The Scholar’s Tale

Part 2: The abler soul

12. Healing

Healing is a matter of time, and sometimes of opportunity too.

Hippocrates, Precepts

Steve arrived, concerned and considerate, and they helped me out to his car. Andrew begged him not to talk to me about domestic arrangements.

“If you do, sir, he’ll only fret. He’s a perfectionist and doesn’t trust us. Look, Leon. You’ve worked wonders, but it’s out of your hands now. Accept it.” He was right. I did accept it. “I’ll come and see you, wherever you are.”

As we drove off, Steve asked about the fire and how I got burned. I gave him the barest outline. The seesaw was still down, my legs were still roasting in hell, and I did not want to think about it. The fire was past history, and there were much more pressing problems.

“Sir, have you heard what else happened last night?”

“More excitements? No, I haven’t.”

“Well, Mr Armstrong was supposed to be standing in for Wally. But when we rang the alarm, he wasn’t in the house.” Steve pursed his lips. “And when we called the roll, Peter wasn’t there either. We found them in Mr Armstrong’s house. Both of them. Um, in bed. And Nick’s going to be shattered when he hears … “

“Leon, stop. I’m lost. I take it Nick is Nick Marjoram, whom you rescued?”

“Yes.” I was puzzled.

“And who’s Peter?”

“Why, Peter Stowe.”

“Oh, the boy who played the bumpkin in your melodrama? I don’t know him at all.”

“But you do, sir. The one who’s in love with Nick. Or said he was. They told you about it last week.”

“Leon, believe me, they didn’t. No boys have talked to me about that sort of thing since you and Andrew.”

I stared at him aghast. “Oh Lord. I shouldn’t have said that, then. They were going to, but I suppose Nick went down with chicken pox before they could.”

“But if it’s on your mind now, it must be important. Having spilt a few beans, Leon, hadn’t you better spill the rest?”

“Yes. Yes, I better had. I think Nick would want me to.” So I told him everything, as far as I knew it. “I wasn’t very happy about it,” I ended. “Last term I said I couldn’t give them my blessing unless they had yours. Peter was reluctant to see you. But last week Nick told me he’d twisted his arm and they were going to go to you.”

“And they didn’t. What a wretched tale. And Peter’s being expelled? And Mr Armstrong sacked?”


“And your concern is for Nick, who doesn’t know that his inamorato has been faithless?”

“That’s right. Nobody else knows about them. But soon everybody else will know what Peter’s done. Along with the fire, it’ll be the talk of the term. We can’t let Nick hear it on the grapevine. We must break it to him gently. I hope to heaven they patch me up quickly in Binchester and send me back to the San, so I can do it myself. Nick’s there, or will be soon. But sir, if they insist on keeping me in hospital, please would you do it?”

“Yes. Of course I will. But you’re right. It would come better from you. He obviously trusts you, and I haven’t spoken to him since that time he came to lunch. So if I have any say in the matter, I’ll beseech the Infirmary to release you.”

After half an hour we arrived, and Casualty swallowed me up. I would rather forget that morning. They hauled me over the coals, if that’s the right phrase, for ignoring my burns for so long. They laid me out flat on a trolley and made a rapid inspection. They jabbed me below the waist with no fewer than three local anaesthetics, one to port, one to starboard and one amidships. They pumped me full of saline to replace lost fluids. They cut my trousers to pieces and soaked off the bits that were stuck to me. For good measure, appalled at so unsavoury a garment in contact with raw burns, they cut my jocker off too.

Then a very young nurse mopped my cock with antiseptic and unconcealed interest. Hideously embarrassing, though thank God it was too sleepy to misbehave. They peeled sheets and ribbons of nylon off my legs, swabbed away streaks of dirt, daubed on noxious antibiotic ointment. They wrapped each leg up in a light dressing. They removed my pyjama top, washed the stinking torso beneath, and listened to my chest while I coughed. Finally they gave me a squirt of morphine against the time when the anaesthetic should wear off. It all took two hours. Then the doctor reappeared.

He was sending me back to the San, he said. He would phone them with instructions, but I ought to know the score. Most of the burns, luckily, were only first-degree, affecting just the epidermis. But in patches where the dermis had been superficially damaged they were second-degree. They could easily become infected. The worst problem would be my genitals, which they could not bandage up as they had my legs, and I must be scrupulously careful when urinating. Did I need to go now? I did, I suddenly realised, desperately. I had not pumped for twelve hours. Right, they’d show me the drill. The nurse fed a bottle into place. I let rip, rapturously, and she gently removed it and lovingly swabbed things again. Hmmm.

