A Lenten Feast 3
Morley moved the cleanup to the ground floor. “Father Aiden needs this space spick and span you filthy animals.” Then as if he had full confidence in them, the old man disappeared with a final, “It’s me for a cuppa with my mate.” The herringbone brick was simpler to clean to clean after they mucked it out with a flat shovel. It was a warmer day, so the cold water no longer numbed their fingers. The lunch bell rang and neither stopped the steady round of scrubbing, mopping, and fresh pales of cold water. The rain stopped and for a wonder, the sun came out. David threw the corrugated shed doors open and light finally flooded the space.
Peter’s roommate, Isaac Dreyfus materialized slinging an awkward basket back and forth. “Off to granny’s?” David wanted to ask.
“Father Aiden says your not to miss lunch like that.” Peter wanted to tell Isaac that it was not much fun being banished to the kitchen every meal to be glared at by the cooks. David shrugged elaborately, which Peter took to mean he shared that view. Isaac chattered on about the great and trivial events of the school’s last seven days, as he might the first day back from break. It put Peter out when Isaac took his monologue up the stairs to investigate the boy’s room. “Christ, my mother would give the Head Master what for, if she found me roughing it here.” With that, he launched in a colourful travelogue that Peter was certain to gain him the center of attention for days. He tried out three descriptions of the plaster, hunting for the most caustic simile. “A proper workhouse this. Right out of Dickens; Like Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger bunking together; Bleak House?” Then he was back onto what David’s friend Hugh thought of their incarceration.
Peter hardly heard. He tore at a sandwich fretting inexplicably over Isaac’s invasion of the boy’s monastic solitude. David had retreated to the greenhouse. As Isaac tramped down their stairs, Peter kept a gimlet eye on his shoes. Isaac had certainly tracked mud and who knew what across their clean floors. His roommate stopped his monologue abruptly, apparently aware of Peter’s continued silence. “Father Aiden told us this all starts Wednesday.” He looked at Peter pointedly.
Peter had wandered close to the door where he could keep an eye on David. He shrugged expressively then frowned at David. What was he doing? Measuring an empty frame? That was hardly fair of him. David caught his black look, pointed innocently to one of the north facing panes Morley told them they would shift to fill the many southern gaps. Peter waved his half-eaten sandwich emphatically at the unfinished floor. David began waving his arms about frantically, semaphoring his own frustration. He stopped abruptly when Isaac came up behind Peter.
“How utterly bucolic. Going well is it Jones?” David saluted Isaac with the carpenter’s ruler and turned his back on them both. David picked his own Spam sandwich slowly. “Pettigrew’s back in classes sporting his new scar like a Prussian duelist. You would think he cheated on his palm with a girl. Claims you blindsided him.” David’s spine seemed to stiffen.
“Rubbish,” Peter ejaculated. “I was sparring with him well away.”
“Hmm,” Isaac placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Lucky bugger, I have to go back to lessons. I’d sleep with one eye open if I were you. They are a shifty lot.” Peter stood looking at David’s back for a long time after Isaac left.
David made Peter suffer all afternoon as they finished washing down the brick floor. David swept the walls down one more time while Peter erased the evidence of Isaac’s unwelcome intrusion. Peter threw the rag into his pail and sat looking at David’s mattress and the crumpled duffel beside it. He looked over his shoulder to where his own bed lay, comparing his trunk to David’s duffel. It had to be said, Peter argued with himself. He rubbed at a smudge under his eye.
The dinner bell rang and the plank floor vibrated beneath Peter’s seat as David hammered it with his broom. David stood waiting almost directly below where Peter had sat pouting, broom still ready. They were walking the path along the garden wall when David spoke unexpectedly. The words were low and slow. “You’re not at Eton. We belong here too, but thanks for that.”
Something unwound behind the snake clasp on Peter’s web belt. He ran David’s words over twice. “You are welcome.” He replied carefully, gauging David’s reaction out of the side of his eyes. He thought he caught a ghost of a smile. It might have been there.
Peter hear the rattle on the narrow casement window before David stirred. The third insistent tap prompted him to sit up, but he checked the impulse and dropped back to his pillow when David rolled his way. He followed David’s movements through shuttered eyes. A fourth crack threatened to break the ancient glass. David glanced his way, then slipped like a wrath from under his blanket to the window.
“Took you long enough!” A familiar voice from the schoolroom called out. David held a finger to his lips and hissed loudly. “Bugger the Prince and bugger the priests. Get dressed Davy, its cold out here.”
Another voice reached out to David. “We’re going on a raid, Jones, pay them back for throwing you out of the school. Come run the halls with us, maybe toss the Black Prince’s room. Get down here!”
Other voices rose in chorus. There was a medley of comments on the damp cold and coming action. Peter burned with resentment. They had promised Father Aiden, six weeks sharing the Great Silence, sharing the blame for William’s injury and the constant fighting between them. He clenched his teeth.
David shifted one bare foot onto another, rubbing it to warm himself. His arms wrapped tightly around his chest. Peter silently piled a good measure of abuse on David’s head, knowing the day boy was going to abandon him. What was Peter supposed to do? Stay in the lonely cottage by himself letting Morley tell him what to do? There was a dollop of self pity in this too. Almost a week and Peter’s mates had not stopped by to ask him out. Isaac hardly counted. Father Aiden had sent him.
The pack below must have realized David had not said a word. “David, what do you say?” David poked his head out the window, he waved goodbye and closed the window against the mist and his friend’s consternation. He turned slowly back. Peter thought he would fetch his clothes and follow the crowd. Only, David turned toward Peter’s bed and stood staring. Peter squeezed his eyes shut, practicing shallow breaths that feigned an undisturbed slumber. Peter counted those breathes until there was a frustrated sigh and the rustle of bedding across the floor.