I was standing in the kitchen waiting for Mrs Grantly to finish putting the mint sauce in the second silver dish when there was a great clattering as the front door opened and my sisters came in followed by Grandfather as he closed the door.
“Front entrance for the two princesses!” he announced as the pair rushed along the hall and the step down into the kitchen. Grandfather always called Caroline and Jacky his two princesses. I heard Geoffrey say once that he supposed Jonathan was Prince Charming and he got chased up the garden and when Jonathan caught him, because there was nowhere else to run, Jonathan said Geoffrey was obviously the Prince of Darkness. They never said what sort of prince I could be. At least my name wasn’t Charles.
“Mum! Where are you? Hello, Mrs Grantly,” said Jacky as soon as she came into the room.
“We’re glad to be home. Mum! And the train was early for once!” called out Caroline who was just behind her.
Mum was in the pantry off the kitchen and as soon as she appeared they hugged her and she nearly dropped the bottle she was holding.
“Quiet now, you two!” she said, “You’re nearly as noisy as the boys. And say hello properly to Mrs Grantly, she’s done all the cooking for dinner tonight as it’s special. And there’s Jamie there, say hello to him as well..”
All was pandemonium for a few minutes. I had learned that word as Mr McWilliam said that was the best description of the noise before we all went into the dining-hall especially at lunch-time. He said it was a great pity we didn’t have to learn Greek as we would learn that the Greeks had words for everything. Why was I still thinking of that other word for what Jonathan and the other boys did? I supposed the Greeks had a word for that as well. I couldn’t very well ask Great-Aunt Cassie though I knew she knew Greek ‘cause she’d explained to me that she had to read all those old documents, or whatever, in her job at Cambridge. That was funny, too. I had been told she was a Fellow and when I was about six I knew fellows were men ‘cause we had a sing-song each week at Miss Pruitt’s and sang ‘For he’s a jolly-good fellow - and so say all of us’ so I’d asked her if she was a man next time she came to visit. That was when I found it was a College title both for men and ladies who taught there. She also told me all about the ancient Greeks and that was interesting because she said some of those old documents were written in Athens where I’d been. I was thinking all these thoughts while my sisters were being hugged and chatted to by Mrs Grantly and then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“They’ll realise we’re here fairly soon,” Jonathan bent down and whispered in my ear, “They’ve got to make sure they’ll be fed tonight. And I’d better take that dish before they see you ‘cause they’ll crush you to a pulp…”
That’s when they turned and saw us. They rushed at us and the pair of us were hugged tight and the pair of them talked at the same time saying how pleased they were to see us and how much I’d grown until Jonathan stood up straight.
“Girls, girls, whoa!” he said very loudly, “We realise you haven’t seen any males for three months holed up in that nunnery of yours so calm down and let go of us. Anyway, Geoffrey is out there somewhere…”
“Oh, shut up you!” said Caroline giving him a thump somewhere around the midriff. Jonathan made a face and winced although she couldn’t have hurt him. “We thought you might have learned some manners by now.”
“We’re just pleased to be home and, anyway, Jamie appreciates us, don’t you Jamie?” said Jacky.
I just nodded.
“Don’t let the side down, boy,” Jonathan whispered loudly, “We’ve got to keep the female hordes at bay. Let Geoffrey deal with them.”
“You’re only jealous, brother dear,” Caroline sneered up at him, “Just because Arabella Harrison……”
“Don’t mention her name in polite company,” interjected Jonathan before she could say anything more.
“But we all know, don’t we Jamie?…” said Jacky laughing, “…Who didn’t get their goodbye kiss after the party at the Embassy?…”
“…Who followed her round like a little puppy-dog?…” said Caroline.
“…With great big sorrowful eyes…” said Jacky fluttering her eyelashes at him.
“…And who will not be ready for their dinner?” came the voice of Mrs Grantly from the other side of the kitchen. “Leave the poor boy alone, he’ll learn.”
“We still love you, though,” said Caroline, “Even if you try to act older than your age…”
“Sweet sixteen,” said Jacky laughing, “…And never been kissed…”
She leapt back out of the way as Jonathan made a grab for her. I liked Arabella who was a year older than Jonathan and was the Ambassador’s niece. She and the girls and Amanda Dixon were always together and teased Jonathan quite a bit in a nice way, but really teased stuck-up Alistair, who got quite annoyed until Amanda told him off for not being a good sport.
