It was the afternoon of the same day. Wally, who had followed the ambulance by car, had brought back the hideous news. The reporters had with difficulty been driven out. Teaching and games and Hamlet had been abandoned, for the school was shaken to the core. All the prefects and most of the staff were keeping a watchful eye on the boys, while a number of masters were manning the phones to reassure fretful parents and fend off fresh assaults from the press. Wally, however, was now closeted with the Headmaster. Both had been working non-stop, and both were showing the strain. Not only had they turned chaos into relative order, but they had spent long hours in conference with the police and the Binchesters. Worst of all they had shouldered the unenviable task of phoning John and Mary Wardle, who by now were on their way to Yarborough.
A joint funeral service in Chapel was already pencilled in, subject to the coroner’s consent, for a week ahead. Because term was about to end, it would take place in the holidays; but when it was announced that all boys were welcome to attend and would be accommodated free of charge, the great majority declared that they would be present. Mr Brocklesby the director of music, on calling a special meeting, found the choir and the orchestra willing to assemble a day earlier for rehearsal.
The boys of MacNair’s, as was only to be expected, were more shaken than most. Wally had spared as much time as he could to check on his flock, and one in particular was adding to his worries.
His journey through life had been bleak. When he was a baby, his father went to war, destined to die a cruel death at the hands of the Japanese. Then his mother fell victim to a German bomb. He was inherited by a spinster aunt, a well-meaning but reluctant and inadequate substitute, who failed to recognise his ever-growing problems and therefore did nothing to solve them. She sent him as a day-boy to a nearby prep school, a purgatory where he was out of place and perpetually lonely. His sole lifelines were the choir at Southwark Cathedral and visits to and from his doting grandparents.
Then one of those lifelines broke. As Lady Bracknell remarked, ‘To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’ On that score he progressed, when he was twelve, from carelessness to downright incompetence. Early in 1953, in a single infamous night, he lost all four of his grandparents, two drowned in the devastating east coast floods, two on the ferry capsized by gales in the Irish Sea.
A year later his lifeline to Southwark was also severed when, sunk in gloom and insecurity, he was moved on to Yarborough. Never before had he lived away from home, and a public school was an intimidating prospect. But instead of the new purgatory — if not the outright hell — that he expected, he found salvation in the shape of care and friendship, from his house captain at a certain distance and at close quarters from his mentor. The pity was that the mentor could not also supply the love that he craved. He had none the less already progressed into a half-heaven — by comparison with what he had ever known before — when his world reverted instantly to hell.
His name was Malcolm Stones.
“Young Stones,” Wally told the Headmaster, “is in a mess. At first he was in a state of deep shock, too far gone even to cry. But mercifully Alan Gregory has taken him under his wing and is nursing him into some sort of coherence.”
“Gregory? But he can hardly be more than a year older. Is he capable of giving adequate support?”
“I think he is. Now that Tom has gone, he is Stones’s closest friend, and he has an inherent goodness which is not unlike Tom’s. What worries me more is that Stones still has two major problems, both of them beyond Gregory’s solving. Beyond mine, too. He worshipped Tom, who was his salvation. And he’s weighed down by guilt that the bullet which found Tom was meant for him. Which is no doubt true — not that it was in any way his fault. And now he’s pleading to be allowed to talk to the Wardles. In order to apologise, I suppose.”
“No bad thing, surely, if he does,” the Headmaster replied. “They are such loving people that they can absolve him of that imagined guilt more readily than anyone. Assuming they are in a fit state themselves.”
Malcolm, meanwhile, was in the sickroom at MacNair’s. Of all the boys, when they were
finally released from Hall and told to return to their houses, only Alan, although as appalled
as anyone by events, had spared him a thought. Having helped out during yesterday’s
upheavals, he knew that Tom was now in permanent attendance on him. The sergeant’s
‘Christ, it’s that runt of a redhead!’ at first made him suppose it
was Malcolm who had been shot. But on hearing that this second victim was in fact Tom, he
realised that Malcolm must be in dire need of help. As Hall emptied, a first frantic search
proved fruitless. Then he spotted him on the floor, curled foetus-like in a corner to which he
had crawled, speckled with Tom’s blood, breathing rapidly, in an unresponsive daze. Alan
eased him to his feet and, with an arm around his waist, steered him gently to the house
sickroom, where he laid him on one of the beds.
Tea, he had noticed, was being dispensed. He went down to collect two cups, to one of which he added four spoonfuls of sugar. He persuaded Malcolm to sip it, feeding him almost like an infant. Stupor now gave way to deep racking sobs. After an hour or so, throughout which Alan was not only hugging him but shedding his own tears for the dead, Malcolm’s sobs gave way to sleep. So far, so reasonable. Another hour or so, and he awoke and began to talk.
“It was me who should’ve been killed!” he wailed time and again. “Not Tom!”
