AND THE LIGHT SHINETH IN DARKNESS

AN UNFINISHED NOVEL

 

(1996)

 

Christian Carter-Stephenson

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

"How weary, stale flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world."
                        (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2)
 

PROLOGUE

A chill wind gusted across the deserted cobbled street, but the black-clad man, who stood lurking in the shadows, seemed oblivious to it. His harrowing thirst drowned out all other thought. It felt like an eternity since he had last had a drink.

At first glance, you would have said that he was a young man, but this impression would not have lasted, for there was an ageless quality to his face that said otherwise. His unreadable grey eyes were also at odds with his apparent youth, as they bespoke a profound wisdom that could have only come with the passage of time. They were the kind of eyes that seem to look into a person's soul at a mere glance; which in itself would not necessarily have been bad, except that those who tried to meet his stare inevitably felt themselves overcome by a terrible despondence that threatened to swallow up all other emotion.

Long ebony hair fell about the man's shoulders in a torrent of elegance, framing a face that was so aesthetic that it defies description. Every feature was perfectly formed, making the very greatest works of art seem deficient in comparison. Yet in spite of the overall beauty of his face, there was something about it that left those who looked upon it cold with terror. Whether it was the unnatural pallor or the overly red lips that prompted this fear was uncertain, but of one thing there could be no doubt; the face was wholly evil.

The man was dressed in a wide-cuffed jacket, tight-fitting breeches, silk stockings and a pair of expensive looking gloves, all of which were as black as the night sky above him. A long cloak, which was also black, completed his outfit, and augmented his sinister appearance.

The moon was not bright, and hidden in shadows as the man was, it was nigh impossible to pick him out, especially as he was wearing such dark attire. He surveyed the gloomy street with those unnerving eyes, which penetrated further into the night than should have been possible. Dank buildings crowded the narrow street on both sides, giving it a decidedly claustrophobic feel. The paving stones were uneven and there were signs of neglect all around. Most of the roofs were derelict, and those that weren't looked like they soon would be. There were no street lamps to relieve this sombre scene, though pools of light spilled out from some of the less decayed windows. Unfortunately, this fitful illumination only served to intensify the darkness everywhere else.

The man hardly noticed the dilapidation around him; the thirst completely dominated his thoughts. A weather-beaten door swung open a little way down the street and the lurid glimmer of candlelight disturbed the melancholy gloom. The door belonged to a forlorn old inn, which aside from the shoddily repaired roof and boarded windows, was in a worse state of repair than any other building on the street. A wooden sign creaking noisily in the gusting wind proclaimed the name of the establishment to be "Le Chevalier". The stonework of the inn was pitiful to look at, the wooden beams were close to rotten and the window-frames were so rickety that they gave the impression they would not survive the next stormy night. In fact, given the building's sad state of repair, it was a marvel that it was still able to procure a single guest, but for whatever reason, it was almost always full.

Not that the man in black was interested in any of this. His eyes were firmly fixed on the open door. As he watched, a woman stumbled out into the street. The woman was a whore by the look of her. Only a whore would hide her face behind so much powder and rouge. She lacked the slim waist and round hips that would have made her figure truly desirable, though her cleavage was ample enough. Despite the make-up plastered across her face, it was obvious that she wasn't beautiful. Attired in a gaudy muslin gown, which was far more revealing than any dress of the day should have been, the woman tottered down the street in the opposite direction from the waiting man, obviously the worse for wear from overindulgence at the inn. The wind flung her flaxen curls about her mercilessly, but she was too drunk to notice or care.

The man smiled menacingly and started down the dark street after her. The woman was in too much of a stupor to hear his soft footsteps, and only became aware of his presence, when he reached out and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to face him and made a vain attempt at a provocative pose. The whore shook her head to try and steady her vision, so she could get a better look at her prospective client. It took her a moment to overcome her amazement; he was quite simply the most handsome gentleman she had ever seen. "Can I be of service?" she asked, stumbling over the few simple words.

The man did not answer, but stood and studied the woman before him for what seemed like an eternity. The flaws in her face were clearly visible, even in the wan moonlight. She really was an ugly looking thing; it was no wonder that she had failed to sell herself at the inn. No doubt the woman had no family - in his experience, few prostitutes did - and was desperate for money. Such women fought against the ever-present threat of abject poverty by plying their disreputable trade. They had no real friends and nobody cared what became of them. She was perfect!