That was it. Time to package me for onward despatch. Since they had carefully destroyed my nether garments, they inserted me into a diabolical white ankle-length nightie. Since my legs were still asleep, they trundled me out on my trolley. Steve joined the cortege like a priest at a funeral, and in the car park the porter heaved me into the passenger seat.

As we drove off I was drowsy but acutely self-conscious, feeling like something that had strayed under false pretences off the top of the Christmas tree.

“Sir, you’re entertaining an angel unawares,” I said bitterly, smoothing my skirts. “Have you got a halo and wings I could borrow?”

Steve said nothing, so I looked at him. He was smiling, but not in mockery. And there was something different about him. On the way here he had been wearing a tie, as he normally did. But now …

“You’ve put your dog-collar on, sir. Why … ?”

“Shameless misuse of the power of the cloth, Leon. I keep this collar in the car, because it’s surprising how often it comes in useful. And how effective it is. I put it on in the waiting room while you were being done. The doctor came to tell me they were keeping you in, but when he found himself arguing with a dog-collar he changed his tune.”

I had to laugh, which made me cough. “Sir, it’s you who’s the angel.”

“Lend me your halo and wings, then. Oh, and once he’d relented, I rang up the San and told Matron it was imperative that you be in the same room as Nick. She would only agree if you’d already had chicken pox. So I risked my immortal soul and assured her that you had.” He raised an eyebrow at me.

“You’re safe, sir. I have. And you’re not an angel, you’re an archangel.”

Then I dozed off. At least my hurts did not hurt now, but the seesaw was still low.

Steve woke me when we reached the San. I found the seesaw had bounced up again. I was still on the drowsy side, but felt better than I had done since I last woke up at four. It was now half past eleven. We were welcomed, if that’s the right word, by the Battleaxe in person, brusque as always. Once I had made sure my legs had also woken up, she dismissed Steve like a taxi-driver and walked me into the San, ready to hold me lest I fall. As we went she tore another strip off me for leaving my burns untended for so long.

“I’ve heard what you did last night. But heroes don’t have to be martyrs. Straight to bed with you.”

I had got the measure of her, I thought, last time I was in her care. Stand up to her, and her terrors vanished, or were at least diluted. I forced myself to dispel my drowsiness and stand up to her now.

“Not quite yet, Matron. I’ve got to talk to Nick first.”

“You’re not captain of the school now, young man. You’re my patient and you’ll do as you’re told. Talk from your bed.”

“No. Face to face. Within touching distance.”

That gave her pause. We were now outside her office.

“Come in and sit down. What’s this about, Leon?”

Leon, eh? Last time I was here I had been Michaelson.

“Why now?” she went on. “Why within touching distance? I don’t for a moment suppose you’re planning to seduce the boy. But I’m in charge here, and I need to know.”

Frankness was called for. Well, relative frankness. “Matron, this is a house of healing, isn’t it?” She nodded. “Nick’s soul needs healing. More urgently than my body.”

“Is that what Mr Phillips meant? But let me be the judge of that. Nick’s only ailment that I know of is chicken pox. Tell me more. This isn’t idle curiosity. It may affect who I allow in to see him.”

Fair point. I had not thought of that. But, as I hesitated, she surprised me again.

“Leon. I don’t live in isolation out here. I hear everything that goes on in the school. I’ve heard all about you and Andrew. I’ve heard all about your reforms. I trust you. Please trust me.”

I warmed to her, and gave in. “Then you’ve heard what happened last night? Apart from the fire?” She nodded again. “Nick hasn’t heard yet, I hope. But when he does, he’s going to be hurt to the quick. He has to hear it from someone who knows what it’ll mean to him. Who can put it gently. Who can comfort him. If he hears it brutally from anyone else, he’ll be totally devastated.”

She stared at me, busily putting two and two together. “So you’re not only the bearer of a message which will break his heart, but the doctor who will try to mend it. Are there any other doctors to help you?”

“Only Mr Phillips, right now. Nobody else knows. But Andrew will soon, I hope.”

“None of Nick’s own age, then? If not, I’ll keep them all at bay. If they don’t know and don’t understand, they’re likely to do more harm than good.”

