The young man bent over the fragile plant and strained his eyes to see the tiny petals, that were beginning to shoot up through the fragrant soil. His mentor stood, hands behind his back, smiling contentedly.
”There, Lofling, have you ever seen anything like it?”
Lofling straightened his back and looked into his mentor’s eyes. He was experiencing great things here, thanks to his generous professor. The intensity of the older man’s smile warmed young Lofling and without being aware of it, he returned the smile.
”No, I cannot say that I have, as you well know, sir.”
Linnaeus smiled approvingly. That was the reply he had expected. There was not much more to say about the matter. All the things that grew and thrived in his greenhouses, were marvellous. Literally marvels of nature.
The two men continued their late evening stroll through the greenhouse and into the garden. It was a mild, very pleasant evening. During the day, the sun had beaten down, almost as intensely as on more southerly latitudes, but now that darkness had fallen, one could breathe easily. A pleasant coolness had taken possession of Carolus Linnaeus’ home.
Very soon, Pehr Lofling was to set out on his long journey to South America. He was excited and had great expectations of the wonders his eyes would behold, in the months and years of his absence from his patria. Mostly, he was filled with exultant joy, when thinking of the journey, but there were times when his mind was filled with sombre premonitions. A part of Lofling dreaded the perils he would encounter in the wondrous, but at times frightening world.
While Lofling pondered the future, he and his mentor had reached a conveniently placed bench, with a view of the gardens. At this time of the evening, almost nothing was visible, except what little could be spied by the faint light from the main building.
Linnaeus’ wife and children were no doubt fast asleep and had been for some time, and only some diligent servant might still be at work in the kitchen or in some other part of the premises, which guarded their secrets from men such as the master of the house or his young disciple.
”Shall we sit down, my dear Lofling?”
Lofling nodded. In his pocket, his hand was clutching a letter from his love. Though it had now been some considerable time since he had made his home with his dear mentor, he had not mentioned that there was a girl he loved. Such frivolity could hardly interest a man like Linnaeus.
Furthermore, Lofling could not hope to be able to support a family until he had made a name for himself and had gained a position with a regular income.
It was as if Linnaeus had suspected that something was on Lofling’s mind.
”My friend, what are you brooding over?”
Lofling hesitated. Telling that truth was out of the question. Yet, one could not say that what he was about to say was a lie. Was not everything caused by his situation, the journey ahead, his prospects?
”Oh, nothing of grave import, sir. Merely the future.”
”Your journey. I see. Has every preparation been made?”
”Yes, sir. We sail before the end of the month. I do not believe I have left anything to chance.”
”Excellent. It will be a magnificent journey. If you can only bring me -”
Linnaeus began to recite the plants he was hoping to receive from his young disciple throughout the journey. Lofling was carried away and willingly let himself be distracted. Yet, throughout the conversation, the sombre mood did not lift.
Once again, it was as if Linnaeus had guessed what was going through Lofling’s mind. He placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder and squeezed it lightly.
”Come now, my friend. Take heart. Success and glory awaits you out there. Would you rather stay here and settle for teaching young rascals, who will, at best, be able to anticipate employment as shop assistants or scribes?”
No. Lofling most certainly did not. Even now, he had found himself constrained to resort to working as a tutor, now and again, to supplement his meager earnings. In addition, his clear and legible script qualified him as a scribe, just like some day those pupils might. None of that could satisfy Lofling, whose mind craved greater challenges.
”Come. Let us see if we can find a cup of chocolate in the kitchen. t’is getting late. The mosquitoes are perforating our skins.”
As if to illustrate his claim, Linnaeus slapped his neck.
”There. I think I got it. Well? Shall we?”
Cook had long since gone to bed, but one of the maidservants were still up, why Lofling never found out, though he did see that the girl in vain tried to hide a yawn behind her hand, as her master was facing away from her.
She boiled the milk for them, and Linnaeus, who considered himself skillful in the making of hot chocolate, did the rest. The girl curtsied and vanished in the direction of the servants’ quarters.
Linnaeus did not sit down at the kitchen table, as Lofling had expected, but instead made his way towards the attic room which Lofling occupied. Lofling sat down on the side of his bed, and left for his master the chair upon which he would leave his clothes, at night before going to bed.
Another moment of amiable small talk followed, but Lofling found it a little hard to follow the discussion. This time, Linnaeus began to speak of the university. Lofling knew that Linnaeus had his share of enemies, but at the moment he could not produce any interest in the departmental intrigues. Perhaps one day he would be forced to pay attention to the gossip and the coteries there.
