I’m loving writing these Aunt Mable stories right now- So more of them, yes? If you didn’t read the previous stories, here is what has happened so far: Nobody in the castle of Cythry has seen or heard from Mable for seventy years but the day after the Second World War breaks out she comes shuffling out of the fog, intent on staying for the duration. The seven brothers who live in the castle (Edward, Seamus, Arthur, Fletcher, Erasmus (or whatever other name he happens to be calling himself,) Ti & Earnest) find themselves in a nightmare- Mable is horrible. No sooner does she arrive than she takes over and makes their lives a misery- Beating them, throwing their toys out of the window and inflicting other hideous cruelties. In trying to rid themselves of her, the boys have found themselves alone. Their father is away doing his bit for the war and won’t believe them, their mother is dead and the lady who is supposed to keep an eye on them (Mrs Violent) refuses to help. When the last story ended Edward had been dispatched back to boarding school and everything looked hopeless…
-AUNT MABLE & THE SCHOOL MISTRESS-
We again wrote to Father, as Edward had suggested, and he wrote from school. Mrs Violent also sent her letter as she had promised to do. After two telephone calls and three letters you would assume there would be enough evidence for him to come home and resolve the issue. Sadly for us he was an intensely rational man and the idea of Mable turning up after so many years unheard of was an absurd one in his eyes. He wrote back telling us to stop our silliness. I could tell from the tone of his writing that he was not pleased about Edward returning to school, believing he had done it of his own volition. He also claimed that I had forged the letter from Mrs Violent and said that he was writing to tell her and to suggest an appropriate punishment. Mrs Violent refused to correct him, no matter how much we pleaded with her. He would only regard a second letter as another forgery in her opinion. She was kind enough not to punish me, however.
Edward wrote to us saying that our last hope was that Father would take time off from his war work and return home. Then everything would be sorted. The earliest this might be, he suggested, was Christmas. Seamus and I were appalled. It was still September and to wait until Christmas was a lifetime. It might also be too late by then for Mable was already probing prospecti, seeking a boarding school of the right calibre to send us to.
We suspected that she might place us somewhere truly horrible and we were right. One evening she happened to leave one prospectus in the drawing room. I feel that she did so on purpose, so that we would come upon it. The school went by the name of Magdalene Towers. It was on the outskirts of a place called Wooley Moore, somewhere in the depths of darkest Derbyshire. The photographs of the place made it look like a school where the teachers caned the pupils remorselessly, where children were beaten into cold, indifferent, soulless rigidity. They gave the place an air of menace, made it seem like a lifeless and joyless prison.
Seamus read an extract aloud.
‘Magdalene Towers prides itself on a long proven programme of taking unruly and disruptive boys and turning them, by whatever means, into fine, upstanding and disciplined gentlemen. Our methods, though perhaps considered severe by some, have achieved a one hundred percent success rate and no boy is allowed to leave our care until we are fully satisfied with their progress.’
Terrified, we continued to leaf through the prospectus. The headmaster looked to be all sorts of demonic. He reminded me of Bella Lugosi’s Dracula, which we should not have seen at that age but had. It had been showing in Bangor a few years before this. Seamus, Edward and I had snuck in and had been frightened out of our wits by this pale faced, slick backed hair apparition in a cloak. I was frightened again by the headmaster of Magdalene towers for he had the same slick backed hair, the same pale face and the same sort of cloak. Even his name, Doctor Smith, sounded somewhat sinister. The rest of the staff did not look to be anything pleasant either. They were all women of a certain age, with pursed faces and dour, strict expressions. The pupils were not happy, not one of them. They appeared as if Doctor Smith had sucked the souls from their bodies. Whatever it was they were wearing was hideous too. It was the sort of thing you see children wearing in old photos of the workhouse, a sort of colourless smock.
