The night of time far surpasseth the day, and who knows when was the equinox?
Sir Thomas Browne, Urn Burial
The following morning Harold Hodgson, known to all and sundry as Honk, housemaster of West House and teacher of English literature to middling forms, surveyed the heads of the twenty-odd boys of Lower V a as they bent over their writing. In his forty years of service to the school he had grown grey but not weary. A year and a term from now he would retire, and he was not looking forward to it. Time was, under the ancien régime, when life at Hambledon had been penitential and the school no better than mediocre. Then, twenty or so years back, a revolutionary broom had swept the old order away. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. Promoted now to housemaster, Honk saw himself, and was seen, as a member of the nouveau régime. The atmosphere had improved beyond measure. Academic standards had risen. Success had built on success and was building still. Life was exciting. He did not want to go.
How many times had he surveyed bent heads like this? He dared not calculate. And how many of these particular twenty-odd heads would stick in his mind? Some — like Walford, genial clown — were distinctive and memorable; some were lacklustre and forgettable; a few — Anderson, for example, and Newby — occasionally reminded him of boys from the past. It was hardly surprising if, among the thousands who had passed through his hands, similarities of feature or character recurred. It was ever so. Individuals might differ, but all his classes bore a generic resemblance. This year’s Lower V a was entirely typical. There were weak links, like Manson. There was a core of plodders such as Bemrose and Fisher. And there were those few who shone, among them the only two members of the form who were in West House, his own house.
He took an interest in all his boys, and it was excusable, surely, if he took a double interest in this pair. Pair? Couple, almost, though not in any reprehensible sense. Justin and Robert — he called his boys by their first name in the house, by their surname in school — seemed to live in each other’s pockets, and he was heartily glad they did, for otherwise both would have been solitary indeed.
Justin Newby, top of the form, a dark horse if ever there was one. Broodingly handsome, dark in hair and mood and countenance, twanging with enigmatic tension, polite and affable enough but too dark and withdrawn to make many friends. Dark but yet bright — Honk smiled at the oxymoron — and a hard worker, consistently thoughtful, sparkling with dark flashes of genius (could flashes be dark? Why not? Justin’s were). Parents — actually mother and stepfather — unknown quantities who kept their dealings with Honk to the minimum and had never to his knowledge set foot in Hambledon. Little love in that family. Small wonder that Justin seemed always on the brink of running away, or of suicide, or of raiding the armoury and — like Malcolm MacDowell in that film — shooting up the school. Honk remembered his own alarm when the smouldering Justin had first joined his flock, and the rapid reassurance offered by Robert’s presence.
He switched his gaze. Robert Carstairs, mousy-haired, heavily bespectacled, chubby, kindly, stolidly comfortable, too solemn to be popular. As hard and thoughtful a worker as Justin, but without that crucial spark. Devoted parents — father a plump and prosperous solicitor in a plump and prosperous market town — who, despite the distance, regularly attended school events. Robert was set to follow exactly in his father’s footsteps:pillar of the community, beloved by his clients, benignly and efficiently handling their conveyances and their little disputes, gratefully remembered in their wills. But the work that Robert was currently doing at Hambledon might well prove the most useful work of his life, for he was Justin’s inseparable companion, sounding-board, confessor, keeper-on-the-rails, and … yes, saviour.
Honk’s gaze returned to Justin, who needed all the support he could get. It was only last autumn that Honk had learnt how much he needed it. To encourage his pupils to read and digest poetry outside the formal framework of set books, his standard practice was that once a week, for the last ten minutes of the class, a boy should read aloud and expound a short poem of his own choosing. Last September, when the present Lower V a had first come under Honk’s wing, Justin had opened the batting with an excellent if melancholy insight into Milton’s sonnet on his blindness.
His unforgettably bitter comments on ‘Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?’ had all too obviously been coloured by personal experience. Honk did not readily poke his nose into his boys’ home lives. He had no right there. But there was something so clearly amiss in Justin’s home, so clearly contributing to his darkness, that he found himself searching for an excuse to ask. It was supplied, as luck had it, the very next day. The house matron reported that Justin had come to her, dragged unwillingly by Robert, with a hand inflamed from an infected splinter wound, and she had sent him on to the doctor. Honk waylaid him on his return.
