Sooner than Britten realized, though not sooner than he had hoped, the time between chapel services and tennis matches sped by and the Easter vac was nearly upon them. As much as he trembled to be back in the bosom of his family, he could not help but feel for Pears who would be spending another vacation under the stern eye of the headmaster and the adoring eye of Imo. Writing to his family he enlisted their sympathy. Representations were made and, after a few discreet words behind the scenes, it was arranged that Pears would be celebrating Easter in Lowestoft with the Britten family.
Nothing was said between the two boys at school. Certainly nothing was said in front of Burra, Pears' most intimate friend at school, who was spending the hols in Switzerland with his own family. Britten liked it better that way. It was only on the final day of school, when bags were packed and goodbyes were said, that they found themselves heading for the same motorcar and regarding one another with a conspiratorial smile. Out-of-school friends were special. It was as simple as that. One always heard tales of derring-do out of term that could never be matched by boys within the grounds of Hunstanton.
Britten was so full of hope and pride that he forgot completely to introduce Pears to his waiting parents. Three and a half years older, Pears was full of every social grace.
"How do you do," he said, nodding his head politely. "Mrs. Britten; Mr. Britten. It's so kind of you to have invited me. And of Benjamin to have suggested the idea in the first place."
Blushing to the tops of his ears, Britten helped load his luggage into the boot. He hadn't realized that Pears even knew his Christian name. Once they were on the road he turned to his friend, who was sitting with his knees jammed up against the seat in front.
"I say," he ventured in an undertone, "ought I to call you 'Peter'? It seems awful cheek."
"Then I suppose I ought to apologise for my cheek as well," said Pears. "Only it seems odd to call you Britten when one is surrounded by Brittens."
"Oh, I quite understand."
When Pears apologised one was somehow always impressed with his generosity. One got the feeling that he was impressed with himself too. But Britten forgave him for that. He could forgive Pears almost anything.
"At my prep they called me Benjie, sometimes."
Pears made a thoughtful face.
"Maybe not," Britten amended hastily.
"I shall call you B," Pears said. "That way I can't be accused of slighting either one of your names."
Britten nodded silently. He could not think of a nickname which he would like better. It was an honour as rarified as a knighthood or a peerage, and far more personal. As the flat East Anglian landscape rolled past, he sat quietly shaping his tongue around the letter. And he was more than content with its taste.
"Though the Philistines may jostle, you will rank as an apostle in the high æsthetic band,
If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your mediæval hand. And ev'ryone will say,
As you walk your flow'ry way, 'If he's content with a vegetable love which would certainly not suit me,
Why, what a most particularly pure young man this pure young man must be!'"
--Gilbert and Sullivan, Patience
On Easter morning they breakfasted contentedly on perfectly browned toast and perfectly boiled eggs. Then they walked to church along the seafront, waves breaking in glorious crashes of foam. Pears laughed with delight as the whipping wind blew the spray inland.
In church it was close and stuffy, everyone crowding in together past the foyer as they removed scarves and coats. There was a scent of brass polish and candle wax. Britten slid into a pew beside Pears. He felt all elbows trying to put the kneeler down. At the organ, Mrs Watson struck up the familiar strains of the opening hymn. In Pears' large hands the hymnal came open to just the right spot.
"I can never remember the words," he said in an undertone.
"You don't have to, silly," Britten replied. "That's what the book is for."
From further down the pew his mother gave him a warning look.
Over all the other singers in the church, even over the choir, Britten could hear Pears' clear tenor soaring. He shivered, more in reverence for beauty than for the resurrection of Christ. Indeed he was thinking only of himself, of how everyone at Christ Church would know that the young man with the glorious voice was his particular friend.
When they emerged at the end of the service, his heart was flying. He and Pears outpaced the rest of the Britten family on the short walk home. Britten jumped to the top of the sea wall and walked along it, careless of the wind.
"It's very Low Church," said Pears, looking back.
"It's my church," Britten said, stung.
He glanced back over his shoulder at the familiar squat, striped-brick facade of Christ Church. The octagonal, off-centre bell tower was still pealing out the good news of Eastertide. Abruptly it seemed shabby and mean to him, hunched and abashed next to the sweep of the sea. He had never thought of it before, never considered the idea that it might be anything than what it was. Hunstanton chapel with its architectural glories and its incense and ritual belonged in his mind to a different world.
"That's not to say," Pears added hastily, "…look, B, I didn't mean it like that."