Dropping the prospectus Seamus and I held onto each other and retreated to a corner where we began to sob and wail. Mable heard our mewlings from wherever she was currently making her presence felt and clacked into the room to investigate. When she saw us in our corner by the fireplace, howling with despair, and the prospectus lying in the middle of the of the floor a smile spread across her antiquated face before evolving into an expression of the same sort as the staff members in the picture.
‘You’ve seen your new school then have you?’ she said with a tone of joy. ‘I am glad to see you approve. I would suggest you begin packing right away. You will be off as soon as I have arranged things with the headmaster.’ This made us sob and wail all the more and we spent the rest of the evening in various states of distress. It was far more crying than we should have been doing and even Earnest thought that we were going too far.
I spent that night unable to sleep and I tossed and turned, dreading that first thing in the morning Mable would come to my room and strike me with her gong stick, ordering that Seamus and I were to leave at once. A thought flashed through my mind that I should try to ring Father, perhaps this time he would listen, but it was a thought that failed to catch light. Seamus tells me that he had a similar idea. He thought that he might catch a train to London and tell him the situation in person. What stopped him would be that Father would have been grossly cross with him if he went all the way to London without a chaperone.
The next morning we ate our awful porridge in silence, dreading the moment that Mable would tell us we were leaving for Magdalene Towers. She said not a word and nor did she say anything for the rest of the day. She did not say anything the next day or the day after that. It continued for a week and Seamus and I grew worried that she was up to some devilment. We came to the conclusion that she was out to lull us into some false sense of security, making us assume that she had forgotten all about Magdalene Towers and sending us away. Seamus and I knew all too well that she had not. She were not the sort of woman who would forget things very easily, especially not if they presented her with opportunities to cause us grief and suffering. Eventually it grew unbearable and we decided that it could do no harm to ask her when we were to be sent.
She had taken to the idea that every evening we were to sit quietly in the drawing room reading approved literature, not books that we would have chosen for ourselves but dusty and unloved ones that were selected by Mable for our supposed betterment. They were boring books in other words.
Earnest and Ti had no idea what they were to do with these books for they could not read. Their suggested reading was The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith and A Vindication Of The Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. Once Mable was out of sight Earnest would drop his book and fall asleep whilst Ti would always try to eat his before giving up and playing aeroplanes with it. Erasmus, bless him, tried his hardest with Newton’s Principia but it would take him three nights to finish one page and even then he didn’t understand any of it. He couldn’t even pronounce the title. He called it Prince Ikea. After ten minutes he was always drifting off to sleep, waking up, trying to read for another five minutes and then he would fall asleep for real. Fletch, with a book by Edmund Burke, would pretend to read for a few minutes and then when Mable wasn’t watching would switch books to something he did want to read. Seamus doodled dirty pictures in the margins of his book, some vast tome on conditions in the slums of the East End during the late nineteenth century. The last I checked they were still there though I doubt anybody has bothered to pick the book up since the war. My own was the complete works of Plutarch and I hated it and instead of reading I would sit with it open to a random page and ponder on how we were to rid ourselves of Mable.
During this time Mable would take herself to the opposite sitting room and knit before the fireplace and underneath her own picture, which she had us put there in place of Granny. She would pay us little attention so long as we were quiet but if we made any noise or an attempt at movement she would pounce on us.
One evening Seamus and I laid down our books and with a nervous disposition stood to ask our question. How Mable knew we had unseated ourselves I do not know for that evening she was drifting off before her fire but as soon as we were on our feet she was clacking into the hall to confront us.
‘Get back to your reading,’ she said, tapping the end of her cane against the floor in a threatening way. ‘Go on… Back.’ She gave Seamus’ foot a push.
‘We were wondering… Aunt Mable…’ I began in a shaky voice. ‘We were wondering when we might be sent away to school.’ Mable harrumphed loudly.
‘For the moment you shan’t be. The school has no places for you this term. They may do next term but that is to be seen. Your names are down so as soon as places become available you will be sent.’
‘And in the meantime Aunt Mable?’
