Ocean Echoes - Event Which Makes My Hand Still Shake As I Write
( Originally Published 1922 )
I WAS fourteen when I cut the schoolmaster over the eye. There was a hunt on. The red-coated huntsmen came in swarms, the beagle hounds yelped 'viciously as they passed the country school. The schoolmaster must have known of the hunt in advance. The windows were down and locked with a trigger-catch. The front door was locked.
The back door opened into a yard that had a high wall around it, and the iron gate that gave on the country road was hasped fast with an iron padlock. To get in or out of the school a boy must have a quick mind and a ladder. I had the presence of mind, and a stepladder leaned against the wall to the right of a large blackboard.
The pupils were excited as they worked. The master knitted his brows as he gazed at the beautifully garbed ladies who rode in the hunt. I raised my hand and spoke pleadingly;
"Please, sir, may I go out?"
Turning to me he said, in his most conquering brogue: "There'll be no leave till the hunt goes by."
The better-disciplined boys looked at me and grinned.
I have often thought, in reading of the various mystical cults, that sometime in the back ages I may have been a dog. The dog instinct was certainly strong in me that day. When the hunting horn sounded I was as instantly responsive as the swiftest beagle that led the hounds. I jumped for the step-ladder, and rushed for the back door. In my haste I knocked down a few of the boys. There was a general uproar, and I, heedless of everything and the consequences, slammed the ladder against the back wall, mounted the steps, and emerged into freedom.
The village school was soon in the distance. I could run then, through stubble-fields and thorn hedges, over pillared gates and stepping-stiles. I overtook the hunt, passed the fat, stubby, gouty riders, and, knowing the cutoffs, was soon in the midst of the baying beagles. I ran with them till the sun went down.
The stag that made merry the chase took to the ocean for safety. He was later rescued by boatmen, only to lead the hunt another day. The disappointed hounds and I, weary and empty, turned homeward; they to be caressed and fed, and I to be beaten and humiliated. So the hunt broke up on the beach. Red-coated huntsmen and beagles went each to his own home, and each with his own thoughts of the day and the morrow. My visions of what awaited me from an angry father that night and from a heavy-handed schoolmaster the next day made light of my empty stomach and tired body.
I didn't skulk about. I went home to take my medicine. What was a whipping compared with a day with the hounds? My two dogs met me about a mile from the house. I knew by their big melancholy eyes that they were sorry for me. After jumping and frisking around and licking my hands they dropped behind at a respectful distance. It was never safe for them while I was getting punished, for we shared each other's crimes. So I got my whipping, and one that I have never forgotten. Even supper, saved for me, could not heal my sense of aching injuries, in spite of all the plenty of the Irish way of living in those years. But I was con-soled by the thought that I should soon be a man. In fact, not long after, when my father attempted to beat me one day, I warned him that I was unwilling to be punished again, and that if he tried to, he would do it at his own risk. That was the last.
As I went to school next day, I could hear the boys whisper :
"He's going to get it today."
They were right. I did get it. I entered the school as innocently as the kindergarten children. I noticed that the master, as he looked at me, grew venomous, and buttoned his frock-tailed coat. But everything went well till roll-call, and I had hopes that he had given me up as a bad job. I was sadly mistaken. When he called my name :
"Present, sir," I shouted.
"Come up here to the desk," he roared.
Then I knew that the price of the hunt had to be paid. He called the school to atténtion, and, fixing his fiery eyes on me, said : "I'm going to make an example of you. Pin going to teach you that I am the master here and have to be obeyed." As he slung his epithets his voice grew fierce, and his frame shook with anger.
"You'll never amount to anything," he roared, "you,—you,—."
I had a bitter enemy in school--Thomas Coulter by name. I could hear him snicker behind his hands. The master stepped down from his desk with the cane in his hands.
"Hold out your hand!" he shouted. "Twelve slaps with the cane for you"
Four were considered a serious punishment, but twelve were out of the question. I held out my hands and took six, three on each. The welts' were too painful for any more. When I refused and said that I had had enough, he sprang at me like a tiger, knocked me- down, put his knee on my breast, and almost drove the wind out of me. Then he lost control of his temper and beat me unmercifully. As I lay there on the school-room floor groaning with pain, he stood over me like a madman. Then, realizing that he had done his job, he took a glass of water, and resumed the work of the school.
I crawled to my seat, but not like a whipped cur by any means; rather with the determination to get eve ' with that black-eyed brute. Half an hour later my chance came. I grabbed a glass ink-bottle, and being good at throwing cobble-stones, I struck him over the eye, laying bare the bone.
With blood dripping down his shirt he tumbled down from his high-topped desk to the plat-form. I, weak a d bruised, feeling that my job was done, but si k at the sight of it, crawled out of the school and staggered home. I was not sent to that school again. The parish people were terribly upset over my crime, but never a word did they say against the schoolmaster for what he had done to me.
Strange to say, my father openly took my side.
Ile was willing 'o abuse me himself, but when it came to public punishment I at once became a son of his, and as such was entitled to consideration. My mother, being the village diplomat, had to smooth t ' e troubled waters, which she s well qualified to do.