One of Us

by Richard Campbell

Chapter 7

After that, things went better. Although clearly unwell, Peter managed to keep his irritation and temper in check and there were no more incidents with the staff. He had been taken aback by Mark's determination and had no wish to put it to the test again. But it wasn't easy to remain in control, especially with his peers. There were times when it was hard not to lash out at someone but he knew that if he did Mark would come flying to his aid whether it was needed or not, which might turn some of their contemporaries against him. Mark had never been popular, he would never understand the reason, but he had been gaining some approval since they had become friends. If he was happier now it was partly due to that and he had no intention of jeopardising it. He had always had it in him to be happy and he was going make sure that Mark became even more so if it were humanly possible, so he gritted his teeth and held onto his temper.

But some things he could do nothing about. The deterioration in his skills for instance. He knew that he wasn't doing particularly well at anything just then and resented the unexpressed disappointment in him. Even when unwell he was better than anyone else, but everyone wanted more and expected him to pull rabbits out of the hat on every possible occasion. In this he was being a little unfair. Certainly there were some who were disappointed and even irritated by the situation, but there were just as many who realised that there was something wrong with him, and liked him enough to be concerned about it.

As to the cause, he knew what was wrong with him and knew the remedy as well as Emily and Victor did. But there was nothing that he could do about it, or rather, the simple answer wasn't the one he wanted. Mark had been perfectly correct when he guessed that Peter wanted something from him. He did, desperately, but didn't feel that he could explain it. He told himself that Mark wasn't ready, that it was too soon, that he was too young, that he might offer it out of love. But the truth of the matter was that he was afraid. Afraid of losing what he already had.

It wasn't something that he felt he could discuss with Emily and Victor either. They had never ordered him to do anything, even in the early stages of his adoption, always encouraging him to make his own decisions. They might suggest a course of action but had always supported him if he went against that advice. Their method had been to discuss the problem, lay out the alternatives and consequences, then leave it up to him. But on this occasion he didn't have either their input or their advice, and unable to talk to Mark about it either, he was finding it more and more difficult to see his way clear.

He cared very deeply for Mark, more so than he had ever done for anyone else including his foster parents, and that was the crux of the matter. That very caring was intensely private and something to be shared only with the person he loved. He had no wish to bare the innermost secrets of mind and body to anyone but Mark.

The partial remedy he rejected out of hand. It was Mark he wanted, and only Mark. He was the only person who could give him what he really needed. Anything else would be a substitute and, in a way, a betrayal of him. Even Victor's well meant advice that he should at least consider the alternative fell on deaf ears. He knew what he wanted, and wasn't prepared to accept anything less.

Increasingly worried, Emily and Victor got in touch with Sir James and explained Peter's dilemma. His reply was typically forthright.

"He must not take advantage of the boy under any circumstances. I am pleased with the way he is handling it so far although I feel that his scruples are exaggerated and I shall tell him so when I see him. But I repeat, Emily, Mark's welfare is more important than Peter's needs which after all he can satisfy elsewhere. Even if it is not precisely what he desires, he must do that rather than ask for something that the boy might feel obliged to give him. Keep me informed, my dear, and send Peter to talk to me. I don't want this to get out of control."

Peter, faced with the prospect of this interview, felt that things were definitely getting out of his control. It was one thing to keep his thoughts from Emily and Victor. It was another entirely to protect his privacy from the formidable Sir James who had an uncomfortable ability to get to the heart of the matter then uncompromisingly apply whatever solution he deemed would best meet the case. So it was with some trepidation that he presented himself one evening, neatly dressed, wearing a jacket and tie, and with his somewhat unruly hair brushed until it shone.

He knew that Sir James was fond of him and in return respected and admired the man immensely. At the same time he was aware that he had strong views and the power to enforce them. It was Sir James, after all, who had managed the details of his adoption by Emily and Victor with its ruthless severing of all ties to his biological father, then gone on to punish, mercilessly, those who had mistreated him. The man wouldn't scruple to use his natural gratitude against him either if he felt it would serve his ends.

However, Sir James greeted him kindly and courteously, offered him a glass of vintage wine, and smiled when Peter demurred on the grounds that it would be wasted on him.

