his lord and master
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by Andrew Lee Hart



Wollaton Hall, Nottingham  


“You need to get rid of him; he is just an urchin from the streets; you have had your fun, now it is time for him to go back to whichever slum you found him in.”

“He is a very good valet.”

“Arthur, he is no such thing. His accent is common and his expression impertinent; he seems unable, or unwilling, to hide his contempt for us.”

“Sir, he is always polite, he is intelligent, and without doubt he is the best servant that I have ever had.”

“We have learnt to live with your mixing with riff-raff in Nottingham, your excessive drinking and your whoring. But to have someone like that here at Wollaton; your mother does not feel safe.”

There is a laugh, that laugh, the memory of which still makes my heart shake with delicious joy, and then with a “oh sir” he swiftly walked out of the room, fortunately I had anticipated him and was standing nonchalantly on the other side of the hall when he came out of his father’s study.


Arthur looked at me searchingly, silently questioning whether I had overheard the conversation with his father, but I looked back at him impassively, and after a moment he spoke.

“Come Gregory, we are going to paint in the gardens.” And off we trooped, I laden down with his canvas, easel and paints, plus a coat in case it rained, whilst he strode ahead of me; young and uncaring, and I could not but help be infected by his lithesome spirits.


The house looked a deep brown in the afternoon sun; vast and ageless, built at the time of Good Queen Bess according to Arthur. It was full of rooms and the grounds stretched out on all sides. I could never have imagined living in such a beautiful place, I who had always lived in mouldy rooms and crowded corridors. Whilst Arthur painted, I smoked a cigarette; he seemed at ease now, doing what he liked doing best; his parents disapproved of his “awful daubing” and his friends either mocked him or fawned upon him, depending on their wealth and character, but when he painted it was the only time when he seemed to lose his restlessness and be content.


“What do you think?” I gazed at the swirl of colours that covered the canvas; and eventually it started to make sense; was that a naked woman peering out from the window? And in the distance, I thought that I could see torches and swords and hear the chants of the peasants ready to burn down Wollaton and slaughter those within, and I gazed appalled at what he had created; perhaps it was a great work, but I thought it was disordered and gratuitous, but Arthur seemed proud of it.


And then I realised that he was stroking my thigh, casually but deliberately, slowly enjoying the feel of my leg, and then I forgot all about the painting, and just hoped that we were not being spied upon by a curious servant, or even Arthur’s parents. I could smell wine on his breath, but whilst he was sober enough to paint and walk steadily, he was being over daring, and taking foolish risks.

To my relief he murmured, “I think we had better go inside”, his voice thick with lust, and I gathered up the implements and followed him indoors, a smile on my face despite my best efforts to appear a solemn and respectful servant.


Arthur laughed with joy as I helped him to dress.

“Oh dear, have I come to this, a vain popinjay? A strutting cock?”

“You look very handsome Milord.”

“Thank you, Gregory,” he said patting my bottom absent-mindedly, “and what are the most recent rumours about me?”

This was his usual line of questioning; he did not realise that the servants rarely talked to me, that they were as snobbish as his parents. I did overhear the occasional titbit of gossip regarding him; usually about “that vagabond of a servant.” But I could usually make up something or at least embellish the few whisperings that I have overheard.

“They think your father might cut you off, because you have been secretly wed.”

For a moment he looks uneasy, “so they have heard that have they?” he murmured as if to himself.


“Is it true?” I asked him.

“You know me better that anyone, what do you think? Now just check I am ready for this dreadful dance.”

I could not imagine anyone looking so handsome and perhaps seeing the love in my eyes he kissed me plumply on the lips; his bristles leaving a red mark on my face and I prayed that nobody would notice as we took the carriage into the city for yet another ball and for Arthur to find the wife that his parents so desperately prayed for.


She was large, but I could see that she was beautiful, and for just a moment I envied her husband the gardener who came home to this Venus every night, and I wondered if he knew that she was sitting naked and proud in Arthur’s bedroom as he painted her. She shifted herself briefly and caught my eye; I could tell she wished I was gone, perhaps she hoped to seduce her young Lord or at least earn a favour or two. I stayed, resolutely looking at her, my eyes unyielding, I wasn’t going anywhere.


