Many the couples who lie dreaming
In a coldly separate stillness
- Tom Paulin, "The Civil Lovers"
"Beloved," said Mr Borenius, and Clive shifted on the hard pew. "We are come together in the presence of almighty God – "
It might well be so – Anne was smiling at the other people in the church, looking positively delighted to be there. Clive knelt obediently, as the rest did, and found his prayer book with shaking hands.
"Dear," Anne whispered. "Are you well?"
He nodded irritably at her as one might swat a fly, and she subsided. Borenius was praying, his voice as sonorous and monotonous as ever. Clive could not feel anger towards him – it was unseemly for a man in his position – but he could despise him, as one did one's social inferiors. But Anne adored the man so!
"We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts," which lament Clive conceded somewhat reluctantly. He needn't have spent the week in town when Anne was holding down the fort here at Penge – in her condition, too. There had been no reproaches, of course, for she was not that sort of woman. But Clive had felt the niggling sense of guilt even as he took the train down. It had been business, naturally, nothing else would have kept him from home so long.
"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done," and Clive was forced to acknowledge the existence of the telephone. But Anne had understood, as she always did. "And we have done those things which we ought not to have done."
He had his regrets, certainly, chief among them concerning old Maurice. He should have done more to help him, his Cambridge chum, should have done everything in his power. But matters had been strained for a while – the natural result of leaving Trinity, perhaps – and Clive had let their friendship drift. Of all his regrets, that must be the most bitter: that while he'd been caught up in his own affairs, his marriage and politics (Clive thought the word with all the spite of a candidate's humiliating loss), his boyhood friend – for his Cambridge years were inextricably linked with his boyhood – had been spiralling further and further down into dreadful despair. Had Scudder been the name? It must have been awful for Maurice to be driven to such lengths. Clive should have noticed. He had no one, simply no one, to blame for Maurice's disappearance but himself. Some nights, the only notion he could find comfort in was that Maurice surely couldn't have lasted long in such circumstances. He'd probably blown his brains out long ago, quite honourably.
"Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed of all their sins..."
A bath would be a fine thing, Clive thought, and instantly felt remorseful. This was not, had never been, the Hellenist fancies of his youth. This was something real and solid. In fact, he was rather ashamed of those fantasies. They had often visited him as he came upon some woodland glade or other; he could not tell Anne of them, these small sillinesses.
There were many things he could not tell his innocent wife; things that she had no need to know, for example, or that would shock her – and she in such a delicate state. When Maurice had vanished, she had said,
"But Clive – you were to have dinner," and there had been an end to it, for her. She was distressed, naturally, far more than Clive could have been with such suspicion heavy in his heart; but for Anne, Maurice had promised to have dinner with Clive and therefore he must have been kidnapped or murdered (lurid as both these circumstances were) rather than anything of his own volition.
There was also –
"O Lord, make haste to help us," Clive said mechanically. Anne, beside him in almost all he did, murmured,
The sermon was interminable, though Clive must put that down to Borenius being of the Low Church. It was the sort of thing that would have impressed Maurice, though, years ago. When he first came to Cambridge, before he picked up those strange ideas of his. He'd been quite hot on the Resurrection, at one time –
He really shouldn't have spent all that time in London. It wasn't fair to Anne, even if his mother kept her company. Borenius was going on about Original Sin again, and the lusts of the body. But damn it, one's wife didn't count. He'd say so, too, but it would surely upset Anne.
So many things upset Anne nowadays. Clive would never dream of mentioning it, but she'd been almost cold last weekend. She'd dismissed the new footman, too, when good servants were hard to come by. There'd been no explanation, only the young man (and Clive had noted him with aesthetic appreciation) gone and some middle-aged fusser in place. He'd remarked on it, naturally, but Anne had been distracted before she could offer her explanation.
Yesterday, when he'd returned, she'd been smiling serenely, like any radiant mother. He hadn't the heart to tell her what he'd meant to on the train coming up, hadn't the heart to make her compassionate soul unhappy. It had been Kingsley – the barrister, friend of the family, all quite acceptable – who'd taken him down to that street, showing him the locus of the crime, so to speak.
"All we have to do, really," Kingsley had said, "is prove that your chum never saw this street in his life."
"Good grief," Clive had replied, laughing, "I knew him at Cambridge, that's all."
"I know a lot of chaps from Cambridge, too," Kingsley had retorted, with the natural insolence of an Oxford man.
"Well, I've not met him since," Clive had said, feeling unaccountably as if he'd lost that argument.
The street had been rather pathetic, like something out of Dickens – though Clive hadn't read him in years – but what had really caught his eye was the boy sitting on the step. The house had been nothing out of the ordinary – for this particular back-alley, anyway, rather out of the ordinary for Clive himself – but the boy, beneath the grime and the ill-fitting clothes had had something of Maurice's charm.
Well, one couldn't tell Anne about that.
"This is the Word of the Lord," came the insidious whirring of Borenius's voice.
"Thanks be to God," Clive echoed. Yes, Anne simply could not understand the agape men could have for each other – no, philos, that was it. The sort of love there could only be between two men; women could not appreciate it. Not that Anne was sordid; if anything, she brought Clive's mind to higher things. No, it was merely that she, as a representative of her sex, would not grasp the beautiful subtlety of such a relationship. It had not been erotic, for Clive, though the boy had encouraged his prurient actions. No, the connection had been mental, if not as platonic as was pleasing. And Anne would not understand.
Besides, it was such a small matter in the everyday way of things. The important issue was to be settled well and to breathe life into the world – and Anne was living personification of both. Clive reached out to her suddenly, needing to feel the warm solidity of her arm.
She turned at his touch, her brow furrowed. "Clive," she whispered, "dear, really, are you well? You're acting so strangely."
He nodded wordlessly at her, his capacity for speech gone at such an emotional moment. Borenius's voice was swelling; he had finally achieved another tone besides profundity.
"And may the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all evermore," he proclaimed, rather as Maurice had once or twice, before he fell in with Risley's crowd. But, really, why think of Maurice at a time like this? One needed to build one's happiness on a rock.
"Amen," Clive said dutifully, and leant forward to kiss Anne on the cheek.