This book is the second of a series (following Trubshaw's Ghost)
It was now my second term as a nineteen-year-old schoolmaster at Melton Hall Preparatory School for Boys.
You are right to wonder how one can be a schoolmaster at so young an age. The reason is simply that at a school like this the headmaster can employ whomever he wishes to, qualified or not. As the war had ended only five years ago, the country still needed a large army, and so every eighteen-year-old was liable for National Service.
I had applied for a place at the smallest college in Cambridge in two years' time, and had been granted that place. This would have suited me perfectly, with two years' National Service to do.
Then I found that the army had got their medicals all muddled, and that I was actually excused my service time. But it proved to be impossible for the college to vary their admissions, so I had to find something to do for two years.
Following my father's advice I had looked for a job at a prep school, and that is how I ended up here. I am officially in charge of all games, and I teach a class of the youngest boys, all eight years of age at the beginning of the school year.
I really needed lots of help to get the hang of teaching boys of this age, and the Headmaster, Mr. Walker, supplied that admirably. Teaching the older boys to play a decent game of rugby was a joy, and although I was effectively on duty full time, seven days a week, I have to admit that I was enjoying my life as a young and very inexperienced schoolmaster.
I had spent the Christmas holidays at home with my family, as my salary was a pittance, little more than pocket money. It was all right in term time, as I was fed and accommodated by the school. And with nothing to spend my money on during term time, the lack of funds was tolerable.
The boys were largely kind enough to treat me as if I was a real schoolmaster, but with my colleagues it was rather a different matter.
Our staff common room had comfortable seats for five men, and I was the displaced sixth person. If any boy came to the door, on which was the notice 'Knock and Wait', I was expected, as the junior member of the staff, to go and see who it was and what they wanted.
The other 'down' of the staff room was the barrage of tobacco smoke. Only one of my five colleagues, the Chaplain, did not smoke a pipe. The other four smoked continually, whenever they were in our common room, since it would have been wrong to smoke in the classrooms.
During my first term there, the common room chat had often focused on an eleven year old new boy, by name of Trubshaw. Usually boys joined the school at the age of eight, and of course moved on to their senior school at thirteen or fourteen. But Trubshaw had been educated at home by his father, a Cambridge professor. His father apparently believed in learning but not teaching, but also recognised that his son needed the social education of mixing with boys of his own age.
Trubshaw had proved to be something of a mixed blessing. He was incredibly smart. Within weeks, in our midst, he had been given the nickname 'Trouble' by some of us. The best example of his acute mind was related to us by the Maths teacher, Mr. Peale. He told us how he had given the Fourth Form a mental arithmetic exercise. They were to add up in their minds all the numbers from one to one-hundred. They were forbidden to write down anything until they could write down the answer. I know this would have given me a huge problem. How to keep track of where you were in the exercise as you added the next number to the total in your mind. Anyway, as Peale narrated the incident, within a few seconds Trouble had written something down, and Peale had naturally thought he was disobeying the instruction not to write down any preliminary numbers. He had rebuked him for disobedience, only to be told that the boy had actually written down the full total. And, entirely to Peale's surprise, it was the right answer.
We all asked Peale to explain how he had done this. The answer was simple enough. The boy had not added up the numbers in sequence. He had divided them all into pairs: one plus ninety-nine, two plus ninety-eight, three plus ninety-seven, and so on up to forty-nine plus fifty-one. So forty-nine hundreds, plus the one-hundred itself, giving an easy fix at five thousand, plus the missing fifty, provides a quick and easy total of five thousand and fifty. Even I could see that once you had spotted the simple short-cut, you could easily get the answer in a few seconds.
What could we simple folk do with an eleven year old mind like this? And how could we stretch him adequately?
The discussion had reached the conclusion that the Chaplain would take him for extra work, and teach him, all on his own, New Testament Greek. Apparently the boy's father had already let the boy learn Latin by simply giving him the Latin text of St. John's gospel, a Latin dictionary and grammar book, and let him work out the rest.
The Chaplain is in many ways the boy's biggest defender. He is not as old as the other teachers, and was an army chaplain during the war. He is responsible for Latin as well as, rather obviously, Scripture. He spends a great deal of time alone with the boy, giving him these extra lessons, and I guess they talk a great deal more about issues outside the mere learning of Greek.
Marsden, who teaches French, says he is sure that Trouble is the only boy who actually understands him. His teaching method is to say nothing, ever, in English to the boys. He converses continually in French. According to Marsden, Trouble has the advantage of frequent holidays in France, and that is how he excels.
Newberry, who teaches English, says that Trubshaw is the only responsive member of his English lessons, and never refers to him as Trouble. Newberry likes to present his boys with lots of poetry, and apparently only Trubshaw ever shows any pleasure in the poems Newberry offers them.
The final member of the staff room quartet of older men, and they are all in the late fifties or early sixties, is Mitchell, and he teaches History and Geography. He is rather taciturn, and I have not yet heard very much from him about Trubshaw. The only clue I have is that he does not refer to him as Trouble.