As was his duty as captain of the Under 14 school team, Ned stood at the front of the crowd waving off the visitors from St Paul’s School, and then turned dejectedly back to the house. As he slouched along, shoulders hunched, Laskar, his team-mate and fellow Park boy, appeared at his elbow, his rugby boots slung over his shoulder.
“Buck up, Watson, it could have been worse.”
Ned glanced at him for a second, and then shaking his head, he stared back at his feet as he made his way across the forecourt. “Don’t see how it could’ve been. We lost 45-0 and I got sent off.”
“We all know whose fault that was,” Laskar grimaced, as he heard a braying laugh ahead of them.
Lifting his head, Ned followed his friend’s glare inside the entrance door to the main school. “Yeah, I ‘spose.”
Piers guffawed with laughter again and then turning his head, he saw Ned staring at him as he walked towards him. “I say, Watson, wasn’t exactly the done thing bellowing on the pitch like that, was it? Hardly the example a chap of your breeding should be setting – not surprised you got sent off. Makes one wonder if you should really be captain anymore, frankly.”
“I wouldn’t have had bellow to if you hadn’t kept hogging the ball and had actually passed it,” Ned snapped back. “Rugby’s supposed to be a team game, or is your brain too small to work that out?”
“Now, now, no need for that,” Piers replied loftily, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, you know.”
“That wasn’t sarcasm, you great oaf, it’s the truth!” Laskar interrupted incredulously. “Can’t you tell the difference?”
Piers merely sneered at him. “I wasn’t addressing you, Laskar.”
“Oh go and play in a dung heap,” Ned retorted stroppily, “it’s where you belong anyway.”
“Watson, a word, please, in my office.”
Spinning round, Ned saw Mr. Bristow, the Games Master, calling him from his office door. Resignedly he turned and started walking towards him.
“Jolly good. Going to get the dressing down you deserve,” Piers called after him.
Ned ignored him, but Mr. Bristow heard and frowned. “What are you still doing here, Lloyd-Kitchen?” he called. “Get yourself back to the The Park right away, please. I’ve seen just about enough of you for one day,” and leaving Piers to do as he was told, he turned back to Ned. “In here please, Watson. You can wait if you like, Laskar, we won’t be long.
Laskar nodded. “Thank you, Sir.”
Ned grimaced at his friend and followed Mr. Bristow into his office, shutting the door behind him.
It was now the end of October, and he was settling in well to his second year at Harrow School. In class, he had continued the good work of the previous year, and was regularly among the top ten pupils in the class. Elsewhere, he was excelling on the rugby field, as ever, and having discovered a new passion for rowing, had also joined the school squad. To top it all off, Mr. Schulstad had paid his promised visit a couple of weekends previously and had taken Ned and Harry up in his plane, even allowing Ned to take the controls for a few minutes, which had thrilled him to pieces and made him even more determined to fulfill his ambition to join the R.A.F. So all in all, he was finding life rather good.
The one blot on his happiness was Piers Lloyd-Kitchen. Despite their best efforts, the rest of the second years in The Park had failed miserably when it came to trying to bring him down a few pegs, and they were beginning to realise it was not going to be as easy to teach him a lesson as they had first thought. Narrow-minded and thick-skinned, he had simply sneered at their attempts, missing their point entirely and patronisingly telling them that it was what he expected of ‘people like them’. The Masters and Prefects found him as irritating as his classmates did, but as he did all his work and never actually broke the school rules, there was little they could pull him up for other than talking out of turn and occasionally being rude.
From Ned’s point of view, matters were made worse by Piers’ sporting abilities. The house rugby trials had proved that he really was as good a sportsman as he claimed to be, and Ned soon found himself having to put up with him not only in the house team, but in the school squads as well. Being his teammate was bad enough, but it was in the Under 14 rugby team, where Ned was captain, that he found Piers hardest to deal with. His constant questioning of direction and refusal to obey team tactics drove Ned to distraction. His constant questioning of direction and refusal to obey team tactics drove Ned to distraction, and the growing tension had culminated in today’s shouting match on the pitch, which in turn had resulted in Ned being sent off in disgrace for using language that had shocked one or two of the spectators and had the opposing team in stitches. As a result, Harrow had been soundly beaten and Mr. Bristow was in none too good a mood.