"I dare say you are right," he remarked, pouring a glass for him anyway. "One only comes to appreciate really first class wine with age and experience."

"Thank you. I'm sure you're right."

Sir James smiled faintly. Peter didn't care in the least at the moment, but he would come to it, eventually. "And how is your young man?"

Oh oh, thought Peter, he's not going to waste any time. "Mark is very well, thank you."

"I am pleased to hear it. I was very impressed by him, Peter, not only by his considerable talent but by his personality as well. He is very young but it appeared to me that he has a great deal of potential."

Gratified, Peter took a sip of his wine. "He is young of course but he has grown up a lot recently," he added, and went on to describe the incident during maths.

"I thought that under that rather charming modesty he had courage," affirmed his host approvingly.

"He doesn't think so, and it's something I'm trying to change. I often think that he's braver than everyone because although he's afraid of things, he does them anyway, knowing that he's afraid of them, if you understand what I mean."

"I know precisely what you mean and you are perfectly correct. That is courage of a high order. Tell me please, what you know of his parents."

Peter spoke for twenty minutes, principally about Mark's father, finding as he did so that talking to Sir James with his razor sharp mind helped to clarify his own thinking. "He treats Mark very badly and I can't find anything to like in him. Not just because I love Mark, I think I would feel the same even if I didn't care for him at all."

Sir James nodded. Peter had confirmed what he had already learnt. It was useful to have contacts, he thought with satisfaction, and another of the advantages of age. The report from an old friend concerning the incidents that had led to Captain Gordon's enforced retirement had made very interesting reading. It was no wonder that the man had never been promoted above his final rank. His outlook was Victorian and completely out of touch with modern thinking. Mark obviously had a great deal to put up with there, which made it all the more important that he wasn't harmed any further. Gently he led Peter on to talk about Mavis Herold, studying him unobtrusively as he spoke with much more animation than he had displayed when discussing the Captain.

He detected a certain maturity about Peter which had been missing previously and was inclined to feel that his relationship with Mark had had a steadying influence. Peter's enthusiastic endorsement of Miss Herold corresponded to his own impression of her.

"I know Mark likes her very much and gets on really well with her, but he needs a better teacher now, and I think she knows it. Could we arrange for him to go to someone else, do you think?" he enquired hopefully.

"It may possible but we should not hurt her feelings in any way. She has put a great deal of time and trouble into Mark as well as being, it appears to me, the only person who took any interest in him before he met you. For that reason, if for no other, her feelings in the matter should to be taken into account, don't you think?"

Peter, who was prepared to sacrifice anyone and anything on the altar of his beloved Mark, realised that he'd been reprimanded and apologised.

"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean that I don't care about her feelings. I'm really grateful for what she's done for him. But I love him so much he tends to absorb all of my attention, and as he's almost always alone when we're not together it's hard to remember that there are other people in his life."

"Well a reminder now and then does no harm. How is he getting on at school? I understand that before you took him under your wing, so to speak, his progress left something to be desired."

Peter regarded him with respect. He had known Sir James for a number of years but the man's omniscience still surprised him, though I should be used to it by now, he mused ruefully. As he talked about Mark's schoolwork he had an uneasy feeling that this was leading up to something, that it was a softening up process. He was even more sure when Sir James subtly, but unmistakably, led him on to speak about his own feelings. Suddenly feeling very young he tried to be totally honest, knowing that the man would not be satisfied with anything less.

Peter had never been ashamed of what he was and had accepted his orientation as natural to him as soon as he had become properly aware of it. He had always preferred the company of boys and the onset of puberty, some weeks after his twelfth birthday, had merely served to reinforce that preference while giving it a profoundly sexual dimension. His well built body and attractive features, to say nothing of his sexuality, even at that age, meant that he had never lacked male company. Had his preference lain in the opposite direction he would certainly have had some, though in the nature of things probably not as many, female encounters.

