Scholarship

by Ian John Copeland

Chapter 11

Summer Term 1968

The instructions for the planned rendezvous found their way into Pip's locker. ' PL 12mn. S x .' Pip took a while to decipher the message. Then it came to him. Parson's Leap, ' PL ', ' 12mn ' was midnight. S was obviously for Sacha. The x would puzzle Pip for several years until he finally realised in a spasm of despair one night that it might have been the one true sign of devotion he would ever receive from Sacha. A simple x represented something he was too naive to recognise at the time. He hoped that the messenger (for he was sure that Sacha would not dare to enter his dormitory for fear of his brother) would not guess the meaning. Whatever it meant, Pip knew it was significant. Sacha had signalled something to him, something he had never dared hope for.

By unwritten agreement Pip and Sacha avoided each other that Sunday, Pip with Clancy, Sacha with Peter. Clancy was a good choice; together they headed into St Ives, eager to visit the second hand bookshops. After their return Pip headed for an afternoon swim with some of the other Sixth and Fifth Form boys. Pip left the water early that afternoon and dried himself in the sun to keep his towel dry. With the dry towel he walked along the cliff top path from Chapel Cove to Wicca Cove via Parson's Leap. Sacha had already been there. A couple of rocks either side rested on the recently mown grass. These indicated the safest area to jump in from Parson's Leap. The piles were small, inconspicuous unless you were looking for them. With no one else about, Pip carefully checked the location of the rocks. He lay on his stomach and gingerly looked over the cliff top. It was a sheer drop, the sea a dizzyingly long way below. For ten minutes Pip studied the water. It was a calm day. In the water he could see fish swimming and no sign of rocks at this point, just grey, white and blue sand reflecting back the light. Either side only a few yards away were the rocks the boys had been warned of. On getting up, Pip looked around and carefully removed any stray stones and added them to the pile. The piles were more obvious this way, but Pip wanted to be doubly sure. He took the bench as his marker and paced out the distance to the south along the path. Five good paces, from here he was more or less between the two sets of stones. Pip now had a second way of checking that they were in the right spot. Having checked out the rocks and location to his satisfaction, Pip hid his towel in the bracken just behind the bench that overlooked the view and returned to school. Midnight was two and a half hours after lights out for the Sixth Formers. By then even the staff would be in bed. Pip spent the evening, when he should have been revising, thinking out his excuse if he was caught leaving the dormitory. What they would say if caught on their return he had no idea. Perhaps they would have to stay out all night?

Bedtime could not come soon enough. Pip lay on his top bunk reading another Sherlock Holmes story, guilty in the knowledge it was not on his list of books to read. He had just exchanged the briefest of nods with Sacha earlier as they climbed the stairs after Mr Durrant shooed the older boys to bed.

After lights out Pip tried, but failed to sleep. His anticipation left him exhausted and restless. Despite himself, Pip found himself checking and rechecking his watch, still on his wrist, every five minutes or so. Finally, certain that it was near the agreed time of midnight, Pip eased himself silently from his bunk, out of the dormitory as if going to the toilet and crept down to the bottom of the stairs. As Pip left, one of the twins stirred slightly as he turned over to lie on his stomach. Pip froze for ten seconds until he was satisfied that it was just Kit shifting position and then quietly opened the dormitory door and then shut it behind him until he heard the 'snick' of the lock engaging. On the way downstairs Pip looked at the door of Sacha's dormitory. It was shut, like all the others. Pip wondered briefly whether to look inside, but that might alert the other boys, particularly Jonathan. Instead he crept downstairs. Was Sacha in front or behind him? The answer was at the door. It was wedged open a fraction with the doormat. The doormat wedge kept the noise down both on leaving and when they re-entered. Sacha must be ahead of him, unless someone else was outside. Pip peeped out of the small window to one side. No sign of lights or movement. It took Pip three anxious minutes of waiting, listening to silence, before he dared open the door. There was no sign that Sacha was out there. In a sick thought Pip thought of an alternative. It was a trick, a stunt to catch him out and Sacha was safely upstairs. Pip thought to turn around and check, but then, if he did not leave now, Sacha would think it was he who was playing tricks. Better to go on, even though Pip was increasingly uncertain. Why hadn't they agreed to meet inside downstairs? But then Pip remembered the instructions to meet at Parson's Leap. Having reassured himself, Pip pulled the door open and looked out making sure that he made no sound as Mr Durrant's office was just to the side of the entrance, the window dark.

