CHRONICLES OF HALDEN, III
by Robin Gordon
- Auksford, 2006 -
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Brian is disgusted
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Copyright Robin Gordon 2006
Brian was shocked by the story of Sweyne. He realised that there was more joy in Heaven over the lost sheep that was found than over the ninety-nine that never went astray, or at least he knew Our Lord had said so, and was certainly not going to quibble with the Divine Word, even if he did not exactly comprehend the justice of it. He knew also that St Paul had been a persecutor of the Church until he saw the light. He supposed also that, the greater the sin, the greater the merit in its overcoming, but he was, nonetheless, shocked to the very marrow of his being at the explicit descriptions of the disgusting and horrific crimes committed by Sweyne, and took care to conceal the book where his mother would not come across it in cleaning his room. It was, without a doubt, the most disgusting and filthy book he had ever read, and he felt bewildered and betrayed that it was Mouse who had put it into his hands.
He prayed earnestly for guidance whether he should read on, and concluded that, since both Mouse and Canon Tollgate appeared to endorse its content, and since its hero was destined to become the patron saint of Swardale, the article must eventually come to a morally respectable conclusion. He nevertheless thanked God for his mercy in not having allowed Gogfran Davies to produce a popular book. The anthropological folklorist's strange mixture of pedantic prose and odd verse which neither rhymed nor scanned was, without any doubt whatever, enough to deter the idle browser.
Brian's progress was slow. He could not read the book in the living room. Even if his mother didn't ask him about it he just couldn't read that sort of thing in her presence. He would have to read it in his bedroom, but he couldn't sneak away and shut himself up all day with it. It would have been like reading pornography. He would have felt unclean. His guilt would have shown in his face, in his walk, in his whole deneanour. Nevertheless he managed to read some of it while doing his homework, some more after getting into bed, and a bit more between waking and getting up. His gaze, as it rested on Mouse at the Sunday service, was troubled. In Bible Class, as he heard once more the Curate's soft voice expounding the scriptures, he wondered how so gentle a man could read about a Viking who hunted women with dogs then raped them to death, and say it was fascinating.
At one stage he found himself wondering exactly how a man raped a woman, but he brought himself to a sharp stop. Those were dirty thoughts. Those were the things the Bailey-Malone gang talked about. It couldn't really be true that men put their … No! Stop it! That's enough! And anyway no woman could possibly … He must stop! Our Father, hallowed be thy name …Anyway it was quite clear that the Lord would not have designed anything so obscene for the procreation of humanity … though that's what dogs do … Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven … No, it was ludicrous, people doing that to each other, men doing that to women … Oh forgive us our trespasses, forgive us our trespasses, forgive us our trespasses … He was worse than any of them. He deserved the hottest flames of Hell. Why did such thoughts keep coming to him? In Bible Class too. Forgive! Forgive! As we forgive those that trespass against us … They'd be going back to the main room soon for the final choruses and prayers. When he stood up everyone would see what he'd been thinking about. What was wrong with his body? Why did such thoughts affect it like that? It was no good trying to will it to stop, that only made it worse.
He recited the Lord's Prayer three times in succession, to no avail, and was beginning again when a horrible thought struck him: he was using the prayer as a charm, reciting it over and over again like a Roman Catholic! Three Pater nosters and ten Ave Marias! Penance completed, sin gone! Sale of indulgences! Sacred relics! Rosary beads! He was in such a sweat of terror when he got up that he failed even to notice that his other problem had solved itself. He prayed the closing words with fervour. He sang the choruses with feeling, and he left the building with a contrite heart, resolving to read no more of Gogfran Davies' history that day, but to leave St Sweyne cast naked upon the shore of the sea that had devoured his companions, and to concentrate on his own spiritual regeneration.
That night he prayed long and fervently before getting into bed, and rose again almost immediately to repeat his prayers when obscene thoughts edged into his mind as he settled down beneath his blankets. He emerged from his prayers purified and strong, and resolved to do all he could to cleanse the filth from his schoolmates' minds on the morrow.
