|Primary Characters:||d’Arnot, John, Jane|
|Warning:||m/m sex, some violence|
|Description:||What really happened between John and d’Arnot in the jungle? Wasn’t there just a bit more affection between d’Arnot and Jane than you’d expect on their second meeting? What happened to Jane after John went back to ruling his apes?|
It tore at my heart to see John running after the carriage. To see the tears flowing down his cheeks. But deep down, I knew that all he was grieving was the lost past, not any love we might or might not have shared. As soon as my eyes met Jane’s I knew that I had lost him. No. I knew that I had never really had him. Or that he had truly had me.
As an army man, I ought to have known how easily lonely men seek out the consolation of the nearest warm embrace, no matter who those arms belong to, man or woman. After all, had I not shared my bed with André, all those years ago? Telling myself that the boy was – as close to being a girl as anyone possibly could – only meant I was deluding myself. I knew this, deep down.
And so, I let John tear the ring off my finger, and put it on his own. That after all, was all I had been to him, a trophy, plaything. I – an officer, a gentleman – a Belgian nobleman.
But I get ahead of myself. My name, if it matters to anyone anymore, is Philippe d’Arnot. I was a captain in the Belgian army. Later, a guide in Africa. And it was there, in the depths of darkest Africa, that I met John. That was ever the way I thought of him in my mind. John. But in truth he was John Clayton, heir to Greystoke in Scotland. Heaven knows that my native Belgium is no warm resort such as Capri, Naples or Monte Carlo. But this place – it chilled me to the bones.
I ought really to be pleased to be leaving. What I had felt as Jane’s eyes met mine meant nothing. She was not meant for me. I could tell that the old man wished his ward to marry his grandson – or his son – as the old man was wont to refer to him. As if the all the years gone by since his son had left him, with his pregnant wife never to return. Jane. John.
Oh, what do these foolish thoughts avail me? I have a home of my own, a family. Amelie. What a fool I have been. I have been away too long. But she will be waiting for me. They will all be there, except for Papa. Papa – But I had long since come to terms with that loss. I might not have lived up to his expectations, and that had tormented me when I was younger. Now, I know that I did everything I possibly could to please my stern father. Maman, at least would still be there, awaiting me.
I had sent a letter to reassure her that all was well. How could I tell her what I had become? If my father had still been alive, would I have been able to meet his eyes and not give myself away? Surely, he would have been able to tell right away, that his son had fallen. Fallen deeper than any officer, gentleman and nobleman ever should. I had allowed myself to be used as a harlot – a catamite. That was not the course I had anticipated my life would take when I left for Africa all those years ago.
The hunting party had been mindless imbeciles, but so what? Their money would have kept me for a year down there, where everything was the white man’s for the taking. I knew how dangerous those natives were, but still, I never thought there would be any real risk involved. Even when the trigger happy Englishmen began to fire away at the savages, I did not see that we were inviting disaster. It was not until later I realized that the last remaining boys had died, with arrows in their chests or necks, and that if any of the Englishmen still survived, they had abandoned me.
I am no coward, whatever the English like to say of us Belgians. While still in the army, I have gone into battle, facing an enemy far greater than our own forces. I knew what fate awaited me at the hands of those savages, yet I did not fear death.
It was only later, when I lay in the branches of a tree, trying to pull out the arrows that had pierced me, that I began to fear. Not death in itself, merely the nature of it. To die here alone, Maman never knowing what had become of me. Never to hold Amelie in my arms again, as I had when I had left home all those years ago. No one would ever know what had become of me. I admit, that then, I was afraid.
The pain of removing the the arrows was close to intolerable . I felt my mind flicker in and out, like a candle burning low. But I knew how these things are done, though I have no medical training. If I could draw the evil thing out, and let the blood wash away any contamination, then perhaps I stood a chance.
It was then that a saw a shadow fall across me from above. Immediately, I feared a new assault by one of the savages. But the face looking down on me was not dark of complexion. A white man out here? Impossible. Was I at the point of death? I believe a few words escaped my parched lips. Papa. Have you come to take me with you? But the man above me was not an old man. Nor was he a spirit. He was as substantial as any man. The long hair grazing his shoulders reminded me of Amelie’s. So handsome. So young.
I blame my weakened state for not making the connection sooner. Of course. Clayton. John Clayton. The lost Greystoke heir. But this must be the infant, now grown into this fine young man. It never occurred to me that the boy, a European, albeit raised under such strange circumstances, might not at heart be a civilized man. Believing myself safe, I surrendered myself to his ministrations.