There was nothing obvious outside. In trepidation Pip ventured out. He had his excuses ready. 'I thought I heard a window break.' He hoped this would see him through. In the end it was unnecessary as no one, teacher or boy, challenged him, only his own fear. Pip realised had never been out like this in the middle of the night by himself. It took Pip nearly a minute to ease the door fully open. His efforts were greeted with a sigh of warm air as the leaves rustled on the trees. Once outside Pip upped his tempo and walked on the grass in his bare feet following the shadows around the far side of the senior dormitory block, crouching under the windows of Mr Durrant's quarters and onto the barn with the gym and assembly hall.

Going along the side of the barn, Pip was conscious that he was visible from both dormitory blocks. So he crouched down to stay half hidden by the rhododendrons in the flowerbeds until he reached the end of the barn. Now Pip realised he was at the trickiest bit. There was no more vegetation to hide in. He had to cross the first lawn in full sight of the school. After a moment's pause, a glance behind him, Pip summoned the courage to set forth. From the barn he quickly walked down the steps to the playing field and made his way around the edge in the shadows. Barefoot he made this part of his journey at a half crouching run in almost complete silence, a silence only intruded upon by the slow circle of sounds from the trees and in the distance, the faint sound of the sea. Eventually his circuitous journey took Pip to the cliff top via the ancient dovecote and burial mound. It was the first place Pip had ever taken Sacha the previous term. By the Celtic cross sat the small form of Sacha looking out to sea. He was next to one of the benches, his shadowy form merged with it. The boy was sat on the ground, cross-legged in his pyjamas in the balmy night air, in a state of meditative silence. The younger boy had adopted a pose of near religious intensity, totally focussed, his mind blotting out everything other than the sea in front of him. Pip must have made some slight noise as Sacha suddenly turned around, eyes wide, lips and hair jet black in the moonlight.

Pip put his finger to his lips in a sign to keep quiet and then joined Sacha, sitting down quietly next to his friend. For a while the two boys sat together in silence next to the bench on the top of the cliff. The wind was still warm and humid, soft in its passage past the two boys. Below, the water lapped and sucked on the rocks. As it was night, it sounded strange, a different world. Eventually Sacha nestled closer, his first act of acknowledging Pip's presence.

"You made it."

"Finally. It took a while, as I was trying not to make any noise."

"Me too."

Startled by the boys talking, a dove from the school's dovecote fluttered in to land near the two boys. Sacha softly called the bird over, beckoning with his hand as if he had food in it. Pip checked; Sacha's hand was empty. Still the dove came over, tame enough to accept Sacha's invitation, even without food. The bird approached close enough for Sacha to gently pick up the bird and cradle it in his hands. The dove cooed gently. Pip could sense the smaller form of Sacha beside him, warm and dry, his pyjama trousers flapping in the gentle breeze. Pip could sense the younger boy's eyes blinking with tiredness and felt his hand reach and hold Sacha's sleeve in reassurance.

The dove, calmed by the stillness of his captor, settled down still cooing. Eventually it rested its head along its back, as if to sleep until Sacha finally opened his hands and threw the bird up. Startled the bird made a swift exit from the scene with a rapid burst of movement from its wings. Sacha stood up and turned around to face Pip as if to uncoil himself from the depths of impending sleep.

"Well, we have something to do. Are you ready?"