Arthur seemed to be concentrating fully, there was a glass of something that smelled pungent and rather sickly, by his side, and every so often he sipped from it. Marie sniffed slightly in disgust; I knew that she was an abstainer and attended chapel in the city, and I wondered what the congregation would think if they could see Marie now, in her nakedness.  Mind you they were a hard-headed lot, these chapel folk, and believed strongly that servants should obey their masters and had no objection to the gathering of money, so perhaps they would turn a blind eye.


A bell tinkled from below us and Marie flinched, but Arthur was oblivious and kept on painting, a look of deep concentration on his face.

“You have better go Marie” I told her after a few moments, and with a fearful glance she quickly dressed herself whilst Arthur busied himself with the canvas, not acknowledging her, although no doubt I would be sent to bring her some coins later that evening, which she would carefully hide away and not tell her husband about.  


As she left the room she could not help but glance at the painting, and I saw her flinch with a horrified look, because rather than the voluptuous and lovely woman that she undoubtedly was, Arthur had painted a naked devil, full of lust with an expression that was unmistakeable in its lewdness and needs. Marie gave me a terrified look, as if it was all my fault and then hurriedly left the room, weeping as she did so. Arthur laughed maliciously and continued to touch up what he had created.





I sat in a café mulling over what I have just seen; the naked limbs, so closely entwined that it was impossible to guess whose were whose, the smell of drink that made me stagger as I entered the room and the groans of lust; Arthur and our landlady, the elegant Madame Allard oblivious to all but themselves. Stunned and hurt, I hurried out of the house, desperate to find somewhere to sit and ponder.


I slowly sipped at some cheap wine and felt heartburn reach out and grab my body, and I tried to breath, controlling the acid in my stomach so that eventually it subsided. Over at the far side of the café was a young woman who had always seemed to be there in recent days, watching Arthur and me. Just another drunk wasting away her life; I could almost smell her despair from where I sat, she glanced over at me, perhaps in sympathy and then looked away, but moments later she appeared to pluck up her courage, perhaps recognising something similar in me too, because she stood up and came over and joined me.


To my surprise, when she started speaking, I discovered her to be English.

“Are you his servant?”

I looked at her; “valet.” I corrected her.

“Still a servant, and you knew who I meant.”

“Who are you?” I asked curiously; I think if I had not just seen my master and our landlady, I would have told her to leave, but I wanted company, even of the cheapest kind.

“My name is Helen and I am Arthur’s wife.”

I glanced at her and smiled bleakly.

“I doubt he will admit it, and perhaps the ceremony was not legal, although there was a clergyman and witnesses, so I suspect it was. But I am his wife under God, and he is the father of my child.”


Helen’s eyes were dark brown and she was looking at me intently, as if weighing me up.

“What do you want then?” I asked. She was attractive but close up I could tell she that her clothes were old and worn and there was a smell of sweat about her, which made me feel a little sick.

“Money. He has enough, his parents give him an allowance I know. I don’t care if I never see him again, but I would like something to help me settle down, and to pass on to his son. I can write to his My Lord, his father, but I thought I would give him a chance. For all his faults he was a generous man and I think that he truly cared about me even if he left me without a word.”

“How old is the boy?”

“He is three, living with my sister in London. I called him Arthur too, he is just like his father.”


I bought her a drink and for a few moments we were both quiet.

“I met him in London three years ago, when he was staying there with his parents; he painted my portrait and then slept with me, and promised to marry me, and eventually he did when I told him I was with child, probably because I threatened to cause a scandal.”

“So you followed him here?”

“I have been living here with someone else, a young gallant, but he left me, as they all do. And then one of the servants at Wollaton wrote to me and told me he was in Paris. He wasn’t hard to find….”


I shrugged. “He has some money but he is not wealthy; he came to France to be taught by a famous artist, Monsieur Caminade; his parents keep him on a short allowance in the hope of forcing him back to England, they are not happy that he is here. He has enough to get by, but that is all.”

“I will go and see him” Helen replied unconvincingly but instead she continued to drink and when she had finished I bought her another glass and we continued to talk as the afternoon drew on, and I wondered if Arthur was still abed and if he was thinking about me.


He had found me in Nottingham, just another young man hanging around street corners looking for a way to make a penny or two. My father had drunk himself to death; dying in his own filth and then my mother had thrown me out as I got in the way of her whoring, telling me I had to earn my living, and I had done, scavenging, using my wits and learning to get by, and when this handsome man, about my age, accosted me, I recognised that this was a chance and I was determined not to throw it away.