When he picked me off the ground, as easily as if I had been a child or a woman, I realized what tremendous strength he possessed. This was no delicate scion of a degenerate aristocracy.
He tended to me, rather roughly, but all the same, tenderly, as if he looked upon me with affection, not as a savage might view his captive. The nourishment he brought me did not appeal to me, and the unorthodox way he had of letting water dribble through his lips down into my mouth caused me some discomfiture. But I was in no way strong enough to protest.
After some time, I felt my sore and wasted body respond to his treatment and I began to feel stronger. In that time, I had occasion to watch my saviour closely. He was, as indeed my initial observation had told me, a very fine and handsome young man.
In his eyes, I thought I could read a spark of intelligence, and after a while I became sure of it. If only I could reach the shred of civilization inside him, he would once more be a part of my world, not this parody of a kingdom. For it did not take me long to discover his status as something like a king to the apes who appeared to be everywhere. I cannot deny that I felt a trace of fear as I watched those enormous beasts observe me. But their king, my saviour would not let any of them near me. It appeared as if he had declared me his own property. At the time, this used to amuse me.
The heat of the jungle appeared to alternately sap me of my strength, and cause my blood to boil with a strange passion, hitherto unknown to me. And the target of this obsession was – John. I could not remember even sensing this manner of obsession with Amelie, and this – this was a man. Young, handsome, but all the same a man, just like myself. At times, I tried to tell myself that it must be the fever affecting my brain. Indeed, there were nights when I was tossing and turning, beset by bizarre and confusing dreams.
In the end, I confess, I succumbed to the lure of these base longings. John had retreated, no doubt to catch me something unappetizing to forcefeed me. My flesh was tormenting me as on many other occasion. Though I tried valiantly to prevent my restless hands to wander across my skin, in the end, I gave up the struggle, hoping as I did so, that John would not return untimely.
Closing my eyes, I gave in to the temptation and began to slowly stroke my throbbing flesh. Biting my lip so as to not betray myself lest I make a noise, I let myself be swept away.
Again, a shadow fell across me, and feeling distinctly at an advantage, I looked up guiltily and found myself gazing into John’s eyes. I felt my face being suffused with colour, and my ears heating up uncomfortably. This was simply intolerable. No privacy to be had in this accursed jungle. I recalled how my nanny Hélène had once rapped my fingers sharply for thus defiling myself.
Though I was overcome with shame, I could not help studying his countenance. A puzzled expression had spread across his features, and I knew that he would not rest until he had discovered the reason for my strange behaviour.
I hardly noticed how he dropped whatever he had been about to feed me, and moved closer, intent on making a new discovery. For once, I cursed his inquisitive nature. Licking my lips nervously, I prepared to offer some manner of explanation, before the interrogation caused me even more discomfort.
But I was wrong. No questions burst forth. Instead he dropped down on all fours, and before I could move to intercept his hands, they had shot out and engulfed my still erect flesh.
The pounding of my pulse reached a deafening level in my ears, and for a second, it felt as if I had ceased to breathe. For a second, my arousal was dampened, and cursing inwardly, I realized that this phenomenon had attracted his attention.
He now began to mimic my movements of earlier, and though I tried unsuccessfully to push his hands away, I was held in a vice.
“John, I beg you. Arrete. We must not do this.”
Again, he faced me, with a question staring out through those intense eyes.
He ignored me. The rubbing intensified, and I felt myself respond. Struggling against my increasing arousal, I tried to resist the waves of pleasure. In vain. However inexperienced John might be at this craft, he excelled at this, as he did so many other things. It was not long until I felt myself approaching climax, and in a second I exploded, splattering my seed all over his clutching hand.
This appeared to astonish him further. He bent over intent on examining this new substance. By now, I knew any interference on my part would be in vain, so I attempted to deaden my emotions while the humiliation continued.
John raised his stained hands to his face and with all senses he began to analyse the fluid. His nose wrinkled and he frowned in concentration. I winced and looked away, but not before I saw his pink tongue shoot out to sample the taste of my secretions. A low grunt accompanied this new discovery.
