Summer Term 1968
Anxiously Captain Porter waited outside the casualty unit at the Penzance hospital as nurses and doctors walked in and out in a quiet purposeful manner, their faces giving no clues as to the drama taking place behind the double swing doors. Inside Pip was barely conscious in the consulting room. He lay pale and sweating with a high temperature doubled up in pain despite the painkillers he had been given. His mind drifted from the reality of the pain and the cream and white windowless room to wild dreams of over amplified voices echoing around his head. The door was ajar so the sister on duty could keep an eye on him. She had seen plenty of cases like his. Appendicitis. They were just waiting for Mr Green to confirm the diagnosis and the operating room to become vacant.
In a great flurry Mr Green arrived out of the wet of a thunderstorm and made straight for the casualty unit, still dripping. He hung his coat behind the door and put on his white cloak before carefully and thoroughly washing his hands.
"Well, what have you for me tonight, nurse?"
"Philip Cox, a 12 year old boy, high fever, cramps, very tender in the lower right abdomen."
"Right, well, let's just double check, just in case it isn't what we all think it is. Has he eaten or drunk anything in the last few hours?"
"Not since tea at 5pm. His Headmaster Captain Porter is outside."
"Oh, The Rocks. We have our son down for there. Let's have a look then."
"This way. He's called Pip by the way."
Mr Green walked through the door into the room with the sister where Pip was lying, neither asleep nor awake.
"Hello, Pip. I am Joseph Green. It's my job to sort you out." Pip was not really up to talking. "Now don't you worry about making polite conversation. You probably don't feel up to it just at the moment by the look of it." Mr Green felt Pip's brow. "Hmm, what was the reading the last time you checked?"
"104, about an hour ago."
"Okay then, let's have a little look, shall we? Sister."
The sister came forward and gently undid Pip's hospital robe to let Mr Green slowly put the palm of his hand on Pip's lower abdomen and felt around. Pip yelped and curled up in pain.
"All right, Pip, that's all I need to know. Don't worry. I think we need to get straight on with this tonight."
As they walked out, Mr Green turned to the sister.
"Not much doubt there. Call the theatre staff. Just need to get scrubbed up and the paper work sorted."
"We've already called in Mr Fraser. He arrived a few minutes ago."
"Good, we will be calling on his services shortly."
Mr Green came out still in his robe. It was the result Captain Porter feared.
"Hello, Captain Porter. Sorry to meet like this again under these circumstances. Pip possibly has a perforated appendix. I am going to have to operate straightaway. The operating theatre is being prepared and the anaesthetist has just arrived."
"I have tried to call his parents, but they are not in."
"Captain Porter, we need to operate right now. I take it you can act in loco parentis ? We don't have time to wait, I'm afraid."
Captain Porter thought briefly. "Yes, of course I will act in loco parentis , but we will keep trying to contact his parents naturally."
"Of course, but it really is best not to wait in cases like this, Captain Porter. We really need to operate now. Any delay and it increases the risk to Philip's well being. We need to proceed straightaway."
The urgency in Mr Green's voice was enough to remove any further doubts. Captain Porter signed the paperwork and then called his wife who answered immediately. She had been sitting in the office waiting for the call.
"Young Pip has a possible perforated appendix. I have had to give permission to operate straightaway. We can't wait unfortunately."
"Perforated? Oh, that is bad. Pip was right as rain until this afternoon according to his classmates. I will keep trying to make contact with Pip's parents. No answer from their home number yet."
"Just say it is an appendix operation and I think that is what we say to the boys too at this stage."
Eventually Mrs Porter made contact. It was kinder coming from a woman rather than Captain Porter.
"Mrs Cox? Mrs Porter here from The Rocks."
A telephone call from the school late in the evening was most unexpected.
"Hello, how is Pip? I hope nothing is wrong."
Mrs Porter made straight to the point. There was no point being oblique about it.
"I'm afraid there is. Pip went down with suspected acute appendicitis this afternoon."
"Oh goodness, what is happening? Should we come down?"
"He is hospital. My husband is with him. We couldn't wait, I am afraid. My husband acted in loco parentis and gave permission for the operation. He is in the operating theatre now."
"Oh, excuse me."
The telephone at the other end was covered up, explanations given to someone else in the room. A man's voice came on the line.
