We stood aghast. This was not for real. It could not be happening. Nothing like it had occurred in the whole history of the school. None of us would believe it if we had not witnessed it.
A sixth-form man was to get a whopping. There in the study in front of us all.
Mr Japes was the new form master of the Sixth. He had been recently employed by the headmaster. We fellows did not know it, but he had been instructed to shake us up a bit. And, he certainly intended to do just that.
The Beak thought we were slackers; we needed a jolt. The reputation of the school for getting folk into universities might be at stake.
Ours was a prestigious “public” school; not perhaps the finest, but we were famous enough. Three former Prime Ministers and a clutch of Cabinet members had been boys here. As at public schools up and down the land sixth-formers were not caned. Sixth-formers did the caning.
The most senior boys, the prefects, all had their own ashplants. They would patrol the school building and grounds, cane tucked under their arms, ready to slip it into their hands at the sight of a miscreant schoolboy.
Now, Mr Japes wanted to turn the world on its head. He wanted to cane a sixth-former. It had started typically enough; Warminster had been throwing his weight around. And he had considerable weight to throw. More truthfully, he had considerable height. He stood at least six-feet-three-inches tall and was broad at the shoulders. He was a considerable presence on the rugby field.
Warminster was eighteen years old, going on nineteen. Nothing, apart from the school uniform of black blazer and pale-grey trousers we were all forced to wear, suggested he was anything but an adult. He even had to shave twice a day to conform to the school rule about facial hair.
Mr Japes in contrast stood five-feet-four if he were an inch. He was well into his fiftieth years and had a large rotund belly. In a fair fight, Mr Japes was no contest for Warminster. The sixth-former would be able to take him out with a single punch.
But, this was not a fair fight. This was a schoolmaster and a pupil.
Mr Japes swished his crook-handled cane and pointed to an old wooden straight-backed chair. “Bend over that chair, Warminster,” he thundered.
Warminster stood his ground, set his jaw tight and glowered at his tormentor.
I and my fellows stared on at the incongruous sight. Warminster stood inches from the schoolmaster, towering over Mr Japes. He was still silent. Apparently speechless.
“Bend over that chair, Warminster,” Mr Japes was puce with rage. He was not a man to be intimidated by a schoolboy, however senior he might be. He waved his cane at the sixth-former and with his other hand once more pointed to the chair, as if his instruction needed further clarity.
“Sixth-formers can’t be caned,” Warminster had found his voice at last. Mr Japes’ eyes widened with fury. Hastily, Warminster added an almost contrite, “Sir.”
We all nodded and murmured in agreement. Indeed, it was so.
“A sixth-former might not have been caned; that does not mean he cannot be caned!” Mr Japes thundered.
A shudder travelled around the room. I was not the only fellow to see the seriousness of this matter. If a precedent were to be set today, all of our backsides would be at risk in the future.
“Bend over Warminster, I am going to cane you for your insolence. I have suffered enough of your disrespect and impudence. You shall be taught a lesson,” Mr Japes was barely in control of his temper. Then, he turned and swished his cane menacingly at we onlookers. “And that goes for you all.”
I was close enough to Mr Japes to see a little spittle dribble from the corner of his mouth.
Warminster was a bully and a cad. Even his best friend, if such a person actually existed, would agree to that. He had indeed given Mr Japes a terrible time since the schoolmaster arrived as the new Head of Sixth-form. Fellows always ragged a new master; it was a tradition. The boys tested how far they could go to ascertain what the master would let them get away with.
Warminster and the rest of us were about to discover the answer.
“I shall not tell you again Warminster. Present yourself for a caning this instance. If you delay further I shall give you twelve strokes,” Mr Japes stared up into Warminster’s face. He was not intimidated by the lofty figure towering over him.
When we fellows discussed it later, and Warminster’s run-in with Mr Japes was the conversation of the week, we could not decide what our companion could have done.
“He should have refused to be beaten. He should have gone to the headmaster; he would never allow a Sixth-form man to be caned,” Thomas Maj. opined.
“Don’t be wet; it was the Beak who brought Japsey here. He wants him to sort us out,” Allerton-Smythe rejoined.
“I should have smacked Japes on the jaw. He needs to be told his place,” Bakker retorted.
We all laughed at that.
Warminster made his own choice. A school is not the real world. Different rules apply. The schoolmaster is the law. The pupil whatever his age is subjugated. Had Warminster refused to be caned, he would have been sent to the headmaster. Whatever a headmaster’s personal opinion on a matter he must always support his masters against the boys. Not to do so would be to create anarchy. Soon after the entire structure of the school would collapse.
No, if the headmaster became involved the punishment awarded would be most severe. It would be a public thrashing at the very least; most likely a bare-arsed birching. Then, Warminster would be rusticated, expelled from the school.
The power was most certainly with the schoolmaster. If Mr Japes were determined that Warminster should bend over for him; then over the sixth-former most certainly must bend. And, Mr Japes was an exceptionally determined man.
Sullen and with deep resentment, and not looking to his right or his left thereby ensuring he would catch none of our eyes, Warminster brushed past his tormentor, almost knocking him to the ground.
There was a black and bitter expression on his face when he stood in front of the old wooden chair. He hesitated a moment, as if taking time to convince himself this was the right thing to do, then slowly, very slowly, and with a crimson face he leant forward and grasped each side of the seat. He was ready to submit to Mr Japes’ cane.
We fellows stood aghast. We had never witnessed anything remotely like this before. We had seen boys caned before, we had ourselves often been caned. Indeed, many of us had caned younger boys – it was that kind of school. But, never before had we seen a hulking six-feet-three-inches sixth-former offer up his backside to a schoolmaster standing at five-feet-four.
From my personal vantage point, I saw Mr Japes approach Warminster; the look of contempt on the schoolmaster’s face was clear for all to see. At that moment he despised the eighteen-year-old stooped before him. Mr Japes took hold of Warminster’s blazer and folded it an inch or so up his back until it was clear of his target area.
“Legs further apart boy. Backside out further, please.”
These tiny final instructions increased Warminster’s humiliation.
Warminster complied. I had never had cause to notice it before, but Warminster’s bum was round and meaty. His back was arched and his buttocks jutted out filling the seat of his now-tight trousers.
Warminster’s face set. He shut his teeth and gripped the hard wooden chair seat firmly. He breathed hard and deep. We eyed him anxiously. We understood his feelings and shared them.
The scene that followed was painful – very painful. Mr Japes was clearly angry. The cane rose and fell; the schoolmaster apparently under the impression that he was beating a carpet.
Warminster had been whopped before: often, though not so often as he had deserved. But he had never had it like this before. Mr Japes put his beef into it. He was determined that it was his duty to be severe in this flagrant case: and Mr Japes was a giant on duty. He was running no risk of spoiling Warminster by sparing the rod.
It was six-of-the-best: the very best. We had seen floggings at the school, some of them severe; but we had never witnessed such a thrashing as this.
Warminster fairly howled.
Mr Japes tucked the cane under his arm.
“That will do,” he said. “Take that as a warning, Warminster. You will be flogged again if you are disrespectful or disobedient.”
Warminster did not speak; his face was white and his lips quivering, and if he had spoken he would have burst into a torrent of tears.
“Go! Leave the room, sir!” Mr Japes had lost none of his anger.
Warminster left the study without a word.
Other stories you might like
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second