The first lesson of the term was English with Mr Barnes, a gentle return to the daily grind of learning. Lower down the school Mr Barnes spent a lot of time reading to the younger boys, who were always enraptured by his ability to put on a wide range of different voices, but with the Sixth Form boys Mr Barnes took far more interest in the subject as he could now have real conversations with the boys on literature.
Over the holidays they were supposed to have read Coral Island and Lord of the Flies . Mr Barnes glanced around the room. Judging from the reaction of some of the boys to the lesson, it was apparent that some had only very briefly skimmed through the two books. Pip, he was glad to note, had read both books cover to cover and seemed especially enthralled with the idea of being a castaway, something that suited his romantic dreamy side.
"So what do we make of the two books? Are they connected in any way?"
Clancy was first to speak, his right as the brightest boy in the Sixth Form.
"They are both about boy castaways, sir, and their struggle for survival."
Hardly the most observant finding, but at least it was a start. Mr Barnes looked to Pip, who clearly had something to say, even though he had not yet volunteered.
"The two main characters in Lord of the Flies , Ralph and Jack have the same names as the two boys in Coral Island . I am sure that is not a coincidence."
"Most probably not. Why do you think that is?"
"Writer's conceit, sir, to lull the unwary into a false sense of security that the Lord of the Flies is just another adventure story."
"And isn't it just another adventure story, Pip?"
"In one way yes, but in another it is more about good and evil and how quickly the boys become savages. That shows up in the end; the bit when the other boys kill Simon and Piggy. By the end all, including Ralph, have become savages." There were a couple of gasps in the room; some boys clearly had not yet finished reading the book. "That was like the death of civilisation or reason. Although I think the author may have got it wrong in one way."
"Oh really, what might he have got wrong, Pip?" Mr Barnes was intrigued; Pip clearly had been doing some thinking.
"Well, I think perhaps Jack was right when he concentrates on getting food, when he says 'we need meat' perhaps that was the right thing to do at the beginning rather than to look for rescue."
"So really what you are saying is that Jack's priorities are the more immediate ones whereas Ralph was more interested in the longer term, civilisation?"
"Precisely, sir, it's not as black and white or good and bad, merely a difference in priority. Jack understood that the immediate priorities were food perhaps, and having strong leadership. Ralph wanted civilisation more than anything, even at the risk of not having enough food to meet the immediate needs."
Mr Barnes surveyed the class, their usual early term torpor already cleared.
"Interesting, any others see that?"
"It was the choir that became savages, sir."
Peter's comment caused much amusement.
"Well that should come as no surprise to anyone should it, Peter? After all, that probably applies at this school as much as anywhere else. Beware boys with angelic voices."
Mr Barnes looked meaningfully at Pip. He was no longer a choirboy. Pip's reputation was somewhat sullied since last term.
The English lesson soon passed, but double maths with Mr Durrant went more slowly, unless you were Clancy, who seemed to enjoy maths as if it were a giant puzzle with clues to solve. For Pip maths was a series of disconnected events with no central purpose other than the setting of exams even though he could walk through most of maths; it just didn't interest him very much.
The final lesson that morning was art. In the Sixth Form Pip was dismayed to find he was down to just one art lesson a week. Still Mrs Prince persevered with the boys and encouraged those, like Pip and Peter, who showed any real talent. That term, their work was to be figurative. Pip found himself concentrating hard on a large blank piece of paper and then slowly let a swirl of looping lines travel across the sheet, some intersecting, some flying over and under each other, like a complex road map, yet that was not what it was. Pip was not entirely sure, but he imagined veins and arteries. It was enough to satisfy Mrs Prince, who would collect several of Pip's drawings for the art show on sports day at the end of the school year.
Now that the term proper had started, the seating at lunch was strictly by class so Pip sat with his fellow Sixth Formers. Every so often, when not engaged in a conversation about Lord of the Flies Pip looked two tables over to where the new boy Sacha was sitting deep in conversation with Mr Durrant, Jonathan alongside him. Pip found himself jealous of Jonathan. He did lessons with Sacha and shared a dormitory with him, all for an accident of birth. Three weeks later and Pip might have been in the same form.
