The crack of the whip
Edmund forced a way for them up the Assembly Rooms steps, from where they could see over the heads of the crowd. She looked where he indicated. She saw the cage first, a square wooden affair mounted on a cart in the corner of the square. But the focus of attention was nearer, where stood an iron triangle, as tall as a man, its point towards the ground. A figure, bare from the waist up, was strapped to it and another figure, masked and in black, stood behind him. His arm rose and fell, wielding a whip which cracked in the air as it descended on the thin white back. As it landed, the victim shrieked in pain, and the mob drowned his cry with a roar of satisfaction.
But it was not a man, she saw with horror: it was a boy! He looked no more than eleven or twelve. He writhed with the hurt that was being inflicted on him and she saw his face, small and white and agonized. She looked away, but could not help hearing the sound of the next lash, and the accompanying shriek and cheers.
She felt sick and dizzy. She was aware of little except that someone was supporting her, helping her through the throng and out of the square. It was Michael. He got her into the Arcade, to a point to which the noise came only distantly, before he said:
‘Are you all right now?’ He spoke to Edmund who was on her other side: ‘Perhaps we can find a place where she can sit down?’
She shook her head. ‘No. I am all right, truly.’ She thought she heard the crack of the whip again behind them. ‘I would sooner walk on.’