“…But you’re so mean!” she went on. She turned and called to Mrs Grantly who was busy at the Aga. “Mrs Grantly, you’d never believe what meanie did. He only sent one card addressed to both of us and it was horrible…”
“…You wait, Jonathan, it’ll be your birthday in May!” Caroline added, prodding him and he just laughed.
Mrs Grantly came across the kitchen.
“Scrooge, here…,” said Jacky, pointing at Jonathan, “…Sent us this card with two horrible witches on the front and when we opened it it said ‘Double, double, toil and trouble, Fire burn and cauldron bubble!’ and there was a drawing of a big black pot. The horrible creature had cut out our heads off a photo and stuck those on the witches and there were the heads of him, Jamie and Alistair in the pot. Where they belonged…”
“…Come off it, Jacky,” said Jonathan, laughing, “That card cost me a lot. I got it drawn for you specially by Callum Ross, and his dad’s a famous artist as you know, and that photo was one from Athens…”
“…That was my photo,” said Caroline, “I wondered where it had gone. He’s so mean, Mrs Grantly, and all the girls and Miss Callaghan laughed.”
I could see Mrs Grantly was trying hard not to laugh as well.
“Och, of cause he’s mean,” she said, “My father always said there’s nae pockets in a kilt and your brother is a true Scot, and nae doubt. Anyway, where’s the card? It could be valuable in the future if young Callum is as good as his father. We’ve got an Adrian Ross and so has your Grandfather.”
I knew too. That was the painting of Grandma which Jonathan always touched when he went by it and Dad had been at school with Mr Ross.
“So,” said Jonathan nodding, “Be grateful your kind big brother remembered the pair of you…”
“…Kind big brother!” said Caroline scathingly, “Even Alistair sent us both cards and so did Jamie, didn’t you?”
I just nodded, too. When the ‘pesky pair’, as Jonathan called them when they teased him, and he started getting back at them, it was best to keep quiet. Of course, Mum had sent me the cards to send on to them and I kept quiet about that as well.
“Anyway, you two, go and get yourselves beautified, if that’s possible, before supper,” said Jonathan, “Get rid of all that English dirt and dust and don’t smear too much of the paint and powder on as we don’t want Geoffrey’s mother finding lipstick on his collar! But that’s OK as he wearing one of my shirts…”
This was about to set them off again when Mum came up behind them.
“Leave Jonathan alone, we all know he’s just jealous of your flawless complexions - he’s just a rough spotty boy.”
This set them off in giggles and all Jonathan could say was “Mum!”.
It was true, though, Jonathan had spots. I would have to ask him why boys had spots. I had noticed that his friend Lorimer as well as Geoffrey had spots and that other friend, Tuddy, had spots all over his face.
Jacky and Caroline went off, still giggling and blew kisses at Jonathan and me. Jonathan hadn’t finished.
“Mum, that was unkind.” He said it quietly and he meant it. “I can’t help the spots and all my friends have them, too.”
I think Mum realised he was upset. She came up to him and caught hold of his arm. “I know you can’t help having spots - but you tease them mercilessly and we females have to get our own back sometimes.” She smiled at him. “You’re my loving son and I would never want to hurt you, or young Jamie, you know that. I didn’t realise you were so concerned about the dreaded acne and if you are we’d better try to get something to help clear it.”
Jonathan smiled. “Sorry, Mum, I’m being a bit sensitive about it. I don’t want to end up like poor old Tuddy, his face is really bad.”
Mrs Grantly had come up to us. She put out a big hand and held Jonathan’s chin in her thick fingers.
“Och, laddie, you’re nae sae bad. You’re growing up and there’s nothing you can do about that. I’ve seen worse. My son Andrew had more craters on his face than on the moon and he’s OK now. You can try one of thae potions from the chemist’s but good soap and water’ll help.”
“Your father was the same,” my mother said, “When I first met him he was sure he had a pimple the size of a tomato on the end of his nose, and as red, too.” She laughed. “Can’t say I noticed it, but he told me about it afterwards and he said he was so worried I wouldn’t dance with him.” She smiled at Jonathan. “And you’re just as handsome as him…” She looked down at me by his side. “…And so are you, Jamie. Your spots will come, no doubt!”
