Mr Walter “Winker” Wilson exited the London Underground station and blinked in the early evening sunlight.
It was September and the weather could not decide if it was yet autumn. A gusty breeze welcomed him as he joined the crowds on the High Street. It was not cold enough for an overcoat, but he had the buttons fastened on his suit jacket.
He had not been to this place before. He had been given directions, but he wasn’t entirely sure he could find the house. It didn’t matter yet, he was early. He had twenty minutes in which to complete what should be a ten minute walk.
Wilson wore a blue pin-striped suit and sported a bowler hat. He always carried a furled umbrella, come rain or shine. He would have gone unnoticed in the City of London where he had joined the Underground. But, here in the poorer eastern part of London he stuck out like a sore thumb.
But Wilson, the thirty-six-year-old stockbroker, realised none of this. He was apprehensive about the visit he was about to make. He was unsure why this was so. He, himself, had arranged the meeting. Nobody forced him to be here. He could’ve been on the commuter train to his home in Weybridge.
He partly remembered the way. It went something like this: leave the station and turn right. Cross the road at the lights and take the first turning on the left. After that the details were a bit hazy. Walk down the road for a spell, turn right and then left and the house was in that street. He couldn’t even remember the name of the street, so he couldn’t ask a passer-by for help.
He didn’t want to do that. If he asked the way, he was sure the stranger would read his mind. He would guess his ultimate destination. His secret would be out.
The lights were faulty and the rush-hour traffic was heavy. Wilson had to make an undignified dash between a Ford Anglia and a bus. Otherwise he might be left standing at the kerb all night long.
He tried to look nonchalant, but inside he was churning. He was convinced every face he passed was staring at him. Some were. They rarely saw a toff in a bowler hat in these parts.
He turned left as instructed. It was a long narrow residential road. Large houses, some damaged by wartime bombs, lined the street. Already some had been renovated; small flats and bed-sitting rooms, where large expensive houses had once stood.
The directions were excellent. He found the street without difficulty. He was nearly there. He paused and looked down the road. It was almost deserted. But not quite. Small children played hop-scotch in the road. Two women stood on a doorstep gossiping.
Wilson paused. Did he want to go through with this? Was it too late to change his mind?
He had confirmed by telephone that he was on his way. Mr Teddington was expecting him. He was preparing for his visit. Wilson couldn’t possibly back down now.
The two women roared with laughter when he passed them by. He had raised his hat and bid them “Good evening ladies.”
“Lor,” one crowed, “I’ve neffer seen nuffink loike it.”
Number 27 was his destination. He felt the stares of the women burn into his neck. Did they know where he was going? Had they watched similar gentlemen in the past make the same journey? Would they still be there on the doorstep gossiping when he departed?
The house was shabby. It shocked Wilson, but he wasn’t sure why. What had he expected in a district such as this? It was one of the poorest parts of London and heavily damaged by the Luftwaffe. He stood for a moment on the doorstep. The door was coloured green, but had peeled so badly that blue paint poked through in large patches.
Wilson lost his nerve. This was just like reporting to the headmaster’s study all those years ago at St Tom’s. No, he realised, it had been a mistake. He would go. Later he would telephone and apologise.
Suddenly, the door inched open. A small elderly man, easily in his sixties stood there. He smiled. A weak smile, most of the old man’s teeth were missing. Despite his shortness he stood erect. He had presence.
“Mr Tompkins?” he smiled again. The puzzled look on Wilson’s face did not deter him. Often his gentlemen did not give him their real name.
“Yes, indeed, yes,” Wilson blustered. He felt his face glow scarlet.
“Then please come in.”
It was a surprisingly spacious house and remarkably clean considering the shabbiness of the exterior.
“Put your hat and umbrella there,” Mr Teddington said, nodding towards a table in the hallway.
Wilson did as instructed.
“Now, stand and face the wall. Hands on head.” It was a curt command. Wilson knew that tone of voice. He had endured it many times from masters at school. It was the tone that said, “I am in charge and you will do as you are told. Or else.”
