by The Composer

Chapter 15

In the first week of term, I received a summons. The Master, or head of the college, was actually a woman. Dame Mary Howard. However, calling her Mistress didn't sound entirely appropriate, so Master it remained. I knocked on her study door, went in, and she waved me to a seat. She looked at me for a few moments, then said, "I've received a rather unusual request."

I smiled at her. "Is there a problem with it?"

"You're of age, so there is no legal objection. Having married undergraduates is, however, as I said, unusual. Having undergraduates being married in the college chapel is even more unusual."

"Perhaps it is unusual."

"I slightly get the feeling that you are trying to push the boundaries."

"Not really. I mean, I could get married back at home, and the college would be none the wiser. But Charles and I rather thought the college chapel an appropriate venue, given that we are both members of the college."

"You want to get married in the chapel?" I nodded. "Are you or Charles religious?"

"I'm not. I doubt that Charles is."

"Then," she said, "your next step is to talk to the chaplain."

"Does he know about this?"

"I've let him know about your request. I suggest you pay him a visit."

I knew when an interview was at an end. The next day I walked up the staircase where the chaplain had a room, and knocked. I was invited in, and he looked at me slightly inquiringly.

"I'm James Forsyth," I told him.

His eyes widened slightly, and then he smiled, and waved me to a seat.

"This is a slightly unusual request," he told me.

"That was the Master's word as well. Unusual."

"Well, you must admit it is."

I shrugged. "I know that there are marriages in the chapel in the summer."

"But not usually of first-year undergraduates."

"I'll be coming up to my second year by then."

"Even so, you are very young."

"So you don't think I'm old enough to know what I'm doing?"

"Can I ask," he asked carefully, "whether the two of you are currently in a relationship?"

"We are. And we have been for the past three years." I could see the expression on his face. "And it's not what you think. He wasn't a dirty old man who seduced an innocent little boy. More the other way round."

"So you're the dirty little boy who seduced an innocent old man?" I just looked at him. "Okay, that was perhaps being a little over clever. But you can see my point."

"Yes, I know how it looks, but if you don't know whether you love someone after living with him for three years, then – what can I say?"

He looked at me carefully. "Has this been a physical relationship?"

"It has. And you probably don't want to know this, but the sex is terrific."

I could see from his face that this was too much information. On the other hand, I wanted to get my point over.

"Have you ever been to a chapel service?"

"I have." More out of curiosity than anything else, I had to admit. And it was during these times that I discovered the language of the Book of Common Prayer. The language of the General Confession. 'We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.'

I was honest with him. "I'm not in the least bit religious, but I was bowled over with the language. Sorry, but that's the truth."

"You've never felt the need for religion?"

I shook my head. "Am I going to hell?"

"I'm a very unconventional theologian," he told me. "For centuries, people said you had to have faith in God, and if you didn't, you would go to hell. I think that's barbaric." He paused. "So give me any good reason why I should marry you to another person in the Christian faith in the chapel of this college?"

I thought over what he had just said to me. I shook my head. "I can't."

He smiled. "You're honest, if nothing else." I remembered Charles using those words in a rather different context. "The man you want to marry is Charles Forsyth?" I nodded. "And you are James Forsyth. Are you related?"

I looked down at my hands, and then back at him. "No." He looked at me slightly quizzically. "You see, Forsyth is not my original name. When I moved in with Charles, and went to a local school, our cover story was that I was his nephew."

His eyebrows went up. "And did that work?"

"It did."

"And why did you feel it necessary to do that?"

I just looked at him. "Seriously? A sixteen year old boy living with a man of thirty? It sounds sordid, doesn't it? I know it's difficult for people to understand, but I love Charles. I went to live with him because I wanted to." I could suddenly feel tears starting. "He's the best thing that's ever happened to me."

There was a long silence, whilst I stared at my hands again.

"I'm sorry if I upset you," he said quietly.

I shook my head. "It's okay."

"I'll be in touch with you and with Charles soon, and we can work out the details."

