Quite some excitement was generated by Monday’s announcement that the school photograph was to be done during the final period before lunch on Friday morning. Mr Lawson had a sarky little smile as he said, “I hope you boys will all be able to get over the bitter disappointment of having to ah. . . forgo, as it were, a whole period of instruction.”
The teachers all thought this was terribly witty and giggled, or, in the case of Mr Hill, guffawed in manly appreciation of the headmaster’s humour. A few of the older boys laughed politely, whilst Martin merely allowed his mouth to hover ambiguously in the direction of a smile. He was beginning to understand the workings of something Mr Hill called repartee— which meant something insulting said by a master to a boy, whilst any traffic of the sort in the other direction was called cheek, and subject to stiff penalties. It was, for example, extremely clever for Mr Hill to call Martin a ‘cretin’, but just plain dangerous for Martin to call Mr Hill anything but ‘Sir’. The thing about repartee was, the older you were, the better you could appreciate it.
At teatime, Mr Hill was explaining something called the panoramic camera to them. Mr Hill knew everything about photography, and was able to rattle off dates and things about its inventors, as if he had known them all personally. A well-timed question about the pioneers of the albumin print (whatever that was) or about the early years of the ‘talkies’, could save a Latin class from descending into an abyss of contemplation of the ablative absolute. It didn’t always work, but it was worth a try, and most of the boys in Martin’s form had memorised a few key words that might serve to prime Mr Hill’s pump.
At teatime, however, Mr Hill’s explanations were not saving them from anything, and were thus simply boring. To compensate for such trials, Martin and Robin had developed a way of gazing at Mr Hill with glassy reverence, concentrating on the task of responding to the lecture with such extravagant servility that it hovered on the edge of insult: “That is so incredibly interesting, Sir!” or perhaps, “I wish I knew as much as you do about photography, Sir.” One of Robin’s favourites was “Sir, could you recommend a book I could read?” But Robin had once perilously overworked this line, using it only a week after Mr Hill had lent him a book on the very subject under discussion, the History of Early Colour Photography.
Right now, Robin and Martin sat on either side of Mr Hill as he expatiated on the panoramic camera, and both were intent on a brisk auction:
Robin opened with, “Incredible!”
Martin countered, “What a genius idea!”
Robin refused to be dismayed by this fine riposte, and came back swinging: “Sir! You’re not just teasing us, are you?”
Martin flicked a slight smile of contempt in Robin’s direction. Weak! Feeble! He laid down an ace: “Well, I must say it’s beyond me, Sir.I just don’t understand how it works. . .” He nodded sombrely.
Mr Hill’s eyes lit with a missionary flame: “Oh, Musgrave, you clot! How can you fail to understand?”
“Well, I sort of do. . .” Martin retreated. “Um. . . I mean, you explained it so well, and yet, and yet— I just can’t quite get it, Sir.” Robin recognised the stroke of a master in the poignant humility of Martin, apparently on the verge of tears of frustrated incomprehension.
“Oh, come.” Mr Hill said kindly, “Let’s go over it again. Now, instead of an iris diaphragm, the camera has a narrow, vertical slit, and a motor turns the lens-assembly and the slit slowly in a clockwise—”
“Sir! Sir!” As if agonised with doubt, Martin started slightly up in his seat, with his hand upraised in urgent question.
“Sir, I don’t want to interrupt, but— I just want to make sure I understand. . . could it go anti-clockwise?”
A murmur of approval from the other boys at the table greeted this reasonable point. Mr Hill seemed irritated, and pointed a finger at Martin, who wondered if he had gone too far.
“Ass. Cretin. Moron, Musgrave! Of course it doesn’t matter if it goes anti-clockwise. It would work just the same. It just so happens that the one Mr Gordon is going to use on Friday goes clockwise.” “Oh, thank you, Sir. I think I see it now. . . so. . . as the slit moves round, over the emulsion, an image of what the camera is looking at is laid down as a continuum of vertical strips, so you can take a very wide picture without having to use an excessively wide-angle lens, with a lot of spherical aberration and a small image on the negative. . . sort of?”
Robin acknowledged as much with a slight inclination of his head. It always unsettled Mr Hill when a densely miscomprehended topic suddenly flooded into a concise, accurate precis, which a boy would suddenly gabble, after much well dramatised puzzlement. It was always risky to unsettle Mr Hill, but a swift change of subject usually sufficed to prevent him wondering if the boys were poking fun at him.
