Scholarship

by Ian John Copeland

Chapter 6

Lent Term 1968

The Rocks hummed with activity as the school settled into the new term. Increasingly Pip found himself seeking out Sacha at every opportunity. However, the boys were tightly controlled so that the only real encounters between Pip and Sacha took place during afternoon games when they played rugger together in the First Game. At other times, apart from the occasional chance encounter, they had to go their separate way as they were in different forms.

That afternoon Pip walked down to the pitch with Owen, his eyes scanning the many boys clad in their games kit.

"What position have you been put in today?"

"Oh, hooker."

Pip sensed there was purpose in that position. Owen was slow, but then he was not much use anywhere else on the pitch.

"Oh, you are there to block the opposition, stand in the way, that sort of thing."

"Mr Durrant doesn't like 'standing around', though does he? He starts to shout a lot."

Pip was glad he was in the scrum. As a forward, it meant he could go after Sacha. It became a private game between them, just the two of them if they played opposite each other, one chasing the other, cat and mouse.

Despite his smaller size Sacha was a hard tackler and could bring almost anyone down with one of his fearless dives. He delighted in picking Pip out and frequently brought Pip down, something Pip was less successful in reciprocating. Once on the pitch, the boys stood around in small knots. Pip remained with Owen. So Clancy walked over to join them. Sacha stood with the opposition in his oversized shirt, untucked as always, whilst Mr Durrant consulted his list of names and realised that two boys were missing.

"They're both off sick, sir, this morning."

"Oh well, let me see."

Mr Durrant looked at the two teams and decided to rebalance them.

"Morgan Junior, shift over to the home team and play number 8."

Sacha swapped his shirts, putting his harlequin shirt on top and jogged over to Pip's team. Pip much preferred to have Sacha playing with him than against him. However, any further thoughts were brought to a close when the whistle blew.

The two opposing teams positioned themselves opposite each other. The whistle blew a second time and the game began in earnest. In the January mud the boys raced or jogged across the pitch for the most part following the ball. Running up and down, occasionally kicking the ball back into play, Mr Durrant controlled the two teams with short blasts on his whistle and a stream of encouragements, sarcasm and outright frustration.

"Come on, boys, run, run."

"Owen, you are a forward, not a tombstone."

"Where was that meant to go, Pierce?"

With this encouragement the boys obediently picked up the pace until Jonathan snatched up the ball for the opposition five yards from their goal. Pip found himself facing the smaller boy and knew he would have to tackle him. Jonathan feinted right, but Pip read the move, did not turn to follow and then had Jonathan in his reach. Pip timed his tackle well, grasping Jonathan around the waist head-on with enough force to bring him down. Both boys crashed to the ground. The ball was under Jonathan who desperately trying to wriggle out from under Pip, but Pip held on.

"Okay, okay, you win."

The whistle blew and the two boys got up, Pip trying to brush off the mud, Jonathan not bothering.

"Scrum."

Mr Durrant stood to the side as Jonathan took the ball in readiness to restart. He rolled up his sleeves and looked intently into the middle where he was supposed to place the ball, central, but in a spot where Peter could reach it. Pip went down as lock in the scrum opposite Clancy, Owen his hooker. Sacha joined the scrum, his hand was firmly encircling Pip's upper thigh. The ball came in and skidded through to Owen who hoofed it back to Sacha. Sacha broke from the scrum and ran forward with it before anyone else could react, diving over the line. The whistle blew. As he fell on the ball, Sacha's shirt rode up, the pale yellow waistband of his underwear appeared above his shorts. Sacha stood up and his shirt dropped down. Underwear was not supposed to be worn. Pip wondered if Sacha knew the rule.

"Try! Well done, Morgan."

Mr Wallace had not noticed the forbidden underwear. Sacha smiled under the dirt on his face. Three years of playing rugby sevens at school in Hong Kong had shown its worth.

The game restarted. Another run and Sacha, running with the ball, found himself up against his brother Peter. The tackle was much harder than normal. Peter sent Sacha crashing down.

