Thursday teatime. The senior boys were sitting in the dining hall. Kit had a question. "Where did you go last Sunday?"
"Oh, out, you know." Pip was not keen to advertise his afternoon out with Sacha.
"Peter saw you."
"Oh really? Not much to see."
"He saw you heading off with his younger brother. He was a bit cross. He had planned to take Sacha out himself, I think."
"Oh well, he didn't tell Sacha. I mean I am sure Sacha would have gone with him if he had."
Pip was not keen for this conversation to continue. "Sacha wanted to see Sennen and it's quite a way. I should have checked the bus times before agreeing. Can you pass the jam?"
Whilst the other boys were busy buttering slices of bread, Pip sneaked a look over to two tables down. Peter was sitting at the end of the Fifth Form table, taking charge, as Mrs Prince was absent. He was in deep conversation with Sacha. The brothers were sharing some secret. Sacha was smiling, not something he normally did when Peter was around. Suddenly the doors to the kitchen were swung open. Instinctively the boys all turned round to look to see what the commotion was. Cook and Mrs Porter appeared with two cakes covered in candles. Two cakes. That was unusual. Mrs Porter led the way towards the senior end of the hall. She stopped at the table that Peter was in charge of.
"Peter, Sacha, stand up. I think we have something to celebrate, don't we?"
Embarrassed Peter stood up, conscious all eyes were on him. Sacha looked confused until Peter used his hand to haul him up. A silence descended on the hall.
"How many of the boys know you both share the same birthday?"
"Not many, Miss."
"Well, congratulations the pair of you, particularly you, Peter. You are now officially a teenager and Sacha, of course, you're now 12."
The brothers fidgeted whilst the candles were lit. Peter had his hand on Sacha's shoulder.
"Make a wish each and then you can both blow out the candles on your cakes."
There was a moment's silence and then Peter and Sacha blew out their respective candles. Everyone sang Happy Birthday before returning to eating whilst Peter and Sacha came round with cakes for their classmates. As Sacha passed with his now empty plate, Pip managed to attract his attention.
"Well, you are full of surprises."
"I didn't think anyone would know."
"Oh, don't worry. Everyone's birthday is on a list. It's in the kitchen. There is cake every time."
"So when is yours?"
"Oh, I don't have it at school. Mine is always during the summer holidays."
Bleakly Pip realised that chances were, he would never give Sacha any of his birthday cake. He would have left The Rocks by the time of his thirteenth birthday.
After prep Pip decided to visit his old dorm, 5W. The door was slightly ajar as he entered. He could hear the sound of excited voices and the ripping of wrapping paper. 5W was a much larger dormitory than his, ten boys in five sets of bunks. Like all the other dormitories, the bunks had been placed against the walls to create an open space in the middle by the main window.
Sacha was the centre of attention, kneeling on the rug in front of the fireplace, with a bin full of wrapping paper at his side and some presents in front of him. The boy was dressed in a pair of distinctive all-black Chinese pyjamas that buttoned up to his neck with little toggles. Pip hesitated to enter. 5W was Jonathan's dormitory. The two boys were still avoiding each other as much as possible. Not by choice, but fear, fear of what might happen if they were seen to be friendly again. However, there were ten boys in the dorm and only one was Jonathan. So surely no harm would come to it? Jonathan helped him.
"Come in, Pip. Only Mr Barnes is around at the moment. Mr Durrant is away at the moment. His car is not in school."
As Pip entered, Jonathan was sitting on a top bunk half in and half out of his pyjamas. All the other boys who were interested were grouped around Sacha, looking at his presents. In truth they were not very exciting, a new tee shirt that looked too large for him, some books that he had probably read already and one small parcel to open from his parents. Sacha looked up as Pip stood on the fringe.
"Just in time. This is the final one."
"Give it a shake, Sacha," was the less than helpful advice from Jonathan. Sacha was more cautious than that. Instead he carefully teased open the paper. Inside was a plain box that opened to reveal a watch.
"Oh great, they did listen for once."