On Monday morning boys and girls crept unwillingly to school, but none with greater foreboding or dread than Stewart Higgs. His former friends now regarded him with loathing as a traitor, and he knew that the main thing on their minds was how to get revenge. He expected not just harsh words but a thorough scragging, not just seemingly accidental buffets and elbows fortuitously connecting with his ribs in narrow corridors, but a full-scale thumping, in public, in front of the whole fourth form. To Ian Bailey, Chopper Malone and their followers, however, the weekend's respite had brought maturer reflection. How could they beat up the traitor Higgs without Cowan coming to his aid, and probably unleashing onto them his secret weapon: the prefects, who would swoop down on any disturbance and arrest those whom Greatbatch pointed out as responsible?
Harrison had come with disturbing news. He had overheard Norah Blackburn and her girls urging Johnny Cowan to confront the fourth-form resistance and demand payment of protection money. He had slipped away at that point and failed to hear Johnny's evasive answers and his counter-suggestions that there was more money to be made by concentrating on the weaker fourth-formers and those who were not so close to the leaders.
So the Bailey-Malone gang were boiling with anger against Stew, determined to stand against the bullies, anxious lest any move they made to punish the traitor might bring immediate retribution, and afraid that Cowan would move against them anyway before they could re-establish the support they had lost through the collapse of the legendary Blood Oath and the treachery of one of their own members. What should they do? Challenge Cowan before he could challenge them? That would mean Ian Bailey would have to fight him, and though Ian was the biggest of the fourth-formers, Cowan was an experienced bully and probably a dirty fighter. If Ian lost, that would be the end of their influence. They'd be forced to pay protection money, and probably in very public and humiliating circumstances.
"Suppose we start our own protection racket," said Croft. Tell all the other lads in our form that anyone that pays protection money gets scragged!"
"Oh, yeah, then when Cowan finds out about it, Ian'll have to fight him, and if he loses …" said Chopper.
"Well, we should at least get Higgs!" said Robinson.
There was general agreement on this and malevolent glances were cast at the traitor, who had been lurking nearby wondering if he could somehow persuade his friends to take him back again. Stew quickly made himself scarce.
Brian found him and lost no time in opening a conversation. Stew was gloomy. He was glad to have someone to talk to about the unfairness of life. The Bailey-Malone gang regarded him as a traitor, yet he had only given way under the most vile duress, as anybody might. Brian who knew how painful an arm-twisting Cowan and his friends could give, agreed, and added that money was only money. Let Cowan have the things of this world, just as Christ urged people to let Caesar have his taxes. The important thing was to concentrate on earning rewards in Heaven by clean living and prayerful contemplation of the mercies of God.
Stew was not so sure, but he had no-one else to talk to, so Brian became his constant companion. In fact Brian rather enjoyed having someone other than Martin Nicholson to talk to. Stew wasn't gloomy all the time, despite the threat that hung over him, and he was really quite a pleasant boy. Brian began to think he might have started the process of conversion.
Meanwhile the rest of the fourth form began to feel rather rebellious at having to hand over regular dollops of cash to the Cowan gang. The Bailey-Malone gang let it be known that they had never paid protection money, that they never would pay protection money, and that anyone who didn't want to go on paying was welcome to join them -- all except the traitor Higgs, who was cast beyond the pale and would, at some time as yet unspecified, receive the punishment that was due to him.
Norah pointed out to Johnny that more and more of the fourth form boys now went around with the Bailey-Malone gang at breaks and lunchtimes, including several who had, until then, been forced to pay their dues, that he had missed his chance to smash the resistance, and that if he wanted to end the rebellion he was going to have to take firm action and confront Ian Bailey. While he was about it, she added, he could fight Spike Thompson too, and establish control over the fifth form.
On Thursday some sixth-form girls were playing tennis at lunchtime. The Bailey-Malone gang hung around the courts watching.
"Cor!" said Hudsmith. "Look at them knockers!"
"Talk about Raquel Russell!" said Croft.
"Hey!" said Mason, "She's not wearing a bra! Look at them bounce!"
"Hey, what about Mavis Dunnet's legs?" said McIlwaine, and a chorus of wolf-whistles shrilled across the court.