It was late afternoon by the time Ned finally got back to his boarding house. On entering the common room, he found a noisy game of indoor cricket going on. Catching the ball as it was hit towards him, he declined an invitation to join in, threw it back to the bowler and made his way to the far side of the room, where Harry was sitting at a table wrestling with some prep he had not finished the night before. As Ned pulled out a chair and sat down next to him, he looked up with a grimace.
“I’m never going to get this stupid geog. done. It’s beyond me which contour lines go where.”
Ned peered over at his friend’s book and pulled a face. “You’re not joking! You can borrow mine if you like – it’s up in my study, help yourself.”
“Thanks.” Harry grinned and pushed his book away from him, sitting back in his chair. “I’ve got my things for The Harrovian to do too, and I thought I’d never get round to it.”
It was Ned’s turn to grimace. “Want to write my match report for me whilst you're at it? Not sure I can face it.”
“Yeah, I heard,” Harry replied, giving his friend a sympathetic smile. “Laskar told us. Did Britches roast you?” he asked, referring to Mr. Bristow.
“Almost. He made me clean all the eccer kit and scrub out the changers. I smell like a rotten pond.”
Harry laughed and at that moment, the common room door opened to admit Piers. He caught sight of Ned and Harry and started to walk towards them, a smug look on his face. Then something made him think better of it, possibly the murderous expression on Ned’s face, and he turned and made his way across to an empty chair on the opposite side instead.
Ned glared at him for a moment and then pulled a face. “I haven’t hated anyone this much since Donkey-Face,” he said, referring to his father’s former girlfriend. “He’s so dense – nothing gets through his thick skull.”
Harry glanced at their foe and then turned back to his friend with a wicked grin. “Maybe we should set your stepmum on him. I bet she’d get through to him alright!”
Ned laughed inspite of himself. “I’d say. He wouldn’t know what hit him if Evvy got going – she’d tear shreds off him. I’ve heard her let loose at Dad a couple of times - and she loves him!” The two boys stared over at Piers for a moment, both happily imagining what Ned’s stepmother would say to their nemesis given the chance, and then Ned heaved a sigh. “Shame she’s in Geneva,” he said, resting his hands on his chin and staring out of the window.
“Yeah pity,” Harry replied, mimicking his friend’s action.
They stayed like that for a minute or so, staring wistfully out at the gloomy autumn day, before Ned scraped back his chair and got to his feet. “Right, I’m off to the Tosh, I reek,” he said, referring to the shower block, and with a “See you later,” he headed off out the door.
A second later, he remembered that Harry wanted to borrow his geography book, and turned back to the common room again. Pushing the door open hard, he was about to shout to his friend when he felt it connect with something solid and a familiar drawling voice yelled, “You imbecile, can’t you be more careful!”
The room fell silent as everybody turned to stare, and Ned peered round the door to see Piers clutching his nose, his eyes watering.
Fighting the urge to laugh, Ned put on his best ‘Piers voice’ and said, “Sorry, old chap, didn’t realise you were there. Bad luck eh?” Then turning to Harry, “Did you want my geog?”
Choking down his laughter, as Piers’ continued demanding sympathy at the top of his voice and got none in return, Harry nodded and made his way towards his friend. They closed the door behind them and both burst out laughing.
“That was brilliant! You should have seen his face when the door hit him – it was priceless!”
“And it wasn’t even on purpose,” Ned choked, clutching his stomach and gasping for air.
The common room door opened, and Piers came out surrounded by a couple of his hangers-on who were fussing around him, even as he tried to brush them off.
“Go straight to Matron and do stop making such a fuss,” Atkinson, the House Monitor, called after them, having followed them into the hall. “Anyone would think your nose was about to fall off!” Ned spluttered at this and the prefect turned to face him. “Stop loitering in the hall, you two, go and do something useful, before I find you something to do myself. And be more careful when you open doors in future, Watson.”
Still chuckling the two boys made their way up the stairs towards their studies, the odd gurgle of laughter coming from them as they struggled to regain control. Atkinson watched them go, and then with a smile touching the edge of his lips, he turned back into the common room and shut the door.