The Other Tom Brown's Schooldays Chapter 13
Copyright 2006 by Pueros, all rights reserved
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This story is intended for ADULTS ONLY
Chapter 13 Hogmanay
(Abernethy Hall, near Sodomhall School, Northumberland, England, New Year's Eve, December 1803)
Dr. Strappem must have been in unusually pleasant seasonal spirits, as he had again allowed Tom, Christopher and Jonathan to go to visit Abernethy Hall, even though the day was not a Sunday. New Year's Eve of 1803 fell on a Saturday.
Dr. Strappem was actually generous for three reasons. First, his seasonal spirits had proved pleasant because of much consumption of the alcoholic kind, especially whisky of which he was particularly fond. Second, Tom, Christopher and Jonathan would be staying overnight at Abernethy Hall for the first time and so their absence from Sodomhall School would spill over to a Sunday. Third, the Headmaster too had received a kind invitation to enjoy Sir James' traditional New Year's Eve Hogmanay celebrations, the nature of which owed much to the Baronet's Scottish connections.
Dr. Strappem, who would also stay overnight, would therefore enjoy the customary Hogmanay banquet Sir James Abernethy arranged annually for local dignitaries in his stately home's ornate main dining room. At the same time, a plainer but nevertheless excellent buffet would be provided in one of the huge residence's larger halls for the Baronet's staff, tenants, trade suppliers and other less important acquaintances.
Dr. Strappem greatly appreciated that Sir James Abernethy apparently now considered him to be sufficiently dignified to attend the banquet. The Headmaster had only previously been invited to the buffet.
The buffet had been pleasant, with plenty of decent food and ale, plus joyful musical accompaniment, provided by hired artistes who normally performed at local taverns. However, there was usually no prospect of the invitees to the more plebeian party sleeping off their inevitable New Year hangovers in one of Abernethy Hall's guest bedrooms, which were exclusively reserved for those attending the banquet. The best overnight accommodation that could instead be anticipated was sleeping on some straw in the stables or barns associated with the stately home.
Dr. Strappem could now look forward to luxurious overnight accommodation. The Headmaster would also be sampling the many courses of delicious exotic delicacies customarily provided at the banquet, many of which were testament to the host's Scottish connections and to the time that he had spent as the colonel of his own army regiment in India. These dishes, which of course therefore included the strange mix of haggis and curries, would be accompanied by expensive fine wines and classical music played by a hired professional string quartet.
Dr. Strappem was also eagerly anticipating the subsequent billiards and card-playing indulged by the gentlemen amongst the guests, whilst the ladies chatted elsewhere. However, the Headmaster's attitude did not arise from any particular affection for these pastimes or the loss of the women's company, although, being a misogynist, he did welcome the latter development. He was instead looking forward much more to consuming the generous amounts of expensive whisky that accompanied participation, especially the famed Abernethy malt, distilled in Scotland by the senior branch of the host's family.
In actuality, Dr. Strappem was to enjoy his undiluted malt whisky much more than he anticipated. However, this phenomenon did not arise from the splendid taste but from the accompanying conversation with his host. This discussion was also to lead to the Headmaster relishing future Abernethy hospitality in a totally unexpected but nevertheless literally greatly gratifying manner.
Meanwhile, the young subject of the conversation, James Abernethy, had been excused his customary attendance at the Hogmanay banquet, at which he was invariably the only child, in favour of being present at the buffet with Tom, Christopher and Jonathan. His new friends were only deemed important enough to be invited to the more informal and plainer plebeian celebration and the host's son of course wanted to be with them.
James' father had relented and agreed to this arrangement because of the boy's entreaties. The man might have been a traditionalist and disciplinarian but his only son generally only had to display his invariably completely disarming smile whilst pleading to achieve his aims.
James, Tom, Christopher and Jonathan were, however, not currently consuming food or playing at the buffet. The very pretty young quartet, all of whom would reach their 11th birthdays by the time that Easter of 1804 arrived, were instead engaged in as earnest a conversation as that simultaneously taking place in the nearby billiards' room between Sir James Abernethy and Dr. Strappem.
"You can't!" Tom suggested in desperation to James. "Why can't I, old bean?" the puzzled young heir to the Abernethy Baronetcy asked in reply.
"The place is simply not appropriate for someone of your background, as it caters for the lower middle and not upper class," Tom answered. "I don't care, old bean, because, despite my posh accent, I'm not a snob," James responded.
