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The White Devil
By Justin Evans
Copyright © 2011 Justin Evans
All right reserved.
ANDREW TAYLOR STOOD alone before a gate. The growl of his taxi
pulling away had long since faded. A sky, whipped by winds, changing
preternaturally, galloped overhead: clouds, sun, low-slung fog,
in rapid succession. So this was English weather. The place felt wet.
A smoky smell (bracken, burnt by gardeners) stung his nose. From
somewhere close, a church bell rang. He was on a high hilltop, a few
miles to the northwest in the swirl of suburbia flung off by London.
The taxi had dropped him on the High Street, a twist of road lined
with whitewashed shops, three-story town houses, and weary-looking
trees leaning out of holes cut in the pavement. There were views to
the north, more hills, rolling away, each stamped with a chain link of
identical suburban homes: brown brick, chimney, walled yard. Until he
saw the gate, and the eccentric building that would be his new home,
he thought he might have come to the wrong place. This was supposed
to be a school for England's elite. That's what his father had told him.
You don't know how lucky you are, he had saidrepeatedly. But Andrew
had attended schools for the elite. And in his experience, they were
sprawling green campuses, with golf courses and big gymnasiums and
gleaming dining centers . . . not buildings distributed along a street. Yet
here he was. Twenty-five High Street, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middle-
sex. Same address as on the welcome packet, on the brochure, on the
welcome letter from his housemaster. And it looked like a fucking time
First, there was the name. The Lot. It bore the funk of English
eccentricity. Andrew already felt allergic to it. Back at Frederick
Williams Academy, in Connecticut, the houses were named after donors.
Andrew had been two years in Davidson, two in Griswold, and his
senior yearthe most decadent by far, in a large double room, per-
fumed by bong water and unwashed clothesin Noel House. But the
lot rose before him now, a shambling Victorian mansion, ascending
four stories to an old-fashioned cross-gabled roof. It was constructed
of moldering red brick, with triangular nooks and attic rooms pointing
upward, arrow like, in various spots, while over the doorand else-
where, wherever a lintel presented a broad hunk of brickthere were
carvings on agricultural themes. Hay and scythes. Sunshine and tilling
Moss, soot, and old grit competed for residence in the thin lines of
mortar. A low wall, of the same red brick, encircled the place. Between
the wall and the house lay a driveway of beige gravel, like a pebbly
moat. The arms of the wall met in a gate: two square brick posterns,
topped by cast-iron lanterns. Andrew felt his heart sink. This place
was dank, cramped, old. The year he would stay here suddenly seemed
I don't want to hear a word of complaint out of you. I moved mountains to
get you in there.
Andrew's father's voice entered his head, unbidden. As it had a
tendency to do. Fierce, southern-accented, accusatory. When Andrew was
younger he used to hear it in the shower, arising from the babble of the
water pounding the bathtub. He would stop the shower, get out, dripping,
and stand in the doorway calling Yes? Yes, Daddy? when it had
been nothing. Just the guilt; the internal clock telling him it had been
several hours since he heard the hammer and tongs of that voice. And
Andrew had heard the voice plenty this past summer.
I sold the last of Grandfather's shares for this. Sold them for pennies, in
this market, to get your sorry ass out of trouble. What a waste, his father had
ranted. What a failure for us all. Ah, me, he would groan. I never thought
I would see this happen. Never.
That was the speech designed to stamp out any complaints about the
school. Harrow School. The brochure had made it look like a miniseries
on PBS. Scrubbed British schoolboys in jackets and ties and odd,
tidy straw hats, which, his father informed him with some relish, were
the tradition of the school. Choirboys. Andrew knew the school was
prestigious. He knew he was luckysort of. But he couldn't forget
that he wasn't here because he wanted to be here; not even because he
deserved to be. Far from it. It was to get him out of sight, quickly. Off,
across the Atlantic, to some cross between reform school and finishing
school. So that his college applications would have a new listing at the
top. So he would have a new set of teachers and administrators to write
recs. So the last five years at Frederick Williams Academy would be
just a footnote. I went to the prestigious Harrow School . . . and oh, yes,
the equally prestigious Frederick Williams Academy. But the less said about
that, the better. Maybe, with college applications bragging international
experience, the gap between his ninetieth-percentile SATs and his C
grades would stand out less. Maybe phrases like doesn't apply himself . . .
tests well, but lazy . . . and most recently, the packed euphemism
discipline issues would seem less prominent.
