Set a few weeks before the new school year begins and on the first day of term.
Raffles and Bunny meet for the first time before they meet at school. Bunny thinks Raffles is the most wonderful boy he has ever seen and to his surprise Raffles is more than a little fascinated by Bunny.
A first time story.
Written: October 2013. Word count: 11,000.
It was the occasion of my thirteenth birthday and my parents decided that as a treat they would take me to London to visit the zoo and later we would have dinner in a restaurant. I was very excited by the prospect, both of visiting the zoo and of dining out for what would be the first time.
My excitement even managed to push away my fears about going away to school in less than a month's time. It would be my first time away from home and none of the boys from my prep school were going to the school I would be attending. It was the school my father and his elder brother had both gone to, thus that is where Father wished me to go. I hadn't told Father, I would not dream of being brave enough to do so, but I really did not wish to go to the school. I did not actually wish to go away to school at all; I wanted to remain at home and go to a day school. However, that I knew was quite impossible. For a boy of my background not to go away to boarding school was completely unthinkable.
As Mother, Father and I boarded the train which would take us to London, I determinedly pushed away all thoughts of boarding school from my mind. I was not going to let my concerns and my fears even spoil the day. I was determined I was going to enjoy myself, after all it is not every day a boy turns thirteen, is it?
On the train up to London we shared a compartment with another lady and gentleman. After exchanging the usual courteous greetings, Father and the other gentleman both began to read a newspaper, whilst Mother and the lady talked together. I sat by the window and watched the countryside go by; it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining but it wasn't too warm. However, it was warm enough for the compartment window to be open and as I sat and stared out, fascinated by the array of colours and the different types of landscape, I enjoyed the feel of the breeze on my face.
It was not the first time I had been on a drain; it was, however, the longest journey I had taken, and also the first time I did not just have to sit between Mother and Father and be silent. The new found freedom, as I perceived it, was thoroughly enjoyable and I felt as if it was another birthday gift. It was only when we reached the edge of London that Father put down his newspaper and called to me to leave the window and go and sit next to my mother. I naturally obeyed him and thus spent the last part of the journey sitting with Mother and politely looking down at my lap, least the other lady believed that I was listening to what she and Mother were saying to one another.
Once we reached London and alighted from the train, Mother insisted upon us taking morning coffee before we continued out journey to the zoo. I was not particularly fond of coffee and would have preferred to have a cool drink. However, I decided that at the age of thirteen, I should attempt to behave more grown-up, so when Mother asked what I wished to have to drink, I asked for coffee. She seemed a little surprised; Father gave me a nod of approval - something which he didn't do very often.
It wasn't that I believed Father didn't care about me, I knew he did, or that he beat me or spoke harshly to me, he did not. It was just that from time to time I felt he wished I was a little more like some of my local friends who were taller than I and far braver and both enjoyed playing sports and were good at such things. I was none of those things; I much preferred to read and write verses rather than play cricket or rugby or any other physical game. Thus, Father's approval was a rare thing, rare enough for me to feel he had given me another birthday gift.
We arrived at the zoo and began to walk around, pausing for a time in front of each of the cages to look at the animals. I thought the tigers in particular were rather lovely to look at and was somewhat fascinated by their stripes. The lions seemed bored and turned away from the people who crowded around their cage. I spent some minutes trying to count the spots on the side of one of the leopards that lay on the ground, apparently sleeping. I confess I was rather relieved that these animals were safely behind bars as they made me a little afeared.
We continued to walk around and I gasped softly at the sight of the giraffes. I had of course seen pictures in books of them, but although I knew them to have long necks, I was more than a little taken aback by quite how long their necks were. I had to tilt my head back a considerable way to be able to see their faces, which I thought were rather friendly looking and quite gentle. I much preferred the giraffes to the lions, tigers and leopards - even though I still believed the tiger to be the most beautiful animal.
Mother was particularly interested in looking at the exotic birds and thus we spent quite some time gazing at the spectacularly coloured array of species, most of which I could not identify. Mother and I discussed which birds we liked best; which had the most brilliant and unusual colours and which we didn't care for. After a time, Father got rather bored of looking at the birds, thus we went to watch the pelicans being fed.
As we stood and watched I looked across the feeding area and my gaze fell on a tall, black haired boy. He had his straw hat in his hand as the wind had suddenly become rather strong and was holding the hand of a much younger girl. Given she too had black hair which flowed down over her shoulders in ringlets and looked rather like the boy, I guessed she must be his younger sister.
I simply stood and stared at him; I had never seen, at least not outside of my Classical Studies books, such a beautiful (for there was no other word to describe him) boy. He rivalled any and all of the Greek Gods I spent time looking at. I felt a rush of something I could not describe, and had never felt before, pass through me as I stood and gazed at him. My mouth became a little dry and my pulse rate became a little faster. I wanted nothing more than to go on gazing at him - I could have stood and looked at him for the rest of the day. He was more beautiful than any boy had a right to be; I could see he was tanned and his physic was splendid. From where I stood I could not see the colour of his eyes, but I told myself they were a deep, dark blue.
Suddenly his younger sister tugged on his hand and he bent down to listen to her. A moment later he straightened up, put his hat back on and swept the girl up into his arms where she put one arm around his neck and held onto him as they both laughed. It was quite clear they adored one another, despite the considerable different in their ages. The ease with which he had picked her up and now held her told me he was as strong as he looked. To my surprise as I stood and watched him embrace and hold her, I found myself wishing I was the one in his arms.
I must have made some soft noise at the thought because Father turned to me. "Is something amiss, Harry?"
