The three boys perched upon the lockers in Number Nine form room regarded a desolation of splintered wood, jagged glass and smashed earthenware; a Nile of ink inundated the valleys and plains between these uplands.
The smallest, whose person best reflected the waste before them, bearing as it did shattered panes aslant the bridge of its nose as well as copious blue-black soil, was first to catch his breath. 'Whew. I never saw Gobby in such bating fettle, and I speak as a Canny Sewer.' He looked to either side of him. 'I'll wager you fellows never caught it off him before. What'd you do to rile him?'
'He had me cleaning some beastly lumber in the Pavilion,' said his left-hand neighbour, 'and to take my mind off of the stink of linseed oil didn't I croon a darling snatch of an air?'
'O Turkey,' sighed the third boy, 'what have we told you about meetin' with Napper Tandy?'
'Twasn't he,' replied the other indignantly, 'but the Croppy Boy himself. And what is it you were after doing to excite Gobby so?'
Arthur Corkran would never be described by aunts as a handsome child. But a habitual brazen stare lent his agreeable features a cast just knowing enough to have attracted Maunsell's sentimental gallantries, while the understanding that lay behind the good cranial structure was yet too innocent to perceive those overtures as anything but a great joke. He had laughed in Maunsell's face.
'Does it matter?' he said lightly. 'What matters is how we get our vengeance.'
He dropped to the floor and crunched a curious heel-toe shuffle over the wreckage.
It had never occurred to the others to meet their superiors' persecutions with more than resignation. Their lives were about to change, if not for good, then forever.