conversation of Mr Levy.
“You were one of the famed society at York?”
“I was,” said Segundus.
“Still is,” muttered Jonathan Strange. His exhaustion was such that he very nearly yawned. “The last of them.”
“Well done!” This was the young soldier, Hadley-Bright. He finished his sentence with a clap on Segundus’ shoulder and smiled a wise, bright smile. Hadley-Bright was the tallest man at the table and his youth and energy had made Segundus feel older than he had in very long time. “Escaping from Norrell’s plans is no easy feat. Huzzah!”
“How did you manage?” asked Purfois. He leaned in expectantly, wine glass in hand, obviously anticipating an exciting story. It was not, in fact, a very exciting story. Especially considering how recently he had fallen victim to one of Gilbert Norrell’s schemes, Segundus was embarrassed to have attention drawn to it.
“I...I, well, said no.”
“You said no?” asked Hadley-Bright.
“Yes. I said I would not sign the contract. There was some discussion. It was allowed.”
The table grew quiet.
“Even so!” said Tom Levy at last. “You were the only one to say no.”
“Yes!” exclaimed the other two men. They raised their wine glasses. There was a toast to Segundus and he blushed rather deeply after a very feeble attempt to stop it. Strange shrugged tiredly in apology and Segundus accepted with a weak smile.
Segundus was allowed to retreat back into his own thoughts after that, and was very glad for it. The conversation continued around him and eventually, dinner ended.
John Segundus was in London.
He had known before Segundus letter arrived that Strange had invited him and now, he jsf arrived. Childermass was not sure what he would do with that information until the evening of Segundus’ first day in town, when he decided very quickly. He would go to him.
Mr Norrell went to bed early that evening as they sat together going over the day’s business, Childermass said suddenly;
“I will go to Soho Square this evening after this business is completed, Mr Norrell, if you have no other work for me besides the normal.”
“For what? Why would you go to Soho Square?”
“To go to Mr Strange’s, of course. I know no other person there.”
He met Norrell’s eyes when he spoke and Norell took some time to read his expression. He approved of what he saw and nodded faintly.
Norrell grumbled to himself for a moment, but in the end said that there was other work, no reason for Childermass not to go to Strange’s. They finished their work and Childermass brought a last cup of tea to Norrell’s room before going for his hat and leaving.
He walked over, arriving sweaty from the still persistent heat, and approached the house at an hour still early. The lights in Strange’s house were on and Childermass heard music and laughter from the street. He knocked on the door and it was answered by a petite young maid who still wore a black band of mourning around her arm for her mistress.
“I would like to speak to one of Mr Strange’s guests, please, if it is possible.”
The maid stepped aside and Childermass waited until she returned to show him to the parlor.
There was a small party of sorts; two of Strange’s pupils smoked cigars and laughed with each other and the third, the small dancing master, was at the piano.
Strange sat near the two men with the cigars, as if he had been part of the conversation but left it. John Segundus sat alone with a full glass of wine. The other men had discarded jackets and the dancing master was in his shirtsleeves. Only Segundus was still dressed for dinner.
Strange looked up and called out. The music meandered to a halt.
“Mr Strange. Sorry to interrupt. I know I'm not expected.”
“No, it is not that all. Please, come in and have a seat, if you would like, and some refreshment.”
“No, thank you. I was here to speak to Mr Segundus, if he has time and is willing.”
“You know Segundus?” Strange shook his head at himself. “Of course.”
Every person in the room looked now at John Segundus, whose already large eyes widened at the unexpected attention of every person in the room.
“Excuse me,” said Childermass. He wiped his sweaty forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. “I’ve intruded. I did not know that Mr Strange was entertaining.”
Segundus set down his wine and stood. The other guests stared opened-mouthed.
“Very well,” he said. “Let us speak.”
“There you go!” said the tall one, Hadley-Bright. He was a bit drunk, a bit loud, the apples of his cheeks red. He applauded Segundus once, but it was too much for the small space and the other men in the room flinched.
“Tell him what’s what!” said his smoking companion with just as much vigor. He waved his cigar. Ash snowed onto the arm of the sofa.
“Men, men,” said Strange.
They left the parlor and walked toward the entrance to the house again. Alone, they stood in silence.
“It is a nice evening,” said Childermass. “If you would like to go outside, where we will have privacy of a sort.”
The music started up again and Segundus nodded. Childermass opened the door and the two walked out into the street.
Childermass had been surprised that Segundus wrote to him and was just as surprised at the ease he felt between them as they set off. He was unsure if Segundus, who looked very tired, was too weary for a fight or if he was forgiven. Even Segundus’ magic, normally effervescent, trailed him with no energy, like a tired dog.
The two men walked several blocks before Childermass spoke.
“Are you enjoying your stay so far?”
“Well enough,” said Segundus. “I am no match in energy for Mr Strange’s pupil’s, however and the trip was long. I feel a bit tired.”
“Is something bothering you? Besides of course…”
It was several steps before Segundus responded.
“I cannot say. Not in the street, nor any place really. But I am worried, yes.”
Childermass studied the street quickly. He then did the magic to conceal their voices from being heard and Segundus grasped his arm as the spell of concealment enveloped them as well.
“You may speak.”
Segundus’ cheeks were deeply flushed from the walk and the warmth of the evening. He shook his head.
“It is...I cannot say. I am too embarrassed.”
“You know you are not heard. You may be free in your speech.”
Segundus took a deep breath and let go of Childermass’ arm. Childermass was reminded of a time, John Segundus’ body under his, when he had called the man lovely. He still felt it was true.
“It is the oddest thing. A frightening thing. You know Henry Lascelles, I believe?”
The beating of John Childermass’ heart became for a moment irregular, frantic, to hear Segundus say that name.
“I do. Of course I do. What does he have to do with anything?”
“He has...He has discovered me. Discovered us, Mr Childermass.”
“In what way?”
“He…” Segundus brought his hands to his face. “He is aware of what we have done. He is aware that I have sold myself. To you.”
They stopped walking at the same time and looked at each other. Childermass pulled the shadow to them and now, Segundus reached, only for a second, for his hand, but dropped it quickly.
“I am scared, John. What does he mean by this?”
“I don’t know. Has he threatened anything?”
“No. Not at all. It is something of the opposite.”
“What do you mean?”
“He quoted me a large sum to, well, to provide the same service. To him.”
All of the magic fell away instantly and in the moment, a man with an armful of packages ran into Segundus and fell on his back to the ground. His hat went into a puddle when it fell from his head during the tumble and his packages scattered on the street.
The man and Segundus called out at the same time.
Segundus bent to help the man to his feet and when his wits were his again, Childermass bent to pick up the packages on the ground and retrieve the hat from the puddle.
“You came out of nowhere!”
It was now Segundus and Childermass who spoke together.
The man huffed and accepted the boxes as Childermass handed them to him. The last was the hat, dripping muddy water.
“I hope nothing is broken! Oh, my hat! I’m sure it’s ruined.”
The man took the last of his belongings and scrambled quickly away from them, muttering to himself.
“Are you alright?”
“I am fine,” said Segundus. “But Mr Childermass, I am very tired. Very tired. And I do not think we can finish our discussion just now.”
“I will take you back to Mr Strange’s.”
They walked in silence back Soho Square. Each said good night and Childermas watched Segundus go back into Strange’s home.
Childermass went back to Hanover Square. The house was quiet and mostly dark.
It was a hot day and Childermass wanted a cool bath. He retrieved a bucket of cold water and a cloth and went to his room, where he stripped off his sweaty clothes and wiped himself down until his skin was cool and clean. His hair was damp with sweat and he washed it as well, lathering it with his bit of soap and then rinsing and brushing it out. Childermass was undisturbed as he had a pipe sitting on his bed.
He went to sleep full of guilt, knowing that were it not for him, Henry Lascelles would not know nor care who John Segundus was.
The reading from Mr Strange’s new book took place in an upscale shop.
Segundus, despite the improved quality of clothes he wore since becoming Mrs Lennox’s patron, felt out of place among the people who had come to listen to Strange read. There seemed to be few people there with an interest in magic and many with an interest in the tall and handsome magician, recently a war hero and widow both, and a man separated from his tutor. They were rich people, city people.
Segundus sat quietly during the event and the reception. He felt more than a bit inadequate among the fine, London crowd and he dreaded even more the leaving party to follow, back at Mr Strange’s.
In the coach he shared with Strange’s pupils, Segundus felt overwarm and cramped. The heatwave had broken, but the streets were still so warm, and in the coach, Segundus again began to sweat.
Strange’s party was not any better. It was crowded and full of jolly music. Segundus held the same glass of wine for the entire party so that he would not be given another. He spoke to very few people. A place to sit was not forthcoming, so he stood in a corner waiting for it to be late enough for him to tell Mr Strange that he would retire to his room now. He had nearly reached that time when he felt the magic of John Childermass wrap around him. He turned. Mr Childermass stood there at his elbow, looking as tidy as Segundus had ever seen him; his faded clothes pressed and dust free, no smell of the outdoors or work on him, which Segundus felt he very much missed and then chided himself for missing. His hair was loose and Segundus noticed a shine to it.
“I did not know that you were invited as well.”
“Mr Norrell was, as a measure of goodwill. He did not want to attend, so I did. Mr Norrell hopes I will be able to bring back some news, but there is nothing new. I won’t stay long. I feel like a weed in a nice garden.”
Segundus smiled. He took another sip of his wine, one of only a few he had allowed himself.
The magic fell away suddenly again, as it had the night before, leaving Segundus breathless. With a gasp, he stumbled, though he stood still.
As quickly and quietly as he had appeared, John Childermass left his side.
Try as he might, Segundus could not find him for the rest of the party, no matter how he searched the crowd.
Segundus fell asleep to the noise of the party and woke to a knock at the door.
“Breakfast, Mr Segundus, if you would like to join the others.”
“Yes, thank you,” he mumbled. He rolled over and untangled himself from his sweaty sheets. It had been so warm he had slept nude and the morning offered a small breeze that nudged at his back.
When he was dressed, Segundus went to the dining room, where Strange and his pupils were all gathered and talking energetically as though Segundus had not heard them doing just the same only a few hours before.
He took a seat and assembled a plate for himself. As he began to eat, a young footman entered with a letter on a tray.
“This has arrived for Mr Segundus.”
He set it on the table and Segundus went pale when he recognized the handwriting on the envelope.
Strange looked up as well and when he saw the letter, he frowned.
“What,” he said “is Henry Lascelles doing writing to you?”
Segundus makes a choice regarding Lascelles' offer.
I have worked in my middle name for Segundus into this chapter (HUZZAH!) and Welsh Hannah returns. Sorry, Hannah, things could have gone better for you in this chapter, but at least I didn't kill you and leave your husband a widower this time. One day I will make it up.
He did not tell Strange of his plans.
There was one day left before the house at 31 Soho Square would empty and Strange would leave for Venice and his guests for their own homes. Segundus would return to Starecross and begin his work caring for Lady Pole. The problem of Mr Lacelles had to be solved before he left and so, it must be solved today.
After breakfast, Segundus went upstairs to his room and checked his appearance. It was well enough. He then went downstairs for his outdoor garments, which in the heat was only a hat that he had realized since arriving in town was out of fashion.
Tom Levy and his friends were in the parlor without their tutor, each with a book though none of them seemed to be reading. There was, in fact, a pot of coffee and a deck of cards on the table in front of them. Segundus thought that if he had the benefit of these books and Mr Strange’s tutelage that he would not squander them, but he thought himself ungracious for that and pushed the thought aside.
“I am going for a walk, Mr Levy.”
“Ah, good.” Tom Levy yawned and it spread to the other two men. “Will we see you at lunch?”
“I am not sure,” said Segundus. “I have told Mr Strange I am going. Good morning, sirs. Enjoy your studies.”
He was not going for a walk, or not only going for a walk. He planned to visit Henry Lascelles and tell him, to ask him, to please not communicate with him any more. But this was not something he could say out loud to Jonathan Strange’s pupils, so he nodded at the three men and he left.
London was a large and confusing city and Segundus was soon lost, jostled but the crowds and jumping at every loud noise. He got in people's way and they glared. It had not been so long ago he was in London he remembered enjoying it much more. Segundus had to steel himself to ask for directions no less than three times. He acquired a sunburn on the tip of his nose before he finally found the place.
The door was answered by a maid who was the most beautiful woman Segundus had ever seen; tall and voluptuously figured, black curls loose around her shoulders. Her clothes were nicer than any Segundus had ever seen on a servant before or indeed than what Segundus himself wore, crisp black dress to her calves, stockings that looked to be silk, and shining shoes.
“Is Mr Lascelles at home?”
“One moment, sir.”
She spoke softly with a thick Irish accent so charming it reminded him of Mr Levy’s skillful piano playing.
Segundus was left to stand in the doorway until Lascelles appeared. He wore a white shirt and a grayish, purplish jacket that both could have come directly from the tailor. The maid stood behind him, staring at the floor.
“Mr Segundus. You did not write that you were coming.”
Segundus squirmed and eventually squeaked out an apology. Lascelles dismissed the maid without speaking and motioned Segundus into the house.
The room he entered was well furnished. The walls had been papered a pearlescent pink and the sofa and chairs were made of well polished wood and upholstered with a bright blue fabric that complimented it well. Mr Lascelles had a cuckoo clock and as the door closed, 1:00 struck and a small mechanical bird appeared through the doors with a loud call and retreated.
“Sit down,” said Lascelles.
And Segundus did.
Lascelles said nothing and followed him to another seat.
“Mr Segundus, I am not sure how they do things in the countryside, but in London, when a letter arrives for a man issuing an invitation, he responds in writing to set a date and time before showing up at the house of the person who sent it.”
Segundus wiped his palms on his trousers. He was desperate for a glass of water.
“It is the same,” he mumbled.
