(Rover Homepage)


This first episode, taken from The Rover issue: March 6th 1971.

Three years in an approved school for a crime he did not commit.

That’s the grim prospect facing David Garfield as the gates shut.

Van boy Josh Pritchard jerked his head towards the wash-room door. Fatty Drayton shambled inside behind him. “The transport manager has just sacked me,” Josh snarled. “Did he search your van as well?” “He did!” Fatty scowled.

“You can’t have a few perks now, never mind a regular fiddle.” A greasy bead of sweat fell from his rat-tail hair. “I’ll get even with him before long.” “Best take it easy,” Josh cautioned. “Old Garfield is a shrewd devil, and more than a match for you, but just suppose,” the sudden venom in his voice made Fatty’s eyes widen, “just suppose something nasty happened to that son of his…” Fatty’s eyes gleamed. “You mean Dave Garfield what plays on the canteen grand piano every Sunday afternoon?” he asked. Josh nodded. “That’s him.” Fatty bared his yellow teeth in a malicious grin. “His darlin’ daddy would be upset!” He warmed to the idea. “Have you been working on it already, Josh?” Josh finished wiping his hands, and pulled a bar of hard carbolic soap from his pocket. The outline of a key was clearly marked in the soap. “What do you reckon on that impression?” Fatty gave a low whistle. “That’s what I call a real beaut’. Which door will the key fit?” “The one at the back of the factory which they use to go in and out of when they set or switch off the alarm. Old Bassett the watchman calls it the ‘first and last’ door. There’s a ten second delay before the alarm goes after the door opens, and, of course,” Josh tapped the side of his nose knowingly, “it ain’t got any bolts on the inside. Can you get a key cut by tomorrow, Fatty?” “Easy,” said Fatty, sticking his thumbs under the armpits of his overalls. “Is something interesting going to happen on Saturday afternoon, then?” He grinned expectantly. “Too right there is,” gloated Josh. “Old Bassett has to turn off the burglar-alarm to let Dave Garfield in at the canteen door. As that’s on the other side of the building to the back door…” We could let ourselves in at the same time,” Fatty’s eyes gleamed, “and ‘elp ourselves to the long-distance drivers’ lodgin’ allowances. They’re kept in the desk of the transport office locked in the middle drawer. All we need is a large screwdriver…” “Twenty envelopes with a week’s night-out-money in each must be worth two-hundred quid,” Josh laughed wickedly. “Garfield won’t pay it out on Fridays because he knows the drivers would be broke by Monday morning!” “We’ll have to split it three ways,” Fatty looked thoughtful. “I’m proud of you,” Josh patted him on the shoulder. “Dave Garfield junior doesn’t know he’s got a share coming yet, does he?” Fatty leered with pleasure. “We won’t spoil his surprise. But why does he cycle all the way here to play a piano when he must have a good one at home?” “Tut, tut,” Josh shook his head in mock horror. “Fatty, you really must educate yourself. He does it to get experience playing in a large hall. It’s very different to playing in a small room at home, especially when you’re using pedals, and such. “All right, bighead,” Fatty grumbled. “I’ll bring the key and screwdriver on Sunday. See you round the back of the factory about two o’clock.” They crept through the field behind the factory early Sunday afternoon. “Hide your bike next to mine under the hedge,” Josh whispered. “How did you make out with the key?” “Fine,” Josh looked round cautiously after answering. “We’ll crawl in from here. Old Bassett is most likely asleep after his grub, but we’ll take no chances.” They reached the corner of the building, then stood up to run silently, ducking below the factory windows until they reached the door. Josh squinted through the keyhole. “I can see right through all right!” he claimed. “Old Bassett didn’t leave his key blocking the lock. Now we can use ours without any bother. Don’t forget, we’ve got to be in and out while he’s letting Dave Garfield in at the canteen door. The old boy can’t hurry, so we should have about four minutes.” Fatty looked at his watch impatiently. “Nearly half-past two. Ain’t it about time…” “Quite,” Josh whispered, “I can hear something.” He pressed his ear to the door, then looked through the keyhole again. “Here he comes.” Josh held the new key at the ready, motioned Fatty to stand back, then watched through the keyhole as Old Bassett turned the alarm key from a quarter past back to twelve, then spin the circuit control dial back to zero. They heard the faint sound of footsteps fading away over the concrete floor. Josh tried the new key, opened the door softly, and yanked Fatty inside after him. He placed a warning finger over his lips, then pointed to the screwdriver in Fatty’s top pocket. Fatty nodded quickly, slipped it into his hand, and tiptoed after Josh down the narrow corridor. “Force it, quick!” Josh hissed through his teeth as they reached the transport office. Fatty threw the envelopes of money on the desk, pushed the drawer back into place, and wiped the desk top and drawer handle with his dirty handkerchief. They stuffed the money into their pockets. “Come on,” Josh touched Fatty’s arm. “Out!” They fled down the corridor and out into the sunlight. Fatty pulled the door shut with a trembling hand. Josh locked it quickly. They stooped low, breathing hard, ears pressed against the door. The watchman’s slowly-returning footsteps and the faint sound of piano music satisfied Josh. He stuck his thumb into the air, then led the way round the side of the factory to the cycle shed. Fatty pointed to the solitary cycle upended in the racks. “Put half-dozen envelopes in Garfield’s saddle-bag,” Josh whispered hoarsely, “and be quick about it.” “Can we hop it now?” Fatty refastened the leather strap, and looked nervous. “Pull yourself together,” Josh gave a terse warning, “we ain’t finished yet, by a long chalk. We’re going to wait until five o’clock, when Dave Garfield is let out to go home. “What for?” Fatty grumbled as they ducked low out of sight to creep round the back of the factory. “So we can let ourselves in again, you great ninny,” Josh said impatiently. “We’ll hide behind the fixtures until Old Bassett resets the alarm. “You clobber him with the screwdriver handle while his back’s turned. Not too hard. Just enough to put him asleep for a little while so he can’t set the alarm at five o’clock.” “You never said anything about rough stuff,” Fatty argued. “Why can’t we leave it like it is?” “Because we’ve got to make sure, that’s why,” answered Josh. “When Old Bassett can’t set the alarm on time, his headquarters will telephone the local police. They’ll come tearing round to see what’s up, savvy?” “So with any luck,” Fatty sounded more cheerful, “they’ll nab young Garfield sometime tonight.” “You said it,” Josh laughed quietly, “and when we’ve locked the door for the last time, we’ll sling the key in the canal. That ought to fox ‘em.” “While we’re goin’ to all this trouble to make sure,” Fatty became inspired, “how about dropping an envelope on the transport office floor to help the police along a bit?” “You are getting to be a wicked swine,” Josh chuckled evilly.