“You are in enough trouble as it is boy, do not make me lose my patience.”
It was astonishing. Mr Teddington could have been old Flynn, his form master at St Tom’s.
Obediently, he faced the wall and after unbuttoning his jacket so he was free to move his arms, he locked his fingers and placed them on his head. The Brylcreem in his hair felt sticky against his palms.
“You will wait there. In precisely two minutes you will knock on my study door.” He nodded to a dark brown door across the hall. “When I give instructions, you will enter.”
With that, Mr Teddington went into the study.
There was still time to escape. The front door was only yards away. He could be through it and on his way back to the Underground station before Mr Teddington knew he was gone.
He could do that. But he wouldn’t. He wanted this. No, he needed this. It had taken him years to pluck up the courage to make the appointment. He would hate himself forever if he did not go through with it.
He stared closely at the fading wallpaper. There was a faint smell of damp coming from somewhere close by. Even that reminded him of his old school.
With his hands firmly on his head Wilson was unable to access his pocket watch. He improvised. Slowly in his head he began to count. “One … two …”
This concentration helped to steady his rapid breathing but did nothing for his racing heart.
“.. one-hundred-and-nineteen … one-hundred-and-twenty.” He felt like a very small child starting a game of hide-and-seek. “Well, here I come”, he thought, “Ready or not.”
He crossed the hallway to the study. He hesitated. Suddenly and for the first time the absurdity of his situation struck him. It’s too late now he thought and rapped his knuckles on the door.
It was a clear command delivered in the pompous tone of voice so beloved of schoolmasters across the land. Wilson breathed deeply, turned the handle and opened the door.
Wilson was no fan of science fiction. Had he been, he might have ascribed the scene to time travel. The room was decked out as a schoolmaster’s study. It could have been 1938 again and he could have been back at St Tom’s.
Mr Teddington sat behind a large leather-topped desk. He was resplendent in an academic gown. Like so many worn by schoolmasters, it was old and a bit tatty. On his head sat rather unsteadily a mortar-board cap. The desk itself had two columns of drawers. It probably weighed a ton. A stuffed horsehair chair with low arms and a high back dominated the middle of the room. There were four straight-backed wooden chairs and a low table. Shelves ran alongside the whole of one wall, stacked high with what appeared to Wilson to be pre-War geography textbooks.
Behind the desk attached to the wall was a glass-fronted cabinet. Wilson had never seen anything like it before. Even at St Tom’s none of the masters had such a thing. It must have been specially made. It was a cabinet containing five curve-handled school canes. They were displayed as one might show a prized stuffed fish.
“Stand there boy,” Teddington growled. He pointed to a spot two feet in front of his monumental desk. Obediently, Wilson shuffled into place. He had assumed such a position many times at St Tom’s. He clasped his hands behind his back and bowed his head. It was a submissive posture, appropriate to his status. He was no longer a successful young stockbroker; he was a thoroughly naughty boy.
Teddington jawed him. The list of the boy’s misdeeds was long and varied. What had he to say for himself?
Not much. As all boys seem to do when confronted by such a question, Wilson mumbled, “Don’t know, Sir.”
“Don’t know boy!” Teddington ejaculated. “Don’t know! Well you’ll know what-for soon enough.”
“Look at me boy.” The schoolmaster’s glare roasted Wilson.
Miserably, Wilson raised his head and gazed back at the man who was shortly to thrash his backside. Teddington was small in stature; he was easily two inches shorter than Wilson himself. But, when he was standing he stood erect, with shoulders back. He was a military man of some experience, Wilson supposed. His face was lined and dominated by a hook nose. Untidy side whiskers stretched from under his cap to close to his chin.
“I am going to beat you,” he barked. “I am going to beat you most severely.”
With that, he rose from the desk, turned on his heels and faced the glass cabinet. The five canes were of different lengths and thicknesses. Teddington had already made his choice. He would use his favourite. It was an ashplant of about three feet in length and a little warped from use. It was as thick as a pencil and frayed at the “business end,” a consequence of landing many times with some force across the seat of stretched trousers.
