THE MUSIC TEACHER – PART 3
At the end of the lesson, he stood up and said “thank you, Miss” and left and do you know, except for glimpses of him in the playground and on the corridor that was the last I saw of him. He did not turn up for anymore lessons, I reported it to Mr Frost and all he could say was that boys were like that and that he would have a word but I do not think he ever did. I did enquire off other staff as to how he was progressing and all they could say was what a brilliant boy he was, but recently had gone off the boil and his work had deteriorated tremendously. They weren’t there to revive a spark and boys are like that.
It was all so much out of my control, I decided to cast the problem out of my mind, there was so many other things happening and after all Monsignor Duggan was supposed to be looking after pastoral care and it seems like he was the culprit with his excessive punishment.
I have never met the Rector, I do not know what he is like as a person and he certainly did not want to introduce himself to me. Fr Burke, the Prefect of Studies, gave me that sardonic half smile of his whenever we passed but he also seemed to want to keep his distance, leaving all communication to Mr Frost.
The Staff Room was on the main staircase at first floor level, near to the Rectors office and the Prefect of Discipline’s, it is a place I rarely go to these days mainly because it was full of men with their ensuing smells of tobacco and lack of hygiene and mainly the atmosphere. It was a long broad room with bookshelves lining all walls, a big bay window at one end overlooking Alexandra Park and three side windows letting in light from the south over the Cenacle Convent next door. In the middle of the room was a snooker or billiards table, I cannot tell the difference, where some of the younger teachers played silently in their lunch break if Monsignor Duggan was not there. In the bay window were two armchairs which nobody sat in except for the Rector and Fr Burke. There was various other chairs scattered about in front of the bookshelves but nobody sat on them, they were piled high with exercise books from various classes, arranged in no particular order, there must have been a system but it was beyond me, unless a particular teacher had lien over a particular chair but there were far more teachers than chairs and I just let it ride like so many other things at this strange establishment. The overriding sensation as you entered was the dense clouds of smoke from various pipes and cigarettes and that awful odour of the unwashed I had discovered on my first day. There was little conversation, just huddled whispers and if the Rector was in attendance it seemed there was an invisible partition across the room at the end of the billiards table, nobody went up that end and if the Rector was there so was Fr Burke. He seemed to act as a shield, a go between for the rector and staff. If the Rector wanted information off a teacher, Fr Burke used to walk the length of the room, pull the master to one side, whisper something in his ear, wait for the reply, then amble back to the Boss as I sometimes heard him called. It was all very strange and disconcerting, certainly to the new me but it was kind of obvious that there was not much love lost between the two camps which made me, I suppose, feel a little better. Unfortunately you could not engage these men in conversation, everything was conducted in segregation and whispers.
The staff in the main were older men, as old as my father and older and with none of his vitality. They had nothing in common with me and acted like it. There were a few slightly older than me but under 30 years of age. A young assistant PE teacher who thought himself God’s gift, a Classics teacher out of Cambridge who was that snooty, he found his own company trying and an English teacher with remarkably good manners, very quiet, very studious and very shy who seemed to speak in riddles most of the time. His sentences were like crossword clues, you had to start concentrating before he opened his mouth but at least he talked to me. Of the priests, there were quite a few young ones, they kept themselves to themselves in the main and did not haunt the staffroom, especially if the rector was there. They seemed, the young priests that is, not as well qualified as the lay teachers and certainly they found it difficult to speak to me, a female. One of them, Fr John Rigby, the Prefect of Discipline, would make many a female heart flutter, 6’ 0” tall and broadly built, a true athlete, with an attractive broken nose from his time on the rugby field, I was told; but when I remembered what his day job was, my thoughts soon kept my emotions in check.
I spent most of my spare time at the school in the Practise Room or in the Music Room on Gordon’s Brodmann. He had told me to play away on it if he was not teaching, I think he liked my playing and would often come and sit in the room for ten minutes or so pretending to mark exercise books but I could feel he was at one with my music and if the truth was known, I enjoyed entertaining him. I had at least one friend, one ally, if needed.( a musical interlude *)
Round this time strange things started to happen, at least strange to me who had only been there for a few months but these events must have happened before, at least by the staff’s reaction or indeed lack of reaction. Boys started not coming in to school, one minute they were there, next they were gone, never to be seen again. The whisper round the staff was that these boys could not make the grade and therefore the Rector had passed them on to a lower level of education in another school. I knew this could not be true as I had taught some of them and they had all seemed highly intelligent and willing to learn and none that I knew were unworthy of the school. One boy I had met was in the cream of his year, a day boy, but he stood out for his ability. He just took off one day and never went home for a week. His mother was at the school crying not knowing what to do and then he came back home but he would not stay at the school and would not discuss it with the staff or his mother. Very strange and the rumour went round that there was some domestic issues at play. He was certainly a great loss to the school as were they all, all intelligent boys.
As I said I had taught several of them and they had all seemed to have it and were willing to learn and none that I knew were unworthy of the school. However in trying to analyse this strange business, they all or at least those I knew, seemed to come from poor parishes. However I cast that thought out of my mind, as Monsignor Duggan had often said in the Baeda, the school magazine, that the rich and poor were treated no differently, they were all God’s family and after all he had interviewed them and handpicked them himself only a couple of years previously.
