They returned home with a sense almost of anticlimax. But awaiting Quentin was the promised letter from Hubert Shuttleworth, setting out the story which Arthur Tuxford had told him in an unguarded moment over a bottle of schnapps back in 1947. To be on the safe side, Quentin read it first by himself.
In February 1946, it said, Tuxford was in charge of a refugee camp near Hannover for ethnic Germans from Baltic lands who had fled before the advance of the Red Army or had been expelled by the victors. There he encountered a young lady. She had recently made it through from East Prussia, where she had lost her parents. Four months previously she had been raped. By whom she did not know, except that he was a German civilian, not a Russian soldier. And she was pregnant. Her plight was all too common, and like all the inmates she was malnourished. If conditions were horrendous in Germany at large, conditions for refugees, even in camps, were worse. Food was in desperately short supply and the daily calories available were barely enough for survival. There was no such thing as extra rations for expectant mothers.
But she had escaped with some jewellery, which she offered to Arthur Tuxford in exchange for a new life in England. He was tempted, and gave way. Somehow — he had not revealed how — he twisted the arm of the regimental padre to marry them. This counted as fraternising with the enemy, and without authorisation from on high it was against the regulations of the time. But the marriage gave her British citizenship. And somehow — again he had not said how — he smuggled her to England. A deceased uncle had recently bequeathed him a house in Ruston, and there he installed her. He sold the jewellery for a very tidy sum, invested the proceeds, and arranged for her to receive a modest income from the interest. His sister, who thought the sun shone out of his backside, was in on the plot, and helped her to settle in. There the new wife was more or less abandoned, and there, next summer, she gave birth to her son. Who was not Arthur’s.
Shuttleworth had, he professed, been shocked. But, however many rules had been broken, it sounded as if the marriage and therefore the citizenship were unassailable in law. It was a fait accompli, and what good would it do, more than a year later, to raise the hue and cry? He had told nobody, but had often wondered how the wife and her son were faring.
What a deplorable tale, thought Quentin. But, given that the result was Paul, who could reasonably deplore it? His heart went out to Mrs Tuxford, who must have had the loyalty and patience of a saint. And it confirmed the niggling feeling he had had all along that the supposed father and supposed son simply did not belong together. But this was emphatically no occasion for censorship or delay. He found Paul and showed him the letter.
Paul read it with no more sign of emotion than raised eyebrows.
“All right,” he said. “I suppose that explains why I never, um, related to him. But why did Dad do it?” He paused. “Not Dad, but what else do I call him? Why did he marry her and then more or less desert her?”
“Well,” said Quentin, “he blatantly didn’t marry for love. Or for pity — not to put too fine a point on it, the milk of human kindness didn’t exactly flow in his veins.”
“So the simplest alternative is surely the right one. That it was the lure of her money. Did he regard it almost as spoils of war to which, as a soldier, he was entitled? Did he bring her back as a kind of servant, a housekeeper to maintain his rather precarious foothold in this country? Which in the end came in very useful, when he was invalided out of the army.”
“That makes sense. It’s the sort of man he was.”
“We’ll probably never know for sure. But I’m glad he did, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. And we’ll probably never know who your real father is. Immediately after the war, from all I heard, it was utter chaos in Germany. Rape was nothing out of the ordinary, and the chances are that this one was never reported. It must have been in late October ’45, but we’ve no idea where, and nobody to ask. Oh!” — a thought struck him — “Might his name just possibly be on your birth certificate?”
They searched in the boxes of Arthur’s personal papers that they had transferred, and were rewarded. There was the marriage certificate of Arthur Tuxford and Mechthilde Lanz, issued at Hannover on 28 February 1946.
“Well, that’s clear enough. Even if it broke the army’s rules, it seems valid.”
And there was the birth certificate of Paul, son of Arthur Tuxford and Mechthilde Tuxford née Lanz, born at Ruston on 27 July 1946 and registered there on 3 August.
“Well, assuming that what your Dad told Hubert Shuttleworth is true, that’s a fib. Look, the birth was registered by your mother. Your Dad must have told her to say he was the father, to keep it above board. And never to tell you that he wasn’t your father. So we’re still no nearer finding who your real father was … Does all this bother you, P?”