Alan brought up a tray of lunch and fed him with morsels. Wally looked hastily in, listened to Alan’s report, and passed on the message about the funeral. Malcolm, on hearing that the Wardles were on their way, begged to be allowed to speak to them. But once Wally had gone he relapsed into apathy.
He would clearly be sleeping in the sickroom again tonight, and Alan intended to join him there. But, for the time being, how to lift him out of his numb misery? Their only real bond was their singing. In a move of desperation he suggested that, as two musicians, they discuss the funeral service and what music and readings would best honour two dead musicians. The diversion of drawing on their choral knowledge might perhaps dilute the emotional horrors of the present. To his huge relief, the ploy worked. Malcolm stirred himself enough to agree, and they adjourned to Alan’s study where between them they hammered out a hypothetical programme. Once Malcolm had entered into the spirit of the exercise and focussed his thoughts, it proved surprisingly easy.
Alan kicked off by proposing, for the processional, the first sentence from Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, ‘Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live.’ Many in the choir knew it, having sung it the year before at the funeral of a former headmaster.
For one anthem, they agreed with little debate on Vaughan Williams’s uplifting ‘Let us now praise famous men,’ which was in the standard Chapel repertoire.
The first reading — and Malcolm was categorical about this, having heard from Tom how much it meant to Kim — could only be Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
For another anthem, the obvious choice was the next sentence from the Purcell, ‘In the midst of life we are in death.’
For the hymn, Malcolm insisted on Bunyan’s incomparable ‘He who would valiant be
’gainst all disaster,’ to the tune of Monks Gate.
That gave Alan inspiration for the second reading. It was a theme, he felt, that deserved
pursuing. Having recently read John Buchan’s Mr Standfast which quoted
Bunyan’s account of the death of Mr Valiant-for-Truth, he borrowed Pilgrim’s
Progress from the house library and found the passage. He showed it to Malcolm.
“Weren’t Tom and Longley both a sort of Mr Valiant-for-Truth?” he
“Yes. Yes, they were.” Tears were back on Malcolm’s face. “And yes,
this is spot on. But it needs,” he pointed out, “to be followed without a break by
trumpet music. What should we have?”
Alan pondered. “Well, my first thought is ‘The trumpet shall sound’ from
Messiah. Just the trumpet solo, not the bass aria.”
“We couldn’t really have one without the other, though, could we? And
that’s a solo, but Bunyan says trumpets in the plural. So what about another bit of
Handel? The end of the Ode for St Cecilia’s Day? That’s scored for
Luckily Alan knew it too, and never failed to be moved by it. “Yes. Good thinking.
After all, Cecilia is the patron saint of music. Starting in the middle of the treble
solo, then? At ‘The trumpet shall be heard on high’? With you as soloist, of
Malcolm’s face screwed up. “No!” he shouted.
“Why not? It does go up to top A, but you can manage that on your head.”
“No!” Malcolm repeated. “I can’t do it! Ordinarily, yes.
But at the funeral I won’t be capable of anything.”
Alan saw that he was expecting too much. “All right then, forget the treble. Start
with the trumpet duet, followed by the final chorus with trumpet accompaniment?”
“That’s a lot better. It’ll need good trumpeters, though.”
“Walsden’s plenty good enough. So’s Stoodley.”
Thus that was resolved. The recessional was also obvious, the third sentence from the Purcell, ‘Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts.’
Yes, thought Malcolm at that point, anguish tearing once more at his soul. Yes, Lord, thou knowest. But Alan doesn’t. He doesn’t know my secret, he doesn’t know Kim’s. And he mustn’t. Secrets have caused enough trouble already.
For the final item, it took very little time to agree on the Dead March from Saul and the ensuing elegy on the death of Saul and Jonathan:
Mourn, Israel, mourn, thy beauty lost,
Thy choicest youth on Gilboa slain.
How have thy fairest hopes been crossed!
What heaps of mighty warriors strew the plain!
They wrote the list neatly out. “That’s good,” Alan observed as he ran his eye down it. “Nice and classical. Nice and English. And all very appropriate. If you’re going to see Tom’s parents, why not show it to them?”
See them Malcolm did, in Wally’s sitting room, with Wally and the HM in attendance. The Wardles, while very obviously suppressing their grief and shock, had themselves bravely under control, but Malcolm, in his extremity, was in tears again. Centre-staged rather than sidelined for the first time in his life, he was steeling himself to make amends for being alive while Tom was dead. What he could make no amends for was his other crime. He had betrayed Kim by revealing his secret to the sergeant. That, surely, was why the sergeant had done what he did. And to that crime he could not admit, because it would mean revealing Kim’s secret a second time. The Wardles, Tom had said, already knew it, and did not mind. But Wally and the HM surely did not know, and must not be told.
He was welcomed as warmly as circumstances allowed, and Mary held him in a hug.