David Garfield knelt silently in the choir. Parson Storey finished giving the blessing and turned to kneel at the altar. A sharp click at the other end of the church snapped the silence. David turned his head at the following sound of thick hinges.

He watched the great doors beyond the font open slowly. A thin finger of light skipped over the font and stretched up the centre aisle. The finger became a fist as the doors opened wider. Two broad-shouldered men removed their hats and walked quietly into the church. They took up positions on either side of the archway like sentinels about to challenge. A third man followed. He stood apart with head bowed. David held his breath as he recognised his father. Something must be wrong. The boy searched his brain for an answer. His father hadn’t been to church since his mother died. David felt nervous and didn’t know why. A slight rustle of clothes as the rest of the choirboys sat back. David followed automatically, waiting for the last hymn. Suddenly he was standing with everyone else. Norman Smith, the organist, played the first two lines of “To Thee O Lord Our Hearts We Raise.” David nodded to the lad at the head of the choir stalls on the other side, and they started the slow walk through the congregation. He responded to the organ, leading the singing with a great spirit. His ears eagerly accepted the rich sound of the organ and voices. The choir neared the end of the aisle. David looked at his father and the two men. He wondered if their ears were enjoying the music like his. His father’s face was serious. The two men’s faces were hard, unmoved. The hymn finished a few yards from the vestry door. David walked quietly inside. Parson Storey said the last prayer, and everyone started disrobing. The vestry door opened. Bill Huggins, the verger, poked his head in. “Young Dave Garfield there?” “Yes, Mr Huggin’s?” David wriggled to the front. “Your father and two gentlemen asking for you, son.” “Tell them I won’t be a minute, please.” David struggled into his jacket, straightened his hair quickly, and left the vestry. His heart thumped as he walked to the door. His eyes searched his father’s face, and read signs of strain, despair, reproach. “These gentlemen are from the police, David. Something serious happened at the factory this afternoon.” His father spoke shakily as they descended the great steps. “You’ve got to go to the police station and answer questions.” They entered the back of the squad car in silence. Music still sounded in the boy’s head. His mental ear was reluctant to dismiss the words and music of the church. He made a gigantic effort. “What is it about, Dad?” he asked. “Best not say anything until we get there,” said his father, his words stern, unhappy. The sergeant received them at the police station, and took them inside to a small room. “Will it be possible to speak to my son alone before he is questioned?” Mr Garfield looked hopefully at the sergeant. “Sorry, sir, not just now, but,” the sergeant lowered his voice, “of course, if he’s formally charged, then you will be able to have a few words before he’s taken to the cells. You can stay with him while he’s questioned.” David trembled as he opened his mouth to speak, but words refused to come. The door opened. The two men who had waited at the church walked briskly into the room. “The gentlemen from our C.I.D. division, Mr Garfield. They will be dealing with your son’s case.” The sergeant left the room. “Do you recognise this bicycle saddle-bag, son?” One of the plain-clothes men placed the bag on the desk in front of him. David looked at the bag, surprised. “Yes, sir. It’s mine.” “Open it, please, and take out the contents,” he was ordered. Puncture outfit, oil can, spanners, spare brake-blocks. David placed them on the desk. He felt the envelopes and took them out. “I don’t recognise these,” he said. “They don’t belong to me.” He met the accusing glances with steady eyes. “I don’t know how they got there.” The two C.I.D. men exchanged sardonic smiles. “I suppose you know nothing about the attack on Mr Bassett, the security watchman,” one said, “or about the rest of the money? What did you do with it, eh?” “Mr Bassett?” David’s face went crimson with agitation. “But he’s my friend. He was quiet all right when I left the factory canteen just before five.” “Well he’s in hospital now with concussion. Do you deny all knowledge of the theft and attack?” “Of course, I do, sir,” David swung round, facing his father. “You believe me, Dad, don’t you?” “I want to, son, I want to,” Mr Garfield replied brokenly, avoiding his son’s eyes. Something snapped in the boy’s mind as he saw the disbelief in each pair of adult eyes, even his father’s. He swallowed the rush of angry words which flooded his mouth and almost choked. There followed a long silence. Then at length one of the plain-clothes men spoke. “Now you’ve had time to think it over, do you still persist in a complete denial of all charges?” David looked down at the men and realised with a start that he had not seen them sit. He quickly calmed down. “You are making a very serious mistake. I have done nothing wrong.” David added with spirit, “My conscience is clear. Do what you like!


