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Part Three

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« on: July 18, 2023, 10:58:17 am »

PETER'S warning was obviously well meant, and it set me thinking. From the age of thirteen and a half, as Peter well knew, I had amused myself with a variety of boys and without any ill effects. But I had been lucky never to be found out, and knowing this, I had turned over a new leaf, for purely practical reasons, when I had become a monitor - 'a person of prominence' as Peter put it - a few months before. At this stage one simply could not afford trouble. There was also another point: ought not one to be putting away childish things by now and graduating towards women? But what might have been a firm decision never to touch a boy again had been weakened almost from the start, by two further considerations: first, that there were not, as yet, any women towards whom to graduate; and second, that it was now quite clear to me, from my reading of Greek and Latin literature, that one could have the best of both worlds. If Horace. Catullus and countless poets of the Greek anthology could have boys as well as girls, then why shouldn't I? It was of no use for the Senior Usher to point out that these authors had been superseded by the Christian morality, for that morality, with its nagging and its whining, I merely despised.

Nevertheless, for the last few months prudence had prevailed. The only danger of relapse had been Christopher, and since he was clearly resolved to impose strict limits the danger did not seem to be very serious. I was far too fond to force him (for that matter I had never forced anybody) and I was unwilling (don't be greedy) even to try to persuade him. Peter, who was very shrewd and knew both Christopher and myself very well, presumably realized this. Then why his warning?

It could only be, I decided, just because he knew us so well. Perhaps my prudence was a frailer vessel than I thought, and Peter had spotted this. Even so, that still left my terror of offending Christopher. Yes; but could it be that Peter had also spotted something else, in Christopher this time, that gave him cause for worry? Was this the reason for his warning---that Peter had seen, as I had not, signs that Christopher, for all his delicacy, might give way after all? Signs that determination was softening into mere reluctance, and that this in turn . . .

And so it was that Peter, by warning me against what I had in any case thought to forgo, first taught me that it might yet be achieved.


'Busy, Christopher?'

'Trying to get ready for this exam tomorrow. Geography.'

'I'll just sit here and keep quiet.'

'All right. But I must work.'

So I perched my bottom on the little bookcase behind his chair, put my hands on his neck, and started to massage his shoulder blades.

'Please don't.'

'Just go on with your work, Christopher. This will soothe you.'

'It doesn't. It . . . I'm sorry. Fielding, but please go.'

'All right. Can I come back later? '

'Come back and talk to me . . . talk to me. Fielding . . . after adsum. If I've finished this.'

Christopher sighed, very gently.

'Come anyway,' he said.



   “'Cum semcl occideris, et de te splendida Minos Fecerit arbitria;
    Non Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te Restituet pietas.”

“'When once you are dead and Minos has pronounced his high judgment upon you, not your lineage, Torquatus, nor all your eloquence---nor even your very virtue will bring you back I again”.'

I paused, I remember, and I thought: now for it, now let 'em have it straight. Then I wrote:

The passage is crucial. Moralists of the sternest persuasion would readily agree with Horace that neither high birth nor clever words can recommend the soul in the face of final judgment. But then the poet puts in his hammer blow:

   'non te Restituet pietas.”

Not virtue itself is going to be any help. All in fact, is vanity: not only gold and silver, not only worldly fame and accomplishment, but duty, faith and purity too. The highest moral character can procure one no preference among the shades.

I handed in my essay paper (I remember) and walked outside. There was an end of the year's exams, from which, with luck, I would pick up a prize or two. The results would not be known until the last day of the quarter. Meanwhile, there were seven days to pass and nothing to do except enjoy them. There would be a cricket match between the Scholars and the Rest, the finals of the House Matches, the junior boxing and swimming. And other sports? Ever since Peter's warning I had been watching Christopher with new eyes. It was possible. I was almost certain of that now. And without offending him? Yes; my body did not offend him, I knew that, he was simply nervous because it had never happened to him before. If I chose the right moment, went about it the right way, all would be well. And without scandal (Peter's voice insisted)? But no one need ever discover. And one thing above all was certain: no amount of chastity would prolong the passing summer or bring me back from the shades.

