In this chapter we’ll find out how Blackman’s investigation into the Sins of the Rat went, and what happens as a result. One thing’s for sure: the name ‘Villiers-Gore’ doesn’t seem likely to appear in the Head Boy’s Book of Life…
Wednesday morning was almost a repeat of Tuesday: once again David was woken up by Joe opening the hatch and calling him to come straight down, and once again he had an erection, which Joe made fun of, as he had the previous day. But this time he seemed more concerned about the state of David’s bottom.
“How’s your bum?” he asked.
David shrugged. “Okay now, I suppose,” he said.
“Then I obviously didn’t do it hard enough. I’ll have to find a proper whip from somewhere. Anyway, you didn’t get a wash before you went to bed last night, so Molly says you have to have a bath this morning to make up for it. Come along.”
He marched David to the bathroom, where they found Molly running the bath.
“If you want to have a pee, do it now,” she told him. “Then you can get it clean in the bath. Go on, it’s obvious you need to, so get on with it.”
Reluctantly David went to the toilet and raised the seat, but today Joe was in the room, and he didn’t seem to share his siblings’ sense of propriety: instead he came and stood beside David and watched him take hold of his little organ.
“Go away,” David said, but Joe just smirked at him.
“Oh, God, I can’t go with you staring at me,” said David. “Come on, Devlin, at least go and wait with your sister – please?”
“That’s got to be the first time you’ve ever said ‘please’ to any of us,” commented Tim, who had appeared at the door. “Looks like you’re learning at last. But you can’t call us all ‘Devlin’, or it’s going to get really confusing.”
“He can call me ‘Sir’,” said Joe, grinning.
“He can call you ‘Sir’ if he wants, but it would be easier if he called us by our names. Get used to it, Gerbil, you’re going to be living with us for a long time.”
“My name’s David,” said David, through gritted teeth.
“I know, but I like your special name better. Maybe when your little tiny wee-wee gets a bit bigger we can call you something else, but as it’s the funniest thing about you, you can hardly blame us for naming you after it. Now, are you going to pee, or not?”
David tried to shut them out, and finally he managed to piss, though Joe’s snort of laughter when it started to flow almost made it stop again. Finally he finished, shook off and headed for the bath, only to have to turn round and put the seat down first when Molly pointed at it.
He got into the bath, but then discovered to his horror that he wasn’t going to be allowed to wash himself: Molly was going to do it for him. He argued and struggled, but Tim told him that if he didn’t stop messing about he’d be whipped fifty times every evening for the next week, and at that he put his hands on his head, as Molly instructed him, and allowed her to start rubbing his chest with a soapy flannel. Having her scrubbing his balls and bum was so humiliating that he started to cry tears of impotence and shame, but she took her time, dragging his torment out for at least ten minutes. Finally he was allowed to rinse himself off and get out of the bath, only to have to put up with her drying him as well.
“Next time you’ll have to lie him on his back and put a nappy on him,” commented Joe, grinning. “That’s what you normally do after bathing babies.”
“That’s true,” agreed Molly. “Do you know where we can get a nappy to fit him? I know – I’ll ask some of my friends at school. And maybe some of them can come and help me next time Gerbil needs a bath.”
David stared at her in utter horror, but then decided she was only winding him up – after all, so far they had kept the situation strictly within the family.
After he had cleaned his teeth he was taken to Molly’s room and allowed to put on his school uniform. He had learned enough to keep his thoughts to himself through breakfast, and once again he made a point of sitting on his own on the bus, as far away from the Devlin kids as he could.
He got through the morning classes at school, but at lunchtime he received a summons to the head boy’s office. He stopped at the toilet block to comb his hair and make sure his uniform was as tidy as possible – after all, he was still fairly sure that if he apologised for the Osterley incident he still had a chance of persuading Blackman that he could do a good job for him – and then went on to the head boy’s study, where he knocked and waited to be called in.
“Right, Villiers-Gore,” said Blackman. “I’ve been through the punishment book and spoken to everyone in it, and nobody else in the book appears to have been punished for something they didn’t do: they all admitted breaking school rules. On the other hand, there is evidence that you tried to influence Garrett into giving some boys harsher punishments than were merited. For instance, a boy called Sherwood, in 1B, tells me that you wanted Garrett to cane him and his friend for trespassing on the old assault course. He says you demanded six with the cane, and that you were very annoyed when Garrett quite properly refused to give them any more than three with the belt. He also says that when Garrett allowed you one hit, you deliberately struck too low down in an attempt to cause as much pain as possible, and to incur additional punishments, though again Garrett didn’t go along with your desires. Is this true?”
David thought for a moment. It was possible that Blackman had spoken to Garrett, and if Garrett had given him the same broadly accurate account as Sherwood had done, he would never believe David if he offered a different version.
“Well, basically, yes, that’s true. They were very insolent, and I thought the cane was appropriate. But I didn’t hit McMillan’s legs deliberately – that was an accident.”
