Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Chaunderlay Faunus



Charles Chaunderlay and his friend Robert Beauleigh who is staying as a guest and arrived late last night are having breakfast in the dining room at Chaunderlay Hall in Oxfordshire.
‘How’s your devilled kidneys?’ enquired Charles.
‘They’re really not so bad once one gets past the satanic connotations’ replied Robert, adding that ‘perhaps they are a little over-cooked, don’t you think?’
‘Yes, very much so but it would break dear Mrs Snipe’s heart to tell her or to even suggest the merest hint of criticism towards her culinary expertise; she’s a temperamental old thing you know and gets into the most awful hysterics and besides, cooks are very much in demand at the moment and have the upper-hand over their employers in that they can command an enormous salary! Best to keep quiet about it old chap!’ And so the two gentlemen continued with their breakfast in silence, until Robert said: ‘You know Charles, you never did tell me about that awful affair concerning that minor scandal at Rugby you were involved in!’
‘No, it broke dear mother’s heart!’ replied Charles, after sipping his tea. ‘The thing is, I rather made a bit of a fool of myself with a boy named Carmichael, most compromising but all perfectly innocent. We exchanged certain letters which could have been viewed in an extremely bad light and frowned upon if you get my meaning? He was an angelic creature, the sort of boy who could exit church appearing more pure and holy than the clerics, and my heart fell for him and I simply kissed him that is all. Of course all hell broke loose and I was hauled before the Head and father, to whom I was a disgrace and a disappointment had to quell the storm saying it was all a terrible mistake and it was put down to the natural exuberance of youth and that I was confused after suffering an illness etc. but the truth of the matter was that I was in love with Carmichael and refused to let him go and we would clandestinely see each other whenever possible.’
‘What happened?’ said Robert, drawing nearer.
‘I was treated in the most God awful manner possible and no one spoke to me for a whole term, I was to all intents and purposes persona non grata, sent to Coventry so to speak. Well my health really did break down under such barbaric abuse and I had to come home to recuperate. Father, damn his cold heart was furious…’
A shocked expression crossed Robert’s face, ‘you don’t mean that Charles!’
‘Oh but I most certainly do! The best thing he ever did for me was to have the consideration and good fortune to go hunting that day and be thrown from his horse! I hated him so much Robert! He really put me through hell!’ Robert put his hand against Charles’ arm and Charles continued, ‘mother was most considerate of the situation. On my return I was sent to the Headmaster, a vulgar swine by the way who wanted a sworn statement as to my unwholesome behaviour saying that I had corrupted poor Carmichael; he was hoping for an expulsion! He really did make something which was very beautiful seem like something depraved and sordid! I could have thrust a knife into his callous heart!’
‘Were you obliging, with the statement I mean?’ Robert asked.
‘Certainly not! Rugby as you well know is a hot-bed of forbidden repression particularly among the Masters but there were a select few who tormented the boys with their affectations so to speak; I knew that several Masters were far more corrupting than I was imagined to be and I did what any self-respecting young gentleman would do – I kept my mouth shut! Do you know he even had the audacity to strike me six times across each hand and call me a filthy debauched blackguard! The next day Carmichael slighted me and passed me coming out of his dorm and never spoke to me again – the bloods had a field day ragging me in the ruins of my romance! I won’t take much away from my prep school Robert except that perfect vision of love that I was privileged to be given at an important time of my life and a special gift which was the most exquisite gift any young boy can own – I am of course talking of masturbation, for it is the beginning of a life-long, beautiful friendship!’
‘You are a hopeless romantic after all Charles! Did you ever see him again, this Carmichael lad?’
‘No’ said Charles, brushing his blonde hair from his eyes, ‘he was killed at the Somme I believe! He was my eggs and bacon…’
‘Sorry to hear that! Really, you are strange Charles!’ said Robert, once again tackling the remains of his devilled kidney that refused to yield so easily. ‘When I was a young boy’ Robert continued, ‘I fell in love with father’s stable boy, a perfect Narcissus he was but it was nothing serious of course, except that to me, in my head, I sanctified his very being and found constant infernal excuses to visit the stables!’