Mrs Grantly laughed. “Don’t you go praising boys like that. They’ll be as proud as peacocks and end up preening themselves and spend more time in the bathroom than those daughters of yours.”
“Time in the bathroom!” Mum snorted, “Ten seconds maximum and the towels are always dry. You should see his grubby elbows!”
“Mum!” Jonathan looked hurt, but I knew he wasn’t. Mum was always telling him to go and have a wash and he always did, just like me. “I do wash,” he said, “And Jamie can confirm that. Eh, Jamie?”
“Yes,” I said, “You were very dirty this afternoon and we all had a shower, but you didn’t spend long in the bathroom this morning…”
“Little brother, stop!” he said, “Boys stick together…”
“Yes,” said Mum, “All that dirt and grime must be pretty sticky…”
I was just about to say that he and Geoffrey seemed stuck together this afternoon but I didn’t as Geoffrey came into the kitchen at that moment.
“Where have you been hiding?” asked Jonathan, “The girls frighten you off?”
Mum and Mrs Grantly turned to look at him. He was smiling.
“I’ve been in with your Grandfather,” he said, “He’s going to give me and Julian some extra piping lessons. And he said he’d like to see you and Jamie as well if you’re not too busy.” He laughed. “Don’t look so worried he’s got something for Jamie.”
Oh dear! Jonathan got told off yesterday and he wasn’t to worry today. Was it my turn to be told off about something? I hoped not. But Grandfather had something for me?
As we went into Grandfather’s study he was standing behind his desk holding something.
“Ah, there you are, Jamie. I’ve got a present for you. Geoffrey picked it out from my collection and I agree with him it was a very good choice. Here you are, with all my best wishes for the future.” He held out a beautiful ebony, silver-mounted chanter. I took it from him and although I’d seen others before I realised this was a most precious object.
“Is this really for me?” I asked turning it over in my hands and looking at the fine silver work around the black wood. I could see it was old and was really beautiful.
“Yes,” said Grandfather, “It’s yours to keep and, I hope, treasure and learn to play. When you are ready you can progress to the pipes. I was given that chanter by a very old man a good few years ago. He had won it as a prize in a big competition when he was a very young piper in a famous Scottish regiment. He taught me a lot about playing and he left me that in his Will with a note that he hoped it would be played with the love for the music of the pipes that he had. I hope you’ll play it with love and think of that man as the young piper he was.”
I felt that I would and looked up at Jonathan. He reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.
“I haven’t been very good learning the pipes. Will you try?”
I nodded. I realised that my grandfather wouldn’t have given me that particular chanter, even though Geoffrey had chosen it, without him wanting me to succeed..
“I’ll try very hard, but it will be difficult at school, we don’t have a pipe band.”
My grandfather smiled. “But you have the chanter and your Mr Muir is a fine piper and I’ve asked him to give you lessons.”
I didn’t know Mr Muir. Who was he? I must have looked puzzled.
“It’s OK, Jamie,” Jonathan said, “He’s a teacher in the Big School - he’s my History teacher.”
“Aye, that’s him,” Grandfather said, “He’s written a fine book about the pipes and all the famous pipers and the tunes they wrote.”
“But if he’s at the Big School…” I began.
Grandfather shook his head. “…Don’t worry,” He smiled. “He lives in the house just by your part of the school. He told me it was very convenient as he could practice in the field behind.”
Oh, that explained it. One of the boys at prep one night said he had heard a phantom piper as he couldn’t see anyone from the window. It was alright someone else said it is someone real, just practising. So it sounded as if it might be Mr Muir. I told Grandfather all this and he laughed and said Mr Muir had been banished there as he had disturbed the others when he had a house near the Big School and his wife didn’t mind as she was an artist and wasn’t disturbed now by unruly boys. He said Mr Muir would contact me once I was back at school and he knew Mrs Muir made fine bannocks and no doubt I would be rewarded for good playing. Jonathan said I wasn’t to blow any crumbs down the chanter and later he whispered to me that Grandfather knew everybody!
