“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING, ODELL? IS THAT THE BALLET YOU’RE DOING? WHAT SORT OF STANCE DO YOU THINK THAT IS?”
The best—and only—way to drown Peters out, he’d found by dint of careful experimentation, was to concentrate on someone else entirely. Carter usually could be dragged along, and properly positioned—Carter swam about as well as a hollow log, which was to say he floated perfectly, but navigation was beyond him, and liked nothing better than to retreat to shallow waters as early as decently possible. But Peters had got hold of Carter—it had always been inevitable—and was using him as an example to the twirps of how not to swim, all while keeping up a barrage of shouted instructions at Laurie. He cast around for a suitable distraction.
“ARE YOU GOING TO STAND THERE ALL MORNING, ODELL? WHAT DO YOU THINK, WE’RE HERE TO GAWK AT YOU LIKE A BUNCH OF SISSIES?”
Someone laughed, not kindly, and Laurie glanced around in time to see one of the twirps look studiously away from him. Barnes. Someone should have a talk with him—pity he was so easy to scare, and so irritatingly pretty. Laurie’d had his fair share of taunts when he’d started, but he’d evinced a tendency to up the stakes as far as innuendo went, and that had done the trick. It didn’t do to back down—Barnes was as easy as they came, even Hazell tried it on with him, and God knew... It had been Hazell, laughing. But he’d shut up now, oh yes he had, catch him being anything but perfect with Lanyon keeping an eye on him. No doubt he thought it worth acting out, simply in order to be under Lanyon’s near-constant supervision—why, Lanyon, during the rehearsals for the School Certificate play, had even sat up to read lines with Hazell; everyone said so.
Lanyon’s eye was on him, he realised, and made the dive in a blank determination to be worth the glance.
He landed on his stomach, and flopped around, winded and blinded, the only thought in his head that Peters would hold this over his head for ever. Then there were strong hands gripping him at shoulder and elbow, dragging him upright.
“What the hell were you doing taking your eyes off the water?” He stared, still blank, up at Lanyon’s face—gone white with the sudden exertion, and how had Lanyon reached him so fast, when he’d been at the other end of the pool? “Well? Speak, can’t you?”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Lanyon, please.”
“Sorry?” Lanyon hadn’t been Head of the House when Laurie had been young enough to have suffered the Turkish slipper, but he thought this must be the look the twirps got, this nearly breathless exasperation. “I hope you know how stupid that was.”
“Yes Lanyon. I won’t do it again, Lanyon.”
“Get him out of here; I’ll see to Peters.”
“Yes, Lanyon.” He hadn’t noticed Carter approaching, and now keenly felt his humiliation seen by so many eyes—it had been alright, to look a fool around Lanyon. He felt acutely conscious, too, of Lanyon’s eyes on him, and his hands, still grasping him as though Laurie would fall back into the water if Lanyon let go.
Something of his wretchedness must have communicated itself to Lanyon, who awarded him a last assessing glance before pushing him slightly towards Carter, and climbing out to walk back to Hazell. Some small, usually suppressed part of Laurie informed him that Hazell would certainly have pretended to be dazed. For Laurie it wouldn’t even have been much of a pretence, since he wasn’t entirely aware of being helped out of the pool, or of Carter edging an arm awkwardly around his waist.
“Bit of luck that Lanyon saw you,” Carter was saying, as they went up the path, both their towels over Carter’s shoulder.
“Yes,” he heard himself saying, without much thought, “lucky.”
It was, really. He’d had something of the same trouble when he’d first started diving, and it could be a lot more unpleasant than being hauled out and scrutinised by Lanyon in that pitiless way that made one feel quite stripped of all defences. Of course, Peters would be entirely intolerable for the next few days, but he knew how to deal with that. And it meant that he could get an early start on his Arithmetic, and Carter would be there to help him, too.
It was a bit of luck, really, that he’d made an absolute fool of himself in front of Lanyon, when he’d been wanting to catch an approving smile.