The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
December 10, 2023, 11:21:20 pm
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
 
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

Part Twelve

Pages: [1]   Go Down
  Print  
Author Topic: Part Twelve  (Read 32 times)
Admin
Administrator
Level 8
*****

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 3405


View Profile
« on: July 20, 2023, 05:12:20 am »

BE reasonable, I told myself. It was her fault. She provoked me beyond bearing, and so I struck her. She threatened the vilest kind of blackmail to get her way, and so I struck her. One minute there had been relief, the generous promise of freedom in the Senior Usher's letter, the next there had been frustration and despair, jealousy masquerading as mother love, the hideous desire to control and possess: she was destroying everything, and so I struck her. But reason could not encompass the enormity, could not blot out the picture of the bright blood pouring from my mother's mouth.

The train slunk through the debris into London. I was following my original plan and heading, as invited, for the Senior Usher's Lodging, because I had nowhere else to go; here, if anywhere, lay help and refuge. But not for long now. One or two days at most, as long as it took my mother to convince the Headmaster of what she knew. I looked down at the jagged, carious rubble. Beaten. I told myself, beaten. How were intelligence or reason to help me now?

+++

'When a position becomes untenable,' said the Senior Usher, spreading his buttocks before an ample and illicit fire. It is necessary to retreat with good grace to a tenable one. You realize that you can't stay here?'

'I suppose not.'

'You see, as long as your misdeeds were extra-mural, so to speak, I could help you. This business of your troll in Piccadilly----easily seen to. But now that you're known to have sinned within these very portals . . . it's too near. Fielding, and it can't be disregarded. You remember what I said last quarter? We don't expect you to believe in the Christian ethic---or at least I don't---but we have to insist that on our own ground you observe it.'

'A condition of belonging, you said.'

'Exactly. We can, of course, exercise some discretion. We can even ignore what we might have suspected---so long as it's safely dead and buried. But your mother has exhumed this unhappy affair, and she has made of this wretched boy Roland a kind of accusing Lazarus. You see, it's the fact of his suicide that finally settles the question. There'd be those who'd say that you were the cause of it. So you must see that we simply can't keep you.'

'I know that. I know I must leave here before the quarter starts. But what am I to do? '

'As I say. dear boy. Retreat to a tenable position. Now then. No last year here, no further award at Lancaster. But you still have a minor scholarship to the college and a place awaiting you. It's more than most people have; so settle for it.'

'But will they still accept me? If they hear about all this?'

'Of course. They are civilized and easy-going men, who do not concern themselves with the peccadilloes of adolescence. In any case, you're now too late to propose yourself for this October, so you'll have to do your military service first; and by the time that's done, the whole thing will have been forgotten.'

'The Tutor . . . Robert Constable . . . he didn't strike me as easy-going. Neither forgiving, I'd have said, nor forgetting.'

'You misunderstand him. He is a bore and a prig, but also a conscientious and progressive left-winger. Vintage 'thirties.' Which means that he stands not only for social reform but also for intellectual and sexual freedom. It is, to him, a duty to tolerate your kind of behaviour. Though of course, said the Senior Usher wryly, 'the more complicated and unhappy you can be about it, the better he'll be pleased. Never let on that you were amply enjoying yourself.'

'And money?'

'I'll stand by what I promised. If you don't qualify for some sort of ex-service grant. I'll see to it you're all right.'

'And meanwhile? Now, I mean? These days one can't just take the King's shilling overnight.'

The Senior Usher scratched his rump.

'If you ask me,' he said slowly, 'As things stand you'd be wise to go home and make your peace with your mother. She is, it seems, a dangerous woman. Tell her you're sorry you were rude and you'll do what she asks. Keep her quiet, dear boy, till it's too late for her to do any more damage.'

'What more can she do?'

'On the face of it, none. As I say, Lancaster is run very differently from this place, and nobody there will give a second thought to her story. They keep their chapel going as a decorative museum piece, and that's about as far as the Christian ethic gets with them.'

'Well then?'

'One never knows. I still think you'd be wise to calm your mother down and keep her calm till time's done its work.'

'I don't at all want to go back.'

'A little more gratitude would become you, and a little more co-operation. You can't have everything your own way.'

'I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to be difficult and I am grateful.'

'It'll be unpleasant, I know,' said the old man, relenting. 'But when a woman has a mind to do damage she can be damned ingenious. As you've already seen. So you go off home tomorrow, soothe her down, and get yourself into khaki as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I'll brief Robert Constable and get him to set your mind at rest about your place at Lancaster. And now,' he said, 'I've ordered a nice little dinner in your honour and we will talk, if you please, of something---of anything---else.'

+++

'Good-bye, sir,' I said to the Headmaster.

On the boundary of the cricket ground the damp leaves, whirled and fell still.

'Good-bye, Fielding.' said the Headmaster. 'I 'm sorry it's turned out like this. You're not to blame your mother.'