I nodded. "Thanks," I whispered.

A week or so later, I got a rather unusual invitation – dinner in the Master's Lodge. I called Charles – he too had got the same invitation.

"I think they want to give us the once over," he told me.

I could just imagine. I could also imagine how toe curlingly embarrassing it might become. We were due to have sherry with the chaplain first. Charles came up earlier in the afternoon to pay me a visit. It was odd to see him in a formal suit and tie, and I knew I would have to dress similarly. We both got some distinctly strange looks as we went down the staircase together and across the quad to the chaplain's room. Charles was wearing his blandest expression. He was very good at hiding his true feelings when he wanted to. Introductions, a glass of sherry. Lots of small talk. I think I needed the sherry. Neither of us drank very much, but I could see it might be the sort of evening where it might help. Charles didn't have to drive back; he was staying in a college guest room overnight.

Then it was out and across the quad again, heading to the Master's Lodge. Dame Mary and her husband were there to welcome us and we were led into a rather formal looking dining room. And all the rest of it. There was someone there to serve us. Charles and I were seated next to each other, for which I was grateful. I had gone from a dirty run down care home in Gosport to a formal dinner in the Master's Lodge in an Oxford college.

The conversation began. Charles was the target. What did he do for a living? Computer networking, and he delved into a few anecdotes. They knew he was a former member of the college, but still there were questions about his family, where he lived, and all the rest of it. Soup plates were removed, and we went on to the main course. Now it was my turn. They had obviously read up my history, and knew all about my time in council care homes. Like Charles, I gave them a sanitised and heavily edited version of my former life. Then the dessert. Now the questioning became rather more direct. We had been together for some time? Yes, I told her, for the past three years. She looked at him and then at me. I began to lose it.

"You look at him and you look at me, and I know what you're thinking. That he's some dirty old man who seduced a young boy." Charles reached over and squeezed my hand. I knew what he was saying when he did that, but I could not help myself. "Charles is the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life." I looked across to him, and I squeezed his hand harder. "I don't care you think, or anyone else thinks, he is mine, and I am his. Forget the wedding. It doesn't matter."

I turned and looked at the chaplain. "What we did was always legal." Well, almost. "And I know that what is legal is not always that which is moral. And I know that what is legal is not always socially acceptable." He nodded. "Charles is everything to me. I don't care about legality, or morality, or what is socially acceptable. I need Charles, and I want him."

There was a silence, then, "When I first asked him to marry me," said Charles, "he said no. What's that line again? 'All my worldly goods on thee I endow'. He realised that if we were married, all that is mine was his. And he hated that."

"Charles," I hissed. "Stop it."

"You see, James has no money of his own. You see that fancy suit he is wearing? I paid for it. And he hates that."

"Charles! Shut up. Don't do this."

He wasn't looking at me. "The first time I left him alone, I gave him some money to buy food. I came back to find the change lying there, and the supermarket receipts. 'I'm not a thief', he told me."

I stood up. The table was absolutely silent. He pulled me back into my seat. He turned to look at me. "I could not live without you."

I was in tears. "You bastard, Charles, how could you tell them that?"

He smiled at me, sadly. "Because I love you?"

I couldn't face them. I pulled my hand free from Charles's grip and stood up, throwing my napkin onto the table. "I can't take any more of this," and turned and left.

It was perhaps ten or fifteen minutes before Charles came to my room. I was sitting at my desk with my head in my hands. He didn't knock; he just walked in, and I knew it was him. I heard him stop a foot or two behind me. Neither of us said anything. Finally, I heard him whisper, "I'm sorry."

I gazed into the darkness of the window. It took me a long time. Finally, I stood up and turned to him. "It's not your fault. It's theirs. All they wanted to do was to pry into our private life. Well, fuck that."

He pulled me to him. "It's my fault because I told them things which I shouldn't have done. They were private. They embarrassed you. I was provoked into it. For that, I am sorry. This was a stupid idea, wasn't it?"

