Chapter no 14


MR. MARSTON, while patrolling the dining room, often carried a little bell. It reminded me of the bell on the front desk of a hotel. Ding, have you a

room? He’d ring the bell whenever he wanted to get a group of boys’ attention. The sound was constant. And utterly pointless.

Abandoned children don’t care about a bell.

Frequently Mr. Marston would feel the need to make an announcement during meals. He’d begin speaking and no one would listen, or even lower their voice, so he’d ring his bell.


A hundred boys would keep on talking, laughing. He’d ring it harder.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Each time the bell failed to bring silence, Mr. Marston’s face would grow a shade redder. Fellas! Will you LISTEN?

No, was the simple answer. We would not. It wasn’t disrespect, however; it was simple acoustics. We couldn’t hear him. The hall was too cavernous, and we were too absorbed in our conversations.

He didn’t accept this. He seemed suspicious, as if our disregard of his bell was part of some greater coordinated plot. I don’t know about the others, but I was part of no plot. Also, I wasn’t disregarding him. Quite the contrary: I couldn’t take my eyes off the man. I often asked myself what an outsider might say if they could witness this spectacle, a hundred boys chatting away while a grown man stood before them frantically and uselessly abusing a tiny brass bell.

Adding to this general sense of bedlam was the psychiatric hospital down the road. Broadmoor. Some time before I came to Ludgrove, a Broadmoor patient had escaped and killed a child in one of the nearby villages. In response Broadmoor installed a warning siren, and now and then they’d test it, to make sure it was in working order. A sound like Doomsday. Mr. Marston’s bell on steroids.

I mentioned this to Pa one day. He nodded sagely. He’d recently visited a similar place as part of his charitable work. The patients were mostly gentle, he assured me, though one stood out. A little chap who claimed to be the Prince of Wales.

Pa said he’d wagged a finger at this impostor and severely reprimanded him.

Now look here. You cannot be the Prince of Wales! I’m the Prince of Wales.

The patient merely wagged his finger back. Impossible! I’m the Prince of Wales!

Pa liked telling stories, and this was one of the best in his repertoire. He’d always end with a burst of philosophizing: If this mental patient could be so thoroughly convinced of his identity, no less than Pa, it raised some very Big Questions indeed. Who could say which of us was sane? Who could be sure they weren’t the mental patient, hopelessly deluded, humored by friends and family? Who knows if I’m really the Prince of Wales? Who knows if I’m even your real father? Maybe your real father is in Broadmoor, darling boy!

He’d laugh and laugh, though it was a remarkably unfunny joke, given the rumor circulating just then that my actual father was one of Mummy’s former lovers: Major James Hewitt. One cause of this rumor was Major Hewitt’s flaming ginger hair, but another cause was sadism. Tabloid readers were delighted by the idea that the younger child of Prince Charles wasn’t the child of Prince Charles.

They couldn’t get enough of this “joke,” for some reason. Maybe it made them feel better about their lives that a young prince’s life was laughable.

Never mind that my mother didn’t meet Major Hewitt until long after I was born, the story was simply too good to drop. The press rehashed it, embroidered it, and there was even talk that some reporters were seeking my DNA to prove it— my first intimation that, after torturing my mother and sending her into hiding, they would soon be coming for me.

To this day nearly every biography of me, every longish profile in a paper or magazine, touches on Major Hewitt, treats the prospect of his paternity with some seriousness, including a description of the moment Pa finally sat me down for a proper heart-to-heart, reassuring me that Major Hewitt wasn’t my real father. Vivid scene, poignant, moving, and wholly made up. If Pa had any thoughts about Major Hewitt, he kept them to himself.

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