St. Septimius Independent Grammar School is going to the dogs. Send for Dr. Fortescue, the Tyrant Headmaster. He knows how to turn a school round. And he intends to start at the very top – with the prefects.
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Martin Bough stepped off the bus. The schoolboys surrounding him were surprisingly well-behaved. The pupils at his last school would often riot in the street. A group of sixth-formers, he could tell by their prefect badges, stood to one side to let him through the wrought iron gates. Bough stopped to drink in the view. Some parts of St. Septimius dated back to the eighteenth century, he had heard. Gumshoe Lane had been built only three years ago.
He followed the boys in their distinctive blue blazers with white braiding. Everything about the place oozed class to Bough. He had definitely landed on his feet. He walked through the quadrangle and into the building known as the clock tower. His new patent leather shoes echoed on the stone steps as he made his way to the headmaster’s study. It was some walk. He imagined centuries of naughty schoolboys summoned to the Beak’s Study. The place was so ancient, he could visualise a punishment block sitting in the corner of the room and a special cupboard housing birch rods, freshly cut each morning by the school gardener.
Dr. Fortescue greeted his new junior master with little enthusiasm. Bough had been dismissed from his previous school in uncertain circumstances. He had come to St. SIGS for a fresh start. Dr. Fortescue told people he believed in rehabilitation. Few believed him, since his reputation with the whippy rattan cane was legendary.
“This is no ordinary school,” Dr. Fortescue looked his visitor up and down. He was a young man, he looked not much older than the sixth-formers at his school. Dress him in the fancy school uniform and you wouldn’t know the difference, Dr. Fortescue thought.
“We have a large number of boys and many masters. When I get a junior master, who has come to me for extra training, I like to throw him in at the deep end.”
Bough nodded enthusiastically, although he was far from certain what “deep end” meant.
“I must warn you that my methods of training here are somewhat unconventional.”
“I shall place you in charge of a group of sixth-form boys. Many will be leaving school soon and are in need of extra tuition for their university entrance examinations.”
Bough’s mood lightened. Sixth-formers; that would be a relief. In his previous school, he had been unable to maintain discipline among the younger boys. Eighteen-year-old boys, intent on studying seriously, should afford him no problem.
“Indeed,” the headmaster continued, “Some would say my methods are darn-right strange.” He let the word “strange” roll around his tongue. “In fact, my methods have sometimes proved so strange that some young masters have become really scared and they have asked my permission to leave the school. I must warn you that is a request I never grant.”
Bough stared at the man sitting before him. He was middle-aged man a grim complexion. His moustache needed trimming and what little of his hair visible beneath his mortar-board cap appeared to have been dyed black. He did look a strange fellow, Bough conceded.
Dr. Fortescue pulled his academic gown around his body and continued, “If you come to me for training you undertake to stay for at least three months. You must bank a fairly large sum of money in my name. If you leave the school without permission, then I simply take the money. If you finish your course with me, the money is returned to you.”
Bough knew this already. St. Septimius was so highly regarded he knew that he would be able to get a position quite easily after training with Dr. Fortescue. He had no intention of absconding and he told the headmaster so.
“Good boy,” he muttered. He seemed to be losing interest in the junior master standing before him. “Better get across to see Mr. Golightly, the Head of Sixth Form. He’ll assign you your duties. Go to Old School.” And, without waiting for a reply, the headmaster turned his attention to a pile of correspondence on his desk.
“Old School” was no older than any other part of the school. The whole place reeked of history. Bough retraced his steps to the quadrangle and entered a small building. Its mullioned windows gave it the air of a cave. Little natural light ever got into the schoolrooms. He had no idea where exactly to find Mr. Golightly, but he would ask the first boy he saw.
He stood in the entrance to the building. The passageways were deserted, classes were in session. Bough wandered down the first passageway he found. It was narrow and dark. Ahead he heard a familiar sound. Swish! Crack! Swish! Crack! He peered into the gloom. It was coming from a room near the far end of the passageway. He stopped at a half-opened door.
Swish! Crack! Swish! Crack! Four young men were bent across a form side by side. Behind them a tall, powerfully-built schoolmaster was swiping a thick rattan cane across each backside. One after another. He flogged the cane down into one stretched trouser seat and then moved along the line to the next sixth-former.
Each boy took his swipes a little differently. One boy with a thin, bony bottom appeared in agony each time the swishy cane bit deep into his bottom. His next-door companion, a young man with plenty of flesh covering his backside, took his thrashing more stoically.
In time, the master barked a command and the four boys painfully rose. Bough could see each one wanted to rub vigorously away the pain from his backside. That would have to wait. Schoolboy codes of honour in every school in the land said a chap must never let a master know he has been hurt.
They were dismissed and four ashen-faced youngsters with blazing eyes filed past Bough, each one showing him deep resentment that he had witnessed their humiliation.
“You must be Bough. Golightly,” the schoolmaster said by way of introduction. “Sixth-formers. Absconders,” he said to a question that had only been asked with Bough’s eyes. “The good doctor spoke against skiving into town during study periods. From now on, rule breakers get an automatic Six.” Distractedly, he swiped the cane through empty air. From where Bough stood it looked an awesome weapon. The four lads, who by now were in the bogs comparing their marks, must be very sore indeed, Bough concluded. Absent-mindedly, he gently touched his own buttocks with his thumbs.
