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Our Library => Roy Fuller - The Ruined Boys (1959) => Topic started by: Admin on August 04, 2023, 05:53:33 am



Title: Part Three, Chapter Three
Post by: Admin on August 04, 2023, 05:53:33 am
HOWARTH’S defection had left Gerald without a companion for the twice-weekly excursions to the town. On the first Saturday of the new term he had (Thomson having paired off with Blakey) gone in with Matley who, however, had refused to enter the fish and chip shop and had, under the stimulus of this sudden intimacy with Gerald, related embarrassing stories about his mother. The following Wednesday Gerald had made the expedition alone and, after the first uneasiness of walking down the drive solitary among the talking groups, he had found in the evening a rather melancholy but stimulating air and now, on this third Saturday of term, he set out unaccompanied almost out of habit and with the vague anticipation of experiences beyond the scope of the conventional twos and threes.

The remains of summer persisted: the darkening sky was calm over the sea, to which the low land lay open: one of the eastern invasion routes (of which he remembered Mr. Percy speaking) for the Anglo-Saxons against the original darker men---as the fair, barbarous Cropper was warring against him.

Ahead of him and walking in the same direction, he saw a girl’s slim figure, and he quickened his steps so that he should eventually pass her, for always lively within him was the instinct to display himself and---an almost instantaneous process consisting of the evaluation of a series of deductions from such minute particulars as an ankle, an arrangement of hair, a style of dress---to explore, an instinct of animal simplicity but upon which was built a structure complicated beyond analysis by his shyness, ignorance, yearning and remembrance of the details of paintings and of literature. He set his course to come up rather wide of her so that he would be able to send glances in her direction with less chance of detection. He was still some distance away when, conscious probably of his purposeful steps, she turned her head and he saw what he might have known long before had his senses not been deranged by his excited imaginings about the encounter---that it was Miss Pemberton. No doubt because she recognized the colours of his cap she waited for him to come up to her.

“Oh, it’s you, Bracher,” she said in her small but clear and penetrating voice.

“Yes, Miss Pemberton.” He stood at a loss for the correct behaviour but in a moment he saw that she expected him to fall in at her side as she set off again towards the beginnings of the concrete esplanade.

“Are you going in to town by yourself?” she asked.

“Yes, Miss Pemberton.”

“Why?”

Because Howarth left at the end of last term; because I like being alone on these evenings out: either would have been a true and sensible reply, but all he said was: “I don’t know, Miss Pemberton.”

He found that he could not keep step with her because her stride was shorter than his, but before he could discover the precise nature of the sensation that this gave him she said: “Where did you go for your holidays?”

“Cornwall,” he said. “Near Falmouth.” And the memory came to him of waiting in a tobacconist’s while his father walked across the shop floor trying out an ashplant before buying it. He wondered why this recollection should send a pang to his heart.

“Did you do any sailing?”

“No, Miss Pemberton.”

At first he thought that she must know how far the notion of sailing was from his father’s character and habits and that her question had been ironic, but she went on: “Very wise. It’s a horrible pastime. That was just a trap question. I know a sailor---a nominal sailor---who simply refuses to go to sea any more. But of course he’s a Frenchman.”

Almost immediately he realized to what she was referring and the idea that she should trouble to make the fanciful allusion before someone who she could not anticipate would understand it struck him as so extraordinary that involuntarily he laughed aloud.

“What are you laughing at, Bracher?” she inquired sharply.

“Nothing, Miss Pemberton.”

“What did you find amusing in my remarks?”

Then it was as though some obstruction, which for a long time had been poked at without result, suddenly flew out, and there poured from him easily word after word, arranged in that slightly facetious manner which came to him in his best moments and which perhaps even communicated his true self: “I happen to know that nautical friend of yours.”

“What nautical friend?” Her voice squeaked incredulously on the absurd adjective.

“Marcel.”

“How could you possibly know Marcel?”

A knife plunged itself in Gerald’s guts as for a second he failed to disentangle his knowledge of the doll’s existence from the letter he had guiltily read on the afternoon of the Westport match. All his mind could form was the phrase: “Marcel, that understanding Frog”, which came to him in the very shape of her handwriting. Then, with the special fluency of the dissembler, he said: “I’ve seen him on the sofa in your room at the House. Watching boils squeezed and cascaras handed out.”

“Yes,” said Miss Pemberton, “he understands human suffering. But how did you know his name?”

“Mrs. Watt told me.”

“I wonder what else she tells you.” But the speculation did not seem to need a reply and after a few steps of silence she said: “Did you move up again this term?”

“Yes, Miss Pemberton.” This time the monosyllable with the formally added name was not at all like the conventional replies he had made to her at first, which on his part were meant merely to confirm for her his supposed character of schoolboy addressing authority, but instead was the surrendering to her will of the simple key to his confidence.

She took it in the easiest way. “So you’re still with Mr. Percy.”

“Yes, I’m still with Mr. Percy.” He did not know how he divined that it would give her pleasure to hear the name repeated.

“He teaches well, doesn’t he?”

He had always had the conception that some masters could teach well and others could not but had never before applied it. “Yes, he does,” he said and tried to find a sentence that would intelligibly convey to her the complicated passages, not all explicit, between himself and Mr. Percy about the meaning of Shelley, the hierarchy of literature and, above all, the relationships between master, boy and school. “He’s very subtle.” It was a word extremely popular this term.