“What is your name?” he asked me, his expression kindly and curious.

“Gregory My Lord.”

“I am Arthur. Do you think that you could work for me?”

“Yes, My Lord”.

He looked me up and down and clearly was happy with what he saw; he bought me clothes and installed me in a room and taught me what he wanted from a servant. I realised that this was my way out and that it was in my own interests to learn quickly and to please My Lord Arthur, and when he invited me into his bed I saw that as part of my duties and one of the more agreeable parts.


I proved to be a quick learner and in a very short time I was brought to Wollaton and announced as his servant. I was given a smart uniform and my own room, never had I known such luxury. I paid attention to everything around me, read everything I could get my hands on and tried to fit in, but there was something about me, a stain from the gutter perhaps, that would never leave me, and meant that the other servants did not trust me, let alone Arthur’s parents. But thank God Arthur did not see it or did not care. And he stuck by me; he may have been promiscuous and thoughtless, but he has been loyal to me in his way, and he rescued me, even if it was just a whim or lust.


I escorted him to Monsieur Caminade’s studio; it was on the rue Murillo; a dark, damp street some distance for where we lodged. Arthur had corresponded with Monsieur Caminade for weeks before we left for Paris and was now his pupil. I enjoyed going with Arthur to his lessons; I would sit on a broken-down chair which was rather comfortable and gaze out of the window at the life below me whilst Arthur painted and Monsieur Caminade watched, barely saying anything; I felt contempt coming from the teacher, but there was little but the occasional grunt and unintelligible muttering so who knew what he truly felt?.


This time Arthur smelt of drink and for once it seemed to be affecting him, his face was red and his walk seemed less sprightly. Under his arm was a canvas which he refused to allow me to carry, and he patted it as we walked along, as if it was something precious, his child or a large amount of money.

“This will show him” he said to me mysteriously and continued to walk ahead, bumping into the Parisians as he made his way down filthy streets. A child asked him for some money, and he gave him all the change that he had in his pocket, barely acknowledging the child’s thanks, and soon there was a trail of children following us, hoping for more coins from the profligate Englishman.


Monsieur Caminade, was not in a happy mood when we banged on his door; he was only partially dressed and looked tired, he scowled at us as we entered his studio, and then glared at the canvas under Arthur’s arm.

“What is that?” he said as if Arthur had brought a particularly pungent dead cat into the room.

“Let me show you.”

It was a portrait of Madame Allard, in fact little different from the nudes he used to paint at home at Wollaton; naked, lustful, but perhaps this was a little more skilfully done, he managed to capture her beauty and dignity. I am no artist, so I don’t know, but he did seem to be improving. Monsieur Caminade, however did not like it.

“What is this pornography?” he asked and then tried to grab it out of Arthur’s arms, who, realising that his teacher meant the picture harm, refused to hand it over and soon the two men were fighting over the painting, whilst Madame Allande looked on naked and unashamed. Caminade may have been old and frail but Arthur was very drunk so that they both fought ineffectually and rather pathetically, with grunts and curses.


At first I watched, neither could hurt the other and I hoped that one or both would become embarrassed and stop this farce, but both were too stubborn to do that, and in the end, wearying of the whole thing, I pushed them apart from each other and stood between them.

“You are no artist monsieur” Caminade told Arthur, puffing angrily; “I don’t care for your money, no longer will I humiliate myself teaching such a fool.” Arthur glowered at him, hurt and angry, but unable to think of anything to say, and so after a moment he stormed out, carrying his canvas with him, and I followed more sedately, as I left I tipped my hat to Monsieur Caminade, who despite his recumbent position I could not help but admire and suspect was a true artist.


As I followed Arthur away from Monsieur Caminade’s studio, in the distance I could see Helen, just watching, for a moment our eyes met and then she disappeared down a side street. I slowly followed Arthur home, eventually he grew tired of carrying the canvas and left it outside a boulangerie, for the owners to make of it what they would.


Arthur drank more that evening; he was depressed and less aggressive than he had been in the studio.

“I need to be an artist” he confided to me, “or else what am I? I cannot go back to England, just another fool chasing servants and eating too much.”

“Monsieur Caminade is just an old man who had had a bad night. Don’t be dispirited.”

“But what if he is right? He is the only true artist that I have met. I am rich, a Lord and so of course everyone I meet is going to tell me I am great. But what if I am not? What then?”

