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Passion & Profession

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Fandom: Eagle/Jane Eyre crossover.
Pairing: Marcus Aquila/St. John Rivers.
Rating: explicit, NC-17, think-of-the-children, etc.
Warnings: AU continuation of Jane Eyre. Many warnings apply: full explanation in the AO3 Author's Note. Things will make more sense if one starts reading there first.
Word Count: 129K or so.
Disclaimer: Entirely fictional; any historical characters in the story have been selfishly manipulated to fit the narrative. A 100% transformative, not-for-profit work. Creative Commons copyright information is at the bottom of this post. More specifically: I do not own the Eagle, and thus have not profited in any material way from this fic (although Jane Eyre is past copyright, so I suppose I could in theory do a big rewrite, drop the Eagle bits, and produce the next Pride & Prejudice & Zombies...).

 

[info]motetus has produced six wonderful pictures for the story. Thumbnails of the art are located at the end of the appropriate chapters, as listed here; click on them to link back to her journal for the full pictures. Please bear in mind that some of the pictures contain spoilers (which is why they're at the end of the chapter, rather than the beginning). Also, some of the pictures are NSFW. Yay! Unfortunately, chapters numbers in AO3 do not correspond to the chapter numbers of the actual book. It would be great if I could change that, but I can't seem to manage; it's a little confusing.

 

The entire contents of Passion & Profession are, as follows:

AO3 Author's Note

Print Version Author's Note & Acknowledgements

Prologue            art: The Reverend comes upon a New Land

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5          art: On Safari in a Howdah

Chapter 6

Chapter 7          art: Second Attempts are better than Firsts

Chapter 8          art: The Perils of the Afternoon Nap

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11      

Chapter 12

Chapter 13         art: A Charming Companion at a Kite Festival

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Epilogue              art: Fulfilling his Domestic Duties

Appendix A: Travel Adventures

Appendix B: Tentacle Porn

Postscript: the First Anglo-Afghan War

 

For those who would prefer to enjoy this on an ereader, a very generous soul has made epub and mobi versions of the text. I assure you, these are much better than trying to download from AO3. Feel free to take and share:

Mobi Format

Epub Format, lo-res

Epub Format, hi-res

and if you'd like to see what the actual print copy of the book looks like, here it is in pdf form

 

finally, here are the lyrics that inspired it all: Sigh No More, by Mumford and Sons

Creative Commons License
Passion & Profession is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Feel free to share it. Also feel free to alter it, adapt it, or transform it, just so long as you mention me, demon_rum (so I can read it, too!), and keep it not-for-profit.

Chapter Text

A few things to note before jumping in:

Passion & Profession was, originally, a fill for a prompt on the Eagle kinkmeme; it has clearly spiraled far out of control.

To the best of my ability, all English language spellings are accurate for the time and the dialect. Many quoted verses from the Bible have even more-archaic and more-unusual spellings.

A fair amount of non-English languages are spoken in the story. Thus, a fair amount of the story's dialogue is not in English. Unfortunately, AO3 does not yet support the necessary non-Roman scripts--as far as I know--and so the Hindi and Bengali have been transliterated. In order to read the Hindi, the Bengali, and the French, mouse over the words and an English translation will appear in hypertext. Regrettably, I do not speak any of those particular languages, and so they are only as accurate as Google Translate has deemed fit to make them.

All Biblical verses cited are from the 1769 version of the King James Bible. All interpretations are my own.

Each chapter contains notes at the end, which primarily exist to explain the many obscure references and unusual words that litter the text, or to add a bit more historical context to the setting. Quite a few were simply written as an act of frivolity and indulgence, when I learned some factotum I found interesting and decided perhaps someone else would like to know it too. Needless to say, the notes are in no way necessary to understand or enjoy the story.

Corrections regarding any of the non-English languages are welcome with open arms; corrections regarding the English language will be taken under gentle advisement; corrections and clarifications regarding historical or cultural details, information presented in the notes, and contemporary theology and religious thought will be eagerly researched, and incorporated into the story if possible; all other concrit is welcome if kindly meant; direct criticisms, or complaints about the behaviours, moralities, or beliefs expressed in the story, will be politely received and quietly set aside.

Warnings: many, many warnings here. I hate to put in warnings, in a way, because it makes the novel sound far more unsavoury than it really is, because the list inevitably contains an unfortunate amount of spoilers, and because many of the attitudes that I feel compelled to warn about were not even recognised as ideas in 1840. Nevertheless, I'd also hate to have anyone read Passion & Profession and come away feeling that they were mislead. So, in no particular order, this fiction contains:

drinking, smoking, mentions of drug use, slavery, prostitution by unwilling, enslaved adults, prostitution by unwilling, enslaved children (although please note no sexual situations involving children actually occur or are described in the text), domestic violence, dub-con and non-con sexual behaviours, and concepts that we would now call racism, classism, imperialism, sexism, and homophobia.

In addition to all this, it also contains what may be, for some, unpleasant amounts of religion (primarily Christianity), numerous examples of early-Victorian eroticism, the flagrant manipulation and revision of various historical characters for strictly dramatic purposes, oversimplifications of history, Victorian interpretations of D/s, discussions of theories on Greek sexuality that are undergraduate at best, an overly-liberal use of punctuation, and the diffuse, general abuse of utilitarian philosophy, Jane Eyre, the classical education, and Berlioz.

Chapter Text

Lest anyone take undue offence, I must hasten to note that I have not profited from this work (just the opposite, rather), and do not own any copyrighted characters herein. This is a fair-use transformative fanfic, with a copyright (merely on the parts that are mine) from Creative Commons. Any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence. It is not a real story.

I do hope, however, that it is in some way a true one. To that effect, please keep the following in mind: this is not mere frivolity. It is an adult story, full of adult difficulties, adult behaviours, and adult situations. There are many ugly things in the world, dear Reader, just as many now as there were back in 1840: slavery, abuse, starvation, poverty, the enforced prostitution of women and children, violence, disease, war, cruelty, racism, religious and cultural imperialism, misogyny, and the unthinking, haughty superiority of the conqueror towards the conquered. To an extent, every single one of these terrible realities appears in Passion & Profession. I have not hidden them away, feeling that such a concealment would do disservice to the audience and the characters alike.

This is not to say that I in any way give my open or tacit approval to certain attitudes and ideals expressed by the characters herein—far from it. In truth, I actively dislike many of their opinions, and they are as distasteful to me as I imagine they are to all right-thinking people. (I certainly hope we all agree that women are hardly a weak or inferior sex; if we do not, please allow me to direct you to the excellent writings of Mary Wollstonecraft.) But please, Reader, remember this: author is not text. If I do not apologise for my characters, it is only because I fervently wished them to be genuine, to their time and to their own selves. I have read far too many an otherwise excellent story in which the hero, no matter how many millenia prior he lived, somehow manage to buck convention, culture, and history, and enjoy the same things in which a modern audience would take pleasure, and hate the same things that society now deems abhorrent. Please. No Roman of sound mind would reject the entire institution of slavery, any more than a modern person would reject the concept of agriculture. Nor would a middle-class, white, Christian, British man in 1840 reject his casual cultural superiority, no matter how much we might wish him to be more broad-minded. My characters are not always pleasant; to them best of my meagre abilities, however, I hope they ring true.
 
 
 

Many thanks to the Eagle kinkmeme and everyone who read along and leant their encouragement as I stammered out posts one weary Friday after another; I do hope you all enjoy the story a second time through, now that everything has been a little more thoroughly researched, and a little more correctly spelled. A special thanks to [info]chikatai, who did such an excellent job as my beta, listened to constant whinging about how badly everything was turning out, and always took pains to reassure me that no, the newest chapter was not the stupidest one yet. Additional thanks go to awarrington, who graciously offered to edit my manuscript, and who did so with unfathomable amounts of patience (Reader, I can be most stubborn at times); her proposals made this a much stronger story, especially—but not exclusively—when she suggested “putting in a little more sex here and there." Yet further thanks must go to [info]motetus for so much dazzling artwork; I had a clear image of both Marcus and St. John in my head, and then she drew some pictures, and they appeared like magic. Final thanks must go to my husband, the Captain (no, not that one, and yes, he really is a captain), who always encouraged me to write, but who probably did not expect my first novel to be slash.

My deep and sincere apologies to both Charlotte Brontë and Rosemary Sutcliff, each of whom so thoughtfully inspired a character in my tale, and neither of whom was consulted at any point during its composition.
 

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John contemplates Man's Purpose, the Workings of a Ship, and the Necessity of Passion before coming upon a New Land.

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Lord, I am an instrument in Thy hands. May Thy Spirit guide me, mould me, fill me and use me for whatever purpose Thou hast determined. Give me the strength and the courage to follow Thy Will wherever It may lead, down whatever paths It may take me, to what end I do not know. I will trust in Thee that Thou hast ordained a path even more glorious than that which my feeble, human mind can comprehend. Fill me with the unquenchable passion to follow this path no matter what the cost, that I may draw ever nearer to Thee and ever gain a deeper understanding of the mysteries and unfathomable goodness of Thy creation.
 
At the sounding of eight bells the sailors of the port watch began rushing about the decks, stepping over the starboard watch in their hurry to make position. The starboard watch continued mending and scraping and painting without so much as a glance upwards. Rev. St. John Rivers broke off his devotional for the moment, setting down his Book of Common Prayer so he could watch the ship's manoeuvrings. Once he had learnt the basics of how Albert of Wales operated, he grasped every chance he was offered to see her in action. At first the masses of rigging had been nothing more than an overwhelming tangle of ropes and pulleys and canvas. But, like a new Christian struggling to learn the tenets of his recently-chosen faith, St. John had disciplined himself, focused his mind on the task, trusting with the certainty of conviction that this knowledge would pay innumerable dividends.
 
And it had. He knew now that the ropes were actually called lines (except for the ones that remained ropes—a distinction he still could not fully grasp), the pulleys were blocks, the lengths of wood in the rigging were spars, and the planks beneath his feet were the deck. Inside Albert, the ceiling he watched so many of his fellow-travellers bash their heads on was actually called an overhead, the walls were named bulkheads, and the innermost lining of the hull, boards running up the curved interior of the ship like the ribs of the whale that swallowed Jonah, were—oddly enough—called ceiling planks.
 
Praise the Lord in all circumstances. I have never had cause to complain of my small stature before, and now I must praise my Maker for His wisdom. Height is a millstone around the neck of any man attempting a long voyage at sea.
 
A ship, St. John learnt, is a different world, a foreign country with its own language and customs and rituals and laws. A fitting and just means of preparation for a man who had turned his back on his homeland and faced a life on the far side of the world.
 
Now, three months into their sail, he could see how everything joined together, how each part of the ship depended on each other part, how no line operated on its own but worked in concert with every other line and spar and block, making its own small but necessary contribution to the greater journey. No single piece was indispensable; he had seen nearly every part of the rigging taken down and repaired, spliced, wormed, or replaced. Yet without each remaining in a state of readiness, patiently awaiting the chance to lend its own humble efforts to the cause, great calamity could occur both to the ship herself and to the passengers that so dearly depended on her to bring them to their destinations, safe and whole.
 
Three days after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, an aging martingale stay underneath the jibboom had snapped under the pressure of a gale. That one piece of rigging, gone, had thrown off the tension of the entire headrig, which gave way and nearly brought down the foremast with it. The third mate later admitted to St. John, in private, that they were lucky the foremast had held, because its falling might have taken down the main and the mizzen as well and then the vessel would have foundered.
 
So like to God's creation. None of us vital, yet each contributing what we can, both the steward with his five talents and the widow with her two copper coins. Each of us must give our utmost for His highest, and only then can we, by the Grace of God, weather the storms of these short lifespans.
 
“I say, my dear Reverend, what are they doing to the ship this time?”
 
St. John wrenched his thoughts away from the topmen of the second watch, who had already laid aloft, cast gaskets on the t'gallant yard and were now making their way back to deck.
 
“Are those poor fellows barefoot?”
 
God give me strength. Drain my frustration from me, so that I might speak clearly with a fellow man of the cloth. Impatience and vexation are base emotions. Base, and fruitless.
 
“Yes, Rev. Hollum, they are indeed barefoot. The sailors say they prefer to climb aloft thus, because it spares wear and tear on their shoes and allows them to feel the foot-ropes better.”
 
“My word. What a strange thing is a ship.” The good Rev. Hollum, a lanky, cheerful and utterly oblivious man who had plagued St. John since he first set foot on board two weeks ago in Madras, mopped his forehead with an enormous red handkerchief. He sweated freely in the heat. “So what are they doing now? Always fussing and running about, these sailors.”
 
“I believe, Rev. Hollum, that they are going to lay on more sail and then tack the ship.” Even as he spoke the second watch deckhands braced and sheeted down the t'gallants'ls with practiced efficiency.
 
“Yes, yes, I see. And what exactly would that do?”
 
The Rev. Hollum's knowledge of ships was at the first limited to an understanding that the front of the ship was fore and the back of the ship was aft. His second day on board St. John had attempted to assist him, seeing him flush bright green, and pointed out that perhaps the Good Reverend would like to accompany him to starboard if he was truly to take ill. Rev. Hollum had gratefully complied and promptly returned his salted pork stew whilst St. John patted him absently on the back. Unfortunately, for the entire next day Rev. Hollum had leant over the starboard rail every time he was ill, which caused a bit of a mess on the decks since the wind had shifted in the interval and now blew directly onto his face rather than his back. The sailors preferred to sluice the deck than criticise a man of the cloth, leaving St. John to explain that one always tried to turn away from the wind when poorly, rather than into it, and that on a ship the wind could shift direction frequently. And so the Rev. Hollum added, to his meagre store of knowledge, the insight that one had best understand which way the breezes blew before entering into the throes of mal de mer.
 
“Tacking the ship, Rev. Hollum, means they are turning it. See how they are loosing the biggest sail? The ship is now slowing to a crawl even as she turns so the wind comes straight at her bows. The fore of the ship will then pass through the wind, they will pivot the sails around and sheet home the mains'l, and the wind will now come over the starboard rail rather than the port.”
 
“Bless me, Rev. Rivers, how much you understand this contraption. Why would they want the wind on the other side?”
 
St. John sighed. Some people required the patience of a saint. He decided to bypass all he had learnt about beating to weather and navigating coastlines and move straight on to a simpler explanation.
 
After all, the Good Book did say we have to be like little children to enter God's Kingdom.
 
“This will help us get to Calcutta faster, Rev. Hollum.”
 
“Bless me twice, Rev. Rivers! What a clever thing. 'Tis a wonder the captain did not think of that sooner.”
 
St. John nodded coolly at the Rev. Hollum and picked up his Book of Prayer again. He was not yet a saint and always felt shamed by the derision he could not control. Despite all his best intentions he did not yet suffer fools gladly, and struggled to maintain a neutral composure when confronted with the supreme indifference and ignorance of a man such as the Rev. Hollum.
 
I go to India to teach the heathens and spread the Good Word, but surely the heathens will not be as incurious and thick as some of my fellow-countrymen. Pray God they are not.
 
Controlling his anger taxed his mind; checking his passion wearied his spirit. Jane had accused him of lacking passion, and turned down his proposal of marriage because he could not, would not shew her the spirit and ardour she craved; now she was, he had no doubt, under the roof of Mr. Rochester, risking her mortal soul for fleeting love and more base affections. Poor, wayward Jane, so misunderstanding. Not incurious or thick, but simply blind to the feelings and urges of those other than herself. For St. John had passion, passion burning and bubbling up out of him, scarcely controlled during the day and often keeping him awake at night so he paced under the stars, a familiar sight to the night watches. Reverend Crow they called him, and he did not take offence, aware as he was of how it looked for him to stalk the ship's deck in his greatcoat and hat even during the humid rainstorms that plagued this part of the globe.
 
My dear Jane Eyre, how do you not know? Each of us mortals is but a line on a ship, passive and patient, waiting for the capable Hands of the Lord to pull us this way and that as He uses us for His purpose. It matters not if we know to what end we are used; it is enough to wait and allow Him to use us as He will. I cannot see what will happen in India, I cannot know down what paths I will be led. But the knowledge that the Lord guides my every step according to His perfect will glows within my sinner's heart. That is my passion.
 
Two hours later he was still seated on the main-deck, in a spot he had found to be well out of the way of the sailors and officers, yet not totally isolated from the operations of the ship. This was the normal run of his days: breakfast, morning devotions with the petty officers (the captain and other senior officers possessed their own chaplain who also formally ministered to the crew, although St. John privately wondered how attentive he was, based on the number of sailors who came to him seeking consolation or guidance), walking the decks in prayer and contemplation and trying to avoid Rev. Hollum, luncheon, nap, research below decks with his commentaries and philosophical treatises, more walking, dinner, and then an hour of reading the Bible and prayer before he either drifted off or emerged from his small stateroom to pace once more. Reverend Crow making his rounds. At present, based on the ringings of the watch bell, he had at least an hour to go before he lunched. As he settled back, flitting idly through his Book of Common Prayer and discarding yet another half-written letter to Jane from his mind, he heard the shouting from the lookout aloft.
 
“On deck! Captain!”
 
“On deck, aye!” the captain returned the hail.
 
St. John snapped to attention; Albert of Wales was a company ship, not a naval vessel, but similar discipline held throughout the nautical world and only an urgent and unusual event would compel an unranked crew member to directly address the captain.
 
The watch called down from his position on the main t'gallants'l, 180 feet above the decks. “Captain! Two points abaft the beam on the port side—land!”
 
As the word began to spread that their final destination had been spotted, more passengers came up on deck straining for a first look. Naturally the Rev. Hollum joined them, huffing and puffing, seeking out the wretchedly harassed St. John to discuss the news.
 
“By His Grace, Rev. Rivers! How true you have spoken. Shifting the wind to the—ah—the other side has done the trick after all this time! Calcutta, finally. Do you know, I have been on this ship a good fortnight? Such a long journey. Tests the limits of man's endurance, a voyage like mine. Do you suppose I should offer the captain my congratulations, for his decision to get us there faster?”
 
St. John gave his eager assent, then took his opportunity to vanish below-decks the moment the good Rev. Hollum began making his way aft.

 

 

The Reverend comes upon a New Land

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notes:
 
eight bells – change of watch. A watch generally lasts four hours in total; the ship's bell is struck once after the first half-hour of the watch, twice after the first hour, and so on (in half-hour intervals) until it rings “eight bells” (four hours) and the crew rotates to other jobs or, at night, to sleep. Since most ships only had room below decks for half the crew at any given time, and since ships had to be fully operational around the clock, change of watch was especially anticipated in the middle of the night, because the sailors on duty knew that when the bell struck eight they would be relieved, and could get a few hours of sleep.
 
spars – A spar, confusingly, is any pole-shaped piece of wood that assists with the rigging or sailing of the ship. Thus, masts, gaffs, booms, jibbooms, and yards are all types of spars. Yards, specifically, are the spars from which the sails dangle.
 
Steward with five talents – Matthew 25:14-30. Widow with two coins – Luke 21:1-4. All verses and references are taken from the King James Bible.
 
lay aloft – To climb up aloft in the rigging. Casting off gaskets means to loosen the ropes that hold a sail bundled (“furled”) up under the yard it hangs from. Once the gaskets have been cast, the sail dangles freely from its yard, ready to be set and used.
 
Madras – now known as Chennai.
 
brace and sheet down – To brace means to pivot the yards around the mast, optimising the sail's ability to catch the wind. Sheeting down is the act of actually setting the sail, pulling down on the two lowest corners of the sail until the canvas fabric is taut.
 
mal de mer – sea sickness.
 
abaft the beam – The beam is the axis of the ship that runs 90° to the fore-aft axis. Two points abaft the beam is approximately 22° aft of that axis.
 

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John kedges his way to Calcutta, attempts to visit a Bishop, meets a Singularly Helpful Man and discovers that in Travel, as in Life, the Devil is in the Details.

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The final 100 miles of his voyage were such a torment to St. John that he nearly, on more than one occasion, considered demanding passage off the ship in order to cross the remaining distance on foot. The weather was cruelly warm; after months of chilled ocean winds numbing his ears, the relative lack of breeze was stifling. The few puffs of air that did choose to visit merely conspired with the sand and tide to delay his arrival. Specifically, every time the current moved towards Calcutta the wind blew away; by the time the wind shifted toward Calcutta the current flowed into the Bay of Bengal. To make an already challenging situation worse, the proud river Ganges had been silting for decades, a problem known to the British Army Corps of Engineers but not yet solved. This served to make the banks of the river so shallow that a deep-drafted ship such as Albert of Wales could not take advantage of the local horse- or mule-towing options. She was forced to kedge her way upstream 500 feet of anchor-rode at a time.

St. John spent the entire fortnight on the Ganges watching the ship kedge. First, the exhausted longboat crew rowed out with the light anchor, dropped it as far ahead of Albert as they could reach, then fought to hold station in the currents. Next, the deck crews, in back-breaking shifts, raised the heavy anchor that kept them in place, turned the capstan, and winched the ship forward on the rode until they reached the longboat. There—500 feet of river gained. Then the ship dropped its heavy anchor to hold their hard-won position, and the longboat men weighed their light anchor once more. Whilst they paddled ahead, the deck crew gasped for air in the punishing heat, waiting for the longboat to heave their anchor and begin the kedge all over. It seemed to St. John like a cruel game of tug-o-war in which the Ganges always won; he estimated that covering 100 miles in this fashion would mean kedging at least a thousand times. He took a mean sort of comfort in the fact that Albert was not the only ship so becalmed, or whose sailors were so tormented; up and down the river, as far as the eye could see, ships, barques, packets, brigs, and schooners all suffered a similar fate, sails and rigging slack as they inched their way painfully forward towards the common destination.

It provided plenty of opportunity for him to pray and meditate over the nature of work whilst chewing morosely on his neglected pipe (the bosun having doused the smoking light due to the fierce, dry winds; yet one more way the weather tormented them all). The sailors smiled at their Reverend Crow as he wandered the decks, deep in thought and fiddling with his tobacco purse in vain.

Heavenly Father, in Thy infinite mercy I thank Thee. Thou hast ordained a place and a purpose for every man in Thy creation, the king to fight and the priest to pray and the peasant to toil. I know that Thou judgest each according to their abilities, and I know that Thou will be no less vengeful with me, on that final, fateful day, should I fail in my earnest service to Thee than Thou wouldst be to one of those sailors should they cast down their oars and declare a premature end to their labours. Yet Lord, I am pleased to serve Thee with a life of the mind.

He frowned at the prayer; it felt inadequate, lacking in reassurance to the Lord that he sufficiently understood the challenges of manual labour and did not need to experience them first-hand.

I claim enough of effort simply to stand here in the tropical sun, let alone to do physical work in it. May I keep these poor souls in the front of my mind the next time I am tempted to protest my lot, bent over a flickering candle and straining at Thy words some dark evening. Amen.

Happily, after St. John had suffered a full cup of his own private torments—for the good Rev. Hollum had made the belated decision, 50 miles from Calcutta, to finally begin learning Hindustani and insisted on pestering his learned friend for translations and pronunciations until St. John wished he could climb aloft and hide in the rigging—the fickle Indian weather turned benevolent. Suddenly the wind and tide cooperated, both pushing Albert of Wales toward her destination. They had covered half their journey up river in 12 wretched days of kedging by sunlight and moonlight; they covered other 50 miles in 12 hours. God be praised!

Once safely docked in Calcutta, St. John bid a hasty farewell to the Rev. Hollum. The good man was continuing up the river to Hugli, there to claim his position as vicar for the newly-formed parish. Then he began determining how to make his next step.

Lord, as we are to be grateful in all situations I thank Thee for sending the Rev. Hollum to be my companion on this journey. Test me and tempt me, Father, that I might burn away the anger and impatience within me.

It shamed him to admit how much easier it was to look back on his burdensome travelling companion with gratitude now that their mutual voyage was finished.

At this time, Reader, Calcutta was the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated city in the entire Orient, the Jewel of India and second city of the growing Empire. From its humble beginnings as a cluster of river-side villages a mere 150 years prior to its present-day status as capital city of the East India Territories, it made manifest to all who entered the power and determination of the English People, at least according to the British who lived there. A full half-million people claimed residency, and travellers, adventurers and traders from every corner of the globe passed over its dusty streets: Siamese, Kaffirs, Chinese, Afghanis, Arabs, Persians, Malays, and Europeans of every colour and stripe. It boasted some of the finest and most modern architecture in the Empire, schools for Indians and English alike, and its culture mingled the practical sensibilities of the British constitution with the more enigmatic Eastern temperament. The city possessed churches, a cathedral, meeting houses, mandirs, mosques, a synagogue, and the first Parsi temple east of Madras. The Governor-General Auckland ruled the entire East India Territories from the Government House near Fort William, the Calcutta Public Library was the first of its kind in India (and few book collections could equal it, even in Britain), and the entire British opium trade, spanning the globe from Peking to Anatolia to London, operated from its single, massive port. All of the essays, watercolour illustrations and travel journals the Rev. Rivers had perused before leaving his homeland had ill prepared him for the sight.

He stood on a packing crate to get his bearings and was nearly overwhelmed at the crowds of humanity that swirled around him. The docks of Calcutta thronged with sailors of every nationality, solidly British custom officials wearing broad-brimmed hats and starched collars, beasts of burden creeping under obscuring loads of cotton, silk, tea and strangely-shaped but enchantingly-scented fruits, barefoot and turbaned coolies running errands for their English masters, women in vivid saris and ropes of black hair as thick as a man's wrist swaying past with lumpy bundles balanced on their heads, and small crowds of dirty beggar children tumbling in the dust and pulling at the heels of the passing white men. St. John struggled to take it all in impassively as a group of young Indian girls in gem-coloured dresses scurried past, giggling amongst themselves as school-aged girls everywhere were wont to do. He clamped his lips tightly over the stem of his smoking pipe to keep from gaping at the chaotic beauty.

Ash. It is all ash. What I am seeing is nothing more than shadows, a poor reflection of the glories and wonders of the life to come. God be merciful I shall see that paradise, and store up my crowns in heaven rather than aim for joys on earth.

As he watched, St. John began to notice something strange; his body seemed to be rocking gently to and fro, entirely of its own volition. He blushed to think that anyone might be watching him act so oddly and forced himself to stand stiffly in place. No sooner had he done so than a faint ripple of queasiness rolled over him, much as it had his very first day on board Albert. The third mate had advised that many sea-travellers, especially those not easily bothered by the motion of the waves, might instead feel a measure of illness upon their return to land. But he also swore that their fortnight on the Ganges as good as guaranteed no such fate would befall the Reverend. St. John began to wonder if the mate's assurance was a bit over-optimistic.

Realising that whilst a man who swayed in place looked strange indeed, a man who swayed as he walked might be simply thought to have a limp, St. John descended the crate. It was high time for him to move on, at any rate, so he turned his back on the distractions of the world and went searching instead for the mundanities of the custom office. As he walked along the Strand, searching for the Duty Office next to the New Mint (the Custom House proper, which was far better located and better appointed, was also currently being renovated), he found himself listing gently from side to side. He also noticed, as he wove through the crowds, that to his disappointment he could not make out a single word of the Hindustani language. He refused to lose hope; surely all his abilities of reading and writing the strange tongue would soon lend themselves to speaking it, as well.

Naturally the customs officers, all as English as himself, were able to assist in the minor details with which every traveller must contend. Whilst they stamped and sealed his papers, fanning themselves enthusiastically, St. John stared at the thermometer on the wall. It reads 92 degrees. Surely that cannot be correct. Then they were done with their exalted business, and in no time he had exchanged some of his currency sterling for rupees, stored his luggage trunks away to be retrieved once he had arranged lodgings, and now sat perched in a strange, two-wheeled carriage of sorts, rather like the hansom-cabs of London, but here drawn not by a horse but by a short, thin native wearing nothing but a dirty red loincloth and a length of turban.

It would make a weaker man blush to see how some of the natives clothe themselves. Perhaps Jane did well in staying behind. I would feel nothing but shame in bringing a lady to witness a man wearing little more than our ancestors in the Garden.

He felt somewhat comforted to see that not all Indians dressed so immodestly; many a man wore a woollen suit and leather shoes, the women in full cotton shifts. Maybe civilisation could bear fruit even in such a place.

The customs official had assured St. John that a rickshaw was far preferable to travelling through the city on foot, but as he clung with whitened knuckles whilst the native raced over cobblestone streets, a bone-bruising jolt past parasoled ladies and peasant carts and beggars with twisted legs, he sincerely wished that he had saved his money and walked instead. The city was dramatically different than any he had seen before, and he had scarcely the time to take in one sight before it was gone and replaced by another. Unlike London, a city burdened by two millennia of continuous living, where festering slums and stately government offices, elegant townhouses and deafening factories were all crammed in next to one another, cheek to jowl, Calcutta had the luxury of being laid out with forethought. The city brandished its spacious avenues, sprawling lawns, and esplanades with a pride approaching swagger. Some streets were so wide that three carriages driving abreast could still not fill the whole of it. If the architecture was a bit garish, all would settle in with time. Once the marbles' shine softened with age, and the remaining pastures were converted into quiet neighbourhoods, it would look more refined.

Soon, quite soon, another reason to regret not travelling by foot crept to the forefront of his mind, driving out all thoughts of the surrounding city. St. John kept his face stern and dispassionate, but churned inside with nervous tension and sensations even more concerning: the mal de mer he hardly experienced at sea was indeed making itself known on land. As the need to make less haste became more pressing, he leant forward to request his runner move slower.

“Dhīmī, acchā śrīmāna jā'ō!”

His request was resolutely ignored. The Reverend thumped his fist angrily upon one of the two wooden poles the native ran between. The native, without breaking stride, turned his head to peer questioningly at his English passenger.

“Krpayā dhīmā,” St. John gasped out. He wondered if he was beginning to display a green countenance the way the Rev. Hollum had. The runner smiled at him, a broad flash of surprisingly white teeth in a dusky-brown face.

“Slow, sahib? Slow?”

St. John whispered a silent prayer of gratitude that some of the natives apparently spoke a modicum of English, even if they refused to acknowledge his Hindustani. He nodded fervently, not quite trusting his voice, and the runner continued at a more leisurely pace. The jolting did not let up; if anything it increased the intensity with which he felt each individual cobblestone they rolled over, but the queasiness slowly diminished. He had begun to feel positively refreshed by the time they arrived at the front of St. John's Cathedral, seat of the Bishop of Calcutta, the Right Rev. Daniel Wilson.

His rickshaw runner bowed and scraped and salaamed as he descended the carriage, going so far as to rub the tops of his shoes with one greasy end of his unravelling turban. St. John frowned at the undignified display—he was, of course, the man's superior, being educated and British and a Christian, but the overt servility still rankled his English sensibilities—and he handed the native a ½ rupee to send him on his way. The native looked at the coin in his palm, then at St. John, looked back to the coin once more and salaamed twice as deeply, bowing so far that his turban scarcely missed the dusty street. He gave a final wide, toothless grin at the Reverend and returned to his rickshaw, secreting the silver away in his loincloth as he left.

Oriental decadence at its worst. These poor creatures already almost spurn our offers of civilisation and salvation. Perhaps the diocese office will provide tea; I would happily drink a cup and wash this taste from my mouth.

The clerk behind the desk at the diocese office had skin as dark as the rickshaw runner's but wore trousers, waistcoat, a sober-coloured cravat and a thoroughly English hair-style with a speckling of white in his coal-black hair. The only concession fashion made to climate was his frock-coat, which hung neglected on the hat rack. As he stood, offering a hand to greet St. John, the clergyman seized his opportunity and spoke in his clearest Hindustani.

“Namaskāra, sāhaba! Maiṁ Rev. St. John Rivers hūm, Yorkshire kē ḍērā sē.”

The clerk smiled a gleaming-white smile and replied, “Kalakattā mēṁ āpakā svāgata hai, sāhaba! Yahām āpa sabasē svāgata kara rahē haim—but perhaps you would prefer we continue in English? I can assure you it will make our conversation more easy, as my Hindu has faded with time. May I offer you any tea?” The clerk's accent was clear Oxford English, with only the barest hint of India's mother-tongue tugging at the edges of his vowels.

St. John accepted his offer of refreshment with gratitude. The barefoot coolie who brought them cups and a steaming pot of water made tea as well as any London hotel, and they spent an entirely satisfactory few minutes sipping Earl Grey and exchanging pleasantries.

Mr. Patel, chief clerk to the Right Rev. Wilson, had been raised in an English-speaking home with British tutors, baptised into the Anglican church at the appropriate age, and sent off to Oxford at age 17 with the intention of reading engineering. There, however, he had met Daniel Wilson (as he described at fond length), and became captivated by the man's religious fervour and passion for bettering mankind; Mr. Patel then switched his focus from engineering to philosophy. After university they had kept in touch through affectionate correspondence, the Rev. Wilson having remained in England whilst Mr. Patel returned to Calcutta and took a humble position at the East India Trading Company, translating for purchase negotiations. They wrote of life's greater joys, the births of children and career advancements and personal satisfactions, and as the years progressed also had cause to share sorrows as children were taken by fever or dropsy and their wives both departed the earthly realm. Then, one unexpected morning, Mr. Patel received a letter stating that the newly Right Rev. Wilson had taken up the bishopric in Calcutta; he was in need of a chief clerk to manage the daily administration of the diocese. And so in 1832 the two men, who had not been in each other's company in 28 years, were reunited in friendship on the far side of the globe.

This very personal tale of the Bishop's good nature and kindly disposition only added to the store of knowledge St. John already held of the man: his passion for education, his desire to spread the Word of Christ throughout the entire sub-continent, his hatred for the shameful caste system and its perpetuation in the church, and his special compassion for the Dalits, who he had likened to the beggars and lepers with whom the Lord Jesus had chosen to feast.

Alas for St. John that the Bishop was not in that afternoon! His desire to meet the great man must needs be put off for another day. So he regretfully took his leave, enquired about instructions on how to find the Victoria Hotel and bid farewell to Mr. Patel, who promised he would pass along the news that the Rev. Rivers had arrived.

Whether it was the tea or the company or simply the opportunity to engage in civil conversation, St. John descended the steps of the office with a renewed confidence and enthusiasm to explore the city. Mr. Patel's instructions had been so straightforward—down Council House St., follow the Esplanade until it became Durrumtolla, then take Wellesley a quarter-mile to Victoria Lane and the hotel would be on his right—that he decided to look about his new home and walk instead of enduring yet another ride in a rickshaw. He threaded his way amongst street-side shops and beggars with weeping sores, feral dogs and a very large but mercifully docile bull, past English ladies and Indian gentlemen and a palankeen draped with golden silk and innumerable tassels, borne aloft by four African slaves in matching scarlet tunics and presumably carrying a high-caste lady keeping purdah even as she travelled.

When he had walked a mere half-mile, the heat and humidity that had so plagued the poor sailors during the kedge began to make themselves known to the Reverend. His greatcoat, frock-coat, gloves, and simple hat—all the necessities of propriety back in England—weighed down upon him, as if soaking in the sunlight the same way a woollen coat grew heavy with a spring rain shower. Not even the warmest summer afternoon in Yorkshire could have prepared him for such an oppressive, sweltering warmth; the sun felt as if it hovered scarcely five-and-twenty feet overhead. Worse still, there was no shade to be had, anywhere. St. John had assumed he would easily acclimate to the tropical weather, as he had been aboard a ship as it crossed the equator twice, followed the African coast, and meandered across the Indian Ocean. In this, he was not correct; the ocean winds had cooled the ship more than he realised. Trickles of perspiration slid down the backs of his knees, his face felt as if it were scorched red, and he began to be desperate for a glass of water. Sensing a narrow limit to his stores of vigour, he turned his mind to the task of finding his hotel, only to then notice that Calcutta did not employ street signs with the regularity of London or Cambridge.

The Esplanade was simple enough to follow; it wound its way between the Government House and a large park. The transition to Durrumtolla seemed obvious, as the character of the road abruptly switched from sedate and elegant to wide, busy and over-crowded. But he had not enquired as to how far down Durrumtolla his destination, Wellesley Street, would be located; he searched in vain for an Englishman before pausing to ask a porter carrying large bunches of an oblong yellow fruit.

“Kr̥payā, jahāṁ Wellesley sṭrīṭa hai?”

The porter shrugged and waved a hand further down the road. St. John tipped his hat and continued on his way. A quarter-mile further and he tried again, this time with a merchant offering brightly-coloured bolts of silk.

Āpa mujhē Wellesley sṭrīṭa pratyakṣa kara sakatē haiṁ?”

“Āmi hindusthānī jāni nā.”

St. John paused in frustration; he could not make heads or tails of the language, despite nearly a full year of study. His voice increased in volume slightly.

“Maiṁ Wellesley sṭrīṭa kē li'ē dēkha rahā hūm̐.”

The silk merchant merely shrugged. “Āmi jāni nā.”

“Wellesley sṭrīṭa! Wellesley sṭrīṭa!”

“Bhālētana sṭrīṭa?”

“Hām̐! Śukriyā!”

The merchant, via the most basic of hand gestures, indicated to the Reverend that he must go left at the next tall tree. St. John shook his hand in delight and set out with a confident spring in his step. At the tree he turned north, and in time began to look for the fountain Mr. Patel had assured him would mark the entrance to Victoria Lane. Unfortunately, the street possessed several water pumps, none as refined as what had been described to him. He walked on, trusting to Providence that his Hotel was nearby. But his misgivings grew as the number of fountains increased, and finally, pausing by a crumbling but once-attractive basin, he decided he had gone far enough, and must either leave the main road or double back. He turned left again, hoping God had led him to Victoria Lane, and began looking for his accommodations. The street, however, proved in reality to be little more than a cul-de-sac, quickly narrowing into an alleyway crowded with natives. He swung about and had nearly returned to Wellesley Street when his eye fell upon a beggar child with stunted limbs, hollow-faced and holding up his grubby hands in a gesture that needed no translation.

Father, there is such great poverty here I scarce can imagine having any good influence. Guide every action I make, that I may follow Thy Footsteps and carry myself according to Thy Will.

He handed the beggar boy a ½ rupee, blessing him in the name of Christ as he did. The boy looked at him blankly but grasped the coin with great enthusiasm. St. John resisted the temptation to pat him on the head as he turned to go.

Before he had got a dozen steps he found himself surrounded by children, some so young they could hardly toddle, others on the cusp of adulthood. They crowded around him, tugging on his greatcoat and trouser legs, holding out a multitude of hands, all begging for money and chattering in a street patois that his Hindustani textbooks had not emphasised. He attempted to walk away but they clung tenaciously. No sooner did he get one off his trousers than two more attached themselves to his collar, one hand on cloth and the other in the air, demanding a coin of their own.

“Mujhasē dūra haṭō! Ghara jā'ō!” he cried, but the children shouted louder. He tried to break free, considering an undignified run to be the best of his few options, but got no more than three or four steps when the crowd closed in again, increasing in their fervour.

“Mujhasē dūra haṭō! Ghara jā'ō!” His voice nearly broke in desperation.

“Bhāgō, beggars!” A clear voice rang out somewhere outside the crowd of children. St. John looked up over the roiling mass of dirty black hair to see an Englishman in a red army coat swinging a cane against the backs of the children unfortunate enough to be closest to him. Taller than St. John by a full head and sturdy as the ship's bosun, he smiled briefly at the Reverend over the tops of the beggar children as he continued shouting and hitting.

“Bhāgō! Go away! Bhāgō!” A few last indiscriminately-aimed blows on unhappy flesh and the children scurried away, off to seek less-well-defended prey. St. John took a hasty account of his clothing and pockets to ensure all was present as expected, then turned his attention to the soldier, who regarded him with mingled concern and amusement. He looked somewhat roguish, with tousled dark hair and shako hastily tucked under one arm; his friendly, good-natured face, deeply tanned by the tropical sun, nevertheless managed to draw out a smile from St. John before he recollected himself and turned serious. He held out a hand in gratitude.

“Upon my honour, good sir, I believe you have nearly saved my life today, and I am in your debt.” They clasped hands. “Your servant, Rev. Rivers.” The stranger's grip was firm and confident, although St. John noticed he leant more heavily than expected on the cane with his left arm. It seemed an unusual infirmity for one so otherwise young and hale.

“Cpt. Aquilaine of the 42nd Bengal Native Infantry. And the pleasure is all mine. This often happens to persons of good heart who are freshly arrived. My advice is never to give coins to beggars. Are you going somewhere in particular? Perhaps I can be of assistance.”

Lord, I thank Thee in Thy generosity. Truly Thou doest provide in all circumstances.

“I am trying to find the Victoria Hotel. Surely it is around here somewhere close?”

“The Victoria Hotel?” Cpt. Aquilaine startled and looked at him closely. “My dear man, that hotel is more than a mile south of our location.”

“How can that be?” The Reverend nearly groaned aloud in frustration. “I followed all the instructions. The Esplanade, which became Durrumtolla, then I turned north onto Wellesley, and Victoria Lane must be close … is it?” His customary confidence was all but vanished in the heat.

The Captain winced and nodded his head in sympathy. “Now that you say this, I can see perfectly the flaw in your travels. But I should not say flaw! No, Calcutta is simply confusing to those who are new. Do you remember the intersection from which you turned north onto this street?”

“Yes, quite. There was a tall tree of a sort, right at the cross roads.”

“That is the one! Unfortunately, you turned north onto Wellington, rather than south onto Wellesley.” Seeing the Reverend's crestfallen face, he hastened on, “But do not lose heart! Perhaps you would like to accompany me to my club for the evening instead? It is but a short walk from here and I can assure you the food and company will be better than any you would find at the Victoria.”

Evening fell rapidly in the tropics and St. John did not relish the idea of walking yet another mile through the streets to find his lodgings. Furthermore, he was not certain he could manage the walk, even if he wished. By the time he reached the hotel, he might well be broiled alive inside his greatcoat. “Thank you, sir, I shall accept your offer with gladness, although I fear it puts me even further in your debt.”

Cpt. Aquilaine grinned, a look of good breeding and charm tinged by a hint of jauntiness. “Then we shall simply have to be amiable to one another, for there is no debt amongst friends, especially not when one is an Englishman in India.” He took up his shako and set it firmly on his head once more. With that, they set off down the street.

“So tell me then, my new friend, how is it that you have such command over the language here and I do not? Is it merely the cane?” St. John pursed his lips in frustration. “I have been making a study of Hindustani for the past year, and yet every time I speak to someone they simply stare at me as if I were attempting French. Further, I cannot make out a word of what they say in return! Is my accent yet that poor? Will I soon make heads or tails of the matter?”

For this admission he received another look of concern from Cpt. Aquilaine, who smiled more gently this time and gripped him on the elbow, an overly-familiar action that marked him a born soldier. St. John, having spent the last three months surrounded by the markedly similar temperament of naval officers, took no offence.

“Reverend, I regret being the one who must present you with yet more unpleasant information, but clearly that is my lot this evening. For did you not know? The language spoken in Calcutta is Bengali.” He squeezed the Reverend's elbow harder. “But please be reassured; Bengali is easy once you can read Hindu. You shall master it very quickly. Here, this is my club right behind the footman.” He ushered St. John past a native bowing and opening a solid wooden door, and then they were inside.


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notes:

proud river Ganges – Technically, the body of water flowing past Calcutta is the Hugli River. The Hugli is a distributary of the Ganges, which begins to divide into many different paths roughly 250 miles (400 kilometres) northwest of Calcutta. But Hugli is also a town, just north of Calcutta on the, er, Hugli River, so I stuck with calling the Hugli River the Ganges, to avoid (more) confusion. It's all broadly considered “Ganges” at any rate.

ships, barques, packets, brigs, and schooners – These are all types of sailing vessels; they differ in the number of masts and whether the sails on those masts are square sails or fore-and-aft. A proper ship, in the days of sail, has three masts with all sails square-rigged; a barque has three masts, the first two being square-rigged and the mizzen being fore-and-aft; a brig has two masts, both square-rigged; a schooner also has two masts, but they are fore-and-aft rigged.

A packet was any boat that was small, fast, and carried important cargo such as government documents, the mail, and wealthy passengers. In the days (such as the early 19th century) when cargo vessels only sailed when full, packets had the advantage of keeping to a set schedule, filled or no. The Black Ball Line is an early example of the packet trade.

smoking lamp – the original “no smoking” sign. Open flames on a wooden ship were a deadly hazard (doubly so on naval vessels carrying gunpowder), and candles and matches were generally forbidden. But sailors without tobacco grew very discontented, very quickly—also a hazardous situation. When conditions were deemed safe, the bosun would light his lamp and sailors were then free to smoke as much as they liked, provided they lit their tobacco from that lamp only, and smoked only within the area of the ship where the lamp hung.

king, priest, peasant – The medieval view of society divided people into three categories: kings, lords, and knights, who ruled and fought to defend the land; priests, who were responsible for education, knowledge, and keeping the people holy; and peasants, who did all the real work.

Hindustan/ – many place names, terms, and spellings have changed since 1840. Calcutta is now Kolkata, Bombay is Mumbai, Madras is Chennai, etc. I have tried to be realistic and true to the time period with P&P, but only to an extent. “Hindustani”, meaning the language we now call Hindi, was actually spelt “Hindoostanee” in Jane Eyre, but that just looked disrespectful to me, rather than period. (On occasion, I also refer to the language as “Hindu”, which is incorrect nowadays but entirely appropriate for 1840.) I chose “Moslem” rather than “Mussulman”, “Hugli” rather than “Hooghly”, and “palankeen” rather than “palanquin”, but there's no grand, comprehensive theory for why I settled on the spellings I did; I went with what looked archaic but not overly-condescending.

vicar – For more information on the structure of the Anglican church (the parish, the diocese, the bishopric, etc.), and the various terms used in P&P, see the notes for Chapter 2.

Siamese, Kaffirs – archaic terms for Thais and Africans, respectively.

Parsi – Zoroastrian, the ancient religion of the Persian empire.

mandir – a Hindu temple.

Governor-General Auckland – Lord Auckland was Governor-General of the East India Company from 1836-1842. He helped expand commercial industry throughout India, improved the quality of schooling for natives, and is widely credited with being the driving force behind the first Anglo-Afghan War. See the Chapter 2 notes for more information on the war.

The Indian subcontinent was, in the 17th and 18th centuries, a bit complex. The Mughal Empire ruled large swaths of the territory, the rest of which was divided up amongst various smaller kingdoms, principalities, and independent states. A few European nations also had a foothold, thanks to colonisation efforts that began at the start of the 16th century. On to this complex and shifting stage stepped the East India Company.

The East India Company, originally run and owned by its stock holders, came into existence on December 31, 1600; Queen Elizabeth I granted them their royal charter. It began trading spices, silk, cotton, tea, indigo dye, and opium (to the Chinese), and quickly received the favour of the Mughal Empire. For decades the EIC was content to work with the local governments under mutually favourable terms, until in 1670 King Charles II gave it the right to acquire territory autonomously, mint its own currency, raise an army and make alliances, and establish and maintain a civil and criminal code of law. Sensing an opportunity, the EIC attempted to claim sovereignty over Bombay in the 1680s. The move infuriated the Mughal emperor and ended in abject failure; the company was forced to move headquarters to Calcutta, purchasing three villages from a local landlord in 1698. Calcutta proved more amenable to the company's expansionist desires.

Through a long series of treaties, negotiations, purchases, bribes, and the occasional hostile takeover (in the most literal sense), the EIC gradually came to control more and more of India. (It did not hurt that the Mughal Empire began to weaken and fracture in the early 1700s.) Some territories it owned outright, some it merely claimed to own, and some remained nominally independent; in many of these independent nations, called Princely States, the ruling king or emperor retained his title, wealth, and domestic power, but ceded trade rights and diplomatic negotiations over to the EIC. The Company was originally divided into three regions, each called a Presidency, each in possession of their own Presidency army, and each ruled by a Governor-General who was appointed by the Company board, not elected. As the EIC continued to grow and expand, the Bengal Presidency took primacy, as Calcutta had become the de facto capital city.

By 1840, the East India Company was enormously large and powerful. It ruled nearly the entire subcontinent, either directly or indirectly; it managed its own currency, operated its own postal and canal systems, and the three Presidency armies had a combined total of over 200,000 soldiers, one of the largest standing armies in the world at that time. The highest ranking 10% of the soldiers were British, and the remaining 90% were Sepoys. (Sepoys were Indian soldiers serving in a European military; they mostly worked for the British, but could also be found in the French and Portuguese armies.) British laws did not apply to the EIC the way they did to the rest of the commonwealth, and so the Governor-General in Calcutta was an enormously powerful man.

coolie – I struggled with whether to use this word or not; it was a very common term in the 1840s for manual labourers and slaves, primarily from India and China. Now, of course, it's quite offensive.

92 degrees – Fahrenheit was the standard measurement of temperature in Britain until the 1970s. And the thermometer was entirely correct. Calcutta has a tropical climate with three seasons, roughly: summer (March – June), monsoon (June – September) and post-monsoon (October – November), and winter (December – February). The temperature almost never drops below 10 °C (50 °F).

Daniel Wilson – the Right Rev. Bishop Wilson (1778 – 1858) was indeed educated at Oxford, became Bishop of Calcutta in 1832, was an active abolitionist and social reformer, believed that no work should be done on Sunday, and spoke forcefully against India's caste system (he called it “a cancer”). At that time, many missionaries and churches in India observed the caste system, to the extent that members of a higher caste would not sit at the same table as members of a lower caste, even for church dinners, even if they were both officials at the same parish. Bishop Wilson put a swift end to that, causing many upper-caste Christians to leave the Anglican church, while many more from lower castes were inspired to join. He was a most opinionated man; everything else about him in P&P comes from my own imagination.

See the Chapter 2 notes for more information on the Anglican church.

Dalits – the lowest caste, the Untouchables.

shako – a tall, stove-pipe-style military hat, very ornate and very ornamental, with no practical value whatsoever, and thus immensely popular in the mid-19th century.

42nd Bengal Native Infantry – In Dr Who, the Doctor describes the specifics of travelling through space and time as a “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing”. Any readers interested in delving further into the details of the Bengal army to which Cpt. Aquilaine belonged should be advised: this is the spirit in which I have researched the British military and the Presidency armies. I have not made anything up; I do not wish to deceive. However, excepting the very basics of military structure (colonel outranks captain, for example), all information falls under the “wibbly-wobbly, army-warmy” framework.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John enters an Officer's Club, recites a Psalm to Good Effect, and deepens his Acquaintance with Cpt. Aquilaine.
 
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The British Officer's East India Club was the sort of lodgings that might be found in any decent city in England; the exception being the servants, Indians to a man, who dressed not in the typical British servant's clothing but all in white—white trousers, billowing white tunics over top and white turbans. They padded silently over the lobby's thick carpeting on bare feet. Dark green potted palms sat in every corner, flanked by comfortable-looking stuffed horsehide chairs. A portrait of the young Queen in her coronation robes hung on one wall.
 
One of the resident butlers greeted them with a bow. He limped slightly from a mild club foot. “Cpt. Aquilaine, you are just in time; they are seating now. Shall I lay a place for your guest?”
 
“I hope so, Sanyal.” He turned to St. John. “Join us in the dining room? On Wednesday nights the Moslem cooks prepare the food, so I believe we'll have roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.”
 
St. John hesitated. After more than three months of salt pork and sauerkraut, a routine broken only on the Sabbath when the ship's cook served salt beef (the deckhands joked amongst themselves that in truth it was all merely old horse), the prospect of fresh meat and a well-prepared dinner sounded tantalising. However, nothing short of a thorough bath and a visit from the laundress would make him presentable. “I have nothing to wear, and these travel clothes cannot possibly suffice. I am most sorry! All my luggage is still at port.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine brushed away his concerns. “We are hardly high society, Rev. Rivers. For Sunday dinner you will want suitable clothes, but for Wednesday wash your hands, comb your hair and you will fit nicely. Sanyal, one more for the table, and set up my rooms to accommodate him for the night as well.” The butler slipped out a servant's door and the Captain indicated St. John should follow down a hallway well-lit by flickering oil lamps.
 
“Our butlers here are excellent and all speak good English. I met Sanyal trying to enlist in the company of Sepoys I was training. Naturally his lameness prevents him from being in the army, but he seemed so eager to serve that I helped find him a position at the club instead. He never disappoints.” They paused at the base of a rather over-decorated staircase, replete with thick carpeting, burnished hardwoods and innumerous fanciful balusters. Cpt. Aquilaine saw St. John frowning at it and grinned.
 
“This club was originally intended to be a hotel, but the builder—a resourceful sort of Indian, but they always get the details wrong; they are not natural entrepreneurs—had some strange ideas about what English architecture should look like. Thus we will now ascend the grandest stairs on which you have ever had the pleasure of setting foot.” St. John followed in silence behind his companion, who gripped the rail rather tightly as he ascended. By the time they reached the first floor the Captain was grimacing, his mouth set in a tight line. He waved off St. John's look of concern and limped down the hall, pausing at the final door on the left.
 
“Welcome to my very humble quarters.”
 
St. John scarcely had time to take in the oriental rug, stuffed chairs, hanging plants, chaotic writing desk or army mementos strewn about the sitting room before Sanyal emerged with a basin of cool water. Washing his face and pulling a comb through his hair did revive him somewhat, and he gladly allowed the butler to take away his greatcoat for cleaning, but how much happier he would have been if there were time for a pipe before sitting to dine! All the strain and weariness of the day seemed to be crashing down upon him at once.
 
His dismay only increased in the actual dining facilities. St. John, used to life with a single maid and a home that was severe to the point of asceticism, and being in possession of a temperament that prized quiet conversation over gaiety, now found himself ushered into a hot and cramped room full of loud, lively soldiers. The walls and lamps blazed with candles, the table was set with fine crystal and too many decorations, and servants bustled around pouring wine and arranging plates. St. John had no complaint that the streets of Calcutta were noisy and crowded with every sort of eastern exoticism—he had anticipated as much. But at the end of a day filled with so many new, strange, and occasionally unpleasant experiences, and bookended by the stifling tropical heat, he realised just how much more he would have preferred the quiet of a hotel room. The food, however, looked as good as any he had ever seen. During Albert's long fortnight on the Ganges, shallow-draft native boats had brought the occasional delivery of local fruits, but salt pork remained their main staple, thrice daily. No amount of chaos or noise could induce him to retreat from a well-cooked roast with fresh greens. Whilst he sat, temporarily revived by the thought of decent food, Cpt. Aquilaine introduced him enthusiastically to the rest of the company.
 
The room quieted for a moment as the other men took in his title and stern appearance; St. John suspected the majority were not regular Sunday men. A marine at the far side of the table, already rather well into his cups, sniggered and wondered aloud if Reverend Sombre would question them all on their catechism after the dessert.
 
He felt the anger he ever struggled to control burn two hot spots on his cheeks, and he narrowed his gaze at the marine. A more awkward silence fell over the room and Cpt. Aquilaine shifted in the chair next to him. St. John tried to settle his mind and think of an appropriate response.
 
Ye are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
 
He gave the room a cold smile. “Shall I give a blessing before the meal?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine cleared his throat and looked uncomfortably at his dinner guest. “I think that would be very kind of you, Rev. Rivers. Pray continue.”
 
St. John reached into this pocket and retrieved the small Book of Common Prayer he kept on his person. He knew the 8th Psalm by heart but felt that reciting verse was showy, and reading aloud often calmed him more than other measures.
         
          “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!
          who hast set Thy glory above the heavens.
          Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of thine enemies,
          that Thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger.”
         
His speech, which had started out flat and thin, grew warm and joyful as he read the long-familiar words. The anxiety and disappointments of the day began to drain from his limbs, and he felt glad once more of his circumstances. His voice swelled a little as emotion crept into his words.
 
          “When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers,
          the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained;
          What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?
          For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
          and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
          O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!
 
          “AMEN.”
         
He closed the Book gently, raised his head and sighed, a contented noise. He recalled: his purpose and passion in coming to India was spreading the Word and following the will of God, not making his way in Society. As St. John composed himself, feeling the glow of a peaceful heart again within his breast, he glanced over at his dining companion, curious as to what the Captain might make of him.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine peered at him unflinchingly, ardently even, eyes boring into the Reverend with an almost singular intensity—then broke off into a wide grin as the rest of the table resumed their normal conversations and the food began to arrive from the kitchen. “My word, Reverend. What a fine orator you make. Politicians everywhere should be glad you have gone into the church rather government; I think you could convince Queen Victoria herself to sell her jewels and become a shop-girl instead!”
 
St. John flushed with pleasure but shook his head. “You must not compliment me so; it is only when I read the Bible that I can sound so fine.” And I could not even convince Jane to be my wife, let alone convince a Queen to give up her throne. “I do not think Parliament would suffer me to read psalms all day long, not when they could be arguing taxation and rotten boroughs instead. Ah, and here is the soup.”
 
“I must warn you, the soup is called Mulaga-Tawny. More Indian than English—I think it delightful, but a bit of an acquired taste. Rather spicy.”
 
The Reverend gave a small shrug. “I am accustomed to pepper with my food, on occasion.” He raised the spoon to his lips and took a tentative sip. The soup was both savoury and sharp, fragrant with curry, a rich creaminess, and—
 
Ah, yes, that must be the spice. God save me.
 
St. John set the spoon down and hastily reached for his water glass. Despite efforts to smother his cough, the Captain noticed immediately.
 
 “Is it too much for you?”
 
“No, no,” St. John gasped as his eyes began to water. “I merely did not expect such, ah, intensity of—” he broke off once more and took another swallow of water, which only magnified the heat of the soup. He was beginning to sweat.
 
“Do not take water if your mouth is aflame,” Cpt. Aquilaine said cheerfully. “It is akin to the sieve of the Danaides; you could drink all evening long and it will not make a whit of difference. Here.” He reached over for a small bowl of greenish sauce and set it by the Reverend's plate. “This is called raita. It is a bit like cottager's yoghurt, only flavoured with cucumber and mint. Dip your bread in it, and it will make you feel quite cool again.”
 
St. John hesitated—clearly he and the Captain had differences as to how food should be prepared—but the water had not helped one whit, and heat continued to rise in his throat. The moment he tasted the raita, the spice of the Mulaga-Tawny gave way to the tart, minty yoghurt.
 
“That is remarkable! How odd, that water would only magnify the pepper, but cucumber removes it entirely. Is it appropriate to put this yoghurt in the soup, in order to lessen the burn, as it were? Or would that be strange?”
 
The Captain looked startled for a moment, but St. John could see, as he watched his friend puzzle it out, that the suggestion was not entirely irregular. By the time Cpt. Aquilaine's frank and open expression had reached the conclusion that yes, the idea of raita in Mulaga-Tawny had a certain amount of merit, the Reverend had already blended the two and discovered that the combination proved far more palatable than the soup alone.
 
“I would give approval to your idea, Rev. Rivers, but you have already done so. My compliments to your ingenuity.”
 
“I cannot see the flaw in experimenting a little. After all, we are very far from home.”
 
They focused their efforts to the task of eating.
 
When the dinner had finished—soup, roast beef, sprouts and carrots with white rice, Yorkshire pudding and a trifle made with a creamy yellow fruit called mango—St. John and the Captain retired to his quarters to smoke and talk. Sanyal had been through, tidied up the sitting room, straightened the writing desk and left out a small but quality selection of pipe tobacco, cigars, brandy and gin; the Reverend's greatcoat hung next to the Captain's red army coat, dusted and pressed. Cpt. Aquilaine had truly chosen well in pushing for the butler's employment. St. John's sleepiness—a direct result of the largest meal he had eaten in three months—was quickly forgotten in the presence of the tobacco, and he eagerly tamped a pipeful whilst his host lowered himself a bit heavily into a chair and leant over to the brandy.
 
“Forgive me, Reverend, if I do not stand to pour your drink properly; Sanyal is busy this time of night and I confess by evening my leg makes activity a chore.”
 
“As long as you are not offended by my passing on the drink, Captain. I am a temperance man myself.”
 
“Not even for health reasons?”
 
“I will take Madeira on occasion, for my blood, but that is all.”
 
“Do you not put gin in your tonic water?”
 
“I have not even had the tonic water yet. There was none on the ship, and I have been here only a few hours.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine grimaced and rubbed his palm along his thigh. “This time of day old wounds ache most. Here, try a little tonic,”—as he poured a small of tumbler of slightly fizzing water—“and tell me what you think.”
 
St. John's face twisted as he sipped. “That is most bitter.” He puffed on his pipe to drive out the taste with smoke.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine poured a healthy dose of gin into the glass, and handed it back. “Tell me if that doesn't at least hide the unpleasantness somewhat.” St. John gave a tentative swallow, not wanting to be discourteous, and was forced to admit that gin did indeed improve the tonic considerably.
 
“I suppose, if it is to prevent the malaria, I cannot be criticised for drinking this. Much like one would drink a cordial for health, of course, not for pleasure. Nevertheless, we shall have to keep it from the temperance society back in Yorkshire.”
 
“I shall take it to the grave.” His host smiled weakly as he shifted in his wing-chair, sipping thoughtfully at a snifter of brandy and lipping a cigar he had not yet cut. To St. John he looked older and more tired, far less lively than the man he met only a few hours ago, as if all the good cheer had faded with the sunlight. His solid arms and broad back, bearing muscles honed by a lifetime of physical activity, now bowed towards the floor as he slumped forward with elbows on knees, staring at the carpet. On occasion he would rise a little and massage at his left thigh, as if working out a cramp. Finally the Captain straightened up for good and started in on his cigar, exhaling small puffs of blue smoke to get an even burn. He gave his guest an apologetic glance as he did. St. John was personally more than content to merely sit and smoke, at ease with his own thoughts, but it seemed unsociable to behave thusly—and, if he was truly honest with himself, he felt a certain curiosity towards his new friend's condition—so instead he enquired, “Does your leg generally bother you so?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine nodded grimly. “Every day. They say I was lucky to have survived, and I believe them, but it is still a constant trouble, especially if I overtax myself.” He offered no further information. St. John waited a few minutes, alternating puffs on his pipe (the Club provided an excellent blend) with small sips of the tonic and gin before attempting conversation again.
 
“Is it always this hot in Calcutta? I confess to being caught off guard. We spent the past two weeks becalmed on the Ganges, and I assumed the heat came from the lack of wind, but simply walking through the city I felt nearly overcome by it!”
 
The Captain gave him a look of consternation. “It is the 6th of April, is it not?”
 
St. John shook his head. “The 8th, according to the customs office.”
 
“Nevertheless, it is April, which explains the heat.” Seeing the look of befuddlement on St. John's face, he continued, “Did you not know that April is the middle of summer here, Reverend? And May shall be warmer still, and then in June the monsoons shall start, and whatever reduction in heat they bring will be more than balanced out by the most wretched humidity you have ever experienced. The climate does improve, I promise you that, but not until November or so.”
 
“That is so hard for me to understand,” St. John replied, shaking his head in dismay. “When I left England in December it was piteously cold, hardly above freezing, and much of the journey was cold as well, despite our sailing in the Southern Hemisphere. It was all that wind; I swear it blew for three months straight. I know the latitude here, of course, and I read up on the climate before I set out, but there is some stubborn part of my mind that refuses to accept it could be so warm so early in the year. When I think April, I think rain and fog, and temperatures that never creep above fifty degrees. This afternoon the thermometer in the customs office said it was 92! Is that even possible?”
 
“Quite, unfortunately. You will become accustomed in time, I hope. Many an Englishman simply withers under the tropical sun.” With that he fell silent once more, lost in thought. St. John began to think he made a wretched companion for the evening, and was uncertain as to whether he should start again on another topic—although he could think of nothing less controversial to discuss than the weather—or simply finish off his pipe.
 
The Captain spoke up suddenly. “I must apologise—I fear I make a poor host tonight! Perhaps I am also a bit fatigued by the weather.”
 
“You must not apologise to me; I am more than grateful for your assistance today, and I am happy to stay up and talk, or retire early, or whatever you choose. This is the first decent tobacco I have had in months, and so all is right with my world.”
 
“You clearly do not know me well, yet, or you would be far more concerned over my condition. I am often accused of talking too much, too quickly, and with too little forethought. I cannot say why I am so quiet at present.”
 
St. John made as if to stand. “Then I am a burden to you, and you must not be so polite about it! Send me off to bed, and I will go willingly.”
 
“No, no! I am quite glad for your company—shall I prove it to you? Come, choose a topic and I shall talk on it.”
 
The Reverend frowned, as if all thought had been abruptly driven from his head as well. After a long moment, he said, “Will you tell me about your family? Aquilaine is an uncommon surname—in truth, I have never heard it before. Where in England are you from?”
 
The Captain nodded genially. “That is a good question, but I fear the answer will be far more dull than you had hoped. It is simply my father's last name. He was a Prussian, a lieutenant in the army of King William III. His ancestral home, Islek, is called Aquilaine by the locals so I suppose that is how it came about. Whilst on leave from the interminable war against Napoleon, he travelled to London to do some business, met my mother who was in town for the Season, and they fell madly in love. A hasty marriage, my birth a year later, and then he was summoned back to fight. He died at Waterloo, my poor mother was carried away by grief,  and I was raised by her older brother.
 
“It was a good childhood—Silchester is a fine village, and my uncle was most indulgent towards his orphaned nephew. We were impoverished gentry, but gentry nonetheless, and he raised me to improve my station whilst retaining my gentlemanly qualities. He tried to steer me towards farming, which he considered the most genteel of all occupations, but I had too much of my father's blood in me. After I left Cambridge I went off in search of glory, travel, adventure, riches, and whatever else young men want when they reach their majority. I wanted to make a name for myself, and win renown and honour for the Aquilaine lineage. The Bengal army offered the most affordable commissions, and I was dazzled by the idea of silk, and saffron, and diamonds the size of acorns. How badly I chose!”
 
He paused and began staring into the middle distance, as if unexpectedly lost in the world of his own thoughts. It was subtle, but as St. John watched he could see the Captain's demeanour crumple slightly. But then he finished his glass of spirits, shook off the darker mood and continued as pleasantly as before.
 
“Naturally, my hopes of glory and fame did not quite go as I had intended. After nearly four years of kicking my heels here in town, bored, impatient, and spending all my money on ale and lesser pursuits, I rejoiced when my 42nd Bengal was joined with the 13th British, led by Sir Robert Sale, and we were all ordered to Afghanistan. I knew we infantry men would be right in the thick of it, and Sale was the finest and bravest fighter in the whole of the Orient—he still is! Did you know he once, outside Rangoon, stabbed a Burmese general through the stomach in single-hand combat? Wonderful man! Alas, 'the best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, gang aft agley', and after six months of misery, watching my brothers-in-arms die of thirst and hunger and cold as we marched our way across the bleakest lands I've ever set sight on, I finally got my first—and only—taste of action. I took a rifled musket ball through the thigh at Ghazni, right as Sale led the charge through the city gates. It was touch-and-go for a time, I am told, but the surgeon managed to save my leg and after I had recovered sufficiently, the army found a position for me back here in Calcutta, training Sepoys.” He gave his guest a wry smile and refilled his brandy. “Not the life I intended, condemned to limp and hobble like an old man, but we all work with what Providence has provided. There—that is my very dull tale. What do you think?”
 
St. John had given many a sermon on the merits of honesty, and he could not think of anything beneficial to say other than the truth. “I think it is a rather sad story, from my perspective. Common, but sad nevertheless. Mother and father snatched away at such a tender age, and then to lose your health at the very peak of vitality—you have a definite strength of mind, Captain, to remain so cheerful despite the trials with which God has seen fit to test you. I pray you will continue to be so patient and accepting of your fate.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine looked startled at these remarks. “Thank you, Reverend! I have been told similar things on occasion, but it was never quite so finely put. You make it all seem almost virtuous, rather than merely silly or pointless.”
 
“Suffering is never pointless, Captain. God does not test more than we can bear, and only ever with the intention of improving us.”
 
The Captain made motion as if to disagree, then thought better of himself. “Have I talked enough for now? Perhaps. Tell me your own tale of woe, should you possess one.”
 
St. John sipped at his tonic-water. “I have no woeful tale for you, Cpt. Aquilaine, so there will be little for us to commiserate about unless we compare stories of Cambridge, where I also was privileged to study. I and my two sisters grew up in an ancient and well-regarded family in Morton. I suppose you could say it was difficult, how dissimilar my parents were from one another; my father was what some would describe as 'salt of the earth', which to me meant that he was cold and hard to us children, and saved all his affection for farming and hunting and guns. My mother, on the other hand, loved literature, and education, and refinements; Mary, Diana, and I all take after her quite strongly. If there is woe in my family, it comes strangely enough from her, for two reasons: first, that she passed on when we were still so young (Mary was but six), and second, that her brother John once encouraged our father into a speculation, which ended as most speculations do—that is to say, quite badly—and we were bereft of everything save a single acre of land, and a crumbling old house.
 
“My sisters are refined, elegant young women, and they both became governesses in due time; I studied theology, and after fives years as a parson felt called to come to India. My intentions, however, were thwarted by my father, who would not allow me to leave. You shall likely think I am a hard and ungrateful son for what I am about to say next, Captain, but I will not mislead you: it was almost a relief to all of us when he passed on, and it was a swift, mild death from apoplexy, for which we were all grateful. Too often these things linger, and the grieving family comes to question the Mercy of the Lord, watching their loved ones suffer.”
 
“I could never judge what resides within another man's breast. God knows I carry about enough conflicted feelings—well, we all have things that we have thought, or felt, that we come to regret.”
 
“I am pleased you are such a broad-minded man, Captain! So, then, with my father gone to God, the way was cleared for me to leave, another priest took over my parish, a few final matters were settled, and in late December of last year I stepped onto my ship. Here in Calcutta, I will spend a year teaching at Bow Bazar Secondary School, which will provide me with time to further learn the language and customs of the land. Then I intend to set off by foot, working with the diocese to spread the Word and improve the lot of the natives.” He did not mention Jane Eyre, although a refusal of marriage might well qualify as woeful. Such things were in the past, and could not affect him now.
 
“My passion is for doing the will of the Lord wherever it may lead me. I have dedicated my life to being an instrument in His all-knowing hands, and whatever happens, I trust that it shall be for some greater purpose, though I of course cannot see the end of the path. All my days I have trusted in His Goodness and I shall accept whatever challenge and correction He sends.” St. John found his hands were clenched tightly around his glass; his heart pounded in his chest and he stared blindly at the curls of smoke rising from his pipe. “There—that is the measure of my story.”
 
“I have no doubt it shall end well, both here and in the next world, if your energy is any match for your zeal. But tell me of Cambridge. Which college? When did you go? Did you play sport? I attended St. John's College and attempted to study history, although I confess I spent most of my time at cricket. I left at the end of Michaelmas term in '34, and I suspect they were relieved to see me go! I do not remember you, but I suspect we kept very different company. Did you ever hear of the most excellent batsman Marcus Aquilaine, the striker feared the entire university over for his swing?”
 
St. John drained his glass with an amused chuckle he attributed to the gin. Medicinal it may have been, but it had distinctly non-medical effects as well. Such was the danger of alcohol. “I graduated in '34, and I regret to tell you that I attended Trinity, which I believe means we are to be rivals. Odd that we never crossed paths! But no, I did not hear of this famous striker, no more than you were aware of St. John Rivers, the bookish theology scholar.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine laughed heartily in return. “I am hardly surprised to learn that our sets did not much overlap. But rivals, that is a more pressing issue! Yes, we shall have to compete in something, for the glory of our respective colleges. I shall inform you immediately should I think of anything.” His eyes lit up. “Do you play billiards? There is a table downstairs.”
 
“I shall crown you victorious immediately! I am a piteously wretched shot.”
 
Despite what had turned out to be a far more stimulating evening than anticipated, St. John stretched wearily and began to hope for a soft bed and a light coverlet. Barring a soft bed, he would happily take anything that did not move. “I must beg your pardon, but it has been such a long day… ”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine stood hurriedly, all apology. “No no, the fault is mine. I have kept you up and you must be exhausted. Sanyal has set up a mattress in the study—I am so sorry it could not be a proper bed, but I surmised that after three months at sea anything half-decent would suit—and it is already turned down.” He led St. John to the study, where indeed a small but functional bedroom had been arranged, complete with wash basin and mirror.
 
“Thank you—it is more than satisfactory. As I said, I will trust in the Lord, and He has never led me astray yet. Surely you were meant to find me this afternoon! We must both be grateful for it, and I must now turn in. Good night.”
 
“Good night, Reverend, and sleep well!”
 
 
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notes:
 
young Queen – P&P takes place at the dawn of the Victorian era. Queen Victoria had only ruled since June 20, 1837; she took the throne upon the death of King William IV (her uncle, and her father's older brother). Although revered throughout the British Empire, she did not actually become Empress of India until 1876.
 
