TAMING MR. RUDGE
The following story about his prep school, Highfield School at Liphook, Hampshire was told by the author Robert “Robin” Cecil Romer Maugham (1916-81), 2nd Viscount Maugham in his autobiography, Escape From the Shadows (London, 1972), pp. 40-45. Later stories from the same book can be read in Robin Maugham at Eton. He recounted two more Greek love episodes in his life in a later memoir, Search for Nirvana, and also wrote a novel, The Wrong People, whose two main protagonists were pederasts of very different character.
Maugham went to Highfield when he was nine, and loathed it from the outset, finding himself unpopular. The events described took place around 1928. He says he was then “astonishingly innocent” and “did not discover the true meaning of fornication” until he reached Eton at thirteen.
Escape From the Shadows
About that time I became aware of several mysteries about the life around me at the school, which I could not understand.
Fist, there was the mystery of Mr. Merrick, one of the senior masters. Mr. Merrick was slim and neat, with strange piercing eyes. It was rumoured that he could hypnotise anyone he chose. What was certain was that, before supper each evening, two or three boys would visit his room on the ﬁrst ﬂoor of the school building for what was called ‘extra tuition’. One of these pupils was a boy of twelve called Hewson, whose parents lived in India because his father was an ofﬁcer in the Indian Army. Hewson was fair-haired, with large gentle eyes, a wide mouth and a snub nose. He was quiet and shy; he did not seem to have many friends. He slept in the bed next to mine, and I liked him, though I never thought we could be friends because he was two years senior to me. One evening, after he had attended an ‘extra tuition’ by Mr. Merrick, he came into the dormitory looking white and frightened. When we asked him what was wrong, he would not answer. After ‘lights out’ I heard him crying. In the faint moonlight I could see that his head was pressed into the pillow to stiﬂe the sound. I leaned over towards him.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“Shut up,” he whispered back. “Let me alone.”
“Please tell me.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” he whispered. “You couldn’t understand . . . You’re lucky . . . He says you’re too young . . . So you’re all right . . . Now leave me alone.”
Hewson’s occasional ﬁts of sobbing occurred throughout that year. Each time it was after he had been given an ‘extra tuition’.
Next was the mystery of Neal.
Neal became a friend of mine when I was eleven and he was twelve. I caught him stealing some toy bricks out of my play-box, and his smile of apology had been so endearing, the freckles on his impudent face were somehow so attractive, and the way he stood was so graceful, that I forgave him immediately. A term later we were in the same form which was taken by Mr. Rudge, who was thirty and had won a Blue at Cambridge for rugger.
Mr. Rudge was now stout, with heavy shoulders, and a red face with thick jowls. For some reason, he seemed to take a violent dislike to my friend Neal.
“Neal!” he would shout, “you’re not paying attention again. You ought to be in a higher class. So you would be if you weren’t thoroughly lazy . . . and if I ﬁnd you staring out of the window once again, I’ll have you sent to the Headmaster to be whipped.”
Neal was obviously afraid of Mr. Rudge. Each time the master shouted at him he would turn white and the impudent expression would leave his face, yet he never looked down at his book as the rest of us did when Mr. Rudge shouted at us. His hazel-coloured eyes were ﬁxed on Mr. Rudge’s face in a look of fear to which was added an odd stare of entreaty.
* * *
… The fact that my dearest friend [his beloved former nanny, Rose, who had just left his parents’ employment] had been taken away from me drew me closer to Neal. I loved his sense of fun and I admired his hatred of authority. Mr. Rudge’s bullying of Neal had now become savage and horrible. It was painful to see the tears sliding down Neal’s freckled face, and by now the bullying had become physical. Mr. Rudge was the school’s rugger instructor. When Neal was at the outside of a scrum, Mr. Rudge would hurl his sweating body forward so that his head would thud against Neal’s thigh.
Then two events occurred to perplex me still more.
The ﬁrst was that on a Sunday evening, instead of his usual sermon, the Headmaster told us that he had sad news to deliver to us all. Mr. Merrick had suffered a nervous breakdown. He had therefore been forced to leave the school suddenly; he regretted that he had been unable to say goodbye to us. He was unable to leave behind any address, for he was touring South Africa.
The next startling event was that, one evening at playtime, I saw Neal coming out of Mr. Rudge’s room. He looked embarrassed when he saw I had noticed him.
“He made me write out an exercise I’d done wrong,” Neal explained.