I dragged my gaze away from the boy and looked instead at Father. "No, Father," I said. "I am perfectly all right, thank you. It was fun watching the pelicans being fed, wasn't it?" I mentally crossed my fingers as I spoke because in truth, whilst I had seen the first minute of two of the feeding, as soon as I had seen the boy my attention had been completely on him. Indeed, I desperately, more desperately than I had ever wanted anything, wished to look away from Father and once more gaze at him. However, I did not; I continued to look up at Father and smiled at him.
"Yes, Harry, it was. The lions, tigers and leopards are being fed at four o'clock, I believe we should watch that as well. Would you like that?"
In truth, I wouldn't. The idea of watching them tear into meat with their large teeth did not appeal to me at all. However, I knew what Father wished me to say. Thus, I smiled again, dredged up some courage and said brightly, "Yes, please, Father." Just for a moment his hand came and rested on my shoulder and he gave it the faintest of squeezes. Clearly I had again said something of which he approved.
By the time Father had turned his attention back to the pelicans and I had the opportunity to look at the beautiful boy, he had gone. I believe I saw him stride off, still carrying his younger sister. I sighed softly; I had been deprived of being able to have one more look at him and suddenly the day seemed a little duller.
As we moved away from the pelicans I kept glancing around me to see if could spot the boy again. I tried to be inconspicuous and believed I had been until Mother spoke to me. "Are you looking for something, Harry?" she asked.
I looked at her, smiled and shook my head. "No, Mother," I said. "I was just . . ." My mind suddenly went blank and I had no idea what I was going to say.
Fortunately, well in one way it was fortunate, Father joined in the conversation. "I believe Harry was looking for the elephants, is that correct, Harry?"
I really was brought up to be and indeed was a dreadfully truthful boy; in fact until this day I do not recall I had ever been dishonest with my parents, I had never told them an untruth. However, for the second time in a matter of minutes, I looked at Father and dared to tell him an untruth. "Yes, Father," I said, fearing my flushed cheeks or indeed the look in my eyes would let him see I was in fact not telling him the truth.
Mother looked somewhat surprised. "Why are you looking for the elephants, Harry?" And before I could begin to think of an answer, she turned to Father and said, "Why did you presume Harry was looking for the elephants, Edgar?"
Father sighed, "Because children are permitted to ride on them and I believe Harry would like to do that, wouldn't you, Harry?"
As I was about to be dishonest for the third time, Mother said, her tone a little uncertain, "Do you really think that is a good idea, Edgar. They are awfully large."
"Do not be so foolish, Julia, Harry is not a young boy any longer. It will be good for him. Ah, I believe I see Jumbo now." And indeed a large, lumbering elephant with a basket on his back, being led by a zoo keeper appeared.
I swallowed hard as I stared up at it and thought how precarious the basket looked. Yet there were half a dozen children in it, all of whom seemed happy and relaxed and all of whom were clearly enjoying themselves. So clearly it was safe.
The zoo keeper brought Jumbo to a halt between two tall posts which each had a ladder attached to it with a small platform at the top and one by one the children scrambled down. The keeper made sure they only descended one at a time and held out his hand to support each child, which made me a little more reassured. However, I still did not relish the prospect of firstly climbing the ladder - I am not terribly good at climbing anything - and secondly taking my seat along with five other children, none of whom I would know.
However, I also wanted to have Father's approval again, so I swallowed hard, pushed away my fear and looked at Mother. "I'll be all right, Mother," I said, "it will be rather exciting."
Mother took my hand in hers. "Oh, Harry, are you quite certain?"
I was about to reassure her, once again being less than honest (I wondered if my memory of my thirteenth birthday would actually be of my being untruthful to my parents rather than how enjoyable the day had been) when I glanced at the children who stood waiting to climb the ladder and I saw them. Well, I saw him first and then I saw his younger sister, she was actually already making her way up the ladder; the keeper held one of her hands and her brother held the other. She was laughing and smiling and even as I watched her move from the ladder to the small platform sit in the basket I saw she did so far more easily than I feared I would.
Once she was seated, her brother hurried to join her. I noticed that he made no objection to the keeper taking his hand as he went up the ladder, even though I was quite certain he had no need of it. Three other children, whom I guessed given they stood closely together on the other side of Jumbo, went up the ladder one by one and settled down.
The keeper turned and looked around. "Room for one more," he called.
"May I, Father?" I said quickly.
Father nodded and with him by my side I hurried over to Jumbo, waited until Father had handed the keeper a coin before I carefully (and far more slowly than the beautiful boy's little sister) made my way up the ladder and onto the platform where I very carefully turned to sit down. To my horror I felt myself sway a little and I truly believed I would fall. However, the next second two hands on my waist guided my backwards and tugged me down to safety.
I did not dare look down to where Mother stood as I knew she would be looking afeared for me. Instead I turned to look at the boy, noticing as I did that I had been correct his eyes were a deep, dark blue. "Thank you," I managed to stammer out, as I gazed in what I was quite sure was an adoring way into what up close was a handsome as well as beautiful face. I knew my cheeks were flushed and I bit my lip, willing the colour to go away.
"You're quite welcome. It can be a little unnerving."
"Your sister didn't find it thus," I, to my horror, heard myself say.
He laughed softly. "Alice is of the age when nothing scares her - which scares Mother more than a little. I'm Arthur," he added.
"Harry," I said. "Harry Manders." And I held my hand out, just as I had been taught to do; I instantly felt foolish.
However, he smiled at me and calmly took my hand and shook it. "It's very nice to meet you, Harry Manders," he said, as he gazed at me. I had to bite my lip hard in order to stop myself from gasping aloud at the sensations and feelings, none of which I had ever felt before and none of which I could even begin to understand, raced through my body as our hands touched.
