Brian's Saga

by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2006  -

Copyright Robin Gordon 2006

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    Chapter 10
    A new obsession
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        Odd Fart lay with his own daughter!  “Perhaps nothing will come of it,” she said – and he replied that he had sired so many children that he had lost count!  He sent her back to her husband, and nine months later she had a baby!  Brian had tried his best to remain pure and innocent, but this book seemed to confirm the sort of filthy stories that his classmates told.  It seemed to be true that babies weren’t just sent by God as a fulfilment of the sacrament of marriage.  Sex came into it somehow.  Could it be true that that stuff that came out of his body … ?
    He remembered one of Dolly McIlwaine’s jokes.
    “Hey there was this Catholic lad, see, and he couldn’t stop wanking off, and he had to go to confession, so he told the priest about his sin, and the priest told him that it was very wicked and that every time he did it he was throwing away one of his children.  So he tried as hard as he could to stop, but one night he just couldn’t help it, so he thought, I’ll just play for a bit, but I’ll stop before it’s too late.  But then it was too late, and he tried to stop the spunk but he couldn’t.  He tried to catch it, and it kind of twirled through his fingers from one to the other, and he was grabbing at it, and it went from one finger to another till he lost it and it fell on the ground.  Then he looked at it, and he said: Pity about that one! He would have been an acrobat!
    The others had laughed, and Brian had stalked away in pointed disapproval.  But if Odd fart lay with his daughter, and nine months later she had a baby ….
    He wouldn’t read any more of that book.  It was wrong of Mouse to have given him such a thing.  It was a book designed to corrupt innocent minds with thoughts of sex.  It couldn’t possibly be true that human beings, made in the image of God, did things like that.  He laid it contemptuously aside and took up the book he had borrowed from the library, Resurrection Men, with the attractive picture of a college chapel on the front.  It was already Thursday, and he liked always to visit the library on his way home from school on Fridays.  He would read the first chapter and see what it was like.  If it was a worthy and morally improving piece of literature he would read it during the week.  If it was merely a cheap entertainment, offering nothing to the earnest seeker after truth, then he would return it the next day.

Resurrection Men
by Martin Potter-Brown

    Tom Appleby looked back towards Auksford.  Already the late afternoon sun was gilding the domes and pinnacles of the Babylon Library and the spires of the college chapels.  The streets would be in shadow, and it would not be long before the evening darkness crept over the town.  The sun was sinking in the west beyond the marshland and would soon disappear behind the hills.  When it was gone it would be unsafe to be out of college.
    Tom sighed.  He had had a pleasant afternoon out on the marshes with his binoculars, and, while watching the ducks and waders, had forgotten his troubles.  He knew he had to get a move on to reach college before dusk.  The prayer-book his mother had given him, a tiny Victorian volume with a leather spine and ivory boards bound in brass, and with the mystic letters IHS in enamelled brass on the front, was pretty and holy, but its efficacy as a talisman had never been tested, and he doubted its power.  It had been his maternal grandmother's, and his widowed mother had passed it to him with a fond but worried look, hoping it would suffice, for his grandmother had been a pious and saintly woman all her life.  It wasn’t an authenticated relic, but it was all they had.

    "Humph!" thought Brian, "this sounds Roman Catholic to me!  Authenticated holy relics indeed.  I didn't know Auksford was Catholic."

    Tom hurried through the Rivergate, feeling uneasy at the deep shadows.  Jewry Street was still moderately light.  He kept to the right hand side, as far away as possible from the narrow alleys and defiles that led down to St Chad's, a place of ill-repute that was nonetheless strangely attractive to certain undergraduates seeking easy female companionship.  It was rumoured that in past centuries some had lost their gold, others their reputations, some their clothing, and a few their lives.  The twentieth century allowed less scope for unsolved murders, but robbery with violence, or threatened violence, was still an ever present threat, and Tom could ill afford to lose so much as half a crown, though he had heard of wealthier students who were willing to take the risk and buy off the thugs with a bit of loose change to indulge their lust for debauchery.