“Caning first-year boys for being insolent to someone who has no authority and no official position would have been inexcusable, and to ask for it displays an appalling level of arrogance. Now, there are a couple of other cases where you clearly overstepped the mark, but the case of the two boys taking in indecency with each other is not open to consideration here, because if I’d been in this chair last term they would have been expelled on the spot. The Bible teaches us clearly about this sort of abomination, and, like Mr Weston, I will not tolerate it in this school. Those two boys are extremely lucky to still be here, and anything that you did to them is still less than they deserved.
“So that leaves Ian Osterley – or do you think there’s anything else I ought to know about?”
“No, I’m sure there isn’t,” said David at once.
“Really? Well, what you did to him seems to be quite sufficient on its own to merit an interview with Mr Weston, but while I was investigating his case I spoke to a friend of his who told me that Osterley wasn’t the only boy that you wrongly accused. What this boy told me seemed hardly believable, so I checked with Marcus Garrett, and with the boy in question, a second-former called Brahim Dhif.”
Oh, shit, I’m fucked, thought David.
“Dhif didn’t want to make a complaint himself, but he confirmed the basic facts, which were that you took him to see Garrett, told Garrett that you’d found a bottle of cider in his coat pocket and demanded that he be expelled. And Garrett confirmed that he found it hard to believe that a Muslim boy would have alcohol in his possession, and so he refused to take it to Mr Weston, or to make an entry in the punishment book. He says instead he gave Dhif a short caning, just in case he was guilty, but also told him that if it did turn out to be a set-up he’d be happy to look the other way while Dhif dealt with it himself.
“So, now we have an eye-witness who saw you putting the bottle into Dhif’s pocket – which means that this was another attempt on your part to get a completely innocent boy punished and maybe even expelled. What have you got to say about that?”
“Well… it’s just…” David suddenly remembered something from an RE lesson about the Book of Genesis. Surely it would carry some weight with the very religious Blackman?
“I don’t think he should be in this school,” he said. “Because he’s black, I mean. The Bible says that the Sons of Ham are supposed to be servants to everyone else, doesn’t it? Hewers of wood and… and… well, anyway, they shouldn’t be in the same school as white boys.”
“That’s what you think, is it?” said Blackman, his face unreadable. “Hewers of wood and drawers of water – though that’s not from Genesis, by the way, and nor does it refer to the sons of Ham - and so not deserving of a grammar school education, is that right?”
“Yes, that’s it,” said David, feeling hopeful. “Like the Bible says.”
“You disgust me,” said Blackman. “How dare you use scripture to try to justify your obnoxious beliefs? Genesis explains how God chose to separate the sons of Shem from the sons of Ham, which was right for His people then. But the Lord Jesus came to bring all people to God. Paul says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female: ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians Three, verse twenty-eight. And in Colossians he says specifically that barbarians and Scythians may come to God through Christ. The Lord welcomes all people, not just white boys from Gloucestershire.”
“But he’s not a Christian, even!”
“God loves all people. There are those in this school who have followed the error of the Church of Rome, just as Dhif has followed the error of Mohammed, but all are loved by God. Do you want all the Catholics expelled, too? If the only boys allowed here were born-again Christians, this would be a very small school, unfortunately. As far as Dhif is concerned, he doesn’t deserve to be persecuted by a foul little racist like yourself.
“I had been going to take you straight to see Mr Weston, and I think we both know what would happen then. But, since you love the Word of God so much, I think perhaps we might be guided by it in deciding how to deal with you. The Book says ‘If anyone injures his neighbour, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.’ Leviticus Twenty-Four, verse nineteen. So I’m going to ask Osterley, Dhif and Sherwood what they think should happen to you.”
“Oh, God, no!” cried David. “They’ll crucify me!”
“That would indeed be appropriate for a blasphemer like you. But they won’t. I’m giving you a week of detention with Sherwood and his friend to start with, as theirs was the least of your transgressions. You’ll serve that detention however Sherwood feels appropriate, and you’ll do whatever he tells you, too. This is your only chance to avoid immediate expulsion. After that we’ll see what Osterley and Dhif think appropriate. As long as you accept your punishment you won’t be expelled, because, after all, those boys weren’t expelled, either, and your punishment should be commensurate with theirs. But if you don’t accept your punishment we’ll see to it that you never set foot in a decent school again. Is that understood?”
“Well, yes. But you can’t…”
“Indeed I can. Your future here is hanging by a thread. Personally I’d be glad to see you go, but even one such as you deserves a chance to redeem himself. Now go and report to Sherwood. He knows you’re coming.”
Slowly David walked to the door and let himself out. He was less worried about Sherwood and McMillan – after all, he’d only had them beaten once, and they had been out of bounds at the time and so deserving of some punishment. But the thought of what Osterley might do to him was simply terrifying, and as he trudged towards the first-year form rooms he was beginning to think about just running for it: he could just walk out of school and not come back.
But he was sensible enough to realise that this was no answer. Where could he go? With his home situation as it was, he would never be allowed to stay away from school, and he had no money with which to take himself to London or anywhere else. And expulsion would really be the end of everything: he had no illusions about his chances of getting to university and so qualifying for a decent career if he got thrown out of KEV. He could really see no alternative to staying put and trying to persuade Osterley not to overdo his punishment. Maybe if it got too much he could feign sickness and spend a few days in bed…
He reached 1B’s form room and went in, and it was a measure of how his status had changed that instead of looking at him apprehensively the kids were now grinning openly at him.
