The room seems dark despite the bright beams scything through mullioned glass, to fall upon an inky desk, piled with papers threatening to topple. Here dust motes dance to the sounds of muffled footsteps and young voices calling.
Panelled walls and heavy furniture…a sagging sofa before a high fireplace. Books line the walls, from oak floor to stuccoed ceiling.
I lean back in my chair and breath in a deep draught of good St Gregory’s air. The smell is a dear friend…always the same, in term time or holiday…of beeswax polish and chalk dust and boiled brassicas.
I’ve always been lethargic at this time of day. A good helping of steak and kidney in suet finished off with a sago pudding would cause a man of any age to close his eyes for a few moments, but lately, I ignore the bell that summons all to playing field or classroom, and find myself nodding well into the afternoon.
But not on Tuesdays.
Today I see the miscreants, the malefactors, the offenders. What heinous crimes must I punish this week? I glance at the rattan cane in front of me and sigh.
A timid knock.
The knob turns and a diminutive figure in serge shorts and aertex shirt stands on the threshold.
‘For heaven’s sake come in. I won’t bite you.’
He is small for his eight years and approaches to quiver in front of me.
‘Ah, Jenkin’s Minor. And what brings you in here today?’
‘Mr Anstey said I should come, Sir.’
‘Oh did he? And why was that, pray?’
‘For failing to climb a rope, Sir. In the gym Sir.’
‘For failing to climb a rope eh? And did you try to climb it?’
‘Oh yes, Sir. But I wasn’t very good at it and I kept sliding down.’
‘I see…’ I pause for effect. ‘You haven’t been here very long, have you?’
‘No Sir, three weeks, Sir.’
‘Well Jenkin’s Minor, you’ll soon learn, that here at St Gregory’s we expect boys to work hard. To be strong and agile. Not waste their time failing… you will never get anywhere in the world, sliding
The boy hangs his head.
‘Your brother was a fine climber. A proper little Indian fakir.’
Such dejection. It lies in the air like a wet fog. An hour with the telegraph crossword would be so much better for both of us. Oh well, better get on with it.
‘Hands out Jenkins.’
The little fellow bravely turns up his palms. The tender skin already broken and red. Such a shame to make things worse.
‘It looks as if Mr Anstey’s rope has already done my work for me,’ I say. ‘Run along and let matron put some iodine on those.’
The gratitude on his face is short lived. He realises, as he scuttles away that he has escaped me, only to fall into the clutches of a worse tormentor.
But at least my conscience is clear.
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