Jeremy Carstairs was greeted by his Aunts Frances and Josephine as he stepped out of the December cold into the hall of their old house, and into that cosy warmth and friendly welcome that he remembered of old after so many visits to these dear old ladies over the years. Many a happy Christmas had Jeremy and his parents spent with these two friendly maiden ladies. This Christmas was to be a little different, alas.
Jeremy's parents had been forced to go abroad for a few days to attend the funeral of a relative in Minnesota. He remembered the sadness in both his parent's eyes as they had said goodbye a couple of days earlier. "We'll be back before the New Year, darling," his mother had said as she hugged him and gave him a farewell kiss.
"Never mind, Mother. We'll have a good time, the three of us, as always. And in a few days' you'll be back. We'll all have a great New Year's Eve together."
His mother had brushed away a tear, only for it to be followed by a flood of others, which ran unchecked down both cheeks. His father had drawn her away and helped her into the car, not looking any too cheerful himself.
"Come on in dear," Aunt Frances said, "take your things up to your room. You're in the front bedroom this time."
Jeremy obeyed, finding the stairs a little harder than they should be -- in keeping, lately, with all physical effort -- and pushed his way in to the front bedroom, a room he had never been in before, and which had not been used for many years.
It was larger than the room he usually occupied. The bay widow consisted of two halves that opened inwards. He undid the catch and looked out onto the street below and at the small town. Leading from across the road was a footpath down to the River Severn, a few hundred yards away. Houses a little lower down were frequently flooded in winter, but this house of his Aunts' was built on slightly higher ground and safe from inundation. He loved this quaint old town and especially this lovely old house that held so many delightful childhood memories.
He closed the windows, shivering a little -- odd for a healthy young seventeen year old -- and began unpacking his belongings. He put his pajamas under the cover of the large old double bed and went back the window to draw the curtains. He saw, to his surprise, that someone's finger had disturbed the condensation and written a message. It read "U won't need the 'jamas -- lover boy!"
Jeremy looked at this with amazement. Who could have traced out that message? He opened the window and looked out. There was nobody to be seen. It would, he decided, be possible for a very agile person to climb up to this room via a drainpipe, but he would have surely heard them. He sat down on the edge of the bed and felt faint as he did so often lately. Finally he pulled himself together and went back to the window to finish pulling the curtains to. The condensation had cleared and the message -- if it had not been a delusion -- was gone.
He made his way downstairs to a pleasant evening with his two relatives. At about half past nine, he expressed himself a little tired and excused himself. The ladies exchanged a sad glance as he said goodnight and made his way upstairs.
He undressed and looked at himself in the mirror. What he saw was the body of a fit and athletic youth, who had excelled at school in all games. He was the Captain of the Rugby First Fifteen and a useful fast bowler in the summer. He held the school high jump record and was a fine sprinter and swimmer. Next term, he was going to do even more great things on the field of play. Just as soon as could shake off this wretched bug that he had had for the last couple of weeks, and which was making him so awfully tired all the time -- so he kept telling himself, in the teeth of all the evidence.
As he finished undressing he reached under the bedclothes for his nightwear and remembered the scrawled message of earlier in the day. Extraordinary! He must have imagined it! As he stood there, he noticed the curtains move and felt a draught of cold air. The window must have opened somehow. He was about to go and close it, when the curtains moved again and it was obvious that someone was standing behind them. A hand poked through -- a tiny feminine hand. It was the sweetest hand he had ever seen in his short life, white and delicate. This sweet member was swiftly followed by an arm, and the arm by the rest of the intruder.
The person who stood before him was young, fair-haired and very, very female. She was also naked. Her fair hair came down almost to her waist and otherwise there was no adornment or covering on her slim and perfect body whatever. This lovely girl was about five feet three inches tall, fair haired and pale skinned. It was her dainty hands and feet that first struck him as so utterly and delicately exquisite, with their rose pink nails and almost painful fragility. Her whole being seemed so frail that he felt an overpowering need to protect her from harm, although she had contrived to climb the wall up to his room and open the window, hardly the actions of a helpless and feeble woman!
She directed a lovely half sad smile at Jeremy and spoke to him in a voice that made him go weak at the knees. Her words seemed to come from a million miles away and yet were so clearly and distinctly expressed that he heard every syllable, to say nothing of a whole world more of meaning than was contained merely in her voice.
"I said you'd not need those pajamas, Jeremy. I don't want you wearing those silly things in bed ever again."
She came closer to him and threw her arms around his neck. He smelt the fragrance of her body, a mixture of jasmine and animal muskiness. His heart seemed almost to be about to jump out of the anchorage of his ribcage, so madly was it beating. All the tiredness which had afflicted him this last few weeks had miraculously disappeared and he felt a flood of energy so elemental and life enhancing that it surpassed anything, in terms of sheer fierce exhilaration, that he had ever known before.
