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Authors: William Boyd

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BOOK: Waiting for Sunrise
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‘Lieutenant Rozman, sir, your
Fiaker
is here.’

Wolfram stood, did up the buttons on his collar, pulled on his gloves, grabbed his sabre.

‘Good luck,’ Lysander said and they shook hands. ‘You’re an innocent man, you’ve nothing to fear.’

Wolfram smiled, shrugged. ‘No human being is entirely innocent . . .’

‘True, I suppose. But you know what I mean.’

‘I’ll be fine,’ Wolfram said. ‘The wily Slovene has a few surprises up his sleeve.’ He gave a little bow, clicked his heels – his spurs rattled, dryly – and he left.

Lysander returned to his desk and opened
Autobiographical Investigations
, feeling a certain mild despondency. Win or lose, Wolfram’s stay at the pension must be nearly over – he would either be returning to barracks, vindicated, or, disgraced, be cast adrift on to the sea of civilian life. Back to Slovenia, probably . . . He would miss him. He began to jot down some of the facts in the case of Lt. Wolfram Rozman. ‘No human being is entirely innocent,’ he wrote, and the thought came to him that, if one were planning to steal something, it would indeed be a clever ploy to make sure that there were a dozen other potential suspects. A cluster of suspects obscuring the guilty one. He underlined the sentence: ‘
No human being is entirely innocent.
’ Perhaps it was time to tell Bensimon his darkest, most shameful secret . . .

There was another knock on his door. He looked at his wristwatch – Herr Barth wasn’t due for an hour. He said, ‘Come in,’ and Traudl appeared again and shut the door behind her.

‘Hello, Traudl. What can I do for you?’

‘Frau Kriwanek is visiting her sister and Herr Barth is sleeping in his room.’

‘Well, thank you for the information.’

‘As he was leaving Lieutenant Rozman gave me twenty crowns and told me to come and see you.’

‘What for?’

‘To give you some pleasure.’

At this she stooped and lifted her thick skirt and apron to her waist and in the penumbra they cast Lysander saw the pale columns of her thighs and the dark triangle of her pubic hair.

‘It won’t be necessary, Traudl.’

‘What about the twenty crowns?’

‘You keep them. I’ll tell Lieutenant Rozman we had a very nice time.’

‘You’re a kind, good man, Herr Rief.’ Traudl curtsied.

No human being is entirely innocent, Lysander thought, going to the door and opening it for her. He searched his trouser pockets for change, thinking to tip her, but all he found was a visiting card. She didn’t need tipping anyway – she’d just earned twenty crowns.

‘I can come another time,’ Traudl said.

‘No, no. All’s well.’

He shut the door behind her. River of sex, indeed. He glanced at the card in his hand – whose was this?

‘Captain Alwyn Munro DSO,’ he read. ‘Military Attaché, British Embassy, Metternichgasse 6, Vienna III.’

Another bloody soldier. He put it on his desk.

 

 

9. Autobiographical Investigations

 

It is the summer of 1900. I am fourteen years old and am living at Claverleigh Hall in East Sussex, the country seat of my stepfather, Lord Faulkner. My father has been dead for a year. My mother married Lord Faulkner nine months after my father’s funeral. She’s his second wife, the new Lady Faulkner. Everybody in the neighbourhood is pleased for old Lord Crickmay, a bluff, kindly man in his late fifties, a widower with one grown-up son.

I still don’t really know what I feel about this new arrangement, this new family, this new home. Claverleigh and its estate remain largely
terra incognita
to me. Beyond the two walled gardens there are woods and fields, copses and meadows, paddocks and two farms spread out across the downs of East Sussex. It’s a large well-run estate and I feel a permanent alien in it even though the servants in the house, the footmen, the housemaids, the coachmen and the gardeners, are all very friendly. They smile when they see me and call me ‘Master Lysander’.

I have been removed from my school in London – ‘Mrs Chalmers’ Demonstration School for Boys’ – and am being tutored by the local curate, the Reverend Farmiloe, an old and learned bachelor. My mother tells me that, most likely, I shall be sent to a boarding school in the autumn.