“What was that? You must speak speak up. I cannot hear a thing you are saying.”
“It is the same, Mr Lascelles.”
The pretty maid entered with a tray of tea things and left promptly without so much as a sound, black hair bouncing behind her.
“Her name is Florence,” said Lascelles. He leaned in to take a cup from the tray.
“My maid. Her name is Florence. Though, I am surprised, knowing what I do about you, to see you watching her.”
Segundus, in the process of taking a cup of tea for himself, nearly dropped it in his lap. Lascelles dropped a spoonful of sugar into his own cup. Lascelles raised a pale eyebrow.
“Do be careful, if you can. The set is an heirloom.”
Segundus had burned his thumb when hot tea splashed onto it, and a few scalding drops fell into his lap, but he said nothing. Lascelles poured himself a cup of tea.
“I am sure you have never seen a maid allowed to wear her hair down.”
Segundus shook his head.
“Other maids do not have Florence’s hair. It seemed a shame to waste. We are both the happier for her having it down.” Lascelles took a drink from his tea cup. “What have you decided? I can only assume that is why you’re here.”
Segundus slumped down into his chair. He coughed as he tried his hardest to say the word please.
“You really must speak up,” said Lascelles.
“Mr Lascelles.” He filled his lungs with air. “I must ask you to please not write to me again.”
“Very well. I will not.”
“And please, do not use the information you’ve gathered against John Childermass in any way.”
Lascelles put down his tea cup with a sigh.
“Mr Segundus, I have already explained why that is unlikely to work in my favor now that I have shown myself to you as someone who enjoys, from time to time, the same. And anyway should I ever claim that never happened, with your reputation as someone completely incapable of lying, if it came to my word against yours, who would believe me?”
Lascelles was somehow able to cross his arms and still hold his tea.
“Segundus, I feel I’ve heard all of this before. Have you anything new to say? For example, yes or no to returning this evening and taking my money for a few hours work?”
Segundus gave up on the tea and set his cup in front of him.
“I have employment again.”
“Yes, caring for Lady Pole.”
“So I do not need any money from you.”
Lascelles shrugged. For someone speaking of highly illegal acts, he seemed extraordinarily bored.
“It seems to me that your life has been at best unvariable. You never know what may happen. Look at how easy it was to close a society and a school. Look at how you were abandoned by Mr Strange when that happened and by Childermass. What if Gilbert Norrell should decide that being a madhouse keeper is not a suitable occupation for you either? He seems oddly intent on ruining you and no one is currently willing to stop him.”
Segundus realized that his mouth hung open and he shut it. Henry Lascelles regarded the bottom of his tea cup.
“It is something to think about, at least, that just because you do not have need of money today does not mean that you will not tomorrow. To sell yourself is a thing you have already done and seem to have come to terms with. One more time is not so large a choice, surely.”
Lascelles had finished his tea and he stood.
“I have no engagements this evening. If you return, you return. Good afternoon. Please, finish your tea. Florence will bring cake if you wish. There is a bell there on the tray. She will come if you need her. I regret I can't invite you to lunch. You did not write you were coming and I'm not prepared for guests.”
Lascelles left the room and Segundus was alone.
The cuckoo in the clock emerged again at the quarter hour and opened his small wooden, beak to call out the time. Segundus noticed for the first time his reflection in a large mirror above the fireplace; his hair crushed from sweat and from being under his hat, his nose a dull pink.
John Childermass returned to his room from Jonathan Strange’s party and locked the door.
Since seeing Segundus yesterday and hearing of Lascelles’ plan, Childermass had been trying to discern how Lascelles had learned of what had happened between them those evenings when Segundus had accepted money for being with him.
In the end, Childermass had not needed long to place the blame on himself and Christopher Drawlight. Everything a man might need to piece things together had been in his room; letters, his ledger with the money he had given Segundus carefully noted as negative. He had of course never written where the money he made note of had gone, but with the letters from Segundus and the journal where his writing was published filled in with Childermass’ notes in the margins, it would be easy enough discern. Lascelles would never go into his room, but he did not need to, not with Drawlight around.
Childermass sat down on his bed. He untied the cravat at his throat and let cooler air onto his clammy skin.
Segundus had looked miserable at Strange’s party. Segundus had, if Childermass thought back, looked miserable the evening before as well, when he came to Strange’s home to speak to him, staring down at the street, asking in his polite way to go back. He would of course look miserable, considering what had happened. It was the magic he remembered the most, the sallow, unenergetic feel of Segundus’ magic, oddly cold against his skin. It had whined softly in Childermass’ ear and he could still hear it. It sounded like the sick children he known growing up, lying cold on pallets on the floor.
No sooner had Childermass sat down than there was a knock at his door. Only the footmen were still awake, waiting for him, and he heard Lucas speak from the other side of the door.
“Mr Norrell heard you return and wants to see you immediately.”
Childermass sighed and pulled himself up from the bed.
Norrell was in the library, a thing which surprised Childermass to see considering the lateness of the hour. Many candles were lit and he paced. Each flame jumped as one when Childermass closed the door.
“He is really leaving?” asked Norrell.
“By all appearances, yes. The packed away house would suggest that.”
“And the book?”
“It is the same as what Mr Strange has already showed you. There are no changes.”
Norrell slid down into a chair and groaned, his face in his hands.
“Why does he do these things Childermass?”
“Mr Strange is a spirited young man that is currently heartbroken. It's no surprise that he seeks a change. The book is half your doing, Mr Norrell. You taught him well and it shows.”
Norrel removed his spectacles and put them on the table. Candlelight flowed through the lenses. Norrell had grown thin in the last months. His clothes would need to be taken in soon, Childermass thought, if he continued to not eat and to worry so much.
“There is still time,” said Childermass. “You could go see him. He will still go, but he could go with you as friends again, or at least with an understanding reached.”
Holding tight to his wig, Norrell shook his head.
“No. No, it’s not possible. Not with what he has written. Not if he still plans to publish that horrible book.”
“Then at least go to bed, sir. It is late and you are tired.”
Norrell nodded and Childermass began to blow out the candles in the library and neaten the pages scattered on Norrell’s desk. The last candle Childermass held in his hand to light their way to Norrell’s bedroom.
“I hear that man has come to London. The one who tried to start the school.”
“He is going to be a madhouse keeper now. For that woman who shot you.”
“The woman you raised from the dead. Lady Pole.”
Norrell huffed as Childermass opened the door to his bedroom, the usual fear at the mention of Lady Pole and the magic that had been done on her was clear in Norrell’s face.
“Do you need anything else tonight?”
“No,” said Norrell. “No. You may leave.”
Childermass lingered only long enough to light a candle for Norrell with his, and then went back to his own room.
The leather bound account book where Childermass recorded his earnings sat on the desk. There were many reasons he was unlikely to forget the three encounters where he had paid for John Segundus. One of them was that here, each date was recorded and the amount of money given to Segundus subtracted. They were the only expenses without a note of explanation; highly conspicuous, especially for such large amounts.
Childermass took his cards from his pocket and lit a pipe. He did not read but the feeling of the paper in his hands, their special magic and they way it tickled his palms was a comfort. Smoke rose to the top of his ceiling as he continued to smoke.
Soon, an hour had passed and nothing had come to him, no plan for how to protect John Segundus. Not for the first time, Childermass thought again how much better it would have been for John Segundus if they had never met.
Segundus arrived back to the house at Soho Square to find a game of cards underway. Three fine jackets were hung over the backs of the three chairs where Hadley-Bright, Purfois, and Tom Levy sat.
“Hello, Segundus!” called Hadley-Bright. He smiled his white smile at Segundus. Segundus felt that he had risen in their estimations the evening before when he had, to their viewing, gone off to have heated words with Gilbert Norrell’s man of business. “I have just beaten these fellows. Care to join the next game?”
“I do not play. But thank you.”
“Come, come,” said Tom Levy. “I can teach you.”
“You do not want him to teach you,” said Purfois. “He is very bad.”
The other three men laughed. Segundus hung his hat and pushed his sweaty hair away from his forehead.
“I am afraid I'm not well, sirs. But again, thank you. I will go and rest.”
“Another time!” called Hadley-Bright. “This evening!”
“Yes!” said Tom Levy. “We will find your game. Every man has a game! And take heart, you can't be worse than I am!”
The game started up again with another loud chorus of laughter as Segundus climbed the stairs. He passed Strange's study, where the door was closed. Segundus was sure Strange did magic and he stood, trying to feel it, but he could not discern more than the faintest whisper of it.
If Mr Childermass were here-
He stopped the thought before it finished.
Segundus slept well on the soft bed in Strange’s guest room and woke to the smell of dinner cooking and the sound of the rambunctious taking of Mr Hadley Bright, Mr Purfois, and Mr Levy coming from the parlor. He stripped and left his sweaty clothes hanging on a chair. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he wiped the sweat from his body with a cool rag and dressed again as he heard coaches begin to pull up outside the house.
Strange’s leaving dinner was larger and more formal than the others since Segundus had been in town. There were twenty people in attendance, many with titles and positions in the army, and the food was rich and fine. They were served on Strange’s best dishes, an antique set. Segundus was sat next to Strange's pupils, which meant many eyes looked his way, but also meant no one really expected him to speak. Strange did most of the talking at any rate, answering the endless series of questions posed to him. It made Segundus tired just watching him.
After dinner, Segundus said quietly into the room of chatting and smoking men that he was going for a bit of fresh air. Strange raised a hand in parting at him and looked up for a moment from his conversation. He paused watching Segundus for a moment and a frown developed on his face. Segundus shook his head to tell him not to worry and left quickly.
Segundus stepped onto the street and began to retrace his steps from the afternoon.
Hanover Square walked on eggshells.
The day had started with Norrell in a temper few of his servants had seen. His noise sent nearly everyone scattering to be far away. When Norrell had finally breakfasted and dressed, Childermass quickly led him to the library, where he locked the door.
“Mr Norrel, please, I know you're upset about Mr Strange leaving and about his book, but Hannah has done nothing and you must not shout at her.”
Childermass rolled his eyes.
“The maid who passed by your room this morning that you said walked too loudly and made cry. She is small and Welsh.”
Norrell sat down at his desk.
“Make sure the maid has an extra afternoon off or something of the sort.”
“It will be done. For Hannah. I will tell her you're sorry as well.”
He watched Norrell pointedly until he managed a small nod.
Norrell pulled books from the shelves, a stack of them, but he did not read. He flipped through pages with no direction. He brought up old grievances against the authors. Soon, Norrell was so anxious that he was covered in sweat and sick to his stomach.
“You must return to bed, sir,” Childermass said.
Norrell gave in quickly and was soon back in his room. The rest of the morning was spent in calming both the servants and Norrell. The house had a pulse of tension run through it. The day passed in a haze of small chores, of comforting wounded feelings, and of the scent of lemons in cups of tea brought to his master. It was not until late evening, after Norrell had fallen asleep early, that Childermass was brought the letter with the familiar handwriting of John Segundus on the envelope.
The letter was very short. It thanked Childermass for his visit earlier in the week and for his concern and wished him well.
I am working to put past unpleasantness behind us. I can tell you that do the same and I thank you.
Your friend, John E. Segundus.
For no reason that Childermass could explain, the letter chilled him. He felt the paper grow damp in his palm as he began to sweat. He folded it and stuck it in his pocket before going off to find Davey.
“I am going for a little while. Mr Norrell is asleep and shouldn't bother anyone. I will try to return before he wakes. Just bring him tea if he does and tell him I will be back soon.”
Childermass grabbed his hat and rushed to Jonathan Strange’s.
His leaving dinner had finished and when Childermass was shown inside, Strange was chatting with a small group of well dressed men. He pulled away immediately when he saw Childermass enter.
“What is it? Is it word from Mr Norrell?”
“No. He is unwell. Where is John Segundus?”
“He left some time ago for air…”
“And he has not returned?”
Strange ran his hands through his hair, glancing around the room.
“No. I don't-”
Childermass nodded in parting and left.
A flash of black hair.
She spoke in an Irish accent.
“I will let Mr Lascelles know you've returned.”
Childermass walked the streets for an hour, though he knew he would not find Segundus. The city was too large and Childermass had no idea where he had gone.
He returned back to Strange’s but could not make himself go in again and left after starting at the silhouettes of the people at Strange’s party for several moments. He had no real excuse for being so concerned about Segundus, no acceptable one, and he did not want to arouse suspicion.
He trudged back to Hanover Square, where the house was blessedly still quiet, and now totally dark.
In his room, Childermass took Segundus’ letter and his own cards from his pocket.
With a fervor he had not felt in some time, John Childermass read while he held the letter to connect him Segundus and he begged the cards to tell him that Segundus was safe, or to tell him anything at all. He flipped a card. Then two more.
Whatever else happened to Segundus, these three things were so strong that they did not move, not even on a second reading and a third. There was some small comfort in that at least, to see no physical danger appear all of the sudden, or worse.
Quite before he knew how it had happened, the sun rose and John Childermass had not slept.
He is gone now, Childermass thought. He listened to the city waking and stood to put his cards away. Segundus is gone from London now.
Footsteps in the hallway; the maids beginning their work. Childermass wrote a quick note and rushed into to find Davey or Lucas to send with it to Soho Square. He delivered it, and then was called back upstairs when Mr Norrell woke.
John Segundus stood in the same spot he had that morning. He watched Florence leave the room and he waited waited until Henry Lascelles appeared again without her.
“You have returned.”
Segundus could only nod.
“Very well. I was hoping you would. Come, I will pour you a drink. You seem tense.”
Lascelles went to a small cabinet and he took a key from his pocket. He opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of brown liquor and two cups. The drinks were poured before Segundus remembered to step properly inside the room. He approached Lascelles and took the glass from his hand.
“What made you decide?”
A long sip of the brown liquor disappeared down Lascelles’ throat.