"Mrs Porter, sorry, I have had to take over. Pip has appendicitis, has he?"
"Yes. He developed symptoms this afternoon. The doctor came immediately and took him to hospital about four hours ago. The surgeon has come down from Truro and should be operating now."
"Do we know exactly what is happening?"
"My husband called me half an hour ago. He is down there waiting for any news. They were preparing Pip for the theatre when he called."
"Well, we will come down immediately. My wife needs to be there when he comes round."
"Of course she does. The hospital is signposted from the main road. You can't miss it. If you want to come into the school, just ask for me or Matron and we will help sort things out for you. We are just getting his pyjamas and things together now. One of the masters will be going down shortly. Someone from the school will be at the hospital until you arrive. I will get a hotel sorted out for you and leave the information with whoever is at the hospital."
Captain Porter remained at the hospital until Mr Wallace arrived with Mr Barnes.
"They are operating now. Just a bit of waiting around for pre-meds and that sort of thing."
"Oh right, well, I have brought my Times crossword puzzle with me. So I will be able to sit it out."
"Will you be all right? We can send out a relief party later on."
"I'll be fine, Captain Porter. It just means sitting here. I've done worse things."
"Okay, well, we will get back to school and make sure someone comes first thing in the morning. Probably my wife. I am sure she will come and his parents are coming down overnight."
Mr Barnes settled down for the wait, his Times and a hip flask to hand. He wanted to be there when Pip came round after his operation before his parents arrived.
As soon as Captain Porter returned with Mr Wallace, he and Mr Durrant went upstairs to speak to the senior boarders in 6W. Captain Porter switched on the lights. The boys were wide-awake even though it was well past their normal bedtime.
"Well, I thought you would want to know the latest news. Cox has appendicitis and is being operated on right now. It's not too much of a worry. It was very quick, though. Cox should be out of surgery in the next hour or so. I am sure we will know in the morning. Now do try and settle down. We will let you know how things went in the morning, I am sure."
Mr Durrant sat on Pip's empty bed, picking up his pyjamas.
"I will be downstairs, if anyone needs me. Just come down. All right? Now off to sleep."
After Captain Porter left 6W, there was a whispered conversation. Clancy was the boy with the answers.
"It is a pretty common operation these days. Pip should be okay. I imagine he'll be off school for a couple of weeks, though."
Peter was thoughtful. As Head Boy he knew the others looked to him to offer guidance. He also wanted to reassure his brother. He knew Sacha would be worried; he wanted to tell him the news himself. To cover up this personal duty, Peter decided to tell all the Fifth and Sixth Form boys.
"We had better tell the others. Clangers, fancy coming with me? You know more about it than the rest of us."
Peter and Clancy left their dormitory and made their way across to 6E. 5W had to wait their turn. The boys were aware that something bad had happened. They had seen Pip, pale and swaddled, being carried into the doctor's car that afternoon.
Eventually Peter and Clancy entered 5W.
"We thought we had better tell you what is going on. You saw Cox go off to hospital earlier? Well, it is appendicitis. Not uncommon, is it, Clancy?"
"No, straightforward enough, now they know. Captain Porter said they were operating as he left. Pip is probably through it now."
"Well, any questions? We will probably know more tomorrow."
Clancy dealt with the questions. Peter knew he had something else to do. He sat on his brother's bed. Sacha was curled up in the corner, only his eyes, fearful saucers, showed. Peter rested a reassuring hand on his brother's shoulder.
"He'll be okay, I am sure, Sacha."
Sacha kept his own fears to himself. Was it anything to do with their activities that afternoon? He turned to face the wall. Even his brother could not reach out to him just now.
"Mr Durrant is downstairs if anyone needs anything."
"Or you can come up to our dorm, if you want. I am sure that will be okay."
Peter squeezed his brother's shoulder.
A very slight nod came from Sacha. Peter knew to leave it there. Sacha knew what Peter meant.
"All right, good night then."
Jonathan waited five minutes, then quietly he leaned down from the upper bunk.
"I am sure he will be fine."
Sacha was not going to say anything. After a short pause and detecting no movement or response, Jonathan lay back carefully in his top bunk and went to sleep. Sacha stayed awake in silence for a while before he too succumbed, despite himself. Captain Porter stayed downstairs with his wife awaiting news. Eventually, at 12.30 he received a telephone call from Mr Barnes.
