Rodney and Griceforth shuffled down the passageway neither were anxious to arrive at their intended destination.
Rodney, dark haired and slim and the smaller of the two eighteen year olds, glanced furtively around him; hoping that nobody would see him. So far, so good; his mission had not yet been detected.
Griceforth, taller and thicker set, was less concerned. It had not even occurred to him that there was any shame in this walk. He was apprehensive, that was for certain, but not fearful of being seen.
The cause of his apprehension was the possible fate that awaited them when they arrived at the housemaster’s study.
Mr Brightchurch was still a bit of an unknown quantity. Sure, he had been a master at the school for as long as anyone could remember, but only recently had he been elevated to the position of housemaster.
Old Mr Fennings had retired after more than forty years at the school and not before time many of his colleagues secretly felt.
“He’s a doddery old fool,” Brightchurch had remarked one evening after a little too much sherry had been drunk. Nobody disagreed, but even so it was not the kind of thing a chap said out loud.
The house had gone to ruin under Fennings’ stewardship. Boys did as they pleased, safe in the knowledge that there was nothing to fear from the ultimate sanction, “Go report to your housemaster!”
But that was then and this was now. Brightchurch was a younger man, in his forties, the boys guessed, and he had the energy and the desire to clean up the house. He let it be known to masters and pupils alike from the day they screwed his nameplate on the heavy oak door that he meant business.
Eventually, Rodney and Griceforth reached their destination. With the colour draining from their faces the two sixth formers paused as each waited for the other to go first. After a few moments the fear of keeping the housemaster waiting overcame all his other fears and Griceforth took the lead and politely tapped on the door.
“Come!” the voice was gruff. Griceforth gulped slightly and with nervous fingers turned the handle and slowly opened the door.
“Griceforth!” The sandy-haired sixth-former stood in front of the large walnut desk, slightly to the left, following the direction of the housemaster’s sweeping hand.
“Rodney! a smaller wave indicated that the dark-haired teenager should stand alongside his accomplice.
The housemaster was sitting at his desk, which was, like everything else in the room, a model of tidy, well-organised efficiency. His tightly-knotted military necktie stood out against his gleaming white shirt, which contrasted with the dark material of his neatly-pressed suit. His mortar-board cap rested to the edge of the large desk and an academic gown hung on a hat stand in the corner of the room to his left.
The boys saw little of this. They stood hands clasped behind their backs, with eyes cast down at the rather worn rug beneath their feet.
“I presume the pair of you are both familiar with the school rules on smoking,” Mr Brightchurch’s red face glared at the two sixth-formers.
The housemaster was genuinely angry. Sometimes schoolmasters were apt to put on the style a little; to pretend anger to frighten already quivering little boys into submission. But this time Mr Brightchurch did not need to feign fury: sixth-formers smoking on school premises. Who the Hell did they think they were? It was a total disregard for well-established and well-known school rules.
If they thought they were too important to obey the rules they had another think coming. Only yesterday he had beaten two third-formers for the same offence. If smoking was a caning offence for thirteen-year-olds, why should sixth-formers be treated any differently? It would not be fair on the younger boys to allow these eighteen-year-olds to escape a similar punishment. And, Mr Brightchurch was nothing if not a fair man; but the wretched teenagers would be very happy for him to be unfair on this occasion.
“Sir.” Griceforth nodded. Yes, he knew the school rules.
“Yes, Sir.” Rodney spoke quietly to himself.
“So, you have no excuses then?”
“No, Sir.” Rodney shook his head nervously.
“No, Sir.” Griceforth had not taken his eyes off the rug since the moment he took up position in front of the desk.
“Think yourselves very lucky we are not having this conversation with the headmaster!” Mr Brightchurch seemed incapable of speaking at a normal volume, “Because be in no doubt the pair of you would already be clearing your desks!”
The following silence suggested the two boys should respond, but Griceforth was fixated on a worn spot on the once-red, now faded, rug, while Rodney bit his lip anxiously.
“However, I shall deal with this matter!” A sigh seemed to escape from the innermost depths of his soul; such was his burden of guiding the young people of today.
“Therefore I am able to offer you a choice between the headmaster’s suspension or six strokes of the cane. You may have a few moments to consider.”
He pretended to find some papers needed his urgent attention, but really he was watching their every move. Griceforth looked at Rodney, whose eyes were now studying the ceiling. Griceforth was an untidy boy, growing so rapidly that his magenta school blazer was now too small for him. His mid-grey trousers were a little too tight around the waist and buttocks and fell an inch or two short of his ankles, displaying too much grey sock. He was typical of many of the sixth-formers; they were to leave school shortly and their mothers did not think it financially worthwhile to purchase a new uniform with only a few months of the final term to see out.