"It sounded actually like you did."
In cold silence they stalked back to the house, side by side. It was not like them to argue. Here was Pears sitting in one of the low armchairs in the parlour, stretching out his legs to the fire, and Britten was still too cross to look at him straight. It was all a waste. Britten's mother looked in to tell them that Easter dinner would be on the table soon, and then closed the door behind her with an air of not wanting to get in between the two of them.
The old grandfather clock ticked on.
"I am sorry, B," said Pears. And for once it sounded as if he meant it really and truly.
"I think too much of myself," he continued. "Once upon a time I was meant to be a priest, you know, only I have too much of the Greek in me. Perhaps I do care more about beauty than truth. It was very un-Christian of me, B. And on Easter too."
"Sometimes I think I'm not very Christian at all," Britten confessed.
"You don't look like a little heathen to me."
"Not a heathen. Not quite. Only perhaps I'm an aesthete? Like you and Burra."
"I didn't know you wanted to be an aesthete," said Pears, poking at the fire until he dislodged one great log with a crash. It was rotten and glowing through with embers. "You don't seem the sort to walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your mediaeval hand."
"I want to be quite a few things," said Britten solemnly, ignoring the allusion. "Just because I'm not in the sixth yet, it doesn't mean I can't have ambitions."
"What a most particularly pure man…" Pears began.
But before they could discuss any further, Mrs Britten put her head around the door again and said that dinner was ready. It was a massive spread that took up most of their attention for the afternoon, first eating and then digesting. When they had returned to the sitting room, Britten went to the games cupboard and retrieved a dog-eared deck of cards for 'Happy Families,' not quite as disused as he might have claimed. They played game after game bent keenly over the cards, just as competitive as if it had been tennis. Britten won and won again. It was his game after all.
"All that lamb has made me stupid," said Pears, yawning.
"You could never be stupid," said Britten.
One shockingly warm spring day they went for a long walk inland. Too long perhaps because when darkness began to fall they were still miles from home. Maps could only do so much. They spent ages waiting for a bus that never came. When they got up from the bench again, the twilight had faded from the sky and they were both shivering with cold.
"Come along, my Esquire," said Pears and struck off for home.
Twenty minutes later it became clear that they were headed in the wrong direction. On an unfamiliar little country lane in an avenue of trees, it was pitchy black under the boughs and one could hardly tell the road from the brambles.
"Bloody hell it's dark," muttered Pears under his breath.
Britten's reproachful look utterly failed to travel. Experimentally he waved his hand in front of his face and saw almost nothing. It could just as well have been a bat.
Doggedly they tramped on. When they finally came to a signpost at a junction, even its large, clear letters were illegible in the gloom. From his pocket Pears took a lighter. Its small burst of flame revealed the legend "Lowestoft - 3." Back the way they had come.
"D'you smoke?" said Britten doubtfully.
"D'you smoke?" came the mocking echo out of the dark. "As it happens I don't. But aren't you glad I had a lighter with me?"
Britten had to admit that he was. And there were more pressing things to worry about.
"It's so dark I can't even tell where you are."
It was then that Pears linked arms with him, pulling Britten close. He was warm and his breath smelt faintly of Kendal Mint Cake.
And so together they turned and headed for home, heartened already by their comradeship. Pears strode along so quickly with his long legs that Britten had to trot to keep up. But he hardly minded. The dark seemed so much less vast with Pears by his side.
"This way," he said, "neither one of us can fall in a ditch without the other noticing."
"This way when I fall in the nettles, B, I can pull you in after me."
"I wouldn't mind," said Britten confidentially.
"I would! You'd land bang on top of me."
"But I'm small, you know."
"You're getting bigger everyday, my boy," said Pears.
Soon they came out of the wood and into the familiar fields of home, all silver with frost and the moon riding large and golden overhead. It was still dark and they were still a long way from Lowestoft but at least they were neither of them alone. They marched along together, singing raucously to the broad, starry sky. When Britten began to shiver, Pears took the end of his own long school scarf and wrapped it carefully around Britten's neck. No one was the colder and all they had to do was lean together a little more. Britten's heart was overflowing with the joy of the night.
It was nearly midnight when they tumbled in the door together, arm in arm. They were still linked by the scarf, breathing hard and rosy-cheeked and ever so pleased with their adventure. And the best of it was that Mrs. Britten had left the kettle on for them. They sat down in front of the fire and the toast that Pears made for the both of them was just perfect.