“I do not know,” said Segundus. His thoughts went to the emptiness of the room he’d once had at Mrs Pleasance’s home, the fear of standing on a street corner on a winter’s night trying to earn money, to the heartbreak of walking up to Starecross and seeing John Childermass there to close his school. His thoughts went to the walk he had taken only days before with the man he loved, unable to say such, unable to even touch him. Segundus sipped his drink and coughed as the burn of it hit his throat. Liquor dribbled down his chin and he wiped it away.
“You don’t like it?”
“It is very strong, sir.”
“It is very old.” Lascelles drained his glass. “I like that. When you call me sir. I think I will ask that you continue that during the course of the evening.”
“I’m sorry…” Segundus coughed again. “I don’t understand.”
“You remember the sum I quoted you. It is enough that I should be able to ask a few things, I think. Small things. But you are the expert here, Mr Segundus. John. I think I will call you John for this evening.”
Lascelles reached over to Segundus’ hand and took the glass from it. He drank it on his own while Segundus watched.
“Did your other clients never make demands of you? Even such small ones, like being called sir? Ot being able to use your Christian name?”
“There was only the one. The one client that is.”
“I see. How surprising.”
But there was no effort on Lascelles’ part to hide his pretense at not having already known this. He looked back toward the cabinet of liquor.
“Is there something more to your taste, John? I have a variety. My collection is widely regarded as excellent.”
“I do not drink much.” Lascelles kept his trained on him. “Sir.”
A smile. Lascelles set both of the glasses down.
“Well, what say you to going to see my room then, and beginning this? But perhaps you want assurance that I have the money you've been promised.”
Segundus’ mouth was dry. He did want something to drink, and very badly, but he could not ask, not now, not this man.
Lascelles procured from his pocket a bank note for the large amount being offered and handed it to Segundus. He stared at it for a moment and then put it in his pocket.
“There,” said Lascelles. “Are you ready now?”
Segundus answered yes by stepping toward Lascelles.
“You look well this evening, John,” said Lascelles as they approached the door that lead from the parlor. “You look very well.”
Henry Lascelles lit a candle in his bedroom.
“Normally I would not do this on my own. I am trying to protect your privacy by not having one of the servants come in. I have sent Florence to bed as well.”
“Um. Thank you.”
Lascelles lit a last candle and set it on the beside table. The room was bright now. Segundus saw the huge bed, a small ocean of white silk sheets, curtains tied back. A gilded mirror hung on one wall. On the dresser, a China pitcher and basin sat.
“You have such very good manners. I like that.”
Henry Lascelles smiled again. He walked across the room and he sat on the bed.
“Tell me. How much experience do you have?”
Segundus fidgeted with his cufflinks. He didn't feel it was possible to not answer.
Henry Lascelles took off his shoes and left them on the floor in front of his bed.
“Is there any chance of you expanding on that answer?”
“It’s not something I am used to speaking of…”
“Well, at least I know I will not be your first.”
“No, sir. You will not.”
Lascelles reached for his his own cufflinks and began to unfasten them.
“Who was that? Your first?”
Segundus could not watch Lascelles as he said it.
“It was Mr Childermass. He was my first.”
There was a long stretch of quiet. When Segundus lifted his eyes, he saw the first trace of genuine surprise on Lascelles’ face.
“Really? Well. I may want to hear this story.”
He set his cufflinks on the table.
“John, you may undress now.”
Segundus' decision becomes irreversible but the consequences remain to be seen.
Segundus reached first for his cravat. Not long ago, in a room at Starecross he had thought it fine. It was the nicest he owned, not terribly new, but not old, the fabric of a good material. This morning, he had put it on at Jonathan Strange’s and thought it fine as well, or fine enough. Henry Lascelles and his bedroom made him feel shabby. The blush creeping over him prickled.
Lascelles said nothing but nodded as Segundus slipped the cravat from its place around his sweaty neck.
“You may put your clothes on this chair.”
Lascelles pointed to a chair in the corner, upholstered in soft velvet, its high back intricately carved.
Segundus took off his jacket as well and put it over his arm. His fingers began to tingle when they touched the buttons of his waistcoat and he stopped.
“You haven't changed your mind, have you?”
The cravat slipped in his fingers, nearly fell to the floor. He reached to catch it.
“I thought we had an agreement, John.”
“Yes. We did.”
“Do.” For better or worse, he was here. The choice had been made. His thoughts were muddled, but he knew what his next word would be. “Sir. I am a bit nervous, is all. I am still timid with these matters.”
Henry Lascelles crossed his legs. Segundus felt eyes on the exposed skin of his neck.
“If it helps, you have no need to rush. I am not in a hurry.”
Segundus slipped off his waistcoat and then pulled his shirt over his head.
“My, you're thin. And your hands are full now. Go put some things down.”
Segundus, nearly unaware that he did so, responded in a haze. He walked to the chair, folded each garment, and set it down.
Segundus began to turn around to finish undressing, but stopped. When he spoke, he spoke to the carpet.
“May I? Sir? May I undress like this? Away from you?”
Segundus heard the smile in Lascelles voice when he spoke.
“Yes. Yes, you may. Oh, you’re clever, aren’t you? Jonathan Strange said, from time time, that you were, and I read that little thing you wrote, but none of it does you justice. You are very, very clever.”
So, he turned away. Segundus unbuttoned his breeches and pulled them down his legs. His back still to Lascelles, he folded them and then turned to face the bed.
“But look,” said Lascelles. “You are thin, but this is not at all unsuitable. Not at all. Why, if not for your gray hair, I would think you were young. Turn, again, please.”
Segundus was sure he would be sick on the carpet as he began to turn, but he thankfully was not, though his vision swam and his throat tickled.
“Yes,” said Lascelles. “Yes, this is very good. John, please come to the bed.”
His feet were heavy, but he did. When he sat, Lascelles reached over and put a hand on his thigh.
“Tell me, John. Do you love him? Do you love John Childermass?”
Lascelles moved his hand higher on his leg. Each fingernail, Segundus noticed, was the same length and shape. Each was white and pink.
“My affections are not free. That is what you said, was it not? That was why you could not marry that country girl?”
“How did you know?”
Lascelles shook his head as if he was disappointed.
“John, please. Answer my question. I think it's a small thing to ask, especially someone known for being as honest as you are.”
“Yes,” said Segundus. He watched Lascelles’ hand caress his hip. His skin was so clean and soft. “I do.”
“But I do not think he feels the same.”
“Well, John, no matter.” He reached over and moved Segundus’ hair from his eyes and with a finger placed under his chin, moved his have so that he looked at him. This close to Lascelles, Segundus smelled mint on his breath. “We are gentlemen here. He does not concern us. I want you to say that, John. Say he does not concern us.”
Segundus squeezed his eyes shut.
A finger trailer up his side. He would never forgive himself.
“He does not concern us. Oh, Mr Lascelles, why?”
“It is something I wanted to hear.”
Henry Lascelles leaned in and placed a kiss on his mouth. Warmth spread through Segundus’ body. He heard a strange noise that reminded him a little of John’s magic, a buzz or a hum. He could not explain it or its waves like music. It made a drumming noise with a rhythm like John’s heartbeat. It was a noise of magic, but there was no magic here.
“We are gentlemen,” Lascelles said again. He touched the back of Segundus’ neck, then behind his ear. Segundus felt as though he were an instrument of some sort and that he was played scales on, or tested to see if he were in tune.
“Yes,” said Segundus. His eyes closed. “We are. Sir.”
Fingertips on his back. Breaths so shallow Segundus felt he might swoon. The response of his body confused him as he felt himself swelling with arousal. He was nervous and still scared but he could not deny that he had, in some way, begun to want this. He reached out to steady himself and put his hand on top of Lascelles’. It was an accident and he jumped when he realized it, but Lascelles took his hand back.
“John. We will both enjoy this.”
Lascelles let go him and then stretched his arms.
“I am going to lie back. I would like you to undress me. Taking your time, please.”
Segundus nodded. When Lascelles had lain down, Segundus pulled his legs up onto the bed and knelt in front of him.
He started, as he had when he undressed himself, at the neck. Lascelles’ clothes were the nicest he had seen, extravagant to touch. When he removed each article of clothing, he folded it and set it on the bed. Lascelles did not move his eyes from Segundus as he worked at buttons, as he slid off clothing, as his trembling hands folded each article.
Suddenly and briefly, the wind picked up. It first ruffled the curtains and then hit Segundus’ skin. He shivered.
Henry Lascelles was as naked as he now. They both had begun to go hard. Segundus tried not to, but he studied for seconds at a time how Lascelles looked.
“You are curious.”
“My apologies,” said Segundus. “I do not mean to stare.”
“No. I do not mind it at all. Tell me. What do you think? Am I pleasing to you?”
Hair fell in Segundus’ eyes. He stared down at his knees through it.
“You are very handsome. And your skin is nice.”
“It feels pleasant when I touch you.”
“That is good to hear, John. How, John, am I different from John Childermass? I would like to know.”
His instinct was to shake his head, to refuse this, but he stopped himself from it. Was it a further act of betrayal to Mr Childermass to comply? He did not know, but he felt it was, in some way, an invasion of their happier intimacies even if he said nothing uncomplimentary. Worse, he would not get to apologize for what he did. He said it to himself though, that he was sorry, and hoped that like John felt magic, John somehow felt his apology.
“Mr Childermass...His hands are rough. The hair of his body is dark and beginning to gray, while yours is very light. He has a few scars and you do not.”
“And is there anything else?”
“When he breathes deeply, I can count his ribs. He sometimes tastes of sweat, a bit like salt, when I kiss him. These are some of the ways you are different.”
“Very good. John, go wash please.”
Lascelles lifted his hand and pointed to the pitcher and basin that sat on the dresser..
“You look clean, but I cannot tell for sure. It is impossible with whores to really know, even when they are gentlemen and smell of soap. I cannot trust John Childermass either and I know you have been with him.”
Segundus opened his mouth, his intention to defend himself and Mr Childermass, to finally put a stop to this. To defend John. His words dissolved somewhere between his his throat and his tongue.
That he managed. But Lascelles said nothing in return.
His went unsteady. He blinked. Many dots came to the front of his vision. It was winter and he smelled a pipe. The ceiling had a crack that looked like a dog. He blinked again and he was not with John.
His legs had began to go numb and standing was difficult for Segundus. He walked shakily to the basin and poured water into it. Lascelles watched him picked up the rag set down next to next to them and put it in the water. He wiped his chest first and stomach, beginning to feel cold from the water and the breeze. He dipped the rag again and wiped his thighs.
He moved the rag between his legs and cleaned his most private area. He wiped the curve of the back of his thighs.
“Thoroughly, please, John. And then you may join me back in bed.”
He finished cleaning, water dripping down his legs and buttocks, and knew he was done when Lascelles nodded. He walked back to the bed and sat down next to Lascelles.
“There, there. Why do you look so frightened? I am not going to hurt you. You do believe me, don’t you?”
Segundus wiped a drop of water from his thighs.
“I hope you are not offended by my asking you to wash. It is nothing personal. Only, one can never tell, when one is with a whore.”
Lascelles sat up. He looked at the chill bumps that covered Segundus’ legs. His lips twitched into a smile.
“Very good. I think we are ready now. Did you know, John, that you are quite enticing when you blush like that? I did not expect it to have that effect, but it has. I have had maiden women a few times and it is like that, though I know you are not unsoiled.”
Lascelles put his hands on Segundus’ shoulders and pushed him back onto the mattress. The sheets were soft against his back as was Lascelles skin against his stomach. Lascelles kissed him heartily and his mouth opened to receive it as his head tilted back.
Segundus closed his eyes and he kissed back. There was a heavy weight on top of him, the feeling of Lascelles’ hardness against him. Breath and lips against his ear. His body surged with want that he could not explain.
“How many, John?”
A hand between his legs, only briefly, and drawn back. Warm skin against his palm as he grasped at Lascelles. Segundus realized that he held Lascelles at the back, that his fingers had begun to dig in.
“How many men have you been with?”
Lascelles pushed his legs apart. Segundus gasped to feel more of Lascelles on him.
“Only Mr Childermass.”
A jump at the feeling of Lascelles’ hand sliding underneath him, of fingers pushing his buttocks apart.
“You will enjoy this,” Lascelles whispered. “And you already are, I think. See. I said I will not hurt you, John.”
There were fingers inside him, only a moment of it, and Segundus bit his lip so that he did not shout. The salty taste of blood and he licked it away.
The weight against him changed. Segundus opened his eyes and Laselles moved from him onto the bed. Lascelles’ naked body had grown flushed and he looked like he had come from a warm bath. His chest shone with perspiration.
“Roll over,” said Lascelles.
Segundus blinked several times but did not move. The words had made it to his ears but he could not explain why he had not fully heard them. The sound that filled his thoughts, the sound that was surely magic though John was not here, had blocked so much else. He paused to listen to it. John's magic was the sound of dried leaves, but this was more like rain.
“Roll over. That is how I prefer it.”
He moved onto his stomach, his cheek against Lascelles’ soft pillows. Lascelles did not speak, but Segundus felt him on top of him again. He was warm, and just there, his erection pressed into Segundus’ back. Then fingers again.
Lascelles was not gentle but Segundus found in the first moments that it was easy to lose himself in the sharp thrusts, the command of this body, of hands pulling at his hips, yanking him closer.
He called out and Lascelles moved in him, harder. Segundus was sure his hips would bruise Lascelles held them so hard. He called out and he heard his own pleasure loudly through the buzzing at his ears.
Lascelles’ stomach pressed into his back. His lips against Segundus’ ear.
“Louder. Call for me louder.”
The deepest thrust yet. He screamed. It was a wordless noise and he threw his head back. Segundus’ own hardness was excruciating and he rubbed himself against the sheets, grasping at the pillow as he panted and groaned by turn.
