Title: School work
Word count 633
Disclaimer I did not invent themselves
Morning had been schoolwork. Mr Bracegirdle had presided. Horatio had been correct as usual, and up to date. His workbook was neat, and his hand even and easy to read. He had been quick with his chalk and slate. It was much more pleasant than school had been on Justinian. Mr Bracegirdle was a kindly man, who seemed able to teach without resorting to sarcasm or humiliation. Sitting beside him in the cool sunlight, Archie also seemed to be content. He hummed quietly as he calculated, a buzzing in his chest, which was not quite music. It was something like sitting beside a navigational bee. Horatio finished first, and watched Archie out of the side of his eye. When Archie's calculation came up right, all three of them smiled.
“You are much improved, Mr Kennedy, since your arrival here. I am delighted to see it.”
Mr Bracegirdle moved on, to Cleveland, who had a question. Horatio watched the two heads together. Cleveland, was pointing and asking, and the older man, nodding reassuringly, and explaining. Horatio wandered away for a moment, into a memory of childhood that still made him shudder with horror.
He remembered it in flashes of misery. The white smears of unknown faces, looking up to see who the new boy was. The schoolmaster had towered over small Horatio, unsmiling. Horatio had been made to walk to the front of the room and introduce himself. There had been a ferrule hanging by the schoolmaster's large slate. Horatio had been transfixed by it.
Crouching at his desk afterward, he had wanted to sink through the floor. They had been given a problem to do, with no explanation. The older man had stood back with folded arms, and an expression of grim satisfaction. Horatio had been small enough then that his feet swung in the air, as he sat at his desk. He remembered how he had twisted them together, as he took refuge in the numbers, if only for a moment. The numbers behaved themselves. They always did. He set his chalk down before any of the others. He tried to wait patiently. But his feet in his new shoes, wanted to swing and kick.
When everyone had finished, the schoolmaster swept the room with a sour gaze.
“Let's have a look at the new boy's slate, shall we?” He had said.
“My, gracious. Mr Hornblower has gotten everything right.” The mans deep voice had dripped with derision. “
“And he finished in half the time of the rest of you lack-wits. Surely he is an example to us all, is he not? Go to the front of the room, Mr Hornblower, and copy this out for us. I am sure we can benefit from your great intelligence.”
And Horatio, with tears in his child's eyes, had had to do so. He had made no friends, that year, or the next.
But this morning was different. He sat in the cool sun, shoulder to shoulder with Archie. Archie loved him. The breeze riffled his hair, and made a song of sails and lines.
He took a deep breath. Some joy was rising in him. It was different from anything he had ever known. He tumbled in a wave of crazed gratitude. There was so much out there still to learn. Archie's body was proof of that, but so was Mr Bracegirdle. So was the ship herself. He could learn and learn. He could stuff himself with learning. No one would mind. He wanted to dance around in circles. He imagined throwing his arms around Mr Bracegirdle, and thanking him. He imagined telling Cleveland, and Cadogan and the others how grateful he was for their rough acceptance.
But he could never do that. Instead, he gave Archie a happy giddy nudge with his elbow. Archie didn't need to know why. He giggled and gave a hard nudge back.