Moslem cooks – It was actually a common practice among British living in India to employ both Muslim and Hindu servants. It made for a most useful domestic arrangement (at least for the British), as the Hindus cooked the pork, the Muslims cooked the beef, and they never wanted the same days off for holidays.
 
Ye are the light of the world – Matthew 5:14-16.
 
rotten boroughs – A borough was a region or town in England that had the right to elect two members of parliament to the House of Commons. It was often hereditary, could be passed on to a relative or a family friend, and presented a situation ripe for abuse. A rotten borough was one that had a very small population base, generally because the boundaries of the borough had been set hundreds of years past, and had not changed even as the population shifted away. The coastal town of Dunwich was one of the most notorious examples; the entire borough had only 44 houses and 32 men eligible to vote, because most of the borough had been worn away by the ocean 200 years prior. By contrast Manchester, which in 1830 had a population of 142,000, did not elect its own members to the House. In 1832 the system was reformed and the boroughs redrawn, amidst much protest.
 
sieve of the Danaides – The Danaides were 50 young women, all daughters of Danaus. They were supposed to marry the 50 sons of Danaus' twin brother, Aegyptus, but they stabbed their husbands to death on their wedding nights, instead. For this they were punished in the afterworld by having to fill a large vase with water from a nearby stream; if they filled the vase, their sins would be forgiven, but all they had to carry the water in were leaky sieves.
 
raita – a yoghurt-based condiment. Please don't actually put it into Mulligatawny soup.
 
Madeira – a sweet, popular, and fortified red wine from the island of Madeira, well-known in the Regency and Victorian eras for its supposed health benefits.
 
The Bengal Army offered the most affordable commissions – The Bengal Army was the Presidency army based in Calcutta. Cpt. Aquilaine's division, the 42nd Bengal Native Infantry, was formed in 1803 and distinguished itself at Ghazni.
         
Throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was common for officers to purchase their rank (the higher and more prestigious the rank, the more expensive the commission). Those who worked their way up into their position through promotion, or earnt it via a military college, were considered second-rate. The system had both virtues and flaws, of course. On the positive side, it kept leadership rôles in the hands of the rich and powerful, discouraged looting and war for profit (because the officers were already wealthy), and avoided the perils of the seniority system, in which young gentlemen wishing to advance in rank had to wait for their superior officer to perish. On the negative side, it allowed in anyone who could pay. People began to question the system in earnest after various disasters, most notoriously the Charge of the Light Brigade, in which incompetent leadership and poor communication led to numerous, largely-pointless casualties. Eventually, in the 1860s and 1870s, it was done away with in favour of a new, almost revolutionary method of deciding who was deserving of promotion: merit.
 
42nd Bengal – see the Epilogue notes for more on Sir Robert Sale; he did indeed lead the 13th Regiment, Light Infantry, into Afghanistan, and it is also true that he was well-known for killing an enemy leader in hand-to-hand combat.
 
gang aft agley – from “To a Mouse”, by Robert Burns, 1875. “Go often astray.”
 
rifled musket ball – Muskets had been in use since the 1600s, but by the 1800s were slowly being replaced by rifles, which were far more accurate. (Rifling causes the bullet to spin as it leaves the chamber, allowing it to shoot through the air far more aerodynamically.) Early rifles were often referred to as “rifled muskets”, a reference to the weapons they replaced.
 
Ghazni – In the 1830s, Britain began to worry that Russia, eager to increase its own empire, would expand southward and take India; they already ruled the Caucasus and held great influence over the Persian Court. Afghanistan became the location for many political and military maneouvrings between the two European powers, culminating in what is now known as the 1st Anglo-Afghan War (also referred to as “Auckland's Folly”).
 
Dost Mohammad, Emir of Afghanistan, ruled until 1839; in 1838, he approached India's Governor-General Auckland for help in recovering territory recently taken by the Russian-backed Persian Empire. Auckland refused, but did suggest that the Emir place his foreign policy under British control; unsurprisingly, Dost Mohammad instead turned to Russia for support. But when talks between the Emir and Russia broke down, Persia conquered more of Afghanistan and Lord Auckland saw his chance to strike a blow against the Tsar. Under the advice of State Secretary William Macnaghten, Auckland found a deposed former Afghani Emir, Shuja Shah, who was willing to be a puppet ruler, and the Army of the Indus was formed from British Army and Presidency Army regiments. Led by Sir Willoughby Cotton and Macnaghten, some 20,000 British and Indian soldiers in the Army of the Indus marched for 6 months, dying of thirst, disease, and attacks by local tribes. Finally they arrived at Ghazni, 140 miles (225 km) from Kabul, and lay siege to the city, which was defended—not coincidentally—by one of Dost Mohammad's many sons. Ghazni, long considered impregnable, fell on July 23, 1838, after a brilliant display of engineering tactics. Dost Mohammad offered to surrender, was refused, and fled to Western Afghanistan; the British placed their puppet Emir Shuja on the throne in Kabul.
 
In retrospect, this was the high point of the war, at least for the British.
 
parson – St. John was a clergyman, specifically a priest in the Anglican Church. (An Anglican priest is not quite the equivalent of a Catholic priest; Anglican priests can marry, for one thing, and in many places nowadays might very well be female, or openly gay.) At home in England he had his own parish, with all the resulting duties and benefits; it paid him a small living, and the responsibilities took up much of his time. In India, he remained a priest and still retained the title “Reverend”, but he did not have his own parish, and did not receive any money from the church.
 
When St. John had his own parish, he was also referred to as a parson. A parson (from the Latin persona) is the priest directly responsible for the members of the parish (also called the laity): he visits in person for baptisms and deaths, delivers the weekly sermon from the pulpit, and receives his income from the tithes given by the laity. He also receives money from lands and investments owned by the parish, if any; St. John's parish in Morton was quite poor, with only a single wealthy family who took responsibility for funding the boys' and girls' schools he established when he became the parson.
 
The parish was the most basic unit of the Anglican church; it consisted of a priest and the laity, a small church, and a rectory (or vicarage) for the priest to live in. Parish priests were historically divided into three types: rectors, vicars, and curates. A parson was either a rector or a vicar, depending on what sort of tithes he received from the parish; rectors tended to be wealthier and receive the lion's share of the income. Curates assisted the main priest. A diocese (also known as a bishopric) is a larger district, divided into individual parishes and overseen by a bishop. An archdiocese is overseen by an archbishop; there is no specific difference between a diocese and an archdiocese, other than one of status: the latter is larger, more historically significant, and quite frequently contains a large city or metropolitan area, whereas a diocese might be small, rural, and generally insignificant.
 
Anglican clergy below the rank of bishop are all addressed as “Reverend”; bishops are “Right Reverend”; if Calcutta was an archdiocese, Bishop Wilson would have been called “Most Reverend”.
 
Michaelmas term – the fall term at Cambridge. It runs from September to Christmas, and is named after the Feast of Saint Michael, which takes place every September 29 on the Anglican church calendar. The other terms, which take place in winter and spring, are called the Lent and Easter terms, respectively. What Cpt. Aquilaine does not directly say, and the Rev. Rivers does not call attention to, is that by leaving after Michaelmas term, the Captain did not so much graduate Cambridge as simply stop attending.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John tries to turn his Back to the World, fails to get a Word in Edgeways, takes up his Lodgings, and has an Unsettling Conversation.


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Over a light breakfast the next morning—the Captain took kippers and cold cuts with mint jelly; the Reverend preferred simpler fare and kept to his usual porridge—Cpt. Aquilaine asked if St. John would be interested in taking up rooms at the Club.
 
“It was originally written in the charter that only military or naval men would be given membership, but we have been accommodating in the past and if I sponsored you there is no doubt you would be accepted. It might do our society some good to have a man of the cloth around, and I assure you the living situation is better than you will find at the Victoria.”
 
St. John sipped hesitantly at his scalding breakfast tea, having drunk too incautiously mere moments before and now paying for that haste. “That is generous, Cpt. Aquilaine, and I do not want to refuse outright, but I had anticipated some sort of lodgings from the parish. Do you mind if I enquire into those first? It may be a more economical situation, and I am used to simpler living than is found here.” Seeing the look of disappointment on his friend's face, he continued hastily, “My pardon—I do not mean to sound ungrateful for your hospitality. I have no complaints being here, and everything has been satisfactory but I live so simply, I have no interest in society, and I fear I would make a very poor addition to your club's circle. Really, I am plain and dull. I read, pray, take walks and study. I am no athlete and I cannot even play at cards. Everyone will quickly grow tired of my company, yourself most of all!”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine shook his head as he reached for the pickled relish. “Most of the men who live here are of a good sort, but mostly taken with hunting, shooting and riding. Do not misunderstand—I enjoy those pursuits also, as my condition allows, but now I wish I had studied more at University. It would give my mind something better to do than sit and brood. I confess I looked forward to the idea of being able to talk sensibly with another educated man, but you must not stay here if you feel truly unsuited to it.”
 
His lonely words snatched at St. John's sympathies, but before he could respond a footman interrupted apologetically with a message addressed to Cpt. Aquilaine, written on cheap paper with a broad hand that had learnt English only recently. Cpt. Aquilaine gave St. John a look of amused apology and glanced over the scrap before crumpling it into his pocket.
 
“I'm afraid I must go. Will you stay until you have lodgings arranged, or at least tonight? Thursday the Indians cook and we are having suckling pig with curry sauce and pie.”
 
“I would be happy to stay the night. When will you be back today?”
 
“Not until the evening. My regrets for leaving so suddenly—it is business with my Sepoys.” He rolled his eyes in false irritation and favoured his guest with a little half-smile. “It is a wonder anything got done on this continent before we arrived.” He took up his cane and coat as he exited.
 
When St. John had finished his own meal he returned to his host's study. After writing a short, colourless note to his sisters, informing them of his safe arrival, he turned to a book borrowed from the Club's reading room, A Grammatical Survey of Bengali. He had no reason to delay the inevitable learning that must needs take place, but found himself distracted and restless. Cpt. Aquilaine's offer would never suit, of course, but he was unexpectedly plagued by memories of Cambridge. Most of his days had been spent in the library or bent over a guttering candle, solitary and silent, but there had also been long walks through the countryside, stimulating academic debates, evenings in the public house, and brighter moments of companionship, even affection with like-minded friends. The recollection that he had once been something other than eternally cold, stern and distant frightened him into prayer.
 
Lord, Thy presence in my heart burns like a brand; sometimes I fear it will burn so strongly that I shall be turned entirely to ash. But I must keep focused on what is higher and better, look past earthly delights for heavenly ones, no matter what the cost to myself. And what sort of Pharisee should I be, Lord, if I, who once did chastise Jane for enjoying herself overly much at Christmas-tide, now took rooms in such a place merely for mine own pleasure? Give me Thou the strength to resist this temptation, which would surely draw me away from Thine intended path.
 
He forced his mind back to the task of Bengali verb conjugations.
 
Hours later, his back aching and his eyes swimming with graphemes, St. John finally noticed the hollow feeling that indicated he had forgotten to take lunch. The pendulum clock in the foyer was striking 3 in the afternoon as he made his way downstairs, and he remembered, even more significant than a missed luncheon, that he had assured Mr. Patel he would return the next day to call upon the Bishop again. Sanyal, seeing his distress, enquired as to the reason and promptly solved both problems—St. John could see why Cpt. Aquilaine had been so insistent as to keep him employed. In no time the Reverend was seated in a rickshaw, travelling at a more comfortable speed this time, one hand on the armrest and the other clutching a cold beef sandwich.
 
St. John was dusting crumbs off his greatcoat when they pulled up to the steps of the Cathedral. The rickshaw driver settled under a palm tree to nap whilst waiting for him to return. Happily, Mr. Patel was not only at his desk in the diocese office but—more fortuitously—about to head out for afternoon tea with the Bishop. He extended the offer to St. John as well, who agreed with enthusiasm. He yearned for the opportunity to meet the man whom he had long held in admiration and awe.
 
The Right Rev. Bishop Wilson was seated at a small table in the office's private courtyard, bent over a small but messy stack of books and papers. Contrary to every etching and portrait St. John had seen of the great man at University—in which he invariably wore the cassock and alb of a learned reverend—here, clad in a simple shirt and waistcoat, only the starched lappets of his clerical collar marked him as any different from his chief clerk. St. John began to wonder if he had done wrong to accept the invitation, as if he had accidentally walked into a private dinner party. His discomfort must have shewn through, for the Bishop stood to greet them both with a welcoming hand.
 
“Mr. Patel, there you are and just in time. I was beginning to fear I would be left to my own devices with these ledgers. I have a surprise for tea, but who is our guest?”
 
“This is the Rev. Rivers, Bishop, the new teacher for Bow Bazar.”
 
“Yes, of course. Rev. Rivers!” he shook St. John's hand vigorously. “Sit down, sit down. So delighted to make your acquaintance. I heard you have just arrived yesterday. I do hope the voyage was amenable; it can be unpleasant making the sail this time of year. Sujay—ah, Mr. Patel told me of your visit. I regret missing you, but I was inspecting a new wing of the sanatorium all afternoon. Dr. Campbell came all the way from Darjeeling to look it over with me. What an energetic man, a visionary and learned in geology as well! Rev. Rivers, we shall have time to talk now, once tea is poured. Mr. Patel, this is the new tea Dr. Campbell is trying to cultivate on his hillside estates. Took the seeds from China, trying to grow the bushes on terraces. We shall see, we shall see. Do you like your tea black, Reverend?”
 
“Yes, thank you—” St. John started.
 
“Excellent, most excellent” Bishop Wilson cut him off. “Then Mr. Patel shall pour for all three of us. Mr. Patel, you have finished the enrolment lists for Bow Bazar, have you not?” Mr. Patel simply nodded as he poured. He was evidently well acquainted with the Bishop's powers of conversation. “Good, the Reverend can look them over whilst we chat. You have arrived in the middle of what we call the spring quarter—the school year is a bit different here, on account of the growing seasons—so you will have until the start of June to make your preparations. An energetic group of students this summer, mostly orphans and the poor, not all even baptised yet! We will work on that, of course. No point in educating them if they are to grow up as Moslems. How is your Bengali coming along?” He paused long enough to blow on his tea and St. John, sensing an opportunity, leapt into the breach.
 
“I have only just started, Bishop. I learnt Hindustani instead—”
 
“What a shame! That will never do. Are you good with languages, Reverend? I assume you are; you must be. Here—I will give you a few months grace to start learning Bengali. You must know at least a little before trying to teach our poor students their catechism! You can start in the autumn rather than summer. That will be better anyway. September is cooler, and the students don't learn much during summer—it's too hot to think, let alone, well, think. Let me tell you about the new sanatorium, Rev. Rivers … ”
 
St. John began to suspect he had already said everything he would say to the Right Rev. Bishop Wilson.
 
Lord, I thank Thee for this opportunity to meet one of Thy greatest servants. I also thank Thee for this opportunity to improve my patience, and for the reminder that gratitude is one of the higher virtues. Please, Lord, test me not overmuch.
 
By the time he arrived back at the British Officer's East India Club dusk had fallen and he was worn through. He did not take well to excited chatter at the best of times, and although he felt shame to even think it, the Bishop's giddiness had been as grating as it had been overwhelming. His nerves were rubbed raw and teeth set on edge by an afternoon of nodding and making polite noises at the flow of words crashing down upon his ears; all he hoped for was a dark room and a quiet pipe.
 
Alas for St. John! Such things were not to be, not yet. Cpt. Aquilaine already brooded in a corner of his sitting room, holding a neglected cigar in one hand and an equally neglected snifter of brandy in the other. He glanced up morosely at his guest.
 
“Your pardon—I can go back out. I shall study in the library, if you like—”
 
“No, please. Pray come in. I am happy for the company, although I regret I have little to say this evening.”
 
“Cpt. Aquilaine, would you think less of me if I said your words give me a great and singular joy?” St. John retired into the other chair, reaching for the tobacco. Cpt. Aquilaine raised a brow at him, questioningly, and St. John shook his head. They smiled at each other a little, as mutual misery is wont to raise spirits, and spent a more pleasant half-hour enjoying the company of a fellow-sufferer.
 
At the sound of the dinner-bell they roused themselves; Cpt. Aquilaine proposed they eat in, rather than face the dining room, and with very little fuss a footman brought up a selection of delicacies from the table. They ate their way hungrily through tender pork, curried vegetables and an excellent suet pie with raisins; St. John cautiously avoided everything that appeared to have spice in it. As he drained the last of his tea, he enquired as to the state of the Captain's day.
 
“Wretched, foul and overly-long. Some days everything about this country turns my stomach, and that is all I can charitably say on the matter. I do hope yours was more pleasant.”
 
“Regrettably not, Captain! I have finally met the Bishop, a man with the ability to talk nineteen-to-the-dozen for an hour straight, hardly pausing to draw breath. I have learnt of tea cultivation, parish accounts, my schooling assignment, the pitiable state of the Dalits, the geography of the Himalayas, a good deal about Charles Wesley, and an interminable amount about curry. Also, I have learnt that I am to find my own lodgings, as none are available through the parish. Does your offer of a room here still stand?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine beamed with great delight. “I shall take it up with the secretary in the morning.”
 
And so after the Captain located him a room, St. John sent for his luggage and settled into the British Officer's East India Club. His set of rooms, three doors down from Cpt. Aquilaine, were spare to the point of monkish simplicity: a bed, a table, two wicker chairs and a desk in the study. The price of residency was steep, or at least steeper than he was accustomed to paying, but the inheritance given to him by Jane Eyre was generous enough to keep him in comfort for years, if he chose. He quickly fell into a contented routine; a walk at dawn (before the heat overwhelmed the city), devotions, breakfast with Cpt. Aquilaine, a morning of studying Bengali, an afternoon reading on the history of Calcutta and India, dinner with the Captain in his rooms or—far less frequently—the dining hall, retiring to his well-supplied sitting room for drinks and conversation. Occasionally he attended Matins or Evensong, rather than observing the liturgy on his own; Cpt. Aquilaine never went to church. 
 
Sometimes they shared a walk and he learnt more of the city: the silver ½ rupees he had been handing out so profligately were actually a month's wages to the lower classes; do not attempt to shoo a bull away from a merchant's stall, even if it is eating all the poor man's cabbages; the upper castes consider suffering to be a just punishment upon the lowest castes, who had done something in a previous lifetime to deserve their misery, so try not to behave indignantly when a Brahmin's bodyguard strikes a beggar for being in the way of his master's feet.
 
The first Sabbath of the month St. John walked to the Cathedral for worship services; this also allowed him to pay respects to the Bishop without overmuch risk of being invited back to afternoon tea. On other Sundays he preferred a plain, low-church service closer to the Club. Every Thursday Cpt. Aquilaine either took a solitary walk through the city (steadfastly rejecting all offers of companionship) or was called away on urgent Sepoy business. He tended to be in a worse mood than usual on Thursdays.
 
One Thursday evening, six weeks after St. John signed his name to the Officer's Club register, Cpt. Aquilaine sank into an unusually sour state. St. John had grown used to these dark evenings and found them less hateful than he normally would; hearing such complaints coming from another man frequently roused him into lecture about patient suffering or the Will of God or the mortification of the flesh or some such. But he could not bring himself to do so with his friend, and merely sat and nodded in sympathy whilst the Captain began to talk.
 
He complained about the Sepoys and what difficulties he had trying to mould them into a fighting force, since they repeatedly refused to interact with fellow-soldiers of differing castes. He regretted, at length, the ill fortune that had taken his health and physical agility from him prematurely. Then, with a sharp look in his eye, he looked directly at St. John and said “Reverend, what do you think of women?”
 
“Why, I—” St. John frowned and looked down at his tonic with gin. He had recently adopted the Captain's habit of placing a single slice of lime in the drink. “I have known good women and bad women; I would be hard-pressed to make an equivocal statement on the subject.”
 
“So you do not think that they are, as a class, generally inferior?”
 
“Not necessarily; I suppose it matters how you define that word. For example, are they more domestic, more emotional, less rational and the physically-weaker sex? Yes, for certain. But a woman's hand can turn a house into a home, elevate men's thoughts to better and loftier planes, and they provide a civilising effect wherever they may be. And they are clearly well-suited to raise children, at least for the first few years when the babes are still tender. In short: they are frailer than us, often foolish and generally concerned with trivialities, but at their best can be brave, gentle, warm and devoted. I have met both types and whilst I clearly brook no patience with the former, the latter can be, well … think of our Queen. She exemplifies the best in women, does she not? Rules the nation with a soft but steady hand, does not allow her feminine emotions to overtake her good judgement, and retains wise counsellors to assist and advise on matters she does not well understand.”
 
He thought of Jane, who could never be accused of feebleness after her escape through the moors, and whose bravery and resolution were nonpareil, but who had fled security and jeopardised her soul for passion. The best and the worst of womanly traits, all residing in the same breast.
 
“Ha!” Cpt. Aquilaine refilled his brandy glass with a vigour, splashing fat drops of liquid onto his oriental carpeting. “Queen Victoria is the exception that heartily proves my rule. Women are fickle, emotional, treacherous, scheming, vain, greedy, and prone to lying. They burst into tears at the slightest provocation, waste money on bangles and feathers and slippers, fall into fits and fainting spells when their bad conduct is brought to bear, and serve no good purpose but to birth the next generation of humans. They do not even look attractive; all curves and softness. Give me the company of men any day. Men are straight, tall, proud, direct, reasonable, clever, rational and serious in their intentions. Plato was right to think men should keep the company of one another and leave women in the house to carry children and pray.”
 
“I do not recall Plato saying those exact words, Captain—”
 
“I am summarising. It was what he felt. Or perhaps it was Aristotle. Do you find them attractive, Reverend?”
 
“The Greeks? Or women?” St. John struggled to follow the flow of the conversation.
 
“Women, of course! The Greeks were beautiful. Slender hips, shapely arms, noble, masculine noses, strong jaws and such balanced proportioning. Well, the men were beautiful. I am not fond of their big-hipped, soft-chested women.” He finished the newly-poured glass of brandy.
 
St. John frowned in disapproval at the vulgarity. “I cannot say the attractiveness of women is ever something I lent much thought to, Cpt. Aquilaine. Certainly there are fine examples, but in general such matters do not interest me.”
 
“Not claiming fondness for women is an admirable thing, Rev. Rivers.”
 
“But I do not claim an especial fondness for men either. We men are also sinners in the eyes of the Lord, certainly better suited to governing and learning and business, but with our own unique troubles. Think of anger—that is a masculine trait, to be sure. And pride is found far more frequently in men than women. Or lust, that great corrupter—you cannot claim you have met many women who fall prey to lust or sex-sin.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine stared at his curling cigar smoke for a long minute. “Have you ever desired marriage, Reverend?”
 
St. John pursed his lips around his pipe, caught unawares yet again by the shift in topics. “A complicated question.”
 
“On the contrary—it is a simple one! You are being deliberately obtuse.” The Captain's voice grew louder. He was well into his cups.
 
St. John felt the anger rising in his breast. “It is not. And I am not obtuse; you are intoxicated. I did desire marriage once, with a friend whom I wished to have as a companion here in India, in my mission-work. However, she refused. I considered her a sister in Christ and would have treated her as such, if you understand my words. Such … other matters are too private to be casually discussed.”
 
The Captain fairly pounced on the Reverend's words. “You told me you had no tale of woe! If her refusal meant so little to you, then perhaps you cannot have thought much of her, after all. Which is it, then? Tragedy and woe, or less interest in marriage than you might otherwise claim?”
 
“Neither!” He spoke the word far angrier than he had intended; perhaps the gin was to blame. “Was I sorrowful at the time? Yes. Am I now? No, not in the slightest. I am entirely recovered, and so it is not tragic. I imagine I might marry still, if opportunity and a suitable companion for my work presented themselves. Women can be useful help-meets.”
 
“And yet you do not find that the Greek aesthetic holds any appeal to you?”
 
Finally, far too late to deflect the conversation gently, St. John understood what was being discussed. He was too worn to be anything but blunt. “I think the Greeks were magnificent artists and philosophers, Cpt. Aquilaine, but almost singular in some of their vices, the more effeminate ones especially. More to the point, they did not know the Light of Christ and for that I cannot think overmuch of them.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine's face turned a dark red. “I do not think you quite grasp the essence of what you are speaking about, Rev. Rivers.”
 
“I am no fool, Captain. I know science, I know scripture, and I know law. What you are referring to is unnatural, immoral, and a hanging offence.”
 
“There—you know far less than you think, in myriad ways. This is Calcutta, Reverend, and many things that are a crime back in England are perfectly lawful here. There is much that the East India Company does not see fit to ban.”
 
St. John curled up his lips in disgust. “The fact that the authorities would overlook such a transgression does not speak well for the moral health of the colony. Legal it may be here, but it still offends God.”
 
They glared at each other for a brief, furious moment. The Captain broke his gaze first.
 
“Perhaps I should be in my bed, Reverend.”
 
“Perhaps I should be in mine.” St. John stood and left.

 
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notes:
 
lappets – An old-fashioned clerical collar, consisting of two parallel lengths of starched white linen that hang down below the wearer's neck. Every single picture of Charles Wesley shews him wearing them; nevertheless, it was surprisingly difficult to discover what the “white hanging things” were actually called (other than a “clerical collar”), when one is in possession of any number of images and not one damn word of actual description. Indeed, Reader, it took me over an hour to learn their actual name. So: lappets. Please make note of it.
 
Darjeeling – It was 1841 before Dr. Campbell actually began his cultivation of Chinese teas in earnest, although he was transferred to Darjeeling in 1839. I like to think that what he gave the Bishop was an early test batch.
 
Charles Wesley – Wesley was an influential Anglican priest in the 18th century, known now mostly for the many hymns he wrote, including “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”.
 
Matins, Evensong – Two daily Anglican church services, the “Daily Office” (from the Latin officium, duty), intended for dawn and dusk respectively. Matins was also called Morning Prayer, and Evensong called Evening Prayer. Anglican priests were required by church law and deeply-held tradition to observe the Daily Office, from the day of their ordination to the day of their death.
 
low church – Low church describes a simple Anglican service focused primarily on the sermon and scripture; high church services place more emphasis on the rituals and traditions. Low church also tends to be more Calvinistic and evangelical, like a modern Protestant service, whereas high church resembles a Catholic service nowadays.
 
silver ½ rupees – The currency system of the East India Company was complicated, to put it gently. The EIC was originally divided into three administrative districts, called Presidencies, all of which minted their own coins (although the silver rupee was standard throughout). Each Presidency also issued a wide variety of copper coins representing differing fractions of a rupee. In 1835, a single coinage system was introduced: 1 rupee, ½ rupee and ¼ rupee coins, all in silver; 1 rupee could also be divided into 16 copper annas, or 64 paise, or 192 pies. These new denominations of coins all coexisted with the previous currencies of the three presidencies, adding to the confusion; many places, especially in larger and more-British cities, also took pounds, shillings and pence.
 
The rate of exchange between shillings and rupees in 1840s Calcutta was, very roughly, 2 shillings per rupee. At that time, the wages of a coolie were approximately 12 – 14 shillings a year (6 – 7 rupees), and a skilled labourer such as a carpenter might make 25 – 30 shillings a year (13 – 15 rupees). So St. John was, in effect, handing out a month's wages every time he gave a rickshaw driver a ½ rupee coin. No wonder he got mobbed by beggars.
 
Greeks – see the note in Chapter 7 for more discussion.
 
big-hipped, soft-chested women – Victorian misogyny is a thing to behold.
 
a hanging offence – Sodomy was punishable by hanging in England until 1861, and not fully legalised until 1967. In India, however, it did not become illegal until 1860.
 

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John travels to the Indian Countryside, meets a Boorish Man, listens to a Sad Story, drinks Pale Ale, and finds himself unaccountably troubled by the Greek Aesthetic.

 

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The next morning St. John awoke still unsettled by the previous night's conversation. Devotions were almost entirely thwarted by the recollection of the angry words he and his friend had exchanged. He did not know if he should present some sort of an apology for his too-direct rebuff, take offence at the earthy discussion of Greeks and Cpt. Aquilaine's assumptions as to his own temperament, acknowledge—only in private, of course—that the Captain was rather more perceptive than his somewhat guileless nature would otherwise indicate, or ignore the entire episode under the theory that 'lyttle sayde, soone amended.'
 
He hesitated at the door of the dining room when he saw Cpt. Aquilaine already well into his breakfast, but the Captain called him over jovially, all traces of the previous night's temper vanished like the dew at dawn.
 
“My dear Reverend, I have received a letter from an old friend, Colonel Fitzpatrick,” he exclaimed, waving the envelope about. “We were friends at Cambridge, and then shipped out to India together; now his family owns an indigo plantation up river, outside Hugli, and he is staying there for the summer. I am invited to go and stay for a week, try my hand at hunting the exotic game and generally mess about on safari. Would you care to come too? This might be an excellent opportunity to see some of the wilds of the continent before setting out into it on foot.”
 
“Most excellent indeed! But I am—that is—I regret raising my voice at you last night, Cpt. Aquilaine. I do not know what came over me. We broached a more tender subject than I expected, and I cannot accept your invitation without first apologising for my hot words.”
 
The Captain held out his hand and gave a warm, easy smile. “No, it is I who must give apology. I was distemperate last night, drank far too much alcohol and said all manner of nonsense. I should model my behaviour on yours and learn to curb my passions. Now, let us set it aside and think of better things instead. I shall write back and inform Col. Fitzpatrick of our departure date; Sanyal can make arrangements for a barge, no need to worry about hunting supplies … ” he chatted on between bites of soft-boiled egg.
 
How odd are we humans! I am inclined to brood and be melancholy for days after a sharp disagreement with a friend; the Captain's moods are as quicksilver, and he apparently holds no grudge for long. What a fine thing that must be. But I suppose I cannot claim perfect constancy myself; were the Bishop Wilson to prattle on like this I would be gritting my teeth and curling my toes. But when Cpt. Aquilaine does so it is no irritation; no, rather I find it lifts my spirits to have him be genial with me.
 
The next few days were a happy time filled with planning, packing, discussions of hoped-for animal sightings, pouring through maps of the local geography and settling affairs for the week. Cpt. Aquilaine took time away from his training duties with such ease that St. John suspected, with some sad feeling, that his position was more sinecure than necessary appointment. And St. John had, until the end of summer, no obligations whatsoever. Their journey itself—two days on a well-appointed river barge, followed by 12 jolting hours in a carriage over dirt roads—was mercifully uneventful, for which even Cpt. Aquilaine gave thanks in a rare burst of genuine piety.
 
The plantation, in all its imperial glory, offended St. John from the first moment he set eyes on it. The showy opulence of the main drive leading to the manor, paved brick that ran over acres of manicured lawn to the white-columned porch (if the humble word porch can be affixed to such an elaborate colonnade), the decadence of the rooms draped with tiger skins, ivory tusks and the stuffed heads of a legion of deceased animals, the elegant hardwood floors and furniture overwhelmed by gilt and gems and silken tassels, the fawning servility of an army of barefoot natives waving fans and opening doors or simply standing in the corners, enforced uselessness a testament to their lord's wealth and taste—the corruption of power and luxury saturated every inch of the place. The Officer's Club seemed positively monastic in comparison.
 
Lord, I have always put my faith in Thy teachings on wealth and power, and how glad I am for it. Here, before my sinner's eyes, is the epitome of how riches become a blight on the soul. How deeply the Colonel must hate Thee, Lord, for ye cannot serve both God and Mammon; this estate is Mammon personified! God keep me pure.
 
Even Cpt. Aquilaine appeared a bit awed by the manor, although he seemed perfectly at ease by the time their host arrived.
 
“Fitzpatrick! You look as fine as always. Taking up the life of the gentleman rather than the soldier, I see? What a splendid summer house you have! Here, meet my friend Rev. Rivers—from Yorkshire, near your ancestral lands. He wants to see a proper safari; I knew you could oblige!”
 
“My God, Aquilaine you rogue, you haven't changed a nonce in two years, except for your hobbling around like a cripple. Damn, but it's good to set eyes on you again!” He gave St. John a brief handshake. “Reverend, the pleasure is mine. Come, come—come inside and sit. Beastly journey you must have had, stuck on a barge with all those natives. If I'd have known I'd have organised a decent sort of boat.”
 
Col. Fitzpatrick ushered them through a magnificent sitting room, replete with rugs and lamps and palms and portraits and turbaned house-servants. The Colonel dismissed it all with a casual hand. “I keep meaning to update this place—my father had it all put in, and it looks like a bloody Moslem seraglio. I have plans to redo the entire east wing in a modern Grecian style, vases and columns and vines everywhere, put all the coolies in Greek tunics and make 'em wander around with grapes. Assuming we can get the gardeners to work out how to grow grapes here. You know I had two vintners shipped in from France and they still haven't managed to grow a decent red?”
 
Lord, what have I done to offend Thee so, that Thou continuest to put me through such suffering? This man is alike to the Bishop, only more offensive to my ears and abominably rude to the Captain, to boot. Pray be merciful, O Lord, and do not make me spend an entire week in this Philistine's presence.
 
Dinner was an interminable seven course affair. Col. Fitzpatrick and Cpt. Aquilaine drank liberally, reminisced about the army, complained about politics in India (“too favourable to the natives, who never managed to do anything with the place on their own”, the Colonel declared), chewed over past adventures in Calcutta and laughed at their wasted university days. St. John drank water with lemon, composed indignant letters to Jane in his head (“My dear Jane Eyre, your sensible heart would break to see the immoderation of the typical Indian country estate … ”) and spoke exactly once, during an anecdote Col. Fitzpatrick was telling St. John about the time he and the Captain were severely reprimanded by a Classics Don for circulating a compilation of poetry by Catullus and Martial, featuring verses not generally emphasised in higher education.
 
“ … and he kept repeating, 'why would you include the 16th poem? It has no literary value, no redeeming features of any type, and is entirely unsuited to the sober English constitution!' until finally I could not bear it a moment more, and I leant over right into his face and I said, 'Sir, we are hardly your sober Englishmen. The Italian blood in our veins is far too hot for the lukewarm pabulum you claim is important. Leave the sterner stuff to the likes of Marco and Placido, unless you want us to form too strong a curiosity as to why the Fellows keep the paedicabo ego vos et irrumabo for themselves.' He went white as milk, and that was the last we ever heard of it!” He gave the Reverend a look of bravado, as if challenging his guest to condemn the Colonel's past misadventures.
 
St. John refused to be drawn into an argument. He was well acquainted with the two responses people generally gave when first encountering a man of the cloth; they either looked vaguely guilty and attempted to conceal that guilt with piety, or they looked defiant, as if to shew that they had nothing of which to be ashamed. Furthermore, he could think of nothing worthwhile to say, as his entire mind was currently filled with two words: Italian and Marco. But he could not be rude; his host demanded a response. And so he spoke the first thing that came to his mind.
 
“I have not heard the Christian name 'Placido' before. Pray tell me its provenance.”
 
Col. Fitzpatrick sighed dramatically, enjoying the invitation to both complain and boast simultaneously. “It is a family name, and a curse. My maternal grandmother, the Contessa di Monferrato, was very stubborn and insisted on naming me after my papist saint's day. Really, what can you expect from an Italian woman? She christened me Placido to my eternal disgrace, because I assure you I am no Catholic, and any man caught calling me such shall taste my fists for dinner. Alas, che sera sera. But at least 'Placido' is a genteel name. I suppose I am obliged to her that is was not something appallingly bad, like 'Giuseppe'.” With that he dismissed the Reverend from his thoughts entirely and went back to griping about the ingratitude of the coolies, who failed to recognise or acknowledge all the benefits their British masters had brought.
 
St. John did not listen; his mind was otherwise occupied. If their host's anecdote was true even in part, then the Captain had been—at the very least—not entirely straight with him. Assuming the Italian blood was on his mother's side (his father providing the German surname), and presuming that 'Marco' was a childhood affectation (unless 'Marcus' was the nickname) it all still meant that suddenly, St. John knew far less about his travelling companion than he had thought five minutes prior. The idea was hardly comforting, given present circumstances. He made eye contact with Cpt. Aquilaine across the table, narrowing his gaze as he did. A troubled look crossed the Captain's face, so swiftly that St. John nearly thought he had dreamt it. This gave even less reassurance.
 
That night, St. John retired early to think on his predicament. Although on one level he felt he understood his friend very well indeed, on another level they were entirely strangers, or so it seemed. As he lay on top of his bed clad only in a shirt and trousers, sullenly watching blue curls of smoke float towards the ceiling and listening to the night-noises of the birds, he was startled out of reverie by a quiet knocking at the door. He opened it to find a similarly-clad Cpt. Aquilaine standing in the hallway, evidently in such great mental distress that he had neglected to bring his cane.
 
“Reverend, please, may I come in? I do so want to see you.” St. John bade him enter and Cpt. Aquilaine, after closing the door carefully behind him, stood nervously in the centre of the room. He clasped his hands before him like a penitent whilst the Reverend glared at him hard from the edge of the bed. The silence grew long; St. John spoke first.
 
“Ever since dinner, Sir, I have spent my evening trying to deduce exactly how dishonest you have been with me, and why. I will agree to the possibility that I am mistaken in every respect, and I hope you will reassure me that I am. Otherwise I must protest; you have placed me in a very bad situation, under entirely false pretence, and I cannot think on why you would have done so. Captain, pray explain! Who are you? What is your lineage, and what is your name?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine hastened to satisfy him. “I suspected you would be concerned, and I wish to assure you, Reverend, that my name is indeed Marcus Aquilaine, and has been ever since I was a mere infant. I cannot remember a time in which it was not. But I was originally named after my father, who was born Marco L'Aquila in Naples, and I am in fact part Italian, rather than part Prussian. The Colonel is one of only a scant handful of people who know the truth, and I wish so dearly that he had not brought it up. I never intended any harm in the deception; it is simply as I have always explained my family.”
 
St. John was both more and less than satisfied by this answer. “Why would you claim to be Prussian, not Italian? I cannot think why you would hide such a thing. Are you ashamed of your olive complexion? It is hardly noticeable, I assure you; anyone would think it merely the effects of the sun. There is more to all of this, then, is there not?”
 
His friend nodded wretchedly. “But if you would only believe me: other than the name, and the nationality, I am in every way the same man. The rest is … not relevant.”
 
The temptation to yield was strong, but St. John shook his head, resolute. “You have misled me once, and must pay the penalty—for now you must come clean, entirely! The burden of proof is on you, I am afraid.” His voice was firm and cold.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine hesitated for a long minute, wavering between confession and outright refusal. St. John watched the emotions dance around his face; then his shoulders slumped and he cast his gaze down to the carpet. He looked so distraught that St. John relented a little.
 
“It cannot be as bad as all that, Captain! Are you hiding some sort of criminal misdeed? You do not, frankly, seem like the type to hold a truly shady past. You have a good heart and an honest demeanour. Be straight with me and you will feel better for it, and I shall not judge harshly as long as you speak true.” He patted the bed and eventually Cpt. Aquilaine sat next to him, flinching as if about to receive a blow.
 
“It is a long tale, although I shall try to be brief. It is sordid and stupid, and you will think very little of me. By the end I am certain you will wish no further contact, and I will not even be able to blame you. I imagine I would feel the same, should our positions be reversed.”
 
St. John took in the forlorn lines of his countenance and the sorrow pulling down the corners of his lips. Perhaps that is why he spoke more hotly than he intended. “I assure you, I would not. A parson hears everything in time. Furthermore, having recently been three months aboard a ship with all manner of sailors, I do not believe I could be shocked at this point. Pray continue, if you please.”
 
The Captain cheered slightly at this, going so far as to even give St. John a wan smile. “We shall see, then. But let me at least finish the tale before you throw me out?”
 
“Of course.”
 
“The tragedy is that none of it was my doing, but it reflects so poorly on me that I take pains to hide it nonetheless. It is so cruel how family scandals reflect badly on innocent children! A respectable name is important, or we would not prize good breeding, but it is hard to spend an entire lifetime under the shadow of someone else's misdeeds.
 
“The whole wretched business actually starts with the mother and father of my uncle, Harold Staniford. When Harold was a youth his father passed on, and when some years later he went off to Cambridge (also to St. John's college), his mother, not willing to sit in an empty house, took a Grand Tour to pass the time. In Naples she met an Italian man named Luciano L'Aquila, a cad by every estimation, and fell wildly in love with him. That is no crime, of course, but she also went about with Lady Hamilton's set.”
 
“Good God. You are serious?” The Reverend raised his brows in a fascinated sort of shock. Lady Hamilton bestowed scandal upon everyone who came in contact with her famous beauty and equally famous loose morals. The Rivers had never been anything but dull and respectable. They knew nobody worth mentioning, and had never associated with anyone more disreputable than their mother's brother John, who had been ruined in a business speculation (one which also, regrettably, sunk the Rivers' own fortunes).
 
Cpt. Aquilaine nodded and winced. “Uncle's mother—my grandmother—and Mr. L'Aquila, who was my paternal grandfather, were married in the fullness of time, and a few months later—four, I am told—my father Marco L'Aquila was born.
 
“So: English grandmother and Italian grandfather living in Naples, raising my father. Meanwhile Uncle Harold, back home, learns of his mother's remarriage, the birth of his considerably-younger half-brother, and all his mother's scandalous to-dos. He has always been a very quiet man and kept things to himself, so whatever he may have thought, he said nothing. When my father was five, Luciano sent Grandmother and Marco back to England. This was a few years after the start of the French Revolution, and the situation in Naples had become very unstable. So they left, he died shortly afterwards defending his native city from Napoleon, and my father was raised by his mother and half-brother back in Silchester. Do you follow all this so far?”
 
“Perfectly.” Despite his intentions, St. John found the story quite intriguing.
 
“My father was completely indulged by his mother, who stuffed him full of tales about Luciano's heroism in war, and Uncle Harold doted on him as well. Father was reported to be quite charming. But he did not go to Cambridge or any other university, he demonstrated no aptitude for managing an estate or having a decent career, and in fact he did very little other than spend money and go to balls. When he was 24 my grandmother passed on and, after insisting on his share of the family estate, he moved to London. Uncle Harold always gave in to him. In London he joined up with various ne'er-do-wells, including Lady Hamilton and her set! (This was before she was imprisoned for debt, of course.) They took my father under their wings, he heard yet more nonsense about the brave Luciano L'Aquila and his noble death, and was encouraged in every sort of vice. Gambling, drinking, whoring, cheating at cards, until one day … ” the Captain's voice trailed off.
 
“Do go on,” St. John urged. “Your history is indeed rather more colourful than you had led me to believe, but I am not yet ready to flee.” The mood in the small room lightened slightly.
 
“I am glad you have not run into the sitting room in horror, because this is where I make my appearance at least, and it is shameful in every possible way. My father met a music-hall singer and, as is the custom with young rakes and music-hall girls, soon discovered he was to have a child. I was born in January of 1814, and my father, in a frenzy of hubris and wine, bet extravagantly on a card game and lost. He was utterly impoverished and disgraced (for he had no way to pay the wager he had made, of course), and then my mother died a mere week after giving birth to me. So my father, sensing his errant ways closing in about him, wrote a frantic and penitent letter to Uncle Harold, confessing all and begging for aid; Uncle, who still could not say no to his younger half-brother, flew down to London, hoping to make everything well. But my father simply handed me over to him with the words 'this is my son, I name him Marco L'Aquila after myself,' and left for the continent, off to war and his next adventure.
 
“Between paying off the considerable gambling, lodging, and drinking debts, poor Uncle was half-ruined financially. He was forced to sell off much of the estate he had so carefully maintained and improved, the ancient Staniford lands. Moreover, the names 'Staniford' and 'L'Aquila' were forever tainted in Society's eyes. My father Marco died fighting Napoleon a few months later—father and grandfather both lost to the same wicked man!—and Uncle Harold, determined to halt the shame my family had fallen under, Anglicised my name and made his best possible attempt to raise me as a proper, decently-behaved English youth. And I have tried—I love my Uncle dearly, and in every way he has been like a father to me—but no one is perfect. I have my true father's restless spirit, and his love of the army, and … sometimes I fear there is far too much of him in me.”
 
He straightened up abruptly. “So that is the measure of me, Reverend. I am the natural son of a father who cheated at cards and a mother who sang in music-halls, and I possess a scandalous family stretching back three full generations now. Can you understand why I give the story I do? Why I wish people to ask as few questions as possible?”
 
St. John nodded; he was quite transfixed by the saga and marvelled at how his friend managed to go about with a happy demeanour. Respectable people would reject Cpt. Aquilaine if they knew his story, and those with a good family name like 'Rivers' would, back home, shun him entirely. So he spoke far more gently than another man might have, under the circumstances, wanting to ensure the Captain did not misinterpret a word.
 
“I would say, Sir, that I have always endeavoured to be a faithful Christian. And no true Christian should consider a father's sins in how he treats the son. Society may condemn your provenance but I cannot. I could never.”
 
A wave of emotion passed over the Captain's face. “Thank you. You are kind.” He sat a little straighter, as if a great burden had lifted from him. St. John, however, never content to simply rest and enjoy a peaceful moment, pressed on with what else bothered him.
 
“I think you shall have to explain why you took me here, however. You cannot have thought I would like the Colonel! I wonder how you can stand him, either.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine's mood abruptly shifted yet again, and now he looked sheepish and contrite, rather than distraught. “Col. Fitzpatrick was good to me at Cambridge, and for that I am more than grateful to him. Moreover, he has always been most liberal with his money. There is much I would like to shew you of India, and so many things I would do with you, but they all require money, or health, or both. The family funds never recovered after my father's ruinous adventures in London and, unless someone lowers me through a roof to Christ Himself, I am destined to be lame. I only brought you here to enjoy the jungles and maybe see a tiger, not to make you miserable. I swear it!”
 
“You are thoughtful, Captain! And have no worry—I shall enjoy myself. Now I am quite determined to do so.”
 
“And you will continue to be my friend, even knowing I am … a bastard?”
 
To this sad query St. John had no answer, unless it was to place a hand on Cpt. Aquilaine's knee. “Captain, did I not already tell you I will never condemn a crime not of your own making? I am sorry to see you living your whole life under the shadow of your father's sin.”
 
“I feel I can never be forgiven for it, no matter how I try.”
 
“But that is the joyful news: God forgives! We cannot earn salvation by trying, but have only to ask. And you do not even have to ask; you have nothing to need forgiveness for.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine paused a long moment, worrying at his fingernails. “And if I ever do something that needs forgiving, would you grant me that?”    
 
“For you, Sir, always! Yes, for you and for anyone who repents.”
 
The Captain placed his large brown hand over St. John's pale one. They sat in silence, staring into the middle distance and sharing an understanding words could but poorly articulate. Then Cpt. Aquilaine let his gaze drift up to the stuffed hyena mounted on the wall, its mouth eternally bared in an unconvincing snarl.
 
“What a terrible house this is,” he whispered. He suddenly started chuckling and tried to smother the noise with his hands. “What an awful, ugly place. I hope we find some good in all this.” St. John joined him in mirth, from relief as much as amusement, and they both choked down laughter until they were near to breathless. He patted Cpt. Aquilaine on the back as the Captain stood to leave.
 
“Sleep, with an easier heart! And next time you are tempted to hide some secret from me, remember this night.”
 
“I shall try. Thank you for your reassurance, and your understanding. Good night.”

 
The next day, to their mutual joy—entirely submerged beneath deliberately downcast faces, the only exception being a quick glance between themselves over the selection of marmalades—Col. Fitzpatrick announced with regret that he was forced to spend the day sorting out production issues at one of the dyeing facilities. He encouraged them to explore the grounds at their leisure, and promised he would be back in time for dinner.
 
They spent the morning wandering through the various gardens, which included a traditional English herb garden, a medieval-style labyrinth, a garden shewing off fine specimens of native flowers, and a garden dedicated entirely to orchids. Their host even had a row of box-trees trimmed into the letters of his name: PLACIDO FITZPATRICK, the trees read. Cpt. Aquilaine declared it the gaudiest thing he had yet seen.
 
“More so than the stuffed elephant's head in the drawing room, the one with the gilded tusks?”
 
“Phew—I had hoped to strike that from my mind entirely. Thank you so much, Reverend.”
 
They discovered a battledore-and-shuttlecock court behind the labyrinth and played an hour of bowls (“for our respective colleges,” the Captain suggested). Cpt. Aquilaine, once he had shewn St. John how the game ran its course, was perturbed to learn that the Rev. Rivers had very good aim indeed, although he looked rather undignified in only a shirt and waistcoat, crouching with a furious intensity over the green to determine the best lie for the next shot, pipe jutting out the side of his mouth and one hand tugging absentmindedly at the whiskers on his cheek.
 
After the game reached its inevitable conclusion (“Hup, hup, Trinity!” St. John could not resist saying), they returned to the manor for a luncheon picnic basket and hiked to a small lake a half-mile past the gardens. As Cpt. Aquilaine poked around at the banks with his cane, St. John spread a blanket and lay out chopped egg salad, small meat pasties with curry, oranges, mangoes, and a large brown bottle of … he could not determine what.
 
“Captain, what have they given us to wash down our food? It does not look like wine.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine twisted off the wires lashing the cork in place and sniffed. A slow, happy look spread across his tanned face. “Beer, Reverend! Probably made dans la maison, and now we have a reason to be genuinely grateful to our host. It is an Indian pale ale—do you know much of beer?”
 
“Not a thing. You must tell me more.” And so they ate whilst Cpt. Aquilaine told him more than he ever cared to know concerning the history of beer, monkish breweries, brewing styles, aromatics, and hop varieties. The bright afternoon light sparkled on the surface of the lake and the grass below them glowed as green as any well-tended lawn in England; the heat, however, was entirely Indian and lay on them like a woollen blanket. But the beer was cool and crisp, excellent for reviving men who had gone limp in the hot sun. After the crumbs of the luncheon were packed away the Captain declared he would take a swim, explaining that the water made his leg feel almost whole again, that he nearly forgot the injury. St. John lounged on one elbow with his pipe, feeling the less-wholesome effects of the beer as well, whilst the Captain slipped off everything but his cotton smalls and dived under.
 
The Reverend watched from the bank as Cpt. Aquilaine splashed around in the clear water, bobbed back and forth across the lake, gave up on the breaststroke and finally floated on his back, eyes tightly shut. (He tried not to notice how undyed cotton became so transparent, when wet, that he could catch an occasional glimpse of the scars on the Captain's injured thigh.) He had already seen that in nearly every action, no matter how commonplace—be it swimming, eating, exploring, or losing at bowls—the Captain made attempt to enjoy the situation and embrace his circumstances. St. John wondered when last, if ever, he had himself been so carefree or unthinkingly happy. Never, perhaps.
 
It does not signify. I have made my choice to serve God, forsaking all else. And the purpose of Man is to serve, not to make merry.
 
He also could not help but notice, when Cpt. Aquilaine emerged from the lake to sun-dry, moving through various military calisthenics to stretch his back and legs, that the Captain's physique very much resembled one of the Greek sculptures he had described just nights earlier. Beads of water ran off his robust arms and broad shoulders, down a torso hewn as if from marble to vanish in his wet breeches. Dark hair stuck to his forehead over a straight Roman nose and square jaw line. Narrow hips, muscular thighs, and well-turned calves completed the statuesque Cpt. Marcus Aquilaine.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine turned to ask if they could stay a bit longer, hoping to nap in the shade, but hesitated—for no longer than the single beat of a happy heart—before voicing his question. St. John realised, with a sudden flush of his cheeks, that the pause had been because St. John was staring at him, somewhat boldly. He glanced down to fiddle with his pipe whilst replying Yes, yes, of course they could stay as long as the Captain desired. And so they lingered, as the Captain dozed and St. John, leaning up against the tree, puffed determinedly at his pipe and tried not to look. He whispered a humble prayer of thanks on the way back to the manor that his friend was such a gracious gentleman; Cpt. Aquilaine gave no further indication, in word or deed, that he knew he had captured the Reverend's eye.
 
That night he knelt on the rug to recite his usual Evensong psalms and devotions and added a sincere, slightly desperate petition not found generally in the Book of Common Prayer.
 
Lord, I beseech Thee, forgive me for wayward thoughts. I know not what came over me. Thou alone knowest how I have striven against impurity and needs of the flesh. How I have struggled to bear my personal cross of shame as Thou didst struggle to bear Thine. How I have always fought to keep my mind on Thee, and Thee alone, rejecting all others. Perhaps I have grown complacent, in the years since Cambridge. I should never have assumed to put such youthful weaknesses entirely behind me. We are all sinners, Lord, myself most of all—please, Lord, be merciful. Give me the strength and the will to claim victory over this failure as I have, through Thy Grace, claimed victory so many times in the past. Amen.
 
With that, he retired to bed.         

 
He is walking through the labyrinth; the hedges loom overhead and have grown so close to the heavens that only flashes of sunlight can be seen, dappling his cloak with bright patches of yellow. The grass beneath his feet glows green like it did by the river. He carries a bowl, the red one with the white stripe, as red as the Captain's army coat, but it smells sweet like a ripening apple, or maybe it is like the apple Eve offered to Adam, crisp rind but rotten flesh. He holds it gently so it does not bruise. Every step he takes gives such gratification that his feet compel him to walk despite his mind's fearing what he will find in the end. His heart beats faster in his breast; he stands at a corner and burns to know what is on the other side. He rounds the corner. Marcus stands in the centre of the labyrinth, fresh from the lake, naked but for his breeches and dripping wet, but St. John does not wonder at this because he is standing on a cliff, on the edge staring at the ocean below and wants to lean over and see better the crashing waves. He holds out the bowl, offers it to Marcus. This is yours. You mislaid it but I am returning it to you. I hope it is not rotten. Marcus takes the bowl—no, the apple—and bites into it, juicy and sweet. He smiles so gently at St. John, reaches over and touches him on the cheek, says It is good; this apple that you have brought me is so good and St. John falls over the cliff to the water below as waves of joy, his footstep's long-awaited conclusion, rush through his body, heart pounding and blood like the sound of the ocean roaring in his ears. He is wet, wet like Marcus from the waves but glowing, fulfilled, because he has arrived at his destination and found his friend at the centre. I am here, Marcus, I am here with you.

 
St. John woke slowly, happily, as loose-limbed and sleep-satisfied as he had felt in many a year. He stared up into the dark, trying to gather flickering visions from the dream that had quenched a long-simmering need as if with cool water. A labyrinth, an apple, ocean waves, a whispering voice.
 
He shifted his hips, almost imperceptibly, and froze as he finally grew aware of the sticky coolness in his lap. In one fell blow he recalled his dream in full, and the words of Tertullian drifted unbidden through his mind: in that last breaking wave of delight, do we not feel something of our very soul go out from us? St. John was no superstitious medievalist; he knew the powers of sin and temptation; he wholly rejected the tales of succubi. He could not lay the guilt at anyone's feet but his own.
 
What have I done? And Marcus Aquilaine, what have you done to me?
 
 
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notes:
 
 
Mammon – wealth or greed, from Matthew 6:24.
 
modern Grecian style – The rage for Grecian fashions came and went throughout the Regency and Victorian periods. During the Regency, especially at the turn of the 19th century, women wore Grecian-style dresses and jewelry; Jane Austen mentions in Sense and Sensibility that Fanny Dashwood, new mistress of Norland Park, spoke excitedly of her plans to tear down the ancient grove of walnut trees and put a ruined Greek temple in their place. By the 1830s the trend had moved into architecture and the Greek Revival became extremely popular.
 
Philistine's presence – A Philistine, in this sense, is a materialistic person whose superior attitude makes them disdainful towards art, intellectualism, and knowledge.
 
paedicabo ego vos et irrumabo – Catullus 16 was written as a response to several of his critics, who called him soft and unmasculine because of the subject matter of his other poems. Notorious for its crude language, up until the second half of the 20th century many Latin texts simply omitted the poem's more colourful verses; those that did provide English-Latin translations, such as the Loeb series, either translated it into Italian or simply left it in Latin, forcing generations of young scholars to puzzle it out with dictionaries that might or might not provide definitions of the key words. Latin is very exacting with its obscenities, and the poem leaves no question unanswered as to what Catullus intended for its addressees. It begins with the famous phrase paedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, “I will fuck you in the ass and face-fuck you.”
 
Placido – St. Placidus is the patron saint of Messina; his saint's day is October 5.
 
che sera sera – Che sera sera is ungrammatical and unknown in spoken Italian; it is just as unknown and ungrammatical in Spanish. The now-common phrase, Que sera sera, was made popular by a 1956 song of the same name. The songwriter supposedly took the words from a 1954 movie in which the phrase (in Italian!) is a family's motto, carved into their stone castle; he later said he changed the words to Spanish as it was a more widely spoken language. However, che sera sera also appears in the first scene of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Clearly, then, the Colonel is merely taking the opportunity to flaunt his classical education.
 
Grand Tour – It was quite popular for upper class gentleman (and ladies, in the 1800s) to take a tour through Europe, especially Italy, to see the famous sites of the Renaissance and the romantic ruins of classical antiquity. It enhanced their high-brow education, allowed them to return with art and literature not generally available in England (that could then be shewn off in their drawing rooms), and gave them a chance to be away from normal society.
 
Lady Hamilton – Emma, Lady Hamilton, was arguably the most famous and scandalous woman of her time. She started life as an impoverished maid, worked for a theatre, was hired to host parties for wealthy aristocrats, and ended up meeting and becoming the mistress of Charles Greville, MP. As his mistress she sat for a long series of classically-themed paintings and sketches by the artist George Romney, which greatly increased her presence in Society; she became well-known for her beauty and taste. In 1791 she married Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to Naples.
 
Lady Hamilton became close friends with Queen Maria of Naples, and also with Admiral Nelson; she and the Admiral fell in love when she helped nurse him back to health after the Battle of the Nile in 1798. All three—Lord and Lady Hamilton, and Admiral Nelson—returned to England in 1799, and began to live openly together in Lord Hamilton's house, to the scandalised delight of Society. Lady Hamilton then gave birth to Nelson's child, Lord Hamilton bought a house that the three of them lived in (Lady Hamilton's mother joined them as well), and the British Admiralty, tremendously embarrassed by Nelson's behaviour, tried to send him back to sea. In short order, Lord Hamilton died, Lady Hamilton became pregnant by Nelson again, their baby died soon after birth, and then Admiral Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar.
 
A mountain of debts eventually overwhelmed her, as she was a profligate spender, and in 1813 was confined to King's Bench Open Prison for debtors. But she had not yet fallen into obscurity; while in prison, she was once visited by the Prince of Wales (who at that time was, incidentally, Prince Regent and effective King of England). In 1814 she was temporarily bailed out by friends, and took the opportunity to flee to France, where she lived very quietly in an attempt to avoid her creditors. She died in 1815, when her liver failed.
 
natural son – a polite, archaic term for “illegitimate”.
 
lowers me through a roof – Luke 5:17-26.
 
bowls – Bowls, also called lawn bowling, is the English version of bocce ball. The individual balls each player throws are also referred to as bowls.
 
dans la maison – in the house, i.e. brewed by the Colonel's estate.
 
Indian pale ale – The story that India pale ales were standard ales, but very strongly hopped under the theory that the higher alcohol content would preserve them on the long voyage to India, is a lovely story indeed. It is probably not true. More prosaically, it was probably a particular brewer's pale ale (which was more hoppy, but no stronger than another comparable ale) that proved popular in India, so other brewers started similar beers entitled “Indian” to meet the growing demand. The specific phrase “India Pale Ale” first appeared in 1835, although the style itself was likely older by at least 100 years. Before then the beer was called “India Ale” or “Pale Ale for India” or similar.
 
smalls – undergarments.
 
succubi – A succubus was a demonic mythological figure, always female, that appeared to men in their sleep and seduced them. They were often blamed for what are now called nocturnal emissions.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John repents his Weakness, rides in a Howdah, makes an Unpleasant Realisation, and begins to reconsider his Mission.


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St. John emerged from his bed as the last stars were leaving the sky and walked along the road to the entrance of the great estate. He tried to compose himself to the extent that he could look Cpt. Aquilaine in the eye without blushing in shame or worse—his dream had awoken not only debased thoughts but unexpectedly fond feelings as well.

Have I long felt thus about the Captain, or am I merely deceived by the echoes of this impure vision? I pray it is the latter; brotherly affections are a gift from God, but what my soul and body seem to hope for is something tainted.

It being the Sabbath, he recited psalms, sang a hymn, whispered the appointed verses and, in short, made nearly every good attempt to purge his agitation. He considered asking God to forgive him or begging the Lord to remove these desires; he did neither. The Lord had not yet seen fit to lift St. John's cross from his shoulders, despite all his years of prayer, and he did not imagine it would suddenly leave him today of all days. Nor could he bring himself to ask forgiveness until he had sufficiently proved to the Lord—and himself—that he would never commit such an act again. Go thou and sin no more came part-and-parcel with atonement, and although he may have counselled Cpt. Aquilaine to accept grace as a gift from God, not a prize to be earnt, St. John did not feel that this especially applied to him. He, being a man of the cloth, must needs demonstrate a better repentance.

By the time he had resolved to work off his sins, a singularly papist belief that he chose to overlook for the time being, the sun was rising and he felt compelled to put in an appearance at breakfast, painful as the ordeal might be. It would begin his penance.

St. John was nibbling on a plantain, uncertain as to whether he considered the fruit tasty or no, when Cpt. Aquilaine crept into the dining room. His stomach leapt inexplicably at the Captain's careworn expression. I must not be so glad to see him, nor so concerned that he is low. We are merely friends. He is often low. But when the Captain saw St. John his countenance brightened immediately.

“Good morning, Reverend! I must say the swimming has done its trick, and my leg is the better for it; that was the finest rest I have had the joy to experience in months. Was your sleep equally refreshing?”

St. John stared at him in a kind of panic, unable to prevent his wilful mind from skimming over several intimate details of his dream: the Captain clad in little more than God gave him, the bowl, the ocean waves—he set his jaw and gave Cpt. Aquilaine a cool nod.

“I am well, thank you.”

Cpt. Aquilaine seemed taken aback by his disinterested response and turned to the side-table and breakfast offerings. When he sat down he was peeling an apple with his knife. As St. John clutched reflexively at his silverware, knuckles bloodless with tension, Col. Fitzpatrick chose that moment to fairly bound into the room, hearty and loud.

“Ah, Captain! Reverend. I am pleased to tell you both that I am free today—yesterday's issues with production have been smoothed out entirely. A few threats, a public flogging and all the complaints have vanished like the morning dew. I would like to shew you some of the estate's highlights, if I may. The gardens are extraordinary; my father may have abysmal taste in interior decorating but his skill in hiring gardeners is nonpareil. Did you know we have not only a herb garden and an orchid display but even a labyrinth?”

St. John stood so precipitously that both men glanced at him in amazement and the footman actually had to rescue his chair, which threatened to fall back against the carpet. He stammered out an apology.

“Please, forgive—most dreadfully sorry—wretchedly—too much sun yesterday. Perhaps a touch of heat-fever. It is coming on so suddenly—would you think me so terribly rude if I spent the day here? I am not used to all this … heat.”

Col. Fitzpatrick bowed elegantly, and spoke with such grace and smoothness that St. John suspected that he had inadvertently delighted their host. “Please think nothing of it, Reverend. By all means, rest and recover. My staff are on hand if you need anything, anything at all.”

St. John glanced at the Captain through lidded eyes, turned red, retired to his room in all due haste and spent the rest of the Sabbath in fasting and prayer, forgoing tobacco as an extra token of contrition and trying to force from his mind any and all images of a wet, dripping Cpt. Aquilaine consuming apples. When he realised his disappointment that the Captain did not come check on him at any point, the mortification caused him to redouble his efforts.

We are nothing but firm friends. We shall be nothing but firm friends. Nothing else is possible; nothing else is allowed. It does not matter why he has not come to enquire as to my condition. And if I press him as to why he did not, he may wonder at my concern.

Eventually he fell into a fitful sleep.

The next morning St. John woke with the relief of a man who had been dreading a nightmare only to find the morning light streaming through his window and a heart soothed by a restful sleep. He felt a renewed confidence in his strength of mind; fortitude and prayer had once again shewn their ability to overcome his weaknesses. He was even nearly enthused when the Colonel announced an elephant safari-hunt through the jungle.

“I have a new howdah design I am eager to test, and little can compare to the joys of tromping through the wilds, finding strange and exotic animals, and bringing home an armful of trophies, eh, Aquilaine? Maybe we'll find something you can bring back to Calcutta. God only knows that blasted Club could use a little class. Can you shoot, Reverend?” He unexpectedly turned his gaze to St. John, who started and swallowed an overly-large mouthful of tea, then replied with a rude slowness as his eyes watered and the liquid travelled painfully down his throat.

“I can shoot a pistol, badly, or go birding with a fowling piece.”

The Colonel gave him such a look condescension and pity that St. John blushed. “You will be fine, I am sure. We shall find you something large to aim for.” He turned his attention back to Cpt. Aquilaine, and the two of them fell into a detailed discussion of weaponry that St. John could not make heads or tails of, no matter how he tried. Finally the breakfast ended, after a seeming hour of talk on bullets and balls, sabre technique, and the necessity of bayonets. They all retired to their rooms, ostensibly to dress for the hunt. Since St. John did not have clothing especially for such an affair, he merely donned his frock-coat and then paced, counting to 300 before he reemerged. The Captain wore his red army coat and a scuffed pair of combat boots. Col. Fitzpatrick wore his army coat as well; in addition, he carried a short sword, a heavily-bejewelled and obviously unnecessary cane, and a pair of elegantly-tasselled Hessian boots that had never touched mud or trampled the brush. They set out.

The Reverend had seen watercolour pictures of howdahs in his atlas but had neglected to make a practical study of them. As they followed their host past an endless series of out-buildings (the Colonel whistling and swinging about his cane as if to shew that he had no need for a more modest, utilitarian one, unlike his guest), St. John fell back several steps to speak to Cpt. Aquilaine in private. He finally felt assured that he could speak without doing anything foolish or unseemly.

“Captain, do you know how this all works? Do we have to climb ladders—if so, are you able to climb a ladder? And once upon the elephant, how does it stay up? Won't we fall and be smashed to bits?”

Cpt. Aquilaine gave a tight, spare smile but said nothing. The scales slowly fell from St. John's eyes and he saw, parting the veils of his own self-interest as a maid sweeps aside cobwebs from a long-disused room, that the Captain was nearly quivering with tension. Some grim emotion hid just beneath the surface of a forcibly placid exterior.

Why, he is endeavouring to hide some private unhappiness from me as much as I am attempting to hide my misery and shame from him.

Before St. John could wonder further on his friend's state they arrived at the elephant enclosure. Natives scurried around, saluting when they passed Col. Fitzpatrick. A mahout led a 7-foot tall elephant up to their little group; St. John stepped back in amazement as she reached her long trunk out and lifted his hat clean off his head—in doing so he trod on Cpt. Aquilaine's foot and lost his balance completely. Within moments he had been swept back onto his feet by no less than three servants, who hastily patted and dusted and smoothed; the mahout scolded his elephant and handed the hat back with a deep and apologetic bow. St. John did not have to expend many powers of imagination to understand why all the Indians behaved so attentively. Presumably the public flogging Col. Fitzpatrick mentioned had been very well-witnessed indeed.

The elephant who had claimed his hat wore a vividly-coloured headpiece on her face, similar to a horse's blaze, woven and tasselled silks draped over her broad back (St. John noted peevishly that the tassels matched the Colonel's boots) and atop it all, looking like nothing so much as a gazebo, an enormous golden-painted howdah. Rev. Rivers had never seen any animal larger than a camel before, and that only from a distance at the Zoological Society of London. He felt a touch of giddiness looking up at her, the way he had felt on Albert of Wales the first time he watched sailors running aloft into the rig.

The mahout gave the elephant's trunk two short, sharp jabs with a large pointed stick and—wonder upon wonders—the elephant slowly knelt in the dirt, shaking the ground as she dipped to her knees. Two servants carried out a small flight of stairs with velvet-trimmed handrails and set it next to her. Col. Fitzpatrick mounted the staircase and climbed into the gilded howdah as off-handedly as if he were ascending to his opera box for the evening.

“Come, Aquilaine, join me in front. And move your feet! It is a wonder you used to be athletic.” The Captain gave a quick glance at St. John and scrambled up alongside their host, far less easily than the Colonel had. The mahout hopped lightly up on the elephant's head, settling between her ears, and gave one more quick poke with his stick. She rose as slowly as she had descended, and then the Captain and Colonel were ten feet in the air, rocking gently back and forth.

Thus abandoned, St. John climbed up onto a second elephant, determined not to let his nerves or wounded pride shew out. He was joined by a native carrying a surprising number of rifles. A third elephant with two more natives and yet more weapons fell into line behind them and the train began to gracefully sway their way towards the jungle.

All the fear the Reverend had experienced with his first rickshaw ride came flooding back to him; an elephant ride was slower and smoother, but also far, far loftier. He turned to the native next to him, intending to make conversation as a means of distraction even if they only knew four words in common. The Indian, a guide by trade, spoke enough English to manage—so long as the discussion revolved around hunting.

After an hour of parading down a well-tended trail through the jungle-wilds, the mahout on the first elephant began shouting something in a tongue that was neither Hindustani nor Bengali, as far as St. John could ascertain. The guide turned to St. John.

“Sahib, we hunt now, please.” He offered up a rifle; St. John shook his head politely—he rarely shot, even on hunts, and did not want to attempt anything that might disturb the howdah. The native shrugged and shouldered his own rifle. From the far distance, on top of the normal cries and shrieks of tantalising but as-of-yet unseen jungle animals, they began to hear what sounded suspiciously like humans, tromping through the underbrush to stir up the wildlife. A shot rang out from the first elephant and he was not greatly surprised to see Col. Fitzpatrick switching guns, leaning out one side and tracking a passing bird. Cpt. Aquilaine also began taking aim. The armed natives merely stared at the jungle, as if they were keeping watch.

“What are you all looking for?” St. John whispered as Col. Fitzpatrick paused to reload.

“Tiger, Sahib,” he spoke without taking his eyes off the jungle.

“Tigers wouldn't dare attack an elephant train, would they?” He strove to look impassive; the native hunter was not deceived by his feint.

“Oh no, Sahib. Male elephant in heat, yes. Tiger, no. ” St. John felt he had failed to grasp some essential part of the conversation.

“Why are you worried so about tigers, then?”

“Not worried! No. When we see tiger, we shoot and Pukka Sahiba—” here he tilted his head slightly towards the first elephant and the Colonel “—keeps for his house.”

“Ah. Thank you kindly.” He turned his thoughts to the stuffed animals back at the
manor, especially mindful of the enormous white tiger now keeping a silent vigil in one of the estate's three smoking rooms. St. John whispered a prayer that they would not encounter any tigers that day.

An hour of rather tedious shooting crept along. St. John spent most of it seated on the floor of the howdah, staring out at the jungle foliage and trying not to think fondly about Cpt. Aquilaine. Eventually the front elephant amassed a small but respectable collection: three great cranes, two long-tailed monkeys, a slow loris, a small golden monkey and a sapphire-blue peacock; they saved the peacock and golden monkey to be preserved as trophies and discarded the rest into the brush. Col. Fitzpatrick declared it was time to return and they reversed course in a grove nearly tailor-made for such a purpose.

St. John had begun to notice that indeed, the entire safari through the proclaimed wilds proceeded far too easily. The convenient trail, the beaters stirring up a selection of colourful but harmless animals to shoot, the natives armed to the teeth in case anything truly threatening emerged—Col. Fitzpatrick evidently preferred his expeditions to be as predictable and uneventful as a pheasant hunt back in Devonshire. St. John suspected that Cpt. Aquilaine would not be taken in by such sham adventuring. He peered ahead to the first elephant, curious to see if he could tell, from demeanour or carriage alone, what his friend thought of their host's preference in hunting.

What he saw caused him to gasp aloud. A sickening cold hand clenched at his heart; viscera twisted in equal parts anguish and envy. Col. Fitzpatrick had an arm over Cpt. Aquilaine's broad shoulders and was running fingers through his hair in a lazy manner that suggested not only friendliness but also long-standing intimacy. Cpt. Aquilaine, in return, was muttering something into their host's ear whilst grinning. They appeared to be sharing some private joke; perhaps they were laughing at him. He considered—for a moment only—leaping from his elephant, demanding satisfaction from Col. Fitzpatrick and then beating the man with his own bejewelled cane until he begged for relief. But no, he could not blame the Colonel; had he not, just two nights past, dreamt of enjoying similar affections with the Captain? St. John briefly wondered if he might faint.