“Good,” said Lascelles.
He grunted a few times as he finished, and swore as well. There was a dull pain at Segundus’ hips as fingernails lightly pierced his skin. Not once did Segundus hear his own name said in those heated and tender ways from his time with John. But his body tensed as Lascelles took him all the harder and his breath caught and he nearly came on the sheets. Lascelles fell onto Segundus, pressing him against the bed, and then drew out of him. Segundus, still on his stomach, saw Lascelles lie next to him on the bed.
“You are good to wait. It is proper, for a whore. You may move and take care of yourself while I watch.”
He gathered his thoughts, came back to his aching body, and did as Lascelles said, rolling onto his back. Segundus took himself into his hand and stroked.
Lascelles moved closer. Breath tickled his neck. A hand on top of his.
“Do you like it?”
Lascelles bit him softly on the ear, then harder.
“Tell me you like it, or I will let go, John.”
“Yes,” whispered Segundus. “Yes, I…”
He gasped, mumbling obscenities, and Lascelles continued.
“You are a whore,” Lascelles whispered. “Remember that in this moment.”
It was only seconds before reached his climax. Lascelles let go of him and his hand.
The room was silent. Segundus looked down at his body and at Lascelles’. There were drops of blood on his hips from where he had been held; a dark spot where a bruise rose.
“Clean yourself, please.”
Segundus returned to the basin and the rag and wiped the stickiness from his body. When he was done, he stood still.
From the living room, Segundus heard Henry Lascelles’ cuckoo clock. The hour was 1:00 in the morning.
“You did well. You may dress. It is late and I must wake early. I will sleep now.”
Lascelles watched him dress and then pulled the curtains around his bed. Segundus heard the whispering movements of the sheets as Lascelles settled into bed.
“Please blow out the candles.”
There were two flames still floundering in puddles of wax and Segundus went to them extinguished them. He left the bedroom and walked down the hallway. The parlor was dark, but streetlamps shown in the windows and making his way to the door was easy.
London this late was different. The air had an oily feel. The echoes were relentless. He felt each shadow trailed him, that each was John. He touched the banknote in his pocket. He felt so different now, returning this time than he had with John’s money.
There was no one at Strange’s when he arrived. He made his way to back the room where he stayed and crawled into bed with his clothes on, shoes and all.
The sun is up.
Segundus wiped at his eyes.
How had the hours passed? Had he slept? He couldn't remember at all now.
John Segundus got up from the bed and dressed for breakfast and to return to Starecross.
Something happened with the last reading, the one Childermass did as the first of the sunlight snaked across his feet.
There was still magic.
There was still scholarship.
But then there was power. A new card.
Childermass stared at the card. There had been no change all night and now, here it was. His hands shook as he shuffled the cards and dealt again.
Power was first now. There was no question for him that of all the possible meanings of the card that power was the correct interpretation but how it fit into Segundus’ life he did not know. He dealt the last two for a final time, the ones that had always been there.
He spent so long staring at the card that he hardly noticed the noise of footsteps outside the door, the smell of sunlight warming the buildings in the neighborhood. His mouth was thickly coated from a night of smoking and he drank a glass of water to rid himself of the taste.
He knew where Segundus would be that morning but he did not know what to do about it.
Childermass had not been able to find him the night before but he knew that the morning would find Segundus at Jonathan Strange’s breakfast table, preparing to return to his home.
He thought of going there, for a last meeting before their parting, to try again to speak of the things that had happened and perhaps to tell Segundus what was in his heart, but he could not. There was no time and a breakfast visit would be most unusual. His best hope was another note, but there was not even time for that.
A cooler morning, thankfully and the house was more settled.
When Childermass went into Norrell’s room, he was sitting up in bed, his color regained. Norrell crossed his arms and glared at the sunlight.
“I suppose he is off now,” Norrell grumbled.
“Not at half seven, Mr Norrell. But soon, I imagine. Would you like to send word? He is probably still at breakfast.”
“I have nothing to say to Jonathan Stange. He may fall in the canals of Venice with every copy of his book for all I care.”
Childermass brought Norrell his clothes and wig. He made no effort to hide it when he rolled his eyes.
“I know you do not mean that. You would never lose Strange or his knowledge and talent.”
Norrell plopped his wig down on his head.
“I don’t want to talk about Jonathan Strange any more, Childermass. Don’t mention him again.”
Norrell complained of his breakfast but did so quietly and still ate most of it. The day’s work started with the two of them alone for an hour before Henry Lascelles arrived. Norrell was distracted for the whole time, rereading sentences, misspelling things when he wrote, and asking questions three or four times when he forgot that he had already asked them. Childermass managed to stay calm though he was tired, so very tired that his head ached and his vision was blurry. As the morning wore on, he quietly marked the time when he thought Segundus would have left town.
“What time is it?” asked Norrell when the door to the library closed and he looked up to see Lascelles.
“It is just after 9:00,” said Lascelles. He put his white gloves into his pocket.
Norrell squinted around the room as though after many years, there might suddenly be a clock in his library.
“You are normally here earlier.”
“I did not wake at my usual time,” said Lascelles as he sat down.
Norrell thought about that answer, said nothing, and then resumed his writing. Lascelles took his daily place, looking through his carefully organized papers after he did.
“Well, Mr Norrell, soon you will be the only magician in England again. As it should be.”
“Yes, yes,” grumbled Norrell. He made a face at his own paper.
“Are you not pleased?”
“I have a stomach ache.”
“That is too bad. Why have you not had tea brought? Or something else soothing?”
Norrell opened his mouth, his thoughts clearly changing as he did. He adjusted his wig as he looked back down at his paper.
“I would like some water, Childermass. And broth for lunch.”
“Of course, Mr Norrell.”
“For me as well,” said Lascelles. He yawned showily in Childermass’ direction. “Only the water.”
Norrell continued to stare down at his paper while Childermass stood beside the desk.
“I was helping you with that work you are doing,” said Childermass.
“Yes, of course. But just now, I would like some water please. As would Mr Lascelles.”
Childermass sighed and turned from the desk.
When he returned a few minutes later with a pitcher of water and cups, Norrell and Lascelles were in conversation.
“Ah, Childermass. I'm glad you've returned,” said Lascelles.
Childermass set down the tray with the pitcher and glasses.
“Yes. I was just telling Norrell of all the people who are confirmed to be in support of Strange and his book. One of them is a friend of yours.”
“Oh. Was I mistaken then that you know John Segundus?”
Even Norrell had begun to tense and he held his shoulders taut. Childermass felt a momentary surge of his own magic and a bit of dizziness that went with the suddenness of it.
“No, you are not. I do know him, as you are aware.”
“What does it matter,” asked Norrell quietly. “He is a madhouse keeper. Every madhouse keeper in England may support Strange for all it matters. I do not care.”
“That would not be wise,” said Lascelles. “And you know it, Mr Norrell.”
Norrell squirmed in his chair.
“I don't want to talk about John Segundus either.”
“I think you must give him some thought. He is the only magician in Yorkshire even if he is a madhouse keeper and he supports your enemy.”
Lascelles looked up at Childermass. The magic had begun to make Childermass’ skin go hot. He imagined if Segundus were here, the pleased look he would get on his face at the feeling of magic filling a room.
“What is it?”
Childermass stalled. He hardly knew his own feelings, much less the words for them. But he knew he must say something. He had still not recovered from the day in the spring when he had taken Segundus’ dream from him, from the desperate way he had said please, asking him not to do what he had come to do.
“John Segundus is a danger to no one. I have not, in nearly ten years, changed my thinking on this matter. I think he should be left be. He has been brought very low already and there is no need to continue.”
Norrell’s face was pale and to Childermass’ surprise, he covered his head with his arms, muttering ‘no’ to himself.
“I disagree,” said Lascelles. “He is a magician, if not a practical one. He tried to start a school of magic that would surely teach in Strange’s line of thought. He is, in my mind, very dangerous indeed. It's a good thing one of us is thinking clearly. I am glad I met with him yesterday.”
Norrell sat up in a quick, jerky movement that put his wig out of place. He scrambled to put it back.
“What?” both Norrell and Childermass asked.
Lascelles looked at Childermass when he spoke.
“Yes. I had Segundus to my home yesterday. He is in London, after all.”
“I know,” said Childermass. “I have seen him twice, briefly.”
Norrell fumbled with his wig.
“Mr Norrell, I told you I would go to Soho Square where you were aware he stayed with Mr Strange. You knew he would be in attendance at the reading as well.”
“Still...to cavort with friends of Strange so openly...”
“As I said,” said Lascelles, turning to Norrell. “Thankfully one of us is thinking clearly.”
“I want to stop talking,” said Norrell loudly. “I want to stop this, both of you. No Jonathan Strange! No John Segundus!”
Lascelles and Childermass both were silent. Norrell began writing again with a shaky hand. Sweat dripped down his face.
Lascelles picked up his quill as well, but smirked at Childermass as he too began his work again.
Could it be that Segundus had been, last night when Childermass could not find him, at the home of Henry Lascelles?
His mind went back to the walk he and Segundus had taken a few evenings before, the news that Lascelles had made an offer of an evening with Segundus.
For the rest of the morning, concentration was a show that he put on.
Things are not exactly as they should be in England.
I had a sudden addition that made this chapter long so I decided to split it.
Each day, the pain became a little more bearable.
The magic followed Lady Pole wherever she went. Segundus began to think of it as a malignant shadow, for whatever else this magic was, it was surely unkind.
Segundus woke each morning feeling the magic that engulfed Lady Pole pounding at the wall. Sometimes, he dreamt of it as well, of it taking a strange form, of it lumbering through Starecross. At first, he could not sleep for it, for the nausea it produced, for the strange visions it gave him. But now, he had grown accustomed to it. He had grown accustomed the angry way the magic hissed, the way it lurked. It spoke, he was sure, a language that he did not know, one not of this earth. He lived knowing that no one else felt it but Lady Pole and that whatever it was she could not speak about it.
Mr Childermass, why did you never mention the magic? You sent her to me, but you never said. We met and you never said.
That was the start of one letter. Segundus did not send it. He could not imagine communicating with Mr Childermass now, after what had happened when he was in London, though he had so many things to say.
Mr Childermass, allow me to explain.
He started a few letters anyway, at the end of very long days when he was tired and feeling alone, when he was whittled down by magic and bleak, cold days. There were things he could speak to no one else about and he could not deny that he missed John Childermass. The letters Segundus started he kept in his desk as he could not quite make himself throw them out.
Mr Childermass, what is happening to me? To her? I am so confused and frightened, sir.
He set down his quill and ran from the room at the sound of the shout from down the hallway. Several servants were already outside Lady Pole’s door when he arrived. They parted to let him through when Segundus rushed up. The lady’s maid came in from the other direction, running up the stairs with her keys jangling.
He threw open the door and ran inside Lady Pole’s room. The lady’s maid tumbled in after him.
“Yes?” asked Segundus. “Lady Pole, are you well?”
She sat on the bed, her body tucked into a tight ball and she was pale. The magic in the room was thick and Segundus counted slowly to himself to keep his focus. Lady Pole opened her mouth, where the strange rose only he could see was, to speak. Her face screwed up with pain and tears came to her eyes.
“It is nothing,” she said. “I was frightened, but it was nothing. I am sorry.”
“Perhaps it is time for bed?” asked the maid. Lady Pole began to cry harder and shook her head. Her dark curls, so tinged now with grey despite that she was not yet thirty years old, fell over her face.
“Now, now,” said the maid. She took a step toward the bed. Segundus reached out and put a hand on her elbow.
“A while longer yet? It is still early.”
Lady Pole looked up at Segundus and her face relaxed. It was not quite a smile but as close as she came to one. The maid was not pleased but she acquiesced.
“As you wish, Mr Segundus. You are her care giver, after all.”
From outside the door, Segundus heard Charles, now the head footman, reprimand the group of servants still waiting outside, listening at the door.
“What is this? Have you no respect for a Lady’s privacy? Go on to your work.”
The sound of several footsteps moving in many different directions. Apologetic whispers. Yes, Charles. Of course, Charles. Segundus heard Charles huff as the last of the footsteps faded away. Lady Pole’s maid nodded in approval at where the sound came from.
“I will get a soothing tea,” she said. She nodded again at Lady Pole and Segundus and stepped from the room. The door closed.
“Thank you, Mr Segundus.”
Segundus fidgeted with the sleeve of his jacket.
“It is nothing. You are a grown woman and married. Your bedtime should be of your choosing.”
Segundus stepped back and reached for the door knob. His charge continued to tremble on her bed. The magic around her tingled Segundus’ skin. It hissed and it slithered. Segundus counted again, this time to twenty, to steady himself.
“Is there nothing you can tell me that will allow me to help you?”
Lady Pole shook her head.
“Your husband sent a book for you. Perhaps you could try to read that. He told me how much you once loved reading. It is why he sent it.”
She tried to cover that she sniffled a little, but Segundus could tell. He gave Lady Pole her dignity and looked away.
“I do not want to be alone.”
“Well…Maybe I can read with you? I can get a book of my own.”
He blushed at the thought of what might be said if they should sit in a room alone together. Lady Pole did the same.
“Your maid can join us,” he said quickly. “Or you and she could…”
“Wilhelmina does not read. She finds it idle, unless it is a prayer book before bed.”
“Well, then, she can bring her needle work.”
“I will ask,” said Segundus. He took a moment and thought of the bad magic in the room as a thing he could push away and he tried. He must keep trying for this poor woman’s sake. “And if she does not want to, I know another maid has saved up and bought herself a novel. She may want to join you!”
“Does your dedication to perseverance never become wearing, Mr Segundus?”
“It very much does.”
He let that be the last they spoke and left, content that he had tried and that Lady Pole seemed calmer for his efforts.
