The Tarses of Sodom

A fourth indelicate frivolity
By Mihangel

Segment 2

Rob and I paused at the entrance to the staircase which led to B4. Painted on the stone of the door jamb was a black panel. Below a large white B was a list of numbers and names. Halfway down came '4: S. Furbelow' and, underneath it, 'R. Nethercleft.'

"Huh!" said Rob. "Condemned for ever to be bottom boy, am I?"

"Bollocks! I'm bottom boy just as often. Come upstairs and I'll show you."

I showed him. And the other way round. We had been abstemious too long.

Thus began our university career. B4 was lovely, and we grew in sympathy with Finch and Baines. All the other occupants of the staircase being dons -- the generic term for Fellows -- who did not live in, it was wonderfully quiet internally, if externally the bus station was rather too close. College life and lectures rapidly became routine. We made friends and made them fast. One of the first things we learnt was that Cambridge must be one of the most gay-friendly places on earth. If Hambledon had been good, Cambridge was even better.

An even earlier thing we learnt -- as we had suspected in June -- was that Cambridge is far from the snooty place it is often made out to be. While there was a small clique of Hooray Henrys, everyone else ignored them. Otherwise it was a friendly mix of all sorts, and your background mattered not a hoot. Take Emma, now president of CADS. Her upbringing, as her broad vowels proclaimed, had been anything but posh, yet she was about the most popular person in college.

We had barely been at Christ's for a day when she appeared in B4 and press-ganged us -- far from unwillingly -- into joining CADS. She begged us to take part in the freshers' play, an annual show written and staged solely by freshers. That lay months ahead. But the first CADS play of the academic year, traditionally a Shakespeare or something old, was booked for late November. This year it was to be Julius Caesar, and Emma roped me in as Brutus. Easy enough, as I'd been Brutus once at Hambledon.

This was the time when the new government was making itself thoroughly unpopular with proposals for cuts across the financial board. Worst hit of all were the universities. Subsidies were to be slashed, and the only way to recoup the loss would be by tripling student fees. Although this was not due to take effect for two years, resentment was already deep and widespread.

But we had barely been at Christ's for a week when there was a much more cheering event. On the way back for lunch from a lecture, I bumped into Rob in the porters' lodge. Both of us were heading for our pigeon holes to see if we had any post. There were no letters, but we both had notes to say that we had parcels to collect.

"In the corner there," said the porter. "They weigh a ton!" There were two huge boxes, and yes, both were addressed to both of us.

"What on earth are they?" we asked each other simultaneously.

"Booze, gents, booze," said the porter. "I know booze when I see it."

But who the hell from? We picked up a box apiece and staggered off, the porter gazing wistfully after us. Safe in B4 we tore them open. He was right. A dozen bottles of single malt in each box. One was all Islays -- Laphraoig, Lagavulin, Bruichladdich, Lochindaal -- the other all Highlands -- Balvenie, Glenmorangie, Brora, Highland Park.

"Jesus!" cried Rob, calculating. "There's the best part of a grand's worth here! Who . . . ?"

"Look, there's an envelope."

He ripped it open. Inside was a sheet of stiff notepaper with a handwritten message.

Dear Sam and Rob,

We wanted to thank you for all you've done for Hugo, and especially for helping him out of the clutches of the Villiers boy. Since then he's been the happy soul he was before.

He tells us you're both partial to this. We felt it might not be tactful to send it to you at school, or even at home, so it's had to wait until you arrived at Cambridge. Enjoy!

Warm regards,

Everard and Hermione.

At the top was the printed heading 'Pidley Hall, Warwickshire.' The Spencers! Hugo's parents! We'd never even met them. We looked at each other in blank amazement.

Having sent a heartfelt thank-you letter, we debated how best to enjoy and conserve our stocks. We decided never to drink any until after dinner, and only sparingly at that. We wanted to become neither prematurely alcoholic nor prematurely maltless. But we always kept two bottles on the go. Where I am a Highland fan, Rob prefers Islay, which is far too peaty for my palate.

"How you stomach it is beyond me," I complained. "It tastes of TCP."

"How do you know? TCP should never be swallowed. It says so on the bottle."

"Smells of TCP, then."

(In case you know it not, TCP is a mild antiseptic named after its original composition of trichlorophenylmethyliodosalicyl, now replaced by a mixture of phenol and halogenated phenols. For this note I am indebted to my scientific adviser.)