“So, Bough,” Golightly tucked the cane under his arm and started to leave the room, “I’ve got a little task for you.” He paused and looked back over his shoulder at the junior master. “Rugby.” The silence was deafening. Bough looked blank.
“You’re a fit young fellow. None finer,” Golightly blustered. Martin blushed, he wasn’t used to older men complimenting him on his looks. “I want you to take over the Rugby XV. You won’t believe it but Sergeant Tucker, the school’s coach, has gone and broken his leg. Ironic, eh?” he frowned. “Some sort of accident at home.”
Martin Bough gaped. Rugby? He didn’t know the first thing about the game.
“We’ve got the most important match of the year coming up. St. Tom’s. Local public school. Great rivals. Always have been. Grammar versus Public, you know the sort of thing.”
Bough didn’t know, but he wasn’t about to admit it on his first day. School traditions were very important. And, St. Septimius had many. Traditional curriculum, traditional uniforms and traditional games. And, as he had just witnessed, traditional discipline.
“Good lad,” Golightly called as he hurried away, cane tucked under his arm, to his next class.
Clouds gathered in the sky as Martin Bough trudged toward the sports fields. Soon, a heavy drizzle fell. It summed up the junior master’s mood perfectly.
A rugby match is more than thirty violent young men beating hell out of each other. It is also a game of tactics. By the day of the great game St. Septimius had the thugs, but not the finesse. They suffered a heavy defeat.
Dr. Fortescue waved a whippy rattan cane above his head as he roared across the playing field toward the changing room. Present pupils and Old Boy’s alike cleared a path and stood in awe as the headmaster, his ancient gown flowing in the wind, and his mortar-board cap unsteady on his head, raced on his mission.
“No boy is to get changed,” he roared as he entered the wooden pavilion. “Not until I have dealt with each and every one of you.” He swished his cane violently to emphasise his message. Fifteen sixth-formers gawked. Dr. Fortescue’s cheeks were scarlet, sweat poured down his face, his breathing was laboured.
Tony Masterton, the Rugby XV Captain, tried to speak first. “But, Sir …” he trailed off, uncertain what it was the headmaster wanted. Other boys hopped from foot to foot in embarrassment. Dr. Fortescue took a deep lungful of air and began his tirade.
“Never before in the history of the school,” he began, ignoring the fact that he had arrived only months earlier, “has the Rugby XV been so lacking in heart.” They were “slack”, “inept”, “cowardly”, “clumsy” and “ham-fisted”. Most of all, “You let the school down. The Old Boys will be ashamed.”
Fifteen eighteen-year-old sixth-formers stood dumbfounded. They had played their best, but their coach Mr. Bough had sent them out unprepared. It was hardly their fault. But, how could they tell the headmaster that. He was not a man to listen to reason.
“Stand by the wall. All of you.” Dr. Fortescue swiped his cane. He would brook no nonsense. Reluctantly, but defeated, the boys shuffled across the pavilion. None dared even mutter a protest.
“Masterton, you’re club captain, you go first. Step forward.” The headmaster pointed with the tip of his cane to a point in the middle of the room. Tony Masterton sucked in his breath. How he wished he could tell the vile Dr. Fortescue where to get off. But he was a mere schoolboy, the power laid with his tormentor. If he refused to take a thrashing either he would be expelled from school or the headmaster would summon boys to force him down and the resultant flogging would put him in the sanatorium.
Masterton took three steps forward and stopped. He swivelled on his heels so his back was now towards Dr. Fortescue and he bent down, stretching his fingers so they brushed the toecaps of his muddy boots. He had assumed the traditional subservient position of schoolboys throughout history; head low, bottom high, ready to receive a thrashing from the headmaster’s cane.
Masterton was a beefy boy and he presented a large target for Dr. Fortescue who “sawed” his cane across the very centre of the boy’s bottom. The cotton shorts were quite thin and the rugby players wore no underwear; only bottomless jockstraps held their manhood in place. Swipe! The rattan whipped deep into the stretched flesh presented to the headmaster. Through the shorts, he saw a thick welt appear. He slashed a second cut a quarter of an inch lower. Masterton’s bum was on fire. It felt like someone had pressed a red-hot wire into it. The agony was intense, but the eighteen-year-old wouldn’t give his headmaster the satisfaction of knowing he was in pain. Nor, would he show himself up in front of his fellows.
Six of the very best cuts sliced his arse open. His face was ashen and his eyes blazed when he straightened up and returned to the line, but he showed no other sign of distress. He had played a captain’s innings.
“Talbot, you next.” A smaller, thin boy stepped forward and took his captain’s place, bent double staring at the old floor boards beneath his feet. His resentment was intense. One day, he vowed, as the whippy cane carved him pen, he would return to the school as an Old Boy and beat the living daylights out of Fortescue. That was a promise.
Dr. Fortescue was as strong as an ox and seemed not to tire thrashing the backsides of fifteen rugby players. Later, when the boys compared their stripes, they agreed that Axford who was the last to go was as badly marked as Masterton who had gone first.
Martin Bough skipped away from the pavilion. He knew to make himself scarce. He wouldn’t be surprised if Dr. Fortescue were to call him to be the sixteenth man to touch his toes that afternoon.
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second