“Hey, Mark,” one of them called over his shoulder. “The Rat’s here.”
Nobody would have dared call him that to his face last term, either.
Sherwood looked up from his desk. “Good,” he said. “Come here, Rat.”
Struggling to suppress his fury at being disrespected so blatantly, David made his way to Sherwood’s desk.
“Blackman’s told you the news, then, has he?” asked Sherwood. ”Good. Well, I’m going to treat you a lot more fairly than you deserve. Meet me after school at the old rifle range. If you do what you’re told tonight, you might get away with only the one detention. Provided you now apologise to me and Ally for trying to get us caned last term.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” mumbled David.
“No, properly. Out loud, so that all my friends can hear you. Unless you really want a whole week’s detention?”
Gritting his teeth, David scowled at him, but then somehow forced himself to say, “I’m sorry I tried to get you caned last term, Sherwood, okay?”
“That’s okay,” said Sherwood, loftily. “Now kiss my shoes, and then you can go.”
“What! I’m not kissing your shoes, you little bastard!”
“A whole week’s detention,” Sherwood reminded him. “With a caning every night.”
“Well… okay. But I’ll do it this evening after school.”
“No, you won’t. You’ll do it now, in front of everyone. I want lots of witnesses.”
Just being spanked by Joe had felt dreadful, and the strap had made him scream like a baby, so the thought of an actual cane was terrifying. So, reluctantly, David dropped to his knees and kissed Sherwood’s shoes, while the whole class whooped and cheered. And then he had to repeat the performance for McMillan, apologising publicly for trying to get him caned, and for hitting his legs by mistake, and then kissing his shoes while the first-formers laughed and jeered him. Finally they let him go, and he ran off, pursued by mockery.
After school he made his way with trepidation to the old rifle range: remembering what had happened to Osterley there he was half expecting to find the entire first year waiting for him. But the only people there were Sherwood and McMillan.
“Okay, Rat,” said Sherwood. “I’m going to give you a chance to get out of any more public punishments. You’re going to run the old assault course. If you get all the way round in… oh, let’s be really generous and say ten minutes, your punishment is over and you can go home, and we’ll be quits. If you fall off any of the obstacles you have to go right back to the start and begin again, but ten minutes should give you plenty of time even if you have to start again a couple of times. Does that seem fair to you?”
David supposed it was a better deal than he had expected, and so he agreed, and headed for the start of the course, but Sherwood stopped him.
“There’s one other small detail,” he said. “You seemed to think it was funny when you made us take all our clothes off to be beaten. So you’re going to run the course naked. Get undressed.”
“What! Absolutely not!”
“Okay, then. I’ll go and see Blackman in the morning and tell him you refused to do your detention, then. I expect you’ll be expelled before lunchtime.”
“No! No, I mean, I’ll do the detention – but not naked! That wouldn’t be fair! I mean, I can’t run the course with nothing on!”
“Yes, you can. The grass is nice and long, so you’ll manage fine in bare feet. But you laughed at us, so now we’re going to laugh at you. It seems perfectly fair to me.”
“But when we made you strip, that was indoors!”
“So what? There’s nobody else here – at least, not tonight, there isn’t. If you don’t finish the course tonight we’ll come back tomorrow and try again, and then we’ll bring some friends along to watch. But tonight the only ones who will see the wind ruffling the hair on your balls are us. Now get your clothes off.”
David tried to argue for a little longer, but in the end Sherwood just gave him an ultimatum: strip naked now, or be expelled tomorrow. And that was no choice at all, so David stripped to his pants, faced the start of the course – and so away from his audience – pulled off his pants and ran to the start, throwing his pants back over his shoulder.
Of course, Sherwood and McMillan weren’t letting him get away with that. They simply followed him to the start of the course, where he was huddled down with his hands over his groin.
“Stand up straight,” ordered Sherwood. “And move your hands – let’s see how much hair you’ve got.”
“Hair?” queried McMillan.
“Yes, boys start getting hair round their cocks when they’re about thirteen,” Sherwood told him. “It’s part of growing up, and it’ll happen to us soon, too. One of my friends from primary school has already got a bit, and he’s still only twelve. He says thirteen is more usual, though. But Rat here must be nearly fifteen, so I bet he’s got quite a bit. Well, come on, then, Rat, show us what you’ve got.”
David slowly moved his hands away, revealing his underdeveloped little organs, and Sherwood took one incredulous look and burst out laughing. David was overwhelmed with shame, and it was all he could do not to start crying.
“God, that’s pathetic!” exclaimed Sherwood. “I reckon even a genuine rat would have a bigger one!”
“Where’s the hair, then?” asked McMillan.
“He hasn’t got any – have you, Rat? He’s still a little baby – blimey, Ally, yours is far bigger than his, and he’s three years older than us. Just wait till we tell the rest of the class…”
“Don’t, please!” begged David. “It’s not my fault it’s small – I can’t do anything about it! Please don’t let them all laugh at me!”