“Malcolm dear, we know how much Tom — and Kim too — meant to you, and how much you meant to them. And we hear that you’ve got feelings of guilt, as if you were to blame. That’s not an uncommon reaction, you know, when people close to you die. But we don’t blame you in the least. Nor does anyone else — of course they don’t, because there isn’t anything to blame you for. It was nothing but pure chance. So please don’t feel guilty. All right?”
She gave him such a tender smile that he nodded. He suppressed, for the time being, his guilt for the other crime. And he was encouraged enough to mumble falteringly through his tears, “Um, Alan and I have been thinking about music for the funeral.” He handed over the list of suggestions, and although they doubtless had much more pressing matters on their minds, they dutifully read it with quiet comments to each other.
“Thank you, Malcolm,” said John appreciatively. “That’s very thoughtful of you, and it looks really good. We know most of these pieces, and they seem exactly right. But what’s that bit from Ecclesiastes?”
Malcolm, having heard it for the first time from Tom, had long since looked it up and committed it to memory. Blowing his nose and trying to pull himself together, he gazed at the carpet and recited softly.
“To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.”
It was now Mary who was in tears. John whispered in her ear, and she nodded.
“That’s exactly right too,” he said. “Mr MacNair, could we ask you to read it at the service?”
“Thank you. And Malcolm, what does the Bunyan say?”
Malcolm had brought Pilgrim’s Progress with him, the place already marked. Muttering “This was Alan’s idea. It’s about how Mr Valiant-for-Truth passed over,” he proceeded to read the passage aloud.
“Then said he, ‘I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage; and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.’
When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the
riverside; into which as he went he said, ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ And as he
went down deeper, he said, ‘Grave, where is thy victory?’
So he passed over; and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other
“And at that point,” Malcolm ended, “the trumpets will sound. The duet from the end of St Cecilia, and the final chorus.”
By now there were tears on John’s cheeks as well. His eyes communed with Mary’s and found agreement.
“Malcolm, are you coming to the funeral?”
“Then please would you read the Bunyan?”
Malcolm gave him a look of sheer terror. He had not foreseen this.
“Tom and Kim were strong for you, weren’t they? Can you be strong for them?”
With an almighty effort, another nod.
“Good. Thank you very much. And how does the St Cecilia chorus go? Is it about the last trumpet?”
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And music shall untune the sky.”
As he spoke it, Malcolm’s voice crumbled almost into incoherence. His battered brain had not, so far, allowed him to think the words through. But now it did, and John divined the problem.
“Malcolm,” he said gently, “it’s ‘the living die’ that worries you, doesn’t it? You’re still wishing you were dead instead of Tom. But you aren’t, and you won’t be, not before your time. The last trumpet marks the end of all things, which is a long way ahead. You’ve your whole life left to do good, good of the sort that Tom and Kim did. We’re proud of what they achieved. And even though they’re physically dead, their example isn’t. That’s what you need to remember. Don’t think about death. Think about what lives on after death. Do you see what I mean?”
Malcolm nodded again, hesitantly, and John, hoping that he really did see, handed the list to the Headmaster.
“Would you pass this to Mr Brocklesby, please? With our blessing. We’ve no changes to suggest.”
“They seem highly appropriate themes. Valour for truth, and life after death. Yes, I shall attend to it.”
“Thank you. And thank you, Malcolm, for all your help. And Alan too, for his.”
“Poor boy!” Mary remarked when he had gone. “But is this Alan already stepping into Tom’s shoes?”
“It’s beginning to look like it,” said Wally. “I very much hope he is.”
And they moved on to other things.
Malcolm reported to Alan the success of their programme and the ordeal to which he was committed. Alan, meanwhile, had been thinking back.
He saw with pity the cowering state that Malcolm was in when he arrived at Yarborough. He saw with approval how Tom was helping him along. He saw with sympathy what a burden it was on Tom’s time. He offered to share some of that burden by spending time with Malcolm.
“That’s very kind of you,” Tom replied. “Yes, it does take time. I don’t begrudge it. But sometimes I do get dreadfully behindhand with my prep. And Kim — Longley — has even less time than me. You’d be doing everyone a service.”
“You’re doing Malcolm a whopping big service already.”
“Well, I’m his mentor, so it’s my duty. My pleasure too, come to that, in spite of the time it takes. You won’t find it easy, though, to get him to open up.”
“At least we’ve got choir things to talk about.”
“Which is more than I have, not being in the choir. Thanks very much.”
Hard work it was, but they did talk choir things, and Malcolm was even cajoled into going further. He revealed something of his lonely life. He revealed that he had never summoned up the courage to talk to Auntie about his unhappinesses. He revealed, without in the least meaning to, how Tom, with Kim’s encouragement, had turned his life around.
Tom, Alan concluded, was an angel.
He had been responding, so far, to the current emergency. Now for the first time he looked further ahead. Malcolm, he saw with a further surge of pity, was not only in sore need of companionship and support until the funeral was over, but would remain so into the indefinite future. Who was going to step into the shoes of the angel? Into the shoes, he might say, of Mr Valiant-for-Truth? And that was a question which supplied its own answer.