The woman met the gaze of the mysterious gentleman who had sought her out. Something about him made her want to turn and run away in terror, but she found to her horror that she could no longer move. She was rooted to the spot by his piercing grey eyes and wasn't even able to cry out for help. Those eyes were both terrible and wonderful to look upon. They seemed to hold the answers to untold mysteries and she was completely transfixed by them. She was terrified, but at the same time, fascinated. The man took her in his arms, exhibiting a strength that she would not have suspected he possessed, and wrenched her head back. He smiled maliciously and lowered his luxurious lips towards her. Her own lips parted, ready to receive his kiss and she waited in expectation. The man opened his mouth in preparation, savouring the moment, and then sank razor-sharp fangs into the luscious flesh of her snow-white neck. At last he knew peace; at last, his thirst was quenched.


                

CHAPTER I

LIFE BEFORE

The year was 1815 and the recent Battle of Waterloo was the favourite topic of polite conversation. Near the prosperous English town of Blackpool, nestled among a rolling landscape of picturesque pastures and meadows was a well-kept Palladian mansion, which belonged to Sir John Longfellow. The prosaic house was not especially large, so it had no official name, and was referred to simply as Longfellow's. It was constructed entirely of grey stone, and consisted of a two level central portion that was flanked by a pair of homely little wings, which had clearly been added at a later date. There was a Corinthian portico at the front, which assisted in making the main entrance the most prominent feature of the house. The building was severe and symmetrical, though charming sash windows - which twinkled when the sun shone on them - and an attractive parapet, went some way to breaking the monotony. In short, there was little to distinguish this particular house from the numerous other examples of Palladian architecture scattered across the English countryside.

The grounds in which the house was set were, however, were another matter entirely. A formal garden near the back entrance provided an interesting contrast to the otherwise naturalistic style of landscaping. Within this charming garden, pretty gravelled walks traversed sweeping lawns, dotted with colourful flowerbeds. The approach to the house was along a majestic cedar-lined drive, which gracefully skirted a natural lake. As one rode along this drive, one could not help but marvel at the ingenious way in which clumps of trees had been laid out across the grounds to provide an ever changing view. A variety of picturesque buildings were hidden away around the small estate. These included a classically-styled conservatory and a lofty mausoleum, which was a work of such sombre beauty that it made those who saw it yearn for death so they might take up residence within.

Taking into account the overall loveliness of the grounds, it is perhaps not surprising that Sir John Longfellow gleaned so much pleasure from walking in them with his beautiful young wife, Lady Elizabeth. Sir John was a handsome man, with shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes that twinkled with youthful enthusiasm. He was tall and well muscled, his profile was flawless and his deep resonant voice was truly delightful to hear. Young in years, he was most happy when engaged in rigorous outdoor exercise, such as long rides through the quaint countryside, but he was also an avid reader and a talented pianist. On top of this, he was generous to a fault, with a noble heart and an amiable disposition.

Sir John's peerless good looks and friendly personality had ensured that he caused quite a sensation when he entered society. Numerous eligible young ladies had fallen for his charms and strived to win his affection, but all in vain. His heart belonged exclusively to Lady Elizabeth Simmonds, who he had met years before at a garden party that his parents had thrown to celebrate twenty-five years of marriage. Sir John and Lady Elizabeth had fallen passionately in love from the very first, and it was not long after they came of age that they announced their engagement. They waited an unusually long time before marrying to ensure the longevity of their feelings for each other, but this long engagement only served to intensify their love and when they were eventually joined in holy matrimony, the union was idyllic.

Lady Elizabeth was as beautiful as Sir John was handsome. She had bounteous golden ringlets that glistened when they caught the light and large blue eyes, like mysterious lakes, deep enough to drown in. She was the very embodiment of feminine loveliness, having a fair complexion, which was flushed with a healthy crimson glow, a slender white neck and full, pouting lips. A light-hearted woman, she was perpetually happy and seemed to spread joy and contentment wherever she went. She always had time for those less fortunate than herself and had earned the adoration of everyone who knew her.

There were few men who would not have done anything to gain her hand in marriage, but she had been devoted to Sir John, since the first day they met. It is unlikely that anyone could conceive of a better match. Sir John and Lady Elizabeth were the closest a couple have ever come to perfection.