At this point, I felt his strong hand shoot out and grasp one of mine, pulling it to him. I turned my eyes back onto him. Now I felt my hand being placed on his already hardening flesh. It did not take me long to realize that I was now being asked – no, impelled – to reciprocate. I had to admit that all thoughts of decency aside, this was no more than fair, and I applied myself to the undertaking, in the hope of this newly awakened interest dying down as quickly as his interest in the alphabet.
Again, I was wrong. Though it was easy enough to bring him to climax, it did not take him long to once again grow aroused, and this time, his exploration of my body and his own continued, though I again tried – to no avail – to divert his attention.
This time, he did not content himself with merely touching his fingers to my once again erect and throbbing flesh. Before I knew what his intention was, his long hair was brushing my skin and his hot breath was causing nearly forgotten sensations to stir inside me. To my shame, I had on occasion experienced this before. Only back then, a lifetime ago, the perpetrators of that exquisite sin were female. But I had long since resigned myself to being used as John saw fit. Feeling his mouth close on me, I shut my eyes firmly and began to mumble incoherently under my breath.
Once again, as my passion had abated, I found myself called upon to return his attentions, and by now, it did not greatly astound me that he expected me to perform a similar service to him. This, however, turned my stomach and I began to panic. His strong hands descended on my shoulders and despite my useless struggle, I found myself pushed down to my knees, and my head moved into position.
I looked up to once again plead with him, but there was no mercy now in the dark, cool depths of his eyes. Smothering a sob, I complied, and though frequently I was interrupted by retching, I was at last able to perform to his satisfaction. By now, I was blinded by tears and only wished to find some remote corner of this forest to hide my shame.
But my ordeal was far from over. I should have known that a man of John’s age, would soon be ready again. This time, I felt myself being laid out, flat on my face. Due to the perturbation my mind and body had suffered in the past half hour, my mind was slow to figure out what this posture portended.
As it did, I could not help but begin to beg him, in a most undignified fashion. This begging appeared to move him not at all, beyond some vague and rather half-hearted stroking of my hair and face. His clumsy attempts at comforting were in no way reassuring.
I felt his lithe body pressing into mine, but as I by now kept my eyes firmly shut, I did not look into his face. My pleading had ceased and I was mutely awaiting my fate.
A sharp, searing pain tore through me and I must have cried out, though I was biting down hard into my lower lip. It was as if a red hot iron was being shoved inside me. The size of him had already intimidated me as I was servicing him orally, but now – my innards were on fire. Hot tears were clinging to my eyelashes unchecked.
At long last, the pain began to subside slightly as he pulled back. Stunned and dazed I remained lying in the same position he had placed me in. My sight was dimmed by the tears that still wet my cheeks. But I was not allowed any reprieve. Strong hands turned me over once again, laying me on my back.
Suddenly, the light touch of a hand on my face brought me back from the depths of despair. My eyelids fluttered open and I was gazing into John’s inquiring eyes. His fingers caught a few drops of the salty fluid and as was his wont, he brought them to his lips. Now those probing fingers moved down to my mouth and dipped into the sticky wetness that I now felt flowing down my chin. I must have bit too hard and broken the skin.
What could I tell him that would make an impression on him? At this point, I was beyond making up any subterfuge, so I simply told him the truth.
He appeared to ponder this in silence, then once more, he attempted to stroke my hair and face. This did nothing to relieve the dull pain inside me, but I could not help but produce the smile he was so obviously hoping for. With that, he appeared to lose interest, and once again he withdrew to go about his mysterious dealings elsewhere, leaving me at last to cower in silence.
I knew it would not be long until he returned to once again use me to his satisfaction. Now I knew what to expect, and the thought of my upcoming ordeal caused the blood to freeze in my veins, despite the clingy heat all around me.
And yet, despite everything, after such a long time of abstaining, part of me was feeling a slight, but distinct anticipation. If only he had not let his desires run free. Some of what we had shared, I knew I could learn to get used to. Just not –
I was desperately trying to come up with a solution that would at least spare me the intensity of the pain of penetration. It seemed to me that there ought to be some manner of easing the friction of entry somewhat. At last I had it. It was something quite easily at hand, after all. I was right.
It was not long before John returned, and it annoyed me greatly to sense the obvious anticipation I was experiencing, despite everything. In this strange world, he was in charge. It was no use deluding myself on this account. He knew – or made – the rules, and I was but a pawn in his hands.
Part of me was resigning myself to my fate, and there was no denying that a manner of affection was growing between us, or perhaps, that aspect of the relationship was all in my mind. At the time, my only resort was to firmly believe so, but at present, the events being far removed in time and place, I now know that a delusion was all that love was, nothing more.