There was no pre-amble; no thought had been given to any preparation, just a desire to get on with the dare. Secretly Pip was happy to get this bit over with. To his surprise Sacha was very purposeful in leading the way, showing none of his normal modesty. In a single swift tug to the cord Sacha's pyjama trousers dropped to his ankles and he stepped out of them as he removed his jacket. Sacha's skin glowed in the dark, the mark of the sun visible as tan marks around his middle. His body was all curves and ripples where muscles flexed. True, almost everything was hidden in the gloom of the night, but Pip still found himself being slightly coy when he removed his nightclothes.

"Okay, let's get it over with. You look as though you need your beauty sleep."

The silence resumed. Sacha was ahead of him. Despite the rush of adrenaline, Pip was feeling the warm breeze, the whisper and rattle of the trees mingled with the lap of the sea below come together in a symphony of sleep. Pip felt his head begin to bow and eyes close. He began to hope that this was just a test of friendship. Perhaps they could just go back to the school? His doubts lasted a fraction of a second as Sacha moved towards the stones, feeling his way with his feet, the moonlight gleaming off his ghostly form. Pip stood up. Purposefully he paced out the distance from the bench. It was five yards. The stones, luminous in the moonlight, were still in position. Satisfied, Pip stood alongside, but slightly behind Sacha. Together they looked around, particularly at the school in the distance, partly hidden just behind the burial mound, conscious that they were now silhouetted against the moon, something they had not thought of when making the plans on Saturday afternoon.

"It looks okay. I checked this afternoon."

"That's why you paced it?"

"It was my double check."

"Clever."

Sacha sensed that the time was now. There was a note of huskiness in his voice. It was new, commanding.

"Come on. Let's go."

Sacha prised himself away from Pip's shadow, then reached back, taking Pip by the hand in urgency. Pip gave ground and followed him, two boys barefoot and naked as they walked across the moonlit grass away from the barely visible path. Together the two boys stood between the two piles of stones Sacha had left earlier that day. This was the point where everyone stood to look out to sea. Here the waves were more spirited, the sound of the shingle sweep of the cove to the south followed by the crash of waves at the foot of the cliffs immediately below them.

"This is going to make history."

"Come on."

Pip felt Sacha tug him by the hand, holding tight.

"Together."

Sacha's urgency was suddenly followed by his reassuring calm. "Now."

"Sacha, are you absolutely sure you want to do this?" Pip mustered arguments and could only think of one pathetic automatic response of the obedient. He did not feel a rebel. Perhaps Sacha did.

"It's forbidden to jump here. It's too high, remember. That rule is for our safety."

It was simple; it was all Pip could think to say. Sacha was not convinced. Pip used his greater weight to hold them still. Sacha tugged again, backwards a few feet. They needed a run-up; they were too close to the cliff edge at the moment.

"We checked when we swam past yesterday remember? There are no rocks right here, just sand deeper than anyone could dive to."

"But it's never been done."

Sacha paused only very briefly; he had made his mind up. It was to be the ultimate in dares. The mythical triple dare that no one had ever done. Impatience was entering his voice, so far, so close. The boys continued back another two steps.

"We are going to do it right now. On the count of three, we go as fast as we can." Sacha held Pip's hand tightly, as he did the counting. Pip sucked in as much breath as he could. This was absolute madness, yet so right, a signal, a statement that no one would be able to refute in the future. The two of them had done something so brave, so reckless that it would be a school legend long after they had gone.

"One."

Suck.

"Two."

Another swell of Pip's lungs. He found he could not hold in any air as fear was gripping him, the unreality and madness of this joint venture. Sacha gave a slight tug with his hand; it was now sweaty in anticipation.

"Three."

They ran hard, hand in hand. Pip's hesitancy cancelled by Sacha's commanding tug, joined in loyalty, fear and fate. Five steps, each faster than the other. Pip looked ahead; he did not want to look down.

Suddenly on the sixth, there was no ground under Pip's left foot. He felt the cliff scrape violently down the back of his ankle, but his right leg was already propelling forward. Sacha's fingers clawed into Pip's skin. He had gone further forward so was clear of the cliff and pulling Pip forward with him. Pip's own fingers were probably doing the same. Yells of exultation and fear as they plunged down. The wind ripping the sound from their youthful lungs as the waves approached all too quickly. Pip remembered the sea hitting harder than the sun-baked soil. He hit something with blinding crack as he entered. Black, red and white flashed by his eyes as salt water bubbled into his nose and a different saltiness crossed his lips. Suddenly he was underwater, Sacha torn from his grasp as he instinctively stirred into a kicking action as the sea pulled him in. Pip desperately kicked his way to the still boiling surface. There was a silence, apart from the complex rhythm of the waves. The only interruption was the cries of annoyance from the resting seagulls and then Sacha's voice.

"Pip! Pip, where are you?"

Pip coughed and spluttered, shaking his head, a ringing sound dominated, his sight obscured by the hair plastered across his forehead.

"Over here."

Sounds of splashing, some distance away.

"Where, tell me where!"

Pip shook his head again, the stars faded, his hearing stopped echoing and he was aware that Sacha was swimming towards him.

"I hit something when I entered the water. I think I'm okay." A sharp pain at the back of his ankle, another pain on the side of his head. Sacha was now alongside him. The boys bobbed in the sea, treading water until they were fully recovered. Pip looked around, his eyes adjusted to the light.

"We were mighty close to those rocks. We had better get out and back before people start to notice."

"No, I think we just drifted that way since we entered the water over there, I am sure."

Sacha indicated a spot some ten yards further west from where they were. The boys began swimming towards Wicca Cove. There was some blood; Pip could taste it. At the Cove, the boys climbed out exulted and made their way up the steep shingle to the path that led up to the top of the cliffs. At the bench Pip took about a minute to find his towel hidden in the bracken behind. In hurried silence Pip quickly wiped his face before giving the towel to Sacha. Modesty returned. So the boys turned their backs to each other, taking turns to rub themselves dry. Once more or less dry Pip and Sacha donned their pyjamas and made for the school, any thoughts of further activities abandoned.

By the time they reached the main school building, they were only slightly damp. Carefully, they shut the front door and crept back upstairs.

"Night."

"Night then."

Sacha turned, hesitated, looked into Pip's eyes.

"Thanks."

Pip wanted more, so much more, but by now Sacha had turned and was gently easing down the door handle to his dormitory. They exchanged one final look as Sacha, finger to his lips, shut the door behind him. Pip went up the final flight of stairs and returned his towel to the bathroom before he re-entered his dormitory. There was silence apart from the sound of someone turning at the other end, but that was normal, Pip told himself as he quietly buried himself under the covers.

The next morning Pip was sporting a gash to the back of his calf. Matron was not pleased, as there was blood on his towel when he came out from the shower.

"What have you been up to?"

"Sorry, Matron, I slipped in the bathroom in the middle of the night."

"And did you check your sheets?"

"No, miss."

"Well go back up and get them. They are probably messed up with blood as well."

Matron was not totally convinced of his story of slipping in the bathroom, but she said no more. Boys often came in sporting minor injuries; it was part of school life at their age.

Chastened, Pip missed assembly as he stripped his bed. He glimpsed Sacha as he headed to the first lesson of the day. Sacha was grinning broadly, their shared secret now their bond.

That afternoon was cricket. The Rocks was engulfed in the humid heat of a warm May day. The senior boys were split into two for two games of cricket. Although Pip had tried out for the First Game at the beginning of term he found himself back in the Second Game. At least there was an advantage; Pip was in the same game as Sacha with Jonathan.

In charge of the Second Game was Mr Barnes. Mr Barnes preferred to take the much more leisurely Second Game than any other as there were some trees to shelter under at the edge of the pitch and a gentle sea breeze to cool things.

As usual the Second Game drifted along with the boys slowly building up runs and the occasional four being scored. For this particular game Sacha and Pip found themselves in the same team. With his lightning fast reactions and general confidence with a ball, Sacha was a natural wicket keeper. Pip took to the opportunity to practise his bowling, a long looping run, carefully marked out as he headed to his mark and let fly. Sacha took two wickets as Pip bowled before handing over responsibility to Owen and heading to the outfield near the boundary where he was rarely troubled by the ball.

