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Our Library => Roy Fuller - The Ruined Boys (1959) => Topic started by: Admin on August 03, 2023, 09:05:35 am

Title: Part Two, Chapter Seven
Post by: Admin on August 03, 2023, 09:05:35 am
AT tea-time the following day the Headmaster made an appearance (unprecedented at this meal of the day) in the dining room. Everyone rose and those who were engaged in chewing swallowed hastily as though concealing an incriminating paper. “Be seated, boys,” said Mr. Pemberton, and it could be seen that he was in a serious but excellent humour. “I thought this was an appropriate opportunity, when our thoughts must still be on the divine service we attended this morning, to tell you of the latest developments about the school chapel.” The Headmaster then announced that someone he referred to merely as “a very good friend of the school” had with great generosity promised to subscribe out of his own pocket a sum equal to the total sum subscribed by all parents and old boys.

“I think you boys know,” Mr. Pemberton continued, “how dear this project is to my heart and what immeasurable good it would add to the school. I want you to think about the inspiration of having our own altar and pulpit, our own stained-glass windows, and no doubt in time our own plaques and other memorials to commemorate those who make their mark on our life here. All these things are within our grasp. And you boys can play your part in obtaining them. I would like you in your letters home next week to tell your parents quite simply in your own words something of what a school chapel would mean to us here at Seafolde House. Of course, I shall be making known what I have told you to the day boys as well at assembly next week. But I thought my boarders should have advance news, as it were, because in their lives the chapel will play a very special part indeed.” Mr. Pemberton then turned forcefully to the duty master who was sitting at the masters’ table and said: “Thank you, Mr. Marsh. I’m sorry to have interrupted your tea.”

Following this speech, Gerald became possessed of an excited concern about the chapel project analogous to the emotion with which we follow the progress of those fictions which tell of the slow but successful struggles of the hero to accumulate a fortune. He visualized the gradually increasing inflow of subscriptions and then the miraculous mathematical process which would double them, and he wished he could personally inject every potential subscriber with a sense of the importance of his effort, the sense of every little counting, of the beauty of the community of effort and the gradual achievement of a lofty and worthy end. As the Headmaster had suggested, he wrote about the appeal in his next letter to his father, which was consequently of unusual length, a fact which in itself gave him a rich sense of self-satisfaction. He had an impulse to mention the matter, too, in his letter to his mother, but realized on reflection that any contribution she might send would come, in fact, from the pocket of Mr. Ayers---the impossible charity of a thief.

Gerald was a little disappointed to read in his father’s reply that Mr. Bracher had already received from the school a printed appeal for funds for the chapel. It was as though the Headmaster had decided that the boys could not be trusted to play their part nor, for that matter, without the boys’ own approach the parents theirs. He was also disappointed that his father did not disclose the amount of his contribution so that Gerald could have the pleasure of imagining the Headmaster’s pleasure at receiving it and of making the simple but satisfactory calculation of its ultimate double value. And then his disappointment turned to unease and guilt as the possibility occurred to him that his father had sent some totally inadequate sum because of the failure of Gerald’s letter to characterize the importance of the chapel to the Headmaster and to the life of the school.

Soon after Mr. Pemberton’s disclosure of his plans for the chapel Gerald had to attend at the Matron’s room with a septic heel, caused by the rubbing of a tight shoe. One of the minor worries of his life was the discomfort caused him by several articles of clothing which had become too small for him---or had always been so, for some perverse demon often seized him in a shop and made him assent to the fit of things which were patently not his size. And the discomfort was accompanied by a dogged parsimoniousness which forbade him giving up the offending garment, for he was excessively conscious of the burden of expense the replacement would put upon his father.

He waited while Mrs. Watt applied hot compresses to a boil on Thompson’s neck, leaning against the green distempered wall of the small room, observing from his height that the hair roots on the crown of Mrs. Watt’s glossy black head were pure white. Thompson groaned melodramatically.

“Stop it, Thompson,” said the Assistant Matron. “I haven’t touched you yet.”

“No, you’re just burning my skin off, Mrs. Watt.”

“Look at that, Bracher,” said Mrs. Watt, removing the compress. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger boil.”

“It’s a beauty,” agreed Gerald.

“And it’s not come to a head yet.”

“Don’t be so morbid, Mrs. Watt,” said Thompson. “Put the dressing on it and let me get out of here.” While Mrs. Watt snipped the lint and adhesive tape, Thompson, seeing the end of his torture, leaned back in the chair and said: “What’s the latest scandal, Mrs. Watt? Is it true Percy’s sweet on Miss Pemberton?”

“Thompson, Thompson, you’ll be the death of me,” said the Assistant Matron.

“Come on, Mrs. Watt, spill the beans.”

“Who wouldn’t be sweet on Miss Pemberton,” said Mrs. Watt. “She’s a very nice girl.”

“Then it’s true?”

“I said nothing of the kind. Bend your head over.”

“Are they engaged?”

“Don’t fool about, Thompson, or I shall get cross.”

Thompson submitted to the dressing, went out, and Gerald took his place in the chair of the Inquisition. He would have liked to continue the cross-examination of Mrs. Watt about Mr. Percy’s affairs. She was, he saw, a sort of fault in the otherwise sealed-off world where the adults of the school lived their real lives, through which rumours and hints could sometimes escape. But he had only courage enough to ask her an innocent question.

“Do you think we shall get enough money to build the chapel, Mrs. Watt?”

She raised her sharp nose. “I don’t know,” she said, “and I don’t care very much.”

“Really?” He was shocked.

“In my opinion there are better things to spend money on---if you can get any money. Only don’t say I said so, Bracher.”

“Of course I shan’t, Mrs. Watt. Do you know who the friend of the school is who’s going to double all the subscriptions?”

“There’s no secret about that. Alderman Cole.”

“Cole’s father?”

“Cole’s father.”

“He’s such a slug.”

“Alderman Cole?”

“Don’t pull my leg, Mrs. Watt. I mean Cole.”

“Slug or not, his father is a very good friend of the school’s. You don’t know how good.”

“You tell me, Mrs. Watt.”

“I won’t be pumped. Put your shoe and stocking on and get across to prep.” Mrs. Watt felt in the pocket of her overall and took out a rather crumpled cigarette which she proceeded to break in half, as was her habit. One half she put back in her pocket, the other between her thin lips. She struck a match towards herself, like a man.

Gerald lingered at the door searching for a remark, feeling himself tantalizingly on the brink of some insight into the mysterious mechanics of school, of life itself. On a chintz-covered ottoman under the window, next to the sleeping Tomsky---a cat well known through its frequent appearance in the dining room---was a doll dressed as a French sailor.

“Whose is the doll?” asked Gerald, idly imagining a hitherto unrevealed offspring of the Assistant Matron.

“That’s Marcel. He’s Miss Pemberton’s,” replied Mrs Watt, her half cigarette, kept in the mouth, wagging expertly with each syllable. “Now, off you go.”

The taciturn Percy, the rather eccentrically clothed young woman who reacted so extremely to Blakey’s temperature and possessed a doll---it was ludicrous to think there could possibly be any point of contact between them.