"Pip's just out of surgery now. Went fine apparently. I am going to sit with him as Mr Green thinks he should come round reasonably soon."
"Well, tell him that his parents are driving down tonight and everyone is thinking of him. The older boys already know. We told them tonight."
"Oh yes, I suppose that was the right thing to do."
"Well, they did see him leave and everything. They knew something was up."
"Of course. Well, I am sure we will have good news for them in the morning."
Next morning a tired sounding Mr Barnes called Captain Porter again.
"He came round briefly, quite delirious, but went back to sleep. A bit sore is the euphemism they use, I believe."
"Oh good. His parents called to let us know that they expect to arrive sometime soon. I will let the rest of the school know at breakfast shortly. We will send out a relief party for you after breakfast. I will take your lessons this morning. I am sure you will want to rest up a bit."
The queue for breakfast was unusually quiet. There was only one topic of conversation until Captain Porter entered and banged on the head table to bring silence.
"Well, I am sure you will all have heard that Philip Cox went down with appendicitis yesterday afternoon. You will be pleased to know that he successfully had it removed last night and is now recovering in hospital. Mr Barnes has been with him all night and he phoned me this morning to say that Philip, Pip, is sore but comfortable. I am sure we are all glad to hear that. His parents will be arriving soon and then I am sure we will find out when we can expect to see him again. Meanwhile, I know this sort of thing is disruptive, but I would like to maintain a normal routine other than I will be taking Mr Barnes's classes this morning." There was a subdued groan from some parts of the dining hall at the last piece of news.
Pip had only fragmentary memories of the last eighteen hours. Returning to the cricket pitch and then being sick was his last proper memory. After that he had fragments of memory of lying on bed in sick bay with Mrs Porter and Matron looking down at him, then doubling up in pain when the doctor examined him and a car ride swaddled in blankets. Beyond that he remembered very little other than voices, the most welcome being Mr Barnes's.
Pip stirred fitfully, his eyelids flickered and he groaned. Hands gently repositioned him.
"Come on, Pip, time to open those eyes. The doctors want to know how you are."
It was very early in the morning. Apart from Mr Barnes there was also a nurse in attendance. Just then a man Pip took to be the doctor walked in.
"So how are we, Pip?"
"All right, don't strain yourself, just relax. Someone will be here keeping an eye on you. Just try to sleep. You will feel better in a little while."
Pip slept fitfully. Whenever he woke, he was conscious of Mr Barnes being at his side, in an easy chair, a new copy of the Times crossword on his lap. Mr Barnes said nothing, just looked over at Pip if he stirred and put his hand on Pip's until he dropped back to sleep again.
Pip woke properly late morning, now aware he that he must be in hospital, his parents at his bedside. Men and women came to visit him, dressed in white. He soon realised that he had had some kind of operation, aware of a sharp pain in his lower abdomen where his appendix had been.
Pip's parents were there. His mother spoke.
"You've had your appendix out, dear. It's all over now. You just need to rest up for a bit and do what your doctor tells you."
That first day passed in a blur as the anaesthetic wore off, but Pip began to feel bored already as his parents had little to say other than to sit there, read the papers and bring him anything he wanted.
The next morning Pip at least no longer felt the after effects of the anaesthetic, but there was still a sharp pain in his abdomen that made even the slightest move a prolonged and awkward activity. That second morning his parents arrived at about 9 o'clock and then after a brief update on his condition, his father leaned over him.
"Well, Pip, looks like you are on the mend. I really have to get going for tomorrow, but your mother will stay for a day or two longer."
In a way Pip was relieved. His parents being in attendance made him feel like they thought he was at death's door. He was not, he reasoned. His father swiftly returned to London, but his mother stayed on until he was definitely on the mend. He chatted with his mother, or rather she passed on a lot of inconsequential family news to him as she knitted away and he listened passively. On the fourth day she smiled.
"Look, darling, I have got to go back home. The rest of the family need looking after."
Putting on an act for his mother, Pip smiled bravely.
"That's okay. It is pretty boring. You don't come to Cornwall to sit in this place, do you?"
Despite himself, tears welled up as his mother left.
