I very much admired young Macey’s pluck. He took a full headmaster’s six-of-the-best. I was there, I witnessed it and I know he did not have to submit himself to the cane. He might be American, but he was a young gentleman.
Macey was a new addition to our sixth-form. He was an exchange student from Florida. His father was the well-known actor in the television series about Oliver Cromwell. Macey brought a little glamour to our dour little community.
I suppose Bankhurst is a middling public school. It’s not as well-known as Eton or Harrow, but it has a fine reputation amongst the moneyed class of England who want a good private education for their sons.
We believe in traditional education: traditional teaching; traditional school uniform and traditional discipline. And, here at Bankhurst that means the swishy rattan cane.
Macey was a fine fellow, everybody liked him; the boys and the masters alike. When he first arrived he had a deep suntan which contrasted greatly with the pasty pale faces of the English. His clothes were of the finest quality and I believe his shoes might have been hand-made. The war might have ended more than ten years previously but England remained mired in austerity. The shelves in the shops, even in the expensive West End of London, remained almost empty.
One might have thought the boys would have resented him; but no. With all the American television series and films (or movies, as I believe they are called) we received it seemed every eighteen-year-old boy wanted to be a “Yank.”
Macey always had a sunny disposition; his smile lit up my schoolroom. I always looked forward to classes when he was there.
He was in my boarding house. Every evening it was my duty to ensure all the boys were safely tucked up in bed. I liked to pop my head round the door of the senior dormitory at about nine-thirty. Macey was usually changing into his pyjamas at that hour.
I do not believe Macey had experienced boarding school life before. All of my charges would have been boarders somewhere or other since the age of eight. They were used to the routine. Get up when you are told; go to bed when you are told. Do this; do that.
We have to have rules. That is how we maintain order. And that is why we must have punishments for those who disobey them.
Macey was an energetic fellow. Bedtime at nine-forty-five must have seemed preposterously early for him. I would not be surprised if back home in Florida he did not carouse until the early hours some nights. I believe the acting fraternity like to party.
I did understand his predicament; but as I say rules must be obeyed. And, I have no doubt in my mind that he was the instigator of the little jolly that ended with he and three other fellows staring at the carpet in the headmaster’s study.
They must have known they would be caught. How could they not be?
The plan such as it was proved easy to execute. They left their dormitory, tip-toed down the main staircase and let themselves out the front door. Bankhurst is not a prison. Within seconds they were through the school gates and on their way to the village hall.
It was the lure of dancing that did it. Or more accurately, I suppose, the prospect of girls. I have no way of knowing exactly what transpired at the hall and I would rather not know. I have little doubt that Macey would have been something of a “hit” that evening.
Macey and his three chums rumbled back at school at one-thirty in the morning; high on the excitement of their little jaunt. They might have returned to their room undetected were it not for Wilson, an aging colleague of mine. He is obliged to visit the lavatory several times in the night.
As the boys’ housemaster I was informed the following morning. Usually, the housemaster would deal with transgressions among the boys, but this breach of discipline was so severe I felt obliged to inform the headmaster.
“We have a problem,” the headmaster sighed. He stands at six-feet-two and is an imposing figure. It is difficult to believe that he would have any problem disciplining the boys; even the strapping eighteen-year-old rugby players.
I stared blankly and waited for the headmaster to elucidate.
“Macey is not technically a pupil at this school. He is what the Americans call an ‘exchange student’.”
My puzzled look seemed to annoy the headmaster.
“He is still a student of some school in Florida. He is subject to their disciplinary code,” the headmaster barked. Then he positively spat out these words, “He cannot be subjected to corporal punishment.”
I was as shocked as the headmaster. No corporal punishment. No cane. How on earth did they maintain order in their schools?
But, this was no time to debate comparative educational philosophies.
“We cannot beat the other three and leave Macey unbeaten.” The headmaster had hit the nail on the head. It was a conundrum.
I had an idea. “I suppose we could suspend all four boys.”