"You too," I managed, hoping I wasn't grinning in the idiotic way I believed myself to be grinning.
He smiled again and then Alice said his name and he turned from me towards her. He put his arm around her and began to point things out to her as the zoo keeper led Jumbo around. I believed Jumbo did not need leading, he seemed to know exactly where he was going and plodded along quite happily, putting one huge foot in front of the other until we once more reached the poles with the ladders.
When Jumbo stopped, the boy (I could not bring myself to refer to him by name, not even in my thoughts, given he was clearly several years older than I) moved to the small platform at the top of the ladder and held out his hand to Alice. She took it, even though I believed she had no need to do so, and the next moment she was standing next to her brother and then with the zoo keeper holding her hand and the boy keeping a careful eye on her, she made her way down the ladder.
To my surprise rather than follow his sister down the ladder, the boy held out his hand to me and thus I was safely escorted onto the small platform. He did it so naturally, so unobviously, that I believed even if Father had been watching he wouldn't have seen that his son had needed the help of an older boy simply to stand up. I smiled my thanks and the boy smiled back at me before I took the keeper's hand and made my way back down the ladder to where Mother and Father waited.
"Did you enjoy that, Harry?" Father asked.
I truly believed that had it not been for the boy whom I was so fascinated by that I would have been forced to lie to Father yet again. However, I realised that I truly had enjoyed myself. "Yes, thank you, Father!" I cried. "I did; I really did."
Father's eyes widened slightly and for a fleeting moment I saw his surprise. Then to my surprise, he again put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it, actually pulling me towards him just a little. He didn't pull me near enough to embrace, it had been a number of years since he had embraced me, but it was a little nearer than he had ever pulled me since the last time he had embraced me.
"I am very pleased to hear that, Harry," he said and smiled down at me as he dug into his pocket, pulled out another coin and handed it to the keeper, who touched his cap and thanked my father.
Mother than said she was feeling a little tired and would like to sit down, saying she had seen some benches near to the entrance of the zoo. I waited for Father to tell me to take my Mother and keep her company when he once again surprised me by offering Mother his arm and saying, "We shall go and sit down, Julia, whilst Harry wanders around on his own for a while." Mother seemed about to object, but after a moment just nodded and took Father's arm. "We shall meet you by the lions and tigers and leopards just before four o'clock, Harry," Father said, and I remembered that was feeding time.
"Yes, Father," I said. "Thank you, Father," I added, realising that him suggesting I wander around for three quarters of an hour or so on my own was meant to be yet another treat and another indication that I was no longer a little boy.
I stood and watched my parents walk away and watched how attentive Father was being, how he walked at Mother's pace and guided her carefully around the other people and elephant droppings. I had always known, of course I had, that my parents loved one another - unlike some of my local friends, they shared not only a bedroom but also a bed. However, as I stood and watched Father take such care of Mother, I believed I had never known it quite so strongly; I had never seen his affection quite so obviously.
When they were out of sight I sighed softly and for a moment closed my eyes and tried to picture the way back to the lions and tigers. I do not have a strong sense of direction and thus I rather feared I might get lost. Then I told myself to stop being so foolish, it wouldn't matter if I couldn't remember the way as there were plenty of zoo keepers around whom I could ask.
Feeling somewhat happier I turned around and somehow managed to stumble. I fell to the ground my hands hitting the rough surface first and gasped as a sharp pain raced through my knees. I stayed where I was biting my lip, determined not to disgrace myself and cry when I felt my arm taken in a firm, secure grip and I was pulled to my feet.
My hair, which Father kept telling Mother was far too long and that I should have it cut, fell over my face and as I was still making a determined effort not to cry, no matter how much my hands stung. I was looking at the ground and then a voice I felt I would already be able to identify amongst a mass of voices spoke to me.
"Hello again, Harry Manders," the beautifully handsome boy said. "Have you hurt yourself?"
I forced myself to look up at him and saw that whilst he was smiling he did look a little concerned. As I lifted my head he reached out and in what I was quite certain (although how I could have been certain, I knew not) a sub-conscious move, swept my hair back from my forehead, before brushing the sides back from my cheeks.
As with earlier when he had touched me, I felt the unknown and non-understood sensations race though my body and I suddenly realised I hadn't answered him. "My hands hurt a little," I said.
He took his hand which I realised was still in my hair away from my hair and took first my left hand and then my right into his hand and stared down at them. "They do look a little red and scratched," he said. He kindly didn't mention they also looked rather grubby from making contact with the ground. Instead with a seamless move, he put his hand into his trouser pocket, pulled out a perfectly folded, pristine white handkerchief and carefully and gently wiped it over my hands. "There," he said, putting it back into his pocket, "that's better."
To my horror, shock and amazement a thought raced through my mind: I want him to kiss me. Where the thought had come from, I had no idea. I had never thought such a thing before, not about another boy or indeed about any of my friend's sisters. All I knew was that at that second I wanted nothing more than for him to kiss me - which was a foolish thought as well as a dangerous one. I must have made a noise or maybe it was the look on my face or the way I took a step away from him, because he frowned, looked more than a little concerned and took his hand from me.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Did I do something to hurt you or make you afraid?"
Quickly I shook my head. "No."
He stared at me, I felt his gaze penetrate me, for a moment or two, before the frown faded and a look of relief crossed his face. "Good," he said, "because I assure you, you are quite safe with me. I wouldn't hurt you."
"I know," I heard myself say and silently chastised myself.