That night, at last, the storm broke, clearing the air and the sky. The next day's sun dried out the cricket pitches for the carnival matches that would close the season's play; and the weather was now set fair (or so it seemed) for ever and a day. From being sluggish and sullen, everyone turned warmhearted and gay---except for Somerset Lloyd-James, who had never been known to be either and was in any case brooding over some problem which for the time being he declined to reveal.

The Scholars versus the Rest of the School was to be a full day's match. So far from being a traditional fixture, this contest had never occurred before and had been promoted this year largely by the efforts of the Senior Usher (a great cricket fancier) on the strength of the unusual number of good players in the Sixth and Under-Sixth Classical. He was said to have backed the Scholars heavily at odds of two to one laid by the Master of the Lower School; whether this was true I never found out, but if so the odds were fair, for the Scholars, while distinguished by style and promise, were opposed by a much tougher and more experienced team which included eight members of the School XI.

The morning's play was dull. Batting first in easy conditions, the Scholars fiddled and finicked around for a full hour, at the end of which they could only show 30 runs on the board for a cost of three wickets. At this stage I went in myself and managed with the steady support of a young scholar called Paget, to put on fifty odd in the same number of minutes---only to be dismissed, just as I was very well set, by a gross full toss which I mistimed and lobbed straight into Christopher's hands at mid-on. Soon afterwards the players came in for lunch in the pavilion, the Scholars' score now standing at 120 for 5---which, since the wicket was plumb and the out-field fast, was at best an indifferent performance.

Lunch, with a barrel of beer, was put up and presided over by the two pedagogues whose money allegedly rode on the match. It was a good lunch (as lunches then went), and to add to the pleasure of the occasion several distinguished non-playing guests had been invited, among them the two external examiners of the Sixth Classical, the Headmaster, and as the 'school personality', Somerset Lloyd-James, who was sitting next to myself. Always a greedy boy when opportunity offered, Somerset now rapidly emptied three pots of beer and inspected me with the glazed look in his eye which meant (as I knew from four years' experience) that he was after help or information of more than usual importance.

'It would appear,' he said a bit thickly, 'that the biggest prize of all lies between you and me.'

'What does?' I said, somewhat inattentive, as I had just seen the Senior Usher point me out to one of the examiners, a tubby and voluble Warden from Oxford, and start whispering in his ear.

'The position of Head of the School next summer. The place is taken until April. After that it will be between the two of us.'

'Will it? Who told you?'

'I have my sources.'

'Why do we have to talk about it now? April's a long way off.'

'I thought you'd like to know.'

'And I suppose you want to know something in return.'

Somerset's eyes went more glassy than ever.

'If you've any . . . views . . . on the situation?'

'Well. I shan't grudge you the crown if you get it. And I hope you can say the same. All right?'

Apparently it was, for Somerset now started shovelling food very fast into his face, and I became involved in an up-table conversation with the tubby Warden, who wanted to know about the reaction of my contemporaries to the Fleming Report on the future of the public schools. Having acquitted myself as best I could, I started to think again about the very odd exchange which Somerset, à propos of nothing at all, had introduced, and was just about to take the matter up with him, when commotion arose at the far end of the table. Old Frank, one of the umpires of the day, had collapsed on to his plate.

The Senior Usher, as principal host, took immediate command. Without moving an inch from his seat and merely by giving quiet and terser instructions to those near him (including the Headmaster and the Warden) he had, within ten minutes, established that Frank was seriously ill, administered immediate succour, procured an ambulance, despatched Frank, arranged a private room for him in hospital, comforted Christopher (to whom the old gentleman had been talking when he collapsed), convinced everyone that there was nothing more to worry about, and appointed Somerset, who was a pundit if not a performer, to be umpire in lieu. Part dismayed by the event, part titillated by guilty excitement and part overcome by admiration of the Senior Usher's expertise, I clean forgot the peculiar turn in Somerset's conversation (for I had never been much interested in the topic itself, only curious as to why it had been so inappropriately broached) and did not give it another thought for several weeks.