"Got you."

Peter picked himself up as Sacha stayed down, winded. He looked up angrily at Peter. "Thanks a lot."

Sacha gingerly pushed himself up on to all fours before standing up slowly, brushing the mud off his sleeves and starting to return to his side. Mr Durrant, however, had other ideas.

"Boy! Your boot lace is undone."

Sacha looked down as Mr Durrant directed him off the pitch.

"But sir, I can fix it in a jiffy."

"Do what I say and don't talk back or else you'll be off the pitch for the rest of the game."

Sacha glared briefly. Mr Durrant looked at him sternly and decided he needed to talk to the impudent Fifth Former.

"Come here, little boy."

He knew Sacha's name perfectly well, but it was time to cut the boy down to size. Sacha bristled at the description 'little'. Despite himself Sacha turned and stood facing Mr Durrant, pulling his shirt up to wipe his face, legs braced two feet apart, the offending yellow waistband now clearly on show. Mr Durrant put on his stern voice as all the boys on the field watched with amusement.

"When a referee tells you to do something on the pitch, you do it without question. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Your lace is undone and that is a hazard to you and the other players. So you have to go off and get yourself sorted. Is that completely understood, boy?"

"Yes, sir, sorry, sir."

"And no underwear in future."

"Sir?"

"That is the rule, no underwear under your games kit. Understood?" Sacha nodded. He had the good sense not to answer back a second time. "Yes sir."

"Good, well get on with it. You can come back on as soon as your laces are properly tied."

Sacha turned smartly and without looking back trotted off the pitch as ordered. Satisfied, Mr Durrant turned back to the game and took control again. Meanwhile Sacha knelt down on the touchline to tie his bootlace. Once tied securely he stood up and waited obediently, right hand in the air, chewing his collar, signalling he was now ready, chastened by his earlier telling off. Mr Durrant now satisfied that Sacha had learnt his lesson signalled to him.

"Okay, Morgan, pull up your socks and then back on."

The game continued with two tries from Kit and one from Peter. Pip's team were running well behind with just Sacha's try on the score sheet. In the second half Mr Durrant changed the teams around and swapped Jonathan over for Owen. Jonathan immediately rebalanced the odds. He was fast and nimble. Pip was now captain. His team pushed forward racing after the ball when he kicked it on. For the opposition Clancy stumbled, allowing Jonathan to run onto the ball. Both teams made for the spot in a mass of legs and bodies. Mr Durrant waited a second and then decided enough was enough and blew for another scrum. Pip locked heads and felt Sacha lean hard into his thigh and grab his waist from underneath. The whistle blew and the scrum threatened to collapse until Pip felt the ball bounce in his direction and he heeled it back out for Sacha in turn to heel it out to Jonathan before breaking free himself.

"Run with it."

Jonathan needed no encouragement. He ran to the right around the scrum as the opposition wing ran onto him. At the last minute he passed the ball back to Sacha who ran right again before turning back and passing to Jonathan again. The opposition wing was now flat-footed and off to his left whilst Jonathan ran though the middle and landed the ball under the posts. The whistle blew.

"Try."

As the best kicker on his side, Jonathan converted his own ball and the game restarted. Peter, captain of the opposition, was determined that his brother was not going to get through again. However, Jonathan and Sacha proved hard to catch. Only Peter or the Johnson twins had the pace and turn to catch the wily Fifth Formers on a regular basis. Peter seemed to make a practice of catching his younger brother, ignoring Jonathan, which led to a final scrum. Jonathan put the ball in and ran around the scrum as Pip heeled it out to him.

"Go, go."

Jonathan ran forward and just as Robbie Johnson approached to tackle, he passed out to Sacha on the wing who ran forward and wove around Kit to score the final try just as the whistle blew. A draw nine points a piece.

All the boys were happy apart from Peter who stormed off ahead of everyone else. Pip walked up to school with Sacha. For being cheeky, Jonathan had been tasked with recovering all the balls littered around the pitch. Sacha was covered in mud. Matron was likely to order him to take his togs off outside the dorm block when she saw him as she almost always did with Jonathan.

