OF HALDEN, III
- Auksford, 2006 -
Robin Gordon 2006
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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
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
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
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
“But he’s so pure,” said
Brian. “He never talks about dirty
“He’s not interested in girls,
that’s what you mean,” said Stew, “and he
can’t talk about his real interests without giving himself
“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
… 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
Stew looked puzzled. “But it’s
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.
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
“Yeah and they looked at each other like they were
gonna have a kiss …”
“And then Brian suddenly hit Martin and ran
“Well,” said Mavis, “we know
are, don’t we? Question is, what should we do about
“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
Martin was mooching round by himself when Rosemary came up.
“Hello, Martin. Not got anyone to talk
to?” she said. “Where’s
“Dunno,” said Martin sulkily.
“I’m glad he’s not
here,” said Rosemary, “cos I want to talk to you by
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
“You don’t like me,” she said.
“You don’t like any of us.”
“Oh well, we’ll leave you alone then,
poor little Martin – we’ll leave you to
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
Psmith on his bedside
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
“Just out of college. Far too
“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
“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
“Ooh, Victor … I ….
Oooh!” Janice blushed and wriggled, then scurried
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 …”
“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
“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
“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
“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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