A slightly amused look, I think it was, passed over his face and he once more swept my hair from my forehead - I began to wonder if indeed Father was correct; maybe I should allow it to be cut. However, I didn't want to do so and I really rather liked the way the boy swept it back for me; not that that should be, could be, a consideration. After all I was never going to see him again, was I? And any moment now he would say goodbye and leave me.
As I stood and stared up into his face I realised Alice wasn't with him or at least I hadn't seen her and I glanced around. He appeared to read my mind as he said, "Alice is with our parents; they are having tea. I thought I'd take the opportunity to have a look around on my own for a while." We stood in silence for a moment and then he asked, his tone casual, "Where are your parents? Did you become separated from them?"
At that moment I knew he believed me to be a little younger than I actually was. He wouldn't be the first person to believe me to be younger than my actual age. I was very small for my age, my pale skin and light blue eyes and blond hair all made me appear to be somewhat younger than my just thirteen years.
I don't know why I was so disappointed, upset even, that he believed me to be younger, but I was. I shook my head, pulled myself a little more upright so that I was my full height and shook my head. "No, Mother was feeling a little tired so Father took her to sit down on one of the benches. He said I might wander around on my own for a while until I meet them later. We're going to watch the lions and tigers and leopards being fed."
He stared at me and one of his eyebrows twitched upwards. "Are you now?" He sounded, I thought, more than a little surprised.
I nodded. "Yes, Father thought I would like it." I spoke without really thinking about it.
He was silent for a moment as he stared down at me before he said quietly,
"That's an interesting choice of words."
His words made me flush and I lowered my head to hide my reddening cheeks as I began to fidget. Suddenly I felt his hand on my shoulder and he said quietly, "Do you need something?"
For a moment I wasn't sure what he meant and then I realised. I raised my head my cheeks were now completely aflame and I stared at him and declared, with as much dignity as I could manage, "No! Of course not." Unlike his voice, mine was rather loud and high as a boy of my age's voice usually is.
I saw the same look of concern I had seen a short while before crossed his face. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I do believe I have somehow managed to offend you. I assure you that was not my intention. I merely . . . Can you forgive me?"
Instantly I felt more than a little guilty at my reaction. He had only been trying to be kind; he hadn't any need to help me to my feet, to clean my hands with his handkerchief, and certainly he had no need to still be standing with me. He hadn't been trying to insult me nor to upset me; he had a younger sister about whom he cared deeply, he clearly was just -
"Of course," I said quickly. "I'm the one who should apologise. I know you were only trying to be kind."
He smiled at me and once more his hand brushed my hair back. "I was. However, in doing so I did offend you. So please say you forgive me."
"Of course I do. Really," I added.
"Good," he said, his eyes stared right into mine and yet more puzzling and strange feelings passed through me. We stood in silence just staring at one another; I knew there were plenty of people around, but I didn't hear or see them; all I saw was him. It was as if we were the only two people, the only two boys, there.
Suddenly he glanced at his watch and I waited for him to tell me he had to go. However, instead he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Well, Harry Manders, how about I buy you an ice-cream, would you like that?"
"Yes, please!" I said, beaming up at him. Not for a moment did I consider what my parents might think about me accepting the offer from what was in truth a strange boy.
"Good," he said again and smiled at me. "I believe we'll find someone selling them in that direction," he pointed in the opposite direction to that in which my parents had gone. We both turned around and for a second I believed he was going to take my hand (I was sure it would have been an automatic instinct, given he had held Alice's hand all the time they had been together). However, instead he put his hand on my shoulder and adjusting his stride to mine (he really was a lot taller than I) he led me in the direction he had pointed.
He bought an ice-cream for both of us and I gazed up at him, watching the wind play with the ribbon on his straw hat and staring at his face as I ate mine. I do believe it was the best ice-cream I had ever had.
After we had eaten them, he looked at his watch again before looking down at me and saying, "I believe it's time you went to meet your parents. And I really should return to Mother, Father and Alice, they'll be wondering where I've got to." He put one hand on my shoulder and the other once again brushed my hair back from my forehead.
"Thank you again for the ice-cream," I said, hoping I didn't look as disappointed as I felt.
He smiled at me. "It was my pleasure, Harry Manders. And it really was very nice to meet you."
I felt my cheeks become a little warm and I managed to stammer out, "It was very nice to meet you too." Once again I didn't use his name; I really couldn't call him Arthur; he was so much older than me.
He gazed down at me for a moment and I thought he was going to say something. However, when he did speak it wasn't anything I had imagined he might have said, "Come along, I'll walk part of the way with you."
I smiled. "Thank you," I said, hoping I didn't look and sound as relieved as I felt.
He put his hand on my shoulder again and turned me around. "It really is my pleasure," he murmured.
We parted once we were in viewing distance of the lions, tigers and leopards and it was he who held out his hand to me. I took it and we shook hands for somewhat longer than was usual, before, without speaking to me again, he once more ruffled my hair, smiled at me again. He then pushed his hands into his pockets, turned on his heel and strode away.
I watched him go until he was completely out of sight before I turned and hurried off to join Father and Mother. I have never felt quite as bereft as I felt at that moment.
For the remaining weeks of the summer holiday I thought of little else other than the boy, the wonderful, beautifully handsome boy I had met at London Zoo. He was the first person of whom I thought when I woke up, and the last of whom I thought before I fell asleep each night and I thought of him many times during each day.