Well, dinner that evening was so good. I was very, very hungry and so were Jonathan and Geoffrey judging by the amount they ate and they both had a glass of red wine like Grandfather. I don’t think Caroline and Jacky were far behind, either, no wine though, and they helped Mum serve and afterwards we three boys cleared up. There was a lot of chat when we went into the drawing room and I began to feel very sleepy. Mum saw that and whispered I wouldn’t be missing much if I went up to bed.
I must say I was very tired. The visit to the Castle, the rugger practice, the rumpus between Jonathan and Geoffrey, the arrival of my sisters, Grandfather’s gift and his sureness that I would succeed and, on top of all that, the good evening meal, had made it a very busy day. So, I said my goodnights and made my way upstairs quite a while before Jonathan came to bed. Mum said we could have a lie-in in the morning as she and Molly and Mrs Grantly had a lot of work to do as the other visitors would be arriving, rooms would have to be got ready and Jonathan and I would get in the way, but we weren’t to forget we were going to lunch with Gramps and Gran - Dad’s and Uncle Hamish’s father and mother.
Good! Not only for the lie-in but Gran would make a big fuss of us and Gramps would pull my leg by saying he’d pull all my teeth out as he said when my first set were dropping out. He was a dentist and a Professor as he taught at the University and Dad always told us he was woken up every morning as a boy by the screams of his patients and Mum said he wasn’t to say that as he would frighten us about going to the dentist. I didn’t mind Gramps looking at my teeth but I don’t think I would like to spend every day looking in other people’s mouths.
I had washed, properly - I thought of what Mum had said - and was just about to drop off holding on to Mr Lion and still thinking of all the things we’d done that day when Jonathan came almost silently into the bedroom. There was just a nightlight on which he turned off as he got into bed. I just grunted when he asked in a quite voice if I was asleep. I was almost but lay there for a minute to two as he turned over, I think, onto his back. I fell into a deep sleep then and was just aware of some slight movement from his side of the bed as I did so.
I might have been extra tired the night before but that deep sleep must have been good as I woke up, all refreshed, all ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ as Mum said at times. I looked at the clock. Quarter past seven. I knew Grandfather would be up at half-past and Mum would also be up then getting their breakfasts but had said we could have a lie-in. Ouch, I needed to pee badly. It was quite dark but I knew my way around as I slipped out of the bed my side leaving a large, still sleeping heap quietly snoring and moving into the centre of the bed as I vacated it. As I got round to Jonathan’s side I nearly tripped over. I kicked at whatever was there and something flew up. When I opened the door and the landing light shone in I saw it was Jonathan’s pyjamas all in a heap and his facecloth was the object I’d kicked. Strange. Why would he need his facecloth? Oh, perhaps he’d been holding it when he came out of the bathroom. I picked it up as it was damp and took it into the bathroom. Ugh, it smelt a bit funny and was sticky, too, so I dropped it in the shower tray.
After I’d had a pee - and washed my hands - I went back into the bedroom and crept into my side of the bed. There wasn’t much room as Jonathan had settled himself in the centre of the bed and being big and lanky was taking up quite a bit of my half as well. I was going to give him a good shove when I realised, of course, he had no pyjamas on, but luckily he was facing away from me. I did knee him against his bum but all he did was grunt and shift around in the same position. I wondered if I should pinch him but that might make him angry and he was so much bigger than me. I was beginning to fidget. I was awake. I wanted something to do. I switched on my bedside light. No response from him. I retrieved Mr Lion, who had fallen off my pillow and was just by his shoulder, then humped myself up the bed and reached out for my book on the bedside cabinet. I really liked Treasure Island and could imagine being on that ship just like Jim Hawkins and Mr McWilliam made it very interesting as he read some of the bits people said with different sorts of voices and chose us in turn to read the rest.
I read for quite a while until, all of a sudden, Jonathan grunted quite loudly and turned over very clumsily in the bed and took up even more space. If I’d been lying down he would have probably shoved me out. Luckily, as I was sitting up more or less against the headboard, I was able to move my legs out of the way. Big oaf, I thought, remembering what Jack Pringle had said someone had called his brother. Jonathan grunted again and slept on.
I went on reading until about a quarter past eight. I heard Grandfather go off to his Chambers and thought I might like some breakfast. It was then that Jonathan began to wake up. He snorted and kicked around then flailed one of his arms up which hit me on the knee.