“Aah! Poor little Rattikins, ashamed of his teeny tiny willy!” mocked Sherwood. “Well, if you get round the course in ten minutes, nobody else will get to see it. If you don’t, we’ll start inviting our friends to come and watch, a few more every day. Just imagine how big the audience will be on the last day if we each invite two friends along, and then all six of us invite two friends along for the third show, and then all eighteen of us invite two friends along for the fourth show… how good are you at maths, Rat? Try to work out how many boys will be watching you on the fifth evening if we go on like that. Anyway, are you ready? Three, two, one, go!”
He hit the stopwatch button on his digital watch and David scampered off. There were ten obstacles, starting with a low wall made of old railway sleepers about four feet high, and David was able to get himself over it without too much trouble. Next came a rope bridge about three feet above the ground, consisting of three ropes, one for the feet and one for each hand, joined together in a V shape. David was less confident about this, especially in bare feet, but by taking it slowly he made it across.
The third obstacle was a tunnel formed by a buried tube about two feet in diameter. It was only about ten feet long, but there was a bend in the middle, and so from the entrance you couldn’t see through to the other side. David reached the entrance and hesitated.
“Of course, nobody’s used the course for years,” mused Sherwood, putting voice to his fears. “Anything could be living in there now – foxes, snakes – rats, even. Still, I don’t suppose they’ll bother one of their own. Get on with it, Rat – you’re wasting time.”
David took a deep breath and plunged into the tube, wriggling along. It had rained the previous evening and there was some water in the bottom of the tube – not much, but enough to be uncomfortable. But there didn’t seem to be any animals, and he emerged safely from the far end into a pool of muddy water. He stood up, dripping, and ran on to the next obstacle, a vertical frame with rope netting about ten feet high. He scrambled up this, pulled himself over the top and down the other side. The rope hurt his feet, but at least he was still making progress.
Obstacle Five was the zigzag planks that Sherwood and McMillan had been on when he had originally caught them, but unlike McMillan David stayed on the planks and successfully made it to the far side. He was halfway through the course and comfortably ahead of the clock.
Number Six was a horizontal pole about three feet above the ground that he had to cross. He could have tried sitting on it and inching over, but he was afraid of getting splinters in his bum (or even his balls) if he risked that, so instead he took it in the way the course-builders had intended: he ran straight up the ramp at one end and ran across the pole, and although his balance was going by the time he reached the far side he managed to get to the second ramp before he could fall off.
The seventh obstacle was the over-and-under poles where Osterley had been fucked and beaten, and David got past them easily. The eighth was another piece of rope netting pegged to the ground which he had to crawl under, and this was very uncomfortable naked, with the coarse rope rubbing against his back and his chest and tummy pressed against the muddy ground. But he made it to the far side. And then his troubles really began.
Number Nine was a length of rope about twenty feet long, about seven feet off the ground. Beneath the rope was a pool of murky water. Obviously the idea was to use the rope to cross the pool, but he was sure his arms wouldn’t be strong enough, and sure enough he only got about three feet before his arms let him down and he fell to the ground, just short of the pool.
“God, Sherwood, I’ll never get over that!” he protested.
“You’re supposed to use your feet,” Sherwood explained. “Look, I’ll show you.”
He took off his blazer and tie, stood on the little platform under the rope, grabbed it and swung his feet up until his ankles were crossed above the rope. Then he was able to pull himself along hand over hand, hanging underneath the rope with his ankles taking part of his weight. He made it to the far side and lowered himself onto the second platform, and then ran back to the first one.
“See?” he said. “If you do it like that your arms don’t have to support your whole weight. You have a go – and don’t worry, you’ve got bags of time left.”
David grabbed the rope and, at the second attempt, managed to get his legs up the way Sherwood had done. He started to pull himself along, but then his left ankle slipped off the rope, and he couldn’t swing it back up. His right ankle came free next, and after hanging helplessly for a few seconds he was forced to let go of the rope and drop into the muddy pool. His feet slipped on landing and he ended up full length in the mud.
“Don’t worry,” gasped Sherwood, when he finished laughing, “you’ve still got time. Back to the start and do it all again.”
David ran back to the start and began again. He was getting a bit tired by now, and obstacles that had been easy enough the first time now seemed a lot harder. But he still got back to the rope without any further failure. He pulled himself up onto the rope once more, but this time his arms were aching so much that he only reached halfway before he was too tired to pull himself any further.
“Come on, Rat!” encouraged Sherwood. “You’ve still got a minute and a half – you can do it!”
But he couldn’t: he was too tired, and a few seconds later he fell into the pool once more. He stumbled off towards the start, but he had barely got over the rope bridge when his time ran out.
“Hard luck,” said Sherwood, grinning at him. “Looks like you’ll be coming back tomorrow night. There’s a tap over there by the corner of the swimming pool – lie under it and we’ll get the worst of the mud off.”
The water was freezing, and David gasped as Sherwood made him roll about under the tap. By the time he was clean his teeth were chattering and his normally tiny genitals had almost vanished completely.
