Dalkey, Dublin, 8am, The Schoolboy

Thomas looked into his porridge with intense distaste. He hated porridge, especially the way Betty made it, with lumps. Why couldn't his parents hire a cook, that could cook? He had seen the advertisements his mother put in the paper "Good plain Cook required, must be Protestant, Country Girl preferred", but every time they seemed to end up with some fat old biddy who made kippers taste like old boot soles and served up Oxo sandwiches for his lunch every second day. Lizzie, the nursemaid who looked after his little brothers and sisters, said briskly: "Come along now, Tommy, eat up your porridge, it's good for you." He gave her a dark look. He was too old to listen to her, and she would be sorry she had used that tone to him when he was a famous actor, like Sir Henry Irving who had recently visited the Dalkey National School to play The Merchant of Venice.

Thomas had watched carefully in the hope of seeing Irving's manager, Bram Stoker at the performance. He was an Irishman, and wrote very strange books. Thomas's father would not allow his mother to read them, but Thomas himself had a sixpenny copy of Dracula which he kept hidden under his mattress. Thomas had not quite decided between being a famous actor or a soldier like his uncle. Playing with his lead soldiers was still his very favourite game and his collection was unparalleled among his friends. But he also liked his Young Magician's Set, his Juvenile Scientist's Kit, complete with a microscope and a magnifying glass that fried insects in a very satisfactory manner, if you held it at just the right angle under the sun's rays. Lizzie once more reminded him of his porridge and the fact that it would appear before him at lunchtime if he did not eat it now. He picked up his spoon reluctantly, dreaming of the future. In 1914, in ten years time, he would be eighteen and free of them all. Then his life could really begin.

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