"Disgusting!" said a priggish voice behind them.
They turned. It was Brian.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves," he said, “ogling girls like that."
"S'only natural" said McIlwaine.
"It's only human nature after all …" recited Harrison.
"… to take a little lass behind a wall …" chimed in Hudsmith, Croft and Robinson.
"Filth!" said Brian. "You're always talking about filth. You're like dogs sniffing after bitches!"
"I'll tell them," said McIlwaine, "I'll tell them you called them bitches!"
"You'd like it, wouldn't you?" said Brian. "You'd like it if people did it on the street like dogs. You're disgusting!"
"It's you that's disgusting!" said Chopper Malone. "We'd never even have thought of anything like that."
"Look at you," continued Brian. "You can't take your eyes off them. What's so fascinating about girls' legs? We've all got legs, haven't we? They're for walking with. What do you have to stare at them like that for? You're dirty and wicked and lech'rous!"
"Don't you ever look at girls?" said Big Ian.
"No, of course not!" said Brian.
Big Ian smiled. He winked and nodded his head. Suddenly Brian was grabbed. He was rammed against the fence. They were all around him, holding his head, forcing him to look at the girls, and Big Ian was muttering a commentary in his ear.
"Look at her! Look at her thighs! Look, when she jumps! Look, you can see her knickers, eh? See her knickers? Cor! Look at her bum, eh, Fairyfeet! Look at her lovely, round, soft, pneumatic bum! Wouldn't you like to get your hands on that? Wouldn't you like to slip your hands under her skirt? Feel her pressed against you? Feel her hands all over you?"
The others stroked and patted Brian as Big Ian described the caresses the girls would bestow on him while he made love to them. Brian protested angrily, but he was forced to keep looking. Mavis Dunnet's thighs flashed past in front of his nose. Mary Bainbridge's little skirt flipped and flapped before his eyes, revealing brief glimpses of her tiny knickers. Valerie Potts' bouncing breasts jigged beneath her blouse, while the luscious curves of Helga Brøndstet etched themselves upon his mind as Ian and Chopper drooled over her into each of his ears.
At last he was released, still fuming.
"You are absolutely disgusting!" he snapped. "You are almost beyond redemption. Your obsession with sex is unhealthy, unclean and unchristian. Can't you think of anything else but girls?"
"Boys?" suggested Chopper in a puzzled sort of tone.
"Not unless you're a homosexual maniac," said Ian.
"Like old Paddy Routledge," chuckled Dolly.
"You want to look out, Brian," said Chopper. “If you don't like girls you'll maybe turn into a homosexual maniac."
"Hanging around school gates, like old Paddy looking for boys so you can slake your wicked lusts on them."
"Better look at the girls, Brian! If you want to grow up normal."
"Don't want to turn into a homosexual maniac, do you?"
* * *
It was a week since Brian had last sinned. He thanked the Lord for keeping him pure and resolved to do all he could to spread the Word. He had read no more of the saga of Sweyne since the previous Saturday. He asked God to show him whether he should read on or return the book to Mouse, and at last drifted into sleep.
Martin Nicholson, his school blazer and flannels no longer concealing the silvery gleam of his aura, beckoned to Brian, who rose and followed him through fields of asphodel. A silver mist hung over the mountain side, hiding the ground. Martin glided over the rocks and pitfalls as if they didn't exist. Brian lumbered heavily after him. He fell to his knees and crawled up the hillside, each movement an immense effort. Martin's feet were invisible. The mist blended with Martin's aura and took on its brightness. Incorporeal, Martin smiled down at him and beckoned him onward, upward. Brian's too, too solid flesh weighed him down.
The mist cleared around him and he saw the lithe form of Helga Brøndstet swinging her racket. Mary Bainbridge's little skirt flapped and flipped before his eyes. He strained forward to catch a brief glimpse of her tiny knickers. The girls in their brief tennis dresses were all around him, and the dogs were barking. He began to chase the girls as they fled, but they skipped around him, avoiding his clutching hands, turning and dancing, touching him and swirling away, and always just out of reach.
by their dance
Brian put out his hand,
caught Helga, held her fast.