‘Unfortunately for you the local day schools are all full as well. It means I’ll have to find you a private tutor. Though lord knows where I’ll get a good one. Now get back to your reading.’ She watched us go. When we were back in the drawing room Seamus and I both breathed large sighs of relief. We were reprieved of the horrors of Magdalene Towers, for now.
There was soon a new horror coming into our midst. It was not less than three days later and I was sheltering in the village inn when it arrived.
Mable had been in an especially foul mood and it had grown worse when Erasmus had decided to call himself Gethin. Mable was having none of it for she hated the name with a passion.
‘Besides not being your name that is also a Welsh name,’ she bawled at him. So what if it was Welsh? Erasmus had spent his whole life in Wales and was, in no uncertain terms, Welsh. Mable tried to get him to call himself Erasmus but he petulantly refused and re-insisted that his name was Gethin. She hit him and in the anger and pain that followed he furiously snatched her cane away from her and threw it across the room. Seeing the fury on her face he ran away in terror. Unable to catch him without her cane Mable sought someone to take this fury out upon but we had all fled to various hiding places. I had ended up at the inn where Bryn gave me a drink for my troubles.
I was brooding upon a window ledge, wondering when it might be safe to go home, when a strange and uptight lady entered. She was bold and confident and had an air of the matron about her. Like Mable she carried a cane and a carpet bag, which troubled me. Ladies with canes and carpets bags, I have found, are not good news. This lady marched right up to the bar and rapped on it for attention. Bryn came in from the back room with an unwelcoming expression. He was a naturally friendly man but when a stranger entered his bar he would become hostile. He did not like strangers.
‘Afternoon Missus,’ he said in a deadpan tone. ‘What can I be doing for you today?’
‘I would like a room for the night,’ the lady said. Her voice was so posh that it went right through me. Bryn pulled a puzzled expression.
‘Yes. A room. A portion of a building separated from the rest by four walls and a door. I would like one.’ Bryn remained puzzled.
‘Well I’d wish you good with luck with that Missus but I don’t see what it has to do with me.’
‘You are an innkeeper and this is an inn, yes?’
‘No fooling you is there Missus?’
‘Then I would like a room.’
‘As I say, I don’t see what that has to do with me.’ The lady pulled him towards her by way of the cane.
‘I would like a room, in this inn.’ Finally Bryn understood what she was about.
‘Oh. I see… I’m sorry Missus but this isn’t that kind of an inn. If you want a room then you’ll need to go back down the road aways to Bethesda or Capel Curig.’
‘I would like a room here. I have business up at the castle and I may be a few days.’ At the mention of the castle Bryn pointed to me.
‘Then you should be talking to that young gentleman there. If you’re here to stay they’ve got plenty of rooms and I’m sure he’d be happy to take you up there.’
The woman revolved mechanically and stared at me.
‘And who are you, young man?’ My stomach twisted. ‘One of the overly large Morfasson brood I have heard so much about?’ I nodded at her. ‘Excellent. My name is Mrs Mippsy. I am here about the position of tutor.’ I froze. I already hated this lady solely for her attitude. I knew already that with Mrs Mippsy and Mable around life was sure to become like the eleventh circle of hell. Thus, I lied without a second thought.
‘I’m very sorry but the position has already been filled.’
‘Really. Who by, may I ask?’ I said the first name that came into my head.
‘Doctor Smith… Formerly of Magdalene Towers.’
‘Near Wooley Moore, yes?’
‘I believe so,’ I replied.
‘I’ve heard of the place. A fine school by all accounts. Is Doctor Smith at the castle now?’ I hesitated and stumbled.
‘Err… No. He isn’t due until Friday.’
‘I see,’ Mrs Mippsy scowled. ‘Well young man I would ask that you take me to your aunt. I must make my displeasures known to her. I do not like being brought all this way for no good reason.’ My stomach churned. There was no way that Mable would play along with my lie. She would, as I am sure you can well deduce, reveal the truth and drop me into a pot of mess.
