Adapted from stories in The Magnet
The hushed school hall was packed with boys. Every fellow of every form was there, from sixth-form seniors down to fags of the second form. The prefects were in their places, canes under their arms: the masters, with grave faces: the hapless culprit, quiet and subdued, but with a hint of defiance in his glinting eyes. The Headmaster’s voice was deep and stern.
Hargreaves, his face very pale, stood. The eyes of the boys followed. There were two grinning faces. They seemed to think there was something amusing in a public flogging.
A public flogging was a rare occasion at St Tom’s. The hard old days were long gone when that ancient hall had often echoed to the swishing of the birch in the hands of grim old head-masters and to the painful howls of the victims. St Tom’s men were “whopped” when they required the same, but “six on the bags” in a study was the usual limit. Only on very rare
Occasions – very rare indeed – was there a public “execution”: with the school assembled in the Hall, masters and boys all present, and the culprit “hoisted” in the old fashioned way – and no doubt it was all the more impressive for that reason.
“Hargreaves” – the Head’s stern voice was audible throughout Big Hall. “You have a disobeyed my commands, and committed what was apparently an unprovoked assault upon a boy belonging to a Highcliffe School. You have not been able to offer the slightest excuse in extenuation of your conduct. I am about to flog you, and I trust the punishment will be a warning to you in the future!”
Hargreaves did not speak. The Head made a sign to Gosling, who advanced to “hoist” the eighteen-year-old. Hargreaves clenched his fists for a moment, and unclenched them again. Apparently the thought of resistance had passed through his mind, only to be dismissed at once. He submitted quietly. Gosling took him up.
Through the silence of Big Hall the lashes of the birch sounded clearly and distinctly. It was a severe flogging, but no sound came from Hargreaves’s lips. His face was pale, his teeth hard set, his eyes gleaming. If the punishment had been doubly as severe, he was determined that no cry should be wrung from his lips. Hardly a sound was heard in the crowded hall.
It was a severe infliction. There was nothing of the grim old Bushy type about the Headmaster, but he had his duty to do, and he did it. And kind old gentleman as the Head seemed at happier moments, there was no doubt that he could whop! Skinner whispered to Snoop that he wondered where the old boy packed the muscle, and Snoop grinned, and Taylor giggled. But most of the fellows were grave and quiet. Hargreaves had asked for it – and more – Hargreaves was tough all through, hard as hickory, and he would have disdained to allow a single cry to leave his lips. But very few fellows could have gone through that castigation in silence.
The last blow delivered, Hargreaves was lowered from Gosling’s back. He slipped to his feet, and stood a little hesitantly, his face white as chalk, his eyes burning. The Head’s glance was compassionate. He had done his duty, and it had been a painful duty to him. “You may go!” he said quietly. Hargreaves went without a word.
The Head made a sign, and the assembled school in silence, crowded out of Hall. Tom Spencer slipped his arm through Hargreaves’s and led him away. Some fellows would have spoken to him – but the look on Hargreaves’s face did not encourage them. It was pale, set, with eyes smouldering like live coals. Spencer led him away in silence, and the door of No. 4 Study closed on them. Hargreaves leaned on the study table, breathing in gasps. He had succeeded in keeping up an aspect of iron endurance and indifference while many eyes were upon him. But it had fallen from him now like a cloak.
Picture credit: The Magnet
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Also writing school stories as Scholastic here
Charles Hamilton the Second
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