A Voice From Old New York: A Memoir of My Youth

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Authors: Louis Auchincloss
Tags: Literary, Biography & Autobiography
ice cream soda, with two other boys. Passing over a bridge we foolishly cast a few stones at a train passing underneath. Unfortunately, one broke a window in the engine room, and an angry complaint was made to the headmaster. He then asked a class I attended if we knew anything about the assault. I thought it incumbent on me to make a full confession, as I so often, since my days of thievery had ended, was wont to do, whatever my own level of guilt in the matter. I did so, unfortunately and carelessly involving the two other boys. It was an attempt at honesty and, as so often occurs with such forays, disaster was the result. At Bovee we had never heard of the crime of "snitching." I thought I was being virtuous. Well, that did it.

    A non-Buckley boy in a class heavily stacked with Buckley alums, I became even more of a social leper. I could expect to be struck or kicked as I passed from classroom to classroom or even to be beaten up by a mob. I had no friends and was even subject to a sexual violation that would have created a major scandal today. Yet I must emphasize that every person in the administration of that school would have been horrified had they known what was going on. They were helpless then just as their counterparts are these days. Boys cannot be shielded from one another. Nor did I ever complain, either to a parent or teacher. I believe it was all part of the inevitable process of becoming a man in a dreary world.
    I was perfectly aware that many boys played games in the cubicles at night called "mutual masturbation." I doubt if these included sodomy; the very word might have frightened them off. This practice left little aftereffect that I could see: not one member of the form became an acknowledged homosexual in maturity. But there was one difference separating this sort of relationship between boys in England and America. In America it was never called love, even by the boys themselves. This would have been regarded as hopelessly degrading to their masculinity. In English literature you find terms suggesting homosexuality used quite freely about youths who would later happily forsake their own sex to become the warriors of the light brigade. What we call the bad habits of naughty boys can develop into the military force that sustains an empire.

    Certainly one of the most mysterious and memorable figures to emerge from my youth was Jimmy Regan, longtime senior master at Groton School. He was the executive officer, to use a naval term, to the all-dominating figure of the Reverend Endicott Peabody, founder and veteran headmaster, whose exact opposite in character and personality Regan appeared to be. For he was a wispy little man, impossible to associate with the mildest athleticism, perfectly dressed, of quiet good manners yet curiously forceful, who took for granted that he had succeeded in establishing his absolute rule on the campus and need no longer raise his voice. He deferred only to the headmaster but there his deference was complete.
    Regan was precisely what a great headmaster needed, and Peabody was well aware of this. The spirit, the fire, the leadership of the school was all provided by the principal; it was Regan's job to look into every corner and cranny of the institution and be sure that the machinery was working. And tactfully or even ruthlessly correct it if it wasn't.
    Regan was regarded with something like awe by the faculty and boys; they felt his power but one didn't see it. He was always equable, always reasonable. Little was known about his background. Small wonder that there were those who thought he might once have been a Jesuit priest. He would have been a good one.
    But he was always a kind and benevolent man, and he eased the burden of administration on the aging shoulders of a greater one to whom he was passionately loyal. They were a great team. And in the summer vacation Jimmy Regan went to a little village in the north of France which had suffered cruel damage in World War I

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