Dickon, William and Thomas had arrived at St Barnabus at the same time and now, as they neared the end of their second full year there were few places that they had not explored.
The three boys were running and when Dickon went even further ahead Thomas shouted.
‘Dash slow down a bit, Will’s got a stitch.’
Dickon stopped and turned, he could see that William was holding his side and struggling to keep pace. He waited for them to catch up.
In contrast to the preceding stillness a late-afternoon breeze was strengthening, it took some of the keenness out of the day’s heat. The distant forest canopy was disturbed, forcing a steady flow woodpigeon onto the wing. The boys watched them as they crossed in twos and threes, fast and low taking advantage of the change in the air. When William got his breath back he mimicked the swing of a shotgun and shouted bang bang.
‘Father’s gamekeeper says that pigeon are quicker than grouse if they have the wind behind them,’ he said.
‘Well they’re bloody fast. Watch them go,’ said Dickon.
‘Even faster than you, Dash,’ said Thomas.
‘It’s not like you to catch a stitch Will,’ said Dickon.
‘Hardly done anything since rugger finished, Dash. I must’ve lost my wind.’
Thomas said he’d sounded like a steam loco trying to leave Brockenhurst station. William closed his eyes, tilted his head in Thomas’ direction and arched both eyebrows to feign deep insult, he said he would treat the comment with the contempt that it deserved.
‘Let’s go to the big bend. It’s not rained for ages I bet we could get on to the gravel bar,’ said Dickon.
‘If someone’s fishing the pool and glide we won’t be able to go anywhere near it, Dash. It won’t matter whether the river’s down enough or not,’ said Thomas.
‘No one’s fished the Lym’ for days and days, this dry spell and all the sunshine has killed it. It’ll be deserted unless some clueless millionaire’s managed to wangle his way into the syndicate,’ said William.
‘I heard old Hastings has allowed two new members,’ said Thomas.
‘Well come on anyway, if someone’s there we’ll just have to find something else to do,’ said Dickon.
The headmaster and his wife accompanied by Christian led the masters to high table. Each assembled behind their allotted seat and waited for Mr Hastings and his wife to sit down, when they did everyone else including all the boys followed suit. High table was waited on by pupils about to enter the lower sixth, when they’d served the masters and guests the rest of the school was catered for in descending year order. When the headmaster picked up his cutlery it was taken as a signal that everyone else could begin.
The headmaster sat between his wife and Christian who both agreed to his suggestion that they might like a glass of wine. Bottles of reasonable quality white and red were provided at dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. The three of them wished each other good health and Christian praised the clarity and bouquet before he sipped.
Whilst several of the staff had joined the school since Christian had left a number of them remembered him well and were keen to discover what he’d been up to in the intervening years. They were all suitably impressed to be told that he’d gained a first from Cambridge and when the headmaster remarked that Christian should be officially referred to as Doctor Blundell they all congratulated him with raised glasses. The news of Christian’s doctorate caused quite a stir with one of the older masters remarking that old boys who held a doctorum philosophiae were automatically elected in to the school’s alumni. The headmaster agreed and said that he would see that Christian’s name was added to the board in the Great Hall as soon as possible. Christian thanked the headmaster but insisted that people simply continued to call him Christian.
In the time between the main course and pudding the headmaster stood up. When boys noticed they tapped on their glasses until the hall was filled with the sound.
‘Thank you everyone. There are a couple of notices to get through. Firstly I’d like to congratulate the second year 1st 11 for beating Hambledown College. Well done.’ A spontaneous round of applause commenced. ‘I want to praise the captain for a commendable innings and a particularly fine display of sportsmanship that did St Barnabus proud. Thank you, Dickon Ash.’
Boys on Dickon’s table engaged in the school ritual of thumping in unison on the table whenever a boy was individually cited for commendation. The thumping would only stop when the boy in question got up, stood on the bench and bowed his acknowledgement toward high table. Dickon got up and completed the tradition. Whilst he was standing on the bench he noticed Christian raise his glass and Dickon smiled in appreciation.