"I can't wait to tell the chaps at school about all this," said Britten, pouring more tea.
Pears stopped in mid-chew. "I don't think I shall, actually."
"Isn't it better just the two of us knowing?"
Struck all of a sudden by the thought, Britten fell silent. He nodded and poked at the fire. And finally he ventured to speak.
"I--I--" he stammered awkwardly, "I should like to write you a song, Pears."
It was the highest compliment that he could think to pay.
Summer term and cricket only intensified Britten's admiration for Pears. The school's cricketers were at the height of their powers that year and Pears, although not the star of the team, was a credit to the First XI. All of a sudden the school had new glories. Wisteria climbed up the chapel walls and rhododendron bushes were so overgrown and overhung with blooms that they turned into jungles. In his cricket whites Pears strolled down winding paths with the assurance of a young god, a bat resting on his newly broadened shoulder and his hair burnished into gold with the sun.
During that glorious term it was difficult for even Britten to be unhappy. It was light so late that the smaller boys were given an extra hour awake, since no one could be expected to be in bed falling asleep at nine o'clock when the sun still hung red and burnished on the horizon. The older boys ranged further afield and there were always tales of larks and exploits and grand expeditions to marvel at. Had Kettle really found three nests of plover's eggs and eaten them all? Had three boys from the Upper Fifth really rowed all the way to the next village by cover of night and been safely back in their beds by dawn? Whatever Britten heard, he kept quiet, since he had learnt well the lesson that to betray one's comrades was the worst schoolboy sin of all.
(Deep in his heart he thought that perhaps they should own up. But he was at heart a truthful boy and if the headmaster had pressed him on any of these matters he would have broken in an instant.)
Pears was busy with cricket but he always made time for Britten. They spent hours on the tennis courts until they were sunburnt and dusty with clay. Other boys would wander past in groups, headed for the cricket pitch or the boathouse, and their lazy laughter and dismissive glances would float back on the air. Once Burra came past. Half a look was all the encouragement Britten needed to dive for an errant ball and drive it back over the net. He was limping the rest of the day, and all for the sake of impressing Pears' best friend.
If his association with Pears had increased the school's regard for him, Britten had not noticed. If Pears' association with him had diminished Pears in their eyes, Britten had not noticed that either. For those golden weeks it was as if they existed in a bubble, obscure and inviolate, a filmy sheen separating them imperceptibly from the outer world. The whole world seemed to be humming in harmonics below their feet. Imogen was their only auditor, slightly pink, with her gold hair coming down into a halo as she squinted into the lowering sun. She didn't bother them. Nothing more than a few breathless words of praise at the close of each set. The boys took the praise as their due. It would have been terribly embarrassing for all concerned if they had a made a fuss.
"Are you playing in the House match, Ben?" she asked one day.
"Don't know yet," he said, tongue-tied. He was fourteen now but she was nearly sixteen and she seemed a very great girl to him. Nearly grown. "I jolly well hope so."
"He will if they've got any sense," said Pears.
"Oh, I agree," said Imo devoutly. "They'd be mad not to see."
She was gazing still at Britten, which made him uncomfortable. A strange feeling was beginning to dawn on him that it was he, and not Pears, with whom Imo had fallen in love. He didn't like to think of it. Girls were a closed book to him although everyone assured him that this would soon change.
Britten looked fixedly at Pears, who offered Imo a few more pleasantries. (Pears always knew what to say.)
And then they wandered off together, leaving her by the court alone.
"She's a worshipper, that one," said Pears as they headed back to the house, twisting his racket in his hand. "Always has to have some idol to bow down before."
"I can't think it would be always wrong to worship someone," Britten replied, kicking at gravel as they went. "Not if he truly deserved it, I mean."
"Oh no, of course not. That would be completely different. In that case he wouldn't be an idol at all."
"If he were really good, really and truly like Galahad in Malory, one would be wrong not to worship him. Wouldn't one?"
Britten was lingering behind, not wanting to hasten the moment when they passed the threshold of the house and became once more a Sixth Former and his fag.
Pears laughed. "A very parfit gentle knight," he said. "Sadly the ages of chivalry have passed us by. All we have left now is Imo, who reads her Tennyson."
"You read Tennyson as well," Britten clarified quickly. He felt obscurely as if he'd stumbled across yet another threshold of whose existence he had been utterly ignorant.