“Better bring a towel tomorrow,” advised Sherwood. “Now, we’re going to warm you up a little: every time you fail the course you get whipped. We were going to use the cane, but as we got away with the belt – no thanks to you – we thought we’d be nice and let you have the belt as well, at least for tonight. Go and bend over the pole, like Osterley did.”
So David did that, and the two first-years beat him with Sherwood’s belt, making him howl.
“Okay, go home,” said Sherwood, when they had given him three each. “But don’t be late tomorrow, or else.”
Sniffing and clutching at his bottom, David watched them go, and then dried himself as best he could with his blazer, got dressed and went to catch the bus home.
“You’re late!” was the first thing Tim Devlin said to him was he set foot in the house. “Why?”
“I got a detention.”
“Couldn’t happen to a nicer person. So, have you got anything to prove it?”
“Well, next time I’ll want to see a signed piece of paper explaining that you were in detention, so we’ll know you weren’t just messing about with your friends instead of coming home to help with the housework.”
“I’m going to be in detention again tomorrow,” David told him. “And probably on Friday and half of next week as well.”
“Oh, dear, you have been a naughty little boy!” said Tim, grinning. “Okay, just get whoever’s put you in detention to put it in writing for me tomorrow. Now go and see Molly and get changed.”
David managed to keep his mouth shut through the evening: even when Molly pointed out that he had muddy feet and so would need another bath he managed not to complain. And she was right, anyway: the cold water tap hadn’t got anything like all the mud off him, and if he’d been allowed to bathe himself he’d have thought a bath was a really good idea. But of course he wasn’t, and he had to put up with Molly bathing him like a baby once again. And this time she did make him lie on his back on the floor afterwards while she applied talcum powder round his bottom and genitals, and that would have been humiliating enough even if Joe hadn’t been leaning on the wall sniggering. At least she hadn’t found a nappy that would fit…
After supper he did his homework and went to bed without complaint when Joe told him to, even though it was barely half past seven. At least in his room nobody made fun of him.
On Thursday morning he woke up before Joe opened the hatch, and so he was able to masturbate in peace, and consequently when Joe did come to get him up he found David’s penis soft and floppy. Joe seemed really disappointed, and that cheered David up a little.
“I bet you’ve been playing with yourself,” said Joe. “You’re not allowed to do that, Gerbil. I’ll have to find a way to fix it so you can’t. Come on, then, get to the bathroom.”
David washed himself to Molly’s satisfaction and when she gave him his clothes he asked her for a towel, too, telling her that he’d probably be getting dirty again and would need to have a wash before coming home. She found him a decent-sized towel without comment.
David got through the day and made his way to the assault course after school, and here he found Sherwood, McMillan and four other first-year boys, and these taunted him about his tiny genitals and then went on cheering and mocking him as he made his way round the course. When he reached the netting at Obstacle Eight he met a new problem: one of the new boys was standing on the net at the far end, so that he couldn’t get out, and as soon as he had wriggled under it another boy came and stood on the opening at the near end. This left him completely trapped, flat on his face with no way out.
“Come on, Sherwood, this isn’t fair!” he protested. “Make them move!”
“I thought you were looking a bit hot and bothered, so I thought you’d appreciate something to cool you down,” said the boy, and he pulled out his penis and urinated all over David’s back. David let out a yell of disgust, but he was pinned down in the net and could do no more than wriggle. The second boy did the same thing, and then they let him get on with his run, dripping.
The rope at Obstacle Nine defeated him again and he was forced to return to the start, and this time when he got to the net all four remaining boys urinated on him, though they could hardly aim for laughing. Furious but helpless he ran on to the rope, determined to get across it, and somehow he made it, almost losing his balance as he lowered himself onto the second platform but catching himself just in time. And that left him with just one obstacle to pass, and almost two minutes to do it in…
…but it was hopeless. The last obstacle was like a bigger version of the first one, a wall of railway sleepers – but this one was about seven feet high, and for a boy who was only four feet ten the top was completely out of reach, even when he tried jumping for it in the approved manner. He could just about get his fingers to the top, but there was no way he could get a grip that would enable him to pull himself up.
“It’s not fair, Sherwood,” he complained. “I’m too small. I bet you couldn’t get over this, either.”
“I’ll stop the clock,” said Sherwood. He did so and contemplated the wall.
“Of course, I don’t have to change anything – you agreed to do the course at the start, and if you can’t do it now that’s just hard luck. But… to be fair to you, you haven’t tried to wriggle out of it so far… anyone got any ideas?”
“When we had the third-year kid down here at the end of last term I saw a chair in the rifle range,” said one of his friends. “If they forgot to lock the range up again, we could probably use that.”
So they went and checked and found the range still unlocked (the last people to have been in there were Osterley and Little Collins, and when they left they hadn’t been thinking about anything except getting Osterley into a hot bath), and inside was not just the chair the instructor had used to sit on while watching the cadets shoot, but also an old, empty metal ammunition box about nine inches square and two feet long. They took the box and the chair out to the wall, set the chair against it with its back to the wall and positioned the box in front of the chair.
