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Bincombe Tunnel

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You could be rougher with men. Like him and Maurice in that hotel room last night. By the time the dawn had peeped through them ragged old curtains telling them it was time to get up, he'd a wonder the bed was still standing. But he weren't going to think about that. Thinking were a gentleman's game. Thinking was what Maurice had been doing too much of, dreaming up ideas for them, trying to make him believe the impossible. It were too late for all that kind of talk. Not that there was ever a time for it in the first place. In a few days he'd be gone, off to the Argentine to make something of himself, same way as Fred had done. Wasn't no point in staying here and having a life of yes ma'am, no ma'am till he ended up like old Ayres who had nothing to show for himself but fifty years of answering to some that was no better than him when it came down to it.

Even so, he'd been in a hell of a rush to get away once Maurice had started with his, let's make plans, we can do anything talk. He could hardly bear it, mad words, like Maurice didn't care about people or money or anything you had to care about. Like it were just the two of them, and they could do anything. Well, they couldn't. He'd been a bit harsh, to be true, not saying goodbye at the end, but he couldn't stay and talk it out. Maurice was too good at that. It had been a bit of fun before he left old England for good, that was all. And why not? Mind you, he'd gone a bit far in saying it was a shame they'd met. He'd caught the look on Maurice's face and knew he'd struck a low blow. No mistake there.

He shouldn't be thinking like this. Trouble was, he couldn't help himself, there weren't much else to do sat here. And if he wasn't thinking about Maurice, it was Fred and the Argentine. Some strange place half way round the world where men went if they wanted to get on. Men like him. And Maurice wouldn't really give it all up. Not for him. He'd miss having his hair all neatly cut the way it was. And his clothes freshly pressed. Not that he'd seem to care last night, throwing them off the way he had. They'd been snuggled up tight by morning, neither of them thinking much about clothes. The real world had been some other place outside the window. Someplace they weren't. Stay with me, Maurice had said, don't go, we can find somewhere. He could persuade a man, given a chance. But where would they go? The pair of them the way they were. Nowhere, that's where.

Mr Borenius called it fornication, thought he'd been doing it with girls. But he weren't stupid, he'd seen the way you could get caught and wed before you knew what you were about. That weren't for him, whatever the reverend was thinking. And what would you think, mister, if you knew who I had been with. And in the squire's house at that, in one of his beds, with them big soft pillows behind my head and wrapped in fresh white sheets all rumpled and creased. And him and Maurice talking. Like they was friends. Only they couldn't be, not really. He'd be home soon, wherever home was, Penge or Osmington it didn't matter, packing his kit for the boat and Fred nagging at him to smarten up. And that would be that.

He started as the whistle sounded and the train rattled into a tunnel, plunging the carriage into darkness. Before he could help himself, he was back at Penge with Maurice, lying in the shadows of the Russet Room, touching and kissing and sharing. 'Did you ever dream you'd a friend, Alec…' He tried to stop himself, but it were almost like it weren't a memory at all, but that the two of them were together right at that moment, and Maurice was talking, and asking and smiling and not needing an answer.

Just as suddenly as it had entered the tunnel, the train sprang back into the brightness of the morning and his vision was gone. The brakes groaned, the train slowed and he could see the station looming up ahead as they pulled round the bend. '…someone to last your whole life?' He leapt out of his seat and went out into the corridor. Yanking at the window leather, he pulled down the strap. He leant out and turned the handle just as the stationmaster's whistle blew. The train still moving, he jumped. There was a shout, but he was already scrambling up the wall where he'd find a short cut through the woods waiting for him on the other side. And before anyone could stop him, he had clambered over and disappeared.