True. Very true. I gazed out of the window, cogitating. Nick seemed to get on well enough with his study-mate Emrys, but not that well. I did not think he had any close friends. Not now. But before Peter … Nick and Bob had been thick as thieves, then. And after Peter had butted in, Bob had seemed unhappy and lonely.

I drew a bow at a venture. “Let Bob Freshwater in, if he comes. I don’t think he knows, but I think he would understand. But nobody else.”

“Bob Freshwater.” The Battleaxe nodded, filing the name in her mind. “I’ll do it. Thank you, Leon. You are the man I thought you were. And I understand now about Nick.”

And suddenly I understood about her, this butch woman with an unexpected sensitivity hidden beneath her plate armour. I was not stereotyping, I hoped, as I knew very little about lesbians. But I now felt pretty sure that, in Spud’s phrase if not in Spud’s sense, she was one of us.

“How is Nick?” I should have asked earlier, but my mind had been on his mind, not on his body.

“He’s all right. I’ll probably only keep him in as long as he’s infectious. There’s no shock, and no burns, and his lungs seem all right. He didn’t inhale much smoke, did he?”

“No. We were only in there a few seconds. And he was breathing through a blanket.”

“And you weren’t. You can’t hide a cough, you know. Come along, then. He knows you’re joining him. Keep it as short as you can. You may be a doctor of souls, but I’m a nurse of bodies. I expect you to go to sleep the moment your head touches the pillow. That’s an order.”

She stood up, the Battleaxe again, in full battle array. But she was my ally now and, driven by some weird impulse, I kissed her on the cheek. She rolled her Gorgon eyes at me, but I did not turn to stone.

She led me to our room and left me. It was a large and pleasant one, with two beds, a jug of orange juice beside each, pictures on the walls, a wash-basin, and big windows overlooking the gardens. Nick was sitting up in bed reading, his chicken pox spots sharp against his pale skin. As I went in he put down his book and looked at me with a mixture of welcome and worry.


This was the crucial encounter. My drowsiness was returning, and it took another effort to push it aside and start off lightly. I struck a pose in my fairy godmother outfit.

“Go on, laugh!”

He smiled, but only faintly. “Leon!” he repeated. “Are you all right? Your legs? I can’t help thinking about them. What have they done to you?”

“Oh, they patched me up with vinegar and brown paper.” I hoisted my skirt high enough for him to see the dressings, and sat down on his bed. “And they filled me up with morphine, so it hardly hurts now. I’ll survive. How about you?”

“I’ll survive too. But Leon, what did happen last night? I mean, nobody’s told me anything. All I know is you picked me up, then I seemed to be on the floor, then we fell, and then we were out in the quad. What did happen?”

He had every right to know. I told him as much as I understood, and we worked out the mechanics of what must have happened with the carpet.

“Then you saved my life!”

“Well, I could hardly leave you to fry, could I? Anyway, it was only luck that got us out, not good management.”

“But you still saved my life.” He was gazing at me wide-eyed and very serious. “Thank you, Leon.”

“I phoned all the parents, by the way.” I was embarrassed. “So your folk know you’re OK. Nothing to worry about there.”

“Did you tell them about rescuing me?”

“No. Just that you’re OK. That’s all they needed to know.”

“Well, I’m going to tell them. What happened after I went to School House?”

“The kitchen wing’s a write-off. Just a shell. The sick-bay’s now in mid-air.” I filled him in about our battle with the doors and about the fire brigade.

“But why were you doing all that? What was the Brute doing?”

Oh golly, here we go. “The Brute wasn’t in the house, Nick. He’d skived off home. The HM has sacked him. And I’m sorry, Nick. There’s something else you’ve got to know.”

I shuffled my bum along and put my arm round him. Thirteen-year-olds — no, he had turned fourteen — need hugs when they are in distress. So do eighteen-year-olds, come to that. He looked at me apprehensively, forewarned by my tone and my unexpected move.

“You’re not going to like this a bit, Nick, but there’s nothing I can do to cushion it. Peter wasn’t in the house either.”

Nick’s face went empty. He was already working it out. “He was with the Brute, wasn’t he.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes. He was. I’m sorry, Nick.” There was a long pause as I held him tight.

“He’s been expelled.”


“So I won’t see him again.”