*

Emma proved right. Prufrock did ask us round for sherry of an evening, usually once a week. As advised, we went. It proved no hardship. As we got to know each other, he thawed, his language became less outlandish, he could be great fun, and he displayed no visible signs of the predator. He soon called us Rob and Sam, though we never found it in us to call him Lancelot in return. We would talk about almost any subject under the sun, for (apart from sport, modern music, films and women) he was remarkably well-informed. Rob's diagnosis was that his loud and eccentric mannerisms were a shell protecting a vulnerable interior.

In due course Hugo and Alex came to Cambridge for their interviews, metaphorically if not literally hand in hand, and we made them as welcome as we could in the short time available.

Julius Caesar also came and went. Not a brilliant production -- too stolid and bland for my taste -- but CADS seemed pleased enough. Next evening Emma dropped in to B4 with two requests. First, would I stand for election as secretary next year? A compliment, and welcome. Secondly, would I produce the play a year from now? Shakespeare or something, of my choice, subject to the committee's approval. An even bigger compliment, and I had little hesitation in saying yes. Rob would of course help. He said so.

*

At the end of November, when we were well established in our routine, there befell the curious and crucial episode of the Button Hole, as we came to call it.

What a day that was! One night I sat up very late, writing an essay for Prufrock which had to be in next day. It did not go as well as I hoped, and it took a long time before I could do no more. No problem -- I'm an owl who operates better late than early. Rob grumbled that it would deprive him of my presence in bed, but being long familiar with my propensity he didn't grumble much. So it was far into the small hours before I snuggled in beside him, and disgustingly late that I got up. Luckily I had no lectures that day. What woke me was the arrival of our bedder.

Bedders are a feature of the Cambridge landscape. They are ladies of usually plain appearance and indeterminate age, whose profession is no longer, as it once was, to make beds, but rather to keep undergraduates' rooms in a cleaner condition than is natural to the species. They attend twice a week at a reasonably civilised hour. We had not persuaded ours to call us anything less formal than Mr Nethercleft and Mr Furbelow, and so perforce we called her Mrs Button; not that we had ever heard her first name. And Button was a bad misnomer. Buttons, as I understand it, are quite small things, but she, while short, was indisputably wide. Still, we got on with her very well, and her labours helped us keep our rooms in not too untidy a state.

I was roused that morning by her trundling her vacuum cleaner into the sitting room. Groaning forlornly, I rolled naked out of bed and straightened the duvet. A towel decently around my waist, I staggered into the sitting room, bade her as civil a good morning as I could muster, and disappeared into the bathroom. She was not one whit surprised, for such behaviour is typical of our kind. Sitting on the loo and standing under the shower, I slowly woke up. I heard her hoovering. That finished, I expected her to be dusting. Instead I heard strange soft knockings which I couldn't identify. By now I was shaving. Intrigued, I put the towel back round my waist and poked my head out. She had one of those long-handled dusting brushes -- I believe the technical term is a cornice brush -- and was attacking the upper reaches of the panelling.

"Haven't done this for years, Mr Furbelow," she panted. "High time." Seeing the cloud of dust raining down, I could only agree. But the sight not being wildly exciting, I returned to my razor. Just as I finished there was a clatter and an 'Eeek!' -- the sort of sound uttered by timorous ladies when confronted by a spider or a mouse. But our Mrs B, I knew, was far from timorous. She took spiders in her stride and had once, before our admiring gaze, cornered an intrusive mouse, picked it up by its tail, and flung it out of the window into the Fellows' Garden. This 'Eeek!' might have been elicited by a tarantula or a scorpion, but both seemed unlikely in the temperate climate of B4. So again I poked my head out, and saw the cause of both the clatter and the cry. Her ministrations had dislodged a recessed oblong panel high up below the cornice.

"Oh, don't tell her, Mr Furbelow!" she pleaded. "If you loves me, don't tell her!"

It took some questioning before I understood. It turned out that Mrs B's phobia, far from being of vermin, was of the domestic bursar who was, to use the modern term, her line manager. Mrs B was terrified of being reported for breaking up the happy home.

"Don't worry, Mrs Button," I said. "I won't breathe a word to her, or even the maintenance man. I'll put it back myself."

I picked up the fallen panel, brought over a chair, climbed onto it, and stretched. The empty oblong was just beyond my reach. And, as I stretched, I felt my towel slipping. It was a choice between panel and towel. I dropped the panel, clutched the towel, and half-fell, most inelegantly, off the chair.

"Oooo, Mr Furbelow!" Mrs B cackled, "I almost seed what I didn't ought!" She sounded disappointed that she hadn't quite, but it was a comfort that she hadn't. I had no desire to challenge Mr Button.

"I'll find some stepladders," I said, trying to retrieve a shred of dignity, "and deal with it later. Why don't you leave this and do the shower?"