This game was going to last all week unless things went wrong. By the following afternoon, the opposing team was out and Pip went in opposite Sacha as the opening pair. Together they scored nine runs before Pip ran himself out in a typical display of overconfidence. Sacha remained longer, but was caught out near the boundary, just missing a fourth four in his final over. Still his score of 21 was creditable compared to Pip's five.

On Wednesday the First XI were away at a match. In the Second Game Pip and Sacha were now freed from cricketing duties. So they sat together under the shade of an oak tree, adjacent to Mr Barnes, a spot chosen deliberately by Pip.

Sitting in companionable silence for a few minutes, Pip hatched a plan to go off alone with Sacha. This afternoon was the ideal time to do so as many of the staff had gone off to Truro with the First Team to see them play.

"Sacha? Let's see if we can get permission to go exploring up into the fields at the back."

"What for?"

"Oh, we will say we are looking for caterpillars and stuff."

Sacha continued chewing on a stem of grass as he contemplated this invitation. The smell of newly mown grass and humid Cornish vegetation was making him think of home. He and Pip had not been alone together since their nocturnal escapade the previous weekend. Watching a slow, poorly executed game was boring. A chance for adventure with Pip was more attractive.

"Do you think it will be okay? Mr Barnes might not be too pleased."

"Oh no, so long as you are there to bat or field it's okay. When we say we are looking for caterpillars, he will agree. He is a bit of a naturist." Sacha looked sideways at Pip, not hiding a broad grin. Pip looked puzzled.

"Naturalist, naturists take their clothes off, but of course, with Mr Barnes who knows? It's always possible!"

Pip laughed at the idea of a wrinkly, saggy teacher like Mr Barnes wandering amongst the butterflies naked. Sacha looked puzzled. Was what he said that funny? It took several minutes to get the vision out of Pip's head.

"Oh, okay, naturalist then, but would you like to come? Mr Barnes doesn't like boys going off by themselves, even Sixth Formers."

Sacha thought about it again. An outing with Pip seemed a much more entertaining afternoon than watching a painfully slow game of indifferent cricket.

"What if we are needed?"

"Oh, that's all right, so long as you are in ear shot of his whistle. We can get back in a few moments.

"Okay then."

Pip waited until the end of the over before he went up to Mr Barnes, who was acting as umpire, sitting on his shooting stick, giving orders in a mock exasperated voice to a swarm of boys who milled around mostly without purpose. Mr Barnes looked at Pip.

"Sir, can we go and find some caterpillars, sir?"

Pip had Sacha at his side. Mr Barnes looked at the two boys, saw who 'we' were, thought of the risks of these two and then, feeling magnanimous, gave his consent.

"Be back here at four with some interesting specimens. I wouldn't like to think that you were just shirking." Owen looked at Mr Barnes, pleading. "Owen, stay put, you wouldn't know a caterpillar from a dung beetle and besides I have yet to see your corrected English essay from yesterday."

Owen, hurt, sat down in the shady spot Pip and Sacha had just vacated and turned to his ink blotched exercise book, all thought of escape abandoned.

"Four o'clock, mind."

Nearly two hours.

The two boys walked off, Pip in the lead, going as nonchalantly as he could manage. From the pitch Jonathan watched from the wicket, bat in hand, waiting to for a new bowler to be chosen. Jonathan felt a sense of jealousy. Last year it would have been him who went with Pip, not Sacha. Out of curiosity Jonathan resolved to sneak off and follow them as soon as he was out.

There was a gap just behind the tree where the boys could get through the wire fence. From the back there was a scramble that connected to a little used path that wound its way up over the coast road to another towards Trendrine that loomed above the school. Now that it was just the two of them alone, Pip felt his heart in his mouth. He had persuaded Sacha to come to a place where they would be alone together hidden in an area of rough common and gorse at the bottom of Trendrine. Pip had explored this spot many times during the last four summers with Jonathan. Pip led the way. They climbed the steep slope up to the coast road mostly in silence.