Pears looked at him sidelong for a moment, then nodded.
"Come along, my Esquire. The sun waits for no man."
Setting sun or no, the weather was so lovely that when they got to the house they were reluctant to go through the door. Over the threshold the sun outlined their two shadows, stretching ahead of them across the wide floorboards of the hall. Ben cocked his head until the shadows just touched.
Someone of no consequence came racketing down the stairs. Ginger hair and a spattering of freckles that always made him look at if he'd never cleaned off the mud of the cricket pitch.
"Hi, Britten, we've been looking for you everywhere! What about old Horace? A hundred lines by tomorrow morning. You're the only one who can make heads or tails of him. Come on now, look sharp!"
"Must just put this kit away," said Britten, steeling himself for the din of the rooms upstairs and the shouts and sneers of vulgar boys. "Won't be a minute."
Pears had already wandered off to his study and the bath. Only one shadow on the floor now. By itself it seemed thin and wavering. Britten shut the door behind him and sighed.
Even during that golden term there were days of rain. At night wind whipped and rattled at the windows of the dormitory. By day the clouds were grey and lowering, and the heavens seemed to open whenever boys ran from one building to the next. One of Britten's construes got so sodden that the ink ran all over his hands as he was trying to dry it in front of the fire. Both tennis courts and cricket pitch were sodden and flooded. Gulls wheeled overhead, calling harshly. Even voices pitched for the indoors seemed harsher and more sharp than usual.
Driven indoors, Pears and Britten found themselves together in the music room. It was odd, perhaps, that they hadn't talked about music more. And yet it was so special to Britten that he hardly knew what to say about it, how to express the fierce feelings that left him scribbling feverishly into his notebook by the light of a torch after the other boys had gone to sleep. It was easier by far to play tennis and leave the rest of it to one side.
But here they were together, idling in that dim hour before dinner. Someone had left "Florrie the Flapper" on the gramophone. Pears took it off with a curl of his lip and replaced it with a Schumann string quartet. That didn't suit either. Britten wandered the room and then sat down at the piano, adding crashing dissonances to the innocent tune.
"Oh, I say," said Pears, "don't do that. What's old Robert ever done to you?"
"I like Schumann," Britten replied, impatient at the notion of having to defend himself from such a ridiculous charge. "It's just a rag. It's not as if it hurts him."
"You talk as if he were in the Upper Fourth with you."
Britten glared at Pears. He was so careless, and so amused, and so superior. It was a day when everyone seemed out of temper. It was hardly a surprise that they shared in the general mood. But it was so rare that they rubbed each other the wrong way, and every cross word caused a special pain. Their discord hurt him far more than any dissonance that found its way under his fingers.
"If I'm tiresome to you, why don't you go off and read poetry with Burra. You don't have to patronize me."
Pears shook his head, making a tsk-tsk noise.
"Be a good chap, B, don't give me that look."
"Don't tell me what to do!" Britten burst out, forgetting his position entirely.
"And why not?" said Pears archly.
And why not indeed? Pears had every right to do so, and no need whatsoever to take cheek from the likes of Britten.
"Because--because I can't bear it. Because it's raining and damp and miserable, and because there will be tomatoes with dinner again, I just know it. It's such a beastly day, don't let's be beastly to each other as well."
Said Pears finally: "You're right. You usually are. I'm sorry, B."
After that Britten hardly knew what to say.
"It's quite all right," he said, still ruffled and wanting to be smoothed down again. "Let's not mention it."
Thick raindrops were rolling streakily down the panes of the narrow casement windows. It was dim even though the sun would not set for hours. Pears went to light the lamps and draw the curtains closed against the chill. Britten was still sitting at the piano bench and the ivory keys drew his fingers. He never could sit at a piano without playing it, something which masters had rebuked him for time and again already. He played inconclusive chords, never resolving but just going round and round.
Pears was leaning back against the windowsill.
"You promised you'd write me a song to sing," he said. "Won't you?"
The song devoted to Pears had been through many incarnations, sheets and sheets of music paper ruined with scribbles and crossings out. Every Sunday Britten would watch him singing in chapel and find himself transported with the thought of what he could create, racing back to the House in his eagerness to record the melodies that danced through his head. But he never had the time to do it properly and once the notes were down on paper, scrawled with a blunt pencil, they looked banal and unpromising. In the trunk under his bed there was a whole stack of papers full of all the ideas that he had rejected. He couldn't bear to throw any of them away and he locked his trunk with a small padlock that he had bought last Easter in Lowestoft. Almost as bad as losing them was the thought of having them pried into by the small-minded and overly inquisitive boys of Hunstanton School.