Wilhelmina the maid did not want to read or to do her needlework in company, but the young woman with the novel was happy to be asked and cheerfully joined Lady Pole in her room.
Segundus was too embarrassed to stay long reading himself as he promised he would, but he left Lady Pole smiling and talking with Martha sitting on her bed, and was comforted by that. He returned to his desk and his letters.
In Segundus’ room there was now a collection of articles clipped from newspapers. Half were about what Strange did in Venice, and half what Norrell did in London. Caricatures of each man in his respective place had also appeared. There was no now it seemed who was not partisan.
Segundus’ stomach dropped when he read the articles and he did daily. He felt a large change waited, that it was imminent and unstoppable, and he feared what it might be.
Segundus was thankful that the the hall was more full now, that there was often the sound of voices instead of only quiet. He was glad that he was not alone. It was the only thing, Segundus thought, that kept him grounded.
The cards did not change.
Childermass read the life of John Segundus each morning before he dressed. Three cards laid down on his quilt to the sound of Gilbert Norrell’s house at Hanover Square rising, to the sound of an already woken London; coaches passings and mongers of many sorts calling their wares. There was often rain.
Each day, the same three cards appeared.
Childermass, as he always did, went through the day with the cards in his pocket. He felt the message there too, through the fabric, pressed against his skin, like a part of Segundus’ magic had latched to the reading.
He grew to be comforted by it, in a way, that the message was so clear. Childermass felt that the message did not bode ill for Segundus, though he could not say that it bode well precisely either. In another way, despite the ease Childermass felt at the clarity of the readings, he knew it was odd for the magic of his cards to be this strong, to shout at him so desperately and it put him off.
Tell me what to do about it, then.
Sometimes it was a thought kept in his mind m, sometimes he said it with a snarl. The cards did nothing but show their faces and tell him what they had for weeks now.
At night, he set the cards on the table next to his bed. He felt the message through the dark as well, dreamed of it sometimes.
It was wrong.
Something had changed with magic. It used to be such a secret thing, hidden. He used to have to look for it. It used to be just he that felt it, he and Segundus. Now, magic came out of the cracks in buildings. It spoke with the fallen autumn leaves. Childermass was sure he saw people stop and look into dark pockets of the city where the magic played. They shook their heads and walked away soon ebough, convinced they'd seen nothing after all, but they felt it, Childermass was sure.
It was wrong.
Perhaps only different, he tried to tell himself. Perhaps not wrong but different.
Whatever he decided, Childermass grew accustomed to having more magic around and the message about John Segundus became a friend of sorts, or at least company.
He knew that Segundus would feel it too, and he thought that this new magic connected them across all of England, like a fine string stretched across the land.
Many confrontations. Secrets are revealed while new ones are made.
The rain had begun the day before and had not stopped.
Childermass went on his own to see Sir Walter Pole. The streets were frighteningly empty for what should have been a busy morning.
He was brought into the house, after his soaked coat was hung, where he waited for a long time in silence to be received.
When Sir Walter finally arrived in his parlor, Childermass saw that some of the man’s tiredness was gone, but it had been replaced by an obvious air of guilt. Though the dark circles under his eyes had lightened, Sir Walter frowned still. Once a man of great energy, he moved like a listless breeze through his own home. The house was too quiet. Sir Walter made a distracted comment about the rain and then seemed to lose all stamina for conversation and sat tapping the arm of his chair. The two men waited for refreshments to the sound of the wind.
When Stephen Black entered with a letter for Sir Walter, Childermass saw that he was much changed; the hair at his temples had gone white and his eyes did not settle.
“I have dismissed some servants,” said Walter Pole as he sat down, an explanation that had not been asked for.
“They did nothing wrong. I just needed some peace. They are set up in other situations.”
“Good. Very good for them. Though I am sorry to hear…”
Both men shifted in their seats, uncomfortable.
“Have you heard from your wife?” asked Childermass.
Sir Walter nodded but the action tapered off as his expression changed.
“Not precisely. She has not written. I believe I have hurt Lady Pole greatly by sending her away. What was I to do, though? It was for her own safety and that of others.”
Sir Walter braved looking up at Childermass, but could not for long as his eyes naturally traveled to the place where his wife had shot him.
“John Segundus has written, though. Several times. He tells me about her days, how she passes the time. Lady Pole is eating a little now. She has made friends with a young maid called Martha and they read in the evenings. Normally of course…”
He let the end of his sentence trail away.
“Thank you for bringing him to my attention, Childermass. Mr Segundus is just the person for this. Were it anyone else, I do not think my wife would be so settled.”
John Segundus was about whom he had come for information. Childermass sat up straighter at having him introduced into the conversation.
“Sir Walter. Does Mr Segundus mention anything about himself?”
“No, not really. Only that he finds his new work enjoyable and my wife to be an intelligent and interesting woman. He thanks me profusely for the opportunity.”
“Is he really so polite? It is not a show?”
“Not in the slightest.”
The men sat in quiet.
“Is there any reason in particular that you ask, Childermass?”
“I wanted to ensure that the situation was suitable, is all. Considering that I am the reason she is there.”
“Thank you, Childermass. You have done more than enough. I cannot thank you enough for…”
Childermass knew that Sir Walter meant to thank him for keeping the secret that it was Lady Pole who had shot him. He was only able to cough nervously to move them on from the conversation.
“I will leave you, Sir Walter. Thank you for seeing me. I know how busy you are. If you need anything at all, please send word to Mr Norrell.”
Sir Walter huffed.
“Norrell? No. It is you who have helped, Childermass, not he.”
The comment froze Childermass where he sat for several seconds before he was able to rouse himself to leave.
“Good afternoon, Sir Walter.”
“Good afternoon. Would you like me to send a coach to see you home? The weather is treacherous.”
“No thank you, Sir.”
At the door, a magical vision surrounded Childermass; crumbled stones covered in moss, a dark sky the color an old bruise, music that sounded as though it was played on half rotted instruments. The air smelled of blood. He opened his mouth to scream for he was sure that he did not want to be here.
Childermass blinked and Stephen Black handed him his coat.
“Take care,” said Stephen. “It is a dark day.”
“That it is,” said Childermass. He shook his head to rid himself of the vision of Stephen in duplicate, one of him wearing a crown.
Stephen Black left the room to the sound of the eerie music that only Childermass could hear.
For weeks, Lascelles had been gloating, hoarding some information that he waited for the right time to share. Though Norrell could not see this behavior, Childermass could. It waited in long stares and cold smiles.
It was information just for Childermass and though he hated admitting that he was, Childermass was scared to hear it and grew more and more nervous as time passed.
The day came a month and a half after Segundus left London. It arrived in the morning. Fall had again arrived and the house was still dark, lit by candles.
It started with a frightened Welsh maid.
Hannah grabbed his arm as she passed Childermass on the stairs.
“It is Mr Lascelles,” she whispered. There were tears in her eyes. “He has arrived very early. He wants you to come see him in the library right away. He is adamant and says Mr Norrell is not to know. I lit the candles for him, but...”
“Henry Lascelles is not my master,” Childermass grumbled, but he went anyway, after sending Hannah on. She scurried gratefully away, hands at her face, putting welcome distance between her and the library where Henry Lascelles waited.
Childermass tried to quell his fear as he walked, but was not able.
In the library, Lascelles sat quietly waiting. He was not in his normal chair but at a place by the window, a shadowy spot.
“Yes?” asked Childermass. He shut the door and crossed his arms. “What do you want?”
“You are a very rude man,” said Lascelles.
“This interrupts my work.”
Childermass did not. Lascelles only smiled as he had for the last six weeks.
“Still, you came when I called.”
“You scared a maid. I did not want you scaring any others.”
Lascelles said nothing for a long time and stared at Childermass.
“I think you should know, John Childermass, all that I know about what you have done.”
“And what is that supposed to be?”
“Only that you worked to find John Segundus a student to tutor in magic. Only that you knew of his plans for a school that went expressly against your master’s wishes and did nothing. Only that you have engaged in sodomy with the man on several occasions and parted with money for the experience. As I said, sitting down for this conversation would be best.”
Slowly, Childermass approached the empty chair in front of Lascelles. He had learned over a long and arduous life how to keep his composure when it was difficult to, when it was necessary for his safety, and he used all that he knew now. He placed his elbow on the arm of the chair and leaned back.
“I have already told Mr Norrell of my feelings for John Segundus. Mr Norrell cares very little what I do outside of my work with him. I have nothing to fear from you.”
But his lack of fear was only his words and Lascelles knew it.
“I think Mr Norrell should know that you are not as loyal as you seem. But I also think you should know some things as well, namely what your whore has been doing.”
“John Segundus is not a whore.”
Lascelles shrugged. Childermass knew that while his own cool was poor show, that Lascelles was truly as calm as he seemed.
“He accepts money for fornication. And not just with you. I don't know what else you would call him.”
Childermass went cold. He had needed to fight more each day against the onslaught of magic that built up. He forgot for a moment to do so and through a space in the window where it did not quite meet the sill, Childermass had the impression of a smoky breath of magic sliding into the library. I am cold, it said.
“What do you mean?”
Lascelles looked him in the eyes, unblinking.
“Only that I have had him. I want you to know that. I had him and easily. In fact, he begged me for pleasure by the end. You squandered your good faith on a man who will say he loves for a time any one with money to pay him for the sentiment. That is what happens when you give your affections to whores, John Childermass. If you doubt this happened, ask him. Honesty is one area I cannot fault Segundus.”
Lascelles stood. He walked to the door where he stopped and turned back to look at Childermass.
“He does not love you. He never has. You are a servant, John Childermass. Whatever else, Segundus is a gentleman. How you thought he could love you, I do not know.”
“Not everyone thinks like you, Lascelles.”
“You do not concern him. Ask him, should you see him again, if you do, if he has ever said otherwise.”
Lascelles left quietly, the closing of the door extinguishing a candle when he did. Half of the room then lay in darkness.
It was only the sound of Norrell calling for him that brought him back from his thoughts, from the dream he had once had of John Segundus on a summer day in York, from the second time they had met when he had seen Segundus fleeing from a corner where he had been attempting to find work. Lascelles lied as often as he did not, Childermass was sure, but he had no doubt that Lascelles told the truth this time.
Very slowly, as Lascelles watched Childermass, his face settled into an expression of satisfaction: a tilted smile, fire in his blue eyes.
I loved him, thought Childermass, and never said as such though he did to me, though I saw him just the night before he did this thing.
I loved him and I allowed the bad things that happened to him to happen.
John Childermass forced his day to begin. He snubbed out the candles in the library and walked through the darkness, the familiar room, to the door.
John Segundus thought that he had been sad before.
He thought at one time that Starecross might be a place where happiness would find him at last.
He now knew that his sadness had depths he had not discovered yet. Starecross felt as empty as any other place.
Christmas Eve, Segundus saw the servants off to church but stayed home with Lady Pole, who was not well enough to attend nor to be left alone.
Lady Pole fell asleep by the fire. Segundus waited up reading for the rest of
the house. He kept the fire strong so that his charge did not get cold. He watched for a few seconds at a time the rose at her mouth, still in her sleep. How was it, he thought as he put another bit of wood onto the fire, that he felt more lonely now.
The local vicar attended lunch the next day to greet her, but Lady Pole would not come down. She refused even to dress, fought heartily with Wilhelmina, and Segundus fretted all day.
After lunch, the servants were all free and began to play games and sing. Segundus went to Lady Pole’s room. She lay in her bed, unmoving, staring at the ceiling.
“Mr Segundus, I am tired. Please, allow me to rest.”
“Of course.” He paused however as he left the room. “Your husband arrives before the new year. He says he will stay a week. He is very sorry he could not spend today with you.”
“I know. You read me the letter. Please, Mr Segundus. I am very tired today.”
“Are the servants too loud for you to sleep?”
“No. Their holiday should not be ruined on my account.”
He left her then, and retreated to his own room and to the warmth of his bed.
Segundus fell asleep to noisy a celebration downstairs. His dreams were disturbing. In some, Lady Pole danced with Mrs Strange in a most horrible hall, a room with a crumbled away ceiling and curtains rotted with mildew. In others, he was in the home of Henry Lascelles, crying and naked. He woke when someone knocked at his door.
“Excuse me? Mr Segundus?”
The blackness of sleep shattered. Segundus looked up at his own ceiling. The snow screamed John Childermass’ name at him. Segundus jumped out of bed at the sound of Charles’ voice and rushed for the door.
“Is everything alright?”
Charles stood in front of him, holding a tray with a plate of food and a glass of wine.
“No one had seen you for some time…I thought you might be hungry.”
“Yes. Thank you. I am.”
Segundus took the tray.
“Happy Christmas, Mr Segundus.”
“Happy Christmas, Charles. Have you heard Lady Pole at all?”
“No, sir. She is quiet. I think she sleeps, still.”
Segundus ate sitting on his bed.
Magic pounded at the walls.
The guest that came first was not Sir Walter.
It was Charles who rushed to Segundus’ room to tell him of the black haired visitor tying his horse to a tree at the edge of the land.
But the wind had already carried John Childermass’ greeting to him. The wildness of Childermass’ magic had a new feel to it. It was dark with despair, no longer an autumn moor damp with mist but an icy sea. Segundus knew when the magic reached him that Childermass knew what had happened, that he had been with Henry Lascelles.
He stood from his desk. He took his jacket from the back of his chair.
Segundus was prepared by the time he reached the door, he thought, for whatever came next. His heart could not break any more, he was sure. He had no longer anything to fear.
Lady Pole shouted when she saw Childermass through the window and Segundus rushed more quickly. The front door was open and there John Childermass stood, an icy winter day behind him.
Segundus stepped between Childermass and Lady Pole with courage that he did not know he had.