I recalled how he had looked, how his hair had shone in the sunlight from beneath is straw hat, how the wind had played with the ribbon. I remembered his physic, his obvious strength; I remembered the strange and unknown and unexplainable sensations that had raced through me each time he had touched me. I thought about his smile, his brilliant blue eyes, I remembered his voice, how gentle it had been; I remembered how much he had cared about his little sister and how he had gone out of his way to help a perfect stranger.
I imagined, I dared to fantasise about, what it would be like to have been kissed by him - even though given I had never kissed nor had I even thought about kissing anyone else, my imagination and fantasises were undoubtedly completely inaccurate. I wished we would meet again, even though I knew it would not come true and even if we did meet again, I doubted he would remember me. Why would such a wonderful, marvellous, Greek God remember someone as insignificant as I was?
If it was possible for a boy who had barely turned thirteen to be in love, then I was in love. I was in love with a boy whom I had stared at, watched and spoken to for no more than about half an hour. It wasn't possible, surely it wasn't, for me to actually be in love with him, was it? However, possible or not, he was just about all I thought about during the final few weeks before I would leave my home to go to school.
And I didn't just think about him, I didn't just fantasise about meeting him again and him remembering me and telling me he had thought about me too and of him kissing me, I wrote verses about him as well. Of course once I had written them I thought how foolish I had been. I could hardly just throw tem away, Mother or anyone might find them. I knew where Father kept his matches, so I could have taken a box and burnt them, but I didn't want to do that. They were my personal connection with him.
Then I remembered one of the gifts I had been given on my birthday. It had been just from Father and I know, because I saw her face when I had opened it, that Mother had not approved. It had been a fairly simple, but robust box that had a lock on it. Father had said he was sure that now I was thirteen I would want and need something into which I could put things I did not wish anyone else to see. He told me I should take it with me when I went off to school. At the time I had thanked him, but had believed I would have no use for such a thing. However, now I knew exactly what the first things I would put in it would be: the verses I had written to and about the boy.
The boy about whom I dreamt on a nightly basis. The boy I could not forget. The boy I truly believed I would never forget. The boy who would, should we by chance ever meet again, walk past me without recognising me. The boy I loved. The boy with whom I was in love. The most wonderful, perfect, beautifully handsome, kind, caring boy in the word. Arthur: the boy.
Hands in my pockets I strode across the quad nodding to boys who hurried by me, pausing to speak to one or two. It was good to be back at school again; in fact it was very good to be back. As much as I loved and adored Alice, and I did, as happy as I was to spend time with her, reading to her, playing childish games with her, as much as it didn't bother me when she followed me around, even at times accompanying me when I played cricket with boys I had grown up with, it was actually very nice to be back amongst boys or my own age.
It was particularly good to be back this year because I was now a sixth former, which meant I would have my own study and bedroom, thus it was the best of both worlds: company of my own age during the days and early evenings and peace and quiet later on. Before the summer term had ended, I had been confirmed as captain of the eleven, even though I would only be a lower sixth form boy. I do believe Winters had been more than a little put out, as he had believed he, as a boy who would return as an upper sixth former, would be given the honour. However, he had not - the accolade had been given to me.
In turn I had immediately named Charlie as my vice captain. Again there had been one or two boys who were less than pleased, as well as a few comments about favouritism to my best friend. However, everyone whom really mattered (boys and masters) would know that was not why I had appointed Charlie as my vice captain. Favouritism didn't come into it; Charlie happens to be the second best cricketer in the school and he, like I, is an all rounder. I do believe the team had never been stronger, and I fully expected to fulfil Dobson's desire that both the public schools cup and the house cup would be in my hands at the end of the year.
As a sixth former I would have a fag, even though I wasn't particularly bothered as to whether I had one or not. I am more than capable of polishing my own shoes, of keeping my own study tidy, of looking after my own cricket bats. However, it had been made quite clear to me by Dobson, that I would take a fag.
One good thing about old Dobson is that he allows his sixth form boys to if not actually choose the third form boy they want as theirs, then at least they have a say in who they would like. Given my standing in the school and how important claiming the cricket cups were for Dobson, I had little if any doubt that he would allow me to take any boy I wished as mine.
I had already decided the kind of boy who would be the right boy for me. He would have to be, naturally, a cricketer, or at least a boy who was good at some sport. He would have to be capable of taking care of himself; I was a kind boy, I was known never to have raised my hand and rarely my voice, to a boy younger than I. I did care about my fellow boys, however, I did not wish to spend two years being an older brother or kind of father to a boy who couldn't stand up for himself. I already had a younger sister who looked up to me and expected me to care for her at least in part when I was at home, I did not wish for the same thing at school.
He would also have to be nearer to fourteen than to thirteen. I was one of the eldest boys in my year and would turn eighteen in November; if I did have to have a boy around, I wanted him to be as mature as possible. He would also have to be a boy whose prep school had been a boarding one, as my own had been. I did not intend to take a boy who had never been away from home before he joined the school as my fag. He would have to have a least a degree of independence about him and not expect to spend every minute he could in my study. He would only be welcome when I had duties for him And finally, I wanted a boy who would not adore me, idolise me, look up to me and fall in love with me.
I had seen all those things happen when I had been a third former; I had seen some of the sixth form boys spend almost more time caring for, looking after, comforting, reassuring their young fags - and I didn't not wish to do that. Of course I would be kind to the boy, if he were sick I would immediately take him to matron and I would be somewhat concerned until he returned to school and I could see he was well. I would not take him to my bed nor would I kiss him - that would not be right, but more why would I wish to kiss or touch such a young boy when I could kiss, touch and do so much more with boys of my age and older?