Rodney was altogether different. His blazer was recently dry-cleaned and his trousers fitted him well. They too might have been recently cleaned or be new; the creases down the legs were so sharp, the boy might have cut his hand on them if he were not careful.
Mr Brightchurch looked at Griceforth with some distain; the boy clearly needed his shaggy sandy hair cut. He blamed the pop stars of the day; they wore their hair so long they were indistinguishable from the girls.
Rodney, meanwhile, had a very conventional short-back-and-sides schoolboy’s haircut, kept in place by copious amounts of Brylcreem.
When he was ready Mr Brightchrch rustled his papers and opened and closed a drawer. He was ready for a response.
“Well? What is it to be?” he stared menacingly at Griceforth; he knew from past experience that he was the dominant member of the guilty duo.
Griceforth, though, turned his face towards his shorter dark haired friend, trying to read his mind.
“I’ll take the cane, Sir.” It was a clear no nonsense response.
Rodney blinked in amazement at his companion. His heart pounded as he knew he had to make his own decision.
“Rodney?” The housemaster was impatient. “Come along, boy!”
“I’ll… I’ll t-t-t…” Rodney stammered, he wanted to flee the room and run home to his mother. A suspension from school would not be such a bad thing, his parents would be furious of course, but he could handle that. But, Griceforth had chosen to be caned. The die had been cast. If Rodney refused a beating, he would forever be called a chicken by his fellow school friends.
He still could not quite form the words. “I’ll have the cane, Sir,” he breathed, staring once more at the ceiling as he contemplated the ordeal he had selected.
“Best to get it over with, don’t you think?” Mr Brightchurch rose from his padded chair and strode a few paces across the study towards a slender but tall cupboard in a far corner. He delved into his trouser pocket and extracted a bunch of keys. In no time he found the one he was searching for and unlocked the cupboard.
The two boys were still facing the desk and with their backs to Mr Brightchurch they were unable to see the large collection of canes hanging from a rail. Carefully, as if he had never seen them before, the housemaster selected one and then another and then a third to flex between his hands to test the suppleness of the rod. He swished cane number two and cane number three through the empty air as if taking their measure.
Satisfied with the rod he had chosen to thrash the two sixth form rule-breakers, he carefully locked the cupboard door, put the key in his pocket and returned to his desk.
Standing in front of the housemaster’s desk, both with their hands behind their backs, the two boys stared down at the walnut surface. Only now did they notice the surface was strangely clear of any paperwork or other material. Even the telephone had been removed. Only the housemaster’s mortar-board disturbed an otherwise entirely empty desk top.
Mr Brightchurch saw the two boys looking wide-eyed at the cane in his hand. It was a rattan rod, a little over three feet in length and as thick as a pencil. At one end it had a traditional curved handle. When he had ordered his selection of canes from the supplier they had advised him to get the ones with crook handles.
“It is surprising how the sight of the crook handle sends shivers through a boy,” Mr Henderson of the cane suppliers had said. It certainly seemed to have an effect on Griceforth and Rodney, Mr Brightchurch observed with quiet satisfaction. He allowed them some moments to tremble and mull over in their minds the terror the cane represented.
Only when Griceforth finally averted his eyes from the cane in his housemaster’s hand and met his stare with his own nervously darting eyes, did he feel the time was right.
Mr Brightcurch tapped the tip of the cane on the surface of the desk towards the right hand side. “I shall ask you in turn to bend over this end of the desk. Six strokes each, if you remember.”
Both boys stood rigid to the spot, their eyes scared and faces grim.
“Griceforth, don’t think I don’t know that you are the ring-leader in this. Perhaps you would like to go first.
Griceforth’s eyes flashed. His heart pounded against his ribs before, with a nervous twitch of his head, he moved slowly round to face the end of the desk. With just the briefest of glances at the waiting housemaster, he began to lean across the polished surface.
As his hands reached down to touch the hard wooden desktop, the cloth of his grey school trousers tightened even more snuggly across his buttocks.
Finally, with his chest pressing into the desk and his arms folded below his face, Griceforth closed his eyes and waited, willing himself to endure the ignominy and pain of being eighteen years old, a senior boy, and given six of the hardest strokes with the cane.
Mr Brightchuch swished the cane in mid-air, but he was not quite ready. He leaned forward and took the tail of the boy’s blazer and folded it an inch or two up his back, away from the intended target area. Griceforth slowly moved his buttocks from side to side, as if to encourage his punisher in his task.
Not for the first time the housemaster noticed the tightness of the lad’s trousers. They fitted across his cheeks so snugly that the outline his underwear was clearly visible. Stupid boy, he was wearing mini-briefs; so scant that they hardly covered his buttocks. It would be easy for the housemaster to slash his cane across the underside of the globes and bypass the underwear altogether.
And that is precisely what he did. Griceforth felt the tip of the cane touching him gently across the seat of his tight school trousers and then stroke by stroke, slice by slice, the new housemaster made his mark on the boy’s rear end.