‘Many are the sweet blushes that adorn the innocent in their frantic search for love and passionate encounters which flourish and terminate at the stable door dear boy! When I was a small boy’ Charles continued, ‘I didn’t associate with other boys, in fact I found them rather drab little fellows with absolutely nothing in common with me whatsoever. I was forever in the company of little girls who interested me immensely. Now that I have grown into my skin and am able to appreciate my own sex for what they are, I seldom if ever associate with the fairer sex, in fact, I can’t abide them. Now what does that say about me, eh?’ Charles looked fervently into Robert’s eyes as if searching for an answer, but all that Robert uttered was ‘most perplexing!’
‘You know I’m a firm believer in the Ancient Greek system of education when an older man or “erastes”, the adorer or the lover, takes a young adolescent, the “eromenos” or the beloved under his wing and introduces him to the ways of the world and his wife; gives him a sense of moral perfection and well-being; puts steel into the flesh and generally draws the boy into adulthood with a thirst for knowledge! Have you read Plato’s Symposium? You should you know, all about the freeing of the mind from the natural distractions of the mortal body through Eros, a non-physical love which mirrors…’
‘I forgot to mention’ interrupted Robert, yawning, ‘I distinctly heard footsteps outside my room last night which went on until the early hours – is Chaunderlay Hall haunted?’
‘No, that will be my brother Cedric, he’s not slept since Passchendaele and easily mistaken for a ghost if you should ever see him, which of course you won’t as he keeps to his room on the pretence of writing his memoirs and only comes out after lights out! The war took a terrible toll on him and he came home awfully disfigured, you know!’
‘Poor devil!’ remarked Robert, ‘it must be awfully infuriating for you having a war hero in the family?’
‘Not really’ said Charles, ‘he despises me and we haven’t spoken in many days after he called me an “effeminate coward”!’
‘That’s too bad! I’m very sorry to hear that. I hope I do make his acquaintance all the same and have the opportunity of thanking him for his hospitality, after all he is your brother and he is Lord Chaunderlay!’
‘Lord Chaunderlay be damned! I have had to take on his duties since he is incapable of rising to the occasion following father’s death last year and mother’s passing recently which was a great blow to us all here at the Hall! You’re here as my guest and I must ask you not to disturb him for he won’t thank you for it!’
 ‘As you wish Charles!’
‘You heard all about the engagement being called off I suppose? She dropped him like a hot potato when what was left of him returned from the Front! You know he spent twenty-eight years worshipping women as Goddesses and since Evelyn called it off he’s been tearing down that foolish illusion and smashing the pedestal he built for her; twenty-eight years to realise that women, beneath the surface are just as cruel and deceptive as men – that they too expel liquids, solids and gases – that was a real shock to him I can tell you! I learnt a long time ago that all women are like the Mona Lisa, if you scrape away the beautiful paint on top all you are left with is a dirty canvas!’
‘You don’t have a very high opinion of women do you Charles?’
‘I find them insufferable! They repulse me!’ he said, and looked away.
After a short silence, Robert broke it with ‘you know it strikes me as rather odd that you never served King and country yourself; I have an excuse as I was not old enough at the time but you were of age!’
‘Bees don’t keep themselves you know!’ replied Charles haughtily.
‘No seriously, it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask.’
‘It is indeed and if you must know I objected to the war on religious grounds and I was told not to apply to the Officer’s Training Corps for reasons to which my “affliction” was the prime cause yet it was never mentioned per se; they just didn’t want my sort I’m afraid.’
‘I wasn’t aware that you were a religious person Charles for you seem always to be blaspheming Christ and the Church!’ Robert said with a puzzled expression.
‘True Christians should question everything and not accept things blindly; in the end I came to the sorrowful conclusion that there is no God! So a career in the Church was out of the question! I did have thoughts of following in father’s footsteps and joining the army when I was younger but concluded that it would be no good for my feet!’
‘Your feet Charles! I thought an army marches on its stomach?’ Robert jested.
