Timms lets out a long-suffering sigh of agony as Hector tosses battered copies of the book on their desks: Shakespeare, Henry IV Part One.
“The histories are dull as dirt,” he moans, flipping through the pages then tossing the book back down. “Can’t we do one of the sexy ones, sir?”
“I will take your recognition that Shakespeare can be ‘sexy’ as an accomplishment in itself, Timms,” Hector says placidly. He scans the room (Posner’s pick me, pick me reflex causes him to sit up straighter in his chair, even though he has no idea what Hector is looking for)—and his gaze lights on Dakin (Posner shrinks back down in his seat).
“Dakin,” he says, gesturing the boy up to the front of the class. Dakin scoots out his chair and stands with exaggerated reluctance, giving rise to a ripple of laugher, though his deskmate Scripps does not grace him with anything more than rolled eyes. Hector opens up his copy of the play, folds back the cover in that way that gives Totty conniptions whenever the boys try it with their history books, and, handing the book over, commands, “Read.”
Dakin has not been paying any attention at all up to this point, but he looks unruffled as he glances over the text. He suspects Hector noticed his inattention this time, and that’s why he’s up here, but if Hector was expecting an embarrassing stumble through some Shakespeare as a punishment, Dakin thinks, the old man’s got another thing coming.
“Prince Hal, gentlemen,” Hector announces. Dakin clears his throat dramatically.
“I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So, when this loose behaviour I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.”
(Scripps later marks this moment, watching Posner watch Dakin read Prince Hal, as the instant that he realized that Posner was in love with Dakin. Posner, of course, would not realize it until sixth form. Though he suspects that if Posner could have seen his own face, he might have gotten it a bit sooner.)
Dakin isn’t sure he likes it, at first. That half-rising half-sinking feeling of reading something that’s exactly you, only written a couple hundred years before you ever sat up in a dingy house in Sheffield all night reading about the Tudors as hard as you can because your marks are best in history so history’s going to be your ticket out of here, not that you’d let anyone know it. It’s like a thrilling up your spine and a churning in your stomach. It’s like how all those novels describe falling in love.
He realizes Hector did not call him up to read in order to embarrass him.
“So does he do it? The prince?” Dakin asks after class, after the rest of the boys have filed out. Hector smiles that smile of his, the one that used to drive him mad because it seemed so condescending, but now looks infuriatingly (and irresistibly) like a dare.
“Why don’t you read it?” he says.
Dakin’s hand shoots up in the middle of class. Scripps starts at the sudden violence of it, the energy that he can practically feel emanating from Dakin, though to the rest of the class it looks almost like his usual lazy salutation. Hector is in the middle of quoting Auden, something from a speech by King Herod (all Rudge got down before he lost track was “knowledge will degenerate…”). He breaks off, surprised.
“Dost thou speak like a king?” Dakin demands, standing. Posner’s jaw has dropped right open, and Scripps covers his mouth to hide his grin. “Do thou stand for me, I’ll play my father.”
“Depose me?” Hector demands with a kingly gasp, and some of the boys do laugh at that. “No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry's company… banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.”
“You skipped all my lines,” Dakin complains, to another surge of laughter from the class.
“Did you learn them?” Hector asks. Dakin becomes suddenly aware of the eyes of the other boys on him, and Scripps could swear Dakin almost blushed. He sits down, folding his arms, almost sulky.
“Well, it’s better than more bloody Gracie Fields.”
“Here’s the thing, right?” Dakin says, and Scripps looks up, startled. He and Dakin sit next to one another in Hector’s class, sometimes share a lunch table and a loose circle of friends, but they’ve never been close. Scripps spends his time mostly with Posner, and Dakin’s disdain for Posner is so thinly veiled that Scripps thinks the three of them are unlikely to ever be friends. Yet here Dakin is, settling down on the grass next to him as if he’d been invited.
“The thing is: Hector is Falstaff.”
“Hector is Falstaff,” Scripps echoes. “A fat, lecherous, thieving knight?”
“Well, he’s a bit lecherous. In his way.”
Scripps considers. “Yes. Fair. But for the rest…”
“He just—is. He’s… all the things that Totty and Felix especially turn up their noses at.”
“You’re quite the rapid convert. I thought you hated Hector’s lessons.”
“I don’t now.”
“I take it you’re the prince in this analogy.”
“Well—yeah, I mean, sort of.”
“You know that he renounces Falstaff? In the end.”
“Yeah, but.” Dakin grins. “I’m not going to be king of England. I want all the world.”
The other thing is: while Falstaff taught Prince Hal the common touch and how to drink anyone under a table (not textually, true, but Dakin’s pretty sure that lesson was included somewhere), what Hector has taught Dakin is that he can be really fucking clever and still be the coolest boy in his form.
And the upshot of this thing is: suddenly, Dakin and Scripps have a lot to talk about.
The aspiring writer in Scripps can’t help but search for a turning point, a symbolic gesture, a moment of covenant, and eventually he settles on the first time he stays over at Dakin’s place—entirely on accident, as it happens. They’re watching videos and he falls asleep on the couch, and next thing he knows Dakin is dragging him up to his bedroom, all the way at the top of the impossibly narrow and creaky stairs which snake up the center of the impossibly narrow and creaky home of the Dakin family.
Dakin tosses him a Hallam shirt and curls up with a pillow on the floor before Scripps can refuse the bed, and though he was tired before, Scripps lies awake for a while, seeing what Dakin sees every night before he goes to sleep. His room’s got the sort of posters Scripps mostly expected: football and some rugby and some Bond girls, but the ones you can see right from the bed are of Paris and New York and Berlin. And he realizes after a bit that Dakin’s lying awake too, looking at them and more or less from that moment on they’re best friends.
By the time they reach the upper sixth at long, long last, Dakin and Scripps sit together in every class, Dakin is Hector’s best boy, and Dakin is pretty sure he has more or less everything entirely figured out. Which is why it’s so irritating when Irwin has to come fuck it all up.
Dakin resists at first, obviously, because he’s already got everything sorted out thank you very much and the last thing he needs is a baby-faced Londoner pointing out his flaws. He has Scripps for pointing out his flaws, and Scripps does it much more wittily.
Except for he’s always gotten top marks in history and he’s not going to stop now.
Except for Irwin’s cramped writing looks so much like a dare.
Except for the first time he tackles an essay from one of Irwin’s backwards and sideways angles and all the facts slot neatly into place and the connections come crashing one after the other like perfectly logical historical dominos, he feels that thrilling-churning he hasn’t felt since he read Prince Hal in Hector’s class years ago.
And when he sits in Hector’s class, a bookmarked and underlined copy of Nietzsche hidden in his book bag, Posner singing more bloody Gracie Fields, the refrain in Dakin’s mind is that last line he never got to say.
Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.
I do; I will.