However, out of curiosity he had seduced a girl older than himself when he was thirteen, then been seduced in turn by a neighbour, a woman in her late thirties. She had enjoyed it rather more than he had, as he was better equipped in some departments than her husband, and would have been happy to do it again whenever the opportunity offered except that two heterosexual episodes had been enough for him. That he'd enjoyed the orgasmic pleasure went without saying, but it hadn't been particularly overwhelming and the sort of gasping excitement that he'd felt with his male partners had been conspicuous by its absence. He didn't regret it, but hadn't gone out of his way to repeat the experience and politely extricated himself from the second episode as soon as it was over. It had been unsatisfying, rather cloying, and although he delighted in giving pleasure as much as receiving it, had been somewhat less than generous to both partners.

When thinking it over afterwards he came to the conclusion that whereas investigating the female form had been interesting, it couldn't compare to the excitement of exploring the hard and prominent parts of boys. They had far more stimulating things to play with, and he knew instinctively (as boys do) that what gave him pleasure did the same for them. Sex with boys was so much easier—in all sorts of ways.

The woman had encouraged him to do things that didn't do a great deal for him. He was too inexperienced at the time to appreciate that she'd had no inkling of his true nature and had deliberately set out to inflame him. Had she realised that he had simply gone with the flow and had no real desire for her she would have been both surprised and insulted. For him it had simply been sex, and not the greatest sex at that, and when he recalled the amount of time and effort it had taken to seduce his first partner he wondered, in retrospect, why he had bothered. Boys were so much easier to come by.

His subsequent adventures had been with boys older than himself and because he was the junior participant, had never felt the need to guard and protect his partners until he met Mark. Nor had he been so inclined to forgo his own pleasure in order to concentrate on that of someone else. Mark was equally giving although with less experience, his own needs were rather less defined. Often he seemed incredibly young but there were times when he showed a maturity that took Peter by surprise.

He didn't mention any of that to Sir James of course but that gentleman was astute enough to read between the lines and come to the conclusion that Peter's obsession, instead of waning as might have been expected, had strengthened to the extent that he was more deeply in love than ever. That being the case something would have to be done about it. Like Emily and Victor he could see danger for both boys in the present situation and a way would have to be found to minimise it as far as possible. He had a soft spot for Peter, had been impressed by Mark, and did not want a situation to arise that might pose a danger to those surrounding them.

His agile brain was already contemplating various plans as he listened to Peter—he had no doubt of his ability to implement whatever scheme he finally settled on—but in the meantime, there was Peter's immediate problem to take care of.

He reminded Peter of the rules that had to be obeyed in any society or group, went on to speak of his responsibilities to Emily and Victor, and touched on his obligations to Mark. Finally he proffered his own temporary solution.

Peter didn't like it anymore than he had liked the identical answer suggested to him by Victor. However, he was realistic enough to accept that for the time being there might be no other way. Sir James did at least offer him some comfort and hope for the future.

"I will look into the matter of Mark's father, but I don't want to put anything in train at present. There will be no going back once I do so, and I need to be sure of both of you. You will have to demonstrate the strength of character that I have always known you to possess, Peter, and before you tell me, I shall tell you that I know how difficult it will be. I was young once myself, even if you find that hard to believe, and unlike most of humanity the memories of my youth are very vivid. I do understand what you are going through but what I have suggested is the only way to handle it until I am absolutely sure that Mark's feelings for you are going to last. I would like to talk to him again. Would you mention it to Emily, please, and let me know when he will be visiting you. It should be fairly soon as I understand you are taking him with you on holiday in the not too distant future."

"We're going in two weeks time," Peter confirmed, cheering up a little at the thought. "We have been invited to dinner with the Gordons on Saturday and I hope that Mark will be allowed to spend the next day with us. Would you like to come to lunch, sir? If you ask Mark to show you what he has been doing in the garden you could talk to him without being interrupted." Also you'll see him at his best, he thought, remembering Mark's recently acquired enthusiasm for gardening.

"That sounds ideal. Arrange it with Emily and Victor please and let me know. Do you think that he might be persuaded to play for us? I would very much like to hear him again."

Peter flushed with pleasure. "I'll make sure of it."

"Don't bully him into it, Peter," Sir James said gently.