My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage; and my courage and skill to him that can get it.
He himself, Alan realised, was already cast as the successor. He would therefore shoulder the task as his inherited duty. It might even become his pleasure. While he could hardly hope to match Tom, he would do his best. “I’ll labour night and day,” he echoed Bunyan to himself, “to be a pilgrim.”
So, on Malcolm’s return, he made a suggestion which was accepted with tearful speed. All the telephone kiosks in Yarborough were full of boys ringing home, but they queued and finally managed two calls. Alan’s parents warmly offered Malcolm their hospitality for the week. Auntie was simply glad to wash her hands of the responsibility at this tricky time.
Thus, after a spell of quiet care from people who understood, they returned to Yarborough for the choir rehearsal and, next day, for the funeral. The attendance was impressive. Out of six hundred boys only thirty could not be present.
But the service itself proved an ordeal indeed. Malcolm remembered virtually nothing of it. He followed instructions and manfully mustered all his strength to pay his small tribute to his heroes. He coped, everyone told him afterwards, magnificently. He contrived to project his normally mouse-like speaking voice to reach the furthest corners of Chapel. He put heart-felt meaning into Bunyan’s words. He remained dry-eyed, but had everyone else in tears. Throughout the following chorus he stood where he was, a hand on each of the coffins as they lay side by side between the choir stalls, his own tears gushing now unchecked. Memory was swamped beneath a new flood of misery. All that was left to him, by the time the service was over, was the clarion of the trumpets sounding on the other side.
Sergeant Standedge’s trial took place. While the facts were beyond dispute, his sanity was much in question, and although the verdict was guilty of wilful murder, the sentence was detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure. The judge commended the school for raising its concerns about the sergeant’s mental state, and castigated the Binchesters for overriding them.
Malcolm attended as a witness. He had to. It was another and an equally bad ordeal, but at
the same time, paradoxically, a comfort. In the sergeant’s rooms the police had found a
note, a rambling and unbridled rant which vented his obsessions about the lack of recognition
for POWs in Malaya, about the obscenity of rewarding civilians and not the military, and about
the spinelessness of modern youth. Yet never once did it mention queers. Nor of course did
Malcolm, a quivering jelly as he testified to the sergeant’s diatribe in the shooting
range, mention queers either. And that was where he found his comfort. Kim’s secret,
although he had betrayed it, remained a secret. It had not after all, it seemed, prompted the
sergeant to do what he did. Shame lingered, but much of the guilt was lifted.
Over the lack of recognition for POWs, no crusade resulted. Although one or two
correspondents in one or two thoughtful newspapers did endorse the sergeant’s gripe,
veterans of the war in south-east Asia tended to be far more angry about the British military
mismanagement of the campaign and about the Japanese mistreatment of their prisoners than about
the absence of medals. It was ironic that the sergeant had killed one of the few who would have
campaigned effectively for his cause; but because nobody alive knew what Kim had been going to
say, the irony went wholly unnoticed.
Kim was awarded a posthumous third George Cross, in which Yarborough took mournful pride. John and Mary Wardle gave all three to the school, to be displayed as a memorial.
Time passed. Thanks to Alan’s strength and healing support, much of Malcolm’s
confidence was painstakingly rebuilt and bolstered. Within a term they were no longer
sympathetic mentor and trembling protégé, but friends: quiet and undemonstrative,
but close. Alan, himself something of a loner, had indeed stepped into Tom’s shoes. They
talked now of anything and everything.
Or almost everything, for there were three matters which Malcolm dared not broach. One was
Tom and Kim. To him they had been saints, saints of stability in a brittle world, and his
emotions had installed them in a shrine. He balked at thinking about them with his intellect.
It was as if a curtain had been drawn across to close off the relevant department of his brain.
He simply remembered them, and the waste of their lives, with a perpetual and aching sorrow.
Whenever, therefore, Alan spoke of them, he changed the subject. It was too painful.
The second matter was that Alan had stepped into Tom’s shoes not merely as his minder
but also as his physical object of desire. This yearning he kept to himself. Alan, with his
blond curls and competent air, was in many ways physically similar to Tom. But, unlike Tom, he
was unattached. He seemed wholly uninterested in girls, yet never once did he show any sign of
being interested in boys, let alone in Malcolm. He gave no clue, even, to whether he
sympathised with homosexuality or was repelled by it. On this subject, therefore, Malcolm also
kept his tongue strictly under lock and key. Not only had it let him down before, but there was
another truth that he was ashamed to let it utter. He had lusted for Tom. To transfer that lust
— and worse still, to say so — smacked of treachery to Tom’s memory. Never
once, therefore, did he allow himself to show any sign of being interested in boys, let alone
He had also, of course, loved Tom. But to transfer that love was so unthinkable that the possibility never even crossed his mind.