“What’s the verdict?”
“Oh, nothing to worry about, sir, thank you.” He displayed a bandaged hand. “He’s given me antibiotics, and it’ll clear up soon enough.”
“How did you pick up the splinter?”
“Shifting trestle tables in the church hall, sir. I was trying to save time by carrying two at once, and one slipped. My own silly fault.”
“That’s your holiday job, is it?”
Justin hesitated, giving Honk a narrow look as if he suspected him of joking.
“One of them,” he said reluctantly.
Honk persevered. “What else are you expected to do, then?”
“Oh. Anything. Everything.”
Justin’s pose of indifferent strength was visibly fraying. It was symptomatic, Honk fancied, that he had stopped saying ‘sir.’ And he hesitated again before a list came tumbling out.
“Cleaning the church hall. Setting it up for jumble sales and coffee mornings and WI meetings and things. Cutting sandwiches and manning the tea urn. Sweeping the church, cleaning brass, polishing pews, heaving coke for the boiler, helping the flower ladies. Mowing the churchyard, clipping the hedges. Going to the printer about the parish magazine. Supervising my half-brother and half-sister.”
“What, while they do their, ah, chores?”
“Oh no. While they squabble in the garden. Or play in the lounge with the hi-fi or telly blasting out some crap.” He was unaware he had used the word. “They’re too young to do chores, aren’t they?” His sarcasm came not from impoliteness but despair.
“How old are they, then?”
“Twelve and ten.”
“And when did you start doing chores?”
“Oh, I don’t know. When I was five, maybe.”
“Don’t you get any time to yourself?”
“I’m allowed to go out on my bike. Once a week if I’m lucky.”
“But what about reading, listening to your own music, things like that?”
“At night. If I can stay awake.” Justin’s voice was growing unsteady.
For God’s sake, thought Honk ironically — it was ostensibly for God’s sake that this slavery was imposed. Doth God exact day labour, light denied? Small wonder Justin was bitter. How did he remain as sane as he was? Honk felt helpless.
“Justin, I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
Justin looked at him dully but appreciatively. “Thank you, sir. But I don’t think there is. Er … may I get back to my prep, please?”
That had been seven months ago. Honk still felt helpless.
But it was time to move on to the poetry session. Justin’s turn had now come round again. What had he chosen this time? Honk looked at the slip he had given him. Shakespeare Sonnet 129. Hmmm. Some of the sonnets were difficult. He found his copy, turned the pages and, as far as an elderly schoolmaster is capable of goggling, he goggled. He had forgotten what Sonnet 129 was about. What did a fifteen-year-old know of this? Mea culpa, he thought ruefully. I should have spotted this earlier. Too late to do anything about it now. But it’s going to need some careful handling.
Justin, when called on, did not, as so many still did, lower his head and mumble into his book. First he looked Honk in the eye.
“Shakespeare, sir,” he said flatly. “Sonnet 129. It’s not an easy one. It’s full of oppositions and plays on words.”
He sat back, gaze fixed on a point above the blackboard, face pinched as if he had not slept, and recited from memory with such emphatic bitterness, spitting out the sibilants, that Honk’s flesh crawled.
“The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.”
Having in his forty years read many an erring youth, Honk had no difficulty for once in reading Justin. Justin had laid a boy or a girl, and he hated himself for it. If it had been in the holidays, it was none of Honk’s business, except perhaps in his pastoral role. If it had been at school, these last two days, it was very much his business as upholder of the law. The situation was now doubly tricky.
As Justin finished, Honk pushed his spectacles up his nose and looked round the class. Half of them, he saw, though impressed by the force of the words, had absorbed little of the meaning. Some were part-way there. And Robert Carstairs was staring at Justin with deeply troubled eyes. Robert could read Justin like a book, better no doubt than Honk could himself, and was blatantly worried. Justin would already, most likely, have confessed to Robert any sin committed in the holidays. The chances were that this sin was committed yesterday. If so, it was much more probably with a boy than a girl. But that was for private investigation. This was an English lesson.