Surreptitiously, his hand once more sought out the folded letter in his pocket, and his fingers closed on it. If he’d dared to pull it out and press his nose to it, he knew he would have felt the faint fragrance of her perfume.
His eyes filled with tears, as he thought of how long he would be away from her. Perhaps he would not return at all.
Linnaeus broke off when he noticed that Lofling was no longer listening to him. His gaze sought out that of the young man and he realized something was amiss. Not knowing that his young disciple had given his heart to a young woman, he quite naturally believed that an incipient homesickness had afflicted Lofling. Despite the grandiose boasts, Lofling was far from the only one to deep down feel dread and perchance regret – now, at the last moment?
Filled with compassion, Linnaeus placed his hand on Lofling’s arm.
”There. There. You must not fret. Calm yourself, dear Lofling.”
His throat constricted and he could not stop the sobs that burst forth.
He felt his mentor pull him close and begin to stroke his neck and back soothingly.
”There, my friend.”
Lofling collapsed against Linnaeus’ and allowed himself to let go. His sobs were smothered in the thick cloth of the coat and what tears fell, were absorbed as well. Somewhat relieved, Lofling at last began to calm down.
Suddenly, Linnaeus, became aware of an unaccustomed sensation, that without his being aware of it, had taken possession of him. Nay, that was not quite the truth. The sensation was not utterly unfamiliar. One aspect was dissimilar. Normally, it was women who gave rise to this perturbing sensation.
For all that he was a product of the Enlightenment, there was quite a bit of the romantic in Linnaeus. He had ever had a tendency to work himself into a jubilant fervour when faced with something particularly wondrous in nature. A typical example being the stamen and the pistil – many consorts and but one bride.
The sense of intoxication would not yield, although he began to soberly reason with himself. Naturally, this was merely a temporary confusion. Perhaps it was but the anticipation of getting under the covers with his dear wife, which in this rather peculiar fashion had prematurely awakened.
No matter how he argued with himself, the urge did not falter. On the contrary, it became greater with each minute that passed. His predicament was becoming rather awkward. Would not Lofling begin to take notice of his plight? Without a doubt, the male anatomy was marvellous, but there was no denying that one disadvantage existed – the difficulty of concealing a sudden reaction such as this.
Amazingly enough, Linnaeus discovered that he felt no shame over his condition. On the contrary, he found himself more and more conscious of Lofling’s enticing scent and – now that his arms were encircling the young man’s upper body – his perfect masculine form.
Despite himself, Linnaeus began to touch Lofling’s neck again, only this time, the exploration continued underneath the coat, which he deftly removed.
Wearing only his shirt, Lofling blinked in astonishment at his mentor. It was not that he did not see where this was leading – despite his youth and relative innocence, Lofling was not naive. There was no privacy in the overcrowded towns and cities, nor in villages and in the country.
While it was seen as vile and despicable, Lofling knew that in particular among students, youths who did not see a female for months and years on end, might turn to each other for the satisfaction of the most urgent of corporeal needs. However, hitherto, he had not found himself in such circumstances.
His initial impulse was to gently but firmly free himself from the professor’s arms and pull away from the exploring fingers. But he checked himself before he had carried out his intentions. Had he the right to refuse? After all his dear mentor had done for him, was it not on the contrary, the very epitome of ingratitude and indifference, to reject him?
Lofling knew very well what the parson would say, but was he not a man of Science? Did he not know that much of what the men of the cloth were preaching was at odds with the laws of nature? Man was at the dawn of a new age. Already, there was knowledge about matters considered impossible to gain knowledge of, a few generations ago. Science constantly made progress.
All this, Lofling knew to be the truth. Was it then a certainty, that the church’s truth was the only one worth knowing?
At that point in his analysis, Lofling gave up the attempt to discern right from wrong. His dear mentor and protector did not wish him any harm. Although this was nothing he had ever anticipated he would experience, Lofling did not wish to turn away from Linnaeus.
When the older man’s lips covered his own, Lofling did not resist. Willingly, he let himself be kissed. The tongue that stole inside his lips was in no way unskilled in this endevour. Despite himself, Lofling let himself be carried away.
Meanwhile, Linnaeus had managed to unbutton Lofling’s shirt and his fingers were caressing the smooth skin, covering the firm muscle underneath. A shiver shook Lofling. The rate of his breathing increased and the pounding of his pulse echoed in his ears in a way that was well nigh deafening.