The third matter, which lay behind the other two, was just as personal. He had always been timid, always passive rather than active. His long-established routine of schoolwork and singing he carried out with competence and sometimes with flair. What he lacked was the drive to branch out and to push boundaries. He knew it all too well, but he had no desire to push, and no desire to be pushed. He was content with placid inertia. Were he to raise the subject with Alan or — heaven forbid — with Wally, he would be inviting a lecture; a kindly one no doubt, but a lecture. And that he could not face.
In this respect, however, and unknown to him, Alan was already a step ahead. For all his goodness he was no great pusher either, but he could hardly fail to recognise Malcolm’s weakness. He consulted his parents, and on their advice he discreetly encouraged him to take small steps forward: not great leaps, but enough to keep up and to make modest progress.
Soon Malcolm graduated to his own study, which was a relief because his fellowship with Charles, founded solely on stamps, had run its natural course. He developed in body and in mind. While he would never be an athlete, he was no longer a weakling. While he would never be an extrovert, he no longer cowered. While he would never dominate, he did begin, under Alan’s gentle prodding, to assert himself. He applied to be exempted from the CCF on the grounds of conscientious objection and, in solidarity, Alan applied too. Wally, well aware of the reason and much heartened by their friendship, supported them, and Major Lydgate unhesitatingly agreed.
More fundamentally, Malcolm began to put his foot down with Auntie. This came about because
he kept up, during the holidays, with the Wardles. Not only was he grateful for their kindness
and concerned for their grief, but all of them very obviously benefited. He visited as often as
he could, and with him he took Alan, whom John and Mary also came to love. Between them they
filled a little of the gap left by Tom and Kim’s death, and the Wardles, far from trying
to forget their loss, were glad to share their memories and to have a new outlet for their
caring. The practical difficulty for Malcolm was that the journey by public transport was
laborious and expensive, which meant asking Auntie to ferry him by car. Alan, on hearing of her
growing complaints about the bother, invited him to spend more and more time at his own home,
which was within easy reach of Blackheath. Thus Malcolm saw less and less of Auntie, to their
Mr and Mrs Gregory were unstinting in their welcome. Just as Alan had become Malcolm’s
effective brother, so for all day-to-day purposes they became his parents. They appreciated him
as their son’s closest friend and, being professional players in the London Symphony
Orchestra, they appreciated his musicianship. This gave him, indirectly, a new lifeline. One
day, after his voice had belatedly broken and he was trying reluctantly to come to terms with
his new tenor, they played for him the mould-breaking recording of Purcell’s ‘Come
ye Sons of Art’ recently made by Alfred Deller and John Whitworth. Malcolm, who had never
heard countertenors before, was instantly captivated. There and then he experimented with this
exotic sound, and the Gregorys were impressed enough to encourage him. They arranged holiday
tuition for him from Deller himself, who sang in the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral and was
masterminding the revival of the countertenor voice. At school, Wally, strenuously supportive,
almost browbeat the traditionalist Mr Brocklesby into finding a term-time tutor as
Thereafter, musically, Malcolm never looked back. He developed a Deller-like singing voice,
pure and vibrato-free. Knowledgeable visitors to Chapel pricked up their ears and invited him
to perform, first at local concerts and then further afield. Malcolm, conscious that it was
Alan’s parents who had set him on this path, racked his brains for an appropriate way of
repaying something of their generosity. It was Alan’s wistful remark, made with no
ulterior motive at all — “I’d love to go to the Salzburg Festival!”
— which gave him the answer. Thanks to Charles, Malcolm was now fully aware that his
stamp album was a potential goldmine, and he sold his Inverted Swan. With the proceeds he
offered to take the three Gregorys to the Festival. Their initial protests gave way, when they
saw that he was in earnest, to acceptance. All four of them drank Mozart until he came out of
their ears; but although the boys shared a room at the hotel — which at Alan’s home
they did not — nothing was said or done that would cause even the most modest eyebrow to
Thus Malcolm’s yearnings remained hidden. If they could not be mentioned to Alan, still less could they be mentioned to adults, and least of all to Auntie. The Gregorys, whether or not they drew conclusions from the boys’ closeness, made no comment. The Wardles, if they saw into Malcolm’s head, thought it none of their business. At school he and Alan remained equally proper and equally close, wholly at ease in each other’s company and uncomfortable when apart. Malcolm’s lustings, in short, did deepen over time into love. But while he silently and shamefacedly recognised the lustings, he totally failed to recognise the love. Without giving any thought to the matter, he assumed that his lifetime’s ration of love had, with Tom’s death, been used up.
Academically the pair progressed well and, in the nature of things, they moved up the ladder in the house. Older boys left, new boys arrived. Malcolm noticed with fellow-feeling that one of these new boys in particular, Leon Michaelson by name, was blatantly as scared as he had been himself. But Michaelson’s study-mate Andrew Goodhart, he noticed with comfort, was keeping an unobtrusive but effective eye on him. Little did he — or they — know that these two youngsters were unwittingly to revolutionise his own future.