The magistrate finished the discussion with his two advisers. He removed his spectacles and looked down at David. “Stand up, son,” the constable whispered out of the side of his mouth. David stood facing the magistrate.

He felt as though he was trapped in a forest late at night, without a fire, and hundreds of pairs of eyes, glowing, watching, waiting, moving inwards, the circle growing smaller. “David Garfield, you have been found guilty of the theft of two hundred pounds and of a vicious assault on an elderly night-watchman. This has been a most difficult case, and had it not been for the injury caused to Mr Bassett, a more lenient course might have been possible.” The magistrate looked steadily at David. “Your previous excellent character, your musical ability, and the many good references would have given support to leniency,” he went on. “However, we have decided to send you to an approved school for three years. You will be taught a useful trade and you will be encouraged to continue your musical studies in your spare time, provided your behaviour and work is satisfactory.” He dismissed David with a wave of his hand. “Follow me, son.” The constable led the way out of courtroom No. 5. “In there,” he pointed to a small waiting room “You can have fifteen minutes with your father before they take you to Ashfield School. I shall be waiting outside the door.” David walked slowly into the room. He eyed his father coldly. “Three years, Father, but I’ll find out one day who framed me.” “But, son, you haven’t got enemies like that surely?” “Well, I didn’t think so before. I’m sure now though.” Mr Garfield sat down and looked at his son. “Someone must be punishing me by getting at you.” He caught David’s hand. “As soon as Old Bassett is well again I’ll have a chat with him. He must know something. I’ll keep working at it.” “I know I’m innocent, and one day, with or without your help,” David looked straight into his father’s eyes, “I’ll prove it and clear my name. Don’t worry, Dad, and look after yourself.” He shook hands with his father, left the waiting room and walked to the waiting police van. “You going to Ashfield, same as me?” A voice came from the far corner of the van as it moved away. David strained his eyes in the half-light, and looked across at the tall lad. “That’s right. What’s your name.” “Jack Stubbs.” The boy moved closer and held out his hand. “Call me Ginger.” David shook his hands warmly. “I’m David Garfield. What are they sending you in for?” “Shoplifting!” Ginger paused. “Course, I was framed. You?” “Robbery with violence!” David quickly checked the words that rushed to his mouth. He couldn’t really believe Ginger. No one would really believe him. “Strewth!” Ginger exclaimed. “How old are you, Dave?” “Fourteen and a bit. You?” “Fifteen. Know anything about Ashfield?” Ginger asked. David shook his head. “Not to worry,” Ginger said cheerfully. “We can take it, and dish it out if needs be, can’t we?” “You bet,” David responded to the cheeky optimism. He was glad of the companionship. The van squeaked to a standstill at the end of it’s journey. “Out you get, you two,” came the command. David and Ginger jumped down on the gravel close to hugh oak doors. The archways and high walls looked like the entrance to some medieval castle. Strong, forbidding, no escape. David walked with Ginger between their escorts. The doors thudded together behind them. They marched now at a faster rate. David saw the spacious fields in the distance through another great arch between two blocks of buildings. His ears stirred at the sound of a bugle call sounding at intervals in different parts of the grounds. Machines humming, hammering, saws, the whine of motors, pounding, smell of leather, ink, burning, and his heart leapt at the painful, mournful, struggling notes of a trombone. He grinned at the notice on the recreation hut door, Band Practice Room. David’s step grew lighter, and his eyes read the names on the buildings he passed – Gymnasium, Print Shop, Carpenters, Tinsmiths, Bootmakers, Cabinet Makers, Library, Sickbay. They left the cluster of buildings and marched round a well-cut lawn. Halfway up the stone steps, David looked sideways to the distant chapel. The stained-glass windows gave a curious welcome. David felt a challenge as he entered the reception office. He filled his head with thoughts of the world that had been shut off when the