Relieved, she did, while I went to the bedroom and dressed. Then she did the bedroom while I sat impatiently, trying not to stare at the empty oblong in the panelling. It was perhaps two inches deep to the dirty plaster behind. And inside it, as I had seen from my vantage point on the chair but she with her small stature could not have seen from the floor, was a book. A small book bound in brown leather. Quite possibly a seventeenth-century book. And in the seventeenth century what sort of book needed to be hidden? Religious deviationism perhaps, or political treason, or . . . My skin crawled with premonition.

When Mrs B finally took herself off I decided, with a huge effort of will, to get one necessary chore out of the way. I went to the porters' lodge to drop my essay into Prufrock's pigeon-hole. On my way back I found Rob returning from his morning's lectures. I dragged him into B4, shut the door, and put him in the picture. He was both amused and intrigued.

"Shouldn't leave you alone with winsome ladies, should I? . . . Yes," he remarked from the far side of the room. "I can see it from here. Looks interesting. There's a little ladder in the theatre. I'll get it."

Within five minutes he was back. He put the ladder in place. "Your baby," he said generously. "Up you go."

'SODOM, or the Gentleman Instructed. A Comedy.Up I went. I took the book out, came down clutching it, subsided into the nearest chair, and lifted the cover. Just as well I hadn't looked when aloft, for I would most certainly have fallen down.

It opened at the title page. "Does look interesting," Rob remarked over my shoulder. But I was beyond speech.

'SODOM,' it read, 'or the Gentleman Instructed. A Comedy. By the E. of R. Mentula cum Vulva saepissime jungitur una, Dulcius est melle Vulvam fractare Puellae. Hague: Printed in the Year 1000000.'

"What does the Latin say?" asked Rob. A very reasonable question, given that he is a scientist, and it jolted me out of my stupefaction. But I still had only a feeble grasp on the world.

"Rob . . . Balvenie. . . please."

He gave me a sharp look. It was long before our agreed starting-time. But he recognised an emergency when he saw one, and brought me a dose of malt which restored me to the land of the living. I returned to the title page.

"When," I translated, "a prick and a cunt are frequently united, it is sweeter than honey to, um, manipulate a girl's cunt . . . But there's no such word as fractare. It ought to be tractare. Shoddy proof-reading, to have a misprint on the title page."

"Oh Sam, I do love you!" Rob kissed the top of my head. "In your sticky little paws you've got a bit of super-delectable antique porn, and all you can think about is Latin misprints!"

I was bewildered. It was always good, of course, to hear Rob say he loved me. But in scholarship it is niceties that matter. Without them, the world would collapse into chaos.

"Do you know who the E of R was?" he asked.

"Oh yes," I said flatly. "John Wilmot. Second Earl of Rochester. Same sort of time as Finch and Baines, but maybe twenty years younger. A rake. Quite a lad. Wild as they come. Celeb status, like a pop star today. In and out of Charles II's court. Literally, men and women alike. Died in 1680, a year before Baines. Of syphilis. At thirty-three. Wrote some extraordinary poetry . . ."

"Such as?"

I dredged my memory. On the spur of the moment the best I could bring up was a verse from 'The Maim'd Debauchee.'

Nor shall our love-fits, Cloris, be forgot,
When each the well-looked link-boy strove to enjoy,
And the best kiss was the deciding lot:
Whether the boy fucked you, or I the boy
.

Rob laughed hugely. "What's a link-boy? A rent-boy?"

"No. A boy with a torch, to light you on your way home. But he well might be up for sale too."

"And did you learn that at school?"

"Oh yes. Not straight from Old Persimmon, mind you, though we did talk about Rochester in class. But he encouraged us to look things up for ourselves."

"Dirty old man. Like Prufrock. Like you. I reckon I'm reading the wrong subject."

"You are." Rob was a damn good scientist but, given the chance, he'd have made a damn good literary critic. Underneath his happy-go-lucky veneer his mind was sharp as a razor.

"And what about that silly date? Printed at The Hague in the year one million?"

"A cover-up. There's no publisher's name as there should've been by law. I bet it was really printed in London. Anyone caught publishing this . . . well, it would be bloody expensive." Memories filtered back. I'd read Sodom online, two or three years before, in a French edition published clandestinely a century ago. "It's a satire, you see. On Charles II, who was an alpha-male lecher, and on his lecherous court. It's ultra-libellous. If Charles had seen it, Rochester would've been for it. And so would anyone printing it. You know why I needed that Balvenie? I wouldn't be surprised if this is the only original printed copy in existence."

Rob was still leaning over the back of my chair, and he gasped in my ear.

