The Scholar's Tale

by Mihangel

Part 1, Chapter 2 - Acclimatisation

Once I was at Yarborough, Andrew Goodhart became my prime object of desire; indeed I fell in one-sided love with him at first sight. Greek god that he was, it could hardly be otherwise. Moreover he proved quite astonishingly friendly, infinitely more so than anyone at my prep school. It goes without saying that he made many friends in the house and on the cricket pitch, while I did not. But in sharing a study we were thrown together willy nilly. Far from writing me off as irredeemably boring, as he might very well have done from our first encounter, he went to endless pains to draw me out. He was my salvation. At first he steered tactfully clear of the yawning gaps in my experience and concentrated on my few strengths. Then, almost imperceptibly, he started introducing me to new ideas and guiding me towards a degree of social acceptability. He performed the miracle of getting me to communicate - small things at first, admittedly, but you have to start somewhere. It was all done so delicately that I was unaware of it at the time. Only later, in hindsight, did I come to understand his strategy. Goodness of heart was his nature, and he couldn't have had a more appropriate surname. Within a week of our first meeting it wasn't merely his body that I lusted for and dreamt of as I jacked off. I began to love him for his soul.

All this may make him sound like a goody-goody. But he was sight more than that. He was not only a strong and original character in his own right, but a bit of a natural rebel as well; and it was in this respect, in our very first week, that I inadvertently went up in his estimation. During a maths lesson - we were in the same set - it turned out that I didn't have the right textbook. When Jerry Lloyd the teacher, a pompous man, asked why, I replied "I apologise, sir, the supply was inadequate and I was unable to procure a copy." Lloyd threw me a very sharp look, but moved on.

Afterwards Andrew buttonholed me. "Blimey, Leon, you were pretty smart in taking the mickey out of Lloyd!"

"Uh?" I was bewildered. "What's wrong with what I said?"

"Well, anyone else would've said 'Sorry, sir, the shop had run out' or something."

What Andrew didn't know was that that was my natural way of talking formally to people like masters, though I'd learnt that only ordinary language meant anything to my peers. Instead, he assumed that I had a healthy disrespect for authority, just as he did. Wrong: I was the most respectful and law-abiding boy imaginable. But it taught me a lesson, and thereafter I was careful not to be pompous at all. Which merely confirmed to him that I had been taking the mickey.

Since all I heard from my parents was occasional curt bickerings, I rarely wrote home. But Andrew did regularly. In his first letter he'd reported that he was sharing with Leon Michaelson from Cambridge. His parents replied that I must be the son of philosophical friends of theirs whom they knew well professionally, though not so well personally. Andrew relayed this, and I confirmed it. Which set us to comparing parents. He too was an only child. His mum and dad were the exact counterparts of mine at Oxford, but in every other way, it sounded, as different from them as Andrew was from me. From all he said, they were warm, affectionate and tolerant, and he spoke of them with love in his voice. When I haltingly described my father and mother and my life with (or without) them, I could feel sympathy wafting from him. It was a sweltering day, and he suggested going to the buttery for a fizzy drink. I declined, not because I wasn't thirsty but because I was almost broke, though I didn't say so. He looked at me shrewdly but kindly. "Go on, have it on me."

"Thanks, Andrew, but no. I'll never be able to pay you back."

"That's not the point. I reckon I get more pocket money than you." And he said how much. A fortune, by my poor yardstick. "Look, it isn't my business, and you don't have to tell me anything. But is that more than you get?"


"A lot more?"


"Right, then. Have a Vimto on me. And forget about repaying."

I surrendered. Generosity was a phenomenon new to me, and I could have hugged him. So we swigged together. The gift was repeated at intervals. But not too often. He was aware that there's a limit to the charity one can comfortably accept.

We found, too, that we had similar senses of humour. Andrew was always cracking jokes and puns, which I enjoyed, though at first I didn't dare reciprocate in case I was laughed at the wrong way. Unlike some boys who were pretty foul-mouthed, though, he was a modest chap who rarely used dirty words or cracked dirty jokes, at least until we got to know each other much better. But I found he wasn't averse to mildly risqué fun. Another day in our first week I actually dared to initiate a conversation and share a joke. "Did you hear what Larry wrote on Griffiths's essay?" Larry was our form master, a delightful man who was also full of fun.

