Brian's Saga

by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2006 -

Copyright Robin Gordon 2006

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Chapter 15
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    It was nearly Easter.  The snow had cleared and spring had begun.  The sun was shining.  Brian sat on the Wall at the edge of the school playground, brooding, as he often did.  Martin sat beside him offering silent sympathy.
    Brian wasn’t happy.  He was troubled by bad dreams and his school work was suffering.  Night after night he would awake, trembling and soaked in sweat, from nightmares in which he fled across wintry hillsides from some nameless terror only to find the rocks behind which he sought shelter turning into hideous monsters and pursuing him with venom dripping from their fangs.
    That wasn’t all: the Baldersdale children seemed to look askance at him, as if muttering pagan charms against the evil eye, and several times Mouse had said things to him that didn’t make any sense whatever.  At least he was free of Janice Greenwood and her harping on about this musical about the life of St Sweyne that he’d been supposed to write.  She had started on at him again at YPF when he’d had given the curate back his book, and, much to his surprise Mouse had checked her quite sharply and told her that it wasn’t an appropriate subject for a play, especially now that Canon Tollgate was so ill.
    That was another thing.  Canon Tollgate’s illness seemed to have been caused by a chill he caught in Baldersdale while officiating at one of their peculiar open-air ceremonies – though why anyone should want to hold a ceremony outdoors in the middle of the coldest winter for centuries was something he could never understand – and people seemed to think he should know something about it, as if he’d been there when it had happened.
    Everybody seemed to accept that Canon Tollgate wasn’t going to get better, and that was upsetting too.  Brian was in awe of the rector, but he couldn’t help admiring his stern moral outlook.  Suppose they got one of these modern priests who wanted to make everything informal and have guitars played at services, or – even worse – one of those anglo-catholics who would try and introduce incense and genuflecting and all sorts of other undesirable popish practices.
    And then there were those odd hints.  Mouse had said something to him about his experiences with the Great Worm, and when Canon Tollgate’s son, Michael, who was a lecturer in Clasmology at Auksford had come to visit his dying father, he too had started talking to Brian about the Great Worm.  There was only one explanation: they all knew about his besettting sin, and they were all making snide remarks about it in this sort of roundabout hidden way.  It was utterly humiliating.
    It was no wonder that he had felt no interest all term in checking the lewd discussions and dirty jokes of his fellow fourth-formers.  In any case he felt much less sure of his ground after that prefect Malachi Boot had told him all about sex, though why he had ever got into conversation with a sixth-former he couldn’t imagine.  Something to do with those pre-christian superstitions that the Baldersdalers believed in, he supposed, though, with all he had to worry about nowadays, he was inclined just to let them stew in their own juice.  Imagine that he’d actually spent his pocket money on bus-fares out to that god-forsaken hole trying to help them.  He certainly wouldn’t do it now.  It was probably all their fault that he had such awful dreams. In any case he hadn’t any pocket money now.  The Bailey and Malone gangs weren’t even speaking to each other, and Johnny Cowan’s representatives came round every Monday to collect protection money.  There wasn’t any point in resisting, as a couple of members of his class had found out to their cost when Johnny and Norah had invited them into the scrubland below the field.  All in all things were very unsatisfactory, and if he hadn’t had Martin as a friend, he’d have been totally isolated.
    The hoot of derision from a couple of passing girls woke him from this gloomy reverie, and he found, to his horror, that he was holding hands with Martin.  Quickly he put Martin’s hand down on the nearest available surface, which, unfortunately, happened to be his own leg.  Before he knew what was happening, Martin’s hand slid rapidly up his thigh and pressed into his groin.  Brian’s eyes widened in shock.  He grabbed Martin’s hand, pulled it away and put it firmly on Martin’s own leg, but, before he could snatch his hand away, Martin’s twisted gripped it, and pressed it hard to his genitals.
    Brian pulled, but Martin held on tight.  Brian turned to protest.  Martin’s usually pale face was suffused with a rosy flush.  Brian tried again to tug his hand way.  Martin resisted, breathing heavily.  Brian jerked his hand again.  No good.  He could feel Martin’s arousal under his fingers.  He looked around helplessly, then, suddenly swinging up his free hand, he hit Martin as hard as he could in the face.  Martin gasped and let go, and Brian fled to the far end of the yard, where he slumped against the boiler-house railings, sobbing.  Scadger Ferris, the caretaker, looked at him curiously, but decided not to interfere and went down into the boiler house.  No good getting involved in schoolboy politics, fights and bullying, if you didn’t have the authority to impose your will.  If it was anything serious the boy would tell his form teacher and then it would be sorted out.  In the meantime, thought Scadger, it was better not to have seen anything.
    It was Stew who came over to ask Brian if he was all right.
    “Martin’s gone mad!  He’s turned into a homosexual maniac,” Brian gasped.  “He suddenly attacked me.  He grabbed my … my thing … then he pulled my hand onto his.  Why did he do it?”
    Stew laughed.  “Everybody knows Knickers is queer,” he said.  “He always has been.”
    “But he’s so pure,” said Brian.  “He never talks about dirty things.”
    “He’s not interested in girls, if that’s what you mean,” said Stew, “and he can’t talk about his real interests without giving himself away.”
    “But you said everyone knows.”
    “Yeah, but he doesn’t know everyone knows.  He thinks he’s kept it secret.”
    “You mean he wants to have … um … sex … with boys?”
    “Yup.  Haven’t you noticed him in the changing rooms?”
    “But he always turns away when people are changing – like he doesn’t want to see.”
    “It’s not that.  He doesn’t want anybody to see him getting excited.”
    Brian was shocked.
    “We should beat him up?” he said.  “Why don’t we tell the Head and get him expelled.  We could tell the police, get him locked up.”
    Stew looked puzzled.  “But it’s only Knickers,” he said.  “He’s one of us.  He’s been with us right from the first form.  He’s harmless.”
    “No he’s not,” said Brian.  “He touched me.  “He made me touch him.  What if people saw?  They’ll think I’m a homosexual maniac.”

