Former pupil Kevin Smith returns to St Francis only to find there is painful unfinished business with the headmaster
This cannot really be happening; but here I am a twenty-one-year-old newspaper reporter standing in the headmaster’s oak-panelled study about to get six-of-the-best. The very best.
My name’s Kevin Smith and I work for the Brocklehurst Bugle, a weekly newspaper in a small town on the south coast of England. I’ve only just started as a cub reporter. I think I got the job because I was born and brought up in Brocklehurst and they wanted someone who knows the area. Also, I live with my mum and dad so that means the paper doesn’t have to pay me too much. Jobs in journalism are as hard to find as hens’ teeth so I was absolutely knocked-out when I got the job. I like it a lot and I hope in time I’ll be a really good journalist.
I used to be a pupil here at St Francis Independent Grammar and after I got my A-levels I went away to university. But, now I’m back. My editor knows I used to be a pupil here and that’s why he sent me on this job. The Grammar’s just had its annual speech day and I have to pick up the names of the pupils who got prizes and so on. Pretty boring actually, but you know local papers they love stuff like that.
I was really pleased to be asked by my editor to do this job because I thought it would give me a chance to go back to my old school and maybe show off a bit, about how important I’d become.
But, I had forgotten something very important. And, now my past was about to catch up with me.
“Well Smith,” Dr Henderson-Smith, the headmaster, looked at me stone-faced; his white moustache bristled and his knitted white brows frowned.
“Before we talk about speech day, I think there’s some unfinished business we must deal with.”
“Unfinished business.” What did he mean?
And, then in a rush, I remembered. Blast! How could I have forgotten?
The headmaster, dressed in a rather old-fashioned academic gown, was seated behind his huge desk, topped in green leather. I knew from experience that when he stood up he was commanding figure, tall, grim, stiff as a ram-rod. And, he was strong as an ox, as could be testified every time he swiped down a cane across a boy’s backside.
I was standing in front of him, every inch, in his eyes, the naughty schoolboy deserving of just such a sound thrashing.
“A matter of the decomposed frog in the science laboratory, I believe.” Dr Henderson-Smith was rather pompous in the way he talked. He always had been. He still was. He strung out the word “la-bor-a-torrry” to give it full dramatic force.
Now, I was absolutely certain what he was talking about. But, he wasn’t going to leave it alone. I couldn’t look him in the face and cast my eyes down to examine the red patterned rug that I was standing on. I noticed my shoes could do with polishing.
The headmaster had centre stage and like the old ham actor he was, he was going to have his moment. He intoned the details of my crime, making sure every last detail was recorded for posterity.
In truth, there wasn’t much to tell. Three years ago when I was in the sixth-form here, I played a prank on my final day as a pupil. It was silly and very unpleasant for Mr Wilkinson, the science master, but that’s all it was, a schoolboy prank.
None of the boys much liked Mr Wilkinson. He was very strict and he thought nothing of peppering our backsides with the cane. There can’t have been many boys he taught who didn’t get a whacking from him at least once. You could get it for anything. With other science masters, pupils used to love to lark about during lessons; science does that to you, all those Bunsen Burners and test tubes. But, you never larked around with Mr Wilkinson – or, at least if you did it once, you never did it again. His cane made sure of that.
Mostly, though we got the stick for poor work. God help any boy who didn’t do his homework or did badly in a test. And, I don’t mean fail a test, if you did that, it meant death. But, Wilkinson would beat you if you got less than seventy out of a hundred in one of his classroom exercises and as you might imagine that meant a lot of boys showed him their backside over the years.
So, you can see why I thought it would be jolly good fun to play a trick on him. Here’s what I did. I took one of the frogs that we had for dissecting so we could explore the gizzards inside. You know the sort of thing; you would have done it yourself at school. So, I took one of these frogs, mashed it up a bit and put the dead body in Mr Wilkinson’s desk.
Then we all set off for our summer holidays and for me it was the last time I set foot in the school until today.
So now here I am standing in front of the headmaster listening to him recount my misdeeds. How, six weeks later the by now fully decomposed frog had been discovered in the laboratory. He told me about the stench, the bluebottles and the maggots. The headmaster seemed to be enjoying himself.
“So, Smith, what do you have to say for yourself?” I wanted to ask how he knew it was me, but I think I know the answer to that. As every schoolboy knows there’s no point in playing a trick on a master and keeping it to yourself, where’s the fun in that? So, that summer hols I was full of it. It wouldn’t have taken anyone at Brocklehurst long to find out who did it.
There was no denying it. I had done it and now I was found out.
