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Part Four, section forty-six

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« on: May 17, 2023, 11:54:12 am »


DISSATISFIED with his printed appeal to the electors---it struck him as too patronizing for these times---Clive was trying to alter the proofs when Simcox announced, “Mr. Hall.” The hour was extremely late, and the night dark; all traces of a magnificent sunset had disappeared from the sky. He could see nothing from the porch though he heard abundant noises; his friend, who had refused to come in, was kicking up the gravel, and throwing pebbles against the shrubs and walls.

“Hullo Maurice, come in. Why this thusness?” He asked, a little annoyed, and not troubling to smile since his face was in shadow. “Good to see you back, hope you’re better. Unluckily I’m a bit occupied, but the Russet Room’s not. Come in and sleep here as before. So glad to see you.”

“I’ve only a few minutes, Clive.”

“Look here man, that’s fantastic.” He advanced into the darkness hospitably, still holding his proof sheets. “Anne’ll be furious with me if you don’t stay. It’s awfully nice you turning up like this. Excuse me if I work at unimportancies for a bit now.” Then he detected a core of blackness in the surrounding gloom, and, suddenly uneasy, exclaimed, “I hope nothing’s wrong.”

“Pretty well everything . . . what you’d call.”

Now Clive put politics aside, for he knew that it must be the love affair, and he prepared to sympathize, though he wished the appeal had come when he was less busy. His sense of proportion supported him. He led the way to the deserted alley behind the laurels, where evening primroses gleamed, and embossed with faint yellow the walls of night. Here they would be most solitary. Feeling for a bench, he reclined full length on it, put his hands behind his head, and said, “I’m at your service, but my advice is sleep the night here, and consult Anne in the morning.”

“I don’t want your advice.”

“Well, as you like of course there, but you’ve been so friendly in telling us about your hopes, and where a woman is in question I would always consult another woman, particularly where she has Anne’s almost uncanny insight.”

The blossoms opposite disappeared and reappeared, and again Clive felt that his friend, swaying to and fro in front of them, was essential night. A voice said, “It’s miles worse for you than that; I’m in love with your gamekeeper”---a remark so unexpected and meaningless to him that he said, “Mrs. Ayres?” and sat up stupidly.

“No. Scudder.”

“Look out,” cried Clive, with a glance at darkness. Reassured, he said stiffly, “What a grotesque announcement.”

“Most grotesque,” the voice echoed, “but I felt after all I owe you I ought to come and tell you about Alec.”

Clive had only grasped the minimum. He supposed “Scudder” was a façon de parler, as one might say “Ganymede”, for intimacy with any social inferior was unthinkable to him. As it was, he felt depressed, and offended, for he had assumed Maurice was normal during the last fortnight, and so encouraged Anne’s intimacy. “We did anything we could,” he said, “and if you want to repay what you ‘owe’ us, as you call it, you won’t dally with morbid thoughts. I’m so disappointed to hear you talk of yourself like that. You gave me to understand that the land through the looking-glass was behind you at last, when we thrashed out the subject that night in the Russet Room.”

“When you brought yourself to kiss my hand,” added Maurice, with deliberate bitterness.

“Don’t allude to that,” he flashed, not for the first and last time, and for a moment causing the outlaw to love him. Then he relapsed into intellectualism. “Maurice---oh, I’m more sorry for you than I can possibly say, and I do, do beg you to resist the return of this obsession. It’ll leave you for good if you do. Occupation, fresh air, your friends. . . .”

“As I said before, I’m not here to get advice, nor to talk about thoughts and ideas either. I’m flesh and blood, if you’ll condescend to such low things----”

“Yes, quite right; I’m a frightful theorist, I know.”

“---and ’ll mention Alec by his name.”

It recalled to both of them the situation of a year back, but it was Clive who winced at the example now. “If Alec is Scudder, he is in point of fact no longer in my service or even in England. He sailed for Buenos Aires this very day. Go on though. I’m reconciled to reopening the subject if I can be of the least help.”

Maurice blew out his cheeks, and began picking the flowerets off a tall stalk. They vanished one after another, like candles that the night has extinguished. “I have shared with Alec,” he said after deep thought.

“Shared what?”

“All I have. Which includes my body.”

Clive sprang up with a whimper of disgust. He wanted to smite the monster, and flee, but he was civilized, and wanted it feebly. After all, they were Cambridge men . . . pillars of society both; he must not show violence. And he did not; he remained quiet and helpful to the very end. But his thin, sour disapproval, his dogmatism, the stupidity of his heart, revolted Maurice, who could only have respected hatred.

