Original Frontispiece by MARK GERSON

Distributed by HERON BOOKS



WHITE-FACED and tense, his blue eyes smouldering under their dark lashes, young Roger Brook glared at the older and much sturdier lad who stood grinning at him in the narrow corridor.

'Give me my cap, Gunston! Come on; give me my cap!' he demanded angrily.

George Gunston was a broad-shouldered youngster of sixteen with a crop of coarse red curls which grew low down on his forehead, and a round, freckled face. He showed the mortar-board that he had just snatched from Roger's head provocatively for a moment, then thrust it again behind his back as he began to chant:

'Bookworm Brook, bookworm Brook. He's a toady to the ushers, is bookworm Brook.'

'That's a lie!' exclaimed Roger, 'I don't toady.'

'So you give me the lie, do you, you little swot. All right! Come outside and fight.'

Roger strove to control the fear that suddenly made his heart beat faster, passed the tip of his tongue over his dry lips, and muttered: 'I only said I don't toady—and I'm not a swot. I've simply found that it saves trouble in the long run to do my prep properly and keep my books neat. It's not my fault that you're always in hot water because you're too lazy to do either. Now stop behaving like a second-form kid, and give me back my cap.'

'If you want it, come and get it.'

For a moment Roger considered the challenge. On two previous occasions, baited beyond endurance by Gunston, who was the bully of his year, he had fought him, and each time received a thorough licking. To fight again was only to court disaster; yet he must have his mortar-board back, and quickly, as his House Master had just sent for him, and there would be trouble if he did not present himself before 'Old Toby' decorously clad in cap and gown.

As they stood there eyeing one another, Roger with the hot, bitter resentment of one who knows himself to be superior in every way to his tormentor, except for physical strength, and George, taking an oaf-like delight in the power that physical strength gave him to humiliate his cleverer class-mate, a jumble of sounds came to them, muted by the thick walls of the one-time Benedictine monastery, that for countless generations had housed Sherborne School in Dorset.

Normally, at this evening hour, the school was hushed while its scholars unwillingly bent their minds to construe the passages of Caesar, Horace or Cicero that they had been set for their prep, but this was the last night of term and the boys were packing to leave next morning for their summer holidays.

Sherborne is a very early foundation, its charter having been granted by Edward VI in 1550; yet there is evidence to show that its roots go much farther back, and that it had its beginnings in the days of St. Aldhelm, who lived in the eighth century.

Already, therefore, on this 28th day of July, in the year 1783, the venerable buildings had known the joyous atmosphere that pervades a school on the last night of term for something like a thousand years.

Such term endings differ little with the passing of the centuries, except in the very gradual change in the clothes worn and the language used by masters, staff and pupils—and such minor points as that, where the boys had once washed down their supper with a draught of mead, they now took strong ale and in less virile times yet to come, would drink plain water. The boys themselves altered not at all, and now that discipline was relaxed they were shouting, playing pranks and throwing their hated lesson books at one another in the exuberance engendered by this eve of freedom. Snatches of song, squeals of mirth and running footsteps penetrated faintly to the secluded corridors in which Gunston had met Roger and seized this last chance to provoke him to a fight that would mean an easy victory.

'Well! What are you waiting for?' Gunston sneered.

Roger still hesitated, torn between the urgent necessity to get back his cap and his dread of physical pain. His hatred of Gunston was such that he would have risked a fight if only he could have been certain of landing one good hard blow on his tormentor's fat, stupid face, but he knew that the odds were all against his being able to ?et in first. Moreover, he was loath to go home to his mother next day with a black eye or a badly cut lip.

It seemed that Gunston had almost read his thoughts, as he said suddenly: 'So you're afraid you'll have a bitten tongue to-morrow night when you drink the health of that old Popish schemer 'over the water,' eh?'

The gibe, Roger knew, was directed at his mother, as she was of Scottish parentage, and so obviously suspect of Jacobite sympathies. It was still less than forty years since Bonnie Prince Charlie had had his father, the Old Pretender, proclaimed King in Edinburgh, and civil war had sown bitter discord through the length and breadth of Britain. Gunston's shot had been fired at random, but it was all the more telling because Roger's mother did still regard the now elderly Stuart Prince who lived in Rome as her legal sovereign, and, at times, toasted him in silent symbolism by passing her glass of wine over the water in her finger bowl.

Roger's own vivid imagination also inclined him secretly towards the romantic Stuart cause. The fact that his mother had often told him that he must not prejudice his career by championing the side that had lost in this quarrel of an older generation, but should follow the loyalty of his English father to the Hanoverian line, made no difference. Political hatreds and the persecution resulting from them died hard in those slow-moving times, and Roger knew that he dared not allow the imputation of Jacobitism to pass.

Tensing his slender body he clenched his fists and suddenly struck out at Gunston with a yell of: 'You dastard! I'll teach you to speak ill of my family!'

After their two previous encounters Gunston had actually had small hope of inciting young 'Bookworm Brook' to fighting pitch, so when the attack came it took him by surprise. He was, moreover, temporarily at a disadvantage in that his right hand was still behind him holding Roger's cap.

Dropping it he stepped back a pace, but not quickly enough to avoid a savage jab on the nose. Tears started to his eyes and the mocking grin was wiped from his pudgy face. But George Gunston was not the type of bully who is a coward, and promptly caves in when stood up to. Swiftly throwing himself into the attitude he had often admired in semi-professional pugs during knuckle fights at fairs and on village greens, he easily parried the unscientific rain of blows that Roger aimed at his head.

After a moment Roger stepped back to regain his breath. Instantly his red-headed antagonist took the initiative. Closing in he landed a heavy punch on Roger's chest that drove him back another pace towards the angle of the corridor. Following up Gunston swung a right hook to Roger's jaw, missed it by a fraction, but landed another left on his body.

Roger gasped, threw up his arms to protect his head and retreated another couple of steps. His one advantage lay in the fact that he was much the nimbler of the two and, had he had more space he might have dodged some of Gunston's blows, but here, in the narrow corridor, he was deprived of any chance to use his agility.

He knew, too, that without losing his balance, he could easily have thrown his adversary into confusion by giving him a swift kick on the shin, and he had never been able to understand why, if one was set upon by a bigger fellow, one should not resort to any such trick for one's own protection. But a strange unwritten law of England forbade such tactics, just as it also ordained that he must not turn and run. To have done either would have been thought worse than spitting on the floor of the Chapel during Holy Communion.

Yet he was seized now with a blind, despairing misery. He fought on automatically, but knew that he had no hope of escaping a thorough drubbing. In another moment Gunston would have him in the corner and lam into him with those freckled, brutal fists until he fell to his knees and cried for quarter.

As through a haze he saw that Gunston's nose was bleeding, but before he had any chance to feel elation at the sight he received a terrific wallop on the ear that knocked him sideways and made his head sing. For a moment he was deafened and as he ducked to avoid another blow he did not hear a quiet voice drawl:

'What's this? Fighting on end of term night? For shame now! Desist at once! Who have you in that corner, Gunston?'

As the expected blow did not fall, Roger lowered his arm, raised his head and realised the cause of his

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