This time, Mr Hill looked carefully at Martin. Then he said, “Yes, Musgrave, that is a fairly good summary of what I said. However. . . I wonder where you got the term ‘spherical aberration’? Did I use it tonight?”
A chorus: “Oh, yes, sir!”, “Oh, very distinctly, sir.” And “Yes sir, you just said that the first time you explained it. . . and pin-cushion thingummy too.”
Mr Hill shrugged. He stared hard at Martin. “Perhaps. Watch your step, Musgrave. If you think you can extract the Michael from me, you’ll come a cropper. Understood?”
“Oh, yes, Sir! But Sir, I—”
There was silence at the table 8, in a sea of noise from the other ninety or so boys in the dining room. At the High Table, Mr and Mrs Lawson presided, their grave heads bright pink blobs wavering in the steamy air as they condescended to a coterie of polite, awkward senior boys, stiff with manners and opinions on the auspices for Scotland at Twickenham.
Martin breathed the heady aroma of triumph, mixed with just a hint of toad-in-the-hole and of excitement, of disaster narrowly averted. Repartee was a heady wine when you were just twelve and three-quarters, and Martin hoped to become a connoisseur. How lucky they were to have Mr Hill to instruct them in the nuances!
Mr Hill let it be understood that it was entirely due to his guidance that Mr Gordon, the local photographer who always did the school photo, had sent away to Aberdeen to rent a panoramic camera for this year. He let it be further understood that he fully expected to have to help Mr Gordon with it, since Mr Gordon was quite out of his depth in anything more challenging than weddings and christenings.
Mr Hill then smiled and wagged his finger at them, “And by the way, I hope nobody gets the bright idea he’s going to get his picture taken twice, as somebody in my form did when I was your age.”
“His picture taken twice? How, Sir?” Martin asked, puzzled.
“All right, let’s say a boy is standing on the far left of the assembled school. Once the camera has passed him, he could duck down, then run round the back and pop his head up on the right hand end, just in time to have his picture taken a second time.” “And that really works, Sir?” Robin was astonished.
“Certainly. But I remember that the boy who did it paid for his enterprise with a rather stiff beating. . . still, it was quite funny at the time. Bewick was his name. The School Joker. He was always getting into hot water of some kind or other, but you couldn’t help liking the chap. Never a dull moment. Quite a good friend of mine, by the way. We still keep in touch. He’s a very successful barrister in London now, and we often talk about the Good Old Days, and about the School Photo of 1938. . . What a card!”
Martin recognised instantly, from Robin’s thoughtful expression, overlaid with a certain factitious attention, that Robin was already planning his own stab at immortality. Martin staked out certain dissuasive arguments, which he would advance later, when they got down to private discussions. As far as he was concerned, everlasting cardhood was no consolation for a hefty thrashing. Six of the best? Better make that twelve. Maybe even expulsion,for such a premeditated act of hooliganism. Mr Hill might well consider the actions of Bewick in 1938 through a veil of nostalgia, but Robin Coventry would be shown no mercy for aping them in 1958. Of that Martin was sure.
“Oh, tosh.” Robin said, while they strolled round the grounds after prep. “They can beat me. I can take it.”
“They’ll sack you, Robin!”
“No. I may not even get beaten. You’ll see. The Killer will do all he can to prevent the Beak finding out he gave me the idea.”
“What if the Beak deals with it himself?”
“Why should he? He always gets Hill to do the flogging if he can get out of it. And he certainly can’t sack me if I tell him his Assistant Beak told me how to do it. How would that sound to my parents?”
“But you don’t know that, Robin!”
“No. But it’s reasonable, isn’t it? Anyway, it all depends what fate decides, not me. . . If they put me at the wrong end, I can’t do it, can I? Or if I have to stand on a table in the middle or something.”
All Martin’s arguments were dismissed. The best he could get out of Robin was that fate would decide. He wasn’t going to go out of his way to go through with his plan, but if the circumstances were propitious. . . well, Mr Hill had almost issued a challenge in recounting Bewick’s exploit, and Robin Coventry would never forgive himself if he didn’t take it up.
On Tuesday, after morning assembly, Martin passed quite close by Mr Lawson and Mr Hill in the Hall and caught a snatch of their conversation:
“. . . if you wouldn’t mind doing the logistics and so forth?”
