If Tom Hadn't Been Noble

Story by HandPrince
Illustrations by Lawrence and Toma



    "Thomas Sawyer!" thundered the schoolmaster, fixing the boy with a menacing glare,  "did you tear my medical book?!"

    "No, Mr. Dobbins," replied Tom.

    There was not a sound.  One could have heard an aphid sneeze.  The stillness continued; the schoolmaster searched face after face for signs of guilt.

    "Benjamin Rogers," did you tear this book?"

    A denial.  Another pause.

    "Joseph Harper, did you?"

    Another denial.  Tom's uneasiness grew under the slow torture of these proceedings.  When he stole a glance across the room at Becky Thatcher, the sight of her tore at his heart, making him forget all about the quarrel they'd had earlier that afternoon.  Her soft golden-yellow hair was plaited into two long pigtails, each tied with a gay satin bow which matched her frilly gingham dress.  But her normally rosy  open-faced countenance was now pale and expressionless, her eyes stared fixedly at her benchtop, her small shoulders hunched with dread beneath  her summer frock.   Tom had once seen a hunted and helpless rabbit look as she did - with a gun leveled at its head.  He wished there were something, anything he could do.  It was only a matter of time before Mr. Dobbins asked Becky the same portentous question -- only a matter of time before the guilt in her eyes betrayed her, condemning her to a thrashing with Mr. Dobbins' dreaded hickory switch!

    The schoolmaster scanned the ranks of boys -- considered awhile, then turned to the girls.  Tom imagined himself leaping to his feet, rushing to Becky's side, seizing the frightened girl by her pretty little hand, and fleeing together from the one room schoolhouse.  The two of them would run away forever and Tom and his friends would support her by being pirates!  Joe Harper and Ben Rogers could join the jolly crew, and Huck Finn, of course.  And oh, what a pretty sight Becky would be, standing on the forecastle of Tom's ship, the "Spirit of the Storm," with her sunbonnet pulled back, bright blue eyes alight, a smile on her face and a song on her lips as the wind and salt spray tossed her golden tresses.  How grand it would be to hold hands -- just the two of them -- surrounded by the sounds of the surf, the Jolly Roger rippling in the breeze overhead, the creak of timbers underfoot, the crashing of the ship through the salty swells under full sail towards their secret island and their buried treasure.  No parents to make them do chores!  No ministers to make them squirm through interminable sermons!  No school masters to-

    "Amy Lawrence!" Did you tear this book?"

    A solemn shake of her head.

    "Gracie Miller?"

    The same sign.

    "Susan Harper, did you do this?"

    Another negative.  The next girl was Becky Thatcher.  Tom was trembling from head to foot with excitement and a sense of the hopelessness of the situation.

    "Rebecca Thatcher!" [Tom glanced at her face -- it was white with terror]  -- "did you tear -- no, look at me in the face" [her hands rose in appeal] -- "did you tear this book?!"

    A thought shot like lightning through Tom's brain.  There was still a chance!  He would leap to his feet and shout that he had torn it!  There was no time to lose!  He would do it, he would!  Yet his limbs did not obey -- his words lay stifled in his throat.  The moment passed.  The noble opportunity slipped away.  Now Becky's fate was sealed.

    "REBECCA THATCHER?!?!?!"  thundered the schoolmaster.  Instead of answering, Becky covered her face and burst into tears.  Like a stormcloud, Mr. Dobbins' mien darkened as he regarded the wretched tearful child with an icy stare.  "GO TO THE FRONT OF THE CLASS, MISS THATCHER!"  he commanded, in a voice both grim and terrible.  Weeping, Becky obeyed, looking beseechingly at Mr. Dobbins as he walked to the wall and took hold of the supple switch from its peg.  Turning to face Becky's imploring eyes, he sternly ordered her to lift her skirts and bend across his desk.

    "Oh spare me, Sir, I beg of you!"  cried Becky, clasping her hands to her bossum.  "I meant no harm!  It was an accident!  Please, Mr. Dobbins!  I've never been whipped before in school!"

    "You shall be well whipped today, Miss Thatcher!" snapped the schoolmaster, striding slowly to the side of his desk, grimly flexing the rod as he spoke.