I am the greatest fool in all Christendom. Under what pretence could I have ever thought the Captain and I—all his talk of my forgiving him; he must have seen me out and been making an attempt at kindness, wanting to let me down gently. Yes, of course, he regretted the possibility of giving me pain. And no wonder he was so eager to come for a visit! Naturally he would invite me along—I am a friend to him, nothing more; any misunderstanding, however slight, was entirely on my end of the thing, a mere weakness of my flesh. A snippet of a dream. Yet here I am, near to weeping. St. John, thou most foolish man! I have spent all yesterday begging God to remove these feelings, and when I learn they are for naught I am sad? What I have just seen is a blessing sent to me by my Father. Shewing me the error of my ways—yes, yes, teaching me how wrong my urges have been. There is nothing between he and I, there has never been anything and I am—I must be glad for it—because anything else is sin, impossibility.

Whom the Lord loveth He chastiseth. I thank Thee, Lord. I thank Thee for Thy mercy, in what Thou hast shewn me. Thou art kind.

Making such an attempt at pious gratitude sent an almost physical pain through his heart, and he clutched at the hems of his coat. This was his punishment, his penance, and his purification. The Lord was emptying him of all worldly impulses, releasing those last lingering ties that bound him to the mortal plane, making His servant clean and entirely dedicated to Him. But the Lord's cleansing burnt like fire.

Blinking back his emotions, he cast about in desperation for any trivial thing that would draw attention from this humiliation—on anything but the Captain and the Colonel. Details stood out raw in his mind and he noticed, for the first time, the rough floorboards of the howdah, the scents of jasmine and sandalwood in the air, the twisting red lines like worms under the skin of the guide's feet. Hookworm was such a cruel scourge, but it did serve to put his current misery in perspective; at least St. John could always be assured of having stout shoes and wholesome food, whatever else he might suffer. He decided to apply himself to another's troubles—God would bless such an action, surely, and shew His servant a measure of tenderness. St. John composed himself with an effort.

“Is there a doctor here at the estate, guide?” he whispered; he did not fully trust his voice.

The guide looked blankly at him. “Yes, Sahib. You are ill?”

“No, I am quite healthy. It is your feet—they must be looked at.”

“Me, Sahib? Oh no. I am good.”

“You are not. You have hookworm and could develop chlorosis. You must ask the doctor about it; you should not work until your feet are better.”

The guide, in return, gave him a puzzled, frightened sort of look, glanced quickly at the front elephant, then looked back at the floor whilst shaking his head. St. John also looked to the elephant, where Col. Fitzpatrick was leaning into Cpt. Aquilaine, caressing his cheek. He looked away.

“Āpani ki bānlā kathā?” he whispered. It was high time he put his studies into practice, and intellectual efforts sometimes eased emotional suffering.

“Abaśya'i, Sahība.”

“Ki Karnēla?”

“Nā, Sahība.” The guide looked wary.

“Kēna āpani ki cāna ēkajana ḍāktāra nā?”

“Āmāra pāẏē, hyām̐ jan'ya ḍāktāra cā'i, kintu āmarā tākē dēkhāra anumati nā. Ḍāktāra śudhumātra māsṭāra jan'ya.”

St. John paused, frowning; the conversation was already taxing his Bengali. “Yadi āpani asustha? Āpani yadi nā kāja karatē pāraba? Āpani ki karabēna?”

“Āmarā yadi nā kāja āmarā cabukā.”

“Cabukā? Āmi śabda jāni nā.” St. John gave an elaborate shrug.

That brought a weary smile to the guide's face. “Cabukā. Hit?” He mimicked the actions of beating someone.

“Āha, hyām̐ , abaśya'i. Cabukā mānē tāṛita. Ēṭā kēna kē'u … cabukā haẏēchila gatakāla?”

The guide's face went dark. “Hyām̐ yē chila āmāra māmātō bhā'i. Tām̐ra chēlē khuba'i asustha. Tām̐kē jan'ya kārakhānā yētē yatna, nā cēẏēchilēna, yātē tārā tāra cabukā ēbaṁ saba ghaṛi āmādēra”

“Tārā ēkajana mahilā cabukā?” St. John suddenly found this conversation to be quite useful; his misery was being converted, with all due haste, into a fine and burning rage towards the vicious, grasping Colonel, who needed to possess everything, rule everything, and would never spare so much as the crumbs for another man if he could manage. “Ēṭā khārāpa, pāpātmā. Āpani kēna calē nā? Āpani dāsēra nā.”

“Hyām̐, Sahība. Āmarā.” The guide looked at St. John as if he were a child. St. John gaped at him, his mouth sagging open. He tried to speak further and failed.

What did the Captain say to me that night we talked of Greeks? “Many things that are a crime back in England are perfectly legal here.” I know slavery is one of them, but I had assumed it was only practiced by the natives. Of course the East India Company runs the country's administration rather than the Home Office, and no doubt it is a source of profit to them. That any true Englishman actually practices this wickedness is a monstrous evil.

Such atrocities will not stand.

He spent the rest of the ride homeward in silent thought, overcome by the sorrows of the world and the suffering of the people in it. Each glance at the front of the train confirmed what he already knew—presently he stopped looking at them.

By the time the elephants returned to the estate proper St. John was settled in his mind: spreading the Word of Christ to the unchurched people of India would not be enough; Christian fellowship also demanded a lightening of their earthly bonds and defeat of those who caused them such distress. In addition, he would crush his weaknesses once and for all. And, having driven out these unnatural desires, he would quash Cpt. Aquilaine's presumption that St. John had ever harboured such thoughts in the first place. He could not abide the idea that the Captain might think so little of him.

The remainder of the week was uncomfortable, at best. Cpt. Aquilaine alternated between bounding with cheerfulness and slinking around as if he were a dog that had been whipped. Col. Fitzpatrick was smug, except when St. John, out of the corner of one eye, would catch the Colonel glaring heatedly at him. For that split second, he always appeared envious; St. John could scarcely fathom it. But the Reverend was mostly concerned with not being overly rude or aloof (both tempting positions to take, given the nature of his host). They all behaved with exaggerated politeness towards each other, as they took walks and sat to dinners.

On two occasions, they attempted to play at whist. Col. Fitzpatrick's estate manager, Mr. Campbell, a proud Englishman from Coventry, made the fourth for their games; the first night they sat to cards, the Colonel paired him with St. John, who freely admitted that he had not played since Cambridge. But the Reverend, although he had not picked up a playing card in five years, proved his worth at counting and took trick after trick, whilst the two army men stared aghast and Mr. Campbell tried to scrub the look of delight from his long features. St. John gave him the entire winnings at the end of the evening; he suspected the man's employment was not an entirely happy one. The second night, Col. Fitzpatrick insisted that the Reverend be his partner; in consequence (for St. John was sufficiently clever not just to win handily, but also to lose through seemingly ill luck), they suffered defeat in two straight rubbers, and lined Mr. Campbell's pockets with a full £5.

Every evening, from then on, was spent at billiards.

 


 

On Safari in a Howdah

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notes:

Hessian boots – A very popular style of boots, especially amongst the military. They were the precursor of today's cowboy boots, and possessed a low heel and pointed toe (both which made it easier to ride in stirrups), plus—on finer boots, at least—a very sporting tassel at the top of each leg, just under the knee.

mahout – A person who trains and rides elephants. Each mahout is assigned a certain elephant when he is young, and they grow up together. It is in many places a family business, and each mahout or mahout family has their own training techniques and language that they use to communicate with their elephants.

Zoological Society of London – The Society was founded in 1826, for the “cultivation of the science of Natural History”. It was originally accessible only to scientists, scholars, and those doing research (or persons fortunate enough to know one of the above). It opened to the public in 1847, when the Society needed more money.

Pukka Sahiba – A Hindi slang term meaning “first class”, “a true gentleman”, or, in less-noble circumstances, “Master”.

slow loris – The slow loris in question is of the subspecies N. bengalensis, as all other slow lorises live further south and east. And yes, it was unfortunately common to hunt and shoot animals and then simply discard the carcasses after the fun had ended; equally common (tragically so, from a conservation standpoint) was the practice of searching out the rarest animal one could possibly find and then, to celebrate the animal's obscurity, killing it, stuffing it, and taking it home to place in the smoking room, where one's friend's could admire it while their host told tales of how hard the animal in question was to find.

hookworm – When I wrote chapter 5, my research skills were still in their infancy. I learnt, far after the story had been written, that hookworm was not discovered and recognised as the cause of so much trouble until 1843. St. John is a bit prescient here.

chlorosis – now referred to as hypochromic aenemia, a form of aenemia in which the red blood cells are lighter in colour than usual, giving the person in question a very pale or greenish pallor (chlor- means “green”).

slavery – By the 13th century in Britain, slavery had transitioned entirely into serfdom, which itself died out by the turn of the 17th century. The institutions of transportation and indentured servitude continued to thrive, however, and British ships became heavily active in the Triangular Trade, in which trade goods from Europe were taken to West Africa and exchanged for slaves, who were then shipped off to America. By the start of the 18th century, slavery thrived in the British colonies overseas (all slaves were African, or otherwise darker-skinned), and a few slaves were even seen in London itself, although that never became fashionable or uncontroversial. Abolition Societies were very vocally against it.

In 1807, William Wilberforce passed laws abolishing the British slave trade, and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 finally banned slavery from all British colonies and territories. This Act excluded “the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company”, however, which meant the British living in India at the time of P&P were free to own as many slaves as they liked, and they suffered less repercussions from society (and none from the law).

whist – Whist is a card game similar to hearts, in which two teams, consisting of two players apiece, compete to gain tricks. In the beginning of the 18th century, it was considered a low game fit only for the servants' hall. Now it is associated with upper-class aristocracy.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John consults the Leading Medical Authorities, leads Cpt. Aquilaine astray, voices his Opinion on Modern Music, and learns several Worthwhile Minutiae.

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He hears strange noises coming from behind the door at the end of the hallway and wants to hear more, wants to draw closer. He walks into a plain room with benches, a single desk and a cheap painting of Queen Victoria on the wall. It is a schoolroom; the day's lesson is geometry: isosceles, hypotenuse, base and apex, Pythagoras, oblique. Quill pens and slates are scattered about; the students have been careless again and he will have to speak to them about being properly grateful for their supplies. Cpt. Aquilaine stands at the far end of the room, red army coat vivid in the shadows, practicing his calisthenics. Now he is stretching, reaching, shifting his feet far apart and bending over to touch his palms to the floor and he is naked, the coat is gone or maybe it never existed, and he is so plump and muscular and firm as he bends over, a triangle of inviting flesh with two pink mounds at the apex and St. John wants nothing more than to stand behind him and place a hand on each buttock and squeeze just to feel them yield beneath his fingers, knead until they turn rosy and warm. Cpt. Aquilaine stands, sees him, smiles and bends over again, languidly, folding himself flat and head dipping almost to the floor. St. John is rooted in place at the sight of so much beauty, so much temptation, so much softness and tender skin. We were wondering if you would join us, Reverend. Col. Fitzpatrick is standing in the room next to Cpt. Aquilaine, behind him, holding his bejewelled cane and smirking. Discipline is good for boys who need curbing. St. John realises who left the slates on the floor. Cpt. Aquilaine waits patiently and Col. Fitzpatrick swings, then a thud and Cpt. Aquilaine gasps, face grimacing in pain as the cane draws a bright red weal across his pale skin, but then his mouth slackens into something more pleased and St. John grows heavy and thick and tight. O God, Placido, again. More. Please. Col. Fitzpatrick swings vigorously, pressing deep and marking him with another burning welt. Cpt. Aquilaine jerks up off the floor, willing himself not to touch his buttocks and grabbing at his knees instead, agony and arousal playing about his lips and St. John is thrusting his hands into his trousers, unable to stop himself. The cane lands a third time and Cpt. Aquilaine cries out, clenching his buttocks, rocking his hips back and forth in the air and he cannot defend himself because now his hands are bound together, and St. John can feel how sore his backside is, how it aches and as Cpt. Aquilaine gasps out Harder—O God—Harder he too cries aloud and his body shudders with pleasure and shame as seed spills over his fists.
 
 
 
St. John's limbs shook in the long silence of the rising dawn as he woke and realised, mortified, that his wayward dreams had once again betrayed him. Sticky warmth trickled down the backs of his hands, still clenched around his cock. A sickness swept through him, icy stabs of fear twisting his stomach into nausea. He tumbled out of his bed, knees quaking, crawled to the chamber pot—mercifully free of night soil—and bent his head over it with parted lips, saliva pooling in his mouth, willing himself not to be ill.
 
The moment passed. He spat into the chamber pot whilst groping around for a handkerchief, scrubbing seed off his thighs with a roughness that bordered on vicious. His breath came out in short, gasping sobs.
 
Damn you, St. John, damn your depravity, your pollution, your carnal thoughts. God will spit you out and cast you into the darkness for your sinful ways.
 
These dreams had been increasing in both frequency and intensity ever since returning from Col. Fitzpatrick's estate, despite his discovery that the Captain's true affections lay elsewhere. Once ambiguous and suggestive, they were rapidly becoming more explicit and more obscene; worse yet, he had found no apparent means of ending them. They ruined his sleep, distracted him from his studies and forced his gaze to the floor whenever he spoke with Cpt. Aquilaine.
 
As he stumbled out of his nightshirt and into his clothes, cursing his corrupted flesh and promptly regretting that he had thought the word flesh, he again recalled Christ's warning: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. By this law he, Rev. St. John Rivers, was now as much a sinner as the whore, the adulterer, or the sodomite.
 
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
 
His Calvinism demanded an end to these dreams, even as it shunned the sort of physical self-violence that lead Origen to—it was universally agreed—grossly misinterpret Christ's teachings on the subject of lust. Scholars now knew Christ was speaking metaphorically about removing what offended. But St. John could not bear the notion of a metaphorical rending any more than he would countenance a literal one. If he conquered his desires he could still be friends with Cpt. Aquilaine, and it had been so long, so many years since he had been privileged to have a true and close friendship. If he could not quell his dreams, however, Christ's teaching on the subject were quite clear—and St. John did not want to leave Calcutta. He would happily suffer whatever deprivations were necessary than lose all by leaving altogether.
 
And so, clothed and shod with an alacrity born from desperation, he tripped down the stairs past a sleepy butler and barged out into the street, hurrying in the direction of the Calcutta Public Library. His legs felt sluggish in the heat; the generally reliable monsoon season was now a full three weeks late, and the city was unbearably warm even in the dead of night.
 
He had spent the better part of the fortnight since their return to Calcutta worrying over the problem of slavery in the East India Territories. He passed his days at the Library, nearly as much to study his new mission as to avoid the awkward conversation that always seemed to be on the tip of Cpt. Aquilaine's tongue. It was the first and currently only library in India, opening to subscribers just four short years ago, and possessed a fine series of articles, monographs and pamphlets on the state of modern slavery and the British liberation movements. In the evenings, he had begun to attend Abolition Society meetings. St. John was unspeakably grateful for the distraction. For ever since he had seen Col. Fitzpatrick and Cpt. Aquilaine—
 
He should not have thought of Cpt. Aquilaine. O treacherous body. He quickened his pace.
 
Lord, I am Thy servant, faithful to Thee all my lifelong days. I have sacrificed so much, and am willing to sacrifice more—my health, my happiness, my very breath—to serve Thee in whatever way Thou demandest. Why, then, hast Thou given to me such terrible thoughts? Why doest Thou not take them away, as I have begged for so many years? Surely I have earnt some sort of relief from my unhappy desires. Thou doest not tempt beyond which we cannot bear, but doest Thou take pleasure in my suffering?

Servants were beginning to draw water from the local wells and merchants rolled carts of produce out onto the pavement. St. John darted around a beggar with withered legs, a bull scraping its horns against the cobblestones and a woman in a bright green sari who slid the veil down from her henna-stained hair and blew him a lascivious kiss. His footsteps clattered up the marble steps of the Library and he narrowly avoided collision with the clerk who had unlocked the doors mere moments before. 

He scanned the collection of medical, surgical, anatomical, and curative texts for a book he had long known of but up until now refused to seek out. Clutching the desired volume, recommended to him from his days at Cambridge when a certain fellow theology-student had troubled his sleep, he retreated to a little-used corner of the reading room. St. John opened to the index and followed the column of chapter headings down with a slightly trembling finger.

The Oxford Companionate Medical Advisor:
Cardiac, Blood & Marrow, Respiration, Skeleton & Muscles & Nerves, Brain, Phrenology & Psychology, Temperaments
Homeopathy & Herbals (with a Special Guide for Apothecaries), Reproduction, Digestion & Hygiene, Common Diseases & Their Cures.


St. John found his desired medical advice under Reproduction

SYMPTOMS OF SPERMATORRHOEA: The indications of abuse of the sexual organs are delight in obscene stories, the sleep is not refreshing, the dreams are lascivious, and the involuntary emissions of semen become more frequent. The sufferer experiences a weakness in his legs and staggers like a drunken man, his hands tremble … It constrains into its service the higher faculties such as friendship, reason, and imagination. Just as there can be no salvation unless sin be discarded, so there can be no redemption from the bad effects of spermatorrhoea, so long as it is continued … THE CURE: Regular habits must be established; keep to a spare, simple diet; sleep on a hard bed and do not lie upon the back; rise early in the morning and immediately take a cold bath. Then rub the surface of the body with a towel, and continue the friction until the skin is red and a reaction is established. It is beneficial to apply a towel saturated with cold water to the genital organs fifteen minutes before leaving the bed … Time, patience, and perseverance are just as essential to a recovery from the effects of spermatorrhoea as the best medical treatment that can be employed.”
         
This, spelt out in uncomfortably clinical detail, was St. John's affliction and emancipation. It gave him some comfort to know that leading physicians considered spermatorrhoea a physical illness rather than spiritual weakness, one commonplace enough to warrant an entry in the leading physicians' texts. Better still, by applying modern medicine to the problem, the book assured him he could effect a cure. The Medical Advisor was so correct as to the particular manifestations of the disease that he did not doubt the efficacy of its treatments. St. John made notes on key points of the necessary therapies and walked back to the Club with a somewhat more peaceful heart, like Christian at the Wall of Salvation, watching his burdens roll into the Sepulchre.
 
Forgive Thy servant, please, for railing against Thy goodness. If I had suffered a broken leg would I not simply summon a physician, rather than blame Thee? Help Thou me to follow these treatments in all diligence and may they profit me, for from Thou cometh all good things; I shall apply myself well and allow them to heal.
 
He nearly stumbled at the sight of a shepherd boy trying to corral his wayward goats with a stout switch but pressed on, reassuring himself that such ideas would soon be a torment no longer. The fog of illness that tainted his every sight—be it a firewood peddler lashing together bundles of twigs, the sunrise that turned every church's spire a deep pink, an old woman tottering on her walking stick, or a young maid in a crimson cloak—would lift; soon he would see clearly with a dispassionate heart. Soon his dreams would be free of impurity. Soon his reason and imagination would be redeemed; friendship also. St. John felt hopeful for the first time in weeks.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine, midway through a heap of rashers, startled as he sat to breakfast at table. As he stood to greet the Reverend, he knocked his cane off the back of his chair with an elbow and St. John caught himself—rather tardily—watching his friend clumsily lean down to retrieve it. The Captain was red in the face and flustered when he stood.
 
“Reverend! I was nearly wondering if I had seen the last of you—are you well? Have you received bad news? Have you been given parish duties?” He paused and glanced around; the room was empty except for a footman. His voice dropped to a quieter tone. “I have scarcely seen you during the past fortnight. Is it me? Did I do something to … offend you during our visit to the Colonel's estate? Please speak plainly on it. I cannot abide being the cause of your unhappiness.” The uneasy look that crossed his face sent a great pain through St. John's heart.
 
How he suffers, worrying about me! And he wishes to ease my sorrows, thinking I am love-sick like a youth inadvertently led into an understanding he could not make good on. Such a kind man. But I must dissuade him post-haste. He must never suspect how correct he is—
 
St. John shook his head and favoured the Captain with a nearly-genuine smile. “No, no, Cpt. Aquilaine, nothing of that sort. My time in the countryside was entirely pleasant. I have merely been taken up with a new project since we returned. The abolition societies here are few and weak, and I may take a hand in improving their standing. Surely you can understand how a man of my passion and conviction would find all his waking moments consumed by such a noble pursuit?” He felt he was blushing; his voice was loud and overly-hearty; surely the Captain would not believe a word of what stupidity he had just spoken.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine, however, looked at him for a long moment, taking in his words before nodding earnestly. St. John breathed a sigh of relief at his unsophistication. His friend tended toward naiveté when receiving information confidently presented by one he thought well of—a sin, no doubt, to take advantage of such a trait, but likely a venial sin at worst.
 
Now thoroughly led astray through misdirection, the Captain smiled, all innocence. “Good, good; I am glad to hear of it. I would not want any small thing coming between us. As friends, you see.” His fork slipped from his fingers and landed on the porcelain with a terrifically loud clatter. They both jumped a little. The Captain cast around for a moment, seemingly at a loss, before blurting out, “If you are not upset with me, would you care to join me at the symphony on Friday, then?”
 
St. John laughed awkwardly, uncertain of how to respond. “Calcutta has a symphony? I would never have thought.”
 
The Captain shook his head ruefully. “It is hardly a proper one, more a handful of string quartets plus the military band, but they are performing for some Company occasion on Friday and will be trying out the new Berlioz along with Haydn and Beethoven. Do come.”
 
What St. John thought was akin to He is glad! He thinks he read me incorrectly and is glad to learn the error was all on his end. That all I ever desired from him was friendship. What St. John spoke aloud was, “I am not greatly interested in Beethoven, naturally—too Pantheist—but Haydn is generally interesting, and I would be curious to hear whatever Berlioz has done this time. Thank you for the invitation; I would happily take an evening off from my studies.” He pushed aside his untouched porridge, excused himself from the table before the Captain could speak further and retired to his room for the morning, determined to begin putting medical theory into practice.
 
I have convinced him of my disinterest; now I must convince myself.
 
It being Tuesday morning, he realised speed was of the essence. The Medical Advisor's recommendations produced a slow, gentle decrease of symptoms—appropriate, perhaps, for lesser men, but St. John was made of steelier stuff. He had every confidence he could endure a full course of the necessary deprivations and treatments in a shortened time period and thus achieve at least partial success by Friday evening. And so, within a quarter hour of his conversation with the Captain, he had requested cool water to be brought up from the well, slipped out of morning dress and begun to take his first cold-water bath.
 
By Friday he had gone two nights without an instance of spermatorrhoea, and suffered only one unsettling sleep—Wednesday afternoon he had dreamt of waking in a bed wreathed in flames only to find the Captain looming above with a pail of water, the Hottentot Venus grinning at him over one dusky shoulder as she shifted her hips back and forth, and feeling all his teeth shatter and crumble as he bit into a loaf of naan; a strange dream, to be sure, but more confusing than erotic—and felt increasingly confident that passion would soon yield entirely to discipline and self-denial.
 
As St. John dressed for the symphony he felt nearly eager to spend the evening with the Captain but wondered if he would simply end up embarrassing the man with his unfashionable ways. Evenings out were an opportunity to shew off one's fancy dress; he, being plain and stubborn, sweltered in greatcoat, kid gloves, and country hat, now sadly déclassé as the practicality of a wide brim gave way to taller, showier head coverings. St. John refused to purchase something more up-to-date. Cpt. Aquilaine did look rather handsome in his gold braid, red coat, and army shako, but assured the Reverend he would suit perfectly, concerts in Calcutta being rather more easygoing than in Cambridge.
 
The two men walked side by side to the concert hall—a concert hall in name only, as it also served as a makeshift Freemasonry Lodge, amateur theatre, and mess for Sepoys during the week—confining their remarks to the terrible discomforts of the weather, which still had not broken and now tormented the inhabitants with a fog of humidity. Sitting for the concert itself was another type of torment for St. John as the audience crammed into the small space, crowding so closely together that he spent all of the Haydn in a great state of tension, his leg pressed tightly against Cpt. Aquilaine's. Perspiration trickled down under his collar, which he prayed was due only to the stuffiness of the room and not the way the Captain shifted back and forth, restless with the pleasure of the music. When it ended he turned to St. John, eyes dancing with merriment.
 
“I have never heard that piece before—have you? How strange and charming and playful!”
 
St. John nodded balefully, not looking up from the programme in his hand. “Indeed, the Surprise Symphony is so named for a reason, my dear Captain.”
 
The wind taken somewhat out of his sails, Cpt. Aquilaine shrugged a little and turned once more to face the front. Still pressed shoulder to shoulder, they sat stiff and uncomfortable through the Beethoven, which was an odd compilation of military marches, Wellington's Victory, and a surprisingly good rendition of the Sonata Pathétique performed by the Brigadier-General's 12-year-old niece. St. John took advantage of the intermission to step out to the portico, ostensibly to take some fresh air, whilst the Captain made small talk with fellow officers. He felt unexpectedly caught up short by the realisation that he did not know a soul at the concert. Indeed, besides Cpt. Aquilaine, Bishop Wilson and Mr. Patel, he hardly knew anyone in Calcutta at all. He could claim a nodding acquaintanceship with several of his fellow residents at the Club, and knew a half-dozen of the Abolition Society by name as well as face. That was the sum of his social life. In England he had never minded his solitary existence; he had many parishioners (none of whom he counted as a friend), and his two sisters, with whom he was well content. He could not say why it bothered him now.
 
Unfortunately, the muggy atmosphere outside was beginning to coalesce into drops of something unpleasantly in-between rain and fog; either would have been more bearable than what St. John encountered. He came back in, weaving his way through women in fancy dress desperately fanning themselves and gentlemen in top hats pretending they were not as affected by the warmth as their wives. Retrieving a coupe-glass of champagne from a passing waiter, he brought it back to Cpt. Aquilaine as a sort of apology cum peace offering.
 
“I did not mean to sound so short with you, Captain. The first time I ever heard the Surprise Symphony, I recall acting much as you just did.” He did not mention that he had been only seven.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine accepted the champagne with delight. “No matter! I remembered you do not tolerate heat well and assumed that was the cause of your ill temper—but if every apology of yours comes with champagne you may be angry at me as often as you like.”
 
St. John turned red and fiddled with his cravat; whether he blushed with pleasure that the Captain had remembered his day of feigning heat-stroke, or because he recalled too vividly the reasons why he had feigned the heat-stroke; he preferred not to enquire too closely, not wanting to tax his newfound self-discipline.
 
The Berlioz was—to put it tactfully—Berlioz. They discussed it on the walk back to the Club, enjoying the freshening airs as the clouds at last began to form a light rain; St. John was happy to find that the Captain could discuss music intelligently when he had at least a passing acquaintance with it.
 
“I was thinking you might enjoy the Grande Messe des Morts, it being a requiem—but I have to say, Reverend, I am not certain … well, it felt a bit excessive, even to me.”
 
“Excessive? Really, you are understating the case. They must have scrounged every tuba in the city, no matter how out of tune—and I assure you, the ones in the east corner were quite atonal—to say nothing of the sheer number of bassoons Calcutta apparently possesses.”

“I think we have seen them all now, every last one. But the choirs were reasonably good—at least, I think they were.”
 
“How on earth could you tell, Captain?” St. John smirked up at him.
 
“I will concede your point; the flock of tympani did rather overwhelm them during the Dies Irae.”
 
“Flock, sir, is an excellent way to describe them. And did you see the violoncellos that kept knocking into each other during the Agnus Dei?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine laughed. “Reverend, I cannot believe a man of your good character would notice such a thing. Were you not overwhelmed by the beauty of the requiem at that point?”
 
“Not in the slightest, no, although if you must know I did feel I should have been carried off to spiritual raptures by it.”
 
“Ah, yes. If you cannot experience the religious bliss, you can at least have the guilt from not experiencing it? That sounds frighteningly like my boyhood catechisms; I remember the Articles of Faith, a good deal about the headmaster's cane and very little else, I'm afraid.”
 
“I am not greatly surprised,” St. John shook his head to clear the image from his mind; his tongue seemed to be fixed to the roof of his mouth. “So much emphasis is laid on guilt and sin, with good reason, but it must be counter-balanced by grace and joy and salvation, or mankind would worship God out of fear alone. God does not wish that.” He had not intended to give such a sober turn to their conversation, but neither did he regret doing so. How good it felt, talking openly with the Captain once more.
 
That I myself have entirely failed in my duty to love the Lord as well as fear Him does not signify. I can still counsel others to be virtuous.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine fell silent for a full two minutes; when he spoke again he had also become serious. “But without guilt we would never seek forgiveness. You have often talked about the importance of forgiveness, and how it is a vital, godly part of every Christian's duty. Do you still think that?”
 
“Yes, entirely! Forgiveness is critical, because we are commanded to be honest with one another, and who would speak truthfully of their flaws if they did not have the hope of charity afterwards?”
 
The Captain laughed ruefully. “Very true, of course, but it is so much easier to say such a thing than to believe it. Do you know, when we returned from Fitzpatrick's estate and you became so occupied in abolition work, I supposed you were avoiding me because of my family and my parentage? And I could not ask the reason why, could not say those words to save my life, because I dreaded that you would confirm my fears. Even though you have never been anything but kind to me!”
 
The Reverend's foot caught on the cobblestones and Cpt. Aquilaine had to clasp him by the elbow to keep him upright. He nodded absentmindedly in gratitude, head swimming with humiliation. I am such a fool—such a stupid fool! I thought he could see how shamefully fond of him I was and assumed that he felt badly for leading me into a misunderstanding. But of course he thought I was merely reacting to his family's reputation. He never once suspected my feelings towards him. He still does not know. St. John attempted to shake himself off and continue the conversation as if nothing had happened.
 
“Confession, penance, and absolution are what bind us together as people.” His voice trembled; he cleared his throat and continued in a firmer tone. “Without these three acts, we would be completely separate from one another; our sins would keep us apart. Furthermore, confession is a sacrament, nearly the cornerstone of Christian life.”
 
“Then will you listen to mine now, Reverend?” They continued walking without pause or hesitation through the rain, as if they were nothing more than two friends out for a late-evening stroll, but Cpt. Aquilaine whispered as if actually in church.
 
St. John bit hard on the inside of his lip, grateful that his face was hidden in the evening's darkness. He feared what might come next, what Cpt. Aquilaine might divulge to a man he considered a good friend and nothing more, and with all his heart wanted to shift back to a more light-hearted subject. But he was a Reverend still, and duty was duty, and if the Captain wanted to make a confession he must listen and give absolution if possible. So he replied, forcing the words through clenched teeth,
 
“If you shew confession and penance, then I will give absolution however I can.”
 
“Thank you. You are kinder to me than I deserve.”
 
St. John nodded and bade him continue with a gesture of his hand; every word the Captain spoke snatched at his sympathies, and he felt queasy in his stomach.
 
“I must admit to deceit, the manipulation of an honest man for selfish purposes, and all manner of immorality, specifically that I have—”
 
St. John cut off Cpt. Aquilaine before his friend uttered so much as another sound. Clergyman he may have been, but he was also human, and listening to those first stammering words already strained him; he could not endure a full recounting of the Captain's deeds. “If you are wanting to declare your affaire de coeur I can assure you I am already well aware of it. You know what the Scriptures say on the subject; you know that I have said I would always grant you forgiveness.” His voiced faded; he desperately wished to be alone. “You must ask God for absolution, not me. You already have mine.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine turned to him, wide-eyed and upset. “Reverend, no! You must not misunderstand me! I … I must explain, yes. Let me try.” He ran fingers anxiously through his hair, now soaked through; shakoes were more ornament than genuine protection. “When Col. Fitzpatrick invited me to his estate, he mentioned the possibility of, well—oh, you will think so poorly of me.”
 
St. John grasped his coat sleeve and they halted in the middle of the street, all pretence of formality and impartiality vanished into the heavy tropical airs. “Captain, what have you done?” He dreaded the answer; he could not hear it soon enough.
 
The Captain spoke as if the words were being torn from him by force. “Plac—Col. Fitzpatrick is second cousin to the Governor-General, Lord Auckland. He invited me over in order to, as he said, discuss the possibility of contacting the Governor about finding me a better position, perhaps in the cavalry where my leg might be less of a hindrance. Of course I knew what he really was about; he and I had been on fairly, that is—intimate terms at Cambridge and I suspected, correctly, that he hoped for a renewal of such terms. I was not inclined to renew, as it were, but neither would he intercede with Lord Auckland if I said so outright. It would offend him and easy as kiss-my-hand—all hope of the cavalry gone.”
 
The Rev. St. John stood dumb and mute, fingers still clutched around a fistful of red coat, the words not inclined to renew echoing in his ears. Cpt. Aquilaine continued, staring at the street.
 
“I could not afford to offend him, and you know—it cannot be a terrible thing, I hope you agree—I am not much good at dissembling. I am a wretched liar. But if I refused and could not give good reason then all would be lost. And I did refuse him, completely. But I—oh dear.”
 
St. John shook his head slowly, coolly, staring the Captain in the eye as best he could in the dim light. “You are a wretched liar indeed, Cpt. Aquilaine. And you are lying to me, even now. I have seen you with him! In the howdah, when he had his arm around you and combed his hands through your hair and, and … and you stand here and ask for my forgiveness and tell me you did nothing with him? Nothing at all?” His voice rose unaccountably.
 
“Nothing past that, Reverend, on my honour! That was merely playfulness—I swear to you it went no further.”
 
St. John spun on his heel in fury; the Captain followed closely behind, limping heavily as he tried to keep up. As St. John strode along he laid out the case in logical fashion, as he had turned over it in his mind so many sleepless nights now. Of course it meant nothing to him now, what the Captain had or had not done back at the estate; yet he felt a desperate need to be absolutely correct on all points.
 
“Captain, you came to me that first night at the estate, and you asked if I would grant you forgiveness, if you ever did something that warranted it. I did not understand then what you were about, only that you were in distress and I wanted you to be comforted. Moreover, I assumed you were referring to something further with your family, and you know I do not care a whit for such things. So I said I would always give pardon, for anything. When I saw you and Col. Fitzpatrick in the howdah I understood. You had made your intentions clear to me once, with all your talk of Greeks, and I made mine clear as well. You accepted that, moved on, and found a more amenable companion in Col. Fitzpatrick. Furthermore, you knew that I as a Reverend could not approve of … of fornication, especially not fornication for so crass a reason as the Colonel offered, and you feared for our friendship. Thus you asked my forgiveness ahead of time, and I gave it to you. Having my implicit pardon, you forged ahead with the Colonel. Is that not all perfectly correct?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine stared at him, bewildered. “Not at all, Reverend. Not at any point. What are you about?”
 
His words rang true; this struck St. John as strongly as not inclined to renew. “You did not … truly not have any sorts of relations with Col. Fitzpatrick? But what then are you so ashamed of? Considering is not the same as doing. What torments you so?”
 
“Because I could not risk offence and give him no reason at all. As I told you. And hence—I need your forgiveness!” He could scarcely choke out the words.
 
“For what, Captain? Speak plainly.” They halted again. Cpt. Aquilaine looked wretched; St. John could not have been more confounded or more afraid; a queer, trembling sort of happiness was breaking over him and he felt powerless to stop it.

Cpt. Aquilaine clutched at his cane, his face now wholly in shadow. “I told him I could not renew our acquaintance as such because I was already occupied—a prior commitment; I told Col. Fitzpatrick I was already on intimate terms with you.”
 
 
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notes:

 
Ye have heard that it was said – Matthew 5:27-28.
 
And if thine eye offend thee – Matthew 5:29.
 
Origen – Origen was widely believed, in the middle ages, to have castrated himself, either because he could not control his lusts (and thus following a strict interpretation of Matthew 5:29), or because he was inspired by Matthew 19:12 (“For there are some eunuchs … which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake”). The veracity of this story is now questioned, although Origen was an awfully strict fellow.
 
spermatorrhoea – Much of the text in the Oxford Companionate Medical Advisor is rather loosely cribbed from a text called The People's Common Sense Medical Advisor, by R.V. Pierce, MD. People's Common Sense was first published in 1875, but the ideas contained within are far, far older, and spermatorrhoea (the condition of accidental or excessive discharge of semen) has been feared and treated for hundreds, if not thousands, of years by the Western, Chinese, and Ayurvedic traditions, to name just three. Of course, in this time period excessive sexual desire and masturbation in women was thought to lead to “lesbianism”, physical degeneracy, and perversion. Reader, do not get me started on clitoridectomies; the treatments St. John chose to undergo were mild, at best.
 
Christian at the Wall of Salvation – Christian is the star of Paul Bunyan's highly influential Pilgrim's Progress.
 
bed wreathed in flames – In Jane Eyre, the heroine finds Mr. Rochester in a deep sleep and wreathed in flames, as his bed (and bedroom) have been set afire. She wakes him and saves him from a terrible death by burning. It is difficult to best the Victorians at symbolism.
 
Hottentot Venus – Sarah Baartman, a slave and Khoi woman from South Africa, was taken to England in 1810 and displayed at freak shows because she possessed the exaggeratedly large buttocks (a condition known as steatopygia) and labia common among her tribe. She caused an uproar, partially because of her enslaved status only three years after slavery had been banned in Great Britain (see the Chapter 5 notes), and partially because of her rather-prominent curvature. She was exhibited throughout the country (although she refused to permit her genitalia to be exposed), subject to a court hearing by abolitionist societies petitioning for her release, and she died just five years later after her master, who vowed she was a free woman, sold her off to a man in France.
 
In Paris, Baartman was poked and prodded at by various scholars; after her death in 1815, she was autopsied in the interests of science. Her brain and the genitals she never allowed to be exhibited were preserved in jars and put on display at the Musée de l'Homme, along with her skeleton; there they sat, in public view, for 159 years until the Musée finally hid them away in 1974. Her remains were finally returned to South Africa, by special act of the French parliament, in 2002.
 
déclassé – lower class, lower grade.
 
Wellington's Victory – Beethoven wrote this minor work to commemorate the Duke of Wellington's victory over Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother to Napoleon, at the Battle of Vitoria. It was wildly popular at the time (possibly due to the inclusion of a number of muskets and other weapons in the orchestra, which fired off and simulated various battles throughout the piece), and very financially lucrative for the composer, but is now generally considered one of his weakest works.
 
coupe-glass – Tall, narrow champagne glasses did not come into popularity until relatively recently, despite their superior design with regards to the beverage (they allow a far smaller amount of champagne to be exposed to the air, which makes the carbonation last longer). A coupe-glass is the traditional way to drink champagne.
 
Berlioz – Berlioz premiered the Grande Messe des Morts in 1837; he loved large performances, and the debut had featured over 400 musicians. It was written for 6 tubas, 8 bassoons (a ridiculous number, Reader—more than one bassoon is entirely excessive in any circumstance), 16 timpani, four off-stage brass bands, and a choir of more than 200, scattered throughout the concert hall. Never content, however, Berlioz wrote in the score that “if space permits, the chorus may be doubled or tripled, and the orchestra be proportionally increased,” although he felt that a choir of 700-800 voices would likely suffice.
 
Articles of Faith – Thirty-nine statements that historically defined the Anglican faith, as opposed to Protestantism or Catholicism. It is most dubious that Cpt. Aquilaine could recite all thirty-nine.
 
affaire de coeur – a love affair. In the Victorian era, the discussion of more “delicate” topics was often reserved for French, Italian, or another non-English language.
 

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John is overwhelmed by a Monsoon and a Caress, fails to curb his Tongue, learns that often Second Attempts are better than Firsts—and that Thirds beat all—and finds himself in Sympathy with St. Peter.


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As if the very heavens themselves mocked St. John, the weather chose that moment to break; a deep blackness closed in around them, the wind began to blow and the skies opened as the first monsoon of summer began its furious assault on Calcutta. The storm was almost wilfully intense, as if attempting to make apology for its tardiness, and he could hardly shout over the roar of the pounding tropical rain.
 
“You have done what? You told him what?” Surely he must have misheard the Captain.
 
“You cannot know … personal difficu … all I could think … do it again!” Cpt. Aquilaine also struggled to make himself heard over the deluge. He took St. John by the shoulder and jabbed his cane in the direction of the Club. Shock and anger rising in his throat, St. John wrenched away; he began to stagger home with feet propelled by indignation, whilst his temper increased to something approaching a fury. The warm, wet wind tugged at his greatcoat with every blast and he leant into the gale, clapping a hand on his hat and clutching his coat around him. Cpt. Aquilaine called out for him to wait but he ignored the plea and hurried on.
 
Let the man rot.
 
The noise of the monsoon was overwhelming; it drummed on Calcutta's tin roofs and clay tiles with a noise worse than Berlioz' tympani. Even the beggars had vanished. Streams of water 6 inches deep rushed down the sides of each street, carrying branches, leaves, and all manner of effluvia with them. St. John paused in horror as a sodden pack of rats scuttled past his feet. As he fought on against the downpour his boots began to skid on the cobblestones, now slick with mud and less-pleasant material; the lumps of cow dung not gathered up for cooking were quickly turning to liquid in the pounding rain and spreading out between each stone in the road. A few steps further and he slipped, recovering his balance with great difficulty and nearly wrenching his back in the process. Under no circumstances did he want to make contact with the street muck, but even for a man with two strong legs the conditions were hazardous at best; Cpt. Aquilaine likely fared even worse.
 
The thought of the Captain sliding, stumbling on his bad leg, cane skittering away as he fell into the street was impetus for St. John to turn and make haste from whence he had come. He picked his way back carefully, as only the lamps from nearby houses offering up any sort of light to see by.
 
“Captain! Are you near?” he called over the driving rain.
 
“Hoy! Hallo!” Cpt. Aquilaine called back, and St. John headed towards the voice, finding the Captain some distance behind him, shako under one arm and feeling out with his cane before every step. He offered an arm for stability and assisted him back to the Club, making their way through streets that now resembled rivers more than thoroughfares.
 
At the door, Sanyal started to fuss over the poor Sahibs who had got caught in the monsoon but St. John shook him off. He wanted nothing more than to vanish into his rooms and never reappear.
 
“Wait, Reverend. Please, let me explain myself before you pass judgement!” Cpt. Aquilaine called up to him as he limped up the stairs. St. John whirled around, water streaming off his greatcoat and onto the carpeting.
 
“Explain yourself? You have made everything perfectly clear already, Captain. You have used me for your own purposes and smeared my good name—” he broke off abruptly, aware of the many sets of ears, Indian and English, that could be listening to his voice, over-loud and echoing down the staircase. The Captain limped up after him, as quickly as he could manage, distress written in every line of his face as he gestured towards his quarters.
 
“Pray can we continue in here? Let me say my piece before you cast me off forever, Reverend. I swear it is not as bad as you think.”
 
St. John barged into his sitting room, pulling the Captain roughly behind and closing the door with a slam that shook the stopper in the brandy-glass. “It could not possibly be worse. You have told a man like Col. Fitzpatrick that I was … was having relations with you—you have ruined me! I am a Reverend, and everyone in Calcutta shall now think I am a fornicator and sodomite as well!”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine held up his hands in a placating gesture. “No one shall ever know, Reverend. I know you do not think much of him, but Col. Fitzpatrick is a well-bred man, a gentleman, and my brother-in-arms. The bonds of honour amongst fellow-soldiers are strong! I trust him implicitly. He swore he would not breath a single word of this secret, and so he will not.”
 
“You stupid, credulous fool! You will believe anyone who comes along with a confident air and some fine talk of honour and brotherhood. I am not so guileless—you expect me to trust a man like Col. Fitzpatrick? I shall not. He may be a well-bred gentleman, but he is not a moral man! He is a slave owner who publicly flogs women, he delights in luxury and gluttony, and he is willing to use you most foully for his own gratifications, asking yourself to … whore yourself out in exchange for perhaps an improvement of station. Why would you ever say such a thing to him?”
 
There was a pause as Cpt. Aquilaine paled, colour draining from his face. “I would rather not say, Reverend. It is not important now. And I did not think you would be so deeply upset by this!”
 
“More lies, Captain, more lies! When you asked if I would always grant you forgiveness I thought you were being kind to me, as a young lady is kind to the shepherd boy hanging around the back gate; she regrets that she has to hurt him, and so does the deed as gently as she can. What a fool I am. You were not worried that you were wounding me, running into the arms of Col. Fitzpatrick—you were damaging my reputation, deliberately, for your own purposes. And you sought pardon for it!”
 
“Do you truly think everyone is as cold and deliberate as the Rev. Rivers? Has it not occurred to you at any point that I would have my own reasons for saying what I did? We do not all have the self-discipline and self-denial that you so proudly flaunt. Some of us are in possession of hearts, instead.”
 
St. John actually fell back a step. Cpt. Aquilaine could not have known how close to the bone his words cut; how a certain Miss Eyre had once levelled nearly that exact accusation at him.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine continued angrily, “If you want the truth I shall tell you, Reverend, and then you can mock it as you may. I am a terrible liar, as you know well. I could have given any number of names to Col. Fitzpatrick and he would have believed me as much as you do right now. But I needed him to believe me, and so I gave him the only name that was true, the only man who I did wish to be on intimate terms with. You, Sir. Yes, you have made your disinterest very clear to me on several occasions, but as one possessing a heart, I cannot so easily set aside my feelings!”
 
A great sorrowful heaviness settled over St. John and he became keenly aware of his wet clothes, the warmth of the room, and the heat spreading over his face. Suddenly he lacked the strength to do anything more effortful than shake his head as he attempted to defend himself, his voice falling to a murmur.
 
“Accuse me of having no heart if you must, Captain, but you cannot know how I felt when you and I spent the day together, messing about, nor how I felt when I saw you and him after the hunt. You cannot know and now I shall never be allowed to explain it, it seems.”
 
“Is that what all your talk of young ladies and shepherd boys is about?” Cpt. Aquilaine ran fingers through his wet hair, as if struggling to grasp what they were discussing.
 
“I thought you could see right through me, that I was so obvious I was mooning about like a school-boy. But you were occupied elsewhere, and I had already spurned you once, and now I have said so many hot words that I cannot take back. I am so sorry; I have ruined all.” The realisation of what he had done, and what he could not undo, sent his heart—for he did indeed possess a heart, if not a very large or generous one—sinking as low as it had ever sunk.
 
“Just three days ago I asked if you had been avoiding me, if I had upset you, and you stated that you were merely busy researching abolition. Now you say—but you are so strongly in favour of honestly, no matter the cost. You rarely even soften your words out of kindness. Did you lie to me, Reverend?”
 
“Yes, Captain, I did,” St. John confessed, humiliation now added to his already-heavy burden of unhappy emotions. His penalty for speaking false would be to now speak true, and he forced the words through his teeth. “It is not pleasant, being the unwanted third side of a triangle; indeed it is as bad as being overwhelmed by emotions that one cannot control and must not feel. I could not cast you from my mind, I could not rid myself of this sin and I could not bear what you doubtless thought of me. So I lied, solely in order to throw you off and keep you from noticing my … affections. Forgive me!”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine did not say a word; there was no need. The smile that lit up his face transfixed St. John's breast, and he realised he was once again in the gardens, in the labyrinth, wanting desperately to see what lay around the corner, dreading what might be found.
 
I must leave this room, now. I must turn and walk away.
 
With the last of his strength, he turned towards the door and took a single step. Cpt. Aquilaine caught him by the wrist as he did so.
 
“Reverend, when first we met I thought you were so high-minded, and clever, and good—so different from my normal companions—and did I hope? Yes, until you made it explicit that you were displeased by my advances, and I could not offend you; you were my friend! Then I tried to set you aside, quite unsuccessfully. I noticed that day at the estate when we picnicked that you were, well, gazing at me after I swam, but I assumed that was merely the beer, nothing more. So whilst I have wondered and hoped further I did not dare consider anything beyond friendship.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine said all this in a rush of words, tumbling and spilling out of his mouth as a fine red blush lit his cheeks, but St. John did not notice his appearance, nor hear a word of what was spoken. For when the Captain grabbed him by the wrist to halt his flight, he had slipped his thumb under the sleeve of St. John's greatcoat—by accident or design, it mattered not—and it lay there warmly against the underside of St. John's wrist, just past the cuff of his sodden kid-glove. As he spoke the Captain had begun moving his thumb back and forth, gently, insistently, across the sensitive bare skin, sending a rush of heat slowly up St. John's arm until he was rooted to the spot, blood roaring in his ears and breath shallow over his now-parted lips.
 
The Captain dropped his gaze to where his hand lay. He also paused, frozen, and the dark little room went entirely still and silent except for the drumming of the rain on the window and the motion of his thumb against St. John's skin.
 
After a long moment, Cpt. Aquilaine lifted his head once more and looked at him, questioningly. He spoke in a hoarse sort of whisper. “St. John, I did not wish to presume.”
 
Spirit was willing, but flesh, insidious needful flesh, flesh was so weak. He became vividly aware of how close they stood to one another, and how much larger the Captain was; his mouth went dry. He too glanced down at Cpt. Aquilaine's thumb and closed his eyes.
 
Lord, I am too feeble. Forgive Thou me this evening and I shall repent all come the morning light.
 
St. John opened his eyes, wide with apprehension and anticipation. “Marcus—you may presume.”
 
So the Captain smiled, lifted St. John's hand to his mouth and slowly slid the glove away, running his lips over the Reverend's skin as he did so, kissing knuckle, then finger, then nail, then tip, then turning the now-bare hand over and tracing the fingers back down to the palm. Such was the expression of ardour on his face that St. John nearly forgot to draw breath. He had never felt anything so sweet as that caress.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine helped him shrug off his greatcoat, took his hat, and kissed him on the neck whilst untying St. John's cravat as St. John leant his head to one side to accommodate the Captain's mouth. It seemed to him a sort of dream come to life there in the sitting room, lit only by two flickering oil lamps, as the Captain gently, deliberately removed layers of monsoon-soaked clothing from both their bodies, pausing every so often to kiss some newly exposed piece of skin. The newness of the situation drove all conscious thought from his mind. But as they continued St. John's courage began to fade and he could not stop his limbs from trembling. The Captain—now clad only his smalls—moved slowly, too slowly. By the time he had undone St. John's shirt nearly to the waist and was busy sliding it off his shoulders, St. John had finally noticed his own increasing arousal and felt desperate—irrationally, he knew—to conceal it. He blurted out, “Please, let us make haste, do this quickly. Do not draw it out so.”
 
The Captain went still and took his hands off the Reverend's arms. “We do not have to do this, St. John. Shall I stop?”
 
“No, we must do this, do you not understand? Every night my dreams are all of you. Everywhere I go: on my morning walks, in the marketplace, the library, the church—all I can see is you in a hundred different forms and I cannot stop it! I have tried so many different ways, spiritual and medical, prayed so many prayers and begged the Lord to take this from me and He has not. He promised never to tempt us more than we could bear, but I can bear it no longer. I will have my night of sin. But please, please let us make haste. Let us go quickly.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine cupped St. John's face in his large, brown hands and drew him until they were nose to nose, almost touching.
 
“I am so sorry—I do not understand you, or anything you are saying except for the part where you cannot stop thinking about me. I am well acquainted with that, at least. But we do not have to, as you say, sin.”
 
St. John clutched at his hands. “No, it is too late. I have wanted this in my heart a dozen times a day, and wanting the sin is as wrong as actually committing the sin. The scriptures are very clear on that. It is merely that I am nervous.” He could not yet admit the true reason for his fear—a certain detail of his life, a detail which until now had been a point of spiritual pride, a hallmark of his self-discipline and constancy.
 
“So follow the teachings of Martin Luther, St. John, and sin boldly.”
 
The comment brought him back to himself and St. John jerked his head away in irritation. “Martin Luther never said such a thing, Captain. That is merely a poor translation of the German that students say when they want to justify their excessive drinking—”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine lay a single finger across St. John's lips; his eyes glittered with amusement. “Perhaps then you should pay heed to another saying of Martin Luther.” His expression turned mischievous; anxiety and excitement pooled in St. John's stomach.
 
“And what saying would that be exactly, Marcus?” he whispered.
 
Be Thou silent, for now I am going to kiss Thee.”
 
Martin Luther did not say that either, St. John thought, but he did not say the words aloud for his mouth was otherwise occupied. A great warmth spread over him as the Captain's lips pressed tight against his own and held him there, reassuring and hinting at what else might be discovered that night.
 
The Captain led St. John into the bedroom, spreading back the coverlet and assisting him with his trousers and boots; St. John yet again went still with anxiety. I am sitting on his bed, on his sheets, and next he and I will lie down on this bed and I shall be naked—those are his hands, and soon they shall be touching every part of me—what will I do and how shall I do it? O God. I shall shame myself and he shall laugh at my innocence. Cpt. Aquilaine kissed him more insistently, hands lingering over the sharp bones of the Reverend's hips before moving forward to the buttons on his smalls. But as he began to push St. John back on to the bed, St. John caught himself with his elbows, willing himself not to lie down and the Captain paused, uncertain of his welcome.
 
“I have not done this before, Marcus,” he confessed with a look of pleading fear. “I do not know what I am to do next. I will not do things well. I am afraid.”
 
Men are such stupid creatures. I have spent my whole life proud of my purity and chastity, and now that I am about to surrender both, I am ashamed for not knowing how.
 
“Why, it is much the same as if you were with a woman—” he broke off, puzzlement softening into a look of such sympathy that St. John flushed. “Ah. Truly?”
 
“I am a Reverend! God calls on all His children to be chaste.” St. John dropped his chin to his chest and stared at his lap, at his own smalls, the last thing that stood between him and sin.
 
“But did you not plan on marriage, once? What would you have done, that night?”
 
“It is easier with a woman, Captain,” he shook his head ruefully. “Everything is more … obvious.” He stared helplessly at the single candle sputtering on the bedside table.
 
At that Cpt. Aquilaine laughed a little before turning serious. “Do you not trust me?”
 
“Of course, Marcus. You are my friend.”
 
“It is not hard with us either, St. John. All you must do is enjoy yourself. Here—close your eyes and I shall shew you.”
 
St. John lay down, feeling as foolish and graceless as he had ever felt in his adult life, and kept his eyes shut tightly as the Captain kissed him further on the mouth, the neck, and the collarbone, sliding off his own smalls and assisting St. John with his. He trembled like a rabbit, eager and excited and frightened, so very frightened. Then they were both naked, lying next to each other, and St. John could feel, pushing against his leg, the Captain's insistent need. But a sense of unreality coloured the entire situation, as if he could not really be certain that he was actually in the bed with the Captain, and not just in another of his strange dreams. He could not focus, he could not relax, he could not stop thinking about Martin Luther and Jane and how his own need had faded and would not return no matter how he was touched or kissed. As Cpt. Aquilaine settled awkwardly onto him, pushing his cock between St. John's thighs whilst working his hips up and down, St. John risked a glance.
 
He saw, in cold detail, the Captain's arms on either side of his head, the way he arched his back with every thrust, the tension of the muscles in his chest and neck, the expression of effort and need written across his face. He could feel the Captain's shaft, thick and solid, as it chafed against his inner thighs and tugged uncomfortably at his testes.
 
In my dreams this all looked so enticing. Now here I am, not dreaming but actually experiencing it, and I find it is all so stupid and sad. He does not even look handsome, now.
 
The Captain soon quickened his pace, breathing hard and fast until he froze, gave a loud grunt and shook through the length of his body, spilling his seed between St. John's thighs. He lay on St. John then, heavy and perspiring, and when finally he rolled off to the side, muttering something as he went, St. John did not notice what he whispered; he did not care.
 
So that is it, then; it is done. I am chaste no more. He turned away so the Captain would not see his face. I can never again deliver a homily on constancy with an unstained heart, or a wedding sermon on fornication without hypocrisy. And I did not even enjoy it. How common I am now. And how deceitful is sin—all those sleepless nights, fighting my temptation, and now that I have yielded I find it is hollow and empty. O God, forgive me.
 
He shifted a little, looking up towards the ceiling and listening to the rain drubbing on the window pane, several errant tears escaping as he wept for his shame and degradation. One ran out the far corner of his eye, tickling his cheek as it slid into his whiskers. Then a warm thumb touched his cheek, tracing the damp path of the tear back to the source. Cpt. Aquilaine followed the other tears with slow, broad fingers, over the bridge of his nose, drying off his eyes as he went.
 
“It seems I enjoyed myself far more than you did, St. John. What do you think?”
 
“I think I sold myself rather cheaply for my 30 pieces of silver, Captain.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine sucked in his breath sharply through clenched teeth and jerked his hand away. St. John felt him shift off, breaking contact, and swing his legs over the side of the bed; he sat there, elbows on his knees and slumped shoulders, staring down at the floorboards. St. John realised what he had just implied. He reached out to clasp the Captain on the arm.
 
“I should not have said those words, truly—I did not mean it like that. I just … I am sure it is different for those who have done this more frequently—”
 
“But you regret doing so.” His words were clipped and his voice tight.
 
“I regret that it was not what I had expected, that is true. But I do not know what it should have been. I simply could not stop thinking about Martin Luther, and theology, and how foolish I must look, and then it was done and I was ashamed! I am so sorry, Marcus.”
 
Without a word, Cpt. Aquilaine stood and removed himself from the room. St. John watched him go, wretched because half his mind was occupied with how best to recover his clothes and leave quietly, and half his mind was occupied with how the Captain, from behind, looked every bit as he had hoped for in his dreams.
 
He heard the sounds of pacing and creaking floorboards in the sitting room, a clink of glass, and then the Captain returned. St. John turned violently red as he saw the Captain in toto for the first time, and realised that he did indeed look like a Greek statue, only more so in certain respects. He glanced away far too late, then drew his gaze back because despite all expectations the Captain was smiling at him.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine perched himself on the edge of the bed, offering up a small snifter of brandy. St. John shifted over to meet him, keeping himself as modest as possible with the sheets.
 
“You are not angry with me, Marcus? You should be. I am sharp and unkind; my tongue is a sword and I use it most thoughtlessly. Or perhaps you are angry with me, and wish me to offer you the brandy along with my apology?”
 
With a sigh the Captain leant over to tug softly on St. John's side-whiskers. “Your words did sting at first—you have this way of launching them very quickly and with a very precise aim—but if you enjoyed yourself so little that you spent your time thinking of theology then I cannot have done a very good job, could I?” He pressed the brandy into St. John's hand. “I am not myself used to being with someone so … virtuous. Take a little, perhaps it will relax you, and then if you like I shall try a second time, and I shall do nothing you do not enjoy, even if I only pull my fingers through your hair. Enjoying yourself is the point, after all.”
 
With a nod and slightly trembling hands St. John sipped at the brandy, hoping that his error was not irreversible. It caused him to cough a little—he was still not used to taking his liquor neat—as it sent warmth trickling down his throat to pool at the base of his stomach. The alcohol soon made him slightly loose-limbed as well and his nerves grew more steady. As he grew more confident, he reached out a hand to touch the Captain lightly on his injured thigh, on the red, puckered scars. He had glimpsed them but once before, by the lake at Col. Fitzpatrick's estate, and then only from a distance.
 
“No wonder you limp so by the end of the day; 'tis a miracle you can get about at all. The musket ball must have shattered the bone?”
 
“Oh yes—straight through, and lodged itself in the muscle behind. They had to cut me open, remove the ball, piece the bone together and then sew it all up and pray it did not fester. But it was not all bad; they gave me laudanum when they were done, and I can assure you I was quite glad of it when they did!”
 
St. John shuddered. “I am always amazed at how advanced our nation's physicians have become, to effect such a surgery, but I hope to never fall under their capable hands. I would not conduct myself with dignity.”
 
“I did not do so myself, I am told. There is a reason they give you wood to bite on.” He sniggered at the memory.
 
St. John laughed a little at this too, but touching the Captain's thigh revived thoughts less elevated than his musings on the state of prevailing medicine, and he turned back to the drink in his hand. As he tilted the snifter high and felt the last drops burn and dissipate on his tongue Cpt. Aquilaine again took up kissing him on the neck, leaving small spots of cool dampness behind as he went, and St. John began to enjoy his attentions rather than shrink from them. Physical contact, heretofore in his life, had been nearly entirely limited to shaking hands with parishioners, jostling shoulders in a marketplace crowd, or kissing his sisters on the cheek before they retired to bed—now St. John shivered and flinched at each touch and although the fingers brushing over him were so gentle, the cascade of new sensations nearly overwhelmed his body.
 
When at last he lay back Cpt. Aquilaine followed him down, broad hands skimming the wiry cords of his arms, lips and teeth tugging at an ear-lobe and causing St. John to gasp aloud as thrills of heat shot into the base of his spine. Bashful about his strangely-exposed body, he curled in a little whilst the Captain ran fingers lightly down his ribs. He twisted with tension and pleasure under those fingers, even as they simply rested unmoving on the crest of one hip, but as the Captain's hand shifted down even further, tracing a line up his thigh before—O God have mercy—sliding along the tender pale underside of his buttock, he could not help but pull himself violently away.
 
“Do I presume too much, St. John? Do you wish me to stop?”
 
“No, Marcus … no,” he stammered out. “But it is so much—everything—your hands—I feel it all so strongly. And I am shy. Will you snuff the light?”
 
So Cpt. Aquilaine pinched off the candle's wick and kissed him again, more firmly this time, parting the Reverend's lips with his own and exploring with the tip of his tongue. As St. John was focused on this strange new style of kissing—unexpected and somewhat vulgar, but also offering much in the way of possibility—the Captain ran a hand up the inside of his thigh; he arched his back as if to escape but the hand remained, solid and determined. Cpt. Aquilaine continued the kiss, drawing St. John's tongue into his own mouth and tugging on it, sucking on it, and whilst St. John considered the overtly-erotic implications of this particular action the Captain's hand moved over to grasp his arousal.
 
From the time, far off in his distant youth, when he had first learnt of the perils of onanism, St. John had rarely even touched himself in such a manner; not never—sins of the flesh were one of the Great Deceiver's most clever temptations—but rarely; he had trained himself instead to take long walks through the countryside or puzzle his way through difficult Hebrew texts when the need arose. St. John had never before felt another person's hand on his most private parts. Now, as the Captain touched him for the first time, sliding fingers up and down the length of his shaft, he did not even have time to recognise the joyous swelling ache that radiated up from between his legs, nor to acknowledge how much more pleasant it felt to have someone else touching him there than when he took himself in hand. The ocean waves that had rolled out turned and began their final push towards shore, the pressure growing inside him demanded escape, and to his shame he realised he could not stop it—
 
“Wait—no—Marcus—I can't—Marcus!O Christ.”
 
St. John collapsed back onto the bed, legs shuddering as tears once more streamed out the corners of his eyes. He panted for air, heart racing as he took in what he had done. I am a mortal; I do not understand the mind of God, that much is abundantly clear. How can anything so delightful be a sin? A happiness swept through his heart as he marvelled at how joyful the world could be, followed by sorrow as he remembered it could not be for him. Then Cpt. Aquilaine drew him into another embrace, kissing him lightly on the cheek.
 
“You are weeping again, St. John! Is it well with you?”

“Yes—o yes—it is well. Marcus, I am well.” He paused, embarrassed at his lack of self-control. “Ah—I am sorry! I did not expect everything to be so … precipitous. And I have made a mess on your sheets when you have been so understanding with me, and you—you cannot be enjoying yourself much. I have not the skill.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine sighed and whispered sleepily, “You have no idea, St. John, how much I am enjoying this night. You cannot possibly know.”
 
The words sent a different sort of thrill down St. John's spine, but he too had quickly grown tired and felt himself drifting off. He forced himself back into wakefulness with a start. Although he was uncertain of what to do next, a lifetime of propriety at least provided certain guidelines, even in entirely unexpected situations.
 
“You are weary, Marcus, and here I have forgotten even the most basic of courtesies. I must take my leave now, and let you rest.” He began to scramble over to the edge of the bed, not wanting to elbow Cpt. Aquilaine in the dark as he did so. But the Captain stopped him with a single hand on his shoulder.
 
“Do you not wish to stay? You are more than welcome, of course.”
 
Such a possibility had not occurred to St. John, and the more he thought on it the more appealing the idea became. He declined nevertheless. “A kind offer indeed! But I shall only be in the way, and the servants will gossip to no end tomorrow.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine snorted. “The Club is full of soldiers. I can assure you, nothing you or I do will scandalize anyone under this roof, unless you propose to make it a dry establishment. Short of taking away their wine, you cannot offend.”
 
St. John relaxed a little, and settled back down onto the bed. “I suppose if it does not compromise you, or myself, and you are not displeased by the idea … ”
 
“I am not, not in any part. Come and stay, and I shall be even happier than I already am.”
 
The room's darkness hid the Reverend's blush. “Then you have convinced me.” He shifted to make himself comfortable, feeling like an awkward, gangly youth for the first time in years. Finally he was satisfied that he could sleep without being overly intrusive. Still imagining himself to be rude, he muttered, “You are a good host, and I hope I am not taking advantage. And thank you for the invitation to the symphony.”
 
From under the coverlet, the Captain chuckled softly. “You are not taking advantage by any means, I am very glad indeed that you accepted my invitation, and do not worry that you were precipitous, as you say; that is often the way at first. Later I shall shew you what I mean. There—has that covered all? Can we sleep?” He pulled St. John closer so his back was flush against the Captain's chest; St. John needed no further encouragement.
 
 
 
The rain had tapered off for the present and the longcase clock in the lobby began to chime, waking the Reverend with a start. He sat up and listened intently as it struck one—two—three, without even quite remembering why the time was so important. Next to him, the Captain shifted and stirred a little.
 
“You are awake,” he murmured drowsily, and St. John recalled why he was so glad to find it still dark outside. I have sinned; I am still in my night of sin and it is not yet light outside. I must make use of my time and sin boldly, as he says. Feeling equal parts selfish and shy, he leant over the Captain, shaking him gently by one shoulder and rousing him further—Cpt. Aquilaine resisted, so St. John pressed his case further.
 
“Marcus, you said it would be less precipitous next time, did you not? Shew me.” This woke the Captain so swiftly that St. John felt a brief flash of satisfaction, to learn how he could turn matters to his own advantage, followed by an equally brief flash of despair that he would never again have an opportunity to use his new-found knowledge. But then Cpt. Aquilaine pulled him back down into the bed and St. John did not have further opportunity to think on his sorrow, as the Captain commenced in his demonstration that that yes, matters could be far, far less precipitous when given the proper attention and consideration.
 
“What would you like to do?”
 
“Perhaps that which you tried at first?” St. John blushed at even the attempt to say it aloud.
 
“Mmmm. You would like that? If I were to kiss you like last time, or perhaps a little further even?” And here he began to demonstrate exactly how he intended to kiss the Rev. Rivers, until the Reverend lay helpless and happy under him. “It that what you were intending?”
 
“Yes, something of that nature,” St. John said breathlessly.
 
“Should I then move my hands down your ribs, like so, and seek out the bones of your hips? I seem to recall they were rather sensitive. Hmm,” he muttered thoughtfully, feeling the Reverend's response. “Yes, that seems a wise course of action. But of course, I do possess two hands. Perhaps with the other—” and here he trailed one large, solid thumb down the line of hairs that led from St. John's umbilicus to his privates. St. John tensed and bit hard on his lower lip, choking back the noises that threatened to escape. He felt as if he were being lit from inside by a glowing flame, one that slowly expanded in size and strength. The urge to cry aloud became strong, and to cover it he gasped out,
 
“Marcus, O Marcus, do not torment me thus!”
 
“Torment?” The Captain sounded so offended that for one brief, frightened moment the Reverend wondered if he had just insulted him yet again. But then he continued, “St. John, why do you wish me to hurry? I though you wanted matters to be less precipitous, as you so elegantly phrased it. This is how respectable gentlemen go about such things. Here—I will shew you what else respectable gentlemen do.” He said it in a low, amorous tone that quickened the Reverend's pulse even further.
 
He removed his busy hands and cautiously settled his knees onto each side of St. John's legs; St. John actually made a frustrated noise before he could stop himself. Cpt. Aquilaine rewarded him with a kiss for it, and then reached past the Reverend's head, pawing around in the dark for something on the side-table.
 
“What are you doing?”
 
“Finding the oil, St. John! Did you not notice me doing this last time?”
 
“Not at all. Does oil … is it important?”
 
“Entirely. It will make things much better for both of us.” He found the object of his desire, fiddled with his hands, and then spread a warm slickness over the Reverend's arousal and in between his thighs. That accomplished, he stroked St. John with one oiled finger until St. John thought he would burst from joy.
 
“What are you thinking, when I do this?” the Captain asked, kissing the Reverend on the tender skin behind one ear.
 
“Nothing, nothing at all,” St. John nearly moaned. “Should I be?”
 
“Just so long as you are not thinking of Martin Luther,” Cpt. Aquilaine murmured. “I do not want you to think of anything at present except me.”
 
“No, I am not. I cannot. I assure you.”
 
“Then I am glad,” he whispered seductively. He shifted his hand away and gently lowered himself down onto St. John, much as with their first union. To begin he merely lay there, kissing and fondling, and the Reverend decided it was mostly a pleasant thing but wished for cooler temperatures, as they both perspired freely in the summer heat. He did not much enjoy the contact of hot, damp skin pressing up against him. Then Cpt. Aquilaine slowly started to shift up and down once more, making his own small noises, and this time St. John found the motion delightful, rather than awkward or uncomfortable. There was not quite enough stimulation for his now urgent desires, however, and the glow within him increased to an almost painful intensity. The Captain, as if he did not care, simply continued on course until, after a cruelly long time, he spent himself with a shudder and a sigh.
 
He settled more heavily atop St. John then, loose-limbed and languid, whispering something just below the Reverend's threshold of hearing, although the meaning was clear enough if the words themselves were not. Finally, when St. John began to shift his own hips up and down, trying to rid himself of the piercing discomfort that was both deeply foreign and entirely familiar to his body—as if he were hearing his childhood language spoken after decades of exile in foreign lands, and his heart recalled the feel of his mother-tongue even if the meaning puzzled his mind—Cpt. Aquilaine slid his hand once more down the Reverend's hips. He trailed his fingertips over the sensitive skin of St. John's inner thighs, but never touched that which most obviously demanded attention. Finally St. John could not quell his noises of protest, reaching a point of desperation, and so the Captain cupped a hand around his need. The moment he started working his hand up and down a bolt of flame seemed to pulse through the Reverend, causing his whole body to quiver, which was then followed by a feeling of enormous release and relief. When the white lights flashing behind his eyelids gradually faded back into the darkness of the room, he bestirred himself enough to say,
 
“I understand now why people speak so fondly of intercourse.”
 
“You have enjoyed it, then?”
 
“Less precipitous is more intense by far. I can see the advantage in lingering.” St. John could almost hear the smile that spread across Cpt. Aquilaine's tanned face.
 
“I am glad I could shew you something so pleasant, St. John.”
 
“Joy! More than pleasure, Marcus—I think you have shewn me joy.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine did not reply; he simply pulled St. John close and kissed him lightly on the cheek. With that they fell silent and were overtaken by sleep.
         
 
 
When next St. John awoke dawn had come; the sun was rising over the sodden city of Calcutta. Realisation that night had well and truly finished sent a stab of pain through him, and he wished he could close his eyes and shut out the world for ever. But a bargain was a bargain, and having danced he must needs now pay the Piper. Unbidden into his mind sprang the story of St. Peter, who denied the Lord Christ three times only to weep when the rooster crowed. Poor man, I have before now always held you in scorn for your weakness. I shall not do so again. The difference being that the Reverend was no saint, and that he would instead deny himself.
 
For the third time he found himself wiping at his eyes. He tried to keep still, tried not to disturb their last moments together, but Cpt. Aquilaine woke nonetheless.
 
“More tears? What is it, St. John? Why are you so sad?”
 
“No, not sad! I am happy, Marcus, so very happy—but now it is morning.”

 

 

Second Attempts are better than Firsts


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notes:
 
the skies opened – Monsoons can and will actually begin this suddenly.
 
Martin Luther – Both men are correct. Martin Luther did actually say something to the effect of “sin boldly”, but he did not intend for people to simply run around sinning, comfortable in the knowledge that all would be forgiven. The full quote is “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine settled awkwardly onto him – All forms of Greek and Roman sex were zero-sum. In other words, someone lost and someone won, every single time. Without exception, the person being penetrated lost; this is probably why the Greek pederastic relationships between older men and youths almost exclusively involved intercrural sex. The relationship's intention (at least in part) was to introduce young men to the adult world, a bit like a sexually-charged mentorship. Penetrative sex of any type would have violated the youth, greatly insulted him and his family, and breached the bounds of their socially-sanctioned intimacies.
 
