The Cup Bearer
Sandy was already in the rapidly filling gymnasium when MacCaffrey arrived. Beresford and his wife sat on the end of the front row with other governors' wives and husbands and Beresford waved to the Beak , indicating an empty chair beside him. The gymnastics display was already halfway through, the girls having finished their exhibition, and MacCaffrey seemed conscious of his height as he crossed the audience's line of sight to get to the chair. Sweetnam gave a short lecture on the difference between male and female floor exercises, and a girl from the third form came onto the mat to give a spirited performance to the music of Chopin. There was a ripple of polite applause as she finished and went back to her place. Then Emilio walked onto the edge of the mat.
The applause was spontaneous from those who recognised him from the morning's activities. From behind his camera, Sandy noticed Beresford watching Emilio like a hawk. The man was not only keeping a professional watch on Emilio but was obviously taken by his liquid, almost feline grace. Even Sandy shook his head in amazement that a body could perform such contortions with ease. As a keen footballer, Sandy thought he knew quite a lot about the abilities of the human body, but this display really astonished him. He'd seen him in action during PE classes but it was like watching a total stranger and an expert.
At the end of his performance, Emilio retired to the changing rooms to thunderous applause while the rest of the teams hauled a vaulting horse into the centre of the floor and pulled three trampolines into position round it, laying mats down in between. Sweetnam explained that the teams were going to give a display of vault work. Almost before he had finished speaking the first of the boy's team took a run at the nearest trampoline, landed on it and took off in a simple head roll over the horse to land on the mat between the other two trampolines. The rest of the team followed him in a display of somersaults, aerial twists and forward rolls and splits. The team split into three and went into a three-way routine before lining up in front of each trampoline in readiness for the next part of their program. Out of the changing rooms came a slight figure dressed as a clown, and a drunken one at that. He wore clown's long shoes, extra wide brilliant red pants held up with gaudy suspenders, a tatty coat, a red bowler hat and wig, and a large red nose. He carried a bottle of whiskey and drank from it as he weaved his way towards the horse. Sandy checked he had plenty of film left and got busy as Sweetnam tried to head the intruder off, but the clown slid past him, reached the horse and leaned on it.
"Hic! - Excuse me, is this - hic! - a horse? - hic!" The audience chuckled as they guessed who the clown was.
Sweetnam stood with his hands on his hips. "What do you think it is? Of course it's a horse!"
"Ah! I wondered - hic! - where I'd left him - hic!" Taking another swig from the bottle he proceeded to talk to the horse, calling it his beauty, stroking and patting it. Then in a well-rehearsed manoeuvre he swung himself up onto the horse and nothing Sweetnam did could make him come down as he slapped one end and proceeded to ride it, waving the bottle over his head and uttering loud war cries. Sweetnam turned to the teams. "It's no use, boys, you'll just have to carry on as best you can."
Suddenly the gym was filled with the sound of a brass band playing 'The Thunder and Lightning Polka' and the three teams went into action. The clown yelled with fright as he avoided the bodies that flew past him from three directions at once. Sandy knew it had been well rehearsed but even so it was so funny to watch the clown as he cleverly but drunkenly manoeuvred on top of the horse. The clown rose to his feet and straightened as a body hurtled past his backside, then dropped to his knees as another sailed over him. He staggered to one side and another rolled past him, he staggered to the other side and the same thing happened again. They shot over him and under him as he leapt into the air and they dived through his legs. They touched him, spun him round, each vaulter bringing a cry of terror or a moan of horror from him. He slipped out of his coat and had it whipped from his hands. He fell on his back and had his shoes torn from his feet. He waved his legs in the air and a flying body took his pants. By this time the audience had realised who the clown was and was yelling encouragement to the team. His hat was knocked off taking his wig with it, the bottle was snatched away and he was left with only his nose. He struck a nonchalant pose and held it out for the last vaulter to take as he hurtled past. The ten oldest boys in the team had formed a double line at one end of the horse, their hands joined to form a horizontal stepladder and there was a gasp of surprise as Emilio cart wheeled off the horse and along the ladder. On reaching the last pair of hands he stood up straight then fell backward to be caught by the rest of the human ladder and tossed three times into the air, performing three perfect corkscrew twists. Landing back on the first pair of hands he somersaulted onto the floor with his arms outstretched.
To Sandy's surprise Beresford was on his feet, leading the audience in their applause, and MacCaffrey was happy to join him as the team marched back into the changing rooms with red but happy faces. Sandy's felt his chest swell with pride as he searched his pockets for another film. His mate was cock of the walk and no mistake! He watched MacCaffrey catch Sweetnam's eye and beckon him over to shake him by the hand. "Dick, that's a great team we've got this year. Perhaps now we'll have a chance of winning something. Congratulations, you've done a good job."