I think that woke him up as I kicked back and stubbed my toes on his shoulder. “Wass ‘at?” he mumbled and then opened an eye and shook his head. “Oh, God!” he growled “I want a jimmy bad!”
I knew what he meant. He and Geoffrey always said about going for a jimmy. I knew that was a Jimmy Riddle - a piddle - but when I’d said it once Mum had said I shouldn’t say that but she laughed at the same time. Stu Barclay said things like ‘frog and toad’ and ‘whistle and flute’ which he said were rhyming slang from down in London for ‘road’ and ‘suit’. So Jimmy Riddle was rhyming slang, too. I had forgotten that but must remember it to tell Stu when we got back to school. Oh dear! Mustn’t think of that yet as we had Christmas and Hogmanay still to come.
Without saying anything else, Jonathan turned over and lumbered out of bed and disappeared towards the bathroom. All I glimpsed was his bare backside. I had just got to the end of the chapter where Jim Hawkins falls asleep in the apple barrel so I put my book carefully on the bedside cabinet. It wasn’t long before he came back and slid into the bed.
“You awake?” he asked as if me sitting up in bed would be asleep.
“I’ve been reading my book while you’ve been snoring,” I replied.
He laughed. “I don’t snore. Tuddy does. We clipped a clothes-peg on his nose one night and he didn’t snore after that.”
“Did it stop him snoring?”
“Yep, it did that night as he couldn’t get to sleep again, but he snored again the next night and he has done every night since. Anyway, this is a nice comfortable bed.”
“Should be,” I said, “You’ve been sleeping in my half…”
He laughed again. “…Just like the Three Bears…” He stretched up and ran his fingers through my hair. “…But you’re Goldilocks…”
I was hurt. “…But Goldilocks was a girl…”
He smiled. “…Sorry, I know you’re not, but the girls are so jealous of your hair. And mine’s almost straight like theirs. You want to watch it, though, in case the other boys take the mickey.”
“Nobody has. Why would they?”
“Oh, probably they would be jealous as well. Probably if you weren’t good at games they might.” He wrinkled his nose. “Maybe not. Callum Ross has curly black hair and no one would take the mickey out of him or he’d run them through with his rapier or his epée.”
I was puzzled. “What d’you mean? Isn’t a rapier a sword? What’s an epée?”
He laughed again. “Oh, Callum’s in our fencing team and he’s very good. An epée is a long bendy sword.”
I wasn’t much the wiser, as Mrs Grantly says if she doesn’t understand. Bendy swords? I would have to ask for more, later. I changed the subject. “He did that card?”
“Yep. He’s a good artist, too. He’s always drawing things… … and us.”
“Our room. I told you before, when you come up to McCrae House you’ll be in a room with six others and you’ll stay with them up to the Sixth Form.”
It was getting complicated. I was in a room with five others. Why six others? And what happened in the Sixth Form. More things to find out.
“Anyway, come down here back into bed. You’re sitting up there like a parrot on a perch.”
“Only ‘cause you took up so much bed.”
He laughed again and grabbed my legs and I slid down and he covered me with the duvet.
I nodded. Then I thought it might be time to start asking questions.
I moved over towards him and met up with his muscly body. “Did you sleep all night without your pyjamas on?” I put a tentative hand out and rested it on his side.
“Always do,” he said, “Saves on the laundry we all say.”
“Yep, all the boys in our room. We all sleep in the raw unless it’s very cold.”
“You might when you’re a bit older and in the Big School.”
That didn’t really answer my question but perhaps I could find out more later. Did Cheng’s brother sleep ‘in the raw’? Or Dieter, Adolphus’s brother?
“What do you mean? Why do we sleep in the raw, or when you’re in the Big School?”
I thought for a moment. “Both.”
He laughed. “I think we’ve got to have a few rather serious talks about growing-up, little bro. You’ve still got a lot of growing-up to do!”
He put an arm out and drew me a bit closer.
“The thing is, when you’re with the same crowd all the time you get to know them very well. You’re getting to know the boys in your dorm now, aren’t you? One term and they all seem like old friends?”
I nodded. I liked them all. And the same with the other boys in our class. Pringle and Brigstock I liked specially but I wasn’t too sure about that bigger boy, Arnold. I’d found out he’d been in the school a whole year, but he’d been kept down in our class because he didn’t, or couldn’t, do the work. I thought about what Grandfather had said to Jonathan about doing his schoolwork. I didn’t want to be kept down.