But my thoughts wandered off on a different tack. The film The Libertine. About all this stuff. Johnny Depp as Rochester, John Malkovich as Charles. It had had an adult-only rating and was screened in few cinemas, and far too long ago for me even to pretend I was eighteen. Rob wouldn't have seen it either. I'd look for a DVD on the web.

Rob tapped me on the head. "Are you going to let me see inside the bloody thing? I'm itching."

So I turned the page.

PROLOGUE, it said (though here I modernise the spelling and punctuation).

By Heaven! A noble audience here to day!
Well, Sirs, you're come to see this bawdy play,
And faith, it is debauchery complete,
The very name of it made you mad to see it;
I hope it will please you well. By Jove, I think
You all love bawdy things as whores love chink.

"Chink?" asked Rob.

"Money. From the sound it makes."

I do presume there are no women here -
'Tis too debauched for their fair sex, I fear,
And sure they'll not in petticoats appear.
And yet, I am informed, here's many a lass
Come for to ease the itching of her arse -
Before three acts are done of this our farce
They'll scrape acquaintance with the standing tarse . . .

"Tarse?"

"Prick."

. . . And impudently move it to their arse --
Nay, cunt itself -- and if you will not venture,
They'll act the same as we, and let you enter
Their pocky false bare cunts, love's proper centre.
But to speak in the behalf o' the play
I see you're mad to know what I have to say:
It is the most debauched heroic piece
That e'er was wrote. What dare compare with this?
Our scenes are drawn to the life in every shape,
They'll make all pricks to stand and cunts to gape.
Noble spectators, we hope this may be
A play to please your curiosity.
That lady who shall act the best her part
Doth hope at least to have a fucking for it
By some of you, who are spectators come
And have the lustiest pricks in all the room.

"That lot must be spoken by Fuckadilla," I muttered to myself. "But surely the next bit's meant for Bolloximian."

Almighty cunts! whom Bolloximian here,
Tired with their tedious toil, did quite cashier.
From thence to arse he has his prick conveyed
And thinks it treason to behold a maid,
Who oft-times teases with her amorous tricks
And draws whole showers of sperm from labouring pricks
Before they enter. Cheated, he retired
From humid cunt to human arse all fire.
Buggery he chose and buggery did allow,
For none but fops alone to cunts will bow.

"Oh my Gawd!" cried Rob. "Who's Bolloximian?"

"The king," I said, "who stands for Charles II in the satire." And I turned another page.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE
Bolloximian
Cuntigratia
Pricket
Swivia
Buggeranthus
Pockenello
Borastus
Pene and Tooly
Fuckadilla, Officina, Cunticula, Clytoris
Flux
Virtuoso
  King of Sodom
Queen
Prince
Princess
General of the army
Prince, colonel and favourite of the King
Buggermaster-general
The pimps of honour
Maids of honour
Physician to the King
Merkin and dildo-maker to the Royal Family
With Boys, Rogues, Pimps and other Attendants

 

Rob was chuckling at the names. "Hah! Merkins! I remember those from Hugo's fig-leaf."

Here let me both interrupt the narrative and reveal how readily heroic couplets can be dashed off.

I warned you, reader, this would make you blush.
Perchance already the hot crimson flush
Of shock and outrage on your cheek you find;
Or else you're bored out of your little mind.
And so this drama I'll abbreviate,
Or you'll be reading it till far too late.

Act 1 Scene 1. Representing an antechamber hung round with Aretine's postures.

"Eh?"

"Pietro Aretino. An Italian. Famous for his drawings of all the sexual positions."

Bolloximian: Thus in the zenith of my lust I reign,
I eat to swive, and swive to eat again.

"Swive?"

"Fuck."

Let other monarchs who their sceptres bear,
To keep their subjects less in love than fear,
Be slaves to crowns -- my nation shall be free,
My pintle only shall my sceptre be.

"Pintle?"

"Prick. Again."

My laws shall act more pleasure than command,
And with my prick I'll govern all the land.

Pockenello: Your grace alone hath from the powers above
A princely wisdom and a princely love,
Whilst you permit the nation to enjoy
That freedom which a tyrant would destroy.

Borastus: May your most gracious cods and tarse be still
As boundless in your pleasures as your will.

"Cods?"

"Balls. As in codpiece."

May plentiful delights of cunt and arse
Be never wanting to your royal tarse.
May lust inflame your ardent prick with spirit,
Ever to fuck with safety and delight.

Bolloximian: You are my council all.

Pockenello: The bliss we own.

Bolloximian: But this advice belongs to you alone.