After lunch, the game went better for the Scholars than we had dared to hope. Paget, a sturdy fifteen-year-old, received three loose beery balls in the first over and treated himself to two straight fours and a beautiful leg sweep for six. Before the Rest, still dazed by the refreshments and the drama offered at lunch time, had realized what was happening, he had put on forty quick runs; while his partner, a skinny and intelligent child from the Scholars' Remove, stood his ground against the very few balls he was allowed to receive and simply blocked them dead.

After twenty minutes of this (score now 160 odd for 5), two quick bowlers were brought on to break up the stand---and at once had every kind of ill luck. The skinny boy ('Glinter' Parkes he was called, because of his knack of flashing his spectacles) snicked two straight balls through the slips, for four; Paget, failing to keep a square cut down properly, was criminally missed at gully; and the better of the two bowlers then tripped over his own shadow, did something to his ankle, and was hauled groaning from the ground. What with all this, and what with the malaise, compounded of drowsiness, indigestion and accidie, which always assails fieldsmen at this time of the afternoon, the morale of the Rest fell apart like a rotten mackerel. 175 for 5 . . . 180 . . . 190 . . . 195 . . . The target, on such a day, was 300 or more; but anything over 270 was very acceptable and anything over 230 would leave us with some sort of chance.

205 . . . 210 . . . and some more smart runs from Paget. But now, with the score at 224 for 5, Peter Morrison was put on.

Peter bowled slow off-breaks which never failed to turn at exactly the same pace off the pitch and at exactly the same angle. Paget, having sent the first off-break past mid-wicket for two off the back foot, decided to do the same with the next. And there it went, bowled with Peter's usual action, flying at Peter's usual height, pitching at Peter's almost invariable length; and there was Paget, bat up and body poised---only to find that by some grotesque failure of the natural laws the ball, instead of turning in towards him, had gone absolutely straight on to hit the top of his off stump with a melancholy clack.

226 for 6---and very nice too. when one considered the state of play before luncheon. But not so nice when the next batsman spooned his second ball to square leg, and his successor, trying to hit a six, was brilliantly caught on the long-on boundary. 226 for 8; and neither of our last two players could so much as hold his bat properly. In five balls (Peter's of all people's) we had ceased to be dominant and come to a case in which we needed every run we could scrape.

It was now that Glinter Parkes, the skinny boy, justified himself as scholar and cricketer both. After our No. 10 had somehow survived the last ball of Peter's over, Glinter faced up to a goodish 1st XI bowler of medium pace leg cutters. Instead of blocking the first of these or leaving it alone, as he would have done at any time during the last hour, Glinter placed his right foot just wide of his wicket and daintily dropped his bat on to the ball as it passed, sending it mid-way between the two slips for four runs, as pretty a late cut as ever I saw. The bowler, considering the stroke unrepeatable, bowled the same ball twice more, and was much put out when the same stroke was twice repeated. The fourth ball of the over, a quicker one on the middle-and-leg, Glinter parried with determination; off the fifth he took a short run to an indolent mid-on; and the sixth was once again survived by No. 10.

Batting now against Peter's rubbish, Glinter, who did not have the strength to hit it, once again resorted to intelligence. He stepped right across his stumps and dribbled the expected off-break down to the deserted region of fine leg, a strategem which brought him two runs off both the first two balls. Peter then moved mid-wicket down to stop this annoyance, whereupon Glinter played the ball firmly through mid-wicket's former position and took another two. In such thoughtful fashion he pushed the score past 240 to 250 and a few runs beyond, and would probably be there yet, a little Odysseus of the crease, had not the doltish No. 10 declined an easy short run at the end of one over and been dismissed at the beginning of the next. No. 11 survived with ignominy for two balls more, and then the Scholars' innings was closed for a total, passable but far from ample, of 256.

