Air and Angels

Free Air and Angels by Susan Hill

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Authors: Susan Hill
Tags: Fiction, General
the morning, had said what he had to, and then, simply, sat down and wept.
    A girl was to have his child. He scarcely knew her. She was thesister of an acquaintance from school, daughter of neighbours in the country. But otherwise, it seemed, quite insignificant.
    He had been home. The whole story was out. There had been confrontations with both families. And now, Thomas.
    After a while, Eustace raised his head and pushed a hand through his hair, said, ‘I am most dreadfully sorry, sir.’
    ‘Yes.’ Thomas could not look at him. ‘Yes.’

    ‘Of course, I shall have to go down. I am to marry her.’
    ‘And then?’
    ‘I … I really don’t know. That is – there is talk of the army. India. I don’t want that at all. Or there is a possibility of helping to run the estate. They are … it is all being discussed.’
    ‘I see.’
    ‘I am sorry.’
    ‘It is hardly necessary to apologise to me.’ Though of course, he believed that it was.
    The boy stared miserablyat his hands. You are a child, Thomas thought, glancing at him, for the face was open with misery and had somehow become a child’s face again, soft, unformed.
    A strange desire to console him came to Thomas, to treat him as tenderly, as lovingly, as he supposed one would treat a small boy who had come to confess some trivial offence, and burst into tears in just this way.
    But the offence wasnot trivial, though commonplace enough. And it disgusted him, he could neither understand nor sympathise with it. Above all, he felt, somehow, personally rebuffed, and was angry. So that in the end, rather than trust himself to speak at all, he simply sent the boy away.
    Eustace Partridge went hopelessly, to stare out of the window of his room down onto the college courtyard and across the roofsof the town, in despair that through a folly he scarcely understood, or even remembered, he was to lose everything.
    But the bitterest shame had been having to speak to Cavendish, and the bitterest disappointment too, for he had believed that his tutor not only thought highly of but warmly towards him. He had seemed to be an ally and a friend. The contempt on his face, the way it had closed againsthim, had shown him that there was no one on his side, and that he had no supporter, after all.
    He remained at his window, brooding, regretting, and already felt quite detached from his surroundings, as though the college and its life and purpose already excluded him.
    Of his future, and of the pert, pretty Mary Wimpole, he could not bear to think at all.
    In the end, Thomas saw the Dean, andthe Dean, who was a broad-minded and tolerant man, heard him out patiently, soothingly. Though Thomas could not be soothed.
    ‘It is the waste, the foolish, unnecessary waste. He was a pupil I was proud to teach, he had one of the finest brains it had been my good fortune to encounter. There was excellence, there was achievement, and then, there was such promise.’
    ‘You speak as if the boy weredead.’
    ‘He is dead to me.’
    ‘Try to see it this way – that this incident, and the disgrace of it, have ruined his life. To us, it is merely a passing disappointment. We have been let down. But he has failed his whole self. And so, we must be charitable.’
    ‘He has thrown everything away – and for what?’
    ‘Perhaps for a good wife and family, a happy life? We cannot tell. The situation could havebeen considerably worse. At least the girl is marriageable.’
    Later, he spoke to Georgiana, not only of Eustace Partridge, but of the Dean. She said, ‘He has a forgiving nature. He is a man of tolerance.’
    ‘He took an easy attitude – a lazy attitude.’
    ‘You are hurt. You feel that you have been personally betrayed.’
    ‘He has betrayed us all, let us all down, for some idle passion. No – not eventhat, he said as much. He has not even that excuse.’
    ‘And is there no possibility of his staying up to complete his degree? Could his father not …’
    ‘The father is a boor and a

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