Then came responsibility, and events began to unfold at greater speed. First Alan became a prefect. Out of tune with his colleagues — an unusually weak bunch with little sense of justice — he confided his troubles to Malcolm’s understanding ear, and now received support in return. Their bond, already strong, was strengthened. And this sad situation did not last for long. In the September of 1957, when Malcolm had just turned seventeen, Alan himself became house captain. At the same time, by coincidence, there was published the Wolfenden Report on the decriminalisation of homosexuality for consenting adults. In the school library, Malcolm surreptitiously devoured it.
At the beginning of December they went together, tenor and countertenor, for interview and audition at King’s College Cambridge, where an inspired and inspiring new director of music, David Willcocks by name, had recently been appointed. Both — perhaps as a result — were awarded choral scholarships. Alan was to take his up the following September. Malcolm, being nearly twelve months younger, would postpone his for a year. But although both were openly pleased at their success, neither as much as mentioned the prospect of living apart for so long. Malcolm, for his part, did not dare to contemplate it. It was too unwelcome.
Before the Christmas term ended Alan, as house captain, had to confer with Wally over who should be made prefects next month. There being only two real candidates, the choice was easy: Charles Bottomley, that extrovert and popular sportsman, and Malcolm Stones, quiet and to most people an unknown quantity. What did matter was the order in which they were appointed, because the senior would succeed Alan as house captain. On this subject Alan held strong views which, for once, he had not discussed with Malcolm. Worried that Wally might not share them, he put them forward cautiously. The reaction, however, was not what he feared.
“Agreed, Alan,” said Wally. “Wholeheartedly agreed. Charles has got as far as he deserves, but Malcolm still needs all the boost he can get. And,” he chuckled reminiscently, “I confess to a personal interest. Some years ago I incautiously foretold that Malcolm would one day be a leader. I would very much like to see that come true.”
Alan’s opinion of his housemaster, already high, rose higher.
“My ancient prophecy,” Wally told the Headmaster when next they spoke, “is about to be fulfilled. Next September young Stones will be my house captain.”
“My congratulations, then. The rest of what you saw in your crystal ball on that occasion proved sadly accurate, for the Longley and Wardle miracle did end in tears. But I remain surprised about Stones. Beyond argument he pulls his weight in the choir and in the classroom. But does he pull it elsewhere?”
“If he doesn’t, he will. Alan Gregory has transformed him from a mouse into … let us say into a cat. Not a rough and unprincipled alley-cat, but a gentle lap-cat. Yet even lap-cats are decisive when they have to be. Even lap-cats have teeth and claws.”
So in January Malcolm was made a prefect; and senior to Charles, which pleased neither. And
finally, a month later, almost four years after the shootings, after almost four years of
shamefaced and bottled-up yearning on Malcolm’s part, what had been firmly buried out of
sight at last came to the surface.
At tea one Sunday the buzz flew round the tables that young Andrew Goodhart and Leon Michaelson were not only queers but had been caught in flagrante. Emotions cascaded through Malcolm’s head. Astonishment, yes. Envy. Jealousy, even. And pity, if they were going to suffer for it. After prayers, however, Wally publicly disposed of half the rumour. The report of sexual activity, he stated flatly, was untrue. But the other half remained unresolved. That night the supposed offenders were absent from their dormitory, over which Alan and Malcolm jointly presided, and speculation tried to run riot. The boy who was closest to them was adamant that the charge of sex had been trumped up, but on whether they were queers he would not be drawn. Even Alan knew no more than that they were being held in quarantine on the private side, but he kept the guesswork firmly within bounds.
Next day the picture grew clearer. Alan, speaking in neutral and noncommittal tones, brought Malcolm up to date. The two boys, he had learned from Wally, were indeed queer and indeed in love. They had the support of their parents and guardians. Months ago they had told the chaplain in confidence, and while he — liberal man — had no problem with it, he advised them to keep it under wraps while at school: to show no public hint of their love, let alone indulge in sex. This advice they had scrupulously followed. That morning the Headmaster had asked Alan, as their house captain, if he had seen any hint of them stepping out of line, and he had replied with perfect honesty that he had not. That evening they were returned into circulation, acquitted of any crime.
Relief, if still tinged with envy, was now dominant in Malcolm’s mind. At house prayers the hymn was ‘O love, how deep, how broad, how high.’ That pleased him. The words were wholly appropriate for the occasion, and the tune was Eisenach, the wonderful chorale melody from the St John Passion. But as the piano played the introduction, he saw Alan smile and wink at the released prisoners in obvious approval and support. And hymns were chosen by the house captain. It puzzled him so deeply that he did not sing at all.