The trouble with the Scholars' side was that we had no reliable fast bowling. Although Paget could send the ball down quite quickly for someone of his age, his pace alone amounted to very little against fully grown boys and he did nothing much with the ball either in the air or off the pitch. Other bowling consisted mainly of medium or slow medium off-breaks and in-swingers, in no case with any kind of edge. However, one thing all our bowlers could do was to keep a steady length; and although the Rest found no difficulty in playing this stuff, their rate of scoring was slow.

Stumps would be drawn at half past six. By tea time (four fifteen) the Rest had been batting for just under an hour and had made only 57 runs for two wickets, both of these having been thrown away in sheer impatience. Thus the Rest needed exactly 200 to win and would have just on two hours to make them. A hundred runs an hour was nothing out of the way on our ground if once the batsmen got going; the only question was whether our bowling, uninspired as it was, could continue to contain the opposition by the exercise of patience and accuracy. The answer, unfortunately, was almost certainly 'no': for even if the bowlers did not tire of such plodding work, the Rest had players to come who were very quick on their feet and would make our medium pace good length look like any length they pleased.

The first to do so was Christopher. He came in at No. 5 only ten minutes after tea (No. 4 having carelessly allowed himself to be yorked by a half-volley from Paget) and set about his business with classical precision. A nimble mover with a long reach, he simply came to the pitch of our careful good-length bowling and drove it away where he would. Before very long, the bowlers tried dropping the ball a little shorter, but this was a common practice on our fast wickets and Christopher knew the answer: since the bounce of the ball was absolutely regular in pace and height, he could hit it, hard and almost without risk, on the lift. During his fourth over at the crease he slashed two fours through the covers and then pulled a short and sleasy off-break right off his middle stump for six, to bring the score to 94 for 3.

Christopher was a sight to see that afternoon. Hair bleached by the sun (he never played in a cap), arms brown and smooth, fair, delicate skin showing through the cleft of his unbuttoned shirt; legs moving gracefully down the pitch, bat swinging with the easy strength which only timing can give, eyes flashing with pleasure as he struck the ball full in the meat. I thought of Keat's Ode and wished, for Christopher's sake, that he might be arrested in time for ever, just at that thrilling moment of impact when the hard leather sinks, briefly but luxuriously, into the sprung willow, and the swift current of joy quivers up the blade of the bat and on through every nerve in the body. For my own sake too I wished that time might stop: so that I might stand for ever in the sun, while the trees rustled and the young voices laughed along the terrace, and watch my darling so beautiful and happy at his play. But time slipped on, and my darling started to sweat like a cart-horse, and the Scholars were faced with shameful defeat.

For by half past five the Rest had scored 183 for 4 wickets and nothing, it seemed, could save us now.

'Rather disappointing,' said Somerset Lloyd-James, as he moved, between overs, from the wicket out to square leg.

'I don't know,' I said. Then, seeking what consolation I could and finding it very sweet, 'At least Christopher's enjoying himself.'

Somerset looked at me with attention.

'That pleases you so much?'

At the end of the next over, he said: 'Why not give young Parkes a chance to bowl?'

'It is not the umpire's province to offer advice.'

'Since you yourself are deriving a certain pleasure from your defeat'---he glanced down the wicket at Christopher---'you might at least let some of your own side share it. It would please Parkes to bowl, and with the mess you're in it can't do any harm.'

Well, and why not? Just about everyone else had had a go. So two overs later, when the score was 210, I threw the ball to Glinter Parkes.

With modesty and concentration, Glinter requested some changes in the field. Then he took three steps to the wicket, gave a little twitch of his narrow behind, and bowled. From somewhere about his person the ball issued out in a steep parabola. reached its apex, and started to descend; meanwhile the batsman (Christopher's partner), having disdainfully plotted the curve, waited below, licking his lips. At some late stage in the ball's descent, however, it unaccountably departed from its ordained path, landed a good twelve inches shorter than it should have done, broke very sharply from the leg, and removed the puzzled batsman's off bail. Glinter blushed, and there was some embarrassed applause from the other scholars. 210 for 5.