Society in the Regency and Victorian eras was heavily against any sort of homosexual behaviour, and more than eager to persecute or punish it, but was also deeply influenced by Ancient Greece and Rome. By speaking of and putting their desires in reference to the classical world, it became somewhat easier for men to pursue same-sex relationships. Intercrural sex was preferred by many Victorian men who saw their desires through the lens of Ancient Greece; they considered it representative of the lofty ideals and aesthetics of the classical world, as opposed to practices such as anal sex, which was seen as crude and vulgar.
 
30 pieces of silver – Matthew 26:15.
 
in toto – altogether.
 
laudanum – Laudanum was a preparation of 10% powered opium (by weight) with a liquid such as alcohol. It was used for pain relief, cough suppression, aid with sleeping, cardiac troubles, diarrhoea, and whatever else people felt like using it for. At the time, such effective pain relief was revolutionary. The use of anaesthetics during surgery (with primitive medicines such as diethyl ether, nitrous oxide, or chloroform) would not begin until the late 1840s; Queen Victoria helped popularise their usage during childbirth when, in the late 1850s, she took chloroform during the birth of her last two children.
 
to effect such a surgery – Keep in mind that such surgeries took place before anaesthesia, any understanding of infection or germs theory, good sanitation practices, or regular hand washing prior to medical procedures such as surgery or delivering children. Most people who died in war lost their lives to disease or infection, not the glories of battle.
 
onanism – Genesis 38:9. Onanism generally refers to a man's wasteful spilling of his seed, either by masturbation or coitus interruptus.
 
St. Peter – On the night that Jesus was crucified, St. Peter denied three times that he had ever known the man. That was, of course, just as Jesus had predicted.
 

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John comes to regret Many, but not All, of his Decisions, learns the Diverse Perils of the Afternoon Nap, meets Three Young Ladies with a Lime, and speaks false in the House of God.

 
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Cpt. Aquilaine fought into a sitting position and yawned; he looked weary from the previous night's efforts. St. John dabbed at his eyes with a corner of the bed sheet. He took his friend in with one swift glance, attempting to memorise his sleep-mussed hair and bleary face.
 
Will God consider it a sin if I retain happy recollections of last night? Or must I come to hate it all, even the way he stretches his arms as he wakes?
 
“Pray explain, St. John. Why are you sad that it is morning? Morning can bring all sorts of delights—breakfast carried up on a little tray from the kitchens, lying in bed and listening to the city wake, various exercises to get the blood flowing—you will like mornings, I think.” He rubbed at eyes swollen with a lack of sleep.
 
St. John still hoped to slip away quietly and give more formal regrets later; it would be easier than making such a declaration whilst they were both in their present state. “I am sorry, Captain, but I must be going. There is much to do, and I do not like to stay in bed overly late once the sun is up.”
 
“That does not seem a good reason for why you are upset.” Receiving no response, the Captain pressed further. “Are you sorry to have been with me?”
 
At this St. John hastened to give reassurance. “No, Marcus, I may repent the sin, but not my choice of companions. I will not regret you. I will never regret that it was you.”
 
“You will not regret me?” Cpt. Aquilaine chortled but began to look anxious. “That sounds very much like something out of a bad theatrical, just before the hero catches a boat to join the French Foreign Legion. Come—or are you nervous again? I think I am learning how to relax you.” The alarm in his eyes softened to something more lustful.
 
St. John saw the peril in his words and hastily exited the bed, as the Captain sputtered in surprise. As he bent down to take up his clothes the Captain, unconcerned with nudity, came over and grasped him around his still bare waist.
 
“You are truly leaving? I do not understand. Did you have an appointment? St. John?”
 
St. John shrank from his embrace, shoving his feet into his trousers and pulling them on with a jerk. “I must go. Do not force me to elaborate. It will be the worse for both of us, if I do.” He could feel his self-control slipping already; yielding to temptation had not given it a chance to rest and regain strength, as he had hoped; rather it had been badly weakened by the endeavour. How easy it would be to sin for just one more day, one more night, once more! Panic began to take hold—bargaining with the Lord over sin was foolish enough; taking back the bargain after the fact was surely far, far worse.
 
Fear carried through in the Captain's words. “You must not leave so hastily, you cannot simply leave without giving account of yourself! When shall I see you again … will it be tonight?”
 
The eager face tore at St. John's heart. He shook his head slowly, wishing there were a way to soften his words, knowing there was not. “No. Last night was all. I had my sin, and now I must go and repent.”
 
“What is this? You cannot—you will simply leave me? No, I will not allow it. You cannot just walk out like this!” He gripped the Reverend by the arm hard enough to bruise.
 
St. John wrenched away in a sudden rage. “Do not touch me, Captain! Do not touch me again!” He backed towards the bedroom door, tripping as he went. Cpt. Aquilaine stood numb in the middle of the room; St. John pressed his back to the door frame. “You are dear to me as a friend, but we cannot fornicate again. I am sorry, Marcus.”
 
The Captain lashed out unexpectedly, proving that he, too, could speak hot and intemperate words when pushed past his natural state of amiability. “Did you come to me last night simply in order to satisfy your own curiosities? O foolish Marcus Aquilaine, thinking you were fond of me—you merely wanted a fuck!”
 
St. John blanched. Gathering the last of his clothes into an untidy lump, he fled bare-chested into the hall, praying in desperation that he would not encounter any fellow residents. God be merciful, he did not. When he stumbled back to his rooms a wave of nausea swept over him and, heedless of his surroundings, possessions, and even himself, he discarded his entire bundle into a corner and was sick into the coal scuttle. As the illness subsided he retired to his bedroom and began to sob brokenly. For a time he simply knelt on the floor, insensible in his grief and remorse, so distraught he could not even form the words to pray. When slowly the fit of sorrow began to lift, he became more aware of his surroundings, of how his knees ached and his heart pounded under his ribs; with an effort he stood and retired to bed. From there he stared at the ceiling, struggling to empty his mind of these wretched feelings.
 
Why did I not marry Jane Eyre? I have such powers of persuasion; why could I not persuade her to join me on this mission? If only I had managed it somehow none of this would trouble me. What a good match we might have made, spending the hours in prayer together, talking about the Lord and scripture, education, literature, music … then at night, in our bed, I would have come to her and fulfilled my duties, and obtained physical release without this terrible lust. Perhaps our union might have even produced a child. We could have shared a calmer, more dispassionate form of love. She was my friend, my sister in Christ; she should have been my bride, as well.
 
He recalled vividly the anguish of when Jane had refused his proposal; humiliation that she was rejecting him for one as unsuitable as Rochester, rage at the helplessness of being unable to convince her to give assent, sorrow that he had lost a friend. Too late he realised that in all likelihood Cpt. Aquilaine was currently experiencing these self-same emotions: the impotence, the disconcerting grief and anger, the overwhelming sense of inadequacy. And he no doubt felt—as St. John himself was feeling at present—the ache of wishing for contact with someone who he would never again have license to hold or touch. Crueller yet, the Captain was a mere three doors down the hallway from the object of his desire and had been rejected not for a competing love interest, but for religious piety. Small wonder he had spoken so harshly.
 
Heaped atop all these miseries was the Reverend's deeply physical awareness that what joys he had sampled last night would never again be his for the taking; now, rather than wondering as to the nature of what he could not have, he would forevermore know in full what he lacked.
 
Such is the cost of sin; we cannot see the many ways in which it will play out, the many ways it will bring us trouble.
 
St. John wept until he was wrung through with woe. His face ached, his nose went a bright blotchy red, both his handkerchiefs were sodden, and the very lids of his eyes had become sticky with the salt that washed over them innumerable times. Finally he could not bear to be so grief-stricken any longer; the more determined part of his nature began to reassert itself. A desperate need to escape welled up from within, urging him from his tiny bedroom and out into the city, to stumble through the rain and surround himself with the chaos and noise of the crowds. An afternoon's hard exercise would do more for his spirit than a week spent in the dark of his quarters, brooding and mourning and clutching at his breast whenever he thought of Cpt. Aquilaine.
 
Huddled over the wash-basin, he scrubbed at his face until the sticky salt had all rinsed away; the swollen eyes would likely last until morning. After pulling on a shirt, he sorted through the bedraggled pile of clothing in the sitting room. Some of it was still damp from the previous night's rain, a detail that sent him into further distress; the entire length of their time together was not even enough for his waistcoat to dry. St. John forced his mind from that sad detail and began to make a proper pile for the Club's laundress; then his stomach twisted. He could not locate his good boots. They did not hide under his discarded greatcoat, had not been flung into a corner of the carpeting—he had left them in the Captain's rooms.
 
Tomorrow morning was a Sunday, and his other pair were only fit for rough work; he had to do the needful and go this very afternoon to ask for them back. But the thought of approaching Cpt. Aquilaine now, knocking on his door, waiting anxiously on the hall carpet as his request was considered … St. John seized upon a wild idea. I shall petition Sanyal to fetch them for me. He is the model of a discreet servant; he will not question why my boots are to be rescued from that particular location. Quickly he pulled the servant's bell.
 
The footman who answered gave him such a look of concern that St. John admitted he would have to wash his face more thoroughly before stepping into the public sphere. He stammered out a request for the butler Sanyal before retreating back into the darkened interior of his quarters, draping a wet flannel over his face in the vain hopes that it would improve his appearance.
 
When Sanyal appeared St. John realised his plan was abominably foolish; he was an Englishman and a gentleman and could not under any circumstances, however dire, ask a servant to assist him. Instead, it now being early afternoon, he requested tea and biscuits be brought up to him. Sanyal, the model of politeness, did not look insulted at being told to personally fill a request more appropriate to a footman. (Nor did he complain when handed the now-soiled coal scuttle.) Upon the arrival of the tea-cart, St. John retired to bed in the hopes of resting whilst the pot steeped. He had slumbered fitfully the previous night, being entirely unaccustomed to sleeping so unclothed or so close to another person. A minute's relaxation would ease his troubled mind, and so he allowed himself to drift into the briefest of naps.
 
 
 
He is pacing up and down his sitting room slowly, deliberately, arms crossed and switch in his right hand, fingers slick with oil. He looks thoughtful. The Captain is also in the room, bared to the waist, trousers falling to mid-thigh, bending over and clutching the edges of the side-table. Below the Captain's flushed face lies a heavy, leather-bound Bible, open to Proverbs 13:24 – He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. The Reverend smiles. I hope, Marcus, that you have studied your catechism. The Captain purses his lips but does not respond; a thin line of oil trails down the inside of one thigh. Proud flesh. First verse. Begin. Without pause the Captain recites: Leviticus 20:13 – If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. The Reverend glares, tugging at his lappets as he does. Impressive. You've paid some attention to me, after all? Next verse, then. There is no escaping it, no resisting it. The Word of the Lord. The Captain hesitates and the switch taps him on the back lightly, reminding; he stares at the Bible, as if it will aid in remembering. Proud flesh grows prouder. The silence lengthens before he stammers out Romans 1:27 – And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burnt in their lust one toward another. Damn. Frustrated, he pulls at his collar once more and begins pacing. There is a small noise behind him, and when he glances back the Captain has loosened his tense fingers and taken himself in hand. The Reverend brings his switch down hard and the Captain flinches, tries to shift away, the switch lands again and the errant hand leaps back onto the table. I did not grant permission, Marcus. White knuckles now and two red lines on pale skin. Please, St. John, I cannot bear it any longer. The Reverend enjoys this part the most, the part where the Captain twists and shivers under his hand, flesh aching without release. So unlike to what occurs in their bed, where he is the one who trembles and shakes whilst the Captain moves slowly, too slowly, gloating over his prize. The Reverend leans over the table, whispering. Self-control. Discipline. The Captain's breath grows ragged for he too enjoys this, in a different way. He says the word again, because he can. You must learn to discipline yourself, my dear. Or I will. He straightens abruptly, moves to stand behind the Captain and traces the line of oil up his thigh with the switch. The Captain groans softly. Next verse.
 
 
 
St. John sat up in agitation, confused as to place, time, and circumstance—where was he? What hour of day was it? Why was he lying on his bed fully clothed, and why had he woken so abruptly?
 
The knocking resumed, louder and more insistent. He roused himself from bed and hastened into the sitting room. Still disordered and half-asleep, he touched the back of one hand to the tea pot; it was quite cool. St. John reached for the door knob but paused as the dream he had been startled from abruptly returned to his thoughts. Quickly he shoved his shirt-tails into his trousers, in the process forcing down the need that had been awakened as he slept. Then, feeling thoroughly out of sorts, he cracked open the door just wide enough to peer into the hall.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine stood in the corridor, one fist raised as if to knock again. In the other hand he carried St. John's boots. The two men looked at each other through the half-open door; the Captain sported a nightshirt with misaligned buttons, stocking feet, and bloodshot eyes. St. John suspected that he himself looked worse, if anything. After an awkward pause, the Captain held up his delivery.
 
“Did you ever wish for your boots back?”
 
“Oh, yes. Quite. I had intended to come and fetch them earlier, but I seem to have lost track of time.” He abruptly extended one arm out to take them back, flinching a little as their fingers brushed. Then he could not think of anything else to say, and was about to turn away when a fellow resident of the Club opened the door from his own sitting room, making to enter the hall. St. John could not simply leave Cpt. Aquilaine standing forlorn on the carpeting in such a state of undress; he waved him in, shutting the door behind.
 
They considered each other whilst St. John held the boots in front of him as if to ward off danger. The Captain simply stared; the Reverend fidgeted, scarcely able to think as remorse, desire, and something akin to unalloyed rapture rushed through him in wave after wave. Finally he waved a hand in the direction of a wicker chair.
 
“Sit, if you like. But I am a poor host; I cannot offer anything in the way of refreshments beyond stale biscuits and tea that is badly oversteeped and cold to boot.” The Captain sniffed at the pot, gave a shrug and poured himself a cup nevertheless, grimacing at the bitter dryness. St. John remained standing, gazing out the window. When he was composed enough to speak his piece, he turned back to the room.
 
“Marcus, I must apologise to you for this morning. I was hasty, and afraid that if I did not leave at that moment then I would not be able to leave at all. But I did not do it well, I am quite aware.”
 
“I must also apologise; I was upset at your words and spoke too sharply myself. But why did you think you would not be able to leave?”
 
St. John looked shamefaced. “Surely you must be aware by now, Captain, that I do not have my usual self-control when I am in your close company.” His voice dropped lower; he had hoped to rehearse what he was about to say. “But as deeply and dearly as I still value your friendship, what intimacies we exchanged are sinful. And as a Reverend, I must avoid sin wherever I can.”
 
“So your actions last night … why? I do not understand your motives.”
 
“I can hardly explain them myself, Cpt. Aquilaine. Base need? Weakness? But the Lord is not concerned with the motive, only the action. And we are commanded to avoid fornication.”
 
At this the Captain roused himself to lean forward on his elbows, pressing his case. “We are also commanded not to weave cloth of two different fabrics. Coitus is not fornicating; what we did is simply a physical expression of the tenderness and affection that two—”
 
“No!” St. John dropped his boots to the floor with a thump, and the Captain sat back a bit. “It is fornication; do not paint over it with romance and poetry. And do not try to argue Biblical text with me—you cannot succeed.”
 
“What of David and Jonathan? They shared such passions together, yes?”
 
“Of course not,” he snapped. “They were devoted friends, nothing more. As we should have stayed. Do you even know your Testament, Captain?”
 
At this Cpt. Aquilaine protested feebly. “I have been to church, I am a baptised Christian, I have read my Bible!”
 
“That is hardly enough; you must believe it, and you must act on it. Do you not know what the Laws of Moses said on the subject?” St. John began walking about in his agitation.
 
“Why, yes … ” the Captain sagged a little.
 
“And are you aware of St. Paul's teaching on the subject, in the Book of Romans?”
 
“I have read those verses,” he said with a whisper.
 
“Further in his Epistle to the Corinthians, do you—” and then St. John froze. In shock he realised what he was doing, pacing the floor and probing the Captain's knowledge of the Bible whilst the Captain tried not to flinch.
 
This is my dream come to life, what I am playing at here. All I need is a switch. Truly, I am so weak that even when I am merely in his presence, not even touching him, I still can be led into sinful thoughts.
 
So it is settled. It must be a physical rending, then.
 
St. John turned once more to the window, looking out at the city as another squall began to pick up force. A cold numbness settled over him as he watched the afternoon rain spattering on the streets; there could be no alternative. But as he finally admitted to himself what he had privately dreaded these past long weeks, what in his heart of hearts he had known all along, he also found a strange, despairing sort of peace. He could at last cease struggling. The sorrows that had so tormented him retreated a little, leaving in their place only resignation and emptiness.
 
Perhaps this is the Mercy of the Lord; when we stop resisting and submit to His will, He removes the desperation that comes from fighting against what we know we cannot defeat. Now I am calm, even though I shall leave the person who has already given me more happiness than I ever dared hope would be my lot. But then we are not placed on this earth to be happy; we are put here to serve. I shall remain the grim Reverend Sombre. I shall be stern and unloving. And I shall yield to God.
 
He turned back to the room, to where the Captain—so kindly, so quick to forgive—regarded him with patience and sympathy. It seemed in that moment as if he would wait, demanding neither an understanding of his friend's misery nor an explanation, just so long as he would be allowed, in the end, to take St. John by the hand and tell him that he was worth waiting for.
 
St. John fought to keep in check the tears which had already flowed innumerable times that day. But as he began to worry that he would lose this battle, as he had lost so many others, the Captain stood and came to him; without a sound he took the Reverend into his arms. St. John did not push him off; he simply pressed his cheek to Cpt. Aquilaine's shoulder whilst the Captain scattered kissed into his hair.
 
“You are so unhappy, St. John, in ways that I cannot even fathom. I have not the powers of imagination to do so. If I only knew a way to ease your distress; nothing would give me more pleasure at this moment than to see you smile as you did last night.”
 
At these words, a wild sort of defiance coursed through St. John, along with bitterness at the laws of a God who promised crowns in heaven but tribulations here on earth. He found himself considering ideas he had never dared think before, such as renouncing his calling, turning his back on the Word, or abandoning his life's dedication to pursue this more inviting path.
 
The Lord is cruel. Hard, and perfect, and cruel. The best we mortals can hope for is to avoid some of the blows that are our inevitable and deserved lot. But for the moment I am weary of being so coldly ordered about, weary to the point of sickness.
 
He came to a swift decision. Although he could not forever reject his duties to God, nor would he surrender entirely, obediently relinquishing all his newly-discovered happinesses in exchange for a sterile life. St. John did not fight the Captain off this time; he simply stood there, enjoying the sensation of being so lovingly embraced by a fellow human being, one who shewed him far more affection than the Lord ever had. Finally he looked up and could not help but smile at the look in his friend's eyes.
 
“You are smiling! Was it my fine speech?”
 
St. John shook his head. “Marcus, if you recall I am the one who should have been the orator. You have convinced me with something much more straightforward … your presence.” He did not wait for a response; he shifted one arm free and pulled the Captain down for a kiss.
 
O Marcus, with you I would have been content. And as much as it pains me to leave, I think it will be worse for you by far. If I must have a life of solitude, I will take a little pleasure before I embark on that unhappy journey. Maybe I can even give you a little in return. I shall yield to this, too.
 
Whilst Cpt. Aquilaine was still recovering himself after the shock of having the Reverend kiss him, rather than vice versa, St. John kissed him again, wishing to make his intentions clear. When they broke apart St. John was blushing and his need was apparent.
 
The Captain gratified him with a look of pure delight. “You are bold today, Reverend.”
 
“After my actions this morning I feel it is my duty to be bold, so you are not worried that you might be unwelcome here.”
 
“Then I will not worry. Nor will I ever grow weary of how you look when you are feeling modest; no, I enjoy that very much, I think.”
 
St. John blushed further at this, but his voice remained steady. “Then shew me some new thing, and perhaps I shall be even more bold come tomorrow.”
 
 
 
“Excuse me, Sir, can you tell me if we are in the right direction?”
 
Lost deep within his own thoughts, most of which were entirely unsuitable at any time or situation and doubly so for a Reverend on his way to Sunday services, he responded but slowly to the woman who had placed a hand on his coat sleeve. He stared at her in bemusement until she repeated her request.
 
“Reverend, do you know the way to the Cathedral?”
 
St. John, who had been marvelling at how curious the human body was, and how—despite his years of good health and regular exercise—he had still discovered and overtaxed previously unknown muscles during the past night, coloured a little as he made eye contact with the Englishwoman who had halted him. He glanced dumbly from face to face as the trio of young ladies before him hid giggles.
 
They cannot possibly know what I was thinking just now. Nevertheless, I had best think loftier thoughts.
 
Blinking and tipping his unfashionable hat, he gave assent that yes, indeed, he knew how to find the Cathedral. A small pause fell over the three women. They were all dressed according to the latest in London fashion, in watered-silk dresses adorned with ribbons and starched collars, long, tightly-laced waists and full skirts, fat sausage-curls bouncing about their faces under bonnets he supposed certain types of men might describe as 'fetching'. Curiously, these young Englishwomen—clearly wearing their Sunday finery—had all removed their gloves and were cheerfully admiring a large green lime. Whilst the one who had halted his walk looked quizzically at him, the other two promptly turned their focus back to the fruit. One took a small jewelled pen-knife from her handbag and began carving the lime into sections.
 
St. John realised quite tardily what was expected of him. “Ah, yes, Miss. And not only do I know the way, but I would be happy to give directions. Naturally. In fact, I am at this moment headed to the Cathedral for services—shall I lead you there?”
 
“Oh no, directions will suffice. Thank you, Reverend … ”
 
“Rivers, Miss. Rev. Rivers, if you please.” He tipped his hat again; these sorts of ladies always made him overly-awkward.
 
She smiled, a polite, practiced sort of smile that well-bred young women were taught to bestow upon odd young men like himself. “I am Miss Elphinstone, Reverend.”
 
“Hm—Elphinstone! Are you a relative of Major-General Elphinstone, then?”
 
“Indeed I am, Sir. He is my great-uncle.” St. John could not think of anything more to say, so she continued. Well-bred young women were also taught to make conversation even with unwilling partners. “My Uncle is intending to put up funds for a new Freemasonry Lodge, since Calcutta does not have a proper one yet. He is a great supporter of the Masons. We are to meet him after church and walk over to the new location together; he wants to shew me the sights now that I have arrived. So you see, I must make my way to the Cathedral.”
 
The two ladies behind her began tasting the lime, puckering their lips and laughing as dribbles of juice ran down their elegant fingers. Miss Elphinstone turned to them and shook her curls in mock disapproval. “Save some for me, Violet. It's not fair your starting without me!” St. John gave directions and made his escape as quickly as he could manage.
 
I shall never understand women. That is abundantly clear.
 
How glad he was to have resisted the Captain's encouragements and stay in bed a little longer, forgo his Sunday worship just this once. Kneeling in silence, reciting the communal prayers and singing familiar hymns always soothed his restless spirit. The rituals of the Anglican church would never be a chore for him, never a mere duty; even in his present state of sinfulness and unrepentance they brought great joy. If only he could stay forever in church, letting the beauties of the Word and the shared communion of fellow Christians wash over him, refreshing him and giving him the strength to face another week in the world. But Christians could not stay forever in church; they were commanded to go forth, spread the word, tend to the sick and care for the Father's flock. Life could not all be Sunday morning. Nevertheless, however it ended between him and the Captain, whatever paths his life travelled along, St. John was grateful to know that he would always have the comforts of church to fall back upon when life seemed most dark.
 
After the Bishop had given his final blessing and the service came to a close, St. John waited whilst the crowds of parishioners thinned. He was suddenly overtaken with nervousness; after he spoke with the Bishop, there could be no easy turning back. He closed his eyes in a silent prayer, not even formulating words as such, merely focusing on the rare feeling of peace that resided within his breast. Finally his opportunity presented itself.
 
“Reverend! How have you been this week? Are you enjoying the start of the monsoon?”
 
St. John smiled his assent and ducked his head a little; he had indeed enjoyed the change of weather, but not for reasons he could ever make apparent to the Bishop of Calcutta.
 
“I was wondering, Sir, if you had a minute to talk with me? I have … things I feel I must say sooner rather than later, Bishop. It is of some importance, I am afraid.”
 
Bishop Wilson nodded cheerfully; few things could easily dampen his mood. He pulled St. John aside into an alcove. “I am quite busy, naturally—there is a luncheon I am due to preside over in ten minutes, fund-raising for a new school for Dalits in Hugli, but tell me quickly—what is on your mind?”
 
St. John spoke hurriedly, before he could change his mind, forcing himself to overlook the detail that he was about to say was not strictly true. “Bishop, as much as I have looked forward to teaching at the Secondary School, these last weeks during prayer, as I meditated on the Word, God has laid a different charge on my heart. I felt I must come to you as soon as I was certain of His intentions.”
 
“Oh dear, Reverend! What are you about? Are we to lose you as a schoolmaster?”
 
“With all my heart I regret it, Bishop.” More than you can know. “But God's plans are clear to me. I am more suited to a life away from the city, a place where I can be a missionary rather than a teacher. I feel the call to spread His Word to unchurched peoples, and so I am afraid that I must leave Calcutta.” 

 

 


The Perils of the Afternoon Nap


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notes:
 
French Foreign Legion – The Foreign Legion was established in 1831; it was originally conceived of as a way to keep busy France's many restless immigrants, who were forbidden to serve in the French Army proper. Those who joined were guaranteed anonymity, and could give a nom de guerre instead of their true name; thus numerous French nationals joined as well, although technically forbidden. Ever since, it has proved an excellent way to see the world, especially for young men who have made their home territories a bit too hot, or for those whom the authorities would be rather interested in getting ahold of.
 
David and Jonathan – The Old Testament book of Samuel chronicles the deep friendship between David (later to become King) and his friend Jonathan. I Samuel 18:1-4 describes it thus: “And it came to pass … that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul … Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because David loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.” Later, when they are forced to part in I Samuel 20:41-42, the separation is effected with much weeping and kissing on both sides. Mainstream scholarship considers their relationship platonic, but homoerotic possibilities have been argued since the middle ages.
 
tasting the lime – Eating limes was all the rage among young ladies at the time when Little Women was published in 1868; I have no reason to suspect it would be any different in 1840, as limes are delicious.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John finally hears from the Bishop, takes his Dinner in a Public House, learns several Key Points of Anatomy, and discovers what troubles Cpt. Aquilaine.

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Thursday, the 9th of July, Year of Our Lord 1840, from the Bishop of Calcutta,

Good day and good health, Reverend Rivers. A suitable assignment has been found, if you should be interested in taking it; it would, I think, be an excellent fit for a man of your talents and passions. The requirements are: ambition to found a new parish – enthusiasm for teaching – strong knowledge of Hindustani and Bengali. Prince Krishna (Raja Krishna Kishore Dem Manikya) of the Princely State of Hill Tippera has recently sent a request to my office, enquiring about a suitable tutor for his son. The Prince is a knowledgeable man and wishes to bring up his child according to the dictates of civilisation, educating him in such a manner that he can, upon reaching the age of majority, attend one of the universities in England. He is a baptised Christian, and furthermore has indicated the desire to start a parish on his lands. Would you be willing to take up this assignment?

Hill Tippera is a curious Princely State; the lower classes speak a primitive language called Mrung and practice an unusual form of Hinduism not found in other parts of India. A man could make a name for himself writing monographs on the local customs. Moreover the common people are as a fallow field; a little effort with the plough, a handful of seeds scattered, and think of what could be harvested in the Name of God! Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you will accept this call. Your departure date would be after the roads improve, most likely the start of September.

Your Servant in Christ, the Right Reverend Bishop of Calcutta Daniel Wilson

St. John stared at the desk in his study, at the letter that lay there as malignant as a vial of poison. The Bishop writes in the same manner as he speaks, he thought resentfully. Overly-long and full of needless detail. He had been waiting eleven anxious days to hear back from the Bishop, and had changed his mind a dozen times more about whether to stay or go. But finally the response arrived, and he knew his duty: service, not happiness, was the purpose of Mankind. St. John reached for the inkwell.

To the Right Reverend Daniel Wilson, greetings.

I shall accept your assignment. I will begin concluding my affairs in Calcutta and be ready to depart as of the first of September. My thanks for this fine opportunity to serve the Lord.

Your obedient servant, Reverend Rivers

The longcase clock in the lobby sounded its slow chime—five in the evening, time for men to lay down their daily work. St. John hid away his reply with a twinge and turned once more to Hindustani grammar; his technical knowledge of Hindu had slipped during the past two months, even as his Bengali grew by leaps and bounds. Now he would need proficiency in both.

Beyond his front door the noises in the hall grew louder. Residents returned home, those who had spent the day at the Club emerged from stale-aired rooms, and all began making their way downstairs for smoking, billiards, and darts. St. John strained his ears but could not make out what he longed to hear over the other voices that called out their evening greetings. A half of an hour later he finally caught the limping footsteps of the Captain returning from another day of hassling new recruits, heading past St. John's door to his own quarters. This was St. John's cue to lay down his own daily work, wash his face, and change into a better shirt.

Presently Cpt. Aquilaine knocked and, once he had closed the door behind him and given St. John a full measure of kisses, settled into one of the wicker chairs and cut a cigar. St. John filled his own pipe and they sat in silence for a good five minutes; he had learnt some time ago that Thursday evenings his friend needed extra time before regaining his normal optimistic condition. Finally the Captain spoke.

“Would you like to take dinner out tonight? There is a public house a short walk away that I have not been to in months, and I am in the mood for a pint. What do you say?”

“I have not been to a public house since Cambridge, Marcus. Are they still loud and crowded and smoke-filled?”

“Oh yes, those are their best qualities!” Cpt. Aquilaine grinned cheerfully, so St. John gave his assent. Ever present at the back of his mind now was the realisation that his time in Calcutta—and with the Captain—would soon come to a definitive end, and he intended to make the most of what he had left.

The Elephant & Crown was, as promised, filled with boisterous Englishmen—sailors and soldiers and company men—all nearly shouting to be heard as they drank and laughed and smoked and jostled one another in a merry struggle for elbow room. Cpt. Aquilaine looked apologetically at the Reverend, who merely shrugged and shouted in his ear, “It is nothing! I knew what I would be subject to. I have been a student, recall.” They eventually struggled over to two empty stools side by side in the middle of a long table populated by company men; the Captain disappeared to fetch a round whilst St. John cringed as the rest of the table took up “God Save the Queen”.

Finally Cpt. Aquilaine returned with two pints: ale for himself and small beer for the Reverend. Close behind came a thoroughly-English bar maid bringing wedges of meat pie smothered in brown gravy. The man next to St. John whistled at her, jostling his arm as he tried to drink and sloshing small beer on him; meanwhile, the men began thunderously singing “To Anacreon in Heav'n”. Cpt. Aquilaine looked at the pies, at St. John as he shook beer off his hand, at the company men, then back to St. John, who merely laughed and clunked their tankards together before turning to his pie. They ate and drank in silence—or rather, without speaking to each other, silence being a quality entirely unknown to the Elephant & Crown—whilst their table-mates, having finished “Anacreon”, launched into a drunken rendition of “Hail, Britannia!”.

Although the Captain could have stayed all evening listening to the lively crowd, St. John had soon finished his beer and pie and sat restless on the stool, jogging his legs up and down and drumming his fingers on the table. Cpt. Aquilaine tried to ask if he would like another pint but was drowned out as someone at a different table started “God Save the Queen” again. He winced, tapped St. John on the shoulder and tipped his head towards the door; St. John needed no further encouragement.

Back at the Club, St. John quickly grew irresolute in his actions; he began pulling at the Captain's red coat, kissing hard enough to bruise his friend's lips, and trying to get them both to the bedroom all at once. In return, Cpt. Aquilaine trapped the Reverend's arms against his sides, giving him kisses both gentler and deeper until St. John pulled away in frustration.

“Hurry, Marcus, do not tease. I cannot bear it when you tease.”

“Be calm, St. John, I am not teasing! Your fingers are swifter than mine, that is all.”

St. John swallowed and nodded, but presently his hands were shaking to the extent that Cpt. Aquilaine had to lend assistance with the buttons on his trousers. Whilst the Captain fiddled with them, his wrist brushed against St. John's already-full cock; in response St. John began to thrust forward unthinkingly, aching for more stimulation. No sooner had he realised what he was doing than he stepped back in humiliation, hiding his face.

“O Christ, I am so sorry. I did not mean to be so impatient … I am so sorry.”

“Stop! Pay it no mind, I am not offended. On the contrary, I am delighted to have such an effect on you.” Cpt. Aquilaine turned out the oil lamp and pulled back his counterpane. “Come, it is time I set you to rights.”

As a cold mountain lake, swollen by many years' contributions from glacial springs, suddenly bursts the dams that restrained it and floods the valleys below in an unstoppable rush, so St. John, having released his physical passions, could not call them back nor even slow them to a more measured pace. Their first success at 'less precipitous' intimacies had unfortunately proved to be their only success, and his lack of control shamed him to no end. At first this presented certain difficulties in bed. St. John was mortified that bodily needs held such sway over him. He insisted on the cover of darkness for their affections—so shy was he concerning the frank appearance of his proud flesh—and felt wretched that he could not offer Cpt. Aquilaine slower, more deliberate joys. Cpt. Aquilaine, in turn, longed to gaze at St. John's form, and felt disappointed that he could not prolong their cursory affections; moreover, the haste left him personally unsatisfied. But he swiftly learnt that even mentioning such dissatisfaction only made the matter worse. It brought much relief to them both when he came up with a compromise of sorts.

Upon retiring to bed, before snuffing the last candle, he would take the Reverend in hand and stroke and strip until St. John had spent himself into the Captain's palm; then, after St. John was calmed and less needful, they would plunge the room into darkness and begin more thorough intimacies. Cpt. Aquilaine loved having the license to finally admire St. John (as he was wont to whisper when the mood overtook him), to run fingers down his ribs and over his hips, graze his small brown nipples and kiss under his jaw line whilst his friend arched and gasped in the extremity of arousal, even as he struggled to set his own need by a while longer. St. John loved the Captain's broad hands on his body and the permission granted to him to simply submit to those hands' ministrations without demand of reciprocity, even as he disliked being observed.

Indeed St. John secretly thought this part of the night best; once the room was dark and his need had been slaked, he allowed himself to set agitation by and take his ease. He often wondered if how he felt then, whilst soothed and firmly encircled by the Captain's arms, was how other people felt always; not evaluating every action, nor constantly striving for improvement. Even the most alert and exacting portion of his mind, which in his very sleep would worry that he was currently failing in some small way, never bothered him at that time. It almost seemed as if the Peace of God, which so rarely visited during his piety, came instead when he sinned. They always took a few minutes to talk about their day's activities, share small pieces of minutia, or just lie still as Cpt. Aquilaine held him close and listened as the Reverend's pulse slowed to its normal andante.

Tonight they lay intertwined in silence. St. John had not the presence of mind to think on anything more significant than the Captain's breath tickling the back of his neck. Finally his friend proposed a change of activities, voice low in the velvet blackness of the warm bedroom.

“Would you like to try something different? My leg may not be up to its normal activities.”

“I did notice your limp was more pronounced, but you said nothing. Why is it paining you tonight?”

“Oh, it was hardly worth mentioning; I simply made a misstep during a demonstration of an exercise. Clumsy of me, and I do not wish to tax it further.”

St. John did not need to see Cpt. Aquilaine's face to know that from the hollow cheer in his voice he was speaking false, either to the cause of the injury or the amount of pain it gave him.

Truly, you do not lie well, Marcus. I wish you would be frank with whatever troubles you.

He tested the waters of enquiry gently, not wanting to press too far and sour the moment. “Is there anything you have not told me? I grow concerned for you and your health, sometimes, but I do not know what aid I can give; you are so closed up about it all.”

The Captain made an impatient noise and shifted to cup one of St. John's buttocks in his hand. “I will say more at some point, if you insist, but not tonight. Tonight, I would like to teach you something new, if you are willing. Would you lie on me?”

Cpt. Aquilaine slicked the inside of his own thighs with oil and helped the Reverend settle atop him, chest to chest. It was a delicate maneouvre, as they were already both growing hard. St. John felt foolish and clumsy in the darkness, as he carefully straddling the Captain with his own legs, trying not to jar his bad leg. Whilst he began to make himself comfortable the Captain wrapped his sturdy arms around the small of St. John's back, knuckles working at the tense muscles. The touch was both soothing and stimulating. Presently, St. John began to shift his hips up and down as he had felt his friend do so many nights now. Slowly he lost himself in the rhythm. As his need increased Cpt. Aquilaine slipped one oiled finger down the cleft between St. John's buttocks, lingering over his fundament. St. John immediately paused and stopped the Captain's hand with his own.

“Marcus, no, I do not want that … I am no sodomite.”

From beneath him came a voice filled with mirth at his protestation. “I have never doubted that, St. John. But may I touch? I will not breach you, I swear it.” St. John relented, wishing to be amenable, and began to move again as the fingers slid back and forth across him, tantalising but nothing more. He soon discovered an entirely new, different set of sensations associated with this particular act. So he continued, knees splayed and waist pinioned, finding gratification whether he thrust up into the Captain's fingers or down in between his thighs. Gradually these sensations increased until, in the fullness of time, he whispered,

“Marcus, Marcus, I am nearly there!” At this Cpt. Aquilaine clenched his thighs, slid his errant fingers just past St. John's fundament and pressed; St. John arched and threw his head back with a wordless cry as he spent himself for the second time that night. His second climax was far more intense than his first, and for a few moments he was aware of little beyond the waves rippling through his body and the blood pounding in his ears. Finally he became more sensible and fell onto his back, clutching at the Captain's arm.

“O, I am entirely overthrown,” he murmured. “What was that you did? How did you do that?”

“I have never known why that particular location causes such greater pleasure,” Cpt. Aquilaine replied as he gently rolled St. John onto his side, took up a position behind him and resumed stroking his buttocks. “I imagine it is a thing similar to what women hide between their legs—do you know of that spot?”

“Of course not. What do they hide?” He sounded thoroughly scandalised.

“It is a very small, well … it is hard to describe, because we men have no equivalent. The best I could say is that it looks like a whortleberry, and if you run your finger along it the woman makes all sorts of noises. Can you imagine my shock upon discovering that?”

St. John wrinkled his nose in disgust and made himself more comfortable whilst the Captain draped his good leg over both of St. John's. “I had no idea women enjoyed coitus in the least. At any rate, how do you know about women? I thought you disliked the very shape of them.”

Cpt. Aquilaine chuckled. “I did not discover that dislike immediately! But I have learnt the error of my ways. May we continue now?”

Not content to let the matter rest, St. John raised himself up on one elbow in confusion. “Yes, but … do all women enjoy themselves thus? Truly? That is awfully unseemly. I have sisters, Marcus! I cannot imagine them—phew.” He went silent, then burst out, “A whortleberry?”

The Captain clapped a hand over his mouth. “Hush! Enough of talk. Your thighs are soft and sleek, and I cannot contain myself any longer.” He kissed St. John on the shoulder, pulled him back down and slid his arousal between the other man's legs with a sigh.

They continued in this fashion for several weeks, focusing on their own lives during the day and coming together at night, simply taking pleasure from one another's presence. As if by an unspoken agreement, neither talked of the future. St. John was terribly grateful for that; he had not yet mentioned a single word to Cpt. Aquilaine of his decision to leave Calcutta, and was growing increasingly apprehensive as to how he would break the news. Firstly, Cpt. Aquilaine's affections seemed—at least to St. John, although he freely admitted his complete innocence in such matters—beyond the normal depth for an intimacy only several weeks in length. Secondly, he had begun to wonder just how much ending their affair would wound his own heart; he was growing increasingly reliant on his friend for companionship, conversation and advice on the many minor problems that crop up in any life. All of that, needless to say, was in addition to what they took and gave at night. Turning his back on those particular delights frightened him when he thought of it.

One Thursday afternoon, a full month after their fateful evening at the symphony, Cpt. Aquilaine asked St. John to accompany him to Maidan Park. He was so low that St. John worried he should have enquired far more firmly into what unspoken sorrow hung over the Captain's shoulders. He agreed to the excursion; he had visited the park on occasion, during his walks, but knew little of its history or points of interest. Further, he determined to himself that they would not sit to dinner before he had uncovered whatever sad truth the Captain preferred to leave hidden.

Maidan Park, in the heart of civilised Calcutta, provided vast expanses of lawn, cricket fields, shady walks beneath Banyan and Indian Almond trees, and a race course for horses; in short, all the afternoon diversions considered necessary by high society. The park itself was bounded by the city's most spectacular sights: to the north could be seen Lord Auckland's palace, to the east fine neighbourhoods filled with the pinnacle of English gentry in India, south held the site where the new St. Paul's Cathedral was being raised, and to the west flowed the Ganges. It was the finest location in the city to take a cooling walk. To their mutual regret, Cpt. Aquilaine and St. John were not gentry and did not live adjacent to the park. They had to travel some distance on foot before they could enjoy its restorative powers.

The weather was as unpleasant as could be easily imagined. Searing hot sun blazed down upon their heads and the remnants of the morning's downpour steamed up off the cobblestone streets and sodden grass. The climate seemed to possess a limitless supply of cruel surprises. They walked slowly, unwilling to expend any extra efforts; the Captain leant heavily on his cane and St. John secretly wished he could take off his black frock-coat.

“How did you ever accustom yourself to this terrible weather? When it rains, I expect to see Noah and his sons floating past. When it is not raining, it is as hot as Hellfire. And with either comes this confounded humidity and an entire fog of mosquitoes! I have never felt such mugginess; I feel as if I am swimming! Sleet, mist, snow—I am fond of these things, being raised in moory climes. Days like today, however, I begin to suspect Englishmen were simply not meant to live in the tropics.”

“Time and patience, Reverend, are the only remedies. My three years in Afghanistan were of great assistance; there it is blisteringly hot in summer, snowy and frozen in wintertime. And now I find it all pleasant! It is true, though, that nothing will compare to the delights of English weather.”

“Do you wish for home, now and then?”

“Hardly ever. There is little for me in England. Here I am happy, of a sort. Although I must confess some days I do long for Silchester, especially in spring when the strawberries are ripening.”

“Ah! Do not talk to me of strawberries, I beg you. I cannot bear the thought of fresh wild strawberries. I miss them too dearly, and there can be no good substitute.”

Cpt. Aquilaine fell silent at this piece of homely wisdom, but then cheered as the park came into view. “Here we are at Maidan, and I know how to cure your present misery. I would not want you to be seized with some sort of heat-stroke, for certain. Would you like a lassi?”

“I have never tasted lassi; I was not certain if I dared.”

“Then I shall buy you one. A salty lassi is an acquired taste, but sweet is so delicious and refreshing, I can scarcely credit the natives with creating it. Nothing compares to wild strawberries, but few things compare to lassi, either, and it will never be drunk in England.”

He purchased two from a street vendor who had set up shop on the Esplanade as it ran past the Government House; his stand was currently doing a brisk business providing refreshments for the Englishmen nearly fainting in the heat.

St. John sniffed, noted the scent of rose-water, sipped tentatively—occasionally he and the Captain differed greatly on what constituted delicious, or even edible—and then sipped more enthusiastically as it slipped down his throat. The drink was tart and fragrant, and cooled him with every swallow. Halfway through the glass he had to force himself to proceed more slowly and make it last. By the time he had finished he felt revived and up to a stroll through Maidan Park.

“That is remarkable, Captain. No strawberries, to be sure, but equally delightful in its own way. Āpanākē dhan'yabāda!” he said to the vendor, reluctantly handing back his glass. Perhaps they could have another on the walk home.

They ambled in silence under a long row of towering Umbrella pines, pausing every so often to admire one of the numerous statues that dotted the path. Governor-General Hastings looked so dignified in his wig and breeches that they agreed the statue must have been cast before his impeachment trial. Lord Auckland simply looked over-determined and militaristic. Lord Bentinck's statue featured a little bronze tableau at the base, with Hindi women kneeling before a tiny, seated Bentinck and raising their arms in supplication. St. John (who knew a good deal of Indian history) had the pleasure of explaining to Cpt. Aquilaine (who knew nothing of Indian history unless it involved the military) that the scene referenced the abolition of suttee.

When they had run through all the statues, they made their way to the cricket grounds and found a bench in the shade. There they watched teams of Indian boys, in starched white uniforms, competing at this most thoroughly-British of sports. St. John knew little of the game but Cpt. Aquilaine assured him that the boys were quite good, not just by Indian standards but by British too.

“It is strange, how they have taken to our sport. Stranger still to watch so many dark-skinned natives excelling at it. I almost forget they are not Christian when they mimic our habits; they seem quite taken with our—oh, good shot!” He stood in excitement as the batsman hit the ball far afield, scurrying from crease to crease as the outfielders tried to run him out. After a few minutes of leaning on his cane, watching with a wistful expression on his face, St. John decided to break into his thoughts.

“Why did you invite me here today, Captain? Certainly I am enjoying myself, but I am troubled, too.”

Cpt. Aquilaine looked at him in consternation. “What is troubling you, Reverend?”

“You, Sir!” St. John smiled as he spoke, not wanting his friend to worry that he had committed some great crime. “You are so low lately, even more so this week, and I wish you would say what it is that bothers you. You cannot think I have not noticed, surely, and I am tired of watching you trying in vain to hide your unhappiness. Tell me once and for all—please. Marcus.”

The Captain sat heavily, seemingly distracted by rubbing his bad leg, but he had noticed the familiarity and returned it willingly. “Truly, St. John, I thought it was obvious. Well, perhaps not as much to you, to be fair. Do you not know today's date?”

“It is the 23rd of July, but I do not know if that signifies anything important.” He shrugged slightly.

“To me, however, this date is everything.” He stared off into the distance as the bowler threw a spinning delivery that skipped straight past the batsman and scattered the wicket. “One year ago today was the Battle of Ghazni, when all my hopes came to their abrupt end. It is very difficult to think of it now, all my fine plans for wealth and prestige and respect, and I can assure you that none of them involved hobbling around Calcutta in pain, training insolent Sepoys, and staring at a future that promises nothing but poverty and obscurity. I have tried to reconcile myself to it, to a life of watching lesser men gain promotions and glory, as I grow ever more feeble, thinking of the name I was never able to make for myself, and the honour never won. I wanted to put my family's great shame behind me, and create something new and better. I failed.” A hint of tears glittered in his eyes. “It has been such a hard year, and if I had known in that medic's tent in Afghanistan what lay ahead I do not think I would have had the strength to live. Perhaps it is kind that God does not shew us what lies in store. I suspect most people could not bear it.”

He glanced around; there was no one nearby except for the cricketers, wholly engaged in their match. Satisfied, he reached over and took one of St. John's hands in his own, rubbing gently across the back of the palm with his thumb. St. John did not pull away.

“I could never have foreseen what this year brought me. But suddenly I find I am genuinely looking forward to the next one, and I have you to thank for that. Now it almost seems a shame not to know what the future holds. What do you think?”

St. John looked him in the eye and found his own tears beginning to form. He pressed the Captain's hand to his lips and kissed it gently. “I think that men can try to influence events by prayer, work, and study, but ultimately the future is in the Lord's hands. However painful it may seem at the time, as it must have been for you after Ghazni, we must trust and have faith that all things happen as God intends. Providence does not lead us astray.”

“You truly believe that! I wish you could teach me how to have such faith.”

“It is not hard. Look back at how your life has unfolded up to this point. Think: if we had known each other at Cambridge, I suspect neither of us would have had any inclination to pursue friendship now. Our heads would have been too filled with recollections of our university days. I might have said, 'I remember him, he was that fellow who played too much at cricket and hung about the atrocious Placido'. You might have said something similar about theology students who grew pale and wan from too much time in the library, and then we would not be sitting here in the park together.”

Cpt. Aquilaine's smile softened and he squeezed St. John's hand tightly before moving his own away. They turned back to watch the cricket.

Although he could never admit it, St. John's tears were for an entirely different reason than the Captain's. The argument he had just made, about Providence guiding their lives and throwing them together, nearly convinced even him; he wished with all his heart it were true. They were so comfortable in one another's company, each man bringing out the best in the other, that if one of them had been but female, society would have given an easy assent to their happiness.

But they were men, and so what should have been blessed was instead a terrible sin.

St. John did not weep for his transgressions against God; his tears sprang from the deep, clear conviction that he was misleading his friend in the cruellest way possible. He felt as confident about that awful truth as he was that God had created the universe, and that all men were wicked.

What I am doing, deceiving him into such a false understanding, is as sinful as fornication. I am giving him joy at the moment, but soon it will be swept away by such unhappiness that he will entirely forget all pleasant memories of me. Worse, I cannot stop myself. I must leave; I cannot serve God whilst I so wilfully choose to sin—that is clear. I hardly even find myself praying anymore. And this is entirely of my own doing.

He had trapped himself between Scylla and Charybdis, and would soon pay the grievous penalty for his choice: leave, and wound the Captain deeply (perhaps permanently, if he took it as a natural consequence of his family's history), or stay, and bring himself perilously close to damnation. St. John dreaded either outcome, but feared most for the state of his own soul; with every passing day, he grew less willing and less able to turn away from that which scripture taught was wrong, but which he felt in his heart was right, possibly the only right thing he had done thus far with his barren, empty life.


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notes:

Princely State of Hill Tippera – a small state in the far northeast corner of India, now called Tripura. During the days of the EIC and the Raj, it held the status of “Princely State”, which meant that it remained technically independent, was allowed some say over its domestic policies, and yielded all control of external affairs to the British. It remains impoverished and isolated to this day.

longcase clock – Another name for a grandfather clock (although the actual term “grandfather clock” did not come into use until 1876).

small beer – Small beer had a lower level of alcohol than regular beer or ale; it was considered suitable for children and women. People did not fuss about giving small beer to children, back in the early days of the 19th century, as it was often far more healthy and nourishing than the local water supply.

“To Anacreon in Heav'n” – After witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy in 1812, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet, was inspired to write a poem entitled “Defence of Fort McHenry.” He set the poem's lyrics to the tune of a popular drinking song, Anacreon, and the new song, soon renamed the more melodic “Star-Spangled Banner,” became popular throughout the young United States. Here are Anacreon's original lyrics:

To ANACREON in Heav'n, where he sat in full Glee, / A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition, / That He their Inspirer and Patron wou'd be; / When this Answer arriv'd from the JOLLY OLD GRECIAN / "Voice, Fiddle, and Flute, / No longer be mute, / I'll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot, / And, besides, I'll instruct you like me, to intwine / The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS's Vine.”

andante – a musical tempo; walking speed.

fundament – a polite, archaic term for 'anus'.

whortleberry – A whortleberry is small, round, and red, like an American cranberry. The Victorian man's knowledge of anatomy generally left much to be desired.

Maidan Park – To this day the park is green, beautiful, well-maintained, and immensely popular; it is often called 'the lungs of Calcutta'.

sweet lassi – A standard, traditional lassi is savoury, and often a bit salty. The saltiness is surprisingly refreshing on a hot day. Sweet lassi, yoghurt blended with rose-water and honey, is delightful.

numerous statues – Maidan Park was filled with statues of prominent British gentlemen. (After the country gained independence in 1947, the monuments were gradually replaced by different statues, ones featuring prominent Indians.) Hastings was the very first Governor-General of India (1773-1785); he lived a long and colourful life, perhaps the highlight of which (so to speak) was a seven year impeachment trial that dragged on from 1788 to 1795, ostensibly for various crimes committed whilst in India. By the time the proceedings finally ended (over a third of the Lords who had attended the opening of the trial had since fled the mortal plane), no one could quite recall why impeachment had seemed so necessary in the first place, and Hastings was acquitted, suffering no ill effects other than massive bankruptcy and debts reaching over £70,000.

Bentinck ruled the EIC from 1828-1835 and managed, in seven short years, to pull the EIC from the brink of bankruptcy (thus keeping the Crown from taking over), infuriate the British and the military with his cost-cutting measures, infuriate the Indians by modernising and westernising the territories, and infuriate anyone who might be left uninfuriated by forbidding native customs such as suttee, which nobody much cared for until Bentinck decided to interfere.

Suttee (sati) was the Hindu custom in which a widow (either through her own volition, or by coercion) burned herself alive on her husband's funeral pyre.

cricket grounds – I do hope that no one is expecting a good summary of cricket here. If you would like one, Reader, my recommendation is to find someone who understands the game and have them jot down some explanatory notes in the margins.

Scylla and Charybdis – In Ancient Greek mythology, to sail between Scylla and Charybdis meant (literally) to navigate a dangerous, narrow waterway between two points of land, one of which housed the monster Scylla, and the other of which housed the monster Charybdis. Less literally, it meant “between a rock and a hard place”.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John learns 'tis as joyful to Give as to Receive, imparts Unexpected Information over an Egg, receives an Unwelcome Missive and, having put his Hand to the Plough, looks Back.
 
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St. John emerged slowly from sleep, his mind clumsily working through why he had awoken so early. No dawn light crept in through the window; he was not overly warm or cool; he did not feel any pressure to void. Cpt. Aquilaine and he were not tangled in some sleepy embrace, for although they preferred to fall asleep with their bodies pressed together they rarely found themselves in that position come morning. This provoked good-natured grumbling from the Captain, no matter how many times St. John explained that he simply could not maintain that contact whilst they slumbered, on account of how much warmth radiated out from the larger man's body. That explanation often led to another discussion, one centred around how foul-tempered men of the cloth tended to be before their first pot of tea.
 
As he lay quietly, still puzzling over what had roused him—for he felt certain he had not woken of his own accord—St. John noticed an odd sort of quaking sensation, as if a heavily-laden cart had rolled past the window. Just as he was rejecting this idea on the grounds that he was on the first floor, he felt the shaking again, and this time it came accompanied by a single muffled gasp. Suddenly suspicious, he turned over to the Captain.
 
“Marcus, are you awake?” The quaking froze. “Is that you shifting around?” He was surrounded by silence. And then—
 
“I did not intend to wake you! I am quite sorry.”
 
“But what are you about?”
 
After a moment, Cpt. Aquilaine whispered into the darkness, “What do you think I am about, St. John?”
 
Chagrin twisted in the Reverend's stomach. “My pardon for interrupting!” He fell silent before stammering out, “But why? You could have told me if you felt needful; I would have agreed to it. Is there … not enough for you? Or is it too poorly accomplished? I know am still learning.”
 
“I have never yet complained as to the quality or quantity of your affections, St. John.”
 
“True, but now you are resorting to such baser actions!”
 
The Captain gave a grunt of annoyance. “Must everything be base until it has met with your approval? I already have nearly all I desire—” here he shifted to kiss St. John on the shoulder “—and what few things I have not yet received will no doubt come with time and circumstance. It is true that there are various … practices that would be most welcome, but I am not expecting them yet.”
 
St. John pushed himself into a sitting position. “I hope I have made it clear that I refuse to engage in certain activities; is that what you are after? Do not attempt them in the hopes that I will simply yield.”
 
“O ye of little faith! Do you really worry that if you let down your guard, then—when you are unsuspecting—I will leap on your back and bugger you?”
 
“No! It is hardly … well, yes, in a way. If pressed, I will admit to worrying. Not about you—” he hastened to reassure, as the Captain began to protest, “—I merely worry about the inequity of our situation. You are a far more worldly man than I, and you have worldly expectations and preferences. This is all so new to me that I am made content by joy even in the simplest of forms. Please do not make me spell it out further, Marcus.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine, now also sitting, put an arm around his shoulders. “No, you are quite clear, so let me be also. You share my bed, every night. For that I am content.”
 
“But not satisfied.”
 
“A terrible injustice! Are you concerned enough that you would take steps to remedy this travesty?” he teased.
 
St. John turned his head away in embarrassment and steadied himself. “Yes, as I am able, although I may not do things very well.”
 
“You are serious!” The Captain sounded genuinely taken aback. “I should not have made fun; I did not realise you meant it.”
 
“I do, and I shall try, if the notion pleases you.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine took up St. John's earlobe between his lips and tugged gently, sending a shiver of heat down the Reverend's spine. “You are so good to me I almost hate to ask—almost! But since you have offered … Consider how fine it is to have a friend do some simple thing for you. Even my morning toast is more delightful when you butter it whilst I am straining our tea.” He took up St. John's hand and set it gently between his legs, where his arousal lay, warm and half-full. “Do I make myself plain?”
 
They settled back down under the sheets and St. John took up his task, in equal parts ashamed that he even now felt twinges of disgust whilst touching his friend, and that he had never yet attempted this most basic of gestures. At first he felt uncertain of how to proceed, and simply encircled the flesh loosely with his hand, sliding the sheath up and down on its shaft. This did not seem to produce anything tangible in the way of results but he did not want to move quicker or clench his fist too tightly, certain that he would give pain by doing so. Thus he continued with an increasing sense of foreboding, not wanting to proceed or stop—both would be an admittance of sorts that he knew his ministrations were failing. But when his forearm had begun to ache, and he thought it might be best to simply accept defeat and creep away, Cpt. Aquilaine unexpectedly gave a contended moan and shifted his thighs apart as he grew very stiff. Astonishment surged through St. John's veins.
 
He is enjoying this after all … I am not unskilled! And what I am doing gives him delight, a delight solely because of me and my actions. Better still, I could move slowly, or swiftly, and I would be determining his response. I am pleasing him. And his pleasure is dependent upon mine.
 
O, that transfixes me quite strangely.
 
The darkness of the room hid how greatly his own need increased in response to the discovery. But he did not flinch from this new knowledge; rather, he grew curious to learn Cpt. Aquilaine's opinion on the matter. As a Godly heart proves its worth through tests and trials, so must any new idea be challenged and put to the fire, in order that the dross be separated from the gold. Thus St. John decided to do the needful and educate himself; he paused, all movement halted except for his thumb, which continued to rub the sheath almost imperceptibly over the little slit on the shaft's very tip.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine made a strangled noise and thrust his hips up, pushing into St. John's palm; in response, St. John snatched his hand away entirely.
 
“Ahhh—what are you doing? You have stopped!”
 
“It does not seem to be working as such, so I thought oil might improve matters?” St. John tried to purge the satisfied smirk from his voice.
 
“I assure you, you were making great progress. Pray continue,” he groaned, fretful.
 
“And I shall, presently. But first a little oil … have patience, Marcus. You have not been abandoned.”
 
St. John dripped a few fat drops onto his palm and a few more onto the Captain's shaft, causing his friend to grunt in frustration. Next he began to trail his now-slippery fingers from tip to stem, working oil over the head and peeling the sheath back as he went. Immediately Cpt. Aquilaine grew even harder, his hips beginning to shift up and down for want of further stimulation. St. John gripped him but lightly in return, sliding his hand in a too-measured fashion until he heard pleas for more friction, more speed, and felt the first beads of hot seed leak out. Not wishing to be cruel, and struggling to focus over his own mounting need, he pressed forward with the task. Almost too soon, as he stripped the Captain back with firm, quick strokes, Cpt. Aquilaine went rigid and arched his back, thighs shaking as he spilt out with a great and wordless cry. St. John also froze, suddenly filled with uncertainty.
 
When his friend began to catch his breath and recover himself, he whispered, “Marcus, are you well? Was I too vigorous?”
 
“No—no—hardly. Wait, though,” he gasped, “now I am … overthrown.”
 
“Most excellent.” St. John tone was tinged by a hint of awe. “When you have quite recovered yourself I, too, have a task that needs attention.”
 
 
 
When he next woke St. John lay in the crook of the Captain's arm, cheek pressed to shoulder and one hand resting on his broad chest as it rose and fell. He felt shy about his recent accomplishment, but marvelled yet again at how even this simplest of intimacies, skin against skin, settled him more than an entire evening's worth of prayer and scriptural meditation.
 
Truly, I do not even need to touch him. His very scent calms my heart.
 
He watched silently as Cpt. Aquilaine also slowly roused himself for the day. As always, his first action was to pull St. John closer and kiss him sleepily. Then he yawned, stretched, and enquired “Today is Friday, is it not?”
 
“It is. Are you going to ring for breakfast?”
 
“Of course! Every opportunity I can get.” On Friday mornings the club would bring breakfast up on a tray if requested; Cpt. Aquilaine had a standing order to do so. In the past month he had modified that order somewhat, and now the footman brought eggs, toast, tea and rashers for two instead of one. St. John was still deeply grateful for the discretion of the servants, who never criticised any behaviour other than scratching the lacquered dinner table. And if any of the Club's other inhabitants noticed their relations, they gave no indication of it by word or deed; many of them, being ex-military or ex-navy, believed firmly in the importance of overlooking the proclivities of others. The Reverend himself had learnt how to achieve this during his voyage on Albert of Wales: when physical privacy is not possible, give emotional privacy instead. Thus if he encountered sailors mourning some secret loss, or engaging in strictly-forbidden intimacies, his preferred course of action whilst on board was to simply walk past the scene and allow the other persons to make mention of it (or ignore the entire thing) on their own time. The Club's fellow residents apparently followed a similar strategy even on land.
 
A quarter of an hour later they sat to table en déshabillé, happily guzzling tea and tapping at soft-boiled eggs. When St. John reached for the pepper, Cpt. Aquilaine grasped his arm and gave him a wicked look.
 
“You have more skill than you give yourself credit for, you know.”
 
St. John blushed and rapped the Captain's knuckles with his spoon. “Stop that. You made your opinions on the matter quite clear already, and now I am trying to eat my egg.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine laughed. “I did not realise your egg was of such critical importance to the morning.”
 
“Empires have crumpled for want of an egg. I am certain that was Napoleon's weakness.”
 
“Indeed? An egg brought down the great general? And here I always thought it was his invasion of Moscow during winter-time. Or Waterloo.” At this St. John joined him in laughter, and it was some moments before they could again be serious enough to focus on the critical task of eating.
 
“You do not laugh often enough. Truly, it transforms you.” Cpt. Aquilaine pulled softly at St. John's side-whiskers. St. John just batted his hand away.
 
“Marcus, you are being quite overly-affectionate this morning.”
 
“Need you ask me why? Be warned … I shall tell you if you ask.”
 
For the second time in as many minutes St. John blushed. “Thank you, but my egg is now going cold, and we must talk about other things. I hardly care what, just so it is something else.”
 
“Then you are going to hear military talk.” But the Reverend merely shrugged, and so the Captain chatted on, not discussing anything of significance, sharing gossip about other officers, the latest theories of uniform design and the relative merits and faults of the Sepoys. St. John nodded along, listening with half an ear, until the topic of the Afghanistan campaign came up.
 
“There are rumours of a transition in leadership, which could mean tremendous changes or nothing at all, but naturally everyone is trying to learn whatsoever they can and the top ranks are absolutely closed up. Supposedly Sir Willoughby Cotton will step down and turn matters over to a subordinate. Of course all are aflutter to see who shall take over the campaign, hoping it will be their own commanding officer, which would give them a shot at promotion themselves. Since more high officers have been bringing their wives and families to Kabul as of late—God only knows why, as the place is both wretched and dull—every pair of eyes in looking to spot visiting generals and family and so on—”
 
“Like Lord Elphinstone?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine stopped mid-sentence and gave St. John a queer look. “Yes, I suppose so, but he is not in Calcutta. He remains in Benares, overseeing the fort and tending pigeons.”
 
“He was here as of three weeks ago, according to his grand-niece. She had just arrived from London, and said he was going to take her for a tour of the site where he would found a new Masonic Temple.”
 
“How would you know that? You did not tell me this.” He stared as if the Reverend had suddenly declared an interest in naval armaments.
 
St. John swallowed a mouthful of toast and tea. “She stopped me and asked for directions one Sunday as I was on my way to church. I did not mention it because I did not think anything of it.”
 
“That is interesting, to be sure. I had not heard he was in town at all. It could not be him in charge of the campaign—he is old and feeble—but perhaps it will be one of his under-generals or secretaries. How odd! And here over breakfast you have imparted to me more information than any of my august colleagues. You have so many uses indeed.”
 
For the third time that morning, St. John flushed red.
 
 
 
After the Captain had collected his cane and made his way off to another day of demonstrating pull-ups, marching formation and fencing to his recruits, St. John settled in for a morning of reviewing Hindustani, French, geometry, and the history of Britain, all in anticipation of his future tutoring. After lunch he grew restless, bored by the studies and increasingly frustrated with his predicament. As he had no especial interest in tiring his mind with what he had already worried over a dozen times that morning, he decided it was time to take the airs.
 
He rambled on for nearly an hour, enjoying the sights and sounds, trying not to think of how in a short month he would leave it all behind for Hill Tippera and Prince Krishna. When the rains began to fall yet again (he was quickly learning the art of determining when it was safe to go outside and how long he could linger there) he was only a few hundred yards from the Club. As St. John swept back in through the door, brushing drops of rain off his hat, the footman bowed deep and handed him a letter on a small silver plate. He was ashamed at how high his heart leapt to see the local postal marks—this was sent but yesterday; who lives that close except the Bishop? perhaps he has written to tell me I have been found unsuitable for the position—but then sank low at the unfamiliar seal. He nodded to the footman and retreated to his room, opening the envelope with trembling fingers.
 
 
 
30th of July, 1840, from the desk of Col. Fitzpatrick, Bt., Esq.
 
To the Reverend St. John Rivers,
 
Greetings! Please forgive the impropriety of this letter, written to one I know but in passing. I merely wish to send my felicitations to the man who has made my dear friend Marcus Aquilaine so happy. I retain so many fond memories from our various times together, both at Cambridge and in Calcutta when he first arrived in India. Have you yet had occasion to attend the symphony or accompany him on his Thursday mornings? I remember how he would arrive after work with orchestra passes, saying he had received them from a fellow officer or similar nonsense. Such transparent plays for my affection never deceived, not for a moment. As for Thursdays, I am a firm believer in discretion, and will only say: semper sub rosa! I do so miss his earnest nature and firm belief that there must never be any secret between two men so engaged in brotherly companionship. My best wishes to you both.
 
Most sincerely, Col. Fitzpatrick
 
 
 
St. John dropped the letter and stared aghast, as if it were a glowing hot coal fallen unexpectedly onto his hand. He did not know whether to hold the paper over the nearest flame or march over to Cpt. Aquilaine and demand, once and for all, an explanation of his past activities. How foolish he had been in so many things, to think the attentions paid to him were singular or heartfelt. How crass the Captain seemed now in light of his many dalliances. And how stupidly St. John had assumed, upon enquiring that day at the park as to the Captain's sad condition, that he had heard the truth!
 
After a full ten minutes of pacing the very small sitting room, alternating between picking up the letter in a fury and throwing it down in disgust, St. John forced himself into a calmer mode of being.
 
This missive comes from the odious Col. Fitzpatrick, who owns slaves and beats women and takes advantage of the most tender vulnerabilities of good-hearted men. I cannot trust a single word of what he says. He has obviously written an epistle deliberately calculated to inflict the cruellest sort of damage on me and Cpt. Aquilaine, all because he could not have what he wanted. I must not pay it any more heed than I would the ramblings of a madman at Bedlam, claiming to be King Harold.
 
But it does confirm that something happens on Thursdays, something of such significance and regularity that even Col. Fitzpatrick is aware of it. Damn—damn—damn.
 
 
 
By evening St. John had worked himself into a terrible state of anxiety; he was still of two minds whether to destroy the letter and force it from his mind or shout down the Captain in a fury until he had surrendered all of what he kept hidden. As he sat and stared at his desk, hands clenched into shaking fists, his ears stayed alert for the sounds of the familiar limp over the other noises in the hall. It came promptly at half past five, as always. St. John set aside his books, washed his face and changed his shirt, but then grew so agitated that he could not decide whether to stand or sit, whether to stay in his room or charge down the corridor and demand an explanation. He forced himself to sit, tapping his feet and fidgeting in his chair, his nightly need increasing along with his foreboding and adding to his overall discomfort.
 
Eventually the longcase clock struck six. He determined not to go to the Captain; the Captain would come to him. So he waited further, reciting scripture and poetry, trying to settle his mind, but all he could think of that calmed him was his friend's broad shoulders and gentle hands, and how dark his fingers looked against St. John's pale thighs. This did not sooth his thoughts or his need. He forced his attentions back to Greek, conjugating -μι verbs until he cursed the Athenians for their stubborn insistence on archaisms. When he had run through as much Homer as he could recall, mostly about γλαυκώπις Αθηνά, he turned to Latin. Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris … time slid past as he lost himself in the hexameters of Virgil. When he next heard the clock strike it was seven in the evening, far later than he had anticipated.
 
A great fear pierced his heart. Without pausing to think on what he was doing St. John hastened down the hall and began knocking at the Captain's door, ignoring the looks of fellow-residents. Something has happened. Marcus has taken ill. He has been seized by some horrible fit. His leg has given out, he has fallen, and he cannot reach the servant-bell. O God, he is laying there on the floor and wondering where I have gone and why I have abandoned him. No one answered at the door and he pounded louder, calling “Marcus, Marcus are you in there? Are you well?” as he did. He received no reply.
 
St. John began to wonder if he should alert a footman, or summon Sanyal and demand a spare key to the room. In desperation he twisted the door-knob, and the door swung open! He muttered a prayer of gratitude and peeked into the sitting room, frightened that he would find the Captain fallen on his own knife in a pool of bloody gore, or dead of apoplexy, or some such melodramatic nonsense. But the room was empty. He crept in, shutting the door behind him and calling out softly, “Marcus, it is I, St. John. Is anything the matter? Are you ill?”
 
Finally he heard noise from the bedroom; the sounds of sniffling, and hiccoughed breathing as if someone had been weeping but now made attempt to stop. His fears increased: loss of employment, death of a friend, tragic news from home.
 
“I am going to come in,” he warned, wishing to give his friend time to compose himself. When he did not hear assent, he entered anyway.
 
There, in the dark, Cpt. Aquilaine lay on his back atop the coverlet, one arm flung over his face in an attempt to hide his appearance. St. John glanced around the small room, noting the red coat and cane discarded into a corner, the half-drunk glass of water, and a neglected snifter of brandy on the side-table next to crumpled paper. He picked it up, dreading a black riband or seal; instead he saw a familiar-looking cream envelope and an unmistakable hand.
 
Of course … Col. Fitzpatrick would never have simply written a spiteful letter to me. He would relish the opportunity to spread misery as far as he could manage.
 
“Ah. I see the Colonel has written you.” he said heavily. “Now I think I know your unhappiness, but may I read it anyway?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine's response was muffled by his arm and by a hoarseness in his throat indicative of someone who had been mourning bitterly. “By all means. It does not matter now.”
 
St. John picked up the paper as if it were a spitting cobra and smoothed it out, none too carefully.
 
 

My dearest Marcus,
 
After much consideration, I regret to inform that I could not recommend your case to my cousin the Governor-General. Cavalry-men must not only be of sound body, but also of good character and breeding. Whilst your many charms have quite entertained me in the past, in all three of these most important areas I am afraid you fall rather short of the mark. Please do not think this reflects poorly on yourself as a person; you have many fine qualities to offer, but they are—let us be clear and open amongst ourselves—the sort of qualities a cavalry officer should take enjoyment from, not possess himself. As much as it pains me, noblesse oblige demands that I do my duty to Crown and Country.
 
With fondest recollections,
 
Colonel Fitzpatrick, Bt, Esq.

 
Such a letter was not to be lightly set aside. He knew he should have been furious, raging at Col. Fitzpatrick for his brutality, for taking so much from those who already had so little, but he was not. What he felt instead was sorrow, sorrow at the sad state of the fallen world and the miseries of its inhabitants. How hard it was to long for happiness in any form, to have it so consistently denied and to be compelled to struggle every hour of every day, hoping upon desperate hope for joys in heaven to repay the woes found on earth! Cpt. Aquilaine had known the Colonel's character; he must have been prepared for such a possible outcome. Yet he had made the attempt nevertheless.
 
I do not think I realised, until this very moment, what an act of courage it is to be cheerful in the face of a pitiless world. My response has always been to avoid whatever joys I can, in the fear that they may be taken back from me. Marcus chooses to face life with enthusiasm and hope; this is the consequence. I am certain he has chosen the harder, and braver path.
 
In silence, he took off his boots and cast aside his frock-coat. Thus lightly clad, he climbed up onto the bed and sat, cross-legged, carefully easing his friend's head onto his lap. For some minutes St. John remained there, motionless except for his hands, which he slowly combed through the Captain's hair whilst the Captain fought back his emotions. He could not think of any words to say, and he had no good counsel or advice to give. What could give consolation to a man who has just had his last desperate attempt at happiness swept out from under him, catching him so by surprise that he is utterly defeated?
 
When Cpt. Aquilaine grew quieter and less agitated, St. John dipped the corner of his handkerchief into the glass of water. Remembering his own recent afternoon of tears, he began to wipe Cpt. Aquilaine's cheeks clean. He cooled sticky red eyes, brushed hair off a forehead damp with sweat and salt, smoothed away the furrows in the brow, and finished his ministrations by placing a single kiss on the small widow's peak.
 
