The Boy With A Thorn In His Side
“Behind the most hateful scowl lives the most ardent desire for love.”
In many ways I was most fortunate in my privilege.
A preposterous comment to a common understanding, I am sure, but not so incredible to those of us in my class who have been exposed to certain experiences. One might consider these experiences traumas. Many of my fellows at Oxford passed these tales to me in certain confidence. I only break this confidence now in these pages because those for whom I held this confidence have all finally passed beyond caring.
To the hungry families that once rotted in the filth of Victorian London slums the humble sufferings of the Highborn could have been considered a cynical joke of highest diversion. This would have been a valid assertion had they known the goings on in places like Eton and Harrow. But, such things were kept dark secrets by those that experienced them. A device of privilege more binding than one’s signet ring was the secret shame shared by my suffering contemporaries.
‘Fagging’ was popular in those days. I understand that it is still. This was a process by which a lower classman would be subservient to an upper classman as a sign of ‘respect’ for the latter’s ’eminent’ seniority. It was also a license for certain sociopaths to make ‘sport’ of those they figured were too weak to stop them. No, honour is not ingrained into men by blood or atmosphere. It is a lesson taught but it was not a lesson taught at the schools of Eton, not by any road.
A particular favourite ‘service’ afforded upper classmen by lower classmen was sex. Freely given or freely taken, it was all the same. The younger ones serviced the older ones by whatever perverse means they were made to and often it would end in injury to the young ones. The medical staff were past masters at relieving the pain of internal rending brought about by rough ‘play’. No one asked questions. No one dared!
When I was finally sent away to college, Eton was my father’s choice as opposed to Harrow. Nearly all members in the Peerage of England attended Eton at some point in their education. It was necessary to enter Society. A Right of Passage that Gentlemen and Lords were all made to walk under Victoria’s rein. Perhaps it had a certain wisdom imbued into the ancient structure of this particular institution.
Eton was, if anything, a study in humility.
To be sure, as I alluded to before, there were those that learned hubris as opposed to humility. The particularly elite members of this order were the older prefects who were given power to administer punishment under the direction of a boy’s house master. They often abused their powers but in turn created new beasts by their viciousness to replace them as they moved on to University. It necessarily continued the beastly culture generation by generation. It is a wonder we have not descended into basest savagery the lot of us. Perhaps we have and we are merely playing games with our perceptions.
In any case, when I entered as a New Boy I came with two excellent attributes that helped me survive my time at Eton. Firstly, I was a marquess by courtesy of a high house which afforded me a certain level of protection by my particular house master and his prefects. Though there was quite a levelling of class at Eton with wealthy banker’s sons taking schools with princes with one usually having wealth and the other having only a title, I was provided with both a title AND wealth.
My father’s business acumen was as keen as any Accountant Suisse. His holdings existed in land, stocks, gold, silver, and, more interestingly still, steam technology. He was a benefactor for the makers of steam locomotives and owned shares in their making. This afforded the Duke of Buckingham a tidy sum that would have turned the head of a Rockefeller in New York.
Upon this point my father was obsessed. His only love left in the world it seemed was technology. One of his favourite pastimes was studying the plans for new and upcoming feats of engineering. The minutia of every mechanical detail thrilled him to no end. It was a simple thing to deflect my father from another stern and terse conversation regarding my defects. All I needed to do was ask about a new what-have-you thing-ama-bob. He would brighten as if it were Christmas morning and begin pouring over every clockwork marvel of said thing-ama-bob with me. It was…perhaps the only thing of any joy we shared. I cared little for the things he showed me, but I cherished the small moments like this that we shared. Alas, my father’s overviews would come to a halt as soon as I made any sign that I was at a loss or disinterested. Then it was back to the stern coldness. Another moment lost.
It was absurd of me to think it at that time but I often wished I had been constructed as a machine rather than born from a womb. A machine in the shape of a boy but all tic-tock clockworks inside rather than flesh and blood. Perhaps if I had been such a marvel…my father would have loved me then. But such were the musings of an unloved child.
It is such a thorn in one’s side to endure. To want to be loved only to be unloved, no matter how hard one tries to earn that love.
But I digress, suffice it to say that my father was a paragon of the only two English virtues that had any meaning at Eton: my father was entitled and he was very rich which made him immensely powerful. I was left alone to my studies and games for the most part.
My second attribute was my latent homosexuality. This became a great boon to me at Eton. I was able to trade favours for protection and yet enjoy the trade. My enthusiasm earned me the beloved title “The Marchioness of Manor House.”