    People had seen.  The two girls who had hooted at Brian and Martin when they’d been holding hands had hung around and watched.  They told the other girls.
    “Holding hands they were, like sweethearts, and then Brian put Martin’s hand down on his trousers and Martin squeezed him, and then Brian squeezed Martin and starting rubbing at his thing.”
    “Yeah and they looked at each other like they were gonna have a kiss …”
    “And then Brian suddenly hit Martin and ran off.”
    “Well,” said Mavis, “we know what they are, don’t we?  Question is, what should we do about it?”
    “Tell Norah Blackburn,” suggested Faith.
    “Yeah,” sniggered Angela.  “That’d be fun.  We could watch.”
    “No,” said Rosemary.  “Not yet anyway.  We could have a bit of fun ourselves first.”

    Martin was mooching round by himself when Rosemary came up.
    “Hello, Martin.  Not got anyone to talk to?” she said.  “Where’s Brian?”
    “Dunno,” said Martin sulkily.
    “I’m glad he’s not here,” said Rosemary, “cos I want to talk to you by yourself.”
    As she spoke she stroked Martin’s cheek and ran her hand down his neck.
    “What d’you want?” said Martin.
    “Well,” said Rosemary, her hand caressing the front of Martin’s pullover, “I’ve always liked you Martin.  I’ve always thought you’re sort of … sweet.”
    Martin edged away from her.
    “We could find lots of things to talk about together,” said Rosemary, slipping her hand under his pullover and exploring his shirt front.  One of her fingers slipped in between two buttons and touched his chest.  Martin shuddered and pulled back.
    Rosemary came up close and whispered in his ear, “We could get to know each other properly.  Her right hand was still on his chest, her left touched his leg just above the knee and moved slowly upwards.
    Martin twisted away and stepped back.  His face was pale.  “Why are you doing this?” he said.
    “Just to see,” said Rosemary.  “I thought you might find me attractive.
    “Not really,” said Martin.
    “OK,” said Rosemary and walked away.