It was only afterwards in the dormitory, in Malcolm’s astonished presence, that the answer to the riddle emerged. Goodhart and Michaelson, visibly and understandably on edge, were besieged with embarrassing questions, of which much the most important was “Are you really queers?”
Alan nodded slightly at them as if in encouragement.
“Yes,” said Goodhart, taking a deep breath. “We are. And we’re in love. But we’re not into sex here. Wally and the HM know all about us, and they don’t mind.”
“But that’s illegal!” someone objected.
“No,” Goodhart replied. “It’s not. Sex between males is illegal. Love isn’t.”
“But it isn’t normal. It’s a sin.”
Goodhart seemed unsure how to answer, and Alan stepped in. He sounded impatient.
“You need to read the report of the Wolfenden committee — it’s in the
library. It thinks sex between males is normal enough to be legalised. And since the Archbishop
of Canterbury agrees, can it be that sinful? But the report’s about sex.
We’re talking about love, and that’s not the same thing. You know what
someone told the committee? ‘The right which I claim for myself is the right to choose
the person whom I love.’ That makes sense to me. Has anyone got the right to tell me I
can fall in love with this girl but not that one?”
Heads were shaken.
“I thought not. And if they can’t dictate which girl I love, how can they dictate which person I love, boy or girl? You love a person, not a gender.”
Malcolm, standing silently by, listened in wholehearted approved. This was typical Alan, tolerant and supportive.
“But,” the nit-picker objected, “the Wolfenden thing’s about people over twenty-one. Not us.”
“I told you,” Alan sounded even more impatient. “The report’s about
sex. We’re talking about love. Love isn’t something that only kicks in on your
twenty-first birthday. I’m eighteen. To let you into a secret, I’m in love. And
just to set your filthy minds at rest, I’ve never shagged anyone. But I am in
love. Any objections?”
Heads were shaken again.
“I thought not. Goodhart and Michaelson don’t shag either. But they are in love. Any objections? Because I’ve got none.”
Abruptly he called for lights out. Malcolm turned on his heel and left. Prefects could stay up for as long as they liked, and he was far from ready for bed. Once outside the dorm he leant against the wall, trying to understand what he had heard. Alan was in love. But there was no girl in Alan’s life — every last detail of which he knew so well — for him to be in love with. Nor, surely, was there a boy. He could make no sense of it.
Alan appeared beside him. “So you’re in love,” said Malcolm tonelessly.
“Yes, I am.”
“I’m sorry, Malcolm.” Alan laid an anxious hand on his arm. “I didn’t mean you to hear it like this. But when those two got pushed into a corner I simply had to help them out. So I’m telling you now, straight out. It’s you I’m in love with. I have been for years. And I’ve been holding it back — I could never work out how to say it. Or when to say it — a time to keep silence or a time to speak? Or even if I ought to say it at all. Because I hadn’t the foggiest idea how you’d take it. And I still haven’t.”
If, as a declaration of love, it was the least passionate on record, it was understandable. Alan’s face showed that he was wallowing in uncertainty.
So too was Malcolm. “Neither have I,” he said vaguely. “Sorry, Alan, it’s come out of the blue. I’ve got to think.” That was nothing but the truth. He was in a daze. He had just heard what he never expected to hear, and he needed time to clear his brain. “I’ll be in my study.”
Alan seemed relieved at not being rejected out of hand, and nodded sympathetically. “All right. And I’ll be in mine.”
Mind unfocussed, Malcolm sat down at his desk and ran distracted fingers through his ginger hair. His eye lit first on the old photograph of his father, about to start his long journey to Borneo and a bayonet in the stomach, and his mother, soon to be blown apart by a bomb. Discouraged, he looked away. Even now, sixteen years on, the world was still in turmoil. The Cold War was escalating apace. The USSR had launched the first intercontinental ballistic missile. Khruschev was threatening the West with annihilation. Little more than a year ago the Suez crisis had erupted and the Hungarian uprising had been viciously crushed. War, war, bloody war! Was there never an end to it? It wasted good lives beyond counting. So too did its aftermath. Had it not been for war, Tom and Kim would be alive today. Had it not been for war, how much misery he would have been spared himself.
He turned back to the desk. There also stood Kim’s portrait of a joyful Tom, and Tom’s portrait of a thoughtful Kim. They were his heroes and his yardsticks for love. Never could he forget them, nor his debt to them. He had yearned for access to Tom’s soul and body. He had worshipped Kim too, above all for the saving dose of comfort administered after his anguish in the shooting range. He had looked up to both of them, to the point of emotional slavery …
That thought pulled him up short. Be honest, Malcolm, he told himself, be honest. Hadn’t he been in slavery to them ever since? Yes, he had. Wasn’t he in slavery still? Yes, he was. Yet both Tom and Kim had been selfless. Tom had loved Kim without being his slave, and Kim would emphatically not have wanted him as a slave. Would either of them, therefore, have wanted Malcolm in permanent and morbid bondage to their memory? No, was the simple answer, they wouldn’t. They weren’t masters expecting perpetual service. They weren’t gods demanding worship. They had been ordinary young mortals; extraordinary, to be sure, in their caring and their generosity, but still ordinary mortals. They were gone, and they would not return. His life could not be tied to them for ever more.