My mind worked frantically, trying to wriggle my way out of this stew. The first thing I thought to try was claiming that Mable had taken ill and couldn’t see anyone but that might prompt more questions. To say that she was dead, my second thought, was quite beyond thinkable. My mind jumped to a third solution and I loved it. I could enlist the help of Mrs Violent and pretend that she was Aunt Mable. Aunt Mable would never have to know that Mrs Mippsy were here and Mrs Mippsy would go away thinking that she had met Aunt Mable.
There were many flaws in this plan, most caused by the fact that I had not thought it through. Father was frequently stating that a hastily thought out plan was a bad one but I did not fully understand what he meant until I was much older. This plan of mine to fool Mrs Mippsy, by virtue of being hastily thought out, was thus a very bad plan. I had no way of telling Mrs Violent what I had in mind, no way of ensuring her cooperation and no way of knowing if she knew that anyone was being interviewed for the position of tutor. The second part I did not think through at all and it never even crossed my mind.
I led Mrs Mippsy, who constantly remarked that we had a beautiful village, to the cottage of Mrs Violent. She stopped as I pushed through the gate and then looked confusedly towards the castle.
‘I was led to believe you lived up there,’ she said crisply.
‘Yes… We do. But Aunt Mable lives here,’ I conjured on the spot.
‘Then who looks after you?’
‘Aunt Mable does…’ I realized I had made a huge error and tried to correct myself. “She’s so old now that she can’t manage the castle stairs. The cottage is far better for her so she lives here and checks in on us from time to time.” This lie had inadvertently blown my previous intent out of the water. I could not now pass Mrs Violent off as Aunt Mable for she did not look nearly so old as I had just made out. This failed to register at the time and I carried on as though I had not just given myself away.
I knocked on the door three times and invited myself in. Mrs Mippsy followed. Investigating, Mrs Violent came from the kitchen. She was in the process of whipping a large bowl of meringue and her expression at my entering with a stranger in tow was one of bewilderment.
‘Mrs Mippsy… This is Aunt Mable,’ I declared outright. There was more bewilderment, this time from both sides.
‘Clearly she is not,’ Mrs Mippsy figured right off. ‘The lady I spoke to on the telephone sounded elderly and did you not just tell me that she lived here because she can’t cope with stairs? This lady looks more than capable of managing stairs to my eyes.’
‘There has obviously been some deception going on,’ Mrs Violent sighed, glowering at me.
‘There has indeed. I assume Miss Morfasson lives up at the castle?’
‘She does… Though for what length of time is anyone’s guess.’
‘Excellent.’ Mrs Mippsy glanced at my fallen and disgusted face for a second then turned back to Mrs Violent. ‘And do you know if she has hired a tutor as of yet?’ Enter yet more bewilderment from Mrs Violent.
‘Not in so far as I am aware. I am sure she would inform me if such a thing were to happen.’
‘Oh?’ Mrs Mippsy sounded unimpressed.
‘My own son is to be tutored alongside the other boys.’
‘Is that so? I was informed by Miss Morfasson that I would only be tutoring six boys.’
I sensed that Mrs Violent was now undertaking some deception of her own. She was a clever lady. Whenever we asked her for help with our schoolwork she always knew the answer without having time to think it through. She could speak fluent French and Father was always keen to ask her advice when it came to matters of accountancy. It was easy for her, from one question, to deduce that Mrs Mippsy had applied for the tutor position and she was smart enough to use that to her advantage. Aunt Mable had not even discussed allowing Seb back into the castle and each time Mrs Violent broached the subject she was brushed away or diverted. Now she saw an opportunity to get around the problem.
‘It is seven boys… Possibly eight.’”
‘Eight?’ Mrs Mippsy sounded distressed.
