Saturday, 14 November 2009

Call Me Matron

This week’s sentence was taken from Gustave Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary'.

The sentence was:
‘They heard in the passage the sharp noise of a wooden leg on the boards.’

Call Me Matron

"Cavé!"
Wilkins' urgent whisper stopped the conversation dead.
They heard in the passage the sharp noise of a wooden leg on the boards.
Inside the silenced dorm, each boy cowered under his blankets as the door creaked open and the dreaded torch swept over them, their huddled forms demonstrating a dozen desperate theories on how to appear fast asleep when actually wide awake and in a sweating panic.

After several suspenseful seconds the urge to giggle had formed a palpable fug above the beds but the tension could only be released once the door closed and the tapping had receded back down the passage, and - after the predictable listening pause - finally descended the stair.
The mass exhalation of breath brought a veritable riot of relieved chortles, suppressed snorts and the inevitable donkey-like guffaw from Toad.

It was common currency throughout the school that Matron had lost her leg in a whaling accident. Mistaken for a man, she had been impressed into the crew of the whaler 'Fantod', whereupon, in the depths of the Antarctic with her ankle caught in a coiled rope, a harpoon had catapulted her precipitately into the gaping maw of a monster sperm whale, from the carcass of which the remains of said severed limb had been recovered many hours later but in no fit state to be reunited with its host.

Her wound cauterised with hot pitch the fearsome monopod had subsequently engaged in a torrid affair with the ship's surgeon, the unfortunate consequence of which manifested itself upon return to Nantucket and forced a further career change - society frowning as it did upon such inopportune issue - a tragic tale that found the child in an orphanage and the mother washing up against the shores of this august edifice as a Matron far fiercer than the whale which had taken her leg.

No-one within living memory had dared transgress the ogress' rule, as a result of which no boy had any idea what punishments she might mete out.
"Keelhauling." posited one, "Forty lashes with the cat" another, but nary a volunteer could be found to venture on that perilous journey of discovery.

Even the professorial staff - to the most senior - deferred to Matron, more from terror than respect, and since her arrival many decades previously no copy of Melville's classic could be found within a ten mile radius of the gates, notwithstanding the Headmaster's private soubriquet for her of "the Great White".

Even Matron herself had on occasion gone so far as to encourage the stories with the mischievous display of small items of scrimshaw by her window.
Speculation waxed and waned with the annual influx of new boys but the tale had become so firmly entrenched in folklore that none dared question it, indeed since her eventual passing the legend of the distaff Ahab, the harpoon, the wooden leg and the sperm whale have been written into the school's official history.

The truth, however, was far, far stranger …

9 comments:

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Oh what a glorious melding of the classics, Dive! You are truly gifted. This character is compelling, leaving the audience wanting more.

I'm a bit nervous about that sperm whale, however. Symbolic somehow?

dive said...

Hee hee, Katherine, and thank you.

No, the sperm whale has no ulterior meaning; it's just the species Ahab was hunting - and of course it is one of the toothed whales, a baleen whale would have chewed at Matron's leg for hours and not got anywhere.

Dear Prudence said...

My sincerest apologies for not participating in this week’s assignment. I have been training a new employee and it has gobbled up my entire week, not unlike the Matrons leg!

dive said...

Prudence: No worries. That sounds like good news that you are taking on new staff.

Shan said...

It must be good to exercise your right brain with these assignments after working so technically as an architect.
You are such a top notch writer Dive! I always enjoy your extensive vocab. And your sentences are the type that you go back and reread to enjoy the clever way they were constructed. Nice!

dive said...

Awww, Shan, you are too sweet.
I'm not sure I have a right brain; I think both sides of mine are wrong, which would expalin a lot.
I still contend that with your gloriously twisty sense of humour and wonderful imagination you would be great at these little storytelling things. One day I might persuade you to have a go.

Scout said...

I'm with Shan—your vocabulary is impressive and makes me keep a dictionary at hand.

Is this Matron patterned after any of the school matrons you know?

Vanda said...

But shall we ever learn the truth?

dive said...

Robyn: Words - as you well know - are fun. A good vocabulary gives you more opportunity to poke fun at the world.

The Matron is loosely based on one of our headmistresses (Hi, V,) who - though a biped - is as fearsome and matronly as the character in the story.

Vanda: The truth is out there … and is as strange and scary as your imagination might care to make it.