"The Passionate Year" by James Hilton_
Speed was very nervous as he took his seat on the dais at five to seven and watched the school straggling to their places. They came in quietly enough, but there was an atmosphere of subdued expectatancy of which Speed was keenly conscious; the boys stared about them, grinned at each other, seemed as if they were waiting for something to happen. Nevertheless, at five past seven all was perfectly quiet and orderly, although it was obvious that little work was being done. Speed felt rather as if he were sitting on a powder-magazine, and there was a sense in which he was eager for the storm to break.
At about a quarter past seven a banging of desk-lids began at the far end of the hall.
He stood up and said, quietly, but in a voice that carried well: "I don't want to be hard on anybody, so I'd better warn you that I shall punish any disorderliness very severely."
There was some tittering, and for a moment or so he wondered if he had made a fool of himself.
Then he saw a bright, rather pleasant-faced boy in one of the back rows deliberately raise a desk-lid and drop it with a bang. Speed consulted the map of the desks that was in front of him and by counting down the rows discovered the boy's name to be Worsley. He wondered how the name should be pronounced — whether the first syllable should rhyme with "purse" or with "horse". Instinct in him, that uncanny feeling for atmosphere, embarked him on an outrageously bold adventure, nothing less than a piece of facetiousness, the most dangerous weapon in a new Master's armoury, and the one most of all likely to recoil on himself. He stood up again and said: "Wawsley or Wurssley — however you call yourself — you have a hundred lines!"
The whole assembly roared with laughter. That frightened him a little. Supposing they did not stop laughing! He remembered an occasion at his own school when a class had ragged a certain Master very neatly and subtly by pretending to go off into hysterics of laughter at some trifling witticism of his.
When the laughter subsided, a lean, rather clever-looking boy rose up in the front row but one and said, impudently: "Please sir, I'm Worsley. I didn't do anything."
Speed replied promptly: "Oh, didn't you? Well, you've got a hundred lines, anyway."
"What for, sir" — in hot indignation.
"For sitting in your wrong desk."
Again the assembly laughed, but there was no mistaking the respectfulness that underlay the merriment. And, as a matter of fact, the rest of the evening passed entirely without incident. After the others had gone, Worsley came up to the dais accompanied by the pleasant-faced boy who dropped the desk-lid. Worsley pleaded for the remission of his hundred lines, and the other boy supported him urging that it was he and not Worsley who had dropped the lid. "And what's your name?" asked Speed. "Naylor, sir."
"Very well, Naylor, you and Worsley can share the hundred lines between you." He added smiling: "I've no doubt you're neither of you worse than anybody else but you must pay the penalty of being pioneers."
They went away laughing.
That night Speed went into Clanwell's room for a chat before bedtime, and Clanwell congratulated fulsomely on his successful passage of the ordeal. "As a matter of fact," Clanwell said, "I happen to know that they'd prepared a star benefit performance for you but that you put them off, somehow, from the beginning. The prefects get to hear of these things and they tell me. Of course, I don't take any official notice of them. It doesn't matter to me what plans people make — it's when any are put into execution that I wake up. Anyhow, you may be interested to know that the members of School House subscribed over fifteen shillings to purchase fireworks which they were going to let off after the switches had been turned off! Alas for fond hopes ruined!"
Clanwell and Speed leaned back in their armchairs and roared with laughter.
to take prep: to be in charge of preparation of lessons in a regular period at school.
to rag (coll.): to play practical jokes on; treat roughly.
You have a hundred lines: Copying text is a common per for misbehaviour in English and American schools.
ordeal: in early times, a method of deciding a person's guilt or innocence by his capacity to pass some test such as passing through taking poison, putting his hand in boiling water, or fighting his accuser. It was thought that god would protect the innocent person (to submit to the ordeal by battle; ordeal by fire, etc.). Now it means any severe test of character or endurance, as to pass through a terrible ordeal. E.g. It was his turn to speak now, so he braced himself up for the ordeal.
prefects: in some English schools senior boys to whom a certain amount of authority is given.
House: (here) a boarding-house attached to and forming a portion of a public school. Also, the company of boys lodged in such a house. E.g. I'm as proud of the house as any one. I believe it's the best house in the school, out-and-out.
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