“Delighted, Headmaster. Just a matter of using the older boys to carry out some chairs for the staff. We won’t need tables.” By that evening, a detailed plan was on the notice-board, giving the precise position of every form and staff-member for the photograph, with even an arrow to indicate True North, and a little line marked off in feet and inches to give the scale. The staff each had a little box with their initials, starting with the Lawsons in dead centre, Mr Hill on Mr Lawson’s right hand, and trailing out to the wings with the rest of them, in strict order of importance. Robin pointed this ordering out to Martin, who might have missed the significance of Matron being on the extreme right-hand end, and Mr Kelly, the pink-shirted Art Master, on the left, viewed from the camera. It was well known that Mr Hill had no time for Matron, whom he considered too soft, and too eager to exercise her privilege to excuse boys from games, or ‘shirk’, as he put it, and he had even less time for Mr Kelly, whom he called a ‘pansy’, making a modest effort to not be overheard doing so by the boys.
On the Plan, the boys were indicated with an elongated box to represent an entire form. Martin noted with a twist in his gut that 3B were on the far left of the arrangement, behind Mr Kelly. Robin winked, and gave every indication that he was delighted with the arrangement, but Martin wondered if he was really feeling as brave as he made out. He pleaded: “Rob, why don’t you leave it? It’s crazy. No-one else knows about it, and I won’t tell.”
This was important. Had it been generally known what Robin’s plans were, he could not have gone back on them without considerable loss of face.
“I’m going to do it. Nothing can stop me now.” Robin said, with a jut of his chin, and certitude in his voice. Martin backed away from further argument, knowing that the more he said, the more Robin would paint himself into a corner, and the likelihood of a last minute attack of sanity would diminish.
On Thursday evening, Martin and Robin strolled in front of the school, over the cracked, uneven paving stones.
“You’ll be heard,” Martin observed, clicking his shoes against the cement. “How are you going to get around that?”
Robin was thoughtful. “Yes. . . I hadn’t thought of that. It’ll be quiet. My shoes will make fearful— that’s it!”
“I’ll undo my laces, then I’ll slip off my shoes while nobody’s looking. In stocking-soles, nobody will hear a thing!”
“Then how do you plan to explain your being at one end and your shoes at the other?”
“Wet! I’ll run right back, as soon as the camera stops moving, and before Hill or anyone has a chance to get up and see me.”
“And Mr Gordon? What about him? Won’t he get a teensy bit suspicious if he sees all this activity?”
“Oh,” Robin shrugged. “I’ve got to take some risks. Anyway, it’s the idea that’s important. The game’s the thing!”
That night, just before lights out, David Latimer dropped a bombshell. He was sitting propped up against the head of his bed with his hands clasped behind his head. He waited until most of the boys were in bed, reading or, in the case of Martin and Robin, playing pocket chess, then said, “I’ve got news for you lot.”
Assured of everybody’s full attention, he continued, “I’m going to do a Bewick’s Run tomorrow!” He scanned the room for a reaction. “Won’t Hill be shirty!”
Silence. Then a murmur of admiration as the realisation sank in. Martin scanned Robin’s face. He almost felt Robin’s grief. Then he nudged Robin and winked, whispering, “Well, tough luck, Rob. He’s got it now.” Martin was referring to that unspoken, but definite clause in the code of honour, by which the first boy to suggest a project had exclusive rights to it.
Robin shrugged angrily. He snapped the chess-set shut with a vicious gesture and said, “So am I.”
Howls of disapproval greeted him. “You can’t!” Latimer hissed. “I said it first, so I baggsed it!”
“How can I help it if you can’t resist bragging about something you won’t even dare doing! I’ve been planning it since Monday. Ask Musgrave. He knows.”
Martin nodded, reluctantly: “Yes. Covvy’s been planning it.” “Oh, I bet! I don’t believe you!” Latimer said angrily. “You just—”
“Who’re you calling a liar?” Martin flared uneasily, hoping this wouldn’t end in a tussle. Latimer was a good stone heavier and an inch taller than he was.
“Hang on!” Robin said. “You keep out of this, Martin. Don’t waste your breath on that idiot. We’ve proved we had it all planned, and I’m going to run whether Latimer does or not. What are you going to do about it, Shatimer?”
“You’ll see,” Latimer breathed, Laventry!”
Laughter greeted this witty twist of Robin’s surname. Robin shrugged, reopened the chess set and offered it to Martin, who sensed that honour was pretty well even now, and that neither Robin nor Latimer wanted to risk a fight. Judging from the lack of further input from anyone else, he guessed that Robin had established a reasonable claim on running, whatever Latimer said or did.
He felt considerable sympathy for Robin. It had to be galling indeed for Robin that his name would be joined to Latimer’s and that he would be beaten alongside him, tarnishing his glory.
