He had not wanted to come. Tenth anniversary or no tenth anniversary (and, as time passed
differently in the two worlds, it certainly did not seem as though ten years had passed),
he had had no interest whatsoever in coming. The place disturbed him. Precisely
why … well that he had never quite been able to pin down. Perhaps he simply
didn’t want to look at his reaction too closely: that sort of introspection was not
his style: never had been. In his opinion, it was self-indulgent and unhealthy. In
his own mind, he simply … had not wanted to come.
Oh, he’d been to the ‘Clubhouse’. Shortly after people had become aware of it, he’d
popped over, briefly, to see what they were talking about; hadn’t cared for it; and would never have returned
had not the Head, five years ago, insisted that he go to the fifth anniversary dinner. On the
whole, it had not been a pleasant experience. Fortunately, in the event, that nosy Interviewer
had been so busy prying into other people’s lives that he had been able to put in a reasonable
period of attendance and yet return to the school before she could trouble him with her questions.
This time, knowing in advance what the ‘celebration’ would be like, he would have hidden the
invitation and lied—yes, lied!—about its receipt had it not arrived
in the post in the usual course and been placed in his pigeon hole in the common room by the Headmaster’s
secretary, who had then turned and said to the whole room that the Head had received one just like it, addressed
in the same handwriting, and she wondered who it was from. (A sorry replacement for dear
Mrs Taverner, who had left the previous term when her elderly mother had had a stroke.)
Mr Jepson looked round. It was clearly a well-attended celebration; and he supposed he was
glad of the fact, if only for the sake of everyone who took more frequent visits. From his own
perspective, though, it simply meant that the grounds were full of people he did not know—and,
like as not, wouldn’t want to, either. For example, there were large numbers of foreigners; and not
just the ancient Greeks, many of whom were warriors and philosophers of whom he had heard (and,
frankly, of whom he stood in some awe).
He contemplated the gaudy striped tent with some disfavour. Arriving as late as he felt he
dared, he had missed the morning (thank God!) but, having not yet had his dinner, felt the
need for sustenance. One thing he did know about this place: it had excellent catering,
well up to the best of pre-war standards. He was rather looking forward to that, at least.
With a glance round, just in case he saw someone familiar, he stepped to the end of the queue,
waiting his turn to take a plate—but then turned, as a voice from behind seemed to address him.
May I help you?
Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. I do believe, from the way
you’re dressed, that you come from one of the Author’s Modern novels; and you do look somewhat
familiar, and perhaps we met … five years ago, at least? Anyway, I’m sure you
don’t come here often; but I was wondering if you were one of the people on my Editor’s List?
I don’t know, I’m sorry. Who is your editor and
what is his list?
Oh, let me introduce myself. (holds out
hand) I’m the Interviewer: you may have heard of me? I’ve come here on and off for
a while now; and my Editor wants me to talk to various people—that’s his List, you see—for
a prospective article on the Ten Year Celebrations.
Ah, yes. (shakes her hand) I do
believe I’ve been told of your remit. My name is Jepson. I’m a housemaster
Oh! Laurie’s school!
Odell? Yes, he was Head of School just a couple
of years ago.
Ah. Right. (mental doubletake) Right. For
you, then, it’s … um …. Well, whatever year it is.
What? Oh! Yes, this place. It’s a bit confusing, I
suppose. One reason I don’t come here all that often.
Well, I don’t think you’re on my Editorís list; but I’m
reasonably confident that many of the community members would be delighted if you’d agree
to an interview.
I doubt if the life of a housemaster at a public school
would be of all that much interest.
Oh, no! Fascinating! Especially if you are willing to discuss the
lives of the students who have a significant role later in the book. Laurie—Odell—particularly,
of course. (pause) If it would help, I have already been granted an interview with the Head.
Mr Jepson considered the matter. That she had interviewed
Mr Reynolds counted for a great deal: it was by way of direct (or at least indirect)
authorization for himself to talk to her. He therefore agreed and left the end of the queue
for the tent; and the two of them went into the clubhouse, where it would probably be quieter than
outside. They settled in the back room of the library, where the chairs were comfortable
(though, on such a lovely warm day, there was no fire). He had not previously been back there,
and could see how cosy it would be in winter.
The Interviewer took out her recorder and switched it on, which was both slightly inhibiting (in
its lack of spontaneity) and something of a reassurance (that she would, indeed, quote him
accurately). For a moment, he wondered what journal she represented; but the question slipped
his mind as she began.
As I understand it, you were not the housemaster when Odell first came to the school.
No, that’s right. I had taught Classics at another place,
actually, and was employed when the previous housemaster, Stuart, moved on to take a position as the
headmaster of a small public school—well, probably not one you’ve heard of. You’re American,
aren’t you? I can tell by the accent.
Yes, that’s right; but I’ve done my background research,
Oh, no. I don’t mind. You Colonials are, after all, British
at the core, even if you did commit bloody treason a century and a half ago. (laughs)
Just a joke, my dear. No offence.
The Interviewer is so taken aback by his blatant prejudice that she
decides the only thing to do is ignore it. She is, however, all the more determined to get him to talk.