Despite the urgent circumstances, the welcome packet for Harrow
School had impressed his father. There was the school crest: a prancing
lion, heraldic symbols, a Latin motto. Bragging rights: seven prime
ministers had attended the school, including Winston Churchill.
Andrew's father had puffed with pride. The Taylors, in his view, were
aristocrats. There had been the family plantations in Louisiana. There
had been the great-great-uncle, the Civil War admiral, with a battleship
named for him (every few years they got hats from some pal of
his dad's in the navydark blue with orange stitching: U.S.S. Taylor).
And grandfather Taylor had been president of a contact lens
manufacturer, Hirsch & Long, had made a small fortune in stock, and had
been quite a grandee in Killingworth, Connecticut, living in a lovingly
restored farmhousea landmarkwith stone walls around a generous
property. Never mind that Andrew's father had floundered for
years at American Express, bridling that he'd risen to be no more than
a mere vice president, passed over for promotion to executive rank (due,
no doubt, to his temper, and his poorly concealed snobbery); or that
Hirsch & Long stock had foundered since the introduction of laser
surgery and cheap Chinese imports; or that Andrew, the grandson,
was now a certified screw up. Never mind that there was no fortune or
prestigious career to raise them to the upper echelon of Connecticut or
New York society. They would be damned if they were middle class.
They were American aristocrats, Andrew's father thought. They had
the stamp of quality. The Taylors deserved Harrow School. In the eyes
of his father, this was a homecoming, not an exile.
But all his son could see were rules. Infantilizing, seemingly infinite
rules. A tiny, prim pamphlet Andrew received, titled "Newboys
Guide," helpfully pointed them out.
No eating in the street.
No leaving the Hill without a chit. (Whatever that was.)
Boys must wear their Harrow hat to classes.
Boys must wear school uniform at all times. Except on Sundays, when
Sunday dress is mandatory.
No wearing light-colored raincoats to school meetings. (This one left
No food in the rooms.
Boys must "cap" the masters when passing on the streetraise one
finger to the brim of the Harrow hat.
For ladies or the Headmaster, boys must raise the Harrow hat.
Then there was the copious supply of precious, arcane jargoncute
nicknames, presumably developed over centuries, referring to every
aspect of the school. The Newboys Guide offered a lexicon.
Shell = boy in first form. (Seventh grade, Andrew retranslated.)
Remove = boy in second form.
Eccer = exercise.
Bluer = boys' school jacket, made of blue wool.
Greyers = boys' school trousers, made of grey wool.
Beak = master (Teacher, Andrew retranslated.)
And so it went. Andrew felt the claws of claustrophobia on him,
sinking deeper with every repetition of the word boy.
An all-boys' school.
He felt awkward in guy groups. Remote and prickly, he was stung
by the joshing of sporty types. His subjugation to his father made him
hate bullies and provided fuel for outbursts of violent temper when
confronted with casual cruelty in the dormitory halls. And generally
wasting time with friends made him anxious. It seemed inefficient. He
could waste time so much better on his own.
On the contrary, he liked girls. They sought him out at parties and
at school socialsthat is, when he deigned to go. He would hang back
and make sarcastic remarks or sneak off smoking, or better yet make
plans to have a bottle of liquor available and get plastered with some
small side group. Most Saturdays, by ten o'clock check-in, he would
be untangling himself from some girl's bra and licking the Southern
Comfort and punch that had been deposited, secondhand, around
the rim of his mouth. The bohemian girlsthe dancers, the hippie
chicksthought he was one of them, with his black T-shirts and angry
rebellious questions in class and citations of obscure or otherwise cool
literary figures (Mr. Wheeler, why can't we read any Brautigan? Or
Bukowksi?); and the preppie girlsthe ones inclined to slum with the
druggie kidswould sometimes venture his way as well. Summers,
back at home in Killingworth, it was another story altogether. Girls
with big hair and obvious perfume bought the package of Boarding
School and Long Luxurious Black Hair. They would drink two or
three beers and let him do what he wanted to them.