"I don't know your name," he murmured as he responded to her embrace by enfolding her in his arms, feeling the lovely, firm but, oh so soft warmth of her rose-pink nipples pressed against his chest.
"Sabrina," she replied, before raising her face to his and kissing him on the lips. He had kissed plenty of girls before, much to their delight as well as his, but this was an experience entirely new to him. No other girl of his acquaintance had ever known how to put up such an incredible performance. Her sweet and nimble little tongue seemed to dance around his mouth. He responded in kind to her skilled lovemaking and they gradually subsided together onto the bed. After some minutes of passionate activity, she drew her head away from him and stared solemnly at him, her darling little hand clasped around the erect evidence of his manhood and arousal. Finally, she murmured, "I rather think that wonderful moment has come when you're good and ready for me, my darling lover boy!"
The next few hours passed far more pleasurably than he would ever have thought possible and a great deal more quickly than he would have liked. When he was quite exhausted -- and it took a very long time and a great deal of strenuous activity before this happened -- he fell asleep. When he woke up, the other side of the bed was empty and the window firmly closed -- from the inside.
The next day was Christmas Eve. A newly energised Jeremy got out of bed and went to the adjacent bathroom, where he showered and shaved (his smooth young face still needed only a couple of shaves per week). After dressing, he made his way downstairs and into the breakfast room. His aunts were already up and about. They smiled brightly at him and bade him sit down at the table. Breakfast was nearly ready.
The first meal of the day was placed before him. As he picked at his food the lassitude, which had been such an unwelcome affliction of late, overcame him again. He pushed the plate away after a few minutes, with half the meal uneaten.
"Sorry, Auntie Frances. It was a lovely breakfast -- as ever -- but I seem to have lost my appetite lately. I'll be right as rain after a few days here."
His aunt turned away, in order not to display the grief she was feeling, and took the plate back to the kitchen. She returned in a few seconds with a pot of coffee, from which Jeremy poured himself a cup. It tasted delicious and he said so, much to the good lady's pleasure.
"I hope you liked being in the front room, Jeremy, my dear," said Aunt Frances. "It's been such a long time since it was used, but it's the best of all our bedrooms and it seems such a shame not to use it just because of some silly superstitious nonsense."
Jeremy perked up at this. The memory of that recent wonderful night was still very fresh.
"What superstitious nonsense is this, Auntie?"
"Your great grandfather used to sleep there, together with your great grandmother of course. One day she was called away to her mother's sickbed in Upton on Severn and he was left to his own devices. She returned unexpectedly early, late one night, and when she went up to their bedroom, she found him in bed with some young woman. The lady in question leapt out of bed and escaped through the window, somehow managing to get down to the street without injury. Your great grandmother, being a very vengeful and vindictive woman, released the dogs to chase the young hussy and tear her limb from limb -- or whatever. It was bitterly cold and the ground was under several inches of snow, but this woman, who was stark naked, ran away like the wind, pursued by the two slavering hounds.
"Next morning there was a search, but the bare footprints in the snow led down the path a few yards towards the river and then just disappeared. It was as if she had been whisked up into the air or something - or had instantaneously dematerialised! Nobody could ever come up with any rational explanation. It was assumed she was some sort of phantom and people were afraid to walk along that path for years afterwards! As for the two dogs, they were never seen again. I'm surprised I never told you about this before. So little of interest has ever happened around here in the last eight hundred years and I haven't told you about the only noteworthy thing that ever did -- until now!
"Your great grandfather gave his wife some story about the woman coming through the window and seducing him. She didn't believe a word of that! A few weeks later, the poor old boy died, quite young, and the room was locked up thereafter, but it was over one hundred and fifty years ago, for Heaven's sake! Time to put the past behind us and open up our best room once again.
"People said that it was nice for him to have a beautiful young woman in his bed so near the end of his life after being married to such a dreadful old bitch!"
Jeremy absorbed all this and was silent for a few seconds. He changed the subject slightly.
"Is there anyone called Sabrina living around here?"
Both aunts shook their heads. Aunt Frances laughed and said. "Only if you go down to the river. You remember that mediaeval story of Geoffrey of Monmouth about Sabrina? The young maiden who drowned after some tragic episode or other and whose spirit is said to live in the River Severn to this day? I think Milton brought her into his poem 'Comus'. You know, 'Sabrina Fair' and all that."