"Pip, what are you doing Sunday afternoon?"

"Nothing planned as yet? Any thoughts?"

"Perhaps we could go somewhere?"

Pip was secretly pleased. The idea of going out that weekend with Sacha was a very attractive one. Pip darted his eyes around to make sure that no one was paying any attention.

"We can, but we had better be careful. You know it's not considered 'normal' to mix with boys outside of your own year."

"Why's that?"

"It's a prep school thing. They don't think it is healthy for older and younger boys to mix too much, especially away from supervision. You know a 'bad influence' and that sort of thing."

Sacha thought about it. He looked disappointed. "You mean we can't go out together?"

Pip stopped himself. "No, wait, I didn't mean that. Of course we can go somewhere. We just have to be discreet. You go out with some other Fifth Formers promptly at two o'clock. I will come out just afterwards. Make an excuse; something like you have left your money behind and then we can meet, on the Coffin Path, the way we went last time, under the two big trees, just the other side of the first stone stile."

"Oh, okay. Two-ish?"

"Just after two, not two-ish."

Matron stood guard at the senior block entrance.

"Sacha get your things off here, boots, socks and top. You are absolutely covered in mud. Leave them with me down here."

Sacha did as he was told and ascended the stairs barefoot in just his shorts. At the second floor the boys went their separate ways, Sacha pleased that he had arranged his weekend with Pip. Come Sunday lunchtime, Pip made a deal with Owen.

"Can you cover for me this afternoon?"

"Cover? How?"

Owen was on guard. He didn't want trouble, but he knew he was loyally bound to do pretty much anything Pip asked.

"Sign out with me this afternoon and then go off with Clancy, will you?"

"Okay then, I suppose."

Owen duly signed out with Pip and Clancy. Covering for Pip was not unusual for Owen. He supposed it was so Pip could go off with Jonathan. Owen had heard the stories emanating from Peter and the twins from last term. Owen had heard that Jonathan was supposed to get up to all sorts according to the rumours circulating.

Owen, as good as his word, went on ahead with Clancy who was already planning a productive afternoon in St Ives. There was a book Clancy wanted in the second hand bookshop, but he was happy to accept company. Pip rushed off to his agreed rendezvous with Sacha in eager anticipation. He wanted to spend time as much times as possible with him. To be with him was of the upmost importance to him in a way he could not really explain even to himself. Sacha was already waiting. He had left Jonathan and some other boys on the pretext of breaking a lace. Sacha doubled back, ran back up the path beside the school wall, until he picked up the Coffin Path and headed towards the first stile where he had agreed to wait for Pip. Pip was very relieved when Sacha came into view.

"Come on, we've got a bus to catch. I thought we'd go to Sennen. The waves are really big there at this time of year."

"Oh, I thought St Ives or Penzance."

"That's where everyone else goes. Sennen is quieter. Much less likely to bump into anyone."

"Hmm."

Sacha realised that 'alone' was almost certainly not something that would win approval at school. Without knowing why, Sacha sensed that there was good reason why the boys were discouraged from too much unsupervised intermingling between year groups, but he realised that he now had little choice as the other boys had long gone. The two boys walked up the farm track to the next stile on the main road. In the distance a bus marked 'Lands End' was coming up the hill.

"Well, shall we go to Sennen?" Pip asked one final time.

Sacha weighed it up in his mind. "Okay, then."

Sacha followed Pip onto the bus to the back seat where they sat together in the corner.

"It's a grand place, Sennen. You should see it in summer, crawling with visitors, but there won't be many now."

The bus went along the wild north coast to Sennen via Zennor and St Just. A cold wind was blowing enormous waves on the sea.

"The bus doesn't go all the way down at this time of year. We have to walk from the turn."

Sacha looked at the blustery weather outside and shrank into his duffel coat.

"I hope it's not going to rain."