Yes, I knew exactly what the boy would be like whom I invited to be my fag. Suddenly my attention was pulled away from thoughts about the boy who would be mine for two years as I saw a flash of blond hair. Immediately, against my will, my mind was pulled back some three weeks to the day Mother, Father, Alice and I had gone to London Zoo and I had met Harry Manders.
It wasn't the first time I had thought about that day, thought about him, remembered the way he had gazed up at me, remembered how afraid he had seemed when we had taken the elephant ride, afraid and yet determined. I remembered his terribly long hair, his pale skin, his pale blue eyes, how small he had been, how young he had looked - how young he must have been. It was quite wrong and completely strange for me to think about such a boy.
However, on my mind he had been; more than once when I had sat on the nursery floor playing with Alice I had, for a moment, imagined what it would have been like to have him there as well. I thought about how he had felt under my hands, both when I had helped him to his feet after he had tripped over and when we had shaken hands and when I had put my hand on his shoulder, and most of all when I had brushed his dreadfully long hair back from his face.
Why I had thought about him I did not know. As to why he had appeared in my dreams more than once I had no idea. Indeed, the fact I had dreamt about him troubled me just a little given quite how young he was. He could not have been more than eleven, of that I was quite certain and that was far too young for me to -
I pushed that memory away the instant it came into my mind. I would not, I could not, I must not recall the night I had thought about him in a most inappropriate way, given how young he was. I had been in bed and had turned the light off and had started to do what all boys do and suddenly, as my hand was about to get rather wet, an image of him gazing up at me had flashed into my mind and I had gasped at the power of my release. I hadn't slept that night; I hadn't dared to sleep that night, least I dreamt of him in a way I must never dream of him.
I found myself wondering where he was now, at which prep school he would be. I tried to imagine him with his friends, laughing and talking about what they had done during the summer hols and for a moment I allowed myself to wonder if he would mention me to his friends. I shook myself, I was being completely foolish. Why on earth would he mention a strange boy whom his friends didn't know, who he had met on one day for such a short time?
I had clearly spent too much time with Alice during the hols; I needed the company of boys of my own age. I glanced at my watch and sighed when I saw it would be at least another couple of hours before Charlie would get to the school. I was always one of the first boys back, as my train left my home town at a dreadfully early hour, and Charlie was always one of the last boys to arrive.
Caught up with thoughts of Charlie and what fun we would have during the year on the cricket field, I failed to notice the group of some half a dozen boys (new third formers I believed) as they ran towards me. They clearly failed to notice me was well, as they were all looking over their shoulders.
"Boys!" I called, grabbing one of them as he ran into me and steadying him. They all stopped and more than one of them gasped as they saw who they had run into - Well what really, given they didn't actually know who I was. However, even as new entrants they would know sixth form boys wore suits rather than the trousers and blazers that made up the uniform of the lower forms.
"Sorry, sir," the one who had barrowed into me stammered as he bit his lip and looked more than a little afeared.
I sighed. I really did not like the way some of the sixth formers insisted the younger boys called them sir. "Don't call me sir," I said firmly. "I am not a master. My name is Raffles."
"The cricketer?" one of the boys asked. I glanced at him and realised that from his build and manner, plus the fact he knew who I was, that he might be a suitable boy for me to take as mine. Yet something stopped me from enquiring as to which house he was in and if he was in the same house as I then inviting him (or as many of my fellow sixth formers would say telling him) to become my fag. Plus, although he looked confident, mature and quite able to take care of himself and the kind of boy who wouldn't suddenly fall in love with me, I realised I didn't wish to spend time with him.
I nodded. "Yes. Now run along - but do look where you are going."
"Yes, Raffles!" they exclaimed, and then after glancing over their shoulders again they ran off laughing.
I don't know what it was that made me change direction and rather than return to the house, stride off in the direction from which the boys had ran. I was part of the way down the walkway when I saw the prone figure of a what appeared to be a fairly small boy. I jogged the rest of the way to where he lay and bent over him.
I heard a muffled sob escape him and sighed softly, "Come along," I said, making sure my voice was gentle, "let me help you up." I took his arm and felt him tremble beneath my touch. "It's all right," I said, gentling pulling him upright. "I won't hurt you." His hair was blond and rather long; for a moment my mind went back to that afternoon at London Zoo and I wondered if - But no, of course it wasn't he, he was far too young to be at this school.
"There," I said, once he was on his feet, he really was a small boy. "Now let me have a look at you." He stood with his head bowed, his hands cradling one another, his far too long hair was over his face and he trembled just a little.
I pushed the sides of his hair back from his face, tucking it behind his ears and then brushed his hair from this forehead. "Look up," I murmured. Slowly he raised his head. I'm not sure which one of us gasped first; it may have been he; it may have been me. However, we did both make a noise as our eyes met.
"Harry Manders!" I exclaimed, "What on earth are you doing here?" I asked the question before I even thought about it and felt very foolish indeed. Given he was dressed in the uniform of the school, it was obvious what he was doing here.
He swallowed and managed to stammer, "Hello." He bit his lip as he went on gazing at me, before he suddenly lowered his gaze, looked down at the ground and murmured, "I'm sorry."
I sighed again. That was another thing I didn't particular like; the fact that many of the older boys didn't allow a younger boy to look at them, not unless they gave them permission to do so. "Look at me," I said softly. After a moment he did.
I stared down at him and noticed one of his eyes was beginning to blacken and from a smear of blood under his nose, it had been bleeding. I then glanced at his hands and saw they were grazed and there was some grit in the grazes. I stood uncertain for a moment what to do; I should take him to matron, but on his first day? He would be the laughing stock of the school - if he wasn't already.
"What happened?" I asked softly.
