Not My Blood
Not My Blood
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Sussex, February 1933
Carrying more than a hint of snow, a southwesterly wind gusted up from the Channel, spattering the school's plate glass windows with sleety drops.
Mr. Rapson began to shout. Not a natural disciplinarian, he found he kept better control this way and was gratified by the knowledge that most of the boys at St. Magnus School, Seaford, were frightened of him. He affected a military style that most were familiar with from their own fathers. Peremptory and predictable.
"Come along! No footer today, so we're going for a healthy walk. In pairs! Morrison! I said pairs! How many boys go to a pair? Two? That's right. Not three! Drummond? No one to walk with? Walk with Spielman. Come on, Spielman! Get a move on!"
Jackie Drummond didn't want to walk with Spielman. He didn't like Spielman. He had sticking-out teeth, and he never stopped talking, mostly giving rambling accounts of books he'd just read. At least he didn't expect a reply. This left Jackie free to work on his new plan: to run away as soon as possible.
Running away. The biggest sin you could commit, they said. But Jackie had heard of boys escaping from school--the older boys still talked about Peterkin, who'd run away ten years ago and never been brought back. Then there was Renfrew, who'd been in the year above Jackie. They'd said he'd been sacked for bad behavior and sent to another school, but his best friend had other ideas.
"Done a bunk," was his judgement. "Skipped off in the dead of night. Never even told me he was going." The best friend's knowing smirk gave out quite a different message. He'd collaborated. There were things he could tell. And probably had told--to the staff. Jackie learned from this. Even if he'd had a friend, he wouldn't breathe a word of his plans to him. If you're going, just go. Confide in no one.
For the hundredth time he reviewed the possibilities and consulted the list his mother had given him. He'd copied it into an exercise book to be on the safe side, but he carried with him the original in his mother's familiar handwriting. A charm. A talisman to be consulted when life got tough. There were Aunt
Florence and Aunt Dorrie in Brighton, only five miles away. This option had the advantage that he could walk there, but the disadvantage that he could swiftly be brought back again. It was the first place they'd look. There were Mr. and Mrs. Masters in Camberley, but he wasn't sure where Camberley was, and he didn't
like them very much anyway. His preference was for Uncle Dougal and Auntie Jeannie, his father's Scottish cousins in Perthshire. But Perthshire was a very long way away. And traveling on the railways over here was expensive. The fare alone was over two pounds and, even with the best expectations of cash from his birthday, it would be weeks before he had the necessary funds. Not for the first time he doubted his capacity but a second look at Mr. Rapson, standing four-square in his college scarf and porkpie hat, ginger-coloured Harris tweed plus-four suit so nearly matching his foam-flecked and bristling moustache, convinced him that he had no tolerable alternative. And Rappo was shouting again.
"Before we set off we're going for a little run. All of you--down to the corner and back again when I say go. Go!"
There was a wailing cry: "I'm cold, sir!"
This was Foster. Foster was recovering from a mastoid, and the biting wind gave him earache.
"Cold?" shouted Mr. Rapson. "Cold? Then run! That's the way to keep warm!"
The run took its predicted course (Smithson fell and scraped his knee and had to go in to Matron), and the walk followed in the teeth of the rising wind, down to the end of Sutton...
About the Author-
Barbara Cleverly, a former teacher, now lives in Cambridge. Her Joe Sandilands series, including The Last Kashmiri Rose, Folly du Jour and Strange Images of Death, which is set against the backdrop of the Indian Empire, was inspired by the contents of a battered old tin trunk that she found in her attic.
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