    Loose change!  That was all it was to them.  It might be as much as five pounds, and another two to pay the girl.  To Tom it was a fortune.  He was a scholarship boy, for Resurrection College had laid aside, some time in the late Middle Ages, a considerable sum to provide for poor boys from Hadcaster, and Tom had benefited to the tune of free tuition and a room in college.  He still had to buy his books, his pens and files and paper.  He had to buy clothes, for he soon found that his shabby provincial wear made him stand out.  He had to pay for his meals, and, if he went to the Junior Common Room, he had to stand his round or be thought a cheapskate.  Since his father had died his mother had had to work as a seamstress to make ends meet and to support his two younger sisters, who were still at school.  Tom had, of course, offered to forgo his place at Auksford and to find a job locally so that he could contribute to the household, but neither his mother nor his sisters would hear of it.
    "Of course you must go, Tom," his mother had said.  "No-one in out family has ever been to university, and you've made it to Auksford, and to Resurrection College too.  You can't even think of giving it up.  It'll be a struggle, but only for a few years, and after that you'll be able to earn much more than you ever could if you stayed in Hadcaster.  You must make the most of your opportunities, Tom, make something of yourself, maybe even become a school master like Mr Bennett."
    Mr Bennett had given him the same advice.  "You're a clever boy, Appleby.  You mustn't throw away your chances.  I know you want to help your mother in her hour of need, but in the long term you'll be much more help to her and your sisters with an Auksford degree.  A degree opens the way to prosperity and all sorts of wonderful possibilities -- and an Auksford degree more than most."
    Tom had been secretly relieved.  To tell the truth he had been rather dreading giving up his hard-won place, but now that he was actually there in Auksford - in Resurrection College - he was determined to get by on as little as possible, to spend his time working and writing essays, and, for his pleasures, as far as possible to limit himself to things that could be enjoyed without charge, like his walk across the marshes with his father's binoculars, a second-hand guide to British birds and a notebook.
    The darkness was closing around him as he turned into Resurrection Street.  Ahead he saw two figures lurking in the shadows, hoods pulled over their heads like sinister monks.  Ordinary street-robbers?  Unlikely at that time of dusk.  His hand closed around the prayer-book in his pocket, but he felt no comfort from it.  There was nothing there of the electric thrill that had coursed through his fingers when, at his matriculation, he had touched the monstrance in which reposed the College's most sacred relic.
    He stopped, uncertain.  If it was blood the strangers wanted, it would be madness to approach them.  Yet how was he to gain the safety of college without passing them.  He'd have to back along Resurrection Street, walk half way along High Street, then take the circuitous path known as Annunciation Lane, branch off at Epiphany Lane, head back along Babylon Street, and enter Resurrection Street from the other end.  It would take ten or fifteen minutes.  He would be late for hall.  He might have innumerable encounters, and, even if he met no-one, the strangers would only have had to move about five yards, to the other side of the college gate, to have made his whole manœuvre pointless.
    Well, he was young and reasonably fit.  He had a prayer book that might or might not deter evil.  He would make a run for it and trust to luck.
    But then he heard something behind him.  He shrank back into the shadows as a tall, black-clad man strode past him.  Not hooded, so not one of the enemy.  The man moved towards the gateway, and, as he passed the street-light, Tom recognised Professor Cope, the University Haruspex.  With a snarl the two lurking figures barred his way.  Tom, without thinking, rushed forward to confront them, but he was too late to make a difference.
    Professor Cope simply smiled.  He took something from his pocket and held it up.  Tom gasped.  White light seemed to radiate from the talisman in the Professor's hand.  The vampiric visitants staggered back, covering their faces with their hands, then stumbled away into the darkness.
    "Thank you for your offer of assistance, my young friend," Professor Cope murmured without turning round to look at Tom.  "You are quite right about your own talisman.  Though your dear grandmother was a most saintly person, her prayer-book would have availed you naught against these evil creatures -- but keep it by you, for there may come a time when it will stand you in good stead.  A most saintly woman indeed, and her prayers will not go unrewarded.  I fear you may meet difficulties in the near future, but new friends will stand by you.  More than that I cannot say, but at least I can conduct you the last few yards in safety, for I dine with the Master of your College tonight."