After lunch was the reading period. As a member of the Sixth Form, Pip was allowed to read in the Sixth Form common room, a privilege that he took full advantage of. Pip was a keen reader; he could easily lose himself in a good book. Over the years he had moved on from Dr Doolittle, Biggles and Tintin . Pip was working his way through the Swallows and Amazons series and was currently enthralled with Peter Duck , despite the presence of girls in the story.
The afternoon of the first full day of the term saw most of the Fifth and Sixth Formers grouped together on the senior pitches where the major matches were played. Thirty odd boys were milling about before being divided into two scratch teams seemingly at random to play a game of rugby. As it was the beginning of term, the boys were comparatively smart in their school regulation games kit of black shorts and olive green and purple harlequin shirt accompanied by purple socks. Underneath was the second 'away' shirt, all white apart from a purple collar and green cuffs.
In the space of this games session Mr Wallace and Mr Durrant hoped to choose the First XV for rugby. The school had a small number of fixtures with neighbouring schools in Cornwall and Devon, which meant finding a respectable team to field. On occasions, they even fielded a Second XV, but this was quite a challenge with a good number of Fifth Form boys making up the numbers. In the initial selection process, Pip found himself playing as a lock in a team opposite the Johnson twins, Peter Morgan, Jonathan and Sacha. Peter and the Johnson twins were bound to be the core of the First XV, fast and with sufficient mass to break through any opposing team. But it was another selection that interested Pip. Both Jonathan and Sacha were placed on opposing wings. As Jonathan was left footed he was on the left and Sacha on the right. It quickly became apparent why these two were on the wings; both boys were small and nimble, fast on the ball and able to catch on the run. Sacha seemed to enjoy throwing himself into the fray with great enthusiasm and not a little recklessness, his spotless new games kit soon covered in mud. Mr Wallace was soon taking note of a possible team player.
Pip himself settled for the second row of the scrum, not heavy enough to be in the front row and no longer small and nimble enough to be out on the wing. Rugby rarely made use of Pip's pace in an open field.
The game was very uneven. Pip's team was being flattened and never seemed to have possession. Not long into the game Pip realised that he was playing against the first choice team and had not made his way into it in the initial selection process. Normally that would not have bothered him, as he disliked the physicality of rugger, having twisted his neck badly in a collapsing scrum last year. However, the thought of not being in the First XV when it looked likely that Sacha and Jonathan were going to play in the team gave Pip a new lease of energy and enthusiasm. Twice towards the end of the game Pip found himself with the ball running clear. He used his pace to outdistance most of the other players in an attempt to score. On the first run Pip scored much to his team's delight. Spurred on by this success, five minutes later, Pip made another run forward with the ball. He was almost clear through when suddenly Sacha chased him down from the wing and tackled him hard. With his weight behind him, the younger boy leapt, with both hands enclosing Pip's thighs, locking them together and forcing him into a fall that made Pip crash into the damp Cornish mud.
Pip turned over rapidly to see his attacker squatting on his haunches, hands between his knees, much like an ape would stand, a broad smile on his face.
Sacha jumped to his feet, still broadly grinning before extending a hand. For a precious moment Pip was tempted to push one of his feet out, trip Sacha and pull the younger boy down into the mud and wipe the grin off his dirt-splattered face to show the younger boy who was boss. However, this thought passed in a fraction of a second and another more generous response emerged from Pip as he took the proffered hand and let the younger boy pull him up, his hand holding Sacha's grasp a fraction longer than strictly necessary.
"That was a good tackle. Where did you learn to play that?"
"We played Sevens at school in Hong Kong; I am good at tackles." Sacha smiled, he didn't do it often, but when he did, his whole face lit up.
