Masters, undergraduates, visitors; they sat huddled closely together on the backless oak benches, their elbows on the long tables, their eyes shaded with their fingers, or turned intelligently toward the platform where two famous violinists twisted together the fine, strong strand of the Concerto in D Minor. The Hall was very full; Harriet's gowned shoulder touched her companion's, and the crescent of his long sleeve lay over her knee. He was wrapt in the motionless austerity with which all genuine musicians listen to genuine music. Harriet was musician enough to respect this aloofness; she knew well enough that the ecstatic rapture on the face of the man opposite meant only that he was hoping to be thought musical, and that the elderly lady over the way, waving her fingers to the beat, was a musical moron. She knew enough, herself, to read the sounds a little with her brains, laboriously unwinding the twined chains of melody link by link. Peter, she felt sure, could hear the whole intricate pattern, every part, separately and simultaneously, each independent and equal, separate but inseparable, moving over and under and through, ravishing heart and mind together. She waited till the last movement had ended and the packed hall was relaxing its attention in applause.
"Peter- what did you mean when you said that anybody could have the harmony if they would leave us the counterpoint?"
"Why," said he, shaking his head, "that I like my music polyphonic. If you think I meant anything else, you know what I meant."
"Polyphonic music takes a lot of playing. You've got to be more than a fiddler. It needs a musician."
"In this case, two fiddlers -- both musicians."
"I'm not much of a musician, Peter."
"As they used to say in my youth: 'All girls should learn a little music -- enough to play a simple accompaniment.' I admit that Bach isn't a matter of an autocratic virtuoso and a meek accompanist. But do you want to be either? Here's a gentleman coming to sing a group of ballads. Pray silence for the soloist. But let him be soon over, that we may hear the great striding fugue again."
The final Chorale was sung, and the audience made their way out. Harriet's way lay through the Broad Street gate; Peter followed her through the quad.
"It's a beautiful night -- far too good to waste. Don't go back yet. Come down to Magdalen Bridge and send your love to London River."
They turned along the Broad in silence, the light wind fluttering their gowns as they walked.
"There's something about this place," said Peter presently, "that alters all one's values." He paused, and added a little abruptly: "I have said a good deal to you one way and another, lately; but you may have notice that since we came to Oxford I have not asked you to marry me."
"Yes," said Harriet, her eyes fixed upon the severe and delicate silhouette of the Bodleian roof, just emerging between the Sheldonian and the Clarendon Building. "I had noticed it."
"I have been afraid," he said, simply; "Because I knew that from anything you said to me here there could be no going back... But I will ask you now, and if you say No, I promise you that this time I will accept your answer. Harriet; you know that I love you: will you marry me?"
The traffic lights winked at the Holywell Corner: Yes; No; Wait. Cat Street was crossed and the shadows of New College walls had swallowed them up before she spoke:
"Tell me one thing, Peter. Will it make you desperately unhappy if I say No?"
"Desperately?... My dear, I will not insult either you or myself with a word like that. I can only tell you that if you will marry me it will give me very great happiness."
They passed beneath the arch of the bridge and out into the pale light once more.
She stood still; and he stopped perforce and turned toward her. She laid both hands upon the fronts of his gown, looking into his face while she searched for the word that should carry her over the last difficult breath.
It was he who found it for her. With a gesture of submission he bared his head and stood gravely, the square cap dangling in his hand.
The Proctor, stumping grimly past with averted eyes, reflected that Oxford was losing all sense of dignity. But what could he do? If Senior Members of the University chose to stand -- in their gowns, too! -- closely and passionately embracing in New College Lane right under the Warden's windows, ehw as powerless to prevent it. He primly settled his white bands and went upon his walk unheeded; and no hand plucked his velvet sleeve.
--Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night
2016 Reading in Review
4 hours ago