He shrugged and glanced away from me. "I tripped over," he said.
My hand found its way into his hair as I said gently, "You know you really shouldn't lie to a sixth former." The way his cheeks became quite pink told me I had been correct with what I had said.
He sniffed and pulled out his handkerchief which was covered with blood. I took it from him and handed him my own handkerchief. "Here, use that," I said.
"Thank you," he murmured and wiped his eyes and blew his nose.
"You have some blood just above your lip," I said, forcing myself not to take the handkerchief back and wipe his face for him. He was thirteen; not eleven; and he was not Alice. I was not responsible for him. He wiped my handkerchief across his upper lip and nose, rubbing hard for a moment. "That's better." Again I looked at his hands; again I thought about taking him to matron. "Come along with me," I said, "I have some ointment in my kit, it'll make your hands less sore." I put my hand on his shoulder, turned him and matching my pace to his began to lead him towards the house.
"Thank you," he said.
"What house are you in?" I asked as we walked along. He told me and I stopped for a moment and smiled down at him. "We're in the same house," I said, making a conscious effort not to add 'would you like to be my fag'. He was too young, too small, too incapable of taking care of himself and something told me this was his first time away from home. He gave me a half smile, but said nothing.
We walked the rest of the way to my study in silence; when we reached the door, I unlocked it and pushed it open and guided him inside. "Wait here for a moment, I'll just go and fetch the ointment. I hurried through into my bedroom, dug into my kit to find the ointment and took a clean handkerchief from my drawer to clean his hands with. I thought that, given the ground had been dry, his hands wouldn't need washing.
I returned to my study to find him standing in exactly the same place as I had left him and once again his head was bowed. I stared at him for a moment and felt a wave of compassion pass through me as well as a flash of something I chose to ignore.
"Come and sit down," I said putting my hand back on his shoulder and leading him to the arm chair. I had to gently apply some pressure to his shoulders before he sat down and even then he perched on the very edge of the chair.
I dropped down onto my heels in front of him and took one of his hands into mine and began to carefully wipe it with my handkerchief, taking care not to push the grit further into the grazes. "Tell me if I hurt you," I said, looking at him. I saw he was biting his lip again and I touched his cheek with my fingertip and heard him make a soft noise. "Why don't you tell me what really happened to you?" I said softly as I returned to cleaning his hands.
He stared at me and shook his head. "I can't."
I sighed softly; I guessed why. "Look," I said, once more letting my hand wander to his hair. "Why don't you pretend we're not here at the school, but that it's three weeks ago at the zoo. I know you don't want to tell me because you believe it's telling tales, however, I don't see it as telling tales." He stared at me. "I promise I won't tell a master what you tell me and I promise I won't let the boys who hurt you know that I know. Does that help you?"
Slowly he nodded. "Yes."
"Good boy." And then suddenly I remembered something. "I didn't tell you my surname when we met at the zoon, did I?" He shook his head. "It's Raffles." His eyes widened as he stared at me. "Most of my fellow sixth formers call me A. J. because -"
"That's how your name appears on the cricket score board," he said quickly.
I ignored the fact he had interrupted me and smiled at him. "That's right. Do you play cricket? Are you a cricketer," I added; he would play cricket, all boys did.
He gave me a rueful smile. "No," he said, "I'm actually hopeless at cricket."
I felt absurdly sorry to hear that and heard myself ask, maybe just a little too eagerly, "What about other sports? Is there any you are particularly good at? Rugby? Soccer? Athletics?"
He stared at me and slowly shook his head. "No. I'm hopeless at all sports. I can't run or throw or hit a ball or catch or anything."
Another wave of pity raced through me. Even though our school did care about academic studies, unlike some public schools, sport was still very important. If he really was as hopeless as he said he was, he was going to be even less popular as he wouldn't be able to contribute anything to house matches or competitions. The house we were both in had some nice boys, but it had some who were far from nice and his life would be very difficult if he couldn't help the teams.
I don't quite know what he saw in my expression because he suddenly said, "I can keep score though. I'm a very good score keeper."
I smiled at him. "I'll keep that in mind," I said, as he clearly seemed to want a degree of reassurance. I returned my attention to his hands, which were now clean and free from grit and started to gently rub the ointment over the scratches. "Tell me if I hurt you," I sad again as I glanced at him and gave him another smile.
"It doesn’t hurt," he said and smiled.
"So sport isn't your thing, are you particularly good at any academic subject?"
"English is my best subject; I write very good verses. Well, my English master at my prep school said I did, but now that I'm here I imagine they won't be any good."
"I'm sure they will be," I said, wishing that it could have been a different subject at which he excelled; something more substantial; something that might help his standing with the other boys. The fact he mentioned his prep school led me quite neatly onto another question. "Was your prep school a boarding school?"
He shook his head. So my feeling had been correct. Once again I felt absurdly disappointed. "No. Father wanted me to go away to a boarding prep school. Mother, however, didn't want me to do so."
"And your mother's will prevailed?" I was slightly surprised that his father had not insisted on him going away to a boarding prep school. His life here would be easier had his father done so.
He nodded. "Yes."
I finished rubbing the ointment onto his hands and wiped my hands on my handkerchief before I stood up and sat on the arm of the chair and put my arm around his shoulders. He seemed surprised but after a moment or two he shifted on the seat just a little and lent against me.
I pulled him a little nearer, even though as I did so, I told myself I should not do so. "You were going to tell me what happened to you," I said quietly. "What did the boys do to you and why?"