‘Only gastropods march on their stomachs dear boy, and I am told with absolute conviction and sincerity that so does the German army who have a distinct resemblance to the fore-mentioned slimy devils! The Kaiser keeps one under his nose don’t you know!’ Robert laughed and said tenderly ‘were you terribly hurt by that boy Carmichael?’ Charles said nothing but his eyes were almost tearful and answered for him; ‘am I your eggs and bacon now?’ Robert whispered, to which Charles put his hand on Robert’s hand and said softly and passionately, ‘indubitably!’
Robert stood up and walked over to the window as the morning sun poured its glorious rays upon the expanse of garden before him.
‘I must say when you spoke about the gardens at Chaunderlay being so lovely I thought perhaps you were exaggerating, but you didn’t, not a word of it!’ Robert said, turning and looking into Robert’s eyes with complete faith in him and everything about him.
‘Come into the garden Maud!’ Charles sang in his best comical operatic voice.
And so following breakfast the two gentlemen went through the doors onto the terrace for a stroll, arm in arm in the garden.
‘The garden is beautiful isn’t it Robert, I just love the haunting sound of the peacocks, like food to a starving man!’
‘I’ve noticed that about you Charles, you seem to associate all things of beauty with food, in fact, hardly a conversation goes by without some mention or reference to things edible!’
‘Perhaps it’s a metaphor for sex! God knows what Freud would make of it! But really, I can’t help my epicurean foibles you know!’
‘That sounds like a Greek dish!’
‘It probably is!’ laughed Charles. ‘Tell me, how do you like Oxford?’ Robert shielded his eyes from the sun and said, ‘for the first time I feel almost complete, as if my life until now was only play-acting; academia suits my temperament very well and I have fallen in with a good crowd – I laughed the other day when my friend Forbes asked Stilby-Jones what one has if one takes three away from two, after much deliberation Stilby-Jones says “you’re straying into the realms of the invisible!” He tried to illustrate the case by using the salt and pepper pots, saying “there’s you’re two objects, now how can I take three away when there is only two for there must be a third in hiding somewhere!” and he pretended to look for it under the table! He’s a real chump but a good hearted chump! And Forbes is an absolute menace when it comes to debauched behaviour and that sort of thing; he enjoys every opportunity of college obscenity and is constantly to be found among the “Oxford Lilies”!’
‘Ah, I remember those lilies well! Those adorable little college hyacinths… strange, I always found myself in the cauliflower and cabbage patch striving for love, beauty and perfection amongst the penny brassicas! This chap Forbes, is he studying divinity?’
‘No, ancient languages!’
‘Pity, I hear the Church is crying out for decent young men like Forbes nowadays, especially after the terrible consequences in Europe! You know, it is wise to cultivate the freak and those of a weird disposition which I believe Oxford is famous for and has in abundance for it gives them an enormous sense of achievement to be in the orbit of gifted undergraduates and it gives the intellectual a heightened sense of superiority and self-importance which prepares them for the outside world! I’m glad you’re enjoying it up at Oxford; make the most of it for it goes so quickly and before you know it you’re turned out like cattle into the cruel world with the terrible prospect of finding a job and earning a living!’ said Charles wincing.
‘Is that why you love me Charles, because of my disposition?’ Robert said putting both his hands on Charles’s shoulders.
‘On the contrary dear Robert, I love you for your perfect innocence, an innocence I hasten to add I abandoned a very long time ago!’ Robert smiled and they continued walking.
‘Do you believe in an after life Charles?’ Robert suddenly said.
‘I’m not altogether sure I believe in a present life!’ Charles retorted, presenting his silver cigarette case to Robert for him to take one of his exquisite Mediterranean cigarettes which he has imported specially.
‘I only ask because mother has taken to spiritualism to father’s deep consternation; she regularly attends séances given by the mysterious Madame Fiori!’
‘I should say the only mysterious thing about this so-called “Madame Fiori” is that she encourages the fool-hardy and gullible into parting with large sums of money and tilting the table a little and swearing blind that she is in direct communication with Great Aunt Mabel who wants to know what happened to her porcelain tea service and the fact that she is not in prison for it is beyond belief – that’s the mystery!’