It is a Saturday so I have no lessons but the Reverend Farmiloe has asked me to read a poem by Alexander Pope called ‘The Rape of the Lock’. I am finding it very hard-going. After lunch I take my book and wander out into the big walled garden, looking for a secluded bench where I can continue my laborious reading. I like poetry, I learn it easily by heart, but I find Alexander Pope almost incomprehensible – not like Keats or my favourite, Tennyson. The gardeners and the boys are out in the long herbaceous borders weeding and greet me as I pass: ‘Good day, Master Lysander.’ I say hello – I know most of them by now. Old Digby the head gardener, Davy Bledlow and his son Tommy. Tommy is a couple of years older than me and has asked if I would like to go out hunting rabbits with him one day. He has a prize ferret called Ruby. I said, no thank you. I don’t want to hunt and kill rabbits – I think it’s cruel. Tommy Bledlow is a big lad with a broken nose flattened on his face that makes him look strange – a threatening clown. I leave the walled garden and cross the fence into Claverleigh Wood by the stile.

The sun shines down through the fresh green leaves of the ancient oaks and beeches. I find a mossy angle between two gnarled buttressing roots of a big oak. I am lying in a patch of sunshine and enjoying the warmth on my body. There’s a faint breeze. In the distance I can hear the sound of a train chuffing along the Lewes to Pevensey line. Birds are singing – a thrush, I think, a blackbird. It’s ideally peaceful. A warm summer’s day at the beginning of the new century in the south of England.

I open my book and begin to read, trying to concentrate. I stop and remove my boot and socks. Flexing my toes, I read on.

 

‘Sol through white curtains shot a tim’rous ray
And op’d those eyes that must eclipse the day.’

 

In eighteenth-century London, a beautiful young woman is lying in bed, about to wake up, dress herself and start her social life – that much was fairly clear. I ease back so my head is in shadow and my body in sunlight.

 

‘Belinda still her downy pillow breast,’

 

Not ‘breast’, I see, but ‘prest’. Why did I read breast? The association of downy pillow, a girl in her night clothes, disarrayed and open enough perhaps to reveal – I turned the page.

 

‘. . .
Shock
, who thought she slept too long
Leapt up, and wak’d his mistress with his tongue.’

 

Who’s this ‘Shock’? But I am thinking of the downstairs maid – isn’t she called Belinda? – I think so, the tall one with the cheeky face. She has ‘downy pillows’, all right. That time I saw her kneeling, relaying a fire, with her sleeves rolled up and her buttons undone. I know what a ‘mistress’ is – but how did he wake her with his tongue? . . .

I feel my penis stirring agreeably under my trousers. The sun is warm in my lap. I glance around – I’m quite alone. I undo my belt and fly buttons and pull my trousers and my drawers down to my knees. The sun is warm. I touch myself.

I think of Belinda the downstairs maid. Think of breasts, soft like pillows, of a tongue waking a mistress. I grip myself. Slowly I begin to move my fist up and down . . .

The next thing I remember is my mother calling my name.

‘Lysander? Lysander, darling . . .’

I’m dreaming. And then I realize I’m not. I’m waking slowly, as if I’ve been drugged. I open my eyes, blink, and see my mother standing there silhouetted by the sun-dazzle. My mother standing there looking down at me. Very upset.

‘Lysander, darling, what’s happened?’

‘What?’ I’m still half asleep. I look down, following her gaze, my trousers and my drawers are still bunched around my knees, I see my flaccid penis and the small dark tuft of hair above it.

I drag up my trousers, curl up in a ball and begin to cry uncontrollably.

‘What happened, darling?’

‘Tommy Bledlow,’ I sob, god knows why, ‘Tommy Bledlow did this to me.’

 

 

10. A Peculiar Sense of Exclusiveness

 

Lysander stopped reading. He felt the retrospective shame blaze through him, like the driest tinder burning, writhing, crackling hot. His mouth was parched. Come on, grow up, he said to himself, you’re twenty-seven years old – this is ancient history.