When you took the job, then, what did you think of your new school?
An excellent institution, well run: a good Headmaster
who knew his job.
And the boys?
Good lads, all of them. (slight hesitation)
Well … decent, reasonably hard-working, not an ounce of vice. The odd
misbehaviour, of course: only to be expected. Never quite perfect: wouldn’t
Sure, sure. (nods) And you remember Odell, I gather.
Oh, absolutely. Not so much during the first couple of
years, for he was only in the Middle School at that point. A good all-rounder. Except in
swimming: now there he stood out, best in the school, really. We got a house cup from his
swimming, and richly deserved. I made him prefect without a moment’s hesitation, and Head of House
in due course. Salt of the earth type, you know: utterly reliable.
And yet, a couple of years earlier, you seem to have felt the same way about Ralph Lanyon.
At this, there is a long pause. Jepson is clearly shocked to have had Lanyon mentioned; then, as the
implications set in, his face hardens. The Interviewer waits, letting it sink in. Only when
she’s sure he’s got the point does she speak again.
Do yo have any comment?
On the whole, I’d rather not.
Would you say that appointing Lanyon as Head of House—Head of School, too, I
gather—was an error in judgment?
I had no idea. No idea at all. Never crossed my mind
that a fine upstanding lad like that could be— (at a loss for words)
—involved in that sort of thing.
And yet you apparently regularly lectured the house on morality. Or immorality, if I may
put it that way. I suppose one could argue that Lanyon missed the point.
It was appalling.
Doesn’t reflect well on your handling of the House, though, does it? I mean, aren’t you supposed
to keep an eye on the boys?
Mr Jepson? Do you have a comment?
The prefect system is set up in such a way that the boys
largely govern their own activities. My own role in their day-to-day lives …. (pauses)
No, there is no excuse. An explanation, certainly. However, as you say, it reflects badly
on my supervision of the House. I should have known, stopped it, prevented it from ever
happening. I failed in my trust—up, that is, to the point where I did find out, and promptly
dealt with the matter as it needed to be dealt with.
Specifically, by having Lanyon expelled.
Of course. It was the most egregious breach
of trust: not just what he did (which is a sadly common vice, I’m afraid) but his malign
influence on a boy significantly younger than himself, in a lower form (though not, mercifully, in
the Lower School; but still, a younger boy).
One thing that has always struck me as odd is the way you immediately believed Hazell’s story.
What do you mean? The lad was in great distress, and Lanyon
never denied it. I think it would be fair to say that I’m as much believing him—or the
implications of his silence—as I am Hazell himself. (pause) If what you are
trying to say is that young Hazell was never the most satisfactory of my boys (indeed, if anything,
the contrary), then I agree: my first inclination was to take what he said with more than a grain
of salt. His penchant for dramatic ‘confession’, always timed to produce maximum nuisance, certainly
counted against him. Yes, I was inclined at first to discount his accusation—by half, if not
more!—even to consider the possibility that it was all a farrago of lies intended to provide
some revenge for being thrashed (and, knowing Hazell, thrashed with full justification); but,
after considering the details of the accusation, not to mention Lanyon’s own reaction—which is
to say his utter failure to even deny the worst of what Hazell suggested—well, what would
you have me do in such a case?
I don’t think you have considered the matter
Well, I’ve met Lanyon. He’s generally considered to be a fine man, a war hero, brave
and … and decent and … and very much admired.
A whited sepulchre, in other words. Oh, he’s plausible;
I don’t deny that for I was myself, let us not forget, taken in as much as you appear to have
been. Nevertheless, underneath that façade is still the same man who, in his youth,
abused his position as Head of School to seduce and molest a boy younger than himself.
I never thought of it like that.
Well, it’s high time you did. And that’s before
one comes to the details of his perversion.
Well, as far as that goes, I believe that part was a matter of revenge on Hazell’s part.
That may be. (It doesn’t surprise me.) On the other hand,
it doesn’t alter the fundamental facts of the case.
Well, as far as that goes … (rearguard defence) …
you’re well known for taking a lot of salacious pleasure in your ‘warning-off’
talks to the boys. Maybe that has something to do with it?
Incredulous, Jepson stared at the brazen questioner. Then, without even formally ending the
interview, he rose to his feet and left. He felt a fool. He should never—never!—have
agreed to speak to the woman. He had known better, after all: he had seen her in action before,
rare though his visits were. It was the mention of the Head that had led him into this
folly. What on earth might she print? What, in the end, had he said to her. (He wished he
had a copy of her tape, not to mention a machine to play it on.)
He strode across the grass, looking neither left nor right, heading through the throng in search of
somewhere private where he could fume uninterrupted. Sadly, he found that people—total strangers
all of them—seemed to be everywhere. He headed away from the main throng; but, even in the depth
of the exotic garden, he kept coming across them, chatting in twos and threes or looking singly
at the display of out-of-season
flowers. Finally, though, the exercise wore out his anger.
