If there is a victim in the city, have I not chosen him!
If there is an executioner in the city, have I not
John, Paddy and Randy were looking at the window display
of the shop at the bottom of Holtswhite hill. "Cor!" said
Paddy, "look at that aeroplane! Four and eleven!" It was
hanging by three wires from the top of the window at just
about eye level. "That's a fortune," said Randy, "you,ve got
to be rich to buy that."
"Geez! I'd like that 'cano set," said Paddy, "crane 'an
"We'd better bunk back in before they miss us," said
John, using orphanage slang. They all started to the right
and turned left to go up the hill. Paddy saw it first: "Cor!
look at that crodge!" he shouted, dashing over to the
railings on the left. It was a large toy car which had been
smashed into several pieces. The metal body of the car had
clearly been stamped on. All the boys rushed to pick up as
much as they could. Paddy was lucky - he got the mechanical
part with all the cogs: "Cor! look at this," he shouted with
excitement, turning the key which was sticking out at the
side. He was happy with this piece of crodge alone, and
didn't bother to pick up any of the other parts. John and
Randy got an axel each with two wheels attached, and some
other bits and pieces. They left the parts that were
squashed where they had found them - they would have no value
They started walking in single file as close as possible
to the iron railings. John was leading. These railings
stretched up the hill, past the small forest, and on to the
large gate about a quarter of a mile away which was the main
entrance to the orphanage. When they got near to the point
which John reckoned was about the centre of the forest, he
said in a loud whisper over his shoulder: "Let's see if we
can bunk back in there," pointing to the railings just ahead.
They had been so absorbed with inspecting their crodge
that they were taken by surprise when they heard someone call
out: "You three boys, stop there."
They stopped in their
tracks and turned around, fear and guilt written all over
their faces. A police constable on a bicycle had just put
his left foot down on the kerb to support himself. He had a
folded, triangular-shaped cape over his right shoulder. He
knew three things instantly: they were from the orphanage -
those heavy boots, and short trousers were the recognisable
marks; they were out without permission - the boys were never
let out un-accompanied; and he knew they had stolen what they
were holding in their hands, the pieces of a broken toy.
The guilt on their faces was the result of them leaving
the orphanage without permission. The constable gave it
another meaning, a meaning that was to cause a brutal
execution fifteen years ahead; a meaning that was to cause
the raping of an innocent mind, the warping and searing of an
unformed conscience - and life long nightmares.
The constable had been cycling along one of the side
roads which lay near to the bottom of the hill. He saw a
woman with a boy of about six years old who was crying. He
was told that three boys "About ten, eleven years old" had
snatched her son's toy car and run off with it. John was
eleven. Paddy and Randy were ten. The evidence was
conclusive, so there was no real point in questioning the
boys. It was a foregone conclusion they would lie: "Where
did you get that," the constable asked, pointing to the toy
parts which the boys held. "What! these sir?" answered John,
showing the mechanism he held, "we found them down there at
the bottom of the hill, sir."
The constable noticed the fear
and trembling in John's voice. Well, he would say that,
wouldn't he, thought the constable. "We just bunked out for
a bit of fun, that's all; and we found this crodge,"
interjected Paddy, holding the winding mechanism forward for
him to see. The constable wasn't familiar with orphanage
slang. To him, the term 'bunked out' meant 'sleeping out';
and 'crodge' was a word he'd never heard before.
His mind was in a slight muddle. If these three boys
had slept out without permission, why hadn't the local police
heard from the nuns. "Where did you sleep last night, then?"
he asked. The three boys looked at each other. They simply
couldn't understand his question. "Sleep . . . last night .
. . " said Randy, looking at the constable, his mouth wide
open. "Yes," said the constable, "sleep. You said you
bunked out. Where did you sleep?" They all looked at each
other, trying to make order out of mis-understanding. "Oh!"
said John, believing he saw the mixup, "we didn't sleep out,
we bunked out . . . we . . . " he was reluctant to tell the
truth; anyway, it wasn't really bad, was it, "we sneaked out,
the nuns don't know."
The constable pointed to the articles they held: "Is
that what you call crodge?" The boys were eased by this
question. Their hearts weren't thumping so hard now: "Yes,
sir, crodge, treasure, stuff you can exchange," answered
John. "Follow me," said the constable, sternly. He got off
his bicycle and began to push it along the gutter up the hill
towards the orphanage. When they got to the high
double-gates he rang the bell.
The boys weren't really
worried so much now. They would have to go without a meal or
two - this was the usual punishment for bunking out. It was
Sister Catherine who answered the bell. She was clearly
shocked when she saw the constable. He pushed the three boys
through the open gate, and, standing at the side, he began
to speak in a low voice to Sister Catherine. The boys didn't
hear what was said. When he was finished he turned to move
away, but stopped, turned his head, and said to the nun in a
voice they all heard: "And they're not to be punished."
The boys smiled at each other on hearing this; they
wouldn't have to go without one or two meals, now. Little
did they know that things were being set in motion. Little
did they know that the victim for execution had been chosen,
and among them was the executioner.