It appeared as if this time, John was going out of his way to treat me somewhat more gently, and to take his time. In short, the man who faced me that night, was more a civilized man than a savage. Under normal circumstances, what difference would it have made? Yet now, this minor change in his demeanor caused a slight increase in my heart rate. All the while, I was cursing my weakness. John, however, gave me no time to ponder my short-comings, nor prepare myself in any way. It appeared this new pastime had greatly inspired him.
I knew that I needed all my wits about me to implement my plan. Praying that my ruse would work, aware that a man in my position had no right to call on higher powers, I prepared myself to once again reason with my stern master. The thought of once more enduring such torment inspired such fear in me, I was fully prepared to fight to preserve myself from such agony. My innards could surely not tolerate another invasion so soon after the first one.
When John was once again orally servicing me, I took a deep breath, and dared to shove his face away from me, shortly before the consummation of his passion. A puzzled look greeted this action, but to my intense relief, he did not force the issue. Instead he appeared fully prepared to await my lead.
Hurriedly, I applied my hands to a more familiar task, taking care to catch all the fluid as it shot across my barely steady hands. As I now fully expected John to proceed with the same actions as before, I wasted no time applying the lubrication to his flesh, and my still excruciatingly painful entrance.
John appeared to understand, and even hold back slightly as he entered me this time. Despite my precautions, the pain was only barely tolerable, but I was able to keep my reaction from John, and as all other ordeals, this one came to end.
He appeared very curious to observe my reaction, and I resigned myself to the loss of privacy, as I felt his hands once again began their exploration of my face. Whatever tears that had sprung to my eyes, had not flown down my cheeks, and after a moment, he appeared satisfied and let his fingers trail down to my lips. Again, my lack of reaction seemed to be acceptable.
I paused slightly, before venturing to produce the lie he so obviously was hoping for.
At this, I expected to be left alone, but once more, I was mistaken. The face hovered closer, and though all my instincts cried out to me, to withdraw to suffer my humiliation in private, I forced myself to submit to his probing. His tongue shot out and flickered across my lips. To my shame, I must admit that this aroused me once more.
The probing continued, as the tongue made its way across my lips and gained entry into the cavity of my mouth. His tongue made contact with my own, and the lips pressed down on mine in what can only be described as a kiss filled with passion. Despite everything, I felt myself respond as I would have to a woman, and my arms moved as if of their own accord, pulling him into an affectionate embrace.
He tensed up, but appeared not unpleased with my display of affection, and in my turn, I felt myself engulfed in an embrace by those strong arms. It was an eerie sensation, feeling that lovely, long hair brush my skin, while at the same time being pinned down by the lithe and very masculine body. The conflicting emotions inside me ran riot, but the remaining impression was a favorable one. This time, John stayed with me for much longer and even appeared prepared to remain with me, thus entwined as we both drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke to find myself alone towards dawn, I felt an aching loss that once more enfuriated me. Was this what I was? This weak, pathetic, perverted creature who revelled in the degradation and humiliation? My father would have struck me down and disowned me forever. Again, but for another reason, I felt my eyes burn with unshed tears. Maman. Hélène. What has become of me? Oh, to once again be a boy and enjoy the luxury of receiving absolution at their hands.
Unbidden, a memory took form in my mind. I was 12 or 13. The transgression has now slipped my mind, but there is no doubt I had been a bad boy, and that my punishment was just. Hélène was vexed with me, and she lay me across her knee. With one swift, impatient movement, she pulled down my pants, thus baring my buttocks. Exposed like that, I felt at once humiliated, yet strangely excited. Next followed the spanking. I recall she used a hairbrush, and despite the dainty appearance of her hands, she applied herself to inflicting the punishment with astonishing strength. It was not long before my skin was burning and no doubt red from the abuse. At last, she desisted.
In a low voice that told me that she was indeed still upset with me, my nanny asked me if I had learned my lesson. My reply must have satisfied her, for she allowed me to pull my pants up and return to my play.
Would that I could once again place myself in her hands – or the hands of any other woman – and make penance, to rid my soul of these unmentionable sins.
Once I had fully regained my strength, I succeeded in persuading John to make the attempt to reach the civilized world. It was a gamble, but it paid off. We arrived at a trading post which only barely qualified as part of civilization, but at least we now had the means of transportation at our disposal.
