Edward Apple tree, age 10, earned his sobriquet the Confessor because of his remarkable performance under interrogation. Our gang of six, all third-formers, had established the Patrol, so-called because of our skill in operating behind enemy lines. But now and again we were caught and brought to justice in Mr. Hole’s study, known as the Black Hole.
As our housemaster, familiarly known as the Beak, Mr. Hole had fixed views about interrogation, segregating us immediately following apprehension and summoning us into his study one by one to be grilled. But the Beak was way behind the Patrol, which had already rehearsed its response to capture, so by the time we were standing in line outside his study, we all had our lines down pat, with Edward the Confessor up front, ready to do his stuff.
Edward’s art was to tell a story so outrageous, so bizarre, all the while putting on his Oliver Twist face as the innocent child wrongly accused by authority, that the Beak’s hard heart would melt with pity and the astonishing story would seem to him like Gospel truth.
Then his voice would break, his handkerchief would come out, and we could all leave without a stain on our evil little characters.
The specialty of our leader, Peter Busby, aka the Brain, was to dream up suitable foolproof projects for us, and we all realized that strict adherence to Patrol discipline was excellent training for life in the real world after school, where tight organization would be the only way to survive.
Our last project was to view Gwendolyn, the upstairs maid, as she relaxed in her bathtub. By some oversight of planning,Gwendolyn’s bathroom was located on the fourth floor immediately below our dormitory window and, like all English bathrooms, had a wide expanse of uncurtained glass so as to maintain the lowest possible temperature in winter. As the Engineer, I was detailed to design a periscope eight feet long that we could hang out of our dorm window, charging nonmembers of the Patrol a trifling sum for instruction in practical biology.
Construction of the scope was easy, using an abandoned sheet-metal drainpipe, a couple of cheap mirrors and a telescope eyepiece liberated from the science lab, but it was undoubtedly heavy. Even so, we managed to spirit it into the dormitory and, having previously checked Gwendolyn’s accustomed movements, at nine o’clock that night we lowered the contraption with the business end just a foot below the top of Gwendolyn’s window. But, as I said, it was heavy, and Edward, who was lowering it, managed to let it bang against the window.
Gwendolyn let out a piercing scream. Edward, in trying to retrieve the damning evidence against us, lost his footing, and the pipe fell five stories to the ground, dragging Edward with it.
This time it was not the Beak but the local police who grilled us, and without Edward we were putty in their hands. The shock of losing him broke up the Patrol, and in the end we all became respectable citizens. But even now I can’t look at a drainpipe without thinking of Edward the Confessor and the supreme sacrifice he made for us.