Sunday, September 28, 2008
The purpose of this decision is to force kids to take less food, since it will be hard to carry more than one plate around. We pay a lot of money for our meal plan, which included utensils like forks, spoons, and trays. I want to get my money's worth. Look, I love voluntary conservation. There have been days when I decided not to use a tray because I didn't feel I needed one. Other days when I'm hungry and want a good meal, I need a tray! By the way, I wonder what's going to happen to all the money CU is saving by going trayless. Will it go back to the students who paid to eat and use the trays at Janzow?
Please don't get the impression that I am unhappy with Concordia. Overall, I'm having a tremendous college experience here. Let's just hope that they don't implement a Toothbrushless Thursday or a Showerless Saturday to conserve more water!
McCain, Obama, What Difference Will they Make?
For all that has been said about John McCain’s old age, he’s a whippersnapper compared to some of the members of the Supreme Court. John Paul Stevens, the most liberal member of the Supreme Court, is eighty-eight years old. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seventy-five, and has battled with cancer in her life. At seventy-two, John McCain is the same age as both Antonin Scalia and the all important swing-voter Anthony Kennedy. David Souter, who just turned sixty-nine, and Clarence Thomas, sixty, may be a few years younger than McCain, but they are also entering the “golden years.” Chief Justice John Roberts, fifty-three, and Samuel Alito, fifty-eight, were appointed by President Bush, and both demonstrate the impact the President can have by his choices for justices.
I asked my dad, Richard Duncan, the professor of Constitutional Law at UNL, how each Presidential candidate’s choices for Supreme Court justices would affect America. He believes that the next President will have far more influence on social issues than any recent President. “The next President may have an opportunity to fill two or three vacancies on the Supreme Court in the next four years, and if he serves for two terms, as many as five or six vacancies. Therefore, the most important issue in this election may be the Court, not the war, and not taxes, and not global warming. “
Abortion is just one in a litany of social issues that the next President may affect. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, is convinced that the fate of Roe v. Wade will swing on this election. “…McCain, if elected, might well be able to get what the antiabortion movement wants – and more fundamentally, numerous changes in other areas of constitutional law as well,” he wrote in a column for the Boston Globe. Though others, including me, think that the reversal of Roe v Wade is highly improbable, the issue of abortion is not off the table. Stuart Taylor, Jr. is a reporter for the National Journal, who leans towards the pro-abortion side. Taylor quoted Obama, who said in July 2007 that “the first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” Despite his pro-choice views, Taylor is deeply concerned by the sort of judges Obama will appoint due to his far-left stance on abortion. “That nineteen-year-old proposal, which has never passed Congress, would nullify the popular law against federal funding of abortions; end the even more popular federal ban on ‘partial-birth’ abortion; and sweep away the broadly popular state laws requiring parental notification or consent (or judicial approval) before a minor can obtain an abortion and 24-hour waiting periods before any woman can obtain one.”
Though Prof. Duncan doubts that a McCain court would overturn Roe v. Wade, he is confident that an Obama court would “affirm and expand abortion-on-demand as a constitutional right, including a right to partial birth abortion. Furthermore, such a court would “create a constitutional right to homosexual marriage, a ‘right’ that would invalidate Nebraska's traditional marriage law as well as those of states across the country; interpret the Establishment Clause to forbid even passive religious symbols in public parks and schools, and perhaps even to forbid equal access for student Bible clubs to meet on campus in public schools; and expand the power of Congress to regulate in areas traditionally reserved for state and local government.”
On the other hand, a McCain court would probably be moderately conservative, without the drastic changes to the current law one would see under the Obama court. For example, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, that would not outlaw abortion. It would merely return the issue to the state level, where compromises could be reached by our elected officials. Furthermore, according to Prof. Duncan, “Homosexual marriage would not be constitutionalized by a McCain court, but rather the institution of marriage would be left to the democratic process in each of the fifty states.” Do you think the moderate restrictions on abortions the American people have supported for the past 30 years should be respected? Do you believe in the traditional model of marriage, one that has served society well for thousands of years? Do you believe that the free exercise of religion includes the right to express our faith in the public square? Then bear in mind that “a McCain Court would likely adopt a view of the Establishment Clause that would forbid states from coercing citizens to participate in prayer or religious activities while allowing passive religious displays, such as Nativity displays and Ten Commandment monuments to be erected in parks and schools and courthouses.”