    He turned and smiled at Tom, who scarcely know what to say in reply and so just smiled back at the kindly, silver-haired old man in front of him.
    "Horace," the students called him, though Tom knew that was not his real name, but, since he was Professor of Divination as well as Haruspex, and since his surname was Cope, what could one expect? Was it chance that had brought him to the gates of Resurrection just at that moment?  And what was Tom to make of his prophecies?  Was prophecy even possible in the modern world?
    He hurried to his room, washed and changed as quickly as he could, pulled on his gown, and ran to Hall.  He was late.  The senior scholar hadn't yet read out the Grace, but the hall was full.  Tom could see no spaces at all near his friends; in fact the only free seat was at a table half-way down, largely occupied by the Boat Club.  The senior scholar stood up and rapped his spoon on the table.  Tom ran to the vacant place and took it just in time, just as the assembled members of the college stood for grace.  A moment later and he would have been sconced: forced to down a yard of ale in one go, and, if he failed -- as he certainly would -- made to buy a round of drinks for his whole table.  It wasn't malice, he knew that.  To most of the chaps around him a round of drinks was just a matter of small change.  They spent that amount every evening in the college bar; but for Tom -- well, it would have left him penniless for the rest of term.  He would have had to sell some of his books, pawn some of his clothes, perhaps even part with his grandmother's prayer book.  Odd that Professor Cope had known all about it, and had told him his grandmother was a most saintly woman, almost as if he were personally acquainted with her.  He wouldn't ever part with her book except in the direst need.
    Tom had drifted away, following his own thoughts as he ate.  He was dimly aware that the Captain of Boats, opposite his immediate neighbour, was telling some sort of story and getting louder and louder as he came to the punchline.
    "… female camel, of course!  Nothing queer about old Wiggers!"
    The Boat Club exploded into raucous laughter.  Tom, who hadn't heard the rest of the joke, sat in silence, reviewing his few possessions and wondering if there were any he could sell … not that he's get much for any of them … when he suddenly became aware of a face a few inches from his own.  It was the Captain of Boats, leaning across the table.
    "You're -- not -- laughing!"
    "I said: you're -- not -- laughing!"
    "I …"
    "I suppose," said the Captain of Boats, "that you're one of those po-faced puritans who disapprove of jokes."
    "N…no …"
    "Then why aren't you laughing?  Didn't you understand it?"
    "I didn't really hear it … I was thinking …"
    "THINKING?!  The man's a bloody philosopher!  Well, next time I tell a joke, you'd better listen -- and you'd better LAUGH!  Right?"
    "Y…yes," said Tom.  "I … I will.  Thank you for … for being so understanding."
    "Pathetic weed!" muttered the Captain of Boats and sat down again.
    Tom ate the rest of his meal in silence and, as soon as the senior scholar had intoned the final grace, scuttled off to his room.  The confrontation with the Captain of Boats had upset him, especially coming on top of his narrow escape from two denizens of the Auksford underworld.  He had, in any case, an essay to finish, and if he went to the JCR a friend might buy him a drink, and then he'd have had to reciprocate, perhaps buy a round for up to half a dozen men.  It wasn't standoffishness that made him avoid the company of his fellows, it was indigence, and, he supposed, a sort of pride.  It would be just too humiliating to have to say, Look chaps, I can't buy drinks all round because I don't have any money.  They'd simply think he meant he had forgotten his wallet.  I'll buy 'em this time, Applepip, someone would say, and you can buy two rounds tomorrow.
    Something was going on outside.  Young moneyed voices in the Founder's Quad.
    "The college is going to the dogs!"
    "All sorts of oiks they're letting in these days!"
    A hunting horn: tantivvy-tantivvy-tantivvy!  Calling the hunt together: tantivvy-tantivvy-tantivvy!
    Somebody making a speech, all but drowned out by laughter and roars of approval.
    More laughter and cheers.  The speech again.  Impossible to hear.
