'I expected a greeting from a Benedictine or Carthusian Friar!' Francis Hodgson embraced Byron on the icy abbey steps.
Byron laughed, 'You must know me well enough to understand that I could never adopt a celibate life. Welcome to my gothic ruin.'
A second, younger man gingerly ascended the slippery steps. 'Heavens, George, how on earth do you manage these treacherous stairs?'
Byron held out his hand to him: 'Take my arm, Will. To answer your question, I seldom venture out into the frozen wastes. I prefer to cling to my fireside with a good bottle of claret.'
'Alone?' William Harness shot his friend a quizzical glance.
'For the most part, yes; however, I do have company on occasion.'
'Someone to share your wine?'
Byron nodded as he showed them indoors, 'My cellar, my larder and my home is yours, for the duration.' They passed through the Great Hall and into the dining room. Byron indicated Wolf who was snoring by the fire, his legs twitching slightly as he dreamt.
'You see what an effective guard dog I have.'
Will laughed and patted the sleeping animal. Byron poured large glasses of brandy for them.
'I propose a toast,' Francis proclaimed as he raised his glass, 'to absent friends.'
They gulped the brandy.
'And a second toast!' Will Harness offered: 'To Harrow School, to Byron, and to Cambridge, our seats of learning and licentiousness!'
Byron clinked his glass against Will's: 'Amen to that!'
The three friends made themselves comfortable in chairs around the hearth.
'Another Christmas, George, another year gone,' Francis observed. Byron sighed, 'I will be twenty-four in a few weeks' time, almost a quarter of a century.'
'Are you a year wiser as well as a year older?' Will asked as he leaned closer to him.
'We all should be. Three wise men! I do not mind wisdom so much, but please reassure me that you have not grown sensible?'
Francis Hodgson laughed. 'Hardly. I saw Scrope Davies the other day; we spent the whole night gambling. I stumbled home to Picadilly at about two o'clock. He stayed on. The next day I went to see him. It was after lunch, and he was still in bed. Would you believe it, under his bed was a chamber pot - full to the brim -'
'With banknotes!' Will finished the anecdote with a flourish.
Byron laughed heartily: 'Good God, I can believe it! Dear Scrope…'
'He's had a winning streak lately.'
'I hope to see him when I am next in London.'
'When will that be, George?' Will smiled.
'I shall be making my maiden speech in the House of Lords soon after my birthday.'
Francis gazed into the fire. 'What shall be your subject?'
'I am toying with the idea of the plight of the local stocking knitters. Men are starving for lack of work. They are desperate. Someone has to speak up for them.'
'Very noble of you, George, standing up for the underdog,' Francis raised his glass.
...from 'Framed' the historical novel about
the Nottingham Luddites.