(The excerpt is a little long so m putting it in two posts.)


Background: The book opens with Dylan at 18 in his last year at Venerable Bede School. He makes a clumsy and immediately rejected attempt at seducing his favorite teacher, Laurence Northcliff. He doesn’t realize that Laurence has fallen in love with him. Being honorable above all else, Laurence resigns his position and goes to Paris to pursue a writing career. A year later, finally out of school, Dylan goes to Paris to study composing. Unexpectedly they encounter one another. Equals now, no longer teacher and student, they spend a lot of time together and one thing leads to another…

The rue de Savies, where Laurence lived, was a narrow and crooked cobbled street with a sharp downward direction. Almost every weathered building had small wrought iron balconies and window boxes bursting with brightly colored geraniums of every hue. Shrill-voiced children played on the narrow pavement that outlined one side of the street. Two women stood talking; one of them held a struggling toddler by the hand and stopped talking long enough to sharply smack his bum. A baker called out his wares as he pushed a handcart of pies down the street. In front of one house an itinerant knife grinder worked, one foot busily working the treadle while a long, thin blade whined against the whirring stone.

Dylan passed a shop where cookware and furniture were repaired, and next to that was a shop with the sign Blanchisserie. He wondered what kind of business it was until he saw an energetic woman walk out laden with a basket of clean, ironed laundry in a stack that reached to her chin. There were few places where a tree could grow, but once in a while a stubborn seed had managed to burst through and grow to maturity. As a horse-drawn cart, almost too wide for the street, rattled down the cobbles, its driver was roundly cursed by the mothers who snatched their children out of harm’s way, as well as by the scissors grinder and others who had to move to permit its passage.

At the bottom of the hill, Number 54 bore a small sign in the downstairs window, which was clean and curtained with white. When Dylan was closer he could see that the sign said:
Laurence Hanley Northcliff
Maître d’Anglais
et Élocution

Just as he lifted his hand to knock at the door, it opened and Laurence stepped out, broom in hand. Dylan was nonplussed at the broom, and Laurence said, “Go in and make yourself comfortable. I will be but a moment.” He set to work vigorously attacking dirt in front of the house.

Inside, Dylan saw an old friend: the typewriting machine. It welcomed him from a table near the window with the sign. As he had expected there were many books both on shelves and off, but all neatly aligned with the spines out. Hanging on the far wall was the painting of the young girl and the pony. His attention was drawn by another painting with brilliant mesmerizing blue water and a sky with puffy clouds over a village and a bridge. He didn’t realize Laurence had come in, until he spoke.

“Lovely, isn’t it. It’s called ‘

Dylan motioned toward the sign. “You teach English, I see.”

“I have every summer for years. Now I do it all year. It pays the bills. Some of those who come to me have been my students for years.” He laughed and added, “I suppose that means either I am a very incompetent teacher or I have very loyal students. I’ll get by until either my books produce an income or I die of old age.”

Dylan realized suddenly to his shame that he had not once inquired about Laurence’s work; he had talked only about himself—his plans, his music, his future. “Has your book been published?” he asked, hoping Laurence did not think badly of him.

“It hasn’t been finished. It changes constantly.”

“Might I read something you’ve written?”

“Dylan Rutledge? Asking to read something not written on score paper? My God, the Millennium is here!” Seeing Dylan start to bristle with indignation, he laughed. “Let an old teacher have his joke, Dylan. Of course you may read my novel … if I ever finish it. Now, there are biscuits in the tin if you want to help yourself while I change clothes.”

“Like the old days,” Dylan said.

Laurence smiled slightly. “Not very,” he said.
Dylan’s life settled into a pleasant, productive routine. Mondays and Fridays he went to Naszados. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, he worked alone, concentrating on his music until his head pounded. Rob, though still as mystified as ever by Dylan’s devotion to his dream, persuaded the hotel manager to grant Dylan the use of the ballroom piano. Dylan told himself that Rob was a good friend and he didn’t appreciate him nearly enough.

Friday nights and Saturdays Dylan and Laurence attended a play, opera, symphony, ballet, or sometimes just joined an informal gathering of Laurence’s friends. He knew an astonishing number of people of all kinds: rich and poor, painters, musicians, shop girls, poets and barbers, and people without identifiable occupations or discernable morals. Without exception they had great affection and respect for Laurence.

On sunny Sundays he and Laurence went to the Bois de Boulogne, where they rented horses and enjoyed the miles of bridle paths. Rather, Laurence enjoyed them and Dylan faked enthusiasm; Dylan and horses had never been on good terms and it was damnably difficult to maintain one’s dignity when one’s arse felt as if it had been beaten raw and one’s thighs had turned to quivering gelatin.

Dylan thought often of Laurence’s statement that their new status was “not very” like the old days. There seemed to be only one thing they never talked about; with every hour they spent together, Dylan became more determined that they would talk about it. And he intended to do more than talk.

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