“Now you take a run up, put one foot on the box, put the other on the chair and then jump,” said Sherwood. “If you can get your forearms on top of the wall you should be able to pull yourself up. Do you reckon that’s fair?”
It certainly was: the chair more than made up for David’s lack of height, and the box would allow him to get a proper run-up to the chair.
“Okay,” he said. “I still don’t think I’ll be able to get onto the wall, but at least it gives me a fair chance, I suppose.”
He went back to the second platform of the rope crossing and got into position, and then Sherwood restarted his watch and called “Go!”
David got the best push off the chair that he could but still couldn’t get his arms onto the top of the wall. He managed to get his hands there, but he wasn’t strong enough to pull himself up. He dropped back to the chair.
“Failure!” trumpeted one of Sherwood’s friends. “All the way back to the start, Rat.”
“No, he didn’t really fall off. I think he can have another go,” said Sherwood, who was pretty sure now that David wouldn’t be able to get over the wall. And so it proved: once again he failed to pull himself up. He made one final attempt, but the time ran out before he could get a proper grip on the top of the wall. Defeated, he dropped back to the chair.
“Hard luck, Rat,” said Sherwood. “Back to the poles for your beating.”
“Please don’t,” begged David, looking at him piteously. “It hurts, Sherwood.”
“I know. You had it done to me, remember? Now go and bend over, or I’ll change my mind and use the cane instead.”
Stifling a sob, David went and bent over the pole, and tonight they tied him into place, as had been done to Osterley. And then all six boys beat him with the belt, again giving him three each. He was wailing like a baby before the second boy had finished, and when McMillan deliberately hit his thighs instead of his bum – as David had done to him, of course – David’s screech of pain could probably have been heard a mile away.
When they had all finished they dragged the sobbing boy to the tap and forced him to wash himself down under it, shoving him back every time he tried to escape the freezing flow. Finally they threw his towel at him.
“Make sure you put the chair and box back in the range before you go home,” Sherwood told him. “Though you might want to try practising a bit first. Tomorrow there are going to be loads of us here, and your bum is going to be whipped to pieces if you don’t get round the course. See you tomorrow.”
“Wait!” cried David, remembering what Tim had said. “Can you give me a piece of paper to say that I’m in detention? Otherwise when I get home they’ll think I’ve been messing about or something.”
“I don’t see why I should help you stay out of trouble at home.”
Seeing the naked, dripping Rat on his knees begging for help made Sherwood feel good, so he tore a piece of paper from one of the exercise books in his bag and wrote on it, ‘I certify that David Villiers-Gore was in detention tonight for misbehaviour and bullying. He will be in detention tomorrow night as well.’
He dated it and added the signature ‘M Sherwood’, and although it had obviously been written by a boy and not by a teacher, David hoped it would keep Tim happy.
“Thanks, Sherwood,” he said.
“Wow, listen to the all-new Rat!” commented Sherwood to his friends. “This one says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’! He must be sick, or something.”
He dropped the paper on top of David’s clothes and strolled off, and David dried himself off, got dressed, and put the paper carefully away in his bag. Before he put the chair away he made a couple of attempts to get onto the wall, and to his own absolute astonishment his third jump was good enough for him to get his arms on the wall. Scrabbling with his toes, he managed to heave himself up a little further, and then he was able to pull himself onto the top of the wall. He swung round and lowered himself down the other side, feeling really good about himself: at least he knew now that he could actually get past every obstacle on the course. Maybe he could make it round the next evening, and then he could stick two fingers up at Sherwood after all.
He put the chair and box away and went and caught the bus home. Tim met him at the door, and David dug into his case and handed him Sherwood’s note.
“Who’s M Sherwood?” Tim asked. “And don’t tell me it’s a teacher, because this isn’t a grown-up’s writing.”
“No, he’s a first-year boy. I got into trouble for sort of bullying him, and he’s in charge of my detentions this week to make up for it.”
“A first year? It’s not Mark Sherwood, is it?”
“I think his name’s Mark, yes. Why, do you know him?”
“Yes, of course. We’re friends – we went to the same primary school last year. He lives in the same road as me… well, as I did when we lived in Cheltenham, anyway. And he’s running your detention? I’ve really got to hear all about this. Go and see Molly and get changed, and then get straight on with your homework. I’ve got to make a phone call…”
David set off up the stairs, but stopped when he was out of sight of the hall, crouched down and listened as Tim picked up the phone and dialled.
“Can I speak to Mark, please? It’s Tim Devlin,” he said, and David then heard Tim’s half of the conversation.
“Hello, Mark. How’s things?” ……………. “Yes, it’s okay. I know it’s not as good as the place you’re at, but then you were always a swot. Listen, I’ve just found out something interesting: what were you doing straight after school tonight?” ………… “Never mind how I know – what were you doing?” …………. “Really? And what’s the kid’s name?” ……………. “The White Rat? We call him Gerbil. See, my mother…..”
