In False Colors John Cavendish’s relationship with his mum, although off screen, is a big factor in the way he approaches life. It’s one of the many things he has to work through in the process of allowing himself to fall in love.
As everything paused on a high note, clear and perfect, John’s delight escaped in a gasp of breath, and at the sound Donwell’s eyes snapped open. With a convulsive heave backwards, he drew the flute to his chest as if to protect it, slamming his heels into the sea-chest and scrabbling to rise. “Oh! Oh, I’m…. I’m sorry sir, I didn’t know you were there!”
“No need to apologize, Mr. Donwell.” John smiled, not only the music making him radiant. It was pleasing to have the upper hand for a change; to wrong-foot his over-bold lieutenant. “Rather I should ask your pardon for disturbing you in the middle of a performance. I have a most untutored reaction to music. What was it, may I ask?”
“Surely you know Telemann, sir?” Donwell’s dark brows arched with surprise as he straightened up, freeing space enough for John to walk in. In his new mood of confidence, John did so, and found it pleasant to revert to the comradely visiting he had done on board the Admiral’s first rate. There, they had been in and out of one another’s cabins all the time, borrowing books and stockings, taking a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with each other. It had been, indeed, a little too sociable for John’s tastes, but now, after a fortnight of solitude, he thirsted for company.
“It is not possible to underestimate what I know about music.” The canvas partition wall creaked beneath John’s weight as he cautiously leaned against it. A small part of him quailed at opening the details of his family life to such a stranger, but Alfie’s honest, good-humored amusement encouraged him. Whatever else he felt—this itch of over-awareness which made every conversation a little too intense—distrust was not part of it.
Indeed, the desire to put Donwell on the next ship to China weighed equally against the desire to tell him all and keep him close. If it puzzled John which instinct to trust, he thought he should probably choose the more humane. “My mother did not approve of it. ‘Snare of the devil,’ she said. It was not played in our house.”
“Your mother did not approve of music?” Donwell had clearly been very startled indeed; his face only now began to change from boyish openness to the urbanity of an adult. In all the layers thus revealed, John was startled to see pity.
His temper flared instinctively. “Why should she? Is it not used to set the scene for debaucheries? Balls, where young people may lose their innocence. Theatre and opera and dancing that dazzle the senses and make the heart forget true morality? It would be a more steadfast, sober world without music.”
In his zeal, John stepped forward. Donwell did not retreat, but stood there, apparently relaxed, his thumb moving gently over the curve of the flute. “And a poorer one.”
Fists tightening almost against his will, physical fury swept through John, clear and glorious as the music. Breathing hard, he could almost feel the smack of his knuckles into Donwell’s mouth, where a small, startled smirk turned in the end of the man’s lips. Infuriating! How dare he? How dare he laugh at me? They stood so close he could feel the warmth of Donwell’s shin on his own calf.
Watching that little knowing smile light up Donwell’s smoky amber eyes, John breathed in sharply and turned away, fighting down the urge to wrap his hands around the other man’s neck and choke some reason into him.
What the…? Where had that violence come from? Shame flooding him, he stepped back, head bowed, appalled at himself. It wasn’t even as though he didn’t agree.
“Forgive me. ‘And a poorer one, sir.’” Donwell too retreated, hopping up to sit on his cot, ceding John the two paces of floor and the sea-chest seat.
For a man who has given in, he looks altogether too triumphant, John thought, sitting down on the chest with trembling legs and a tender conscience. “You might be right.” As his racing heart slowed, he attempted a reassuring smile. God alone knew what Donwell must think of him! He himself had no idea. “Though it shows a filial impiety in me to allow it.”
John’s mother disapproved of many things in which he himself could not see the harm. Had the music not – only a moment ago – made him feel closer to God? Prompted him to worship? How then could anyone say it was a snare? It disturbed and grieved him that she made her life more unhappy than it needed to be, but at times it was hard to avoid the thought. “I do sometimes fancy it is ungrateful—in our quest for purity—to disallow ourselves the things which were created to give us joy.”