My time with Lucas had this unintended benefit but I can say with all assurances none of the boys at Eton were ever a qualitative match for him. Lucas, a common simple ‘peasant’, had more grace and beauty than any of the ‘gentlemen’ at Eton. I feel that if he and I had been born in a different time we would have both founded houses of great lineage. Lucas was, in the singular humour of his noble blood, the very heir to all that makes Britain great.
Not to say that there weren’t some incredibly beautiful boys among my classmates because there certainly were. But, for some reason, they lacked the gentleness completed with a sturdy vigour that can only come from a lifetime of hard work. Very few had ever worked a day in their lives with their hands and feet. I am assured of this most profoundly. I could see it in their study habits or rather their lack thereof. They hardly worked at all at apprehending all that they could apprehend. They did the bare minimum necessary to pass the exams and I do not think the Masters graded at all fairly.
I, for instance, was assured high marks even if I did nothing at all simply because my father was a Duke and, as said before, a rich one at that. I am sure I shirked my duty as a student sometimes more than others, but I did always try. I wanted to know all I could. My mind was hungry for knowledge of the world. Being a prisoner in a gilded cage had isolated me terribly. I was amazed at the world and how very grand it was and I was determined in my thirteen year old mind that I should visit ever corner of the Empress’s Empire before I marry.
But, my compatriots were far too dull to think beyond their next rugby match, cricket match, polo, golfing, or pudding for that matter. Centuries of inbreeding must have taken their toll, poor dears. I must say, I have no idea how I escaped becoming such a dullard myself. Perhaps I flatter myself overmuch.
I found myself a resident of the various libraries around the College. My own at Manor House was mostly dedicated to law, French, royal and noble histories, dialectics, debate, speeches, and etiquette. There were other volumes scattered about that spoke to other things, but for the most part our own house library was assembled for the use of future members of Parliament and the legal profession. I quickly grew bored with these tired ramblings and went out on hunts to capture juicier intellectual prey.
This was where I attracted the attention of a particular prefect. His name was William Channing and he fancied me greatly. He was sixteen and quite a bit bigger than I was as he was a Forward on the rugby team and he was built like a greek god. He had strawberry blonde hair, bright green eyes, and a smile that could light up London. He was, what is the new word the girls in America use? Ah yes! A ‘hunk’!
I was browsing the library at Baldwin’s Bec, a place where most persons of Manor House did not go at the time, generally. But, the intrepid little explorer that I was went browsing there and, naturally, ran into trouble. There was a group of upperclassmen that liked to haunt the library for ‘fun’. I looked like ‘fun’ and they decided to make sport of me. They did not know who I was or the fact that they could all be thrown out of Eton for merely touching me, but that does not a wit of good when one is cornered by four large boys with designs upon you.
I knew better than to struggle so I allowed them to partially undress me expecting that I would become fully exposed to their pawing before long. Thankfully they were somewhat gentle about it when they found that I yielded to them. One even made mention of the ‘Marchioness’ moniker that I had earned for myself. I did not know if this would have saved me perhaps. I had never ‘played’ with four large boys at once before.
Just before I was made entirely nude as the day I was born I heard a deep bark come echoing down the aisle in which I had been cornered. It roughly translated into ‘Oi, what’s all this now?’. I realise now that it was a Cheapside accent I was hearing but moderated with diction training thanks to Eton’s diction master. Not unlike my lovely Lucas, this boy too was common.
My ‘suitors’ scattered to the four winds at the hearing of that resonant voice. William, or ‘Will’ as I would come to know him later, came and towered over me, hands on hips. I figured he would be my ‘playmate’ next. I felt at the time I could better handle four medium sized boys over this one giant of a boy. I saw his prefect devices upon his mantle and figured he would be powerful enough to murder me and no one would blink. This was where I became mortally afraid.
“Aww, why are you all a tremble for, Your Grace. I just rescued you from those four loathsome brutes! How could I mean you any harm, hey?” he nodded a quick bow to me and then with utmost gentleness the strawberry giant gingerly helped me back on with my uniform with a cordial “If I may, Your Grace.”
I was fortunate that they had not ripped it. It was rumpled and wrinkled to be sure and the House Dame would later speak to me regarding my untidiness. But, no harm was done. What was more agreeable was that I had a new friend to ‘play’ with.
Will was an exceptional playmate. He was no Lucas, but he did very well. Under his wing I learned to enjoy rugby, or at least the viewing of it. I have always been too slight of frame for the game even as a fleet-of-foot Back.
We ‘played’ one evening in his room which, as a prefect, he shared with no one. We ‘played’ so well together that night that William, I believe, built an infatuation with me. I dare not say ‘love’ as I know this emotion and it is not the same.