“Not unless he gets in touch with you. Which I doubt he will, after this. Or unless you get in touch with him. Which I wouldn’t recommend, after this. Look, Nick. I think it would be best to draw a line here. Last night wasn’t a one-off, you know. Apparently they’ve been, um, meeting like this since the beginning of term. He’s betrayed you, Nick. Betrayed your trust and your love, and I can’t help feeling that you’re well rid of him. Honestly. Though maybe you won’t see it that way. Not yet, though you may come to.”

He was shaking now, not crying as such, but shaking in his whole body. I could do nothing but hold him close, and he put his own arms round me and quaked, his face buried in my nightie. As I held him, my mind let go.

I was woken by my legs, on fire again. I was now in my own bed, I discovered, with a saline drip plugged into my wrist. The clock said half past four. Nick was watching me, subdued and red round the eyes, but he seemed a little more at peace with himself, as if the edge had gone off his despair. The moment I opened my eyes he rang the bell.

The nurse who came, seeing that I was awake, drew the curtain round my bed and recharged me with morphine. Ahhhh, almost immediate relief. This time round it did not make me so drowsy. Perhaps my system was getting accustomed to it. Someone had brought my wash things, and under her supervision I sat up and put my contact lenses in, used the bottle, and swabbed myself.

By ourselves again, Nick brought me up to date. The Battleaxe, he reported, had come in, disentangled us, and put me to bed. I did not remember a thing about it. Then at half past twelve Andrew had arrived with my wash things and a few clean clothes. He had heard the latest from Steve, he said, but there was so much to be done in the house that he could not stay long. He had a word with the Battleaxe and asked Nick for details of the rescue, and I was given a vivid little picture of him kneeling beside my bed, motionless for five minutes, just looking at me. He had promised to come back in the evening.

Soon after Andrew had gone, Bob had turned up. He had bought Nick a brand-new set of wash things — “mine were in the sick-bay bathroom” — which seemed to touch Nick deeply. What else they had talked about, he did not say.

Before we could go any further, Wally appeared. After asking how I was feeling, he became almost formal.

“Leon, I hear it’s due to your courage that there wasn’t a death last night” — he glanced across at Nick — “and due to your diligence that I’ve come back to a house that’s almost intact.”

“Then you’ve heard wrong, sir. Getting out of the kitchen didn’t take any courage. Only survival instinct, which everyone has. And anyone could have dealt with those doors. And would have done, if I hadn’t been there.”

He smiled. “Well, I’m not going to argue the point. Let me say only this. You’ll remember the conversations we’ve had about responsibility and trust. Last night the house was in the hands of two stewards. One was grossly irresponsible and betrayed my trust. The other was totally responsible, and honoured it far further than I could reasonably expect. Thank you.”

He asked us exactly what had happened, and we told him as best we could. If he was surprised to find Nick solemn, he made no comment. Bottom Big, he told us, was already habitable again, though curtainless. The mobile kitchen was in full swing, parked tight up against the end of hall so that food could be passed in through the open windows. The bursar had been on the phone to the insurance company, and a bulk order had been placed for new clothes and linen to replace what had gone up in smoke. The kitchen wing would have to be totally rebuilt, and would certainly not be ready before the end of term.

“So there’s still a great deal to be done, but already we’re back to something like normality.”

Kindly but preoccupied, he did not stay long. He was succeeded by Andrew, whom the Battleaxe had evidently kept waiting. He came in anxiously.

“Leon, my soul, how are you?”

“Over the moon, seeing you.” My grin was no doubt all over my face.


“Hardly any, when I’m dosed up.”

His relief was obvious. Casting caution to the winds, he hugged me hard and long. “Don’t mind us,” he said over his shoulder to Nick. “I gather you’ve seen us at it before.” But as he hugged, he began to sob, gently and silently. “It’s been sinking in all day. What … what might have happened. Oh, my love!” In his emotion he was forgetting his Latin.

I hugged him back, as well as the drip allowed. I had been thinking the same, in the few available intervals, though I tried not to. Such thoughts were unpalatable, and it was all in the past now.

“But it didn’t happen,” I said firmly.

“Thank God! But it gives me the willies. That I nearly lost you.”

He let go of me, wiped his eyes, and visibly changed gear.

“Tell me about the hospital, then. Everything.”

When I got to the nurse swabbing my cock he pursed his lips.

“Ooooh, risky. What happened?”

“Nothing. Not a twitch.”

“Relief! Can’t have nubile nurses giving you stiffies!”