“Not really … not personally. It’s Mama I feel sorry for, that she was used like that. All right, I suppose Dad kept his side of the bargain. And I suppose she was better off in Ruston, alone but reasonably well fed, than starving in a camp. But he still took advantage of her for her jewellery. And as for me, I don’t much like being the result of rape. I don’t want to know about my real father, seeing what he did. But I’m glad to know the truth at last, or most of it. Anyway, my, um, ancestry doesn’t make any difference to who I am, does it? I mean, to the sort of person I am?”
“None whatsoever,” said Quentin firmly.
But a week later he wondered if that was entirely true. Paul, who hitherto had no more than dipped at random into Quentin’s library, was beginning to explore it systematically, working along the shelves, looking at the titles, from time to time taking down a book.
“Oh!” he suddenly exclaimed. “This is one I’ve got to read!”
He brought it across to show Quentin. It was Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, Hellenistische Dichtung in der Zeit des Kallimachos, published in Berlin in 1924. Hellenistic Poetry in the Time of Callimachus.
“Oh yes, Wilamowitz,” said Quentin blithely. “A very interesting study. But is your German up to it?”
“Leicht,” said Paul. “Mama hat mir Deutsch beigebracht.”
Quentin’s eyebrows rose. Because so much of the commentary and criticism is in German, a professional classicist has to have a working grasp of the language. This boy, whose guardian he had so unexpectedly become and who looked set to become a classicist himself, already had one essential tool at his command, for he had learnt German at his mother’s knee.
“Aber der Punkt ist,” Paul continued, “dass Wilamowitz ihr Grossvater war.”
That was infinitely more astonishing still, and Quentin gaped. Paul’s mother had been a granddaughter of his superhero.
“P! I bow down before you! God knows, Germany has produced plenty enough great classical scholars. But did you know that Wilamowitz was the greatest of them all? At least that’s how I rate him.”
“Was he really? No, I didn’t. Mama used to talk about him, so I knew he was a scholar, though not that he was as big a cheese as that. But I’m chuffed to see this book. Mama obviously couldn’t bring anything with her, except the jewellery. So this is the first time I’ve set eyes on one of his books.”
“And P, it’s not only Wilamowitz who’s in your blood. He married a daughter of Theodor Mommsen, who’s just as legendary. He was the great historian of Rome and published, believe it or not, no fewer than fifteen hundred books. No doubt he had an army of assistants, but I’ve never worked out where he found the time. So Mommsen was your great-great-grandfather!”
What an ancestry! In the face of it, Quentin felt a mere novice, an apprentice, a hack. Intelligence could undoubtedly be inherited. Could an empathy with the ancient world be inherited too?
But he did think it wise to consult Mr Garrett over the matter of the birth certificate.
“No,” said the solicitor on hearing the details. “You’ve no real evidence that the father’s name is wrongly entered. You’ve only got hearsay. Let sleeping dogs lie.”
So they were allowed to lie, and they never did awake.
The new school term began, and routine again engulfed them. They shared the domestic chores. Their relationship, in every realm but the sexual, was now more that of man and wife — or man and man — than of guardian and ward. Paul grew, although he would never be tall; for which perhaps his early troubled months in the womb were responsible. At school, while he made no close friends, he learned to stand up to the taunting of the louts, which consequently died away. Through Quentin’s good offices he acquired, young though he was, a reader’s ticket at the university library. And at work he shone, except in the opinion of George Burrell.
One evening he came home with a troubled face.
“Mr Burrell’s getting at me. He’s reported me to the headmaster.”
“My Greek verse. He gave us a bit of Shakespeare’s Lover’s Complaint to translate — ‘Small show of man was yet upon his chin; his phoenix down began but to appear.’ And I brought in those words of Strato’s, trichophoitos ioulos. But when he handed it back today he’d ringed them in red. He was steaming and muttering about obscenity, and said the headmaster wants to talk to you.”
“Does he now? Well, I’m steaming too, and I certainly want to talk to him.”
He dialled the number. “Listen in, P, but don’t make a sound … Good afternoon, headmaster. Quentin Fowler here. I hear you want to talk to me about Paul Tuxford. What’s George Burrell’s problem?”
