I got back to school to find that these prayers had not been entirely without effect. Bones failed to answer to the first roll-call, and I learned with satisfaction that he and his brother were home sick with the mumps and probably would not appear until late in the term. And this was not all: though I was disappointed that no physical harm had befallen him, the prefect Read had been transferred to another dormitory, the Cadogan, on the other side of the quad, which automatically released me from my unhappy role as his special fag or 'batboy': it being the custom, under the fagging system then in vogue at Saint Columba's, for the prefects to pick their fags from their own house.
From the lists on the blackboard outside the dining-hall I learned that while four or five fourth-formers had crossed the broad divide between the upper and lower schools, and were now in the fifth form, I had been demoted to the third. But even in the third, though I tried hard to apply myself to my studies, I did not manage to keep very near the top of the class. One reason for this being that the greater part of my recreation hours was spent copying out lines, given me generally for stupid minor offenses. Not that I committed more than the average boy, but once the prefects got down on you, they stayed that way. Fortunately, some new boys had come, and licking them into shape diverted some of the attention that would otherwise have been directed to me.
The term was half over before the Bones brothers got back to school. To my surprise and relief Bones major ignored me, and started picking on—ragging, we used to say—a couple of new boys in the second form, where it seemed he had become a permanent fixture.
One morning, coming out of class for the eleven o'clock break, a stiff kick in the behind lifted me off my feet, scattering my school books in the mud. Bones major was standing back of me with a grin on his face.
"I only did what he asked me," he said to the fellows around us, pointing to my collar. One of them read aloud what was written on it:
"I am a shit—kick me."
He began to laugh and said: "With pleasure!" and kicked me, not viciously like Bones, but easily, with the inside of his foot. I pulled off my collar.
"You can't blame me. I only did what you asked me," Bones major said as I read what was written on it.
"Who wrote that on my collar?" I asked.
No one answered, but I saw a boy named MacMulaway edging away and remembered that he had been sitting behind me in class.
"I only did what you asked me, you can't blame me," said Bones major again with a great air of innocence.
The third repetition of this remark was too much for me. I looked hard at his nose and clenched my fists. But discretion got the better of me. I glanced quickly behind me to see if the way of escape was clear and swung back my leg. All the force I had in me went into the kick that landed square on his shin. He let a yell out of him and started hopping around on one foot, hugging his shin.
"Stop him!" I heard him shout.
But I was already clear and running as hard as I could pelt for the upper dormitory where he could not follow me.
With a soaped towel I wiped off the inscription and put on my celluloid collar again. While I was doing it, a fellow stopped at my cubicle.
"Better look out," he said. "Bones is waiting for you at the bottom of the stairs."
"Who wrote that on my coller?" I asked.
"MacMulaway," he said. "When you were leaning back against his desk."
I figured I would have to wait until everyone was in class before I could go downstairs. That would make me late, and mean more lines, but there was nothing else to do. I went to the top of the stairway to have a look. I could see the feet of a lot of fellows under the arch of the door leading to the cloisters and knew Bones was there. Then Croasdale came along carrying his bags. He had been hurt hunting during the holidays and had just got back. I went to his cubicle with him and told him what had happened. He said to wait a minute and he would go down with me. When we got to the cloister door Bones made a rush at me but Croasdale stepped between us. He had his hands in his pockets. Bones bumped into him and stopped. I kept behind Crossdale. Bones stepped back uncertainly and then started after me again, Again he found himself facing Croasdale. Then the fellows around us began to laugh. Bones tried again but with the same result. I saw him size up Croasdale. They were about the same size....The bell rang for class.
"I'll see you later!" Bones said to me and went off. I waited till he was out of sight.
"Thanks, Croasdale," I said, and started for the classroom.
That afternoon the fourth, third and second forms attended a lecture in the big classroom. I found a place behind MacMulaway. He was leaning back against my desk. I wrote in pencil on his collar the same thing he had written on mine, and felt very pleased with myself. When the lecture was over I saw Bones major talking to MacMulaway, but did not attach any importance to it. They left the classroom together.
In a few minutes I was told that Powell, the senior prefect, wanted me.
Bones major and Machulaway were in his cubicle with him.
"Did you write that filthy word on MacMulaway's collar?"" said Powell.
"I did," I said.
"Wait for me in the classroom," said Powell.
I felt myself get hot and cold all over by turns. "He wrote the same thing on mine this morning," I blurted out.
"Let me see," Powell said.
"I wiped it off," I said.
Powell turned to MacMulaway.
"Did you? he asked.
"I did not," MacMulaway said.
"Wait for me in the classroom," Powell said to me.
"You can ask the fellows," I began desperately.
"Wait for me in the classroom," said Powell and got out his cane....
A prefects' licking: not two to four strokes from one prefect, but the whole gang of them—five in this case—out to flay a boy alive. Two strokes from each of the senior prefects, one each from the other three....Blood was oozing through my underwear by the time they had finished with me.
The next morning I read the following entry under my name in the prefects' book on the hall table in the warden's house: Seven strokes for writing a foul word on another boy's collar. The entry was initialed by each of the five prefects, and the warden's smug initials over it in blue pencil stamped this record of sadism with the hallmark of his approval.
As I read I felt my cheeks burn and, in spite of me, tears came to my eyes and splashed down on the page. But there was no shame in me at having written the word I had written on another boy's collar and another boy had written on mine, only a dull helpless rage at the unfairness of the punishment, and bitter resentment of a warden who permitted, under the pretext of discipline, such vicious licensed bullying by grown-up boys of younger boys in the school he was headmaster of. I thought wildly of writing the word in big letters across the entry in the book and then running away from school. But I realized I would not get far with only threepence ha penny in my pocket. And I read the entry again and I heard boys who were passing on their way to class and knew what I was reading, snicker and laugh. And then one fellow stopped and read it too, and when he had read it he put his hand on my shoulder and said:
"I know all about this. MacMulaway is a liar and a sneak. Hard luck old boy."
And as he said that Bones major and MacMulaway came along, and he saw them coming and said so that they and everyone else could hear:
"Bones major and MacMulaway are a couple of shits. The prefects are shits too, and the warden is a cowpad. And you can run along and tell them I said it, MacMulaway. I'm leaving at the end of the term in any case."
These words made my throat contract and the saliva in my mouth dry up, but they had a soothing effect on me, for this boy was in the fifth form and on the football team, and there was no reason for him to speak to me at all. His name was Otway. And as I watched him walk away I knew that within me the spark which is in every schoolboy's breast, waiting to be kindled into that loyalty and devotion to his Alma Mater—the flame we call esprit de corps—had been extinguished.
Five years later, when I left Saint Columba's, I took along with me as a souvenir this prefects' book. In my first year I had broken the school punishment record, having received more than twice the number of lines and strokes received by any other boy in his first year during the period recorded. One page, however, I tore out and laid back in the drawer where the book was kept. Across it I wrote the offending word in large letters and put my initials over those of the warden.