Cognac, Cakes and the Corruption of Children

Wednesday, 7 July

I have been terribly ill over the last few weeks but I am feeling a little better now. I've lost a considerable amount of weight too, which Leonard will no doubt rectify by force-feeding me carrot cake and mountains of profiteroles over the next few sessions! I'm not sure whether it is a lingering symptom of the illness or just an unfortunate side-effect of these hot summer nights, but I have been having horrible nightmares again and I have been feeling very lethargic in the daytime as a result. Leonard insists that we should postpone the continuation of our work until I have made a full recovery, but I enjoy visiting him and I am in much better spirits when I am at the house and so he has agreed that I can visit socially whenever I need cheering up or I need to escape from the flat for a while. 

I paid one of these casual visits to Elmfield House yesterday afternoon as it seemed a shame to leave Leonard and Hooter alone in the house on such a lovely sunny day. It was too warm to sit comfortably in the workroom so Leonard and I took two kitchen chairs into the garden and we sat in the shade of the yew tree, watching the birds peck at the homemade nut boxes that hang from the washing line. The heat of the sun was incredibly rejuvenating and I felt the healthiest that I had felt in a long time. Leonard disappeared into the house at one point and returned with his cassette player and extension lead so that we could play music on the back porch, as well as small glass of ‘medicinal’ cognac for me and a ‘sympathetic’ glass for himself. We both agreed that the duet ‘Au Fond Du Temple Saint’ from Georges Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers is the perfect soundtrack for idling in the garden on a hot summer’s day. 

Luke arrived at the back gate about an hour later and he was surprised to find us relaxing in the garden without the drawing board nearby for once. He was evidently in a foul mood and he complained that he had been hammering on the front door for ten minutes but he had not received an answer (Leonard always locks the front door when we move into the garden). I assumed that Luke had arrived for a session and stood to leave, but it transpired that he had simply come to help Leonard with a few jobs in the garden and they were both insistent that I stayed a while longer, so I settled back in my chair while Leonard fetched a tray of Battenberg cakes from the kitchen. I was flustered and embarrassed by Luke’s presence at first and he barely spoke to me even though I tried to initiate a conversation with him on several occasions, but he graced me with the occasional smile and I felt him watching my every move, only this time I was watching him too and I even braved one or two smiles back at him. It's exciting to have a secret between us! 

It was a very pleasant afternoon; Leonard and I sat in the corner of the garden eating cake, drinking cognac and watching Luke like two overbearing supervisors as he unravelled the cable for the hedge cutters and started to trim the hedge. It was nice to see him do something…well, useful, for once! Leonard was strangely quiet and subdued, swirling the alcohol wistfully in his glass while studying Luke like a proud grandfather watching his grandchild play in the garden and I could see from the distant look in his eyes that he was thinking very deeply.

He told me that he is grateful that Luke and I choose to spend so much time with him when we should be ‘enjoying ourselves elsewhere’ and, if I am honest, the calm contemplation in his voice worried me a little. And then, from out of nowhere, he said “I’m sure that outsiders find the relationship between Luke and I very difficult to understand.” Unsure of how to respond to this statement, I answered vaguely and rather patronisingly along the lines of “well, you both have a wonderful friendship and that’s all that matters,” and then added as an afterthought to lighten the mood “…you could always tell people that he is your gardener!”. Leonard laughed, but then became preoccupied once again and he confessed that he is disappointed that Luke is no longer able to attend his dance classes (I didn’t get a chance to ask why) and he worries that Luke is wasting his time with their portraiture sittings when he should be focusing on developing his expertise in ballet. I assured Leonard that Luke enjoys his visits to Elmfield House and I suggested that he should train Luke as an apprentice so that he has a trade to fall back on in the event that his precious ballet career should evade him. Leonard became confused by this idea and he replied “well if you or I were inclined to practice magic regularly then we would certainly have many uses for him, beyond his hedge-trimming services.” I was referring to training Luke as an apprentice artist and not enrolling him on some kind of magical apprenticeship but Leonard had clearly interpreted my use of the word ’apprentice’ as referring to the latter. However, rather than interrupt and correct him, I allowed him to continue speaking because I was interested to discover why magical apprenticeship had come so readily to his mind.

He told me that Luke has many qualities that would have been highly sought after by the magicians of antiquity since a number of archaic magical procedures require the assistance of a young, pure and uncorrupted boy. ‘Young, pure and uncorrupted’ were certainly not terms that I would naturally associate with Luke, but he is young and there are adolescent aspects to his appearance and behaviour that might squeeze him into this category by the skin of his teeth! Leonard explained that the age and sexual purity of young boys and their freedom from physical desires was thought to enhance their perceptual abilities and allow them to be effective mediators between the magician and the spirit world, hence they were often employed in divinatory procedures such as ‘lecanomancy’. When I questioned Leonard about this peculiar-sounding magical practice he told me that many lecanomancy rituals involved stripping a young boy naked, dressing him in pure linen garments and blindfolding the boy or restricting his vision somehow. The blindfold would be removed during the ritual and the boy would be asked to gaze onto a reflective surface such as a pool of water or a polished stone and the images or shapes that the boy saw were thought to contain a message from the gods or spirits (as Leonard said this he gestured towards the small pond in the garden and for a second I was unnerved because sunlight was glinting off the surface of the water and transforming the pond into a circle of white light, I'm not quite sure what I expected to see in there!).
Drops of rain interrupted our conversation at that point so we hurried our chairs back indoors. Once we were safely inside the rain began to fall heavily and Leonard took out a plate of paprika chicken skewers from the fridge. I was conscious that time was moving along swiftly and I had only intended to stay at the house for a short while, but Leonard was insistent that I ate before leaving and so I agreed to stay for a little longer. Although I enjoy Leonard’s company immensely, over these last few weeks it has felt as though he will formulate any excuse to prevent me from leaving at the end of the day and I am worried that he is starting to regret his lonely existence at Elmfield House.