The headmaster fumed. Sixth-formers truanting. What kind of example was that to set the junior boys?
Dr Collett would give McCann and Wheeler what-for when they reported to his study at the end of the school day.
And, there was more bad news. The two eighteen-year-old prefects had skipped school to stand in-line at the Trocadero to buy tickets for the Bill Haley and His Comets’ concert.
Bill Haley. The headmaster was aghast. Bill Haley of “Rock Around the Clock” infamy. Dr Collett knew all about Bill Haley and His Comets. He read the newspapers. Young louts all over the country were ripping up cinema seats and jiving in the aisles to the sound of their jungle music.
St Augusta’s Independent Grammar School had no place for louts. Were McCann and Wheeler Teddy Boys in their spare time? he wondered. He had seen “The Teds” causing trouble in the local High Street. Dressed in their skin-tight trousers, long jackets and ridiculous haircuts. Didn’t they carry switch blades?
He would soon put an end to that. It was his duty. His duty not only as the headmaster of St Augusta’s, but as a responsible adult. If he did not do his duty the country would go to Hell in a handcart.
At four o’clock two sixth-formers shuffled in silence along the passageway towards the headmaster’s study. They were in no hurry. They might be eighteen-years-old but they were not immune from school discipline. St Augusta’s was a traditional school. Traditional curriculum; traditional sports and traditional discipline.
Tommy McCann and Alan Wheeler halted outside the imposing dark oak door of the study. Neither boy could quite catch his friend’s eye. Tommy’s dark hooded eyes stared at the copper nameplate: “Dr. A. T. Collett. Headmaster.” This was not his first visit. He had hoped never to return. Such visits were never pleasant. Today would be no exception.
Tommy’s heart raced. Someone should knock on the door. Tell the headmaster of their presence. Let him know they had arrived for their punishment.
This was a new experience for Alan. He had only joined the school the previous September when his father moved to the town with his job. It would be a bowing for sure. All his sixth-form pals were agreed on that. Truanting from school. That had to be worth six-of-the-best. No doubt about it. Alan had never been caned in his life and he thought eighteen was too old to start.
“You do it.”
Somebody had to knock on that door. Neither boy wanted to. They knew what was in store the moment they stepped into the study.
“Rock, paper, scissors.”
It was an absurd game. Alan lost. He knocked on the door.
“Come!” An imperious call came from behind the heavy oak panelling.
Still unable to exchange a glance with his pal, Alan turned the shiny brass handle and eased open the door.
Dr Collett was pacing his study. He was an imposing figure. He had once been a semi-pro rugby player. He was still built like a brick outhouse. A black academic gown hung from his broad shoulders. It covered a dark pinstriped suit. He would have looked like a bank manager without the gown.
Dr Collett stopped pacing and swung on the heels of his shiny black shoes. He faced the boys and didn’t like what he saw. McCann needed a haircut. Needed a new school blazer too. The gangly youngster had outgrown his. The sleeve ended about three inches from his wrist. His mid-grey trousers were crumpled at his knees. They hadn’t seen a trouser-press for a long time. They looked like they needed cleaning too.
Wheeler was much better. Sparkling clean green-and-red school blazer. Sharp crease in his trousers. They were just back from the dry-cleaners by the look of it.
“Stand there.” Dr Collett nodded to the front of his desk. He was a man of few words. He believed in action. He didn’t get where he was today by dilly-dallying.
The two boys shuffled into position and instinctively clasped their hands behind their backs. A submissive stance. Dr Collette hauled his large frame into an ancient leather chair. He leaned back and tested the chair’s strength before steepling his fingers together in front of his face. He stared first at McCann and then at Wheeler. He tried to intimidate them. It worked.
“Explain!” The instruction was not directed at either boy in particular. McCann stared at his feet. Wheeler looked down at the top of Dr Collett’s walnut desk. Silence.
The boy started. What was he supposed to say? What question was he being asked?
“Pah!” The headmaster expelled wind through nearly clenched teeth. “Truanting. Yes? No?” Dr Collett stretched his left eyebrow. Waited for a response. None came.
“Tickets. Concert tickets.” The headmaster spat out the next words, “For Bill Haley and His Comets! Yes? No?”
Wheeler blanched. The headmaster knew the truth. No point denying it. He couldn’t make up a story about a doctor’s appointment. This could end only one way.
“Well then,” Dr Collett un-steepled his fingers. Reached across his desk. Opened a drawer and reached inside. Two pairs of eyes stared intently. He delved inside and pulled out a small key ring and then closed the drawer.
“You leave me no choice.” He lifted his bulk from the chair. He straightened up his academic gown and walked slowly across the length of his considerable study. McCann and Wheeler stared at the walnut desk. They didn’t want to know where the headmaster was headed.