What the boys were arguing about was also the subject of the conversation between the fulsomely moustached Sir James Abernethy and Dr. Strappem in the nearby billiards' room. "As the war with France and that upstart Napoleon Bonaparte has resumed," the Baronet advised the Headmaster, "I decided to reactivate my regiment and offer my reassembled Northumberland Yeomanry to the government to defend the country. We've now been ordered to the south coast of England to help reinforce the garrisons of some of the forts there. The Prime Minister, Henry Addington, is a personal friend of mine and he tells me that the deployment is necessary because he fears that the French might attempt to invade."
Dr. Strappem knew that Sir James Abernethy was a very important man in the county of Northumberland. However, the revelation that the Baronet was a friend of the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom suggested that he was also a person of national significance.
"I was therefore in a quandary," Sir James Abernethy continued, "as to what I should do about my son in my absence. It's impractical for me to take him with me because I'll be living peripatetically in military establishments and camps that are entirely unsuitable for a child. I could, of course, simply leave him here under the tutelage of his tutor but I believe that, even though he now receives weekly Sunday visits from his new friends attending your school, he's lonely enough here without losing the company of his father."
Dr. Strappem believed that he knew what Sir James Abernethy would say next. The Baronet would surely advise that he intended finally to despatch his son to some prestigious boarding school. In fact the Headmaster wondered why the young heir had not yet been sent to such an educational establishment, as was customary for upper class boys.
Dr. Strappem was proved to be partially correct, and also had his wonderment answered, when Sir James Abernethy added "I've therefore been considering sending my son to a boarding school. I've been reluctant to do so before because I did not enjoy the experience when I attended Eton. It wasn't the harsh discipline that troubled me, as all boys generally deserve a good thrashing now and then, but was instead .."
Sir James Abernethy had stopped what he was saying because he suddenly realised that he was unthinkingly about to reveal unpleasant truths about his time at Eton that he considered were best kept private. However, having come so far in conversation, he also appreciated that he had somehow to complete his intended latest statement.
"Look, you're a man of the world, Dr. Strappem, and also an undoubtedly good headmaster," Sir James Abernethy therefore said in alteration to what he had first intended more bluntly to reveal, "whom I'm positive ensures that such nefarious activities never occur at Sodomhall. However, I have no doubt that you'll know what I'm inferring when I tell you that I was a rather handsome schoolboy and was therefore the subject of much unwanted attention from older pupils and even one teacher when I was at Eton."
Dr. Strappem, of course, did indeed know what Sir James Abernethy was inferring. The Headmaster also could not help but laugh inwardly, albeit without any external sign of his secret amusement, at the Baronet's suggestion that he ensured that 'such nefarious activities never occur at Sodomhall'.
Dr. Strappem additionally intuitively and correctly inferred something else from Sir James Abernethy's rather cryptic confession. The former Eton schoolboy had in adulthood inherited a rich and distinguished Baronetcy and all the trappings that came with such an exalted position. He had also accumulated a brave and successful military record of which he could be proud. His whole appearance and demeanour, with his noble bearing and accent, fulsome masculine moustache and clothing generally associated with wealthy country squires, seemed to depict the very epitome of heterosexual English aristocracy.
Remembrance of having been forced or seduced as a boy into homosexual relationships, including possibly even being raped, would surely consequently be very painful for such as man as Sir James Abernethy. Dr. Strappem could therefore fully appreciate why, given such experiences, the Baronet disliked the idea of sending his young son and heir to Eton too, despite the fact that the school was the most prestigious in the country.
"I've therefore discounted Eton as a possibility for my son," Sir James Abernethy actually next confirmed to Dr. Strappem, "as I have no reason to believe that the sort of awful practices to which I was subjected have yet ceased. I instead began considering such schools as Harrow and Rugby."
Dr. Strappem now believed that Sir James Abernethy was about to ask his opinion about these two famous schools, which were almost as prestigious as Eton. The Headmaster's assumption proved incorrect after the Baronet added "However, I changed my mind when I spoke at length to my son about the issue and I eventually came round to accepting his suggestion."
Sir James Abernethy went on to explain to Dr. Strappem what the suggestion from his son, which he had accepted, entailed. In reaction, the Headmaster dropped the glass of expensive malt whisky, which he had just brought to his lips in order to sip, onto the floor of the billiards' room.
What the suggestion entailed was simultaneously apparent in the conversation taking place at the same time between Tom and the young James Abernethy, held in the nearby large noisy crowded hall that was hosting the buffet. Christopher and Jonathan were essentially just witnesses to the argument.
"The discipline's very severe," retorted Tom, who was becoming increasingly anxious that his best efforts to try to dissuade the young heir to the Abernethy Baronetcy from his intent might fail, "and you can therefore expect many beatings, which are also often inflicted unjustly!" "I don't care about that either, old bean, because I'm not a coward," James responded, causing his friend's exasperation and panic to increase, "and anyway I'm sure such punishments and injustice happen in other similar places!"