He was tempted simply to leave. However, he was also aware that Mr Reynolds, the Head, had
intimated that his attendence was mandatory. It occurred to him that perhaps it would be best
to follow his original course, head back to that
extraordinarily gaudy tent, and indulge in some of the food on offer. Much time could be
passed, if he contrived to eat sufficiently slowly—or eat more than he should (which, he had to
admit would not be difficult). He could thus busy himself with his plate, and justify, or at
least seem to justify, his failure to mingle. Besides, he felt a growing internal urgency in
the digestive department.
He found when he returned to the main grounds that the crowds of diners had considerably
diminished. It was possible now to enter the tent directly; and the queue he joined at the
‘table de roast’ was quite reasonably short. He duly picked up tray and plate to await
his turn. The man carving was turned away, speaking to the person serving the queue on the
other side; and the people in front simply helped themselves to meat that was already ready
on the platter. Most of this had, however, disappeared by the time Mr Jepson reached the
roast; and he waited, with a slight but growing impatience. Finally, he interrupted with a cough.
The carver turned his head.
For a moment, he seemed quite unfamiliar. It had, after all, been several years since his precipitate
departure from the school. Then the tilt of the head, the angle of the jaw, the line of the brow all
fell into a familiar shape; and Mr Jepson recognized R. R. Lanyon.
The housemaster stifled his initial reaction and did not speak his mind—though it must be said
that he thought veritable thesauri of words to apply to the man’s presence. He simply
said, “The platter is empty, I believe. Would you mind carving some more meat?”
It was Lanyon who, incredibly, had the nerve to admit to recognizing him, striding back
to his place and saying, “Mr Jepson! It has been years. How’s the old
school?” before picking up the carving knife and fork, flipping the guard down on the latter,
and sticking it into the joint.
Mr Jepson was not always the most noticing of men. He missed the way that Lanyon’s lips were
set just a bit too firm, and his grip on the cutlery was a trifle tighter than it need
be. “I’m surprised you have the nerve to be here,” he said thinly. “I
should have thought the likes of you would not dare to show your face, considering that so many of the guests know
far too much of your past.”
Lanyon’s face hardened. “Oh, most of them know all of my past,” he said, “or at least
the part that counts. Certainly, they know your part in it.”
“On the whole, I think if you were to ask around, you would find that in this company I
am a rather more welcome guest here than you are.” The words were crisp; Lanyon sounded
angry. Nevertheless, with the perspicacity of years of experience, Mr Jepson realized that
the other man was using anger to conceal a fundamental insecurity. In ‘this company’ he
might be safe among friends; but, in decent society, he would not dare be so bold.
He said as much.
“No one required you to come,” snapped back Lanyon. (Which, in Mr Jepson’s view, was not quite
true; but then he could not expect a man like this to understand the niceties of hierarchy among
the teaching staff.)
“I was invited,” he said simply.
“As was I.”
Yes, alas: it must be true. With the various guards dotted around the grounds it would
surely be unlikely for Lanyon to be a gate-crasher. He had—they both
had—invitations; and, from the perspective of their hosts, they were at least
equally guests. Admittedly, that did not quite explain why Lanyon was carving the roast,
which would put him more in the position of host….
“A standing invitation,” Lanyon said, irritably. “I’m one of the fairly frequent visitors
here, I suppose. At any rate, as I play a rather larger role in our Book, I seem to have
been conscripted into helping with the organization, at least to a degree.” He added, with
a dark humour, “If you were a more popular character, you might be carving this roast yourself,
you know. All you had to do was sign
the duty roster. Quite a few of us volunteered. Noblesse oblige, you might
say.” He turned his attention downward, and began slicing the roast.
“Noblesse be damned,” said Mr Jepson indignantly. “Nothing noble about you,
Lanyon. And all the boys saw you as a hero, I’m sure. You could have been such an
excellent influence on them!”
“Oh, I hope I still was,” said Lanyon, clearly emboldened by his perverse popularity in this
place. He did not bother to look up, but spoke as he carved. “Despite my ultimate
shortcomings—and none of us is perfect—I did strive to
live up the position you placed me in.”
“Live down to it, you mean,” said Jepson. “And then left the school to live down
the scandal you left in.”
“They mostly seem to have turned out all right,” said Lanyon evenly. This time he did
look up; and it was a disturbingly straight look. “I think so, anyway, those of them
whom I have met since then. Here or there.”
“Here, perhaps,” said Mr Jepson. “Heaven knows, all sorts of people come here; and,
as far as that goes, I don’t suppose you’re the worst of them. At any rate, almost anyone‘s
paths might cross at a fête such as this one. I do most sincerely hope, though, that
none of our Old Boys counts you among his acquaintance in the real world of the Book.”
“Hope springs eternal,” said Lanyon. “Do you want rare or well-done?”
And, without waiting for an answer, he began to fork meat onto Mr Jepson’s plate.
“That’s quite enough,” said the other. And he was not only referring to the roast.
“Jeepers Creepers“ was originally posted in multiple parts:
“ITOW/10YO - Jeepers Creepers (Part One)” was
posted to the maryrenaultfics
LiveJournal community by greerwatson on 1 January 2015.
“ITOW/10YO - Jeepers Creepers (Part Two)” was
posted to the maryrenaultfics2
Dreamwidth Community on 13 January 2015.