great gates clanged behind him. Music, choirs, singing. His whole being felt full of energy, defiant, as he stood by Ginger’s side in front of the counter. Curt, harsh, commanding words brought him back. His face flushed angrily for a moment. “Strip off your clothes. Over there. Get weighed and measured. See the doctor – that door over there.” The housemaster pointed curtly. “Then report back over here for your school uniforms. The boys did as ordered and entered the doctor’s room. The doctor frowned at David’s thin body. “Take a deep breath – out, in, out. Now lift your arms up from your side, turn your hands inwards, clench your fists, bring your fists back to your shoulders. All right, relax. Sit down. What are your hobbies?” “Music, piano, organ, composition, singing, and oil painting, sire,” answered David. The doctor sniffed disapprovingly. “How about sport? Football, cricket, swimming, athletics. Can you run at all, eh?” he asked. David’s face reddened slightly. “Never tried them much, sir, always too busy,: he said. “Four hours piano practice a day, sir.” “Well, well!” The doctor looked thoughtful. “Take my advice, Garfield. When they ask you in your house what sports you can play, tell ‘em one or two at least, and then try, or it will be the worse for you.” He smiled grimly at David. “Shouldn’t say anything about boxing if I were you, or they’ll bring you in to see me on a stretcher.” He went on in a kinder tone. “Go and see the bandmaster, Mr Marchant, and tell him I sent you. He wants buglers, trumpet, and bass players at the moment. Off you go.” David arrived back at the counter. Ginger, who had seen the doctor first, was half-dressed in his black serge uniform. “Come on, lad, hurry up.” The housemaster rapped the counter with his cane. “Now pay attention, listen carefully while you’re dressing, as I shan’t repeat my self for your benefit. “You both know why you’re here. I know. The school governor knows. That doesn’t mean you’re to discuss it with any of the other lads. Forget it now, and behave, if you want to get any benefit from the school. If you want it rough, you can have it. If you try, we’ll try. All right?” “Yes, sir,” David answered. Ginger didn’t bother to reply. “Right,” the housemaster continued, “for administration purposes, this approved school is divided into four houses – Arnold, Drake, Scott, and Wren. Each house has it’s own dormitory known as Pelham. That’s for the wet beds in each house.” The housemaster reached for a book, his pen at the ready. “Do either of you two…” “No, sir,” David said indignantly. Ginger shook his head. “All right!” went on the housemaster. “Garfield, your number will be 359 in Wren House. Stubbs, yours will be 265 in Arnold. For the first two weeks you will be spare boys under the control of Mr Jones, the washhouse master. “After that you will be given your official house colours, asked to choose a trade, and if you don’t choose, you will be directed to one.” He looked at the round clock on the wall. “Dinner in ten minutes,” he said. “I expect you both know the bugle call to the cookhouse.” He gave an unexpected grin. “Off you go.” David followed Ginger out into the quadrangle. A huge hand appeared round the side of the building and grabbed Ginger’s shirt at the neck, lifting him almost off his feet. “What house have they put you in, Squirt?” The bloated red face of a heavily-built youth breathed into his face. “Mind your own business!” David pushed the point of his pencil in hard. “Let go or I’ll rip the seat of your trousers right across with this piece of glass. One, two…” The youth let go in a hurry. Ginger hacked his skin. “Run for it, Dave!” They fled, dodging in between groups of boys nearing the dining-hall, round the other side of the building, and found themselves in the washroom. “Thanks!” Ginger gasped, then grinned. “That’s one thing you didn’t know you could do, I’ll bet.” “What do you mean?” David said, blowing hard. “Why, run like a deer, that’s what,” Ginger looked at David puzzled. “I can see you’re not used to running for it, but when they ask you about sports, you tell ‘em sprinting and football. I had a job keeping up with you.” The bugle sounded the dinner call. David went quiet as a different trumpet call sounded in his head, notes from a famous overture. He felt suddenly lonely as he walked slowly into the dining-hall. Ginger tugged impatiently at his