“Errm …” The headmaster, caught unawares, fumbled to find the right gear. “Apparently Paul used an obscene expression in his Greek verse translation.”
“What was it?”
“Errm …” From the rustlings, the headmaster was evidently scrabbling for the right piece of paper. “Oh yes, here it is. Trichophoitos ioulos.” He mangled the words.
“You call that obscene? It literally means ‘pubescent fluff,’ which seems admirably to reflect Shakespeare’s words that were to be translated — ‘his phoenix down began but to appear’.”
The headmaster must by then have read the rest of his note. “There’s more to it than that. Mr Burrell looked up the phrase in the dictionary, and it was used only once in the whole of Greek literature, by someone called Strato, in the Greek Anthology.”
“That work, Mr Burrell tells me, is pornographic, and is therefore deliberately excluded from the school library. Paul must have found it elsewhere.”
“Yes, he did. In my own library.”
“You mean you show pornography to young boys?”
“I don’t show it. But if they are interested in reading for themselves, as a school ought to encourage them to do, I do not prevent them from finding it. In any case, is Strato’s subject matter pornographic? To your mindset it may seem so, but to the Greeks it was an integral part of their culture, about which George Burrell is supposed to be teaching his pupils.”
The headmaster bristled. Or rather, because bristling is not easy to detect on the phone, Quentin suspected that he did.
“Mr … ah … Professor Fowler,” he said stiffly, “be that as it may, I am minded to suspend Paul for, ah, inappropriate behaviour in presenting a teacher with a quotation from such a source.”
“And I am minded to oppose you with everything at my command. May I suggest that first we discuss it with the chairman of your governors?”
“Most certainly.” The headmaster, it seemed, scented victory. “That would be a very proper move. I shall let you know when I have arranged a meeting.”
But Quentin scented victory too. “The chairman,” he told Paul once the receiver was safely down, “is the bishop. Who also sits on the university council, so I know him. His heart is in the right place.”
The bishop being a busy man, it took time for the meeting to be organised. Finally they met in the headmaster’s office.
“Quentin!” cried the bishop, shaking hands. “How good to see you! Your colleagues are always telling me how much they miss you. Now, I understand that there’s a problem and that the headmaster wishes to suspend your boy. What’s it all about?”
“Paul,” Quentin got in before the headmaster could speak, “had to translate a sentence of Shakespeare — ‘his phoenix down began but to appear.’ To do so, he borrowed two words from Greek literature.”
“Where from, exactly?”
“From the Greek Anthology.” Quentin had come prepared and handed over his copy of Volume 4, pointing to the poem in question.
The bishop took once glance and smiled reminiscently. “Lord, this takes me back! It’s years since I read the Anthology. And this lot’s by Strato! Oho! How we used to lap him up when we were boys! And which words?”
“These two — trichophoitos ioulos.”
The bishop read the poem — in the Greek, Quentin fancied, not the facing translation.
Although pubescent fluff may invade you and soft blond curls spread over your face, that does not make me shun my loved one. His beauty is mine, even if he has a beard and hairs.
“That’s good, isn’t it?” was the bishop’s verdict. “A very proper sentiment which rises far above the level of crude pederasty. It’s wonderful how much of this pagan stuff a liberal Christian can go along with. And trichophoitos ioulos” — which he pronounced correctly — “seems perfect for those words of Shakespeare. I don’t understand what the fuss is about.”
The headmaster deflated like a punctured inner tube.
“It goes to show,” Quentin observed to Paul when he got home, “how many bigots there are out there. And how careful one needs to be, even in little things.”
“P, I’ve had a letter from John Howard and Peter Tasker, those students of mine I was telling you about who were gaoled for gross indecency. They’ve just been released, and they’ve written to thank me for my fruitless efforts on their behalf, which is a very kind thought. Do you think it might be useful if you had a chat with them? To hear about the dangers from their own bitter experience?”
Paul came back from the meeting very sober.