I ought to have known that travelling in the company of a man little more than a savage might attract undue attention. As would the obvious intimacy John betrayed by holding my hand, not as a lover, as the uneducated wretches who witnessed the gesture surely deduced, but merely as a child, seeking the consolation of his elder. Struggling not to give away my discomfiture, I stalwartly determined not to dignify their curiosity with any outward reaction.
However, the brutes were not to be dealt with as reasonable, educated men. Within moments of John’s disappearance upstairs, I became the victim of a physical attack of such force that my nerves, already badly affected by my sejour in the jungle, broke, and though I loathed my own weakness, I found myself calling for John’s assistance, rather like a maiden in distress.
Would my shame never end? But he heeded my call, and though we must have attracted far more attention through the manner of our departure, we did safely reach the shores of Europe and eventually, the British Isles.
The old man did not appear to guess the nature of my connection with John, and if Jane did, she did not give any outward indication of having espied our secret. Jane. How can I describe how our meeting affected me, that first time our eyes met? Such a woman. But I was determined not to cause any undue offence, lest my behaviour, not merely my nationality might lead to my expulsion. I do believe the old man was grateful to me, in his vague way, for bringing his ‘son’ back to him, safe and sound.
John, who by now had assumed at least the outward appearance of a civilized man, did not shame me by suffering a relapse into his brute ways. Little consolation did that bring me, however. Almost from the start, I knew that his affection for me, if any had ever existed, was vanishing. Despite everything, this caused me some pain, though I had known our relations could not last, once we reached civilized shores.
I believe that once he laid eyes on Jane, he shrewdly gauged her significance, as a potential bearer of offspring. In this, I could not very well be of any use to him. And that, was in a nutshell, the importance I had ever held to him. Use. I had a use, when I was his only means of satisfying what to him must have appeared as the most natural of needs.
Though I ought to have realized it from the beginning, this knowledge only added to my sense of defeat. Not only had I succumbed to the basest of temptations. I had allowed myself to be used, as a harlot, and not only that, I had willingly given myself to him. My very heart. All for nought. Quel imbécile. J’etais fou. Mais c’etait la folie d’amour. How can we mere mortals fight love? Or even the baser instincts associated with that vain emotion.
When I left, I told myself I would pick up the pieces of my life, regain my self-respect, and – at last do what I ought to have done long ago. Ask for Amelie’s hand in marriage. I knew her uncle would look favorably on my proposal. Though the English might not realize or consider my lineage, I am every bit as noble as they. Perhaps more so, as I had gathered that the title Greystoke held was of slightly less antiquity than my own.
But on my arrival at home, I found it much changed. Maman, that is true, God bless the good woman, was still there, and greeted me with open arms. Was it my imagination or had she somehow diminished in size since we last met? My recollections of her depicted a far more imposing woman. But she was still my mother, and our love for each other was still as strong as ever. She was beside herself with joy over at last holding her only son in her arms.
“Philippe, c’est vraiment vous? I had almost given up hope of ever seeing your face again.”
“It truly is I, maman.”
She did not guess at my degradation. How could a woman of her station do so? That was my only consolation.
“Maman, listen. I must go and see Amelie -“
“Oh, mon Dieu. Mon pauvre petit. Amelie – she is married. She married the Count of -“
Amelie. Married? Impossible. She would have waited for me. Surely I must not be hearing my mother correctly. It was true that I had not formally extended my proposal, but I could not believe Amelie had not read my intention. On the other hand, the poor girl must have believed me lost, perished in the depths of darkest Africa.
To have come so far, yet at the final moment, the fulfillment of all my dreams was cruelly torn beyond my reach. My mother must have sensed my disillusionment, and she hastened to outline the balls she would give in my honour, on the occasion of my safe return. She would invite all the most eligible young ladies of the entire Vallonia.
I do not know what replies I was able to think of. All I know is that my return had not been what I had anticipated. The thought of my home had been all that had kept me sane during those interminable years of filth, danger, degradation, pain, sorrow. Now I knew that my home had never been the safe haven I had imagined. The world invaded my privacy even here.
The letter from Jane arrived exactly at the moment I most needed a diversion. Would I have rashly decided to return to Africa or some other such remote corner of the world had not her missive reached me when it did? I confess I do not know.