‘Mother gets some sense of relief from it; you remember I told you about cousin George who took the King’s shilling and decided to scatter his body over the battlefield at Ypres, well she says he’s come through and wants to know how his best gelding is doing, not a word about poor Aunt Mary!’
‘Bloody typical! He has the perfect opportunity, to whit the majestic and somewhat celebrated ear of the renowned and I might add distinguished Madame Fiori and all he can think to say is “’ow’s me ‘orse?” not a word about God and “oh by the way what they are telling you in Church is absolute tosh and don’t believe a word of it and if I were you I’d put five guineas on ”Stumbling Joe” in the two-forty-five at Epsom on Friday!” He sounds an absolute bore!’
‘He was, tremendously!’
‘I think it was Keats who said “the way of life is uncertain, and the soul is in a ferment!”’
‘Dear Keats! Only he could say such a thing! I must lend you my Percy Osborn, quite delightful! By the way, thanks for your book of poems Charles – it’s not a bit like Swinburne, perhaps a little Baudelaire in places!’
‘Hmmm’, Charles sighed.
They stood for a while in silence beside the rose garden, seeming a little awkward.
‘I must congratulate Stevens; the roses are looking first rate!’ Charles said to break the silence, and then followed with ‘you do know I’m rather fond of you Robert, don’t you?’
‘Of course Charles!’ answered Robert, ‘passion really isn’t your forte is it? You can kiss me you know; we are quite alone and out of sight of the house!’ and Robert leaned closer towards Charles.
‘We have to be circumspect in these things – I’ll come to you later!’ Charles said somewhat mournfully, before kissing Robert tenderly and saying ‘my love for you is phantasmagorical!’ and he departed back to the Hall to tend to his correspondence, letters addressed to the ‘Lord Chaunderlay’, a task which had fallen upon the younger Chaunderlay. Meanwhile Robert returned back to the terrace where he wasted numerous hours losing himself in some romantic novel by a chap named Bloxam, sipping countless cups of coffee and smoking endless cigarettes.

That evening after dinner Charles took Robert into the drawing room.
‘And here is the famous Chaunderlay Faunus!’ Charles declared pouring himself and Robert a glass of port.
‘It looks rather ugly to me Charles!’ Robert said scrunching his face and accepting his glass.
‘I should expect nothing less from a Brasenose man like yourself studying history! It was discovered in the garden you know, behind the stables during the archaeological excavation my father instigated and took part in along with many fragments of pottery and some coins which he presented to the Ashmolean!’
‘Strange, Oxford isn’t considered a major Roman site, in fact, it’s rather dull from historical perspectives!’ said Robert.
‘Indeed, but there were many villas throughout the region and we believe we have the foundations of a Temple of Minerva, according to the remains of the floor mosaic which was discovered; it was filled in again to protect it but I like to think it was to protect the maiden virgins of Oxfordshire who might glimpse the shameless acts of depravity depicted in the tiling!’
‘Are there any maiden virgins left in Oxfordshire?’
‘One lives in hope, Robert, one lives in hope!’
Robert stepped closer to the Faunus ‘I must say it is very curious, the Faunus I mean, almost devilish don’t you think?’ he said examining the work of art.
‘Probably a stylised sculpture of Pan – now there was a deity to believe in! You know there is nothing finer than stripping modern man of all his false veneers and convictions and reducing him to his base pagan emotions; running naked through ancient woodland to the sound of the pan pipe! To dance naked in the moonlight like a wild animal and swim without shame in the river as the water ripples across the naked beauty of man!’
‘I am sensing a theme with this discourse Charles!’ Robert quipped, smiling.
‘You must excuse me Robert for I am an inveterate enthusiast of the male nude and its aesthetic lineaments send me into raptures of exquisite joy!’
‘I quite understand there’s something spiritually uplifting about the naked male form! One can almost see the image of Christ in every glorious muscular curve! But really Charles you do astound me at times: only a true poet could condemn the whole of the modern world as you do Charles!’
‘Why thank you Robert! I say don’t you think the Faunus would look better in the Hallway, it would make a terrific centrepiece?’
‘But this is the grandest room in the house Charles,’ said Robert rather puzzled by the suggestion, ‘and it seems only fitting amongst the family portraits!’