“They’re great chaps,” he reported. “And they told me exactly what happened. They were in bed together in John’s room at the hall of residence when a car crashed outside. John went out in his dressing gown to see what was up, and the police seized on him as a witness and took him back to his room to make a statement. Peter was still in John’s bed. That’s all it took — it was obvious what they’d been up to. The police forgot about the car crash and pounced on them instead. Poor sods!
“And their advice is: don’t, because it just isn’t worth it. They had a god-awful time in jug, where the other prisoners took it out on them. Not to mention the criminal record they’ll carry around for the rest of their days, and the strain it put on their parents. I told them there wasn’t any immediate prospect of me doing anything like that, much though I’d like to. And they said good, keep your nose clean, don’t take any risks. Big Brother may not be watching you all the time, not yet. But if he’s watching at the wrong moment, you’ve had it. Wait until it’s legalised. It’s bound to be before long, what with all the pressure building up after the Wolfenden Report.”
“And does that make sense to you?”
“Yes, it does. I’ll wait. Not just for my own sake, Q. For yours too. I couldn’t dump you in that sort of mess.”
It was his fortune, Quentin thought, his undeserved good fortune, that had landed him with Paul. He had worried, when he retired, that he would lose contact with youth. As it turned out, he was in the closest of contact — well, almost the closest of contact — with the most remarkable specimen of youth, with the most beautiful of flowers. With delight he watched it grow. The hair, when it inexorably arrived, did not lessen its beauty. Nor did time lessen the love which it scattered like pollen.
The years passed. Quentin’s mobility decreased yet more. He was sure that the daily massage from Paul postponed the evil hour, but come it did. First, he had to replace his stick with a walking frame. Then Paul, returning home one day, found him on the kitchen floor. He had been collecting the fragments of a plate he had dropped, and was incapable of getting up.
Paul helped him to his feet and sat him down.
“Right, Q, this is it. I’m taking over now. Kitchen, shopping, everything.”
“But …” said Quentin.
“No buts, please. Trust me. Do you remember a conversation just like this, three years ago? I was at my limit then, and you took over, and I was heartily glad you did. Now you’re at your limit, and I’m taking over.”
“All right, P. You win. I have to admit I’m glad too. Thank you.”
University loomed. Paul, as both of them knew full well despite George Burrell’s blinkered doubts, was amply good enough for Oxford or Cambridge. But he would have none of it. He insisted on staying to look after Quentin, who protested but, secretly and wholly selfishly, was relieved. And that meant Ruston University, which with its strong local ties already had many students who lived at home rather than in halls of residence. Paul filled in his application form. Although ownership of Wilamowitz and Mommsen as forebears could hardly feature alongside his exam results and the two papers he had already published in The Classical Quarterly, he easily gained his place. He was just eighteen.
“There’s another classics freshman from Ruston,” he told Quentin after his first day. “I like him. He went to the Grammar School, not Aveling. He’s called Simon and he’s several months older than me. His Dad’s Fred Robey the local MP.”
“Oh yes, I know Fred. Like the bishop, he’s on the university council. Another sound man. Labour, of course.”
Paul made other friends too — the informal atmosphere of university, he pointed out, was a great improvement on the rigidity of Aveling College — but over the months it was Simon who featured most in his conversation and who visited the bungalow ever more often. It was not difficult to see which way the wind was blowing, and Paul readily admitted it.
“I think this is it, Q. And I think he thinks so too. But I don’t know what to do about it. And I don’t think he does either”
“Take it gently, P,” said Quentin. “There’s no rush.” But, he added to himself,
“Krinat’, Erōtes, ho pais tinos axios. Ei men alēthōs
Athanatōn, echetō; Zani gar ou machomai.”
Judge, you Loves, of whom the boy is worthy. If truly one of the gods, let him have him, for I do not compete with Zeus.
Simon impressed Quentin. Sound father, sound son. Studious and intelligent, cheerful and handsome. He could well be one of the gods. But never did he stay the night at the bungalow nor, as far as Quentin knew, did Paul ever suggest that he should.
A few weeks later Paul was sitting with Quentin, re-reading The Last of the Wine.
