It was an ordinary house, he thought, an ugly house, nothing to boast of. But the idea that it was his, the idea of a family history, pleased him.
He stretched out his hand, put his finger under the head of the pin and slid it up, out of the thick, striped body. At once, the whole moth, already years dead, disintegrated, collapsing into a soft, formless heap of dark dust.
Hooper said nothing. He threw the photograph down into the suitcase and walked back to the window. Kingshaw knew that he had won, but he did not feel the winner; Hooper had conceded him nothing.
Perhaps I should strike him, Joseph Hooper thought, for speaking to me in that way, perhaps it is very foolish to let him get the upper hand, to allow such insolence. I do not like his supercilious expression. I should assert myself. But he knew that he would not. He deliberated too long, and then it could not be done.
He imagined the furry body of the moth against the pads of Hooper's fingers. He was ashamed of being so afraid, and could not help it, he only wanted to get out, to stop having to see the terrible moths. Hooper watched him. There was a moment when they both stood, quite still, waiting. Then, Hooper whipped around and pushed past Kingshaw without warning he was out of the door, turning the key sharply in the lock. After a moment, his footsteps went away down the hall. A door closed somewhere.
They were gratified with one another, and with this new arrangement of their lives, and so it was easy to say, 'How well the boys have settled down together! How nice to see them enjoying themselves! How good it is for them not to be alone!' For they talked at length about their children, knowing nothing of the truth.
Very deliberately, Kingshaw inserted his forefingers under the string, and pulled the satchel off his back. He untied his anorak from it, and spread it out on the ground, and then sat down. Hooper stood above him, his eyes flicking about nervously, his face as pale as his limbs in the dim light.
Hooper sighed. 'Look, when you're breathing, you're alive aren't you? Everything is. And when you stop breathing, your heart stops, and then you're dead.'
Kingshaw hesitated, worried about it, uncertain how to argue.
Hooper's eyes opened very wide. 'I suppose you don't believe all that guff about souls and ghosts and everything, do you?'
‘When you're dead you're dead, you're finished.'
'Look . . . you can see.' Hooper poked his finger at the rabbit' Its head flopped heavily sideways.
'It's dead’ he said.
Kingshaw stared at it miserably. He could not think clearly. What Hooper said must be true, and yet he knew that it was not true.
Kingshaw knew that he was the loser. His momentary burst of exultation, and his feeling of superiority over Hooper counted for nothing, they were always short-lived. It was really only a question of which of them walked in front, for a while. Kingshaw was used to lacking any confidence in himself, to knowing that he could do nothing very well. Until now, he had not much cared he'd got by. Now, he cared, his pride had risen, he could no longer be docile about himself. Everything was unfair.
He hated his mother more than anybody, more even than Hooper, now. He had a terrible twisted-up feeling in his belly, because of it. Now, Hooper knew. 'There are things I see that you don't.'
There wasn't anything he could do. Except get away. It was his father’s fault, really, because his dying had been the start of it all, the not having enough money, and living in other people's houses.
Oh, don't, don’t . . . Mummy! Mummy! Mummy! . . .'His voice rose suddenly to a scream, and he sat up, still asleep, drumming his legs. His eyes were screwed tight shut. 'Mummy! Mummy! Mummy! . . .'
‘I want an aspirin. My head hurts again.'
'You shall have one, dear.' Mrs Helena Kingshaw jumped up. I shall not make a favourite of my own child, she thought, especially when all the blame for this lies with him.
Last year, someone had been strangled to death twenty miles away. Hooper had told him that. Twenty miles wasn't far.
He imagined tramps and murderers, and the cowman at Barr Farm, with bad teeth and hands like raw red meat. Anybody might have been hanging about behind the shed, and locked him in. Later, they might come back.
'I'm Head of Dorm for next term.'
Kingshaw went cold. He knew that it was sure to be true, and that it would be the worst of all things that were coming. Hooper had power now, here. He would have power there, too, then.
I am the King, I am the King, there is nothing I can't ask him for, nothing he won't promise me, nothing I can't do to him. Up here, I'm the King.
But he had learned enough, over the past few weeks, to know that any power he acquired would only be temporary. Like the thunderstorm in the wood, and the time when Hooper had fallen into the water and bashed his head, and then when he had had the nightmares. As soon as the situation had changed, everything went back to what Kingshaw had come to think of as normal.
But he did not think it likely that he could ever be believed, nothing could change, because he had meant what he thought and said about Hooper, and still meant it. It was only being afraid of this empty church, and of the white marble warrior lying on his tombstone in the side chapel, that made him kneel down and tell lies. It was no good. He had wanted Hooper to be dead, because then things would have been better. His punishment was that Hooper was not dead, that everything was the same, and the thought of that was worse than anything. He acknowledged that he feared Hooper more than he feared anything in the world.
Kingshaw thought, he knows everybody and they know him. He lives here, and I live here, now, but I don't know anyone or anything, except Mrs Boland and the woman at the post office. Hooper doesn't know anybody, either, we might as well be on the moon. He thought of Warings, surrounded by the high hedge, dark and inaccessible. All the time, this other boy had been watching, aware of him.
Kingshaw nodded, numb before this battery of experience, bewildered by so many sights and smells and terrible truths, but still willing to be led by Fielding, to be shown everything at once.
His terror of Crawford had been absolute. Afterwards, he had not dared to tell anyone. Hooper wasn't like Crawford, the things he did were different, his threats were in many ways worse. His reign was one of terror, Crawford's had been one of simple brutality.
No, I don't know, nothing is really settled, Enid. I have not quite made up my mind about the future.’ For she was anxious that Mr Hooper should hear her, anxious for him to know that she retained her pride. If there were any decisions to be made, then, he should be the one . . .
Now, Mr Hooper sat and thought about Mrs Helena Kingshaw, in this house, in the room upstairs, thought of the pleasure of her company, the pride and satisfaction it gave him to see how relieved she was to be here. And there was the way that she looked at him, he recognized something of his own need, there was something . . . He undressed. He thought with excitement that a physical marriage to Mrs Kingshaw would not be like what he had had with Ellen, for Mrs Kingshaw would answer to him, without the niceties and the restraints, she would bridge the gap between fantasy and life.
From the doorway, watching them, Kingshaw thought, Hooper believes him, he isn't going to make him open the case and put his hand on one, he isn't going to make him prove it, he just believes him. That's the way Fielding is, that's the way you should be, It had been different with him. Hooper had known, from the very first moment he had looked into Fielding’s face, that it would all be easy, that he would always be able to make him afraid. Why, thought Kingshaw, why? His eyes suddenly pricked with tears, at the unfairness of it. WHY?
'Something will happen to you, Kingshaw.'
The letters were printed in thick, black felt pen, and under- lined again and again. In spite of the fear that had gone on and on for so long, it was suddenly worse again now, as he read Hooper’s message, it darted through like a fresh toothache, and he screwed up the paper and sent it as far away from him as he could across the room, and then flung himself into his bed, pushing his face under the covers and trembling.
The nightmares began.
For a second, he hesitated, part of his mind starting to come awake. And then he thought of everything, of what else would happen, he thought of the things Hooper had done and what he was going to do, of the new school and the wedding of his mother. He began to splash and stumble forwards, into the middle of the stream, where the water was deepest. When it had reached up to his thighs, he lay down slowly and put his face full into it and breathed in a long, careful breath.
When he saw Kingshaw’s body, upside down in the water, Hooper thought suddenly, it was because of me, I did that, it was because of me, and a spurt of triumph went through him.