    A few minutes later Faith came up to Martin.  “Can I talk to you, Martin?” she said.
    “No,” said Martin and marched off … only to be intercepted by Mavis.
    “Martin!  Darling!” she cried and flung her arms round him in a passionate embrace.  Martin felt her body pressing against his.  He was not the first boy she had embraced, but he was the first whose body hadn’t responded.
    “You don’t like me,” she said.
    He agreed.
    “You don’t like any of us.”
    “Oh well, we’ll leave you alone then, poor little Martin – we’ll leave you to Norah.”

    Brian was mooching round on the field, keeping well away from Martin.  The girls found him easily enough.  Rosemary was the first to approach him.
    “Hey, Brian, I’ve been looking for you.”
    “I thought mebbe it was time I got to know you a bit better.  You’ve been in our class all this time, and we’ve never really had a proper talk, have we?”
    “No” said Brian, wondering why Rosemary was caressing his cheek.  Her hand wandered down to his neck.  It was quite pleasant really, though he suspected she was making fun of him.
    “I’ve had me eye on you for a bit now,” said Rosemary letting her hand drift down the front of his pullover.”
    “Um … have you?” he asked.
    “Yes,” she said.  Her hand was now under his pullover, slipping between the buttons of his shirt.  He felt her cool fingers on his nipple, and he was torn between pleasure and embarrassment.  He half hoped she’d carry on caressing him, and he half hoped she’d stop before she noticed the effect she was having.
    “You see …” she said, moving round and bringing her other hand onto his leg, “I … ooh!”  Her arm had brushed against an unexpected bulge.
    “Sorry!” said Brian.
    “Sorry!” said Rosemary.  “Well, I hope we’ll talk again.”
    She went off back to the girls.  Brian saw them glance in his direction and blushed.  Then Angela came over to him.
    “Hi, Bri,” she said.  “Where’s your friend Martin?”
    “Dunno,” said Brian crossly.
    “Well, let’s not worry about him,” said Angela.  “Me and the girls were just wondering if you’d like to be friends with us.”
    Her hand had somehow brushed against his and taken hold of it.  It was as if an electic current passed between them, like the magnetism of opposite poles.  Brian’s mouth fell open.
    “Uh,” he said.
    “Is that yes?”
    “Uh … yes.”
    She was going to kiss him … on the cheek … and she did.
    “You like girls, don’t you Brian?” she said, glancing down.
    He blushed harder than ever.
    “See you round,” she said, and rejoined the others.
    Brian though their behaviour was most peculiar, but he had to admit it was enjoyable.
    Mavis was next.
    “Brian! Darling!” she cried and threw her arms around him in a passionate embrace.  “Where have you been all my life? I … ooooh!”
    “Sorry!  Sorry!” Brian yammered.  “I can’t help it … I mean …”
    “Well, you’re not backward at coming forward, are you?” said Mavis.  “We all got the idea you didn’t like girls.  How wrong can you be?  I hope we’re going to get to know you a lot better.  Bye, Lover-Boy.”
    Brian saw the girls looking at him again.  There was still Faith.  A kiss or caress from Faith would really be something.  He felt himself tingling with anticipation – but she didn’t come.

    Brian’s dreams that night were far more pleasurable than any he’d had for a long time.  His conscience assailed him when he woke, but he firmly put aside its strictures, ate a hearty breakfast, and set off to school rather earlier than usual.  Faith lived only a couple of streets away.  A slight detour would bring him to a corner where he might accidentally meet her, and then they could walk on together.

