steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Tom Butler's Schooldays - Part 10: Monitors

One of the Deputy Grecians - Monitors - Machin, was the most cruel bully I ever knew. It was his pleasure to send the other Monitor, Douglas, to the end of the Ward to listen while he dropped a pin on to the Monitors' table, and say whether or not he heard the sound. If anyone in the Ward made the faintest rustle or even audibly breathed, Machin called him out, put the head of his victim on to the Monitors' table, and brought down his fist on to that unfortunate's back with a mighty thump. On one occasion the heavy thuds of the cruel blows and the pitiful groaning brought out the Nurse from her sitting-room to complain. Machin in a violent passion told her that he kept order in the Ward for her benefit, and that, instead of being thanked, he was blamed, finishing his reproaches by swearing at her. She fondly thought now that he was in her power, and replied that she would report him to the Steward for swearing at her. Machin appealed to Douglas, "Did I swear?" "No," said Douglas. "But I plainly heard you," protested the Nurse. Machin and Douglas both took their oath that she was mistaken.

Machin was regarded in the Ward as a "Russian bully"; some thought that he was indeed a Russian. Recently (1853- and 1854) England had been at war with Russia, and the boys were told about the cruel Russian treatment of the Poles. I was but 9 or 10 years of age, and in the absolute power of this human brute, nearly double my age. He used to inflict horrible suffering upon me for his savage amusement because I was "a toughy" - one who could bear pain without groaning. He used to make me jump as high as I could, and when I was well above the ground, box my ear, driving me in the air. He asked me once if I, being a Christian, loved him, according to the commandment, "Love your enemies." I said nothing but was gratified to find that the knowledge in the Ward of my Christianity extended to the Monitors. A Christian does indeed love a bad man as a possible future convert, but not as a hater of God and his people. The other monitor Douglas neither befriended me nor did me harm.

The Deputy Grecians, like the Grecian, had a "swob". Some lad, not of gentle birth, would be willing to be the Monitors' swob. He made their beds, blacked their boots, made coffee and toast for them, and afterwards coffee and toast for himself. Machin and Douglas's swob showed that he was a "snob" (blackguard) by gobbing (spitting) over some toast and coffee, and then giving it to a lad who knew nothing about this defilement. The Monitor Douglas for his own amusement acted better. There was nothing "poling" (defiling) in slate-pencil dust, ink, sugar, salt, mustard and pepper. He made a dose of these ingredients in the presence of a lad who agreed to take it into his mouth for the reward of some hot coffee and buttered toast to follow it. I think there was also the additional reward of sixpence. The dose flew a long distance out of the lad's mouth on to a beautifully clean freshly sanded floor of the Ward. The Monitor was satisfied and gave the promised rewards, and the good meal immediately took away the vile taste of the dose.

This Monitor used to get from one end of the Ward to the other by silently running from one bed to another without touching the ground. One night when he touched Green's bed, which was next to mine, Green made a loud cry like that of a hyena. Douglas, startled, took a tremendous leap; Green said it was "over three beds", but it could not have been so much as that. Douglas, looking amused, came to Green and asked him, "What made you make that unearthly noise?" "I was dreaming," replied Green. After Douglas had gone away, Green said to me, "I was not asleep, I made that row for a lark."
Tags: family history, tom butler's schooldays
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