Despite the change in it, the magic of John Childermass was a balm of sorts against the other magic, the dark magic, that engulfed Lady Pole and Starecrosss by extension. He felt so very well standing in it, like summer had come, like he was years younger. The two men stared at each other. Childermass’ face had shown for a moment a change as well.
“Mr Segundus,” Childermass whispered. But the magic called him John.
“You’re not welcome here,” whispered Segundus in turn.
“You know that something has changed. Please, I need to see her.”
“No. She does not wish it and she is ill and frightened. You must leave, Mr Childermass.”
Childermass formed a unseen cloak of silence over them.
“What of you? Do you wish it?”
Segundus could not move. He did not shake his head yes or no.
Childermass’ magic reached a sudden boil.
“Very well. I have only come to help. You know I would not harm either of you.”
The magic of John Childermass told Segundus a quiet story of London. Then, it fell away. Segundus heard the maid Wilhelmina coaxing Lady Pole from the door.
Before Segundus could say anything, Childermass had turned and stomped away. Segundus slumped against the doorframe, shivering as Childermass took his magic away.
He had been wrong about his heart being unable to break any more.
Starecross was dark but Childermass knew Segundus was awake. His magic hung at the window and it jumped when it noticed him. Old friend! The magic said.
He waited and eventually the man himself appeared at the window.
Segundus shook his head that he could not see him but Childermass shook his in turn that he would not leave. After a time, Segundus disappeared from the window but his magic gave away that he moved downstairs. Childermass waited until he appeared at the door and he surrounded them with silence. Segundus had thrown breeches on under his night shirt and his hair was wet from his bath. His feet were bare. Segundus’ magic, a very young seeing magic, greeted Childermass playfully.
“Go away,” said Segundus.
“You do not mean that.”
“Who are you to say what I mean or not?”
Childermass stepped forward. In the cold of the night, Segundus shivered.
“Please, John,” said Childermass. “We need to speak. Much is happening. Much has happened.”
Segundus stepped away from the door, wrapping his arms around himself to ward against the chill.
“I am sorry.”
“For what?” The anger in his own voice shocked him. “For Lascelles?”
Segundus’ magic whimpered. But Segundus the man stood up straight.
“You are angry.”
Childermass had had the long ride to think. He had considered how his behavior had led to this, chastised himself. Now that Segundus was in front of him, Childermass saw only Lascelles’ smile as he told him that he’d had Segundus, could not stop thinking of Lascelles’ hands on Segundus, of Segundus’ blush.
“I am broken hearted. I thought I knew your character.”
“You did not seem to mind that I gave my body for money when I gave it to you.”
“It is different, John. When we were together...I cared for you. I never said...but it is love I feel for you.”
Segundus stood in silence for a while.
“That may be, but you made no claim on me, even as much as one man can another. I gave you my love as openly as I could and you gave me silence. You left me here with not a thought to what happened to me.”
Segundus breathed deeply. His magic tumbled back toward him, as though it would comfort him.
“Despite it, I love you still.”
Between them, Childermass watched their magic wrap around each other.
You are a servant. You do not concern him.
“Lascelles said…Did say that I did not concern you?
Segundus stood still. Childermass watched as tears slid down his face.
“I did. I cannot lie to you about it. But I did not mean it and you know that is the truth. I am sorry that it happened.”
“He made you, didn’t he?”
“John, he humiliated you.”
“I am much more humiliated now than I was when I was with him. He is not a friend. He was just was a man I knew for an hour or so. Your words sting much more than his ever could.”
Their magic,in a dull flutter, jumped apart.
“I would like to go to bed, Mr Childermass. Excuse me.”
Segundus’ magic twisted once around his little finger as he stood paused in the doorway.
The door shut and Childermass stood alone in the winter night.
It was only two days later when the carriage arrived.
Segundus stood at the window and watched Lascelles emerge, a servant covering him with an umbrella. He wore a white coat and a small, gray hat. His shoes were black.
Charles approached the door to the library.
“That man is back, Mr Segundus, the one from London.”
“I have seen. I will meet him in the parlor. Thank you, Charles.”
An extra plate set for dinner.
An extra bed made.
Henry Lascelles and John Segundus sat across from each other in the parlor of Starecross, silent, waiting for the meal. In two corners, Charles and the tall, black haired servant who had seen in Henry Lascelles stood, waiting for instruction.
After an hour, Charles, slipped out and returned as quietly as he had left.
“Dinner, Mr Segundus.”
“You are far from London, Mr Lascelles,” said Segundus while they ate. His appetite was low and Mr Lascelles poked at his food and frowned.
“I am going to Hurtfew early in the morning. I have work for Mr Norrell.”
“It is gracious of you to accept me unannounced.”
Lascelles picked up his wine. He gave a small shake of his head at it.
“You are a true gentleman. However, the food is not to my taste. Nor the wine. I do not like country things.”
He looked over his shoulder at the young servant who had come with him.
“Get the wine I brought for my journey. One bottle for the table and put the other in the room where I will stay.”
He was tall and black haired and handsome enough to make Segundus’ cheeks pink just with his presence in the room. Segundus recognized suddenly the man’s face, where he had seen it before.
“He is very similar to your maid, Florence.”
“They are twins, nineteen years old. His name is Cormac.”
Cormac entered with the wine minutes later. After opening the bottle and pouring a glass for each of the men, he left to put the other upstairs.
“Where is your charge, John?”
“Her mother arrived for a visit and has taken her for the day to buy a new dress. It was not recommended. She is in frail health.”
“Oh well.” Lascelles took a large drink of his wine. “Drink, John. It is excellent wine.”
Segundus did. And the wine was excellent.
“John, you know why I am here. I was nearby and I have money for another evening.”
Segundus finished his first glass.
He had lost all he could lose. He could go no lower. To say yes or no made no difference.
And he nodded.
Trying his hardest not appear as though he had drank two large glasses of wine at dinner, Segundus led them. Lascelles took his arm on the stairs and whispered into his ear, pulling him close.
“We will speak in the library.”
Segundus stumbled and when he turned around, Lascelles was gone. He made his way to the library on his own and fell into a chair with his eyes closed. Against his breast, the watch in his pocket ticked. The world slipped slowly away.
He nearly fell out of the chair when the door closed loudly.
“Do not fall asleep,” said Lascelles. “You have a lot of my money in your pocket.”
Segundus opened his eyes. Lascelles stood in front of him with the second bottle of wine.
“Have you sent Cormac away?”
“Clever, clever,” said Lascelles. “I have. He is sharing a room with your Charles tonight, I believe.”
Lascelles picked up a letter opener from the desk and pierced the bottle’s cork. After a few pulls, it was free and he stood with the letter opener, cork on the end, in his hand. Wine dropped onto the library floor. Lascelles dropped the knife and cork with it.
“Would you like some more?”
Segundus stood and walked to Lascelles. He took the wine from his hand and drank from the bottle. It was even better than the bottle from dinner and he took another drink.
It did not matter, not this night what he did. John was gone from forever and the house was cold and empty. His body craved closeness with another and the one he would have preferred was not here. With his free hand, Segundus touched the soft, blond hair of Henry Lascelles, ran his fingers through it.
“You are spirited tonight,” said Lascelles with a smile. He took the bottle from Segundus and drank for himself.
“You told John Childermass about what happened between us.”
“Oh, John, are you still on about him?”
Lascelles reached over to Segundus and undid his cravat. He dropped onto the floor where it fell on top of the wine. Red bled through.
“He is really beneath us.”
“No,” said Segundus. “I loved him. I love him still. You made me say it once but I will not again.”
“I know you love him. But look how he behaved when you did one thing he did not like. He has abandoned you again. I know he came here. I bet he was cruel to you.”
Lascelles took Segundus’ wrist in his hand.
“He was truthful with his feelings.”
“Talking of John Childermass is dull.”
Lascelles pulled Segundus by his jacket to a chair. He sat and yanked Segundus into his lap and Segundus fell on him with a stumble.
“You are messy,” said Lascelles. He leaned in and kissed the side of Segundus’ mouth and licked away a dribble of wine while he petted Segundus’ leg and stroked upward to his crotch. Segundus moved his face against Lascelles’ lips, begging for more kisses, moved with his body against Lascelles’ hand.
“I like a spirited whore so much.”
“You do not care that I love a servant?”
Lascelles tasted of the fine wine. Segundus licked the man’s lips, Lascelles’ lips, and felt them move into a smile.
“No. I do not. In fact, I am intrigued. I would like to hear more.”
Segundus turned so that his face looked toward Lascelles’. He was emboldened by drink, by the closeness of a body that desired his, the smell of wine and Lascelles’ cologne. His loneliness was so deep.
“Would you like to hear how I became a man in his arms?”
“Yes,” purred Lascelles.
Segundus swiveled more and wrapped his arms around Lascelles’ neck. He put his mouth against Lascelles’ ear.
“It was winter. I was on the street.”
Lascelles reached up into his shirt and began to caress his nipples. Segundus rocked against the hardness underneath him. When he spoke, it was in labored pants.
“Whore,” said Lascelles.
“He found me and brought me to a dirty room in an inn. I was shaking I was so scared. But I wanted him. He put his fingers inside me first and then he had me.”
“For a long time? He is such a low and dirty animal of a man. He seems like he would have stamina.”
“I ached, after.”
Lascelles unbuttoned the top button of Segundus’ breeches and thumbed at the soft skin there.
“And when you came?”
“Looking up at him.”
Lascelles grabbed Segundus by the waist to stop the desperate rocking against his erection. He growled against Segundus’ cheek.
Segundus did. The room tipped a little when he did but was soon righted. He was wam with drink and want.
“To the desk.”
Segundus, wobbling a little, walked to the desk. Lascelles pushed him over onto it and yanked down his breeches, rubbing at his buttocks.
“Be quiet. The house is sleeping.”
Bare thighs against his. He screamed when Lascelles pushed into him with little warning but buried it in the crook of his arm.
“I said be quiet.”
An odd feeling spread through him, like he stood next to a warm stove. He saw sparkles of light and felt like his feet lifted from the ground though he knew they did not because he felt very clearly his body, the pushes inside of him, his own desire. The room felt as though it an extra soft layer laid against the walls. He thought he recognized John’s magic of silence, but knew it could not be. The feeling sputtered away and returned briefly.
Lascelles thrust into him harder. He reached around Segundus’ body and took his cock into his hand and stroked.
“Thank you, sir,” moaned Segundus. Lips against the back of Segundus’ neck.
Lascelles cursed when he came hard inside Segundus. Seconds later, Segundus came into Lascelles hand. They lay panting against the desk for over a minute. The weight on Segundus was heavy for a slender man like Lascelles and the desk pressed into his’ stomach. Lascelles wiped his hand on Segundus’ shirt and pulled out of him. Segundus listened to Lascelles to the small noises of Lascelles pulling his own breeches back up and tidying himself.
“Good night, John.”
Segundus uncurled his back and stood as well. He pulled his clothes from around his ankles and up his legs before turning to Lascelles, who stood behind him, a lazy smile on his face.
Segundus sat down again when Lascelles was gone from the room and fell asleep there in a chair.
He woke some time later to shouts. Lady Pole and her mother had arrived back from their outing.
At the bottom of the stairs, they met Wilhelmina and between the two of them, they moved Lady Pole into her room and quieted her enough that she might later sleep.
Segundus realized as he settled Mrs Wintertowne in her room for the evening that there had been no second coach outside. Lascelles had gone. Segundus went to his room and stood alone in the middle of the floor for some time.
He noticed that his wall had developed a small crack. He cried and washed his face and went to bed.
Magic, so much magic.
Childermass and Segundus reunite.
Oh guys, I am so incredibly sad to see this end. I can't believe all of you lovely people came by to read this and leave kudos and comments. Thank you!
The large table at Starecross was set for dinner. Sir Walter Pole and John Segundus sat alone on either side of it, candles lighting the space between them. Upstairs, Lady Emma Pole screamed.
There was a horrible snowstorm. The wind howled with the Lady. Every fire in the house was lit but the cold still won against it.
Neither man had a stomach for food. The meal had long gone cold in front of them. The windows had iced over. Segundus shivered, though he did not see that Sir Walter was so affected.
A shuddering of cold glass when the wind it it. A woman’s scream from upstairs.
“I am sorry,” said Sir Walter. “I've upset your routine and Lady Pole. She is angry that I did I not make it for the new year as I promised.”
Segundus, at each shout, felt a pulse of magic that nearly made him fall from his chair. He was forced to grip at his chair to stay seated and hope it was not noticeable. Upstairs, Lady Pole screamed again, but Segundus heard as well the echo of each thing she said as an otherworldly cry and it was a plea to him, to help.
“No, Sir,” said Segundus. He loosed his grip from the chair and tried again to eat. “It is good you've come. She is your wife.”
“She does not wish to see me. I will leave in the morning, weather permitting.”
“Please, not yet. She may change her mind. I would hate to see either of you regret your leaving too soon.”
Another ghostly voice. This one had the sound of a bell, of laughter that lacked any cheer. Segundus nearly shouted out loud with frustration at an additional layer of magic added to all he already fought against. He dropped his fork and gripped at the table cloth. Stephen Black came into the dining room.
“Ah. Stephen,” said Sir Walter. “Are you well in this horrible weather? You do not look well.”
Stephen’s eyes moved to Segundus.
“I am well. Lady Pole’s maid says she is requesting to see Mr Segundus.”
Sir Walter’s face fell. He looked down quickly into his glass of wine.
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Please, let's finish dinner. I am very tired anyway. Thank you, Stephen.”
The men stood together.
“I will read in the the parlor, Mr Segundus, and write my letters. Please tell my wife I hope she feels better soon. Tell her...tell her I am here and that I wait?”
“I will,” said Segundus.
A noise from upstairs, a thud against the floor.
From a shadow in the room, another voice, one no louder than a bee’s buzz, murmured ‘I am awake.’