"Just think of it," Pears continued. "It's so romantic, having something written for one.
"Clara," he sang, the two-note sighing fifth that was the movement's signature. And then: "Benjie…"
Britten giggled. "But it would be 'Peter,' wouldn't it?"
"If you made it that way," said Pears, a little smile tugging at his lips. "You're the composer, my boy."
Britten glowed with pride. And he began to ponder.
"But for the boy with a personality school is very dangerous."
A week later they were back in the music room. The weather had improved and outside there were shouts from boys at play. But Britten and Pears were hunched intently over the grand piano, studying the fair copy that Britten had painstakingly written out when he should have been doing his Latin translations. It was a thing of beauty, unmarred by ink blots or smudges. Pears studied it with every seriousness. Britten's heart seemed to be turning over in his chest; it was a feeling that he never had when unveiling little chamber pieces for his mother back in Lowestoft.
"Hmmm," said Pears doubtfully, clearing his throat.
"It's de la Mare. All five of them are."
Originally Britten had meant to set something by Rossetti or Swinburne, the richly romantic poetry that Pears and Burra loved to recite to one another with grand and dramatic gestures. All of it was too much for him, rich and honied words so dripping with feeling that he could not find his way among them. Instead he had turned to a beloved Christmas present, Walter de la Mare's "Peacock Pie." It was only now that he realized how childish the poems must seem to an older boy.
"You needn't sing them, you know," he added hastily, lest Pears feel obliged to pretend to welcome an unwelcome gift.
"I think they're just perfect, B. Not that I could sing them anything as well as they deserve."
"Please do just try?"
"Only if you promise to sing along with me and show me where I go wrong."
Singing wasn't his sort of thing. Composing had always interested him far more. He wasn't a member of the choir at Hunstanton. All he did, really, was caroling at Christmas. And on top of it all recently his voice had been playing up at the most embarrassing times.
"I shall play along with you," he said, demurring. "Perhaps I shall squeak from time to time."
"You squeak all you like. I shall squeak when I get to measure sixteen, see if I don't."
But Pears didn't.
They sat side by side on the piano bench, Britten's feet just barely reaching the pedals. Together they sang and played, two-handed and occasionally two-voiced, dropping notes left and right but forging always on. Pears' pure tenor breathed life into words that had hitherto been silent. Suddenly, almost shockingly, they meant. And they felt.
Nought gold where your hair was;
Nought warm where your hand was;
But phantom, forlorn,
Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.
Before Britten could remember to breathe, they were done and Pears was turning to him very close.
"Was that how you meant it to sound? Anything like it? I shan't complain if you flatter me, B, for I'm terribly vain."
"Just like that," said Britten, swallowing hard. "Gosh. If I were to tell you what I truly thought, I should sound as much of a worshipper as Imo."
Pears' smile was wide.
"Shall we try the next one?" he invited.
After that it seemed only fitting to try the next, and the next. Britten's head was spinning with the joys of artistry fulfilled and the glorious sound of Pears' voice shaping the notes that he had so fervently laboured over.
O ghost, draw nearer;
Let thy shadowy hair
Blot out the pages
That we cannot share;
Be ours the one last leaf
By Fate left bare!
As they drew finally to a close, Pears reached up to caress the last page of the manuscript. His hands were pale and strong and perfectly made; they might have been chiseled in the workshop of Michelangelo.
"It's just divine," he said.
Britten hardly knew what to say to that. And he didn't get the chance. Their idyll was cut short when a master appeared at the door of the music room. From the dark look on his face it appeared that he was not enjoying the music.
"Out of there, boys," he growled.
"Sir, we're just practicing," said Pears, turning on the bench and putting his hand on Britten's shoulder. "Britten has composed…"
"Out of there, I said. Never mind what Britten has composed. You're a prefect, Pears, you ought to know better than to hang about with younger boys like that. Have you nothing better to do with your time?"
Britten expected Pears to come back with another retort, but he did not. Instead he closed Britten's manuscript, solemnly handed it back to him, and left the room without another word.
The master looked at Britten.
"Please, sir, he's my friend."
"And what's that to do with anything? Haven't you any friends your own age?"