“Yes,” I said, “But we don’t sleep with nothing on.”
“Oh, that’ll come later,” Jonathan said and clutched me a bit tighter. “We didn’t until we decided we all preferred it and we’d got over any embarrassments.”
“What’s embarrassments?” I asked, rather puzzled.
Jonathan laughed again. “You’ll learn soon enough.” He put his head close to mine. “What I’m going to tell you is just between you and me until you know your friends better, OK?”
I nodded. What did he mean?
“You’ve seen Geoffrey and me with nothing on?” I nodded. “So you know what older boys look like?” I nodded again. “Well, as your friends told you, you start to see changes when you’re about twelve.”
“Yes, that was what Adolphus and Cheng said and Stu’s started ‘cause he’s got some hair. Not like you and Geoffrey, though, you’ve got masses.”
Jonathan snorted. “Well we are nearly seventeen so we’ve had plenty of time to change and grow and you’ll be the same I’m sure.” He paused. “But you wanted to know about embarrassments.” He laughed again. “You see, when boys start to grow they wonder if everyone else is the same and then they notice, say, in the showers or when they’re changing for games, that some boys have more hair, or their thing seems bigger than theirs, so they feel embarrassed. But then their friends confess they feel the same so they realise it doesn’t really matter. That’s what happened with Geoff and me. But don’t tell him I’ve told you, though. Promise?” I nodded and Jonathan stroked my back. “When we went up to Skye we were both fourteen and he’s a bit older than me but I’d found out my friends at school were all growing and I didn’t care. Poor Geoff wasn’t sure. Being at a day school meant he didn’t see his friends all the time. He was dead scared the first night we were sharing. He undressed with his back to me and slipped his pyjamas on. I did what I did at school. Just took all my clothes off and got into bed. Poor Geoff blushed as I held the bedclothes up for him to get in beside me…
“Why was that?” I asked.
“…Because I was like yesterday after the shower. My ‘thing’, as you call it, had gone all stiff and hard and was standing to attention.” He chuckled. “It does that all of a sudden. Often when I don’t want it to.”
It struck me. That’s what he meant yesterday! He’d answered my question but not in the right way. I poked him in the back. “In the café yesterday? Did it happen there? And you couldn’t help it?”
He pulled me even closer. “Quite right, Cheeky! You’ve cottoned on very quickly. Boys can’t help it… …except in one way.” He said the last with another chuckle. What did he mean?
“Pete says it happens to him. He showed us one day and I’ve seen him some mornings ‘cause it sticks out of his pyjamas.”
Jonathan laughed. “Lucky boy. At his age? He’ll get used to it.”
He was laughing quietly but I wanted to know more about Geoffrey. “What about Geoffrey. Did he stopped being embarrassed?”
Jonathan laughed even more. “Very soon. I just asked him didn’t he get hard and he nodded and I tickled him and got his pyjamas off him and he was just the same.” His chest was heaving. “Not quite the same. It was my turn to be embarrassed. His was bigger than mine!” He tapped me on the back. “But I’ve grown since then and we’re just about the same now.”
“Are all boys the same?” I asked, “‘Cause we all look the same when we have showers, except for Arnold.” I thought for a moment then remembered what Arnold had said. “His looks bigger and he says his cousin in Big School is called Donkey Dong and Jack Pringle said he wasn’t to boast and wave his thing around ‘cause it was rude.”
I was making Jonathan laugh even more. “That’ll be Eddie Arnold,” he said giggling out loud. “True. Not all boys are the same and Eddie Arnold’s bigger than any I’ve seen and when you’re all showering together after Games you see plenty.” He stopped giggling. “You’ll get used to boys looking at you, but it’s important you don’t comment about others especially when you start to develop. Boys are very sensitive about their possessions and it’s not always the biggest lads who have most. I expect your young Arnold looks a bit bigger as he must be a year older than you and his brother is very hefty as well.”
“You and Geoffrey are big and you both seem to have lots.”
He tickled my back as he laughed. “Thank you, kind sir, for those words of encouragement, we both need the praise. No, only joking. We’re OK. Anyway, I think that’s enough explanations for this morning. Breakfast calls! I’m hungry! We’d better keep out of the way as Alistair’ll be arriving and we’re going to Gran’s for lunch.”