Stephen Black stood still, blinking into the corner where the whispering shadow made its home. He lifted his hand and then set it back down. Then, he turned and walked away.
There was a rose at his mouth too.
Segundus went upstairs.
I am awake.
I am awake.
The shadows in the hallway were as noisy as the ones downstairs.
Lady Pole screamed still when Segundus entered the room. Her bedchamber was nearly torn apart, dresses and pillows on the floor. One pillow she had ripped open and its stuffing was scattered across the room, the feathers like a warmer version of the snow outside.
Wilhelmina fled in a flurry of black skirts when Segundus arrived, relieved it seemed to no longer be alone with Lady Pole.
The storm cracked a large branch of the tree near the window and it fell to the ground with a great noise. Both Segundus and Lady Pole jumped.
“Please, tell me what I can do.”
“He is so angry,” Lady Pole said. She put her hands at her ears. “So angry.”
She fell to the bed, her hands over her head.
“Is it your husband you are worried about? I can tell you, anger is the last thing on his mind.”
Her dark hair, despite the cold of her room, was heavy with sweat. Wilhelmina had managed to braid her hair that morning, but it was mostly loose now. Lady Pole lifted her head and glared at him.
“John Segundus, you know that’s not who I mean.”
A garden of magic sprung between them, roses that died out as they fell unseen to any but John Segundus. Lady Pole opened her mouth but nothing came out except a scream. Segundus heard it in two places; at Starecross and in the dark place far away the other noises came from.
“I am scared for you,” he said. “I am sure you will hurt yourself if this continues.”
“There is no worry there. In this room I am perfectly safe.”
A draught in the hallway shut the door with a bang. They both jumped again.
“Lady Pole…” Segundus began.
Segundus backed toward the shut the door. Tendrils of magic pulled at his legs. He tasted smoke like he sat next to a fire.
“I am sorry. You're in no state to talk. I will leave, but my fear for you is great.”
“No, Mr Segundus. Please. You look ill. Please, sit in my chair for a moment.”
The magic seemed to lessen as Lady Pole calmed but still, Segundus was grateful to sit. He noticed when he did that the hems of his breeches, once new and fine, had frayed. Time had passed so quickly since he had come here thinking to open a school.
“You are worn down,” said Lady Pole. She pulled herself up on the bed.
“I am. As are you.”
They sat together for a minute or so in silence.
“Mr Segundus? I have a question for you. I have meant to ask it for some time.”
He nodded, too tired for much else.
“Just after Christmas, when John Childermass was here...Did he return? In the nighttime?”
Segundus stared. He had been so sure the meeting had been discreet, though he worried more about his crying from after. Lady Pole stared back at him.
“So, he did. I…”
Another bloom of magical roses between them. Lady Pole shook her head.
“He never wanted to hurt me, I know. I shouted because I feared he was sent here by his master.”
“I feared the same,” said Segundus.
“But he was not. And when he returned, it was not for me?”
“No, it was not. We had a disagreement, the two of us. It was for that he came.”
Magic like sunlight twinkled off of him for a instant and was gone.
“I heard a song…” said Lady Pole. “A knight...a knight and…”
She stopped, shaking her head. Segundus leaned forward. There was another burst of warm magic. Lady Pole reached up to touch the air in front of her, but nothing was there.
“I cannot tell you. But I am sure. I am sure, Mr Segundus, it was a song about a knight and his pure love.”
The sound of a piano, a few notes only. The sound of John Childermass saying the first letter of his name, choked by the vines of the magical roses. Segundus shook his head to rid himself of the noise.
“I will make note of it, Lady Pole. It may be important.”
“Mr Segundus, have you ever been in love?”
Segundus let his head dip forward a bit. It was hard to answer looking her in the eye.
“I have, Lady Pole. For all the good it has done me, I am not sure I would wish it on you. To love and love truly has been a singularly painful experience, I have so far found.”
“How do you manage with a bruised heart?”
“I cannot pretend to have done well. But I have tried. And I have learned. It is all I can do.”
The dark magic in the room had thinned somewhat as the two spoke and they both breathed more easily. Segundus noticed a bit more color in Lady Pole’s cheeks and his own heart no longer pounded. Lady Pole reached behind her and began to fix her disheveled braid.
“How is Sir Walter?” she asked.
“Worried for his wife. Worried he is bothering her.”
She picked up one of the loose feathers that had fallen from the bed when she tore the pillow and set it in her palm before dropping it and letting it fall back.
“I do not shout because of him,” Lady Pole whispered. “I do not shout because of him.”
“I will rest, and join you at dinner, if I am well enough. I want to tell Sir Walter that I enjoyed the book he sent.”
“That will mean so very much to him.”
“Mr Segundus...I do not love my husband. But he is not a bad man.”
“He is not.”
Lady Pole wrapped the end of her braid around her finger. Her body sagged with exhaustion.
“Do think I can come to love him?”
“I do not know. I cannot lie to you that all will suddenly right itself when we find out what is wrong with you and are able to make you better. But perhaps you can become comfortable when you are well.”
“The knight…” she whispered to herself. “His love lived in a tall tower at the edge of a green sea…”
There was a rapping at the door and Wilhelmina peeked her head inside the room.
“Lady Pole? I am so sorry for leaving.”
“I am better, Wilhelmina. And you have nothing to be sorry for.”
The maid turned her head slightly and inclined her chin in an almost nod at Segundus. For someone as level as Wilhelmina, it counted as high praise.
“Mr Segundus can always help.”
“He can,” said Lady Pole.
The blush he knew would arrive did. Segundus stepped aside for Wilhelmina to take over.
“Let me clean the room and help you to bed for a while. I will start to mend the clothes you’ve….that have been ripped. You should try to eat.”
Segundus left the women and went back downstairs to sit with his guest.
He was sure, as he approached the stairs, that he as well knew a song about a knight, though it was something he knew not from hearing it ever, but as though knowledge of it had been dropped suddenly inside of him.
There was nothing that John Childermass knew with certainty any more, not since the pillar of darkness took Jonathan Strange.
He could talk about it to no one, this sense of dread. No one would listen about the magic except for John Segundus, who had so rightly sent him away when he came to talk.
Each night, the dreams were worse, stronger.
Childermass felt the magic of his cards, the bit of John Segundus’ magic that had attached to it and spoke to him, trying to fight off the visions of his sleep. He woke with it curled against him, a loyal magic and soft. It had no form, but he knew it was a soft thing. The magic grew stronger, though, night by night. Childermass sometimes woke smelling the clean and soapy smell of the magic’s source in his bed, where for a few hours the man himself had once been.
Norrell paced at night, shuffling down the hallways and stairs, and Childermass had to wake to take him back to his bed.
The newspapers brought only fear.
Each day, Childermass saw Henry Lascelles and had to know that Lascelles was aware of his heartbreak and gloated over causing it. Each day, he watched his master do nothing. It did not matter, Childermass told himself, not when he had kept each promise he had made to Norrell, but it made him feel like the scrawny half starved young pickpocket who had come into Norrell’s home decades ago. Not since then had been this unsure.
Each night, more dreams.
Each day more magic.
Childermass had his heartbreak to think on and he did. Segundus was right, in all he did and said. There had been no secret agreement between them as lovers, no promises to keep to each other, no love notes burned after late night readings. There had been him, hoarding correspondence from Segundus but never returning it. There had been him with nary a word of comfort each time Segundus was brought lower. There had been him, pretending as though reading his cards morning and night counted as care.
Childermass could not tell himself that Segundus was safe now, not with magic as it was, not with Jonathan Strange in some dark tower in Italy, but he knew Segundus could fend for himself. He had proven that with strength each time he was left alone by one person or another. Segundus had proven it the month before, standing in his bare feet in the doorway of his home.
Childermass was so sure now of the power spoken of in the message his cards gave him about Segundus. It was a power of Segundus’ self, of his magic, which Segundus had not even yet acknowledged that he possessed.
There was one peaceful dream that came from time to time: a sea of green. Segundus stood on the shore.
The world was so dark. His back ached from the fall to the ground. His sheet was twisted around his leg and he kicked to loosen it.
Charles was at his door. The familiar whisper was a comfort in the oddness of everything else.
“Mr Segundus? Are you alive? The world has gone odd and there was the most horrible noise from your room.”
“I am alive, Charles. Come in, please. I need help.”
Charles opened the door and shouted when he saw Segundus lying on the floor. Segundus heard Charles run toward him and felt him place a hand on his arm.
“Charles, I cannot see.”
“What is happening, sir? What has afflicted you?”
Excitement laced through his fear. There was so much magic and it made him feel so very alive. Most of the magic was frantic, but not unkind. It stretched and called out. The magic that had surrounded Lady Pole was there as well and stronger than it ever had been. Segundus was not sure what would happen, but he knew that if he lived through this day that he would not go to sleep in a world that was the same.
“I don’t know, but everything will be alright. Just please, help me up from the floor. I need to see Lady Pole and I cannot get there on my own.”
Gently, Charles helped him to his feet.
“Wilhelmina is frantic, sir. Lady Pole is very ill.”
“Everything will be alright, Charles. I will need your help for now, but soon, I will have you send for a doctor.”
Segundus knew that she did not need a doctor. A doctor could do nothing for what had happened, nothing for the wild magic growing over everything. But to send for one would ease the house, perhaps. So, he would do it. He would do it later. though. For now, there was magic.
Charles led him down the hall to Lady Pole’s room. Segundus heard the door open. He followed Charles’ steps inside. Another arm, small, grasped his.
“Oh Mr Segundus, thanks be to God,” said Wilhelmina. She gasped and Segundus assumed that she had only then truly realized he was still in his night shirt. Segundus was glad then that he did not know what anyone else wore.
“But what has happened to you?”
He could not see Lady Pole but he felt the magic that surrounded her, how it pulled at her with renewed force.
“Lady Pole, it is you we are concerned for right now.”
“I am concerned for you as well,” whispered Charles to Segundus.
“Please, can someone describe for me what has happened to Lady Pole?” asked Segundus. “I cannot see very well.”
It was Wilhelmina who spoke.
“She is pale and weak. She shakes.”
“I am in the room! Do not speak as though I am not here, please. I am so very tired of people speaking as though I am not here”
Though he could not see her, Segundus turned to where he knew Lady Pole sat.
“Yes, thank you Wilhelmina. Perhaps I should speak to Lady Pole herself. Lady Pole, I am sorry.”
Charles brought him closer. The air around Lady Pole felt colder than the rest of the room, but only for a moment. He still had time to gasp at the change.
“You can feel my prison,” said Lady Pole.
“Will I survive it?”
“Yes,” said Segundus. To say the word so quickly and with such confidence shocked him, but he felt as he heard himself that he was right to have said it and he believed it. “Somehow you will and I will make sure of it.”
With Charles’ help, he stood.
“Wilhelmina, can you have tea made? A large amount. Tell the servants they can rest. I will be busy and Charles will be with me, so I will need you to see the house. Run a warm bath for Lady Pole when that is done and get her warmest dress. Lady Pole, does that sound well?”
“It does,” she said.
“I can manage that, I think,” scoffed Wilhelmina, but not without a twinge of pride.
“Very well,” said Segundus. “I will not go far. But you are very brave, Lady Pole, and I know you will not be afraid. Wilhelmina, I place Lady Pole and Starecross in your care. Charles, come with me. We will need to find someone willing to ride to the doctor and send an urgent letter to Sir Walter Pole.”
The world was so dark. Childermass thought of a rhyme from his youth to steady his mind as he unpuzzled the magic that he walked through. His neck was warm and wet. He tasted blood at the corner of his mouth. Childermass stumbled once and left a bloody fingerprint on the wall when he put his hand out to catch himself.
Blood poured from his face.
Childermass used all of his own magic to wind his way through the labyrinth of Norrell’s magic leading from the library.
Blood trickled down his collar into his shirt. He loosened the stained cravat at his neck and continued walking.
Davey found him first.
“God!” he said.
“It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“Where are you going? Where is Mr Norrell?”
Davey took the handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Childermass, who wiped at his face and rolled his eyes at the sight of his own blood.
“Well, a scar won’t make you any uglier, I suppose.”
Childermass could not help but laugh, though the pain made him grimace.
“That it won’t.”
There was a moment just then that he thought the magic might drown him before he could take another breath, but it did not.
Childermass was sure as he rode away minutes later that he left the only true home he had known. He had not had one as a child and London had never felt right, but Hurtfew was home and he did not think he would see it again.
If he was lucky, there would be time to be sentimental later. Presently, there was work. There was magic. Thankfully, Childermass was not far now from where he needed to be, who he need to see.
John Childermass, he thought. This magic might kill you today, but it will not take John Segundus. It will not take the young lady he cares for.
He had not meant to curse, but his shock at feeling John Childermass’ magic approach was great. In truth, he had not known Wilhelmina was there as he could not see and had forgotten the door to his bedroom was open.
“Very sorry, Wilhelmina. Can you tell me, where is Charles?”
“With the other servants. Some of them are very scared.”
There was no time to call for him. Segundus used the side of his bed to pull himself up. Step by step he made his way down stairs. The familiar magic of Childermass found Segundus and led him to the door.
John Childermass’ magic lay down at his bare feet and sighed. Segundus was surrounded by silence. Despite the weight of all of the magic in the house on him, this did not feel heavy, to be touched by the magic John Childermass did. It was in fact like the release of love making. He tried to catch his breath.
“John. John, my love. What happened?”
“John…” said Segundus. “I think, not now. There is not time.”
Segundus peeled open his eyes. John Childermass’ face was torn open.
Childermass dropped the magic that kept them in silence.
“No!” said Wilhelmina. “No, Mr Segundus, with all the respect you are due, not that man. I will not admit him further into the house or any closer to Lady Pole.”
Segundus watched Childermass lie on the floor and roll his eyes at the woman.
“Wilhelmina. I thank you for your dedication. But Lady Pole and the house are safe.”