He now seemed to have swung up to a high, so intent on me that he was forgetting Nick’s presence. This sort of talk was fine by ourselves, but I was not too happy about it with Nick listening in. I glanced across and he was smiling, a touch wistfully. All right, let it pass. So I carried on with my story, ending with Steve’s self-confessed misuse of his cloth.

“What a terrific man,” said Andrew, chuckling. “Now let’s inspect the damage.”

“There’s not much to see.”

But he pulled down the sheet, giggled at my nightie, lifted it and looked at my dressings. And lifted it further to expose my private parts. That sobered him. My cock was filmed with oozing plasma interspersed with a couple of blisters.

“Oh, my God! Surely that hurts?”

“Not really. Not till the painkillers run out.”

“But what happens if you get a hard-on?”

“Dunno. The morphine looks after that, I suppose.”

“Well, for God’s sake take care of it, Leon. It may not be the most important part of you, but it’s not to be sneezed at.”

He seemed determined not to be too serious, so I tried to match his mood. “All right. As Mrs Malaprop might have said, I’ll treat it with due care and circumcision.”

He giggled again. “Anything but that, please. I prefer it as it is. But you’ve got to get it back in working order. At least there’s two months before I call on it.”

I knew my Andrew and what lay behind that remark. He was not being possessive. He was being uninhibited, though, in exposing my nakedness and in saying such things in front of a lad whose voice had not even broken. As I glanced at Nick again, Andrew followed my eyes and suddenly remembered.

“Oh Lord, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I’d clean forgotten we’ve got company.”

Nick, though, was gazing with horrified interest. Well, of course he was. If I had been in his shoes I would have been fascinated too. And the bond between us was already strong. In his presence, as things were now, what did it matter if nothing was private any more?

“I don’t mind,” I decided. “Nick knows plenty about us already. A bit more won’t hurt.” But Andrew pulled my nightie down and my sheet up.

“Good. Right then, what else is there? I’ve phoned Mum and Dad. Twice. They’re worried silly, of course. And send all their love, of course. They’re planning to come and see you tomorrow. About eleven thirty, just for a couple of hours, OK? I’ll phone them again this evening to confirm it.

“School, now, and the house — everything’s under control there. Nothing for you to bother your little head with.”

“But Andrew. My little head is bothered. As long as I’m out of commission, you’re captain of the house. And of the school. That’s the last thing you need, on top of your cricket and your S-levels. You don’t have the time. Delegate those jobs. To Hez and to Kenneth. Will you? Please?”

“Yes. You’re right, this has come at a damned awkward time. Yes, I’ll delegate. In fact I’ve delegated a lot already. But people still come flocking to me. Everyone’s asking after you, and wanting to know when they can visit. I’ve put them all off, so far. Because once the floodgates are opened, half the school will be joining the queue, all the way up the Gresford road.”

“Don’t be daft.”

“No, I mean it. Oh, Leon ocelle. Has it still not sunk in? That everyone loves you? To the fags you’re Moses, who led them out of bondage into the Promised Land. To the others you’re Solomon, the enlightened ruler, the public benefactor. And now you’re a hero into the bargain.”

“But I’m not a hero. Anyway, how on earth do they all know about last night?”

“Easy as wink. At Assembly the HM made an announcement about the fire, and that you were in hospital with bad burns. So everyone came clamouring to me for details. What could I tell them but the facts?”

I was appalled. “Oh Christ … OK, you had to tell them the facts. But I don’t like the image I’m getting. You called me a hero. So did the Battleaxe. Wally virtually called me one. And now you say that everyone’s calling me one. It’s sickening. It’s like a bad story out of Boy’s Own. ‘Leon the Hero of the House.’ But I’m not a bloody hero. I only did what anyone would have done.”

“Oh, Leon … Your famous modesty again. You still can’t cope with people thinking well of you, can you?” He put his arm round my shoulder and kissed me. “In the school, you’re in a minority of six hundred and something to one. In this room, of two to one.” He turned to Nick. “That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is.” Nick’s voice was very small. “Not just last night. All the way through. And not only Leon. You as well. You’re both heroes. To me.” His voice was getting wobbly and tears were beginning to spill. “You’re in love. Real love. And not ashamed of it. I so wanted to be like you. But I had to go and make a mess of it.”

He broke down completely. Alarmed, Andrew abandoned me and went over to put his arm round Nick instead, his raised eyebrows mutely asking if I knew what this was about.

I did, all too well. “Nick, why don’t you tell Andrew now?”