Martin moved, motioned him away.
The tennis girls turned about him.
with hands Helga's
feeling her body, Brian was Sweyne.
Roused to rape, ravishment called him.
Sweyne sought sexual pleasure.
son the role, the
I play the part, pure I stay.
As it is written rapes the Viking.
Sweyne sins. Sweet is Brian.
"Disgusting!" said Miss Hardacre, nowhere to be seen. "Disgusting! Disgusting!"
Martin, far off, ascending in the mist, besought him with a gesture. Brian saw Sweyne seize one of the girls.
"Disgusting!" said Miss Hardacre.
"Not me," said Brian.
"Yes, you!" said Sweyne.
Helga Brøndstet embraced Brian-Sweyne. His hands fumbled under her skirt. She caressed his naked back.
"Disgusting!" said Miss Hardacre. "Disgusting! Disgusting! Disgusting! Disgusting! Disgusting!"
And Brian was cast naked on the coast of Swardale, spinning in the darkness, wondering where he was -- until he found himself in his own room, in his own bed, in his own sticky pyjamas.
Brian told Stewart Higgs about his dream next day. He had to tell someone. He had been befouled and besmirched, not only by the lascivious humour of the Bailey-Malone gang, but by the obscenity of a book given to him by Mouse and approved by Canon Tollgate. He wished he could have told Martin, but Martin could never have understood his problem. He was too good, too pure, too ethereal. The things of this world could not touch him, pitch could not blacken him nor sin sully his soul, but neither could he understand the nature of temptation. Its cloying sweetness recoiled from the cold purity that surrounded him. Its nature was unknown to him. To describe the pleasures of vice to Martin would have been like trying to describe colours to a blind man or music to a deaf mute.
Stew swore a solemn oath of secrecy, involving neither blood nor blasphemy but entirely satisfactory to Brian, who promptly described his problem and his dream. Stew, cast thus in the role of Joseph to Brian's Pharaoh, and seeing no easily identifiable symbol like the seven fat cattle and the seven lean, merely murmured that Brian should think himself lucky to have such enjoyable dreams, but, on seeing Brian's face fall at this betrayal of his hopes, the kind-hearted Higgs immediately added that he could understand Brian's problem, and set himself to make what helpful suggestions he could.
Wasn't it normal, he suggested, for boys of their age to dream of girls, particularly after having seen them leaping about the tennis courts in their little tennis dresses, showing their curves and their golden thighs?
No it wasn't, replied Brian. He'd never had such a dream before, and he hoped he'd never have it again.
Well, suggested Stew, might it not be that the excitement of the last few days -- the tennis girls, the story of St Sweyne, all these things -- might they not simply have boiled and bubbled together in his subconscious until they boiled over into a dream that wasn't his fault at all.
But Brian believed that anyone whose subconscious mind could produce a phantasmagoria of filth, such as he had experienced, must inevitably be so wicked as to deserve damnation, no matter what his intentions might be.
"But don't we all deserve damnation?" said Stew. "After all, if we were all naturally good, there would have been no need for Christ to die for us."
Whether Stew believed what he said or not, this was a stroke of genius. This was language Brian could understand. This was the language he had been brought up on. This was the sort of talk to bring him comfort. As their discussion progressed Brian was delighted to discover that neither the sight of Helga Brøndstet and the other girls playing tennis nor Gogfran Davies' account of the life of St Sweyne was intrinsically evil. The wickedness lay entirely within himself, and it stemmed from that primeval original sin of his first forefathers, who, by eating of the forbidden fruit, sought to make themselves gods, but only succeeded in binding themselves and their descendants in thrall to the foul Serpent throughout the long aeons of history, until there came One to save them. Jesus Christ banished from the hearts of His followers the power of the Serpent, just as they in turn fought against their dragons: St George, St Sweyne, and, at the last, the Archangel Michael, whose second combat with Satan would cast the Devil down forever. Enthusiasm permeated Brian's soul, and he resolved to read on at the first opportunity , to find out how the power of the serpent was banished by Christ from the heart of St Sweyne, and how, by the Lord's grace, Sweyne was enabled to drive from the face of the Earth the Swardale dragon, seed and spawn of the Evil One.