“I put it offensively,” he went on, “but I must make sure you understand. Alec slept with me in the Russet Room that night when you and Anne were away.”

“Maurice---oh, good God!”

“Also in town. Also----” here he stopped.

Even in his nausea Clive turned to a generalization---it was part of the mental vagueness induced by his marriage. “But surely---the sole excuse for any relationship between men is that it remain purely platonic.”

“I don’t know. I’ve come to tell you what I did.” Yes, that was the reason of his visit. It was the closing of a book that would never be read again, and better close such a book than leave it lying about to get dirtied. The volume of their past must be restored to its shelf, and here, here was the place, amid darkness and perishing flowers. He owed it to Alec also. He could suffer no mixing of the old in the new. All compromise was perilous, because furtive, and, having finished his confession, he must disappear from the world that had brought him up. “I must tell you too what he did,” he went on, trying to keep down his joy. “He’s sacrificed his career for my sake . . . without a guarantee I’ll give up anything for him . . . and I shouldn’t have earlier. . . . I’m always slow at seeing. I don’t know whether that’s platonic of him or not, but it’s what he did.”

“How sacrifice?”

“I’ve just been to see him off---he wasn’t there----”

“Scudder missed his boat?” cried the squire with indignation. “These people are impossible.” Then he stopped, faced by the future. “Maurice, Maurice,” he said with some tenderness. “Maurice, quo vadis? You’re going mad. You’ve lost all sense of---May I ask whether you intend----”

“No, you may not ask,” interrupted the other. “You belong to the past. I’ll tell you everything up to this moment---not a word beyond.”

“Maurice, Maurice, I care a little bit for you, you know, or I wouldn’t stand what you have told me.”

Maurice opened his hand. Luminous petals appeared in it. “You care for me a little bit, I do think,” he admitted, “but I can’t hang all my life on a little bit. You don’t. You hang yours on Anne. You don’t worry whether your relation with her is platonic or not, you only know it’s big enough to hang a life on. I can’t hang mine on to the five minutes you spare me from her and politics. You’ll do anything for me except see me. That’s been it for this whole year of Hell. You’ll make me free of the house, and take endless bother to marry me off, because that puts me off your hands. You do care a little for me, I know”---for Clive had protested---“but nothing to speak of, and you don’t love me. I was yours once till death if you’d cared to keep me, but I’m someone else’s now---I can’t hang about whining for ever---and he’s mine in a way that shocks you, but why don’t you stop being shocked, and attend to your own happiness?”

“Who taught you to talk like this?” Clive gasped.

“You, if anyone.”

“I? It’s appalling you should attribute such thoughts to me,” pursued Clive. Had he corrupted an inferior’s intellect? He could not realize that he and Maurice were alike descended from the Clive of two years ago, the one by respectability, the other by rebellion, nor that they must differentiate further. It was a cesspool, and one breath from it at the election would ruin him. But he must not shrink from his duty. He must rescue his old friend. A feeling of heroism stole over him; and he began to wonder how Scudder could be silenced and whether he would prove extortionate. It was too late to discuss ways and means now, so he invited Maurice to dine with him the following week in his club up in town.

A laugh answered. He had always liked his friend’s laugh, and at such a moment the soft rumble of it reassured him; it suggested happiness and security. “That’s right,” he said, and went so far as to stretch his hand into a bush of laurels. “That’s better than making me a long set speech, which convinces neither yourself nor me.” His last words were “Next Wednesday, say at 7.45. Dinner-jacket’s enough, as you know.”

They were his last words, because Maurice had disappeared thereabouts, leaving no trace of his presence except a little pile of the petals of the evening primrose, which mourned from the ground like an expiring fire. To the end of his life Clive was not sure of the exact moment of departure, and with the approach of old age he grew uncertain whether the moment had yet occurred. The Blue Room would glimmer, ferns undulate. Out of some external Cambridge his friend began beckoning to him, clothed in the sun, and shaking out the scents and sounds of the May term.

But at the time he was merely offended at a discourtesy, and compared it with similar lapses in the past. He did not realize that this was the end, without twilight or compromise, that he should never cross Maurice’s track again, nor speak to those who had seen him. He waited for a little in the alley, then returned to the house, to correct his proofs and to devise some method of concealing the truth from Anne.


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