From the diary of Sir Thomas Kirby: Governor of Northampton 1646-1649; loyal Colonel to the Parliamentarian armies 1642-1646; High Sherriff of Gloucester 1637-1642.
Horton House, Oxfordshire. Sunday July 9, 1654
The initial passage of my day was as any other. Mine is a peaceable retirement typified by idle chatter, the company of my family, the laughter and gaiety of children at play. Plainly speaking it is hell.
Naturally we spent this morning at Church. The service was wholly prosaic, offering little by way of cerebral stimulation or spiritual sustenance.
Perhaps I wore my boredom too plainly. As we walked back home, my emboldened daughter proposed that I devote my afternoon to the appearance of the grounds and garden. She opined that I may discover renewed purpose tending to the flora.
‘Catherine’ I replied, as I lovingly struck her across the face. ‘I was consigned to this rural purgatory. I may have slowly acquiesced into a futile existence; but I will not squander what years God grants me on menial labour, like some common filthy oaf.’
Once home I took a modest lunch of bread and water to my study. Deprived of my work, the room holds no real avail; and yet I cleave to this space and to that name. A “study” commands privacy and respect; even the children dare not intrude. Oliver Cromwell is my only companion here. He stands and glares down at me; the heartless bastard looking more mutable in glowering oil than he ever did in the flesh. I intended to spend the entire afternoon staring back, the hatred mutual, and muttering ‘you… you did this to me, you spiteful maniac.’
I confess, it was not the most remarkable of prospects.
My thoughts, however, were interrupted by a knock at the door. My manservant informed me of two villagers – a man and wife – who humbly requested my attention with regards to their transcendent condition. Any self-respecting gentleman would indeed refuse such grubby company. Yet rather tragically indolence has deprived me of such dignity; moreover, such a coalescence of temerity and desperation had piqued my interest.
My manservant ushered them through. In they traipsed, an old dishevelled couple, she around seventeen, he a little older. They stood quaking in nervous silence awaiting my address.
‘Well?’ I asked, dismissing my manservant with a nod.
‘My lord…’ began the girl with a subservient curtesy.
‘Do not call me my lord. I am a knight, you shall address me as sir.’
‘As you wish sir. We have turned…’ I silenced her with a wave and turned to the taciturn wretch she called a husband.
‘You there – you let a woman speak for you?’
‘Please sir, he has taken a vow of silence. His mind is rich and fertile soil for all manner of sinful thoughts, speech only lends voice to them.’
A conversation with a mute. Dear God – what have I done to offend you so? Why must you invent such tortures?
‘Well then woman, pray tell me – why are have you chosen my floor to abase yourselves upon?’
‘Because sir, Jack is a capricious soul, drawn towards the darkness, but also the light. My face and body inspires madness within. He wishes for endless fornication – far beyond our duties as man and wife. Yet truly we are God’s children. We believe salvation can be achieved. Pain makes an exile of temptation: therefore we humbly beseech you, please help us atone.’
At this the man placed a birch rod before them. I stood from my desk and picked it from the floor, examining the weight and heft.
‘Our lord and saviour was purified by scourging,’ I mused. ‘And yet custody over another’s soul is not a frivolous matter. Have you proposed this recourse to the Revd Gibbons?’
‘He has refused sir.’ I was unsurprised by her reply. Gibbons duels Satan armed only with kindness and kisses.
‘I cannot beat him hard enough myself sir. Moreover he… he rather likes the pain I inflict upon him,’ she said it with a blush and a bowed head. I knew of what she spoke. My days among the martial were enlightening; they walk among us, the perverse and the degenerate.
‘You were a military man. Corporeal and spiritual discipline is surely within your capability. Beat the devil from him sir,’ she urged.
It was a long time since I last hit a man with any serious intent. I twirled the rod momentarily before swishing it so hard it split the air; it hummed most gratifyingly.
‘Very well,’ I replied after some consideration.
The man stood and removed his shirt. I bade him lean across my desk, looking downwards to present his back. He was a man in his prime. Long laborious hours had sculpted broad shoulders and a potent physique. The penitence would need to be powerfully administered.
I brought the rod down upon him once and then again, the blows gauche and frigid. He barely flinched.
I raised my arm for a hesitant third. I turned to his wife, almost apologetic for my rustiness and inelegance. Her pretty face provided a moment of divine inspiration.
‘The devil has absconded’ I declared. ‘To bring him hither, you must look upon your wife, break silence and speak plainly of your lascivious compulsions.’
I moved his wife to sit at facing us at my desk. Considered scrutiny revealed her features to be very pleasing to the eye.
‘Well then? Do you see nothing to admire at all?’
‘She is very beautiful sir.’ His voice deep, slow and tremulous.
‘Is that all?’
‘I am no poet sir. Just a simple farmhand.’
‘Very well. I will narrate myself. Observe her skin, pale as fresh-churned butter. Notice the way her green eyes shimmer; that luscious light hair cascading down below her shoulders; that position of that one freckle which sits so pleasurably above her lips…’ I found my attention lingering there, noticing how thin and perfectly composed her lips truly were.
I realised then how my blood coursed with vigour and whipped the rod across his back in ten strokes. They were hard, measured, and hit with precision so that they did not overlap or break the skin.
‘Will that suffice?’ I asked, breathless and panting.
The man continued to look up to his wife.
‘With respect sir, my flesh still cries out for her.’ ‘Speak Satan!’ ‘I would kiss her neck sir, caress her shoulders and lay her down upon my bed.’
I whipped him harder still as he yelped in pain.
‘And then?’ ‘I… I would rip off her top, kiss her navel… upwards towards…’
The man tailed off, I flogged him several times for his indecision.
‘What Lucifer, towards what?’ ‘Her… sir, her breasts.’ ‘YES – BREASTS!’ I bellowed, rather to my own astonishment.
My own wife passed many years ago, but I can still recall the joy of breasts. I would kiss my wife’s in those blithe days of our youth. We would tingle with feeling then, the surges and impulses of lust made wholesome by sacrosanct marriage bonds. Here though I was gripped by a frenzy of feelings that were anything but wholesome. I whipped at the man’s back – losing count of the strokes – until at last his resistance exhausted, the man collapsed to the floor in a fit of tears.
His wife was horrified at the blood.
‘Are you cured’ I asked the man as I pulled him back to his feet.
‘Sir I believe so. The pain is complete; I can think of nothing else.’
‘Indeed I am quite convinced of that’ I replied, unfastening my jerkin. ‘The devil has surely fled your body. Verily, he has taken refuge in mine.’
‘Any man who looks at another’s woman with lustful eyes has adultery in his heart. I too must repent. Do you have any strength left in those arms? Strength enough to cure me?’
I handed the rod back to him. He looked at it, then back to me and nodded. I removed my shirt, leant across the desk and stared into the eyes of his unreasonably beautiful wife.
And thus the remainder of the afternoon was spent before her. The two of us, taking turns endeavouring to thrash out every last trace of our carnal and impure thoughts.
Jake Kendall is a Creative Writing graduate of Cardiff University currently based in his hometown of Oxford. His stories explore the overlap between comedy and tragedy. He has had work included in Here Come’s Everyone’s Brutal Literature edition, and Burning House Press’ Identity edition.