Authors: Trilby Kent
Barney sat through the remainder of the prize-giving with the trophy pressing heavily into his knees. By the time he stood up his legs prickled with pins and needles, and he had to hobble out of
the tent like a decorated veteran: broken though glorious. Barney didn’t mind. By the following term, his name would have appeared on the Games board as if etched by some divine hand: and
from that moment on, a shade of him would live there for ever.
The Medlar House boys made him King that night, to rule over the bacchanalian disorder that was the Topsy Turvy: an evening of inverted roles, of pranks on the masters and
shameless pelting of the prefects, of gorging on limitless tuck and forgoing every one of Matron’s twelve sacred Dormitory Rules. As if in a blissful dream, Barney sanctioned the
turning-forward of every clock in the school by one hour so that lessons the next day would be missed – then, egged on by Shields and Cowper, he ordained that the school be condemned to a
blackout, with only Lydians permitted candles by which to wreak their rightful havoc. Shadows were thrown down every corridor, warped and flickering so that from one end of the school to the other
it was impossible to tell what had created them. Like orphan shades dancing out of their parents’ reach, they made riddles of the rooms.
The kitchens were raided for pans to serve as tambourines, and in place of a gun salute, birch canes were removed from every classroom to be broken across desks with resounding cracks. They used
charcoal to make ghoulish masks of their faces and threw open the windows so that the glass hummed with echoes. There were no little girls dressed as foil-helmeted Britannia, but Cowper showed the
others how to make paper hats like the ones they’d had for the Coronation celebrations in his village, and these they wore on their rampage through the school. Again and again the chant went
Coatsworth, Comfrey, Curless,
Dockett and de Bock,
Frankland, Hess, the fine boy Just
Kors-Kingsley, Lennert, Loft,
Morrell, Overbay, Previn,
Potts and Savin next,
Standring, Thorup, Thrane and Voigt,
Voysey – then the rest:
Widdows, Williams, Wilbermere,
No more after those;
Their glory in our memory set
And day by day it grows.
Just as their energies seemed about to be spent, someone suggested that it was time for the bonfire, which the Sagartians – their slaves for the night – had already
been put to work constructing on the lower pitch.
“All hail, the King of Camden Town!” bellowed Cowper at the assembled seniors. “Kneel before him, knaves and wretches, and beg his mercy!” And Barney watched benevolently
as Ivor’s friend Potts, and Jordan-Smythe, who had come second in that day’s race, and Mattheson, who couldn’t pronounce his Rs, knelt before him on the cold grass.
Then the head boy handed Barney the torch for lighting the straw dummy that had been tied to the stake atop the bonfire: a stuffed pillowcase with a whorishly painted head and witch’s hat.
The junior boys let up screams of exhilarated bloodlust as the dummy was set alight, and as they danced about the flames they cast long shadows over the vast island plateau, transforming it into a
playground of dark spectres, a landscape of wandering lunatics.