The day dawned sunny and clean. Massed rhododendrons in pink, white and mauve swelled like a tide up the lower flanks of Finella Hill, to the misty line where moor and forest cut them off. Martin, tying his tie at the window of the dorm, sighed. Of course, Robin would be the one getting the gym-shoe, but what if— horror of horrors— what if a beating was considered insufficient?
Life at Drumwhinnie was hard enough with a friend. Without Robin, Martin was sure it would be unbearable. What if he could somehow, casually, open up the plot, so Mr Hill would suspect something, and say, put 3B at the wrong end of the group? No. Robin would kill him.
Robin, at any rate, seemed in good spirits, humming as he added a last minute lustre to the perfection of his toecaps.
“The auspices are excellent, O Martinus!” he declaimed.
Martin said grumpily, “Martin-e. The vocative of Martinus is Martin-e. And for your information, the auspices are terrible.”
“Oh, ye of little faith!”
“Better put some blotch in your pants.” Martin was referring to a frequently quoted adage that several thicknesses of strategically located blotting-paper dulled the impact. It didn’t work, and painstaking research had showed that as little as two sheets showed up quite well through taut corduroy. Mr Hill would certainly double the penalty for even so paltry an attempt at protection.
All through the morning Martin found his attention drawn to the window, which overlooked the forecourt, where Mr Hill, armed with clipboard and tape-measure, oversaw a gang of sweating seniors setting out chairs in a neat, gently curved line. Each chair was millimetrically adjusted to be exactly the same distance from the camera position. A green van drew up. It was marked “A.D. Gordon, Laurencekirk 385, Professional Photographer.” Mr Hill strode over to assist in the opening of the back doors, from which The Camera, then The Tripod, followed by The Equipment Bag, were successively and tenderly taken out. It was a French class and Mamzelle Pierreux seemed content to allow them to crowd round the windows and watch, instead of insisting on more Lectures Pour Débutants.
“Quite extraordinaire, no, boys?” she said. “So complicated! Such genial things!” Martin felt much as Charles the First might have felt, watching the construction of the scaffold.
Finally, Mr Hill sent off runners to summon the boys, form by form, the most senior ones first, so that the youngest would have less time to fidget. A breathless courier arrived to invite 3B to take their places. Mamzelle Pierreux clapped her hands and said gaily, “Allez, venez, les amis! Veuillez bien— ne pas courir, Stewart!”
With breathtaking suddenness, it seemed, they were all ready. The staff stopped milling around the camera and took their appointed places, the last to do so being the Lawsons, obsequiously shown to them by Mr Hill himself. Mr Gordon was hidden beneath the traditional black cloth of his trade, the combination of man and machine looking eerily like an extraterrestrial insect, gazing balefully at them through its single eye, which squinted off to the left of the group, where 3B waited breathlessly, frozen behind Mr Kelly and Mamzelle. She bubbled something at him in French and Mr Kelly murmured a reply which made her go pffff!— drawing an immediate scowl from Mr Hill. Only pansies spoke the kind of fluent French Mr Kelly did. Mr Hill was scanning the line slowly, seeking out untidiness and imbalance: “Your tie, Scott Major! . . . Allan, a bit closer to Dennison— not that close, dolt! Right! Stand up straight, Barnes. . . Graham Minor! I thought I gave strict instructions that all boys were to comb their hair! Oh, thank you, Matron. . .Now. . . That should just about—”
Martin held his breath. Looking down, he could see that Robin’s laces were undone, as were Latimer’s. This was it. Mr Hill would sit down, then—
“Oh, I forgot.” Mr Hill clapped his head in annoyance. “I’m sorry, Mr Gordon. Just one moment more— Right, 3B, change places with 3A.”
Martin gasped. 3A was at the far right of the line.
Robin looked unbelieving. Thunderstruck. So did the rest of 3B.
“Come on, get a move on! We haven’t got all day! And without pushing and shoving, Latimer, you oaf. . .”
As 3B threaded through 3A, behind the line, a certain amount of secretive elbowing and tripping occurred. If Mr Hill noticed he didn’t remark on it, apart from fuming at them to get a move on. Then it was done. Mr Hill made last minute adjustments to both groups of boys, a final, approving survey, then, it seemed to Martin, just before he took his own place, he awarded 3B a particularly affable grin.
“Ready when you are, Mr Gordon!”