"I don't sir, really I don't. I know I did a little at first, though I didn't mean to, and since Em pointed it out to me I have been much more careful. But the thing is, he's so shy that if I didn't insist he wouldn't play for us at all. He can be hard to handle sometimes," he confessed, "But I suppose it's one of the reasons I'm never bored with him."

Sir James smiled. "I have never considered your boredom threshold to be particularly low so I am glad to hear it. Just make sure that when you handle him, as you put it, you don't push him into doing anything he doesn't want to do."

"I wouldn't do that, love him too much. But I have been wondering if he doesn't handle me pretty well too. That day in maths, I don't know if he planned it or if it happened on the spur of the moment, but I've taken care that he doesn't have to do it again and have a feeling that it was exactly what he intended." He shook his head, smiling. "He's very bright, you know."

"That is more than obvious. He wouldn't be the musician he is if he was not. Now, it is getting late and you have school tomorrow. You are managing there satisfactorily?"

"I'm fine, sir, thank you. I don't think I would have been if it hadn't been for Mark, but with him there I'm enjoying it again." He got to his feet. "He has made it a lot more bearable."

"I'm glad about that. I know it is not easy for someone of your intelligence, but it is necessary and will be, I'm afraid, for a few more years."

"I understand, sir, and I can manage. Now that I have Mark."

"Take good care of him, Peter, he is well worth it and you are very fortunate to have met him. Give my regards to Emily and Victor and let me know about Sunday."

Speaking out in support of Peter during maths hadn't been easy and in retrospect Mark decided he had simply done it without reflection. It came to him that what he had always thought of as courage was perhaps just that, something done without thought of the consequences. In his case, though, he had done it out of friendship and love and it was love that had sustained him through the scene that followed, so in spite of what Pete said, he hadn't really been brave at all. The thought didn't worry him. He'd done it once and would do it again if he had to. Courage or no courage.

Something that had surprised him after it was over was the vague respect he had gained from the rest of the class. Several of them spoke to him regularly now and occasionally even joined him on his bench during break. It was something of a mixed blessing as he would rather be alone so he could concentrate on watching Peter but it did give him a pleasant feeling of belonging.

His own attitude, though he didn't realise it, had changed as well. He no longer slunk into class at the last moment and his confidence had increased to the point where he didn't shrink inwardly when walking down the corridors, filled as they were by a noisy and exuberant crowd of boys and youths. He still got his share of pushes and shoves when he was on his own, which wasn't very often these days, but had come to realise that there was no deliberate malice involved. It was just part of male teenage life. He didn't like it, but it didn't worry him as it used to. If only Peter had been his usual self he would have been continuously and quietly happy.

The feeling that his friend wanted—no, needed—something from him refused to go away. He thought he knew what it was and although he didn't feel ready, had made up his mind that he would offer it while they were away. If it made Peter feel better that was all that counted and while the thought scared him, at the same time it was exciting. Unfortunately, it also made him feel even more guilty than he was already.

With Peter's help and encouragement he had managed to discard many of his inhibitions but he still had some way to go. It helped that many of the taboos laid down by his religion simply didn't make sense. The Catholic Church appeared to have built an astonishing edifice of laws, rules, interdicts, prohibitions and draconian punishments on the flimsiest of evidence. Why, for instance, did the fact that the Saviour throughout his life only ever attended one marriage ceremony (and didn't get married himself!) constitute first, a powerful endorsement of the marital state, and second, an equally overwhelming condemnation of all sex, including masturbation, outside it?

As far he and Peter were concerned there was in addition the condemnation in the old testament of men lying with men which the church seemed to have seized on avidly. But did they also sacrifice lambs by cutting their throats in church, or cut off their own offending hands? It appeared that all religions, though particularly his own, battened aggressively onto what they wanted from the bible while ignoring everything that didn't suit their view. And who was to say that the bible was correct anyway? People could have changed it to suit themselves over the years. You only had to watch the news to understand that that sort of thing happened all the time.

But in spite of that he had a bad feeling about the step he was nerving himself to take. It wasn't only the clergy he mused, lumping together adults, politicians and people like the uncharitable and viciously religious Mary Whitehouse in his mind, he knew only too well what his peers thought about people like him. Nonetheless, since he had become less introverted and consequently more aware of what was going on around him, he had discovered that he was an object of some interest in one or two surprising quarters.