Jeremy was silent. He recalled the words from 'Comus'
But, No! This lovely girl had not been a wraith, but a warm flesh and blood being like himself. He resolved that he would ask around the village and seek out this audacious and supremely beautiful young woman. Would she visit him again tonight, he asked himself?
Later in the day he helped his aunts put up the Christmas decorations, as in the past, and he seemed to have recovered a little of that youthful enthusiasm and energy he had recently so distressingly lost. By the time night had fallen the house was veiled in its usual festive Yuletide dressing, with tinsel, holly, streamers and a multiplicity of coloured baubles adorning every room. He declined to accompany the two old ladies to the Midnight Mass. After they left, he drank a couple of glasses of claret, ate a few mince pies and went up to bed, wondering what this most magical night of the year would hold for him.
He went upstairs to his room late on Christmas Eve, after a couple of glasses of wine, and pushed open the door, wondering if his mysterious and delightful visitor was already there. The room was empty and the window firmly fastened. Slightly disappointedly he started to undress and was soon naked. He reached for his nightclothes and wondered whether or not to put them on -- he felt the cold a lot lately. After a hesitant second or two, he cast them aside and pulled back the cover, preparatory to getting into bed. Before he did so, he walked over to the window and looked behind the curtain. Nothing!
As he turned sadly back to his bed, he had only taken a couple of steps when he felt the same chill against his body as before and his nostrils detected that same intoxicating feminine odour that had driven him wild last night. He turned around, and there she was!
The two young people stood and admired each other for some time. They were both fine specimens of all that was most attractive in their respective sexes. Jeremy was tall -- just over six feet -- and broad shouldered. He had dark and wiry hair, a lock of which was always falling over his forehead, and strong features, aquiline nose and firm, determined chin. His eyes were brown and clear and his firm mouth always had the hint of a smile about it. The girl looked approvingly at his handsome features and then cast her lovely blue eyes over the strong, already heavily hirsute and athletic body, a body which still bore upon it the scars of several of the Autumn's hard fought games in which he had played a full part, before his illness had started to make itself known.
He in turn looked at his new love. She seemed even more magically and ethereally charming than ever. The girl scarcely came up to his shoulders and her slimness looked as if it would melt into the sturdy muscularity of his embrace and be lost. He knew from last night that her seeming delicacy was very deceptive and masked tremendous strength and a prodigious, even frightening, energy -- qualities that had left him completely drained even of the immense and almost superhuman vitality that she had so miraculously imparted to him.
He ran his hands through that wonderful mane of golden hair and imagined it floating in the river, being wafted hither and thither by every variation and eddy of the current. She was so pale. It was winter, of course, but he could not remember ever seeing skin so white and unmarked by the sun's rays. He looked at his own body and could easily discern the paler skin where his swimming trunks had shielded his nakedness in the summer. This girl had not known the touch of the sun for years, if ever.
"I know what you're thinking, my lovely boy! There'll be plenty of time for thinking tomorrow when I've gone. Now is the time for action! You feel up to it, don't you, my sweet Jeremy?"
"Oh, Yes! I feel wonderful now you're with me! Better than for weeks -- better than I ever have in my whole life!"
Sabrina smiled her half sad smile and threw herself into his arms. Before long they were both making love with a fury and energy that exceeded in passion even their coupling of the night before.
Once again, Jeremy awoke in the morning and the lovely visitor had gone. He knew, somehow, that she would not be back next night. This made him more than a little sad, but he forced himself to go downstairs, after dressing. He wished the old ladies Merry Christmas and made a slightly better job of eating his breakfast than yesterday. The good old people could not conceal their pleasure at this sign of returning health -- clutching at straws.
It had been agreed that the exchange of presents be postponed for a few days to enable Jeremy's parents to participate on their return. Jeremy went off on his own to the morning service at the ancient parish church, leaving the aunts to prepare the Christmas dinner.
They finished their repast in time to relax in front of the television and watch the Queen's Christmas Message, the two old ladies hanging on to every word that Her Majesty said and Jeremy wondering if he would hear his sovereign again next year. He dismissed this morbid speculation from his mind and the rest of the day was spent relaxing after the food and drink, of which he had managed to consume quite a bit, although nowhere near as much as in previous years -- a fact which his aunts noted with some sorrow.
As he had expected, the lovely Sabrina did not come to visit him again. He put on his pajamas and got into bed alone. In his sleep he dreamed she was talking to him. "Come and see me tomorrow, my darling Jeremy. I'll be waiting for you."
He woke on Boxing Day and was late coming downstairs. His feet seemed to have lead weights attached to them and he was more tired than ever. His two aunts looked at him in horror, but said nothing, trying their best to be their usual bright selves, and fussing around him as they served his breakfast.