The watch was clearly what Sacha had wanted. He was not wearing a watch unlike most of the older boys at the school.
"Put it on."
"Hang on. I've got to read the instructions."
Sacha sat cross-legged on the lower bunk under Jonathan and began to study the instructions. He patted the space next to him. "Here Pip, you can sit at the end."
The other boys wandered off, nothing more to see. Carefully Sacha read the instructions, puzzled out how to set the day and date, adjusted the strap and then put it on before letting anyone see it.
"Good, now I've got no excuses for being late."
"Let me look."
Sacha proffered his arm and let Pip hold it whilst he examined the watch conscious that Sacha was letting him hold his hand and wrist without trying to pull away as most boys probably would have by now. Suddenly Peter and the Johnson twins arrived in the dorm.
"Like your presents then, Sacha?"
"Oh yes, thanks for the Sherlock Holmes book."
"Oh, I have something else for you as well."
Suddenly the Johnson twins grabbed Sacha, each taking him by an arm, catching him by surprise.
"You're coming with us."
"Oh you'll see soon enough."
"Hey! Leave off!"
"No, you're coming with us. Now."
The other boys gathered around, sensing something amusing was about to happen. Having your birthday during term time was sometimes a mixed blessing. Sacha found himself being dragged off to the bathroom to be 'initiated'. These initiations were never planned as such, but sooner or later, a new boy who joined the school would find himself being publicly humiliated by some of his new 'friends'. Pip followed the mob into the Fifth Form bathroom. Sacha found himself being led towards the showers, both his arms held firmly by the twins.
"Let me go." Sacha struggled fiercely, kicking out.
"No chance. The more you struggle, the longer you stay under the shower. Understood?"
"I said let go of me."
Sacha's voice rose in anger, his nostrils flared and his eyes glared. He tried to kick out again, striking Kit hard on his shin, hard enough to make him wince. Pip came up behind with Jonathan. Not part of the plot, but to see what was normally an amusing scene. Sacha, held firmly by the twins, watched in stony silence as Peter turned on the cold tap to the big communal shower the Fifth Form used. As the water began to run, Pip could see Sacha frantically trying to free one hand from Robbie.
"My watch, my watch!"
On the hand he was trying to free was indeed his pride and joy, the new watch. There was a moment's pause, no one spoke or volunteered fearing the wrath of Peter before Pip stepped over to Sacha.
"Here, I will take it. Just quit wriggling for a moment."
The unwritten code of The Rocks prevented him from helping Sacha escape, but he could at least help by taking the watch. From his vantage point Pip could see a sadness as well as anger in his friend's eyes, a sense of betrayal.
"It's all right. I'll take care of it for you."
Sacha relaxed. Robbie let go of Sacha's right arm. A temporary truce as he held his hand out and Pip undid the watchstrap, took it off and slipped it into his pocket. Truce over, Kit and Robbie, egged on by Peter, propelled Sacha into the shower still in his pyjamas.
"Ow!" Sacha let out a howl of anguish as the cold water soaked him before having the sense to stand at the back, bedraggled, but out of the way of most of the water. Sacha wrapped his arms around himself, his eyes half-hidden by his wet hair, eyes bright, tears visible.
Normally these cold showers were pretty tame affairs with the victim out almost before he went in, but in this case Peter blocked the exit. "Two minutes."
"Peter, that's not fair."
Sacha wasn't prepared to wait. Suddenly he charged his brother and broke free spraying a lot of water over the floor in the process.
"Out of my way." Peter went flying to the floor. The other boys scattered, anxious to avoid getting wet. Just then an angry Mr Barnes appeared, annoyed that his cigarette break was being disturbed.
"Boys, stop this nonsense immediately!"
There was a silence. All the boys stood around sheepishly, Sacha shivering in his soaking wet pyjamas. Mr Barnes very quickly guessed what was going on.
"Morgan and you two." Mr Barnes indicated Peter and the Johnson twins. He knew exactly who the likely culprits were. "Clear that mess up immediately. Sacha, go and get dried up. You had better go and get some dry pyjamas from Matron."