'There's no point in blaming anyone. Would you do something for me, sir?'

'What?'

'When the boys get back and you see Somerset Lloyd-James. tell him I'm sorry not to have seen him to say goodbye.'

'I'll tell him. certainly. I expect he'll be sorry too.'

'No, he won't. You'll see that from his face. Look into his face, Headmaster; look into his eyes. You're unlikely to see anything at all in them, and if you do it won't be tears.'

+++

When I arrived home again, my mother did not, as she had threatened, make me grovel. She was distant in her greeting and received my apologies for having struck her with an ugly shrug of the shoulders; but as soon as I had made it plain (following the Senior Usher's instructions) that I had come home to toe the line, I was treated with consideration and even with affection. Since I was prepared to yield over the big issues, it seemed that I was to be humoured in the lesser ones. Once I had been to Lympne Ducis, accompanied this time by mama, and had signified to the authorities that I wish to be called up as soon as possible, my comfort and preferences were constantly consulted. On the day that I gave Mr. Tuck a formal assurance that I would join the company in India as soon as I was free from the Army, my mother handed me a cheque for 15, made out to Peter Morrison, and another, worth twice as much, for myself, and suggested that I might indulge any reasonable fancy during the few weeks before I was posted. (Even a trip to London was sanctioned, and I was able to visit the Senior Usher's doctor friend, who tested and approved my blood.) Life at Broughton Staithe, then, was easy and tranquil that autumn; and not only on the surface: for early in October I received assurance from Robert Constable that my place at Lancaster was indeed still open, so that in the very act of complying with my mother's demands I could reflect, with deep and secret satisfaction, that the last word would be mine.

'Dear Gray [Constable had written in his own hand],
'I have now learned, both from the Headmaster and the Senior Usher, about the circumstances of your leaving school. They give few details, but I gather there has been some sexual indiscretion. Officially, however, you have merely been withdrawn by your mother, albeit at unexpectedly short notice. This can make no difference to your prospects here; and as Tutor of the College I am pleased to notify you that you may take up your place and your Minor Scholarship as soon as you have concluded your military service.
Yours sincerely,
Robert Constable.

So that was finally settled. When I left the Army I would go to Lancaster, and there was nothing my mother or anyone else could do to stop me. Full of glee at my victory and longing to tell someone of it. I wrote off to Peter to give him a detailed account of my afflictions and of my cleverness in achieving so happy an issue.

'Well,' said Tuck the night before I left for the Army, 'here's wishing you all the best.'

Mama was giving a little dinner party in honour of my departure.

'I expect,' said Angela, 'that you'll look very different when you come home on leave.'

'Fitter,' said Tuck.

'Tougher,' said Angela.

'More grown up,' said mama.

'Where exactly are you going?' said Tuck.

'99 Primary Training Centre, At a place called Ranby.'

'His friend Peter Morrison is there,' mama said, 'who comes from Whereham. Isn't that lucky for Fielding? Such a nice, kind, helpful boy.'

'I don't suppose he'll be there for much longer,' I said. 'Primary Training only lasts for eight weeks, they tell me. After that we go to training units belonging to our own regiments.'

'Which regiment are you going to?' asked Tuck.

The 49th Light Dragoons. Earl Hamilton's Regiment of Horse.'

'Rather grand?'

'I don't know . . . My school has quite a pull with them.'

'Hmm,' muttered Tuck suspiciously. 'You'll need a bit of extra money if they give you a commission in that lot.'

'Fielding will have an allowance,' mama said. 'And it will be nice for him to be in a regiment with people from his old school.' Now that she had won her way, my mother apparently expected no trouble from old associations. A naively snobbish woman, she had even encouraged me to make use of school connections in order to enter a smart regiment. As for the money which would be needed, she had already shown herself generous and was prepared to continue so. Truth to tell, mama was not really an unamiable woman; and had she, earlier in her life, received love, she would not now have needed to exercise power.

'An allowance,' Angela said, as though such a thing were beyond the dreams of avarice; 'how very kind of you.'

'So long as Fielding is sensible,' my mother said, 'I shall help him in every way I can.'

'You've got a brick of a mother,' said Tuck when the two ladies had left us.

'You might call her that.'

'I jolly well do. It took her to make you see sense about the plantation. Not many people would have had the patience.'

'She has certainly been very persistent,' I said.

'A pretty cool way of putting it.'

'We're a pretty cool family.'

'Not your mother. She's warm, generous..

'Tell me, if it's not a rude question. How much is she investing in the plantation?'

'Ten thousand. More later, I think. Now the factory at Torbeach has been sold, she reckons she can afford it.'

'I don't wonder you find her generous.'

'It's all for you,' Tuck said.

'Precisely. My father, if you remember, wanted something for himself.'

'Don't play games with me, boy.'

'Never again' I said: 'I promise you that.'

Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


Pages: [1]   Go Up
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum


Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy