We were saying it the next morning in the bleak field on Butlin's Farm, where the run started, saying it as we huddled with our hands cupped to our lips, elbows tight to our sides and knees locked in trembling embrace.
The gun went off, and—depending on one's degree of enthusiasm—we sprang, stumbled or lumbered forward. I set off at a stagger, a running style perfectly adapted to a terrain of hassocks, furrows, ruts and clubfooted trees. The older boys streaked ahead, and what started out as a mass of bodies soon settled down to a steady stream. To my surprise. I discovered that my performance was not totally unrespectable.
Approaching the five-bar gate. I saw that what was usually a mire had been turned by the passage of so many feet into a virtual cesspool, and that it had claimed several victims—among them, I was glad to see, the villain Hancock. Experience had taught me that the best way to negotiate this mess was to pass as close as possible to the briar hedge opposite the gate. It was slow but sure, and having passed it without damage, I yelled out, "Jasper!"
As the iron railing beyond the cow pasture came into view, I saw that Jasper wasn't there, and it occurred to me that perhaps the presence of so many people that day was keeping him on the other side of his domain.
But as I got closer I saw that he was in the middle of the field, lying on the ground with his owner and a local vet hovering over him. I called out "Jasper!" again, and I slowed my pace so that I was almost running on the spot. His owner started to move toward the fence when we were both startled to hear the stentorian tones of the second master, as the deputy principal was called, bellowing, "You, boy! You're here to run!"
Jasper's owner yelled, "He's poorly, son. You'd better keep on going." It was at the end of Jasper's field that the circuit started again, and the Heatley House monitor who was stationed at the junction of the circuit and the straightish home stretch warned me icily that I was endangering the house's chances of victory.
And so I started a spurt, my mouth open and my arms pumping, but it was not the good name of Heatley House that was urging me on. I began passing runners in front of me, and as I again passed the first staging post I heard Heatley House's monitor say, "Good show! Keep it up and we'll make it!"
I sloshed through six inches of water in one field and slithered through six inches of mud in another, and about 10 minutes after leaving it, I was back in the lane that passed the five-bar gate and Jasper's field.
And then, deliberately, I began to slow down so that when I got to the iron fence I hoped it would seem as if I was suffering from fatigue and not malingering. Runners I had passed, passed me, some half-turning to glance curiously at this change of pace. I maneuvered the mess by the gate successfully once again and moved up the lane at a painfully slow jog, and as Jasper's field came into sight so did he.
Or his carcass did. He was being hauled from the field by a tractor, his massive legs stupidly half-hoisted by ropes and his great head and body bumping across the gray-green grass.