Finally he felt the time was appropriate to speak his piece. “I am so sorry, Marcus. You have tried your best, and it has come to naught; there is nothing I can say or do to ease that.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine shook his head slowly. His voice was clumsy and thick. “No, do not think that. I know this must sound foolish, but I cannot be grateful enough that you are here. That letter is a true indictment of my character, and yet you have still come. Thank you.”
 
“That letter is nothing but nonsense and cruelty, and I will not let it distract from my duty to you. Moreover I am glad to be of help; it is hard seeing you this heartsick.”
 
“Still, few men would do their duty so willingly, especially to one lacking in honour as I am.”
 
St. John sighed in frustration. “But you know I care nothing for honour, not as the world defines it. I do not understand how can it mean so much to you, when you have so many good qualities … ”
 
“None of them mean anything if there is not honour to be their foundation! It means holding your head up in society and being unashamed of your character and your family name. Without honour I can never be a true officer or gentleman, because who will respect my orders if they do not respect me?”
 
“So you will not set aside your passion, even now?” He wiped away more tears as he spoke.
 
“How could I, St. John? If honour were an object, some prized token captured by savages, I would travel beyond the boundaries of the known world and take on a thousand single-handed, trying to reclaim it. I would do anything to have it; I would give my life for it. As a boy, all I dreamt about was making Uncle Harold proud of me. How I wished to move past my family's legacy of shame, and prove to him (and myself) that I was of a better character than my father or grandfather! When I came to India I had every intention of winning such glory and renown that no Englishman who learnt of my family would dare mock me. I dreamt of sending home such riches that my uncle could regain what had been lost due to my father's immoderation. And I would finally have honour, true honour, honour that I knew was rightfully mine and not some sham of respectability that came only from a changed name and a hushed-up history. But now I am doomed to waste my life sitting around the Club, honourless and soft, whilst the silky-arsed sons of noble lords, who can hardly piss standing upright, divide all the spoils of India amongst themselves.” He paused and viciously rubbed at his eyes. Then he continued, in a softer voice,
 
“Forgive my hot tongue. I should not speak so crudely, especially not to you, St. John.” He reached up and took the Reverend by the hand, then lapsed once more into silence. When he finally spoke again he had grown calmer.
 
“Not everything in my life is sad, however. In the first, there is your presence here. You have such a compassionate heart, but you do not allow it to rule you; such strength of will that you are not blown about by the winds of fortune as I am. You have already taught me so much, in such a short time!”
 
St. John almost laughed, so startled was he to see his many faults put into a positive light. “No, Marcus, you must not say such kind things to me. You cannot know the magnitude of my sins. I am timid, fearful and stingy with my affections. You have always been courageous and strong, in your own way; I can see that now. I am hardly worthy of you.”
 
“You are hardly worthy of me? I am a ruined soldier, a natural son, a lapsed Christian and a cripple. I am credulous, weak-willed, have not even the ability to fulfil my most basic duties. All I ever truly wanted in life was to be a better man than my father … and how dismally I failed! You would not even stay in this room if you knew the whole of my crimes.” His eyes filled once more.
 
St. John cupped his friend's face in his hands. “Hush, Marcus. You will make yourself ill. Be easy.”
 
“How can I? When you do not know … I will tell you. Yes, I will tell you, and then we will see just how well you think of me.”
 
A wave of panic swept through St. John. If the Captain began to speak of his hidden sins then conscience would compel him to reveal his own intentions to leave. He feared the mortal consequences of revealing his plans, given his friend's already fragile state. “No, do not make yourself worse! This is neither the time nor the place for such confessions. They mean nothing to me; they will not change the high regard in which I hold you. If you want to admit anything, begin by explaining how you can possibly think so well of me, for I do not understand it at all.”
 
The silence in the room grew long, very long indeed, broken only by the Captain's heavy breathing and occasional sniff. When finally he responded, he looked away to the far wall of the bedroom. “St. John, despite knowing your flaws, does not God Himself love you?”
 
“He does.”
 
“I … I too know your flaws.”
 
The Captain did not speak another word; there was no need. The enormity of what was left unsaid swept through St. John like the monsoon. He bent over and kissed Cpt. Aquilaine once more on the brow, and Cpt. Aquilaine squeezed his hand until it hurt. When he straightened he continued to gaze at his friend's face, reddened and swollen, noting how despite his unfortunate appearance the Captain did not turn away, as if he felt no discomfort in exposing his true self and not only the more flattering parts of his nature. St. John's heart began to crack.
 
He has made his feelings clear at last, and I think I have known them for some time. But this I do not know: how long now have I loved him in return?
 
He thought back to the night of the symphony, to the way he had offered himself over to Cpt. Aquilaine with fear and trembling, trusting only in the goodness of his heart that he could not be unkind—and how he was repaid for that trust! Back further, to the Fitzpatrick estate and the luncheon by the lake, the heartbreak of the safari expedition … he could see now how in all those circumstances he had already felt love, although he had not the ability to recognise it as such. Even their very first meeting, when the Captain saved him from the crowd of beggar children, with his cheerful mien and white flashing grin, had it begun that very day?
 
All this time I had assumed I was still in love with Jane, poor Jane Eyre who saw through me so easily, because she matched so well with all the qualities I thought would make for a happy and harmonious marriage. Her quiet spirit, good education, modest demeanour and feminine nature … And yet she and I were as oil and water. Here I am with the Captain, who possesses none of those qualities, but already we form such a fine partnership of mind and body. That which I had with Jane was mere infatuation, a fascination with the idea of love, but not possessing any of its nature or reality. This is the truth.
 
God forgive me, I shall not go to the Prince.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine broke into his thoughts. “Will you stay the night? Although I am afraid I will not be good company.”
 
“That is not important.” St. John realised that under the right sort of circumstances, setting his need aside proved quite an easy thing. His greatest wish, at the moment, was merely to give the Captain what sympathy he could offer. “But if I order up any food, would you take some? Otherwise you will be completely famished by morning.”
 
“If you think it necessary, then of course.”
 
St. John carefully shifted away and swung his legs onto the floor, stretching out the cramped muscles. “Then I shall be back presently, and we will eat a little cold supper. After that we can talk, or smoke, or sleep, whatever you prefer, and I shall stay.”
 
 
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notes:
 
en déshabillé – partially or carelessly dressed.
 
Sir Willoughby Cotton – After the Army of the Indus installed Shuja Shah on the throne in Kabul, all but 8,000 of them returned to India. The Afghanis deeply resented the British interference, and it quickly became apparent that the new Emir (who was both cruel and vindictive towards his enemies) could only rule if backed by greater numbers of foreign soldiers. But the British did not want to live in Kabul, any more than the Afghan natives wanted them to, and so Cotton and Macnaghten encouraged soldiers to relocate their families to Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, this only upset the Afghanis even further. Sensing an opportunity, Dost Mohammad attempted to attack Kabul, was captured, surrendered, and was exiled to India. His son Akbar Khan took up the cause and began to wage guerrilla warfare.
 
Despite the many difficulties they faced, the British troops began to enjoy themselves heartily, drinking copiously and harassing the local women. The British government in India paid large bribes to the surrounding tribes, which helped keep the peace, and began to look for a replacement for Sir Willoughby.
 
Benares – Varanasi.
 
local postal marks – Various principalities and states within the subcontinent of India had postal services of a type (usually messengers on foot or by horse) long before the EIC arrived. The British made improvements to existing systems when they first arrived, but in 1837 passed the Post Office Act stating that only the Governor-General had the right to authorise a paid postal system within EIC territory. The service was open to everyone and relatively reliable; even more remarkable, the British developed an express mail route that cut across the isthmus of Suez (which would become the Suez Canal in 1869). The distance the letter had to travel was reduced from 16,000 miles sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, to only 6,000 miles steaming through the Red Sea, and travel time dropped from 90 days to 40. Everyone marvelled at the swiftness with which information could now speed its way across the globe.
 
Col. Fitzpatrick, Bt., Esq – “Bt.” indicates that the Colonel was also a Baronet.
 
semper sub rosa – always/ever confidentially.
 
-μι verbs –  a particular category of verbs in the Athenian dialect of Ancient Greek. -μι verbs are extremely archaic (they are found in the reconstructed proto-Indo-European language), extremely irregular, and only tangentially follow the conjugation patterns of normal Greek verbs. Naturally, because they are so archaic, and so difficult to form, they also comprise many of the most common and necessary words in Athenian (to be, to give, to say, to know, to see). -μι verbs are the bane of the Greek student's existence.
 
γλαυκώπις Αθηνά – glaukopis Athena. In Homer's Odyssey, the Greek goddess Athena was given the epithet glaukopis, “grey-eyed”. Interestingly, the Greek for grey, “γλαύκος”, is closely related to the Greek for owl, “γλαύξ”, possibly because owls have such distinctive eyes. Athena, considered the wisest of the goddesses (and the gods, frankly), was also often represented by an owl; the earliest coins of her patron city, Athens, have an owl stamped into them.
 
Arma virumque cano – These are the opening lines to Virgil's Aeneid: “I sing of arms and a man, who first came from the shores of Troy.”
 
supper – Traditionally, in many parts of England, the three daily meals are named breakfast, luncheon, and dinner, for the morning, noon, and evening meals respectively. Supper is a light snack or small meal before retiring to bed, if one is feeling peckish.
 

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John fights twice with Cpt. Aquilaine over the Expressions of their Affection, and discovers the Significance of Thursdays.

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A happiness which is built on honesty and openness, and which springs naturally from a firm foundation of contented trust, can weather whatever turmoils are sent by a malicious world to test and prod, seeking what weaknesses it may exploit. A happiness which relies on the shifting sands of covert measures, however, with secrets left unspoken and the deliberate quelling of unsettled consciences, will rarely last; like Plato's ouroboros, forever doomed to gnaw on its own tail, it quickly consumes itself with remorse, suspicion and fear.

In similar fashion, finding love in two women at once is a cruel predicament; the likelihood of contentment is small. Deciding on one means a deliberate wounding of the other. The one choosing suffers innumerous regrets, sees in his current love all the little failings the other did not possess—for absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder—and recalls at length all those rejected virtues which the other woman offered, which will now never be his to enjoy. The chosen wonders what special qualities of hers were the ones crucial to his decision, fears the consequences of any alteration of character or habit, no matter how trivial, and questions in her mind—never aloud—whether he feels he favoured the right woman after all is said and done. She also bears the burden of gratitude. They must both expend much time and energy to reassure each other, and themselves, that the correct choice has been made. Like happiness built on shifting sands, few harmonious relationships can last after such a perilous beginning.

How much worse it was for the Rev. Rivers, forced to choose between the God he served out of duty, necessity, and fear, and Cpt. Aquilaine, who brought him joys immeasurable but who drew him inevitably closer to spiritual peril! Not able to have both, he had made his choice and promptly grew dissatisfied with it. He quickly found himself more and more frequently upset by the Captain's oft-coarse ways, worldly thoughts, and careless disrespect for Providence. The quiet, sterile, and pious life he had rejected began to seem serene and fruitful. The regrets made themselves quickly known; he felt the burden of his decision at all times.

Cpt. Aquilaine should not have been similarly troubled; he did not have a choice to make. But he too seemed ill at ease, gave the Reverend sidelong glances they both studiously ignored, and often hesitated when speaking, as if he had something perpetually on the tip of his tongue. Further, he had begun to request more and more intimacies from St. John, intimacies they both knew would not be allowed. Some weight preyed on him, as well. Perhaps he disliked having to be grateful that his friend had deigned to prefer him, in a regretful sort of fashion.

But the Reverend could not give voice to such concerns, not aloud. Any mention of his previous decision to leave would consume the Captain with anxiety and self-doubt. Privately, he also worried as to how he would tell the Bishop of his change in plans, especially since he had said, quite untruthfully, that the Lord had called him to leave Calcutta. And he feared for the health of his immortal soul, since his most effortless and heartfelt prayers were now inspired by fornication. He spoke to God but seldom now; when he did pray, with a heart full of gratitude and love towards the Creator who had given mankind so much joy, it usually came directly after something Cpt. Aquilaine had done in bed. In short, he had made a difficult choice between two loves, and was now free to repent at his leisure.

The sands, Reader, had already begun to shift.

Several nights later, as they lay in bed after completing their nightly duties to each other—for now Cpt. Aquilaine also demanded to be taken in hand before they progressed to their second round of affections—the Captain unexpectedly asked a question St. John had privately dreaded for some time, knowing the topic could not be gainsaid forever.

“What are your thoughts on the act of being a fellator?”

St. John grimaced in silence, glad the last candle had already been extinguished. “I personally find the practice decadent and uncivilised.”

A long, rather tense silence followed. Then, finally—

“So you would not be willing to engage in such activities, even once? Even as an experiment, to see whether your opinion on the matter matches with the reality of the thing?”

“Certainly not. There is no circumstance, no situation under which I could see myself as a fellator. I assure you, it is not worth pursuing this matter, Marcus.”

Cpt. Aquilaine sat up, restless and agitated. St. John could sense the tension in his limbs. “It is hard, you must know, to hear the many different ways in which you tell me, again and again, that my interests and my actions are base. I have never criticised any of your preferences, even though other sorts of men might have had a good deal to say about your needs.”

“Such as what?” St. John also rose at this, dismayed to hear that what he considered his perfectly average desires could be called into account.

“Such as your continued preference for keeping the room entirely dark … many people would like to see their lover's reactions and not simply try to guess at them. Or your insistence that whilst I may touch your most intimate spots, I may do nothing more than that, when I can assure you that is hardly the only possibility. Or your staunch refusal to even do that much in return! St. John, you deny me so much, I question whether you even understand that it is not just the refusal of such actions, but your manner of rejecting them that makes me so unhappy? When you open your mouth to speak, you criticise. It is as if you must find fault in me somehow. It hurts, that you have yet so little trust.”

St. John ducked his head in impatience and shame, hating this sort of discussion bitterly. “How many more times must I say that I have little or no restraint around you? Yes, I must keep my guard up at all times, but that is to protect me from myself!”

“As if, by playing the fellator even once, to simply discern whether you genuinely dislike it or simply have been taught to, you will then lose all control over yourself and I shall find you on your knees in the sitting room each day when I return home, scarcely able to wait for me to remove so much as my hat?”

“Do not mock me, Marcus!” St. John hoped the Captain would not notice how his body had reacted to the suggestion; certainly there could be no ignoring the Captain's response. It was a mercy, besides, that men could not read one another's thoughts. St. John did not want to imagine the consequences if his friend realised that although the Reverend did not wish to be a fellator, he had no qualms about playing the rôle of the irrumator, and that he struggled to fight back the images of returning from church on Sunday to find Cpt. Aquilaine waiting in the study for him, repenting once again his failure to properly observe the Lord's Day, kneeling on the carpet and begging to be allowed to make a proper penance to the man who could absolve him of sin, if he only would shew contrition …

Cpt. Aquilaine fell back against his pillow with a sigh, pulling the Reverend down as he did so. “For a man of God, it is singular how you have absolutely no confidence in yourself, nor any faith in God's Grace. You see the Devil's temptations behind every bush, and you are always afraid.”

St. John shifted to allow the Captain to rub his back. “That is true … the closer I try to draw to Him, the further I feel from love, joy, patience and all the other fruits of the Spirit. I have never felt the Peace of God, never in all my years of striving.”

“Stop striving then! Are you not simply supposed to yield to the Spirit and allow it to lead you where it will? What if It takes you in a direction you do not expect? You speak so often of your passion to be an instrument in the Hands of the Lord … will you fight Him tooth and nail because He is using you in a manner not to your expectations? You believe you already comprehend the very Mind of God, and will not brook so much as a whisper that contradicts what you presume He thinks!”

“Now that is false, thank you, the grossest untruth—”

“I know you, St. John! If I may, I know you very well by now. I know how you prefer to be alone, how undomestic and unsentimental you are. And sometimes I wonder—are you so afraid of your own nature and supposedly-sinful desires that you will spend a lifetime repenting for how God has made you?”

St. John could give no response; he had asked himself this many times, in the silence of his own heart. How unpleasant it felt to have another person so easily discern him. Some nights he longed once more for the privacy of a solitary life, where no one demanded that he talk or listen, no one bade him stay or go, and no one presumed the liberty to offhandedly sift through his innermost thoughts, examining all the tenuous hopes and wishes and fears that he had so carefully shut away under the guise of protecting them.

But what does Marcus truly know about me? He could never understand how deeply I love my sisters, and how dearly I miss taking dinner with them and reading devotions to them by the fire. He does not know how I longed to see them when they were gone to teach, and how I would spend the whole day pacing the kitchen and peering out the windows, looking for their coach when they returned for Christmas-tide! I never said as much to them; some stiff propriety always stopped my tongue and, God forgive me, I was cold to them. I so feared that they would stray from the path. But every day now I would like to see them again. Nor does he know how glad I would have been to marry, to have a wife who could suffer my severity, and to have a child I could raise in the ways of the Lord. To sit with them all after dinner, and read to them. I acknowledge now that such things cannot be, so I have set them aside, let these dreams fade into memory, but they are not gone. They will never leave me. He does not know this.

Cpt. Aquilaine continued, “You are so afraid of doing wrong and jeopardising your soul that you have instead smothered it in its sleep! Do you think that by removing every part of humanity that resides within your breast you can protect yourself from sin?”

A great wave of sorrow unexpectedly broke over St. John's head. “Do not say that! You cannot say that to me!” he raged into the darkness. The Captain gripped his arms and he struggled to pull away, miserable at their touch. His breath caught with a ragged hitch as he lowered his voice. “You do not know! You cannot understand how … how much I feel and how deeply I long. I have not killed off the more tender parts of my nature, just because I do not wear them on my sleeve as you do, Marcus. You give me no credit, none at all. Think of how much I have shewn you of myself already, and how far I have let myself go down this path. I had never more than kissed a woman on the cheek, and now I fornicate with you every night! I, who was accustomed to spend days and weeks at a time absolutely alone with my books, now share nearly all the waking moments that I can with you. And still you accuse me of having no heart, because as far as I have come and as much as I have changed it is not enough. I do not suppose it will ever be enough for you.”

His speech echoed through the silence in the room. He could hear his own breath, shallow and halting, as it joined the Captain's slower, more measured breathing. He felt wrung through; he could not form words in his mouth. And then—

“No, you are correct. You have passion, St. John, passion in abundance, but I am not skilled at seeing it because it is so unlike all I have known before.” His voice sounded oddly meek. “Some days it seems to burn in you as strongly as I once burnt to attain true honour. I should be grateful when you allow me to catch a glimpse of it.”

St. John wanted to weep, although he could not possibly understand why. He reached out and pulled the larger man down into his arms, holding him very tightly, as if by pressing their bodies together he could convey through touch alone what he could not speak aloud.

“I am sorry, I am so sorry. I did not mean to raise my voice,” he murmured into the Captain's hair. “I should not shout, Marcus, you are far too dear to me.” For a moment his voice shook too much, and he had to wait until he could be calm once more. “But what a painful thing you have put your finger on—that cuts right to the quick!”

Cpt. Aquilaine's voice rasped and St. John felt him tremble a little under his arms. “We are too good at that, St. John, at prodding one another's hidden wounds. I am afraid it is a skill I have been improving upon since meeting you, since your words always have such keen aim.”

“Do not lay all the blame on me! In your own way you have also been teaching me how to find those most private and sensitive spots,” St. John replied without thinking.

There was another long moment's pause, during which he shut his eyes tight and desperately hoped that Cpt. Aquilaine had not been paying close attention. But then the Captain begin to shake just a little, in a manner that had nothing to do with sorrow.

“Do you wish to elaborate, Reverend?” he enquired roguishly.

“No, thank you, Sir, I do not.” St. John answered, rather stiffly.

“Ah, you are blushing, I think.” He touched St. John's cheek with the back of his hand. “Yes, that is quite warm.” St. John tried to push his hand away, the Captain grabbed his other wrist in return and for a moment they found themselves nearly wrestling, a friendly sort of grapple, before Cpt. Aquilaine claimed the upper hand by virtue of his larger size and greater strength. As St. John lay half-pressed to the bed, arms pinned at his sides, Cpt. Aquilaine seized the opportunity to bite him gently on the ear whilst the Reverend squirmed and tried to shift away.

“Another sensitive spot, Reverend Sombre?”

“I should never have told you that, Marcus—oof—you must not—aaaaah!” The unfamiliar sensations overwhelmed him and St. John began to laugh helplessly, at the ridiculousness of his situation and what he had said, and because this sort of fighting was far more pleasant than a true argument. Then they were both lying on each other, laughing out of relief and a sudden sharp happiness, and they continued until their sides hurt and all traces of their previous hot words had been forgotten.

Finally St. John broke the now-companionable silence. “Marcus, I do not want to talk more of intimate matters tonight. We too often end in ill tempers, and I always regret it deeply afterwards.”

“I know.” Cpt. Aquilaine kissed St. John on the tip of the nose. “I did not wish to quarrel either. It just saddens me that there is little I can do to ease your mind when your mood is black.”

“Perhaps one day it shall be easier. Remember how far I have journeyed in so short a time!”

“True, I do not always give you enough credit, and I am impatient. But you know that my impatience is only because I can scarce keep my hands to myself when you are nearby?”

“How could I forget it?” He turned, burrowing deeper into the bed and nestling his back against the Captain's chest. “Can we go to sleep? I am strangely exhausted, and if we sleep now I shall be more awake in the morning.”

His friend sighed with mock-disappointment and settled himself in. “If that is a promise, I suppose I can survive a night of only taking my joy once. Once is still far more than I was accustomed to, before you graced me with your favour.”

St. John merely turned his head to kiss him in response.

 

 

When he woke to the dawn Cpt. Aquilaine, intent on making sure the previous night's guarantees would not go overlooked, immediately began to stroke St. John with one hand and clutch at his buttocks with the other. St. John put up a feeble protest.

“Aah, Marcus, I am still halfway asleep.”

“I want you on top of me, St. John. I want to see how you look whilst you are between my thighs.” When he saw how quickly the Reverend retreated into himself, he explained further, “I know you dislike this in the daytime. It is only that you have such a divine form, and I can think of no better way to spend my day than to carry about the memory of you with me. Give me that, please.”

St. John, who had dreamt of how ripe and inviting the Captain's mouth looked before the first cup of tea in the morning had steadied his hand enough to wield a straight razor, realised that if he agreed, it would give him greater leverage for when he finally admitted how deeply he would like to be an irrumator. So he yielded, enjoying the feel of the Captain's hands on him, until such time as he had grown needful enough to begin.

Still, as he slipped on top of his friend, mindful of the bad leg and the burgeoning flesh pointing towards him, he had to shut up his eyes against how exposed he looked in the growing light. Half his mind knew the only person observing him was the Captain, but the other half, raised in a lifetime of belief that God watched over his flock in all circumstances, could not help but feel as if they were lying in the middle of the cobblestone street, with beggars staring and making encouraging cheers. He closed his eyes tighter as he felt his need slipping.

“St. John, is it well with you? Or is this not to your liking?”

“It is just very hard being peered at,” he muttered. “Distract me from myself, and we shall both be happier for it.” He raised himself onto his knees and let the Captain dab oil between his thighs, then settled onto him once more. Now Cpt. Aquilaine began to relax him much as he had the very first time they tried this, one broad arm around his narrow waist in an embrace both confining and affectionate whilst the other hand reached back to slide between his buttocks and tease along his most sensitive spots. St. John, a firm believer in routine and constancy, immediately began to respond.

They continued for some minutes, St. John simply arching back and pushing forward, concentrating on the Captain's hands whilst the Captain, from below, watched with growing delight and whispered the occasional word of encouragement. When he whispered “Shall I give you a little more?” St. John just quickened his breaths and nodded haltingly. His pleasure increased as the large fingers continued to touch and stroke, pressing more insistently, until St. John gasped out,

“O Marcus, please, give me more … go further.” In response, Cpt. Aquilaine shifted one of his fingers and carefully breached St. John quite to the knuckle. The tight, burning sensation was unmistakable; there could be no question as to what had just occurred. They both seemed more than a little caught off guard, then, when St. John responded by immediately wrenching himself away from the Captain's grip and nearly throwing himself from the bed. Cpt. Aquilaine sat up in shock and confusion as St. John stood on the carpet, clad only in air, need fading as precipitously as his anger rose.

“St. John, what—”

“You forget yourself, Sir! How dare you?” Fury surged through him in his humiliation.

“You said you wanted me to go further!” The Captain spread his hands out in a gesture of appeasement, fingers still glistening with oil.

“I did not mean like that. Do not try to claim your innocence; I have been quite clear on many occasions. You have violated me!”

Cpt. Aquilaine blanched at the accusation. “For God's sake, St. John, it's a finger, not a fuck!”

“I trust you with my very body, and this is how you repay me? Treachery!” He could not explain exactly why he was so angry; perhaps some lingering disquiet, stoked by Col. Fitzpatrick's letter, was making itself known at last. “You may keep your interest in baser desires, but I will have none of it.”

At this Cpt. Aquilaine also grew more angry, frustrated need further shortening his already-short temper. “Again with how base a man I am! Anyone but the pure and pious Rev. Rivers would have consented to more, so much more by now. But you, you insist you are better than that. It is fine for a man like me, of lesser virtue, to debauch myself—that is what you think, is it not?—but you will not so much as touch my testes, let alone my arse, and God Himself forbid you put your lips on my cock!”

St. John was stunned. “You have never before protested my piety … you were content to take what I could give, and you have reassured me repeatedly that it did not bother you. Where has all this sprung from?”

“It is hard enough being called a man of easy virtue by someone as haughty as Col. Fitzpatrick. I did not think I would hear it from you as well, St. John.” A wild sort of hurt welled up in his eyes. “But I see it now—it is my lack of honour—you too think that of me.”

“That is not the case—”

“You call me base, treacherous, violating. Why not just say I am a fancy-man who will bend over for any pretty thing that walks past?”

“Oh stop your dramatics, Captain. I have never said such a thing, and you know perfectly well I do not think that of you.”

“Yet you are so sanctimonious that you will not even stoop to place a finger near my arse?”

“It is filthy! Foul! That is not a place to slake physical desires, Marcus! It is an orifice for voiding soil, nothing more, and I will not allow you to disrespect me by encroaching upon mine.”

The Captain simply stared at him in disbelief, as if he had gone quite mad. “Do you not even know what comes out of a woman's cunny? Menses blood and babies! No, I will not allow you to tell me my desires are foul, certainly not when you are content to enjoy them, even if you will not return the favour.” He exited the bed and brushed past the Reverend as he moved to his chest of drawers. He proceeded to pull on his clothes with short, rough motions. St. John also began to dress, feeling quite at a loss for what to do or say next. Whilst his back was turned Cpt. Aquilaine spoke, his voice grim.

“We will talk more on this tonight, if you can manage to speak to me without accusing me of other whorish behaviours. And we shall come to some sort of an agreement, for neither will I allow you to so disrespect me in the future. I may not have honour, but I would like to claim dignity, at least!” He took a long, deep breath. “And I will be more composed, and you will have had time to think, and we can work through this like the gentlemen that we both are.”

“Where are you going? It is hardly even daybreak!” St. John fought back an inexplicable but rising panic; he was wholly unused to being the target of anger, however many times he had levelled it at others. Further, his friend had never before directed such assertive words at him.

“I am going to take the airs; my appetite has quite vanished in present company.” Seeing the stricken look on his friend's face, the Captain softened his tone and gripped the Reverend on the elbow. “Good God, St. John, you are impossible. None of this is irreparable; we are simply having a fight. There are raised voices, and old injuries brought to light … have you not had a fight like this before?”

“No—never! And I think I hate them.”

Cpt. Aquilaine pursed his lips in irritation. “I do not enjoy them either, but sometimes they are quite necessary, such as when two people who are otherwise fond of each other stumble onto an important aspect of their relationship that proves impossible to reconcile. But keep this in mind,” he bent down to stare his friend in the eye, looking as implacable as St. John had ever seen him, “we will both need to yield on certain things. I may have to give up some of what I want, but so will you.”

St. John nodded, his face tense and pale. “Agreed.”

The Captain walked into the sitting room and retrieved his cane from the umbrella stand. “After training finishes I have my weekly engagement with my commanding officer. It will not take more than an hour, but I will be back later than usual. Please do not spend that hour thinking that I have left town on the first available barge.”

For lack of a more useful thing to say, St. John blurted out, “but it is only Thursday. I thought your appointments were every Friday evening.” Then he realised the magnitude of his words.

Lord help me, it is Thursday. But the waters between us are so stormy now that I cannot possibly ask him to what Col. Fitzpatrick was referring.

“I have an officer's meeting tomorrow evening as well, so my commander has moved the appointment to today.” The Captain looked reluctant to speak further, as if he simply wanted to leave and be done with the Reverend for the nonce. But as he reached for the door he turned back. “Well, I am off. I hope … I hope you are in a better frame of mind tonight, and I hope I shall be as well. And I hope we come to a quick and painless resolution, because there is one good thing about a fight: after everything has been said and agreed upon, there is always the opportunity to make up, and that is pleasant indeed.” Seeing St. John smile at last, the Captain pecked him on the cheek—nothing overly warm, but far better than nothing at all—and left, shutting the door behind him as he went.

St. John waited until he heard the limping footsteps fade. Then, hardly daring to think, he slipped down the hall to his own quarters, threw on his frock-coat and hastened after the Captain. It was foolhardy, distrustful and sly, and he knew he risked causing permanent damage to their friendship, especially in light of what words they had just exchanged. But being nearly certain that something was about to happen, something that Cpt. Aquilaine most definitely did not want him to learn of, drove his mind to all manner of nightmarish ideas. He could not spend the entire day wondering and waiting, knowing that when the Captain returned they would fight again, and attempt to discuss in reasonable tones things he could hardly even think without flushing. All he wished was to reassure himself that Col. Fitzpatrick was, as suspected, a vile creature who would not flinch to tell lies about a gentleman. To reassure himself that the man with whom he had fallen in love was also a man to be trusted.

The thought It is Thursday, it is Thursday, O God, whatever he does on Thursdays he is about to do now, because it is Thursday pounded in St. John's ears as he hastened out the door and on to the cobblestones.

Mirzapore Street was already growing crowded with Englishmen and Indians headed to jobs, shops, offices, and appointments. After a moment of panic he spotted the Captain's shako; Cpt. Aquilaine was by no means the only officer making his way west towards the military barracks, but he wore the only hat that took a slight lurch to the left with every step, mimicking his limp. Feeling six parts a fool and six parts a scoundrel for an even dozen of self-reproof, St. John wove his way through pedestrians whilst trying to stay far back, but not so far back that he lost sight of his friend altogether. He began to think he had made a grave mistake, one improved only by the fact that God alone knew he was following the Captain; then, instead of turning south and making his way down Chittapore Road to Fort William, where his Sepoys lived and trained, Cpt. Aquilaine turned north.

St. John's knees turned to water as he stumbled on. Please, Father, oh please, for everything I have done for Thee, please let this be all innocence.

Cpt. Aquilaine made his way north, ambling past the house of the wealthy merchant Raja Rajendra Mullick, which looked like nothing so much as a gaudy, neo-Grecian palace, all marble and glass. He did not glance around furtively—as St. John did—or hesitate as to the direction or purpose of his steps. He passed through Jorasanko, where the most prominent native families made their home, and here the crowds began to become less English and more Indian. St. John redoubled his efforts to stay inconspicuous. Then the Captain made an abrupt left turn.

St. John's heart faltered and he fell back as he realised that Cpt. Aquilaine was heading into the Sonagachi, the heart of Calcutta's brothel district.

Mayhap he is taking a shortcut to whatever is on the far side of the Sonagachi. But what lies along the western bounds of this sad place? Only the Ganges, and the better docks are south of us. Still, he cannot have this rough place in mind as his ultimate destination. He is not that type.

Unbidden and unwelcome, the words of Col. Fitzpatrick's letter drifted back to him. As for Thursdays, I am a firm believer in discretion, and will only say—semper sub rosa! St. John brushed the very idea aside angrily; he without any doubt trusted Cpt. Aquilaine more than the worthless Colonel.

He kept at a distance—no hard task now, as the Captain's shako stood like a beacon over a sea of shorter, black-haired native heads—and watched as his friend walked confidently through the crowded, twisting streets. Little of Britain graced this slummy part of Calcutta. He took care not to step in refuse or waste, and thanked God repeatedly for his small stature, which kept him well-hidden despite the beggars who tugged at his greatcoat and the women who whistled at him from doorways and windows. When the Captain paused to buy a mango from a peddler, St. John hid behind a vegetable cart lest he be spotted. The peddler greeted Cpt. Aquilaine warmly, as if they knew each other.

Still ducked behind the cart, whilst trying to shoo off the merchant who insisted he purchase a head of cauliflower, St. John watched as Cpt. Aquilaine strode over to a somewhat shoddy door painted bright red and hung with marigolds. He rapped sharply on the door with his cane and a stocky man with a drooping moustache put his head out. The man's annoyance quickly shifted to a more-welcoming smile.

“Marcus! Āpani tāṛātāṛi āja.”

“Duḥkhita, Chandrasekhar. Bāṛitē kūṭa sakālē; pāṭhā'iẏā druta yathēṣṭa naẏa yadi satya balā hatē pārē.”

“Kōna byāpāra, Kyāpṭēna - hē hē! Āpanākē sabasamaẏa abaśya'i ēkhānē sbāgatama! Āsā, bhitarē āsuna Harjindēr āpa dinēra jan'ya itimadhyē. Tini anēka gata rātē bāṇijya nā thākē.”

“Kēna ēta śānta?”

“Nēṭibhasa Gaṇēśa Chaturthī jan'ya sañcaẏa tādēra kaẏēna paryanta haẏa, ēbaṁ Briṭiśa manē ēṭā khuba yaunasaṅgama garama!”

They both laughed, and with that Cpt. Aquilaine ducked into the brothel, shutting the door firmly behind him.


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notes:

ouroboros – An ancient symbol, the ouroboros is a snake eternally eating its own tail.

fellatorFellator is Latin for “one who fellates”, in other words, one who sucks. Irrumator was similar: “one who is fellated”. Because sexual intercourse was believed to be a zero-sum activity (see the discussion on Greek sexuality in the Chapter 7 notes), fellatio had very low status, whilst irrumatio was considered an aggressive, potentially-violating act. Please know, also, that the actual terms fellatio and irrumatio, however, are not Latin; they likely emerged in the 1890s.

cunny – The words “cunny” and “cunt” (“cunny” is a somewhat-milder version, and therefore more commonly used among Victorians) was not always as offensive as it is nowadays. “Cunt” was used freely in the Canterbury Tales and is hidden in many Shakespearean puns, but by the 19th century was quite taboo, possibly as much as it is today. Sailors, of course, have always used it without shame or hesitation, in terms such as “cunt-splice” and “cunt-line” (the groove between individual strands in a 3-strand piece of line).

Jorasanko – Jorasanko is a lovely neighbourhood, one of the oldest in Calcutta, filled with spacious, leafy streets and fine examples of early Victorian and Greek Revival architecture. The famous and influential Tagore family made Jorasanko their home; they were tremendously wealthy, highly educated, and involved in business, the arts, religion, and law. In 1913 Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize in Literature; the Tagore estate now houses a university named after him. Jorasanko also contains the fantastic, slightly bizarre Marble Palace, build by Raja Rajendra Mullick in 1835. Mullick was a wealthy merchant and art collector who wanted a suitable house for his tastes and interests; the Palace is an enormous neoclassical structure with Corinthian pillars holding up the three-storey portico entrance, elements of Chinese architecture throughout, a zoo, and countless hallways and rooms stuffed to bursting with furniture, paintings, sculptures, busts, mirrors, and curious objets d'art.

Sonagachi – I do not know if, during the 1840s, Calcutta's brothel district was named “Sonagachi”. I have no doubts whatsoever that there was one.

Ganesha Chaturthi – a popular Hindu festival in mid-August, celebrating Ganesha and the day when his father Shiva declared him superior to all other gods. The celebration lasts 10 days, during which families purchase elaborate statues of Ganesha; a priest ritually invests the statue with life, the statue is then offered various tributes and offerings throughout the festival, and on the last day the family carries Ganesha, amidst much fanfare, to the nearest river and dips him in. The festival is huge and immensely popular, but also expensive.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John enters a House of Sin, engages in an Unforeseen Transaction, learns Cpt. Aquilaine's Interests therein, and is shewn the Full Measure of his Character.

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When St. John was a boy of only nine years, his family had travelled to Lancaster to visit his mother's people in the Furness Fells. His excitement increased throughout the entire long, wearying carriage ride even as his sisters grew quiet and began to feel ill from jouncing over the country byways. The Christmas prior his grandfather had sent him a book, a local history of the Lake District that spanned the centuries, reaching back through the War of the Roses, the Plantagenets, the Norman Conquest and the Kingdom of Northumbria into the mists of ancient history, when the Roman army had first claimed the territory from the proud Brigantes. St. John had just finished reading his first Tacitus and was thrilled to see a tumbled-down Roman army fort or maybe unearth a Celtic shield-boss.

The next year, their mother died, and they never visited the Lake District again. St. John was glad of that; he never wished to go back.

Whilst taking an afternoon ramble with his grandfather, exploring the foot of Coniston Old Man, they had spotted a shepherd making his way up the sheer slate hillside to rescue a frightened lamb that had separated from the ewes. Grandfather had been explaining to St. John how Christ the Shepherd worked in similar fashion—searching for one lost sheep out of a hundred rather than contenting Himself with the ninety-nine that had not gone astray—when suddenly the hillside gave out under the unfortunate herder's feet and he fell, a precipitous slide over the rocks followed by a drop of more than 200 feet to the ground below. Even as an adult he could recall how the man tumbled through the air, so silent, as his young mind prayed O God, do not let him die, spare his life and I will be good every day, I will not complain about having to read Pro Archia or tell Mother when Mary pulls at my ears, oh please God spare him, but it mattered not, of course. By the time Grandfather and he had scrambled over to him the shepherd was quite dead, just a sad, twisted heap of broken bone and bloody flesh. It had shocked him quite to the core, to see how a man could be thinking only of his lost lamb one moment, wanting to rescue it and get back to his cottage in time for tea, and then dead the next. How things could change so irrevocably in a matter of seconds.

The fright of it had woken him many nights in a row, as he watched the man fall again and again in his dreams, and although he gradually lost his fear of high places, he never forgot the feeling of that first moment of panic, as everything shifted and tumbled away, never to return.

For only the second time in his life, St. John felt that dizzying lurch of helplessness as he watched Cpt. Aquilaine enter the brothel. His mind slowed as it struggled to grasp what he had just seen: an impossible, irreparable thing, the death of all that had made him so briefly but deeply happy. Less than an hour ago he had woken with the intent of sharing breakfast with the Captain, visiting the library, meeting with the head of the Calcutta Abolition Society, and beginning to compose a pamphlet on the degradations of slavery in India. During their fight he had steeled himself for a day of miserable anxiety followed by another fight and then, quite probably, his first flinching exploration of penetrative intercourse. Now that too was lost forever, just as the shepherd must have known, mid-fall, that he would never again have tea in his cottage. He nevertheless found himself pleading that what he had just seen could be unseen, as if by wishing strongly enough he could change the past, even for a few crucial seconds.

O Marcus, please do not enter that doorway. Please do not enquire about a whore and how much trade she had the previous night. I am so sorry for all my failings and I shall change them all; come back, I pray, explain to me how it is all a hideous mistake and that I am the greatest fool in Christendom, and I will do whatever you like. It is only sodomy; it is only fellating; I see now how none of those things are important compared to your staying with me. Please—I will do anything to keep you.

But bargaining with God had not saved the poor shepherd; now it did not stop the Captain from offhandedly dismantling everything that had brought joy to the Rev. Rivers. And so he stood there in the street whilst the vegetable peddler hassled him about a cauliflower, watching and remembering how silently the shepherd fell, with what resignation he faced his death. All that remained was to do the needful and see it with his own eyes, just as he and Grandfather had gone to the shepherd in case he had survived, hoping beyond hope that by some miracle God's Merciful Hand had stayed his fall.

Perhaps I will have been mistaken, a hideous mistake, and I will be so ashamed of myself and my foolish fears, and I shall apologise to him at great length, and how grateful I will be to have the opportunity to do so! In the end, when his anger at me has passed, we can joke about what a poor fellator I make and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well between us.

St. John's brief spark of optimism flared and snuffed itself out the instant he knocked on the red door with marigolds. He could only deceive himself for so long; from the moment he met Cpt. Aquilaine a secret anxiety had worried away at him, as if his spirit could sense some approaching catastrophe. Now it had arrived. He felt dazed; the true pain would arrive soon, he had learnt, and he shrank from it even as he knew it to be the just wages of his many and deliberate sins. But he must see the affair through to its bitter end.

After a long pause, very long, during which a cold, leaden fear began to weigh down his heart, the stocky man with the moustache peered out. He gave the Reverend a long, appraising look and said “We're closed,” shutting the door in St. John's face. St. John took a step back in dismay, then hardened his resolve and knocked harder. When the man next put his head out to glare St. John shoved his boot into the gap between door and lintel.

“Do not tell me you are closed; I just saw an army-man go in only two minutes earlier. These sorts of houses are always open.”

The man's eyes narrowed at him. “Are you from the Missionary Society? Stop bothering the girls or I shall teach you a lesson with my fists.” He tried to slam the door shut once more but was blocked by the Reverend's boot. As his solid face tightened with anger St. John searched desperately through his pockets for his coin purse; he pulled it out with a flash and jingled it significantly.

“I will pay you if you let me in.”

Then the entry-way stood open to him; the guard smiled a toothy, insincere smile. “Should have said so, my friend!”

St. John squinted at the darkness of the foyer with a combination of dread, shame, and prurient interest; he had naturally heard of such tawdry places, but never expected to actually cross the threshold of one. To his disappointment he found the room would not have looked out of place at the British Officer's East India Club. It contained the same stuffed horsehide chairs, hanging begonias, and blown-glass oil lamps; the wall was hung with fans and fetishes and a frieze of yakshinis, young and nubile. Intrigued, he peered at the frieze in an attempt to understand what activities were being depicted, hands clasped behind his back in the nature of a scholar appraising a dubious work of art. When he belatedly recognised its tremendously erotic depictions he blushed violently; the moustachioed man pointedly ignored this and launched into his standard introduction for new customers.

“Everybody here is very cultured, very respectable … we are a good house. Nobody is riffraff. There can be food, or dancing, or wine, or whatever else Sir desires.” He hesitated slightly at this glowing description of the entertainment possibilities; clearly they were not prepared at that exact moment for a drinking party featuring hookahs, nautch dancers, and sitars droning in the background. “But, ah, it is early in the day, and most of the girls are still asleep—they are very delicate, of course—so simply tell me who you want to visit and I'll wake one up. Thin? Fat? Pale? Pale skin costs extra.” He ticked off the options on his thick fingers.

St. John shook his head in another bout of mortification. “Please, do not misunderstand me, my good man. I do not wish to—that is—visit the girls. You see, I saw a man here—”

The sophisticated demeanour slipped, revealing the guard's practical core. “Boy then? We don't have men. You want to get fucked you'll have to go down the street.” He gave an elaborate shrug.

“O God no! No, that is assuredly not what I am seeking. The Englishman who came in here … I want to speak to him.”

The guard laughed in harsh amusement. “We are a discreet house, Sir, very discreet, and our other customers are none of your business. So pick a girl—or a boy—or I will send you on your way.”

St. John swallowed hard and shut his eyes. Christ forgive me. “I'll take a boy, then.”

“Very good!” He promptly dropped back into the routine speech. “We've got two boys, Jaladhar and Tarun. Jaladhar is eighteen, castrated, could easily be mistaken for a hijra, and a dancer, but that costs extra. Tarun is twelve. Still learning the trade, but he's got pretty eyes and speaks good English. His voice has not yet broken so he can sing; that will also cost extra.”

“Are they both available currently?” St. John frowned in confusion.

“Oh yes, and you could visit both, if you like, Sir. That will, of course, cost extra.”

“Just Tarun, then.” He stared at the ground; when he had come to India to spread the Word, he had not anticipated that he might one day hire a dancing-boy in a brothel to aid in tracking down his errant male lover.

“An excellent choice. You will not be disappointed. Wait right here, Sir, and I'll be back in a moment.” He vanished down a hallway, leaving St. John to pace the foyer whilst trying not to wonder: if Cpt. Aquilaine dislikes everything about women, and both the boys are currently free, then what is he doing right now? When the guard returned he was trailed by a tall, slender boy who yawned and rubbed his eyes with henna-stained hands, smudging the kohl around. Finally the guard boxed his ear and told him to be polite, and the boy belatedly straightened, plastering a vague, nondescript sort of smile on his face.

“This is Tarun. Will he suit, Sir ?”

“Yes … quite. Thank you.”

Whilst the blushing Reverend was relieved of a fair bit of his money, he took the opportunity to make a closer inspection of his new companion. Tarun looked modest and shy, and kept giving his client timid sidelong glances. St. John's heart took a lurch and he had to remind himself it was an act; brothel workers tended to be wise beyond their years and very skilled in the arts of earning money by preying on sympathies. When the awkward necessities of business had been completed, the guard led their party of two down a crooked, dimly lit corridor, past curtains and doors and staircases. Most of the building was silent, although from behind one curtain came the smell of burning opium and languid whispering in a mix of English and Bengali. Finally he pulled back a yellow curtain and ushered the Reverend through with a slight bow.

Early morning sunlight seeped through a cloth nailed up over the lone window, and dust motes wafted leisurely past. The room was unexpectedly charming and boasted a small table with chairs, neatly-made bed, hanging silver lamp and a gilt picture of Ganesha hung with flowers. Presumably Tarun lived in plainer quarters not intended for entertaining. Motioning his guest into a stuffed chair, the boy began to set the table with cups and silverware retrieved from a painted cupboard. St. John sat stiffly, not knowing what was expected of him at this point, and uncertain of how to proceed with his poorly-conceived plan. He cleared his throat meaningfully and Tarun turned back to him.

“What can I do for you, Sir?” He made a somewhat-unskilled attempt at coyness. As promised, his voice was still high, clear, and stilted; other people might have even called it musical.

“I … I have a simple request, but I hope it is not an odd one.” St. John wished to not seem pathetic, and tried very hard to stop fiddling with his hands.

Tarun smiled again, with a more genuine air this time. “Your chai will be done soon, Sir. Then I will sit and pour you the chai, Sir, and then we will talk.” St. John relaxed slightly; the traditional chai service and demure behaviour of the workers placed it several notches above the crasser brothels, which were more like lupanariae than salons. They heard a quiet knock and Tarun hurried over to the doorway, retrieving a kettle of hot water from the guard, now playing footman. He began to steep chai as St. John watched intently, unable to think beyond his present situation. Finally the boy sat and poured him a cup, offering it with both hands in a practiced move he had obviously copied from someone else. His words were less polished.

“What do you want me to do, Sir? You have one hour.”

St. John winced and waved off the suggestion. “I only need you briefly, Tarun. I wish you to do one small task, and then you can go back to sleep. Will you help me?”

Tarun shrugged. “I will do whatever you like, Sir.” He was evidently used to strange requests, even at such a tender age.

“An Englishman came in here this morning, just now, and the guard knew him. I wish you to take me to the room where he visits. Can you do that?” He held up a silver rupee and Tarun stared at the coin with parted lips before slowly shaking his head.

“I must not bother other guests. They will beat me.”

“Then we shall tell them I became lost whilst trying to leave. Will that work?”

Tarun frowned in thought, then burst out, “That is all you want from me? And then the whole rupee is mine?” An odd look flashed over his face and the mask slipped; he looked very young for a moment. St. John realised it was in all likelihood as much as he received in two months from his customers. O God, how many of these unfortunates here are debt-bonded or outright slaves? How many will spend their entire lives forced to service English and Indian customers alike? And I cannot save them. St. John tried to give the boy the kindest smile he could manage under the circumstances. When he was twelve, his greatest concern was understanding the dual in Xenophon's Anabasis. “Yes, all of it, and I will not tell anyone you have got it. Take me to that man, and you can have the rupee and all the chai, if you want it, and you can sleep in late.”

For this he was rewarded with an actual grin, and he briefly glimpsed the twelve-year-old that Tarun might have been, if not for circumstance of birth and family. Tarun took the coin with nimble fingers and stood, and they slipped back into the hall.

After returning nearly to the foyer, they crept up a staircase to the first floor; as soon as they were halfway up a pair of voices made themselves known and one of them, most definitely, belonged to Cpt. Aquilaine. St. John could not make out words, but the tone and cadence were as familiar to him as his own skin. The other voice was indeed that of a woman. His hands began to shake, and he trembled with a feverish sort of misery; whatever would happen next, it had begun. Tarun gestured emphatically at a warped wooden door and mouthed He is in here.

St. John nodded back and mouthed Thank you. Tarun smiled up at him again and started to creep back down to his own quarters; the Reverend, on impulse, reached out to clasp him by the shoulder. He handed the youth two more silver rupees, for the singular pleasure of seeing the look of awe on his young face. If he could not have happiness himself, he could still spread it to others. Then he shooed Tarun away and turned back to the door, listening at a crack. It might all be a hideous mistake, he supposed, but he did not possess an infinite capacity for self-deception.

“Āpani bhrūkuṭi haẏa. Ēṭā bhāla yathēṣṭa āpanāra jan'ya nā, Kyāpṭēna?”

“Ēṭi āra'ō dudha praẏōjana.”

“Āpani āmāra cā pachanda nā.”

“Kārana āpani yathēṣṭa dudha saha ēṭi karā nā, Harj. Śudhu ēkhānē ānā, āpani habē?”

“Yā'i karatē cāna, Pukkā Sahība.”

“Yē yathēṣṭa, īśbarēra dōhā'i jan'ya, Harjindēr!” A spoon clinked angrily in a tea cup.

“Āpani atiśaẏa kichu ragacaṭā āja.” The woman broke off into coughing.

“Ēṭā ēkaṭā bājē sakāla haẏēchē paryanta haẏēchē.” His voice softened slightly. “Ēbaṁ ēṭi kakhana'i sahaja āpani prēkṣaṇa tā'i asustha. Āpani ki ḍāktārēra kāchē yā'ōẏā haẏani? Āmi ēṭikē jan'ya yathēṣṭa artha āpani, bhagabāna jānēna.”

“Tini balēchēna pratyēka samaẏa ēka'i jinisa. Āra'ō biśrāma pāna.”

“Āmi icchā āpani tāhalē.”

“Āpani satyi'i nā. Āpani śudhumātra bhadra hatē baluna. Āmi jāni, kāraṇa āpani āmāra kōna dēkhāra jan'ya, śudhu Maina āsalē kakhana'i.”

“Āmi sabasamaẏa āpanākē hisēbē dēkhatē āsā. Āpani jānēna.” Cpt. Aquilaine was clearly struggling to keep his voice level.

“Ēbaṁ āmi jāni yē āpani śudhumātra nitya thēkē Maina dēkhāra jan'ya cā'i!”

“Āmi āpanāra sāthē ē'i nā ārō tarka habē, Harj.” There was a brief pause, and then, “Kōthāẏa sē ēkhana?”

The woman snorted. “Ādarśa. Tini kōrsēra haẏa ghumēra! Pratyēkē ēkhānē ēkhana'ō ghumanta.” He heard a sigh, and a chair's legs scraping back across the floor. “Kintu āmi āpanāra jan'ya yētē habē tākē jāgānō, Pukkā Sahība.” As the woman stood she smothered another cough.

St. John had already heard quite enough to confirm far worse than he had imagined; the only thing that startled him now was how dispassionate he felt. His mind observed, calmly, as his heart was momentarily torn between grief and rage; should he limp away and hide, licking his wounds, or confront the Captain so he could not possibly deny any wrongdoing? As if from a great distance, his hand reached out and pushed open the door with a jerk. A thin, worn woman stood in front of him as if she were intending to exit; she stepped back with a small cry as he pushed into the room. In one glance he took in the rumpled bed, the lewd painting of Shiva and Parvati, and, just as he had imagined it, the Captain reclining at a small table, so similar to the one in Tarun's quarters, fussing with a cup of chai.

Cpt. Aquilaine leapt to his feet with a jerk, jarring the table and upsetting the full tea cups. The woman—Harjinder, St. John surmised—hastened over to sop up the hot liquids before they spilt onto the floor; as she moved, she hissed something angrily at the Captain. St. John simply stood by the door, taking in the scene with the desperation of one who feels compelled to memorise a situation in detail, although he does not understand its import.

“St. John, what in God's name are you doing here?” Cpt. Aquilaine cried out, eyes full of panic. “How did you come to this place?”

A cold smile lifted the corners of St. John's lips; as wretched as he felt, it gave him some small, dark pleasure to see Cpt. Aquilaine so stupefied. He had feared, in his heart of hearts, that he would simply be mocked as a guileless fool and sent on his way.

“It was too easy, you know. I simply followed you. You are not hard to follow.”

The Captain stared at him, mouth gaping; Harjinder continued cleaning up the chai without so much as a glance at the men. “What in hell possessed you to do that? Why would you do such a thing?”

“With all your talk a few days past of your hidden crimes, I could not stop thinking of where you went off to on Thursdays, and what makes you so unhappy then. After our fight this morning I felt I must know. And here I am and now I have proof positive: you are as lacking in honour and gentlemanly virtues as any man I have ever met.”

“Do not say that! O St. John, do not say that to me, I beg you. I would have told all long ago, but I feared exactly this … that you would judge me so harshly that it would come irrevocably between us!” Cpt. Aquilaine brushed a hand across his face, as if trying to wipe the scene in front of him from his eyes.

“There is no honour in visiting brothels, Captain, and less even when they are full of slaves who must simper and submit whether they will or no!”

“It will not seem as sordid when I explain, I assure you. If you will but let me explain—”

“Were your foul tempers on Thursdays because you had to pay such a steep price for affection? Or because it would then be seven full days before you would enjoy them again?” The pieces began to tumble into place, and he could not stop them, even if he wished; the situation they now revealed burnt like acid on his wounded heart, an almost palpable pain.

“Stop this nonsense!” Cpt. Aquilaine slammed his hand against the wall, causing all three people in the room to jump a little. His voice started to rise as he came out from behind the table. “You are making wild accusations and besmirching my name, Reverend.”

“Is there aught left of it to besmirch?” St. John spoke between clenched teeth. He did not care what happened next, so long as he had his say first. “Tell me what you do on Thursdays, Marcus. Do you come here to pay for your sodomy because I would not offer it to you for free? Or have you purchased them outright and now come to enjoy your little harem of servile flesh, Master?”

“Watch your tongue; you have not the first idea of what you are saying.”

St. John leant up close to him, wanting the Captain to understand the full weight of his next words. “On the contrary, it is quite clear. Perhaps Harjinder here is your purchased slave, but it is Maina who you come to visit today … I heard that much from the hall. Is Maina your whore of choice now?”

Cpt. Aquilaine struck St. John so hard that he fell back onto the floor, blood trickling out of a cut on the corner of his mouth. As he scrambled backwards in shock, seeking purchase on the dusty boards, the Captain loomed over him, hands balled into fists and face nearly incandescent with fury.

“You bastard—you damned scoundrel—you will not say such things again! You will never say that again about her!”

St. John sprang to his feet and stuck his nose inches from the Captain's; rage flowed through him like he had never felt before, so strong that his voice shook and his bloody lips curled back in nearly a snarl. “I do not need to repeat it; your countenance gives it away. Keep your whores, Captain, and enjoy them. We are through.” He turned and hastened through the door, brushing past the guard who had come to investigate the raised voices. His footsteps picked up speed as he fled down the corridor, through the foyer and out into the bright, hazy sunshine of the Calcutta streets.

 

He returned to the Club nearly fainting from his exertions. Sanyal, who was sitting on a cushioned bench and picking at his teeth, leapt guiltily to his feet when he saw St. John rush in, red-faced and panting, a smear of dried blood on his chin.

“Sahib, what has happened? Have you been attacked?”

St. John braced himself against the wall, struggling to speak. “I have … received … bad news … I must … go away.”

“Ah, Sahib, that is terrible! Is someone ill? Must you leave Calcutta?” The butler wrung his hands in sympathy.

“Yes, at once … Sanyal, I must have a … rickshaw in half an hour … to the Victoria Hotel … please give my regards to the … secretary. Tell him I regret … regret my haste in leaving.” Without waiting for a response he turned and hurried up the stairs.

Once in his room, he dragged his travelling chest from the study to the sitting room and began to pack. In five minutes he was done; his worldly possessions amounted to no more than three changes of clothes, his theological and scholarly books, and a few personal items. The shock of what had happened was now washing over him in waves, and so he sat down on the chest in the middle of his suddenly-barren rooms and stared blankly at the far wall, dashing away the occasional tear. Prayer came but haltingly to his mind.

Lord, I thank Thee that Thou hast shewn Thy servant the true cost of sin, for now I understand why fornication is not permitted. We humans are not well able to withstand the tides of fortune, and truly, as much as I longed for a taste of the carnal knowledge that Eve offered to Adam, now I would give almost anything to forget. It did not occur to me that joys of the flesh would be accompanied by such a painful reverse.

He forced himself to stop, because even during this simple prayer of repentance he kept seeing, unbidden, the look on Cpt. Aquilaine's face as he loomed over St. John, fists at the ready. Instead he pressed a hand over the ache in his breast and stared at the floor, not daring to think further. Minutes slid by, quite slowly, as his impatience to leave increased. He considered pulling the servant-bell and telling Sanyal he was ready.

Someone knocked at the door, loud and insistent. It was not the knock of a servant. The moment he opened his door Cpt. Aquilaine pushed his way in, surprisingly collected and still brushing rickshaw dust off his coat. The Captain opened his mouth to speak, then looked around the now-empty room before turning back to St. John.

“You … you are packing? You are leaving?”

“I am leaving, yes. I shall be gone in a quarter of an hour, and you will not see me again. There is nothing you can do or say to dissuade me, Captain, so do not pain yourself in trying.” He kept his voice deliberately unfriendly, dreading that his resolve would crumble yet again.

“Just like that, because of what happened this morning? If it was—but now—please, not because I lost my temper. I should never have hit you, please do not let that be the cause. I shall repent of it, St. John, any way you choose!”

St. John gritted his teeth and pressed on; how close he was to giving way. He must conquer these deceitful emotions. He remained silent, fighting, and Cpt. Aquilaine continued, desperation rising in his voice.

“All your fine talk of your high regard for me, and how you would think well of me despite whatever hidden sins I might confess; where has that gone to, Reverend? How did you come to trust me so little that you would spy on me?”

It was intolerable; he could not look at his friend's face a moment longer. St. John pulled Col. Fitzpatrick's letter from out of his pocket. He had never destroyed it. “What say you to this? Your fine friend the Colonel wrote to me as well as to you, and he told me so much about you! Your belief in keeping no secrets between intimates, and your Thursday activities … but I knew that if I shewed the letter to you, you would declare it a fraud and an abomination. So I made determination to see for myself.”

“Placido wrote to you?” The Captain looked as if he were the one who had been struck.

“He has been far more forthcoming about your character than you have. It is a shame I did not see it sooner.”

“Do not listen to that man; even he does not know the half of it. I will tell you all. Please wait before you make your judgement against me!”

“Do you honestly think that spinning out more untruths for me will change my mind as to anything now? Business with your Sepoys, you called it once—a bald-faced lie. Injuring your leg demonstrating calisthenics; is that how they refer to fornicating nowadays? And all your talk of how unappealing and unlovely women were—only I found you in a brothel surrounded by them! Have you ever spoken true to me, even once?”

“I only said such things because I thought you were one of those men who truly disliked women!” Cpt. Aquilaine looked near to tears. He dropped clumsily to his knees and took the Reverend's hands into his. “Let me speak true now, as true and open as I have ever been. I love you, St. John, and I will do anything to keep you.”

St. John pulled his hands away. “Cpt. Aquilaine, it pains me to say it but I … I also loved you. Loved. Perfect tense: complete. Now that I know you in full, Marcus Aquilaine, it is quite done; it does not matter what you claim, or do, for it will not come back.”

“You loved me? You did not say. Why did you not say?” The Captain's voice cracked and fell to a whisper.

“I am not the sort to go about writing sonnets and whispering little affections. And looking back, I did not genuinely love you, I loved who I thought you were. Who you deceived me into thinking you were! I assure you, however, that it is quite the opposite now. Truly, Captain, I cannot tell you how deeply I despise you and everything you stand for: slave owning, fornicating with whores, lies, seduction … shall I go on? Considering that your own mother was little better than a prostitute herself, the fact that you would choose to consort with them renders false all your fine declarations about how you would prove yourself to be a better man than your father.” He watched Cpt. Aquilaine grow ashen as the blood drained from his face. “But comfort yourself! Soon no doubt you will find some other innocent fool, who will think you are the finest and best man in the whole of Calcutta, who will give himself up to you just as I did. And then you can put another feather in your hat, one more conquest to boast of at the public house.”

His words were intentionally and intolerably cutting; the Captain stood abruptly and broke away. St. John wondered for a moment if he would be struck again, but instead the Captain simply wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his red coat and pointed to the travelling chest.

“You are moving out, it appears. Perhaps that is for the best. Are you … are you leaving Calcutta?”

“Not just Calcutta, Captain, I am leaving Bengal!” St. John's chin tilted up and his eyes grew narrow and cold. All the self-restraint he had allowed to soften grew hard once more. “When I came to India, it was to do mission-work; now I am setting out to accomplish that task. Some weeks ago I accepted an appointment to found a parish at the invitation of Prince Krishna of Hill Tippera. I shall go to him soon; it is well, I suppose, that you learn this now. You would have discovered it eventually, at any rate.”

Grief shifted to anger in the Captain's face. “And at what point would you have told me? Would I have woken one morning, my arms seeking you in bed, only to find some carefully-penned missive explaining in detail all the different ways in which I was a scoundrel?”

At this St. John faltered slightly. “I will not claim I am proud of myself for that. I could not think of how to tell you. But know this: I would have told you face-to-face. I would not have allowed my hidden faults to be revealed in a letter; I am a gentleman.”

He did not need to spell out the implications of his words; merely putting Col. Fitzpatrick's letter back in his pocket did the deed for him.

Cpt. Aquilaine gave him as hard a look as he had ever received. He spoke in a voice deliberately calm, but with an undercurrent of anger flowing through, as deep and powerful as the Ganges itself. “Before you take yourself off to Hill Tippera, then, perhaps I shall hold up a mirror and shew you the true measure of your worth, although I doubt it will profit you.

“You are a cold and unrelenting man. You have no room for mercy or forgiveness, not for yourself, not for others. How will your fine mission-work be achieved, when the heathens see that you despise them as deeply as you despise yourself, and when you treat every flaw, every hesitating or errant footstep as a sin worthy of eternal hellfire? Have you no sense of proportion, or is any crime—no matter how small—a thing that earns a lifetime of suffering and repentance? So much for charity and lovingkindness! Who will accept what you offer, knowing the price they will pay for it? You shall drive them all away, and they will come to learn that your God is nothing but a schoolmaster to be hated and feared.

“What an imbecile you are, St. John Rivers! You are so afraid of yourself, and of what God has made you, that you feel it necessary—vital, even—to take out your misery on all the people around you, most especially those who love you. You cannot admit any weakness, no matter how small, and—God forbid it—should any flaw become evident you will punish those who notice it rather than make an attempt to improve yourself. I pity any person, man or woman, who grows close to you, for as sure as the sunrise when you begin to feel weak, or threatened, you will make them suffer for your failing ten times over, and then you will criticise them for weeping. Is this how you treated your sisters, or that woman Jane who you hoped to marry? She had better sense than I, that is certain. She saw through you far quicker.”

St. John held up his arms as if to protect himself from the torrent of words; they struck too closely, too keenly. Cpt. Aquilaine saw this and softened his voice in response, leaving St. John with the additional burden of gratitude. “I will not be ashamed that I loved you, for I thought I saw in you a warm heart, and a kind spirit hidden under those layers of fear and self-hatred. Even now I find a large part of me wants to take you into my arms and touch you until you are gentled and at peace again, for you are so upset you are trembling, even though it is clear you cannot admit; I doubt you can even recognise in yourself when you are so distressed. I won't, however; you have not earnt it, you do not deserve it, and you would not do the same for me should our situations have been reversed. So mayhap I am learning from you after all! But know this, please: I may not have honour, I may be easy to despise and reject and yes, I am the sort of man who will buy slaves and visit whores and fornicate with them. But at least I treat the people around me as if they are human beings, not draughts pieces to be pushed back and forth in order to sooth some misery of my own making.”

He broke off, nearly gasping for air. By then they were both on the edge of tears, and staring at each other as if across a great distance. The situation was hideous.

Sanyal interrupted with a knock on the door. “Sahib, the rickshaw is here!”

Cpt. Aquilaine tipped his hat to the Reverend, looked at him with an inscrutable expression, and exited without a word. St. John tried futilely to stop weeping whilst Sanyal and a footman came in to retrieve his chest. As they carried it down the stairs he followed them, stumbling as if blind, and Sanyal had to actually assist him into the rickshaw. As they pulled away from the British East India Officer's Club he could just make out a shako bobbing away through the crowded streets, taking a slight lurch to the left with every step as if the wearer walked with a limp.

And then it was done.


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notes:

Furness Fells – the fells (hills) and mountains of the Furness, a region in Cumbria (historically Lancashire), also known as the Lake District. Coniston Old Man is the highest fell in the Furness.

Pro Archia – A speech made by Cicero, defending a poet who was accused of only pretending to be a Roman citizen. It is a standard text read by Latin students everywhere, as in the heart of the speech Cicero defends literature and the classical education.

all manner of things shall be well – from Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

yakshinis – highly-eroticised spirits found in Hindu mythology.

nautch dancers – Indian women who danced professionally for men at parties. They were more professional than traditional belly-dancers (who originally only performed for their families), more independent than geishas, and were long considered morally superior to courtesans, because their primary occupation was dancing (although many were happy to make a bit of extra money on the side).

hijraHijras are Indians who identify as men but dress and act like women; they are considered a third gender. (It is very hard to describe a hijra in western terms, as they do not think of themselves as homosexual, or transgender, or intersex, or male, or female; they would simply call themselves “hijra”.) They often live in groups, are occasionally but not necessarily castrated, make money by prostitution (they almost always take the passive rôle, causing many people to suggest that hijras are homosexual) and appearing at weddings, where they are said to bring good luck. The British attempted to ban them during the days of the EIC, but had little success.

lupanariaeLupanaria is Latin for “brothel”. It is related to lupa, “she-wolf”, and literally means “a den of she-wolves”.

dual verbs in Xenophon's Anabasis – In Ancient Greek, as in English, verbs can be conjugated as singular (I – you – she/he/it) or plural (we – y'all – they). Unlike English, they can also be conjugated in dual form (we two people – you two people – those two people). Greek nouns likewise come in three quantities: one, two, or plural. Dual forms and endings are rarely taught, however, because (as all first year Greek students are repeatedly assured) verbs and nouns never take the dual; Homer may have used them, but they were archaic by Plato's time 400 years later, and would never appear in commonly-read texts.

During their second year of studying the language, students begin to cut their baby-Greek teeth on Xenophon's Anabasis, a rousing tale of military adventures in the Turkish peninsula. It is nearly always the first unedited, unsimplified, actual Greek encountered in the school setting. The opening six words of the Anabasis are: “Darius and Parysatis had two sons.” The words “had”, “two”, and “sons” are all in the dual.

Shiva and Parvati – Shiva is a powerful Hindu god; just how powerful depends on the specific type of Hinduism. Parvati is a Hindu goddess, wife of Shiva. She brings life-force to all beings, is renowned as the mother of Ganesha, and together they form a representation of an ideal Hindu marriage. They are occasionally depicted in an erotic embrace, celebrating some of the more physical joys of marriage.

draughts – checkers.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John falls back upon the Crutch of Labour, takes his Final Stroll through Calcutta, meets a Charming Companion at a Kite Festival, and ponders the Nature of Providence.

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Realising one's own failings is always a painful activity; seeing them in the harsh light of the mid-day sun, having the leisure to sift through them methodically, and discovering the many ways in which they have caused unhappiness to one's own self and, far worse, to the people who are closest and most dear—that is not an easy way to spend an afternoon, let alone a month. Abruptly having all one's days and nights free, without the distraction of a dinner companion, the gaiety of a social occasion, or a single friend to give consolation and a listening ear—that is an even harder way to spend a month. The combination of these two misfortunes is a thing of singular misery. Some afternoons St. John could hardly bear it.

He took meals alone in his room at the hotel, eating in silence whilst he scanned texts or essays. He walked through the city, dreading and hoping to encounter Cpt. Aquilaine, if only for a single minute; dreading having to hear more harsh words, or—harder yet—hearing nothing but silence and a cold stare, hoping for a glimpse of his form and his smile and the shape of his hands. In the evening, when Evensong prayers had finished, he retired to a bed that now seemed far too large for one body. He slept fitfully, aching need without release; he woke to another empty morning of study, prayer, and self-recrimination. Entire days passed in which he never spoke a word, nor heard any spoken to him.

He recited his prayers, attended church, and read the day's verses dutifully, but without a single ounce of passion or devotion. It worried him, how little he actually spoke to God now. A mere twelve months prior, he had spent every night before bed on his knees, eager to pray and listen, full of respectful worship towards his Maker. If he had never quite loved the Lord, he had at least felt awe and respect; now he uttered only rote prayers, afraid to search out his true emotions. For St. John suspected, in his heart of hearts, that he carried about nothing but anger and hatred towards the God he served. Was it not the Maker Himself who had created him and cursed him with these terrible urges? And that same God promised never to burden men with more than they could bear. This shamed him as much as his hateful emotions; he should have been able to bear it—according to scripture, he was able to bear it—and yet he could not. He had not. One more defeat in an endless string of failures.

His dreams had stopped; thank the Lord for small mercies.

Finally he grasped in full what it meant to have happiness, to fall asleep looking forward to the next day. And now, each morning, his sorrows returned anew and taunted him with what could have been, what others could have but not him, never him. He wished to forget but knew he would not. His future stretched out into the distance and he shrank from it, shrank from a lifetime of past gladness mocking a dreary present. Likely he would hide behind duty and toil until all parts capable of feeling had withered. Others who saw his labours might say “there goes a true servant of God,” and feel dismayed that they could not dedicate themselves so fully as he did. But his dedication would be a sham.

It was if he were a slave, owned by some cruel foreign master, destined to remember with each passing minute what it had been like to be free, and to taste again and again the bitterness of that loss. How much better to have been born into servitude, to always wonder about the joys of freedom and never know!

Perhaps most cruelly of all, his needful flesh still did not understand that the affaire de coeur—which had awoken hitherto-undiscovered possibilities, which had given it sensation, awareness, and vitality—was done forever. His heart knew in full. His body, however, still roused itself every evening after dinner, impatiently demanding what did not come. St. John slept on his stomach, took cold water baths morning and evening, and sometimes woke in the middle of the night with a start, lying on his back and hands clutching the bed sheets as his hips thrust helplessly up into the coverlet. When that happened he would sit at his desk, swollen and sore, trying to focus on Hebrew tenses or trigonometry or the history of the Anglican Communion until such time as he could sleep. He never took himself in hand; the piercing joy of having someone else do so turned his feeble attempts into a mockery of pleasure.

Some days he felt he could not endure it for even one more hour, that if he did not soon feel the Captain's hands rubbing his back and soothing his weary mind, he would go altogether mad. But since he never went mad, St. John was forced to resort to what he always did best, what he could honestly claim was one of his very few virtues: he worked. Exacting, consuming, unceasing work could not make up for his multitude of sins, but it filled the time and gave a certain consolation. Whatever life and Providence brought, he would always have work.

He spoke to the Abolition Society and gave his regrets that he could not stay in town. For that he earnt a rare moment of genuine pleasure, to find that those regrets were mutual. Several of the members, both men and women, possessed a spirit so alike to his own that he realised—had time and circumstance been different, and had he ever managed to think less of himself and more of those around him—that they might have become friends. Even those whose religions had strayed so far from the Truth, particularly the Unitarians and Quakers, had a zeal for justice and a drive to see it carried out. The head of the Society, Lady Montague, gave him a bound copy of William Wilberforce's essays as a farewell gift.