Though I was determined to deny the feeling, even to myself, I could not help but be excited at the prospect of once again seeing John – and Jane – despite the sad circumstances of my return.
My visit began auspiciously. Jane greeted me with so much warmth, she all but reached into my frozen soul. Her words created an illusion of belonging, which now eluded me, back in my own home. I found myself fervently wishing against hope that the love she appeared to feel for John, could despite everything be mine.
Not daring to give my feelings away, I merely clasped her hand in mine briefly, then turned to seek out John.
At first, I believed I could somehow recapture what John and I once had. He appeared to be prepared to accept my consolation, my support in his hour of need. But again, I had allowed myself to be deceived. Within moments of my arrival, he turned on me, not a shred of affection in his eyes.
He accused me of having forced him to return to this place where his only family had been an old man who was now gone. I was about to explain to him that even though the old man was no longer with him, his blood was in John’s veins, and though the individuals come and go, the family lives on.
But I might as well have saved my breath. My words did not make any impression on him. Again, he turned on me, this time, to bid me leave Greystoke. Though I ought to have expected this callous treatment, I cannot deny I felt something die inside of me. At long last, I saw John for who and what he was, after all was said and done. There was nothing as bestial, as a man turned savage.
I should have known long ago. There was nothing for me here, in this godforsaken place. Where else was I to go? I could not bring myself to go, not right away. I lingered on first in Edinburgh, then London, undecisive. Vacillating between the wish to attempt a reconciliation with John – and Jane, and the wish to bury myself somewhere far, far away from cold Europe.
In London I waited, I know not for what. A miracle? A change of heart? And whose heart was I hoping would change? My own? John’s? Jane’s? Though I knew now, at least at one level of my mind, where my feelings lay, I did not wish to bring this knowledge closer to the surface. Had I not been hurt enough, thanks to Greystoke, its heir and anything associated therewith?
And so I waited, for far longer than I ought to have. My mother sent me missive after missive, pleading for my return. Believing my heart broken by Amelie’s marriage, the good woman went out of her way to arrange meetings with suitable young ladies. But I turned a deaf ear to her pleas. My heart did not need any more bruising. Perhaps love was not for me. Had I not failed in matters of the heart, far too many times?
From time to time, a cordial letter arrived from the north. Jane’s hand-writing always caused my heart to make a foolish leap in my chest. Such sweet torment. Unable to tear myself free, I devoured each word, seeking hidden meanings, perusing the script for any signs of affection.
What I did manage to glean from the poor girl’s letters, was an increasing distress. John did not seem to be making the adjustment to life in Scotland. His heart appeared set on returning to his true home, the wilds of Africa.
To begin with, her information did not greatly affect me, I must confess. I took it to be the concerns of a young woman, new to the responsibilities of betrothal. I did, however, note that there was not one word concerning any immediate wedding plans. My foolish heart made much of this minor consolation, for my own selfish reasons.
Again, my weakness reasserted itself. Perhaps the arrogant English were right. Was it indeed my heritage that made me thus? Should I not on the contrary pity poor Jane that the young man she had given her heart to, did not seek to formalize their union?
Then Jane informed me, after what I can only imagine must have been extensive soul-searching, and emotional agony, that she was carrying John’s child. A new heir to Greystoke.
Again, this did not elicit the reaction a true friend would have evidenced. Instead, I used this candid confession to further torment myself with visions of Jane at John’s mercy. Visions of naked skin and rippling muscles, visions of – Fool. Despicable degenerate. At this point in my brooding, I invariably ended up inflicting physical damage on my person, to replace the pain inside my feverish mind.
And then one day, another letter arrived, the contents of which would change everything, forever. Reading the cultured script on the envelope gave me no clue as to what the actual letter would contain. So, in short, I suspected nothing, expected – somewhat more than nothing, and hoped, still, for so much more than I had a right to.
I pray this letter finds you in good spirits.
I have written to you, to inform you that John has come to the decision that he will never be happy in Scotland. He is making arrangements for returning to Africa.
I will not lie to you. This has been most difficult to endure. But how could I hold him back, when all his happiness is centered around that jungle, and those apes? I could go on endlessly, bemoaning my fate, but what is the use?
There is something I wish to ask of you, though I know I have no right. But, dear Philippe, I will ask it of you anyway. Please forgive me my presumption. If this request will cause you pain, I apologize in advance, but I am at my wits end.
Will you come with us to Africa? I confess your company would ease the pain of departure somewhat.