If you care deeply about any of these issues, know that the candidate you are supporting will affect these social issues dramatically. One way or the other.
Friday, September 26, 2008
The Frog-Child, the Snake-child, and the Man of La Mancha
Hark—there on the horizon, an armored figure emblazoned in the rising sun, charging forth with avengeance—it is Don Quixote, high atop Rosanate. Visor down, covering the eccentric knight errant’s features, he charges towards his target, lance in hand. A tremendous windmill, mistaken for an evil giant, looms ahead of him, mighty arms swinging methodically. The mad knight spurs his steed, and as the giant’s arm falls—
A strong blow to the head knocked Rick to the ground. “Ha! I have vanquished thee, knight!” bellowed his attacker.
“Dem it, John! Can you try not to kill me, for a change? It’s only a game!” shot back Rick as he rubbed his sore skull, his thick brown hair clutched tightly in his fingers. “That’s the third time you’ve knocked me over the head today!”
The boys were both about twelve years old, though John was clearly quite well-built for a boy his age and Rick was comparatively diminutive.
“Come along, Rick. I was the windmill. I was supposed to knock your block off. That’s the way the story goes, doesn’t it?” said John throwing his thick mane of black hair back away from his eyes with a cocky shake of his head.
“Humph!” Rick snorted. “Fine. But do it again and I’ll trounce you!”
John laughed heartily at this. “I’d like to see you try.” The altercation ceased when John got a sudden idea. Spotting a stick the length of his arm on the ground, John adeptly placed his foot underneath it, kicked it up into the air, and caught it with a flourish. “What say we play at fencing?”
Rick thought a moment. “Fine. Just don’t poke my eye out, will you?” he sighed as he kneeled to choose his own weapon. “Can I be Robin Hood?”
“Perfect. That means I can be Prince John. I was named for Prince John you know.”
— “Well then, Prince John, have at thee!” cried Robin Hood unsheathing his sword. Robin of Loxley danced lightly around his larger opponent, countering and parrying with rare finesse. Sparks flew from the heavy, double-edged blades as they clashed. With blinding speed, Robin pressed in on his opponent, keeping him at close quarters. Robin was aware that Prince John, with his longer limbs and sheer physical strength, would gain the advantage if he had enough room to use full swinging blows. The two grappled, pressing their swords against each other with all their might. Though John had more weight, Robin had seized the high ground. The daring outlaw forced the tyrant’s own sword to his throat!
Then John did the unthinkable.
Releasing a hand from the hilt, John thrust his elbow squarely into Robin’s nose!—
“All right! That’s it!” Rick threw his every ounce of his frail body into John. The two lost balance and painfully tumbled down the hill, swearing and exchanging blows as they rolled one over the other.
—Years later, when both of these men reminisced about the day they first met, they might have been reminded of that old folktale of the snake-child and the frog-child, who were as different from one another as it is possible to be. (The Honorable John Lear was the only son of Baron Lear, an aristocrat born and bred. Rick Dering was the son of a humble law clerk.) These two, frog-child and snake-child happening upon each other one fine day, wiled away the hours playing together. Snake decided to teach frog lessons on how to slither around on his stomach. (John decided to teach Rick a lesson, and punched him in the stomach.) The frog, likewise, taught snake how to hop up and down. (Rick, likewise, hopped upon John’s back and rained down blows on his head.) Though they had only known each other one day, the frog-child and the snake-child formed a fast friendship.
Surprisingly, so would Rick and John.
John finally collapsed under the weight on his shoulders, and both boys lay exhausted on the ground.
“Well…fought…Rick,” gasped John.
