The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 4

Word of the forthcoming race went around the university and on Saturday, a large crowd had gathered in the Great Court. The two challengers pushed their way through the spectators towards Charles Digby, the starter for the race. A rousing cheer went up as Anthony shook Digby’s hand, while Johnny made a mock bow to the delight of the crowd.

The crowd of students chattered among themselves and Digby shouted for silence.

‘Let it be known that Anthony Barker of King’s and John Faulkner of Trinity have made challenge for the college dash. For those unfamiliar with the rules, the challengers will attempt to run round the perimeter of the court from this point beneath the clock. They will restrict themselves to the customary course dictated by the flagstones between the cobbles.’

Digby bent down scribing a starting line across the track with a piece of white chalk.

‘When the Great Clock strikes its preparatory chiming of the four quarters, the challenge will start and as the clock strikes each hour twice, it will include the two sets of twelve in the count. By the last stroke of twelve, the challengers must reach this mark to win.’

Digby looked up at the clock face.

‘Will the challengers please make themselves ready.’ he shouted as the spectators jostled each other to see the start.

Above the crowd inside the study of the master’s lodge next to the clock tower, the dean and master looked down on the assembled gathering from an open window.

‘I hear Lord Barker’s son is representing King’s?’ enquired the master of Trinity.

‘Yes. Anthony Barker. He’s taking a BA in history.’ replied the dean.

‘What do you know about him?’

‘I’ve heard he’s an arrogant young man who upset the head porter on his first day.’

‘That was a silly thing to do.’ chuckled the master.

‘He should have been more cautious and got the feel of things first, what? The last person to get on the wrong side of is McIlroy. He sounds rather like his pompous father, who I know is a good friend of their dean. What about our fellow?’

‘His name’s Faulkner. Apparently he’s a first class sprinter.’

’Good. We mustn’t have a chap from King’s first over the line, it was a bad show when young Burghley from Magdalene won in ‘27.’ muttered the master.

The first quarter chimed from the clock tower and to cheers of encouragement from the crowd both runners got off to a flying start and were into the first turn. Racing each other along the first straight they made the second turn and on to the next straight, vying neck and neck for the lead as the chimes rang out. Johnny took the inside of the third turn and Anthony, aware that Johnny was taking the lead flicked his foot out and tripped him up. Over went Johnny as Anthony raced past to the accompanied shouts of foul from some students who had seen his action. However, with the skill of an acrobat, Johnny made a spectacular head over heels somersault landing himself back on his feet and took up the sprint again to the cheers of the Trinity students. Drawing on a tremendous burst of energy, he flew along the long straight beside the dining hall, made up the lost ground and caught Anthony as they went into the final turn, with the clock striking the tenth of its second set of chimes. To tumultuous cheers, Johnny took the lead and streaked across the finish line as the final chime struck, with Anthony trailing in his wake.

They collapsed to the ground to the roars of delight from the Trinity students and jeers from some of the King’s. The gasping figures lay prostrate on the flagstones as Digby and two other students tried to keep the crowds back to give the exhausted pair some air. Digby appeared concerned about Anthony and did his best to comfort him. Johnny recovered and glanced angrily at his friend, but before he could say anything, some Trinity students hoisted him up on to their shoulders and paraded him round the quad. In the study above, the master closed the window and turned to the dean with a smile on his face.

‘Excellent! Young Faulkner should go far.’

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