sleeve. “Come on, Dave, Wren House tables are up front,” Ginger pointed the way, then moved to the side tables. David found his place. He found to his surprise that he was really hungry. The tremendous noise of scraping knives, forks, spoons, the clatter of plates, and the noise of a hundred voices made him a little dizzy. His ears gradually grew accustomed to it, and he was aware of a kind of primitive companionship he’d never experienced before. “My name is Dick Slow, what’s yours?” The tall, pale faced boy looked across the table with a friendly grin. “My number is 358, and as the old 359 left yesterday. I guess that’s you now.” “That’s right, I’m David Garfield,” David looked round the hall, watching a few boys leaving from various tables, and obviously with permission. It was an orderly procedure accepted by the rest of the lads. “Why are they leaving?” David asked. “Band practice.” Dick Slow nodded in the direction of the recreation hut. “They’re allowed to leave fifteen minutes before the rest and are excused clearing tables. “I heard a whisper that you’re musical. I’m going in a minute. If you want to join, come down with me and I’ll speak to old Marchant.” “Thanks,” said David, looking eagerly at the dining-hall door. He stood as Dick Slow stepped back from his form-seat. They hurried over the quiet quadrangle and mounted the narrow, wooden steps into the bandroom. “Which instrument do you want to play, Garfield?” asked the bandmaster as he adjusted his glasses and looked at David with keen interest. “All of them, please, sir,” David said excitedly. “One at a time, of course.” “H’m. Can you sing that bugle call.” Mr Marchant handed a band card to the lad. The musical inferno of individual instruments at different stages of practice suddenly faded away. David sand the “Last Post” with a trumpet-like clarity, reading the simple notation with ease. Without words his voice sounded like an instrument. No one approached him or voiced an opinion. Mr Marchant nodded with respect. A place was made for him. A trumpet and bugle placed before him. Dick Slow brought his music stand over and sat next to him. “They won’t say so,” Dick Slow nodded to the lads polishing and practicing their instruments, “but they’re very pleased to have you. I play the E flat bass myself and bugle, too. I’ll teach you how to blow and use your tongue properly, especially triple tonguing, then Mr Marchant will teach you fingering and the use of valves. You’ll be playing with the band in no time.” “I had better tackle the bugle first, hadn’t I?” David grasped the instrument eagerly. “Good idea,” Dick said, “you’ll get an extra two bob pocket money for doing regular duty, and it’s great help in learning to control pitch.” And so it was. Some weeks later David stood on the steps of the school tower, ready to blow his first duty solo. “Bugler Garfield, sound the ‘Last Post,’ and when you’ve finished report to the Governor’s office. He wants to speak to you.” The night duty master stamped down the winding stone steps. David raised the bugle to his lips. The notes crashed round the tower. He felt pleased with his performance and ran lightly down the steps. Three minutes later he tapped at the Governor’s door. “Come in, Garfield!” The grey-haired school Governor looked up from his desk. “Please sit down. I want to speak to you informally.” David perched nervously on the edge of the chair. “I have received this letter from your father,” said the Governor, who pointed to the envelope on his desk. “And I’m amazed to find that you have not replied to any of his letters.” “I shall of course, answer this myself and tell him of your progress. But I must insist that you sit down now and write a letter in my office. I shall censor it myself, then post it.” David sat down and accepted the envelope and writing paper. He looked up at the Governor. “I’m sorry I have not written before, sir, but the days have been so busy in the last three weeks.” The boy found it difficult to get started. He wrote “Dear Father,” and chewed the end of his pencil for several minutes, then said, “I hope you are well, and I’m sorry for not writing before. Your loving son, David.” He addressed the envelope, placed the letter inside, and handed it unsealed to the Governor.

THE SCHOOL BEHIND THE HIGH WALL - 8 WEEKS The Rover April 6th 1971April 24th 1971

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003