Mr Barnes turned to Peter Morgan, who was looking for a mop in a show of guilt.
"You should know better, Peter. You are Head Boy, may I remind you. You are supposed to set an example, a good example, not this."
"Yes, sir. Sorry."
"Well clear up all this mess. I don't want any complaints from Matron in the morning."
Sacha sat down on the bench removed his pyjama shirt and dried himself with a hand towel, hiding his face, sniffing. The boy was shivering. His pyjama bottoms were soaked. Pip went over to him and waited silently until Sacha slowly revealed his face, hair spiked, eyes red and puffy. Pip reached into his pocket and produced the watch.
"Here. Your watch is safe and dry at least."
Sacha looked at him, his expression downcast, his words for Pip only. "Whatever did Peter do that for?"
"Oh, an initiation happens to every new boy. It's a tradition."
"He's a complete rotter."
"I know. Come on, you'll get over it."
Sacha dried himself as much as he could and left the bathroom heading towards his dorm, putting on his watch, with Pip in tow. Matron was coming up the stairs with a pile of towels. She looked at Sacha's bedraggled state.
"Looks like someone has been giving you a shower, Sacha. You had better get those things off. I don't want you going down with a chill."
"What now, Miss?"
"Yes, right this minute. I'll get you a spare pair in a minute. Go on. Into your dorm with you."
Sacha's lisp was very pronounced. He was angry at his brother's betrayal, but mostly he was tired of the school and its silly rituals. Pip went to follow Sacha, but Matron had other ideas. "That's enough for tonight. All of you to your dormitories right now. Now run along. We have had quite enough excitement for today."
Thwarted, Pip went upstairs to his own dorm as ordered.
At breakfast Clancy was opening a parcel from home. It was one of his regular orders for books. Clancy had long lost interest in the school's library. His reading was a bit more refined than most boys his age. It was another book on ancient history, the Greeks this time.
"They seem to be very popular with the others. I still haven't received my last book back from the Johnson twins despite regular requests."
"Well, you know why that is? It makes a change to Mayfair."
"I didn't think it was for cultural reasons naturally. That is why I always have a few books with photographs. It keeps the less cultured amused."
The next day it started raining so hard that the whole school had to be confined inside as all the games kit was still drying out from the day before. At lunch Mr Durrant took charge.
"In view of the weather I am afraid we are confined to barracks. So no outdoor games this afternoon." There was a mixture of cheers and boos at this announcement. "For the younger boys, it's games inside your classrooms with Mr Barnes and me, but for the older boys I think a few rounds of British Bulldog in the gym might tire you out sufficiently. Mr Wallace, will you take charge?"
British Bulldog was a violent game of territory played in boys' schools. The 'game' consisted of all the boys bar two starting at one end of the gym and when the whistle was blown trying to get to the other end without being captured by the two guards in the middle. Each boy captured became a guard and the game continued until all the boys had been captured. The last two boys to be captured being the winners who then formed the first two guards for the next round.
That afternoon there were a few scores to be settled and a renewal of the on-off conflict between the Pirates and the other older boys. Pip was looking forward to it. As they entered the changing rooms, he nodded to Jonathan. Jonathan nodded back grinning broadly; he was clearly in for some fun. The Johnson twins grabbed the favoured corner of the changing room away from the door.
"Peter, over here." The battle lines were being drawn. "Time to get Pierce and Cox, I think."
Underneath the straightforward game of 'It' was a decidedly more subtle game of collusion, sacrifice and duplicity. Allies helped their leaders to win by becoming guards at the beginning of the game.
Mr Wallace was in charge. He knew the rules and also knew what was likely to happen.
"Come on, hurry up and change boys."
He looked around to see which groupings were occurring. It was likely to be the two usual sides trying to score points off each other. The other boys would remain uncommitted changing sides with every game. By now there were about thirty boys crammed into the narrow side stall area of the barn used as the changing room. Pip took up position at the far end. He felt more comfortable in the corner with Owen guarding him with his bulk.