“Then go back to Wollaton and be a Lord; your parents will be pleased and you would have plenty to occupy your time.”

“Maybe” he muttered, “maybe you are right. Perhaps I need to stop pretending I am something special and do as my father wishes.”


He kissed me lightly and then went to bed and was soon snoring loudly, later on I heard Madame Allarde knocking loudly upon his door, but there was no reply and after a moment or two she went back down the stairs muttering to herself in French. Eventually I too fell asleep, but slept fitfully as it had started to rain heavily and there was thunder in the distance, and I was worried about Arthur and wondered whether he was serious about returning home.


I was awoken by Arthur’s door slamming and then a crash, as if a fallen body; when I investigated, I found him drunk lying on the floor.

“I went back” he mumbled, “I told him that I need him as a teacher. But he would not let me in, there was a prostitute with him, she seemed familiar, like someone I used to know.” He belched and shook himself. “They pushed me out onto the street and kicked me and then left me in a puddle, I ache everywhere.”

He wept with self-pity whilst I took off his wet clothes and helped him into bed, and Madame Allarde then came up, being disturbed by the noise, and between us we made him comfortable, and after muttering something unintelligibly he fell asleep, hugging himself.  He stank of wine and vomit and who knew what else, and the bedding was dirty and gross, I felt ashamed, particularly with the landlady standing next to me.


Madame Allarde looked at me sternly as we left the room her immaculate eyebrows raised; she may have liked Arthur but I knew that our time in Paris was over and that tomorrow she was going to be looking for more respectable lodgers.



Auvillar, Southern France


We arrived a year ago in this small French town, where the sun dominates and the golden fields stretch out on all sides. We had enough money to live comfortably, albeit without extravagance; Arthur’s allowance continuing to appear regularly each month. Arthur seemed happy at first with just me and he had plenty of time to paint without any commitments, and at first he took advantage of this, being in his studio from when he got up just before noon until the early hours of the morning, whistling happily.  He even persuaded a young maiden, called Celestine, to pose for him, until her mother discovered the arrangement and swiftly put a stop to it.


We had rented a small cottage, close to the town but not of it; the rooms smelt of the fields and animals and was rather beautiful in an austere way. One could imagine farmers having lived there from generation to generation, working the land and being part of the town. But now they had left it to a couple of Englishmen, outsiders who would soon be gone.


But as the days grew longer and brighter Arthur drank and drank and became frustrated with his art; throwing his brushes at the walls and destroying his canvases. After six months he was spending less and less time actually painting but just rambled on to anyone who would listen, usually me, and drank.  One afternoon I came back from a walk to find him naked in bed with Celestine, both drunk and giggling, and then Celestine started to vomit and cried pitifully, just a silly girl exploited by a heartless Lord. After she seemed better, I cleaned her up as best I could and sent her back home with all the money I could find. She wept as she left, and I felt very angry; with Arthur and his solipsism.

“She is only a child” I told him.

He looked at me wearily and fell back asleep. Our bedroom stank of sweat, wine and sex, and I left him to his slumbers and hoped that we would not be attacked by irate villagers, intent on avenging the honour of Celestine.


After this episode he rarely left our room, just wanting to sleep and drink so that I had to force him to eat. Even his lust had disappeared and I left him to sleep on his own, just coming in to clean up his vomit and to make sure that he did not choke. I spent my days in the gardens reading correspondence and making plans.


One day I saw Arthur in the town square, he had a notebook in his hand, and was scribbling something down, but when I looked over his shoulder there were just random lines, but then perhaps that was all he ever drew. He was too drunk to realise who I was, even when I sat down next to him and called his name. After a few moments I left him to it and returned home, but then when it grew dark and he had not come back I found him still sitting where I left him, close by was a young man watching him intently, clearly not sure what to do. We lifted him up and between us we managed to steer him home and put him to bed.


“There is somewhere to stay for people like the monsieur” the young man told me, his name was Lille “my brother works there, I will get someone tomorrow morning.”

I could have stopped him, could have said that Arthur was being taken care of, but it would not have been true, and I was weary of him, and the thought of somebody else having responsibility for him was a relief. And when they arrived in the early morning Southern sunshine, I helped them put him onto the cart and carry him away.


Why did I continue to visit Arthur? To watch him die? Nobody else was there, just the warders and other Lunaticks, not that he ever had many friends, was always aloof and superior, however much he might pretend otherwise. The keeper of the asylum came to me.