Working up to a climax.  One word he caught: trousers, then an irruption of cheering.  That was what it was then: a debagging.  Some unfortunate who'd offended the college code of honour: a freshman who'd spoken out of turn at a JCR meeting, some hapless youth whose old school tie happened to resemble that of the College Bloods' dining club, or a hard-working grammar-school boy who'd shown no interest in college rugger and failed to turn out in support of the team.  
    He heard them crashing up the stairs -- his own staircase.  He rushed to bar his outer door.  Too late.  They barged into his room.  Someone swept his books to the floor.  Overturned his table.  Ink flooded everywhere.  The face of the Captain of Boats surged into his line of vision.  "Should have LAUGHED!  Pathetic weed!"
    Then he was grabbed, hoisted onto their shoulders, passed hand over hand head-first down the stairs, dragged out into the quad and enthusiastically stripped of his trousers by half a dozen debaggers, while the rest of the college looked on, cheering, and the hornblower blew a triumphant tantivvy-tantivvy-tantivvy gone-awaaay!
    Back on his feet again he stumbled despairingly after his trousers as they were thrown from one man to another, always tantalisingly just out of his reach, till the Captain of Boats and his cohorts suddenly seized him, bore him from Founder's Quad through to Fountain Quad and heaved him into the pond.  There they left him as they surged away to haul his nether garments to the top of the college flagpole in triumphant proclamation to the world that a pathetic weed had been symbolically emasculated at their hands.

    The Dean and the Senior Tutor stood at the window of the Senior Common Room.
    "Not a great deal of damage," said the Dean, "but I suppose I shall have to go through the motions of fining somebody, just for the look of the thing, or there'll be hell to pay next time."
    "Can you recognise anyone?" said the Senior Tutor.
    "If I can't I'll just have to make a guess.  I'm usually right, or, if I'm wrong, the chosen one just pays up quietly.  Then they know we're watching, so they stay more or less within bounds.
    "What was going on?" asked the new Tutor in Clasmology.
    "Debagging, I think," said the Dean.
    "There's the victim now," said the Senior Tutor.  "Ah, it's Appleby.  Quiet lad, keeps himself to himself.  I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later."
    "Appleby?" said the Dean.  "Well, he'll do.  I'll fine Appleby five pounds and that'll be an end of it."
    "But," objected the Tutor in Clasmology, "isn't that a bit unfair.  I mean, Appleby's the victim, isn't he?"
    "In my experience," said the Dean, "if a man makes himself so unpopular that the others have to debag him to teach him a lesson, it's all his own fault.  Well, gentlemen, I think the excitement's over.  The port is with you, Dawlish."

    So Tom was sent for next morning by the Dean.
    "It won't do, you know, Appleby.  It just won't do.  Windows broken, stair-rail on your staircase smashed to smithereens, and you yourself cavorting across Fountain Quad and Founder's Quad without any trousers on.  Suppose there had been ladies visiting Senior Common Room!  Well, boys will be boys, I suppose.  Fine of five pounds, and we'll say no more about it."
    "What?!" gasped Tom.
    "Fine of five pounds," said the Dean.  "Say no more about it."
    "I won't … began Tom.  "I can't … I mean, it wasn't me!"
    "I saw you from the window," the Dean said patiently.  "We all had a perfect view of you, wearing nothing but a shirt, walking across the quad.  Five pounds and there's an end of it."
    "It wasn't my fault!" said Tom.  "I was attacked.  I was assaulted in my room.  My books were spoiled.  I was dragged into the quad and debagged.  It was the Captain of Bo…"
    "Enough!" snapped the Dean.  "In my experience men who get themselves debagged thoroughly deserve it.  I don't want to hear any names.  The very fact that you have tried to implicate others instead of accepting your punishment -- your very mild punishment, I may add -- merely proves my point.  Go at once to College Office and pay your fine."
    "No,” said Tom, "I … you must listen … I …"
    "Are you telling me that you do not propose to pay the fine I have imposed?"
    "Yes …. no … I mean …"
    "Then, Mr Appleby, you leave me no alternative.  You will leave Auksford as soon as you have packed.  I am sorry that your time here has been curtailed but I cannot accept open defiance.  Goodbye, Mr Appleby.  I trust that you will ponder the opportunities that you have thrown away and attempt to make something of your life.  Goodbye!"