Although Pip's efforts were not rewarded with a try second time around, it was clear Mr Wallace was suitably impressed with both his new right wing and the sudden surge of enthusiasm from the normally unenthusiastic Pip. Mr Wallace decided to add Pip's name to the list. It was not going to be a particularly good team this year, but Pip would at least make up the numbers in the scrum with his powerful legs and with his pace he might score the odd try on break-out from a scrum.
As the week progressed, Pip began to look forward to the afternoon games sessions, mostly because it was the one time he could legitimately mix with Sacha as they both now played in the First Game for rugby on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. However, for cross-country on Wednesdays, the Fifth Form boys were in separate games as cross-country was done by year.
Saturdays were very different to the rest of the week. The boys were allowed a half hour lie in before having to get up. Lessons took up the morning and then the afternoon was taken up with a Hares and Hound race around Trendrine for the Fifth and Sixth Form with Pip and Peter playing the hares. Hares and Hounds was something Pip enjoyed playing normally, but with Peter it was all hard work as they laid false trails and back tracked twice until finally, exhausted they ended the trail at Parson's Leap.
"You never said much about your kid brother before, did you?"
"Oh Sacha? Well he was always kept at school in Hong Kong. He only came this term at the last minute. Our dad insisted."
"It must be funny having a brother so close in age. You must be like twins."
"We are absolutely not like twins. He's different to me, completely different."
Pip looked at Peter. Something told him this was not a conversation to continue. Luckily voices in the distance told them that the 'hounds' were on their way.
"Come on, let's go, and just put the last of the trail down to Chapel Cove."
The two boys duly laid the trail and then made it back to the School before the others and grabbed the only two baths before the others arrived ten minutes later, led by the Johnson twins.
That Saturday evening, as always, the boys were shown a film organised by Mr Wallace and Mr Durrant. Coming in late after an involved discussion with Clancy and Owen over Lord of the Flies , Pip found himself looking all around for Sacha. Finally he spied the younger boy at the front of the audience sitting on the floor, knees enclosed in his hands with some other Fifth Formers and not with the other older boys at the back. Sunday morning was a dreary time for Pip as it was taken up with the mandatory visit to the local church for the weekly service, followed by the weekly letter-writing period. Mrs Porter also gave a French conversation class to the Sixth Form, which kept them occupied until lunchtime.
Of all the boys at school, only Jonathan was excused the church service. He went with Mrs Porter to the Catholic Church in St Ives where he was due to be confirmed later that year.
After eating their traditional roast Sunday lunch in school the older boys were free to do what they wanted. Most Sunday afternoons the Fifth and Sixth Formers were let out in pairs or groups so long as they told the master on duty where they were going, what they were up to and when they were due back. The younger boys were supervised in the gym or on the playing fields with Mr Barnes sometimes taking a small group of strays to St Ives to wander the streets, feed the seagulls and generally forget that they had been ignored by their peers. Had he realised that Sacha was at a loose end, Mr Barnes would have taken Sacha as well. That Sunday, Pip had made plans to spend it with Clancy and Owen. However, that plan changed in an instant when he spied Sacha walking alone down towards the cliff top.
For Sacha the first week at school had passed like a whirlwind, but now he was left to his own devices. He was at that awkward stage for new boys where he had acquaintances, but not yet friends who would go out of their way to spend time with him. Sacha himself had no clear plan in his mind other than to post a letter to his sister, which he held tightly in his hand.
On seeing the opportunity to be with Sacha at last, Pip turned to his companions.
"Oh look, I have forgotten something, you two go on ahead. I'll look for you in St Ives."
"Are you sure? We can always wait." Owen wanted to stay and wait. He always did.
"No, no, you two go ahead."
Clancy was eager to get going. So Owen followed obediently, as Pip waited up in the dorm for a few seconds for his companions to leave the coast clear for him. Pip finally caught up with Sacha as he passed through the playing fields and out of the gate. After being hemmed in by other boys all week, Sacha was desperate for some time alone for once.