* * * * *

    Canon Tollgate died peacefully in his bed after saying farewell to his son Michael, his daughter Lucy, their respective spouses and his five grandchildren.  His wife, Jane, was with him, and so was his Curate, Mouse.
    “You will be Rector in my place, Victor,” he had said a week or two earlier when Mouse had visited him in his bedroom, where he lay with Mozart playing on the Third Programme and a copy of Leave it to Psmith on his bedside table.  “The Bishop understands and has agreed.  One of your first tasks will be to seek out from among the curates allocated to you a suitable man for Baldersthwaite.  Bishop Blair always thought he knew better than anyone what was needed, would never listen to reason, but that man Thompson is a complete disaster.  Isaiah has had to keep him in total ignorance.  He slept through the whole thing – which is just as well.”
    Mouse never really believed it, but Dr Garterton called him in when it was plain that Canon Tollgate’s life was close to its end and informed him privately that he was to be the next Rector of St Sweyne’s.  When it was announced publically a few days after the Canon’s funeral, certain elderly parishioners were scandalised.
    “Just out of college.  Far too young!”
    “Hardly out of short trousers!”
    “Doesn’t keep any control at all over those young people.”
    “Well,” said Minnie Hodges, “I think he’s done very well running the parish all by himself these last few weeks.”

    Mouse assured Jane Tollgate that he had no need of the Rectory and that she could stay on as long as she liked.
    “Oh, no, Victor,” she said.  “Paul and I talked it over before he died.  I’m going to move to a flat in Hadbury to be near Lucy and the children – and not all that far from Auksford, so I shall be able to see Michael’s lot too.”
    So Mouse moved into the Rectory.

    On the day of his induction there was a party in the parish hall.  Janice Greenwood made herself known to the Bishop and Mrs Garterton, who were rather relieved when she at last decided to claim her place at Mouse’s side.
    “Congratulations, Victor,” she said.  “Fancy!  You’re Rector of St Sweyne’s already.  You’ll be a bishop before you know it.”
    In her mind she saw herself, Janice Mouse, the Bishop’s wife, taking tea on the terrace at the bishop’s palace.
    “Er … mmm,” said Mouse, who knew that he had reached the station in which he would spend the rest of his life.
    “And that great big rectory,” simpered Janice.  “It always seemed to be such a gloomy old place when poor Canon Tollgate was there.  I expect you’ll be making a few changes.”
    “Mmm … perhaps,” said Mouse.
    “You’ll be looking for a helpmeet soon, I dare say,” said Janice.
    “I have someone in mind,” said Mouse tentatively.
    “Ooh, Victor … I …. Oooh!”  Janice blushed and wriggled, then scurried away.
    “Not her, I hope,” said Malachi Boot.
    “No,” said Mouse, “a girl I met at university.  We’ve had an understanding, and now that I’ve got a living we can get married.”
    “Thanks.  Now, how about you?  Are you going to Cambridge?”
    “No.  Me granddad says he could die at any time.  He looks all right, but … well … the breath of the Worm …”
    Mouse nodded.
    “I’ll stay in Ormsgarth, and look after things there.  They’re already calling me t’young Worm Master.  Hey, but the good news is, I’ve met a lass in Geddonthwaite.  I think she’ll understand …”
    They talked on for a while, then Mouse saw Brian mooching into the hall and called him over.
    “You know Malachi Boot?” he said.
    Brian looked at Malachi.  “Oh yes, he’s a prefect at our school,” he said uninterestedly.
    “You’ve not been up to Baldersdale recently,” said Malachi.
    “No,” said Brian.
    “What did you come for?”
    “Aw … I dunno.  I was friends with Ronald Irving for a bit, but, well …”
    He seemed distrait and kept looking over towards the door.  Suddenly his face lit up and he snaked his way through the crowd and joined the girl who had just come in.
    “Her name’s Faith,” said Mouse.  “She’s brought him hope and love.”
    “He doesn’t remember …?” said Malachi.
    “Not a thing,” said Mouse.  “It’s better so.  I don’t know if a boy like Brian could stand remembering what nearly happened … and what his part in it was.”
    “Everything we do,” sighed Malachi, “each one of us, it’s all weighed in the scales of fate.  Every breath we take affects the cosmos for good or ill, whether we know it or not.  You’re right, sometimes it’s better we don’t know what we’ve done.”
    “You’re getting philosophical, Malachi,” said Mouse.  “Let’s go and get some tea, -- and, if we’re not too late, perhaps a slice of Mrs Hodges’s famous chocolate cake.”

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