    Tom stumbled out of the Dean's room and lurched across the quad, cannoning into the Captain of Boats.
    "Watch out, Pathetic Weed," said that gentleman amiably, then, "I say, you're blubbing!"
    "I've been sent down," Tom sobbed.  "Sorry, I don't mean to … you know … blub but …"
    "Look here, Appleby," said the Captain of Boats in a low urgent voice.  "We can't have you blubbing like a girl in the quad where anyone might see you.  Come into my rooms and tell me what happened."
    Tom followed the Captain into his rooms, which were on the first floor, and, as befitted a College Blood, consisted of a large sitting room with a separate bedroom and a bathroom.  Crossed skulls over the mantle-piece indicated the occupant's passion for rowing, as did photographs in both black-and-white and sepia of past college eights.
    "Sent down?" said Peter Holloway.  "I don't understand.  How can they send you down for being debagged in the quad?"
    "I think the Dean believes that, if a man gets himself debagged, it's his own fault."
    "Very sensible," commented Holloway.  "The Queer Old Dean goes up in my estimation.  Actually he was Captain of Boats back in 1912, so he can't be too much of an old prune.  Still, I'd have thought that once a rotter like you has taken his licking, that 'ud be the end of it.  But you say you've been sent down?"
    "He wanted to fine me five pounds," said Tom.
    "And …?
    "And I wouldn't pay."
    "Gosh!" said the Captain of Boats, "No wonder he got into a waxy bate.  What on earth possessed you to say you wouldn't pay?"
    "I …" Tom hesitated.  What did it matter after all?  He was going.  He would never see any of them again.  "I haven't got five pounds," he said.
    "I'll lend you a fiver," said Holloway.  "Pay me back next term."
    "I couldn't pay you back," said Tom.  "It's not that I'm temporarily out of funds.  I'm totally stony broke."
    "Ask your pater."
    "My father's dead.  He died suddenly about two years ago.  My mother has had to take work as a seamstress to make ends meet.  I was only able to come to Auksford because I got the Hadcaster Scholarship.  I shouldn't have come at all, but my Mother insisted, and my old schoolmaster, Mr Bennett, wanted me to come to his old college.”
    "Bennett?" said Holloway.  "Not Roger Bennett?"
    "Yes.  I think his name is Roger."
    "Captain of Boats in 1907," said Holloway.  "We went Head of the River.  Well young Apple-pip, if Roger Bennett thinks you’re a Resurrection Man, that's undoubtedly what you are!"
    "Thanks," said Tom, "but I don't belong here.  The Dean is right to send me down.  I should have stayed in Hadcaster and taken a job as a clerk or a shop assistant.  I'd better go and pack.  I'm sorry I didn't laugh at your joke, Holloway, but I had other things on my mind."
    "Look here, Pip, old chap," said the Captain of Boats.  I think you'd better tell your Uncle Peter everything that's on your mind."
    So Tom poured it all out: the lack of money that obliged him to steer clear of the JCR, the few pleasures that he had that could be enjoyed free of charge, like bird-watching on the marshes, the encounter with two denizens of the darkness as he hurried back to college, which had made him late, his dread of being sconced, how he had been reviewing his possessions and wondering if there was anything he could sell, or at least pawn, if the worst came to the worst.
    At last he came to the end and began apologising for taking up so much of Holloway's time.
    "Tell me," said the Captain of Boats, "if things had been different, do you think you'd have like to row."
    "Yes," said Tom sadly.  "I've sometimes watched the eight while I've been out on the marshes.  I used to row a bit at school.  Mr Bennett said I was … not that that counts for anything, of course.  It was only a schoolboy eight.  I … I think I'd better go and pack."
    The Captain of Boats nodded, then sat for a while in silence.  After a few minutes he rose and went to the Dean's rooms.
    "Make an appointment, Holloway.  See the College Secretary," said the Dean.
    "It's important, Sir.  It can't wait.  There's been an injustice, and, if I don't see you at once, it'll be too late."
    The Dean sighed.  "Appleby, I suppose," he said.