Borastus:I do no longer old stale cunts admire -
The drudgery has worn out my desire.
Your grace may soon to human arse retire.

Bolloximian: My pleasures for new cunts I will uphold,
And have reserves of kindness for the old.
I grant in absence dildo may be used
With milk of goats instead of sperm infused.
My prick no more shall to bald cunt resort -
Merkins rub off, and often spoil the sport.

Borastus: I could advise you, sir, to make a pass
Once more at Pockenello's loyal arse.
Besides, sir, Pene has such a gentle skin
It would tempt a saint to thrust his pintle in.

Tooly: When last, good sir, your pleasure did vouchsafe
To let poor Tooly's hand your pintle chafe,
You gently moved it to my arse -- when lo!
Arse did that deed which kind hand could not do.

Bolloximian: Pene, I remember how my sperm did flow.
Tooly, I'm in arrears to thy rewards.
But let's be active whilst the time affords.
Now Pockenello for a mate I'll choose.
His arse shall for a moment be my spouse.

Pockenello: That spouse shall, mighty sire, though it be blind,
Prove to my lord both dutiful and kind.
'Tis all I wish, that Pockenello's arse
May still find favour from your royal tarse.

Bolloximian: And next with Tooly I will have a touch,
And Pene -

Pene: Oh sire, you honour us too much.

Bolloximian: Henceforth, Borastus, set the nation free.
Let conscience have its force of liberty.
I do proclaim, that buggery may be used
O'er all the land, so cunt be not abused.
To Buggeranthus let this charge be given,
And let him bugger all things under heaven.

It does get rather tedious, and from this point I can abbreviate still more, although some stage directions do merit a mention. Such as, A pleasant garden adorned with many statues of men and women in various postures. In the middle is a woman representing a fountain, standing on her head and pissing upright. Soft music is heard. In this scene Cuntigratia and her maids of honour lament the lack of attention from the menfolk and suggest a frigging session instead. Scene changes and discovers the Queen in a chair of state, and is frigged by the Lady Officina, all the rest pulling out their dildos and frigging in point of honour. Their fun is spoilt by the fact that their dildos, made by Virtuoso, are far too small. Then dance six naked men and women, the men doing obedience to the women's cunts, kissing and touching them often, the women in like manner to the men's pricks, kissing them, dandling their cods, and then fall to fucking, after which the women sigh and the men look simple and so sneak off.

A comic scene between the young prince and his sister perhaps deserves fuller quotation.

Swivia: Twelve months must pass ere you can yet arrive
To be a perfect man. That is, to swive
As Pockenello doth. Why, as I live,
Your age to fifteen does but yet incline.

Pricket: You know I could have stripped my prick at nine.

Swivia: I ne'er saw it since. Let's see how much 'tis grown. (He shows)
By heavens, a neat one! Now we are alone,
I'll shut the door, and you shall see my thing. (She shows)

Pricket: Strange how it looks -- methinks it smells like ling:
It has a beard too, and the mouth's all raw --
The strangest creature that I ever saw.
Are these the beards that keep men in such awe?

Swivia: 'Twas such, as these philosophers have taught,
That all mankind into the world have brought.
'Twas such a thing our sire the King bestrid
Out of whose womb we came.

Pricket: The devil we did!

Swivia: This is the warehouse of the world's chief trade.
On this soft anvil all mankind was made.
Come, 'tis a harmless thing, draw near and try.
You will desire no other death to die.

Pricket: I feel my spirits in an agony -

Swivia: These are the symptoms of young lechery.
Does not your prick stand, and your pulse beat fast?
Don't you desire some unknown bliss to taste?
Come, little rogue, and on my belly lie -- (He lies on her)
A little lower yet -- now, dearest -- try!

Pricket: I am a stranger to these unknown parts,
And never versed in love's obliging arts.
Pray guide me, I was ne'er this way before.

Swivia: There, can't you enter? Now you've found the door.

Pricket: Now I am in, and 'tis as soft as wool.

Swivia: Then move it up and down, you little fool.

Pricket: I do, oh heavens, I am at my wit's end.

Swivia: Is't not such pleasure as I did commend?

Pricket: Yes, I find cunt a most obliging friend.
Speak to me sister, ere my soul depart.

Swivia: I cannot speak -- you've stabbed me to the heart.

Pricket: I faint. I can't one minute more survive.
I'm dead.

Swivia: Oh brother! But I am alive.
Your love grows cold, now you can do no more.
I love you better that I did before:
Prithee be kind.

Pricket: Swie, I did lately dream,
That through my prick there flowed a mighty stream,
Which to the eye seemed like the whites of eggs.

Swivia: I dreamt too, that it ran betwixt my legs.