He penned an anonymous pamphlet concerning the cruel sufferings of those natives enslaved by seemingly upright British citizens. Lady Montague published it with her own funds, and the Abolition Society circulated it amongst the Temperance Society, the Evangelical Missionary's Fund, and the Quaker Meeting Houses. His argument, written as a general critique and not directed at any specific person, lambasted a fictional Col. F—, who enjoyed close ties to the current governing administration, who had ensconced himself in an estate of corrupt oriental decadence only a few short leagues from Calcutta, who had a propensity for big game hunting, and who was rumoured to visit certain dens of vice whenever he came to town. St. John closed his pamphlet with a choice Latin phrase: Semper sub rosa et soli Deo gloria.

The work eased his sorrows to an extent, but no amount of effort could drive away the sound of Cpt. Aquilaine's voice, still ringing in his ears: you are a cold and unrelenting man. You have no room for mercy or forgiveness. He twisted inside, hot and humiliated, every time he recalled that accusation, which was unfortunately rather often. The Captain had also pointed out, quite correctly, that St. John concealed his own flaws by inflicting scorn on those who surrounded him, and made them suffer for his own weaknesses. He was forced to admit the truth in all this, even as the shame ruined his sleep and turned the food in his mouth to ash.

In particular, he could not cease thinking of his sisters and their return home after Jane had given them each a portion of her inheritance, the very money that allowed him to live so comfortably in Calcutta. It should have been a happy time; it nearly was. How he had looked forward to seeing them again! And when they at last opened the door, as he stood awkwardly and clutched at his pockets, not knowing how to move the words past his frozen tongue, they had beamed with joy and reached out their arms to hug—Jane. And laughed and smiled and embraced whilst he stood with his back to the wall, watching, finally understanding the vast difference between being loved and being liked. Eventually he made himself useful by carrying in their luggage. Later that afternoon, when he was in the kitchen trying futilely to make the wood stove draw properly, Mary had come to ask about tea and he had been short with her, wanting to say I have missed you so dearly—did you not miss me at all?, but instead he criticised her new gloves with the beaded wristlets, the finest pair she had ever owned. He lectured about vanity and Mammon until her face fell and she admitted to have spent too much money on something so worldly. She gave them away the following week, a wedding gift to a friend in the parish.

He would give anything to take back those words.

 

One day during breakfast, whilst idly scanning the semi-weekly broadsheet Calcutta Advertiser, St. John spotted an advertisement.


Final Notice: Kite Festival Today (5th of September)
located at Maidan Park
sponsored by the Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque


It promised kite fighting competitions, demonstrations of scientific experiments conducted with kites, and exotic kite styles from as far away as Peking and Canton. His spirit leapt a little as he promptly thought How interesting that sounds. I would enjoy seeing it. I shall tell Marcus and enquire as to whether he would also like to go, and we could make a day of it and drink lassi and … O Lord, what am I doing? He realised what he had thought, and the misery and loneliness of his situation tumbled down about his ears once more. It had felt so natural, so comfortable being with Cpt. Aquilaine that one stubborn piece of his heart still—after a full month—refused to acknowledge their sad rupture.

It was intolerable. In less than a week he would step onto the Bonny Charles, kedge his way back down the Ganges and make for Hill Tippera. In the mean time, would he spend his last few days wandering the city, his throat leaping and stomach twisting every time he spotted a shako or a red coat?

No, I will not stew in this misery of my own making a second longer. I will shew a better sense of fortitude than I have this past month.

He finished breakfast, left his room at the Victoria Hotel—so similar to his quarters at the Officer's Club, which were in turn so similar to every place he had ever lived, small and dark and plain—and walk up to Maidan Park to see one last bit of the joys Calcutta had to offer.

He could see the kites from a far distance off, one colourful, billowing mass hovering over the southern end of the city. They shimmered against a sky scrubbed clean by a fortnight of monsoon. As he walked along the streets he could hear the age-old debate taking place about him: which God blessed the city's inhabitants with the day's fine weather? Moslems were arguing for Allah with some merit: they had all prayed the previous day, and their mosque was sponsoring the festival. Christians responded that the Lord had merely improved the roads on Saturday to encourage Sabbath attendance on the morrow. The Hindus were silent on the matter; they always enjoyed a good festival, no matter the cause or the god. Privately St. John thought the Moslems argument had the upper hand.

Maidan Park was far busier than when he had visited with Cpt. Aquilaine, a bustling horde of Moslems and Hindus and Christians, Indians and English, Chinese and Africans, Jews and Jains and Sikhs; he thought the people quite as interesting as the kites. And the kites themselves were beautiful, dazzling, their hues and shapes and movements making him almost giddy. The festival proved nearly enough to distance himself from his own unhappiness. He strolled back and forth, admiring the scientific displays—they promised to soon discover the prime mechanism behind all weather patterns—and wondering at the kites from China, fire-breathing dragons that danced and twisted their way through the sky. He became engrossed in the kite fighting, as boys on a raised platform battled for supremacy whilst the men below huzzahed the winners and consoled the tearful losers.

Finally feeling overheated, the Reverend drank a lassi at the same stand from which the Captain had purchased him one just over a month ago. It was as cooling and tart as the first one, and he felt momentarily glad to have that fond memory, if nothing else. Perhaps one day the emotions would fade enough, lose their sharp edge, and he could look back and smile at the brief joys he had discovered. Inspired, and carrying about a lighter heart than he had possessed in weeks, he strolled again under the Umbrella pines, past the statues of the Governors-General and the fields where the Indian school boys were wont to play cricket. He sat by a fountain, taking in the sights and remembering his last visit to the Park, when he and Cpt. Aquilaine had sat and talked of the future and the past, their hidden sorrows and—he understood it now, far too late—their love.

What did I say to him that day? Some fine words about how the future is in the Lord's hands, and we mortals must have faith that all happens as God intends. I proved correct, but not in a way either of us would have chosen, I think.

The recollection proved too painful. He stood and moved on, walking into the crowds, hoping the sheer volume of people around him would drive it from his mind.

Only one small detail of the festival stood out as odd—he could spot hardly a single woman. Perhaps it was the mosque's sponsorship that had frightened them off. The occasional British lady glided past, fanning herself under a parasol. But he did not see a single Indian woman, not even one of the lower-caste women who were forced to work for a living whilst their more privileged middle- and upper-caste counterparts remained in purdah. No Moslema wandered the crowd, but then he had not expected to see one; they appeared in public even less than Indian women. It was if he stood in the centre of a roiling sea of men and boys and kites. And one small girl, alone and crying.

He looked more closely; the girl wore a yellow shalwar kameez embroidered with blue flowers, but the fabric of the shalwar was torn on one leg and shewed a smear of blood, as if she had stumbled and cut her knee. Her skin was fair for an Indian, thick black hair spilt out of her braid and she wore small gold-hoop earrings and glass bead bracelets, but no shoes. Someone will step on her toes if they are not careful. Where is her mother? He did not see any adults paying special attention to her, and she continued to cry and rub at her knee. With a sigh, St. John jostled his way over to her.

When he crouched down next to her, placing himself at eye level, she gave him a watery glare; tears had left dusty smudges down her cheeks and her eyelashes stuck together in starry points.

“Ōhē, śiśu. Yēkhānē āpanāra pitāmātā?”

She simply sniffed loudly and wiped at her nose with the back of her hand.

“Āpani ki byāthā?”

“Abaśya hyām̐, āmi! Āmi hinsra ēbaṁ āmāra hām̐ṭu kāṭā ēbaṁ bartamānē āmāra hām̐ṭu byāthā karē.”

St. John sat back on his heels in surprise; he had not expected her to be so bold. Most Indian parents also held by the tenet that children were to be seen and not heard. She continued glaring at him, so he replied, lamely “Ēkhānē, āmākē sāhāyya.” He led her to a nearby fountain, washed off her face and knee and then bound up her leg with his handkerchief. “Ēṭā ki bhāla?”

“Ēkhanō byāthā karē!” she wailed.

The Reverend did not have the first idea of how to deal with small children and looked around frantically for a parent. Seeing none, he plunged ahead. “Āpani nārakēlēra ēkaṭi ṭukarā cāna?”

The girl brightened immediately, tears vanishing as she smiled up at him. “Hyām̐ āmi!” She paused, looked thoughtful for a moment, and then added, “Daẏā karē!”

St. John glanced around again; surely someone would claim her? But no one seemed to be searching, so he asked again, “Āpani yēkhānē āpanāra pitāmātā haẏa jānēna?”

She shrugged.

“Āpani hāriẏēchēna?”

Tears welled in her eyes once more and she nodded sadly, bottom lip trembling. “Āmi manē kari āmi. Āmāra bābā ēbaṁ khum̐jē nā āmāra dupatta hāriẏē āmāra shalwar ardhabr̥ttākāra pārśbacitrēra mūrti ēbaṁ māmā ki āmāra sāthē rāga yābē!”

“Nā, nā, a'i, krandita ābāra nā śuru. Anugraha karē.” He held up his hands helplessly, wishing he had a second handkerchief for her cheeks.

She scrubbed at her eyes with a grimy fist and gave him a calculated look. “Āpani āmākē nārakēla ēkhana kinatē yāba?”

Lord save me, I will never understand children. “Hyām̐, abaśya'i. Āmarā āpanākē kichu saṭhika bartamānē ha'ibē.”

So he took her hand and led her to a wagon where a native split coconuts with a machete, selling the chunks for two pies apiece. Whilst they waited St. John said, “Āmāra nāma Rev. Rivers. Āmi āpanāra pitāmātā pētē sāhāyya karabē. Āpanāra nāma ki?”

She turned unexpectedly shy and stared at her bare brown feet.

He took a deep breath and prayed that a nursemaid would emerge from the crowds, scolding her young charge. Nobody came to his rescue, so he made attempt with a different approach.

“Jānēna āpanāra māmā āpani ēkhānē ānā āja, mēẏē?”

She shook her head.

“Jānēna āpanāra nārsa āpanāra āsā?”

She shook her head again.

“Sutarāṁ āpani āpanāra bābā saṅgē āsēna, tārapara?”

She nodded and wiggled her toes.

They reached the front of the line, and the girl picked out the largest piece of coconut with a crafty smile. St. John frowned a little; he did not feel he had a good grasp on the situation. As he led her away, she exclaimed, “Nārakēla jan'ya āpanākē dhan'yabāda! Āmi nārakēla bhālabāsā ēbaṁ āmi itimadhyē tina ṭukarā ate āja!”

“Ōha priẏa. Āpani itimadhyē tina ṭukarā chila?” She just grinned at him, milky sweet water dribbling down her chin. Temporarily defeated, he sat on a corner of a nearby bench and asked, “Āmākē āpanāra nāma balatē pārabēna? Ēṭā āpanāra bābā yadi āmi āpanāra nāma jāni pētē sahaja habē.”

The coconut had done the trick, apparently. “Āmāra nāma Muniya.”

“Ēṭā āpanāra dēkhā bhālō, Muniya. Āpanāra bābā nāma ki?”

She just gave him a wide-eyed shrug. “Bābā?” she guessed; St. John groaned a little.

“Ki āpanāra bābā ha'ōẏā? Tini pātalā? Mēda? Ki tini dāṛi āchē? Tini … lambā?”

“Hyām̐, khuba'i um̐cā! Daśa phuṭa lambā, āmi manē kari.”

“Daśa phuṭa!” he exclaimed. He was beginning to enjoy the ridiculous situation. “Ēṭā khuba um̐cu. Tini sahajē'i khum̐jē pā'ōẏā yāẏa, kōna sandēha kara.”

“Āmi daśa thēkē inrēji gaṇanā pārēna, āpani śunatē cāna?” Without waiting for an answer she handed him the sticky coconut and held up her fingers as a reference, ticking them off as she went. “One, two, three, four, five, six …” she paused, gave the Reverend a long, worried glance, and then pushed on confidently, “… seven, six, seven, ten!”

St. John actually laughed as he handed her back the coconut. “Ēṭā khuba bhāla! Āpani manē prāẏa saba tādēra.”

“Āmāra bābā āmākē śikhiẏēchilēna.”

“Jānēna tini an'ya kōna inrēji paṛāna?”

“Ōha hyām̐, anēka. Please, Thank you, Yes, No, My name is Muniya and I am 4 years old, Hello, Goodbye, Goddamn it.”

St. John looked aghast. “Tini āpanākē śikhiẏēchilēna yē?”

She giggled. “Nā, tini nā. Kintu tini ēṭā pracura Māmā pāẏa tākē ē kṣipta yakhana tini tā'i, nā āmi ēṭā manē.”

He decided against responding, instead scanning the crowds for any panicked looking man. Certainly he hoped that her father would be in a state of concern over a lost daughter. But the Reverend saw only men and boys, cheerfully colliding and stepping on each other as they milled around, heads tilted back towards the sky. It was dawning on him how difficult the task might be.

“Āpanāra bābā ēkajana musalima? Ki tini āllāha ḍākā?”

She stared at St. John as if he were speaking French.

“Ki tini ḍākā, a'i—” he wracked his brain for a Hindu god— “nā tini Gaṇēśa ḍākā?”

“Nā, kintu Gaṇēśa thēkē Māmā ḍākā prati sakālē. Āmarā ēkaṭi Gaṇēśa jan'ya kamalā phāli chēṛē ēṭā tōlē tākē ānandita, ēbaṁ āmarā dina ēbaṁ Māmā balēchēna ēṭā tōlē aditi khuśi śēṣē dhūpa ēbaṁ pōṛā tārā saubhāgya āmādēra dēbē.”

St. John pursed his lips together tightly; there was no point in becoming impatient with a small, lost girl. Jane, how did you ever manage? How were you such a capable governess and school mistress? What is the secret to interacting with children? And why did I never speak with you about it?

“Ki āpanāra yē mānuṣēra mata saba bābā cēhārā?” He pointed to a fashionable Moslem man nearby, sporting a trimmed beard, fez, and western-style suit that would not have been out of place in Piccadilly.

“Nā, abaśya'i nā Bābā ēkaṭi inrēji!” she said proudly. “Ēṭā kēna sē śēkhāẏa āmākē inrēji.”

At this his eyes lit up; that made the task far easier. “Abaśya'i! Āmi bujhalāma yē ucita. Ēṭā kēna āpani ēta pariṣkāra, bhāla.”

“Māmā balēchēna tini khuba andhakāra, ēbaṁ yē tāra kadarya, kintu āmi camatkāra kāraṇa āmāra cāmaṛā phyākāśē haẏa ēbaṁ saba puruṣa āmāra mata habē.”

He coughed to cover his disquiet. What a terrible thing that is to teach a child. “Ki āpanāra māmā yē Iśbarēra bhitarē ē dēkhāẏa balabēna nā, āpanāra hr̥daẏa pariṣkāra dēkhatē? Tini āpanāra tbaka raṁ samparkē ki yatna nā.”

Muniya shrugged. “Tini balachēna āmarā camatkāra tā'i ārō puruṣadēra dēkhāra habē habē.”

“Ki āpanāra bābā yē puruṣadēra dēkhāra jan'ya āsē jānēna?” He should not have enquired into what was clearly a domestic situation, but could not help himself as shock piled upon shock.

“Abaśya'i! Āmarā ēkaṭā pānthanibāsa bāsa, ēbaṁ puruṣa sabasamaẏa haẏa dēkhāra jan'ya āsēna, ēbaṁ Bābā āsē prati ēkaka saptāha, śudhu āmākē dēkhatē.”

St. John groaned internally; the situation was rapidly becoming both clearer and more difficult. If her mother was a prostitute and her father a regular client, then—given the looser morality of the colonies—she had just described half the British men in India. He wracked his brain for what identifying features might stand out to a four-year-old. “Kichu āchē āpanāra bābā samparkē biśēṣa? Ki tini ēkaṭi majāra ṭupi paridhāna? Jāhāja bā pāla? Ki tini … kukura āchē?”

She laughed and clapped her sticky hands together. “Āmi icchuka tini ēkaṭi kukura chila! Āmi kukura prēma. Māmā balachēna āmi ēkaṭā kukura kāraṇa tārā gandha thākatē pārē nā.”

“Hyām̐, kintu … apanāra bābā, ēkhana. Ki tini biśēṣa kichu āchē? Kōna saba?”

She paused and screwed up her small face, clearly thinking hard. “Tini lāṭhi yē tini saṅgē sārā pēśā kāraṇa sabasamaẏa tāra khura tākē byāthā karē haẏēchē. Ēṭā biśēṣa?”

St. John's stomach dropped into his knees; he would scarcely have been more shocked if he had stumbled upon his sisters in the crowd. But it could all be coincidence, of course. Stupid, cruel coincidence. “Muniya, yā prakr̥tapakṣē adhikānśa biśēṣa! Āmākē āra'ō baluna; āmākē āpanāra bābā samparkē sabakichu baluna yātē āmarā tākē pētē pāri. Tini ēkaṭi sainika? Ki āpanāra mā kakhanō tākē 'Kyāpṭēna' kala?”

“Hyām̐ sē ki! Ēbaṁ tini ēkaṭi lāla kōṭa karēchēna, ēbaṁ diẏēchē āmāra janmadinēra jan'ya Mynah pākhi āmāra kāraṇa āmāra nāmēra artha 'sāmān'ya pākhi' ēbaṁ tini sigāra dhūmapāna, ēbaṁ Māmā pāẏa tākē ē rāga kāraṇa tārā gandha khārāpa ēkaṭi kukura nā, ēbaṁ tini parēna ēṭi ēkaṭi pālaka saṅgē lambā ṭupi. Ooh—yē ghuṛi tākānaē !” She pointed up at a brilliantly green, dancing Chinese dragon.

“O Christ, I am the biggest fool in Calcutta,” St. John muttered, as the realisation crashed down about him. “Of course he would be far too honourable to visit a prostitute whilst he and I were intimates. But little wonder he hit me; I intimated that you were a whore.”

Muniya smiled brightly at him. “Āpani ki śabda ēkaṭi Mynah pākhi tōlē jānēna? Ē'i mata yāẏa: breek breek breek fiiiiw.” She finished off her bird call with a little whistling noise, then started giggling for no reason the Reverend could discern.

He stood and took her by the hand so she would not vanish in the crowds, and she smiled up at him. St. John could have cursed himself for not seeing the resemblance earlier. She had her father's eyes, and his mischievous sidelong glance that, with the Captain, had always meant trouble of a sort.

“Ki jāni Bābā ēkaṭi sainika? Tini kēna bandhu? Āpani tākē jānēna?”

The image of Cpt. Aquilaine lying on top of him, gasping and spending between his thighs, floated through the Reverend's mind. He forced himself into a false, cheery smile. “Āsā, Muniya, ēbāra yāna āpani ānā phirē tākē.”

As they walked, his young companion indeed proved her worth as a conversationalist. Muniya told him about each and every kite she had seen that day, all the treats she had eaten at the festival—four pieces of coconut, two sweet lassis, an entire packet of pistachios and a piece of naan smeared with honey—and the reason for her separation from her father. Whilst they had stopped to rest he had got into a conversation with another army man. She was uncertain as to the details of the discussion, only that Baba was “yā'ōẏā ēkaṭi dīrgha samaẏēra jan'ya kōthā'ō dūrē, antata ēkaṭi māsa”, and he and the other man were talking about it. She found it tedious, naturally, and began to wish for yet another lassi, so she left hoping to find the stand on her own. Finally he teased out of her where Cpt. Aquilaine had been sitting when she wandered off—“Āmarā yud'dha ghuṛi chila paryabēkṣaka”— and he led her in that direction, mind swimming with the thought of how panicked the Captain must be.

When they reached the platform where the boys fought with kites, St. John stood on a bench to better see over the crowds, searching for a shako that dipped to the left. He saw nothing. Finally they began to search the pathways, looking and listening. Muniya fell silent and began to drag her feet; upon questioning, she admitted that she missed her father. They walked on.

After an eternity of searching—which St. John suspected must have felt far longer to the doting Captain—he heard, over the noise of the crowd, a faint but familiar voice. “Maina! Maina! Kōthāẏa āpani?”

Muniya heard it too and began to exclaim, “Tini nē'i! Āmi śunatē pārēna!” The Reverend had to grip her hand tightly so she would not slip away once more. They approached, the voice got louder, and St. John's stomach went tight with nerves as he wondered for the first time what, if anything, he would say to Cpt. Aquilaine. Perhaps the Captain would simply look past him, cut him out, and he would have to make an awkward exit. Perhaps the Captain would blame him for Muniya's disappearance. Perhaps—

With a sudden jerk Muniya pulled her hand out of his and ran forward, shrieking “Bābā! Bābā!” St. John could only watch, frozen, as Cpt. Aquilaine emerged from behind a Sikh and dropped to one knee to pull her into his arms. He turned, then, feeling he should give a measure of privacy to the clearly heartfelt reunion, as Muniya wept and laughed and clung to the Captain's neck, whilst the Captain scolded and kissed and hugged and kissed and scolded.

He decided it was time to leave when he heard Cpt. Aquilaine say, “Ki ēkhānē? Āpani kōthāẏa ni? Maina, āpanāra haẏēchē?” He did not want to interfere, did not wish to distract, and realised his presence would only diminish what should have been a joyful moment. But Muniya immediately piped up “Āpanāra bandhu āmākē ēnēchilēna!” and pointed at him. Cpt. Aquilaine followed the direction of her finger and St. John had to swallow in anxiety as he watched the Captain's face shift between shock, and confusion, and anger, and … something else; he could not discern what.

He tried to flee; his feet were rooted to the ground. Cpt. Aquilaine stood clumsily and advanced, and St. John flinched unconsciously, remembering how he had been hit. But the Captain merely held out his hand. St. John took it, unthinkingly, but had to glance away as his fingers were crushed in the soldier's grip.

“Reverend, I cannot believe it—you have brought her back! I am so grateful, more than you know. You cannot understand how worried I have been this past hour.” His eyes were damp.

“I'm certain anyone would have done the same under the circumstances.” St. John stared at the hand, still surrounding his. They both realised the handshake was lingering, and pulled their arms back too quickly. A silence fell between them, hardly interrupted even by Muniya's insistence that her papa pick her up and carry her, because her leg hurt, until the Captain tardily looked down at her and noticed that yes, indeed, her knee had been cut. He asked regarding the circumstances and she told him at great length, during which he glanced at the handkerchief, turned to St. John and mouthed a simple Thank you. St. John just gave a small shrug.

Then he felt he must either say more or go, and he did not particularly want to leave. He knew it was hopeless, but even after a full month apart he felt unaccountably better simply having touched Cpt. Aquilaine's hand. So he said, “I wish you had told me, Captain.”

“A significant part of me wishes I had as well, truth be told. You are so good with words, perhaps you could have convinced me to set aside my shame.” He sighed a little and rubbed his injured thigh, tipping his head towards a nearby bench that was being vacated. “Shall we sit a moment? My leg is quite worn out from the day.” So they sat, making very certain not to brush against one another, whilst Muniya scrambled around, overexcited by the chaos of the day and too many sweets. When she asked for another coconut the Reverend confessed that he had purchased her one.

“I cannot be surprised by that; she has a terrifically sweet tooth, and she is very convincing when she asks. But thank you for telling me. I shall endeavour not to buy her another this afternoon.” Muniya, clearly skilled at sensing weaknesses, continued to ask until St. John was filled with an idea. He bent down to speak to her.

“Ēkaṭi cuna khētē cāna? Tārā khuba'i bhāla, ēbaṁ London sabacēẏē kētādurasta mahilā manē karēna tārā saba krōdha, āmi balā yāẏa.” She nodded yes, temporarily shy once more—but it would pass quickly—so he stood and left to find a fruit peddler. When he eventually returned the Captain had her on his lap and was pointing out kites to her, whilst she stared open-mouthed up at the sky. St. John suspected he would make a wretched father, for all the many reasons Cpt. Aquilaine had stated at their last meeting—too overbearing, too judgemental, too lofty, too impatient—but it did not stop him from thinking that perhaps a child might have softened some of the sterner, harsher edges of his character. Alas, one more realisation come far too late to the Rev. Rivers.

He sat, the Captain offered him a pocket knife, and he carved the lime into 6 green wedges. Muniya squealed and puckered her lips at first, glaring at St. John as if he had played a trick on her. He gave an exaggerated shrug in return and said “Sambhabata ēṭā kichu śudhumātra atyanta sūkṣma mahilā bhōga karabē?” She lifted her chin at that small challenge to her femininity and promptly ate the entire wedge right down to the peel, crinkling up her eyes as she did. Then she demanded another. They all shared the lime until it had been vanquished—the finally tally was 1 piece to the Reverend, 1 to Cpt. Aquilaine, 3 to Muniya and 1 to the dirt, upon which she accidentally dropped her piece number 4—and then Muniya left to splash in a nearby fountain whilst Cpt. Aquilaine kept a very close eye on her.

Finally St. John could stem the tide of questions welling up within. “Did you think I would condemn you for having a child? Or was it because of who her mother is? Are you married to her mother? Is that it? Or … why?”

Cpt. Aquilaine laughed. “Good God, St. John, I am not as dishonourable as that!”

“No, I did not mean to imply—”

“I am not suggesting that you did! I only meant that if I had a wife, I would have been faithful to her. Men may have a little fun before they marry, but afterwards they had best behave themselves. Is that not why women tend to come with fathers and brothers and cousins?” He settled back to talk, and St. John did not dissuade him. “No, I met Harjinder shortly after I came to Calcutta. What can I say? I fell in love almost instantly, or at least I thought I did, and she seemed pleased to receive my affections. So I—ah, you will not like this part—I, that is, rented her exclusive services for some time. Set her up in the little room you saw, the one she still lives in. And before long she found herself in a certain condition, and that was that!”

St. John frowned a little at this narrative, but stopped his mouth before the inevitable question passed his lips. Nevertheless, the Captain's tone took on a dangerous undercurrent. “And if you dare suggest that she is not my child, I swear I will strike you again.”

“I would never question her patrimony,” St. John answered hastily. “You have named her and provided for her; that makes a good a claim to fatherhood as any. Besides which, the resemblance could not be clearer. She has your eyes, and your quick laughter.”

Cpt. Aquilaine brightened so greatly at the compliment that the Reverend realised he had found another private spot. “Is she not marvellous? I have never seen a child as bright and cheerful and inquisitive as she. You know how rarely I think of God, but whenever I look at her, she seems to me to be a miracle, and that is a paradox I cannot understand.”

“What is paradoxical about how miraculous children are? It is a great mystery, indeed, how the father's traits blend with the mother's to create an entirely unique life, with its own will, own mind, and own soul. But I cannot understand how it is a paradox.”

The Captain smiled again at this, but his eyes were grave. “Can you not see it, Reverend? I have spent my entire life trying to be a better man than my father, and trying to avoid the sins of the past. But when I came to India, attempting to repay all, I immediately did exactly what he had done. I took up with a prostitute and had a natural child. Every time I see her, part of me recalls how badly I failed. She is, in a way, my greatest shame. And yet … ” His voice faded, and his eyes grew damp. “Yet I cannot think of her as anything except a miracle. From the day she was born, she has been my light. The thought of seeing her again was aught that kept me strong in Afghanistan, when I nearly lost my leg. Some days Muniya seems to be my disgrace and my redemption; disgrace that I could not overcome my family's bad nature, and redemption because the God I never serve well must love me nevertheless, to give me something so wonderful in my foolish life. Thus, she is my paradox, as well.”

St. John ached to hear Cpt. Aquilaine speak thus. But he could not say what was in his heart, so he instead murmured “I do wish you had told me, Captain. It speaks only well of you, how much you care for her.”

“As I said, I wish I had too, at least in part. But as dearly as I love her, I am ashamed of her too, for she is a daily reproof of my bad character. And I feared what you might say about her, being as her mother and I are not married, and she is half-native to boot. People here call the children born from English-Indian unions 'half-breed creatures,' and I did not wish to hear such words coming from you.”

The Reverend let out his breath with a sharp gasp. The English were superior, of course—such an evident statement hardly needed proof—but four months in Calcutta had softened his beliefs in the inferiority, decadence, and foolishness of the natives. And he could not imagine how any form of slur could be directed at so charming a girl.

“Do people really say that? I cannot fathom it.”

“Neither can I, of course, and 50 or 100 years ago, such couplings between British and Indian were far more common here. But now it is scorned, much like everything else I seem to do.”

“And it is such a shame! We are all subject to the same God. How foolish, when fair skin and Anglican features are so prized that a single afternoon's tanned skin can lower an otherwise decent woman to the level of a Spaniard in society's eyes.”

“Exactly! Skin-colour means little. I cannot tell you how many Spaniards I have met, men and women, who are a credit to their race.”

St. John moved tentatively into his next question. “Do you know that her mother tells her it is important to be pretty, so men will want to come and visit?”

Cpt. Aquilaine winced as he nodded. “That does not surprise me greatly. If I had the means, I would find a better living situation and bring Muniya to live with me, and I think we would all be glad for it, even Harjinder. Unfortunately, I do not have the means, and she cannot stay at the Club! Understand, Reverend, that is the only life Harj has known. I paid off her debt-bondage before I shipped to Afghanistan and she promptly went back to the trade, even though I asked her to not to. She said she preferred not to depend on me, in case anything happened, and in truth I did not try very hard to dissuade her. By that time we were not on the best of terms.”

“Ah, so she was never your slave, then? She calls you Master.”

“That is her being stubborn. She does not appreciate having to be grateful that I once did her a kindness.”

“My sympathies lie with her on that; I too loathe being grateful, for nearly anything, no matter how minor.”

“You do not need to make me aware of that, Reverend,” he replied drolly. Muniya returned, splashed liberally with water, and Cpt. Aquilaine lectured her—but not very fiercely—on losing yet another dupatta, whilst Muniya just played with her bracelets and stared up at the kites. Then she clambered onto his lap and curled up there, suddenly weary. He turned to St. John and said, in a quieter voice, “It has been a long day. I think I ought to bring her back.”

“Before you do, can you tell me something?” St. John realised in a flash that this would be, truly, his only chance to ask. “She mentioned you are going away.”

Cpt. Aquilaine looked both sadder and cheerier all at once. “Do you remember how you once said, the last time we were here, that all things happen as God intended? I nearly believe that, now, and Providence has indeed smiled upon me! I met with Lord Elphinstone the day after … after our fight in Sonagachi, and it is indeed he who will take over the garrison in Kabul, in a little over six months. He is taking all willing officers, and so I am to lead my own troops again. Think: if you had not spoken to his niece, Miss Elphinstone, that one Sunday, I would never have approached him. But finally I can once more command troops like a man, and perchance I will regain my honour in some skirmish or battle as I did not do last time in Afghanistan. I shall make for myself a name she can be proud of, and will earn enough on full pay to keep her in greater comfort than she is now. God has guided my steps to this end, and I am grateful for it, although I will miss my little Maina-bird.” He kissed her softly on the hair, a gesture St. John knew well.

The Reverend tensed a little; he had enjoyed an unexpectedly pleasant half-hour with the Captain, and was now compelled to ruin it. But he could not hold back his tongue, nor his thoughts on the matter.

“Lord Elphinstone is a doddering old fool; even I know that, and I am no soldier! You yourself have said on several occasions that he is more fit to raise pigeons and fund temples than to run a military operation, even someplace as peaceful as Kabul. He is incompetent and infirm. Are you serious?”

The Captain's jaw tightened, but he kept his voice calm and low, not wishing to disturb Muniya. “I thank you not to speak that way about my superior officer. He has good men under him, and that will suffice. It has innumerous times in the past.” But even his steady tone could not disguise the excitement in his voice, and St. John wondered if, rather than mourning their lost affections, he had spent the past month looking forward to a new adventure and a chance for redemption. That pained him.

“And what of Muniya?” St. John also kept his voice steady. “What will become of her?”

“I have left instructions for her care, and will be sending back a portion of my salary every month. She will be well.”

“And if you should, by some sad chance, suffer a soldier's fate?”

The Captain faltered, slightly, before continuing, “Then I will die, it will be an honourable way to leave this world, and she will have a papa she can be proud of. She and Harj will live off the money I have sent, and my death-pay will go to her as well. I have written it all down, Reverend.”

St. John could not help but push on. “And when the money runs out, and her mother is gone …? Do not dissemble, I recognise the signs and have seen them many times before. Harjinder has consumption, and has had it for some while. What if she loses both mother and father? She will go to the only life she knows, just as her mother did!”

“This is not your place, Reverend. Not yours to interfere with.”

“But you love her so dearly; I cannot understand how you could leave her behind.”

“I hear your concern, Reverend, but you are not a father and will never understand a father's duties to his child.” Without another word, the Captain stood and helped a sleepy Muniya clamber onto his shoulders for the long walk back to her home. At that moment, St. John finally understood why Cpt. Aquilaine had always been so ill-tempered on Thursday nights; he could see the sorrow of having to relinquish his daughter for another week writ across the man's face. Then the Captain turned away, as if about to merge into the crowds, and St. John must have made a noise of distress—he feared they would never speak again—for the Captain paused and glanced back at him.

“As you are impassioned to serve God, I am impassioned to have a daughter who is as proud of her father as I never was of mine, even if it is only pride in his memory. Providence has given me this opportunity, and I will not let it slip through my hands. And consider: if this is God's will, and He Himself is offering me this chance, then He will not lead me into danger! Go and seek your passion in Hill Tippera, Rev. Rivers, and I will look to mine in Kabul.”

Cpt. Aquilaine held out his hand once more. “Many thanks again for helping her. Good luck to you, Reverend.”

St. John bade him farewell sadly. “Best of luck to you as well, Captain.” And please, Lord, please keep him safe.

 


 


A Charming Companion at a Kite Festival


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notes:

William Wilberforce – a prominent abolitionist and reformer. He was a Member of Parliament from Yorkshire, who had a conversion at age 26, dedicated himself to Evangelical Christianity, and met a group of abolition activists who convinced him to take up the cause of slavery. From 1787 until 1807, he fought against slavery in Britain, until finally Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807 (see the note on British slavery in Chapter 5). He championed British missionary work in India, helped found the RSPCA, and finally gained passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, three days before his death.

Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque – Built in Calcutta in 1832, this mosque is a fine example of Mughal architecture (the Taj Mahal is another). It can hold up to 1000 worshipers for prayers, and is now a protected site that all are welcome to visit and admire.

shalwar kameez – This is an extremely common outfit worn by both men and women throughout India and South Asia. It consists of a loose pair of pants (the shalwar), and a long, flowing tunic over top (the kameez). They are a very versatile and functional option for labourers who cannot wear more restrictive clothes, small girls who have not yet graduated to wearing saris, and people of either gender who want a flattering and comfortable item of clothing in their closet. Women traditionally wear them with a dupatta.

Please do not worry that Muniya was barefoot. Even wealthier parents often chose not to purchase shoes for their children; shoes were a luxury item, one that children would simply lose, wear out, or grow out of in a few years. And it was not as if her toes might freeze.

dupatta – A dupatta is a long shawl or scarf worn by women in South Asia. Traditionally, they were not considered fully dressed or suitably modest without one (in many parts of the world, this still holds true); a dupatta covered the hair, shoulders, and breasts, or whatever combination thereof was considered proper by local custom. It was also a very stylish piece of every woman's outfit, and helped protect them from the sun, rain, and unexpected cold spells. Nowadays it is most-commonly worn hanging in front, under the neck, with both ends flung back over the shoulders. Muniya's constant inability to keep track of hers is very similar to that of a modern child who always loses his or her coat and hat.

consumption – tuberculosis.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John thinks on the Nature of Repentance and India, turns his back on Mammon, discusses Sodomy over Tea with the Bishop, and is made to read the Old Testament anew.
 
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That night St. John did not sleep; he could not, he knew he would not, and he did not attempt to force the matter. Indeed, he did not even bother to change from day wear to his nightshirt. His mind was frantic with the events of the kite festival, and he alternated between hurried pacing, five steps from one wall to the other, and rifling through the pages of his well-worn Bible. This gave him the gratified sensation of doing something useful with his time. It was false, of course. He already knew what must be done, and he knew entirely why; what shamed him was how hard it proved.
 
Even having spent a lifetime in the pursuit of godliness, studying the words of the Lord until he could quote with chapter and verse broad swaths of the Testaments, since arriving in Calcutta he had learnt every day just how challenging it was to actually believe and follow the commands therein. He had with joyous and wilful abandon fornicated, with a man no less, in direct defiance of all the proscriptions against sex-sin and impurity. He had been selfish, heartless, thoughtless, and cruel. He had consumed prodigious amounts of alcohol, at least for a Temperance man, borne false witness to acquaintances and his lover and the Right Rev. Bishop himself, shunned a plain, honest life to embrace luxury and gaiety, and dishonoured the Sabbath in the worst ways possible; for what could more greatly stain its holiness than to forgo church and investigate the feasibility of spending oneself five times in the span of a single day? And it had all been so very easy.
 
Now he knew what must be done to repent—nay, not merely repent; he knew what must be done out of love, compassion for the poor and the generosity every Christian was supposed to carry about in his heart. And he wanted to flee it. Deceive himself into believing he had never thought such an idea in the first. Cling to that which was not meant for him to possess, by any rights of charity or lovingkindness.
 
Thus St. John paced. He knew, come morning, that he would give up what meant nearly as much to him as his affections for Cpt. Aquilaine. He also knew that in one month, or three, or perhaps a full year from now, he would be glad of his decision. It was the godly thing to do, there could be no doubt. The Lord's commands on the matter were crystal clear and far, far more numerous and emphatic than His commands against impurity, or alcohol, or tawdry novels, or any of the other subjects that proved so popular as Sunday sermon topics. Why was it so common to preach against playing cards? Because playing cards were so easy a vice to avoid. Why were sermons on true love towards the next-door neighbour with the low accent, the bad teeth, and the unfashionable ways so infrequent? Because parishioners did not want to hear that they should be kind to gypsies and coolies and crass society upstarts. They wanted an achievable measure of piety, not something that might actually cost them hard coin or precedent in their set.
 
In the past he had looked down upon those attitudes, thinking people were weak, timid. Now it was his turn to make the hard choice, and how he wished it could be as easy as pouring out the bourbon!
 
I suppose that on top of my many, many other sins, my cold and hard nature, my lack of compassion and understanding, my judgement, my scorn, my superiority, and my pride, I shall now add wont of generosity and a greedy constitution.
 
O Marcus, how I wish you were here. How I wish we could talk, even for an hour. What I would give to hear you say that my faults … no, I do not want to hear you say that you spoke too harshly to me, for we would both know it to be false. You spoke as true as anyone ever has to me, and in my heart of hearts I am grateful for it, as a soldier is grateful to the doctor who saved his life by sawing off his arm. But I cannot move past it. I cannot seem to span the cavernous gap between who I am and who I would be. If only you were here to assure me, with your customary hopeful words, that I could indeed stumble haltingly towards that goal. I would dearly like to hear that my faults are not the whole of me.
 
He sat, weary and heart-sick, wondering how long he was condemned to be wretched. He knew, in his mind, that God forgave. He healed the lame, He pardoned the sinner, He gave new life. That knowledge was just one more link in the never-ending chain of truths St. John knew in his head but did not believe with his heart. Serving God solely out of the fear of damnation did not mean a happy or willing servitude. And since the only time he had ever come close to feeling the love of God was in the arms of a man who now thought him a callous scoundrel, he did not anticipate feeling it again anytime soon. Bereft of love, either heavenly or earthly, he must struggle through alone.
 
St. John shut up his eyes against the emptiness of his room. He began to think instead of how he could span the gap first between himself and those who did love him in their own ways, such as Diana and Mary, and then between himself and those who might have loved him, such as Jane. Gloves were a rare sight in Calcutta shops, lace rarer still. But silk, India could hardly be bested in its silk …
         
 

He is ascending the creaking stairs, or maybe it is not the stairs that creak under his timid footsteps. He pauses, the creaking continues. He continues, too. Up to the top, opening the door, and entering the room with the hazy air lit by a single, flickering candle to Ganesha. Creaking, groans and soft, wet sounds, back and forth, in and out. The woman turns her head to look at him, bored and resentful. She is impossibly thin, deathly frail. She wears a red sari, her guest wears a red coat; it could be anyone, any British man or Sepoy or secretary away from his desk for lunch. He cannot see the face and is glad for it. Finally the man finishes with a grunt and rolls off, carelessly, wiping his forehead and buttoning up the trousers he did not bother to remove. The candle begins to gutter. He looks at the man and sees the Captain, but then he looks again and it is Placido Fitzpatrick as he reaches into his pocket, removes a single copper and drops it on the floor next to the bed. You should not be here; it is not your right. Placido sneers. I have coin, same as any other man. He vanishes and the woman sits to clean herself, rearrange her sari and retrieve the copper. She looks at him; he looks at her. Are you next, Reverend? He steps back. You do not have to do this—there is another way. She laughs at him, face twisting into a leer and he is suddenly terrified, wants to back away and flee and never return, but his limbs are frozen and he can only move so slowly, so terribly slowly despite all his efforts. He sweats from the efforts of concentration. She continues to laugh, a horrifying skeletal grin, and whilst he cannot turn away or even shut his eyes her laughter turns to coughing, shaking, choking until the blood spills from her lips and flows over the bed, over his boots, a crimson river surging out the door and down the wooden staircase. This is Calcutta, Reverend. This is the only way, this is how it is always done. Back and forth with the tides, in and out, in and out. This is our dharma. This is our samsara. You cannot fight the tide. The blood slows and she lies back on her bed, coughing weakly and fingering the coin. The candle flares out and plunges them into darkness, one plume of smoke coiling up to the ceiling before it dissipates.

 
St. John straightened up with a start, heart pounding and breath coming in short, shallow gasps. He should not have been frightened of the dream, he was no longer a boy and did not suffer from childish nightmares. Nevertheless he was pleased to see daylight and the breaking dawn. Remembering the ghoulish face of the coughing woman, he lit a candle, then another, then both oil lamps, then rang for the footman and requested an early breakfast tray. By the time the tea finished steeping his pulse had slowed and he set aside his testament, burrowing into Wilberforce's essays instead. Finally his mind was calm and resolute; the path was clear. He did not look up from his essays until the longcase clock struck nine.
 
The city's brief respite from the monsoons proved very brief indeed; yesterday's fine, rare weather had been once again supplanted by muggy showers. Presumably the Moslems felt vindicated.
 
It being his last walk to the Cathedral, he lingered more than other weeks, taking in the markets, the chaos, and the people of all colours and stripes, stubbornly braving the rain in their best clothes. The British tradition of the Sunday walk had taken hold in the city. A day out in one's best clothes, seeing and being seen, was a thing now as popular with the residents as a kite festival, and nearly as universal. St. John wore his usual Sunday finest, of plain cut and plainly stitched. Black waistcoat, black trousers, black hat, white shirt and starched cleric's collar. No concession to fashion was made, and likely never would be although once, soon after his first intimacies with the Captain, he had been tempted by the pine-green cravat forever on display at the nearby haberdashery. As always, he gazed briefly at it before continuing his walk.
 
As he walked, he thought: Calcutta is a new city by nearly any standards, being founded only 150 years prior. The veneer of our Britishness lays over it like a glittering piece of glass. But beneath it flows thousands of years of Hindu and Bengali culture, vivid and lively and joyous and—most important of all—patient. All that we bring: civilisation, new religion, technology, a change in government … they have seen all this before. They will see it all again. We English think that we will conquer, somehow, and claim it as our own. I myself thought that before I set foot on these shores; I do not think it now. In time, I suspect, they shall absorb some of whatever we have tried to force onto them and reject the rest. India will win out in the end.
 
The thought gave him comfort, although he could not possibly say why. It stayed with him all through the church service, through the hymns, the prayers, the sermon, and the benediction. Perhaps some smear of nightmare remained in his mind, and he wanted to think that one day Indians would not have to service Britons for scraps of food. When the service ended St. John made certain to speak to the Right Rev. Bishop Wilson and, by any means necessary, get himself invited over for tea. He needed the Bishop's assistance—or, more correctly, he needed Mr. Patel's firm grasp of diocese administration—before he could proceed. Receiving the invitation proved to be simplicity itself; he did not have to so much as utter a word before it was done.
 
“Rev. Rivers! Well now, you must be off soon, sailing away to your next grand adventure?” Bishop Wilson shook his hand rather violently as he nodded and smiled at the other parishioners paying their hasty respects. “Come, have some tea and we can talk about Hill Tippera. I will want to hear all your ideas for the new parish.” So St. John stayed and explored the cathedral, inspecting the small, uninteresting stained glass windows and the much finer memorial friezes as the last of the laity slowly trickled away, absolved of their sins for another week. Finally only deacons, altar boys, and parish servants remained to sweep and put away the vestments, the tread of their leather shoes echoing through the empty marble nave. Then the Bishop led him to the rectory through a small, twisting hallway; for a moment St. John felt as though he were in the brothel once more, heading to his uncertain fate. By the time they stepped through a disguised servant-door into a study, well laid-out with tea and cakes, his stomach was leaping with nerves.
 
Mr. Patel, habitually surrounded by papers and ledgers, stood from his chair and greeted them both warmly. Before he had begun to pour them tea, before they had even started to sit down, the Right Rev. Bishop began to talk once more. St. John, now in a state of nervous tension, ate cakes and fussed with his tea spoon in an effort to refocus his mind.
 
“Did you know, Rev. Rivers—well, I imagine you must know, I suspect you have spent the past two months thinking of little besides your new assignment—that in Hill Tippera hardly anyone speaks Hindustani? The Prince Krishna does, of course, but most of the common people speak Mrung, which is apparently odd and very difficult to pronounce. I do hope you will send back regular reports. Well, of course you will send back reports; we are starting up a parish! But I hope you will send back information on the natives, as well, as they will be far more interesting, I am afraid to say, than your tutoring will likely be. A letter about teaching French would not raise any eyebrows, but a report on the rumours that there are head-hunters in the jungles … that would be good reading unless—”
 
“I shall write, of course,” St. John broke in, a bit abruptly. He did not feel up to being sociable, even after a month of unhappy solitude. “But I did not come to talk of Hill Tippera; there is a matter of some urgency, with which I dearly need your help.”
 
The Bishop sipped at his tea, not in the least taken aback, and gave St. John a querulous look. “Is everything well? You are not delayed in your journey, are you? I would hate to disappoint Prince Krishna, especially since he is so eager to advance our cause and give his son a Christian education.”
 
“No, no, of course not. I shall be at the dock Tuesday morning. But I have a task to perform, first. It is a matter of money and an orphan and I feel this fine diocese, with all its organisation and projects for social improvement, would be best suited to assist me.”
 
“You have captured my attention, Reverend, and I am most curious now. You know we can accomplish virtually anything, so long as Mr. Patel sets his mind to it?” He waved a hand at his chief clerk, who glanced up from his correspondence with a smile, then returned to the letter he was editing. “So it is money and an orphan? The church has a long tradition of assisting with both, and we are happy to help—God commands it—but you knew that, of course. So what are we to help you with?”
 
St. John sat straight in his chair. This was his last moment of comfort and financial security, but he could still change—no, he could not. Would not. He set down his tea and looked the Bishop in the eye. “I have a legacy left to me by my cousin, which I have been living on here in Calcutta. It is a goodly sum, not enough for a life of wealth, but certainly for one of comfort. I began with £5,000, and have £4,600 remaining after my expenses in travelling to India, my accommodations up to this point, and various minor expenses. I wish to give it away.” There; it was said and as good as done. He fought back an urge to laugh and declare that he had only been speaking in jest. He would not have it on his conscience to have deprived a child of hope because he enjoyed a footman bringing him afternoon tea.
 
“There are any number of parish funds or societies that would gladly accept such a sum, and we can find a lawyer to write up documents, if you like, but I feel I must caution you: how will you live? Giving away so much is a very bold move, possibly quite foolish, and decidedly incautious. I counsel you to think and pray on the matter, and not be hasty about it.”
 
“I leave Tuesday; I will not be back. It must be quickly done. And besides, 'He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise'.”
 
“The Lord did not intend for us to give away our very last farthing, Sir. We must be established and secure in ourselves, in order to do good to others.” The Right Rev. Bishop frowned at St. John as if he had suddenly become a radical desert monk, dressed in sackcloth and worried by scorpions.
 
“I shall be tutoring the Prince's son; it pays a regular salary, plus room and board. What more can a man need? Please believe me, Bishop Wilson, I have spent the night in prayer. My mind is resolute.”
 
Bishop Wilson set down his cup at last, rested his chin on his clasped hands and looked at the Rev. Rivers across a table filled with cakes and cups and silver. His expression was more serious and thoughtful than ever before during tea; it almost seemed as if he were about to launch into a sermon on the grave evils of Sabbath-breaking. “But you are not happy to do so. It is quite clear from your eyes, you do not wish to do this.”
 
St. John fidgeted in his chair; he had not expected this level of resistance, and the temptation to allow himself to be made rational was very strong. His voice grew quieter but he forced himself to continue. “I do not wish to do this; with all my heart I do not wish it. I want the legacy for myself, to enjoy all those small luxuries that only money can provide. I want to cling to it, like the rich man who could not enter the kingdom. But I did not earn it, indeed I only have it now because my cousin Miss Eyre was so generous to share her inheritance with me and my sisters, so I can hardly claim it should be mine! And what does it matter, what I want? God's will must be done despite our dragging our heels.”
 
“Very well, then. What do you intend to do with it?”
 
Now they came to the heart of the matter; soon he might be asked all number of uncomfortable questions, and that was nearly as hard as giving up the money. “There is a man, a soldier I came to know during my time here. He is the father of a natural daughter that he unfortunately conceived with, ah, a lady in Sonagachi.” St. John glanced up at the Bishop, who remained impassive. “The mother is now ill with consumption, rather advanced, and my friend is leaving town soon to fight in Afghanistan. He intends to send money for his daughter's maintenance and naturally he intends to return, but I am less hopeful on both counts. So I would like the bulk of my legacy to be given to his daughter, held in trust here at the parish until such time as she comes into her majority, or loses her mother and has no support here in Calcutta, or … ” He could not make the words or is entirely orphaned cross his lips. The image of Cpt. Aquilaine being cut down in battle, or dead of some strange disease—he could not think on it.
 
The Bishop nodded slowly. “That idea is both generous and foolhardy; I can see you know that. But since you are still frowning I must ask again. You are certain?”
 
St. John set his cup down hard and it rattled around the saucer. “Of course I would like to keep the money; I have already said as much, several times. I do not wish to be pushed on it. But giving it to her would please God and besides, if she is not supported and cared for, not given an education and an opportunity to make an honest living, she will simply fall into the life, like her mother, and perhaps her grandmother before, and when shall it stop? It will not; their desperation and powerlessness will continue for another generation, and another … If I have a chance to break that cycle, and give her a life better than debt-bondage and prostituting herself for coins, and could do that all with something as simple as £4,000, what kind of a man would I be to pass that by?” He turned inexplicably emotional. “Surely the worth of a young girl's soul is more than £4,000.”
 
As he dabbed angrily at his eyes, the Bishop smiled. “You understand I must query you a bit, to make certain you will not try and take it all back tomorrow? But since you are resolved, Mr. Patel can take what information he needs, and if you come by tomorrow evening there will be documents ready. I'm certain your friend will be grateful.”
 
St. John's hand paused as he reached for a date-cake. Then he nodded and smiled a bit too brightly; telling the Captain had not actually crossed his mind. During the pause Mr. Patel poured more tea. He chewed the cake slowly, recalling a mere moment too late that he did not like dates. Bishop Wilson leant back in his chair, lighthearted once more. “So what shall we do with the other £600? Do you wish it to go to the alter fund?” He laughed at his own joke.
 
Explaining about Muniya was a difficult balancing act; this would be harder still. St. John swallowed his cake and washed it down with tea, wishing to take his time. “I once … visited my friend, whilst he was spending the morning with his daughter. In Sonagachi. I must assure you my actions and intentions at the house were pure; I do not approve of his behaviour, and cannot condone any man who buys affection for sport. At the, ah, house where his daughter and her mother live, I met a boy, 12 years of age, and I wish the rest to go to him. The boy's name is Tarun, and in truth I am not certain if he is debt-bonded or a slave outright, but either way he is young and it cannot be more than several hundred pounds to buy out whatever obligations he might have. With the remaining money, could he also be cared for by the parish? I do not know what would be best for him: an education at the orphanage, or perhaps he could be a servant to one of the priests here, or an apprenticeship? He is quick and clever, and would do well for himself if given the chance. I remember how passionate you are to improve the youth in the city. Could you assist with that matter?”
 
The Bishop laughed again and reached for the creamer. “What a bundle of surprises you are, Reverend! I would hardly think a man like you knew of such houses, let alone ever set foot in them.”
 
“And I am surprised you have not cast me out for mentioning them.”
 
“Do you know what happens to innocent, honest men like yourself? They remain innocent, and honest, and offer their humble parish flock a lifetime of devotion and pastoral care.” He gave St. John a shrewd look. “They do not award bishoprics to the holiest priest, but to the one most wanting it and most willing to achieve it. You cannot surprise me, not so easily as all that.” He dusted crumbs off his hands and reached for another tea-cake. “We shall discuss it, Mr. Patel and I. When you come by tomorrow to sign the papers for the girl's money, you can hear what we think might be best for him. So, if that is all settled than let us talk more of your journey.”
 
Without a pause the Bishop launched into a discussion of Prince Krishna and his son, the princely states of India proper, and the desperate desire of oriental nobility to achieve an occidental education. As he talked St. John's heart grew heavier and heavier, and he realised in shame that he had hoped more of a fuss might be made over him, some praise for his generous nature and Christian heart that would soothe the sting of giving up his worldly fortune to a girl he had met only yesterday. He wanted to be told that he was virtuous. And he realised that now, truly, there could be no going back, now he must take the assignment or go hungry. And he would likely never see Cpt. Aquilaine again, just as he would never again see his dear sisters, and the best he could look forward to would be to one day, many years from now, return to Calcutta a penniless cleric and perhaps find the young woman Muniya had become, and smile at her as he looked into her father's eyes …
 
“Reverend, are you well? You look most distressed.” Bishop Wilson was frowning at him in concern. For a moment the only sound in the study was Mr. Patel's pen scratching across paper. “What is troubling you so?”
 
St. John looked across the table to the Bishop and saw, for the first time, a current of genuine sympathy under the nonchalant and sociable persona. He ducked his head and picked at an imaginary piece of lint on his trousers. The Bishop sighed a little, attempted to pour himself more tea and grunted in disappointment as only the last bitter drops trickled into his cup. Mr. Patel glanced up at the sound, nodded, and without a word stood and removed himself from the room, taking the pot as well. The Bishop leant back in his chair, folded his hands across his rather expansive waistcoat, and gave his guest a look that St. John knew too well; it was a look he gave to parish school boys when they had clearly been caught misbehaving, but did not yet want to admit whether the offence had been a toad in a lunch pail, or a lurid picture on a slate, or teaching the younger forms to decline the spurious Latin verb co, cere.
 
“Will you tell me your concern? You are almost singularly unhappy, and I cannot understand it. Is it the money? Are you anxious about the assignment? You had best reassure me on the matter, or I will think it is the money and refuse to write up papers.”
 
The study fell silent; outside Rose-Ringed Parakeets scolded each other as they huddled under the eaves of the rectory. St. John knew he had been outmanoeuvred, so whilst it was only the two of them he confessed, “I will not lie to you any more, Bishop. I do not wish to go to Hill Tippera, even though I know I must. I shall go, and I shall do my duty as best I can, to found the parish and teach the Princeling. You will never have cause to regret sending me. But no, it is not in my heart to leave.”
 
“Now I am truly perturbed, Reverend.” More compassion crept into his voice. “Do I recall incorrectly that you felt you had been called by God Himself to depart the city and fill a more missionary rôle?”
 
St. John shook his head in sorrow. “I admit, Sir, I have sinned so many times in the past few months that I had nearly forgotten that particular one. No, you did not recall incorrectly, I did say that God had laid the mission on my heart. But that was false, utterly and entirely. I am so sorry.”
 
“This may sound strange, but I am both unhappy and pleased to hear you say that. Unhappy that you felt the necessity to mislead me, but pleased that it was not actually the Lord's calling.”
 
“I do not understand.” Indeed, he did not; the statement made little sense.
 
“Following God's will should ultimately bring joy, not sorrow. One way Christians can learn what God requires is to search our own hearts on the matter. Some acts are clearly sinful. Some are clearly blessed. But most are harder to discern, so then we must ask: does the task fill me with dread? Have I considered it before? Is it a good fit for my temperament and ability? You see,” and the Bishop fell again into a more sermonly mode, “when I was a boy I felt I must become a missionary, because it was the best way to serve. I hated the very thought of it and wept many bitter tears. I simply did not want to be one, but I believed God would force me into it anyway. Years later when I confessed my reluctance to the parson, he said that if I was so set against it then it could not be. Missionary work was a matter of vocation and skill, and not fit for everyone. He suggested searching for some other way to serve His flock, and so I went to seminary and have never regretted it. And what a terrible missionary I would have made! Clearly, I was designed for what I am doing now.
 
“And so I am glad to hear it was not actually the Lord's doing, because you do not wish to leave. It is written on every line of your face. I cannot claim to understand the Mind of God, of course, but I would question His intent on calling you to something that so repulsed you. You do right in giving away your money, but you would do wrong in going to Hill Tippera, I think.”
 
“Thank you,” St. John whispered in relief.
 
“But then of course,” the Bishop fixed him with another look, “you must now tell me why you spoke so false, and why you felt the need to leave town.”
 
St. John glanced at the door; Mr. Patel had not yet returned. He spoke quickly. “The details are hardly important, so I will be brief. In Calcutta I have fallen into more sin than I ever did in England, sins of a terrible and impure nature and I could not resist them, so I felt I must either leave town or jeopardise my very soul. But I apologise again for speaking false to you.”
 
“Bah! I do not care.” The Bishop waved a hand in the air as he reached for more cakes; the pile had grown very low. “I would rather hear about these terrible sins of yours, because in truth you struck me as more of a scholar, content to sit with books all day long. What sorts of trouble can a scholar get up to? I do hope you are not stealing from our new library? If that is the case I must ask you to return the books in order to receive absolution, of course.”
 
“No, of course not!” St. John spluttered. “I would never steal, especially not a book that might one day profit someone else's studies.”
 
“See that? Spoken like a true scholar. So what then is so troublesome here that you hoped to avoid in Hill Tippera?”
 
After another glance at the door, St. John whispered, “I hardly know where to begin. Sabbath breaking, drinking alcohol, enjoying worldly pursuits such as the public house and the symphony rather than storing up crowns in heaven, gluttony, anger, cruel words, speaking dishonestly because I was too prideful to admit what was truly in my heart, and worst of all … fornication.” He pursed and wetted his lips in nervousness, waiting for reproach.
 
Finally the Bishop spoke. “Fornication is hardly the worst of that fine collection of sins, Reverend. Think: Therefore shall a man cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
 
“But it was no ordinary fornication, Bishop. Not like that. It was with a … a man.” The word rang through the silence of the small room. St. John dared to glance over at the Right Rev. Bishop, who merely glanced back.
 
“Yes, yes, I have gathered that,” he replied a touch impatiently. “With your friend who is leaving, the one with the daughter. As I said, hardly the worst of your sins. Pride is far graver, because it pulls us away from God and leads us to assume we understand the nature of things better than He does. But was it—forgive me, I shall push you a bit further now, since Mr. Patel has still not returned—was it of a strictly carnal nature? Or was there affection as well? I do hope you are not fleeing from a love affair, Rev. Rivers.”
 
“Of course it was not love!” The Reverend gripped the arms of his chair in frustration, angry that he was not even being chastised for the sin that had so tormented him these past months. He could not make heads or tails of the Bishop. “It felt like love, yes, but that is the Devil's work. Such a thing between men could never be love.”
 
“Were you a better person? Were you kinder, or gentler, or more generous? Did you feel closer to our Lord or further away from Him?”
 
At that St. John shut his eyes very tight, and had to compose himself with his handkerchief before he could continue. When he did, his voice shook badly. “In truth I have never experienced such peace, or joy, or contentment. For the first time I have felt actual love for the Lord, whereas before it was merely fear, obedience, and shame. It felt right and what is more, I myself felt right. And I do not understand how something so clearly sinful could work that in my heart. But it is sinful nonetheless, and so I said I must leave, and then he decided to leave as well, and now it is sin piled on top of sin, and he is going to danger in Afghanistan, and may even die whilst his daughter bears the brunt of my wickedness.”
 
“Then what leads you to believe that something that bore such good fruit would be a sin? I may seem obtuse, but I cannot get my head about this trouble of yours. Perhaps it is the humidity.” The Reverend stared at him in disbelief, and the Right Rev. Bishop hastily began fanning himself, as if he had just noticed the weather.
 
“It is the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, Sir. The wickedness of it could not be plainer.”
 
The Bishop stopped fanning. “Pardon my asking this, Rev. Rivers, but have you, perchance, had opportunity to read the Old Testament? I recommend it, if you have not; there are some excellent stories therein.”
 
St. John looked as if he had been asked what city they were in, or who sat on the English throne, or if he had ever owned a hat. He began to wonder if the Bishop was indeed a bit touched from all the heat. “I have been through seminary at Trinity, Sir. I know nearly the entire Gospel by chapter and verse. I read Latin, Greek and Hebrew. I know the Old Testament.”
 
“Then what was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, pray tell?”
 
“Sodomy, of course.” He began to grow testy.
 
“And how would you define sodomy, exactly?” Bishop Wilson glanced over as Mr. Patel chose that moment to return with newly steeped tea. “Ah, Mr. Patel, welcome back and not a moment too soon. We are debating scripture, which always makes me thirsty.” The clerk poured more tea before promptly vanishing into the accounts. Bishop Wilson continued as if he and the Rev. Rivers were still the only two people in the room. “Come, take my Testament here and we shall examine the crime of sodomy.”
 
It was inconceivable, continuing such a conversation with Mr. Patel in the room. St. John blushed deeply and half-stood, as if intending to leave, but the Bishop would have none of it. He waved his guest back to sitting and began flipping through a leather-bound Bible resting on a side-table. “Ezekiel 16: 49 says, Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” He looked significantly at St. John. Then he opened to the 19th chapter of Genesis and thrust the book at the Reverend. “Go on and read it, young man. Perhaps it is time you finally do so.”
 
So St. John took up the scripture, baffled, and his bafflement increased as he read through the long-familiar story and the wicked deeds found therein. Lot gave guest-friendship to two visitors, the townsmen demanded the visitors be cast out into the street, in order that they might have intercourse with them, Lot offered his virgin daughters to the mob instead, the mob refused, then the visitors, who were secretly angels, warned Lot to take his family and flee before God destroyed the city. Eventually the Reverend had to admit defeat.
 
“I suppose it is not there as such, but the principle remains clear. It is a crime against God and nature. Romans 1:27,” he added, almost as an afterthought.
 
“Indeed, Romans 1:27 could not be clearer on the matter.” The Bishop nodded in approval. “To that, I would simply reply: Matthew 22: 37-39. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
 
“Love cannot erase sin, Bishop.” St. John desperately wished to be elsewhere, away from the strange turn his afternoon had taken.
 
“No, of course not. And I am not necessarily arguing that love between two men is not a sin. I agree that in certain places the scriptures are clear on that. But understand, I am sinning right now as I sip this tea—which is very well brewed, thank you, Mr. Patel.” Mr. Patel nodded without so much as a glance upwards. The Bishop continued, “I am not witnessing to the heathens, or ministering to the poor. I have spent my money on a luxury. I am selfish. However, by relaxing over tea, I will have more energy and vigour to do God's work. The minor sin of tea-time is balanced out by its greater benefits. And so I drink my tea and am grateful to God for providing it.”
 
“Yes, I know,” St. John whispered. “But I will not compromise. I cannot. I must reject all sin.”
 
“And I support you in that! But let us be honest with ourselves. Even in a state of perfect Grace you are still sinning because we are all born into sin, and although it is forgiven by Christ it cannot be removed until death. Total depravity of man, you know. So strive for perfection, knowing that whilst you are destined to fail, it does not absolve you from making the attempt. And do so with the full and humble knowledge that the outcome must always be the same: you will sin. And if a small sin draws you closer to the love of God, and leads you away from a bigger sin—such as wounding your friend so deeply that he resolves to cast his life away on the battlefield, possibly destroying the future of an innocent young girl in the process—then perhaps the path of wisdom is not to reject all sin but to decide which to reject and which to embrace? Choose thou, and sin boldly!
 
“I can see already that you are trying to protest, but it is no good. You cannot. I am the Right Rev. Bishop of Calcutta and for that, my dear Rev. Rivers, you will have to suffer as my guest for a little while longer, and listen as I talk.
 
“Here is a very brief story about love and passion, for I have felt both in measure, and they have both taught me innumerable amounts. When I was a young man fresh out of college, I married my cousin Ann, as dear and good a woman as ever walked this earth. She bore me six children, three of whom lived to adulthood and three of whom joined their Saviour at a tender age. We were a happy, amiable couple from our first day to our last, and when I lost her after twenty four years of marriage it fair tore my heart out. We loved each other dearly, we were of one mind in Christ, and in the domestic sphere no quarrel ever came between us. Yet I have regrets, still, and they will haunt me for all my days.”
 
At this the Right Rev. Bishop Wilson leant forward and dropped his voice to just above a whisper. “Rev. Rivers, what I shall tell you next you are not obliged to believe, for I realise that I am going against everything agreed upon by science and society. But humour this old man in his conceit, for it is integral to my story in the end. After marriage, I came to learn that many women, possibly most, feel the same passions and needs and physical longings that us men suffer so keenly! I know how strange that must sound, especially coming from a man of my profession.” He shook his head side to side, as if he hardly understood it himself. “I heard it in the confession booth and from parishioners struggling in their marriages, and when finally I asked my dear Ann if she knew about such a thing, she laughed at me! And she said yes, women indeed did feel such things as well, as strongly and urgently as men-folk, but because of society's reproach and their own modest natures, they neither mentioned it nor expected such needs to be filled.
 
“That was the case between my Ann and I. For as dearly as I loved her, there was no passion, not on my part, and because of this I not only denied myself but her as well, in the cruellest of ways. She wished for what I could not give and, although she patiently accepted that my passion did not match hers, I know every day that she felt that loss. Now, in the foolishness of my advanced age, I understand better why some wives are so fond of their husbands, and why some husbands are so happy to see their wives after a day away from home. All those young women who long for entirely unsuitable men, what do you think motivates them? It made so much sense, when she told me all this about women, but I also realised a profound grief at her words. She was my wife—do you take my meaning? She gave what she could to me, and I could not return it, I, the one man on earth who was allowed to do so.”
 
St. John began to wish some grand catastrophe would strike—a typhoon, perhaps, or a massive earthquake—that might draw the conversation to a hasty end. He had not woken that morning hoping to hear all the most private details of the Bishop of Calcutta's holy matrimony. But as appalled as he felt, and as deeply the blush burned on his cheeks, he could not be so rude as to remove himself. So he sat, frozen with horror, whilst Mr. Patel did sums and the Bishop offhandedly revealed the intimacies of his marriage in between nibbling at tea-cakes.
 
“And why would this passion be so important, when we are told again and again that it is nothing but our base, animal instincts come to the fore? Because God did not make us simply to be spirits, Reverend, or he would not have created us bodies and we should be like the angels. We are flesh made manifest in a physical world, and He says it is all good! If we take joy in a ripe apple or a summer breeze or an ocean wave, and we praise our Creator for that joy, that is worship and gratitude, not sin. And if passion and love be combined in unity with another person, and make us better than we would be otherwise, what arrogant beasts we would be to reject it and claim to understand the Lord's intentions better than He does!”
 
The Right Rev. Bishop, Daniel Wilson, looked his guest square in the face. His eyes twinkled, but his voice was deadly serious, as if sermonizing from the pulpit. “Thou art fearfully and wonderfully made, Rev. St. John Rivers. Who art thou, who art so prideful as to decide that the Lord erred in thy making?”
 
St. John stared at him in shock; all capacity for words had long ago fled his tongue. Something was shifting inside of him, something he could not begin to understand, and the emotions swelling up were strange and frightening. His limbs trembled slightly, and he felt he must leave the room or faint.
 
Bishop Wilson fixed him with a look that said Did I not warn you, they do not give bishoprics to the holiest man in the parish? Wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove; that is what is necessary to be a Bishop. He continued, sipping his now cold tea, “It took me twenty-eight years to learn this and I will tell you, Reverend, that of all the many regrets I have had in this foolish lifetime of mine, I regret that most deeply. Every day when I wake and every night when I fall asleep I regret that I did not recognise and accept the passion bottled up in my heart. Love I had in abundance, but I could not match it with passion and so I cheated my poor, dear, long-suffering wife of what she was owed.” He paused; his eyes filled with complex emotion. “It took me half a lifetime to understand myself and where my passion lay, Reverend. I pray it does not take you near so long. Twenty-eight years is a terribly long time to wait.”
 
“Terribly long indeed,” said Mr. Patel. He glanced up from his ledgers long enough to smile gently at St. John and look patiently aggrieved at the Bishop, before turning back to his work.
 
And finally, St. John understood.
 
He stood abruptly, stubbornly waving off all further attempts at conversation, promised to return the following evening, and made a hasty goodbye. He could not bear to be in the room another minute. 
 
 
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notes:

red sari – The colour red has complex symbology in Hinduism. It is the preferred hue for wedding saris (where it represents purity), but can also indicate sensuality, passion, fertility, love, or, of course, blood.
 
crimson river – Tuberculosis most commonly presents with symptoms such as fatigue, fevers, a productive cough, and weight loss. Late signs of the disease, when it is further progressed, include night sweats and the coughing up of blood.
 
dharma, samsaraDharma and samsara are very complex concepts. To sum up, very badly, dharma can mean one's personal duties and obligations, according to the natural order of the universe; samsara is the flow of life, the cycle of death and rebirth.
 
he that hath two coats – Luke 3:11.
 
co, cereco, cere is a spurious Latin verb, 3rd declension. It declines like any other 3rd declension verb: in other words, co, cis, cit, cimus, citis, cunt.
 
therefore shall a man cleave – Matthew 19:5.
 
Romans 1:27 – And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burnt in their lust one toward another.
 
 

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John sees the City of Calcutta in a New Light, reflects on the Glorious Complexity of an Orange, and uses his Oratory Skills for Good Purpose.
 
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St. John half-walked, half-stumbled his way down the steps from the rectory, casting about as if he had been abruptly struck blind and mute. He could not set aside what he had just seen and heard; something had happened to him—no, something was happening, happening at that very moment—and he could feel it even though he did not understand what it was or whether it was being done to him, or by him, or in spite of him. So entirely overthrown was he that he could neither think nor speak, and the Bishop's words rang through his ears like the staccato beat of a military drum, mirroring the allegro pulse of his heart.
 
Love the Lord thy God, and love thy neighbour as thyself. The crime of Sodom was pride and selfishness. We are flesh made manifest: take joy in the apple and the ocean wave. Thou art fearfully and wonderfully made. God has not erred in thy making.
 
At the bottom step he paused to draw breath and attempt to recover his bearings. His head was aswim with scraps of feeling and snatches of ideas that could not coalesce themselves into conscious thoughts, with one exception. The most attentive and exacting part of his mind—the part that constantly wondered if he had a morsel of food trapped in his teeth or a button undone on his waistcoat, the part that even in the throes of pleasure whispered how ridiculous you look, St. John, with your parted lips and furrowing brow, and he will mock you if you allow any noise to escape, the part that he hated most of all because it never allowed him to forget himself or just live unthinking—noted that he had managed to avoid tumbling down the stairs. Then he raised his head, and even that part fell silent as the scales fell from his eyes.
 
The city of Calcutta looked as though it had been wrought entirely of gold.
 
As the monsoon season slowly tapered off, the weather became even more fickle and varied than was its wont. At present it could not decide whether to produce rain, or sun, and so settled for both. The rain fell steadily with a gentle but determined patter, too much to set aside parasols but too little to drive the inhabitants indoors; meanwhile the sun, having burnt away much of the haze overhead, lingered behind the remaining clouds and lit them so they shone like silver against the blue sky. The air was fresh and rain-scented with loam, and the cobblestone streets and tin roofs and marble-faced palisades glowed warm and yellow with the late-summer sunlight. He had never before seen the city in such a state, or perhaps he had simply never noticed.
 