"Clancy, come over here." Pip was going to make a determined attempt to make himself one of the gang leaders. Sacha arrived last. He had had to run back upstairs to fetch his kit. At first he tried to go where Peter was in the opposite corner, but the Johnson twins would not allow a Fifth Form interloper in. So instead Sacha had to retreat to the space next to Jonathan opposite the door, the least favoured spot.
"You can squeeze in here." Jonathan, ever generous, removed his puddle of clothing and made space for his friend.
Sacha looked around and saw Pip who was in a corner with Clancy and Owen. In the main changing room he was normally well away from Pip, but here he was no more than a few feet. Pip was working on a plan with Clancy and Owen. The key to the Pirates' success would be to bring Jonathan and hopefully Sacha over early on. Both might be small, but their speed and nimbleness, already used to good effect on the rugby pitch, were a set of skills useful in British Bulldog.
By now Pip had almost completely changed, but he took time over his gym shoes, carefully rethreading his laces. Jonathan was already undressed, but he had yet taken time to dig his kit out, concentrating instead on egging Peter and the Johnson twins on as he stood on the bench in his underwear.
"So, Morgan, you think you're going to catch me, do you?"
"All in good time, Pierce."
"No chance you two are going to, either."
That was probably a challenge too far. The Johnson twins were probably best equipped for this game compared to anyone else in the school this year. The noise in the changing room increased to a deafening level as various challenges and taunts were called out.
"Let's see you try, Pierce."
Was Jonathan going to take on the Sixth Formers as a group of Fifth Formers, which would be a famous victory unprecedented in the school's history, or would he team with Pip and the Pirates? A three way fight with the Sixth Form divided would play into Jonathan's hands if it occurred, but Pip had no intention of teaming with Peter and the Johnson twins. The exchanged glance as they entered the gym had confirmed to Jonathan that this was going to be a fight between Peter Morgan with the Johnson twins and the Pirates. Oblivious that his loyalties might be called upon, Sacha was sitting down on the bench, still a bit unsure of what was about to happen as he had never played British Bulldog before. Sacha was quietly observing the other boys changing, hesitant to change in front of the Sixth Form boys. That Sacha was shy about changing did not surprise Pip. It was what he had expected from a boy new to the school. Quietly Sacha sat on the bench, removed his sandals and socks and then his jumper. The latter he only removed after looking around and making sure he was not being observed. Pip busied himself with his laces at this point, but looked up briefly so that he could see what was happening. Shorts removed and placed on the bench beside him, Sacha then swiftly pulled on his PE shorts, removed his shirt before finishing changing by putting on his PE vest.
Out in the gym the boys were congregating. By now, fed up with waiting for the other boys, Jonathan was right up near the roof beams in just his undersized PE shorts. At that moment Mr Wallace emerged from the equipment room changed.
"Pierce, come down this instant."
"Oh sorry, sir. I was just checking the gym."
"Pierce, you may be a closer relative to the average monkey than most boys here, but I don't need you to prove that just now. Get down and behave. Otherwise you will be getting changed and watching from the changing room. Understood?"
"Yes, sir. Sorry sir."
"Good. Now go and put on your PE vest."
Jonathan promptly clambered down with an impressive display of agility and speed and dropped to the floor from a height of over eight foot. He disappeared briefly before rejoining the rest of the boys, now gathering in the middle of the gym, now replete with his vest.
The gym was marked out for the game, which just consisted of a triple layer of gym-mats across the centre. The mats marked the central no-man's land on which the main part of the game would be played. The guards had to remain on the mats guarding their territory as the other boys tried to run or climb past without being caught.
With thirty odd excited 11-13 year old boys already milling around, chaos was threatening to descend. Whilst Mr Wallace was waiting for the laggards to emerge from the changing room, Pip approached him with Owen.
"Please, sir, can Owen and me go first? To be guards, I mean?"
"All right, but keep it gentle, understood?"