“Very good, Newby. Thank you. And what is Shakespeare saying?”
Justin lowered his eyes to his notes and read in a neutral voice.
“It’s about lust, sir. Not love. It’s about single-minded desire for sex — with the man as a hunter after his prey. About sex itself — which is heaven. About what comes after — which is hell, the poet caught by his own lure and become the prey himself, disgusted by what he’s done. It’s one of the sonnets to the Dark Lady, not to the Fair Youth, but it could equally be about homosexual lust. In modern language, it says something like this.”
For his translation, except for the explanations he inserted, Justin resumed his bitter emphasis.
“Active lust — meaning copulation — is expending one’s soul — or energy, or even semen — in a wilderness of shame — ‘waste’ is a play on ‘waist,’ the middle of the body. Before it is activated, lust is dishonest, murderous, bloody, full of blame, savage, excessive, brutal, cruel, untrustworthy. But no sooner is it enjoyed than it is immediately despised. It is pursued beyond reason and, once had — which also means ‘taken sexually’ — it is hated beyond reason, like a lure deliberately laid to make whoever takes it mad:mad in pursuing, mad in achieving it. Whether had — in the sexual sense — or having, or trying to have, it goes to extremes. In the experience, it is heavenly; once experienced, it is anguish. In advance, anticipated pleasure; in hindsight, a lost ideal. Everyone knows this, but no-one knows how to shun the heaven which leads men to this hell.”
He looked expressionlessly up at Honk, penitent in the confessional ready for atonement, self-confessed criminal in the dock awaiting sentence. But Honk, as he listened, had debated what action to take, and had decided to take no action at all. If anyone had excuse for yielding to temptations of the flesh, it was this boy. More important still, Justin might be a sinner, but he was a bitterly repentant sinner, lashing his naked flesh with the iron-tipped whip of shame and self-reproach. Inquisition and punishment were not only unfair reward for so public a baring of the soul, but they were unnecessary. The lesson had already been learned.
Granted, punishing Justin might deter others. But most of the class, he could see, had not cottoned on to the fact that it was Justin himself who had lusted, laid, and lamented. They were merely amazed that he could choose so risqué a theme and get away with it, and Honk must assure them that that was entirely permissible. As for those few who did understand, well, he would rather they learn from Justin’s self-learnt lesson, and learn that penitence earns mercy.
Justin’s contribution had taken less time than usual. Honk normally had questions to ask and so too, sometimes, did the rest of the class.
Today, however, he simply said, “A difficult poem indeed, and a difficult subject. But neither is in the least forbidden by the rules of this game we play. You dealt with them sincerely and honestly, Newby. Thank you.”
With that, he dismissed the class, even though the bell had not yet tolled the end of morning school. He watched the boys file out with less than their usual chatter. Beside Justin went Robert his faithful bodyguard. No, not his bodyguard now. He was currently his conscience.
Near the path back to West House was a bench, and there Robert sat Justin down. Justin was relieved at that. A searching session with Robert was inevitable, and he was not looking forward to it. He was ashamed not only of what he had done but, obscurely, of letting Robert down. This bench, commanding a wide view of the Vale of Pewsey, was less intimidating than his study or Robert’s study, either of which would smack of the interrogation cell. Not that Robert would try third degree, but he was the inquisitor. And would he understand? Could he understand?
“So that’s why you’ve been avoiding me.”
“Not avoiding.” Justin was defensive. “Well, perhaps I was. But for a long time I was in the showers. Trying to … to wash it off. And most of the time in the library, looking up commentaries on the sonnets. And learning that one by heart.”
“Hmmm. The Slut, I take it?”
Justin nodded reluctantly.
“Yes. And I lost control … I was horribly rough … vicious, even … I almost tore him apart.” Justin shuddered. “Robert … that last line. ‘The heaven that leads men to this hell’.”
He looked unseeingly across the stripling river to the placid countryside stretching timeless beyond.
“I didn’t dare say this in class. But hell means more than the usual. It’s another play on words. ‘Putting the devil into hell’ was Tudor slang for fucking. The devil, your prick. Hell, the hole you shove it into. Cunt or arse, doesn’t matter …”
He realised what he was saying.