‘Yes. Eight… The eldest, Edward, is currently away at school but his father is unhappy with him being there. He has informed me that he will be taking him out as soon as he finds the time.’ This was a surprise but it was a great weight lifted. With Edward back in the castle we could soon find a way to tackle the issue of Aunt Mable for good.
‘Eight may be too many for me to handle but we shall have to see how the other boys behave. If they are all as much of a devil as this one appears to be I shall have to decline the position if I am offered it.’
‘He and his two older brothers are, yes. The younger five, not so much. I would advise watching out for Fletcher though. He is what I might call a mischievous imp.’ Mrs Mippsy clasped her hands together.
‘That is not so much a problem. Mischievous imps can be corrected without fuss. Devils, on the other hand, require more patience than I can abide.’ She began to look around. ‘Perhaps whilst I am here I may inspect your son?’
‘Certainly,’ Mrs Violent beamed. ‘His name is Seb.’
‘Short for Sebastian.’
‘Madam, I do not like abbreviated names. You and his father named him at birth and that is the name he should be called by. Now, if you wouldn’t mind…’
Mrs Violent looked disgruntled but then smiled and led the way to her rear parlour where Seb was reading a book and trying to make notes. Mrs Violent, in the absence of our usual tutor, had been teaching him herself and he was not best pleased about it for her lessons were far stricter than anything he had been used to previously.
‘Sebastian,’ Mrs Violent alerted him. He stood to attention, knowing that whenever his mother used his full name it was a matter of some importance. ‘This lady has come to look you over. She might be your new tutor.’ Seb took one look at her and shook his head.
‘I don’t like her,’ he announced flatly.
‘What, young man, about me is it you do not like?’
‘You smell of cabbages,’ he said in the same flat tone. Mrs Mippsy puffed herself up.
‘I am afraid I can’t help that young man. If I become your tutor you will have to grow used to it.’ Seb stared with contempt at Mrs Mippsy.
‘I’m sorry,’ he replied in his best grown up voice. ‘I would rather the position be taken by another candidate. Good day.’ I thought that Mrs Mippsy might strike him with her cane, in the same manner as Mable, but she began to laugh instead.
‘I admire your honesty boy. It is rude and impolite to say such things but I admire it all the same.’ She walked around him and started to nod. ‘Yes. A fine boy to teach I shouldn’t wonder. Well, thank you madam. I’m sure we shall be meeting again soon. You… Liar… Come!’
She grabbed me by the shoulder and frogmarched me from the cottage. She pointed up the track and followed me as I continued towards the castle. Then, as I was walking, she did something that revealed her true character. She grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around so that her face was leering into mine. Her eyes were almost glowing. What little nicety or politeness that she may have had whilst in the presence of Bryn and Mrs Violent was gone. There was now only evil there.
‘Listen to me boy, listen good.’ Her tone set me shaking. ‘Lie to me again and I’ll string you up by your toes. I’m willing to bet that castle up there has a nice, smelly dungeon that will be perfect for such thing.’ I shuddered even more.
I will say this. The threat of punishment can be worse than the punishment itself. Once a punishment is done, no matter how terrible a thing it is, there is always at least some small sense of relief to know that it is over and you survived. When the punishment is hanging over your head you cannot help but think about it, worry about it. You cannot help but think on how terrible it will be. This, I was to discover, was the terror of Mrs Mippsy. Unlike Aunt Mable, who ninety percent of the time would attack swiftly and without mercy, she would promise to punish you in some awful way and would then leave you to sweat on it for an hour, maybe more, before she would strike. She always gave time for a chap to brood, brooding which maddened the senses with anguish and terror at how awful the impending punishment was going to be.
At the castle I showed Mrs Mippsy inside and asked her to wait in the hall whilst I fetched Aunt Mable. As I left her company I started to see that Seb had a point. There was a faint smell of cabbage about her personage. I found Mable attempting to gain entry into Father’s office by way of a hairpin and I told her about Mrs Mippsy being downstairs. She clacked away and I followed, wondering why on earth she had been trying to get into Father’s office. I didn’t tell her that there was no need for using a hatpin as the key kept in a slot above the door. Father trusted us not to go in there and for the most part we didn’t. There was no need for a lock, really, but Father insisted upon locking the door anyway, especially when he was away for long periods as he so often was.