It was ‘all systems go’ as Mum said that morning. Mrs Grantly was busy preparing things for dinner and Molly was there Hoovering and dusting so Jonathan and I were told to make ourselves scarce as soon as we finished eating and not get under everybody’s feet. The girls were still in bed, or remarkably silent, and Jonathan said best to leave them alone. He said he’d better get some of the schoolwork done as Grandfather was going to check on it. He did seem a bit subdued and I was quiet as we sat in the bedroom, me reading, him thinking and writing until Mrs Grantly called up the stairs at eleven o’clock as there was some food for elevenses.
The girls were in the breakfast room when we got downstairs. They wanted to know what we were going to do after lunch. They weren’t bothered at not going to Gran’s with us as they were going tomorrow and had been invited to spend the rest of the day at Geoffrey’s chatting to his sisters, who I knew were about their age, and hoped he might be there, too. I saw the grin on Jonathan’s face. He mouthed at me so the girls couldn’t see, ‘Lucky Geoffrey!’.
He was still giggling when we went up to our room to make ourselves presentable as Mrs Grantly said as she’d lightly swatted Jonathan on his backside as he passed her on the way out of the breakfast room. I knew Mrs Grantly was very fond of Jonathan and she’d seen what he’d mouthed at me so it was only a friendly tap.
“Poor Geoffrey,” said Jonathan as he shut the door of the bedroom, “Those girls’ll rape him one day.” He sniggered. “Perhaps it wouldn’t be poor Geoffrey ‘cause I guess they wouldn’t get what they expected.”
I didn’t say anything. I’d read a report in the paper about some student being accused of raping a girl when she was drunk. I hadn’t dared ask what it all meant. I’d looked up ‘rape’ in the dictionary and it’d said it was unlawful sexual intercourse by force and there were other meanings, too. I guessed it was that one and not the one about a plant for oil. I had an idea what sexual intercourse was, of course after what Brigstock had said. I knew it was that other word for me not to use in public. But I didn’t know if I could ask Jonathan any more about that yet. I’d better not think it or I might say that other word without thinking though he had said it several times. Things of all sorts are confusing! Things?
“You’re quiet,” Jonathan said as he combed his hair in front of the mirror, “What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “Everything seems to be happening at once and I don’t understand it all.”
Jonathan put the comb down and came over to where I was standing. He smiled at me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Jamie,” he said with such a kind look on his face, “I’m here so just ask. I won’t be offended and, I promise, I won’t laugh at anything you ask. If I do laugh it’ll be because I had the same worries when I was your age and even now there are things I don’t understand. Come on, cheer up, we can talk as we walk to Gran’s.” He ruffled my hair and I felt safe and nice. Good job, though, I hadn’t combed my hair, yet.
On the way I asked him what ‘rape’ was. He said it wasn’t a nice subject to talk about and he’d only said it jokingly about the girls and Geoffrey. He did explain, and I understood, that it meant someone doing something to someone without their permission. He said he would tell me a bit more later for by that time we had arrived at Gran’s and I was starving.
I didn’t mind being kissed by Grandma Drummond. She always had a big smile and even Jonathan put his head down to her height to get a big kiss too.
“Where’s Alistair?” she asked, “I thought he was coming today?”
Jonathan shrugged. “I thought he was coming this afternoon. Are you expecting him for lunch?”
“I’ve laid a place for him as he said he’d be coming here as soon as the train got in.”
Jonathan seemed a bit miffed. I knew Alistair had upset everyone on holiday and I didn’t like to see Jonathan in a bad mood. Still, Alistair was her grandson as well. It was all a bit complicated as two brothers had married two sisters and I had to think carefully to work it all out. But, now there was nothing to worry about as we heard someone coming through from the garage. It was Grandpa.
“Huh, that smells good!” he announced as he stood in the doorway of the kitchen, “Better than where I’ve just come from having pulled out all those ninety-six teeth this morning.” He saw me looking at him and strode over to me. “Open your mouth young Jamie and let me see if you need any of my best treatment!”
Usual Grandpa greeting. I wrinkled my nose. I’d heard it a dozen times. I just looked at him.
“Hello, Grandpa,” I said as politely as I could, “I cleaned my teeth properly this morning and they’re all OK. You’d better examine Jonathan.”