I wish I had not spoken. The headmaster glared at me and then ejaculated, “Suspension! Suspension! That is no solution. The examinations are but weeks away; they cannot miss school.”
His stare became intense. “Besides, where would Macey go? He is boarding here because there is nowhere else for him.”
I did not know until later, but at the same time the headmaster and I were pondering what to do, Macey and his three chums were themselves deep in conversation.
Silver, a particularly fine classicist, had surmised the situation. “It’ll be a bowing for sure,” he grimaced.
Knight, a dullard who was destined for a career in the Foreign Office, piped up, “It’ll be from the Beak. His canings are awesome.”
Knight was not speaking from personal experience, but the headmaster did have a deserved reputation as a flogger. He could lay a cane across a stretched backside like no other.
Page, a young man who was not acquainted with original thought, remained silent.
Macey smiled his wonderful toothsome grin. “They’re not allowed to cane me. There’s something in the rules from my school.”
His grin evaporated into a frown as three pairs of eyes bore into him. None of his chums said it aloud; but they all shared the same thought. “It was your idea to bunk off. We wouldn’t have gone otherwise. Now we get a Beak’s thrashing and you get off.”
Macey shrugged his shoulders sheepishly as if to say, “It’s not my fault, guys.”
I wasn’t aware of this conversation until much later.
A distant bell rang; it was time for first school. The headmaster dismissed me from his study and our problem remained unsolved.
I was sitting in my study at lunchtime when there was a timid knock on the door. I was not expecting a visitor. It is true that almost every lunchtime one wretched boy or another would be summonsed to my study. Two rattan canes – one thick and one thin – hung from their crook handles from a hat stand, always ready for action.
I called, “Enter!” and very slowly the door inched open but nobody entered the room. I was beginning to lose patience a little, when Macey’s head peered around the door.
His fresh open face that usually loved to smile seemed perplexed. He stood in the doorway shifting from foot to foot as if unsure what to do next.
“Come in Macey. Close the door behind you.” It was always a pleasure to see the boy; even in circumstances such as this.
I looked into his dreamy brown eyes. He was struggling to remember the words of a little speech he had rehearsed earlier.
“It’s about last night, Sir,” he stumbled. “Y’know. The breaking bounds.” He trailed off. I remained silent. I believed that he would get to the point in his own good time.
He found his place in his prepared script and launched himself into it. Breaking bounds had been his idea. He had persuaded the others to go. They were all equally guilty. He knew the rules about corporal punishment.
He could not quite catch my eye. “You can’t cane the other fellows and not cane me.” He stopped suddenly. He had finished. That was what he had come to say.
I suppressed a smile. In my many years as a schoolmaster I cannot recall a time when a pupil and certainly not an eighteen-year-old sixth-former had asked to be caned. One supposed that boys would usually prefer any other punishment than a bowing from the Beak.
Macey stared down at the carpet. His cheeks were rosy; partly a result of his usual ruddy good health and partly through the intense embarrassment that he felt.
“Thank you Macey. I shall convey your request to the headmaster. You are dismissed.”
He left the study at a rate of knots.
When I later informed the headmaster, he was a mightily relived man. He and I both believe in the efficacy of corporal punishment. A sound caning solves many problems. The four sixth-formers would receive six-of-the-best and the world would move on.
The headmaster asked that as the boys’ housemaster I witness the beatings. It was a request that I was pleased to accept.
So it was that at four-fifteen that afternoon, the headmaster, myself and four extremely anxious young men stood in the Beak’s spacious study.
There is little or no ritual to a headmaster’s thrashing. One by one they were required to stand in the middle of the room and then bend over and touch their toes. Their feet planted about eighteen inches apart; their knees straight and their bottoms raised submissively to receive the slash of the cane across their tightly-stretched pale-grey trousers.
They were expected to remain steadily in position until the headmaster instructed them to rise. Failure to do so would result in extra strokes.