I waited at the top of the stairs, out of sight, in a place where I could hear the impending conversation between Mable and Mippsy. Similar women, if the wisdom of Seamus was anything to go by, often hate each other. My last hope was that the two were so alike that they hated each other on the spot. There seemed no indication of that happening at first. They were all smiles as they shook hands and Mable guided Mippsy into the sitting room. I discretely made my way to the bottom of the stairs where I could hear everything they were saying to each other.
‘I must say,’ Mippsy declared. ‘The boy who brought me here behaved in a very inappropriate manner. What was his name?’
‘Arthur. He’s particularly bratty. Thinks himself a cut above everyone else. What did he do, if I might ask?’
‘He took me to the house of some unbearable young lady and had the cheek to pretend she was your good self.’
‘Was it the cottage at the foot of the drive? Yes… That would be Mrs Fuller. The boys have a soft spot for her, though I really don’t know why.’
‘Fuller? Have I heard that name before?’
‘You may have done. My nephew had her husband killed a few years ago.’ That was a damn dirty lie. Father would never do such a thing and certainly not to a man whom he held as a friend and in such high regard as he did Mr Fuller. Whatever had happened to him was certainly no fault of Father’s.
‘Don’t go spouting though, if you would be so kind. My nephew and the widow have certain arrangements. Due to a guilty conscience I assume.’
‘Do these arrangements include the care of her ghastly little son?’ The way she was speaking was in stark contrast to the way she had spoken in Mrs Violent’s house. It was harsher, nastier.
‘The urchin? Yes, I’m afraid they do. I’ve kept him away from the castle so far but it shall not hold for much longer, I fear.’
‘What of the other boys? I asked the lady in the cottage and she seemed to be under the impression that they required keeping an eye on.’
‘They do indeed. There is nothing a good wallop does not fix, however.’
‘How often does their father beat them?’ I am sure I heard Aunt Mable begin to growl.
‘I fear he never has. When I first arrived they were out of control and undisciplined. I am starting to get them in order, they are submitting to routine at any rate, but their attitude towards their elders is another matter.’
‘More discipline is required, and harsher. Simple caning shall not suffice with boys of that nature.’
‘And what would you suggest?’
‘No food or water for a start. Perhaps hard labour. For that liar who brought me here I suggest he made to clean all the windows in the building.’
‘The weather is not fitting right now,’ Mable rose. ‘In summer perhaps I would agree but not at this time of year.’
‘Then what equally severe punishment would you suggest?’ There was silence whilst Aunt Mable considered. I knew she could be cruel but I was horrified by the punishment which she suggested.
‘Lies are a particularly heinous sin. In the old days they used to brand liars so I think that is what I shall do.’
I listened to no more of the conversation and ran for my very skin. I found Seamus and Erasmus in the library and I told them, in a state of pure panic, of what Mable planned to do to me.
‘This Mippsy woman sounds ghastly,’ Seamus said. He did not seem concerned that Mable was planning to take a red hot poker to my face.
‘I agree,’ Erasmus sulked. ‘I don’t want her as a teacher.’ He started trying to say her name but couldn’t manage it. ‘Mi… Mi.. Mid… Miff…’ He gave up and decided he would call her Mrs Tippsy instead.
Alas, Tippsy got the job and she started straight away. Her first act was to restrain me whilst Mable, with a stick of lipstick, wrote the word ‘LIAR’ on my forehead. She then had me go sit in the centre of the village so that all would know what I was. Mrs Violent, who was the only person who did not need to ask why I had the word written on my forehead, was not sympathetic to my plight but she still thought it far below acceptable that I be humiliated. As if she were demonstrating the point, she went and collected an old camera which had belonged to her husband and took several photographs, much to my irritation. I later discovered that these were for Father’s benefit.