"It needn't have been," I told him. I looked at him. I was probably taller than he was by now.

"We've burned a lot of bridges," he told me.


He smiled slightly sadly, and reached up a hand to touch my face. "I was proud of you then, when you walked out."

I looked at him, startled. "Really?"

"Really. You told them to get off in a way that I never could have done."

"Being a chav from the back streets has its advantages."

"But that's not the way you behaved. It's them who should apologise, not you."

I smiled a little. "I suppose I had better write some notes of apology in the morning."

"Yes. But just make them an apology for leaving in a hurry. Nothing else."

"You think so?"

He nodded. "I do. Look, I suppose I had better make my way back to my room."

"Do you want to stay?"

He knew what I meant. He shook his head. "Better not."

"There's nothing more that I'd like than to have loud rampant sex with you right now."

He smiled and gave a very Charles like reply. "Let's behave with dignity, even if they didn't."

"Will I see you in the morning?"

"Do you want to see me?"

"What a stupid question."

"I'll knock on your door at eight o'clock, and we'll go down to breakfast together."

"Sounds a plan."

We hugged, and I let him go slightly reluctantly.

He came into my room the next morning, not in his suit, but in more casual clothes. We were going to go down to breakfast. I knew we were making some form of a statement.

"Are you my uncle for today?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Do you want me to be?"

"What's going to be easiest?"

"Saying nothing, but that might not be an option."

"Then uncle it is for the moment."

I would have liked to have taken his hand as we crossed the quad into Hall. I was still angry from the night before. I knew I would have to write letters of apology, but I also knew that I needed to cool off first. Charles and I got our trays and our breakfast, and went to find an empty table. I saw Philip, that boy from Charterhouse, come in, and waved him over.

"Are you going to the morning lectures?" I asked him.

He nodded, again looking Charles rather curiously. "Can you get me any notes or handouts?" I asked him. "Please?"

"Of course," he said, before going off to get his own breakfast.

"Don't cut lectures on my behalf," Charles said quietly.

"It's not just you." I looked across at him. "I know I have those notes to write as well, and it's going to take me a long time."

He looked at me steadily. "Don't say anything you may regret later."

I gave him a slightly twisted smile. "There are some things which I have learnt from you."

I spent most of the morning on those notes. Eventually, I realised there was no point in trying to do any form of justification. Instead, I wrote a fairly short sentence of apology. I knew enough about this sort of etiquette by now. I wrote them on college notepaper by hand, even if my writing left something to be desired. I put them into envelopes and addressed them, then took them down to the college lodge. Despite all this, my anger had not abated.

Philip caught up with me after lunch, and gave me a couple of handouts.

"Thanks," I muttered.

"Are you okay?" he asked curiously.

I looked across to that polite, well brought up boy. "Not really. But you'll find out about it sooner or later."

He didn't know what to make of that, but left me to it.

But, of course, that wasn't an end to it. I got notes back – one from the chaplain, and another from the Master, requesting that I come and see her at ten o'clock the next morning.

I knocked, and was told to come in. I felt as if I were back at Parklands School, being summoned by Mrs Cox for some misdeed. I was waved to a chair. I wasn't going to say anything. She could be the one to start things off. She sat looking at me. It was an old technique. She was trying to make me open the conversation, but she would have to wait a long time. In fact, this was more like all those interviews with social workers, who wanted me to tell them all my problems. She broke first.

"Thank you for your note."

"And thank you for the dinner."

I could see my note on the table in front of her, and she laid her fingertips on it. "It's a pity it had to end as it did."

"I prefer my private life private. And I felt the conversation was getting a little intrusive."

"So we gathered." Another pause. "I have been considering your request." I said nothing. "On the balance of things, I consider that an undergraduate marrying his boyfriend in the college chapel to be inappropriate." I watched the expression on her face as she said this. It was one of distaste.

I snapped. "Well, fuck you," and I made for the door.