Surprising for two reasons; first, the realisation that he and Peter were not the only gay boys in the school, and even more remarkable, the fact that a lad who had been outspoken in his condemnation of queers and poofs showed unmistakable signs of interest in him when they happened to be alone in the toilets.

The youth had chosen to stand right next to him, although there was plenty of room at the long porcelain trough, and it was obvious that he was looking.

Mark was so embarrassed that his stream dried up but he couldn't resist a quick glance, going scarlet when he saw what the boy was doing.

It was even worse when the lad spoke. "Nice!"

Mark didn't reply but zipped up and left hoping that he had peed enough to last out until the end of school.

He was quiet as they walked to Peter's house, as they did every day now, and it was only after they had finished their homework and were lying, sated, on Peter's bed that he got up the courage to tell him about it. He didn't mention who it was, not being sure how he would react, and his main object anyway was to apologise for the fact that he had looked.

Peter listened to his stumbling confession then tightened his arms around him. "But, Markie, why shouldn't you look? Alright, I know he was trying to, to tempt you but don't you think that if someone shows themselves to you they want you to look at them? After all I showed myself to you once, remember?"

"Pete, you never."

"Yes I did, the first time you came into this room. After I showered I pretended to dry my hair to give you a chance to look at me."

"I did look," Mark confessed, flushing, "I couldn't help it. Did you, did you really do it on purpose?"

"'Fraid so, kid."

"You wanted me to look at you?"

"Not only that, I hoped that you'd be so excited by the sight that you'd leap on me and rape me."

"I wish I'd known," said Mark wistfully. "I was so embarrassed. I looked and I wanted to look away, but couldn't 'til I forced myself when I saw you were getting hard."

Peter grinned. "I know. I was watching."

"You pig, Peter. And don't say oink at me either."

"Markie, I didn't do it to set you up, I needed to know what you were. Whether you were interested in boys, whether you were interested in me. I was pretty certain you were but I had to make sure. And it worked, because from then on, I knew."

"You're too much, you know that?"

"I've always known that," Peter agreed smugly. "But to go back to what we were talking about, I don't mind you looking at other boys. It's natural to look and compare, boys do it all the time. I'd have been upset if you'd done anything more though."

Mark made a slight movement of protest. "You know I would never do that. You're the only one I want to do things with."

Peter smiled at him. "Yes, I know, and it's the same with me. But it was interesting, wasn't it."

Mark nodded reluctantly. It had been.

"So that's okay then. But I'll tell you something Markie, I've seen lots of boys, and men too, but not one of them can compare to you."

"You can't have seen all that much more people than me," Mark replied, rather ungrammatically.

Peter chuckled. "What do think happens when we shower after training?"

"Oh it does, does it?" said Mark said in menacing accents. "Maybe I should be there to supervise you."

"If you did I'd have such a hardon I'd astonish everyone."

Mark went pink. "Me too. Do you, I mean do any of them have, you know, er, erections?"

Peter laughed. "Erections!" he repeated with affectionate scorn. "Markie, you kill me sometimes. Why don't you say, hardons, or boners, or clubs, or roots, or stiffies, or…"

"Shut up, Pete," Mark exclaimed, putting a hand on Peter's mouth.

"Erections," Peter muttered when he was free to speak again, and received a punch for his pains.


"Well what?" he asked, with deliberate provocation.

"Do they?"

"Do they what?" asked Peter innocently, then had to catch Mark's hand to escape further assault.

By exerting all his strength Mark managed to turn him onto his back and sit on his stomach while holding his hands down on the bed.

"You know what I mean. If you don't tell me, I'll, I'll hold you like this forever!"

Peter grinned, and using his greater strength, gradually brought his arms up until he was able to lock them behind the small head leaning over him. Mark did his best but was no match for him as Peter drew his head down. "I don't care, as long as we stay like this," Peter said as he tilted Mark's head so they could kiss.

When they were on the point of expiring he released him, effortlessly turned them over onto their sides and settled the smaller boy against him.

"It's not fair. You always win."

"That's because you're a little boy."