“Subtle,” Miss Pemberton repeated, giving it amused but serious consideration. “So you think the masculine character capable of subtlety?”

It seemed she had known he had not really been thinking of Mr. Percy’s teaching. “Yes,” he said, turning her question over and conjuring up Mr. Norfolk being pushed in his car. “Of course, it’s quite rare.”

“Quite rare,” she said.

It struck him that in her was stored up an enormous fund of information which he might spend months---years---in exhausting. “I would have been in Mr. Chaplin’s form,” he remarked, “if he hadn’t left.”

But this time she failed to grasp the motive behind his words, which was to find out whether Charlie’s vacant place was truly symptomatic of a wasting disease in the school. “I used to teach once,” she said.

“Did you really, Miss Pemberton?”

“Before I took over boils and cascaras. When my aunt was still alive. She used to do them in those days.”

He realized that she meant the Grey Chap’s wife. “Are you a B.A.?” he asked, remembering once hearing a rumour of her learning.

“No. We had a baby form of day boys then and so my ignorance didn’t matter. Do you think that if I were I should----” She left the sentence unfinished. They were now among the lights of the little town and she said: “I’m going on to the Hippodrome.” It was a new concrete building by the pier head, containing a café, a cinema and a ballroom.

He understood that she was giving him an opportunity for him to leave her gracefully. Even so, he felt that they had gone too far beyond the relationship expected by convention for him merely to raise his cap and make his adieu. He stopped and said: “Well, I have to go down Station Road.” His action held her captive for a few moments, looking at her feet, pulling up the collar of her raincoat, as though she, too, had forgotten his true status and had to behave with him as she might have with a stranger. At length she raised her head and said: “Good night, Bracher.”

He said good night, crossed the square to the island of public lavatories and then looked back for her among the people round the entrance to the Hippodrome. He also tried to pick out Mr. Percy, for though it was hard to imagine him standing by the garish cinema posters or with his money ready to pay the admission to the ballroom, Gerald saw clearly in this moment how love must, like a still-life painter, use for the working-out of its inspirations the most banal material until it has transformed or succumbed to it. Nor were such relations exalted by their personae: in spite of the oblique, brittle correspondence, the brilliant shifts of concealment and allusion in an unfavourable environment, they must come at last to the same crude climax as had been enacted by those terrible visitors to the playing field in the summer.

With youth’s automatic hunger he made his way to the fish and chip shop. Though he had failed to see Mr. Percy’s figure in the crowd, he did not doubt that it was with him Miss Pemberton had her rendezvous. When he thought about the affair which it was no longer possible to doubt existed between them, he marvelled at the impediments to it revealed by Miss Pemberton’s letter or the space that remained between the two when they were left alone at the Westport match, for since they had the opportunity for love it seemed to him mere perversion that they did not fly freely and with overwhelming feeling into each other’s arms---that any bar to happiness was as artificial as those invented by a playwright to keep his lovers separated until the drama shall have run the course demanded by those requiring an evening’s entertainment. And by the same reasoning, he was convinced that if there was in fact something in their situation preventing the consummation of their relationship there needed only an easily-made mental effort on either of their parts to remove it---as a novelist may in a stroke not merely contrive the spatial union of his characters but also supply them with the mental processes necessary to bring them, if they have been out of love or jealous or have quarrelled, together again for ever. If only, he thought, he had Mr. Percy’s opportunity, how tender and staunch he would be!

He ate his fish and chips, shopped and walked back to the House. When he went up to the dormitory he saw that Matley had already undressed and must be in the bathroom. On his chair seat on top of his underclothes he had negligently left the white paper bag containing his illegal Saturday night pie and Gerald evilly hoped that the duty master would come in and discover it. But when Matley returned to the dormitory, walking with his head down so that he could observe the satisfactory length and fullness of his Franciscan friar’s dressing-gown, he ostentatiously took up the paper bag, opened it and drew from it a small brass crucifix.

“What on earth have you got there?” Gerald asked, with the embarrassment of one who detects in another’s painstaking work some gross error of ignorance.

“What do you think it is, Bracher?” Matley wore the overweening manner associated with his worst moments.

“I think it’s a crucifix.”

“It is a crucifix.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to put it here.” Matley placed it reverently on his bedside locker which Gerald now saw had been cleared of all articles except a spread clean handkerchief.

“Where did you get it from?”

“I bought it tonight.”

“Where?”

“Woolworth's.”

“Woolworth's,” repeated Gerald, trying derisively to attach to that useful and innocent establishment the odium from which the object, by its very nature, must be exculpated---as the English sometimes condemn the ideas of socialism by reference to their alleged foreign origin.

“Woolworth’s have some very good things,” said Matley mildly.

Several replies sprang to Gerald’s lips but none of them seemed capable of logically destroying the position in which Matley, through being granted some tacit and ill-defined premise, had entrenched himself so complacently and ludicrously. And even when the other two occupants of the dormitory had arrived and added their questions and objections, Matley was still able in comparative silence to kneel at his lengthy prayers, not, as heretofore, facing his bed but in front of the locker.