Old habits die hard. I found myself doing what I have done years before – walking the streets, pounding the pavements, up to Cornmarket and round into the Broad, then Parks Road and North Oxford. Eventually I came to rest on a bench somewhere, and leaned forward, my elbows on my knees, and I buried my head in my hands. I had absolutely no idea what would happen to me. All I remembered was the look of distaste on her face when she referred to 'my boyfriend'. She had given me her opinion; I had given her mine.

"Are you all right?" I heard a voice say. I looked up. Standing a few feet away was a woman of middle age, with one of those well enunciated Oxford voices.

I gave a sort of half smile. "No. Yes." She raised an eyebrow. "I've done something silly."

"Which was?"

"Do you really want to know?" She nodded. "Okay. I just told the Master of my college to fuck off."

"Oh dear," she said. "Was that really wise?"

Again, I had to smile. She put down the bag she was carrying, and sat down on the bench next to me. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Somehow, telling it all to a complete stranger made it easier. Mind you, I had to give a somewhat abridged version. But eventually I stumbled to a halt.

"Oh dear," she said again. "So why exactly did you run out of the dinner?"

"I felt like we were some sort of freak show," I whispered.

"When I was young, people such as yourselves weren't allowed to get married. They were called all sorts of names. It really wasn't very pleasant."

I turned to her. "Am I a freak?"

She regarded me. "Not to most people today. But there are many who will still not accept it."

"I'm not going to apologise, you know."

"I think she is on rather dangerous grounds these days," she said carefully. "Did she give you any good reason why you shouldn't be married in the chapel?"

"Not really. I mean, it's certainly unusual for undergraduates to get married, but as far as I know, there's nothing against it."

"You know what I'm saying here?"

I looked at her sideways. "I'm not going to do that. If she doesn't want us to get married in the college chapel, so be it. We'll get married at home. And, okay, I was rude and offensive, and she can do what she likes with that."

She considered that, then stood up. "Good luck, young man." I looked after her with affection as she walked away.

I got to my feet. Time to go back to college. I went in through the Lodge and up to my room. I pulled out my phone and called Charles.

"Are you busy right now?"


"Can you do me a favour?"

"Try me."

"Can you drive up and bring me home for the weekend?" It was a Friday afternoon.

"You're sure about this?"

"I certainly am."

"I can't be with you until about six o'clock. I'll pick you up on the road leading to the lodge. I'll stop just outside the city and text you to warn you."

I had time to kill, but there was no way I was going to do any reading or anything like that. At least it was a reasonable summer's day, and I could make my way out into the quad to find a bench to sit on with my mind in neutral. Eventually I heard the buzz of my phone, and caught the text from Charles warning me he was on his way. I walked over to the lodge to wait for him. One of the porters was sorting some mail, and caught my eye.

"Are you all right, sir?" he asked, looking at me.

I nodded. "Why did you call me sir?"

"That's what I call all the young gentlemen."

I couldn't help it. 'Young gentlemen.' "I'm not a gentleman," I told him. He must have been more than 30 years older than me. I knew he was called George, but I didn't know his other name. I asked what it was.

"Jones." He was obviously curious to know why I wanted to know.

"Would you mind if I called you Mr Jones?"

He stared at me again. "Why would you want to do that?"

"Because you call me Sir, and you must be thirty years older than me, and so the least I can do is call you Mr Jones rather than by your first name."

"You can if you like, sir." He was still staring at me. "You've got more manners than some of the well brought up boys."

"Thanks. Look, I've got to go."

I gave him a slight wave, and turned into the road outside college.

Charles wasn't long, and as he pulled into the side of the road, I opened the door and jumped in. He pulled away smoothly as I pulled the seatbelt over me.

"Do I want to know?"

"Not yet."

He negotiated his way through the traffic, and then when we were on the motorway, I started telling him. When I got to the bit about telling the Master to fuck off, I heard an intake of breath.

"Yeah, I know I shouldn't have done it, but it was just the way she said it, and the expression on her face."

Charles' tone was neutral. "She is within her rights to refuse us, but it would be hard to justify it if she allows other weddings."