“Have you written to his father?” he asked me, “I cannot keep him here without money.”

“I have written.” I lied, “and he will be here soon, and he is sending a money order I will collect it.”

Monsieur looked at me suspiciously, but would the servant of a Lord lie? I turned away, and watch Arthur and eventually the keeper disappeared back to his work.


Sometimes Arthur recognised me; said the most obscene things, but fortunately nobody listened to his ravings.

“Gregory” he cried, or “James” or “Helen”.

When he first came here I used to sit close by him, wiping his mouth and giving him fresh clothes, but soon I realised that there was no point, that as soon as I had dressed him he covered himself again in filth, and then when he was sick over me and then tried to kiss me; his breath rank and fetid, I stayed outside looking in, the audience for a play.


My stomach feels empty.  My medicine won’t stay down. I sit in a corner and try to empty my bowels, but there is nothing.  I gaze up at the bright blue sky through the window above me.


And there is Gregory watching me. And who is that by his side?  A young woman who seems so familiar? But then I close my eyes and wretch. I loved Gregory, but has he ruined me? The drink; was that him or me? I don’t know, but at least we had some fun.


I gather my strength and pull myself up by the bars of the window.  There is a foothold on the wall so I can keep my balance. In the distance there is a hill, black against the sun and before that there is a farm, white and brown. Three men are leaving it, off to work on the fields. I can hear a tune that one of them sings and laughter.  I yearn to be with them off to do a hard day’s work.  I remember the farmers on our estate at Wollaton, and how I wished to be one with them. Perhaps they would let me paint them, I would sit out in the sunshine and draw away the madness within me. I call out to them over the fields, but my voice is cracked and empty and I can make no sound at all. And then I let go my grip of the bar and fall.


I watched him collapse and shout for help, but I knew he was dead or soon would be, and so I turned my head where, by my side Arthur’s wife wept. 



For a moment Helen held me and I felt her body shake as she sobbed, perhaps like me she loved him for awhile until he betrayed her, or perhaps she wept for the respectability of being his wife that had died on a stone floor, miles from Wollaton, or for her son, fatherless and unrecognised.


I gazed one last time at the man who had been my lover and perhaps my friend, and then I walked over to him, stepping over sick and vomit and bent over him and kissed his forehead; his skin was pallid and covered in sweat. To my surprise I realised that he was still alive, albeit only just, and he moaned slightly and said a name that I didn’t recognise.  I sat with him for a while, stroking his head, I could not accept that this feeble man, covered in filth was the same Arthur who had rescued me from the slums of Nottingham and who had been so full of life and lust. I was aware that Helen was waiting for me, but I stayed for a few moments more feeling unutterably sad, and wondered if all my planning had been worth it.

“I am sorry Arthur” I murmured as I got to my feet. I knew that the owner of the asylum would soon be over asking awkward questions and that I needed to be gone.


She was waiting at the entrance and the two of us walked back to the farmhouse, her hand upon my arm, as if we were lovers, and as we made our way we talked of the dying man as if he were a character in a story, unimportant and nothing to do with us, and then we lapsed into silence, each deep within our own thoughts.


We divided the money between us that evening, along with Arthur’s fine clothes and other valuables, and then she left; I suggested that she stay for one more night, but a farmer had promised her a place in his cart and she was anxious to be gone.

“Where are you going?” I asked her.

“Back to Paris” she told me, “I can set myself up very nicely with this money and what I can get for this clothing. And maybe I can send for my son, so we can be together. What about you?”

“I will travel; I can play the part of a Lord and make something of myself. Spain I think, Arthur said it was a beautiful country and nobody will know me there.”


She kissed me lightly, “I am glad I met you” she said solemnly and then she heard the sound of the cart through the garden and swiftly she was out of the door; I heard her greet the farmer and he touched the horse with his whip and they were off.  Sometimes I think of her and Arthur, how I imagine they looked on their wedding day; Arthur in high spirits, careless of everything as if it was a frolic, whilst the woman by his side, large with child looking up at her new husband with love and trust in her eyes. 


Early next morning I set off on the road for Spain and as I walked along, through the fields of harvested corn, I was filled with a deep, unwarranted hope that lightened my heart, whilst above my head the sun warmed me,  as if a blessing from up on high.




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