“Listen to this, Q,” he said. “I’d forgotten about it. It’s Alexias thinking: ‘I would feel my soul climb love as a mountain, which at its foot has wide slopes and rocks and streams and woods, and fields of every kind, but at the top one peak, to which if you go upward all paths lead.’ That’s very much how I feel. And the whole story means so much more now that I’ve seen the places where it’s set. The Acropolis, Piraeus, Corinth, Samos.”
“Has Simon been to Greece?”
“No. He’s awfully envious of me.”
“Then why not go there together next summer? Under your own steam. I’ll pay. I’m too far gone myself, but I can find a hotel here to look after me.”
It might, he reflected, push the boys’ ideals beyond breaking point to be side by side in a cheap room or a tent. But better there than here.
Paul, however, refused to contemplate it. “Thanks, Q, but no. We’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future. Right now it’s you who matters.”
Quentin hoped his wet eyes would not be noticed. This boy’s love seemed unlimited.
In the spring of next year matters came to a head. One evening in late April Paul came loping home in a state of euphoria.
“We are in love, Q!” he cried. “We’ve just found out for sure.”
Quentin smiled. “And how did you find out?”
“It was just like that epigram of Plato’s.
“Tēn psuchēn, Agathōna philōn, epi cheilesin eschon;
Ēlthe gar hē tlemon hōs diabēsomenē.”
As I was kissing Agathon, my soul was on my lips. It came there, poor soul, hoping to cross over to him.
In his delight he hugged the old man and kissed his cheek. As he did so, both froze. Outside the open window, in the garden, a nightingale had burst into song.
A few days later Fred Robey came to Quentin for a chat. “It looks,” he said, “as if Simon and Paul have fallen for each other. I gather you’ve no difficulty with it in principle.”
“In principle, none at all. They’re made for one another. I just hope they don’t get carried away and go the whole hog before it’s legal. It simply isn’t worth the candle, and Paul agrees. But I don’t feel like putting my foot down with him and positively forbidding it. That’s not the way we work.”
“Exactly the same goes for me. I’ve no difficulties in principle either. Nor would my wife have had, if she’d still been alive. My only problem, and I know it sounds selfish, is my position. If they were caught at it, well … it does a politician no good to have his family involved in a sex scandal. We’ve talked about it, Simon and I, and he understands. And there’s hope on the horizon — there’s talk of a new bill being put before Parliament very soon.”
“Then keep fighting the good fight, Fred.”
“Yes, I know,” said Paul when told about this conversation, “and I still agree, and so does Simon. It isn’t easy, but it’s something we have to put up with. It’s much as Palladas says, isn’t it?
“Ei to pheron se pherei, phere kai pherou; ei d’ aganakteis,
Kai sauton lupeis kai to pheron se pherei.”
If the current bears you along, bear with it and be borne. If you struggle, not only do you hurt yourself, but the current still bears you along.
Fred was right. In May there was launched the fourth attempt in Parliament to make homosexuality legal for consenting adults in private. Quentin and Paul followed it in the papers and on the news, while Fred, their eyes and ears at Westminster, fed them by phone with insider information. The wheels, he told them, were being set in motion not in the Commons but in the House of Lords, and by an unlikely character.
“It’s the eighth Earl of Arran who’s promoting it,” he said. “His friends call him Boofy. He keeps a pet badger and he’s a bit bonkers. He isn’t gay himself, but he inherited his title from his older brother, who committed suicide because he was gay.”
Arran’s bill had enthusiastic supporters and vociferous opponents.
“Good news and bad,” Fred reported in the fullness of time. “Today they got round to their big debate. Typical rants from the Tory diehards — ‘I can’t stand homosexuals,’ one of them brayed. ‘They’re the most disgusting people in the world. Prison is much too good a place for them.’ Another said he’d happily vote for the bill if it was amended to apply not to those over twenty-one but to those over eighty; which brought the house down … Well, the good news is that, despite all those dinosaurs, the bill got through by 65 votes. The government’s sympathetic, but its majority is so wafer-thin that it daren’t risk antagonizing the public. So the bad news is that it’s not going to give the bill any time in the Commons. Which means it’s dead in the water. Still, it’s the closest to target of any attempt so far. There’s hope yet.”