    "Yes, Sir," said Holloway.  "Pip's a good chap really, and when we debagged him, it was all a bit of a misunderstanding."
    "He defied me, Holloway.  Refused to pay his fine."
    "No, Sir.  He told you he couldn't pay it, and that was the honest truth.  Pip doesn't have two brass farthings to rub together.  His father died suddenly and left the family destitute.  He wasn't going to take up his place at all, even though he got the Hadcaster, but Roger Bennett insisted -- the Roger Bennet who was Captain of Boats in 1907.  Bennett thinks he's got the makings of a rower, and I don't want to lose him before I find out what he can do."
    "Holloway, mmmph … when things get out of hand, you know, the guilty party has to pay the penalty … and, well, five pounds isn't a great deal."
    "It is to Pip.  Five pounds is all he has to live on for the rest of term."
    "Good gracious.  I hadn't realised …"
    "I can assure you, Sir, that the five pounds fine will be paid -- and it'll be paid for by the person most responsible for the damage."
    "You, I suppose, Holloway."
    "Yes Sir.  I sicked them on to him, but it was all a beastly misunderstanding."
    "I see.  So what you are in fact saying to me, Holloway, is that in sending down Appleby I have punished the wrong person, and that you are the guilty party."
    Holloway gulped.  This did not sound at all good.
    "Er … yes."
    "Very well, Holloway.  You leave me no alternative.  You will go at once to College Office and pay a fine of five pounds -- and that will be the end of the matter.  And you may tell young, er, Pip, that he is still a member of the College, and that I look forward to watching his progress on the river."

    Young Pip was delighted to hear Holloway's news.  "I'll pay you back, when I can," he said.
    "You certainly will, Pip, old chap.  Get your togs on and come down to the boat-house this afternoon.  I'm going to give you a trial."
    "I … oh dear, I haven't any togs."
    "Oh, I'm a stupid ass.  Of course you haven't any togs.  No sensible man who wasn't going to row would have togs.  Here borrow my spare set.  Oh, Pip, just before you go, let me tell you the joke you missed yesterday."
    So the Captain of Boats began.  It was a complicated, convoluted story, involving an explorer and, eventually, a camel.
    "Female camel, of course," concluded Holloway.  "Nothing queer about old Wiggers."
    Tom gave a great snort of delight, then a wild guffaw.

    "Hmph!" thought Brian.  "Rubbish.  I don't know why people are allowed to publish such things.  Holy relics, fortune-telling, dirty jokes and indecent behaviour.  I think I'll take it back."
    He flicked through the pages: descriptions of rowing, more dirty jokes, rivalry over some girl, drunkenness, another debagging, this time led by Tom, Tom becoming Captain of Boats, confrontations with some sort of vampire-creatures, and more holy relics and sacred talismans.  What a mishmash of superstition and filth!  If that's how students at Auksford behave, Brian certainly wouldn't want to go there, even if he had been clever enough.
    On Friday afternoon Resurrection Men went back to the public library.  Janice Greenwood was at the desk, but either she hadn't seen him or, for some reason, didn't want to talk to him.  Brian was able to browse undisturbed and find a solemn work of literature with which to improve his mind.
    Janice wasn't at the YPF either, but Trevor was.  He was on his way back down south after a two week stay at the Methodist Guild holiday centre in Dunoon.  Brian was pleased to see him, but rather apprehensive that he might begin talking about his idea for a musical on the life of St Sweyne, to be written and directed by Brian Adamson.  Luckily Trevor seemed to have forgotten all about it, and soon the conversation turned in a totally different direction.
    "Not many people here tonight," boomed Trevor.  "You must be losing your touch, Victor.  Where's that lovely lassie that wants to marry you?  Surely she hasn't found a better beau!"
    "Well, you know, we had a bit of trouble here last week …" Mouse began.
    "Oh, not again.  More fights over the table tennis?  How many injured this time?"
    Just then the phone rang and Mouse went to answer it.
    "We were invaded by a gang," said John McLeod.
    "Oh, yes," said Julie Bates.  "That's why Janice Greenwood isn't here.  It was all her fault.  She picked up the leader of one of those gangs and brought him to YPF just to impress Victor, but he went off in a huff and then some other boys came and said he was going to come back with his gang and bash us all up."