The first game was important. It set the tone as to who one's allies and enemies were for the rest of the afternoon for British Bulldog had a strong current of tribalism about it. Pip looked over to Jonathan. Jonathan smiled back. It was not a challenge; it was a tacit agreement to be an ally. There would be a price to pay; Jonathan would have to win one round, with Pip's help. As a team, the Pirates could probably take on Peter and the Johnson twins and might even win. The whistle blew and the gym was suddenly in silence.
"You know the rules. You have to get from one end of the gym to the other without being captured by the guards. Captured means lifted off the ground or brought to ground on these mats. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," a chorus of responses echoed from the boys.
Still comparatively new to the school, Sacha was not reading the split into gangs too well. Instead he was concentrating on tying the cord on his shorts. Once satisfied, he tentatively hovered around his brother Peter and his gang, all Sixth Formers. In the absence of other volunteers Pip and Owen got their turn.
"We had better go and stake our claim, Pip."
Owen was always Pip's ally in British Bulldog. The other boys knew that, just as the Johnson twins and Peter were always allies. A lot was at stake. The senior boys would be talking about it for the rest of the week, especially if a famous victory was won.
"Okay, let's go."
To many Owen was an odd choice of partner for Pip, but the observant few knew that Owen was faster than he looked and quite sly when it suited him. With Pip as the more obvious leader, fast and nimble, they made a good team, especially with the addition of Jonathan, who was his usual reckless risk taking self.
Apart from the Pirates, the big concern to Pip was who would Sacha ally with? Conventional wisdom in the school had it that brothers always sided with each other when the chips were down and Sacha was hovering on the edge of Peter's gang purely out of indecision. However, the fuss over Sacha's initiation in the shower earlier that week suggested that he might be persuaded to join the Pirates. Pip hoped Sacha might ally with him, a very public act of betrayal of his brother. That would create a team capable of winning along with Owen, Clancy and Jonathan since the other Fifth and Sixth Formers might well enjoy colluding with them to fix the downfall of the dominant Sixth Form clique this time around.
Owen, satisfied that Pip had as usual chosen him to be his sidekick, was already well on the way to guessing his strategy which would be to capture Jonathan. With Jonathan, there would be a war between two roughly equal gangs.
Mr Wallace gave a long blast on his whistle to signal silence and the start of proceedings that could go on as long as no one was injured and tempers did not flare too much. The thirty odd boys lined up at the far end of the gym. Mr Wallace stood on the central mat and issued the usual warnings.
"No punching, no kicking, hair pulling or any other violence will be tolerated. Any offenders will be sent out to change."
He looked at his watch and then made to a vantage point standing on the wall besides the entrance to the gym.
"Right: Cox and Owen, you two are first guards."
A shrill blast from the whistle signalled the start of the first round. Owen and Pip stood on the line of gym mats lined across the centre of the gym. Both boys had done this role a number of times before. The remaining boys lined up at the far end, many hanging from the wall bars and beams, several feet clear of the floor. One well-known tactic was to climb up to the top beams eight feet up and inch pass the guards on the floor below, but Pip was one of the few boys with enough height to be able to gain sufficient traction and pull any such escapees down.
Pip pointed at Clancy. "We'll take Jonathan first, not Clancy."
"Okay, let's do it."
Mr Wallace let the tension build for a few seconds as Clancy, their supposed victim looked for a route to avoid the two guards forlornly. His slowness was against him, but he hoped not to be the first boy to be captured. That would be humiliating. Clancy made it to the front of the gathering boys, but knew his route would be to go to the side and then hope to pass by whilst the first wave of boys was captured. Sacha was one third of the way along the back wall, a good position to avoid being cornered in, but he kept looking at Peter for signs of guidance. Peter ignored him, as he was pre-occupied with not being captured himself. Jonathan as always was again flaunting his climbing skills and was already well up the wall, however, close enough for Pip to reach him with Owen providing a leg up. It was well understood by the few, capture your allies first. Mr Wallace gave a sharp blast on his whistle.