The desperate Tom therefore felt compelled to play his last conversational card. He had kept the disclosure in reserve because, like all of his fellow pupils at Sodomhall School, he was usually too ashamed and frightened to speak about the topic to outsiders.
"There's also a lot of other abuse of the boys by the staff," Tom finally confessed in a virtual whisper. "What kind?" James asked.
"I'll only answer that question," Tom replied, "if you promise not to tell anyone else." James briefly looked a little perplexed at the request for confidentiality but nevertheless provided the necessary reassurance.
Tom subsequently swallowed hard and summoned enough bravery to answer James' question with one word, namely "Sexual!" The boy's shame at being forced into this whispered confession was simultaneously given away when his very pretty face blushed into a vivid scarlet hue.
There was then a brief silence between the boys after Tom had uttered his humiliating disclosure, which he believed would permanently bring to an end James' declared intent. However, his assumption was subsequently shattered when the young heir to the Abernethy Baronetcy retorted "I don't care about that either, old bean, because I'm not a prude, and anyway I'm sure such abuse happens in other similar places!"
Of course, James did not make his own confession to Tom, which would have provided full elucidation of his latest retort. The young heir to the Abernethy Baronetcy still had aspirations to indulge in sexual experimentation with his new friends, which was the private reason amongst several openly expressed ones motivating him to suggest to his father that he become a boarder with them at Sodomhall School.
The possibility that James' secret desire for sexual experimentation might extend to being involved in similar activities with adults at Sodomhall School did not deter the boy at all. He was instead somehow rather guiltily thrilled at the prospect, as was testified by some hidden growth in his groin simultaneous to hearing Tom's disclosure. The young heir to the Abernethy Baronetcy was currently insufficiently mature and experienced to know that playing with man-size cocks could be very anguishing.
James had previously aired with his father his more open and innocent motives for wanting to board at Sodomhall. He had begun by commenting "I know, Pater, that the school does not normally cater for our social class. However, I don't mind mixing with boys from the lower orders."
James had advised his widower parent, whom he always, as was common in his class, addressed as 'Pater', which is Latin for 'father', of his attitude to mixing with boys of a lower social strata not as a result of any personal condescension or snobbishness. He genuinely did not possess these unlikeable characteristics. He instead hoped to overcome any snootiness that the adult might have in respect of the issue.
"After all, Pater," James had added for his father's consideration, "I already count Brown, West and Morton as my best friends. Sodomhall School also has the advantage, in addition to having these three boys as boarders, of being close to Abernethy Hall. I additionally understand that the place has a reputation for providing a good disciplined education."
James relayed this latter comment because he recognised that his father liked his son to behave and wanted a sound education for him. The boy's remark was also actually correct and the academic reputation was deserved. However, outside adults might have been less enamoured if they had been made aware of the nature of some of Sodomhall School's extra-curricula activities.
At the Hogmanay buffet, James now frowned at Tom before announcing "I am, though, beginning to care that your attempts to dissuade me from boarding with you at Sodomhall School might result from the fact that you don't really like me." The young heir to the Abernethy Baronetcy was fully aware that his expressed fear was wrong. However, he had been spurred into making the comment in order to try to put an end to his friend's counter-arguments, which were clearly well meaning but nevertheless unwanted.
Tom naturally protested his innocence in respect of the accusation. He also realised that his attempts to dissuade James from joining him as a boarder at Sodomhall School had failed. He reluctantly recognised that he could not continue to argue in the face of a charge that he was only doing so because he disliked the boy.
Tom was perceptively not deceived that James' aristocratic status or, for a pupil of Sodomhall School, his unusual closeness with an important and loving father would help his friend avoid the worst experiences of life at the educational establishment. He realised that the boy would be prevented from telling his parent about what was happening through blackmail if not shame.
Tom had by now become well acquainted with Dr. Strappem's scheming ways, not least from his own experience of the blackmail practised to prevent all pupils from telling tales to outsiders. Such intimidation was verbally inflicted on all new boys as a precaution, even though most would never complain anyway because of fear, shame and the lack of anyone to whom they could realistically protest and expect help, given that all possessed completely uncaring parents or guardians.
Each new boy was menaced with expulsion if, in Dr. Strappem's own frequently uttered words, "You tell untruths about what happens in this school to outsiders. You'll also be branded as an outrageous liar, eligible for prosecution for malicious slander, and homosexual, imprisonable for extreme perversion, both of which I'm sure will displease your parents or guardians. Meanwhile, I'll also be compelled to punish severely the close friends you leave behind for harbouring such a viper as you in their midst!"