Whether or not my audacious request meets with your approval, I shall await your reply.
Could anyone imagine the perturbation gripping my mind, the moment I read that letter? I felt a dryness in my throat that reminded me of the times I had been about to go into battle, not sure if I would ever emerge victoriously, or even alive.
This, however, held more anticipation than terror. And, at least this time, I did spare a thought for the poor girl’s situation, not my own. I did not dare to even touch on the thought that maybe – No. Jane needed me. There was no hesitation in my mind. I would go. Nothing would prevent me from standing by her side when she needed me the most.
It was not until I had already begun to make my preparations, that I recalled that no thought of John had even crossed my mind. I took that as an auspicious sign. While I waited for Jane’s – and John’s – arrival, I felt better than I had for many years.
I had deemed it safest to rendez-vous with Jane and John at the railway station. Perhaps it had been more proper to receive them in my rooms. However, I did not fully trust in my ability to hide my emotions.
The reunion was subdued, and as Jane and John would be sharing a cabin, I found no occasion to go into any intimate discussions with Jane. John appeared hardly to take notice of me, as if I was of no real significance, beyond a minor distraction. What had transpired between us once felt as a distant dream, which had nothing to do with reality. In a way, that was now strangely reassuring.
Could it be that I was regaining my self respect? I sincerely hoped so. If I wanted to be able to face Jane, as a gentleman, there could be no place in my mind for unwholesome thoughts.
As we steadily moved southwards, I began to suffer a relapse of a kind. I saw very little of Jane, and practically nothing of John. Instead, I found myself reliving the past. Watching fellow officers die. André succumbing to a fever, though the poor boy never saw any battle. And myself, wounded, abandoned, at the mercy of savages, or beasts. Or – a creature looking like a man, but in his heart, truly a beast among beasts.
I had discovered him, brought him all across the world and now – it would end, right where it started. In the jungle. Foolishly and arrogantly believing I could create a man out of a wild beast, I had undertaken the work of teaching the young man civilized speech, in short, of bringing him back into society.
Now I knew I had been wrong to take him away from his beloved forest and his apes. Instead of pulling him out of savagery, I had only succeeded in dragging myself down, below his level, right into the mire. Rightly, a deed worthy of a Belgian nobleman and officer.
Bad dreams plagued my sleep, and during the last week of our voyage, I succumbed to a slight fever. All was conspiring to remind me of the past.
At last, we had word that we were approaching land. By then, I had reached a nearly fatalistic state. What would happen, would happen. Mere individuals like myself did not have much importance in the grand scheme of things.
A small landing party consisting of myself, John, Jane and half a dozen heavily armed British officers, headed for shore. This time, nothing would be left to chance.
We set up a base camp within sight of the shore. John and Jane then set off, leaving all officers and myself behind, much against the better judgement of the commander in charge. I knew that my presence would not be welcome, but bearing the hostile natives in mind, I could not help but feel concern, primarily for Jane. To watch her go, only protected by one unarmed man was close to intolerable, though as I well knew, that one man yielded considerable physical force.
What transpired between Jane and John, I shall never know. It seemed like weeks until finally, on the third day after their departure, she returned on her own. My relief was immense, as I watched her cross the intervening yards of sand.
Leaving behind all thoughts of propriety, I set out to meet her, ignoring the pain of my old wounds. Limping painfully, I seemed to take forever to reach her. My eyes travelled anxiously across her face, to scan for possible injuries. Nothing alarming caught my eye. At first, I feared she would not accept my consolation, then she appeared to stumble slightly and I moved to intercept her, lest she fall and hurt herself. And to my relief, she accepted my support, and it seemed to me that she leaned into me eagerly.
We wasted no time returning onboard the ship. Though we had seen nothing of the natives, all around us there was an uneasy silence, that did not bode well. The commander might be an Englishman, but I understood only too well the relief he would feel once he had herded his charges safely back to the ship.
Now, after my impulsive move, I found myself hesitating. Would not Jane wish to be alone to ponder her loss? As if she had read my mind, she reached out and held on to me.
“No, Philippe. Please. Do not leave me. If you would stay and – keep me company -“
“By all means.”
She took me to her cabin – which had until three days ago, been occupied by her and John – apparently recklessly indifferent to what the troops would make of such an intimacy. At this point, however, I found myself strangely numb to such concerns.