Early next year, Paul’s second at university, a further private member’s bill was introduced in the Commons. Humphry Berkeley, as a Conservative MP, was another unlikely character, but it was widely rumoured that he was gay. Hopes rose again. But no sooner had the bill cleared its second reading by 57 votes than the Prime Minister dissolved Parliament, and all legislation in the pipeline automatically lapsed. In the general election that followed, Labour increased its majority. Ruston being safe Labour territory, Fred Robey retained his seat. But Berkeley, punished by his Tory electorate for espousing so unhealthy a cause, lost his. It had been another near miss.
In the autumn a new Mary Renault novel was published, The Mask of Apollo, and Paul devoured it.
“It’s brilliant, Q,” he said on reaching the end. “I think it’s her best so far; the best of the historical ones, anyway. It’s more down to earth. The main characters aren’t so high-minded, and their sexuality’s different. In The King Must Die Theseus is a prince and isn’t gay, though some of his friends are. In The Last of the Wine Lysis and Alexias are gents, and there’s quite an age gap. They’re always the erastēs and erōmenos, the lover and the beloved, which means they aren’t really equals. And both end up marrying girls. But in this new one Niko is an actor, pretty camp and theatrical, and he’s out-and-out gay. He and his lover aren’t always faithful, and they have tearful reconciliations, which is probably closer to real life — not that Simon and I are going to be unfaithful. But though one’s older and one’s younger, they soon become equals. I like that. And it ends up with Niko meeting Alexander the Great when he was still a boy. Now there’s a subject for Mary Renault! Alexander and Hephaestion — a gay romance to beat them all!”
At the end of the year Simon turned twenty-one. Quentin did not attend the celebrations at the Robey home. By this time his health was deteriorating badly. His breathing was increasingly laboured and he could do little but talk gently and read.
“It’s still the legacy,” Dr McLaren explained, “of your dose of mustard gas in the First War. Bronchial stenosis, which means the tubes are narrowing yet more, so that it’s harder for your lungs to get their air and to expel mucus. The tubes are so small and so many that it’s inoperable. So I’m putting you on a modest dose of aspirin, which is anti-inflammatory, but not too much because it can generate fluid in the lungs and defeat the object. But the best thing, to be honest, is simply to take it easy. No exertion, no excitement.”
When the doctor had left, Quentin was philosophical. “I’m far beyond my days of exertion anyway. Excitement? Well, I’ve only two things left to look forward to. One of them is going to happen next summer, willy-nilly. The other is going to happen … who knows when? If I survive to see both, I shall be truly happy. But time isn’t on my side.
“Elpis aei biotou kleptei chronon, hē pumatē de
Ēōs tas pollas ephthasen ascholias.”
Hope ever steals away the years of our life, and the final dawn catches us with much unfulfilled.
In 1967 yet another campaigner picked up the torch. Leo Abse, a Cardiff solicitor, Labour MP for Pontypool, and famous for his flamboyant style of dress, was a stayer. Opinion polls showed that no less than 63 per cent of the public now supported the change in the law that Wolfenden had recommended a full ten years before. Abse persuaded the newly-strengthened government to grant him parliamentary time and, though delayed by filibusters and forced into concessions, he pushed his bill inch by painful inch through the Commons. On 4 July, at 5:50 in the morning, after a debate lasting six and a half hours, it limped through its third reading with one vote more than the minimum required.
It was now the turn of the Lords, where the Earl of Arran once again led the fight. The strain of his previous efforts had turned him into an alcoholic and several times he had had to be dried out.
On 13 July Fred phoned in glee. “We’re almost home now! It’s passed its second Lords reading by 63 votes. Someone,” he added, “asked Boofy afterwards why the house was packed for his debate on legalising homosexuality, while it had been almost empty when he was proposing his bill on protecting badgers. And his reply was, ‘Because there are no badgers in the House of Lords’.”
Fred bellowed with laughter.
