I have called him to my mind by the power of imagination that created him, and, although more accustomed to issuing orders than obeying them, he arrives as he did in the past: an elegant man, courteous, controlled, aristocratic, not at ease but committed to this conversation and the truths it may reveal. He takes my left hand briefly, bending his head. 

Colonel, I say, and he sits, composing his coatskirts, the hilt of the sword on his right hip, his emotions. His eyes are a brilliant grey that seems to pierce my soul.

Madam.

Thank you for accepting my invitation.

It is very much my pleasure.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Aeneas Bancroft, and I am a supporting player in Coronach. To you it is a novel about the ’45 and its aftermath. For those of us involved, it is the record of our lives. At the time of which we speak I was lieutenant-colonel of the 4th Regiment of Foot, also known as The King’s Own. I was thirty-eight years old then; I am homosexual; and I was addicted to opium.

How did you become an addict?

My right hand was severed at Culloden. I took opium for the pain. It had other effects, which I enjoyed.

You revealed to me, in the course of the writing of the book, that you had “known many drugs”, promiscuity among them. And religion.

Yes.

You flirted with Roman Catholicism in Venice.

I was not ‘flirting’. I would have committed myself to it, had not life intervened.

You would have sacrificed your commission.

Yes. One was not, in my time, permitted to hold a commission in His Majesty’s forces if one was a Roman Catholic.

What would you have done with your life?

Lived with my lover. In peace, I hoped. It was not allowed to happen.

This is another story. 

Yes. I believe you intend to tell it some time. But not yet.

I have other novels to write first. But as you entrusted me with your story, I do intend to write it. Its tragedy lies at the very heart of who you are.

Yes.

Do you consider yourself one of the ‘villains of the piece’ in Coronach?

I am a catalyst. Without me, it would not have happened. We were there, we were required to carry out orders, we behaved as we behaved because of who we were, and because of what the past had made us, and certain events were set in train which had devastating consequences. I would not have had that happen for the world.

You speak of Mordaunt.

Yes.

How could you have allowed yourself to fall in love with a straight man?

Why did you fall in love with a married man? A man nearly thirty years older than yourself? When the odds were so impossibly against you? It was a coup de foudre. I can’t explain it. It simply happened, and I was powerless against it.

But you knew it was impossible. You must have known Mordaunt wasn’t gay.

I knew only that I would have given him my very soul. As for one’s sexuality… you must understand that, in my time, one could never be known for what one was. Sodomy was punishable by death in the armed forces, at least in theory. Three homosexual men were hanged in London in 1732. You cannot imagine the effect on us. The fear of discovery… the blackmail… the secrecy. It was a measure of my trust in Mordaunt that I revealed myself to him. I could not have done otherwise. I loved the man.

You are a practising Anglican. How do you reconcile your sexuality with your faith?

I am as my God made me. He knows my heart, my mind, my soul, my mortal body. I have no secrets from Him. And I trust that He has no contempt for what He Himself created.

 

What happened in Glen Sian at the beginning of our story nearly destroyed you both. Will you tell us about it?

I may say only that we were professional soldiers, inured to war. I held my first commission at the age of eighteen: I had been at Oxford. Mordaunt was commissioned at fifteen: his father was a general, he sent him straight to the army. Despite that… despite the way we are portrayed… the popular conception… we were not barbarians, we were not insensitive. Mordaunt, particularly. His music… my God, the beauty of his music. The divine gift in his hands…. The war was a sewer… the Austrian war, I mean. We were nothing but blood and bone and gristle. And then they sent us to Scotland. I was able to distance myself from it. He couldn’t. He drank too much, but he couldn’t detach himself… and his was always a harsher nature than mine, stricter, far more moral, more honourable. I knew what was happening to him, to his mind, his spirit, but I couldn’t reach him: I revolted him: he hated me. And when one sees the man one loves in such torment, such moral anguish, the instinct becomes desperate. He was on the very edge of the abyss. I thought I could save him. I broke him. I blame it on the opium. He was never the same. Nor was I.

If you lived in my time, would you be a soldier?

Yes, without a doubt. I live to serve my country, even if, in my own time, I was dishonoured in that service.

On a lighter note: if you were to give a dinner party, who would be your guests? They can be from any time, any century.

Ah. I love parties. I should certainly ask Mordaunt. And the girl, Margaret, who meant so much to him. And her lover, the renegade naval officer. I should like to meet him. And James Wolfe. Mordaunt always admired him. And Nelson: Wolfe was his hero. And you. And your Douglas, because I should like to meet the man who was your soulmate, and who taught you to understand love. Love and loneliness, and what they do to the human spirit.

Thank you, Aeneas.

Thank you, my dear, for giving me a voice. Although when I first came into your mind you were too young to understand what it was between Mordaunt and me. I fear I shocked you. But I thank you for your courage. I am not quite a villain: only a flawed human being, as we all are. And therein lies our tragedy, and our humanity. And, possibly, our redemption.