    Swallowing back tears, Becky knelt, and in each hand, gathered the full skirt of her frock and the two lace-trimmed petticoats beneath.  For just a moment, she hesitated, still kneeling, her face reddening with shame at what she knew she must now do.  But when Mr. Dobbins cleared his throat ominously, she bit her lip, and, with a rustling armload of skirts on either side, hoisted them all above her waist as she turned her back to the class and bent down across the desk.  Titters and murmurs ran through the boys' side of the room as the pupils gazed at Becky's knee length white embroidered pantalettes stretched snugly across her shapely thighs and buttocks, all framed by the fluffy heap of her skirts.  But a stern glance from the schoolmaster silenced the room in an instant.

    Still facing the class, Mr. Dobbins took a deep breath, let it out, and then measured his distance by extending his right arm, switch in hand, until the rod lightly rested on the seat of the trembling little girls sheer linen undergarment.  Becky, her body already bowstring tense from anxiety, flinched and gasped involuntarily at the touch of that terrible, limber switch against her thinly clad fundaments.

    Without a word, the schoolmaster drew back his arm across his chest and swung the switch swiftly and smartly to strike with a sharp snap across both mounds of Becky's trembling posterior.  Becky, her face buried in her arms, let out a shrill squeal of pain which quickly dissolved into miserable tears.   Mr. Dobbins paused, giving his first stroke ample time to smart, while each student watched wide eyed, holding his or her breath, and Becky squirmed, shuddered and sobbed from the sting.  Although Becky had indeed never before been whipped at school, and although her adoring father never punished her, Becky was no stranger to the discipline of the rod.  Mrs. Thatcher, when she deemed Mistress Rebecca deserving, was not averse to turning Becky across her knee and applying, to the bare skin her daughter's upturned bottom, vigorous strokes with a light willow switch cut from the tree in the front yard of  the Thatchers' stately home.  But never had Mama thrashed Becky with a switch quite so stout, or with an arm nearly so strong!

    Tom, who had been flogged by Mr. Dobbins on countless occasions, knew all too well how Becky felt at that moment: as if a searing strip of glowing hot metal were pressing against her sensitive skin.  Again, the master drew back his arm, and again the slender rod swished through the air to strike the seat of Becky's dainty pantalettes.  The little girl shrieked at first, then her voice cracked as she broke into heaving sobs of redoubled urgency.

    Tom thought he might swoon as he watched this painful spectacle unfold.  His beloved was being whipped, and to his shame, he was powerless to protect her.  Silently he upbraided himself; why hadn't he spoken up when there was still a chance?  Tom gritted his teeth, gripped the edges of his desk with his hands and braced himself as Mr. Dobbins slowly drew back the switch and laid yet another backhanded cut across the soft summits of Becky's bottom.  Again she let out a cry of anguish followed by heartrending, weeping sobs.  Through the thin, taut fabric of her undergarment, the raised ridge of a welt from the first lash of the rod could be clearly seen across both cheeks of the poor little girl's burning buttocks, and the weal from the second stroke was beginning to rise as well.  The master paused, then drew back his arm once more, poised to inflict another stroke, while tom inwardly prayed that it would be the last.

    Swish! went the stick through the air.  Snap! came the report as it rebounded off Becky's backside, the soft flesh of her buttocks shuddering from the impact.  Tom made a last impassioned mental plea to the Almighty to end Becky's ordeal now,  promising he never again chew tobacco or use cuss words or cut up during Sunday school if only God would grant this boon.  Mr. Dobbins stood impassively, regarding the bawling little girl with a haughty eye.  Tom held his breath, his heart pounding in his ears, as he waited for the Hand of the Lord to stay the hand of the schoolmaster.  With a disdainful sniff, Mr. Dobbins drew back his arm and, with swift, punitive precision, lashed the two oval prominences of Becky's bottom as severely as before.

    It's no use, thought Tom bitterly, as Becky howled with pain and his prayer went unanswered.   Perhaps if the Widow Douglas or his Aunt Polly or someone like that were praying, God would listen; clearly the petition of a sinner such as himself carried no weight in the Court of Heaven.