It was the usual practice on this day to go and watch the hounds and riders assemble before the Boxing Day Meet, but Jeremy excused himself. He said that he would like to go for a walk a bit later on. The two ladies went out, walking in the direction of the Town Square and the Meet, and Jeremy sat in his chair, lost in thought. Finally, he went back up to his room and wrote a note for his parents, which he left in a prominent position on the bedside table. He gave a final look around the house that held so many happy memories, and let himself out into the street. He crossed over the road and took the path that led to the river.
The nearer he got to the Severn, the happier and calmer he felt.
It took about three minutes for Jeremy to reach the riverside path. The flow was fast at this time and the river high and swollen with all the last couple of weeks' rain. Today, however, was dry and clear, as had been the preceding night. The clear sky had caused a sharp frost which had not yet lifted and which promised to last all day. The water was blue in the clear cloudless light and the many little ripples sparkled brightly in the winter sun. He felt his spirits lift as he walked with increasing vigour along the path.
It was a shame his parents were still away in America, and on such a fruitless errand. He knew by this time that the excuse that they were attending a funeral was just a way of hiding from him something he had more or less worked out for himself. The whispered, but overheard, words "Second Opinion" had been what first alerted him. He was not a stupid boy and a visit to the School Library and the trembling consultation of a medical textbook had told him what he needed to know -- and already half knew in any case. No brilliant American specialist was going to be able to do anything for him. No one on this Earth could help him. Time for him to face up to it -- he was soon to be dead.
Even though there was no snow on the ground, the frosty covering on the winter vegetation gave the whole scene a very Christmas-cardish appearance. He even saw a robin, that traditional and indispensable component of the Festive Season. The air was so clear that it seemed possible to see forever -- through the barrier separating us from the next world, and on into eternity. The cold and clean air was like breathing champagne into his lungs. Only one thing was lacking to make this a perfect day. As he rounded a sharp bend in the river, he beheld that missing component and his heart gave a couple of extra beats to say nothing of the pang in his stomach as he saw her!
His nighttime visitor was reclining on a patch of grass and looking into the water as it flowed swiftly by. She looked up as she saw him and smiled. Despite the freezing cold, she was still quite naked and seemed not to be feeling the slightest discomfort. As soon as he was near enough, he called out to her.
"Aren't you cold, like that? Not that you aren't beautiful, but I'd hate to see you catch a chill, and where are your clothes, I don't see any nearby?"
She waited until he had come up to her and motioned him to sit next to her. Jeremy obeyed very willingly. She made no attempt to touch him and he felt it would not be appropriate, as yet, for him to lay hands on her.
"Clothes, my lovely boy? I have no need for them and soon, no more will you! Where I am about to take you, clothes are unknown and unnecessary. You do want to come with me, my darling, don't you?"
"Yes. I don't have a lot of time, I fear, but I would love to spend what little there is with you. Where do you live?"
She laughed at this and put a hand on his shoulder.
"You don't know? I AM disappointed!"
"My aunt was telling a story about my great grandfather." he said.
"I remember him very well. His wife set two highly unpleasant dogs on me! I left in a hurry! He was very unhappily married, you know. He would often walk along this path and open his heart to no one in particular, but I heard him and pitied him. He refused to leave his wife, so he remained behind to die. He was fatally ill at the time, like you, Jeremy. This malady runs in your family, I fear. You do want to come with me and live with me for ever, don't you?"
He nodded at this last question, but he could not speak: his heart was too full. She continued to caress his shoulder gently for some minutes -- finally she spoke. "Take off all those clothes, Jeremy my love. You will never need them again."
Jeremy had one last question.
"What happened to the two dogs that chased you, Sabrina?"
She laughed at this. "Don't worry, my darling. Those vicious brutes felt no pain. I would never hurt another living creature."
He rose to his feet and took one look around him. In the distance he could see, above the trees, only the church steeple in that beloved little town which he would never see again. He began to undress, methodically folding and stacking his clothes into a tidy pile as he did so. The bitter cold bit into his unprotected body, raising a host of goose pimples and making him shiver violently. When he had finished, Sabrina took his large strong hand into her tiny one and the feeling of cold vanished in an instant.
"Ready, my dearest love?"
And, hand in hand, the pair stepped into the fast-flowing Severn and waded out to the centre of the stream, their bodies gradually being submerged. Sabrina's head was the first to disappear, followed a little later, by the last of her golden hair, and then Jeremy's head also went under the waves. A few ripples could be seen for a moment or two and then the water's surface betrayed not a sign of the couple who had so recently been immersed in England's second river.
A passer-by found Jeremy's clothes later in the day, but of Jeremy himself, not a sign was ever seen again.