A boy on the receiving end of a Beak’s bowing would be in intense agony. He was allowed to express pain through gasps and even the occasional “ooh” or “ouch!”, but he must not cry. It broke some unwritten code of honour to blub when beaten.
This was the first time I was privileged to witness a headmaster’s caning. He is some man. He dominates any room he enters. He is tall and up-right, slim but muscular. He has a presence which catches the attention. He has authority and is confidently in control of any situation.
Four pairs of eyes followed his progress across the study as first he disrobed his academic gown and then his jacket. This was to give him maximum movement in his swing.
Then, he removed from his trouser pocket a keyring and selected a small key which he used to unlock a narrow walnut cabinet in the corner of the study. He rummaged inside for a moment or two. I could not see inside but heard the distinct rattle of canes. He chose his weapon, tucked it under his arm and locked the cabinet door.
Four faces drained of blood as the headmaster swished the fearsome rod through the air. It was longer and a little thicker than the canes I have in my own study. I know from experience that my canes will inflict severe bruising on a boy’s backside if properly used. I wondered if the rod the headmaster was now flexing into a perfect arc between his hands could go further. It might easily draw blood.
The four sixth-formers stood to attention before the headmaster; thumbs in line with the seam of their pale-grey trousers. The school’s Officer Training Corps had taught them well.
The headmaster jawed them a little, but they knew they had broken the rules; they had been caught and punishment was expected.
The headmaster swished the cane through empty air as if testing its suitability. There was no need to do so, he had used this little beauty many times previously; he knew its power.
“Page, step forward,” it was a crisp command. He wobbled the cane at a spot on the carpet in the centre of the study. There was a sharp intake of breath from the three other boys as Page obeyed without question.
Swish! The cane flew once more. “Bend over.”
The dark-haired sixth former, whose physical maturity made him look much older than his eighteen years, stooped forward and gripped his shins tightly. From my vantage point I saw his full head of wavy black hair and the dark shadow on his jowls and chin. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips tightly together.
The headmaster rested the cane across the very centre of the tightly-presented buttocks. Then, he drew the cane high and twisting his waist and body he brought it crashing down at considerable force deep into the boy’s bottom. I imagine the headmaster is quite a star on the golf links.
Personally, when caning I prefer to use the wrist rather than the body. To use a different sporting analogy my technique resembles a cricket batsman sending the ball to the boundary for four runs.
Six times the cane rose and six times it bit deep into the meat of Page’s posterior. When he was permitted to rise, his face was as scarlet as I supposed his buttocks to be. His eyes shone and his hands were shaking. He resumed his position alongside the other three boys. He shuffled from foot to foot, desperately wishing to rub away at his scorching rear end. That would have to wait. It was another unwritten rule: no rubbing until you were dismissed the study.
Silver was next to step forward. His body was slender and well-toned. In an athletic movement he bent over and instead of resting his hands on his shins as Page had, he stretched his fingers until they reached the toes of his shiny black shoes. His knees were straight and in this position his buttocks strained against the tight cloth of his trousers. I saw the clear outline of his underpants.
Unlike his partner-in-crime Silver looked a little younger than his age. His short blond hair, sparkling blue eyes and very red lips gave him an effeminate look.
The headmaster had little to aim at, but that did not deter him. He brought six stingers down in quick succession. Rat-tat-tat. Rat-tat-tat. It sounded like machinegun fire resounding around the study. Poor Silver howled. There really is no other word to describe it. I believe the cane must have struck him on the same spot several times. The agony would have been immense and I am certain when later Silver and his fellows inspected the damage (as it were) they would find blood seeping from his wounds.
Silver hobbled to join his fellows.
There were only Knight and Macey left to deal with. Macey affected an air of insouciance. It was as if he had no cares in the world. He watched impassively as his two fellows were put through their paces. If he had not already understood the ways of the English public school, he was learning this afternoon.
