Dull – duller – dullest! Hugh wondered if that would suffice as a translation for Cicero. (He knew that, really, it wouldn’t.)
Not for the first time he asked himself why he was friends with Lanyon. Other chaps who shared a study shared their prep. Look at Wilson Major and Larraby: Wilson never did any English and Larraby always did the Chemistry. But Lanyon, a first rater at Maths and pretty decent at Latin never let Treviss crib from him; and whenever he offered Lanyon a hand at French all he got was that pained look. He knew Lanyon approved heartily of Kipling (the first thing he’d put on the study wall over his bed was a framed copy of “If – ”). But even though he’d heard Lanyon chuckle over his copy of Stalky, it had not budged his views about prep. He would explain, but he would not do, and no amount of explanations ever seemed to make sense of Maths, with the result Hugh was bottom of that class, and next to bottom for Latin.
One thing they agreed on completely, however, was games – cricket to be precise. Now that truly was a team effort. No match was won without a thorough debrief that fully recognised the contribution of every individual to the collective success; and every run scored within it was attributed to the cooperation of at least two people. No match was lost without endless analysis about how this person had failed to back up that person, leading to dire results. Lanyon was out on the pitch now, coaching the Third Eleven. Hugh, the strength of whose bowling arm was legendary, had offered to help; but Lanyon had decided that would be too intimidating.
“They are only little twerps, after all,” he had said as he changed into his whites. “I expect I’ll spend most of my time correcting every batsman’s posture, or explaining the Laws.”
Hugh stood to stretch out the stiffness in his shoulders that had developed from an hour bent over Latin. If only it were Catullus, poet and lover rather than philosopher and politician (though he supposed that simply would not do in public school). He had a nice little volume of Catullus in translation given by his older brother last Christmas. It had made the rounds of the studies in January, amidst titters from many of the other students at some of the explicit language, before eventually finding its way back to him. Lanyon had been notably unimpressed, though. And anyway, even if the set text had been Catullus, in all probability Lanyon would have had strong views about cribbing the translation from the published book. Yes, not the easiest of people to be friends with was Ralph Lanyon…. He was well respected – no one had been the least surprised when he was selected to be Head Boy – but just the tiniest bit too ‘pi’ for comfort.
Loud cries and a solid-sounding thud announced the arrival of the cricket ball through the open study window. Hugh could hear Lanyon’s angry lecture and the twerp’s apologetic reply as he leaned out the window and chucked the ball back. Perhaps next time his offer to coach the bowler would be accepted. He watched as a different boy took up position to bowl. His angle was all wrong; he’d never be able to bowl hard enough to hit the stumps if he went about it that way.
A soft knock at the door interrupted Hugh’s train of thought. He frowned, deciding to ignore the interruption. No upper classman would visit at this time of day; and unlike his illustrious study mate, Hugh was no prefect, and therefore unlikely to be called on by one of the masters. But the knock came again. Persistent, whoever he was.
Irritated, Hugh pulled open the door to find Odell on the other side of the threshold.
“Sorry to interrupt, Treviss,” he spoke apologetically, “but Lanyon told me to ask you to coach me at fencing for Laertes; and I was wondering if we could arrange a time for it this weekend.
He was altogether too pretty for Laertes, thought Hugh, who was supposed to be the epitome of honourable manhood. It was a questionable casting decision on Lanyon’s part. Yet - who would question him? And, in all fairness, there wasn’t a strong enough acting talent within that form to ensure all the main parts were assigned to decent actors. There were larger speaking roles than Laertes. His big scene didn’t demand he could declaim long soliloquies convincingly, just that he could dance about the stage waving a foil without actually doing anybody else damage. And he’d look good in tights. Laertes was supposed to look good – the attractive brother of the beautiful heroine. As Hugh recalled, Hazell had been given her part. No surprise that bit of casting. Hugh wondered just how much individual coaching Lanyon would arrange for Hazell. (No, he would not wonder, he told himself sternly. Lanyon was his friend. Besides being stalwart and upright and all things righteous.)
“Yes, of course,” Hugh responded, allowing none of his inward musings to show. “How about Sunday afternoon?”
The study seemed overly quiet after Odell left. Lanyon would be at least another 45 minutes with the twerps, and would wash before he changed back into uniform for evening meal. It provided an opportunity for privacy rare in school life. Treviss locked the door, fished out his recording of Boléro, and cranked up the gramophone. At half-term break he’d gone with his brother to a performance of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in London. Images of the ballerina’s more and more explicit movements played through his mind as his hands massaged under his trousers.
He had tidied himself and was relaxing with a mug of cocoa and Lanyon’s volume of Phaedrus when his study mate came in, hair still damp from the quick shower he had taken.
“I didn’t know you liked Plato,” Lanyon remarked.
“I would say it intrigues, more than that it is to my taste; and I most definitely wouldn’t say this particular Plato was my favourite,” returned Treviss, and, as Lanyon looked at him quizzically, added, “Too esoteric in my view. In the end I find Catullus more to my liking.”
“Those erotic poems your brother gave you, I suppose.” Lanyon laughed.
“A fascinating character Catullus,” opined Treviss, “while he adored his Lesbia, he also admired Sappho greatly, and complained about the fickle Juventius; altogether, a man most eclectic in his interests.”
Lanyon held his face still with effort. What was Treviss trying to say? He cleared his throat nervously, then thought the better of saying anything, glanced at his watch, and offered, “time for evening meal.”
“Yes,” said Treviss gently, “that kiss changed from ambrosia to a bitterer thing than a bitter herb. Because you put forth such a punishment for miserable love.”
“Just a quotation from Catullus, Ralph – nothing to fear – only a few words from a long dead poet.”