A boy took everything out of his trunk, the shirts and underthings his mother and grandmother had so carefully made, and hurled them through the window into the muddy yard three flights below. A man in a billowing black gown caught Rooke painfully by the ear and hit him with a cane when he tried to say that he had not done it. A big boy sat him up on a high wall out behind the kitchens and poked him with a stick until he was forced to jump down.
His ankle still hurt from the fall, but that was not the pain at his heart.
His attic in Church Street wrapped its corners and angles around him, the shape of his own odd self. At the Academy, the cold space of the bleak dormitory sucked out his spirit and left a shell behind.
Walking from the Academy back to Church Street every Saturday evening to spend Sunday at home was a journey between one world and another that wrenched him out of shape each time. His mother and father were so proud, so warm with pleasure that their clever son had been singled out, that he could not tell them how he felt. His grandmother might have understood, but he could not find the words to tell even her how he had lost himself.
When it came time for him to walk back, Anne held his hand with both hers, pulling at him with all her child’s weight and crying for him to stay. She was not yet five, but somehow knew that he longed to remain anchored in the hallway. His father peeled her fingers away one by one and shooed him out the door, waving and smiling, so that Rooke had to wave too and put a grin on his face. All the way up the street he could hear Anne wailing, and his nan trying to comfort her.
Many great men had received their educations at the Academy, but no one there was excited by the numbers he learned to call primes. Nor were they interested when he showed them the notebook where he was trying to work the square root of two, or how you could play with pi and arrive at surprising results.
Rooke learned at last that true cleverness was to hide such thoughts. They became a kind of shame, a secret thing to be indulged only in private.
Conversation was a problem he could not solve. If no answer seemed necessary to a remark, he said nothing. Before he learned, he had unwittingly rebuffed several overtures.
Then it was too late.
At other times he talked too much. In response to some remark about the weather, he might wax enthusiastic about the distribution of rainfall in Portsmouth. He would share the fact that he had been keeping a record of it, that he had a jar on the windowsill on which he had scratched calibrations, of course when he was home on Sundays he took the jar with him, but the windowsill there was somewhat more exposed to the prevailing south-westerly wind than the one at the Academy and therefore got more rain. By this time whoever had commented on it being a fine day was sidling away.
He yearned to be a more ordinary sort of good fellow, but was helpless to be other than he was.
He came to hate the boastful cupola on the roof of the Academy, its proud golden globe, hated the white stone corners that hemmed in the bricks of the façade. The portico of the main doorway seemed too narrow for its grandiose columns and its miniature pediment, the door tiny in the middle like a face with eyes too close together.
Reluctantly approaching the place after a Sunday at home, still feeling Anne’s hands pulling at him, Rooke would look up at the second floor where the rich boys had their rooms. If the curtains were open on the left-hand window, it meant that Lancelot Percival James, the son of the Earl of Bedwick, was in. A plump booming slow-witted boy, he had no time for a schoolfellow whose father was nothing more than a clerk and whose home did not have proper servants, only a maidof- all-work. Even boys who fawned on Lancelot Percival were tired of hearing about his butler, his cook, his many maids and footmen, not to mention the sundry grooms and gardeners who took care of the estate, and the gamekeeper who protected the earl’s pheasants from those who might try to help themselves.
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