As he stared confusedly at the portrait of Tom, he had the almost palpable feeling of a curtain being drawn open in his mind. First there crept in, like a hesitant ray of sunshine, the memory of a long-forgotten conversation. It triggered back to life a moribund section of his brain.
“I just wish,” said the innocent young Malcolm, “I had someone strong, like Longley. To love, like you love Longley. And to love me.”
“I hope you will,” Tom replied. “One day.”
And as he left Tom said, “You will find him, you know. Somewhere. Sooner or later. And when you do, it’ll be good. Believe me.”
Sooner or later … Four years on, and he had found him. It was no treachery to love again. Tom had authorised it. And once that memory had revived, the scales fell from his eyes. At last he recognised what should long ago have been obvious. Having at last recognised it, he accepted it.
He did love Alan.
And, runt though he might still be, he was himself now loved. Armed with that mind-blowing knowledge, he was free to love in return. This time he could love more openly, this time more realistically, more generously, more fruitfully. The words and the tune of tonight’s hymn swelled through his consciousness,
O love how deep, how broad, how high!
How passing thought and fantasy.
He felt he was on the brink of the momentous. What precise form it might take he could hardly guess. But if Tom had promised it would be good, it was going to be good.
His gaze switched to the fourth photograph on the desk, a more recent one of him and Alan outside the cathedral at Salzburg.
Alan the decent.
Alan the sturdy buttress.
Alan the ever-present in spirit.
Alan the oh-so-dependable friend to whom he was also deep in debt, but to whom he was no
more in slavery than Tom had been to Kim.
Alan the diffident, Alan the reticent, who had no more worked out how to declare his
feelings — or whether to declare them at all — than he had himself.
If only both of them had been less diffident, they would already be much further along the road, and their future would be less hazy. What Malcolm now saw was that he had been guilty of worse than diffidence. He had been blind; or, more accurately, he had been blinkered. His blinkers having been removed, the future was plain after all.
At school, for the next term and a half, they would follow the example of Michaelson and Goodhart and keep their love under wraps. What might happen in the holidays was open for debate. But from July he would change his plans. He would leave Yarborough a year early and, with no regret whatsoever, bequeath the captaincy of the house to Charles. Hand in hand with his second saviour he would go to Cambridge, which had no quarrel, he had heard, with discreet affairs. Their voices would sing together at King’s. Their souls would sing together for ever.
And all this was thanks to Tom and Kim.
My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage; and my
courage and skill to him that can get it.
Both Tom and Kim could have used those words, for both had been Mr Valiant-for-Truth. Both, in their life, had showered goodness far and wide, goodness beyond calculation. Both, in their death, had given to their successor … had given to Alan … their sword and their courage and their skill.
Now, at last, Malcolm came to recognise another truth that he had never properly recognised before. It was precisely what John Wardle had told him four years ago in Wally’s sitting room, but which had never sunk in. Tom and Kim were dead. But the goodness that they had spread was a thing not just of the past. It belonged to the present too, and to the future. It was still at work today. Therefore, while their death was indeed a tragedy, it was not an unmitigated disaster. They had not died in vain. Their lives had not after all been wasted.
Malcolm’s relief was immense.
And that was still not all. Into his head there swept, hard on the heels of the relief, yet another revelation. The dormant chrysalis of his old self had finally burst open and the butterfly of a fresh self was emerging, ready to take wing. For the first time in his life he felt in control of his own destiny. No longer was he content to be an inadequate runt. No longer did he have to remain passive. No longer could he be only at the receiving end of goodness, for he could now do good himself. It was not just to Alan that Tom and Kim had given their sword and their courage and their skill. They had given it to him as well.
He breathed a single almighty sigh, and for five minutes he sat absorbing his new-learnt
lessons. Then, awash with an unfamiliar sense of purpose, he switched off his light and went
out. He had something to give to Alan: something new, or at the very least a vast improvement
on what had gone before. It was nothing less than Malcolm Stones himself, revamped and
refurbished into better shape.
There was a time to break down, Ecclesiastes had pointed out, and a time to build up. If ever that was true, it was surely now. And the old preacher — he stopped in his tracks as it struck him — had uttered another pearl of wisdom which might have been phrased with him in mind. It matched his heightened mood so well that he shouted it down the unlit corridor.
“A time to cast away Stones, and a time to gather Stones together.”
He laughed out loud. Tom and Kim, had they been able to hear, would understand. They would even laugh with him. And Alan did hear, and did understand. His study door opened and, as he stood there silhouetted by the light, he was laughing too.