'Natural flight, that boy's got,' said Christopher, and went to warn Peter (No. 7) who was now approaching the wicket.

'You've made 69,' Peter told him: 'watch out for your century.'

'And you watch out for Parkes's bowling,' Christopher said: 'it comes down short of where it should. About a foot short.' Glinter listened carefully, and glinted. His next ball started the same as the one before. There was ample time to see Peter carefully working out where the ball should land and then allowing for its being a foot short. The only trouble was that this time it came down where it should have come down, so that Peter played all round it and yelped sharply when it landed (almost vertically) on the toe of his back foot.

'How's that?' said Glinter.

Somerset Lloyd-James jabbed a finger down the wicket, and away went Peter. 210 for 6. We were back in the match. Only just, but we were back.

'This is ridiculous.' Christopher said.

'A perfectly sound decision.' said Somerset huffily: 'the ball struck his back foot, which was in a direct line between the wickets.'

'I know. I meant that it just shouldn't get wickets, this kind of thing. That's all.'

'What warning are you going to give the batsman this time?' inquired Somerset with malice.

But Christopher said nothing to No. 8 as he came in, and perhaps for this reason the rest of the over passed without incident, except for a clumsy scoop of No. 8's between mid-on and mid-wicket for two runs.

Christopher then faced one of our stock bowlers from the other end and took 16 runs off him. 228 for 6. Since No. 8, (despite his horrid scoop off Glinter), was a very fair player, as was the one who would succeed him, our chances were really negligible again . . . unless Glinter could produce another of his disgraceful surprises. This he promptly did by substituting for his usual ballooning delivery a low, quick ball which knocked down No. 8's stumps while he was still looking for it half-way to the moon.

'This nonsense has got to stop,' Christopher said.

He intercepted No. 9 and spoke to him very low and earnestly. No. 9 took guard, watched Glinter like a cashier on guard against a stumer cheque, stepped right back, patted the ball slowly towards cover, and called for an easy single. Christopher then demonstrated how harmless Glinter's bowling was, if you only hung on to your wits, by advancing down the pitch and firmly hitting three successive balls full toss for four. From the last ball of the over, which he mistimed slightly (nearly giving a catch to mid-on), he only made two, bringing his own score to 99 and that of the Rest to 243.

At this stage two things happened. First No. 9 informed us that it was now definitely known that No. 11---the bowler who had hurt his ankle earlier---was too lame to bat, which meant that we only had two wickets instead of three still to take; and secondly, No. 9 then proceeded, off the first ball of the next over, to put up one of the easiest catches in history to short leg. Fourteen runs to be got and only one wicket to fall, and No. 10, now last man in, well known for the futility of his batting.

Nevertheless, he managed to block out the rest of the over, and now, with Christopher to face the bowling, the problem was whether or not to continue with Glinter Parkes. It was true that he had taken three priceless wickets; it was also true that he had been derisively treated by Christopher. But then so had everyone else. Anyway, I wanted Christopher to get a hundred and in my heart of hearts I wanted him to carry his side to victory. So let things take their course, I thought. I threw the ball to Glinter.

Glinter's first delivery was a very high full toss. This is it,' I thought; 'he must get a single off this.' But it was so high and droopy that Christopher, remembering the catch he had nearly given at the end of Glinter's last over, simply stopped the ball with his bat and let it drop dead at his feet.

'May I?' he said, and bent down towards the ball.

I nodded. Christopher picked up the ball and threw it to Glinter.

'How's that?' Glinter said to Somerset.

'Don't be a silly little boy,' I said,'I gave him permission.' Somerset looked at me, smiled and shook his head at such naïveté, and jabbed his finger down the wicket at Christopher.

'He's still out if there's an appeal,' Somerset said. 'No one can give a player permission to break the rules.'

'That's what I thought,' Glinter said.

'Now you look here, Somerset----'

Somerset smiled and removed the bails.

'A narrow thing,' he said.

In this way did the Scholars defeat the Rest of the School in the high summer of 1945, the first time and (I believe) the last that the match has ever been played.

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