Charles gazed at Robert intensely and said ‘it’s an absolutely dreadful room, dull and imposing; I rarely come into this room, I’m damned if I’ll have twelve generations of Chaunderlays looking down on me! It’s bad enough having the so-called Lord of the Manor breathing down my neck without several centuries of disgust and disapproval!’
‘I must say they’re an austere bunch!’ said Robert looking round the room at the ancestral portraits which adorned the walls.
‘Tyrants, misfits and heretics, the lot of them! Take this unfortunate looking brute…’ and Charles began to give a blood-thirsty account of several of his more notorious ancestors.
The night drifted on towards its own conclusion and before long Robert retired to bed. Not long afterwards Charles knocked and entered the room, disrobed and got into bed with Robert where they spent the long hours in each others arms, their warm naked bodies locked in passionate waves of wild abandoned love as they listened to the sound of footsteps walking up and down the corridor outside the door and dreamed that a time would come in the not too distant future when they would no longer have to hide their love for each other in shadows!

‘And this, Ladies and Gentlemen’ said the tour guide, ‘is the Blue Room, reputedly haunted by the ghost of Captain Sir Cedric Chaunderlay who is also said to walk the corridor outside the room; having been wounded at Passchendaele, he suffered great mental distress and sadly took his own life in this very room on 19th November 1919, placing his service revolver against his head – bang!’ The small crowd of visitors gave a discernable shudder as the guide chuckled to himself; he’d given the same speech a hundred times and startled many a nervous onlooker and never failed to find death amusing. One of the inquisitive members of the group suddenly grunted ‘have you ever seen a ghost and do you think it’s really haunted?’ to which the tour guide answered ‘well, I’ve not personally seen anything ghostly so to speak but put it this way, I’d rather go home of an evening to my dear wife rather than spend a night alone here and if you’ve ever met my wife you would understand that one is only slightly more terrifying than the other!’ There was a gentle ripple of titters amongst the small crowd who sniffed and coughed and looked up from their phones; like a shepherd herding sheep he led the group back into the hallway saying ‘may I draw your attention to this elegant Georgian staircase – it was at the bottom of this beautiful stair one fateful day in 1922 that the then Lord Charles Chaunderlay discovered the twisted dead body of his friend and lover Robert Beauleigh. His Lordship was devastated and after a brief sojourn in the United States he travelled to Europe and lived extensively abroad until he returned to Chaunderlay Hall in 1931. Just five years later he was found dead in suspicious circumstances in a London park and there was talk of blackmail and scandal! Was he murdered? We do not know for sure but if you will now accompany me into the drawing room I will show you where his ghost has been seen by staff and guests alike on more than one occasion!’ The sheep bleated and shuffled towards the drawing room eager to see an apparition, clicking their camera phones in the general direction of anything and everything as the guide blew his nose, adding ‘those of you who are interested in the life of Charles Chaunderlay will find his two-volume autobiography “Can’t run, can hide!” and “The Last of the Chaunderlays”  available in the shop on your way out along with his two published volumes of poetry “A Factor of Strangeness” from 1918 and “Sonnets to my Milk-White Spartan” from 1923 dedicated to his good friend Robert Beauleigh!’ and the assembled spectators pushed and nosed their way into the drawing room.
‘We are standing in close proximity to one of the greatest treasures here at Chaunderlay – the Chaunderlay Faunus! This little statue was found in the grounds of Chaunderlay Hall during excavations in 1915; in fact, many Roman artefacts were discovered such as coins and shards of pottery and they can be viewed in the Ashmolean Museum. Some say that all the misfortune that occurred following its discovery essentially points towards it being cursed! I must mention the first tragedy which occurred two years after its discovery; it was in the winter of 1917 when Major Sir Montague Chaunderlay died in a terrible hunting accident. His wife Lady Violet Chaunderlay passed away the following year of natural causes we believe, leaving the two boys Cedric and Charles. And now the Chaunderlays reside in the family vault in the parish church! Is it cursed? Knowing the fate of the Chaunderlays, very probably but you must decide for yourselves!’

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