“Robert … do you mind me talking like this? Using those words?”
“Not in circumstances like this. Besides, where I come from” — he put on a Yorkshire accent — “we’re supposed not to mind calling a spade a spade.”
Justin actually smiled. Robert was as placid and timeless as the countryside. He had the knack of seeming to be a fixture in the landscape. He looked as if he had been sitting plumply on the bench for hours.
“Thanks, Robert.” There was a pause. “Robert, Honk knows what I’ve been up to, doesn’t he? Why didn’t he do anything about it? Or is he going to?”
“No. He won’t.”
“How can you be so sure? It’s a sacking offence. And I deserve it.”
“You’re punishing yourself. He’s a canny man, and he saw that. He knows that’s the most effective punishment of all.”
A broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
“But will it stop me doing it again? … Look, Robert. I jerk off. Who doesn’t? It’s heaven while I’m doing it. And as soon as it’s over, I’m disgusted and swear I’ll never do it again. But I do. Next day or next week or whenever. I always do.”
“You jerk off by yourself, just for physical release. Or in your case, I’d guess, to relieve mental pain with physical pleasure. That’s not lust, not as I see it. No-one else is involved. And there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Then why does it disgust me?”
“Because you’re a bit of a puritan.”
“Puritan? Me?” Justin was astonished.
“You’re a rebel, Justin, and you’ve good reason to be. But you’re not a consistent rebel. The vicarage is a puritanical place, isn’t it? I reckon some of it rubs off on you, however much you dislike it. A puritan doesn’t like people enjoying themselves. Even himself.”
Justin mulled it over. Yes, there might be something in it. The standard vicarage diet, from as far back as he could remember, of Thou Shalt Not. The constant message, in particular, that some things are dirty and unmentionable ― the genitals, at first; later, anything to do with sex. Reason, fed by reading, had long since told him that message was false. But Robert was probably right. An unwelcome streak of puritanism had none the less been engrained in his skin, like oily dirt from the mower, which not even the solvent of reason had removed. And he had picked up the streak, he guessed, above all from Mum and her hang-up.
“Where were we?” Robert was asking. “Oh yes, lust. That’s much the same thing as jerking off, isn’t it? But sexual desire for someone else, desire without affection. I guess most people lust while they’re jerking off. And at other times too. No harm in that either, so long as it stays as fantasy. It’s when it takes the next step that it gets dodgy. When it turns into lust in action, as Shakespeare calls it. But I can see why you took that next step. You were trying to relieve mental pain, weren’t you? Very bad mental pain this time, from the holidays. Worse pain than usual, so you went further than you usually do.”
Good old Robert. He did understand after all. He understood the pain, if not the whole of its cause.
“Yes. Yes, that’s right. That’s one of the things I’m ashamed of. Going further than usual. I’m normally quite good at keeping myself in hand. I’ve had plenty of practice.” Justin blushed at his choice of words. “You know what I mean. But this time the pain drove me to where I’d never been before. Where I’d had no practice. It mightn’t have been so bad if I’d treated the Slut, um, gently. But I didn’t. I … ran riot. I really was savage. Ilost all control. That’s the other thing I’m ashamed of.”
“Want to tell me what caused that worse pain than usual?”
“Well … At the end of the holidays I hit rock bottom. I’d been in Rochester cathedral, and half-thought I might have caught a glimpse of God. That I might have heard him talking to me. But immediately afterwards everything went totally pear-shaped. That was a dreadful night. I … sort of left the door open, in case God might come and help. But he didn’t.”
“I wonder if you were in the wrong frame of mind.”
“I did try. Honestly I did. But Robert … you know that line of somebody’s, ‘By night an atheist half believes a God’? I reckon that’s bollocks. I’m more likely to believe a God by day, and when things are going right, or less wrong. It was that night that I decided to, um, go to the Slut.”
“Were you angry?”
“At what? At who?”
“Not at myself. It wasn’t my fault that things had gone pear-shaped. I was angry at Mum and my stepfather. And at … well, fate.”
“Does that mean at God? That you thought you might have, um, made contact, but he’d promptly ditched you?”
“Well … yes, maybe.”