    Brandishing his cutlass, and poised on the gunwale of his jolly ship, Pirate Captain Thomas Sawyer, the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main, threw back his head and let out a scornful laugh.  Jabbing with his sword he forced the ashenfaced schoolmaster to walk the plank one step further.  Below the trembling teacher's feet, the sea churned with enormous, famished sharks.  Their gnashing saw-toothed jaws and gazed upwards with pitiless, dark eyes at their next meal.  Perched on the poopdeck, Becky stood, noting impassively the final moments of her tormentor, while Tom's loyal crew hooted and cheered him on.  Now only an inch from the end of the plank, the cowardly schoolmaster turned and for the hundredth time, begged Tom to spare him.  For the hundredth time, he apologized abjectly for having offended the dignity of Miss Rebecca Thatcher, (whose shoes, he emphasized, he was unfit even to lick), by whipping her at school. For the hundredth time he vowed to devote the remainder of his years to atoning, in every way possible, for the outrage he had inflicted upon her person, if only Tom would let him live to accomplish this task.  "Avast, ye swab!" cried Tom, cutting him off in mid sentence, "Ye shall be food for the fishies, me hearty!  Welcome to Davy Jones' Locker!!!"  With those words, Tom lunged with his cutlass, causing the man to flinch backwards in fright.  Flailing with his arms, he teetered on the outermost brink of the plank.  Then with a last craven scream of terror, he plunged downward into the sea, and-

    Snap! went the rod once again across the seat of Becky's pretty pantalettes, as she cried out bitterly from the sting.  Stretched across the schoolmaster's desk, Becky was wailing and crying as hard as she could by now, gasping for breath between each wail, every trace of dignity and composure gone.  After that last awful tick of the switch, her legs appeared to have weakened and Tom feared that she might slump to her knees on the floor, an act which would provoke the schoolmaster's fury and earn her still further stripes. Be strong, Becky! thought Tom, you can do it! as he strained to send her mental encouragement, willing her to find the strength to endure.  Mr. Dobbins' brow knit grimly as he watched to see if his young charge would indeed defy him by failing to remain in position during punishment.  After several tense seconds, Becky gripped the far side of the desk and haltingly pulled herself forward and back into position.

    The schoolmaster's features relaxed somewhat, as if toying with the idea of mercy.  But then his brows knit, he set his jaw, drew back the rod, and gave the wretched, bawling Becky still another hard lick across her swollen, welted seat.  A shudder went through her body, and beneath the fabric of her undergarment her thighs and buttocks clenched and unclenched spasmodically as she let out yet another desperate wail of pain.  Mr. Dobbins folded his arms and, with a detached air, stood watching the suffering little girl for some time.  Then, to Tom's immense relief, he turned and restored the switch to its peg on the wall while Becky continued to cry frantically,  her slim little body shaking with sobs, still bent across his desk with the skirts of her frock and petticoats still piled up around her middle.  Clearly visible through the delicate fabric of her pantalettes, seven straight switch marks crisscrossed the rounded surfaces of her inflamed bottom.

    A minute passed.  When Becky's tears began to diminish somewhat, the schoolmaster placed his hands on Becky's shoulders and guided her into a standing position facing the class.  Though she hung her head, Tom could see that her eyes were red and puffy, and her hair disheveled, with stray golden wisps having come loose from their plaits to lie pasted across her flushed, tear soaked cheeks.  Mr. Dobbins held her firmly by one arm, forcing her to stand awhile before her classmates, as an example to all who might consider misbehaving in his classroom.  As she sniffed and sobbed, Becky gingerly massaged the seat of her dress with her free hand, trying  her best to soothe the throbbing sting of a well whipped bottom cushioned beneath several layers of clothing.

    At last, the schoolmaster released his hold on Becky's arm and order her back to her seat.  Still weeping softly, she obeyed, making her shamefaced way up the aisle towards her bench, wishing  fervently that every eye in the room were not on her.  Hanging her head to hide her blushing tear streaked face from her classmates, Becky slowly sat down at her place, wincing as she carefully eased her weight onto her welted, smarting buttocks.  Ignoring the glances and whispers of her neighbors, she sat up straight, and with all the dignity she could muster, took up her chalk and slate, and waited for the afternoon's lessons to begin.

HandPrince (c) 2005

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