From the corner of his eye, Martin tried to gauge Robin’s reaction, which seemed quite mild. The laces were still undone. Then— Robin was gone. Comically, where he had stood, the empty shoes remained as if glued to the ground, while their owner had been blown to bits, like a clip from the Keystone Cops. Martin could almost see the wisp of smoke rising from them. Then he edged over to cover the gap, straddling the empty shoes, as agreed. The only sound was the whirr of the camera motor, the only movement, apart from the steady rotation of the big brass lens, was Mr Gordon crouching sideways to light a cigarette in his cupped hands.
Panicked, Martin watched as the lens reached the mid-part of its trajectory, and in response to a grin from Dalziell, who was now next to him,winked, a gesture of much more casualness than he felt appropriate to the circumstances. A scarcely felt movement at his right, as Robin squeezed back in, his face impassive as he slipped into the shoes, then the insect eye was upon them, savouring them, then rejecting them as inedible. It was done.
An audible sigh escaped from the whole school as the motor stopped. Mr Gordon had his hands under the cloth, fiddling with the back of the camera, a limp cigarette hanging from his lips. Robin was serenely, and modestly accepting the surreptitious tributes of 3B:
“Oh, wow! Well done, Cov!”
“Yes. It was well done.” Latimer said grudgingly. “I should’ve realised it could be done either way. . .”
“Thanks.” Robin said, warily eyeing Mr Hill, who was now standing up and gesturing to everyone to stay in their places.
“I bet 3A got a shock!” Martin said.
“They didn’t even notice. Or not till I left, then some idiot nearly gave it away. . . That Zawadski twerp almost tripped me up—”
Mr Hill was saying, in a voice that crescendoed with authority, “One— moment, everybody! Your indulgence, please, Collins!” Mr Hill smiled sunnily as he retreated to Mr Gordon’s position. Martin didn’t know why, but he felt a pang of fear as Mr Hill bent his head to Mr Gordon’s level. What was particularly ominous was that Mr Hill said absolutely nothing, merely raised his eyebrows, to which Mr Gordon shrugged and said something in a low voice. Mr Hill nodded and looked directly over to 3B. He was still smiling as he said, “Well. Mr Gordon tells me we’ll have to do another one—”
Groans from the staff. Cries of ‘Hooray!’ from the boys. Robin was biting his lip.
“Once more from the top, then, shall we?” Mr Hill said in a sweet tone that made Martin’s blood curdle.
“And this time, perhaps we could have less fidgeting from 3B?”
“Cripes.” Martin breathed. “He knows!”
Robin’s face was set, unknowable in expression. It remained so until the motor stopped a second time, and thus it was frozen for ever in the Drumwhinnie Castle School Photograph of 1958, which was issued as a fold-out in the Drumwhinnie Castle Citizen of that year. This time, Mr Gordon nodded, started packing up. Mr Hill had one more announcement as the school broke up: “I would like to have a word with Form 3B, after lunch, in their form-room. That is all.”
Lunch at table 9, where Robin, Martin and David Latimer were the only representatives of 3B, was charged with foreboding, but Mr Hill was uncharacteristically benign and cheerful. He ladled out the portions of greyish stew without the usual accompaniment of ironic remarks about feeding-time at the zoo. Martin and Robin said nothing, and Mr Hill seemed disinclined to draw them into conversation. At one point, one of the 2B boys asked point-blank: “Sir, what do you want to talk to 3B about?”
“Ah.” Mr Hill said, archly. “Perhaps you’d care to ask them about it afterwards. . . Or perhaps Coventry, Musgrave and er, yes, Latimer too, would like to guess. They’re in 3B, if I remember correctly.”
Silence. None of the three named seemed even to have heard.
“I bet you’re going to give them all punny runs for pushing and shoving during the photo.” Gregg said sententiously. “Trust them to let the School down. My form—”
“How interesting!” Mr Hill said, with a bright, menacing tone that shut Gregg’s engines down cold. “Pushing and shoving? Was there any of that? I’m sure everyone here would like to know how you saw that, Gregg, without contravening my strict instructions and craning your neck round to look behind you. . .”
“But, Sir, you said! About them fidgeting!”
Robin managed a resigned smile as Martin and he simultaneously abandoned their semolina puddings, after eating the blob of jam in the middle.
What Martin remembered most about Mr Hill during that afternoon meeting, was his superb aplomb. They were waiting for him, sombrely reading, or playing cards and Monopoly, in almost total silence, broken only by the most half-hearted exchanges: “Pontoon.” “Banker wins.” “Pall Mall. One House. A hundred and fifty.” “Thanks.” — when he came in suddenly, smiling and rubbing his hands: “Right, 3B. Curtain time! In your places. Cards, books and games stowed, please. . . Good.”