That afternoon Mr Barnes and Mrs Prince turned up together. Captain Porter guessed that Pip's two favourite teachers were probably the best visitors and they could be spared from games duty. They sat at the side of the bed, some fruit placed between them from everyone at school. Pride of place was given to a huge 'Get well soon' card, signed by everyone from the youngest boys in their half formed writing to the likes of Jonathan, Owen, Clancy, the Johnson twins and Peter.
Pip scanned the card, noting the name of each boy aloud. He worked his way methodically from top left to bottom right and then repeated the exercise on the opposite page. No signature from Sacha. Mr Barnes and Mrs Prince had let him read the card and then when he looked up in askance, Pip noticed that Mr Barnes had another smaller card in his hand.
"Perhaps you were looking for this? Matron gave it to me for special delivery as she put it."
It was a simple get-well card, but inside was Sacha's childlike signature, a bit shaky, at the bottom. There was no embellishment, no message, but it was an individual message, not just one of the masses. Mr Barnes knew full well what Pip wanted to know.
"Sacha's in sickbay at the moment, nothing serious, headachy, fever, that sort of thing. Matron is keeping him in purely as a precaution. Some sort of virus probably."
"He really wasn't with it the morning after you came in here. A complete daze, probably not slept a wink. I sent him off to Matron. He's fine really, but Matron kept him in the sick bay for a bit, just to keep an eye on him."
Pip bit his lip. He really wanted to see Sacha, but that wasn't going to be possible. There was a silence until Mr Barnes broke it.
"Now come on. When you were driving me down here, you were telling me about your exhibition in St Ives."
Mr Barnes and Mrs Prince chatted on about the planned exhibition; Pip tried to listen, but found himself looking at the small card again and realised he was missing Sacha.
"Look one of us will be back tomorrow, not sure who, but we will be here. Just let us know if you want anything, won't you?"
"I am fine just now thanks, but can you tell everyone, thanks for the card. It was nice of them and tell Sacha I hope he gets better soon."
From then on either Mr Barnes or Mrs Prince visited each afternoon. Mr Barnes brought some books, illustrated Tintin annuals that he knew Pip had adored when slightly younger. Mrs Prince brought in some drawing paper. She already had some of his figurative work stored away for the end of term and thought it might be an opportunity to draw some more. However, Pip found he couldn't draw; it gave him a headache. Instead, Pip started to make a model out of matchboxes, toilet rolls and any other small subjects he could scrounge. The model had no purpose to start with, but then began to turn into a fantasy topsy-turvy village. He realised it was a three dimensional representation of some of his drawings. He had not intended to keep it, but before Pip left hospital Mrs Prince stepped in and took it back to her home to mount it on a board for safekeeping. Something for the annual art exhibition on sports day.
There had been an awkward visit from Captain Porter the next morning. After some initial small talk, which both Captain Porter and Pip struggled with, Captain Porter came to the reason for his visit.
"I have some news for you."
"I am afraid it's not good news. The amount of schoolwork you missed by being in here means that we don't think you would stand much of a chance in your scholarship exams now. I've talked to your new headmaster and we have decided that you will just do the Common Entrance exam instead. Don't worry about it too much. Your new school is well aware of what has happened. They have promised to give you a place whatever happens based on my report and your marks to date. Your new school is also offering you the chance to do the scholarship exam in the autumn, if you still want to."
Pip had dreaded the scholarship exams and was fearful of failure and public humiliation. At least he was now spared that. However, despite himself, Pip still felt down. He was not to do the scholarship, something he had wanted to do, to prove he could, not just to his parents but also to others, also to Sacha he realised. Something new, a competitive edge was coming to play. Apart from himself, only Clancy was down for a scholarship this year. Pip had enjoyed receiving the special attention even if it meant extra work on occasion. Now that was to waste, he felt.
Mr Barnes dropped by that afternoon, apologetic at the pile of books he had with him.
"Sorry, Pip, dear boy, but exams are approaching. So no prep, just revision for you. Mr Wallace, Mr Durrant and I have prepared these work sheets for you; subjects to cover
etc. Don't try and do too much too soon. Just a bit now and then."
"Captain Porter has told me I am not doing the scholarship anymore."
"And later told me that you were not really up to it. He was very apologetic to your parents."