"Am I going to be in trouble?"

He shrugged. "What can she do? Send you down for being 'disrespectful'? Although if you burned some bridges during that dinner, the rest are now making a merry bonfire."

"Sorry to drag you into all this," I mumbled.

"It was my stupid idea in the first place. And then I had to embarrass you like that at the dinner. I had forgotten how you hate all that."

"We were being treated like a fucking freak show."

"To many people, our lifestyle is …"

"'Unusual' is the word she used."

"And she's right. Why did we have to go through all that rigmarole about uncle and nephew? We were legal."

"And would you have taken me along to Mrs Cox and said, this is my lover. Have you a place for him in your school?"

Charles was silent as we drove along in the dusk. "No, and you know why, don't you?"

Wearily, "I know why. But it's one thing at school, when you are a schoolboy, and something else you are supposed to be an adult."

We were silent for the rest of the journey. He pulled into the drive at home, and we stepped out, and he took my arm, and led me into the house. We stood there in the hall. I felt like a small child again. I clung to him.

"Wash me," I whispered in his ear.

He knew what I meant. He led me upstairs, and then, in our bedroom, slowly undressed me. I stood there, naked, and he went away, and I heard the bath water running. He came back, and took my hand, and led me to the bathroom, and I laid down in the hot water. He took his clothes off. He told me to stand up, and I did what he told me, and he soaped me all over. He pushed me back into the water, and then told me to stand up again. He sponged me off, and then I stepped out of the bath, and he enveloped me in this soft towel, and patted me dry. He led me back into the bedroom, tucked me under the duvet. A few minutes later, he was back, warm and damp. I whispered his name, and he pulled me into him. This was bliss. The world out there might not understand it, but being here, with Charles, is more than I could ever have wished for.

In the morning, I woke up, and he was lying there next to me, warm, solid, reassuring. I reached out for him, and we wrapped ourselves around each other. I could tell that he needed me like I needed him. "Who goes first?" I whispered in his ear.

"I think you deserve to," and he rolled over onto his back.

I stared into his eyes, and saw his love. As I began, I could feel my body take over. It had been weeks since we had made love. I needed him and I wanted him, and I could not stop the urgency of my body. I could feel his fingers grasping my arms. We were both panting in rhythm, and now I was conscious of nothing else except the need to take him. I could hear in calling out my name, whether in pain or in ecstasy I could not tell. Then with my whole body urging me on, I came into him, hard, again and again, until I collapsed onto him, sobbing.

We lay there gasping for air, I whispered to him, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Did I hurt you very much?"

He didn't say anything for a moment, then "You said to me once that your body is mine. And I'm telling you now that my body is yours. And you told me once that pain can be pleasure and you're right."

I was almost in tears. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"

He reached up and stroked my cheek. "That's what I should be asking you." He looked up at me. "You've become a man now," he said softly. "When you first raped me in the cabin of the boat …"

"Did not."

"Did so. You are a boy then. A very randy boy, true, but a boy. Now you are a man."

"Which do you prefer?"

"I love both of them."

I gazed down at him. "Now," I told him. He knew what I meant. He rolled me onto my back and I opened my body to him. I gasped as he took me, confidently and carefully. He knew how to love me. I lay there, as he impaled me, as he rode me to his own climax. I wrapped my body around his. There was nothing in the world better than this.

We lay there in bed for a long time. When we went down to have something to eat, he asked me when I wanted to go back. I thought about it. "Tomorrow morning?" He nodded.

At least the roads were quiet on a Sunday morning. He dropped me off at the lodge, as I walked in, the porter nodded to me.

"Good morning, Mr Jones," I said. He smiled at me. I sorted through my mail. Nothing from the Master. Later that afternoon, I changed into my suit, and with my gown under my arm, walked across the quad to the chaplain's room. He was surprised to see me.

"Have you heard? From the Master?"

"About what you said to her? Yes."

"I haven't had a note from her."

"Sit down." I did as I was told. "It's as difficult for her as it is for you."


