Copyright©️2016 R Lawson Gamble. All rights to this work are reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in part or in whole in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author. In this work I describe actual locations and authentic time frames and global events. The characters, however, are fictional and any resemblance to events or persons living or dead, while possible given the nature of this work, is in fact unintentional and largely coincidental.
The Blue Halls
R Lawson Gamble
(The following excerpted from the journal of Mr. Jethro Tasker, Esquire)
Within the world of children there are many forbidden zones, places declared off-limits by adults that consequently become areas of particular allure to a child (all children being curious). Unseen, unexplored, the very names of these places tend to evoke mystery spiced with danger. These forbidden places become irresistible.
I applied to teach at a private junior boarding school for boys in a small New England town. Here children from across the country lived in a rambling pile of a structure built into a hillside. As the school expanded over its century long history, the building sprawled upward, outward and downward. By the time I arrived the structure had long ago reached the bottom of the slope, burrowed several stories into the earth and embraced much of the width of the hillside.
Like an insatiable beast, this monstrous construction consumed a hundred children deposited by parents and guardians in several barrack-like dormitories, where they lived their lives along with their dorm master. Non-dorm faculty and their wives lived in apartments hidden within this mouse’s maze, along with administrative offices, a library, a meeting hall, an art facility, a school store, a snack store, a sewing room where the resident matrons could care for the children’s bedding and apparel, a business office, and the stately Headmaster’s office positioned at one end of the entire arrangement like the captain’s quarters of a Spanish galleon. During my years at the school, I would discover many more rooms in this massive structure; some purposed, most not; others rumored to exist, which I never found.
From the street level, where the visitor entered, the whitewashed face of the structure deceived the eye with its simple lines and black shutters, suggesting a modest English Tavern style building designed to blend in with the New England small-town landscape, a bookend for the white-spired New England church across the way, thus effectively obfuscating the true nature of the architectural explosion that lurked beyond its portals.
The visitor parked on the street, walked through the wide white frame of the heavy-hinged door into a large reception area of dark wood and wainscoting where built-in benches with hinged tops doubled as storage along the walls. Here they waited for an appointment or for a child, seated upon thin embroidered cushions that barely insulated expensively clad buttocks from hard wood, unaware of the treasures of students past just inches below in the form of ball gloves, yo-yos, lost jackets and shoes. At the farthest end of the room through the soaring frame of the schoolroom door a prospective student caught his first frightening glimpse of row upon row of Dickensian study desks fixed to the floor, oriented toward a raised dais where sat the mighty supervisor’s desk, the entire scene presented through dim light like a spectral aura.
A more modest door to the right of the study hall led to the faculty room. This door, with its frosted glass window was usually closed; the only hint of activity beyond it the occasional over-loud voice, an explosion of laughter, or the flicker of movement ghosting in the opaque glass. In a corner next to the faculty room, upon a tall pedestal stood a full body bronze of Lincoln, tall in itself, projecting his serene countenance and wisdom upon the passerby. The visitor’s eye having passed full circle it now rested upon a Dutch door opposite; beyond it, the office of the Headmasters Secretary, from whence would come the Headmaster’s summons.
Other than the clacking of typewriter keys, a cave-like silence enveloped this space until the ear gradually attuned to the murmur of distant voices somewhere beyond the walls, or the creaking and groaning of ancient steps somewhere above.
Every wall, even the whitewashed expanses, gloomed dark; every door enclosed within walnut panels, the ceiling banded by black hand-hewn beams, the pine floors buried over time under layers of stain except here and there where the original patina peeked through, worn visible by years of frenetic feet.
My application was accepted, my lodging established in a nearby building where I was to become master to ten eighth grade boys. At the time I was young, spirited, and excited, stimulated by a vision of private school boarding life gleaned almost entirely from a John le Carre novel.
My charge was to teach music; in reality the job description on the contract was expanded well beyond that simple objective. My schedule of duties thus outlined kept me away from the “Old Building”, the name used to describe that rambling structure. At meals I presided over a table of fourteen boys in the Dining Room, situated directly beneath my apartment; my classroom was the floor of an infrequently used auditorium in yet another building, my coaching duties took me to the playing fields, and my evening duties were in my assigned dormitory. There was little reason for me to visit the Old Building in my busy life circuit with the exception of evening coffee in the faculty room or an infrequent summons to visit the business manager or the Headmaster. Even then, I saw little of that enigmatic edifice beyond the view afforded any casual visitor.
In the normal course of teaching music I received a few requests from parents to offer their child after-hours private instruction. Because my classroom in the distant gymnasium was off bounds to the boarders at night, I applied for a place to teach within the permitted evening routes, and in due course a small room heretofore used for storage was found for me in the Old Building. This tiny room was located in a lower level, reached by a creaky narrow stairway that descended from the passage the students must travel from study hall to library each evening. The stairwell was dark, the single perpetually dirty window on the middle landing insufficient to illuminate anything beyond itself, each wooden step worn down at the center by a century of hard-heeled shoes. My new studio door was immediately at the bottom of these stairs. Beyond it, the Blue Halls beckoned.
(End of first segment. Next segment will be published July 1)