On 21 July the bill, having been scrutinised in committee, came up for its third Lords reading, which was now a formality. Arran rose with these words:
“My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. When we first debated these affairs — and how long ago it seems! — I said that your Lordships had it in your power to remove fear from the hearts of men. This you have done. It was this House which gave the lead. Because of the Bill now to be enacted, perhaps a million human beings will be able to live in greater peace. I find this an awesome and marvellous thing. The late Oscar Wilde, on his release from Reading Gaol, wrote to a friend: ‘Yes, we shall win in the end; but the road will be long and red with monstrous martyrdoms.’ My Lords, Mr Wilde was right: the road has been long and the martyrdoms many, monstrous and bloody. Today, please God! sees the end of that road.”
Once again it was Fred who reported this by phone to the eager listeners in Ruston. “The important part of the bill,” he pointed out, “is the first section. It now says — let me read it — ‘Notwithstanding any statutory or common law provision, but subject to the provisions of the next following section, a homosexual act in private shall not be an offence provided that the parties consent thereto and have attained the age of twenty-one years.’ The second section is the limiting one: ‘An act which would otherwise be treated for the purposes of this Act as being done in private shall not be so treated if done when more than two persons take part or are present.’
“In some ways, you know, this bill’s a puny thing. It’s inadequate and full of compromise and fudges. All the way through even our own supporters have taken a disgustingly patronising line — ‘These poor people, these gays,’ they’ve been saying. ‘They can't have a wife, they can't have children, it's a terrible life. You’re happy family men. You've got everything. Show them some charity.’ So it’s hardly surprising the result’s mealy-mouthed and half-hearted.
“It doesn’t, for a start, apply to anyone under twenty-one, whereas the age of heterosexual consent is sixteen — which implies that boys are less to be trusted than girls. It’s still illegal to solicit, which includes two men contacting each other with a view to having sex. So to arrange to do something legal will itself be illegal — which is barmy. And what does ‘in private’ mean? — it isn’t spelt out. The supposition here at Westminster is that the courts will interpret it to mean in a locked room with nobody else present, not even in the same house.
“But it’s a damn sight better than nothing. It’s a start. And it should be law within a week.”
Five days later there fell due the Ruston University graduation day. For the short journey to the hall they loaded Quentin carefully into his car, which for several years Paul had been driving, and they supported him to his seat. Fred too had taken time off to witness his son’s success. Paul had a first-class degree and Simon was not far behind. Both were staying on to work for PhDs.
Arthur Tuxford, Quentin thought, his pale old eyes moist as he watched Paul shake the chancellor’s hand, would not have given a damn. Nor, no doubt, would Paul’s real father. But Mechthilde Lanz would have been proud of her son’s achievement. So too would Theodor Mommsen and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorf, looking down from their scholarly Valhalla, at this continuation of their line. And so, heart-burstingly proud, was Quentin Fowler.
The day after that, 27 July 1967, was Paul’s twenty-first birthday. As usual he helped Quentin out of bed and into the bathroom. Never since the Hellenic cruise had there been any bashfulness between them. While Quentin used the toilet and washed — which, with the aid of a stool, he still insisted on doing by himself — Paul had a bath. As usual, Quentin feasted his eyes on his body, the body no longer of a boy but of a man, and as beautiful as ever.
In reply Paul gave his radiant smile.
“And I’m happy too,” Quentin said. “For the same reasons as Meleager.
“En soi tama, Muiske, biou prumnēsi’ anēptai;
En soi kai psuchēs pneuma to leiphthen eti.
Nai gar dē ta sa, koure, ta kai kōphoisi laleunta
Ommata, kai ma to son phaidron episkunion,
Ēn moi sunnephes omma balēs pote, cheima dedorka;
Ēn d’ hilaron blepsēs, hēdu telēthen ear.”
To you, Myiscus, my life’s mooring rope is made fast; in you is all the breath that is left to my soul. Dear boy, by your eyes that speak even to the deaf, and by your radiant brow, I swear it — that if ever you look at me with clouded eye I see winter; but if your glance is happy, sweet spring bursts into flower.
Paul’s smile grew more radiant still. “Thank you, Q. If my glance is happy, it’s because I’m blessed. I’ve got two love affairs on the go at the same time. One’s fairly young. But the other’s been running for seven years.”
