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An English Farce (Nighttime December 24th) [CD]- Xmas 1677

Guest John Bramston

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John read Apocolocyntosis in front of a blazing fire. He was several pages and many glasses of jenever in. An insistent meowing interrupted him. John looked over to see his old cat. Lady Pouncington. He regretted that name sometimes. Her tail swished demandingly. “Yes, yes.”


He stood and warmed a stone in the fire before placing it in his lap. Lady jumped up and curled around the warmth and began to purr deeply. John scratched under her jaw and she twitched and shook with delight. He smiled.


But his thoughts slowly returned to the book. His frown returned. He felt inadequate. Barely a courtier. Perhaps someone else would be better as the Lord Maldon, a thought never far from John’s mind. He felt himself a Greek tragedy sometimes. More often he thought of himself as an English farce.


“How about it?” John offered his title to Lady Pouncington, “I know you skulk… in the kitchen and charm the maid for treats. Those skills will serve you well.” The cat just purred and twisted and nipped at John’s hand. “Ah, well.” He scratched her belly and was rewarded with a deep throaty purr. John smiled a little at that.


John looked at the painting over his fireplace. It was a view of the old Heybridge docks. Sadness crept up again. Why am I here? What can I do? He thought. Useless, John heard, and a shiver ran down his spin and through his arms at the voice of that vile woman.


He wondered sometimes if it wasn't better to be lower born. He might have been a man like Master Collins. He could use his study of gardening and gained control of a minor palace garden. He could make it bloom and move up to a grander garden and, eventually, to the coveted privy gardens. From there the monarch would survey his work each day from his window and he might gain enough favor to be placed in charge of a new development.


Or a man like Master Howell who would write and work to get his writing published while working as an agent of a lord. And eventually he could work his way into a clerkship under a patron. And from there he could assist the King in publishing pamphlets and be rewarded as historiographer royal.


But he was an earl. He would stain his name if he ever did anything like that.


Master Le Notre was a commoner. Master de Caus was a commoner. Master Jones was a commoner. Master Wren was a country squire. Master Collins was a country squire. Master Howell was a country squire.


John was a peer. No peer had ever been Master of the King’s Works. No peer had ever been Historiographer Royal. And these were below stairs positions anyway.


If all he succeeded at was such endeavors he was a failure. He was obliged to act, even in his youth and inexperience, as a lord. And he did not have the benefit of time spent before coming into his title.


What earls did John know who had come to court as earls? Who’d come in their early twenties and done well? Devonshire, Basildon, perhaps a few others in passing.


John had sought out examples and tried to copy them. He had thought he was only behind them. That given time he could do as well. But the Dutch had openly insulted him. His relatives were dragging their feet. He grew less certain he would marry well by the day. His plans for his siblings grew dim. Parliament seemed a distant hope.


Now he felt not just behind but below them.


Now he wondered if he was a fool to think he could be like them. And the voice that said he was just as good as any lord was drown out by the deep boom of his depression and the high pitched whisper of his anxiety. No, melancholy seemed to whisper in his ear, She was right. And nerves, Oh god, she was!


Where did hope remain? In Nicolette’s medicines and Sophia’s lessons. They had rekindled a long dead wish and it would not die easily. Especially with a taste of success on his tongue. Nicolette’s success but success nevertheless.


As for the rest... It had all seemed so… doable. Two bills and politicking to support them. He had nearly two dozen similar examples of every particular since the Restoration. An event or two. Some advancement for his siblings. A bit of pleasing the Queen and finding Cavendish a spy. All it had seemed to need was effort, the gathering of support.


Yet whatever brightness of hope he'd brought to court seemed muddied by his self esteem. He still couldn’t see a theoretical flaw in his plan. Yet he felt it was hopeless. As destined to fail as he felt himself.


It was not that he saw no way forward. It never had been. John’s mind was ever turning.


Yet he half expected the birds from the Hortus Palatinus to rust, the snow of St. James to melt, and Nicolette to give up medicine. He expected those he offered to help to insult him. He expected to be ignored. John, already inclined to believe he was cursed, felt the stinging sink of hopelessness.


Cursed, An angry voice said. Another ill memory. At least it had not been demon.


He was met with everything from simple bad luck to the Biblical like plagues. So much of five months wasted. Lady stretched out her paw and yawned and John smiled despite himself. He wiggled a finger and she gently batted at it.


But like gravity the small smile pulled back into a frown. Well, John thought, There’s nothing to be done.


If God had cursed him, he was cursed. And he would live his mark until he died.


John hoped Devonshire and Cavendish were right when they said his dreams weren’t hopeless. They’d often been right before. He wished dearly to become the lord his mother had said he’d never be. To live up to or surpass his examples. John just… found it hard to believe he would. Someone had to be ordinary. Someone had to be inferior. And it seemed then to the young lord God had made him for that role.


He sighed. He felt... tired, in more than a physical sense. “Come on Lady Pouncington. Time for bed.” He picked up the cat and cradled her in his arms. She obligingly nuzzled. He stood and the stone dropped out of his lap.


He left a half full glass of jenever and Apocolocyntosis on the table and departed. He walked past the two paintings that flanked the entrance to his room. He glanced at the one of his family, then at the painting of poor, tormented Orestes. And then to bed with a very cuddly cat.


For all his pretensions of adulthood, she did make John feel better. And when Fastulus and Larentia came and curled up with him, he actually felt... almost alright.

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