The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 3

The young friend’s scholastic paths crossed again when both were offered places at Cambridge. They went up together for matriculation into their respective colleges at the start of the Michaelmas term in October 1935. Anthony Barker took a Bachelor of Arts degree in history at King’s, where his father and grandfather had studied, and Johnny Faulkner took a degree in mathematics at Trinity. Johnny was told by his father he would have to choose and pursue a satisfactory career to secure his future and a degree would be a major step forward in that direction. Johnny realised his love and active participation in athletics would have to take second place to his academic future.

Jenkins the chauffeur drove them to Cambridge in Lord Barker’s Rolls Royce, loaded with all the paraphernalia obligatory to sustain university life. That which had not fitted into the boot for the journey was strapped precariously on the rear luggage carrier. Arriving at the entrance to Trinity College, Jenkins braked the Rolls smoothly to a halt. They all climbed out of the car and as the chauffeur started to unload Johnny’s luggage, the young men stood on the path admiring the outstanding Tudor-Gothic style of the college buildings.

‘Well, old man, this is it.’ said Anthony.

‘Let’s catch up at the freshman’s fair at the weekend.’

‘What time do you want to meet there?’ enquired Johnny.

‘How about ten o’clock and we can swop our experiences of the first week.’

‘You’re on. Good luck!’ replied Johnny and shook his friend’s hand.

‘Good luck to you too!’ replied Anthony.

Throwing a rucksack over his shoulder, Johnny picked up his suitcases and with a tennis racket gripped under his arm walked up the path to the college. Behind him, the Rolls started up and glided away as he gave a backwards wave to his friend. At the Great Gate entrance to Trinity, he stopped to glance up at a statue of the founder of the college, Henry VIII, standing in a niche above the doorway. Johnny did a double take, as the statue appeared to be holding a table leg instead, as would have been more usual, a sword. Shaking his head in amusement, he felt sure he would like it here.

Entering the porters’ lodge, he came across a jovial looking man seated behind a high counter with a polished mahogany top. Dropping his bags on the floor, he noted the walls on his side of the counter covered with pigeon holes filled with letters and parcels. The wall behind was filled with bundles of keys dangling from their hooks. Never had he seen so many keys in one place before.

‘Good afternoon, young sir! And what can I do for you today?’ asked the porter in a friendly manner, peering over his glasses and sticking a tentative thumb in the pocket of his waistcoat.

‘Good afternoon. It’s my first term at Trinity.’ replied Johnny.

’And what’s your name?

‘Faulkner.’

The porter ran a finger down the list of names in the open admissions ledger on the counter top.

‘Ah, here we are. Faulkner, J. R.’ He looked up, picked up a pen and offered it to the young man. ‘Sign here please.’

Johnny took the pen and scrawled his signature beside his name on the register.

‘Your room’s number twenty three, go through the Great Court behind here, turn right at the top of the stairs and it’s on the right.’

‘Thank you. What’s your name?’ enquired Johnny.

‘Matthews, sir and welcome to Trinity, Mr. Faulkner.’ said the porter with a friendly smile.

‘Is there anything else I can help you with today?’

‘Yes, there is. That statue outside, why’s it holding a table leg?’

‘Oh, that was there before I started working here, which is quite a few years ago now! A good many myths abound as to how the switch was done and by whom!’ informed Matthews.

‘Perhaps someone ought to shake a leg and table a motion to get the mystery solved!’ joked Johnny.

‘Very funny, sir, but perhaps they can’t table anything because they haven’t got a leg to stand on!’ retorted Matthews, laughing.

Johnny chuckled and picked up his gear. ‘I think you’ve turned the tables on me, Mr. Matthews.’

‘Then maybe you ought to leg it while the goings still good, young sir!’ retorted the porter with mirth.

‘Me’ thinks I’d better inform my colleagues about you and your wit, Mr Faulkner. I reckon you’re a wag and we’d better be keeping tabs on you.′ said Matthews with a twinkle in his eye.

A short distance away Jenkins halted the Rolls Royce in King’s Parade. Anthony Barker got out and impatiently waited for the chauffeur to gather up his luggage. With Jenkins struggling behind he strode up to the gatehouse of Kings College and walked into the gloomy interior porter’s lodge. A tall, portly figure wearing a top hat stood behind a long desk beside a shorter man wearing an ordinary bowler.

‘Name?’ snapped the portly figure.

‘I’m new here.’ replied Anthony.

’Yes, laddie, I can see that. What’s your name?

‘Lord Anthony Barker.’

‘Welcome to Kings, young sir, sign here.’ ordered the porter and turned a ledger round with a list of names.

‘What is your name?’ enquired Anthony as he signed the ledger.

‘Mr McIlroy, I’m the head porter and this is my assistant, Mr. Jones.’

’Well, McIlroy, I stopped being called laddie when I started wearing long trousers. While I am resident in this college, you will address me by my correct title. Do I make myself clear?