He saw soldiers and priests, boulevards and alleys and trees, dingy shops and gilded temples. Storekeepers bartered with townsmen, women drew water from the wells, servants swept the doorstops to fine houses and rickshaws clattered down the wide streets, weaving through cows and school boys and chickens straying from their roost. He watched the bustling confusion that swirled around him, drinking in the sights. What had before been nothing but disorder and chaos now seemed like a grand, stately dance, and he marvelled not at how it ever managed to work, but how infrequently it failed. Dung dropped on the road meant fuel for a cook stove, not a lack of sanitation. Beggars huddled by the temples were not desperate and rejected; rather, society gave them a place to receive alms and they bestowed the blessings of karma in return. Even the weeds growing in cracked stone walls shewed that life itself was so determined, rocks could not stop plants from forcing themselves towards the sun. It took his breath away. Was this what other men saw when they woke in the morning, or looked into the eyes of their wife, or sang a favourite hymn with the choir resounding through the church? He felt as if hithertofore he had viewed the world through a veil of censure and disdain, and now it had been snatched away without warning, leaving him blinking at the daylight. Finally he understood why people spoke so fondly of green grass and the glories of the sky at sunset. Everywhere he looked he saw nothing but loveliness and joy, and grace overflowing. And he had never before noticed how beautiful it all was.
 
St. John was no fool; he realised that Calcutta looked so beautiful not because something had shifted in the city itself but because something had shifted in him. He also realised that this wider perspective could not last, because the tax laid upon seeing such things was the necessity of relinquishing that vision; humans could not live, they would be entirely paralysed by beauty and wonder. Best to enjoy such gifts whilst they lasted. He began to walk.
 
After a full hour of aimless strolling and watching in delight, St. John paused at a street-vendor's cart and bought an orange. He was not hungry; he merely wanted to interact somehow with the surrounding city, rather than just observe it. But his fingers paused as they moved to peel and section it, and he looked more carefully. He thought of the seed that had once grown and after many years become a tree, and the farmer who nourished each of the saplings, hoed and grafted with a thousand years of agricultural wisdom brought about to bear on that one tree. The flower had been fertilised by a bee that simply went about its business, never knowing its larger rôle in the warp and weft of sun, water, and soil. Once pollinated, the flower had produced a fruit which in time swelled and ripened and was picked by the farmer, set gently in a cart, and taken into town over paved streets that were once paths trodden by peasants.
 
What an astonishing thing; how many times I have preached that the very heavens proclaimed the glory of the Lord. But people do not need to look to the heavens to see how wonderful it all is; they could look at a single piece of fruit instead. It is almost odd how such a lovely thing could come from God.
 
To St. John, God had always been a stern and demanding taskmaster, much in the manner of his own father: distant, unbending, disapproving, and grim, never failing to notice each transgression, never hesitating to bring about an exacting punishment in return. There was no warmth, no affection, no fondness. St. John respected God, he feared God, he turned his face away to hide his shame and hoped the relentless Mind of God would not search too thoroughly through his tainted heart. He trembled at the verses about man's sinful nature, retribution for wickedness, and the depravity of unnatural lusts. So much was wrong in him, so many failures, so many flaws, and for each he would receive his full punishment until the sin had been utterly driven out. It terrified him. He suspected that this, in part, was why he had always taken such pains to remonstrate Mary and Diana on their clothing, their manner, the state of their souls and the quality of their minds; he wanted them to be better than he could make himself, to spare them the correction looming over his thin shoulders. If he could not remove himself from God's scrutiny, perhaps he could at least shield others or, better still, keep them on the path so they did not stray and fall under that gaze.
 
But now he knew that such behaviour was not the only way to be a father. Not every father sought flaws and overlooked virtues. Not every father felt the best way to keep a child righteous was by speaking harshly when they strayed and keeping silent when they stayed the course.
 
It was strange to think of how much he felt for one small, talkative girl, whom he had known merely twenty-four hours. Stranger still how desperately he wanted her to be well, and be strong, and be kept free from any sort of harm; these feelings had to be a reflection of what he felt for Cpt. Aquilaine. Thinking of how proud the Captain must have been of Muniya as an infant, never disappointed that his child was a girl, and how gloomy he was Thursday evenings, knowing it would be seven long days before he saw her again, sent a twist of longing and affection through St. John's heart. And if he, who had only met her once, cared so deeply, how immeasurable must be the love her father held for her!
 
And if the love a father felt for his daughter was a mere shadow of the love the Heavenly Father felt for His children, as they struggled through each wearying day, then it did not matter what were his flaws. It did not matter how often he failed or how deeply ingrained were his sinful desires; he could be the least pleasant, least charitable, most wilful, and most selfish man in all of India and that would not keep his Father from loving him less. God might feel less pride, or more displeasure, or a heavy measure of disappointment, but never any less love.
 
He supposed it possible that he was terribly mistaken, that the Lord was indeed more like his own father than Cpt. Aquilaine, who loved his daughter without a trace of shame, without conditions or qualifications, and who would never turn his back on her suffering and say “It is as much as she deserves for her crimes.” Possibly he was deluding himself, trying to escape from the lifetime of toil and deprivation that was the just penalty for any human being so foolish as to be born onto this sinful earth, and God the Father was as he had always imagined, cold and unyielding …
 
But for the orange, wet from the rain and glowing in the sunlight: sweet juice and bitter peel, meat and seed and rind, an entire world bound up into one small orb held in the palm of his hand. Something so exquisite could only have been designed by a Creator who considered it good.
 
When he left England, he had dedicated himself to being an instrument in the Lord's Hands, to be used in whatever way Providence saw fit. Had that same Providence led the Captain to him the very first day he set foot in India, when he was lost and surrounded by orphan children? The lack of parish lodgings, the dreams that plagued his sleep, their stroll through Maidan Park that inspired him to return for the kite festival, the girl in yellow lost in the crowd … far too late he saw it, how everything in the past months had driven them together despite all his efforts to the contrary. St. John could not possibly understand why, unless it was simply to shew him that God had indeed not erred in his making. Or perhaps he would never understand it; perhaps it had nothing to do with him at all. Perhaps everything had happened so Muniya would receive £4,000 and be freed from a hopeless life of debt-bondage and prostitution. Perhaps the entire purpose of his life in Calcutta was to free Tarun, or write a pamphlet about slavery that would inspire a lawmaker to propose abolition, or buy the orange that gave a farmer the final coin needed to complete his beloved daughter's dowry, allowing her to marry the cousin she had played with since childhood, and they would join in union and create another spark of happiness in a world that needed so much …
 
And how would he ever know? He could not see the intent behind all of it—how could he have ever thought otherwise, and been so arrogant as to assume he understood the true purpose of anything, no matter how small—and that was acceptable. Perhaps humans were more like the bees in the orchard, going about their business, firm in their belief that searching for flowers, making honey, returning to the hive and telling other bees of the grove's location was the purpose of the universe, never knowing how their actions were pollinating the tree, helping to create the fruit that was nurtured and ripened and picked and carted into town and sold to an Englishman in an old-fashioned hat who sat on a bench in the rain, making a fool out of himself as he wept and stared at an orange.
 
But if God's Providence had indeed brought the Captain to him, then had he not cast it all aside thoughtlessly, hubris and conceit leading him to believe that he knew exactly what the Lord intended for him? Had his greatest offence against God been to reject the happiness offered to him a hundred different times, in as many different ways?
 
He gave the orange to a beggar on the temple steps. Grand visions must needs be set aside; there was work to do. St. John began to walk once more, still dashing hot tears off his face where they mingled with the afternoon rain, but now his footsteps had a purpose and led him in a very specific direction. And he had always found comfort and purpose in work.
 
Finally he arrived at his destination, Jas. McKenzie's Apothecary. As he started to enter, the most exacting part of his mind spoke up, once more wide awake. Do you not know how odd you look, St. John? You cannot possibly go in there just now. You are soaking and red-eyed; they will think you mad and whisper behind your back.
 
St. John replied, Thank you for your concern. Clearly you feel it necessary to look after my welfare. But I am entering the shop nonetheless, no matter my appearance. There are more important things I must worry about this afternoon.
 
When he emerged some minutes later, he was three guineas poorer and held a small, dense package under one arm, wrapped in a rumpled piece of brown packing paper. The shopkeeper did look at him rather strangely, but had been polite nonetheless. Next his feet carried him back in the direction of the cathedral. He hoped desperately he would not encounter the Bishop during these errands. Outside the haberdashery he paused, and took a mental stock of how much money he had remaining to him: £36, 4d, to his name. Under other circumstances he would have thought this an extravagant amount, but assuming three shawls at five guineas apiece, plus £10 more to ship them all the way back to Morton … he would still have enough. It was not an enormous luxury that he wanted—and had he not just given away £4,600 earlier this afternoon? Perhaps he would need something fine, on occasion. Or perhaps he would buy it for no good reason at all. The bells on the door jingled slightly as he went in, and jingled louder when he exited several minutes later, lighter by two shillings and six pence but having finally exchanged his lappets for the pine-green silken cravat.
 
St. John's footsteps now increased in speed and determination, and although he felt terribly frightened of the potential outcome that lay before him, at least now he would know that he had truly done his best. In fact, certain parts had been trying their best this whole time, just as other parts had been working at cross-purposes to countermand his feeble attempts. But now they were all entirely focused on the goal. He turned his back on the cathedral, diocese offices, the rectory and the haberdashery, and made his way up Wellington St., heading in the direction of the British Officer's East India Club.
 
The Club's appearance had not changed in the last month; it surprised him that it had not, and then he wondered exactly why he thought things would have changed. His presence was by no means integral to the appearance of the foyer. Sanyal, the finest butler in east Calcutta, was regrettably not on duty that afternoon, and he was forced to bribe the footman with an entire ¼ rupee before he would admit that yes, Cpt. Aquilaine was still in residence. Then the footman returned to the important task of cleaning out one ear with a piece of straw, leaving St. John to ascend the stairs on his own.
 
The stairs seemed to go on for a mile, the corridor for two, and the minute it took him to ascend and walk to the last door on the left took an hour in his mind. He stood in front of it, listening, but did not hear movement in the rooms beyond. He hesitated to knock; the Captain would likely turn him away and all would be for naught. But he had to try, he knew he had to try; if he no longer wanted to be as cold, as distant, as calculating as he had been before, then he had to take the risk and start here. He composed himself and stood as straight and tall as his stature would allow, hoping to keep his face impassive.
 
St. John knocked on the door.
 
After a long moment's pause, the only noise being the pounding of blood through his ears, he heard a door opening, footsteps, and then the sound of stumbling and cursing. For the moment he forgot about his predicament and instead worried if the Captain had injured himself or fallen over something.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine, still cursing, jerked the door open in annoyance; St. John tried to remain calm as he watched the Captain's face shift from irritation to surprise. His eyes may have lit up almost imperceptibly, or it might have been the folly of imagination. They stood, looking at each other through the open door for a brief moment, and then the Captain spoke. “Reverend—why are you here? I had not expected … here, will you step in a moment? Please, please come in.” So St. John stepped in, stiff with trepidation, trying not to glance around at the disaster that had befallen Cpt. Aquilaine's sitting room. The Captain noticed his efforts not to stare.
 
“I am sorry for the wretched state of this place,” he said waiving a hand around and running his fingers through his hair, looking harried. “I am trying to pack and it turns out to be far more difficult than I had expected. I have acquired so many bits of furniture and glasses and books and candles and such. I truly have no idea where it has all come from; I do not recall purchasing so many things.”
 
St. John shook his head, amused in spite of himself and not wishing to smile at the chaos. “It does not matter. I had assumed it would be so, since you will be leaving soon.”
 
“Two weeks. You yourself are leaving … sooner, perhaps?”
 
“The ship is set to kedge out Tuesday,” St. John replied. That at least was strictly true.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine started to reply, then thought better of it. All of a sudden St. John could not think of a single thing to say, and in truth could hardly think of a single word at all. He felt paralysed, stricken. The silence became uncomfortably long, and when he glanced at the Captain the Captain's inability to speak appeared to match his own. Then the Captain dropped his gaze slightly and said,
 
“Reverend, are you—” he broke off and took a step closer, reaching out a hand, and St. John felt a rush of heat sweep up through his legs until it reached the very top of his head, flushing his cheeks as it went. Cpt. Aquilaine saw the blush and hesitated whilst St. John's free hand leapt to the cravat about his throat.
 
“That is new, is it not? I have never seen it before—is it green?” Receiving only a nod for reply, he continued, “I did not think I would ever see you wear something so … fashionable.” A flash of regret passed over his features, then was gone.
 
“I have been looking at it every Sunday when I walk to church. Today I decided there would be no harm in purchasing it, so I thought—”
 
“That it was nearly your last day in civilisation, and you had best do your shopping whilst you had the opportunity?” The Captain smiled at last. “I doubt my opinion on the subject will matter, but a touch of colour does suit. You look less, well … my opinion matters not so, ah, would you like a drink?” The last words all came out in an embarrassed rush. He recovered himself and said, “I am glad you have come, truth be told; I was going to write a note of thanks for your help yesterday—it was quite reassuring to know that Muniya was in good company—but this is better than writing since you know my hand is none too elegant.” He cleared a stack of books off one sitting chair and his shako from the other, then waved St. John over. “Brandy?”
 
“Thank you, no, that is, no brandy.” St. John stumbled over the words, flustered at the slight compliment to his outfit, then held out the package under his arm abruptly, “I have brought you something to drink, Captain, if you will take it. I do not know in truth if it is any good, but the man in the shop reassured me it was well-oaked, whatever that may mean.”
 
The Captain removed the bottle from the brown paper and held the label closer to the lamp. “Glenlivet! The man spoke true, it is a fine single-malt.” He carefully peeled away the wax and removed the cork. “Will you stay and share a glass with me?”
 
“A small one, perhaps. I have not had whisky before.”
 
“It is an acquired taste, but a taste worth acquiring if you ask me. Here, sit and I will find the glasses.” So St. John sat, clutching the now-open bottle as if it might shatter at any moment, whilst the Captain rummaged through boxes and drawers, finally returning with his brandy snifters. “These will have to do for now, I'm afraid.” St. John shrugged a little; he did not know enough about alcohol to have the shape of glassware make any appreciable difference.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine poured a fingerful for his guest and two for himself, then held up his glass in salute before taking a small sip. “This is a good whisky, and I have not had it in five years.” He turned to St. John with a puzzled look on his face. “May I ask why I have received this? I very much doubt you simply saw it in a shop and decided to purchase it for me.”
 
St. John stared at the pale liquid in his hand. He took a sip, decided it was a pleasant enough drink, and then pushed ahead. He looked the Captain in the eye and said “Please, consider it an apology. I have much to apologise to you for, and we both know I am not good at that sort of thing, so I thought whisky might grease the wheels, so to speak.”
 
“What are you apologising for, exactly?”
 
“For being cold, and cruel, and too stern, and too swift to judge and find fault, and for implying that you lacked honour, and for insulting your daughter, and for … being intolerable in general. I think that covers nearly the whole of it?” He blinked hard. “I wanted to say it before you left, and to tell you that I regret so deeply my flaws, for they are many, and they have caused so many problems. I fear that if I had been less critical, less severe, then you would have been comfortable telling me about Muniya, and I might have caused you less woe. I regret that most of all because you, in such a short time, shewed me more of happiness and delight than I had ever known before, an entirely different world from the one I knew, and I caused nothing but grief in return. And for that I am sorry, more than you know. Damn.” He searched hastily for a handkerchief before remembering he had never replaced the one that had been tied around Muniya's knee.
 
“Why, St. John!” Cpt. Aquilaine leant forward in his chair; he held out one of his own and St. John took it gladly. He tipped his head in thanks before forcing himself onward.
 
“I have had a full month to do little but brood over what you told me, and I cannot find a single weakness in what you said, unless it was that you focused solely on my faults; I would have preferred you mention my virtues as well, but I have had a hard time finding them myself lately! I will only mention this, then; I do want you to know that I never intended to do evil in withholding mention of the letter from Col. Fitzpatrick. I swear it was an imbecilic attempt to keep from wounding you further; I received mine the same day you did, and you were in such a state that I did not wish to add another ounce of misery to your woes.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine nodded slightly, staring at his whisky. “I feared you had known for weeks and weeks, and had held it close in case the need arose.”
 
“No, I am cold and calculating, but not as bad as all that.”
 
“You did not tell me about your plans to leave for Hill Tippera, however.”
 
St. John nodded and rubbed at his eyes once more. It was strange how easily tears flowed once they had begun, and he was already wrung through by the afternoon. “It was exceedingly foolish of me, and selfish as well, but I knew I would not leave for two months, so I thought to tell you later and have a bit of happiness in the mean time, and try to give you some as well. I did not do it very well, clearly; I have little skill in pleasing others. I knew I had to leave, as I could not cease my sin when I was around you, but it made me so angry having to give you up that I actually fought back, in a way, and I chose to continue sinning whilst I could. And by the time we received those cruel letters, I had decided not to go at all. I could not injure you, and I was so happy myself, every time we were together or even when I merely thought of you!”
 
He broke off, choking, and had to take another sip of whisky before forcing himself to go on. If he accomplished nothing else today he would at least try to mend some of the wounds he had caused. “I would have stayed, if it had not been for everything in Sonagachi, and I blame myself for that, not you. I was too suspicious and quick to judge. But please, Marcus, if it seems at times that I have little regard for the wishes of those around me, that is my own terrible pride stopping up my tongue when I should speak, and letting it loose when I should keep still. I swear I have never thought of you as merely a thing to be used for my own purposes. You were far too … I held you high regard. I still do. I did not mean to toy so with your affections. Please believe me.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine looked at him, and St. John saw hurt, sorrow and understanding all bound up together in his expressive eyes. “I am glad to hear you say this, St. John. It does me good, to hear it was not as deliberate as it felt from my end. I do wish we could have talked more, and that you could have told me this, any of this, whilst we were still intimates. But that is in the past, now.” He shifted, settled down further in his chair and rubbed his leg with a fist. St. John watched as he did so, half his mind on the present and half on how to approach his next topic of conversation, when he noticed something that had been at the back of his mind during the festival.
 
“Your cane! I did not see it yesterday; nor do I see it now. What has happened?”
 
The Captain gave a rueful sort of laugh. “I do not take it with me when I go about town with Muniya; she is too fast for me, and I cannot manage her with one hand and a cane with the other. When Harjinder was stronger we would all go out, and it was easier with two of us watching her, but lately I have left it behind and simply paid the price afterwards. Thank you again, by the way. You do not have children, and you cannot know what a state I was in when I looked up from my conversation and found she had vanished into the crowd.”
 
“You are her father. I imagine your highest concern is for her wellbeing.” St. John saw his opening and decided to take it. “There is one other thing I hoped to speak to you about today, and it concerns her.”
 
 “Go on.” The Captain looked wary.
 
“My hope—my intention—is simply to ease her future a little. Let me explain. Before I came here, my sisters and I waited in expectation for an inheritance from an uncle. We had little to support ourselves on, and our family's land and my parish provided only the most basic needs: plain clothes, simple living, and a single maid. My sisters were forced to live away from home as governesses in order to maintain themselves. Then our cousin Jane came to us quite unexpectedly, when all the family thought she had vanished. And when the uncle passed on, who did the inheritance all go to but … Jane! All hopes were dashed, but of course we tried our best to be glad with her. When she learnt what had happened, she refused to keep the money and insisted on sharing it equally amongst us. Can you imagine? My sisters were able to stop working and come home, and I had the means to fund my trip here!”
 
“I had no idea you were in possession of so much money,” Cpt. Aquilaine muttered. “Perhaps I should have let you pay for ale more often.”
 
St. John smiled and waved off the suggestion. “It has never signified greatly, not for me at any rate. Money is important, naturally, but it is especially so for a woman. My sisters had no dowry or income, beyond the pittance they made as governesses, and so they had no prospects. £5,000 apiece freed them from the burden of dependency and provided them each with a steady income. And this is what I wished to speak to you on: I want for Muniya to have something similar; with your consent, I will give my inheritance over to her until she reaches majority, unless there is some grave need beforehand.”
 
And I do hope you will consent, Captain, because if you refuse this offer I shall give her the money nevertheless.
 
The effect St. John's statement had on Cpt. Aquilaine was dramatic; the Captain stared slack-jawed, shaking his head side-to-side not as if to refuse, but as if it was impossible to grasp what had just been said to him. He collapsed back in the chair, launched himself forward until he had gone nearly off it and onto the carpet, and then fell back once more whilst finishing his whisky in a single gulp.
 
“You wish to do what?”
 
“I wish to give her my inheritance; it amounts to £4,000. She needs more to live on than what you can simply send her if she is to have any education, or any dowry, or any maintenance to live off when she is older.” He tried to keep his voice level and reasonable; if it seemed too extravagant, he knew Cpt. Aquilaine would reject it out of hand.
 
“Good God, St. John! That would be the whole of your inheritance, would it not?”
 
“The largest part of it, yes.” He sipped primly at his own glass.
 
“For God's sake, why would you do that? What are you thinking?”
 
“I have just told you, Marcus! Because I am a man, an Englishman, educated and independent, and as a reverend I shall always have a means of supporting myself. It is hard for a woman to make an honest living, doubly so if she is not educated towards that end. They must rely on their menfolk for support, and they are terribly restricted by society as to how they can earn a livelihood. We are very cruel to them in certain ways. This will help her, will it not?” Unspoken between both of them was the sentiment that, if Muniya had expectations and income, she would be far less likely to fall into the life her mother lived.
 
“I cannot believe you would do such a thing for my daughter. I cannot. You have only known her, and known of her, since yesterday!” His voice fell to just above a whisper. “I do not know what to say, St. John, and I have half a mind to forbid it. A thank you would be a mockery of my gratitude. But I cannot repay you. Neither of us ever could. My family shall be in your debt forever.”
 
St. John shook his head gently. “One of the first things you ever said to me, Captain, was this: 'There is no debt amongst friends.' But if you cannot accept friendship with me, and I fully understand that sentiment, perhaps you could consider it a just repayment for the myriad things you have shewn me and taught me? I wish I had time to tell you all I have been thinking on and realising … All I ask in return is permission to look in on her from time to time and see how she fares. Perhaps it will ease your mind a little, whilst you are in Kabul, knowing there is someone here besides her mother who will keep an eye on her. And she is so charming and lively, and has so much of you in her, that the occasional visit would be a delight, not a chore.”
 
There was a brief pause as Cpt. Aquilaine started and stopped numerous words, as though he could not decide how to respond or which of St. John's many statements to respond to. Finally he settled on the most obvious puzzle. “Do you intend to travel back from Hill Tippera every fourth month, to go and visit a girl whom you have met yesterday? Surely I am misunderstanding you.”
 
“No, you are not. I am not going to Hill Tippera, Captain. I am staying in Calcutta.”
 
“But when last I saw you—last before yesterday, that is—you said you were going for certain, to start a parish. Did you speak false to me?”
 
“No, I had every intention of going; I felt I had to get away or risk my very soul. But I spoke to the Bishop earlier today over tea, and it came up in the course of conversation—many things did—and when he learnt that much of my motivation for leaving the city was not in truth to follow God's Will but to simply break off my affections with you, he became … less inclined to have me leave. Disinclined, actually. I suspect I will end up teaching at the Bow Bazar Secondary School after all.”
 
“After all that, you are back where you started.” The Captain's face was unreadable. His voice grew quiet. “And now that I shall be leaving, you will be able to stay.”
 
Lord, Thou hast blessed Thy servant with many talents. Please, Father, give Thou aid to me as I use them now.
 
“I do not wish that were the case, Captain. It makes me quite sad. You are such a good man to talk to, and it eases my heart like nothing else. Of all the losses I feel, the loss of your friendship and our conversations may be what I mourn the most.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine, always true to form, could not resist the opportunity. “I admit I did not think my powers of language were my most compelling feature.”
 
Also true to form, St. John blushed. “Please note my words. Conversation may be what I mourn most. Not all of me is in equal agreement on that statement.”
 
“So you are saying that for all you enjoy my language, certain aspects would prefer my tongue.”
 
Then they both laughed, and the last shreds of tension vanished from their shoulders and faces. They became comfortable in one another's company once more, and fell into their old patterns of speech as if they had never been apart. “My dear Captain, you cannot know how many times this past month those certain aspects have reproached me for my foolishness and, more significantly, my lack of adventure. Once a new opportunity has flown away and shall not return, how small become the surrounding concerns, and how large the imagined benefits! Yes, you could say that aspects of that self remain in rather deep mourning for their loss.”
 
“Those poor aspects! How shall they ever be consoled?”
 
“Not terribly willingly, I can assure you of that.” It was now St. John's turn to be rueful. “And would you believe how much that has taught me in turn? I do not mean like that, thank you.” He could not help but laugh again at the expression on the Captain's face. “I mean this: not all physical passions are equal. Not every act has proved itself base in my mind! Fornicating is a simple release, similar to onanism, and I am not certain of the value in it. We can learn much when we practice self-control. But sometimes … sometimes intimacies are merely a different way of making manifest those feelings which are so difficult to put into word, or another way of appreciating the Lord's creation!”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine raised an eyebrow at him. “I am quite certain you have never said such a thing before, Reverend, and I frankly cannot believe that you might actually think that. All your talk about rising above our physical natures, where has that gone to? You have already had too much whisky.”
 
“I told you I have been to the Bishop's for tea,” St. John replied innocently. “We talked of many things. He is, as I learnt, of the opinion that the Lord would be offended if you picked a ripe apple and merely thought about how fresh it smelt and how sweet it tasted, without actually ever, that is, tasting it.”
 
“I find myself strangely fond of this bishop. Did he impart more wisdom?”
 
St. John turned serious once more. “I wish I had time and opportunity to tell you all that I have learnt today. I can scarcely wrap my head around it. If I thought on it for a year I suspect I would understand but a small portion of it. Would you like to hear a little of it now?”
 
“Perhaps I would.” The Captain poured them both another finger of the whisky, and St. John mentally flinched. The Glenlivet had cost him a full three guineas, one guinea more than he had paid for his Sunday clothes. He hoped they would not end up drinking a quarter of it that afternoon. They toasted again, clinking their glasses together this time, and St. John forged ahead.
 
“As you no doubt know, we Christians are called to love God. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. But my entire life I have approached the Lord with fear and shame, and because I felt there would be grave penalties if I did not obey. I have tried to compel my mind to feel affection, or gratitude, or fondness, or any fair thing towards the Creator, but I could not do it. I have never once actually loved God. Imagine! The greatest commandment of all, and I have not done it once! And truly, how can I? How can I feel love for a Being with no limbs to embrace, no face to smile upon, no voice that whispers consoling words in time of trouble? How can I love what I cannot touch or see or talk with at night?
 
“Think, then: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Perhaps we humans can only fulfil that first commandment by following the second. Loving one another. What if, instead of ruining myself trying to love God, I simply love another person? Find someone, love him as deeply as I can bear it, with as much honesty and generosity as I can manage, and then whisper a thank you to the One who had created us both? It would be far better than I have managed heretofore.”
 
St. John had been staring out the dingy window during this whole speech; his clenched hands threatened to shatter the snifter were clenched into fists and his whole body had gone tense with emotion. He was suddenly reminded of his very first night with the Captain, in that selfsame room, when he had declared his passion to follow the Lord wherever He might lead. How badly he had failed in that goal. When finally he dared look up and meet the Captain's eye once more, he found he could not because the Captain was now staring intently at the floor.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine spoke then, and his voice was unexpectedly harsh. “So what I am to do with your grand, newfound knowledge, Reverend? Why share this with me?”
 
“Because I have a request, Marcus. And it is a simple one, although I know it will not be easy for you to fulfil.” He leant forward and placed his hand on top of the Captain's, then looked him in the eye with as direct a gaze as he could manage. “Let me speak for five minutes, and then I swear to you I will be done with talking, and if it is what you wish then you will hear from me no more. But please give me five minutes first.”
 
The Captain did not pull his hand away, but neither did he give a yea or nay. St. John did not move either, merely continuing to gaze up at him. Finally Cpt. Aquilaine gave a single slow nod, just one, and St. John reluctantly withdrew his hand, folding them in his lap to restrain his greedy fingers. He felt he could touch the Captain for a year and not grow weary of the contact.
 
“What I have to say is this: my passion is to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord, to be used in whatever way He deems best. Your passion, as I think I finally understand it in full, is to earn for your family the honour that had been lost in past generations, restore it to its former glory (if possible), and to prove to yourself that you are a better man than your father was. And why do you want all these things? For your beloved uncle, yes, and for yourself, but mostly you want them for Muniya. And what father would not? But hear me out. I will not comment on money, as I find it rather less important than most people do, but I can speak about honour and character. It seems to me that all your soldierly instincts have blinded you to what lies so close to your hands that if you but uncurl your fists and stretch out your fingers, you cannot help but touch it! Your chance to reclaim your family's honour and to prove to yourself a good man, better than your father, will not come on a battlefield; it has already been offered to you. I think it is your daughter, your Maina-bird.
 
“Here is my reasoning. What you suffered as a child, and continue to feel keenly even today, cannot be undone. Your best hope is to halt your family's particular misery before it wounds another generation of innocents, and you have the unique power to give to Muniya what you never had yourself. Whilst my inheritance can keep her from falling into the cycle of debt-bondage and prostitution her mother still suffers under, only you, of all people on this planet, can save her from the shame-filled state that you yourself were forced to endure. I beg you, stay here with her! Raise her well, be the sort of man she will be proud to call 'Papa,' and she will never care about her parentage or her illegitimacy. Then she will be free from her father's burdens as well as her mother's. It is not the glories of battle, with clashing swords and bayonets; it is something far harder and slower and you will not be awarded a medal for valiant service at the end of it. But you will have her, and she will consider you the finest father that any girl has ever had.
 
“When I came to Calcutta, I was so certain that I knew how the Lord intended to use me, and I have been absolutely wrong on every count. You cannot know how dearly I wish I had learnt that sooner. In all likelihood I shall regret it forever. I do not want you to do the same.” He reached over once more, and once more set his hand on the Captain's. “That is all I have to say on the matter. You were good to listen to it. I know these sort of words are not to your liking.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine snatched his hand away and grabbed St. John's in a crushing grip before St. John could so much as pull away in surprise. The strength of those fingers almost brought tears of a different sort to the Reverend's eyes.
 
“Damn you! Do you presume I leave her and go to Afghanistan for a lark? I was happy, I wanted to stay—” His voice was thick with anger, and St. John had to grit his teeth against the pain. “Almost. In truth, I was somewhat happy, but Calcutta has been a lonely place apart from you and Muniya, and I worried you would not long tolerate me, with all your talk about how we sinned every time we came together. Certain acts were sin, and certain thoughts were sin, and in short, everything that gave me joy was sin. So when you mentioned that Lord Elphinstone was in town, I contacted him to enquire if he could use my skills, fearing you would soon cut me off. And I was entirely correct! I left for honour, yes, and improvement of station, but primarily I left because of you. Now you remain; have you also decided you were wrong about all that sinfulness?”
 
“Good heavens, no. Such intimacies between men are still a sin. The Bishop argues otherwise, but I am convinced he is misguided; the Scriptures are quite clear on it. ”
 
The Captain's manner turned cool and he released St. John's hand abruptly. “Then whether you stay or go matters not to me.”
 
“Forgive me if I do not explain well, but I shall make the effort. I want you to understand this, Marcus. Why are we commanded to love God and to love one another? What is the purpose? Because God loves us like a father, and we cannot understand what that means if we ourselves do not know how to love. For a long time I could not comprehend it, but now I am beginning to see! You might feel annoyance toward Muniya, or disappointment, or even embarrassment, but you could never feel any less love, no matter what she does. Likewise God the Father loves me, despite my transgressions. And that is a very good thing, for we are all born into sin and there is no purely good action, nothing that is not tinged with wickedness. We must try to do good but ultimately it is an expression of our love for Him and nothing more.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine finished his second glass of whisky more swiftly than the first. He looked as miserable as St. John had ever seen him. “So, after all that talk, we arrive at the heart of the matter, and it is thus: you have finally learnt to love God. My congratulations, Reverend … but what of me? Why do you bother to tell me such things?”
 
St. John smiled then, as he had not smiled in an entire month. So many words between them, and these next words were the only ones that truly signified. “Because that is not the heart of the matter. This is what I have finally learnt: I love you, Marcus Aquilaine. You have shown me how, and now my heart loves you, my mind loves you, and my body loves you. I am a better person for knowing you, and my feelings are so strong that I could express them a hundred different ways and still want to say it, every hour of every day. I can hardly stop thinking of being with you, even now, and I no longer fear that our Heavenly Father will cast me off for it. I will serve God, but I will also sin boldly, so long as it is with you, because now I know: it is not the sin but the with you that is most important to me.”
 
He was weeping yet again; he had lost count for the day. He reached for the handkerchief once more, but never managed to dry his tears; Cpt. Aquilaine reached one long arm over and snatched the scrap of cloth away before St. John could press it to his eyes. St. John followed the path of the handkerchief from whence it had come, to where the Captain was dabbing at his own wet cheeks.
 
“My poor handkerchief! It does not work as well when it is already damp,” he complained. “Well, one must do one's best, I suppose.” He handed the cloth back when it was thoroughly sodden. “I shall not apologise for its condition; you are entirely to blame, St. John.”
 
“Have I convinced you, then?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine took up St. John's hand and kissed it gently. “Did you ever doubt it? Since the day I met you, I have always known: you have a way with words, Reverend.”
 
 
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notes:
 
allegro – another musical tempo; fast or lively.
 
fertilised by a bee – The rôle of insects in plant fertilisation was first proposed by Christian Sprengel in the late 18th century; although he published his theories in 1793, they were never translated from German to English, and no-one seemed much inclined to believe him, at any rate. Darwin took up the issue once more in the 1840s and in 1861 published Fertilisation of Orchids, at which point everyone was more prepared to accept his ideas on pollination.
 
Regrettably, I did not learn this fairly critical piece of information until well after I had written this chapter; I decided, amidst much hand-wringing, that I was far too fond of St. John's meditation on the rôle of bees to abandon the metaphor. To gloss merrily over the inconsistency, then, I told myself that as a young Cambridge scholar, St. John had encountered and read some Sprengel whilst attempting to improve his German. The beauty of writing is that occasionally one can get away with such deceptions.
 
guinea – The guinea was an old British coin with a value of 21 shillings, last issued in 1816. (British currency was 12 pence to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound, until decimalisation in 1971 simplified everything rather dramatically.) However, the concept remained in use for more than a hundred years after the coin was withdrawn from circulation, as it had by that time taken on an aristocratic tone. Professional salaries were often paid in guineas, and luxury items still had their prices listed in guineas, even though the payment itself had to come in pounds.
 
Glenlivet – This whisky (technically named “The Glenlivet”) has been in near-continuous production since 1824, with one brief but understandable pause for WWII.
 
Thou shalt love the Lord … love thy neighbour as thyself – Matthew 22:37-39.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John effects a Reconciliation, renews his Acquaintanceship with Cpt. Aquilaine, and discovers the Merits of Honesty and Openness.
         
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Most people, when faced with a seemingly desperate and insurmountable task, focus all their energies on achieving the goal and spare no time or effort thinking on what might come next; should the task come to a happy fruition, more often than not they find themselves pulled up short, as if they were descending a staircase in the dark and miscounted, their foot braced for one last step where there was only landing below. This is often the case for a happy couple on the day after their wedding, when they wake in each other's arms after a first night of hopefully-blissful union, and realise that their lives have been directed at the achievement of matrimony. And what then happens afterwards?
 
In all the talk of affection, romance, blushing maidens and bashful suitors, strategically-filled dance cards, coy looks over whist and whispered secrets amongst the other young people in their set—has he thought of me? Did he notice my bonnet? Should I ask her to sketch my profile? If I propose, will she refuse?—never once did the subject come up of what happened once the cake is eaten, the weeping mothers comforted, and the chapel swept and locked up for the night. After all, every happy book ends the same way: proposal, acceptance, marriage. If the book is of a more dramatic or lurid nature, the journey to that ending may change, but not by much: proposal, rejection, disaster, rescue, proposal, acceptance, marriage. No one ever talks about how the children are to be named, or what furniture would look best in the summer sitting room, or what to say when Mr. spends too much time at the public house, discussing hunting dogs, or when Mrs. takes an overly-enthusiastic interest in the genealogies of the royal family. And by then it is far too late; the vows cannot be unexchanged, the banns unread. The happy couple must come to learn, in their own time and under their own terms, that if they are to remain happy, they must struggle their own way through.
 
In this respect St. John and Cpt. Aquilaine could not claim superiority over their fellow man. When the Captain's intimate proposals became too bold, St. John rejected them entirely. Then followed the disastrous meeting in Sonagachi, culminating in a month of utter separation, as definitive as could be imagined; neither held any hope of reconciliation, neither so much as considered it. But then St. John rescued Muniya from the crowds at the kite festival, earning the Captain's favour once more, and when he repented his failures and proposed a renewal of their friendship, Cpt. Aquilaine accepted it with a willing heart. This left only one minor obstacle to be overcome.
 
Neither man had the faintest idea of what to do next.
 
St. John sat unmoving with closed eyes, unable to focus on anything more significant than the sensation of Cpt. Aquilaine's lips on his hand. He did not pray, not with formed words or conscious thought, but every fibre of his being thrummed with a gratitude stronger than he had ever experienced before, towards what or whom or Whom he could not say. His head spun; he could not believe all that had just transpired. When finally he opened his eyes again, suddenly aware of how he must look, he was relieved to see the Captain in much the same state. He laughed a little in embarrassment and withdrew his hand.
 
“Well! I will confess I did not exactly anticipate your acceptance. I was quite braced up for sorrow and refusal, and was half-planning to never see you again. Now I do not know what to do with myself. Part of me wishes to run up and down the streets like a school boy, and part of me wishes to say 'there, we are set to rights', and take a stately walk around the neighbourhood!” A grin spread across his face, foolishly, and he could not seem to stop it, nor quell the liquid heat that now flowed through his veins. “I do not know what to do with myself,” he said once more, wondrously, and then laughed a little harder. It seemed appropriate. “What shall I do? What shall we do?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine also began to laugh then, a deeper and richer laugh than St. John's, spilling forth with a great swelling joy. “I could not say! I can think of a hundred things I would be happy to do at this moment, and not all of them are appropriate, and not all are polite. Several of them are altogether impossible. But there is one in particular that I like very much, and it seems the best out of all the ideas I hold at present. Yes, I think it would work.”
 
“Then you are far more clear-headed than I! Pray share it with me, or I shall simply sit here and stare at the carpeting for wont of a better idea.”
 
“Would you really do that?”
 
St. John nodded vigorously, feeling a bit giddy. “My instinct is to have a most serious discussion, right here and now, on what must yet be agreed upon and clarified so there cannot be any misunderstanding. And I suspect that is not the best course. So tell me of your fine idea! I am most curious.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine stood swiftly, nearly bounding out of his chair, and hauling the Reverend up by the hand as he did so. St. John had no time to think of anything beyond a swift I had forgotten just how much taller he is than I before the Captain was kissing him, as greedily as if he had been submerged for a month and, having finally broken the surface, was now taking in that first desperate gasp of air. Then St. John noticed that he, in return, was kissing the Captain with the thirst of a man who, adrift at sea and surrounded for 30 days by the torments of salt, comes upon an island with a bubbling spring of sweet water. All too soon, Cpt. Aquilaine broke away, breathing heavily.
 
“Before anything else happens, I have a request. Everything that you have just said to me, I want you to say it again. And briefly this time, please.” St. John looked so disordered that he repeated himself. “Say it all again; I must hear it from your lips one more time.”
 
At last the Reverend understood. “Gladly, Marcus, gladly! Here is what I said, in brief: I am sorry. I intend to give Muniya my inheritance. I am not leaving Calcutta. I love you.”
 
“When you cast me off last month, you said you loved me 'perfect tense: complete'. That has changed entirely, then?” The Captain's eyes still shewed anxiety, and St. John hastened to reassure.
 
“I am sorry, more than I can ever say. I did not understand the depth of my feelings even slightly, and so I spoke very false in my efforts to convince myself that I did not care for you. But even then it was not perfect tense. Since we first met, I think, it has been nothing but present tense: ongoing, 'I love you', and now there is the future tense, 'I will continue to love you', to add as well.” His voice was tinged with awe. “But what I cannot understand is how you could feel that way about me. I can brood for weeks over things said or unsaid. You are so marvellous, Marcus! You have a wonderful depth of passion, but it does not rule you, and as strongly as you feel your emotions, you can set them aside so lightly!”
 
“Less lightly than you think sometimes, Reverend. I am still angry and hurt in measure, and I think we will both need time to let old wounds heal and regain a full trust in one another. But I never managed to set aside my affection for you and so, for the moment, knowing that when I say 'I love you' it will be returned in kind makes me almost rapturously happy.”
 
“I would like to simply be happy for a few minutes, like you. But already I am thinking, and I can hardly ever stop. Make me stop, please.” So Cpt. Aquilaine kissed him again, as it seemed the most pleasurable way either of them could spend their time.
 
Finally St. John drew away. “This was not quite how I had anticipated spending my afternoon!” Fearing that sounded unfriendly, he added, “Certainly I am not complaining, mind you. This is far finer than a day alone with my books. I am wrung through, however, and am beginning to be famished, as well … I will think much more clearly, on everything, if I could just manage a bite to eat. Are you hungry?”
 
“Ravenous, St. John, absolutely starving. But I am at such odds and ends today,” he griped, casting his gaze about the disastrous sitting room in despair, “and you are correct in that we must talk, as we have much to set to rights and much to consider. Can you give me a little time to finish a few tasks? I have not yet even made my bed for the day.”
 
The Reverend's mouth went dry at the mention of the Captain's bed, so he merely gave a terse nod and waited until he could speak calmly once more. “I think that is a fine idea; clearly we will have much to discuss, concerning past conduct and future, and what each of our intentions are. Shall we meet back up in an hour?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine agreed willingly. “We can meet at the Elephant & Crown, if you like; it is quieter on Sunday afternoons.”
 
“You are certain?”
 
“Oh yes—are you?”
 
“Quite.” St. John found himself suddenly shy, like an awkward youth who grows bashful in the presence of his heart's desire. “Shall I … see you in an hour then?”
 
“I hope so, Reverend.”
 
“You will, Captain.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine escorted him to the door, hesitated before turning the knob, and then kissed the Reverend on the cheek before turning back to his sitting room.
 
“See you in an hour.”
 
“I will be there.” St. John walked down the corridor in a daze, descending the stairs and exiting the foyer without so much as a glance at the footman. Forever afterwards, when the Captain would ask where he had gone or what he had done with that hour, St. John always gave the same response: “I cannot recall”. He took a stroll—he knew that much—but as to where he travelled, or what he saw, he could not say. Other than an overwhelming sense of joy, and the queer sensation of having feet that did not touch the cobblestones, not a single moment of that hour stayed with him. Some part of his mind—likely the most exacting part—paid attention, enough so that when the hour's end drew to a close he discovered that, rather felicitously, he was only a short distance from the Elephant & Crown.
 
He hastened in, dreading the crowds of their last visit, but the public house was indeed much less busy than previously. It took but a single glance to spot Cpt. Aquilaine in a far corner, sitting at a small and otherwise-empty table, two tankards in front of him. St. John made every effort not to run over to him like an excitable schoolboy.
 
“You are already here, Marcus! Am I late?”
 
The Captain gave him a tight, forced grin, and St. John was pulled up short by the worry in his eyes. A hint of uncertainty washed over him, and it was an effort to keep his voice light and cheery.
 
“I do hope you have not changed your mind in the past hour,” he joked feebly. “Or am I indeed terribly late?”
 
“Not at all. I simply finished my business sooner than expected, and wished to take some fresh air. Here, food will be a few minutes and in the mean time, I have got you Indian pale ale rather than small beer. Do you mind?”
 
“Of course not, thank you.” The Reverend could not help but notice how only the latter of his questions had been answered. He set it aside when the Captain proposed a toast to renewed friendship, and they drank easily to the sentiment; once done, however, neither man spoke. As the silence grew long, they began to sip their beers intently and with great purpose, as if they each had urgent things to say and would be saying them immediately, except that they were even more occupied by the ales.
 
The taste of St. John's beer carried him back to the Colonel's estate, to the day when he had drunk his first pale ale by the lake and watched the Captain swim. That night, of course, his hidden feelings had begun to make themselves known. It occurred to him then that as their relationship became more established, they could have honest discussions of the past as well as the future, and he began to warm to the thought of telling Cpt. Aquilaine of that day, to see what he might make of the memory—
 
He was swaying one knee back and forth, and his leg kept brushing against the Captain's, under the table. St. John did not notice they were touching until Cpt. Aquilaine pulled his own legs back with a jerk, muttering an apology for being overly-forward. St. John stared at him, confused, and began to wonder if he had done or said something wrong. The Captain's mood was altered considerably from an hour past; his previous elation had given way to hesitancy and a crestfallen slump in his shoulders.
 
“Are you well, Marcus? An hour ago you were nearly jubilant, and now you are positively glum.”
 
The Captain cleared his throat, shook himself off, and took another long sip at his ale. “I must start by telling you that truly, I am happy beyond description that you are staying in Calcutta, and that everything you have said to me today is … well, I cannot describe that either. I do not think I have felt like this since Muniya was born and I first held her in my arms.” He again grinned at the Reverend, quickly, and just as quickly it faded. “But neither shall I pretend everything is fine. You managed to wound me quite deeply, and I made my own rash decisions in consequence. Neither of us behaved well. So I am compelled to say: as much as we may wish to be together, it might very well be impossible.” St. John felt a spark of fear creep into the base of his stomach. All the joy of the afternoon seemed to be slipping through his fingers, and he hastened to convince the Captain that their friendship would succeed.
 
“Marcus, there is little I want more in this world than to make full and proper reparations to you, and to enjoy our former closeness once more. I shall take as long as necessary to achieve that. And please know this: however reluctant I have been in the past, I am not now. I almost believe God has given me this, as He gave you Muniya, and I dare not reject it a second time. I am a very stubborn man, and I intend to shew you just how resolute I can be.”
 
The corners of Cpt. Aquilaine's mouth curled up, but so weakly that St. John shivered as the cold fear began to increase in both size and strength.
 
“What is it, Captain? What worries you so—is it me? I hope you are not concerned about keeping me content. Even if we are never more than mere friends again, I will still wake every day with gratitude in my heart, glad for the chance to talk with you. I cannot tell you how much I have missed your agreeability, listening ear, and warm spirit.”
 
These words were well-received, but the moment Cpt. Aquilaine opened his mouth to Reply, the bar maid arrived with two plates of toad-in-the-hole. Both men seemed glad for the interruption (St. John, in particular, had eaten nothing but porridge and a few tea cakes that day), and for the next few minutes they focused entirely on their food and drink. As they were scraping the last crumbs off their plates, St. John roused his courage and again asked,
 
“Please, what disturbs you? I pray, tell me. I want to be content, sitting here with you, but I am uneasy. There is more on your mind, is there not?”
 
The Captain sighed and gave St. John a rueful look. “I do have much on my mind today, and an empty stomach always makes that situation considerably worse. But now I feel well-braced by the food—little bests toad-in-the-hole for improving my outlook—so thank you for your patience. There is indeed more I must say, two things of critical importance, but first I want to assure you that I also dearly desire a resumption of the happiness we used to share. Please believe me on that.” He strove to look encouraging before he continued, “Now, the two things. First, I cannot possibly accept the funds you wish to give to Muniya.”
 
St. John sputtered in protest. “You must! I have thought and prayed over it, and it is the best course.”
 
“No, it is not. It is impossible; even the suggestion shames me. It would be a daily reproach, having my daughter dependent on another man's generosity. And if I had any wealth of my own, you would not feel the need to do such a thing. Reverend, you are kindly but I would accept funds for Muniya from my uncle before I would accept them from you!”
 
“Has your uncle ever offered?” St. John pointed out (rather reasonably, he thought).
 
Cpt. Aquilaine squirmed in his chair. “My uncle does not know about her.”
 
“You have never told him? Good God, Marcus! Why on earth not?” Shock made the Reverend's voice sharp.
 
“How could I? It would break his heart, to see the way I have repeated all of my father's mistakes. If I can make enough of a name for myself, then—” He clenched his teeth together to keep from finishing the sentence.
 
St. John pressed ahead with his case, sensing weakness. “If she has no family support back in England, then it is more urgent than ever that she have something to fall back upon. Do not look at it as charity. It is a gift for her future, and she is more than worth it.”
 
“Reverend, you wonderful daft man, I do not argue with the claim that she is worthy of it. I personally find her to be the best, cleverest, and most pretty girl in the whole of India. But you have only known of her for a little more than a day, and the one time you met her she was reasonably well-behaved. You have not seen her in a temper. Anyhow, you know full well that I am easily as proud as you are, and so I will not allow it, not under any circumstances.”
 
“Please do not take this away from me, Marcus! Do you not see it?” St. John nearly bit his tongue in frustration. “I do not want to be that hard-hearted man anymore. I want to learn how to be gracious, less fearful and less grasping. I feel I must do this and do it quickly, or I shall miss my chance! Very soon, I will begin to convince myself that I am being impulsive, and I shall keep some for myself, or keep all under the guise that I would be more responsible with it.”
 
“Give the money to an orphanage, then, if you feel you must rid yourself of it.”
 
“There are many places worthy of my money, Captain. Orphanages, temperance societies, missions, schools … ” his voice trailed off to a whisper. “I do not wish to give it to any of those places.”
 
“Why Muniya, then? What could she matter to you?”
 
“I do not know where this depth of affection comes from, truly. I have no experience with children, and I do not understand it.” St. John spread his hands out helplessly. “It is true, what you say, that I cannot possibly feel so much for her after one hour's meeting. But she chatters on like you do and she laughs like you as well. Perhaps it is because I see so much of you reflected in her that I have this strange fondness for her?” He nodded as the idea solidified in his mind. “Yes, perhaps that is indeed it. I am so sad, when I think of you and the yoke you struggle under every day, being a natural son and never having the claim to a good family name as I do. And I cannot heal that wound, and I cannot sooth over the old hurts of a childhood spent shamed by your parents when you should have been happy and carefree. Possibly I wish to help spare her that, if I cannot spare you. Or it may be much more straightforward! It could be as simple as this: she has your eyes. And I would give dearly to have them smile at me.”
 
The Captain smiled at him then, and the knot in St. John's chest eased a little. “I think I understand better now. But the idea still sits poorly with me, and I am so disordered over so many things. Let us take it up later, when I am in a better frame of mind, and perhaps we can come to a compromise.”
 
St. John sighed but agreed. “We can return to it another time, if you like. I understand your concerns, of course, but please do not let your own pride get in the way of her prospects. What is the other thing you speak about?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine grimaced and pushed his fork around on his plate. He opened his mouth as if to speak, pinched his lips together tightly, darted out his hand to clasp St. John's across the table—and stopped, fingertips grazing the Reverend's knuckles before he pulled back. “It is a heavy matter, not fit to discuss here. Shall we go? We can talk more on it as we walk, and I begin to feel quite restless.” He lifted the tankard to drink, found it already empty, and lowered it in disappointment.
 
Downing the last of his own ale, St. John stood to pay the fare. He deeply wanted to be away, to learn what was bothering his friend, to make straight the path for a return to mutual happiness, and to go back to the moment when they had been comfortable in each other's presence. “By all means, let us go then. I too am beginning to fidget. We shall clear the air, once and for all.” Cpt. Aquilaine looked as though he were about to respond, but he simply nodded meekly. The Reverend's heart sank again, and he followed the Captain out blindly, far more sombre than he had entered.
 
As they started to walk, St. John reached over and gripped Cpt. Aquilaine by the elbow, hoping the gesture would give reassurance to both of them. “So what is this other topic you wish to consider? What is this heaviness hanging over you?”
 
The Captain gave him a fleeting look of agitation, but he did not reply, or clasp St. John's hand in return, or pull his arm back; he merely turned his face away. Eventually, St. John dropped his hand, fear gnawing at him once more; it was as if they had never reconciled at all. All amiability seemed lost to them; he could not understand it, and the wonder of the day slowly faded.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine must have known how odd his behaviour had become, because he finally began to speak, sounding confident and casual despite the trouble in his eyes. But they discussed nothing of consequence—merely society gossip and yesterday's kite festival—and even this most flimsy of conversations came in such stiff and stilted phrases that it seemed all normal speech was lost to them entirely. St. John became particularly tongue-tied the moment he realised he was simply following Cpt. Aquilaine wherever he led, assuming that they would both return to the Club, and that he would then be invited up. Such a presumption was foolish in light of how estranged they suddenly seemed to be from one another; furthermore, he wanted to hear from his friend's lips that he was welcome, rather than push himself forward. He kept glancing at the Captain, waiting for him to ask the Reverend to come back with him, or to at least make mention of the 'heavy matter'; the Captain very resolutely said nothing of the sort. Feeling desperate, St. John finally broached the first subject in the most roundabout way he could effect.
 
“Marcus, perhaps we should talk a little further on our friendship, and how we might like things to be in the time to come.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine replied so swiftly that it was clear he had been thinking similarly. “I absolutely agree. It is most necessary that we be plain, and honest, and upfront about what we want. I do not think either of us could easily bear a repeat of previously.” He looked expectantly at St. John, who looked expectantly back at him; both patently hoped the other would initiate the conversation. Neither spoke another word, and the silence loomed between them. They walked on.
 
The distance from the Elephant & Crown was considerably less than the Reverend had remembered; they quickly reached the Club, paced the entire block encircling it twice, and then stood in front of the door staring awkwardly at the cobblestones. After a time, St. John decided he had suffered quite enough of whatever had come between them; he was torn between want, and fear, and bewilderment, and came to the swift determination that he must speak his mind firmly, and directly, as it was his failings that had been the original cause of all their troubles.
 
“Very well, then! Here is my plain speech, Captain, and here are my honest words: it is so odd, how at a loss I am around you all of a sudden. If that is the penalty for my sins, I can accept it, but I cannot comprehend it. Everything was so easy between us, and then I left for an hour and now, I feel we are strangers. You have a great and weighty matter you wish to speak on, and yet you will not, not a single word. The cause for your reticence must have been something I said, or did, and I am so sorry for it although I cannot think of what it was … ” He trailed off in utter bafflement. “Tell me what it was, and tell me of this other matter you wished to speak about, I beg you. What have I done? What is eating at you? Please—I have been plain, and honest; will you now be upfront?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine stared at his scuffed boots, then raised his head to look St. John in the eye, hesitated, glanced away, glanced back, and abruptly asked, “Do you want to come up with me?” Then he winced.
 
“Oh yes, Marcus, of course I do!” St. John exclaimed too loudly, drawing questioning looks from several passers-by.
 
The Captain seemed quite startled by the Reverend's enthusiastic response. “You do?”
 
“Why would I not?” St. John felt as confused as the Captain appeared.
 
“Because that was what drove you away, St. John!” He cast his gaze quickly around the street, then dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper. “I was too insistent. Too … carnal. But when you said you—” He broke off with a frustrated noise. “This would be best to discuss inside, do you think?”
 
The Reverend turned for the door so swiftly that he nearly knocked over the footman intending to open it for them. This near-collision forced him into a more sedate pace, which allowed the Captain to catch up with him, and together they crossed the foyer and ascended the stairs to the first floor, attempting to look like nothing so much as a pair of friends heading off to Sunday afternoon tea.
 
The pretence lasted until the moment the door to the Captain's rooms was shut firmly behind them.
 
St. John stood in the middle of the sitting room—he noticed vaguely that the space had been tidied, a bit clumsily—and stared wide-eyed at Cpt. Aquilaine, who stood and stared back. The tension was nearly audible, but neither seemed willing to bend. Then, without warning, the Captain gave way, pulling at his hair and speaking wildly.
 
“I did not want to ask … I did not want to ask you to come up and stay, as much as I hoped you would, because I did not want you to think I missed only the physical intimacies … whereas in reality I missed them dearly, yes, but I did not miss them half as much as I missed the loss of not having you around—” He paused and St. John could see him parsing the sentence in his mind. “That did not make sense. Let me be more blunt, then: we were kissing, or more to the point I was kissing you, and then you pulled away and began to talk of friendship, and I remembered how I drove you off with my physical passions, so I decided whilst you were out that I would be friendly only, and not aggressive, but I cannot manage it, but I will, because I did not want to ask you to come back with me, until you had said that you wanted what you wanted, because I feared that you would think that I thought that I only wanted you back for … O God, that was considerably worse.” He pressed his hands to the sides of his face, and his fastened his gaze upon the Reverend in a sort of panic. “What exactly did you mean, when you said your body loves me?”
 
St. John fell upon him with a cry.
 
“O Christ—I have missed—”
 
“Not half so much—St. John—O God—”
 
“Were you—anxious—entire time—over this?”
 
“Of course—”
 
“For what possible—reason—blasted buttons—”
 
“Did not want you to—feel obliged—”
 
“Are you mad—”
 
“—pressured—”
 
“—you are mad—”
 
“Did not want to—seem base—overeager—oh hell—”
 
“Pay it no mind—they will mend—”
 
“Good God! You are most—needful—”
 
“I have been—chaste—the entire month—”
 
“Why—how—”
 
“Your hands are—more clever than mine—and—larger—”
 
“But an entire month?”
 
“—oh hurry—”
 
“I was not—chaste—”
 
“—more—”
 
“I could not stop thinking—”
 
“Marcus—”
 
“—of those slender hips—”
 
“—O Marcus—”
 
“—and thighs—”
 
“—O Marc—”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine paused, with tremendous effort. “You are—certain?”
 
St. John pushed him back against the wall so hard that the oil lamps rattled. “For God's sake!
 
“I did not—wish to—presume—”
 
“—presume—please—now—”
 
“If you are certain—”
 
“I am a grown—man—I can say—”
 
“No?”
 
Yes.”
 
By the time they had spent themselves—it did not take long, for either of them—and collapsed onto the Captain's bed in a tangle of limbs, St. John found himself laughing and weeping simultaneously, out of joy, and relief, and wonderment that this could now truly be his, be his, to claim and to anticipate and to savour.
 
“O Lord, Father, I thank Thee for shewing me this. I did not know, I did not understand, just how marvellous is this creation which Thou hast given Thy children. Thou art truly—”
 
“Are you praying? Aloud?” Cpt. Aquilaine, in a similar state of wreckage, recovered himself with an effort, enough to speak lucidly. His eyes had grown unsteady and damp. “That is odd.”
 
St. John had to pause and catch his breath before he could continue. “Odd? But I pray aloud with regularity.”
 
“True, but never like that. That was … different.”
 
“Well, normally I keep my more heartfelt prayers unspoken. I dislike having my sentiments so exposed.” He thought for a minute, and decided his words needed softening. “But if I did not quite manage to keep silent, it is only because I am utterly overthrown. Are you bothered by it?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine sniggered happily. “Delighted, rather. I only asked because I am entirely unused to someone doing that after forni—coitus,” he hastily corrected himself.
 
“Fornicating, Marcus. That was most definitely fornicating.” St. John murmured. “Given its rather carnal nature, and the level of vigour, I might even go so far as to call it … well. Yes.”
 
“Fucking, Reverend?”
 
“Quite so, Captain.”
 
They lay together for a while, reacquainting themselves with one another. When that grew too prosaic, St. John raised himself up on one elbow and began kissing the Captain lightly about the mouth. He noted the emotions still crossing through his friend's eyes, and the disquiet that even the presence of a Reverend, sprawled in toto atop the ruins of a once-orderly coverlet, could not drive away.
 
“What in the name of all that is holy and good is the second thing you wished to discuss, Marcus? You had best tell me, now that you know I will not be offended if asked to come up to your bedroom.” Cpt. Aquilaine merely sighed and tilted up his chin, allowing St. John better access to the stubble underneath his jaw line. “The first was about Muniya's money; was the second your worry that we would only ever be friends? Come, it is high time you spoke your mind.”
 
When Cpt. Aquilaine still remained stubbornly mute, St. John left off kissing and began stroking the Captain's bad leg, running his fingers lightly over the scars. He thought of all they represented: the noise and chaos of battle, pain, fear, surgery, a long recovery with no good end in sight, the loss of hope, a life irreparably altered. His friend carried about many other scars—scandalous grandmother, rakish father, tainted family name, the heavy realisation of being more alike to that father than he had ever wished—and now would have to endure the slow healing of a wound caused by no other than St. John himself.
 
“You are a brave man. I forget it sometimes, because you are so cheerful. But it takes strength and character to be resilient when burdened with problems not of your own making. Some men would turn sour inside, like curdled milk, or grow mean, or diminish. And you remain yourself! I struggled with my impure desires for so many years, hating myself and the God who made me, and I became so much less than I could have been, than I should have been. However, simply by lying next to you—you are so whole, and hale—I feel as if in some small way I am being healed as well. What a gift you possess, Marcus Aquilaine.”
 
At this the Captain finally bestirred himself to reply, and it was in a voice thick with bitterness. “But when shall I be allowed to use it? O St. John, I would spend a lifetime with you, as we helped each other mend our various faults, but we may not get the chance. That is what else I have been meaning to say: I am still promised to Lord Elphinstone, and Kabul.”
 
The Reverend groaned aloud. “Of course—I should have considered the possibility. But it cannot be that difficult to break your obligation, can it?”
 
The Captain rolled onto his stomach, which gave St. John the opportunity to admire him from a new and entirely pleasant vantage. “I have committed myself, and it is frightfully hard to unenlist, once one has signed on to a campaign. We must prepare for the likelihood that in a fortnight, I will have to leave.”
 
“I am prepared for it.”
 
“You sound oddly unconcerned! Do you know something I do not?”
 
St. John shook his head slowly. “I know how upset the very idea should make me, but at present I find I am not afraid. Perhaps the Lord has taken away my fear; He has given me so much, already; why would He snatch it all away at the last moment? Or perhaps I am simply too drained and happy to be frightened. Perhaps we shall come up with a solution. Perhaps I shall accompany you to Kabul … So many paths, but right now I can think of nothing more significant than lying in bed with you, calm and peaceful.”
 
“That does seem like a good course. Very wise. Here.” He adjusted the coverlet so it was over them, rather than under them, and for a time they lay together in silence, neither sleeping nor thinking, simply marvelling at one another's presence. In the past, St. John had preferred to curl up in the Captain's arms; now, the Captain curled up into his, whilst he ran his pale fingers through the olive-black hair.
 
At some point he dozed, only to be woken by Cpt. Aquilaine, speaking words he did not quite catch.
 
“What did you say, Marcus? I must have nodded off.”
 
“No matter. I just was asking, do you remember our last fight?”
 
St. John's stomach twisted; the humiliation of the brothel in Sonagachi and what the Captain had said to him afterwards was still too fresh in his mind. He shifted restlessly, hot and uncomfortable with shame, and sat up to hide his embarrassment.
 
“I can recall every word of it, of course,” he stammered. “But I will confess that the wound has not yet healed over. What you told me was like unto a surgeon's knife—necessary, but nearly agonising at the time. Must we talk about it now?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine joined him in sitting, now shoulder to shoulder with the Rev. Rivers, and slipped a warm arm around his waist. “No, Reverend! I do not mean that afternoon. In the morning, before … everything else. We had a fight, and agreed to discuss things when I returned home from the Fort. But we never got the chance. Do you think we should make an attempt at that now? Or does it still cut too close to the quick?”
 
St. John could indeed recollect the fight, the sharp words slung about so carelessly, and the assurance that his friend had given, that after any disagreement came the much more agreeable opportunity to shew reconciliation. And when he thought back to the reasons behind the original argument …
 
“Marcus, I can hear it all so clearly in my mind, it is as if we had just fought. But if you are concerned, let me give you confidence: I will no longer call you base for your desires.”
 
“Then it is settled: we have had our fight, we have come to an agreement—all that is left is to restore harmony.” They looked each other in the eye; the anxiety on the Captain's face had been temporarily pushed aside by roguishness. But as St. John watched, the first strands of worry began to creep back in as he eased his arm out from behind the Reverend's back. “But I am content with simply sitting next to you.”
 
St. John realised that once again, until Cpt. Aquilaine regained confidence, he would need to be the one who spoke up, who initiated, and who decided. “You were referring to fellating, however, not sitting … were you not?”
 
The Captain nodded silently, hesitating.
 
“I will be upfront with you—I shall try, if you like, but it does not sound appealing. If you allow me to wade into these strange new waters gently, as it were, I will admit that being an irrumator might be easier to begin with.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine's hand gripped St. John's thigh tightly, fingers pressing into muscle almost to the point of pain. “A pity you did not say so earlier, my dear Reverend. But do you not think it base?” His voice changed to something harder and more amorous.
 
St. John laughed slightly, and then hid his face in his hands as a terrible blush crept into his cheeks. In a voice both muffled and shy, he whispered, “Is it base, Marcus, and I do not think I shall ever fully move past that position. But that is not what shames me. My shame is how deeply desirous I am of it.”
 
The fingers that had tightened around the Reverend's leg shifted, reaching out slightly to confirm what the Captain suspected, and what St. John already knew. Cpt. Aquilaine tipped his head down and attempted to kiss his friend on the cheek; as he did, St. John turned his face and caught the Captain's lips firmly between his own. When they broke apart St. John murmured, happily, “How often I have thought of you and dreamt of you, of the smile on your lips and the bristles on your chin before you shave each morning. And now I can say it, I suppose, and you will not think poorly of me.”
 
“Just so long as you do not think poorly of me, either, when I tell you what I dream of at night. Although you have like as not guessed it already.” And indeed, St. John could scarcely recall when he had last seen the Captain appear so impassioned and yearning, although he did consider—nerves causing him to retreat into objective thinking, but for a moment only—that he may have been merely inscribing his own desires onto another man's countenance.
 
And then he was unable to effect any action more clever than laying back or pushing aside the coverlet or trailing his hand once more through the Captain's hair; presently he could not even succeed in that, nor anything beyond opening eyes heavy with want. He was overwhelmed by diverse sensations—wet heat, envelopment, and the scrape of stubble along his inner thigh—and simply yielded to them, sinking further and further inward until he was not even ashamed of his sighs and moans. For a time he seemed to float, as if suspended in the air, and the only thing capable of bringing him back to the bed, and to himself, was the rapture that played around the Captain's eyes.
 
This is him, and I, sharing our most intimate secrets, and it is not driving us apart. We are closer than ever for it.
 
As content as St. John was to remain in his state of present bliss, he found that every time he peered from under his eyelids at Cpt. Aquilaine's face, the glow within him increased precipitously. Soon no amount of concentration, or effort, or self-discipline could stem the tide. His pulse surged through his veins, tremors shivered up and down his legs—magnifying the sensitivity of skin rubbed almost to soreness by a coarse, unshaven jaw line—and his stomach rose and fell as every part of his body began to rush towards the same happy conclusion. Dimly in the back of his mind, a small portion of rational thought wondered what etiquette might be appropriate next, but then he realised that it did not matter, for he was with the Captain, who would never criticise. Then he stopped thinking altogether, until at last he reached his footstep's long-awaited conclusion and the stars seemed to collapse about him with the roar of the ocean echoing in his ears, as the Captain drew him out in wave after wave of joy.
 
I am here, Marcus, I am here with you.
 
He could hear noises, a voice calling to him through the pale, golden light of the afternoon sun streaming in past the wooden window-slats. The voice repeated its request.
 
“Pardon?”
 
“You are content, I take it?”
 
“Oh yes. O my love, more than you know.”
 
“I suspected you would only object until you experienced it.”
 
“I think you know me better than I know myself, Marcus.”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine came over to the Reverend once more, stretching out next to him and resting his head on the smaller man's shoulder; he seemed surprisingly content for a man still needful. Neither spoke; neither felt the need to speak. They lay close and quiet for a time, until finally the Captain whispered,
 
“I cannot bear the thought of leaving you, even for a day. I can hardly stand the idea of going to work tomorrow. I do not know what to do about Afghanistan.”
 
“Hush, Marcus. It is easy: we will wait. I will pray, and you may do whatever seems best to you, and we will both improve upon our patience. But please know, I am strangely unafraid, still. God has given me more than I ever imagined, far more than this wretched sinner deserves. And this is despite my determined rejection of every sort of happiness that was offered to me! So know this: if you are not released, we will find a way. But we shall deal with that challenge when it presents itself. For now, let us think on lighter, happier subjects.”
 
“Such as?” Cpt. Aquilaine glanced up at him out of the corner of one eye; something in the Reverend's tone had piqued his curiosity.
 
St. John gave a small smile and shifted his hips, just enough to nudge the arousal that jutted up against him, sadly neglected. “I still do not know what I like or dislike, because I have tried so little! And I hate to leave matters unsettled, as it were. Perhaps we ought to concentrate our efforts, for the moment, on broadening my education.”
 
The Captain ordered dinner up.
 
 
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notes:
 
the banns – The banns are a public declaration, read aloud at the parish church, announcing upcoming marriages and giving any knowledgeable parties a chance to protest. In Jane Eyre, the banns were not read ahead of time due to the hasty nature of the wedding, and only the fortuitous arrival of Mr. Mason, brother to Mr. Rochester's current bride, saved Jane from the sin of bigamy.
 
sweet water – another term for “fresh water”. After days at sea, surrounded by salt, and especially if one has been nauseous, a glass of fresh water will indeed taste not just refreshing but also sweet.
 
 

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John learns to Adapt, thinks further on the Necessity of Passion, composes a Letter to an Old Friend, and fulfils his Domestic Duties for the Night.

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Reader, it is never easy.

The Captain and the Reverend, having debated whether to renew their affections in every respect—if the term debate can be applied to such a swift and harmonious agreement—next entered a period of great and wrenching anxiety. They understood the myriad ways in which their personal future rested in other people's impersonal hands. Cpt. Aquilaine, in particular, needed to be released from his obligations to Lord Elphinstone (now Major-General Elphinstone) and the garrison in Kabul. Rev. Rivers needed a profession to occupy his time; they both recognised that a man of his energies must have a vocation on which to focus his attention, or he would quickly grow restless and dissatisfied. On how many factors depended their prospects for a contented life, and how little control they could exert on any of them! The Reverend prayed, continuing to trust that the goodness of God, which had given him so much up to this point, would not abandon him at the bitter end. Cpt. Aquilaine paced the floor, cursing his ill luck and for once wishing his injury was more, not less, disabling. It was the first strain on their burgeoning happiness.

The Reverend learnt of his benevolent fate in due time; the Bishop did indeed offer him back his position at the Bow Bazar Secondary School. St. John accepted the position and tried to be pleased with it: for a pittance, he would spend five days a week teaching basic English, Bengali literature, mathematics, and the history of the British Empire. It seemed a dull and dreary fate for a man who had gone to India hoping to do grand deeds whilst exploring the sub-continent; he vowed to fill his leisure time with important charitable works.

The joy he and the Captain shared, upon learning that Cpt. Aquilaine had been released from the Afghan campaign, was tempered by the nature of that release: the Captain suffered the sharp humiliation of an easy acquiescence. No one likes to hear that their absence will cause little hardship; worse still is the phrase 'perhaps it is for the best.' The pain of his discharge was then compounded by a letter he received a short time later from Col. Fitzpatrick, informing the Captain of his intent to lead cavalry in Kabul, and regretful that 'his old friend Marco,' as he put it, would not be there to serve with him. St. John saw the Captain's release as yet another sign of God's favour towards them, but he did not say it aloud; instead, he spent long hours feebly reassuring his friend that training Sepoys was an honourable profession.

But when question of their immediate future had been solved, the larger question still loomed: they were free to share their lives however they chose—how then should they live? St. John did not wish to move back to the Club, and Cpt. Aquilaine sadly acknowledged that Harjinder's health was fading and Muniya needed to come live with him. So he put forward the idea of combining their small resources and living under the same roof; St. John readily agreed on the condition that he maintain his own sleeping quarters and study. Upon questioning they both claimed, with clear consciences, to be nothing but “firm friends economising on the rent.” Propriety must needs be appeased. Muniya's money, which could have allowed them to let a good house with distinguished neighbours, instead sat sullenly in trust at the Calcutta diocese; on this issue, neither man's pride would allow him to give way. Nevertheless, they had their positions, and so between St. John's £150 per annum teaching stipend and the Captain's slightly smaller £100 salary, they were able to lease a humble townhouse in one of the less-illustrious neighbourhoods. The Reverend's bedroom was used chiefly to store the extra linens.

As to their private relationship, finally they reached a sort of détente, a mutual acknowledgement of imperfections. St. John was still haughty and inflexible, and the Captain remained careless and sentimental. Both felt terribly vulnerable at times. St. John battled daily with the twin miseries of guilt and gratitude: guilt over hurting his friend, and gratitude at being forgiven. Cpt. Aquilaine felt unworthy of the love of so fine a man as the Rev. Rivers, and tried not to shew his own anxieties for fear it would drive the Reverend away. But they had agreed to be open and honest, to the best of their abilities, an agreement brought about by a fervid wish not to revisit past lies, omissions, and revelations. So when one confessed his shame and fears, the other would console by whatever means necessary. They trod carefully on the new and tentative foundation beneath their feet. It often worked, but they slowly came to realise that St. John's guilt—like the Captain's sense of inferiority—would be a lingering source of tension.