It was a warm evening in August and the couple were taking a turn together through their modest grounds, with their little black spaniel scampering happily along at their heels. Sir John was puffing thoughtfully on a fine Turkish cigar and Lady Elizabeth was singing quietly. At length, Sir John emerged from his reverie. "My darling, I have found of late that I have a growing desire to see a little more of the world," he remarked. "What would you say if I suggested spending a little time on the continent?"

"Nothing would please me more," replied Lady Elizabeth. "Can we visit Paris? They say it is the most romantic city in the world. Oh, and Venice. I've always wanted to ride around in a gondola. Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?"

"Not half as wonderful as you, dearest," replied Sir John, with a warm smile. "As for your suggestions, we can go wherever you wish, and Paris sounds like an excellent place to start. I can hardly wait to show you Versailles - it is magnificent and has a fascinating history. Did you know, for example, that the reason the sun king chose it as his seat of government was that he had such a deep-seated distrust of the French nobility?"

"I didn't know that," Lady Elizabeth admitted, "but it is an interesting piece of trivia. Yes, we must certainly go to Versailles. If it's as beautiful as people say, then we would be mad not to."

"Versailles is beautiful," Sir John assured her, "though it pales in comparison to you. There is nothing I can think of that I would enjoy more than touring Europe with you."

"I love you," said Lady Elizabeth earnestly.

"And I love you," replied Sir John. "With all my heart. If I were to ever lose you, I don't think I could go on living."

They walked on for a while, lost in their own happy thoughts, until Lady Elizabeth felt the urge to break the silence. "When can we start?" she asked excitedly. "It is going to be so incredibly special that I want to leave as soon as possible."

"I have a few things to take care of before we can go," said Sir John, absently picking up a stick and throwing it for the dog, "but it shouldn't take me more than a week or two."

Lady Elizabeth watched the vibrant little spaniel race joyfully after the whirling stick and bring it triumphantly back between its jaws. "So soon!" she exclaimed. "What has brought all this on?"

Sir John puffed on his cigar in quiet contemplation for several moments before answering, "I suppose I am just bored with seeing the same surroundings day after day. You know how restless I can be sometimes. Besides, I know that you have always longed to see the world and there is nothing I enjoy more than indulging my wife."

Lady Elizabeth flung her arms around her husband in a warm embrace. "I am so lucky to have you," she said sincerely.

"It is I who am the lucky one," Sir John told her, holding her close with his strong arms. "I love you more than life itself." The pair were both ecstatically happy and the embrace between them lasted for a long time. The little dog had dropped its stick and sat watching them, with a puzzled look on its face.

Sir John looked lovingly down at Lady Elizabeth and she looked adoringly up at him. Their eyes met and it was not long before their lips followed suit. They were a strikingly handsome couple, and silhouetted as they were against the setting sun, the scene would have made a truly wonderful painting. Sadly, there was no artist on hand to capture the passionate kiss, only a perplexed little spaniel. However, it was not the first time the couple had shared such an intimate moment together and they had no intention of letting it be the last.

When the two finally parted, the sun had set and a hazy twilight had descended over the grounds. Sir John took Lady Elizabeth gently by the hand and they continued on their way. They wandered over a small grassy rise, passing between two knots of trees, and came at last to the lake, which shimmered mysteriously in the light of the newly risen moon.

By one side of the lake, under the boughs of a cluster of weeping willows, was an iron bench. It was to this dainty arbour that Sir John and Lady Elizabeth proceeded, with the spaniel running enthusiastically after them. When they got there, they sat down on the bench to contemplate the melancholy beauty of the scene before them. The moon shone down on them, bathing the landscape in a soft, incandescent light that gave it an entirely different and more serene aspect to the harsh illumination of the summer sun. The only sound was that of the grass swaying gracefully in the breeze. A thin veil of mist had gathered over everything, and when a swan chanced to float majestically across the lake, they were captivated by its ghostly splendour.

It was Lady Elizabeth who finally broke the silence. "It is so very tranquil here," she remarked. "I wish we could capture this moment and keep it forever." She gently squeezed her husband's hand.

"How wonderful that would be," Sir John agreed, smiling thoughtfully. "I am so happy. Then again, I am always happy when I am with you. As long as you are by my side, I feel there is no obstacle that I cannot overcome."

"Do you realise that we have been married for five years?" Lady Elizabeth enquired. "There is a school of thought that suggests that spending that much time with someone should wholly extinguish your passion for them."

"Well, I love you more with each passing day," Sir John asserted, encircling her with his arm.

"I feel exactly the same," Lady Elizabeth told him. "Time seems not to diminish, but to strengthen the ardour of my feelings for you. I never thought I'd say this to anyone, but I will love you until the end of time." She snuggled up closer to her beloved husband and sighed contentedly, as he gently stroked her flowing golden curls.

Who knows how long they would have stayed there if it hadn't been for a cold wind that arose from nowhere and swirled about them with a persistence that was impossible to ignore. "It is getting cold," Sir John remarked. "Perhaps we should start back."

Lady Elizabeth nodded her agreement and pulled her green velvet cloak closer around her to try and shut out the biting wind. The blithe couple stood up and started towards the house, laughing at the dog, who dashed ahead in his eagerness to be back inside, relaxing in front of a hearty log fire.

It was approaching ten o'clock by the time Sir John and Lady Elizabeth arrived back at their rather severe little mansion. They wearily mounted the steps to the front door, with its ornamental entablature, and passed through into the elegant entrance hall.

The hall, though a little on the small side, was tidy and tastefully decorated. A narrow crimson carpet of rich velvet led from the front door to the staircase, over gleaming marble floor tiles. Oil paintings hung at regular intervals around the dark wainscot and an ever-vigilant terracotta statue of Saint George stood by one wall. Facing each other across the room were two doors. One of these led to the drawing room and the other to the library.

Sir John crouched down to remove his sturdy walking boots. The spaniel nuzzled his leg and he patted it lovingly on the head. "There is nothing like a good walk to clear your head," he said cordially.

Lady Elizabeth had already pulled off her dainty black boots and was waiting patiently by the drawing room door. She was still wrapped in her heavy velvet cloak, as the hallway was slightly drafty. "You are so right," she agreed, smiling pleasantly at her husband. "I can't abide being cooped up indoors all the time. Especially in the summer, when it gets so stuffy in here. I'm just glad we have such lovely grounds to walk in. I've lost track of how many times I have wandered in them, but there is always something new to catch my eye."

Sir John, who had finally succeeded in taking off his boots, in spite of the constant pestering of the dog, walked across the hall to join his wife. She smiled at him and led the way through to the drawing room, where she sank down onto a bearskin rug in front of the ebbing fire. Sir John stoked the fire with a brass poker and rolled a luxurious sofa close to the hearth. He stretched himself out on this sofa and was joined momentarily by Lady Elizabeth, who curled up contentedly next to him.

The couple had always been fond of the drawing room and it was not unusual for them to spend long hours sitting in there. The ornate marble fireplace, with its slender columns and intricate embellishments, was undoubtedly the centrepiece of the room, although the Biblical ceiling frieze was only slightly less impressive. The landscapes that lined the walls were not particularly valuable, but were nice to look at, suggesting that a lot of thought had gone into choosing them. A similar attention to detail could be seen in the chairs, which had been covered with the same material as the walls. These chairs, as well as a number of other charming touches, were directly attributable to Lady Elizabeth, who took great delight in planning the decor of her matrimonial home.

"When I think of all the people out there who have nobody to love, it makes me so happy to have found you," purred Lady Elizabeth. "You are the best husband that anyone ever had."

"And I could not wish for a better wife," replied Sir John. "It's hard to imagine what it must be like for the many people who end up trapped in miserable relationships."

"You make me feel so special," said Lady Elizabeth, snuggling closer to Sir John.

"That's because you are so special," Sir John told her.

They lapsed back into silence and lay cuddled up together, enjoying the warmth of one another's bodies, until at length, they were disturbed by a knocking at the front door. The little spaniel, who had been reposing peacefully on the hearthrug, barked excitedly at the prospect of a visitor.

Sir John reluctantly disengaged himself from his wife's loving arms, and the two assumed a more pertinent position for receiving company. A few moments later, the butler came into the room to announce that one of the grooms wished to speak to them urgently. The butler was a tall, elderly man, dressed in the customary black linen tailcoat and brilliant white gloves. His hair was a venerable shade of grey, and although his face was withered with age, there was something undeniably benevolent about it.

"Ask him to come in," instructed Sir John. The butler bowed his acknowledgement and withdrew from the room.

"What do you suppose he wants?" asked Lady Elizabeth, who was somewhat perturbed by this untimely interruption.

"I have no idea," replied Sir John, "but I hope it's not some major catastrophe. I was hoping to spend a relaxing evening curled up in front of the fire." He kissed his wife gently on the forehead and she gave him a warm smile.