“Not…so bad yourself…mate,” wheezed Rick.
“Next time…let’s not get so rough…agreed?”
“Right.” Both stood up, shook hands, agreed to meet the next day, and returned home, all transgression forgotten.
And it occurred to John of all the aristocratic snake-children he had ever played with, not one had ever stood up to his bullying. Rick had earned far more than John’s friendship that day.
The Grey Man
An old adage stipulates that a house must be full of life to become a home, otherwise the building itself seems to die. At the sight of a dilapidated old house, many have observed the edifice’s need to be “lived in.” Perhaps one could take this wisdom a step further and suppose that, as the exterior of a house reveals the presence of inhabitants, the interior of a home reveals something of their nature. Some houses are warm and inviting, suggesting that a charming personality lives there; others are immaculately well ordered, suggesting that the owner is a strict, no-nonsense sort of person; still others are sullen and grey, indicating the somber disposition of the owner.
The Dering household was a somewhat schizophrenic combination of the three.
The building itself had two floors. The sight which first greets the eyes when entering the door is a decidedly dull room: its walls bare, except for a few rows of thick, dusty books on law, its grey stone fireplace unused, and its scant articles of plain furniture—including a ponderous black desk covered with organized piles of paper work—are consigned to the corner areas, leaving the wide wooden floor chillingly empty. The silence is broken only by the ticking of an ancient, towering grandfather clock near the desk.
However, as one ascends the spiral staircase, a transformation seems to come over the whole abode. The setting sun shines through the tall windows of the second floor, illuminating the many decorations in strange and wondrous ways. Watercolors of the seashore grace these walls; these landscapes are certainly not the works of a professional painter, but are pleasant to look at nonetheless.
Up this staircase and through these rooms Rick dashed, into his mother’s chamber. She seemed to be the center of warmth of the whole house. She lay still in her bed, but her round face shone brightly. It seemed she loved to surround herself with beauty. Everything from the chairs, to the bedside tables, to the bed itself was a remarkable work of craftsmanship, and at least a dozen of the joyful watercolors adorned the walls. Of course, the good lady herself was the artist; in fact, she was in the very act of completing a brush stroke as her son entered. Seeing her darling boy, she laid the brushes and colors haphazardly in their wooden box and placed them on a marble table at the side of her bed.
“Rick, dear. You were out later than usual. I was beginning to worry when I saw that it was past seven and getting dark,” she said, gesturing for her son to come sit in the ornate chair by the side of her bed.
“I’m sorry, Mum. I lost track of time while I was playing,” he explained. He always felt guilty when he left his mother alone in the house for such a long time.
“You didn’t spend the whole day alone again, did you, dear?” she inquired seriously.
“Mum,” Rick said, rolling his eyes. He loved his mother, but she was always worrying about how much time he spent with other boys his age. “As a matter of fact, I made a new chum today.”
“Excellent!” his mother exclaimed, her perturbed look gone. “Tell me all, Rick.”
“Well, he’s a—” Rick searched for the right word, “—not mean—he’s a boisterous boy. He’s always talking about the military, and he loves to play at combat.”
“Which explains your bloody nose,” his mother added dryly.
“Oh,” Rick crossed his eyes as he tried to examine the offending injury. He should have known he couldn’t hide anything from his mother. “Yes, I suppose we did have a bit of a row at the end. But we shook hands afterwards, and John promised we wouldn’t fight next time.”
“Well, that’s something. And now I have a name, ‘John.’ And to whom does he belong? You’d best tell me dear as I’m determined to know everything,” she demanded as she sat up and rested her merry round chin on her palms, looking interested. However, the exertion of this simple gesture seemed to tax her strength and she sat her head back against the bed frame almost immediately.
At the sight of his mother’s weakness, Rick had become far more concerned with her state than with talking about his friend. “—Lear—he’s Baron Lear’s son,” Rick said absent-mindedly. Fortunately, this news seemed to breathe new life into Mrs. Dering.