Another couple of weeks went by and then calamity, one of my junior choir was found dead. I could not cope with the news, I tried to get through my classes that day but couldn’t, I was just heart-broken by the tragedy. Anthony had been such a lovely lad, with I remember a great gift for languages, he always liked using his German and French in my music classes, out of fun more than anything. I remembered that he did not have many friends, he was a little remote, but a nice lad and a very reasonable voice which had unfortunately showed signs of breaking lately. Anyway that would not matter now.
Anthony had committed suicide, he had hung himself at home. The policemen were at the College quite often over the next few days, talking to and questioning the teachers. I suppose trying to find a motive for such a dreadful act. He had not left a note to explain his actions and it was all very sad.
Later that week the decision came down from on high that the school would continue as normal, no boys were to go to Anthony’s funeral but three teachers would represent the school. I was picked, I suppose because I would be the least missed and the shy English teacher also, who was from the same parish as Anthony and another old teacher who looked well beyond his pension age and would not have been missed either.
There wasn’t many at the church, only his family and a few old lady parishioners who turn up for all these services whether they know the deceased or not. You could see from the appearance of the family that they were not the wealthiest, they seemed a shabby lot, without meaning to detract from their personalities, but with no money how can you buy good clothes. I suppose Anthony was their shining star, their only hope and now he was gone. I started weeping at the thought and the English master kept looking at me nervously. The priest, who appeared overcome with ennui at the proceedings, said a few words at the dirge, impressing on the congregation that this was not a requiem mass as the Church did not share that sacrament with one who had died by their own hand but for us all to look upon it as a blessing, a farewell to Anthony and as to why, he could only say that some of us are weaker than others and cannot jump life’s little hurdles. It seemed very cold comfort for Anthony’s people and I thought it a horrible exposition of the Church’s thinking, it certainly taught me to be a little less devout than I was the day before.
We went off to Southern Cemetery afterwards, Edward the English teacher driving me in his car. At the grave I saw Kevin, Anthony’s friend, he must have had permission to be there or he could have bunked off, either way I was past caring. As we were walking away from the grave I caught up with him and said “what a terrible day”.
“I know Miss”, Kevin said “it shouldn’t have happened, it’s all Tommy’s fault (Tommy is the nickname the boys have on Monsignor Duggan). Ever since that fight after Christmas, Tommy has had him up in his study twice. Tony said it was horrible. He had to take his trousers down and bend over a chair and Tommy would lean over him and stick things up his bum and make it bleed. Tony said it was horrible and he didn’t know what to do. There was nobody to tell, nothing only clean yourself up afterwards and forget the pain”. I nearly fainted at this outburst and although realising what he was saying, I said “Tommy, who is Tommy”. “The Rector Miss, Tommy Duggan”. I swayed and walked over to an adjacent headstone and leant on it for support, I was in a daze.
Kevin walked on not realising the affect it was having on me or the impact of his words. After a few minutes I regained my composure, with a myriad of thoughts going through my head, thoughts that had never appeared before, thoughts that I never thought I would ever have. I still could not fully comprehend the full issue but at the very least it was obvious that Monsignor Duggan’s actions were disgraceful.
I walked over to where Edward had parked his car and waited my head still spinning. Kevin could not possibly have made up a story like that. He was 13 for goodness sake, he would not understand the seriousness. Edward finished off his conversation with some mourners, came over, apologised and opened the door for me. We sat in and I said ”don’t drive off just yet, I want to tell you something”. He looked at me nervously but remained still whilst I related the whole of Kevin’s disclosure. Everything: the nakedness, the bare backside, bending over a chair whilst the Rector pushed things up the poor child’s rectum, the pain and the bleeding afterwards. How I got through the tale I don’t know. I had never spoken of these things in my life before and talking to a grown man made me wriggle with embarrassment. Edward just sat there, head down, with a wry look on his face. I could see he was shaken.
There was a stark silence and then after a minute or so of cogitation he said “Julia, Miss Kirk! We are both young teachers making our way in our chosen careers, we both have reasonably good jobs that need looking after. Its our first step on the ladder, we cannot afford to mess up. What you have heard from that lad could have been made up nonsense. Monsignor Duggan is a Catholic priest, for heaven’s sake. What you have described to me is something out of hell not the Church and if the remotest thing like it happened, we have no evidence to push it only the words of a 13 year old boy. My opinion, for what it is worth and for the sake of our own lives, is to forget about it, concentrate on learning our skills as teachers and move on and forget what you heard.
I said nothing, he started the car and we drove back to school. I knew I couldn’t forget, Kevin was not lying to me. Kevin was even more upset than me. Kevin was only trying to look after his friend and try and explain Anthony’s death. We drove back in silence and went into College, I had no need really, I had no further classes that day but when I am disturbed, I need the comfort of music. Gordon was teaching a senior class, so it was the old honkey tonk for me, I didn’t mind, all I wanted was soothing chords.