Britten knew better than to answer such a question truthfully. How terrible it was to be made a liar by those who ought to make one honest.
"I used to fancy that a big fellow would do no end of good to one lower in the School and that the two would stand to each other in the relation of knight to squire. You know what the knights were taught… to keep their bodies under subjection. To love God and speak the truth always. But when a boy takes up a little one, you know pretty well that those are not the kind of lessons he teaches."
--F.W. Farrar, Eric
It was not just their masters who began to notice and remark upon the time that he spent with Pears. Schoolfellows did so as well but, like the masters, they noticed all wrong. People had such small and petty minds. Britten couldn't help but overhear people talking about him.
"Britten is such a prig; I would have thought that he was as 'straight' as they come."
"Terribly 'pi,' isn't he?"
"Not so now."
"I should say not!"
Britten never told Pears and the two boys never discussed it. They saw less of one another after that. Occasionally they met for walks by the river but it seemed an indignity to sully a friendship so pure and good with such furtiveness. There was nothing else they could do. It was an inglorious way to have to end one's first year at school.
That summer Britten was surprised to find himself--not sorry to be away from Hunstanton exactly, for home had always been the centre of all his most fervent hopes and dreams--made melancholy by the smallest memories of school. The smell of grass as he lay full length watching through its blades the play of the First XI. The familiar asthmatic wheeze of the chapel organ, its distinctive rainbow of partials invested with an aura of sanctity that was absent from the church at home. Sounds of laughter, the crunch of toast, Pears humming to himself when he thought there was no one listening.
Most of all he remembered his last sight of Pears at the railway station. By then Pears should have been gone already but his train had left while he was still in the ticket office. Britten had hoisted his satchel to board his own train while Pears, careless, pushed his newly-bought ticket back across the counter to exchange it for another. In the train's doorway Britten paused, looking longingly back, but Pears did not remember to wave goodbye.
The train pulled out of the station agonizingly slowly, rounding a bend in the tracks so that Britten's view of the platform was veiled with smoke. A crowd of his fellow sixth formers surrounded Pears, ragging but doing it fondly. Burra had his arm around Pears' shoulders. Britten had pressed his face to the glass and watched silently. When he arrived at Lowestoft Station his mother had wiped at his nose with her handkerchief, saying that it was smudged with coal dust.
Everything seemed empty without Pears around. Britten wandered by himself along the edge of the sea and sang quietly when he thought no one was listening, testing the small compass of his newly deepening voice. He lingered at the piano and wrote sheaves and sheaves of music that was meant for no one else to hear.
"He's growing up," he overheard his mother saying to his father one evening, her voice quiet and apologetic.
And this too made him melancholy, the thought that something bright and precious had slipped past him before he had known to miss it. Growing up was such a puzzle. One regretted being small and then one was not small anymore and one regretted that too. Britten turned his mother's words over in his mind, wondering how being grown up could excuse anything.
At first it had been thought that Pears would return to Lowestoft for the summer vacation but instead he had gone to the continent with Peter Burra and his family. In the last few weeks of term there had been much excited talk over railway timetables and copies of Baedaker's. Burra returned from town with five thick volumes of Ruskin's Stones of Venice, their creamy pages fresh and unblemished. When he was out one day, Pears allowed Britten to pore over the engravings of strange vistas. It meant very little to him but as he reverently lifted each tissue-thin covering, he had felt a little bit of the excitement of the explorer.
Now Pears and Burra were there and he was not.
Unexpectedly in July there came a postcard with an unfamiliar postmark on it. It was the first time that Britten had received a card from abroad, and this one had winged its way across the Alps to reach him in Lowestoft.
My dear B, it said in Pears' friendly scrawl, so that Britten could almost hear his voice.
Venice is divine. And before that Puccini at La Scala, better than you might think. Burra and I keep pinching ourselves. Glorious food, all tomatoes and mushrooms and garlic. (You would detest it.)
Much love, PNLP.
And underneath, added in Burra's cramped script:
I am keeping Penny in hand. We promise not to go via Serbia! Burra.
In their beautiful bow-fronted sitting room on the seafront, Britten sat blinking and gazing at the postcard, its ink as black and fresh as if it had been written minutes earlier. Never before had the endless horizon of the North Sea felt so narrow and cramped. Never before had he been conscious, really and truly, of the world that lay beyond it.
Only days later, war broke out across Europe.