He sighed softly and for a moment I thought he wasn't going to tell me. However, after moving away from me a little and gazing up at me, he nodded. "I was unpacking my case and -" He fell silent for a moment before saying, "Father had an elder brother; he died a year ago and the last thing he gave me was a small bear - I don't sleep with it. Really I don't. Uncle Richard just . . . I don't sleep with it."
I pulled him back closer to me and said quietly, "I'm sure you don't."
"Well, I believe Mother must have thought . . . It was in my case when I opened
it and before I could hide it one of the boys saw it and they all, well all
except for one boy, started to . . . They wouldn't believe me when I told them I
didn't sleep with it. They called me -" He sniffed.
I could imagine what they had called him. "It's all right," I said softly. "What happened then?"
"One of the boys grabbed the bear and a few of them ran off towards the lavatories and they . . . I tried to stop them and that's when one of them hit me. He hit me twice and said if I didn't leave them they'd put my head down the lavatory and - I ran. I ran out into the quad. I thought I was safe, but a few of them followed me and they were bigger than me and faster and although I ran, they caught me up and pushed me down onto the ground."
I could hear the tears in his voice even though he wasn't openly crying. I realised I wanted nothing more than to pull him even closer to me, to put both of my arms around him, hold him and comfort him and promise him everything would be all right. I settled for just pulling him a little nearer to me.
What was I going to do? Here in my study, in effect in my arms, I had the boy who had for some reason had fascinated me from the moment I met him. The boy I had thought about far too often during the three weeks since I had me him. He wasn't good at any kind of sport; he had never been away from home before; it was quite clear he was going to need someone to look out for him, to protect him, to keep him safe, to care for him and about him.
That couldn't be me; I didn't want it to be me; maybe Charlie would agree to take him as his fag - but that wouldn't really be fair to Charlie. I could not take on the responsibility for this boy; he was everything I didn't want in a fag. No matter how much he fascinated me, no matter how often he had been on my mind, no matter how much I liked holding him, no matter how pleasant his voice was; no matter that I could find several reasons to ask him to be my fag. I wasn't going to. He was everything I did not want.
Or was he? "When did you turn thirteen?" I heard myself ask.
He moved away a little and gazed up at me and in that instance I saw adoration and awe and the hero worship I had never wanted, would never want. It didn't matter what he said; not now. "I was thirteen on the day we met at London Zoo," he said softly. "That's why we were there; my parents took me for a birthday treat.
He was so young, so very, very young. He was barely thirteen and I would be eighteen in just over two months. We would have nothing, other than being at the same school, in common. I would be far too busy with my duties as captain of the eleven and my studies were important to me. I couldn't take him as mine.
I pushed him away from me a little. I would tell him he had to go now; tell him to go back to the dorm and - "How would you like to be my fag?" With eight words I in effect sealed both his and my fate for the next two years.
He stared at me; his eyes were wide, his mouth slightly parted. "Me?"
I smiled and yet again my hand found its way into his hair. "Yes, Harry Manders. You."
"But I told you I can't play cricket."
I smiled. "That doesn't matter," I said.
"Doesn't it?" The surprise in his voice was clear, as was the look of almost shock on his face. "But you're the captain of the eleven, aren't you?"
I nodded. "Yes, I am. And," I hesitated for a moment. This was my last chance; my final opportunity to change my mind and send him away from me and leave him to do what other boys had to do: survive on his own. "No, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter at all." And suddenly I realised it didn't; all the things I had believed I had wanted, would insist upon, in my fag, all the things that had seemed to matter so much, I realised none of them did matter.
He smiled; his face lit up in a way I hadn't seen either on the afternoon at the zoo or since I had helped him up from the ground earlier. He jumped to his feet and turned to look at me as he took my hands. "Thank you. Thank you, Raffles," he said. As he went on smiling at me and squeezing my hands I realised it was the first time he had used my name.
His name. What was I going to call him? I couldn't go on calling him Harry Manders; I knew I couldn't call him just Manders; calling him Harry would be unusual to say the least. Anyway, I wanted to give him a name which only I would use (rather like I alone call Charlie 'Charlie, all the other boys call him Charleston).
I stood up and gently extracted my hands from his and put them on his shoulders. As I stared down at him one name leapt into my mind. "Would you mind terribly if I called you Bunny?" I asked.
He blinked and stared at me and then said something that made me think that somewhere within him he had at least a degree of pluck, even if he didn't realise it. "I don't have a right to mind, do I?"
I laughed softly and moved my hands from his shoulders and slipped my arms around him pulling him into a loose embrace. "Technically no. However, as you will learn, I am nowhere near as rigid as some of my fellow sixth formers. Thus, if you do mind, please say so and I'll call you something else."
He looked a little surprised, but then smiled and shook his head. "Actually, Raffles, I don't mind. I don't mind at all."
"That's my good boy," I heard myself say. Oh, yes, I had indeed already taken possession of him. A possession which, as we stood there, me holding him still in a loose embrace, he gazing up at me with even more adoration, awe, hero worship and something I refused to acknowledge, I knew would only get deeper and more intense during the next two years. He was mine and no one else would get near to him. I would make sure of that.
He liked me and that was putting if mildly, that was very clear. He had already put me on a pedestal; he was going to adore me, be in awe of me and worship me, no matter what I said or did. He was making no attempt to hide the fact; just as he was making no attempt to hide the fact that he wanted me to kiss him. I stared at him and to my surprise realised that I actually wanted to kiss him. But I wouldn't; I couldn't; he was too young. He was - thirteen my mind reminded me.
I went on staring down at him as I held him in the loose embrace and made a decision which would again in effect seal our fates for the next two years. Carefully I gathered him just a little nearer to me as I lowered my head and kissed him.
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