The day seemed to drag for Brian from that moment. Metaphysico-theological speculation, affording grateful glimpses into the profundity of his own unconscious wickedness, occupied him for part of the morning, until a well-aimed chalk-butt brought him rapidly back to the theorem of Pythagoras as expounded by the amiable and long-suffering Mr Ratcliffe. Prayerful and devout meditation filled his lunchtime, and, on his return to school, he sank himself so profoundly into the examination of his essentially evil nature, that he had no time left to castigate the sins of others. Abandoning their motes to dance across their sunlit pupils, he grasped and caressed his beam, stroking its grain and exploring every knot-hole. So sunk in rêverie was he that he missed the embarrassment that befell Stewart Higgs.
That unhappy youth was standing watching his former friends and wishing there was some way he could regain their favour, when a second-former approached him, a long-nosed, fair-haired, round-headed sniggering boy called Nigel Barber. This obnoxious little specimen announced in shrill, nasal tones that he was come as an emissary of Johnny Cowan to collect that week's insurance premium, which was already overdue.
Stew's embarrassment filled young Nigel with joy. He hugged himself with delight as Stew tried to edge him away from the Bailey-Malone gang. He contorted himself into the weirdest of shapes in transports of ecstasy as Stew muttered to him to keep his voice down, and his sibilant tones grew more and more insistently penetrating as he explained to Stew how Cowan's scheme worked and reminded him of the benefits he had already received. Stew's hurried, surreptitious offer of coins seemed to fill him with ungovernable happiness. He cavorted and pirouetted, holding the money up to the light and thanking the unhappy donor over and over again, before finally skipping off to find his master, sniggering and spluttering as though his life had reached the peak of all possible pleasure and been filled beyond the brim with joy unfathomable.
Dark were the faces of the Bailey-Malone gang, and stern their brows. The blood in their veins seethed and boiled, and burning venom poisoned their souls.
Stew, who seemed to have remembered a pressing engagement, left suddenly.
Brian, who had awakened from his rêverie eager to engage Stew in further theological discussion on the manifestations of original sin in the daily life and thought of the average schoolboy, watched him go in some puzzlement, and, left to his own devices, returned to the silent contemplation of his own wickedness, since, so far as he could judge, the Bailey-Malone gang did not appear to be indulging in any sin that he could profitably castigate.
He was surprised to be called a few seconds later by Chopper, led before Big Ian, and straitly charged to deliver to Stew this simple message: that if the gang ever again saw him handing over money to Johnny Cowan or any of his agents, they would take him to the cockpit.
Brian delivered the message. Stew seemed depressed but not surprised.
"What does it mean?" Brian asked.
"Nothing," said Stew, and the matter was closed.
After school Brian went to change his library books. Janice Greenwood was on duty at the desk.
"Oh, Brian," she said, "how are you getting on with the musical on St Sweyne? Have you finished the script yet?"
"It's so exciting," prattled Janice. "Victor is thrilled about it, I mean, it's the first really new thing we've done for years. You are clever to think of it. It could really do so much good, bringing people to Christ who don't normally come to church. We could do it in the open space in front of the castle, or in the Cathedral grounds, or in the Town Hall Square, or maybe we could give performances in different places, or move it around from place to place so that it all happens where it really happened, except that I suppose a lot of it is different now, all built over where there was open country. Have you started casting yet?"
"No," said Brian.
"Do you think Victor should play St Sweyne? I think he'd be splendid. He's got such a good voice, and he's so experienced at standing up in front of people. You've got to have someone experienced for the main part, I think. Don't you?"
"Um …" said Brian.