Openness and honesty proved more difficult than expected, in particular because both also required a level of tact and gentleness not natural to either man. For example, after St. John had finally, finally yielded to Cpt. Aquilaine's pleas and buggered him, he admitted—upon questioning afterwards—that it had been nice, pleasant, but not exactly the throes of ecstasy that had been promised to whomever played the more active rôle. The Captain replied, equally honestly, that if St. John had possessed more in the way of technique or finesse then perhaps he would have found the rôle more pleasurable. St. John retorted that Cpt. Aquilaine, having been so recently fucked by the Rev. Rivers, was now more than welcome to go and fuck himself, and retreated to his study for the night whilst the Captain retreated to the last of the Glenlivet.

It did, however, also prove true that when two people are committed to the goal of harmonious intimacy, the benefit of a fight—besides clearing the air and having a proper, thorough discussion of issues that had been lurking in the background—was the equally-thorough opportunity to make up and shew their repentance in myriad ways.

Gradually, as Cpt. Aquilaine became cognisant that Major-General Elphinstone did seem a touch too laissez-faire about the entire campaign (a suspicion shared amongst many of the soldiers who remained behind at Fort William), he accepted that his fate was not an entirely-poor one. He told himself he did not mind seeing the excitement of fellow-officers as they prepared to deploy. He told himself he was wholly content to remain behind and train Sepoys. On days when he brooded too long about Col. Fitzpatrick moving amongst the highest ranks of Kabul society and attending the champagne-soaked parties at Lady Sale's estate, he would go home and play with Muniya, shew her how to spin a top or pretend to lose at pachisi.

St. John struggled with his new domesticity; a man of his ambitions was not easily satisfied by teaching penmanship and balancing household accounts. He threw himself into the Abolition Society, writing and researching and giving the occasional speech; as he gradually became friends with other members, he discovered for the first time the joys of sociability. He even received invitations to dinner parties, although he attended only at the Captain's insistence that he “might benefit from a change of scenery, now and then”. Periodically he spent the afternoon on a solitary walk, rejecting all offers of company, praying and striving to remind himself that he, too, enjoyed a kindly fate. But if the Captain's presence at the dinner table did not improve his mood, Muniya's did the needful; he was often heard to complain, over his ledger-books, that any person with the surname 'Aquilaine' was an inexorable, irresistible force made entirely of charm. And when all other methods failed, he liked to put his head in at the Officer's Club and see how Tarun, the newest footman-in-training, was faring under the extremely competent tutelage of the butler Sanyal.

Slowly they settled into something like a routine, a near simulacrum of ordinary domestic life. But conflicts were still wont to emerge, generally at unexpected times and over unexpected subjects. Cpt. Aquilaine was outraged to discover, one Saturday whilst taking Muniya to visit her mother, that the Reverend had given a brothel boy £600 apropos of nothing (their purses were even leaner than usual, at the time being); the Reverend countered that a man so uninterested in £4,000 had no business being worked up over a vastly smaller sum. St. John was horrified to learn, over the morning toast with jam, that Muniya had never been baptised. The Captain hemmed and hawed, and muttered that baptism brought up all sorts of awkward questions concerning parentage and the state of said parents' marriage.

“You have risked her very soul!”

“Good God, you are overdramatising it quite.”

“I am a minister. Such things are of deadly seriousness to me.”

“Then I place the matter entirely into your hands. It is your bailiwick, after all.” With that, the Captain retreated into his cup of tea. St. John looked satisfied.

“Excellent; I shall do so at once. I would also like to enroll her in the diocese records, if you agree, but I will have to list you as her father.”

“I am not ashamed of her! If you are going to do it, please do it properly. But I seem to recall she must have godparents, as well. I do not suppose you would be willing? I cannot think of anyone more appropriate, truth be told, given how fond of her you are.” He bent to rub at his sore leg, which had begun to cramp, and so did not immediately notice the effect that rather off-hand request had on St. John.

“Reverend! I did not think it that significant.”

“The presence of a godparent is merely a formality, of course,” he said, as he dashed away tears with his thumb. “But it is a formality I would be honoured by.”

Neither of them wished to overwhelm her with the pomp of high church—she was already bewildered by the many sudden changes in her young life, such as going to live with her Baba rather than her Mama, the Nurse she now had to follow her around and braid her hair, and her Baba's friend Reverend teaching her, every afternoon, how to trace A-B-C on a slate—so they held a much simpler service in the garden, with the Rev. Rivers solemnly drawing a damp cross on her forehead with water from the bird bath and recording the event in the back of his large, leather-bound Testament. Muniya merely giggled, not understanding the significance of the day beyond the fact that she got to wear her very first sari and tint her fingertips with henna.

Church attendance presented another obstacle; naturally St. John attended every Sunday, and was more than disheartened by his complete failure to convince the Captain to join him. Cpt. Aquilaine preferred to spend the morning sleeping, playing with Muniya in the park, or reading the Times whilst drinking tea. But he managed to mollify the Reverend by not only allowing but actually requesting that St. John read them a nightly devotion. So St. John went alone to church on the Sabbath and, before retiring to bed each night, they would all sit in the study. Muniya enjoyed curling up in her Baba's lap whilst he held her and rubbed her back. The Captain enjoyed having the chance to stretch out his legs, hold his daughter, and listen to the Reverend read aloud; he would always consider the sound of St. John's voice to be one of his greatest pleasures. St. John enjoyed the privilege of providing them all with a measure of contentment before sleep, utilising one of the few skills of which he was truly proud.

He and Cpt. Aquilaine knew, although they rarely discussed it, that they were travelling down a path to a destination where few had gone before, with no footsteps to follow and no map to guide them. By entering into such a partnership, they risked rejection from family and society, a lifetime of vigilance, caution, and discretion, and the very real possibility that as Muniya grew to womanhood they would be forced to separate or ruin her own prospects. They tried not to dwell on this; che sera sera, Cpt. Aquilaine would say, whenever St. John began to worry about the future overmuch. And as they slowly learnt to forge a life for themselves, stumbling along and stumbling together, they found that the more effort they put into the attempt, the greater the rewards. Finally, they began to be happy.

 

One Sunday during tea time, after their fortnightly luncheon with the Bishop and Mr. Patel had drawn to its conclusion, St. John acknowledged, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the Captain's lack of theological knowledge bothered him even more his non-existent church attendance. Baptised Christian he may have been, but Cpt. Aquilaine scarcely knew his Sermon on the Mount from his Fruits of the Spirit, to say nothing of his knowledge of church history, Anglican ritual, or the Gospel. It shamed St. John to no end that he, a man of God, had a friend so ill-educated in religious matters. The regular presence of the Bishop of Calcutta (and his highly-learned clerk) in their humble home did not help. And if the Captain was the sort of soul who, when presented with an intractable point of contention, preferred to paper over it with lighthearted banter and changes of subject, the Reverend was the opposite: he could not move past it, he could not stop referring to it, and he must needs worry at it, under the bull-headed assumption that fretting over it yet again would produce entirely different results from every previous time he had fretted over it.

“Marcus, did you really speak true when you said you could not recite the entire twenty-third Psalm?”

Cpt. Aquilaine set down his tea with a clatter. “Why do you not let this be? You are like a dog with a favourite soup bone, who will not be induced to drop it even at the prospect of an entire steak!” Seeing the baleful look in St. John's eyes, he added, a touch defensively, “At any rate, I can recite nearly all of it. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures, He … leadeth me through the Valley of death, and … my cup of oil overfloweth. The end, Amen.”

“What irreverence; I cannot condone it.” St. John attempted to keep his face straight, tried not to laugh; he did not want to encourage anything. “Do you not even know a single Beatitude? Can you recite the Ten Commandments in order? Do you know a Proverb, any of them?”

Cpt. Aquilaine brightened. “Of course I do! It is not hard to remember the Proverbs, at least not the ones I seemed to be taught so frequently. Spare the rod and spoil the child. See?” He gave the Reverend a look of triumph.

St. John stared back at him, tea cup frozen in mid-air half way to his lips. Fragments of a dream he had once been plagued by, so many months ago, now floated through his mind, as clear as when they had first made themselves known. He remained frozen until Cpt. Aquilaine began to look concerned and enquired if the Reverend had taken ill, or was in the middle of some sort of fit. Then St. John recovered himself and smiled, an expression that Cpt. Aquilaine found he did not entirely trust.

“You know, you are a good man, Captain, warm and generous and amiable, and you cannot be bested in enthusiasm or cheer, but I find there is something almost wayward about you.”

“Wayward?” He looked confused at the sudden shift in conversation.

“Wayward is not a good description. Aimless? That is not it either. Forgive my lack of articulacy. I just mean that you are very much a soldier, and have a soldier's heart, and part of that means that you … well, you prefer more structure than I think you have at present. Think on it; you wake at the same time, keep the same daily habits, have the same drink after dinner every night.”

“But what is the point of your saying so? You are also a man of rather rigid habits, from your dress to your walks to your devotions.”

“Habits are not structure. I suspect you are quite comfortable on a campaign, when you are busy giving orders and receiving them in return, and when everything goes according to plan. I am comfortable in my habits because I am very good at ordering my world the way I prefer.” He ignored the Captain's muttered That is certainly the case underneath his breath. “It simply seems to me that you are generally content in a more orderly environment.”

Cpt. Aquilaine considered this as he fiddled with his tea spoon. “I suppose you are correct, in a way, that I have always been most at ease in the discipline of a military life, but I frankly do not see how that signifies, or why you would think to bring it up. What are you after?” He frowned in suspicion.

St. John sat up straight in his chair, setting aside his tea cup and folding his hands neatly in front of him. “I think that you would benefit from improving your knowledge of theology.”

“I cannot believe we are still discussing this,” Cpt. Aquilaine growled.

The Reverend's smile was pure innocence. “I insist, and will not be gain-said; you are going to learn your theology, Marcus. But I shall endeavour to make it profitable for us both. You will see.”

 

“What is the first Theological tenet of Calvinism?” A pause, and silence in the dark. “It starts with a 'T'. Surely you have not forgotten already?”

“Total depravity of mankind. I have been studying, you know.”

“So you say. When and where was the Nicene Creed composed?”

“Nicea, anno domini 325,” the Captain replied promptly.

“Hmm. You are doing well; I am … pleased.” St. John did not, however, sound pleased. “Where is the location of Nicea?”

“The Ottoman Empire?”

“Damn it.” St. John gave an irritated grumble and reached an arm forward, almost in an embrace. Then inspiration struck. “Where was the location of Nicea at the time of the Creed's composition?”

“What? How would I know?”

Not quite an embrace, however. St. John's fingers trailed slowly down Cpt. Aquilaine's chest whilst the Captain arched his back, seeking further contact. “I shall give you a hint, since it was not on the list of requirements. It was the province from which Pliny the Younger, then Governor, wrote his famous Epistles.”

“That is hardly a hint, St. John! I am no Latin scholar, and I don't—” his words ended in a stammering gasp as the Reverend stroked a single finger over the damp tip of his arousal, now standing at full military attention. St. John held his finger there, unmoving whilst Cpt. Aquilaine struggled to follow orders and keep still.

“You have not a single idea?” He rolled his finger slightly, side to side, and with the back of his other hand gently stroked the Captain's testes.

“No, no idea. O God.”

The hands moved away and St. John straightened up once more. His knees were beginning to ache. “Bithynia et Pontus. Here: an easier question, perhaps. By what alternative name are the first five books of the Old Testament known?”

“The Pentateuch, also called the Torah,” Cpt. Aquilaine sighed out, miserable and needful.

“Good. What is the seventh commandment?”

They heard a short, unhappy cry followed by sounds of scolding, which was itself followed by sounds of a young but stubborn girl, scolding back. Both men immediately turned their attention in the direction of their bedroom door.

“Damn and blast, what can it be now? Her bedtime is hours past.”

“I think Nurse has been trying to teach her that if she is still wakeful at this time of night, she must stay in bed and not try to get up and play. Or wander around the house.” The Captain's bedroom door, which formerly swung free and easy, now possessed a latch.

“But why does she not sleep? She missed her nap today, and nearly dozed off during dinner. You would think—”

“You would think that a girl so much alike to her father would enjoy her sleep as much as you do? Indeed, and yet … ”

“Perhaps you are influencing her already, with your unquiet spirit and frequent inability to rest quietly at night.”

“That would be a shame, seeing as how I have made no inroads in influencing her to be more attentive or well-behaved during prayers.”

“She is four! You cannot expect a four-year-old to understand the necessity of religion.”

“No, but I can expect a man of seven-and-twenty to do so.” They both went silent again, listening, but heard no further sounds from the nursery. “As I was saying, Marcus. The necessity of religion. In particular, the necessity of answering my questions, fully and promptly. Proceed, please.”

Cpt. Aquilaine sighed; his reprieve was over too soon. “What did you ask, again?”

“The seventh commandment.”

He shifted fitfully, and the Reverend steadied him with a single hand on the small of his back. St. John could hear muttered counting in the dark. “Thou shalt not commit adultery?”

“Very good.” He planted a small kiss on the Captain's spine. “What is the greatest commandment?”

“Love. That is easy.”

“This is not as easy, then. Song of Solomon: chapter 1, verse 17.”

Cpt. Aquilaine answered swiftly, so swiftly in truth that he seemingly had studied ahead of time for once. “The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters are fir.”

St. John made an irritated noise in the back of his throat. He had not expected such a level of compliance this week, and realised he would have to labour in order to keep atop the situation. No doubt the Captain was enjoying that, thwarting him through correct behaviour. Such things must not stand. He smiled as the inspiration came to him.

“What is the next verse?”

“You did not tell me to memorise the next verse!” The Captain protested, and St. John slid his hand slowly over the curves of his arse, lingering, running a single finger down between the cleft and pausing on the fundament. This was their practice of constancy and self-denial, training their bodies in the principle that gratification, once delayed, would provide greater rewards in the end. So far these trials had tested them sorely but had also yielded much fruit. St. John in particular took a great delight in setting the tone and the pace; he spent much of Sunday afternoon bent over his scholarly and religious texts, creating a weekly catechism that the Captain would need to remember by the following Saturday. Truly, during these theology lessons they seemed to relish their respective rôles as magister and discipulus.

“You have already memorised it, during a previous catechism some weeks ago. I do hope you are not discarding old lessons the moment a new one is assigned?”

“Absolutely not. Of course not. I merely—difficulty in—give me a hint?”

“I am giving you a hint, Marcus, but you must focus.” Cpt. Aquilaine shivered from stem to stern as he continued to tease.

“That is not … easy at the moment. If you would but stop—”

“If I stop then the lesson is lost to us both. It is most important that you know your scripture, and we must both learn to set aside our petty, earthly concerns. Where is your military discipline? Are not soldiers trained to focus in challenging situations?” St. John took his finger away and returned it slick with oil.

“This is not akin to being pinned down under gun fire, Reverend—aaahhhh—” The last noise came as the finger gently probed deeper and further. They still did not know the name of that most sensitive spot men possessed. St. John, formerly a believer that incomplete knowledge was as worthless as no knowledge whatsoever, had come to decide that learning the terminology was less important than developing an unerring ability to locate and bother.

“I shall give you my hint, then. Is this here—” he shifted his finger in and out, as if to emphasise his point “—not called a rose in certain circles?”

Cpt. Aquilaine finally grasped the Reverend's intention. “Song of Solomon: chapter 2, verse 1. I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”

“How much you have remembered! I am so pleased, so proud.” As he spoke he took himself in hand and stroked the tip slowly over the rose in question. “Very proud, indeed, is my cedar beam.”

“Keep going then, I pray you, and I shall shew you what else I know,” the Captain murmured into the counterpane.

“All in the fullness of time, Marcus. Discipline yourself! What was the true crime of Sodom and Gomorrah?” St. John's own voice was shaking; he could not delay matters much longer. “Do you know the answer?”

There was a small silence as he now slipped two fingers slowly into the Captain; the Captain laboured to keep still as per the standing instructions, but it was no use. The Reverend was indeed improving his technique. He groaned softly and shifted his hips without relief, unable for the moment to stop himself, a motion St. John cut off with a swift, hard pinch on one nipple. In response, he sucked in air with a hiss and thrust his hips back slightly to nudge the tip of St. John's pride.

“The crime of Sodom and Gomorrah—they dishonoured their guests,” he gasped out.

“Better. Last question then: what should the Sodomites have done differently?”

The silence stretched out longer, broken only by the sound of two men breathing a bit heavily. Finally, St. John heard a happy noise and a smothered laugh as Cpt. Aquilaine grasped this lesson's inevitable conclusion.

“You bastard. You righteous bastard. Thrown open the gates to their houses and bade the guests enter!”

“I am so very proud,” St. John murmured again, as he slowly began to make his own entrance.

 

From down the darkened hallway came a wail, weak and high, hesitant as if testing out its strength. It went silent, presently, and the small townhouse could charitably be said to have breathed a sigh of relief. Then the wail took up again, louder and more insistent. Cpt. Aquilaine stirred, groaning softly, fidgeted and went still as if, by going motionless himself, he could through sheer force of will cause the wailing to cease. Alas, it did not. The Reverend also woke at the noise and shifted to one side. But when Cpt. Aquilaine gave a great heaving sigh and made motion as if to sit, St. John put a restraining hand on his arm.

“Stay, Marcus. You have been up the last two times. I shall try this once.”

“She is my daughter,” came a voice muffled by pillows and softened through sleepiness.

“I am her godfather, and the one teaching her to read,” St. John whispered as he felt around in the darkness for his robe. The floorboards were cool beneath his bare feet; although summer in Calcutta had begun a full month prior, the nights were still mild enough to be comfortable. “This is my duty as well. Besides, Nurse will back the day after tomorrow, and then perhaps we shall be allowed to rest.”

“Until her next daughter has reached confinement.” The Captain shifted further under the covers. “You should have seen her as a baby … beautiful eyes and an enormous tuft of black hair. All this crying was easier to bear when she was so tiny.”

“Why are you not yet asleep?” St. John patted the rumpled sheets, under which Cpt. Aquilaine hid. Receiving no further response from the bed, he padded silently across the room and out into the hallway, gently shutting the door behind him as he went.

“Muniya, kēna āpani kāndā haẏa?”

“Āmi jāni, Reverend! Ēṭā khuba'i andhakāra. Āmāra nāka byāthā karachē. Āmi ēkā thākatē cā'i nā!”

“O Birdie, ekhānē āsā. Āpani ṭhika habē. Shhhh.”

From down the hall Cpt. Aquilaine could hear, as he was borne off on a wave of sleep, the sounds of footsteps pacing back and forth in the nursery, somewhat heavier than normal—as if they were carrying a weight about with them—and snatches of some half-sung, half-muttered hymn in Bengali.

 

3rd of April, Year of Our Lord 1841

Dear Jane,

Greetings from Calcutta. The summer season is well-established now and what the natives call 'winter' has long passed. (As I mentioned in my last letter, this land has nothing resembling what we would properly consider 'spring'.) Even the coldest day this past January would have been fitting for a summer garden party in England, and of all the many changes this past year, I find the change in climate one of the most difficult to bear. My soul has not yet forgotten the moors, and I can recall far too readily the snow and wind of winters back home. Nevertheless, I suppose it is testament to the wonders of God, how Man adapts to his surroundings.

My work here continues apace; I am kept continually busy with instructing, witnessing, speaking up on behalf of the poor, and fighting to lift the yoke of slavery from the backs of the Dalits. You will not be much surprised to learn that I live simply and keep little company. For the sake of economy, I have taken up rooms in the house of a friend of mine, a Captain (retired) in the East India Army. He has a daughter (the mother is now deceased), who I teach a little scripture to in my spare time. It is a humble life at best, but I thank God for it every day.

Our dear sister Diana wrote, in her last letter, that I am to congratulate you most heartily, for you are now married and claim the privilege of being addressed as Mrs. Rochester, rather than Miss Eyre. May I offer my congratulations, Mrs. Rochester? She made mention, too, of the terrible circumstances under which your change in nomenclature came about: the tragic fire, the death of Mr. Rochester's poor, insane wife, and his own sad disfigurement. I must say I am proud to hear that, despite my many and well-justified misgivings concerning your relationship with the man, you continued in your affections towards him even after a just fate made him blind and crippled. It speaks well of the constancy and tenderness in your heart.

 

“What are you doing? Why is the lamp on? How is Maina?” Diverse anxieties made their presence known in the Captain's voice. St. John, in the throes of a particularly black mood, had spent much of the previous afternoon in his study, kneeling in prayer and looking out the window into the tiny back garden. When the Captain came to find him the Reverend's disposition had improved swiftly, but Cpt. Aquilaine brooded nevertheless, weighed down by the old worry, the familiar worry, that he would once again drive his friend away.

St. John, hearing the fear tugging at the corners of those questions, set down his pen and walked over to the bed. A hand reached out to clasp his, and he allowed himself to be pulled down to a sitting position. With his free hand he affectionately patted Cpt. Aquilaine's head, now peeking out from under the linen sheets.

“She is better, poor thing. I have got her back to sleep for a little while, at least … perhaps we may have an hour's rest. I suspect that by the time Nurse returns she shall be well over this cold and vigorous again, and then we will truly have our hands full.”

Cpt. Aquilaine sat up with a sigh, momentarily reassured and rubbing sleep from his eyes. “She misses Harj, no doubt, and is still too young to fully understand; she asked me the other day why we did not let Mama come and visit any more. I could not give a good response and she cried for a full half-hour.”

“When was this? I did not hear of it.”

“During the Abolition Society meeting, I think. Or perhaps the Dalit Orphanage Fund Society. It does not matter. In the end we played Horsie until she was cheerful again.”

The Reverend smiled into the darkness. Cpt. Aquilaine never allowed him into the room whilst he capered around on all fours; he claimed it was to retain what little shreds of his dignity remained. St. John respected that wish, but privately he would have given dearly to see the Captain on hands and knees, still wearing his red army coat, crawling over the carpet as Muniya straddled the small of his back, whooping in most unladylike fashion and urging him to go faster. They both agreed that if she had been a boy she would one day have made a fine cavalry officer; as it was, as soon as she reached an appropriate age they intended to begin teaching her proper side-saddle and dressage.

“But why are you still up? What are you doing?”

“I could not go back to sleep, and I thought if Muniya did wake again I could be back to her before you were roused, so I am writing a letter. My last correspondence is sadly overdue, as usual.”

“You have been too busy, as of late, with your societies and sermons and pamphlets and whatnot.”

“Shhh. Many things are being set in motion; once they are able to continue of their own power—”

“Then you shall find other things with which to occupy your time.”

“Perhaps.” St. John lifted up the Captain's hand and kissed it by way of apology; he could not argue with the charges that he had been keeping himself very busy—too busy, perhaps—for a man partially responsible for raising a small but lively girl. It all left him with scant time for other, more homely duties. “You are not the first to accuse me of having very little in the way of a domestic nature.”

From down the hallway they heard a short, unhappy cry and both men sighed. Women clearly were gifted in this particular sphere, in a way that neither of them would ever be, but with mother gone and Nurse away and no chance of either of them taking a wife any time soon—or ever, truth be told—they must needs make due as best they could.

“I shall go this time; perhaps she wants her baba.” But as the Captain made to rise the cry faded away and they both waited, hardly daring to draw breath. After two full minutes had passed he settled back down into the bed.

“Are you going to come back to bed now?”

“Soon, Marcus. I have nearly finished my letter.”

“It is already delayed; can it not wait another few hours until there is daylight to see by and you do not ruin your eyes with the oil lamp?”

St. John stood and stretched. “The packet Lady Sophia leaves this morning on the tide and I would like the letter to be on it, if possible. I shall not be much longer.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he bent down and kissed the Captain before arranging his pillow and linens. Cpt. Aquilaine grumbled happily and settled back in the bed. St. John returned to the writing desk and once more bent over his task. The only sound in the house was the swift skritch of nib against paper.

 

Naturally your felicitous change of circumstances does recall, to my mind, the painful episode in which you spurned my own proposal of marriage. But if I am honest, and a Christian should always strive for truthfulness of speech, I find now that your rejection may have been for the best. We are of a similar alloy, indeed, and are excellently matched as cousins, siblings, and friends, but there are several critical areas of importance that might have sprung up between us, should we have entered into holy matrimony. Thus I can only hope and pray that matters will be as easy and happy between you and Mr. Rochester, as they might never have been between you and I.

As a cousin and brother in Christ, and as one who shared a friendship that counter-balanced brevity with depth of feeling, I claim the right to speak boldly to you. Mrs. Rochester—Jane—may you always share with your chosen husband a life of amiability, and kinship, and passion! Amiability is necessary for the smoothing out of all those little occasions in which discord might creep between you. Kinship will come with time, and can only increase as you partake in the unity of purpose and the mingling of your souls. But passion—passion, Jane, is a gift from God Himself! I pray it finds you this day and always, as you sit with him, walk with him, and rejoice together in the Oneness that the Lord intended for a happily married couple. As a profession of faith is a public declaration of obedience to God, so let you shew a deliberate profession of love to all whom you meet, a declaration of your passion and good will, and the mutual submission and respect that God commands to both husbands and wives. Cleave to him, cherish him, and forsake him not, for surely you know that God is Love, and it is God that orders the inner workings of the moon and stars, makes steady your footsteps, and will not lead you astray though all may seem black about you. The universe is made manifest with Love, and we mortals would be foolish to spurn it in any of its forms. I pray you will share many years of happiness together, for such happiness leads us closer to understanding ourselves, and thus to understand Our Maker.

Perhaps our paths will cross again, either in the far reaches of India or the familiar shores of England. What knowledge and wisdom we would no doubt have to share with each other, should we once again meet face to face. But until that glad day, I remain your fond cousin, your brother in Christ, and

Yr Obed. Serv.,

Reverend St. John Rivers

 

St. John snuffed out the lamp, slipped out of his robe and eased into bed; the Captain's breathing pattern was slow and regular; perhaps finally he was getting some much-needed rest. But the moment he began to settle himself, Cpt. Aquilaine clasped him with one arm and pulled him close.

“Do you never sleep, Marcus? How do you manage? I think next time Muniya wakes I shall not take pity on you,” he complained affectionately. He did not resist the Captain, however; few things would ever feel as good to him as those large, gentle arms, embracing him as if he were worthy of being embraced.

“I am awake now … what does it matter the reason why? If I cannot sleep I cannot sleep.”

“I did not ask you why you were still awake, my dear Captain; I only enquired as to how you could be. You must learn to keep your rhetorical terms straight.”

“Why, St. John, you cannot claim ignorance—” and here Cpt. Aquilaine pressed up against him in such a way that no, indeed, St. John could not claim a lack of understanding as to the present difficulty the Captain presented, “ —so here is my why, and my when, and my where—the who and the what need no elaboration, I think—but the how, well, I shall leave the how up to you.”

St. John shifted until he was leaning over Cpt. Aquilaine; the faintest hints of dawn were beginning to break outside their window and he could see the Captain's face smiling up at him, all lines and shadows in the morning light. So much love, and so short a lifetime in which to express it. Still, knowing he was destined to fail in that expression did not absolve him from making the attempt. He kissed his friend lightly on the forehead, just brushing the skin with his lips. Cpt. Aquilaine fidgeted and started to complain, so St. John shook a finger at him in disapproval.

“Be patient, Marcus, and try to remember your theology if you cannot recall your rhetoric; Martin Luther has much wisdom to offer us.” He smiled with delight as the Captain's face turned confused. “Ah, have you forgotten then? Be Thou silent, for now I am going to kiss Thee.”

 

 


Fulfilling his Domestic Duties


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notes:

détente – an easing of tensions between two parties.

Lady Sale – Lady Florentia Sale, wife of Brigadier Sir Robert Sale, was born in Madras to a family of civil servants. When she was 19 she married Robert and proceeded to travel with him to every location where he was posted, including Mauritius, Burma, France, and Afghanistan, all whilst bearing and raising nine children. Sir Robert Sale distinguished himself during the first Anglo-Afghan war by commanding the 1st Bengal Brigade of the Army of the Indus, and by leading the infantry column that stormed Ghazni.

Once the Emir Shuja Shah was nominally placed in charge of Afghanistan, Robert and Florentia Sale remained in Kabul, along with their youngest daughter Alexandrina. Lady Sale did her best to make the city a civilised and welcoming place for the soldiers' families. She helped organise horse races and theatrical performances; she was also first in Society, such as it was, and threw famous dinner parties in which Madeira, port, and champagne were all served in turn. Life in Kabul became a very expensive endeavour, at least for Auckland's government in India which, in addition to paying the bribes that kept the local tribal hostilities in check, was also footing the bill for garrison life.

here is my why – The classical tradition of rhetoric (the art of speechifying that Cicero studied) taught students that in order to discern the circumstances surrounding any rhetorical question, they must ask a more specific set of questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Having learnt the answers to these most concrete questions, students could then, in theory, persuasively answer the rhetorical question.

Chapter Text

In which Rev. St. John and Cpt. Aquilaine have Entirely Platonic Travel Adventures

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“What are you reading?”

“It is a commentary on the Book of Esther. Do you remember Esther, the Saviouress of the Jewish People? You read a story about her last week in Sunday School.”

“I do! She was a queen a very long time ago, back in the Old Testament, and her husband was the King of Persia, and she had a brave cousin called Mor—Mordechai.”

“Very good. That is a difficult name to pronounce.”

Muniya beamed at the Reverend. “And there was this bad man called … Āmi manē karatē pārēna, it's a strange name too, but it starts with an H … Habakkuk?”

“Haman.”

“Right, Haman! And Haman was a very bad man, very durnītiparāẏaṇa, and he wanted to kill all the Jews, but she said 'No, I won't let you, because I'm a Jew and I'm the Queen also', so Esther went and told the king, and the king said 'I love you, Esther, I will not let you and the Jews die', and then Haman got impaled. That's where they poke a stick through you, eṭā nā??”

“That is correct.”

“Do they do it to you if you are still alive?”

“Oh yes, that is the traditional way to impale someone.”

“Eeeeeew! That sounds gruesome!” 'Gruesome' was a word rapidly gaining prominence in her vocabulary, having been recently acquired from a penny-dreadful her schoolmates Sruti and Sajal had passed about their second-year class (the story involved corrupted nuns, vampires, and a ghostly skeleton that roamed the castle by night), and both men were unhappy about the eagerness with which she took to such lurid stories. St. John was somewhat less concerned, as both his sisters had read their share of Gothic novels and had turned out “pretty well, Diana especially”; the Captain desperately wished she were not quite so enthused by tales of werewolves and dashing highway robbers, and made many a futile effort to tamp down her interest. Now, hearing the direction the conversation was heading, he glanced over the top of his newspaper.

“Good God, St. John. What the devil are you teaching her?”

St. John shrugged. “It is how the story ends.”

“I am surprised she did not have nightmares from it all.”

“I do not see the point in hiding such things from her, especially not if they are found within the Holy Bible itself.”

“Perhaps you could focus on something less bloody next time?”

“Perhaps.”

The three of them sat on their private balcony, staring lazily across the muddy brown waters of the Ganges. The term 'balcony' might have been, perhaps, a touch too grand for what was effectively a patch of deck, twenty square feet in all, with a weather-stained railing and a faded piece of lattice-work that separated their precious bit of space from their neighbours. St. John claimed the wicker chair on the left; the Captain settled into the one on the right, as it gave his injured left leg more room to stretch; Muniya perched on a stool between them so she could see over the deck sides, trying not to wrinkle her sari (which would result in yet another lecture from Nurse on unladylike behaviour). The arrangement was crowded, inconvenient, and discomforting, improved only by the weather (which, in addition to being warm for a February, also had the twin virtues of being mild and dry). They tried not to complain about the close quarters, however; the army had wished to send them to Benares by carriage.

Cpt. Aquilaine, thrown into a fit of reminiscence as Muniya's eighth birthday approached, had been struck by the sudden realisation that he was due to arrive at his own personal anniversary (and a far less happy one at that); he would soon be a man who had trained new Sepoy recruits for a full five years. The more he thought on the matter, the less tolerable it became, until finally he confessed to the Reverend that he could no longer bear his position. St. John, all sympathy, suggested that the Captain give his notice; they could (he declared, frowning at the ledgers) survive on the income he earnt as Headmaster of Bow Bazar and Secretary of the Calcutta Orphanage Society. Cpt. Aquilaine, bolstered by this encouragement, had given his regrets the very next week, only to be told—as is so often the case, when a presence once taken for granted is abruptly snatched away—that he was long overdue for a promotion. And so, having marched into the Brigadier's office with every expectation of being turned out on his ear, he emerged with a salary increase of £50 per annum and the new rôle of Overseer of Sepoy Affairs. St. John declared this Providential on all three fronts: first, the Captain's new position would provide him with more interesting and satisfying duties; second, the added income would be gratefully appreciated by the household coffers, since he had not spoken in absolute truth as to the present state of their finances; third, since the Captain had not received a promotion in rank, he would not have to accustom himself to the phrase “Maj. Aquilaine.”

Naturally, the army immediately assigned Cpt. Aquilaine the task of travelling to Benares and sending back an exhaustive report on the state of recruitment, troop satisfaction, and training levels at the city's new army fort. They told him he was expected to stay and gather information for at least a month; they told him he was to travel over land, a fortnight each way; they told him he was to leave in a week. The Captain, distraught over the idea of being gone for two full months, asked the Reverend if he had any more clever ideas to share. St. John, who better understood the benefits as well as the perils of authority, promptly arranged for a sabbatical from his positions (under the argument that he hardly ever took time off, even for holidays) and used the Captain's per diem expense account to secure rooms on a steam-barge for all of them, instead. The travel time increased to three weeks in each direction, but was vastly more comfortable than jolting over dirt roads in a darkened carriage with five road-sick strangers. He shared one stateroom with his friend the Captain, and Muniya shared the adjoining one with her nurse. Muniya delighted in every aspect of her first trip out of Calcutta; in theory, Cpt. Aquilaine and the Rev. Rivers should have as well.

“Why are you reading that?”

“Because it is the Sabbath, Birdie.”

“And because you can't go to church, since we are on a boat?”

“Correct. I will spend my morning reading theological essays and praying, because I cannot worship in a proper church service.”

“Bābā doesn't go to church, ever.”

St. John gave a baleful look in the direction of the Captain's newspaper. “That is because your father does not take seriously the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.”

“He said it was because he spends enough time on his knees already,” Muniya replied cheerfully, swinging her feet to and fro.

The Captain hastily shifted his paper and gaped over the top at his daughter; St. John gave him a horrified glare. If a man could cause injury with no more than a glance, Cpt. Aquilaine would have already gone over the railing and into the river.

“I believe, Maina-bird, that your baba also said something about not repeating that remark to anyone, and especially not to your godfather the Reverend.” The Captain spoke as calmly as was possible through tightly-clenched teeth.

“But why can't I repeat it, Bābā?”

“Because it is inappropriate,” said the Captain.

“Because it is blasphemous,” said the Reverend, simultaneously. He and the Captain made eye contact once more, and then with a disgusted noise he turned back to his book.

Muniya glanced from one stern, adult face to another, thoughtfully, before deciding that inappropriate was a far more interesting concept than blasphemous.

“What's inappropriate about it, Bābā?”

St. John stood. “I am going to take a stroll about the main deck.” Without another word, he departed, leaving the Captain to stew in a situation entirely of his own making.

 

“What on earth were you thinking, Marcus?” He whispered the words as strongly as he dared.

“I was thinking that she is only eight years old, and has no idea what it means. Good Lord, St. John, it was a harmless joke,” the Captain hissed back at him.

“It was nothing of the sort!” St. John wished their room was large enough for him to pace back and forth in agitation, or at least private enough for him to raise his voice. They could both feel an argument coming on, and had learnt over time that the best remedy was to simply begin the fight and affect a reconciliation, rather than allow the issues to simmer and gain in strength. As it was, however, their double-stateroom, which had sounded so promising in print, actually proved to be one long, narrow room, hardly wider than a single bed, which was then awkwardly divided; the front door led to Muniya's half, which led directly into the half her father and godfather shared, which ended in the balcony. Furthermore, they had discovered their first night aboard, to much mutual (and hushed) lamentation, that what separated them from Muniya and her nurse was a laughably thin sheet of wood, almost more curtain than wall. Cpt. Aquilaine had been on the verge of commenting that he had never yet fornicated on a boat, when they realised that they could hear every noise coming from the next room, every rustle of fabric and every sleepy sigh. During their evening walk about the decks they had agreed: they would never succeed in the requisite amount of silence necessary, and so three weeks was not an intolerable length of time to remain chaste bedfellows.

Now the consequences of their involuntary chastity were coming to the fore. The Captain looked as agitated as the Reverend felt. “You worry overmuch. She is far too young to understand such things, St. John!”

“It does not signify if she understands or not—and I can assure you, she comprehends far more of what we say than we would like to admit; what signifies is whether she repeats what she hears. How do you not see that, Marcus?” St. John struggled to keep his voice low. “She will mention something at school, one your jokes about kneeling before the Reverend in penance or whatnot, and then word shall spread that we are indeed more than friends saving on the rent, and … ” He trailed off in frustration. “We want to remain quiet and discrete. We do not want people to talk. If we do not give offence, we shall be left alone. You want this as badly as I—why do you throw it in jeopardy?”

The Captain stared at the worn floor boards. “I would never deliberately do anything perilous … you know that! But I cannot wrap my head around the idea that she is old enough to pick up on such things, let alone repeat them. It cannot have been eight years already.”

St. John relented a little; he had long ago come to discover that the Captain, having known Muniya since infancy, had not yet adjusted to the reality of her increasing maturity and intelligence. “I know how hard it must be, to remember that she is no longer a little girl. But she is almost a young lady now, and in another six years may reach womanhood, and in the meantime we must both hold in the front of our minds just how curious young ladies are about such things.”

“Are they really? I had no idea.” The Captain wrinkled his nose.

“Recall that I have sisters, Marcus! They may seem demure and feminine, but that is simply them behaving as they ought. The reality is quite the opposite.”

“You sound as if you speak from personal experience, of a sort.”

“Quite.” The Reverend smirked a little. “I have not told you much of my father, have I?”

“You have hardly said a word.”

“He and I had little in common, and where we were alike, I regretted the similarity. That is to say, he was cold and stern and harsh with us children, and boorish and uncultured in general, far more interested in farming and hunting than education. We all took after our dear mother, who was as refined a woman as could be found in those parts. She taught us, among other things, the virtue of not simply saying whatever sprang into our heads. I recall one evening, after dinner, when Mary asked why her friend Margaret O'Keefe had so many brothers and sisters. Mother replied that Catholic families are often quite large, because they believe God will bless them for their many offspring. But no sooner had she said this, then Father chimed in with: 'In other words, she's got such a brood because she spends all day flat on her back! Ha!' I heard later from Diana that Mary could not let such a remark slide, slept on her side for an entire month because she feared the possibility of 13 children like Mrs. O'Keefe, and actually enquired of our nursemaid Hannah as to why that particular posture was so conducive to expanding one's family.”

“Good Lord! Please do not tell me she was eight years or so, at the time.”

“Then I had best not say anything else, I'm afraid.”

They both started laughing, a little more loudly than was warranted for the situation. This led to other, more affectionate, gestures; soon the Reverend was busy clasping Cpt. Aquilaine's hips whilst the Captain, who never complained that he was forced to stoop, had bent down to tug at St. John's collar and kiss him needfully. They had managed a week of celibacy. They were uncertain as to whether they would successfully achieve another two.

”Āpani ki karachēna, Bābā?”

The Captain and the Reverend leapt away from each other as swiftly as a hand drops a pot too tardily discovered to be nearly red-hot.

“Muniya, how many times have I told you to knock?” Cpt. Aquilaine stared in distress at his daughter, who stood on the threshold of their stateroom. “We are not—we are simply—”

“Your father is simply helping me tie my cravat, Birdie.” St. John sounded so bland and disinterested, not even bothering to turn and face her, that for a moment the Captain himself was tempted to believe the statement. “I want to look respectable for tea, and cannot seem to manage the knot today.” Muniya's face visibly shifted from the piqued interest of a child who has caught two adults behaving in adult-like fashion to the boredom of one who remembers that 'adult-like fashion' generally means nothing more intriguing than paying the butcher's-bill or trying to make the parlour stove draw.

“But I am not certain it suits,” he continued, tugging at the silk. “Perhaps my poor neck will simply be unfashionable for the afternoon.” He slowly finished undoing the knot whilst his back was still to her, and did not turn around until the cloth was entirely loose and his arousal had faded to the point of respectability. That managed, he looked to Muniya and gave her a helpless sort of shrug.

“I can do it—will you let me do it?” She clapped her hands in sudden excitement.

“Wherever did you learn to tie a cravat?” Cpt. Aquilaine asked; the tone in his voice clearly revealing how relieved he was to have avoided more pointed questioning.

“Sruti and Sajal taught me how! They help their father with his every day before school.”

“That makes perfect sense, Birdie. And what a great help they must be to their poor crippled father, too.” Sruti and Sajal Dasbiswas were the twin daughters of Mr. Dasbiswas, who taught fifth-formers at Bow Bazar. Years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Dasbiswas had been travelling back from Benares only to suffer the too-common fate of travellers in India, bandits. Their carriage was attacked, both parents cruelly shot, and whilst Mr. Dasbiswas merely lost the use of his right arm, his wife paid the ultimate penalty for protecting her infant daughters. Their father had gone into teaching, since he could not be an engineer with only one hand, and the girls had learnt from a tender age how to cook, mend, clean, and perform all the little details their father could not effect by himself. The Captain and the Reverend could never quite decide if their influence on Muniya was for good or for ill. They encouraged her to excel at knitting and penmanship, but they also lent her penny-dreadfuls, filled her head with ghost stories, and displayed far too keen an interest in the youths their father taught.

At present, however, both men were more than glad for the distraction. St. John sat down on the edge of the bed and handed his cravat to Muniya. “I would be most happy to see how well you do.”

She discarded her dupatta into a heap on the floor and hunched over the bed, frowning in concentration, carefully smoothing and folding the triangle of fabric; while she did so, Cpt. Aquilaine sat down next to the Reverend to watch, clearly fascinated by this unknown skill his daughter possessed. Finally satisfied with the initial shaping, Muniya straightened up and began to tie it around St. John's neck. He was surprised to see how she was quite as tall as he, when he sat. As she carefully draped, measured, and redraped, biting her lower lip (St. John recognised the gesture; it was one he performed himself, when faced with a particularly intractable problem), they could hear her muttering to herself, “ … eka … apa … apa upara … mādhyamē … ” She straightened and adjusted and at last, with a little tug, stood back and said “There! I told you I could do it, Bābā.”

Cpt. Aquilaine fetched the shaving mirror from next to the wash-basin so the Reverend could admire her handiwork; both men had to then admit the odd truth—Muniya could tie a cravat as well as either of them.

“Very finely done, Birdie! Your hands possess as much of skill as mine or your baba's in this area. You must practice with some frequency.”

“Every day after school. Do you like it?”

“I certainly do. Thank you, Muniya, for helping me to look fit to take my tea.”

“You're welcome,” she muttered, blushing. She pulled at her sari awkwardly, then glanced up, gave an impish grin, and pecked him on the cheek before fleeing. St. John raised a hand to his face in surprise; he and she had always been quite fond of each other and affectionate in their own way, partially because they both understood, as if by some instinct, that they were not relations and would be better off if they did not treat each other as such. He could not recall if she had ever kissed him before. The idea that she might be growing to see him as more than her father's friend and her dutiful godfather brought warm tears to his eyes.

Cpt. Aquilaine took the Reverend's hand in his. “She is a remarkable girl, is she not?”

“Oh yes, Marcus. The finest in India, I think.”

 

Another week into the journey and they could not bear it. They had made good time upriver—steam-powered vessels were far superior to sail in that respect, if a bit noisy and sooty—but a fortnight in such close quarters with no chance of relief, not even individually (the notion that little more than a curtain separated them from Muniya proved wonderfully constraining), had set both men on edge. At last Cpt. Aquilaine could not abide another day, and he banished his daughter to the dining hall one morning under strict orders to practice her embroidery and not return for at least an hour. He declared that he needed the time to take a little tea and read through the available information on the new fort. Then, presented with an entire hour of privacy, he and the Reverend retired calmly to their stateroom, content in the knowledge that they were sober adults, capable of restraint and dignity.

Within three minutes of Muniya's departure, they had gulped down their tea, scalding their mouths in the process, and abandoned the plate of crumpets.

Within five minutes of Muniya's departure, they had laid aside every stitch of clothing and were struggling in vain against the temptation to make such haste that they reduced their amiable affections to the level of entirely-carnal fornication.

Within six minutes of Muniya's departure, they had abandoned that ideal and vowed that they would make a shew of aiming for the loftier plane of emotions on their second undertaking.

Within seven minutes of Muniya's departure, the barge grounded against the too-shallow bed of the River Ganges (the Plains of Uttar Pradesh having not received their accustomed amount of rain for the season), causing the entire boat and everything on it to jolt, sharply and with a loud crash, as it transitioned from steaming merrily along at five knots to stopped dead in the mud.

Within eight minutes of Muniya's departure, the Captain and the Reverend, amidst much lamentation, hastily begun to don their discarded clothing, an action far less comfortable than on previous occasions due to the now-turgid state of their proud flesh.

Within ten minutes of Muniya's departure, she burst back into her father's stateroom, sari hitched up almost to her knees so she could run, only to find him and the Reverend sitting calmly at the table, sipping tea and eating the now-cool crumpets. They looked far more placid than they felt.

“Āpani ki ēṭā manē karēna, Bābā, āpani ki manē karēna? Āmarā āṭakē āchē!” She was nearly shrieking with the excitement of the situation.

“Ladies do not run about or raise their voices, Muniya. Children should be seen, not heard.” He had apparently decided that this was as fine a time as ever to engage in a bit of child-rearing, considering how she had just flashed her bare legs at every sailor on board.

“Kintu Bābā—”

“Use English, Maina-bird, and lower your voice, please.”

Muniya clenched her fists, stomped one foot, and glared at Cpt. Aquilaine whilst growling in a manner that clearly emulated her father's temper. “Kintu Bābā! Sampūrṇa bajarā kādā kāraṇa nadī atyanta agabhīra āṭakē hala, kāraṇa ḍēka upara nābikadēra balēna yē parbata paryāpta br̥ṣṭi śītakālīna samaẏa chila nā, ebaṁ yakhana tārā bāhā druta ghūrṇana āpani saba bādāmī māṭira yē jalēra madhyē pāẏa unmathita āpa habē, ebaṁ saba ḍā'iniṁ rumē ōẏā'inēra glāsa bēśi hinsra ēbaṁ ēkaṭi prakāṇḍa biparyasta chila, ebaṁ nābikadēra balēna āmarā dina hatē pārē āsakta!”

“Lower your voice, Muniya.” The Reverend said, sharply.

The Captain and his daughter both turned to St. John in shock; St. John felt quite as surprised as they looked. I did not mean to speak up; I certainly did not mean to sound so stern. I must be more out of sorts than I had imagined. For although he had taken an active hand in Muniya's academic and spiritual education, and shewn her as much affection as was proper for a godfather and family friend (which was, incidentally, far less than he truly felt for her), he had generally left the realm of parental discipline to the Captain alone. That had been a hithertofore wise decision, if the looks on the faces of Father and Daughter Aquilaine were any basis for judgement; Cpt. Aquilaine immediately grew flushed with anger, while Muniya became tearful.

“Āpani āmāra bābā nā! Āpani āmākē ki karatē balatē pārē nā! Āmāra galābāji karabēna nā!”

“What on earth are you thinking, St. John? This is not your business.”

Self-consciousness swiftly turned to defensive indignation. “I did not mean to interfere, Marcus, but she was not being obedient, and—”

“And it is not your place to say how I deal with it!”

St. John switched to French, so Muniya would not get drawn into the rest of the fight that had swiftly reached the point of inevitability.

«Elle tourne autour du bateau et en criant comme un enfant. Je serais négligent si je n'avais pas.»

«Elle est un enfant, et je déciderai si son comportement est acceptable, pas vous.»

«Ah, c'est alors que je suis assez bon pour être son parrain et bienfaiteur, je suis absolument interdit de prendre un rôle plus actif dans son éducation?»

The room took on a sudden chill. «Ne retenez pas votre générosité dessus de ma tête comme une épée, Révérend.»

«Je ne voulais pas dire comme ça … tu sais que je n'ai pas … »

«Je sais comment vous avez promis, quand j'ai finalement accepté l'argent, que vous ne le rapportez jamais pendant un combat!»

«Et je ne pense pas que vous prenez si rapidement ses côtés contre moi, si une telle nécessité se posent!»

«Elle est ma fille, Révérend.»

«Dois-je partager votre lit, Marcus, ou suis-je simplement un ami économiser sur le loyer?»

«Arrêtez!» Muniya cried. «Il me fait peur quand vous battez!»

Both men stared aghast at her. The Captain recovered first.

“Maina-bird, what did you say?”

“I said stop it. I don't like it when you shout, Bābā.”

“Your, ah, French is so … good, Maina.”

She shrugged, entirely unimpressed with her accomplishments of language. “They teach us it every day in school. It's not hard like Latin is. What do you mean, partager votre lit?”

The Reverend tried next to redirect the conversation. “I am sorry you are frightened, Muniya, but this is an important discussion your father and I are having, and you are old enough to know better than to interrupt. We shall be done soon.”

Muniya replied with the bluntness of one who has not yet learnt to marry tact with plain speech. “You think you're my father, just because you're around all the time, and I don't know why you are, because you make Bābā so grumpy and shouty, and I wish you would go away.”

The Captain sucked in air sharply. St. John could not think of a reply; he felt as if he had just been struck, a hard and unexpected blow. “I had … best leave, then.” He pushed back his chair, not looking anyone in the eye, and made his way out of the small room.

 

When the Captain caught up with the Reverend, he was leaning forlornly over the railing at the bow, a little distance from the other passengers now milling about aimlessly. He puffed disconsolately at his pipe. Cpt. Aquilaine joined him in leaning, standing just close enough that their elbows brushed against one another, and together they stared out across the water to the river banks.

“She did not mean it.”

“Of course she did, Marcus!”

Cpt. Aquilaine held up a hand, placatingly. “First and foremost, St. John, we are both tense and unhappy; let us bear that in mind.”

“I should not have said what I did about the money, you know. It was a gift, freely given, and I have no expectations of return on it. Knowing she has an inheritance is reward enough.”

“I know it was not deliberately spoken. Nor did you intend to interfere with my sorry attempts at discipline. And I should not have said you forgot your place; that was uncalled for.”

St. John focused his gaze miserably at the muddy waters that drifted by the hull, swirling and spiraling away as they collided with the unmoving wood. “It was entirely appropriate for you to say that. I forget sometimes, Marcus, how correct your daughter is: I shall never be a member of your family, or of any, whilst I am in India. In a very real way, I am a good friend sharing the rent, and nothing more.”

“You are far more than that, to me and to her. Already she regrets speaking thus; you should have seen how distraught she looked when you walked off! She is desperately sorry and will wish to make it up to you. You had best prepare yourself for a fortnight of assistance with your cravat.”

“Please, do not make light of this. It is hard to be alone; it is harder still knowing that I have forced others to remind me of my solitude! Marcus, there is no need to salt self-inflicted wounds.”

“I want to do nothing of the sort.” The Captain sighed and nudged his elbow once more. “She and I would both be lost without you, St. John. Do not forget it.” He paused and waited for a response; when it did not come, he merely said, “When you are ready, come back to our rooms and we can make a more civilised attempt at tea.”

 

After some minutes of sulking, St. John realised that he was being childish.

I am overwrought; I am allowing the stifled needs of my physical nature to take precedent over my rational mind; I have immersed myself in self-pity and cannot be surprised to find that it is distasteful. In half an hour's time this shall be entirely forgotten, on all sides. Moreover, I have no earthly right to claim a share of sorrow for myself, as the predicament entirely of my own making.

He glared at the pipe in his hand, as the blue smoke drifted over the placid surface of the river. Marcus recalls his daughter's birth and cannot quite understand that she is now eight; I only know her as a girl, and forget that she has still a child's perspective on the world. But I cannot blame her for her youth—clearly, even a learned Reverend of thirty can be prone to fits of juvenility. I am a grown man, and thus it is my task to fix this sorry situation.

When he returned to their stateroom, he found Cpt. Aquilaine and Muniya sitting at the table in silence, picking their crumpets into crumbs. As they noticed him enter, the Captain gave a sharp glance at his daughter, whose eyes were reddened and damp. She glared back at him, determined, but her determination did not last long (Cpt. Aquilaine had spent too many years training recruits to yield easily to dissatisfaction). He nodded his head and, with a magnificent display of reluctance, she slid off of her chair. St. John frowned, not quite understanding; then Muniya clasped her hands behind her back and, looking down at the floor boards, whispered,

“I'm sorry I was rude to you, Rev. Rivers.”

Whatever traces of indignation or hurt might have remained in St. John's breast were utterly erased by such a display of penitence, grudging as it was. He was in possession of a sharp, clear memory reaching back into the far mists of boyhood, a curse as much as a blessing, and he could recall vividly the frustrations and many small hurts of that tender age. It was a time reminisced over fondly by men and women who had obviously forgotten that quite often, childhood was nothing but sorrow, tedium, awkwardness, and the wretched indignations of being treated as a child when one wanted to be taken seriously, and treated as an adult when one wanted to run about and play by the stream. He took off his hat and bowed a little to Muniya.

“I too must apologise, Miss Aquilaine. I spoke too sharply to you, which was unfair of me.”

Muniya and the Captain both looked at him in surprise; in return, St. John turned to the Captain and said, “Marcus, would you be so kind as to step out for a few minutes? I would like to speak to her alone, if I could.”

With a silent shrug and a questioning expression, Cpt. Aquilaine left them; once he was gone, St. John sat down at the table and gestured that Muniya should do likewise. She glanced shyly at him from the opposite side of the table, fidgeting with her dupatta and sniffing a little. St. John laced his fingers together and set them in front of him, almost primly.

“I remember how difficult it is to be your age. Adults make you come and go, tell you to speak or hold your tongue, say you are too old to act like a child but too young to be treated like a grown-up, and it is in every possible way vexing. They encourage you to always be honest and true, and then when you speak your mind they criticise you for it and call you outspoken. And all manner of people think that they can make you obey them, simply because they are older than you!

“I regret very much speaking to you like I did; I am not your father, nor ever will be, and I have not the right. I also regret that your father made you apologise; between you and I, I do not think he should have. The fault was mainly on my end, and if you did truly want to apologise to me, he took away that privilege by forcing you to do so. But I want you to know, Muniya, how deeply saddened I would be if we stopped getting along. I think you are one of the finest and cleverest girls in India, and I do not imagine I would be any more pleased and proud of your good character if you were my own daughter. I do not want to go away, neither from your father, nor from you.”

Muniya burst into tears.

“Āmi haẏa yētē cā'i nā!” she wailed.

They ended up sitting on the edge of the bed, side by side; St. John kept an arm around Muniya while she wept large dark spots into her dupatta. When she grew calmer, she curled up a little and let him hold her and rub her back, while he marvelled at what a strange and wonderful creature a girl was.

I am completely undeserving, and yet she trusts me. And this is only a fraction of what a parent feels for his child. I would never want to give her such grief; I would tear out my eyes and throw myself into the Ganges before I caused her any harm. I would depart without a word of protest. Perhaps it will come to that, one day, when she is fully an adult and realises the nature of my friendship with her father. I would never hold her back, or harm her prospects. Pray God I will have the strength to leave then.

“Are you done, Birdie? Have you let fall the last of your tears, for now?”

She sniffled a little and nodded. “I didn't mean to say those things,” she whispered.

“And I did not either, I can assure you. I should not have told you to keep silent, nor that you were too young to understand what we were discussing. But is that the only reason why you are unhappy? I rarely see you so sad.”

She shook her head. “It's lots of reasons.”

“Do you want to tell me about any of them? I am a reverend; I hear many things, and I never mention them to anyone else. It would offend God if I did.”

With a few more tears, and another handful of sniffs, she made an inventory of what was on her youthful heart. It was quite as lengthy as it was detailed. “I was mean to you, and Bābā got mad at me, and I'm tired of being on the boat, and I don't like growing up because I can't run around and play anymore, and I miss my mynah-bird, and I miss Sruti and Sajal, and I wish I could still wear my shalwar kameez instead of my sari because it's easier to walk around in and I don't have to worry about being lady-like all the time, and I don't want to be a lady because ladies can't play cricket, and I wish I was better at embroidery but I'm no good, kōna byāpāra kataṭā āmi cēṣṭā, and it's too loud on the boat to sleep at night because Bābā snores, and I'm scared to have another birthday and be older and grow up, and I hate how Bābā and Nurse still treat me like I'm a little baby, ebaṁ yē sakala.” She finished abruptly and began swinging her feet as she wiped her eyes yet again on her now-sodden dupatta.

St. John tried not to smile at this heartfelt and completely contradictory list of griefs. “What a lot of things you have to be sad about, Muniya. Do you ever pray to God about them?”

“No.” She stared at the floor.

“May I enquire as to why not?”

She shrugged. “He doesn't say anything back to me when I do.”

“Ah, I understand. It is difficult, learning to listen for that 'small, still voice', but I encourage you to not give up; the rewards are great and will give you a lifetime of comfort and consolation.” Muniya just sniffed and shrugged again.

A memory flooded St. John's mind, quite unexpectedly, and although he had not thought of it in twenty years, it came to him as clearly as if it had been yesterday: taking tea with his grandfather. When he and his sisters had spent the summer in the Lakes District, visiting his maternal grandparents, he had shared tea with Grandfather each afternoon, just the two of them, and he had looked forward to it with eagerness every day. How kindly his grandfather had treated him, taking seriously what he had to say, listening as if a nine-year-old's words had value and import, and never chiding him for his thoughts. St. John paused for a moment, thinking, and could find no obvious fault with the idea; more to the point, he felt positively enthusiastic about the possibility.

“In the mean time, Muniya, whilst you are practicing how to listen to the Word of God, what would you say to having afternoon tea with me?”

Muniya looked dubious. “Today?”

“Yes, today, if you like, but more than merely today. We could have tea together every Sabbath, or twice a week even, or however often you wish. And we could talk about what you choose, what makes you happy and sad, and I shall endeavour to treat you like a proper adult, but will not lecture you on embroidery or being lady-like. What would you say to that? I am not your father, of course, but I am your godfather, and I very much enjoy spending my time with you. Would you enjoy taking afternoon tea, just you and I?”

She considered the offer for a moment, clearly running through it in her mind (her face was quite as open and expressive as her father's), before wrapping her arms around his neck; this time, when she kissed him on the cheek, he returned the gesture. They smiled at each other for a moment, nose to nose, a little conspiracy between the two of them.

“I would like that, Reverend,” she agreed. “But what will Bābā think? Won't he feel left out?”

“I think, Birdie, that he will be glad we are not unhappy with each other. Now what do you say we go and find him? He is likely most anxious to know what we are about.”

 

The remainder of their voyage was quite pleasant, at least for those in their travelling party not in possession of the Christian name “Marcus.” St. John and Muniya took tea every afternoon, a happy distraction from the aggravation of being trapped in the shallow river-bed for an entire week before the British Army Corps of Engineers was able to come and dredge them out. They discussed religion, literature, history, French, and werewolves. Nurse enjoyed having a bit of time away from her restless young charge; she filled her afternoons with fixing the many rents and stains on Muniya's saris. The Captain would have been content, no doubt, except that he had an even more difficult time setting by his need than the Reverend did; by the time they finally arrived in Benares, he had smoked every one of his cigars and paced the decks until his leg ached at night. First and foremost in his mind was the necessity of a quiet evening alone at the hotel.

When the travel-weary party stepped off the gang-plank into the bright afternoon sun, Muniya half-dragged the Captain along in her eagerness to see the sights. Nurse followed close behind, hissing that Muniya needed to walk slowly and conduct herself appropriately. St. John came last, busy with arranging transportation for their baggage. Their hotel, located next to the new fort, was only a mile's distance from the docks, so they elected to travel by foot; Cpt. Aquilaine declared that he would allow it, but on the condition that he immediately retire for a nap upon arrival. “I find I do not sleep particularly well on boats, even river-barges, and must have an hour or two to recuperate,” he proclaimed. St. John agreed heartily, and announced that they would all lie down in their respective rooms for a time, before a more detailed exploration of the city.

This goal, so eagerly anticipated by both the Captain and the Reverend, seemed both promising and feasible as they walked along the river toward the fort. But as they stepped away from the water and towards the interior of the city, they began to look around in confusion. The sound of drumming and raucous singing echoed up from the central square, the streets were curiously full of people dressed in their finest, and as they approached the fort they began to smell smoke and see otherwise respectably-clothed people smeared with ash and coloured chalk. The two men stared, gaping, as an Indian man in a top hat brushed past them, hooting cheerfully, his black woollen frock-coat liberally pelted in pink and yellow. Then the Captain groaned aloud as Muniya clapped her hands in delight.

“Hōli, Bābā, ēṭā hōli! Caluna ēbaṁ ēṭā dēkhuna!” She began dragging him in the direction of the festivities. “Āmi bhālabāsā hōli - ēṭā āmāra janmadinēra chuṭi! Caluna dābānala dēkhatē yā'ōẏā! Āmākē shakarpara ēkaṭi pyākēṭa kinatē dibēna?”

St. John laughed. “You cannot fight the tide, my dear Marcus.”

“That I know, full-well. But we will be covered in chalk, and both need a thorough scrubbing, and she will stay awake all night with the noise and excitement.”

“I shall help you wash out your hair afterwards, Captain.”


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notes:

This chapter, a belated sort of epilogue four years after the end of the story proper, was written as a gift to motetus for all the art she did for P&P. When I offered to write her a bit of erotica in return, she replied that she did not care what I gave her, and indeed she would happily accept “the Captain and St. John have completely platonic travel adventures”, just so long as I wrote her something. So here, motetus, is a completely platonic travel adventure. Enjoy.

impale – some translations of the Old Testament describe Haman's execution as a hanging. This is incorrect, but probably done to avoid frightening children.

steam barge – At this time, many forms of transportation were beginning to transition into steam-power, especially small water craft.

double-stateroom – The stateroom was rented with the direct intention of having both men sleep in it and share the bed; this was entirely normal for the time period.

Holi – Holi is a delightful spring holiday. The meaning of the day is variable and complex; the rituals differ from place to place. One thing, however, holds true for Holi no matter where it is celebrated: the festival is enormously fun. Social conventions are temporarily set aside, men light bonfires in public squares, women beat men with sticks, children break out into singing and drumming and dancing, and everyone runs about, stuffed full of sweets, dressed in their finest and pelting each other with handfuls of brightly coloured powder.

shakarpara – A bit like doughnut holes, shakarpara are lumps of flour dough, deep-fried and rolled in sugar syrup.

Chapter Text

In which the Rev. St. John experiences a Mortification of the Flesh without ever removing his Trousers.

 
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St. John leant back against the sandalwood tree, looking out over the placid surface of the lake. Such a tranquil scene; it soothed the mind just to gaze at it. Water lapped at the toes of his boots and leaves rustled overhead, trembling with each passing breeze. He felt himself drifting off as sleep overtook his weary body.
 
He woke with a start as a cold, wet band tightened around his waist, nearly choking off his mortal breath. His hands reached to grasp whatever was constricting him, only to find themselves also surrounded by wet and slime. St. John's eyes strove to take in the horror before them: long, grey tentacles, like writhing eels, snaking out of the lake and around his upright body, encircling his chest and limbs and pinning him to the tree. He struggled in vain against his bonds; rubbery but firm, they yielded no movement.
 
He stood transfixed, mouth open in horror, as two fat pink tentacles sporting wide, reddened suckers slid out of the waves. They crept towards his boots and parted, one wrapping around each ankle, sliding under the cuffs of his trousers and up towards his knees, leaving a trail of wet but strangely warm slickness behind. As they traveled up his thighs he shook with fear, the only movement left to him. One tentacle wrapped itself around his cock, red suckers latching onto that most sensitive member, while the other wormed in between his buttocks.
 
I am to be torn apart and devoured by this monster. God save me.
 
The second tentacle thrust and probed its way into his arse, filling him with a most curious sensation; all the while, the first tentacle continued tugging on his growing arousal. St. John struggled against his bonds, fighting the white heat that pooled in his belly until he could fight no more. Tentacles swelled, thrust and sucked. He cried out, shame mingled with pleasure, as a wave of blackness passed before his eyes. When he awoke he found himself lying in a heap on the ground, waves lapping calmly at the shore. The tentacles had vanished.
 
St. John staggered back to the campsite, limbs trembling. His arse ached and he could not erase the sensation of suckers tugging gently at his cock.
 
Cpt. Aquilaine glanced up from the fire he was nursing into life. “Are you well, Reverend?”
 
“Yes, quite. I am still waking from a brief nap, that is all.” His cheeks were red.
 
“I failed to mention earlier—the natives tell strange tales about the lake. Best explore it as a group, I hear.”
 
St. John gave him a cold stare; sarcasm lent his words a harsh edge. “I thank you for that most valuable information. You are, as ever, both timely and thoughtful. Surely, where would I be without a friend such as yourself?”
 
Cpt. Aquilaine frowned at him, puzzled, and turned back to the fire.
 
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notes:
 
tentacle porn – Tentacle porn is a strange but popular sub-genre of porn; generally, it involves a familiar character being captured by and sexually involved with the tentacles, either with or without their consent. I make no excuse for writing this; it is entirely my own doing.

Chapter Text

By the spring of 1841, the situation in Kabul had begun to deteriorate swiftly. Morale and discipline amongst the troops was very low, and the British slowly came to recognise that Shuja Shah had been deposed so many years ago for increasingly obvious reasons (namely, he wished to execute everyone he considered an enemy, and was infuriated that the British would not allow it). Then Shuja Shah decided to demand a proper palace, rather than living at the army's fort, and so a new, temporary fort was built for him just outside Kabul, in a low-lying basin surrounded by hills on all sides; most of the vital army supplies, such as food, weapons, and ammunition, were stored in separate buildings outside the walls of the new fort, some three-quarters of a mile away. Sir Willoughby Cotton was replaced by Major-General Elphinstone, and Lord Auckland's government back in Calcutta ceased payments to the local Afghani tribes.

The situation quickly turned restive, but Macnaghten, who had played such a large rôle in convincing Auckland that placing Shuja Shah on the throne would be ideal, refused to acknowledge that problems had arisen. Despite numerous warnings from the officers under him, he continued to write to Calcutta, reassuring the Governor-General and the public that matters were well under control, and that a few unhappy tribesmen was the normal run of Afghani life.

As 1841 progressed, it became more and more dangerous for British troops patrolling the countryside surrounding Kabul. That autumn, Sir Robert Sale and his regiment were withdrawn to Jalalabad; Lady Sale remained behind with their daughter, Alexandrina, recording the daily happenings of the city in her diary. The reduced British and Presidency forces, who were charged with keeping the peace in a city of 100,000, now numbered 4,500 in total (mostly aging officers and soldiers who had never seen action, as India had been peaceful for three decades), plus 12,000 family members, servants, army support staff, and camp followers. On the second of November, Akbar Khan (the son of Dost Mohammad, who had been engaged in guerrilla skirmishes with the occupying British for over a year), proclaimed that it was time for Afghanis to revolt against their oppressors. Riots in Kabul followed, during which a senior officer and his staff were killed whilst on patrol. Their bodies were hacked to bits and burned. Elphinstone, Macnaghten, and the rest of the British watched from their new fort as smoke rose from the city; ever optimistic, Lord Elphinstone suggested waiting until morning to investigate, as he did not think it could be terribly important.

A week later, the British army's supply buildings were stormed and captured. Macnaghten, finally admitting that perhaps he had been incorrect a time or two, wrote to Sir Robert Sale and told him to return to Kabul; Sale, who was no fool, ignored the message despite the danger to his wife and daughter. Meanwhile, other Afghanis began to take advantage of the local geography, and camped out in the hillsides surrounding the British fort, casually shooting down at the troops as they marched about in formation. Lady Sale faithfully continued her journal. Then Akbar Khan entered the city in triumph, and Macnaghten wrote to him, requesting a cease-fire.

Two days before Christmas, in 1841, Macnaghten and three fellow-officers met with Akbar Khan just outside the walls of Kabul. Khan had invited them personally, to discuss the terms of surrender over tea. Once Macnaghten dismounted, he was shot to death by a pistol he had given Khan as a gift days earlier; his head (followed shortly thereafter by his limbless torso) was paraded through the city. Elphinstone chose to ignore it.

A week later Khan offered a new set of terms: give up all supplies, all weapons, all treasure and money, and the 130 highest-ranking officers plus their families. In return, Akbar Khan would personally escort the remaining British 100 miles to India. (One can safely presume that Col. Fitzpatrick was among the 130 officers—and what a terrible blow to England! For none of the officers or family members were ever seen again.) The terms were beyond terrible; Elphinstone accepted. Thus began, on January 6, 1842, a desperate and hopeless retreat.

Ten inches of snow fell the first day; Khan's escort never arrived; the retreating mass of humanity, 16,000 in all, only managed to travel six miles. After three days, freezing in the thigh-high snow, starving and shot at from all sides by tribesmen in the hills above, the British were only ten miles outside of Kabul, and now numbered 13,000. Via messengers, Khan repeatedly offered sanctuary for women and children, but those who took him up on the offers never returned. Lord Elphinstone simply sat on his horse, refusing to give any more orders. Alexandrina Sale's husband died, and she and her mother buried him in the snow, digging with their bare hands. Lady Sale wrote down the events as best she could, despite having been shot through the wrist. When Khan offered safety to a few British ladies, including the Sales, they accepted under the assumption that it might be better than freezing to death in the pitiless cold. While lower-ranking soldiers were left to fend for themselves, killed one by one as they were attacked by Afghani tribesman day and night, Elphinstone also became Khan's captive, voluntarily, thus disgracing himself even further than had been expected.

By January 11, only 4,000 British survived. They began to break into smaller groups and fend for themselves; those who had horses attempted to flee individually, hoping to reach Jalalabad. Many were reported to have made heroic stands; the last 40 members of the 44th Regiment of the Foot were offered a chance to surrender by the Afghanis surrounding them, but their sergeant was reported to have said, “Not bloody likely!” On the 13th of January, an exhausted pony staggered up to the walls of Jalalabad before dying under its rider, Doctor William Brydon. He had been stabbed multiple times; a piece of his skull had been sheared off by a sword. When the British troops in the city, keeping a watch out for thousands of refugees, asked what had happened to the army at Kabul, Brydon reportedly replied, “I am the army.”

Britain and India were both deeply shocked when word of the massacre trickled out. Lord Auckland, who had been a driving force behind the war from the very beginning, suffered a stroke upon hearing the news. Demands for a new Governor-General in the Bengal Presidency began to make themselves known. Akbar Khan moved his small group of prisoners back towards Kabul, along the path they had taken a month earlier, and Lady Sale dutifully recorded the horror of passing by (and occasionally, directly over) thousands and thousands of frozen British corpses. The bullet remained lodged in her wrist. Elphinstone survived until April before dying in captivity. Shuja Shah, oddly enough, also survived until April of 1842, presumably because the other Afghani tribal chiefs could not decide whether to simply kill him or claim him as their own puppet Emir. British regiments from Jalalabad and India joined together (including Cpt. Aquilaine's former regiment, the 42nd Bengal Native Infantry), led in part by Sir Robert Sale, and by mid-summer they had routed various tribes in a fury, chasing them nearly back to Kabul. Khan continued to hesitate with his prisoners, saying one thing and doing another; in September he finally took the 95 remaining captives to Bamiyan. En route, they were once again forced to follow the path they had taken when fleeing Kabul during the winter, and the trails were still littered with corpses, now in advanced stages of decay. The British armies rescued the prisoners in late September, and retook Kabul—just long enough to burn it to the ground in retribution.

Dost Mohammad reclaimed the Afghan throne, and this time no one fought him for it. He would die a natural death in 1863, almost unknown for a ruler of Afghanistan. His son Akbar Khan, who had driven out the British and helped restore his father to the throne, died in 1846 at the age of 30; many believe he was poisoned by Dost Mohammad himself, who feared his talent and ambition.

Lady Sale published her diary in 1843; she entitled it A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan, 1841 – 1842. It was an instant success.