I really didn’t have anything to say, so I just stared at the rug. I could see it was a little bit threadbare (generations of naughty boys shuffling their feet before being ordered to bend over so they could get a close up view of the pattern?).
The headmaster mistook my silence for denial. “Do-you-deny-you-did-this-thing?” he tried to get dramatic effect with every word.
“No sir,” I blurted out the response. I think this took him a bit by surprise, I think he was expecting denial and then a big argument.
“So-you-do-not-de-ny-you-per-pet-rate-ted-this villle-cer-ime?” he seemed a bit disappointed he wasn’t going to get to play another dramatic scene.
So, I coughed to it. Yes, it was me, I did it, I’m sorry, it seemed like a good idea at the time, now I know it wasn’t a good thing to do, I’m sorry.
Actually, I am sorry. I’m not in agonies of guilt about it, but I can see that the frog must have been a pretty disgusting mess by the time Wilkinson discovered it at the end of the summer vac. I also know I was just trying to show off in front of my friends.
There was silence for a moment as the headmaster seemed to weigh up his options about what he would do next.
And, unsurprisingly perhaps, he decided to do what a headmaster would do in these circumstances.
“You committed this crime while a boy at this school and you should be dealt with accordingly,” he was speaking more naturally now.
Without another word, he stood up from his plush leather chair and walked the three or four paces to a set of cupboards running the length of one wall. My eyes followed him. He pulled his academic gown to one side so he could delve into a trouser pocket to withdraw a small bunch of keys. Selecting one, he unlocked one of the cupboards.
I should have guessed. Inside were an array of punishment canes, the headmaster was blocking my sight, but I could see at least four crook-handled rattans. Dr Henderson-Smith put his hand in the cupboard and as he did so he moved his body a little and I could see it contained many, many more. He seemed to be looking for a particular stick. In no time he found it, withdrew, locked the cupboard, and turned to face me.
I wasn’t terribly surprised. If I had been found out while I was still a pupil here I would have been beaten. Maybe, Wilkinson would have done it himself, or maybe he’d have sent me to the head. Who can be sure? But, either way my bum would be on fire.
The head placed the cane on his leather topped desk and walked to the far side of the study. There was a wooden-backed chair leaning against the wall. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He picked it up and placed it on the rug in front of his desk, just as if he was putting it there for a visitor to sit on. But, I knew I wasn’t going to be sitting down, not on this chair, and probably not anywhere comfortably, for some hours to come.
“Stand by the chair,” it was a calm instruction, not barked as if an order. I walked over and as instructed stood facing the back of the chair. “Closer boy,” Of course, I was about three feet from the wooden back of the chair, there was no way I could bend over from there.
I shuffled a couple of paces forward. Dr Henderson-Smith stood to my right hand side, I turned my head slightly to see what he was doing and for the first time I saw close up the cane he was going to use to whip me. It wasn’t like any cane I’d seen before. I’d been caned a few times before, not just by Wilkinson, it was that kind of school, so I’d seen a few sticks in my time.
This one was different, it was amber in colour and no longer than any others and no thicker, if anything it might be a bit thinner than the one Wilkinson used on me the last time. Dr Henderson-Smith held the cane at the crooked-handle end with one hand and he ran the other over the length of the rod, bending it ever so slightly as he did so. Then he let go and swished the stick through the air. That’s when I realised this cane had more power than any I had suffered before. It might be thin, but it was whippy and it was going to pack one heck of a punch.
I looked down at the trousers I was wearing thankful that they were rather fashionable and expensive. They were made of a very dense material and would provide some protection, I was sure.
The headmaster pointed the stick at the lower half of my body. “Take down your trousers and bend over the chair.”
“What the hell, no way!” I didn’t say it out loud, of course. Up to this point I wasn’t too worried about getting the cane. I’d had it a few times, I knew it would hurt, but I also knew I could take it. I’d take my Six and that would be it.
But having seen the implement he intended to use on me and now being told it’s “trousers down,” I was far from sure.
What could I do? There was a simple answer: walk out. He had no right to thrash me, even though I had been a naughty boy while at school. That was in the past and he had no jurisdiction over me now. But, I knew, or thought I knew, that if I did that Henderson-Smith would tell my editor about it and I’d be in trouble at work.
I’ve only just started at the paper and I’m on what they call ‘probation’ for six months, that means if I don’t fit in I get sacked. I didn’t want that. Jobs in journalism were hard to come by and I might not be lucky enough to get another one. I really didn’t have any choice.
“Quickly boy, do as I say,” the headmaster swished that fierce rod once again.