"I may be a little boy which I'm not, but even if I was you'd better tell me or you're in dead trouble."

"I loved that sentence," remarked Peter. "And what do you think you're going to do if I don't. midget?"


As Peter had prudently ensured that his hands were restrained, all Mark could do was to catch one of his nipples in his teeth.

Peter gave way in a very cowardly fashion. "Ow! Stop it Markie. Okay, okay, I'll tell you. I hate to see little boys cry."

"I'll make you cry if you don't get on with it," Mark muttered before changing the gentle nip to a tongued caress.

"Alright. I said I'd tell you, and I will. It's my duty," Peter said in such a self righteous voice that Mark giggled. "Actually, nobody gets completely hard in the showers, but most of them grow a bit sometimes."

"Do you?"

"Only when I think about you, my pretty little sexy boy, so I try not to."

"Will you let my hands go?" Mark requested, deeply pleased.

"Why?" Peter demanded suspiciously.

"That's for me to know and you to find out."

Peter braced himself for another sock in the ribs. Mark might be small, but he could deliver quite a punch when he wanted to.

Happily, the attack was on a different part of his body entirely and he enjoyed the assault immensely.

Afterwards Mark wanted to stay in bed and be cuddled but Peter, aware that Emily would be home at any minute, insisted that they needed a shower, and when he proved recalcitrant, picked him up with something of an effort, and carried him into the bathroom.

"Have you got fat? You're heavier than you used to be."

"Of course I haven't. You've just got weaker." As he spoke he wondered if perhaps this was true because Peter wasn't well. Could he be losing strength and if so, should they be having sex so often? It might be wearing him out. Before he could mention it they had reached the bathroom. Peter turned so that he could close and lock the door then sat on the closed toilet, pulled him onto his lap and submitted him to a close inspection.

"You have been growing, here!" He poked the offending organ making Mark jump. "And here and here as well. When are you going to stop?"

"When I'm as big as you."

"That will take a lot of years," remarked Peter boastfully.

"Don't be so sure. Pride cometh before a fall remember."

"It feels rather as if pride cometh after a squash at the moment. Get off Markie, you're killing it."

Mark did as he was told and turned to look at him. "Well you were the one who picked me up and wouldn't put me down," he stated reasonably. "Oh dear, look at your pride. It may have suffered from being squashed but it recovered fast enough. Would it like to cometh do you think?"

"You're an real brat, and no, not again. Turn the shower on, or would you prefer a bath?"

"Always orders in this house," Mark muttered, turning on the taps. "Can we have it really hot, please?"

"As long as you don't burn your cute little bum when you get in. Or anything else."

Mark turned to him. "I do love you so much, Pete," he said breathlessly.

"I know," Peter replied gently, "And I'm the luckiest person in the world."

They stood with their arms around each other as the bath filled, Mark's pale skin contrasting with Peter's tan.

"I can't wait 'til we go to Bournemouth," Mark said as he stepped into the steaming water and sat down.

"Good grief, do you want to cook me?" demanded Peter as he followed his example. "This is boiling!"

"We can run some cold in if you like." Mark was happily turning pink.

"I'll live. The sacrifices I make for this kid," he muttered. "Which reminds me, when we're at the beach you need to use a sun block. I don't want you getting sunburnt and you have the type of skin that burns easily."

"I want to go brown like you," Mark remarked sleepily. Hot water always had that effect on him.

"Well you're not going to. You may get a bit tanned but you must take it very gently. In any case, I like you the way you are with your skin as white as snow. Where it isn't pink."

Mark gazed at his arm dubiously. His skin didn't seem to be all that great to him. As for his face, he found its delicate colouring embarrassingly childish.

"I'll use the sun block if you do."

"I don't need to. I tan very easily and the sun doesn't affect me except to make me more brown. By the time we come back I'll be black."

Mark's imagination made a mighty effort, but failed. "Can't I…" he began but Peter interrupted.

"No you can't. Sunburn hurts and also makes you sick. I don't want you wasting a minute of our holiday. Anyway, the three of us have decided."

"It's not…"

"Fair!" Peter finished for him. "I know. But it's three against one, even if the one is the cutest, prettiest and sexiest of them all."