Pricket: What makes this pearl upon my pintle's snout?

Swivia: Sir, you fucked lately. Now your dream is out.
All unknown pleasures do at first surprise.
Try but one more, you'll find new joys arise.
It will your heart with more contentment fill.
Besides, your pleasure will improve your skill.
No resurrection yet? Prithee, let's feel.
Poor little thing, it is as cold as steel.

Cunticula enters, gets him going again, and wanks him off.

Then Bolloximian and his crew review the recent past.

Bolloximian: Since I have buggered human arse I find
Pintle to cunt is not so much inclined.
By oft fomenting, cunt so big doth swell
That prick works there like clapper in a bell:
All vacuum. No grasping flesh doth guide
Or hug, the brawny muscles of its side
Tickling the nerves, the prepuce or the glans,
Which all mankind with vast delight intrance.

Pockenello: May as the gods his name immortal be
That first received the gift of buggery.

Buggeranthus enters. Bolloximian asks about the army.

Bolloximian: How are they pleased with what I did proclaim?

Buggeranthus: They practise it in honour of your name.
If lust presents, they want no woman's aid.
Each buggers with content his own comrade.

Bolloximian: They know 'tis chargeable with cunts to play.

Buggeranthus: It saves them, Sire, at least a fortnight's pay.

Enter forty striplings sent as a gift by the King of Gomorrah. Bolloximian is delighted.

Bolloximian: I love strange flesh. A man's prick cannot stand
Within the limits of his own command,
And I have fucked and buggered all the land.
Grace every chamber with a handsome boy,
But here's my chiefest darling of my joy! (pointing to one of the boys)
Come, my soft flesh of Sodom's dear delight,
To honoured lust thou art betrayed this night.
Lust with thy beauty cannot brook delay.
Between thy pretty haunches I will play.

Cuntigratia's maids confront Virtuoso the dildo-maker with his undersized creations. He grovels, until they discover that his own tarse is larger than his products. Fuckadilla toys with it, but to her chagrin he suffers a premature ejaculation.

Next, A grove of cypress trees and others cut in the shape of pricks. Several arbours, figures and pleasant ornaments in a banqueting-house. Men are discovered playing on dulcimers with their pricks, and women with jews' harps in their cunts. Enter, arrogantly, Bolloximian and his entourage.

Bolloximian: Which of the gods more than myself can do?

Borastus: Alas sir, they are pimps compared to you.

Bolloximian: I'll then invade and bugger all the gods,
And drain the spring of their immortal cods.
Then make them rub their tarses till they cry
'You've frigged us out of immortality' . . .

Enter Flux the physician with a tale of woe. The king's policy had exposed the nation, even the royal house, to an epidemic of STD. The Queen is dead, Pricket and Swivia have the clap.

Flux: Men's pricks are eaten off, the secret parts
Of women withered like despairing hearts.
The children harbour mournful discontents,
Complaining sorely of their fundaments.
The young who ne'er on Nature did impose
To rob her charter or corrupt her laws,
Are taught at last to break all former vows,
And do what Love and Nature disallows.

Bolloximian: Curse upon Fate to punish us for nought.
Can no redress or remedy be sought?

Flux: To Love and Nature all their rights restore,
Fuck women, and let buggery be no more.

Bolloximian: To be a substitute for heaven at will -
I scorn the gift -- I'll reign and bugger still.

The clouds break forth, then fiery demons rise and sing.

Demons: Kiss, rise up and rally,
Frig, swive and dally,
Curse, blaspheme and swear,
Here are in the air
Those will witness bear.
For the Bollox singes,
Sodom off the hinges.
Bugger, bugger, bugger
All in hugger-mugger,
Fire doth descend.
'Tis too late to amend.

They vanish in smoke. Dreadful shrieks and groans heard and apparitions seen.

Pockenello: Pox on these sights -- I'd rather have a whore.

Bolloximian: Or cunt's rival.

Flux: For heaven's sake, no more.
Nature puts me in prophetic fear.
Behold, the heavens all in a flame appear.

Bolloximian: Let heaven descend, and set the world on fire -
(to Pockenello) We to some darker cavern will retire.
There on thy buggered arse I will expire.

Fire and brimstone and a cloud of smoke appear. Curtain.

I turned a final page.