"Okay, off we go. Round one."
Pandemonium broke out. The two guards feinted for Clancy and then Owen stood by the wall his hands cupped so that Pip could leap up and catch Jonathan around his waist as he attempted to climb past. Surprised, Jonathan fought back unsuccessfully, lost his grip and both boys fell onto the mat. Jonathan was well and truly caught.
Seeing that Pip had caught his intended victim, Owen went and caught Clancy, who had tripped up over the mat in his attempt to escape.
"Time for you to join the team, Clangers."
Clancy stood up. Winded, Jonathan stayed on the floor, theatrically taking his time to come round.
"Bastard," he mouthed at Pip, a big grin across his face, and then he stood up, dusting himself off. He knew what the game was really about. Clancy understood that he had now chosen his allies for the rest of the afternoon and stood with Owen plotting tactics, giving misleading signals and pointing at the wrong person each time. Each time they did this, more boys would be come uneasy and group together into a small mob, easier to take on, as they would probably trip as they went over the mats together. Jonathan now stood with Pip, once more a key ally. The proper battle would begin as gangs rarely consisted of more than four or five boys on each side. The remaining boys were to be discarded as cannon fodder in each round.
At the start of the next dash Sacha had adopted the same position. One third of the way along the back wall close to his brother, from where he stood a good chance of getting through with the mad dash as other boys ran all around. Peter's plans did not include his younger brother; he was looking for a gang made exclusively of Sixth Formers. Many boys already guessed who the next target would be except for Sacha himself. He remained oblivious to the bigger stakes game being played around him. He had become the trophy to be fought over in each round. Sacha lined up opposite Clancy and Owen. Pip and Jonathan were the other side, seemingly concentrating their attentions on the Johnson twins. Suddenly sensing that his brother might be the next target, Peter moved over and stood close by Sacha, supposedly to protect him.
"Stick with me. I'll see you through."
Sacha was disconcerted by Peter's instruction; he was expecting betrayal from Peter since his initiation. Peter was the strongest boy in the school and might be able to drag Sacha through. His desire to do this was less to do with protecting his brother, but more to deny a useful foot soldier to Pip, the leader of the opposing gang. To make his point, Peter reached out and held his brother's upper arm firmly. Sacha, expecting betrayal, instinctively pulled away.
"No, I'm okay, no need for that."
The boy moved away to the other side as the whistle blew. Peter's face darkened in fury. His brother had refused his protection in front of all the other boys. Despite this public act of defiance, Peter moved to get closer to Sacha again, but at that moment Mr Wallace chose to blow the whistle to signal for the next run. All the boys dashed off, pell-mell, making for the other end as fast as they could.
"Watch out for Owen."
That was the last piece of advice from Peter to Sacha, his last chance to stick with his brother as they reached the other end. This time Sacha didn't take the advice. He moved to the dangerous middle area, away from his brother. Unwittingly Mr Wallace became a collaborator; he decided to blow his whistle for the next dash straightaway just as Clancy and Owen swapped sides with Pip and Jonathan. As the whistle blew, Sacha found himself caught in a pincer movement. As he ran to the side to avoid Owen, he found Pip in his path, clearly targeting him and not put off by other, easier, targets. Pip wrestled Sacha to the ground. He was light so easy to topple. So Pip fell deliberately to fall on top of the boy. Sacha struggled vigorously underneath before he admitted defeat and surrendered.
"I thought you were supposed to be my friend!"
"Oh, but we needed some good people on our side to start with. So I wanted you."
"All right then, you've proved your point. You can let me up now."
Sacha rose, flushed, hair messed up and his PE vest riding up under his armpits. He pulled the vest down and dusted himself off.
"Which side do you want me?"
"Come over here. Jonathan, Owen and Clancy; you three take the other side."
With Owen, Clancy and Jonathan taking one side, Sacha worked with Pip. Together they caught three in the next round and then gradually built up the numbers until it was just the Johnson twins and Peter left.