"No. What?"

"Well, Griffiths wrote something like 'When I wake up in the morning I stretch and feel rosy all over.' And Larry wrote in the margin 'How nice for Rosy.'"

Andrew hooted with laughter, and I giggled like a maniac too. Heady stuff. I couldn't remember anyone laughing with me before. Only at me. That particular inhibition dissolved.

Next day we were introduced to baked beans for lunch. "Good show," said Andrew, "I like beans." He tucked in heartily, while I, not being over-fond of them, ate modestly.

What our neighbours didn't tell us - we later heard that new boys were traditionally left to find out the hard way - was that house beans were the most vicious in the known universe, and most people gave them a wide berth. That evening, over prep in our study, Andrew was fidgety. "Leon, I'm sorry, I've just got to fart."

Practice in this respect was variable. Some boys farted in company at the drop of a hat. Most followed polite adult convention and contained themselves, and both Andrew and I, modest creatures, were of this persuasion. But asking to go to the bog during prep was heavily frowned on - 'surely you can last an hour?' So I understood Andrew's dilemma.

"Don't mind me, as long as you open the window."

He did, and let fly, fortissimo.

I risked a pun of my own. "Brilliant! Fart of the year! Anus mirabilis!"

He chortled. "Yes, ace of farts!"

"Andrew Goodfart!"

And we giggled helplessly like the two schoolboys we were.

In our studies we were allowed wind-up gramophones but not electric ones, and I'd brought mine from home. When Andrew saw it, he had his parents send over his collection of 78s, and we shared the gramophone. He was as unfamiliar with classical music as I was with popular, and we tried to educate each other. He had little success: try as I would, I simply couldn't see anything in his crooners and rock and only a little in his jazz. But he was a sensitive chap and - this was about the first non-academic success of my life - it cost me little effort to open his ears to the glories of Mozart symphonies and even the stark purity of Bach cantatas. In the same vein, there came the audition for the concert choir (as opposed to the much smaller and more proficient chapel choir). If your voice was unbroken, they automatically roped you in unless you were totally tone-deaf, and though I'd never sung before I was glad to be enrolled. Of broken voices, having many more to draw on, they were much more selective. But when Andrew showed a reluctance to try, I daringly prodded him to give it a go, and he agreed, and got in. Another minor triumph for Leon. So twice weekly we went to choir practice together, treble and tenor, and with great pleasure thundered out the choruses of Israel in Egypt.

Our first week, then, was not only full but bewildering, as we learnt the complex pattern of where we had to be when, doing what, with whom. At the end of it, sitting in our study drawing breath and looking back, I realised to my astonishment that I'd actually enjoyed it. And much of the enjoyment, I saw, had arisen from Andrew's presence, from his veiled encouragement, from his support. But some, yes, definitely some, had come from my own initiative. My shell was already being loosened, which allowed me to interact more with the outside world, which further reduced the need for the shell. It was a slow process, but it was visibly under way. What's more, I'd hardly been bullied - only a few disparaging remarks, and no nasty tricks or violence at all - and I concluded that Yarborough was a much more civilised place than my prep school. The whole atmosphere was a sight better. But I also felt subconsciously that I was under Andrew's wing. He never gave me the corny 'It's OK, kid, I'll look after you,' or anything like it. But somehow he seemed, in the background, to be doing just that. And this in turn helped me to open up to him, if not much yet to others. As all this went through my mind, tears began to ooze. Tears of relief, tears of gratitude.

Andrew saw, and was concerned. "Leon, what's up?"

I had to tell him. "Sorry. Nothing up. Happy. Happier than I've ever been before. Thanks to you. Can't think why you take any notice of me. I know I'm a swot. A drip. A weed."

"Leon. Look at me." He fixed me with a stern but kindly eye. "Leon, you're wrong, completely wrong. You're not a swot, you're a scholar. You're not a drip, you've got far too much gumption. And if you're a weed, you'll grow out of it. Get that into your head."

I gawped at him. It wasn't easy to get into my head. But such words from such a paragon couldn't be ignored, and presently my massive inferiority complex shrank several sizes.

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