A tall thin cupboard was built into one corner of the room. It was specially-built. It could only have one purpose. Tall and thin. It contained the headmaster’s considerable collection of punishment canes. Mostly traditional swishy rattan canes. With curved handles. But, some straight dragon and Malacca’s. Dr Collett had a cane for every occasion.
He had already made his mind up, but he rummaged through his collection and took a thin swishy straight cane. Rejected it. It was more suited for a hand caning. Something to give a sharp wake-up call to a first-former. Sixth-formers needed something altogether sterner. He picked up a “senior” rattan cane. The manufacturer boasted it could “pack a sting”. Yes, it could. The headmaster could attest to that. But, not enough. The two proto-Teddy Boys now standing in his study needed something altogether more awesome.
He chose a straight Malacca. It was a little warped through use and a little over three-feet in length. It was as thick as a boy’s little finger. It was denser than his other canes and had notches every three or so inches along its length. It was springy as hell. It could tear the skin off a boy’s backside. Lucky for McCann and Wheeler the headmaster would allow them to keep their trousers and underpants up.
Swish!! Dr Collett tested his cane. A swooshing fury enveloped the study. McCann shivered. He couldn’t help it.
“Turn. Face me.” Dr Collett flexed the Malacca cane between both hands. It made a perfect arc. Then, he tucked it under his arm, rather like an army colonel might with a swagger stick. He tired of this, slipped the cane back into his hand and resumed swishing it through the empty air. Two pairs of eyes followed the flight of the thick whippy stick.
“No choice in the matter.” The headmaster spoke in incomplete sentences. “A caning. Six-of-the-best.” He swished the cane through the air so that it travelled horizontally to the floor. Then, he steadied himself. Looked straight at Alan Wheeler and saw the perspiration on the boy’s face. Sweat formed a moustache on his top lip. Blood had drained from the teenager’s face. He was so pale he could have been a ghost.
“Do you consent to be beaten, Wheeler?”
An unexpected question. Did he have a choice? Could he say, “Well thanks for the offer Chief, but I’d rather sit this one out?” Silence.
“Well, Wheeler. Am I to beat you?”
Wheeler’s face might be drenched with moisture, but his mouth was as dry as a bone. He croaked a response. Nothing else he could say. There could be only one answer. “Yes, Sir,” he rasped.
The headmaster grunted. Turned his attention to McCann.
More silence. McCann’s eyes glazed. Tears were forming. He couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. He held them tightly behind his back and hoped his pal Alan couldn’t see them.
“Do you consent to be beaten McCann?”
Tommy McCann couldn’t get his eyes to stop blinking. Blood was travelling at the speed of sound through his arteries. His heart was thumping. His ears were about to pop. The voice of his headmaster seemed miles away.
“Well, McCann. Am I to beat you?”
“No.” The reply sounded more confident than it actually was. “No, Sir.”
McCann waited. Expected an explosion. The headmaster would hit the roof; shouting and cursing.
He didn’t. He just said, “McCann wait outside in the passageway. I shall deal with you later.”
Anxious to be gone, Tommy McCann darted from the study like a scared rabbit.
That left Alan Wheeler alone. Alone with the headmaster.
“Take off your blazer. Put it on my desk.” Dr Collett wanted to get on. He had other duties. He would thrash Wheeler, deal with McCann, and then get on with them.
Unfastening three buttons with severely trembling hands was not easy. It took Wheeler several tries. The headmaster waited patiently. He tapped the Malacca cane against his right leg and watched the boy slip off his jacket and rest it carefully on the desk.
“Stand there.” A wave of the stick. A spot in the centre of the study. On the worn red-patterned rug. Generations of schoolboys had stood there before. All for the same reason.
Alan Wheeler had never been caned before. Never seen anyone caned. Never even seen a cane before. He wasn’t sure how you did it. Bend over? How? Hands on shins? Grab ankles? Touch toes?
He stooped forward from the waist and left his body dangling. Waiting for further instructions. They soon came.
“Right down, touch toes.” The headmaster flexed his cane into Alan’s shoulders and guided him forward.
Alan Wheeler was a supple young man; he was a bit of an athlete. He did a lot of swimming too. But even he struggled to keep a “touch toes” stance. It puts a lot of strain on the back of the knees. He bent his knees slightly, widened his legs. Stretched his fingers so they rested on the toecaps of his shoes.
He felt blood rushing to his head. His heart was still thumping. His red-and-green diagonally-striped tie hung in front of his face. He saw a small dark stain. Had never noticed that before.
Bloody school, he thought. Bugger university as well. I want to get out into the real world. Join a rock ’n’ roll band.
He felt the headmaster tug at the tail of his shirt and pull it free from the waistband of his trousers. He didn’t know there was no need to do that. The shirt didn’t cover the buttocks. There was no added protection from the shirt. Dr Collett just did it to add to the drama of the moment. Wheeler felt a cool breeze pass over his now-naked lower back.