"Hey, Sacha! You're not supposed to go out by your self, even as a Fifth Former, you know."
Sacha emerged from his thoughts of life back home with a start. "Oh sorry, Pip. Should I go back then?"
"No, that's all right. You are with me now… that is if that is okay with you?"
"Oh, okay, I suppose I would be in trouble otherwise?"
"Oh yes, out on your own, big offence, you would be kept in next Sunday afternoon at the very least."
Sacha buried his nose inside his duffel coat to try and keep it out of the wind that swept the North Coast at this time of year. The boys walked together down to the coast path, a much-frequented route. Sacha would not have been in much trouble coming down here. Mr Wallace would have just ticked him off. He rarely sent boys he liked to Captain Porter if he felt he could handle it himself.
"Thanks, I just wanted to get away. There are too many boys around sometimes. I can't think in school."
"It's not much of a place for peace and solitude, particularly when it is wet."
Pip realised he had a chance to have Sacha for company. In truth he was feeling a bit lonely now that he could not go off with Jonathan any more like they used to.
"Fancy a walk down to St Ives then?"
The question was pitched in a manner that invited acceptance, but would not cause undue offence if Sacha decided against it and went back to school. Sacha stopped and thought for a second. "Oh, but I don't have any money or anything. Just this letter to post."
It was a reasoned response and one that Pip knew could go either way. He thought about it. You didn't need money when in school so it was quite likely that Sacha, being a new boy just hadn't thought to ask for his weekly allowance from Mr Barnes on Saturday. Still, Pip decided, this was too good an opportunity to miss. He did some calculations based on the money in his pocket.
"Don't worry. I wasn't proposing anything more than a walk and possibly a Mars bar. I am sure I could spare you a bite of that."
"Oh okay, thanks, I will. That will be nice."
Sacha was grateful. He was feeling a bit left out on his own. Any reasonable company was welcome and Pip seemed friendly enough. The two boys walked off together. Shortly Pip diverted and took a route that would avoid most of the other boys passing inland along what was known as the Coffin Path. It alternated open fields with little patches of path hemmed in by walls or hedging. Few used it. It was the route he sometimes took with Jonathan. Then he and Jonathan had been partners in crime always looking for the opportunity to sneak into the woods when no one else was around, Jonathan normally inventing some activity out of sight of the school to keep them both amused.
Pip was more cautious now. He did not want tongues wagging. He knew that seeing him with a Fifth Former like Sacha might appear 'odd' to some. Pip was careful to keep to a route that although visible all the way to St Ives was not popular with the other boys as it was inland. Not that Sacha would know that.
The town of St Ives was deep in its winter shut down. For the most part the locals were content to wait for the summer trade. However, even in the depths of winter there was still some trade to be had from local day-trippers escaping the deeper gloom elsewhere, enough to keep a couple of the shops open, the main galleries and some of the tea rooms and cafés.
After a blustery walk along the top Pip and Sacha walked down the steep hill and into the town itself, pausing to post Sacha's letter. Pip spent their walk selecting a venue, not his favourite haunt, a café overlooking the raw seascape where they might bump into any number of other Sixth Formers huddled around the pinball machines or hoping for a chat with the local girls who used the café. Instead Pip led Sacha to a small café cum gallery just round the corner up a small lane where he hoped they would be unobserved. After carefully consulting his coins, Pip decided that they could sit down to two mugs of cocoa. That was all he could afford. The Mars bars would have to wait for another occasion.
"It's cold. I'll treat us to a cocoa each, okay?"
"Like hot chocolate."
Pip looked around. Although the café was almost busy. The boys found a corner to themselves. Two small duffel coated figures in jeans and shirts clearly from The Rocks thawing out against the January cold outside.
"Sit over there. I'll get the cocoas."
Pip returned from the counter with two steaming mugs. Sacha sipped his cocoa cautiously; it was not a drink he was used to. Following Pip's example he added sugar to make the drink sweet enough to swallow. In the initial silence whilst both boys sipped their over hot drinks, Pip observed Sacha again. The boy's hair was windswept, his cheeks reddened by the wind, his nose runny and his lips chapped with cold.