“The son of a gentleman! Wonderful! Baron Lear is our landlord. I never knew he had a boy your age. You shall have to invite your friend here and introduce us, Rick.” This discussion was interrupted by the eight heavy chimes of the grandfather clock echoing through the household. “Eight o’clock. We can expect your father at any moment. In fact—go to the window, Rick, and tell me if you see him coming.” The lad scurried to the window and peered through it. The rain had chilled the warm summer day and resulted in a thick mist at dusk. However, through this mist, the coach bearing his father was clearly visible, punctual as always.
“He’s coming now, Mum,” he said looking at her. Rick began to move back to his seat, but his mother stopped him.
“Well, don’t just sit around up here. Go meet your father at the door,” she said, shooing him gently. Rick scampered down, and just as he reached the bottom step, the door inched open to reveal Mr. Gregory Dering.
Upon seeing Mr. Dering, one might vainly rub his eyes to check that all color had not drained from the world. Mr. Dering’s eyes were the color of steel, and his hair, which had once been a rich brown like his son’s, had gone prematurely grey. The chilling mist, clinging to his grey traveler’s cloak and his grey top hat, gave Gregory Dering the appearance of some ephemeral spirit, rather than a living man.
“Hello, father. How was your—” the question died in Rick’s throat as Mr. Dering silently brushed past his son.
Mr. Dering alighted up the staircase, the fog winding its way behind him. Rick followed the dissipating trail back to his mother’s room, where the grey man already sat bent over at his wife’s side. Holding her hand in his, Mr. Dering’s face flushed with what might have been color. “Hello, my sweet,” he whispered in his grave voice. At the sight of his son, Mr. Dering stiffened. “Richard, I would prefer if you left your mother and me in peace.”
“It’s all right, Greg. Let him tell you about his day. We don’t have long before he’s off to school again. Come and sit here, Rick.”
“Actually,” said Rick at the sight of his father’s cold eyes, “It’s getting late, and I’m tired. I think I’ll retire for the night.” And so, as Mr. Dering bent back over his wife, his lips twitching into what might have been a smile, Rick closed the door behind him.
The Irish Nationalist Army
John and Rick met, as promised, the following morning, and, as promised, John refrained from more bullying (however, as the rain started up again before noon, John did not have much time to break said promise). As John would not hear of Rick walking two miles back home in the rain, he invited Rick to his father’s manor, which was a good deal closer. If the rain stopped, Rick could return home safely. Of course, both boys hoped the shower would grow to a tempest, so that Rick would not have to return home.
When Rick glanced out of the window in the comfortable library of the Lear family abode, he was confident that his hopes had been answered. The heavy rain drops pelted the windows so hard, nothing could be seen. Rick turned his attention back to his cultivated friend, who was warming his rump at the fireside. “You look very dignified doing that,” Rick teased.
“What? I’m an aristocrat! I can do just as I please,” the Baron’s son answered obstinately. “I’ll admit most noblemen wouldn’t be caught dead in this position in front of a peasant like you, Rick. But I prefer not to freeze my rear end off, thank you.” John stared at Rick defiantly, waiting for his new friend’s retort. When he saw that Rick was not going to argue with him, John straightened up. “Come along, Rick. I’ve been wanting to show you something I think you’ll like. No sense letting the rain ruin our fun.”
Rick followed his host through an ornate mahogany door into a dusty, dimly-lit room. As Rick’s eyes adjusted to the light, he realized that the room was enormous! Dozens of tall, heavy tables were arranged in rows, and there was still plenty of room to move about. Curious, Rick approached the nearest table.
On each side of the huge table, there were hundreds—no—thousands of small soldiers. Upon examining one, Rick saw that each must have been individually hand-carved, possibly from ivory. The figures all carried medieval weaponry, with armor to match, and each had been painted to the finest detail, even the links in their chain mail. Furthermore, each figure seemed to be unique: most charged headlong towards the soldiers on the opposite side, some successfully engaged the enemy, while others kneeled clutching at arrows penetrating from their arms, their chests, their eyes! The top of the table was not flat wood, but rose and fell, and was painted to resemble rolling hills, creating a vast, miniature landscape for the combatants. Rick felt as he was viewing a real battle from the skies, frozen in time.