    "Janice went after him to try and talk him round," said John.
    "Only because we made her, and I went with her, and as far as I can see she just made things worse."
    "She brought him back," said Anne Moffat.
    "And then the gang really did invade," said Julie.
    "But it wasn't us they were after at all," said John, "It was Nails Palmer."
    "Nails …?" queried Trevor.
    "The boy Janice brought in," explained John.  "It seems he'd been leader of the gang and they'd turned against him.  They were after his trousers!"
    "They debagged him," said Julie, "right here in front of all of us, and then, when he was standing there in his underpants, he said he wanted to make an announcement.  Said he was engaged to Janice Greenwood.  Serves her right, the bitch.  She must have led him on, made him think she loved him -- and all just to impress Victor.  So, what do you think she did next?"
    "No idea," said Trevor.
    "She screamed at him and then kicked him in the balls."
    "Oooh!  Nasty!" said Trevor.
    "Yeah, well that's the kind of person she is, little Miss Butter-wouldn't-melt, I don't think."
    "You're a bit hard on her," said Anne.
    "Not as hard as she was on Nails's balls!" said Julie triumphantly and went off to meet her friend Norma, who had just come in.
    "I've just been telling Trevor about that bitch Janice Greenwood…" they heard her say.
    "Life here is full of excitement," said Trevor.  "Fights, collapsing tables, broken bones, invasions and debaggings!  What had they got against the poor bloke?"
    "Not sure," said John.  "I think Tony and Des know about it."
    "Thought everybody did," said Tony.  "Nails was leader of the Halden gang and he led an invasion into Swarrell …"
    "Yeah," put in Des, "and in the fight he got captured by the Swarrell gang …"
    " … so naturally they debagged him!" said Tony.
    "… and they fixed his trousers to a pole ,"continued Des, "and they call it their banner and wave it to taunt the Halden lads."
    "So Nails should've led another invasion and got it back …"
    " … and debagged some Swarrell lads …"
    "… but he didn't.  He just skulked at home …"
    "… so they call him a traitor and say he's put them to shame …"
    "… so that's why they took his pants off again: to expel him from the gang!"
    Brian was horrified.  He'd been quite shocked to read about Tom Appleby being debagged, but that was Auksford, and everybody knew Auksford undergraduates debagged each other in the old days.  Now he was confronted with debaggings in Halden and Swarrell.  Brian was a youth who took everything very seriously and was filled with guilt at every wrong thought.  The bottom and its associated bits round the front were, he knew, a source of shame.  Adam and Eve had covered themselves with fig-leaves as soon as their eyes were opened by the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and it behoved Fallen Man in this sublunary world to keep his body decently covered and to avert his eyes from any too blatant exposure of the lower limbs by others.  He had even at times wondered if he were committing a sin by taking a bath totally naked, so that his shameful parts were openly exposed to his own eyes.  The story about undergraduates not much older than himself deliberately stripping their victims of their trousers, ripping away their dignity and exposing them to ridicule had disgusted him.  The news that real debaggings happened on the streets of his home town, and even in the sacred precincts of St Sweyne’s Hall, shocked him to the core.  
    "Well I'm glad to hear that the old traditions are still alive and kicking here in Swardale," said Trevor.  "By a strange coincidence I was involved in a debagging myself last week.  You know I went to the Methodist Guild holiday centre in Dunoon -- I'm an Anglican actually, just like the rest of you, but they let us in too.  Anyway, we had this sort of tradition that each evening just after tea we'd all gather on the steps and Frank, one of the guild people, would read a Noddy story to us, with all the voices too.  Actually he did a particularly good short of drunken voishe for Big-Earsh.  Anyway, on this particular day there was no sign of him.  It seemed there wasn't going to be a Noddy story at all, so a couple of us chaps went and started a game of table tennis with two girls. Then in comes this kid, David, about the age and size of Brian here, and he says, Frank's just come in and he's just going to start the story.  So Geoff and I went out to the steps, and the girls wandered off out into the garden because they weren't interested in Noddy, and when we got there -- nothing.