Knight was far from carefree. He shook visibly as he followed the headmaster’s instruction to take up position. As Silver was thin and angelic, so Knight was fat and, frankly, ugly. A roll of fat slithered across his waistline as he doubled up his body for the headmaster’s administrations. Sweat poured down his fleshy jowls and his piggy eyes stared blankly at the varied green patterned carpet between his feet.
The headmaster was losing none of his strength and he brought his cane fizzing down across the fleshy target that was Knight’s bottom. Usually a cane would make a ringing crack as it struck and then bounced of tightly-presented flesh. Not this time. The headmaster’s swishy rattan hit home and then sank into jelly, resulting in a dull thud.
Until this moment I had never stopped to speculate whether the cane hurts more if whipped into a tight pert bottom when compared to huge fleshy mounds. Are there more nerve-ends to be attacked in a fat boy? I do not know the answer to this conundrum, but I can report that Knight felt every cut of the cane. He wriggled and squirmed as each swipe sank.
He suppressed the yelps he so desperately wanted to make so much that he choked. On command, he rose spluttering and coughing. He was still heaving and gasping for breath when Macey stepped forward.
Macey was tall and impeccably attired in perfectly fitting long pale-grey worsted trousers and freshly polished, shiny black shoes. His neatly parted short chestnut hair remained in place even as his head turned upside down to face the carpet. I suppose he must use some product from America.
The grey worsted material stretched extra tight as he bent right over, his fingers stretching to his toes, his legs held straight. He was ready to take his caning in the traditional posture that can only be really properly achieved by a strong and fit young man.
The headmaster paused and placed the cane on his leather-topped desk. Macey looked over his shoulder to see what was going on.
“Face the front boy!” the headmaster barked, “You’ll find out what’s going on here soon enough!”
With that the headmaster positively marched across his study to the cane cabinet, opened it, and extracted a fresh rod. I recognised it immediately. It was a Malacca. The densest cane known to a schoolmaster. It was thick, yet supple and had notches every three or four inches across its length. It was the kind of cane only to be used in the most exceptional circumstances.
The headmaster turned and faced Macey. He had a perfect view of the boy’s tightly-presented buttocks and long, slender legs. He could see the outline of the boy’s spine as it pressed against his crisp white cotton shirt.
The headmaster swished the Malacca through empty air. It made a tremendous swooshing sound. I think I blanched at the sight of it; certainly the three other sixth-formers who had endured a severe thrashing with a lesser cane stared in awe.
“Don’t think I don’t know you were the instigator of this little episode, Macey,” he intoned. “Or the ‘ring-leader’ I believe you Americans would call it.” The headmaster’s attempt at humour was ill judged. Nobody raised a smile.
Undeterred, the headmaster took up his position a little to the left of Macey’s waiting body.
“Brace yourself, Macey.”
There was a swipe and Macey was on fire. The heat spread out from the buttocks down his legs when the second cut lashed down, just an inch below the first one. Macey yelped as the searing agony of the cane got through to him.
I saw his face crease up. He clamped his teeth shut to stop further yells. His body convulsed, but miraculously he stayed bent over bottom high. His hands made fists and then he gripped tightly onto his ankles as if his very life depended on it.
The third stroke cut across his cheeks an inch above the first; there were now three throbbing lines of molten fire blazing. Then the fourth landed low down, right on the crease of his bottom, below the line of his underpants and close to where the bottom meets the thigh.
I watched transfixed as the headmaster landed a fifth swipe diagonally across the four seared welts, setting them all ablaze again.
Macey’s eyes shone but manfully he avoided tears as the headmaster lashed the last one from the opposite direction, making the poor sixth-former squirm and shudder.
I felt immense pride in the boy when he rose from the punishment position and hobbled over to join his companions lined against the study wall. None of the boys could bear to look at each other, but I knew that after this severe thrashing they would never be quite the same again. They would be companions in arms; they had endured an ordeal together. It would bond them for the rest of their lives.
Other school stories you might like.
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second