Dramatically, he pretended to take something off the wall and hold it in front of him.

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the cutest of them all?"

'Snow Mark,' the mirror replied casually.

"Are you sure?" he asked anxiously. "I mean, there are other boys around you know mirror, one of them is right in front of you."

But the mirror was firm. 'Snow Mark,' it repeated.

"Well, let me think. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest of them all?"

'Snow Mark.'

"I don't believe this," he muttered. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the sexiest of them all?"

'Snow Mark,' came the usual reply.

"What, again?" squeaked Peter in an outraged voice. "Well, who's got the cutest bum then?" When he got the inevitable reply he glared at the mirror, enraged, then said after a minute, "Okay Mirror, this is your last chance so you'd better take it seriously. Think before you speak, and make sure you tell the truth. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's got the biggest cock of all?"

'Snow Mark!'

"You're lying!" he shrieked triumphantly. "I've got you this time you perverted glass monstrosity! You're lying, fibbing, telling porkies, being economical with the truth!"

The mirror shrugged. The implication was plain, it simply told the truth. What others made of its pronouncements didn't concern it.

"I'm going to fetch a ruler then we'll discover the truth about this," Peter muttered.

A faintly worried look crossed the mirror's face. Possibly it was beginning to regret its last answer.

Peter suddenly became cunning. "Uh, tell me Mirror, could a low-lived, small, mean, mouse-like brat of a creature, have bribed you?"

The mirror had the grace to look guilty and refused to look him in the face. It seemed uneasy and refused to answer, perhaps because the question had not been put in the correct form.

"You do always tell the truth don't you Mirror? I mean when someone asks you a question you have to answer truthfully don't you? That's the rule, you have to tell the truth!" He waited for a moment but the embarrassed mirror didn't speak. "You wouldn't want to be sent to a home for delinquent mirrors to reflect on the error of your ways, would you?"

The mirror shook its head vigorously. It wouldn't like that at all. There were far more interesting things to reflect on.

"Well then, this is your last opportunity to tell the truth. After this, no more chances. If you don't tell the truth this time, it's a home for you so you'd better be careful. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the biggest briber of all?"

There was a long pause then the mirror replied, 'Snow Mark,' in a small, despairing voice and began to cry hopelessly. 'It ain't me own fault guv,' it said between sobs. 'There I was 'anging on the wall just doing me job like, when along comes this, this miscreant, who exposed himself to me and I was reflecting on how big it was and I got all worked up like, and I couldn't help meself, so help me guv. It was awful! Long and thick and swelling out red at the top, and as for the two great things 'anging underneath, I tell you guv I 'adn't never seen nuffink like it in all me born days! An' when 'e threatened never to let me reflect them again, well I lorst It, guv. I lorst me 'ead and I agreed to say what I did an' that's the trufe, cor blimey, strike a lite and all!' It sniffed dolefully.

"There, there, Mirror," Peter told it, giving it a pat before hanging it back on the wall. "I knew you'd feel better if you told the truth. Let it be a lesson to you never to lie or take bribes again. Markie, why are you having hysterics?" he asked in an astonished voice.

Mark who would have been falling about laughing if he hadn't been virtually flat on his back, wiped his eyes. He had laughed so much it hurt. He was still giggling whenever he thought about it when they came downstairs half an hour later. He would never understand how Peter could portray two characters at the same time, and keep his face straight while doing one of his outrageous imitations. The wonderful thing was that Peter seemed to be better. He hadn't been funny like that for ages Mark recalled, and hoped with all his heart it would continue.

Unfortunately the next few days at school didn't show any improvement. Peter was certainly being careful but Mark could feel that it was an effort and he couldn't help feeling that there was a crisis building. There was a feeling of suppressed, desperate need about him that was almost palpable. He was surprised that none of Peter's friends seemed aware of it.

It was even beginning to affect his practising. He found it difficult to concentrate because his worry about Peter's health was always in the background and it had a vicious circle effect on him. The worse his practice went, the more worried he became, and that in turn made it more difficult to concentrate on his work. It came to a head on Saturday morning, the day that the Doran's were coming to dinner.

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