"So why did you come to The Rocks this term? I mean, Peter came the same time as me, and you should have come a year later, surely?"
"Oh, Mum and Dad decided to keep me in Hong Kong. Mum is a bit of a fusspot. She said I wasn't ready to go to boarding school in England. So I went to a school in Hong Kong, jolly nice one too, and mixed. But I am supposed to spend at least two years here to do scholarship exams for my public school next year. There were big rows about it; my dad insisted that I had to come last term, but Mum said no. She wanted me to stay at home until Sam was settled at university in Bristol. That sort of thing."
Sacha was happy to open up a bit to Pip, alone, just the two of them. Sacha gave a glimpse into a home life with parents concerned with the common theme of getting the best for the children. Pip emphasised the similarity.
"Oh, like me then, only I am doing my scholarship this year. Two more terms and I am off. But why did they keep you in Hong Kong until you were eleven, but send Peter here when he was eight?"
Sacha pointed at the fading purple around his eye and then rolled up his sleeve and pointed at a bruise on his arm normally hidden under his shirt.
"Who do you think gave me these?"
Pip was taken aback; he didn't have any brothers and so he had no one to fight with at home, only older sisters who teased him, which was worse in his eyes.
"Peter? He hasn't done anything like that here, well not recently, although he does have a bit of a temper sometimes."
Sacha gently touched the bruise under his eye; he flinched as if it was still tender.
"We are always fighting, or so Mum and Dad say. That was the real reason I didn't come last term. I broke Peter's wrist last summer."
Sacha felt he should explain. "He was chasing me, I climbed up a tree, he came up after me, I kicked out and he fell. It was an accident really. It wasn't deliberate, but well, you can imagine the fuss."
Pip imagined cold scenes of Peter leaping on his brother out of the blue and beating him up in revenge for the broken arm. The truth was different to that. In Hong Kong the roles of the two brothers were often reversed. Peter was the quieter one, often subdued into humiliated silence by his younger brother's lightening fast uptake and his ease with others his own age. Hurt, Peter retreated into his own world, safe with drawing, painting and sport, the three areas where he outdistanced Sacha. Only when Sacha goaded him beyond humiliation did he react and then it was with blind, frightening violence. Painful for Sacha, terrifying for Peter who could not understand the anger within him nor his reasons for inflicting pain on the younger brother he loved most of the time despite the accident. Sacha put down his mug and wiped the cocoa from his face carefully with a paper napkin.
"I think it was because of our not getting on sometimes, occasionally fighting. It was decided we should be sent to separate schools, him to boarding school here and I was kept at St Christopher's in Honkers."
This was a half-truth. Sacha had been kept behind because his mother could not bear an empty house. There was also the fear that without their parents, the two brothers might fight even more than they did at home, disrupting both their lives. In the end it was decided that the rough and tumble of a British boarding school half a world away from what he considered home was not right for Sacha until he was a bit older. Sacha would stay in Hong Kong for now and go to England when he was a bit older. The incident, which resulted in Peter breaking his wrist, had delayed things for another term. This time both parents agreed that the dust needed to settle until Peter recovered his pride. So Sacha stayed behind for one extra term.
Sacha was short on words again. He wanted to talk about something else. The black veil of homesickness was beginning to descend on him. Memories of Sundays at the club playing tennis, perhaps a visit to the cinema followed by a meal out at one of the innumerable Chinese restaurants the family frequented. Then later at home listening to the World Service snuggled up on the sofa or playing cards with his parents.
"What do you fight about?"
"Anything, that's the trouble. Anything sets it off. These…" Sacha indicated his still visible wounds, "these were over a game of football in the playground near where we live on the Peak."
Pip tried to imagine a fight over a game of football and failed. Immediately he was jealous. Sacha having other friends, perhaps they were close friends? The thought of Sacha having other friends disturbed Pip; he wanted to be Sacha's friend, Sacha's only friend.