Wilson watched impassively. He had been eighteen years old – a senior man at school – when he had last been beaten. That was half of his lifetime ago. He had missed the sting of the cane. Hardly a week passed by without him reminiscing fondly about St Tom’s. The schoolmasters, prefects and the head beak himself strode around the buildings and grounds, a cane constantly under their arms (or so it seemed to the boys) waiting for the slightest excuse to slip it into their hand and apply it across the seat of an errant schoolboy.
Teddington was ready.
“Please remove your jacket and place it on my desk.”
Wilson’s heart raced and hurriedly he complied with the instruction.
“Stand by the chair,” Teddington preferred not to engage in histrionics ahead of a beating, nonetheless he swished the cane at the dusty armchair to emphasise his point.
Wilson took up position.
“Lower your bags and bend over the chair.”
Wilson suppressed a smile. This was the moment he had been dreaming of for these many years. Eagerly, he unhitched his belt, unbuttoned the fly and let his heavy pin-striped trousers fall to his feet.
The armchair had a high back, far too high for even the tallest, lankiest, man-boy to put himself over and stretch out his arms to clutch the seat cushion for dear life.
Wilson knew the routine in such cases was for a boy to drape himself over one of the upholstered arms, tuck his knees into the side of the chair and thereby raise his behind high to meet the thwack of the ashplant.
He was over the chair in a jiffy. His head was down low in the dusty seat cushion and his bottom held high and at an angle; all the better to receive the stinging cuts from the schoolmaster’s whippy cane.
It was an authentic schoolboy beating. Six hard swipes delivered with vim. Each landed across the very centre of both buttocks. It was a “six” laid on with an energy and enthusiasm.
In his imagination, Walter Wilson was once more “Winker,” the incorrigible schoolboy of his youth. He was no longer in a strange house in bomb-damaged London. He was at the elegant St Tom’s school, the educational establishment for the sons of the gentry and the rising middle-classes.
He was showing his arse, but not to a paid professional “master.” In his imaginings it was Mr Flynn, his form master who was about to whip his bottom to shreds.
He shut his teeth and closed his eyes tightly and waited for the first shockwave.
It was not long in coming.
It was as if Teddington were beating a carpet. The cane rose and fell in a succession of swipes that sounded like pistol-shots. As the pain seared from his buttocks and engulfed his entire body, Wilson struggled to stay calm. A chap was allowed to holler when the cane was slashed into his flesh with vigour; it was a natural thing to do; but a chap must not blub. Blubbing was completely forbidden. No matter how severe the whopping, a boy must not weep tears. He would never hear the end of it from his fellows.
It was not merely “six.” It was as thorough a licking as Mr Teddington had ever administered; such a licking as Wilson had seldom or never experienced before. He yelped and he howled and he squirmed and he roared, and still the cane swiped and swiped.
Then, it was over.
“Stand up boy.” It was a fierce command.
Wilson eased himself to his feet. It had been a long time since he had endured so much pain. Instinctively his palms shot to cover his buttocks.
“Stop that! How dare you!” Mr Teddington thundered. Wilson bunched his hands into fists and placed them at his sides.
“Get dressed. Hurry up boy.”
The pain was excruciating. Had “six-of-the-best” felt so awful when he was at St Tom’s? Memory plays tricks on people; he couldn’t be certain.
The agony was subsiding by the time Wilson was once again fully dressed. He stood motionless as the schoolmaster replaced the cane carefully in his magnificent cabinet.
Teddington turned to face Wilson once more.
“I want you to go into the hallway and face the wall. Place your hands on your head once more,” he barked.
Then he added, “I don’t want to see you rubbing your bottom.”
With his buttocks still throbbing, Wilson exited the study.
He stood as instructed, reliving the events of the past few minutes in his head. It had been an eighteen year wait, but it had been worth it.
Suddenly, the study door opened and Teddington emerged, dressed once again in his “civilian” clothes.
“Come,” his broad smile cracked his rather ugly face, “Let’s have tea. The kettle should have boiled by now.”
Other stories you might like.
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second