Despite the kind words of Mr Barnes, Pip felt a surge of panic begin to well up. He allowed the panic to turn to tears.
"Oh dear, Pip, it's okay really. I think Captain Porter explained things to you? Effectively you have been given an unconditional offer at your new school already. Captain Porter has fixed that for you."
"I know, sir, but…" Tears flooded Pip's eyes. "But the thing is… I wanted to do the scholarship, to prove I could. Now I am not allowed to."
"Oh, dear boy. Look, let's just concentrate on you doing well in these exams, for pride if nothing else. Here, where's my pen? This is how we will do it."
Mr Barnes sat down with the list and split the revision tasks up into manageable chunks day by day. He decided on an hour's work followed by quarter of an hour off, three in the morning and two in the afternoon.
"And for literature, well, you like reading, don't you? It's Day of the Triffids and War of the Worlds . You can do those in the evening, can't you?"
Together they worked out a plan of action, a campaign Mr Barnes called it. Suddenly, it looked so much better. Now that he was working each day Pip had a teacher visit from the school each afternoon. Mr Barnes, but also Mr Wallace and Mr Durrant, turned up in turn, partly to check on his work, but also to see how he was. Out of the school Pip realised that both masters were genuinely pleased to see him and pass on some gossip, but it was Mr Barnes who Pip most looked forward to seeing. It was him he asked the question most on his mind.
"Well," Mr Barnes paused enough for Pip to realise that he might not get the whole truth, even from his favourite teacher.
"Sacha is fine. He's back in lessons and he's been having remedial swimming lessons. He's not very happy about that, but Mr Durrant insisted. Don't worry. Matron is keeping a very close eye on him as, I am relieved to say, is Peter. He has been taking a much closer interest in Sacha of late."
That was Pip's last day in hospital. The next day Mr Green paid a final visit to him. He poked about gently at Pip's still livid scar.
"Healing nicely and the soreness has mostly gone, hasn't it?"
"It's much better, thanks."
"Well, I think you should be getting out of here and back into normal life, but take things gently. No swimming, no games, no running around, just some gentle R'n'R is what you need."
"Rest and recreation. I have spoken to Mrs Porter about it. She's seeing to it that you will not overstep things for the next week and then we can have another check, but I am sure it will be fine."
Captain Porter brought Pip back to school. As they rolled through the gates of the school, Pip was genuinely happy to return.
"Well here we are. Remember this place? Take things easy for the next couple of days. That's the main thing. Mr Durrant tells me you did quite a bit of work in hospital by the way."
"Yes, sir. Well, I still have exams."
"I know. No harm in having ambition."
As the car crunched to a halt on the gravel, the main doors to the school opened and there was Mrs Porter.
"Welcome back, Pip. Good to see you. Your class mates will be so pleased."
Mrs Porter took charge of things.
"We are going to ease you in gently. It is going to bit of a shock getting into the old routine, I suspect. No lessons for you just now. They can start this afternoon. Mr Barnes is just going to run through all the books you have been reading with you. The other teachers will do the same over the next couple of days, I expect."
Pip followed Mrs Porter into the Staff room where Mr Barnes sat surrounded by a cloud of smoke from his pipe. The old teacher seemed genuinely delighted to have Pip back in school.
"Come in, come in. Excuse the exercise books. The Fifth formers have written some perfectly rotten essays today. Well, most of them."
Pip sat in an alcove with Mr Barnes and the two of them went through the books Pip had read whilst in hospital. They talked on the common themes and connections between Day of the Triffids and On the Beach . Pip lapped it up; he had very strong views on Day of The Triffids .
"But that is why it is such a good book, of course, Pip. It makes you think."
"But are humans really that beastly?"
"Sometimes, we all are. You can be horrid when you want, can't you?"
"I suppose so, sir, like pulling wings off a moth for example? Well, I don't do that any more."
"Well, I am glad to hear it, but most boys have their moments."
"What, even Clancy?"
"Clancy is a mean bridge player. That's his vice. He always plays to win. A changed boy with a stack of cards in his hand."
Because he was still convalescing, Pip found he was to sleep in the sickbay where Matron could watch over him. Pip had wanted desperately to be back in the dorm with the other boys. That was where all the gossip was exchanged, but for the moment, for the first couple of days, Matron was firm. He was to sleep alone in the sickbay with early bed times until she was convinced that the colour was back in his cheeks and that he would not be unduly tired.