Lysander sat quiet for a moment. Bensimon had to speak first.

‘Right,’ Bensimon said. ‘Yes. So. This happened when you were fourteen.’

‘I think I’d been asleep for about two hours. I was missed at teatime. My mother was worried and came out looking for me. The gardeners said I’d gone into the wood.’

‘And you had begun to masturbate –’

‘And had fallen asleep. A dead sleep. The sun, the warmth. A good lunch . . . And then my mother found me apparently unconscious with my trousers pulled down, half-naked, exposed. No wonder she panicked.’

‘What happened to the young gardener?’

‘He was dismissed immediately, by the estate manager, without pay and references. It was that or the police. His father protested that his son had done nothing – though he had to admit he hadn’t been in the garden all afternoon – and he was dismissed as well.’

‘Who could possibly disbelieve young Master Lysander?’

‘Yes, exactly. I feel very guilty. Still do. I’ve no idea what happened to them. They lost their cottage on the estate, as well. I took ill – I remember crying for days – and I was in bed for a fortnight. Then my mother took me to a hotel in Margate. I was examined by doctors – I was given all kinds of medicines for my “nerves”. Then I was packed off to my terrible boarding school.’

‘It was never spoken of again?’

‘Never. I was the victim, you see. Ill, shattered, pale. Every time someone asked me about the incident I started to weep. So everyone was very careful with me, very worried about what I had “endured”. Walking on eggshells, you know.’

‘Interesting that you blamed the gardener’s son . . .’ Bensimon wrote something down. ‘What was his name again?’

‘Tommy Bledlow.’

‘You still remember.’

‘I’m hardly likely to forget it.’

‘He had asked you to go hunting with him – with his ferret.’

‘I’d said no.’

‘Did you have homosexual feelings for him?’

‘Ah . . . No. Or at least I wasn’t aware of any. He had been the last person I had spoken to. In my panic, in the urgency of the moment, I just plucked his name from the air.’

 

Lysander took a tram back to Mariahilfer Strasse. He sat in something of a daze as they made their clattering and rocking way across town. Bensimon had been the only person to whom he had ever told the truth about that summer’s day at the turn of the century and he had to admit that the recounting of his dire and dark secret had produced a form of catharsis. He felt a strange lightness, a distancing from his past and, as he looked around him, from the world he was moving through and its denizens. He contemplated his fellow passengers in Tram K – saw them reading, chatting, lost in their thoughts, staring blankly out of the window as the city flowed by – and felt a peculiar sense of exclusiveness. Like the man with the winning lottery ticket in his pocket – or the murderer returning unspotted from the scene of his crime – he sensed himself above and apart from them, almost superior. If only you knew what I have disclosed today; if only you knew how everything in my life was going to be different now . . .

This last was wishful thinking, he quickly realized. What had happened that afternoon in June 1900 was the erased passage in the narrative of his life, a long white gap between two parentheses in the account of his days as a fourteen-year-old boy. He had never thought about it subsequently – erecting an impenetrable mental
cordon sanitaire
– pre-empting all catalysts that might stir unwelcome memories. He had walked many times in Claverleigh Wood; he and his mother were very close; he had talked to gardeners and estate workers without once bringing Tommy Bledlow to mind. The event was gone, the incident banished – effectively lost in time – as if some diseased organ or tumour had been removed from his body and incinerated.

He paused, stepping down from the tram at his halt, wondering why he had unthinkingly chosen that image. No – he was glad that he had told everything to Bensimon. Perhaps, at root, this was all psychoanalysis could really achieve: it authorized you to talk about crucially, elementally, important matters – that you couldn’t relate to anybody else – under the guise of a formal therapeutic discourse. What could Bensimon say to him, now, that he couldn’t say to himself? The act of confession was a form of liberation and he wondered if he needed Bensimon any more. Still, he did feel almost physically different from the man who had written down the events of that day. And writing it down was important, also, he could see that. Something had changed – it had been a purging of sorts, an opening up, a cleansing.

BOOK: Waiting for Sunrise
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