“Do not concern yourself, Philippe. I know he is happy now. Happy to be home again. Oh, you must not think I am ungrateful to you for bringing him to Scotland. Quite the contrary. I consider myself fortunate for knowing him. For knowing you, Philippe.”
Her voice changed and there was something about the way she was regarding me, solemnly as if there was something on her mind, something which was not easy to speak of. Or perhaps that was only my imagnation running wild. As I watched her avidly, she took a deep breath and pushed on.
-I can not tell you how much I appreciate your support. Throughout this time of watching Johnny come to his decision it was only the thought of you and your devotion that kept me from despairing.
“My dear, I -“
She had sat down, while she was finishing her speech, but now, she rose to her feet in one graceful movement. Her eyes were blazing with what seemed to be passion, not sorrow. She took first one, then two steps towards me, which brought her so close I could feel her scent. If she had had any idea of how this proximity was affecting me –
But it appeared she had said all she had to say. The time for words was over. Before I had time to react, she reached out and pulled me closer still, and I felt her lips brush mine. This was like a vision out of my fevered dreams, yet I knew that this was no dream. Pulling back slightly to observe my reaction, she appeared satisfied.
“There. I’ve done it. Are you not going to say anything?”
“Jane, my love – I am speechless.”
“I was afraid of that. I take it you have no objections at least?”
“Objections? Mais non. If only you knew for how long I have been wishing, hoping -“
“Oh, I was fairly sure of your feelings. Do you think I would have been this forward, if I had not been very sure?”
This changed everything. That girl saw too much. I could only hope and pray that she would at least leave me one shameful secret.
“I know that I am not -“
“Johnny? No, you are not. And I believe that is all for the best.”
“What I meant was, I am not who your guardian intended for you to marry.”
“No. But he must have had no idea of Johnny’s true feelings. And besides, I am carrying his heir. We are betrothed. The child will be legally acknowledged, even by the archaic laws of Scotland. I have done my duty. Now I am free to please myself. Once the child is born, I shall have the betrothal annulled, should it prove necessary.”
“In that case, Jane, will you do the honour of becoming my wife?”
“I will. Oh, Philippe, I most certainly will. Do not ever leave me, promise me that.”
“I swear on my father’s grave. On my honour as a d’Arnot. I will never leave you as long as I draw breath.”
This was beyond my wildest hopes. She was the embodiment of all I desired. Swept up in the moment, I pulled her into my arms and my lips sought out hers. Her hair fell on my face, causing me to remember another time –
“Philippe? What is amiss?”
How could I tell her that what was amiss, was remembering how her betrothed had once held me in much the same way she was?
I hung my head in shame, unable to think of any explanation for my sudden change of heart. What must she think of me?
“Philippe, I hope you are not going to allow whatever transpired between you and Johnny to come between us?”
Stunned into silence, I could not but stare at her in wonder. Had I truly heard her say what she had just said? In plain English she had said – I must have misconstrued her words. Silently, I attempted to translate her question into French. No, there could be no misunderstanding. She had indeed said what I had at first thought she had.
“He told you?”
My shock and humiliation must have communicated itself to her.
“Oh, certainly he did not. It was as plain as day. I could see it in the looks you cast upon him and later, as you were leaving, I could see it in the way he reacted to your departure.”
“You know. And yet you wish me to – Jane, I want you to know that if wish me to withdraw my proposal, I will give you your freedom.”
“What? You still cling to that attachment, even though Johnny has abandoned us both?”
“You misunderstand me. I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you.”
Her eyes bored into me, as if trying to gauge my sincerity. Her observations appeared to set her mind at ease.
“Then all is well. Think no more of this foolishness. Do you love Johnny?”
“Not as I love you.”
“You love me, Philippe? Think carefully before you reply, because, no matter what your response is, I shall hold you to it.”
“I do not need to think. I love you more than my own life. As for my past -“
“You do not need to tell me anything. As you know, Johnny and I -“
“Very well. Quand meme, I would not wish you to believe me a -“
She silenced me with a gesture. Holding her hand out to me, she retreated to her bunk, beckoning me to join her there. Though it went against my upbringing, I did not hesitate to obey.
The nightmare is over. At last, I have made peace with the past, the memories are laid to rest. All the demons, which have haunted my dreams are banished.
My wife is lying beside me in bed. In a room some doors away, her son, heir to Greystoke is asleep, along with his sisters, and youngest brother, heir to the d’Arnot estates. I have come home.