Just a brief but awesome whoosh of air preceded the wooden crack that appeared to echo round the room as the jerked his head up in response to the cutting pain that spread quickly across his bottom like wildfire. He breathed out noisily, drew air in and breathed it noisily out again.
“Ouch!” he gasped, sucking air into his lungs so sharply he felt his flesh tight against his cheek bones.
There was a short delay; then another swish and another whipping cut into Griceforth’s chunky buttocks. The sandy-haired teenaged boy gasped in pain and looked up to see his friend Rodney looking down at his bottom, his face a picture of terror.
Three strokes rained down in parallel with each other, working their way up to the top of his buttocks which ultimately shook, twisted, swayed and clenched in a frantic attempt to swamp the unbelievable legacy of pain left by the cane. His chest heaved as he gasped in great gulps of breath. His thighs rubbed together as he wrestled with the demons which were chewing up his bottom.
Mr Brightchurch played the cane over the entire surface of Griceforth’s buttocks before raising it one last time and slicing a devastatingly accurate, forceful stroke just above his thighs. A startled yelp flew out of the boy’s mouth and bounced off the wall. His legs buckled as he fought against the savage line of pain which was charging into him. His hands dug into the wooden desk top and his eyes watered as another cry burst from his throat.
Pain shot from his thrashed buttocks up and down his legs as he prised himself away from the surface of the desk and stood unsteadily and struggled to regain his balance with his hands hovering around, but not daring to touch, his inflamed buttocks. He staggered away from the desk and stood unsure what he was expected to do next.
Mr Brighthouse brushed his hand thereby instructing the now distraught boy to stand by the bookcase and away from the housemaster’s firing line.
Cane in hand, the housemaster waited with an air of resigned impatience as Rodney gingerly made his way towards the desk, with legs that felt as if they had been turned to lead and timidly bent over into the required position. The cane tapped impatiently against the housemaster’s neatly pressed trousers, as though to confirm its imminent use.
Rodney heard the swish…crack! And then felt the most searing pain he had ever known. It was a line of white fire that took his breath away and he struggled to hold on and not move. He wanted to let out a screech and jump up clutching his bottom, but he sucked in a breath and gripped the desk fiercely. He felt another tap and seconds later another searing stroke cracked against his bottom. The third was just as bad. Tears welled in his eyes, but he held still.
The cane chewed up his buttocks, turning them into a morass of raw, red, raging ridges which burned and glowed and reignited with every additional stroke. It hurt so badly. Rodney was holding on, but the searing agony of each whack with that whippy cane across his rear was too much. How could the housemaster expect him to hold still and take punishment like this? Each stroke was a red hot line of fire. His face was scarlet, he gritted his teeth, but the tears were coming anyway. Please don’t let me bawl like a baby, he prayed silently.
With six swipes expertly delivered, Mr Brightchurch, tucked the cane under his armpit, walked across the room, unlocked the cupboard and returned it to its home. Rodney still lay face down across the desk gasping like a goldfish out of water. The searing pain in his arse was so great he could not be sure that he would be able to stand.
“Come boy!” Mr Brightchurch was still booming, “It’s over. You may stand up!”
In intense agony Rodney levered himself off the desk top and at first unsteady on his feet, he bent double as if this might ease the considerable agony in his buttocks. His eyes were shining but what tears there had been had now stopped. He hopped from foot to foot in the way that generations of caned schoolboys had always done.
“Both of you stand there!” The housemaster pointed to a spot in front of his desk. As they waddled into position, Mr Brighthouse leant forward and opened the desk drawer and extracted a hard-covered exercise book. He flicked through the pages. Several pages had been completed in the past two weeks alone. He found the page he wanted, and taking a fountainpen from the inside pocket of his jacket, he unscrewed the top and wrote down the names of each boy, the date and the words, “Six, cane, seat”. He then pushed the punishment book across the desk.
“Please sign your names!”
Griceforth looked forlornly at Rodney, who blankly stared back.
“Pah!” Mr Brightchurch was ready to explode. “You don’t even have a single pen between you.” He opened the desk drawer, rummaged around inside and found a ballpoint pen, with a rather chewed top.
“Here!” he thundered, thrusting the pen at Griceforth. Sorrowfully, the boy took it and scrawled his signature in the book.
Rodney took the pen from his friend with a shaking hand. The pain coursing through his body was so great even his hands were affected. He gripped the pen between two fingers, stooped forward slightly and squiggled something against his name, before letting the pen slip from his fingers onto the desk top.
Satisfied that the punishment ritual was almost complete, Mr Brightchurch returned the book to the drawer.
“You are dismissed. And no more smoking!” he roared, offering his hand to each astonished schoolboy to shake before they limped from the study.
Other caning stories you might like. Click on the titles
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second