"Oh, we always play football with friends when Peter is home, but Peter doesn't like losing, especially to me. I was in goal. I stopped a penalty and then threw the ball back at him and then he threw himself on top of me, throttling me and punched me in the face. It took two other boys to separate us. Mind you, I got him where it hurts."
Pip looked at Sacha for clues as to where 'it' was. Sacha blushed. He had wandered into an area where his social skills failed him and his natural inhibitions took over.
"Oh, you know – down there."
Sacha indicated downwards quickly, hoping to move on.
"Oh, you mean you got him in the nuts. No wonder he tried to kill you!"
"Can't you say it? Nuts, balls?"
"Oh no, not really. I mean it's not supposed to be nice is it?" Sacha was awkward now. His deep-set eyes averted downwards, a blush rising on his cheeks. A blush of unexpected innocence and immaturity appeared.
"You're kidding me!" Pip looked over at Sacha. He clearly wasn't kidding. The blushes on his companion deepened. Sacha was embarrassed into silence.
"Oh sorry. Really it doesn't matter."
Pip tried to ease his companion's embarrassment. The boy clearly had been brought up not to say anything dirty, not that that seemed to stop Peter from joining many of the older boys in muttering the occasional 'fuck' out of hearing of the teachers.
"Oh don't worry about it. I am not going to tell."
Sensing his companion's embarrassment, Pip decided it was time to pay and went up to the counter and put two shillings down. He put tuppence on the table as they were leaving. Pip had been taught to tip.
The boys walked back to school along the coast path, now judged to be clear of boys in the rapidly dimming light. Sacha was silent to start with. His embarrassment had risen and now, like a storm, it began to subside as they closed on the school. Pip detoured to Parson's Leap. He almost always did.
"It's nice down here in the summer, all sorts of small beaches, but we mainly use Chapel Cove. The school has that to itself. I think we must be about the only school in the country with its own private beach."
"Can't anyone use it?"
"No, the coast path passes a bit inland here. To get to the beach you have to go through that gate by the chapel ruin. That's on school land. The previous owner built his own steps down the cliff there and so only we can use it. The public use the other beach closer to St Ives, Wicca Cove. It's not nearly as nice as it faces north east and has no sand just pebbles." The boys stood close together in companionship and looked out to sea. "Down over there you can dive straight into the water. It is quite a drop."
They had gone through the gate by the dovecote and detoured to the end of the small headland in front of the school. Sacha went right up to the edge, knelt down and looked over the edge. The wind, incessant at this time of year, swept his fringe this way and that.
"Why can't you dive here, at this spot?"
Sacha had to shout in Pip's ear; he reached up to do so, holding Pip's shoulder as he did so.
"You're not serious! We are practically in orbit we are so high up. This is far too high and you would have to go some way out, as there are rocks below. Definitely not allowed. Don't worry. I am sure we will get the chance to dive from the rocks by Chapel Cove in the summer."
"I am not sure. I am not a very good swimmer."
"Oh, don't worry. Mr Wallace will not let you swim in the sea in a hurry unless he is sure you won't drown."
"Oh, I can swim. I am just not very fast that's all."
An early childhood incident when he had got into difficulties in a hotel swimming pool meant that Sacha was still nervous of water, something Peter used against him on occasions. Pip and Sacha returned through the gate leading back up to school. The Sunday was nearly over. Tea, evening prayers and then free time in their dormitories beckoned. Sacha would have to go his own way now.
As the boys parted, Sacha turned to Pip.
"Thanks, we must do that again sometime. I mean I owe you for the cocoa."
"Oh, that was nothing, but yes, I know a number of places to go, even at this time of year. Wait until the summer term, though. Then we can go to the beach."
"Won't the water be cold?"
"A bit, but you soon get used to it. We swim in the sea from Easter up until the end of October sometimes."
"Swimming in cold water, I am not looking forward to that bit at all."
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