To get locked away on a hilltop with a few hundred boys made him
nervous in a way he couldn't completely comprehend. What happened
when the girls, the sunshine, and the warmth were on the outside and
you were on the inside, chilly, English, and isolated? It would be like
passing a year in a meat locker.
Andrew squatted and gripped his heavy bags, and heaved one of
them over his shoulder. He stood but he did not advance; he could not
cross, not yet. The lanterns stared at him balefully; dirty and unlit. He
felt that if he crossed that threshold, he would step into the nineteenth
century and be lost there. You'd better get every damn thing right, his
father's voice came to him. Low profile. No rock bands (a reference to
Andrew's band, the One-Eyed Bandits, a favorite excuse for all-weekend
bacchanals; cases of cheap beer and jam sessions until daylight). No
school plays (Andrew had been busted for smoking outside rehearsals
twice). No party weekends (plenty of stories there). Homework and home.
That's your mantra. You make this good or we're through with you. Andrew
sensed the seriousness in his father's voice. The anger in the eyes. The
desperation. We're through with you. Could his father really mean it? Cut
him off? Throw him out of the house? Not pay for college? Andrew
did not think of himself as spoiled, but the consequences of his parents
being through with him, at seventeen, seemed hard. He knew the
kids from Killingworth who never left the small town. Who worked in
retail, or ended up as contractorspainters, landscapers, the guys who
drove around in vans, eyes red from the joints they passed. We're
through with you. Did he want to test his father's resolve? To find out
what through meant? He was jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, hungry . . . no.
Not today he didn't.
He breathed deep and took his first step onto Harrow School property.
Squelch. Into a puddle.
He shuffled across the gravel, trying not to drop a bag.
APPARENTLY HE WAS early.
"You're not due till five," snapped the woman who opened the door.
She had frosted hair, over mascara'd lashes, and icy blue eyes that might
have once been pretty. Now she was all bosom and belly. She wiped
her hand on a towel. Off to the right, through the vestibule, Andrew
could see a door opened to a small apartment; a lunch tray; the glow of
"I'm supposed to live here now," he said emphatically. "I don't have
anywhere else to go."
"American," she observed, glaring at him. "Everything on your
"Unfortunately there weren't any flights to Heathrow scheduled to
land when the maid was ready."
"Maid?" she drew herself up, angrily. "I am Matron."
Was this a name, or a title? She announced it with ontological pride,
as if Matron was an element in the periodic table, and she was made
"And I've been traveling since last night. May I please come in?"
Matronthe Matron?took a theatrical step to one side and let
him through with a resigned sigh.
THE LOT, IN keeping with its appearance, was something of a mess
inside. Old glossy paint; battered bulletin boards; an overall dimness.
The fumes of a disinfectant hung about, as if the place had been
mopped in a hurry to prepare for the incoming boarders. Stairwells
and passages spun outward from the main foyer. Up three flights of
stairsmade of heavy slate, worn in the center by many years' use
Matron led Andrew to his room. It shared a short corridor with three
other roomsall Sixth Formers, Matron told him (seniors, he silently
translated). Its ceiling was slanted, giving it a cozy feel.
"I suppose you'd like a tour," grumbled Matron.
The Lot, she said, bustling up to the next story, was really two
houses: this onethe original, with all the characterand a new one,
constructed onto the back of the original. She whirled him along
passages and hallways. The house held sixty boys, Shells to Sixth Form.
Wooden plaques with the names of the house's former residents carved into
them (Gascoigne, M.B.H.; Lodge, J.O.M. The Hon; Podmore, H.J.T. ) lined
the walls of the longer corridors; upstairs there were common rooms with
satellite TV and kitchenettes. Downstairs there was a snooker room, music
rooms, shower, and baths. (Snooker? he wondered.) They passed a filthy
brick pit with a net covering that Matron referred to as the yarderclearly
a place to play, blow off steam in bad weather. A few abandoned balls were
trapped in its webbing like inedible flies.
Then they descended a narrow stair into a warren of tight passages
and low ceilings.
"This the basement?" Andrew asked. He felt a chill crawl up his
arms. "It's cold. Feels like someone left the fridge door open."
Matron shot him a look of annoyance. "You must have caught
something on the plane."
He began to respondHey, I wasn't criticizingbut stopped.
Excerpted from The White Devil by Justin Evans Copyright © 2011 by Justin Evans. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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