From that evening, Mr. Rudge’s attitude to Neal changed. His voice was no longer gruff when he spoke to him, and soon Neal had deﬁnitely become the form favourite. Neal was due to pass the common-entrance exam the following term. He had asked me to stay at his mother’s country house for a week during the holidays and, perhaps to console me for Rose’s departure, my parents had consented.
“But where’s his father?” my father asked.
“Dead,” I replied truthfully.
* * *
“You know that Mr. Rudge will be there,” Neal said to me casually a few days before the end of term.
“What?” I cried out in astonishment. “Mr. Rudge?”
“Yes,” Neal said. “He’s coming for the holidays as my tutor to help me get through common-entrance.”
* * *
Neal’s mother’s house was near Rye. His mother was a vague, large-breasted woman with dyed hair, over-tight clothes, and protuberant eyes. Both her clothes and her eyes seemed to be trying to escape from their conﬁnes. The house was long and rambling; it had once been a rectory. Neal’s bedroom was at the end of the east wing. Mr. Rudge slept across the corridor. I slept next door to Neal. I woke quite early; I was hungry, and I had forgotten to ask the time of breakfast. I knocked at Neal’s door and walked in wearing my pyjamas. Neal was already awake and he waved to me cheerfully as I came in. He was naked.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked.
“Wonderfully. Did you?”
Neal gave a little smile. “On and off,” he said.
I noticed that he was lying in a double bed, but both pillows seemed to have been rumpled. He beckoned to me to come over to his bed. When I came near he threw back the light coverlet and pointed to the space next to him. I got in and lay beside him. He put an arm round my neck. I felt pleased that he was really fond of me.
“How green are you?” he asked.
“I don’t know all the facts of life---if that’s what you mean?”
“But you know why Mr. Merrick had to leave all of a sudden?”
“You didn’t guess?”
“Well, you remember he used to have two or three pupils in of an evening?”
“I wanted to be one of them. I thought it was some magic secret or something. But he wouldn’t let me come. So one evening, I decided to ﬁnd out for myself. So I crept round the balcony and looked in. There was a chink in the curtains. I could see what they were all doing. Well, I knew I wouldn’t be believed, so I jumped down and ran to the Headmaster and told him to come and see for himself. Mr. Merrick left the following day.”
“What were they doing?”
“Do you still not understand?”
Neal’s right hand was still round my neck. He had begun to breathe heavily. He turned and kissed me. Then his left hand began to unbutton my pyjama jacket, and his hand slid across my stomach and began stroking me. I was excited yet I was very much frightened. The arm round my neck tightened. His gasps became more rapid. I looked at his face. It was scarlet, and his mouth was wide open. Suddenly fear overcame the pleasure his left hand was giving me. I wrenched myself away from him.
“Wait,” he said. “just sit on the end of the bed—if you’re afraid of me. But just listen. This was what Mr. Merrick was doing with his special ‘pupils’—only he went a lot further. And as soon as I saw what he was doing with the boys naked in his room I called the Headmaster because I hated Merrick, and I got him the sack. But what I’d seen taught me the facts of life - from that point of view. And then I suddenly realised why Mr. Rudge always pressed himself against me at rugger. So I made an excuse to visit him in his room, and he was quite different. He was very gentle, so I got to like it. Then when my mother suggested having a tutor these holidays, so I could be certain of passing my common-entrance exam, I suggested him. So if you’re green and don’t like it, please don’t bother. I’ve got him across the corridor, and he’ll come to my bed whenever I knock at his door.”
I stared at Neal in amazement. Suddenly he threw off the bed-clothes so that I could see him naked. The hair was beginning to grow round his crotch. He ﬂung out his arms so that the full beauty of his body was exposed. He smiled up at me slyly.
“So don’t worry yourself,” he said. “I’ve only got to knock at his door. But I’d like to do it with you all the same.”
I thought of Mr. Rudge's coarse, smelling body pressed against that lean ﬁgure on the bed.
“Thanks,” I said. “But give me time to think it all over.”
“You’ve only got a week, remember,” Neal said.
“I’ll remember that,” I said - and left the room.
Each night I thought about entering Neal’s room, and each night I could feel the warmth of his hands pressing against me. But then I remembered the stink of Mr. Rudge’s body, and I thought of that hairy gross body pressing on top of Neal’s slender limbs, and I never left my bed.