“Now. Gentlemen.” Mr Hill surveyed the closed faces before him. “Gentlemen. It appears we have a card in our midst. . .” Martin felt sick.
“. . . and we meet here now to give him his recognition, his due. Do you follow me so far, gentlemen?”
A nervous shuffling answered him. Nobody actually spoke. Even when responding with some kind of servility to Mr Hill, it was risky to draw attention to yourself. You kept your head down and waited for the storm to pass.
“Good. Perhaps he would like to stand and receive our accolade now?”
Robin slowly stood up. His face was pale, his lips bloodless.
“Oh, Bravo!” Mr Hill clapped his hands ironically, deliberately for several beats, then he nodded. “Yes. . . I thought as much. Mr Gordon did say the third or fourth boy from the end, so that either had to be you or Musgrave.”
Mr Hill walked slowly towards Robin, but not directly, and not looking at him until whirling on him suddenly as he came close. Robin flinched. Mr Hill smiled reproachfully: “Think I was going to wallop you, Coventry? Tsk, tsk. We’re not savages, after all. There are, fortunately, certain protocols laid down in the Ministry of Education Guidelines on Capital— I beg your pardon, Corporal Punishment, which prescribe a definite ritual, with which all of you are by now only too familiar. Oh, no, Coventry. You will undoubtedly receive a beating, but in good time, and when I have sufficiently recovered my composure to be able to enjoy it fully . . . What do you think, boys? How many whacks for a boy who, against all odds, even after I had suspected something from the transparently obvious hints of his behaviour, and tried to give him an honourable way to save face— Oh, yes— I know all about the Unwritten Code. You seem to think I was born a Master. I know, Coventry. I know what goes on in your scurrilous little minds because— because, I too was once twelve years old. . . You, Musgrave? How many whacks ought I to give Coventry? How about twelve? One for each sin-packed year of his so-far pointless existence? Answer me, boy!”
“I don’t know, sir.” Martin whispered.
“Is twelve reasonable, Musgrave, for your pal, Coventry?”
“I think it’s. . . too much, sir.” Martin tried to stifle tears.
Mr Hill was astonished. “Too much? Too much, Musgrave? So I must be un-reasonable, then, mustn’t I? If I suggest twelve— perhaps you think I must be a sadist— (Years later, Martin remembered that Mr Hill pronounced ‘sadist’ like ‘saddest’) to give a twelver to your poor, misguided friend, who had such a deprived childhood. . . being sent to an expensive private Borstal in the heart of Darkest Scotland, instead of to the Elysium of the State-School System?”
Mr Hill studied Robin’s face hard. Robin wiped his sleeve across the corner of his eye.
“Oh. Contrite, are we? Stricken with grief at our misbehaviour? Answer me, boy!”
Robin shook his head defiantly, but said nothing.
Then Mr Hill seemed spent. The energy was gone. He waved Robin back into his seat. “All right, sit down, you little lout. When I dismiss the rest to go to games, you will accompany me to my study, where I shall beat you. The rest of you will do a daily punishment run for a week, for knowing all about the plan and not having the sense to stop him.
There was a murmur of muted protest— Sir!. . . But!
“Talk to Coventry if you don’t like it. . . as for you, Musgrave, you can do a daily punishment run with Coventry for each of the twenty-two days remaining in term, and think yourself lucky I’m not beating you too. . . Oh, yes, Coventry, I do know that you’ve been using that time for your piano practice. Too bad. It seems you’re not going to become a concert pianist this term, doesn’t it?”
Mr Hill turned towards the door, beckoning Robin as he did so. “All right, the rest of you, get out.”
Dispiritedly, the boys crowded out, and Martin moved slowly enough to leave last, just before Mr Hill and Robin.
He wanted to say something encouraging to Robin, but in the end, didn’t dare. Just as they reached the turn in the corridor, he heard Mr Hill say, in quite a normal tone of voice, “Oh, by the way, Coventry. You’ll be glad to know I told Mr Gordon not to waste a plate on the first attempt. Just in case. And you so obligingly proved again that I do know my boys! What price doing a Parslow’s Run now, eh?”
“Parslow’s run?” Robin murmured, surprised.
“Yes. Don’t you remember? I told you. He’s the boy at my school, who did it in 1938. . . Quite a successful barrister now, at the Inns of Court, if you’d believe it! We still keep in touch.”