“The Battle of Hastings,” pronounced John with pride in his voice.
“You did this?” Rick asked in awe.
“Father helped me with this one, but since then, I’ve become intensely interested. All of these, I set up on my own,” announced John, gesturing to the rows of tables, each of which represented a separate battle. Rick saw Hannibal, high astride one of his elephants, and Alexander the Great, setting siege to a great city, and Julius Caesar, smirking as he stared down his little Roman nose at the battle below, seeing that victory was imminent. Most of all, there were British troops, resplendent in their sharp red uniforms, facing all manner of enemies.
“I want you to help me recreate a battle from scratch. This is the table,” said John gesturing to it. “It’s going to be the Battle of Oulart Hill. You may even remember it. We were both probably about eight years old when it happened.”
“Wasn’t that a victory for the Irish?”
“I’ll say. I don’t think much of those demmed Catholic peasants, but I can’t pretend it wasn’t a brilliant victory. There were 1,000 rebels, many of them not even armed, and they decimated the North Cork Militia.” From the sheer energy John used in his explanation, Rick could tell that this was no mere hobby for Lear. It was his passion. “Here’s how they did it. The rebels were camped on a hill near the village of Oulart. The militia, which was mostly comprised of loyal Irish Protestants, tried to lure them out by burning some cottages, but the rebels didn’t take the bait. The cavalry of yeomen cut off the only escape route the rebels could have taken. Well, that was their first mistake. Men always fight harder when there is no chance of escape.”
Rick nodded. He could see himself trapped on that hill, surrounded by a rag tag band of poor farmers, knowing that the only chance of survival was victory.
“The second mistake the militia made was to make their move without waiting for artillery support. That fool Colonel Foote disobeyed orders and led his troops straight into the rebel’s base. And here is how the rebels did it!” As John explained, be began placing the militia soldiers almost absent-mindedly.
“The rebels selected a group to hold their position and act as decoys. These were the men the North Cork Troops saw as they approached the top of the hill. However, the rebels had prepared an ambush. Every man with a firearm was hiding at each side of the hill, at a right angle to the path of the approaching soldiers. The decoys stood their ground as they were fired upon, and couldn’t fire back because they were unarmed, until the moment the troops had marched right into their trap. Then, every Irish man with a gun barraged the militia with constant gunfire, round after round!”
There he was! Rifle in hand, Rick targeted the astonished troops. He and his companions stood undaunted against overwhelming odds!
“Then every man together rushed the survivors from all sides! Four militia men escaped with their lives, including Foote. Just four! The Yeoman Calvary retreated, and the Irish only suffered six casualties. The victory inspired all of Wexford to join the rebellion.”
Victory! “Incredible,” whispered Rick. John nodded. For a minute, the two were silent as they arranged the miniature soldiers.
Finally, Rick asked a question which had been on his mind, “How did they lose the rebellion? The Irish?”
John’s smile disappeared. “Lack of unity. The rebels at Wexford weren’t even connected to the United Irishmen, the Protestant traitors who wanted to secede from England. The leaders simply couldn’t control the mob of Catholics, or organize them into a fighting force. In the end, the whole rebellion unraveled and fell apart.”
“They still made a brave attempt though,” said Rick impressed.
“Don’t feel too much sympathy for the rebels, Rick. Do you know what they did to the prisoners they took from the North Cork Militia? Butchered them. Their own countrymen, fellow Irishmen. They were an uncontrollable mob, Rick, just like the French in their revolution. There were entire families of Irish Protestants executed for no reason!” John slammed a figurine down on the table, cracking its base. “Like wild animals.”
Rick was sobered somewhat by this revelation, and did not pursue the subject. However, the two conversed lengthily as they created the detailed scene. Mostly, they argued about who was dreading the start of the next school term the most. It was only a week away, after all.