THE EPILOGUE, SPOKEN BY FUCKADILLA

Damn ye, my lads! What, never a word to say
In praise or commendation of the play?
Nor me, how well I've acted here today?
You look so sottish, now the play is done,
By God, you are so squeamish every one
As if your pricks had all bespurt'd your breeches
For want of cunts -- oh heavens how my cunt itches!
It makes me wish for some good brawny arse,
Well hung with a stiff lustily swinging tarse.
Damned feeble pricks -- we hate them, they're but toys;
We're for the more substantial solid joys
Of a brave stiff romantic swinging prick
That's twice five inches long and seven thick.
Hard cruel fate, that I could weep an ocean,
When I behold poor pintle without motion
Hanging upon his master's thighs as dead,
Not having power for to raise its head.
Men when they've spent are like some piece of wood
Or an insipid thing, though flesh and blood.
Then fool not nature with you silly hand,
But come to us, whene'er your pricks do stand.
Naked we lie to entertain your tarses,
If you will but forsake men's beastly arses.
We welcome sodomites made up of sperm
And full of lust, vacation time and term.

Rob had been behind me all along, reading over my shoulder and breathing in my ear. "Gawd!" he said. "You know, it isn't really my cup of tea. Fun, sort of. But so crude." I could only agree. Yet it was an extraordinary and therefore interesting phenomenon. "Those last lines, though," he added. "Very appropriate at university! Sam, how old were you when you first read this?"

"Sixteen, I suppose. Maybe fifteen."

"Then you're not a dirty old man. You're a precociously depraved stripling."

But having reached the end, I realised we hadn't yet looked at the flyleaf. I turned back to it. Once again, Rob tells me, I went as white as a sheet and, without even being asked, he brought me another Balvenie. For on the flyleaf was written in a neat hand:

Excussum MDCLXXX
in piam memoriam auctoris Com. Rof. nuper defuncti
curante Edwardo Finchio
qui imberbus Pricketi exemplum praebuerat

"'Printed in 1680," I translated for Rob, "in loyal memory of the author, the Earl of Rochester recently deceased, under the supervision of Edward Finch who, as a beardless boy, had provided the model for Pricket.' He must've been a relative of John Finch!"

But Rob suddenly realised the time. "Good God! Sorry, Sam. I've got to run. Practical in the lab. I'm going to be late as it is."

Left alone, I sat thinking as I finished my second Balvenie. Then I found my copy of Rochester's poems, admired the portrait on the cover, checked a date -- he died on 26 July 1680 -- and in flipping through it lit by chance on another satire on Charles II.

Nor are his high desires above his strength:
His sceptre and his prick are of a length.

A strong echo there of Bolloximian's words. Charles got hold of that poem by mistake, and it cost Rochester several months of banishment. That was par for the course. Rochester constantly went too far. Charles constantly kicked him out of the court, but had so soft a spot for the man that he constantly let him back in.

Then I applied myself to the computer. First, who was Edward Finch? Nephew of our John Finch, Alumni Cantabrigienses told me, and younger son of John's brother Heneage, a lawyer who was later created Earl of Nottingham. Born in 1663, he came up to Christ's in 1677 at fourteen and took his MA in 1679 at the ridiculous age of sixteen. Powerful strings had doubtless been pulled behind the scenes. Then he was a Fellow from 1680 to 1684, during which time his uncle died. Small wonder, given the circumstances, that he occupied Finch and Baines's old room. Later he was MP for the university and ended up opting for the straight and narrow. He married late, took holy orders, became a minor composer, and died a prebend of York Minster.

But in his beardless boyhood he had been the model for the Pricket of the play, who was described as fourteen. In 1677, then, he had been noticed, desired, and presumably seduced by Rochester. Easy to guess how they met -- Edward's father was Lord Chancellor and a member of the court. And Edward remained besotted. In 1680, as soon as Rochester was dead and beyond Charles's reach, he had Sodom printed. An anonymous venture, but risky. Small wonder he hid the book and its dangerous inscription.

Next, Sodom. What about texts? There were two recent print-on-demand editions which, being very cheap, I ordered from Amazon, though I held out little hope for them. There was a dirt-cheap DVD of The Libertine which I ordered too. Otherwise there was only the download of the Paris edition that I had read. It seemed the best there was. I flipped through it again. The text looked much the same as ours, but it was preceded by two long prologues, expanded out of the shortish ones in ours, and followed by no fewer than three epilogues rather than one. They seemed excessive -- smut for the sake of smut -- and inartistic. Were they genuine?

Much my most useful find, alongside a lot of moderately interesting information, was an academic piece which gave some account of Sodom's evolution, pieced together from the eight known manuscripts. The earliest was dated by topical references to 1672-3, but was unfinished. Further topical references in later manuscripts showed the text had been revised and completed about 1677. This surely corresponded with our date of 1677 for Edward as a model for Pricket, and with our version printed on Rochester's death as Sodom, or the Gentleman Instructed.