I was quite taken with him as well and we spent quite a bit of time together before he graduated. No one dared bother me twice over now that I was ‘special’ friends with the leading Forward of the rugby team. We made Eton a time of boyish joy together. He even kissed me once or was it twice? I’d even connived the situation to where Will could become my ‘tutor’ in golf. So, as Will was a senior prefect, our relationship was cemented and blessed by the Head Master.
Behind our backs we were called His and Her Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Baldwin’s Bec. It was said in a hush though…no one wanted to gain the ‘Prince’s’ ire.
I figured I’d see him at Oxford upon my commencement, but that was not to be. Will returned home and took over his father’s meat cutting business in Cheapside after his father fell ill.
Alas, another thorn in the side of a boy struggling through a big and confusing world. My remaining years at Eton were uneventful but lonely without Will. I lost my Marchioness moniker after a while. I became prefect of my House in my class seniority and I made it a point to follow my ‘Prince’s’ lead and protect the young ones from the older ones where I could. I was fairly effective at it as the Masters actually did listen to me and implement what I suggested in regards to student safety and enhancement.
As for Will, he is a very wealthy man now and a good friend still. We often reminisce about our time at Eton. The Lords and Ladies of the Peerage often look askance at me as I make my way to a certain pub on Cheapside every Thursday and take luncheon in a humble pub two doors down from Channing Meats Wholesale. I find it amusing now as I walk Cheapside that I see banks and financial centres rise about where once meat packers held reign and yet Mr. Channing remains where others have gone. Will…was always a shrewd one.
I graduated from Eton and took up classes at Oxford in laws and letters. It was while I attended Oxford that I met the one who would redefine my world entire.
On a trip from Oxford to London on a train it was there that I beheld…beauty incarnate in may understanding of such.
Adrien sat quietly in a slate grey morning suit cut in the continental style with a silk French blue ascot at his collar. He rather looked too elegant to be sitting there among the more dully attired English gentry with their tweeds and dark colours. The effect was that he looked all together foreign and out of place not unlike a rare tropical butterfly blown too far north to settle in your rose garden.
He was slowly eating a lovely bag of chips. He was doing so ‘wrongly’ of course. He’d managed to come by some mayonnaise to dip them in. He was looking out upon the English countryside with a wistfully vacant expression that was perhaps the most beautiful thing I had ever beheld in all my brief years up to that point in my life.
Adrien had pale skin touched with rose on the cheeks and on the tip of his rather prominent Roman nose. He had a very well defined jawline and a strong chin complete with a perfect little cleft. Not too deep of a cleft, just the proper definition of one. Despite having recently shaved with obvious fastidiousness he retained a slight shadow of his beard under his skin. It lent further definition to his beauty that was ever so manly. Unlike many Frenchmen of the time Adrien never cared for moustaches. He always kept himself as clean shaven as a Roman soldier.
He had beautiful dark auburn hair. The kind that is dark brown but slightly red when it catches the light just right. It was coiffed in a handsome European style that would seem overworked by an English gentleman’s standards given our Victorian aversion to overtly outward signs of personal vanity. But for Adrien, it was perfect. His hair was so thick and lustrous that to leave it unattended would have been a great sin, in my estimation.
But…it was his eyes that transfixed me. A deep soulful hazel-brown that shined one moment and then dimmed to mysterious depths upon another. I liken them now to deeply cut topazes and I can see them shining as clearly now in my mind’s eye as I did then…so long ago now.
I dared to wonder what thoughts he was having behind those gleaming eyes. They would be in French, of course, which would lend a touch of reason to the deeply contemplative gaze with which Adrien surveyed my homeland. In the French, nuances of feeling can be expressed that do not exist in my own native tongue. As beautiful as the English Language is, it was never built upon subtly of feeling. French was.
As if he could sense my prying Adrien blinked once with his lovely long lashes and glanced in my direction. Stunned, I found I could not look away from those hypnotically bright golden brown eyes. His eyes held me captive for moments that seemed lifetimes and then he looked back down into the chips in his lap, took one and put it into his mouth rather slowly.
He looked back up at me while lazily munching and then resumed his review of the English countryside. One glance back at me and I saw the slight crease of a smile at the corner of his eyes. This softened the core of my being and turned it into melted butter.
Such subtlety I would learn to love more than life with my Adrien. A mere change in the crease in his forehead would speak volumes to me.
With one look he had pulled the thorn from my side and I was in the presence of love in its purest form.
I knew then that I had loved Adrien all my life, even though I’d never met him before. I’d loved him because I knew the idea of him existed and perhaps because I somehow knew his soul was searching for mine since birth.
I am an English gentleman and even at that young of an age I was not given to flights of fancy. My career at Eton had jaded me to sex somewhat. So what I was feeling then with Adrien was something far more than sexual infatuation.
I loved him…and I knew he somehow loved me also.