“What do you think you’re doing?” said a voice over David’s shoulder, and he turned to see Joe glaring at him. “Spying on my brother, are you? I bet you get beaten up for that. Now come upstairs and get changed.”
So David had to leave the conversation, though he’d heard enough to know that his situation had just got worse: if Sherwood and Tim Devlin were friends, it seemed likely that his miserable home life and his bad position at school were in danger of merging seamlessly into one continuous nightmare.
On the Friday morning Joe caught him with an erection again and spent five minutes teasing him about it, but otherwise the day went as smoothly as it could in the circumstances until the end of school. But after that things went downhill rapidly: waiting for him at the assault course was what looked like half the first year. And there was a boy wearing a different uniform talking to Sherwood, and when the boy turned round David was horrified to see that it was Tim Devlin.
“Hello, Gerbil!” Tim greeted him. “I really couldn’t miss a chance to watch your athletic expertise in person.”
“I hope you’ve been practising,” Sherwood told him, “because if you get whipped by all this lot Tim will have to push you home in a wheelbarrow, or something. Well, don’t just stand there: get undressed.”
David knew that there was no point in arguing, and he didn’t want to give Tim the satisfaction of watching him beg, so he slowly stripped and walked to the start of the course, trying to ignore the cat-calls and mockery of the boys who hadn’t seen him naked before. Sherwood checked his watch and called ‘Go!’ and David ran off, determined to get round the whole course this evening and so put an end to this nightmare.
But he was thinking so much about the rope and the final wall that he wasn’t concentrating on what he was doing, and as a result he fell off the zigzag planks and landed in the long grass underneath. The audience cheered loudly.
He returned to the start and began again, this time being a little more careful. But perhaps he was being a bit too careful: instead of trying to run at top speed across the pole at Obstacle Six he tried to edge his way across it instead, and halfway across he lost his balance and fell off. Back to the start he went, knowing that he couldn’t afford any more mistakes, and this time he got as far as the place where he had to crawl under the netting – but the boys who had been there the previous night had put the word about, and once again they trapped him underneath the net.
“It’s okay, I’ve stopped the watch,” Sherwood told him before he could complain.
For the next couple of minutes David was urinated on – at least a dozen boys took advantage of his situation to make their feelings about him plain. Eventually he was allowed to continue, but his concentration had gone and he fell off the rope into the muddy pool less than halfway across. By the time he had dragged himself out and staggered back to the start his time had run out.
They shoved him under the cold tap and made him stay there for almost five minutes and then pulled him to the pole, tied him over it and prepared to set to work.
“As you’ve got through tonight without complaining we’re only going to give you two each instead of three,” Sherwood told him. “Isn’t that kind? Say thank you, then.”
“Thank you,” said David in a dull voice.
The next five minutes were agony: although they mostly hit his bum he was also beaten on the legs and back, and every blow made him cry out. He was begging for mercy before half the boys had had a turn, but it only made them laugh at him.
“I don’t remember you ever having mercy on anyone,” Sherwood pointed out, “so you can’t be all that surprised if nobody wants to have mercy on you. Carry on, boys!”
When it was finally over they untied him and he slid off the pole onto the ground, sobbing. The first-year boys filed away, talking excitedly about what they had witnessed.
“Don’t be late on Monday,” Sherwood reminded him. “There’ll be a big audience, remember, and you wouldn’t want to let them down, would you? And don’t forget to put the chair away before you leave.” And he jogged off after his friends.
David thought he was alone, and so he stayed curled into a ball, sobbing – until a voice in his ear said, “Get up, Gerbil – you can’t lie there all night. Get your clothes on while I go and fetch the chair.”
David staggered to his feet and pulled on his pants while Tim went and collected the chair and ammo box from the last obstacle. David showed him where they went, and then Tim waited while David finished getting dressed.
“What a right little charmer you are,” said Tim as they headed to the bus stop. “Mark’s been telling me all about it, how you grassed kids up to the head boy and then thought up horrible things to do to them. No wonder everyone hates you. And I thought you were just big-headed and obnoxious at home…”
David couldn’t think of anything to say, so he kept quiet.
“I’ve invited Mark over tomorrow,” Tim went on. “I reckon he’ll approve of how we’re dealing with you, but if he’s got any bright ideas for new stuff to try, you can bet I’ll be happy to give them a whirl.”
That thought was enough to push David even further into depression. The only thing that would be worse would be having Osterley – and perhaps Dhif – coming to the house to contribute to his treatment. He promised himself he would do everything possible to make sure Osterley and Tim never met.
Once back home he was sent to see Molly, who put his uniform away and handed him his shorts and tee shirt, and at least tonight she didn’t insist on giving him a bath. He went to Joe’s room and got some of his homework done, and after supper he finished the rest of it and then went to tell Tim he had done it all. Tim looked at his watch.
“I think you’ve got time to go and make a start on tidying my room before bed,” he said. “Go and ask my mother for a duster and then come straight back to my room.”
David did that, and Tim told him to dust all the surfaces – “Properly,” he added. “That means taking the books off the shelves, not dusting round them. I want the dusting done tonight; you can do the vacuuming tomorrow. Come and find me when you’ve finished – I’ll be downstairs watching TV.”