No pupil considered expulsion in such a manner desirable, regardless of how much they would love to leave Sodomhall. Their invariably cold and selfish parents and guardians would probably believe Dr. Strappem's accusations rather than any made by the boys and so the expelled students could expect immense trouble. Even if the adults thought otherwise, they would be too uncaring or unimportant to provoke much trouble, in an era without police and school inspectors, when litigation about such matters was unheard of and stories in the embryonic press were often condemned as scurrilous and so ignored. The idea that the friends left behind would also suffer severely was also highly discouraging.
Ex-pupils who had become adults, some in very important professions, additionally maintained their meek silence for similar reasons. They all also appreciated that, if they did somehow try to pursue their grievances, counter- accusations from Dr. Strappem and his staff at Sodomhall School about them being liars and the actual perverts could be very damaging. Collective action, such as that undertaken by modern victim pressure groups, was additionally unknown in early the 19th century.
Sir James Abernethy was, however, an unprecedented kind of parent for a pupil of Sodomhall School. He would probably have believed any accusations made by his son and was caring and important enough to provoke a lot of trouble. Nevertheless, Tom perceptively appreciated that the man's son would never want his father to have to tackle counter-charges that his young heir was a liar and pervert or have his friends suffering because he had complained of abuse.
Tom therefore knew that James would, after joining Sodomhall School, compliantly suffer physical and sexual abuse without complaint, as he already had to do. In fact, given his exceptional red-headed prettiness and unusually exalted status for a pupil, the boy would surely be the popular subject of much maltreatment of this kind.
These assumptions had originally encouraged Tom to try to dissuade James from his unwise intent. However, his efforts had now obviously failed.
Tom, completely disarmed by James' accusation that he might not have any real affection for his new aristocratic friend, gave up arguing by sombrely confirming "I won't contest the issue with you anymore." He subsequently briefly contemplated how the young heir to the Abernethy Baronetcy would soon have to suffer the sad consequences of his oratorical victory.
Tom then sighed before adding "I'll just say instead that Christopher, Jonathan and I do truly like you. We'll prove it by doing our best to help make your imminent introduction to Sodomhall School as painless as possible."
James naturally assumed that Tom's use of the word 'painless' referred to overcoming any difficulties that he might encounter when he started at Sodomhall School at the imminent beginning of the new winter term. The boy still naively did not realise, despite his friend's warnings, that the expression had been utilised literally.
"Well, as the issue is settled, old beans, old chaps, old superlatives, let's go and tuck into the buffet" James happily suggested to his three friends after winning the debate, which was a victory that he would have cause later to regret on many occasions. The hungry Tom, Christopher and Jonathan eagerly complied, as the fare on offer was far more plentiful, varied and tasty than the disgusting gruel inevitably served for dinner at their school.
Temporarily forgetting about what horrors the imminently forthcoming year of 1804 might bring to their lives at their school, Tom, Christopher and Jonathan subsequently happily indulged in a variety of enjoyable party games with James. To the latter boy's disappointment, these pastimes still did not include sex play but he hoped that his arrival as a boarder at Sodomhall would eventually change this undesirable situation. His wish was, of course, to be granted in a very comprehensive manner.
Like Tom, Sir James Abernethy had also eventually acceded to his son's persuasive arguments. He was therefore currently agreeing with Dr. Strappem, whose whisky glass had been restored to the shocked but pleased Headmaster's hands and generously re-filled, the arrangements for his young heir to start at Sodomhall School.
After all, Sir James Abernethy had heard nothing but good about Sodomhall School from local people. Unfortunately, those whom he had questioned on the subject proved to be rather biased and untruthful commentators, all in some way gaining from the educational establishment's activities.
Sir James Abernethy had, in the course of his normal business, asked the opinion of his tenant farmers, Allcock and Loveboy, about Sodomhall School. He did the same with the local publican, Dickup, and the trader who supplied his stately home with linen and staff uniforms, Coxhead. All praised the educational establishment.
Sir James Abernethy's own butler, Rambottom, also provided a glowing verbal reference, which was not surprising because he was a regular participant in Sodomhall School's special annual hunt. He always relished the reward gained by catching the current year's boy-bait.
Sir James Abernethy's wider garnering of views also unfortunately somehow managed to target similar beneficiaries of Sodomhall School's naughty activities. However, this phenomenon was actually not surprising, as he was guided on whom to ask by his butler.
Sir James Abernethy therefore concluded that Sodomhall School had to be better than Eton in respect of ensuring the moral welfare of the pupils.
How wrong could a man be?
(To be continued in chapter 14 'Newts')