"I'll give you all the help I can, you know that, don't you, Brian?" Janice continued. "Anything you want doing, no matter how menial. After all, the Lord gave us our talents to use for His glory, and, even though I'm not very good at sewing and that kind of thing, if there really weren't enough parts to go round, I really wouldn't want to seem pushy even if I did feel that I could play a part quite well really. I was once in our school play, you know. Of course it wasn't a big part -- Shakespeare's mainly male rôles, you know -- but everybody said how good I was -- not that I want to boast, of course, but you've got to let people know what you can do, and of course in your position as director you want to know who's had some experience, don't you, because the whole success of the show really depends on the casting, and if Victor's playing St Sweyne we've really got to be sure to surround him with actors and actresses who really understand him and can bring out the best in him. You do understand what I mean, don't you, pet?"
"Uh …" said Brian.
"Well," sighed Janice, patting her hair, "you mustn't keep me talking like this, Brian. I should have gone off duty five minutes ago. Oh, what it is to be still at school! After four o'clock your time's your own to do just as you like. You'll realise one day, Brian, just how lucky you were, when it's too late. Yes, the happiest days of your life! Well I must dash. See you at YPF, and then you can tell me all about your musical! I hope there's going to be some good songs in it. I used to have a lovely voice when I was at school. Of course, I haven't sung for a long time, not in public."
She simpered roguishly and added with coy winsomeness, "Nowadays I only sing in the bath."
At last Brian was able to get on with what he had come for. There was no time left for a serious perusal of the shelves and the careful choice of morally improving literature, so he turned quickly to the returned-books trolley.
Room at the top by John Braine. He'd heard of it. A horrible book that encouraged young people to trample on everyone in their way as they struggled ambitiously to the top, and full of sex and smut. He rejected it.
Jeeves in the offing by P.G. Wodehouse. He'd tried to read some Wodehouse once. Someone had told him the man was a brilliant stylist and very funny, but he hadn't been able to see it. What was funny about an upper-class nitwit trying to avoid the clutches of predatory females and relying on his manservant to get him out of trouble? It was all much too shallow and trivial, and he was sure Canon Tollgate wouldn't approve.
Resurrection Men by Martin Potter-Brown.[Note 1] Brian hadn't heard of that one or its author, but the book-jacket showed a building rather like a church, which he discovered from the back was the chapel of Resurrection College, Auksford, where the first few chapters were set.
There was a queue at the issue desk, and Brian seethed inwardly as he edged along. He was going to be late for tea. His father, a civil servant, always arrived home early on Fridays, and his mother cooked a proper high tea and expected him to be punctual. Janice Greenwood! You mustn't keep me talking like this, Brian!! Gabble, gabble, gabble! And they all seemed to be obsessed with this musical on St Sweyne that he was supposed to be writing, directing and producing! If only they knew how disgusting Davies's book was!
He presented Resurrection Men at the counter, had it stamped and took it back without a word. Surely the account of Sweyne's life must improve. After his conversion he must have become a truly virtuous man. Even an anarchist pervert like Gogfran Davies couldn't spoil the story. He should read a bit more and see how things turned out. After all he would have some time to kill that evening, for if one thing was certain, it was that he was not going to the YPF to be badgered by Janice about his so-called musical.
He emerged out of the building and ducked back inside at once. Janice was on the steps talking to a large, shambling sort of youth in dirty jeans and a leather jacket. He looked a right hooligan, Brian thought. Janice called him Michael, and she was inviting him to the YPF! Well that settled it. Brian was definitely not going to be there!
At last they moved off, and Brian came out of hiding. He saw the shambling youth put his arm around Janice and nuzzle at her head, like some sort of brute beast.
"Disgusting!" thought Brian as he turned in the opposite direction. His intention had been to make a rapid detour and get to the main street before the strolling lovers, but he was so disturbed by this latest evidence of the moral turpitude of sexual behaviour contaminating simultaneously both the public library and the Young People's Fellowship that he walked in slow dejection. When he reached the main road and paused at the corner there was no sign of Janice and her friend, but the conduct of a couple of loud-mouthed yobs gave him further cause to cry inwardly o tempora, o mores! as they came running along the street whistling the Battle Hymn of the Republic and then breaking into their own, doubtless obscene, words.
[Note 1] Martin Potter-Brown was the father of the distinguished literary critic Malcolm Potter-Brown. MBP senior was the author of a couple of novels which were well-regarded by a select côterie but never achieved widespread critical or public recognition.
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