‘Yes Lord Barker.’ blustered McIlroy, his cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. The assistant porter managed to stifle a chuckle.

‘I’d be obliged if you’d remember it, McIlroy.’ rebuked Anthony.

‘Mr. Jones here will show you to your room.’ muttered the head porter.

Antony beckoned to Jenkins and they followed the assistant porter out of the lodge as McIlroy fumed, slapped the top of the desk with his fist and swore.

‘Damn little Lord Fauntleroy! He’ll rue the day he crossed swords with me!’

Anthony Barker had just made the grave mistake of incurring the wrath of an influential member of the college. Porters are the all-seeing eyes of a college and have a much better idea of what is going on than anyone else. They noted the heaviest drinkers, the most diligent workers and any disorganised drifters, and that was just among the professors! Although their duties included controlling entry into the college, sorting mail and providing security to members, they were also responsible for reporting any breaches of discipline by the students to the dean.

The new students first day at Cambridge ended with the freshman’s dinner, a sumptuous affair where the masters of the colleges gave rousing speeches, pointing out to the students that by having the intellectual promise within them by getting a place, they should now examine themselves to discover where their true greatness lay. Introductions made and friendships began during the course of the meal, until the evening drew to a noisy conclusion. The young men, fuelled with liberal quantities of wine and port, returned unsteadily to their rooms. The next morning the fledgling students began their quest for knowledge and eagerly participated in the various lectures and debates. Johnny and Anthony both felt at home living and studying in the interior of buildings steeped in such great history.

Held on the first weekend of the new term, the freshman’s fair was crowded with eager young undergraduates, jostling each other in the rush to sign up for the various drinking societies masquerading under such banners as the Footlights Dramatics Club and the Fabians’ Society. Johnny met up with Anthony Barker and both politely declined invitations to subscribe from enthusiastic representatives of the societies as they looked for the university’s athletics club. They found it bustling with activity but got the attention of one of the club’s members standing behind a table, scattered with application forms and flyers advertising forthcoming events.

‘We’d like to join, please?’ shouted Johnny.

‘Right, what do you do?’ replied the chap. ‘We don’t just take anyone on you know.’

‘Put me down for sprints. I did pretty well at my last school sports day.’ stated Johnny, tongue in cheek.

‘Write down your best times, old man and you can do so as well.’ he said, nodding to Anthony and handed them both pens and paper.

The friends scribbled down events and times and Johnny handed his back first.

The member glanced at the figures.

‘These look good enough for me.’ he said and then raised an eyebrow, scrutinising the figures again. He looked up in surprise.

‘These are more than good, they’re damn quick!’

‘What do you think of these?’ asked Anthony, handing over his pad.

‘These are just as good! Who . . . wait a minute, you’re not…you bounders! I heard someone mention last week you were coming up to Cambridge. You must be Barker and Faulkner, which one is which?’

‘I’m Johnny Faulkner and this is Anthony Barker.’

‘Charles Digby from Kings. I’m the club secretary.’ They all shook hands.

‘My, with you two in the club we should give Oxford a good run for their money in the next inter-varsity meeting.’

‘We’ll do our best.’ agreed Anthony.

‘Would either of you consider challenging for the college dash?’

‘What’s that?’ enquired Johnny.

‘It’s an attempt to run round the perimeter of the Great Court at Trinity College in the time it takes for the clock in the courtyard to strike the twelve hour.’ replied Digby.

‘What’s so special in that?’ asked Anthony

‘It’s special, my dear chap because the only fellow who has ever done it in over seven hundred years is Lord Burghley, in 1927.’

‘What do you think, Anthony?’

‘Why not.’ he replied. ‘We can’t have anyone but a King’s man beating the clock, can we Digby?’ said Anthony, winking at Digby.

‘Quite right!’ he confirmed.

‘Lord Burghley. Isn’t he the chap who won the sprint twice in the AAA championships a few years ago?’ asked Anthony.

‘That’s the one! A very notable runner during his time here at Cambridge. He won the 440 yard hurdles not less than five times over the last nine years.’ confirmed Digby.

‘He didn’t do so well in the last two Olympics, though.’ put in Johnny. ‘Unlike Harold Abrahams who got our first gold in the sprint in 1924.’

‘I fear we will not be well represented in the Olympics in Berlin next year, although maybe’s there still time. The College and University Sports Club track events are held at Fenners and we’re hoping that some British and international records will be broken this year.’ Digby informed the two friends.

‘How about racquets courts?’ asked Anthony.

‘There are three courts within the Old Field building. Let me know if you want a game.’ said Digby, taking a swing with his arm as if playing a stroke.

‘You’re on!’ Anthony replied

‘I’ll book a court and let you know the time, old man.’

Turning to Johnny, Digby said, ‘I’ll see you at the Great Court before noon next Saturday and may the best man win.’

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