"If she goes after you on disciplinary grounds, then all the rest of it comes out. There's no objection to members of college, or former members, marrying in Chapel. She would have to explain why she refused you and Charles. You could push that one, you know?"

I shook my head. "No. If that's her attitude then, well – you know what I'm going to say next."

"One thing I did take away from that dinner was the relationship between you and Charles. I can't say I understand it, but there is little doubt in my mind that he loves you and you love him."

"One of our problems," I said rather thickly, "is that no one understands why we love each other. Almost everyone would look at us, and say, there's that dirty old man with his toy boy."

"But it's not true, is it?"

"It's complicated."

"Try me."

"If anything, Charles is my sugar daddy." He looked at me, wanting more. I told him the story of Kevin, the boy who fell out with his sugar daddy, who beat him up, and the sight of the poor crushed boy was one of the sights that I would remember into my old age.

I could see the expression on his face, the sadness.

"What we do to each other is sometimes horrendous."

"Can I come to tonight's Evensong?"

"Why ever not?"

"She will be there," referring to the Master.

He shrugged. "I had planned a different reading for tonight's service," he went on. "I was going to give it myself, but, if you're going to be there, would you do it?"

I wasn't quite sure what he meant. "A reading?"

"There's usually a reading of a passage from the Bible in every service. It's usually referred to as the lesson. Would you do it?"

I was hesitant. "What you want me to read?"

He rummaged on his desk, and pulled out a piece of paper. "This."

I looked at the paper.

'And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

'And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father's house.

'Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he 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.

'And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely: and Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul's servants.'

I looked up at him. "You want me to read this in Chapel tonight?"


"In front of the Master?"




I felt a moment's anger. "I'm not here for you to send a message."

"Whether you read it or not is entirely up to you."

I thought about it. "Will you tell me when to get up and read this?"

"Of course. You know how it's done? The chapel is really quite small, so you don't have to be loud, but you do have to be clear." I nodded. "Do you want to try it now?" I nodded again. "Stand up."

I stood up, and read the passage out loud. He nodded. "That's fine." He looked at me again. "I've read your history," he told me.

"And?" I asked, slightly defiantly.

"You are something of a chameleon," he told me. I stared at him. "No one would guess your background from the way you speak. After a year here, you speak just the same way as any other undergraduate."

I didn't know what to say. "It's not intentional."

"I know. But we all end up speaking like the people around us. I don't imagine that you spoke as you do now in those care homes when you were a boy."

I gave him a slightly twisted smile. "If I did, they would all shout 'poofter' at me." I paused a moment. "I remember when Charles first took me in, and I was a boy from the back streets, and I told him that it was no use trying to make me anything else. But I have become something else."

"Do you regret that?"

"If I had never met Charles, and I had stayed in Gosport, I would either be selling myself for a fiver a fuck, or I will be pushing drugs on the street, and either way, I would end up in jail with the rest of them." I could see the shock on his face. "Remember what I told you about Kevin and his sugar daddy? Well, that could very easily have been me."

He was silent for a moment, then, "In which case, this university would have missed a very able student." Before I had a chance to reply, he said, "I've got to get ready for this evening's service. I'll see you in Chapel."

Slowly, I walked through to Chapel quad, and to Chapel itself. It had a very fussy interior, with lots of imitation gold leaf and decoration. I much preferred something more plain. It was dark inside after the late evening sunshine outside. I found a place about halfway down, not far from the lectern from where the lesson was read. I looked again at that piece of paper which the chaplain had given me, which I was supposed to read out during the service. I was never any good at memorising poems, or parts in plays. The words never quite stuck.

The organ began playing quietly. I knew there was someone here on an organ scholarship, whose job it was to play in Chapel every Sunday. People began filing in. There were not many among the student body who were religious – or at least, religious enough to come to a chapel service on Sunday evening.

The organ stopped playing, and I heard the chaplain's voice.

"Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee …"

Again I became lost in the language. There was a hymn, but I didn't know the tune. I kept my eye on the chaplain, and near the end of the hymn, he gave me a nod, which was my cue. I stood up and went to that lectern. The chapel was silent, as everyone sat down. I looked down the length of the chapel, and could see the Master in her pew, but couldn't make out any expression on her face. I put the piece of paper down in front of me, and began reading. Clear rather than loud, he had told me. It was a fairly short reading, and as I finished, I heard the chaplain's voice carrying on with the service.

The service didn't last long, and I let most people leave before I got up from my seat. I knew I would have to pass the Master. She was talking to one of the Fellows, and I walked past without catching her eye.

People were beginning to walk towards Hall now. As I slowly strolled along, I was conscious of someone by my elbow. It was Rachel, who I knew was a fairly regular attendee at Chapel. She looked up at me curiously.

"You don't normally read the lesson."


"And it's odd. I was due to read the lesson tonight, and it was a completely different lesson." She was silent for a moment. "David and Jonathan. And you reading the lesson. Was he sending some sort of message?"

"You'll have to ask him that."

We walked in to Hall and found a place. We stood chatting quietly until the Fellows came in, and someone began reading the Grace.

"Pro hoc cibo, quem …"

With much scraping of chairs, we all sat down, waiting for the first course. I wasn't really listening to much of the conversation, until another girl spoke to me.

"I was in the lodge earlier, and heard you talking to George." I looked across the table at her. "You called him Mr Jones."

"It's his name," I told her.

"But everyone calls him George."

"That's what the 'young gentlemen' call him. I'm not a gentleman. And he's thirty years older than me. I don't see why he should be calling me 'sir', while I call him George."

"What you mean, you're not a gentleman?"

I looked at her. "To Mr Jones, we are all 'young gentlemen' or 'young ladies'. But I'm not. I would have thought that's obvious."

I was getting some strange looks.

"Leave it," I said. "If I want to call him Mr Jones, then what concern is it of yours?"

Someone else asked, "What's wrong with calling him George?"

"He's about thirty years older than me. Perhaps I should show him some respect."

If I thought that the contents of my conversation with the Master were going to remain private, I was wrong. By Wednesday, the news was going around College I had told the Master to fuck off. When people asked me, I resorted to that old standby, that I would neither confirm nor deny – which was another way of saying yes. After the fourth or fifth enquiry, I went up the chaplain's room. He greeted me with a smile, and said, "Well read on Sunday".

I wasn't really interested in that. "If she asks, it wasn't me who started the story."

He smiled again. "And it wasn't me either."

"In which case, she told too many people."

"You know, you could create trouble for her if you pushed it."


"Well, she's certainly within her rights to say no to you. The only snag is that if she allows one marriage, she's really got to allow all of them." He raised his eyebrows. "Why should she say no to you, but yes to someone else?"

"Seriously," I told him, "I don't want to make an issue of this. I wish that story had never got out. I would just like to forget the whole stupid episode."

"I don't blame you."

"So if she asks you, you can tell her that it wasn't me."

He got the message.

The word had obviously passed through the whole college. I was walking through the lodge, when I saw George. Mr Jones. He saw me, nodded, and said "Mr Forsyth."

I grinned slightly, and returned the greeting. "Mr Jones."

"What have you been telling the others?" he asked curiously.

"Nothing," I told him.

"Because lots of them have started calling me Mr Jones." I told him of our conversation in Hall. "Ah," he said in understanding.

"Do you mind?"

"Not at all. You know, you said you weren't a gentleman. As far as I am concerned, you are what they call one of nature's gentlemen."

"Thank you."

He stood a little closer, and then said, more quietly, "Is it true?" I knew what he was talking about. I just looked at him. "I can't imagine someone like you saying something like that to her."

I hesitated. "All I can say is that if you provoke someone too far, you might not like the result."

He considered me, thinking that over. "I've never had much to do with the Master, but I found her fair enough."

"Depends on the issue," I told him.

He looked at me long and hard, but I wasn't going to tell him anything else. That was too private.

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