    "So back we went to the games-room, and there was David and his friend Terry playing ping-pong, and no sign of the girls at all.  So I turned to Geoff and I said, This calls for a debagging!
    "He just nodded, so we rushed at David.  Terry gave a squeal and fled.  We grabbed David and tipped him on to the floor, then Geoff sat on him while I whipped his shoes and trousers off.  Then we marched him out onto the lawn and made him apologise to the girls for tricking us out of our game.  We told him his trousers would be put on display in the dining room and he could have them back after supper, then we let him go.  He ran off to his room, of course, but he had to go through the entrance hall and up the main staircase, and I'm sure he had to pass plenty of interested onlookers, all wondering why he wasn't wearing any trousers!"
    Brian was astounded.  Here was Trevor, whom he had so greatly admired as a Christian busy in his Master's service, indulging in indecent behaviour, detrousering a boy at a Christian holiday centre, and boasting about it to other Christians -- and, instead of rebuking him as they ought, they were laughing.
    "Of course," Trevor went on, "there was quite a lot of debagging at my school, mostly just larking around in the changing rooms, sort of boys-will-be-boys stuff, though there were a couple of unpopular boys really got it in the neck.  I was in the first form when I first saw a real ragging.  Whole gang of fourth-formers went marching across to the science block chanting Debag Donaldson! Debag Donaldson!  I never found out who Donaldson was or why he deserved a debagging, but I saw his trousers go up on the rugby posts before the prefects broke it up.    "Prefects weren't exactly popular at any time of course, and when I was in the fifth we had a couple of real stinkers.  One was the school captain.  Used to fling impositions round like a real little Hitler.  Not a thing we could do about it.  Tried complaining to our form-master that we were being persecuted, but he said we'd have to go to the Headmaster and we weren't prepared for that.
    “So we waited, and then on the last day of the summer term, after four o'clock, we ambushed them in the street.  Not a bit of good them threatening us with lines or detention.  You've left school, we said, you're not prefects any more!  Then we marched them along to the park, debagged them behind the bushes and left them there while we went and hung their trousers on a tree in the girls' school.  I don't know if they ever dared go and get them back!"
    Gales of laughter.  Brian's head was spinning.
    "I suppose debagging's a kind of symbolic castration," said Trevor, "a way of telling someone he's not fit to be a man … or a boy.  It's not just the embarrassment of being partially naked, it's the humiliation of being stripped of masculine dignity, made into a sort of mock eunuch.  That's probably why it's such an effective punishment, and so widely used.  I expect you could all tell similar tales from your own schooldays."
    "Not really," said John.  "There may have been things like that in the old days, but not in my time, and I don't suppose it happens at all now that it's a mixed school.  Brian would know."
    "Any debaggings at school, Brian?" bellowed Trevor.
    "No," snapped Brian and turned away.
    "Acually," said John, who thought Brian's abruptness a bit rude to their guest, "they used to have a thing called taking somebody to the cockpit.  The cockpit's in a bit of wasteland just on the edge of the school field.  There's a slope down towards the river, with a bit of woodland, and about half-way down there's this sort of semicircular depression, like something's been dug out of the slope.  It's like a natural amphitheatre.  You can get hundreds of lads standing on the slopes, completely hidden from the school by the trees, and they all get a perfect view of anything that's happening down the bottom.  So, in the old days, if there was a lad that really made people sick, they would take him there for a public debagging in front of the whole school. I never heard of it being done while I was there, but we all knew what they meant if they threatened to take a lad to the cockpit."
    Brian felt as if he were choking.  His friend Stew had been threatened with the cockpit, he had taken the message himself.  That meant the Bailey-Malone gang intended to strip Stew of his trousers in front of the whole school -- well, the boys anyway, for they surely wouldn't indulge in such indecency in front of girls.  It wasn't just students in pre-war Auksford, who debagged each other.  It happened on the streets of his home town.  Trevor himself had indulged in indecent horseplay – and, at his own school, one of his closest friends was in imminent danger of a public debagging.

Chapter 11: The Power of Prayer

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