"He won't let anyone wander off like this."

Sacha looked at Pip, a blade of grass in his mouth and another sweeping in front of him, eyes concentrating on the path in front of him, kicking the gravel with the toe of his shoe, taking care to avoid tripping over the roots of the trees that stood proud of the surface. The pair reached the St Ives to Zennor road. Before they went across (the road), Pip walked out into the middle of the road and looked up and down to make sure that no other teachers or school staff were about. Strictly speaking, they were now out of bounds, but Mr Barnes had given his approval.

"Come on, slow coach."

"What's the hurry?"

"Oh, you'll see."

Coast clear, the boys quickly crossed the road, tarmac freshly melting in some spots, climbed over an old stile and headed towards the heath land. The path steepened until they came to another wall, which had a set of protruding stones as a set of steps. The boys climbed up and over. Pip again paused at the top to scan their route to see that no one was following and then looked ahead, not to the path that went east, but to the north where the gorse and brambles grew thick. The field beyond was once used for growing daffodils, but was now uncultivated, alive with bracken, bushes and trees, ideal for disappearing into. The boys walked about five yards up the path until there was a slight break in the vegetation.

"Does anyone come here?"

"Not many, I imagine. Too much gorse and bracken. People stick to the path. Move off the path up here and you are on your own."

'On your own.' Sacha played that thought in his mind. Pip stepped up onto the stone wall and surveyed the scene before spotting what he was looking for. In the distance a clump of trees grouped together to shelter from the persistent westerly wind and at their foot a darker patch of bracken signalling a narrow cutting through which ran a stream. After memorising a couple of stunted trees en route, Pip led the way through the overgrown field. Carefully he picked a circuitous route, almost doubling back at one point. Pip held his finger to his mouth.

"Shssh." The boys stopped, looked around and listened intently. "No one here, but we must be very quiet."

Sacha was rather enjoying this game, his previous doubts forgotten for now. With Sacha always at his back Pip made doubly sure that he did not let any of the branches snap back in his friend's face. In the spirit of conspiracy they whispered to each other. At the harder parts Pip reached back. Sacha let him take his hand. Pip took his time in letting go; Sacha acquiesced to this physical contact between the two.

"It's like being behind enemy lines. Make sure we leave no tracks."

This game of commandos appealed to both of the boys, as they moved up the slope slowly zigzagging as they went, making their escape from the path. Every so often Pip looked behind him to check that they were now well and truly invisible to the rest of mankind, marked only by the occasional roar of a passing vehicle on the road below and in the distance of the sound of leather on willow from the cricket. It took the boys five minutes to reach their target, a large clump of gorse bushes leading down to the stream dribbling down the hillside.

Pip hunted around the clump and quickly found two of the more common caterpillars in the area and carefully stuck them on a large leaf to gorge themselves.

"That's our task done for the afternoon. We can relax now."

After one last careful scan Pip was sure they remained alone. He then knelt on all fours and sent Sacha ahead. With Sacha leading, the two boys crept through a narrow space between two clumps of bracken. For the final stretch they took off their gym shoes and socks and walked carefully up the brook, ankle deep in clear water between the bracken, until they reached a smooth piece of rock that was surrounded by thick bracken in all directions. The only point of access was the stream they had just walked up, the route further up the stream blocked by a thick tangle of gorse bushes. The space was ideal; a dogleg meant they were now completely hidden from view both up and downstream.

Sacha appreciated the nature of Pip's chosen place.

"No one can see us here. It's perfect."

Pip removed his shirt, now wet with sweat. Without being prompted, Sacha did likewise; his hair was damp, a single trickle of sweat making its way down his neck from behind his ear. The boys sat on the rock in silence for a while, both with their knees cradled in their arms. Sacha waited for something to happen. Pip decided to lie back on his shirt and absorb the atmosphere.

