Chapter no 16


IN THE EARLY AUTUMN of 1998, having completed my education at Ludgrove the previous spring, I entered Eton.

A profound shock.

The finest school in the world for boys, Eton was meant to be a shock, I think. Shock must’ve been part of its original charter, even perhaps a part of the instructions given to its first architects by the school’s founder, my ancestor Henry

VI. He deemed Eton some sort of holy shrine, a sacred temple, and to that end he wanted it to overwhelm the senses, so visitors would feel like meek, abased pilgrims.

In my case, mission accomplished.

(Henry even vested the school with priceless religious artifacts, including part of Jesus’s Crown of Thorns. One great poet called the place “Henry’s holy shade.”)

Over the centuries Eton’s mission had become somewhat less pious, but the curriculum had become more shockingly rigorous. There was a reason Eton now referred to itself not as a school but simply as…School. For those in the know, there simply was no other choice. Eighteen prime ministers had been molded in Eton’s classrooms, plus thirty-seven winners of the Victoria Cross. Heaven for brilliant boys, it could thus only be purgatory for one very unbrilliant boy.

The situation became undeniably obvious during my very first French lesson. I was astounded to hear the teacher conducting the entire class in rapid, nonstop French. He assumed, for some reason, that we were all fluent.

Maybe everyone else was. But me? Fluent? Because I did passably well on the entrance exam? Au contraire, mon ami!

Afterwards I went up to him, explained that there’d been a dreadful mistake and I was in the wrong class. He told me to relax, assured me I’d be up to speed in no time. He didn’t get it; he had faith in me. So I went to my housemaster, begged him to put me with the slower talkers, the more glacial learners, boys exactement comme moi.

He did as I asked. But it was a mere stopgap.

Once or twice I’d confess to a teacher or fellow student that I wasn’t merely in the wrong class but in the wrong location. I was in way, way over my head. They’d always say the same thing: Don’t worry, you’ll be all right. And don’t forget you always have your brother here!

But I wasn’t the one forgetting. Willy told me to pretend I didn’t know him.


You don’t know me, Harold. And I don’t know you.

For the last two years, he explained, Eton had been his sanctuary. No kid brother tagging along, pestering him with questions, pushing up on his social circle. He was forging his own life, and he wasn’t willing to give that up.

None of which was all that new. Willy always hated it when anyone made the mistake of thinking us a package deal. He loathed it when Mummy dressed us in the same outfits. (It didn’t help that her taste in children’s clothes ran to the extreme; we often looked like the twins from Alice in Wonderland.) I barely took notice. I didn’t care about clothes, mine or anyone else’s. So long as we weren’t wearing kilts, with that worrisome knife in your sock and that breeze up your arse,

I was good. But for Willy it was pure agony to wear the same blazer, the same tight shorts, as me. And now, to attend the same school, was pure murder.

I told him not to worry. I’ll forget I ever knew you.

But Eton wasn’t going to make that easy. Thinking to be helpful, they put us under the same bloody roof. Manor House.

At least I was on the ground floor.

Willy was way upstairs, with the older boys.

You'll Also Like