The maid scowled at Childermass.
“Look at his face! He has been brawling!”
“I have not,” said Childermass.
“He was assaulted I fear,” said Segundus. “Charles, please help up our guest.”
Segundus felt Charles let go of him but soon, Charles’ hand was back on his arm.
“Mr Segundus, please,” said Wilhelmina as Charles led them toward the stairs.
“It will be well,” said Segundus.
“It’s not like I could hurt anyone in this state, even if I wanted to,” muttered Childermass under his breath.
Segundus turned his face toward Childermass.
“That is not helpful, Mr Childermass.”
The magic became a thick forest as they made their way up the stairs.
The fussy maid was not pleased when Segundus told her what they needed to do the magic, but she went for it anyway. The man who had walked them upstairs, Charles, did not leave them.
“Magic, Mr Segundus?” the maid whispered when she returned with the implements. She handed them shakily over and stepped away from Childermass. “Here? On Lady Pole? In conjunction win him? Oh, please not after all that she has been through. I beg you no, as someone who I know has her best interests at heart.”
“I am not Gilbert Norrell,” said Segundus. “And neither is Mr Childermass. We will not harm her.”
The maid balled her skirt into her hands. She was here only but he Lady Pole in a duel life, only one of them in this room. The vision of the other place was a dark and terrible thing. He did not know how she sat so calmly in her chair when part of her was trapped.
“But what if there is an accident? I know you would not mean it…”
“I want them to,” said Lady Pole. “Wilhelmina, it is my only chance of escape.”
“We are both familiar with the spell,” said Childermass.
“But you have not done it!”
Childermass flaked away some dried blood from his neck. Wilhelmina grimaced.
“We can. I think, Wilhelmina, that we can.”
The magic coming off of Segundus was hot on Childermass’ skin. A furnace. His body begged him to give into the feeling of it, to lie down and drink it in until his body could hold no more.
There is the power, thought Childermass. But Segundus’ hands trembled. He looked back at Childermass.
“It must be done,” said Segundus.
Wilhelmina stepped aside, but stood beside the chair where the Lady sat. She closed her eyes and began a prayer.
They began the magic at the same time and in seconds, there was nothing else in the room.
Segundus was pale. He could see now, and stand on his own, but he was pale. Childermass watched him with concern, thinking he should sit and rest, but Segundus did not settle.
There was much for a master of a house to do, especially after the events of the morning. Segundus saw to the newly freed Lady Pole’s comfort. He sent away the doctor when Lady Pole shouted at him to leave. He eased the nerves of each scared servant and made arrangements for the next meal.
All the while, magic poured off of him. For as long as he could, Childermass stayed and basked in the feeling of it, the sight of Segundus rushing from place to place in its wake.
“Mr Segundus,” he said after an hour or so. He sat in a chair in the parlor, watching Segundus instruct Charles on something that needed to be done.
“You are still in your night shirt.”
Segundus very nearly laughed. More magic. Segundus excused himself to change.
Childermass left and when he returned hours later, Vinculus in tow, Segundus found them rooms and food and something for Vinculus to drink. He still had not sat, Childermass was sure.
There was much he wanted to tell Segundus about the afternoon, but could not, not just yet and not in detail as he could not remember everything.
Childermass ate at the Starecross table, sat in front of the fire until he fell asleep. Segundus woke him, showed him to his room, and needed to leave. Childermass lay on the bed, suddenly not tired at all.
Very late, the house settled. The magical hold over Starecross loosened slightly. Childermass stayed awake in his room, listening. Segundus’ magic sang; it was an old song, one with words not in any language he knew, but he found himself singing it.
Segundus returned to his room, which was next door to where Childermass had been placed. The magic quieted a little, yawning.
Childermass listened to the movements of Segundus’ body and his magic.
When there was no other noise, Childermass left his room. He covered himself in silence and walked to Segundus.
He did not need to knock.
“Come in,” whispered Segundus as he arrived at the door..
He was still dressed from the long day, clothes he had eventually put on when the magic was done. He sat on his bed, shaking. Segundus looked at Childermass, who knew that he was dirty and bloody and wild, and he smiled a weary smile.
“I am glad you’re safe,” said Segundus.
“You as well.”
“May I sit?”
Segundus nodded and Childermass approached the bed. He took Segundus’ hand.
“We have done it,” Segundus said.
“Thank you. You have always believed I could do magic.”
He had to touch him. He had to feel more of this magic. Childermass lifted his hand to Segundus neck. Segundus moved toward the feeling.
“There is something I need to say.”
Segundus kissed his fingers. His lips left a sweet bit of magic there.
“The first time we met, when we were together. I did not know that you set to sell yourself. I was drawn to you and your magic. I had you because I wanted it very much. I knew not that I hired you.”
Segundus sat up straight, pulling away from Childermass’ hand.
“You did not know?”
Childermass shook his head.
"I wanted to be with you, but did not know how to say."
They sat in silence, their magic making company.
“John,” said Childermass. “I am sorry.”
Segundus said nothing. His eyes closed.
“I have done wrong by you,” said Childermass. “Time and time again. But I love you. That is all that matters to me. Not any other thing or any person you may have been with.”
“I love you too. I have said it before.”
“You have. The feeling in me is not new, only my ability to say it. Again, John, I am sorry. I beg you to forgive me.”
“Oh, John, of course I accept it.”
Childermass took Segundus’ face gently in his hands.
“You do not mind? Dirty as I am?”
Childermass kissed him and drank in the magic living in Segundus. When the kiss ended, he rested his forehead on Segundus’ shoulder and wrapped his arms around him.
“John...John, I am yours. I want nothing more than to be with you tonight.”
“I want the same...but no.”
Segundus did not ask him to let go. Childermass held him tightly.
“I love you still,” said Segundus, a whisper against his neck. “But I will need time. I will have to see what I am ready for and when.”
“I have wronged you. You’re right not to trust me.”
A sigh pushed more magic into Childermass. He heard Segundus sigh again after, a sigh of pleasure, as more of Childermass’ magic met him.
“Let’s not mention it again tonight. We have...we have another chance now. We will speak of it later.”
“Will you ask me to leave?”
“May we sit together for a while longer, close as we are, and allow me think? It is so nice to have you here, though. I do not think I want you to leave.”
In answer, Childermass did not let go.
Segundus fell asleep like that, leaned against him. Each time his heart beat, magic twinged inside Childermass and the room was warm and bright with it. When he was deep in sleep, Childermass lay Segundus down in his bed and left.
In room next door, Childermass lay down and as he fell asleep, he felt magic coming through the wall.
Snow has me stuck at home and missing fic writing, so I tied up some loose ends.
He had been a boy again, his mother looking down at him with her large, dark eyes. A stolen pocket watch was in his hand, held out to her, and she smiled at him. He heard even the dripping of the roof, leaky as it always was, the crying of the children his mother always had under foot.
He hurt. He hurt so much. He realized now where he was, that he was a man and a magician, not a boy, and that he hurt. The world was full of mean whispers, and more gentle ones pushing them away. His eyes closed, he still felt the magic. It came from everywhere, each source distinct. There was something else too; a warm feeling on his chest and torso that he could not identify.
John Childermass opened his eyes and found that he was in too much pain to turn over. A fire in his room crackled somewhere to his left. He could not see Segundus, but he felt his magic. It was the strongest in the room. It had rushed toward Childermass when he woke. John Segundus sighed and his magic tried for an echo of it.
“There you are,” he said.
As he moved to look at Segundus again, a large orange cat jumped off of Childermass’ stomach and onto the floor. Childermass fell back to the bed as the cat ran off with an offended howl. That at least was explained.
“Don't mind Laertes.”
“Who?” asked Childermass. He groaned swiveling his head, saw that Segundus held a tray of food. He was dressed in blue today; a dark blue jacket, and a pale cravat of the same color.
“I see. Shakespeare?”
He heard the smile in Segundus’ voice. Segundus walked to the bed and sat next to him. He put the food on the table beside the bed.
“How long did I sleep?”asked Childermass. His voice felt full of dust when he spoke. He heard the cracks in it. The sun was far across the room, the shadows fat.
“It's 3:00 in the afternoon.”
Childermass groaned again. The gentle whispers were winning and he understood them to be part of Segundus’ magic, now strong and lithe as a foal on her first run. The other whispers he knew well. They were from magic that had woken and did not want to sleep again.
“It was Monday when I closed my eyes.”
“I know. Here, let me help you sit.”
Segundus wrapped an arm around him and pulled him up. Childermass’ vision went black for a moment with the pain of it. The gentle whispers of Segundus magic rushed toward him, tried to life him with Segundus.
“John. John, your wrist is swollen. I'm going to take a look.”
Segundus’ magic flowed into him when fingers met skin.
“Oh, this doesn't look very good. Lie back against the headboard, if you will.”
Childermass thudded against it and felt more magic make its way under his skin. He opened his eyes. Segundus held his wrist in his thin fingers.
“A sprain, I think,” said Segundus. “You’ll need to rest it and keep it still.”
“As you say.”
“I suppose you’re left handed for a few days at least. Lucky you, being able to use it just as well.”
Childermass closed his eyes again, and there was a new feeling on his wrist; not one of magic, but of soft fabric. When he looked again, Segundus’ blue cravat was tied around his wrist.
“It will keep it in place for now.”
The smell of food; of bread and bacon and eggs. Food smelled different with so much magic in the air, Childermass discovered. Childermass had never wanted to eat anything as much as he wanted to eat this breakfast.
“Can you eat?”
In answer, Childermass’ stomach rumbled and Segundus smiled. He did not hand Childermass the fork, but watched him for a moment.
“You are tired, John.”
“Are you able to move?”
An honest answer was a long time coming.
“Not well, John,” said Childermass. “I feel the magic of Monday, and the miles I rode. I feel my age, John. I am sore.”
“I will feed you, then,” said Segundus.
Segundus cut a fork full of eggs and put it on a bit of bread. He lifted it to Childermass’ lips and Childermass ate. His lips touched Segundus’ fingers as he did, a moment when their eyes met. Runny yolk dribbled down his chin and Segundus wiped it with a napkin. The proximity of John’s fingers to his lips sent a tickle of magic into Childermass, and many memories.
“It was Monday when I closed my eyes,” said Childermass.
Segundus served him another portion of bread and eggs, this one piled with bacon. He did this until the plate was empty. He then lifted a cup of tea to Childermass’ mouth and Childermass drank like the parched person he was and tea spilled from his mouth when he drank. Warm tea ran down his neck and chest. Segundus cleaned that as well, running the rag down him. Last they had spoken, Segundus had put space between them that now, with a day and half of sleep and a sprained wrist, was breached.
“John, I have so many questions about what has happened.”
“I will try to answer them,” said Childermass.
“I can hardly keep up with the news. But is it true that Mr Strange and Mr Norrell are gone? In that pillar of darkness?”
“And..” Segundus paused. “I am not sure if I should say, given your frail state, but there have been some disappearances.”
“Stephen Black. Christopher Drawlight.” Segundus looked toward the window. “Henry Lascelles. No one has seen them.”
Segundus’ magic still played with him and he felt inside of his chest his own magic creaking awake.
“I cannot account for Stephen Black, but I know Christopher Drawlight is dead. Lascelles killed him. As for Lascelles…”
The chill of the fairy road came back to him.
“He is gone.”
“He is not dead, but he will not be seen again alive. I believe he has become the victim of some very powerful enchantment.”
Segundus’ chest deflated as he slowly let out the breath he held. The room filled further with the scent of his magic. Childermass’ stomach rumbled again.
“You are sad?”
“Oh John, whatever his faults, he was a person, and now…”
“He never tried to kill you.”
“That he did not.”
“He was your lover.”
“That is one word you could use,” said Segundus. “Some men may give their bodies and keep all of their heart, but perhaps I am not one of those men. I did not love him, nor was I even really fond of him, but yet, I cannot help but feel pity for such a wretched fate. I am sorry.”
Childermass grunted. To hear Segundus speak of Lascelles was not easy, but he held to his conviction that Segundus had done no wrong.
“There is no need. You have nothing to be sorry for, John. Your heart is kind.”
Segundus lifted his head, an act of gathering his strength.
“Let us dress you, John,” he said.
Each time the name was said by one of them the magic in the room jumped a little, happy to hear the sound.
Childermass’ clothes sat where he had folded them Monday night and Segundus picked up the blood stained shirt, stained with blood from the cut to Childermass’ face, frowning at it.
“This will have to do for now, but what a thing to put on on you. I will find you something and later, you can change.”
He helped Childermass to sit again and gently moved the shirt over each arm and over his head. His muscled burned when Segundus placed his arms here or there and his breath caught. When that was done, Segundus lifted his legs and pulled breeches over them. The gentle touches to his body, the sweetness of the magic emanating from Segundus, were balm to Childermass, and an ache as well.
“You are as I remember you,” Segundus whispered. His ears had begun to grow pink. “But a bit more gray now. And...your scar.”
Childermas had forgotten that Segundus had not seen him since him he had been shot.
“It is a fierce thing, still,” said Segundus.
“It was a fierce wound.”
“Now, we must tend to your hair.”
Segundus found the ribbon on the floor and gathered Childermass’ hair in one hand and tied it back with another.
“Now that you are dressed, I can bring you your correspondence.”
“People seem to know where you to find you. I will bring the papers as well.”
“Am I not to leave the bed?”
Segundus raised an eyebrow.
Segundus moved to stand, but stopped. He leaned forward and placed his lips on Childermass’.
“I have not given away my affections, John Childermass. They are where they have been. In time, when I am healed a bit, I will return to you. I must. My heart is with you.”
Segundus’ magic stayed on his lips.
“I have missed you, John Segundus.”
“I am here. There is no need to miss me any longer.”
Segundus stood then and Childermass watched his magic trail behind him as he left the room.