A gracious reply, and typical. But the end of the seven-year affair, Quentin reflected as he plied his toothbrush, was not far off. He and Paul had already debated the practical questions that would arise when the bill completed its nail-biting passage. Paul and Simon wanted, naturally enough, to live together. The obvious place for them to live was his house, which would be Paul’s when he died. They generously insisted that he live with them, rather than be shunted into an old folks’ home. He did not want to be shunted either; but there were two snags. There was the niggling doubt about what ‘in private’ meant — would his presence in the house make their activities illegal? Even more crucially, the ménage à trois rarely works as well as the ménage à deux.
The questions had, for the time being, been left open. But he felt in his bones that they would answer themselves. He had struggled to stay the course, and the finishing post was now in sight. Only a few days ago he had read, in one of the scholarly journals he still received, of a Greek inscription newly found in far-off Bactria which quoted another motto from the temple of Apollo at Delphi.
Pais ōn kosmios ginou
In childhood, good manners,
in youth, self-control,
in middle age, fairness,
in old age, good advice,
in death, no regret.
In death, no regret. How true. How very true.
As Paul pulled out the bath plug and stood up, Quentin compared the sight with the image imprinted on his mind in the bathroom on the Hellenic cruise. The flower had been unpicked then, and it was still — just — unpicked now. It had been jolly to watch it grow. No, jolly was not the word. Rewarding, rather. Intensely rewarding, more rewarding than he deserved. ‘Don’t turn into a fossil, Quentin,’ his colleagues had told him when he retired. ‘Enjoy life.’ And he had enjoyed it, hugely. He too had been blessed in his single, surprising and chaste love affair.
Because Paul preferred to keep his coming-of-age celebrations strictly private, they spent the morning quietly together. In the afternoon Simon came round and the young men prepared a special meal. Quentin, once they had joined him at the table, wheezed a little speech, mock-formal and light-hearted, but heartfelt.
“Gentlemen, toasts. A toast to P, on reaching the supposed age of discretion — as if he had not reached it years ago. A further toast to him on escaping the clutches of Middlesbrough.” He paused for breath. “A joint toast to him and Simon on achieving the exalted status of Bachelor of Arts at our august university. And, most important of all, yet another toast to them as they stand on the brink of a happy union. Truly a succession of nightingale moments!”
“And a toast to Q,” Paul added, “on reaching the end of his mission, the end of his guardianship, the end of his watching me grow; but emphatically not the end of our gratitude and our love. Mine started with an encounter on a tomb, and it will last until I’m tucked up in my own.”
They drank, and fell to their meal. No sooner had they finished than, as if on cue, the phone rang. Paul went to answer.
“That was Fred,” he reported, coming back. He seemed dazed, and laid his hands on the others’. “The Sexual Offences Act has received Royal Assent. At long last it’s law. We’re both now twenty-one. There’s nothing standing in our way.”
Quentin put his other hand on Paul’s and beamed.
“Yet another nightingale,” he whispered.
“Fred suggests we use his house. There’s no one there, so it really will be private. That makes sense to me. Always assuming, Q, that you’ll be all right by yourself overnight.”
“Of course I’ll be all right. Have I ever whistled you up by night?”
“Never once. Not like someone I knew in the bad old days.”
They installed him, still beaming, in bed, as usual with a pile of books beside it, and hand in hand they went off to the Robey home and their long-awaited consummation.
Next morning Paul returned with a spring in his step. He put on the kettle and with a cheery “Morning, Q!” breezed into Quentin’s room.
He was still in bed, still beaming, exactly as he had been left, except that Volume 4 of the Greek Anthology now lay open in his hand. His eyes too were open, but they were unseeing.
Paul fell to his knees. He kissed the cold lips. At first he wallowed in grief. But in reality, he knew, his grief was self-pity. And hard on its heels came memory, and with memory, as long ago foretold, came gratitude. For seven years the old man had lit up their two lives with the torch of his love. Now, all his ambitions achieved, the torch safely in his successor’s hands, he had bowed out, willing and happy.
The last of his nightingales had sung. But their music would never fade.
So you are dead, Heraclitus. I wept fond tears on recalling
How we would oft, we two, weary the sun to his bed.
Lifeless your frame, old friend, but your nightingales linger immortal —
Death’s all-clutching claw never shall snatch them away.