"No, we will be fine. It rained this morning. It's clear to the West. That is where our weather comes from mostly."

After about three-quarters of an hour the boys reached the Sennen Turn. Pip and Sacha got off and walked down the hill to the village of Sennen. It was a suitably bleak grey January day. The wind was whipping the sea up into giant mountains of spray and froth on the rocks below the promenade.

"Not many people about. Are you sure there is something here?"

"Oh yes, there is always the 'Old Success', that's a pub, so we can't go in there of course and then there's a café towards the lifeboat station."

After a short walk along the front they found that the café was indeed open and, glad of the opportunity for some warmth, they went inside. Sacha went up to the counter; he looked at the menu and turned to Pip.

"Cocoa?"

"Oh, yes please."

The two boys spent the next half hour lingering over their cocoas and a shared pack of biscuits. Apart from some walkers, there were not many people about.

"Just wait until summer."

"You keep saying that."

"Well it's true. Anyway, let's explore. All sorts of things blow up on the beach at this time of year."

Outside again Sacha wrapped himself up against the cold and wet and kept to the lee side of Pip to keep warm. As much as physical warmth was important, Sacha enjoyed some of the older boy's wilder stories mostly relating to Mr Barnes and Mrs Prince.

"Your brother asked Mrs Prince whether she was Mr Barnes' girlfriend last year."

"What did she say?"

"She just roared with laughter. 'Mr Barnes is a confirmed bachelor. That's why we ladies like him so much'. Not sure what she meant though."

Sacha thought about it for a moment.

"No, I've no idea either, no idea at all. What was so funny, I wonder?"

They had walked to the end of the beach. As the light closed in, they began walking back towards Sennen taking the long route back up to the top. As they walked, a gust of wind blew some sand into the air. The boys instinctively ducked but it was too late.

"Ow!"

Sacha fidgeted with his eyes. Pip looked on. He knew what the problem was; he had some grit in his own eyes too.

"Not like that. Here, let's shelter behind this shack."

Eyes wincing with the grit, the boys sought shelter behind a closed beach stall out of sight of anyone.

"This will do." They sat down close together. Sacha was trying to rub the sand out of his eye. Pip stopped him, pulling the boy's hands down, holding them firmly. "No!" Blinking, Sacha did not resist. "Not like that. Here, let me try. You can't see what you are doing."

Pip took his gloves off, sat besides Sacha, gently opened his left eye with his left hand and spied two pieces of grit.

"Keep still and try not to blink."

Using the tip of his wetted forefinger Pip carefully brushed out the grit. He did the same to Sacha's right eye, even though there was no grit visible. Without thinking, Pip gently stroked away the tears caused by the grit as they ran down Sacha's cheek.

"How's that?"

"Oh that's better. Here, are your eyes okay?"

Sacha leaned close, still blinking at the saltiness in his eyes as he looked into Pip's bloodshot eyes.

"No, there is some grit in mine as well. Want to try?"

Sacha did not seem to need much invitation. As Pip was sitting with his legs straight out, Sacha turned and straddled them. He knelt down and sat on Pip's knees as he leant in closer and gently prised Pip's eyes open each in turn and coaxed out the remaining grit. Satisfied, Sacha leant back, his hands behind him on the ground. Pip could feel the warmth of Sacha on his knees.

"How's that?"

"Great, thanks. I think you've got most of it, but there is still a bit left."

"Wait, let me just check again."

Pip obliged the younger boy and let him probe once more. His left arm around Sacha's back, pulling him a bit closer. Sacha acquiesced.

"I think I might still have some in mine. It still stings."

"Okay, let me look."

Pip looked around. There was no one in sight. They were entirely alone. Their actions explainable if asked. Pip took his chance. He wanted so much to be closer to Sacha.

"Here scoot up on my thighs. I need to be able to really see into the eyelids."