A Time for Joy
By the time the rain ceased, it had grown dark, so John’s father sent one of his servants to inform Rick’s parents that their son was spending the night.
The next morning, Baron Lear arranged for a grand horse and carriage to return Rick home. The moment they arrived at his strange little home, Rick nimbly leapt down from the carriage to the cold, muddy street before the doorman even had time to assist him. Waving to the coachman over his shoulder, Rick skipped up the grey stone steps and pushed open the imposing black door.
The morning sun lighting up the living room, which doubled as his father’s study, seemed to choke on the fog of grey dust. A harsh voice from the shadows shattered the silence, “Richard, your spending the night with young Mr. Lear has been an extraordinary inconvenience.” Mr. Dering sat erect behind his ponderous black desk, grey top hat held firmly on his lap. As Rick’s father placed it on his head stiffly, he stood with a jerk, as if he were a wooden marionette yanked roughly by its threads. “I had to remain here all morning and wait for your return. Now, thanks entirely to you, Richard, I shall be late to work.”
“I couldn’t help it,” protested Rick, but at the sight of his father’s glare, he hastily added, “sir.”
Needlessly, Mr. Dering adjusted his tie. It was already perfect; everything about him was immaculate. Not one speck of the thick dust dared to rest on his shoulder. “You know I don’t like leaving your mother alone Richard. That’s why I had to wait for your return. She finds your presence comforting. This is the second time in a row you’ve left her all alone in this house for the whole day to play with that aristo’s brat!”
“Mum wanted me to play with someone my own age!”
“That’s because your mother is an unselfish creature, Richard. She puts your happiness above her safety. What if there was a fire in the house while you were out playing? Have you considered what would happen to her in her condition? Let me make myself clear to you, Richard. You are not to leave your mother’s side until I return home, no matter what she tells you! That is all I have to say to you.” As Mr. Dering glided towards the door, he glanced through the window. At the sight of the carriage, he added sardonically, “What courtesy you receive from Baron Lear. I could not afford such luxury with a month’s wages,” and disappeared into the thick autumn fog of London.
Rick stomped up the staircase, into his mother’ chamber. Clearly, he looked as furious as he felt, because, as Mrs. Dering immediately observed, “What’s wrong, dear? I heard raised voices.”
Rick sat down huffily. “Father. He hardly ever speaks to me, and when he does, it’s only to criticize me.”
Mrs. Dering listened to her son’s tirade quietly, and chose her words carefully, “If your father has a fault, it’s that he…worries about me too much. He probably thinks the earth will open up and swallow me if I don’t have someone around to watch my every movement. The summer days have flown by again this year, and I don’t want you cooped up with me during your last week of freedom, Rick. A boy your age needs more than an old cripple like me for company,” she said chuckling.
“Don’t talk like that, Mum,” Rick reprimanded with a shake of his finger.
“Humbug! It’s only the truth! Now, I don’t care what your father said. You will have a jolly time this summer, or so help me, I will stand from this bed and expel you from the house!” she pronounced with a jolly boom of a laugh. As her beautiful laugh finally died down, she settled her head back on her pillow. “Would you read to me, Rick?” she asked with a gesture to the nightstand where a Bible rested. Immediately Rick obliged her, opening the Good Book to the page they had left off two nights ago.
“Charming, just what I need to cheer me up!” said Rick’s mother, her voice full of her merry irony. “More of Solomon’s woe and misery on the lack of meaning in life!”
“We could skip it, if you’d like.”
“No dear, we shouldn’t gloss over Scripture.”
“Very well.” And Rick began to read aloud thus: “I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?”
At this, Mrs. Dering couldn’t help but chortle, looking almost offended.
“If laughter makes one mad, I am a menace to all of God’s creation! I’m sorry, Rick. I didn’t mean to scoff at Scripture. I think what Solomon is saying is that there is more to life than laughter, which is true. Laughter alone won’t give you a meaningful life, but I still say you can’t have life without it. Keep reading, Rick.”