The headmaster stood a step or two behind Wheeler. Admired the target on offer. The teenager was about five-eight, slim and wiry. Athletic. A good pair of buttocks. Firm. Round. Sharp creases ran all the way up his pale-grey trousers. They went right up the cheeks up to the waist.
Dr Collette stood a step or two to the boy’s left. A cane’s length. Wheeler felt the cane touch the underside of his bum. The headmaster was taking aim. The teenager closed his eyes tight, bit into his bottom lip and waited. But not for too long. He heard the swish, then felt the cane connect with his tight bottom. A second seemed to pass before a searing pain shot across both cheeks. Had someone pressed a white-hot wire across his backside?
Involuntarily, he jumped to his feet. He had no control. That’s what his body wanted to do. He clutched both hands to his buttocks. Pressed them in. Thought it would ease the pain. It didn’t, it made it worst.
“Bend over.” The headmaster was calm. He had seen it all before. He would see it all again in the future. “If you stand up again, I shall award additional strokes. Understand?”
Understood. A little ashamed that he had made such a fuss after only one stroke, Alan Wheeler eased himself back into position. Through his outstretched legs he watched his tormentor take up his position once again.
Swipe! Agonising heat. Unbearable pain. Wheeler’s fingers shot off the toecaps of his shoes, he raised his body halfway to standing. Halfway. He stopped himself going all the way. Forced himself back down. Fingertips on toes. He was proud of himself. He had taken stroke number two quite well.
His buttock cheeks ached. The second had landed just below the first. It felt like he had a red-raw strip about an inch wide emblazoned across the centre of his backside.
He held his breath. Waited for the third. Determined he would not move. It struck low. Where the bum cheeks meet the thighs. The sit-spot. He grabbed his ankles just in time. In time to stop him jumping up and doing a war dance. Like Red Indians did in all the old cowboy films. Jumping from one foot to the other.
The pain was intense. His underpants were tight against his backside. It felt like three deep welts were running from left to right the whole length of his bum. It was agony and pain was shooting up and down his legs.
His temples throbbed, almost as much as his rear end. His face was scarlet, maybe even redder than his bum. Blood was bursting through his arteries. Any moment now he might have a heart attack.
The headmaster admired his handiwork. Three distinct lines were indented in the pale-grey cloth of the teenager’s trousers.
He aimed higher. A fourth swiped into the upturned bottom. Landed parallel to the other three. Wheeler hissed. Suppressed a yelp. He held on to the ankles for dear life. He felt tears starting at the back of his eyes. He intoned silently, “I will not cry. I will not cry.”
Two more cuts to go.
The headmaster didn’t think he was a cruel man. He had never consulted his boys on the subject. Had never been on the receiving end of one of his canings. The boys would say: Yes, he was cruel. Here’s why. Dr Collett adjusted his position slightly. He didn’t aim the stout Malacca with its ridges at every three inches left to right across the bum. This time he went diagonally. From lower left to top right. Swipe! It cut across the four welts already sweating under the poor boy’s underpants. Set every one of them on fire again. Drops of blood seeped where the latest cut intercepted the others.
Alan Wheeler howled. No other way to describe it. A banshee would have been proud. His hips swayed from left to right. Then, went in a circle. The teenager gripped his ankles tight. He would not let go. He would not stand. He did not want extra strokes. He could not take extra strokes.
He had never felt such intense pain in his life. Nothing that had come before prepared him for this headmaster’s caning. It would hurt less if he accidentally sat on a barbecue.
Dr Collett was not finished yet. Ignored the huff, huff, huff, wheezing and choking that came from the teenager’s mouth. Repositioned the cane. Went along the other diagonal. Let fly.
A scream. So loud, Tommy McCann, now standing outside the study, heard it. What was the headmaster doing to his friend? And what would he do to him when he was made to re-enter the study?
The thrashing was over. Alan Wheeler was allowed to stand. Couldn’t quite do it. Had to buckle at the knees. Bend his head low. Tried to catch his breath. Tried to rub the pain away from his backside. Tried to stop tears and snot flowing down his face. Tried to do all these things at the same time.
Dr Collett slowly walked the length of his study. Replaced the cane with the others in his special tall and thin cupboard. Left Wheeler to himself. Watched the teenager wipe tears and snot from his face with the sleeve of his shirt. Opened the desk drawer. Pulled out the punishment book. Opened it and wrote some details.
The signature was unintelligible, his hands trembled so much.
“Take your blazer. Go.”
Alan Wheeler went, crashed pass his astonished friend in the passageway. Ran to the school gates. Didn’t stop running till he got home.
An hour later, Alan Wheeler in his bedroom, staring out the window. Dusk turning to night time. Wondering how long it would take for the perfect “X” adorned across his buttocks to clear.
Three houses down the street. Tommy McCann, in his own bedroom, pondered his expulsion from school. What life would he have with no school examinations, no university place, no career?
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second