Another printed version, entitled simply Sodom, a play by the E of R, was published at Antwerp (or so it said) in 1684, the last surviving copy of which was destroyed in the 1830s because of its obscenity. But it had already been copied in a manuscript which was the source of the Paris edition of 1904 that I'd read, the one with the over-long prologues and epilogues. I'd been right -- most of them were evidently not Rochester's work. Then in 1689 yet another version, The Farce of Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, was published in London. The printer was fined and all copies destroyed, though another manuscript had been copied from it. Ours, therefore, seemed to be not only the earliest complete version but the sole original printed survivor.

I was still roaming the web when Rob came back, and I spent some time bringing him up to speed with Edward Finch, the textual history, and miscellaneous snippets. Such as how at the age of twelve Rochester went up to Oxford where he 'soon grew debauched' and took his MA at the even more ridiculous age of fourteen. How he claimed to have been drunk non-stop for five years ("Was it his liver that killed him," Rob asked, "rather than syphilis?"). The nice remark that Sodom 'makes Lady Chatterley read like a vicar's sermon.'

Finally Rob got up. "I'd better put that panel in," he said, and climbed the ladder.

I sat back, yawning. Tomorrow Sodom must go to Prufrock and the Librarian. But that was it, surely, for now. How wrong could I be? This extraordinary day had not yet shot its bolt.

"Sam!"

"Mmmm?"

"There's something else in here! Paper. Down the back, almost out of sight. Hang on . . . Got it!"

He stepped down, blowing dust off. "Beyond me," he said, peering. "Your baby again."

There were two sheets covered in crabbed writing, in Latin, the lines of irregular length but roughly centred. It didn't take long to recognise it.

"It's a copy of the inscription on Finch and Baines's memorial," I said. "Or a draft of it. Yes, it's initialled H.M. That must be Henry More. He was a Fellow who'd been their tutor, but he outlived them both. We know he composed the inscription. But why should this be hidden away? . . . Ohhhh!"

"What?"

"Here, at the end. Henry More wrote 'so that they who in life had united their interests, fortunes, deliberations, and indeed their souls, might likewise in death at last unite their ashes.' And that's what's on the tomb. But someone's changed the wording to animas, immo vero corpora, underlined -- 'who'd united their souls and indeed their bodies.' And in the margin he's scribbled sic avunculus meus mihi moriens asseveravit, 'so my uncle assured me on his death-bed'."

I'm sure I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. "It must've been Edward Finch who wrote that too. He was John's nephew. He lived in this room. No doubt he'd learnt a thing or two about gay sex from Rochester. He was nineteen when his uncle died. I imagine it went something like this. Henry More gave him this draft for approval, and he wanted to change it. But either he got cold feet and didn't speak up, or he did and was vetoed. More was happy enough about uniting souls. But it's hardly surprising if he felt that uniting bodies went too far."

"So it means Finch and Baines were sex partners," said Rob. "Good! I'm glad." He hugged me, and we looked at the pair of portraits with a fresh respect. They looked unselfconsciously back. "I feel," he added, "like going to Chapel with a marker pen and writing the proper version in." Instead he went up the ladder again to restore the panel.

"Rob," I said apropos of nothing. "I think we'd better keep this stuff under our hats. Sodom and the paper. For the time being. Prufrock ought to be the first to know. And the Librarian."

"Yes," he said from on high. "Agreed. Meanwhile, dinner. I'm ravishing"

"You are. In both senses." I grinned up, loving him. He was beautiful, and ravishing was also a word he'd long ago coined by combining ravenous and famishing.

Dinner was indeed welcome, since we had totally missed lunch. It was as I delivered the first destructive blow to my crème brulée -- desserts were by far the best part of Christ's dinners -- that I saw laid out clear before me exactly what I had to do. Back in B4 I returned to the computer, pulled up the long-completed text of my critical edition of Gammer, and put it on a stick. I took it to the college computer room to print off while Rob scanned in Sodom and Edward's paper. Then we printed them too. As the printer whirred I ran through my plan. Yes, it was right.

"Come on," said Rob when everything was done. "Bed. Both of us this time. How does it go? 'Sodomites made up of sperm and full of lust, vacation time and term.' That's us."

Sperm and lust spent, we lay satisfied and intertwined.

"I wouldn't mind being an octopus," I said sleepily. "Four times as many arms to hug you with."

"Only twice as many. If you count legs, which are almost as good as arms." He demonstrated.

"In that case I wouldn't mind being a millipede."

And so I fell asleep, to dream not of Sodom but of two sodomitical millipedes intertwined. Strange creature, aren't I?

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