As Rick finished the last verse of the chapter and closed the Book carefully, his mother nodded to herself, pondering the words. After a moment, she perked up. “Rick, I have the solution! You invite your friend here! I can meet your new friend, you can spend time with him, and you can still keep an eye on me like father wants.”
At the sound of this idea, Rick’s mood suddenly brightened. But the mention of his father brought them crashing down again.
An aristo’s brat, those had been the words Mr. Dering had used. Rick wondered if his father was right in his assessment. Remembering the wondrous mansion where he had spent the previous night, Rick wondered how John would react if he saw this cramped, gloomy residence.
Rick tried to make up an excuse, “I – don’t think there is enough time. John leaves for boarding school this Sunday.“
“Oh, there’s time, Rick! There’s always time,” assured his mother.
Biting his lip, Rick persisted, “No. Last night both of us knew we might not get a chance to see each other again until next summer. We pretty much said our good-byes already.”
His mother nodded, looking a little disappointed. Settling back down, she asked Rick if he would kindly read her just one more chapter. “You have such a beautiful voice, Rick, it brings the words to life for me. If you wanted, you could become a fine pastor, like your grandfather Patrick.”
“Oh! I love this passage! Read it to me, and you’ll see why it’s one of my favorites
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
* * *
As it turned out, the two boys did see each other one last time before John left, though only briefly. Rick waved to his friend as he watched him disappear in the fine coach. Rick’s final week of freedom was joyfully spent in his mother’s company, until the time came for Mr. Dering to deposit Rick at Pummelham’s Hall, the boarding school for young men. “Good day, Richard,” said Mr. Dering brusquely, and he too was whisked away by a carriage, this one dingy and grey. Mr. Dering had nothing else to say to the son he would not see for a full year.
The Gentle Art of Pummeling
Charles Fairfield was hyperventilating. Tucked away in a dark corner of the grounds, he listened for any voices. Had he lost them?
“Patty! Cum on out Patty!” boomed a coarse, insipid voice.
Patty. That was their name for him.
Charles closed his eyes and laid his head back against the cold stone wall.
“What are you doing back here?” came a small voice from right in front of him!
Charles started and looked around.
“Down here.” Charles looked down and discovered the speaker: a boy a full foot shorter than he with a thick crop of brown hair.
“You’re a new student, correct? I don’t remember you from last term,” said Rick Dering.
“Fairfield! We still wanna see an Irish jig! Don’t you want a potato, Patty?” bellowed a revolting child as he appeared round the corned, a potato gripped in one pudgy hand, a heavy stick grasped in the other. At the sight of Rick, the boy’s limpid eyes filled with recognition and rage. “Dering? You stay away from me, or I’ll have the headmaster whip you black and blue!” squealed the piggish bully, backing away.
“You’ve gotten nicer, Pummelham! Why not do it yourself and save your uncle the trouble. I know you enjoy it!” answered Rick, his tone ironic.
“Oh no! You’re not going to trick me into fighting you, Dering!”
“I see you’re much too clever for me, Jack!”
Momentarily forgotten, Farfield stood between the two and witnessed this confrontation, a perfect picture of comic confusion.
“What’s going on here?” rang another voice, and two boys almost as hideous as young Jack Pummelham appeared, similarly armed with sticks. “Who’s this?” asked one, pointing to Rick. “What are you waitin’ for, Jack?” the other inquired. The two seemed to speak only in questions.
“Leave him be! That’s Rick Dering!” ordered Jack, but the two paid him no heed, and began accosting Rick.
“Why are you afraid of him?”
“Isn’t he tiny? Barely up to me middle?”
“How old are you, six? He’s not our age, is he?” The two poked and prodded Rick as if he were an odd sea creature they had discovered washed up on the shore.
“No, I am not six, but twelve years old, same as you both; and yes, I am short for my age. Remove your hands from me or I will trounce you both.”
“Can he even reach high enough to hit us?” guffawed one.
The other racked his brain, trying to think of a clever jibe as well, but in the end, could only think to say, “Yeah, how high can you reach?”