"You'll never catch us." Kit issued his challenge.
Peter was caught next and sulked at the side of the gym, making no attempt to capture either of the twins. After about two minutes of frantic shouting and rushing Kit was indeed declared winner of the first round with Robbie inevitably a very close second after being caught high up on the wall beams by Jonathan.
A further two rounds were fought as the tension and roughness increased in the gym, the second round ending with Jonathan victor with more than a little help from Pip and Clancy.
"Boys, keep it down, please. Otherwise it will be an early shower for all of you." Mr Wallace attempted to keep order, as he no more wanted the afternoon to end than the boys did themselves.
Being a fast runner, Pip was good at British Bulldog and so got close to winning on a number of occasions. Finally it was just Pip and Sacha left in. Peter had been the winner in the previous round and was looking miffed at his younger brother's success at this game. Sacha was very good at British Bulldog because of his ability to turn and change direction so fast that the slower moving boys all missed him.
"All right, I think we will know the winner shortly. Guards, take your positions." Mr Wallace blew his whistle.
Pip spotted a group of boys clustered near Owen. Owen was sufficiently treacherous to let Pip through. Sacha aimed for a knot of boys just off centre. He ran off to the side and then rocketed to the centre just out of their reach, a gap opening in the middle through which Pip rushed, the other boys impeded by Owen. Sacha was not so lucky. Peter got to him, using a rugby tackle. So both boys went down, sprawling hard onto the mat.
"Got you this time."
Peter knelt astride the still prone Sacha. Anger flashed in the younger boy's eyes. Sacha raised his arm as if to punch his brother. Peter grabbed the offending arm and also held Sacha's other wrist so Sacha was completely trapped.
"That's not very nice is it?"
Before anything more could happen, Mr Wallace gave a long loud blow to his whistle.
"Get up you two or leave the gym."
The two brothers separated and glared at each other in silence. Mr Wallace looked at his watch. He had promised to keep the older boys occupied until three-thirty and now it was three-ten. He would have to wrap this game up quickly as he could see that tempers were beginning to flare in certain quarters.
"That's enough. Cox, you are the winner. You and Morgan junior, form the guards. This is going to be the last round." Mr Wallace got ready to blow his whistle.
In truth, the boys were all getting a bit tired. The atmosphere was sweaty and what had been a fun game was rapidly becoming a grudge match between the two gangs. The boys lined up again at the far end of the gym. Sacha, now wise to the written and unwritten rules of the game, came up to Pip and pointed at Owen.
"We get Peter first. Stand on the other side and pincer him as he comes through."
Owen knew that he was not to be first and guessed what was to happen. He edged closer to Peter, a bit of sly cheating was about to happen. For once Owen was going to get one over on his chief tormentor. Sure enough, the whistle blew and Peter charged forward. Pip and Sacha held back to give Peter enough space. Owen pushed Peter hard towards Sacha as he feinted a trip and dived through as Pip mistimed his attack and fell to one side. Instead Sacha caught Peter by himself in a vicious looking rugby tackle at the waist that took both boys tumbling down onto the mat.
"Got you." Peter was beside himself with fury at his brother's actions that made him look the fool.
"You little bastard."
Peter twisted out from under Sacha, brought him down onto the mat, swiping his nose before landing both knees on his younger brother's chest. Sacha in turned lashed out and punched Peter repeatedly, but ineffectively in the chest.
"Get off. Get off me."
"Stop! Stop at once you two!"
Mr Wallace blew his whistle repeatedly before storming over and pulling Peter off Sacha who was now balled up cradling his nose. Blood was dripping on to the mat and floor.
"Get up and stand over there right now!"
The gym was deadly quiet except for some coughing from the injured Sacha. Having regained control, Mr Wallace started barking orders.
"Cox, go and fetch a towel. The rest of you go into the showers now and get dressed, in absolute silence."
Peter stood awkwardly to one side. He knew he was in serious trouble.