David got on with the dusting, doing it properly as he had been told – his bum hurt so much that the idea of another spanking was inconceivable. He finished the bookcases and the windowsill and the desk… and then he realised he was alone in his own room. Now he could rescue his Post Office book, and then he’d be able to escape.
But when he tried the drawer, he found it was locked. He hadn’t even realised there was a key for it – he had never locked it himself. But obviously Tim had found one, because now the drawer wouldn’t open.
He heaved vainly at it a couple of times, and then thought that there might be a better way: he crawled under the desk and tried to get into the drawer from the back. There was a small gap between the back of the drawer and the underside of the desk, but it was only about an inch high and so far too small to get his hand into.
He thought about it for a moment or two. If he turned the desk upside down, everything in the drawer would fall onto the underside of the desk, and then if he tipped it the right way – and if the Post Office book was near the top – it would slide out through that one inch gap…
Quickly he cleared the top of the desk and then heaved it up onto its back, moved it forward a little and then pushed it over so that it was now upside down. It landed with a loud noise, and David looked guiltily over his shoulder at the door. But there was no sign of life, so he tipped the desk back onto its back – and was delighted to see quite a bit of stuff had escaped from the drawer. He dived under the desk and scrabbled through it – and yes! There it was!
He put it to one side, got the desk back the right way up, crawled underneath it once more and started shoving everything else back through the gap into the drawer. Then he wriggled out again, picked up the savings book, looked up… and saw Tim standing in the doorway.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Tim asked him.
“I knocked the desk over. Sorry,” said David, trying to put the savings book into the pocket of his shorts but missing the opening.
“And what’s that in your hand?”
“Nothing! Look, it’s mine, okay?”
“Really? I thought I told you that nothing in here was yours any more. Let’s see.”
“No! Leave me alone!”
David tried to push past Tim to get to the door, but Tim was far too strong and he ended up on the floor. Tim bent down and wrenched the savings book from his hand, then stood up and looked at it.
“Oh, Gerbil,” he said, shaking his head. “Why do you want this? Don’t we keep you supplied with everything you need? Now, you weren’t thinking of running out on us, were you?”
David glared at him. “Give that back!” he demanded. “It’s mine!”
“Not any more… and you don’t need to wet your knickers, either: I’m not a thief, and I’m not going to nick your money. But a little boy like you shouldn’t go walking about with lots of money in his pocket – you’d be sure to lose it. So we’ll keep this for you. If you need a little pocket money, to buy sweets or something, we’ll see what we can do, but we can’t let you take any money out of your account. You’re not responsible enough, you see.”
David shouted, swore and called him any number of names, but Tim just let him keep going until he ran out of steam.
“Finished?” he said. “Good. I’ll go and give this to my mum to look after, and while I’m gone you can get the desk back the way it was. When I come back we can talk about this.”
He went out, and David just sat on the bed with his head in his hands. He hadn’t moved when Tim came back, and Tim had to tell him pretty sharply to sort the desk out. Once it was finally back the way it had been before David tipped it over, Tim told him to sit on the bed.
“You know you shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “Okay, I know it’s your money, but you should have asked me for the book, not tried to steal it when I wasn’t looking.”
“You wouldn’t have given it to me, though,” said David. “Would you?”
“Probably not. Look, Gerbil, you’re going to have to get used to the way things are now. We still don’t know where your mother is, exactly, and even if we did we couldn’t let you travel all the way to London on your own. Not that she’d probably want you there, anyway. So your money stays in the Post Office, and you stay here.
“Now, obviously you’re going to be beaten for this, and for all that swearing, but I reckon your bum’s too sore at the moment to do it now – so we’ll do it tomorrow. I’m sure Mark Sherwood will enjoy watching, and maybe I’ll let him do some of it himself. Now go and see Molly and get washed. I’ll expect you in Joe’s room in ten minutes.”
He shepherded David out of the room, and David, feeling almost numb with disappointment, went and gave Molly his clothes, followed her into the bathroom, and even managed to pee without worrying about her being in the room. Once he was washed he went to Joe’s room and started up the ladder without waiting to be told.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday, so you won’t have to get up quite so early,” Tim told him. “After breakfast you’ll have work to do – finishing cleaning our rooms, for a start, and then… well, we’ll find stuff for you to do, so you won’t get bored. Okay, off you go – lights out in ten minutes.”
David climbed the ladder and went and lay down on his mattress. Tim had replaced the blanket with a thin sleeping-bag, which David had opened up so that he could use it as a quilt. It was a little warmer than the blanket and didn’t itch. He pulled it over his naked body and lay quietly waiting for the light to go out and wondering how he was ever going to get out of this appalling situation, now that his access to money had disappeared. And on Monday he’d be forced to run the assault course in front of about fifty jeering kids. His whole future looked grim…
…which, many would say, is exactly as it should be: all this misery couldn’t happen to a more deserving Rat. In the next chapter we’ll find out what Sherwood thinks about the Rat’s home life, and we’ll also get a chance to watch Jordan renewing activities with Nigel Stephens.
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