THE ONE CHOSEN TO BE EXECUTED - BLACKIE
The nuns had never liked to cane the boys, so they took
on a one-afternoon-a-week help whose job it was to cane the
boys selected for that particular punishment, to give the two
oldest classes physical exercise, and to get ready for
sending away those boys who had reached the age of thirteen
or fourteen. His name was Mr. Black, and the day following
the above incident would be his third afternoon visit to the
school. Although some of the boys had been punished with
having to go without a meal or two, or saying the Hail Mary
or the Rosary, or holding a pillow above their head, none had
been named for caning over the last three weeks.
The following day, the nun on refectory duty rang the
bell for silence after the midday meal was finished. There
was immediate silence, for, anyone who talked after the bell
was rung would miss the next meal. "Will O'Riley, Keane and
Andersen go out to Mother Superior in the passage." She did
not prefix the Christian names because she knew that none of
them had any brothers.
A tremendous thrill went through John when he heard his
name called out: "We're being sent away! Hurrah! Hurrah!" he
called out, looking down the table towards Paddy and Randy
who were sitting excitedly on the other side. Boys who were
to be sent away from the orphanage always had their names
called out after the midday meal so that they could bath and
get a new change of clothing. Unfortunately, none of them
knew that the rule could not yet apply to them for they were
all under the minimum age of thirteen. They all got up from
the backless form on which they were sitting, and dashed down
the middle aisle, past the nun and out through the double
doors leading to the passage.
The Mother Superior was
standing about ten feet forward down the passage, her arms
folded inside the wide sleeves of her frock: "Come with me,"
she called in a severe tone. She walked forward to the
double door on the left which led to the large concerted
playing ground; she opened it and held it open for them to
pass out. When she had closed the door she said: "I'm
thoroughly ashamed of you three boys, you have brought
disgrace upon the good name of Saint Joseph's." This was the
name of the orphanage.
While she was saying this, all the joy drained away from
their faces. "You will go without your meals for the rest of
the day," she continued, "and now, go over to Mr. Black."
She pointed towards the large indoor playing hall which lay
about thirty feet away. The three boys moved away from her
towards the hall.
"We've probably got to do some extra exercises," said
John, in a loud whisper. "Ye'," said Paddy, "last time, I
had to hold a cushion above my 'ead for 'alf an 'our - aint
too bad." They pushed through the double door of the hall
quite unconcerned. They saw Mr. Black at the far end of the
hall, sitting on the low dais, his hands on the edge. On his
right was a cricket stump. "Come here!" he shouted. They
all started to move slowly towards him. Raising his right
hand he took hold of the cricket stump. They all stopped in
their tracks, their hearts began to thump, fear gripped them.
"Come here, I said," he screamed, like some wounded
maniac, his eyes beginning to flash, "come here, you." He
pointed the stump at Randy who was just a little ahead of
Paddy and John.
Randy was so shocked he moved back two
steps involuntarily. This placed John at the front. Mr.
Black moved forward a couple of steps, and pointed the stump
at John: "You, come here, at once, or I'll thrash you within
an inch of your life!" he belched, the veins of his neck
rising, his face livid. John moved forward, his knees going
weak. He stopped about four feet from Mr. Black. In a
flash, Mr. Black bent forward and raised the stump so that it
was just three inches in front of John's face.
"Hold your right hand out, straight, shoulder high," he
snarled, "if you let it drop you'll get ten more of the
best!" John had received ten strokes of the cane many times
from the nuns. The boys were quite good at letting the hand
fall quickly at the moment of contact, and, although
painful, was looked upon without dread. But they had never
been caned by a man before - and a maniac into the bargain.
John was so terrified he could hardly speak: "We aint done .
. . "
Mr. Black raised the stump above his head with both
hands as though to strike John on the head. His face had
taken on a mask of contorted fury: "Get it up!" he screamed.
John stretched out his right arm to its full extent, rigid,
with palm upper most. The cricket stump hit John's palm with
such force that a violent shock hit his right shoulder. John
was riveted to the spot, petrified with fear. Woooooph!
Five times it descended on his right palm. His small finger
was broken, and the other three were fractured. John's
vision began to blur.
"Now the left hand!" he heard, "hold it up! I'll teach
you to steal!" Woooooph! Once, twice. Mr. Black struck
with a ferocity known only to those with inquisitional blood
in their veins. At the third strike John's hearing was
almost gone. He didn't feel the fourth stroke - it
dislocated his elbow, and he sunk to the floor in a dead
When John came to, he was lying in bed in the orphanage
infirmary, his right hand bandaged, and his left arm bound
tightly across his chest. He learned later that Paddy and
Randy had not been caned, and, due to the severity of the
punishment, that Mr. Black was dismissed immediately.
While lying in bed through the days that followed, only
one thought kept passing through John's scarred mind: Bash
his hands! kill him! Bash his hands! kill him!