It was not long before the butler returned, accompanied by the groom - a slight and ruddy-cheeked individual, with untidy black hair and a mischievous face. A pair of grubby corduroy trousers and matching waistcoat did nothing to improve the boy's unkempt appearance. The butler, whose immaculate attire made a notable contrast to that of the groom, solemnly informed Sir John of the newcomer's presence. Even while he was addressing the master of the house, the butler's eyes never left the groom, and he made no attempt to conceal his misgivings about the boy's presence.

"You may leave us!" Sir John told the butler, in a voice that was clearly meant to be reproachful. The butler made a stiff bow and withdrew.

The groom stood uncertainly by the door, awaiting Sir John's permission to approach. "You mustn't pay any mind to Jenkins," said Sir John in his most friendly voice. "Since my parents died, he has felt it his duty to take care of me. He can be a little over-protective at times. Please, sit down and tell us why you're here." Sir John gestured towards the hearthrug.

The groom hesitated, unsure what to make of this candid display of familiarity, and it took a reassuring nod from Lady Elizabeth, to convince him to move. He had not been in the couple's service for very long, so he was not yet aware of how unusually well they treated their servants. Strange as it seems, Sir John was fully aware that it was only providence that separated him from those beneath him in the social hierarchy.

"Go on. Sit down by the fire," Lady Elizabeth encouraged. "You look cold." The groom dropped awkwardly down onto the rug and began warming his hands at the blazing fire.

"What is it that you wanted to tell us?" asked Sir John after a moment.

"Well, sir, "said the boy nervously, in a thick yokel accent, "me and the other groom, Harry, took one of the bays to be reshod this afternoon, so we had to work late. We was just brushing down the horses, before packing up for the day, when we comes across a shadowy bundle near the back of the stable. Naturally, we was a little affrighted, but we shone a light into the darkness to see what it was. Imagine our surprise when we realised we was looking at a moucher, sleeping in the straw as peacefully as you like. He must have crept into the stable when we wasn't looking."

"What's a moucher?" enquired Lady Elizabeth.

"A tramp," Sir John explained.

"Yeah, a tramp," the groom agreed. "Anyway, we was at a loss about what to do, so I came to tell you, while Harry stayed behind to watch the fellow and make sure he didn't get up to no good. Harry reckoned you'd want him thrashed and sent on his way, but I wanted to make sure."

"You and Harry can go to bed," Sir John replied sharply. "I intend to take care of this personally."

The groom scrambled to his feet, somewhat startled by Sir John's tone. He backed away towards the door, wringing his hands together anxiously, before bowing clumsily and hurrying from the room.

"What are you going to do?" Lady Elizabeth asked Sir John when they were alone again.

"I am going to take care of our guest, my dear," said Sir John benevolently. "I am going to show a little kindness to one of those who are unaccustomed to it. In the words of our Lord, 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.'"

"Sometimes your generosity amazes even me, my darling husband," said Lady Elizabeth approvingly. "It is little wonder I love you with all my heart and soul."

Sir John made his way across to the bell pull and rang for the butler, who promptly re-entered the room. "How can I be of service, sir?" he asked in a level voice.

"Have the cook prepare a plate of mutton cutlets and bring it to me, please Jenkins," Sir John instructed. "Oh and be so kind to bring me a blanket, as well, would you?"

"As you wish," replied the butler, whose facial expression lacked its usual warmth.

"One more thing before you go, Jenkins," said Sir John, as the butler turned to begin implementing his master's wishes.

"What's that, sir?" enquired the butler.

"I wanted to apologise for my earlier abruptness," said Sir John.

"There's no need," came the butler's response. "You are the master of the house and it is your prerogative to command the comings and goings of your servants as you see fit."

"Even so, I feel I should offer you some semblance of an explanation," Sir John pressed. "I realise that you had my best interests at heart in your attitude towards that boy, but it is my firm belief that if we treat those below us contemptuously, then they will behave contemptuously. Likewise, if we treat them with respect, then they will behave respectfully."

Sir John's words went some way to appeasing the butler. His wrinkled old face brightened and he nodded his understanding. "I can see your logic," he remarked, "though I do not entirely agree with it. I shall go and do as you have instructed." With these words, the butler made an elegant bow and left the room.

"Would you like me to accompany you to the stables?" asked Lady Elizabeth presently.