This is it. Deep breath. Let’s get this over with. Although in my mind I had decided to take my punishment trousers down, I couldn’t get my body to agree. My hands fumbled at the buckle of the thick black leather belt I was wearing. I couldn’t quite get that prong thing out of the hole in the belt.
“Come on, I haven’t got all day.”
There, I’ve managed it, the belt’s undone. Getting the trousers undone was just as bad. I’d never noticed before just how many buttons there are on trousers. My fumbling fingers got the two at the waistband undone.
I couldn’t see him, but I felt the eyes of the headmaster burning into the back of my head, Swish! He was practicing his strokes.
At last the waist was loose and I pulled at the fly. All undone. I let go of my trousers and the weight of the thick leather belt and the force of gravity sent them crashing to my ankles with no help from me. I felt a breeze as the thick cloth passed by my knees.
And, that I think is where you came in. I’m standing here in the headmaster’s study my trousers around my ankles in my blue-and-white striped Boxer shorts about to bend over the chair for Six.
The headmaster is still behind me. I can feel his cane tapping my behind. “Not exactly school uniform are they?” he says, almost absent-mindedly. I want to say “No they’re not and that’s because I am not one of your schoolboys, I’m a grown man.” But, I don’t. The tapping continues. Christ! Please don’t tell me to pull down my pants.
Before he can say anything else I bend over the chair. It’s quite an ordinary chair really. The back isn’t so high so I can go over it without my stomach touching it. I am putting my hands out in front of me clutching the far corners off the seat, one with each hand.
I am as ready as I am ever going to be. And, so is the headmaster.
Swipe! Jesus H. Christ! That hurt. It got me right in the centre of my bum. I can feel a welt rising and I’m pretty certain it runs across both cheeks from left to right.
Swipe! Crack. I can’t breathe. I’m clutching onto the chair for dear life. Gasping.
Swipe! No! Please no more! I’ve got three stripes, all on the fleshy part of the buttocks. I can feel where each one has landed; they’re running parallel about a quarter of an inch apart.
Swipe! Swipe! God in Heaven! I will not cry. I will not cry. These two are lower than the others. One has hit me on the crease where the fleshy bum connects with the thighs.
Swipe! Ouch! One cut lower than all the others. I can’t help it I yell out and my legs kick out behind me. I want to stand up and rub and rub at my bottom. I have gripped the chair so tightly that as I move to stand I find myself lifting the front two legs clean off the ground.
That’s it. Six-of-the best. It’s over. I’m waiting for permission to stand. I just want to get the Hell out of here. I want to run down the street clutching my bum and howling. Please let me up.
Swipe! Swipe! Yowll! No! No! No! Stop I cannot take any more. My whole body is writhing in pain. I can hear the headmaster speaking, it sounds as if he is miles away. He is instructing me to keep still.
Swipe! Swipe! Ouch! Arrrrh! I’m bleeding. I’m sure I can feel blood seeping under my Boxers. I move my lower torso from left to right and back again. Has the blood made my underwear stick to my bum?
Swipe! Yow-yow-yow!! The bastard! I can’t breathe, I’m truly gasping. He’s deliberately laid the cane diagonally across both buttocks so it landed across all the other fresh welts. I cannot, I cannot, take any more of this. There is a pause. I can feel the headmaster moving from my left hand side to my right. Oh, no, he isn’t?
Swipe! Yesss He Is!! He whipped the cane across my wounds from the other side. I can feel criss-cross cuts right the way across my buttocks, running from the top to the bottom and from left to right and back again. I am bleeding and I am beaten.
“Get up.” I stay still across the chair breathing heavily. I can stand but I cannot be sure that I will be able to walk. The throbbing pain is so severe; I have no words to describe it.
“Up boy.” I can feel his hand on my shoulder helping me to rise. He lets go of me as I stand unsteadily. Tears are flowing and sobs are coming in great big gulps. I watch as the headmaster returns to his cupboard, unlocks the door and replaces the cane that has just ripped me apart.
“Get dressed boy.” I hadn’t realised I was still standing trousers at ankles. I desperately want to touch both buttocks, to explore the extent of the damage, but I don’t want the headmaster to see.
Oh my God, how will I explain this to Cindy, my girlfriend? It will take weeks, no months, to heal.
I am bending down to grab the waist of my trousers. The pain sears as my buttocks stretch with the effort. I grab the trousers, pull them up and repeat the fumbling with buttons and belt.
I am not quite sure what will happen next.
“Tuck your shirt in boy,” the headmaster is smiling as he returns to his desk, sits down, opens a drawer and pulls out a sheaf of papers, which he is handing to me.
The speech day results.
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