He nodded, struggling to pull himself together. That took a few minutes. Meanwhile the door opened. It was the Battleaxe. Andrew guiltily let go of Nick, but I impatiently waved her out and, good God, she obediently disappeared. Andrew looked at me in astonishment, but it wasn’t the right time to explain. He put his arm back round Nick.

“Andrew,” Nick was now composed enough to unburden himself. “I … was in love with Peter. And he said he was in love with me.”

“Oh, no!” Andrew was shocked. But he glanced across at me, his eyes showing that he now understood why I hadn’t hesitated to hand Peter over to justice.

Nick painfully spelled out the story. Some of it was new to me. It had started last March. Peter had wanted sex, but Nick, mindful of my warning, had refused, at least at school. Come and stay with me in the holidays then, Peter had suggested. But Nick’s parents wouldn’t let him go. This term Peter had pressed him again, and Nick had again said no. No to sex at school. Yes to love, so long as it was regularised with Steve. Peter grudgingly agreed. And at that point the balloon had gone up. Nick had had no inkling that Peter was already finding his fun elsewhere but, looking back, he wasn’t wholly surprised.

“I’ve been a fool.” He was speaking spasmodically and painfully. “I just fell for him … I didn’t stop to think if he really loved me … I was too trusting … I can see that now … He wasn’t what I thought he was … He wasn’t like you two … I should have guessed he was leading me up the garden path … And now that he’s broken the trust, there’s no point in pretending it can be mended.” That revealed a wise head on young shoulders. “Leon said I was well rid of him, and I think he’s right. But it still hurts like hell.”

Andrew was aching for him. I could tell. He was holding him tight, transmitting sympathy.

“Of course it does. Leon’s burns will heal in time, and he’s got painkillers. Your hurt will heal in time too, if you’re strong-minded. But there’s no painkiller anyone can give you.”

“Oh yes, there is. There’s you two. I’m envious of you, in a way. That you’re so obviously in love. Properly in love. Hugging and kissing. That’s what set me blubbing. But you’re not taken up with just yourselves, like Peter was. You’re always going out of your way to help other people. You’re helping me. You understand how much I hurt. That’s my painkiller. It’s working already.”

“Only us? Who does know about you?”

“Only you. We asked Leon to keep it to himself. Or Peter did. I’d much rather it had been in the open.”

“And Steve knows now,” I said.

“No, he doesn’t. We didn’t get round to telling him after all. Peter said he couldn’t find him, but I think he got cold feet. So I said I would. And then I went down with this.”

“But Steve does know. I assumed you had seen him, so I mentioned it to him this morning. It was news to him. But having let the cat out of the bag I had to tell him everything I knew.”


“I’m sorry for doing that without your clearance. But I’m still glad he knows.”

“Yes. Don’t worry, so’m I. I’d have told him ages ago if Peter had let me.”

“Would you still like to talk to him?”

“But it’s too late.“

“Too late for that, yes. But he’s a wise man. He’d help you through the next stage.”

“Well, yes, I would, then.”

“I’ll get him to come round,” Andrew promised.

“And the Battleaxe knows too. Only a bit. But I had to tell her, or she wouldn’t have let me break it to you the way I did. She’s wise too, you know. That’s why she didn’t bat an eyelid just now, when she saw Andrew apparently seducing you. And why she scarpered.”

“Wonders never cease!” Andrew exclaimed. “How in heaven’s name did you tame her?”

“I kissed her.”

They goggled. “If there’s one thing in this world that no sane man does,” declared Andrew, “it’s kiss the Battleaxe. Yet you seem no more insane than usual. And you haven’t been turned into a frog.”

There was something else about her that I had to tell him. But not, I think, with Nick around. As we sat in silence contemplating the taming of the Battleaxe, my stomach rumbled loudly.

“Sorry. I’m starving. I haven’t had a bite since tea time yesterday.”

“Oh my God!” cried Andrew, looking at the clock. “It’s almost tea time today. I must go. Look, Nick. My heart’s bleeding for you. We’re both with you, all the way. Talk it over with Leon. You couldn’t be in better hands. I won’t see you tomorrow, I’m afraid. It’s Saturday. Away match at Dragonby. But Sunday, yes.” He gave Nick a final squeeze and kissed me again. “Be good!”

“Andrew,” I called after him. “Visitors. Only house pollies, please. I can’t cope with any more yet. And not till after lunch, if Mum and Dad are here.”

With a wave of his hand he was gone.