I was not even allowed to scrub it off when I returned to the castle. Tippsy would not allow it and now Mable was nowhere to be seen. I was forced to sit with that blasted word all through dinner and even afterwards, when she set us to our reading I was not allowed to remove that blasted word. By our bedtime Tippsy had long since retired to one of the bedrooms and Mable had once again taken full charge. She struck me for daring to ask to remove it and said that it would stay there until it flaked away of its own accord.
It was Fletcher who came to my aid, and without being asked so it came as an absolute surprise. He requested a glass of water and then very casually threw it in my face. I would have walloped him myself had Aunt Mable not already been attacking him with a cane. As I dried myself off and saw traces of lipstick on the towel I realized what he had done and started to laugh. Aunt Mable was infuriated and she struck us both, saying that we would get no breakfast the next morning.
A lack of breakfast was the least of our troubles for our lessons with Tippsy began at eight sharp and continued until late afternoon without a break. We became prisoners, locked in an upper room where seven desks had been placed whilst Tippsy bellowed at us for all sorts of reasons. Erasmus was the first to suffer and for the reason which you probably expect. As Mable before her, Tippsy would not have it that he could not pronounce his own name and spent an hour trying to draw it out of him. She had him pronounce each syllable, which he could do, but when put together he couldn’t do it and always ended up with Christmas. Each time he failed she called him stupid and it wasn’t long before he was trying to sob. Any attempts at that were beaten out of him and he resorted, at length, to a miserable quiet.
The rest of us had it no easier. On that first day she had us doing logarithms, even Ti and Earnest, and the mathematics involved was far too advanced for any of us. She did not specifically teach us anything and expected us to work out how to solve them by ourselves, which made them impossible. We were all deemed as stupid because we could not do them. We were little better at the geography lesson and even worse at the French. She called us all half brains, claiming that it was clear to her that we would only ever be able speak one language, English. After that we all started speaking in Welsh, to prove her wrong, and it angered her no end. Welsh was forthwith banned from the castle and we were so outraged that from that point on, whenever Tippsy and Mable were out of earshot, we would speak in it.
Day after day, turning into weeks and eventually a whole month, this punishment continued. A rivalry soon developed between Tippsy and Mable and it was we boys whom they used to play it out against, trying to outdo one another in terms of nastiness. If Mable gave us a punishment for whatever reason Tippsy would go one step further. One evening Aunt Mable made Ti eat his porridge one oat at a time. The next day Seamus let out a bottom noise in the middle of one of our lessons and Tippsy made him pick every bit of dirt from the floor one speck at a time. Things carried on in this way, the punishments becoming increasingly more absurd (read, cruel) and for more and more trivial reasons. Tippsy once made me kiss all the portraits in the castle, there were well over one hundred of them, for what she deemed was a purposeful yawn. She took a photograph of each one and made an album of them which she showed to everyone who would take an interest.
We told ourselves that it all had to end soon, that Father would return and then our nightmare would be over forever. He would have Tippsy fired, Sister Mary Rhefrol reinstated and Aunt Mable packed off to somewhere where she could do no damage. We dreamed that he would ride through the front doors on a white charger, like a cowboy in a Western film, and we the grateful residents of this one horse castle would all cheer as our villains were cast out.
We waited to hear from him but there was not a smidgeon of news. We asked Mrs Violent but she had not heard from him either. Neither had the family solicitor, old Mr Craigmuir. Craigmuir was more ancient than Mable and every time he came round to deal with some business he had to ask who he she was as he couldn’t remember. He probably had heard from Father but had forgotten about it or misplaced the letter.
Finally, at the end of November, a letter arrived stating that if he could work around some business he would be arriving a week hence. We all cheered. The worst of it was over for now Mable’s reckoning was at hand.
Image from The Daily Post