“I have no problem reaching this!” roared Rick as he slammed his foot straight down both their shins, one after the other. The two wailed pitifully, each grabbing his bruised leg and hopping about on one foot.
“You know, come to think of it, I would like to see an Irish jig,” said Rick with a threatening glare at Jack Pummelham.
The very fat in Jack’s cheeks trembled as he spoke, “Don’t you dare! I’m going to have you beaten for threatening me!”
“What a shame. But if I’m going to get thrashed anyway, I might as well get thrashed for having done something,” growled Rick, advancing on the rotund antagonist.
At this, Jack Pummelham seemed to suddenly change his mind. “All right! You win! I won’t tell! You got my word!”
Rick paused for a moment, contemplating this offer. Jack wiped the sweat from his brow relieved.
“I’m afraid your word is meaningless, Pummelham. I’m going to get whipped no matter what. Oh well.” And with that, little Rick pounced on the screaming Jack Pummelham.
* * *
“Spare the rod, kill the child!” The old cliché, amended by old Henry Pummelham for greater emphasis, was engraved above the great gate entrance to Pummelham’s Hall, the boarding school’s founding maxim.
In all of the Hall’s distinguished history of academic excellence through child abuse, it had always had a Pummelham as its headmaster; that is, until Henry’s grandson Paul Pummelham reached the age where his arm was simply too frail to cause delinquent students the same degree of pain it had been capable of inflicting in bygone days. At least, not the level of agony he felt was necessary to maintain order. No, those happy days of yore had gone, and little Jack Pummelham was only two, still too young to fulfill that fundamental requirement for a successful schoolmaster: the ability to intimidate the student. Then again, little Jack was such a hideous toad of an infant, he might have fulfilled this requirement after all, but, sadly, was still incapable of beating a ten-year-old to a pulp. Therefore, the position of headmaster was grudgingly surrendered to Jack’s uncle, Squire Wormbly, who had married into the family.
This, of course, put the poor Squire in a unique situation. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the moment Jack Pummelham came of age, he would, in the tradition of Prince Hamlet, claim his father’s throne from his usurper uncle. The Squire feared his nephew in the same way he feared death: Jack was inevitable. The lad had no higher ambition in life than to succeed his father, and from the age of five had already started practicing by pounding any living thing smaller than himself. Strangely enough, the application of the rod was deemed unnecessary for little Jack’s education. Pain was as absolutely vital for the proper education of any child, except a Pummelham, of course.
Altogether, Squire Wormbly was not a cruel man. Fortunately, this failing did not prevent him meeting out the necessary discipline, though he almost always conscripted older students to do the honors for him. The Squire despised Jack, but remained his slave, because it was clear that, eventually, Jack would grow to be larger than he. Perhaps, Jack would retain his services as a school teacher. The Squire pondered this thought, his one shred of hope, as he delivered Rick and Charles into the hands of the prefects. Wormbly was even skinnier than Charles, with wispy, glistening black hair, shining eyes like a lost creature’s, a trembling lip, and no distinguishable chin.
“Once again, Richard Dering, you persist in antagonizing your betters, such as the esteemed Jack Pummelham. I thought we had cured you of this last year, but after only two days, you have returned right to where you left off last term,” the Squire wheezed. A part of him admired Rick for standing up to that snobbish toe rag, something he was too timid to do. However, the timid part preferred to have job security. “I would advise you to simply ignore young master Pummelham if you cannot stand him. He will have you whipped every time without exception.” With this sage advise, the Squire escorted the boys into the caning chamber, where hung the birch switches, hickory sticks and willow canes, shut the oak doors behind them, and left, again musing on the joyous possibility of his having a position under Jack Pummelham six years from now.
The two prefects, having forgotten the way the beatings had felt when they were younger, how the drubbings had deadened their spirits, grabbed Rick and Charles by their collars, dragged them to the desk, and bent them over to receive, not six-of-the-best, but sixty. Rick Dering fought them every step of the way.
Charles Fairfield of the Protestant Ascendency