Both boys knew it was an unnecessary step, but Sacha obediently complied. He put his arms on Pip's shoulders and sat right up on the top of Pip's thighs, his arms around Pip's neck, his thighs straddling Pip's. Pip knew it would be so easy just to lean forward wrap his arms around the boy and kiss him on his lips, cracked in the cold salty air. The boy's eyes were wide open and inquisitive, inviting, but Pip resisted the temptation. Instead Pip concentrated hard as he opened each of Sacha's eyelids in turn and gently stroked out a couple more grains of sand that he had missed first time around. The boys remained interlocked for a second or two. Then Pip smiled and leant back, sliding his hands down Sacha's arms. Sacha seemed happy. Satisfied, Pip briefly placed his hands on top of Sacha's.

"There. All gone, I think."

He hoped that Sacha would see nothing more than companionship in their near embrace. Sacha looked around briefly. There was no one in sight. The younger boy remained sitting on Pip's knees leaning back, not wanting to climb off. It felt good this companionship, this warmth. He felt like leaning in, a closeness, something he badly missed from home. A frown crossed his face at the thought and then a smile. Make the best of it.

"I like it here. We should come again."

Pip brushed a couple of grains of sand off Sacha's face, soft, warm, the track of tears still visible. Perhaps Sacha wanted to play this game again? Was that really what Sacha meant or had he just chosen a phrase at random? Although Pip wanted this moment to last for a long, long, time, he was conscious of the possibility of other people seeing them if they remained.

"Come on, we can't stay like this. We had better get going. The lights fading."

Sacha climbed off, his warmth lingering in Pip's mind long after the younger boy resumed his position to Pip's lee side. Together they walked up to the top of the hill, to the main road to wait for the bus. Pip took Sacha on the short cut, up through the sand dunes. Halfway and they were cut off from view amongst the hardy dune grass. They were no longer on the path and unseen to Pip, a rabbit hole caught his right foot and down he went taking Sacha with him.

"Oh sorry, I tripped."

Together they lay, semi-entangled in the sand. They stayed still, both looked in each other's eyes and then laughed before Pip put his finger to Sacha's lips.

"Keep quiet. No one knows we are here, do they?"

"No, why?"

Pip raised himself up and then looked around. They were completely hidden by the long dune grass. There was no one else visible for some distance. Pip took his chance, leant down and brushed Sacha's cheek gently again as if to remove some sand. Sacha put his hand up and felt his cheek. Perhaps something was there? He could not feel anything. Sacha felt compelled to ask "Why did you do that?"

"Oh, nothing, it was just some sand that's all."

Pip risked his all. He stroked Sacha's cheek again and then he ran his hand up and gently brushed some stray hair out of Sacha's eyes.

"All gone."

Sacha put his hand up to check. He could feel no sand now.

"Thanks."

Sacha was content with this attention. Pip took his chance and rested his hand on Sacha's shoulder and looked directly into Sacha's eyes through his fringe.

"What are you looking for now?"

Sacha was genuinely puzzled. Suddenly he was slightly uneasy about being alone with Pip, away from all the other people. Pip jolted out if his reverie. He had better do something rather than just stare at the younger boy. If he didn't move now, he might do something he would regret; Sacha was so close.

"Oh sorry. Nothing, nothing at all. Here let's get going."

Pip stood up and then helped pull Sacha up. Sacha eagerly took his hand and held on to it for longer than strictly necessary. He looked at Pip at once slightly puzzled, but re-assured as they stood hand in hand. Then Sacha, reluctantly it seemed, pulled clear. The moment was over all too quickly. Pip's heart was in his mouth. Had he let his hand linger too long? Had he frightened Sacha? Pip was very annoyed with himself for acting so impulsively. There was a slightly awkward silence only to be broken when Pip saw the elderly bus wheeze around the corner from Land's End.

"Come on, the bus is here now."

The two boys raced the remaining hundred yards to the bus stop. On the bus Sacha was content to be squashed into the corner seat at the back by Pip. They sat jammed together, their duffel coats piled into the seat next to them. Sacha felt comfortable with Pip. With no one else from school around, Sacha allowed Pip to put his arm around his back in companionship.

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