"Morgan, I will deal with you in a minute. I have never seen such violence in my gym. Look at the mess you have made of my floor. Go and get a cloth to clear it up."
The other boys trooped off to the showers in silence. Mr Wallace was not one to antagonise further when he was already angry.
"Here, sir." Pip returned with the towel, happy to have something to do, which meant he would avoid any mass recriminations.
"Don't give it to me. Go and help Morgan over there."
As Pip went over to the still sitting boy, Sacha did not look up. With one hand Sacha took the offered towel and delicately dabbed some of the blood off his nose and sniffed. He remained mute, face red, blotched with blood.
"Cox, take him to Matron. That nose bleed needs seeing to."
Pip took Sacha by the arm and helped him up as Sacha wiped some of the blood off his face onto his PE vest.
From the showers, the rising sound of chatter could be heard.
"The rest of you, I said silence! Now get out of that shower and get dressed."
No other instructions were needed. The other boys duly emerged from the showers and dressed in silence. Only Peter was left in the gym, carefully wiping up the spots of blood. Mr Wallace inspected the clean up operation and after pointing out a couple of spots of blood pronounced himself satisfied before turning to address the issue of the attack on Sacha.
"If it wasn't for the fact that he is your brother, I would send you to the Headmaster for fighting. You can clean up the gym and put the mats away. Leave the bloodstained one out; we will have to get that cleaned. Now get out of my sight. I don't need intersibling rivalry breaking out in my gym, understood?"
"Yes sir." Peter disappeared cloth in hand. He knew he was in disgrace, but let off a visit to the Headmaster under the strange logic that fights between brothers was not a school disciplinary offence.
In the changing room Sacha sat down on the bench under his peg. He was still silent, concentrating on his anger. Pip dressed quickly. At least he had escaped the showers. Once he had dressed, Pip took Sacha's school togs off the peg and handed them to the younger boy.
"Come on. I'm under orders to take you to Matron. She isn't going to be pleased."
Sacha removed his PE vest, now blood stained, as Pip handed him his handkerchief to stem the blood that was still oozing from his nose onto his face. Sacha looked an impressive sight, his face streaked and smeared with blood. Apart from the nosebleed Sacha also had grazes to one knee and one elbow. Pip handed Sacha his shorts. He looked up at Pip, registered the act of kindness and changed swiftly into his regular school clothes. Pip bent down to help him, but Sacha waved him away.
"No, I can do it. It's okay, thanks."
Slowly the boys made their way to Matron's office. She took one look at the wounded Sacha and sat him on the hospital style bed.
"Well, what have we been up to then? In the wars again, Sacha?" Matron looked at the boy. He bore obvious signs of being in a fight. In silence Sacha dabbed at his nose. He wasn't in the mood for talking. "What's being going on here?" Matron was always on the look out for fighting between boys and alert to the possibilities of bullying, particularly with a new boy. Pip responded on Sacha's behalf.
"He's had a bit of bashing in the gym. We were playing British Bulldog. His brother had a bit of a go at him." Matron turned to Sacha.
"British Bulldog again? I will be having words with your brother. He could have broken your nose by the look of it." She held up three fingers to Sacha. "How many fingers?" Sacha looked at the fingers uncomprehending at first. Matron tried again. "How many fingers am I holding up?" No response. "Concentrate Sacha." To help him, Matron put her hand to Sacha's chin and directed his attention to her right hand holding up three fingers.
"Three," came back Sacha, thickly and much too slowly for Matron's liking, his eyes darting in and out of focus.
"Hmm, a bit slow. You are a bit dazed." Matron pushed Sacha down on to the bed. "I am going to patch you up and keep you in here for the rest of the afternoon. That nose is going to bleed for a while and I think you need a little peace and quiet." Matron turned to Pip. "Thank you, Pip. Can you tell Mr Durrant that Sacha is going to stay here with me this afternoon and won't be attending lessons?"
Pip longed to stay, but knew that he would not be allowed to. The only boy who would be allowed to see him later would be Peter. Pip wasn't sure whether Peter would visit or not.
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