The harsher breathing of the older man, he sensed rather than heard, as the exploring lips detached themselves from Lofling’s mouth, and began to trace a line from Lofling’s earlobe to his clavicle and continued across his chest.
Linnaeus’ hands found their way inside Lofling’s breeches and momentarily, Lofling began to resist, but before long he gave up his struggle and passively allowed himself to be undressed and fondled until he barely remembered his own name.
His eyelids closed and through the blood vessels, he faintly discerned the light cast by the candle on his bedside table. The pale red semi-darkness engulfed him and he felt the professor gently but firmly push him down onto the bed.
Still, the fingers kept making their way further down. Once they had found their objective, they closed on what they’d found, and for an instant, Lofling knew no more.
Gradually, he came to again. He was still lying on his back, but strong hand were lifting him up then turning him face down. His face was pressed into the pillow and he perceived that after all, he wasn’t sure of this – but it was too late for doubts and regrets now.
A heavy weight was pressing him into the mattress and once again the deft fingers were searching and found what they sought. Lofling clenched his teeth. While it lasted, he only made faint whimpering noises. He squeezed his lips together, determined not to give himself away, though at times, the pain was well nigh unbearable.
For an instant, he must have lost consciousness, but when he came to again, he was still not alone. The professor had turned him over again and when Lofling’s eyes fluttered open, he looked into the older man’s eyes. There was nothing but benevolence and affection to be seen.
Linnaeus bent over him, and planted a light kiss on his lips. When the professor spied the damp cheeks his fingers moved lightly across the skin, drying the tears.
Lofling marked that his mentor’s eyes, too, were filled with tears. Ergo, the incident must have greatly touched him, for Lofling could not imagine that the older man, who had used him like the ancient Greeks, as was the custom in those days, had experienced the same searing pain.
Yet again, Linnaeus, pressed his lips to Lofling’s, then to his forehead, and the cheeks, still somewhat damp.
Without a word, Linnaeus withdrew, leaving Lofling to his guilt, and the by now, more tolerable dull pain which was pounding in such an unmentionable spot.
Linnaeus, despite all the emotion, was no longer drowsy. Rather than assuming his place beside his wife, he made for his study.
Was not Nature beyond comparison? Should there be no females at hand, men might still jointly experience pleasure in such a magnificent manner. It was too appropriate to be caused by chance. Nature must have meant it thus. How remarkable that even this had been anticipated and provided.
It was many hours until Linnaeus’ mind settled down enough so he could seek out his bed. He only wished he could have dared set his conclusions down on paper. But a note in his journal would be too perilous. If those lines were to fall into the hands of another after his own demise – Nay. It was unthinkable. He would have to structure his thoughts without the aid of pen or paper.
After Lofling’s departure, several of the other disciples began to make provisions for their own journeys. Long after Lofling had gone, Linnaeus suffered all torments imaginable, as he pined for his most beloved desciple. The others – his disciples and his learned brethren at the university – if only they knew – but it could not be any other way. His secret was too great for his petty times. Some day, perchance – but not now. The time was not at hand.
Even so, Linnaeus caught himself not merely missing Lofling’s beloved features, but also the act, no matter how reviled by church and laymen alike.
Something about the forbidden nature of the act enticed Linnaeus. To yet again experience the well nigh implausible pleasure of penetrating another’s flesh, albeit not through the usual passage, but through an orifice he had never hitherto imagined possible to use for a purpose other than the one evident.
One of his remaining disciples, Johan Peter Falck, was, no matter how loath Linnaeus was to admit it, if possible, even more lovely than Lofling. No one could be more dear to him, than the beloved Lofling, but even so, Linnaeus found his eyes following young Falck, as he enthusiastically outlined the journey he intended to undertake.
Unlike most of the other disciples, Falck would be travelling by land, through Russia, far, far away, all the way to Asia. This forthcoming journey occupied Linnaeus’ mind, but so did the young man about to embark on it.
Never before had Linnaeus seen such a fair face. After his experience, he had gained a new appreciation of the male body. Hitherto, only the female form had appealed to him. Now he fancied he spied an exquisite line hiding under Falck’s stockings, beneath his breeches, underneath the cloth of the shirt, which was all too loosely covering the chest and upper arms. The coat effectively hid most of his back and buttocks, and the upper part of the thighs. Thus Falck’s garments left much to the imagination, and Linnaeus was capable of many extended moments of speculation over the subject.
Alas, there was no reason to assume that Falck would be favourably inclined towards the undertaking of such an experiment. Quite the contrary. Linnaeus had heard tales of Falck’s many exploits with servants and ladies, even in his student days.