“Then perhaps God was talking to you, but you couldn’t hear because you were angry with him. Anger’s like interference on the radio or TV, you know. It drowns out the signals. But another question. When you’d finished with the Slut, what told you that lust in action was wrong? And that you’d gone too far and lost control?”
“My conscience, I suppose. It doesn’t tell me that being gay is wrong. After all, we can’t control what we are. But we can control what we do. Or we ought to be able to. And it told me I’d gone too far. Much too far. I may not believe in God, but I do have a … moral code. Some sort of standards. Don’t we all? I mean, even the Slut must, mustn’t he? They may be, um, sloppy standards, but I imagine he draws the line at rape, say.”
“Or does he just draw the line at what’s dangerous? If he was caught for rape he’d end up in jug. Your standards are different. You don’t wallop your stepfather over the head with a hammer simply because it’s dangerous and might end you up in jug. You don’t even contemplate walloping him, because to you it’s morally wrong, however obnoxious he is. What I’m getting at is this. Isn’t it possible that your conscience, your moral code, is a bit of God in you?”
Justin looked at him, working it out.
“Then why didn’t it — he — warn me off the Slut in advance?”
“Didn’t it? Didn’t he? I’d be pretty sure he did, but you didn’t notice. Or chose not to notice.”
Justin could not deny it.
“You gave way to the temptation and had to learn the hard way.” Robert was rubbing it in. “Life’s full of lessons, isn’t it?”
“But how can I be sure I won’t be tempted again? Shakespeare’s right, you know. It is heaven, while you’re doing it. Like jerking off, but better. Much better. It’s only hell afterwards. How can I be sure I won’t give way, next time I’m down in the pits?”
“Depends how effective your lesson has been, doesn’t it? How deep the hellishness has sunk in. Remember the Ancient Mariner?
Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
That’s not the devil in the general sense. It’s your own personal fiend, of lust in action, of loss of control. You know how frightful that fiend is, now. Keep it that way. But don’t get bogged down in guilt. That’s counterproductive.”
“But I’ll still be walking in fear and dread.”
“Try a road that isn’t so lonesome. Try it with a companion to hold your hand. The best way to avoid lust is to find love.”
“All very well. But how does one find it? Where?”
“Just leave your mind open.”
The bell rang for lunch. It was only later that Justin realised, to his surprise, that Robert had not followed up the question of God talking to him. Or had he?
The term wore on, dreary, weary, seemingly endless. Justin often saw the Slut around school, smiling his sly come-hitherish smile. It made him uncomfortable, and he said as much to Robert.
“Yes,” was the reply. “In a place like this, it’s difficult to steer clear of one’s enemies, isn’t it?”
“Enemies? I’m not sure about that. OK, the Slut’s certainly no friend of mine …”
He was a seductive tempter, still tempting, still reminding him of his shame, still feeding his self-loathing, still heightening his sense of uncleanness.
“… but, you know, I’m sorry for him, in a way. He must be lonely.”
Justin wondered why Robert smiled at him.
Then one day the buzz went round. “Have you heard? The Slut’s been caught. And he’s been sacked.”
“Only the bloke he was with. Someone in School House.”
It was a relief to be rid of his worst tempter and his worst reminder, and a relief that the Slut had not split on his other customers and taken them down with him. For a moment Justin’s conscience did prick him. He had committed the same crime as the Slut, if not so often. Should he not confess and go down with him? He might have done, had he sympathised. But he decided not to. That would be self-sacrifice in a bad cause.
And that decision led Justin to think more deeply about his puritanical streak. Robert was right. He did consciously rebel against much of what the vicarage stood for. But what one absorbs subconsciously as a child is hard to eradicate. An overdose of religion is bound to leave traces lingering in the system. Now that he had identified these particular traces, he set to work on them, pondering, rationalising, coming to a better understanding of himself.