Matron also put other limits on Pip: no PE, no swimming, no games and no rough-housing with the others. Instead, after lunch he was to come back to the sick bay for a quiet period of rest.
At lunchtime Pip was finally allowed to join his fellow Sixth Formers. As Pip waited for them, he looked around for Sacha. The Fifth Formers emerged together, Sacha, his red hair blazing in the sun, emerged with Jonathan. They were deep in discussion until Jonathan saw him.
Before any more could be said, Mr Wallace shooed them away. "Plenty of time for chatter after lunch. You two go and join the queue."
Jonathan led the way to their right place in the queue. Sacha looked back. He wanted to say more, but could not without incurring the wrath of Mr Wallace.
Pip's lunch was spent with his fellow Sixth Formers. He found himself answering lots of questions as he tried to eat his food, much better than what he had been eating in hospital.
After lunch, Matron was waiting for him. "Come on, some quiet time for you."
Pip found himself being led off to the sick room where he had the luxury of his own bedroom, all to himself. Pip soon dozed off only to wake at about three in the afternoon. Matron looked in on him as he stirred.
"It's a lovely day. Why don't you go and watch the cricket? But stay in the shade. I will be down to check on you with something to drink a bit later."
All the senior boys were down on the main field, with a First and Second game in progress. Currently batting was Sacha; he had been put in the First Team as substitute wicket keeper. Pip sat under the shade of the oak trees as he had been ordered to do, a book close to hand. Sacha lasted for another few overs and then was caught out by Peter. Sacha marched off to the Pavilion where the other players were, but on seeing Pip, waved and signalled to him. Two minutes later Sacha reappeared minus his pads and came over into the shade where Pip was sitting. He sat down close to Pip to provide companionship. Pip was shocked at how pale he was and noted the bags under his eyes as Sacha squinted at Pip against the sun.
"Bad luck getting caught like that."
"Well, I asked for it and of course Peter is always ready to catch his little brother, isn't he?"
"What have you been up to? I got your card by the way."
"I went down with something when you had your appendix out. Matron kept me in bed for a week. That's why I wasn't allowed to visit. I did ask."
"So I wasn't the only invalid then?"
"A virus they think. The doctor did these blood tests, but they could not find much wrong, but he and Matron just prescribed rest and quiet. It got really boring after a while."
Sacha paused for a second. Something he had to unburden himself with. "And… and I missed you."
"Well you're back now."
"But I am not going to be doing much. I am banned from swimming, PE, games and anything at all boisterous. They are going to keep me under close observation for the next few days at least."
Pip changed the subject. "So you're in the First Team now?"
"Only because they were short. Peter really doesn't like it, having me there. I bet I will be back in the Second Team next time round."
Being an invalid was not too bad an experience for Pip. Cricket was not a favourite game for him, but next afternoon he chose to watch the game with Sacha in it. As Sacha predicted he had been banished back to the Second Game. Mr Barnes was in charge and he had an idea.
"Pip, you know the rules of the game, LBW and all that, don't you?"
"Oh yes, sir, you know I do."
"Well how about you try out as umpire for a bit? Not too long mind. You are not supposed to be in the sun for long at the moment."
"Oh, can I sir? Yes, I would like that."
"I'll be watching from the boundary, in the shade. Just ten overs mind and then I will take over."
Pip took his role seriously; he put on a sun hat as provided by Matron and tied a jumper around his waist as that seemed to be what umpires did. Pip found his role as umpire enjoyable, especially when he called 'wide' a couple of times. The honeymoon was short lived. Eventually things reached the stage where the other boys challenged some of Pip's decisions. Clancy bowled, Jonathan chipped the ball behind him. It bounced, fielded by Sacha, arm outstretched. Jonathan dashed back to his crease as Sacha promptly lobbed the ball at the stumps just as Jonathan made a frantic reach with his bat. Too late. Sacha's accurate throw took out the left stump sending the bails flying.
Sacha looked triumphant. Jonathan protested loudly.
"That was never. I was well within the crease."
Jonathan bristled with as much indignity as he could muster. Mr Barnes stepped in.
"The umpire's decision is final. You should know that, Pierce. Now, next man, please."