Even so, the thought of knowing Falck intimately did not leave Linnaeus any peace. In the end, the temptation proved too much for him.
In the manner of a little farewell feast, Linnaeus invited Falck, alone, to his office at the university. He not only offered delicious tidbits from a nearby tavern, but also plenty of beverages. Ale, wine and stronger drinks, were on offer, as were cheeses and bread and much else.
As the evening progressed, Falck became increasingly intoxicated. In short, he was in his cups. Time and again, he raised his glass to his great mentor, then to the successful conclusion of his journey. Suddenly, without warning, one of the candles burning on the table between them, overturned and burned a hole in the map that was spread out before them.
Hastily, Linnaeus put out the scarcely extensive fire, but the damage was already done. Sheer through the costly paper, there was a hole encircled by soot.
Falck squinted at the hole.
”What does it say, sir?”
Linnaeus too hunched over the map and strained his eyes in the faint light. Kazan? Kazan? Had he heard the name mentioned before? No doubt, but it had not made an imprint in his memory yet. Perchance, Falck himself would one day lay eyes on the distant place.
The incident cast a shadow over the evening and now Falck mostly drank in silence. Linnaeus had had an unpleasant premonition regarding the place with the unfamiliar name. To dispel the mood, he took another sip from his glass.
He couldn’t help glancing at Falck, whose garments and general style had suffered somewhat from his inebriation. The ribbon which ordinarily held the young man’s hair back, had come loose and the locks were hanging freely around the comely face. The shirt was open and a portion of the smooth chest was visible. Early in the evening, Falck had doffed his coat.
While Linnaeus surreptitiously regarded Falck, the young man became increasingly drunken. In the end, his head began to droop onto his shoulder. The eyes could only stay open for short periods of time. It was time to end their little gathering.
The canape, which was standing by the wall was large and comfortable enough for a grown man to sleep on, especially a young one, but Linnaeus himself intended to retire to his rooms. Before he left, he had better help Falck over to the canape.
Eventually, he was able to get the young man up on his feet, and led him towards the canape. Falck stretched out, still with his shoes on. After a moment of hesitation, Linnaeus began to remove the shoes. He placed them on the floor, underneath the small table standing in front of the canape. That should be enough, but somehow, he could not bring himself to leave just yet.
The breeches – scarcely had the thought been born, before he found himself pulling them down and removing them as well. Now Falck was lying with his hair spread out across the pillow, and thus, more or less asleep, he looked innocent, and yet more desirable. It was almost as if – one could almost believe it was a young woman, not a man –
Linnaeus could not force himself to turn around and leave. Instead, he began to lightly touch the lustrous hair, framing the face. As if of their own volition, the fingers began to move across the face. They followed the outline of the cheekbones and continued down to the lips which they began to explore, as diligently as the rest of the features.
When he reached the chest, Linnaeus checked himself. God help him, this was not to be resisted. The thought of the previous experience was too tempting to resist.
Slowly, Linnaeus pulled the shirt up. He was breathing heavily, and it seemed to him that the thundering of the heart and pulse should wake Falck. But the young man slept on calmly. His slumber was akin to Endymion’s and like Selene, Linnaeus began to cover the smooth skin with kisses. The fingers continued their intimate exploration of the young body, desirable beyond words, which was stretched out so invitingly.
Linnaeus attempted to lie down by Falck’s side, but the canape was too narrow. Defeated, he chose to lie down on top. Now, at last, Falck woke up. For an instant, the eyes were clouded, then they cleared. A look of terror could be read in them.
Filled with shame, but unable to hold back any longer, Linnaeus pressed a hand over Falck’s mouth and stole the forbidden pleasure once more. Afterwards, when Falck’s desolate sobs accused him, Linnaeus fled his office, away from what he’d done.
He could never thereafter think of Falck without deep feelings of remorse. When he learned what had befallen his disciple – first the opium addiction – then the suicide – he knew he was responsible. What he had done to Falck had caused his desperate search for alleviation of his emotional torment.
From that day on, Linnaeus never again let himself be tempted. He refrained from too intently studying his remaining disciples and he never formed an attachment as strong as the one he’d enjoyed with Lofling.
Both young men found their lonely graves far away from home, as did many of the other disciples. Mostly, Linnaeus was able to repress the feelings of remorse over their demise, but never when it came to Falck or Lofling. But he kept his secret to his death. No one ever learned what forbidden emotions had stirred his mind.