"Let's soak up the sun."

There was not a lot of room for both of them. So Pip moved over slightly to make space beside him as he lay on his back looking into the infinity of the azure sky above them, his head resting in the crook of his arm. Sacha joined him, lying on his side, a blade of grass between his lips, his head resting on his arm. Sacha's deep-set eyes flickered with drowsiness in the humid heat. Using his right hand Pip gently swept Sacha's hair out of the boy's eyes. Sacha smiled. This close he could see the fine hairs all over Pip's body. Pip put his left arm behind Sacha's neck and pulled him closer. They lay together in silence. Sacha was close enough for Pip to feel his warm breath on his cheek, his hair soft on his shoulder. Sacha looked up into Pip's eyes. He was not objecting, his head now rested on Pip's chest one arm under Pip's neck as Pip held him, his left arm around the younger boy's upper back, gently stroking his side, the right now running through his hair. Sacha relaxed. Pip felt the goose bumps on the younger boy's back, the boy's muscles relaxing as he moved his hand onto the boy's lower back. Sacha acquiesced to Pip's gentle touch. Sacha fluttered with his unspoken agreement, snuggling into Pip as if seeking sanctuary. Slowly the expectancy in the air increased as the two boys silently absorbed the sound of nature at its most fecund around them. Although it could be heard in the surrounding trees, no breeze penetrated their hideout.

The two boys lay together as Pip took the lead, the silence increasing in volume. In the distance seagulls squawked and trees rustled in the wind. Down below in their hiding place a spell was being created, a spell cast that enveloped the two boys, isolating them from the world outside. Now it was just the two of them and the blue sky above. To speak would have broken the silence, broken the spell that surrounded them, isolating them from the rest of the world. The inn in Ardvasar. Sacha remembered he had experienced these sensations before.

Far below, treading carefully so as not to make a noise, Jonathan followed their tracks until he reached a point where he could go no further. He was certain they were somewhere within, hidden from view. Jonathan hunkered down and listened hard but could hear nothing, but he knew something was going on between Pip and Sacha.

There was a silence between Pip and Sacha as the boys enjoyed the sun, still entangled. Eventually Pip looked at his watch. Time was moving on. Gently he kissed Sacha on his forehead, a chaste kiss of affection.

"We have to go."

The talking broke the spell. Pip was worried in case their absence would attract attention and bring people out to look. He sat up and gently squeezed Sacha's hand.

"We had better get back. Best not to say anything to anyone. You understand that, don't you?"

"Yes, I know."

Sacha was conscious he would like to come up here again, but now they would have to move to stop anyone talking about their absence. Jonathan heard the sounds of movement and began to retreat down the slope, keeping low to avoid being spotted. He certainly had something to tell Peter later on.

The two boys carefully removed the grass from their games kit before picking up the now sated caterpillars on their way out of the hide out to provide Mr Barnes with some evidence of their intended activities.

As they reached the road, Pip felt a sharp pain in his stomach, but it went just as quickly. By the time they reached the playing fields, the twinge returned. Suddenly Pip doubled up with a searing pain in his lower stomach, his eyes watering. Sacha looked concerned.

"Are you okay?"

"It's a twinge in my stomach. Must be something I ate."

Pip straightened up. Sacha looked him in the eye.

"Oh, perhaps you ought to see Matron?"

"Maybe." Pip's voice was husky and dark.

Mr Barnes did not notice Jonathan sneak back through a different opening in the hedge. He was more concerned about why Pip and Sacha had taken considerably longer than they had said in the field. He questioned them when they returned.

"So the caterpillars were particularly elusive today, were they?"

"Oh yes, sir, we had to search all over for them."

"Well, perhaps you had better put them down amongst some leaves over there and then get back for tea."

"Yes, sir, of course, but I am not really hungry."

"That's not like you, Pip. Not feeling well?"

"A stomach ache. I am sure it will pass though."

"Good, well get going. We are in danger of being late."