His most fruitful line of attack proved to be an analogy. Sex was a bodily function. Why should it not be gratifying, like other bodily functions? Take eating. The food at school was barely adequate in quantity and insipid in quality, the result no doubt of economy and the usual failings of institutional catering. The food at home was likewise insipid and barely adequate, and if he asked for more he was told that gluttony was a sin. Yet whenever ― happy times ― he stayed in Robert’s hospitable home the quality and quantity of the food was almost beyond belief. He did not lose control and make a pig of himself, for he acknowledged the virtues of self-restraint. He simply and unashamedly enjoyed good food when it came his way, and he saw no earthly ― or even heavenly ― reason why he should not.
So too, he came to see, with sex. It was also there to be enjoyed. Not gluttonously, not uncontrollably, not promiscuously ― an encounter with another Slut would bring down the same disgust and shame, and more. But temperate sex was another matter. He found his puritanical streak was not as deeply engrained as he had thought, and over time he scrubbed it off. Masturbation began to bring positive pleasure, not just negative escape. And one day, please God, sex with someone he loved would bring fulfilment. He could now put the Slut episode behind; or rather some of it, for his loss of self control continued to torment him. But his fiend was reduced to half a fiend.
With that realisation, life became a little easier. Yet the lights at school, although still brighter than those at home, remained dimmer than usual, and Justin went through the daily routine with little zest. His work and his games were almost mechanical. Robert was concerned. So too, a step behind, was Honk.
One day towards the end of term, while changing for cricket, Justin tore his last remaining games shirt, which he had grown out of anyway. The rent being beyond repair, he reluctantly wrote an order for a new one, the cost to be added to his school bill, and took it to Honk for an authorising signature.
“You don’t often come with an order for clothes, Justin,” Honk observed as he scribbled his initials.
Justin, who was dreading the imminent holidays, was bitter enough, and encouraged enough by his earlier chat with Honk, to shed his usual caginess.
“I daren’t, sir. They haul me over the coals at home for anything I spend here on tick.”
There was nothing Honk could say to that. They had been here before. It was not for him to criticise parents, or even step-parents, and he changed the subject.
“Are you going away for the holidays?”
“To Beverley, sir, to stay with Robert for a week. In September. Assuming I can save enough by then, for the fare.”
Worse and worse. The subject had not really been changed after all.
“No family holiday, then?”
“No, sir. That was in April.”
“Where was that?”
“At a church retreat, sir. In Walsall.”
Justin could not help wincing, and Honk winced with him.
“So it’ll be the usual chores, plus the odd outing on your bike?”
“Not even that, sir. My bike got wrecked last holidays.”
“Hmmm. And what about the reading you need to do for your GCSEs?”
“I’ll just have to try and stay awake at night.”
Honk saw red. “That’s not good enough. I’m not saying it’s your fault, Justin. It obviously isn’t. But that won’t do. Look … what if I write a letter purporting to be a circular, saying that students are expected, from this stage on, to spend half their holiday time working for their exams, and we would appreciate it if parents would facilitate that? We don’t actually expect anything like that much time, of course, but better pitch it higher than lower. Would that help, do you think?”
Justin’s face had lightened. “I think it might, sir. Whenever my stepfather gets a letter from the archdeacon or the bishop, even a circular, he drools over it. He likes, um, to be noticed by authority. And he acts on it.”
“Good. In that case we can do better still. I’ll type it on school paper and get the headmaster to sign it. He carries greater authority than I do, and he’ll play the game. But for heaven’s sake keep this under your hat, Justin. Even though it’s in a good cause, it’s most irregular.”
For the first time in months, Honk saw Justin smile. More than that, he smiled conspiratorially.
And it worked. Justin was grudgingly given half his waking time off. He patronised the public library and whenever the weather allowed he did his reading, on the pretext of escaping childish noises, out of the house. While the Heath was fine for thinking, he found Greenwich Park, little further away, was more conducive to reading. He avoided the area around the Royal Observatory and the international meridian line which was aswarm with tourists, and tucked himself away, back against a tree, in quiet solitude with only squirrels for company. And his reading was far from limited to his GCSE work.
So the darkness of his soul grew a little lighter. But the essential darkness remained undispelled. The emptiness, the loneliness, the absence of identity, dogged him still. Even the park was a wilderness; a not unpleasant one, true, but none the less a wilderness. He waited impatiently for the last week of the holiday and his visit to Robert in Beverley.
We commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities, giving them patience unto their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions.