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, bowing 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.


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. 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.


You flirted with Roman Catholicism in Venice.

It was not a flirtation. I would have committed myself to it, had life not intervened.

You would have sacrificed your commission.

Yes. In my time, for political reasons, Roman Catholics were not permitted to hold  commissions in His Majesty’s armed forces.

What would you have done with your life?

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

Was it fate?

Fate had nothing to do with it. Except that I attempted suicide afterwards. Had I succeeded, it would have spared Mordaunt the agony of his association with me.

Do you consider yourself his nemesis?

I was a catalyst. We were in a certain place at a certain time, we were required to carry out certain 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.


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

It was a coup de foudre. I was powerless against it.

But you knew it was impossible. You must have known.

I knew only that I would have given him my very soul. As for sexuality… at the time of which we speak, one could never be known openly for what one was. Sodomy was punishable by death in the armed forces, in theory at least. Three men were hanged for homosexual acts in London in 1732. You cannot imagine the fear. The dread 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 devout 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 Coronach nearly destroyed you both. Will you speak of it?

I will 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 brutal and licentious soldiery… we were not monsters, we were not barbarians. 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 could not. He drank too much, but he could not detach himself… and his was always a harsher nature than mine, stricter, more honourable.

Did you kill civilians?

I was sick. I was maimed. I was heavily addicted. I could barely function as a human being, much less as a soldier.

But, by your order, other men did.

They were not my personal orders… and I was unfit for command. But I did command, and I must bear that responsibility.

And Mordaunt?

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 the opium. 


I remember only fragments of hell. I lost him, and with him I lost what little remained of myself. I would have died then, if I could have.

What kept you alive?

The Hanoverians. If I had wanted penance and reconciliation, I certainly found it amongst them. They were pitiless.

If you could live your life again, 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.

And if you lived your life again, would you change anything?

I would not have written to Mordaunt, urging him to bid for the majority which had fallen vacant in my regiment. He would have stayed in Flanders and sold his commission, and retired to his estate, which was all he wanted. He would never have gone to Scotland.

You might have died in Scotland.

Perhaps. Or I may have survived, and kept my hand.

Have there been other lovers?

Many. And they were not lovers. I will never love again, any more than you.

I always felt I knew you. I always felt I understood you. And as time passes and I learn the lessons of love and suffering, I understand you even more deeply.

You gave 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 shocked you. But I thank you for your courage: for not turning from it, not abhorring it. I am not nemesis… only a flawed human being, as we all are. And therein lies our tragedy. And, possibly, our redemption.