I got a nudge from behind. “Hello, Grandpa,” Jonathan said, imitating me, “The young’un’s getting cheekier by the minute, and I bet you’ve spent all morning in the garage polishing the car.”
“My grandsons are just the same as ever,” he laughed, “Never take me seriously. Still, where’s the other one? Not like him to miss food. Anyway we can start without him. Let’s go through and sit down. Must make a visit first, though.” He disappeared up the corridor to the lav.
“I think his train was due in at twelve,” Gran said as we went through to the dining room, “So he’s probably walking up from the station.”
“Too mean to pay for the bus,” said Jonathan quietly. But Grandma had heard and laughed.
“A penny saved is a penny gained! And your cousin learned that early!”
I did know what he meant. Dad said his elder brother was as tight as a drum and knew where every penny came from and went to. Jonathan had said in Athens that Alistair was as tight as a duck’s arse, and that was watertight, because he never offered to pay for anything other than his own when we went out and had an ice cream or a Cola. I liked that saying about him and the duck and if Alistair annoyed me I might say it to him ‘cause I’d paid for us one day with the money Mum had given me. Alistair did say ‘thank you’ though.
We had all just sat down when the door bell rang. Jonathan was polite and went and opened it. It was Alistair. “Hallo, all,” he said as he finally came into the room having lumped down a suitcase and a big rucksack in the hall which I could just see. “Mustn’t keep you from your food.” Grandpa pointed to a chair and Alistair sat down. Jonathan said he’d just begun to salivate like Pavlov’s dogs and I wondered what dogs had to do with dinner. Dog’s dinner. I was getting in a real muddle. However, Alistair looked at Jonathan and me and smiled and gave us a thumb’s up sign. He seemed a lot more cheerful than when he was in Athens.
“Thank you for inviting me,” he said to Grandpa, “I ran out of food yesterday. My flatmate had gone home and I’d forgotten to stock up. Just had a cup-a-soup and a stale bap last night and an overripe banana this morning…”
“…So you’re starving?” said Jonathan. I wasn’t sure what tone of voice he was using. I didn’t want him to upset Grandma by saying something nasty to Alistair.
“…I’m starving, too!” I said as Grandma brought in and took the lid off a tureen of lovely smelling stew. “Yes, please,” I said as Grandpa laughed and put a great dollop of mashed potato on my plate and I nudged Jonathan as Granddad put an even bigger scoop of potato on his. “Growing boy!” I said and everyone laughed.
“You’re learning fast, Jamie,” Grandma said as she helped me to a great ladle of the stew, “Hope this is better than school slop. That’s what we called it when I was a girl.”
“Same at Kinloch, eh, Jonny?” said Alistair. Yes, I’d forgotten he’d been there as well and that was why Jonathan and I had gone there as Uncle Hamish recommended it and they also gave soldiers’ sons priority. Oh dear! And he’d called Jonathan ‘Jonny’. That spelt trouble. I’d heard him called Jonno yesterday and he didn’t seem to mind that but I’d seen him almost lose his temper a couple of times when he’d been teased by the girls in Greece and they called him Jonny or Jonnyboy. Oh, and Geoffrey had called him that but he didn’t seem to mind. He’d gone really red in the face those other times and even the girls shut up then. I didn’t know why, it all seemed so muddling, and I wouldn’t dare call him any of those names.
“Food’s OK at Kinloch now,” said Jonathan, very shortly.
I thought I’d better say something nice. “I like the sponge pudding with custard. My friend Peter and I always go up for a second helping. That is if Jack Pringle hasn’t got there first and helped himself.”
Alistair grinned at me. “Pringle. I know that name. Big Chris Pringle was in the year below me. His dad’s something to do with financing the oil rigs. There was another one coming up as well. Chris said he was as thick as two planks. So there’s another one as well!”
“Yes, Jack said he’d got an older brother in Big School. I like Jack. Pete and I help him with his prep.”
Jonathan snorted. “I don’t think anyone could help Ollie Pringle with his prep but he’s the best marksman in my squad and that’s good enough for me.”
“He’s a Sergeant now,” I said, pointing to Jonathan.
“Shut up!” Jonathan said quietly as Alistair grinned again and held up three fingers.