Bat slung over his shoulder, Jonathan marched off into the shade undoing his pads as he went.
"Know thine enemy."
That evening Pip went to watch the senior boys swimming. Clancy stayed with him at the top reading his book. He had never learnt to swim.
"How is it, Pip?"
"I'd rather be down there, in the water with the others."
"Oh, I never liked swimming here, too cold. The Romans had the right idea, hot baths, steam rooms, that sort of thing."
Pip looked at the impressively thick book on Clancy's lap.
"What are you reading?"
" The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire . It's a bit dry in parts, but just goes to show how nothing lasts for ever."
Pip looked down at the other boys having fun. Owen was looking aimlessly from rock pool to rock pool. A small group of boys, Sacha amongst them, were practising their breaststroke under Mr Wallace's instructions. The other boys were bouncing a beach ball around in the water.
"This is never going to last, is it?"
"Our last term, so just a few weeks."
"Don't say that. It sounds so final."
"Things have to move on, Pip, especially at our age. I am looking forward to a new school, one with a decent library."
"But haven't you enjoyed it here? I mean, you won't get this at another school."
Pip looked around where they sat, the rugged Cornish landscape, the cliffs, the coves, the sea, the friends.
"I know I am going to miss it, and my friends, especially my friends."
Pip could not help himself. He looked over his shoulder. Sacha was standing chest high in water, his hair, wet, covering his eyes. It never seemed to bother him that his fringe covered his eyes. Clancy followed his gaze. He knew without looking who Pip was observing.
"There will be other friends in due course, just maybe different."
"I guess, I mean you are right. I know it will never be the same."
Pip felt a wave of sadness come over him. This time was coming to an end, within just a few weeks.
The two boys stayed together at the cliff top in companionable silence, reading in the late afternoon sun that blazed each day with monotonous regularity. Come the weekend, Sacha's name was down for an away game for the First XI as wicket keeper. There was to be no going out. Pip was at a loss as to what to do, not something he had faced in years as normally there was some one around, but instead of being at a loose end scrabbling for companionship, Mrs Prince had an alternate offer.
"Pip, fancy coming with me to my home? I want some help mounting that model village you created in hospital. It's going in the art exhibition."
"Really? I didn't think it that good. I mean it's all topsy turvy."
"Not all art is based on the realistic representation of the facts, Pip. Indeed, perhaps I should take you to meet a friend of mine? She's quite famous in her own way."
Mrs Prince had a cottage in the heart of St Ives. The downstairs was a cluttered living area with a bedroom and kitchen beyond, but upstairs there was a studio with big windows letting in the light from all directions. Pictures lined the walls, but in the middle, on a table was Pip's creation.
"We need to mount this."
Mrs Prince moved things out of the way and looked around the studio, searching for what she wanted. It only took a few moments before a piece of plywood was produced.
"Here, take this piece of wood here. We can put it on that."
With Mrs Prince in charge and Pip's help the model was attached to a base of wood and Pip set to putting the finishing touches to it concealing the base. Mrs Prince mixed some white rendering and Pip steadily applied it until the base and model were one. Pip stood back and admired his handiwork.
"Not bad. It looks a lot better now it's mounted on something."
"Good, I am glad you think so. I can see it was a real labour of love."
They went out into the town; the early season tourists were enjoying the seafront and frequenting the shops selling souvenirs and ice creams. Mrs Prince took Pip and showed him some of her paintings in one of the galleries in St Ives.
"I have something else to show you."
"A surprise. Come with me."
Together, Mrs Prince leading the way, they went into the church. Pip was suspicious of churches; surely Mrs Prince was not religious? Inside the church Mrs Prince took him to look at a sculpture of the Madonna. It was all curves, organic. Pip struggled to find the language to express what he saw in it other than he knew that it was something special. Seeing his interest, Mrs Prince made Pip an offer.
"That's the work of this friend of mine. Do you fancy meeting her?"
"You mean we can see her, the artist, I mean?" Pip's curiosity rose.
"Oh yes, come on. She's got a lot more in her workshop, always working away on them, but I know she finishes early in the afternoon. So we won't disturb her."