"No, my love, "Sir John replied. "You stay here. It's awfully cold outside and I wouldn't want my lovely wife to catch a chill."

"What if you catch a chill?" Lady Elizabeth responded.

"There is far less chance of me catching a chill. After all, I'm a man," Sir John joked.

Lady Elizabeth threw her hands up in the air in mock exasperation. "If you ever say something like that and mean it, then there will be serious trouble," she said playfully. Her eyes shifted from her husband's face to the crackling fire and as she gazed into the flickering flames, she resumed speaking in a tone that was once again serious, "Be sure to look after our impromptu visitor. I cannot help but feel sorry for those who are forced to wander the countryside begging for scraps. It is no fault of theirs that fate has dealt them such a cruel hand."

Sir John was about to respond to this comment, when the butler returned, with the requested mutton cutlets from the cook, who had just happened to have some left over from the servants' dinner. The meal had been covered with a plate to keep it warm. In his other hand, he had a thick sheepskin blanket, rolled up into a neat bundle. "Here are the things you asked for," he said, barely managing to suppress a yawn, as it was getting very late.

"Thank you, Jenkins," said Sir John, relieving the butler of his load. "That will be all for tonight."

In that case, I bid you both goodnight," replied the butler, and with that, he departed.

As the door closed, Sir John pulled on his great coat and lit a cigar. He did not relish the prospect of having to reacquaint himself with the brisk wind outside, but the thought of the moucher having to contend with far worse on a regular basis was enough to strengthen his resolve. Sir John hugged his wife affectionately. "Don't wait up," he said with a wistful little smile.

The couple shared a passionate kiss, which lasted for several minutes. When they finally separated, with great reluctance on both parts, Sir John walked ruefully from the room, leaving Lady Elizabeth alone, to lose herself in her own thoughts. She lay back down on the sofa and wrapped herself in her luxurious cloak. It was not cold, but the emptiness of the large drawing room made it seem that way. She listened pensively to the crackle of the fire. How strange it seemed that a room so animate when they were entertaining their friends, could seem so solitary now!

Lady Elizabeth could feel herself growing increasingly tired, and began to think about making her way upstairs to bed, but the sofa was so comfortable and the room so warm that she quickly lost the inclination to move. Instead, she continued to lie there in peaceful contemplation, and it was not long before she fell into a deep sleep, in which she dreamt of her wonderful husband and their imminent trip to Europe.

Sir John, meanwhile, was making his way through the grounds towards the stable. He watched the wreaths of smoke from his cigar drift away into the night sky, as he walked slowly along the neat gravel path. He couldn't get over how fortunate he was. He had everything he could wish for - a charming wife, a large circle of amiable friends and enough money to live in comfort for years to come. This was in stark contrast to the man he was about to meet, who would doubtless have struggled to buy himself so much as a square meal. Most mouchers had to resort to imposture to keep themselves alive. They were seen as the scourge of the countryside, but given their backgrounds, they could hardly be other than what they were.

The small granite stable glinted in the moonlight as Sir John approached. The door was open, but the interior was in darkness and there was not a sound to disturb the brooding silence of the night. Sir John extinguished his cigar and strolled forward, reproaching himself for not having had the foresight to bring a lantern or candle. He allowed his eyes a few moments to adjust, and then stepped into the blackness.

Sir John could hear the moucher snoring softly, but at first, all he could make out was a heap of filthy rags at the back of the stable. As he became accustomed to the dimness, however, he fancied that he could see the grimy fellow wrapped up in the tattered rags.

Sir John made his way over to the sleeping tramp, creeping gently past the dark stalls, so as not to disturb the horses. The moucher was barely old enough to be afforded the title of 'man' and might have been handsome if he hadn't been so dirty. Sir John shook his head in pity and laid the sheepskin blanket over the luckless youth, who snuggled down beneath it. He then placed the steaming plate of mutton cutlets on the floor by the young man's nose and took a step back to examine his handiwork. It wasn't much in the grand scheme of things, but it was better than nothing. Sir John gave the moucher a final compassionate glance, before silently leaving the stable, slamming the door on his way out to ensure the youth awoke before his dinner went cold.

 

TO BE CONTINUED (PERHAPS)...

 

The right of C. J. Carter-Stephenson to be identified as the author of this story has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author, or a license permitting restricted copying. Any breach of copyright will result in legal action. Wherever you are, there is no escaping the long arm of the law.

 

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