Sweetnam grinned. "Thanks, James, but it's the team you want to say that to. Most of them are coming back in September so we've got a sound base to work on. We certainly have the capability to win a few trophies now we've got Gomez in the team."
"Ah, yes, our little Sir Dynamite! I doubt he'll be back next year. He has other plans."
"Oh well, we'll all have to help him change his mind otherwise it'll be our loss."
And mine too! Sandy thought sadly as he changed films.
"Speaking of Gomez," MacCaffrey went on, "I've had his mother hen clucking in my ear a few minutes ago." Sandy reddened at mention of himself. "He says the boy's worried about his mother and trying not to show it. Beresford's keeping an medical eye on him but I'd like you to do the same as you can be closest to him without him suspecting we're spying on him."
Sweetnam nodded thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure Roberts isn't right to worry. Gomez has kept to himself for much of the time. He's certainly got things on his mind and I've been expecting him to drop things and run all day but he's stayed the course so far. That's the professional in him I suppose; the show must go on and all that."
"What else has he got today?"
"Just the Judo."
"Thank the Lord for that." Satisfied Emilio would be secretly chaperoned, MacCaffrey made his excuses to the rest of the governors and their wives and said he was off on another tour of the school in case anyone thought he was favouring the activities in the gym above anywhere else. To Sandy's surprise, he beckoned him over and invited Sandy to go with him, and take some shots of other activities.
When they returned to the gym, the seat beside the doctor had been taken so MacCaffrey had to be content with standing beside Sandy at the back, and to one side of the audience. Although not as spectacular as the gymnastics, the Judo demonstration still held the audience's rapt attention. Sweetnam had selected a team of ten to demonstrate the sport, and Gomez was very much in use as Sweetnam's guinea pig. Each move was carried out first in slow motion while the technique was explained, and then at normal speed till all throws and submissions had been dealt with. Then there was a free-hand bout, first between Vetch and Ball, then Emilio and Gaskin. This was followed by a display of defensive tactics during which Emilio and Sweetnam were attacked from all sides and ended up the victors. Then came the surprise of the afternoon that even Sweetnam did not know about. As the teacher was about to bring the exhibition to a close, Emilio rose from his place, walked up to Sweetnam, bowed, and then stood waiting. From the look of astonishment on Sweetnam's face, and the grins on the faces of the pupils, Sandy was sure his mate had been dared by the rest of the team to challenge him, and the delighted response from the audience gave Sweetnam no choice but to accept.
At last, he put the microphone back on its stand and stepped onto the mat. As they bowed to each other Sandy felt a surge of bodies behind him. Word had sped through the corridors of the school like lightning and the gym was filling to bursting point. Barton, the head boy, acted as referee and signalled for the bout to commence. A hush fell upon the audience and. Sandy expected Sweetnam to hold back, Gomez being smaller and looking deceptively delicate, but the man gave nothing away and Gomez had to work hard to win falls and submissions. Towards the end of the challenge, they grappled for some time before Sweetnam managed to unbalance the boy and sending him sailing over his left hip. Before Sweetnam could follow through and win a submission, the boy had wriggled out of his clutches and was on his feet again. This time it was Sweetnam who hit the mat to a roar from the audience and the boy quickly took advantage and went for a submission with his favourite neck lock. Sweetnam, once released, came to his feet with a scowl of annoyance and Sandy suspected it was not because Gomez had actually bested him but that he had done it in front of the school. Sandy watched MacCaffrey glance about him, noting the delight on the faces of his pupils as they began to chant. "We want another! We want another! Come on Gomez, we want another!"
Sweetnam smiled and nodded his agreement to Barton who called them onto the mat again; Sweetnam stepped confidently forward and waited for Emilio to respond. Instead, the boy's face went grey and took an expression of stunned surprise and he clutched at his chest. He turned to stagger towards the changing rooms but. before anyone could react, MacCaffrey dived out of the audience to scoop him up in his arms and carry him quickly into the changing rooms. Sweetnam was the next to move, yelling for the team to stay put and reached the changing room doors just ahead of Beresford. Sandy was close behind as the place echoed with the voice of Miss Wayne asking the audience to quietly leave the gym. Gomez was lying on a bench with MacCaffrey kneeling beside him when Sandy and Beresford reached them. Beresford knelt down on the other side of the bench to begin examining him, and Gomez's eyes flickered open and he stared straight up at Sandy and suddenly Sandy knew what had happened. Feeling himself going faint with shock, he tapped the Beak on the shoulder. When the man rose to his feet, Sandy drew him to one side and said in a trembling voice. "Sir. I think his mother's just died.'
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