They walked up the hill to one of the side streets where there was an anonymous white building on a corner with few windows to give a clue as to its purpose. Mrs Prince knocked on the door and the artist came to the door. She was wearing dusty overalls and had a cigarette in her hand, but was very keen to invite them in. Pip didn't listen to the conversation; he just let himself be led upstairs and into the garden to the studios at the back. Pip was fascinated by the sheer size of the works that littered her studio and in the garden outside. He was also mystified how such a small woman, who chain-smoked throughout their visit, could produce works on such a scale. The visit impressed Pip enormously. Could he produce something on that scale if he tried?
When Pip returned with Mrs Prince, they arrived just as the First XI came in elated after a resounding away win. Sacha was in the thick of them with his brother. He had taken two catches and three wickets. Pip could only watch from the periphery, sitting with Owen.
That evening at the top of the cliffs Pip managed to catch up with Sacha as he was running down to Chapel Cove in just his swimming trunks, his towel neatly rolled around a tee shirt to provide protection from the still strong sun, should it be needed.
"Hi, Sacha, I was wondering if you were free tomorrow? We won't be able to go far, but we could go somewhere perhaps?"
Sacha looked at Pip embarrassed. "I am already going out. Sorry, Pip. It's Peter. He wants to take me somewhere. I have to go with him."
"He is my brother and well, he asked at the beginning of the week and mentioned it whilst we were at the match this afternoon again. I can't change it now. Sorry. Another time?"
A week later it was almost the same story.
"Jonathan asked me last night in the dorm. Well, you know what he is like when he wants to get his way. I have to get out. I mean school's great, but you have to get away sometimes."
"I wish I could join you. You know, like before."
"Well, it's okay. Jonathan is pretty good company. Mind you, he just likes to swim and eat ice cream. It's not really the same, but he chats up the girls."
"And you? I mean with the girls?"
"I am just along for the ride mostly, but Jonathan always looks for a pair. He's good at it."
Pip bit his lip and said nothing. The opportunities to see Sacha had diminished rapidly this term. Sacha seemed to have other things occupying him, notably cricket. Now that Sacha was a regular in the First XI with Jonathan and Peter, his free time was often taken up with away games. Now the only time the two boys saw each other for more than a few moments was in the late afternoon when Pip would stay at the top and watch, with more than a little envy, as the other boys went swimming in the cove below.
Sacha was always down at the Cove now. When he did swim in free time at the end after his swimming lesson, it was mostly with Jonathan, always unmistakeable with his hair even half a bay away. Jealously Pip noticed that they sometimes disappeared together around the point well away from the other boys. Pip went and looked one afternoon, but Sacha and Jonathan were hidden from view by the cliff top that leaned precariously outwards from the sea itself at this point. The overhanging cliff meant you could not look down directly from the top, nor could you hear anything from below, what with the constant sound of the waves, the wind and the seagulls.
Disappointed with his semi-invalid status, Pip was only too pleased when half term arrived the following week. As he prepared to leave The Rocks for half term he packed a bag of books for revision. He was joining Mr Wallace, who was escorting a small group of boys on the train to London.
At breakfast that final morning, Pip learnt from Peter that the Morgan family were going to be staying in Bristol with Sam. The two brothers came downstairs after breakfast for the second time, Sacha's trunk carried between them, as Mrs Morgan and Sam arrived. Mrs Porter seeing Mrs Morgan immediately went over to her and filled her in about Sacha. "He's been in sick bay for a few days, some sort of virus we think. Nothing to worry about. He's fine now as you can see."
Sam took charge, opening the boot of the car before Mrs Morgan returned and fussed over her two sons.
"Well, come on, you two. Sacha, Mrs Porter tells me that you have been in sick bay for a week this term. What was it this time?"
"Oh, nothing much."
"He just wanted a rest, lazy dog."
"I am not!"
"Hush, you two, really!"
"My, you two look so tanned. You would think you have both been on holiday and not at school."
"Oh it's been great this term, hasn't it, Sacha?"
"Oh yes, we go swimming each afternoon."
"I told you he would be all right with Peter here."
"Come on, put your things in the back. Sam has found us a nice flat to stay in. It's a lecturer's flat right in Clifton."
Sacha turned to Pip just as he was getting in the back seat of the car.
Peter leaned over from his side. "Yes, next stop exams, you and me both."
With a scrunch of gravel, the Morgan family left school.
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