Pip sat in virtual silence during tea eating little, trying to ignore the spasms that were increasing in frequency and intensity. Since it was one of Mrs Prince's days off, Peter sat on her Fifth Form table at the opposite end to Sacha. The boys were discussing cricket.

"Mr Barnes is more interested in smoking than acting as umpire. He let two wides pass and he keeps changing the definition of the boundary, depending on who is batting and how each team is doing."

"Well, he does like to even things up."

Jonathan took advantage of the discussion amongst the others to lean close to Peter in conspiracy.

"Your brother went up Trendrine this afternoon with Cox."

"Really? Whatever for?"

"To collect caterpillars according to Owen. But they were gone for a long time. So long I went to have a look."

Peter looked sharply at Jonathan and lowered his voice.

"And?"

Jonathan knew to tread carefully.

"I didn't actually see anything, but they were hidden away for a good hour I would say."

Peter chewed on his sandwich, a frown on his face.

"I don't want to hear you tell this to anyone else, understand?"

"Okay, I won't."

Peter decided that he would talk to Sacha alone at some point; he feared his brother was getting in a bit too deep with Pip.

Suddenly there was a loud scrape of chairs. This meant the end of teatime so the boys began to file out in an orderly manner under the watchful eyes of Mr Durrant and Mr Wallace. On the Sixth Form table Pip had eaten hardly anything and hardly spoken a word. As Pip left the dining room into the sunlight, an acute spasm attacked him.

"Oh," was all he could muster as he found his vision fading to white as a shaft of pain went right through his middle. Pip instinctively made for the door, but as he reached for the door pillar to prop himself up his head started to spin and then he was down on his knees retching violently.

"Yuk!"

"Sir, Cox has been sick."

Around him a hubbub of boys gathered struggling to avoid the mess. Sacha was ahead of them, but he heard the commotion and saw Pip huddled on the floor; he had no time for more as Mr Durrant ordered them on.

"You boys stop gawping and get to prep."

Mr Wallace was quickly on the scene. He shouted at the boys still remaining in the dining hall.

"Stop right where you are! Stay still for a minute. Don't crowd round now. Mr Durrant?"

Mr Durrant immediately saw that Pip was being violently sick, an occupational hazard at a boarding school and called for assistance.

"Matron, I think your attentions are needed here."

Matron took one look at the pale shivering form of Pip as he doubled up in pain clutching his stomach and knew she wanted him in sickbay.

"You boys, come round this way."

Mr Durrant shooed the remaining boys away through the side door as quickly as he could so Matron could examine the boy now lying on the floor curled up in pain clutching his stomach. First Matron checked Pip's pulse rate, which was very rapid and then his forehead, which was dripping with sweat. As calmly as she could she took control of the situation.

"Oh Pip, you are running a really high temperature. Off to sickbay with you this minute. Mr Wallace, if you would be so kind?"

Accompanied by Matron, Mr Wallace quickly took Pip in his arms and carried him in to the sickbay. Pip was too sick to answer any questions as Matron took his temperature. As he lay on the bed he doubled up in pain and clung to the blanket. Mrs Porter came in as soon as she heard the news from Mr Durrant and went for the telephone.

"I think we had better ask the doctor to come over straight away, Matron."

Matron agreed; this was no upset stomach. On hearing the symptoms, the doctor came within twenty minutes.

"Hmm, let's have a look, shall we?"

Very gently the doctor felt Pip's lower stomach. When he reached the lower right hand side, Pip screamed in pain and nearly passed out. Matron reached over and put a calming hand on his brow. Pip was burning. The conclusion was obvious. He stood up and turned to Mrs Porter and Matron.

"Get a blanket. We'll take him to the hospital in my car. I don't want to wait any longer."

The doctor scribbled down a number and gave it to Mrs Porter.

"You can help to speed things up if you will."

"Of course."

"Call the admissions department straightaway. Tell them that we have a boy with suspected acute appendicitis coming in the next half hour. They need to call out Mr Green. I need a second opinion right away."

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