Other stories from The Tyrant Headmaster are here
Hawkridge stands at attention in front of the headmaster’s desk. His blue-and-white woollen school blazer is immaculate, fastened by all three buttons. His thumbs are in line with the seams of his mid-grey trousers, their creases so sharp you could cut yourself. His school cap is squarely on his head, obscuring almost all of his hair. The regulation short-back-and-sides trimmed only the previous Saturday.
Dr. Fortescue sits behind his massive walnut desk; jawing. Hawkridge does not take much of it in. He has heard it all before. He gazes intently at the headmaster. He is of indeterminate age, he might even be younger than he looks. His face is oblong, his features angular. The hook nose somehow keeps his eye glasses from falling from his face. His skin is lined and there are bags beneath his wide-staring eyes. Hawkridge detects a hint of bloodshot in them. Specks of spittle sprout from Dr. Fortscue’s mouth as he castigates the schoolboy before him. He leans forward to berate the miscreant and Hawkridge flinches a little. The stench of sour tobacco is overwhelming. Somewhere there’s also a hint of the aroma of Murray Mints.
He is wearing a crumpled three-piece tweed suit and a white shirt, held together at the collar with a bow-tie. A tattered academic robe hangs from his shoulders and a mortar-board perches precariously on his head, the tassel dangling close to his left ear.
Hawkridge has been here before. He still has three months to go before he finally leaves the school, so he’ll almost certainly be here again. He shows no fear. He is certain he knows in the minutest detail what is about to happen. There is nothing he can do about it. He must let events take their course.
St. Septimius is nothing if not traditional. Traditional curriculum, traditional games, traditional uniform and traditional discipline. Yes, Hawkridge is certain he knows how this meeting of master and pupil will end.
Dr. Fortescue rocks backward and forward In his wooden armchair. Sometimes leaning back, steepling his fingers as he concentrates on admonishing the unfortunate creature before him. Then, leaning forward, arms resting on the huge desk, he glares at the boy. The desk is so big and so heavy it must have taken a dozen artisans to manhandle it into the study. A pile of, as yet uncorrected, Latin impos. are to the headmaster’s right hand side.
He glares at Hawkridge. The boy’s behaviour is “outrageous”, “shocking”, “contemptable”. In a fairer forum than this that might be debatable. As schoolboy crimes go, his is quite minor. Hawkridge did not attend school yesterday, preferring instead to queue alongside hundreds of other youngsters to obtain tickets to a forthcoming Eddie Cochran concert. The tickets are now safely tucked away in the sock drawer of his bedroom at home. But truancy is truancy and at St. SIGS, truancy is a beatable offence. Hawkridge is a sixth-former and that almost certainly means a caning on the bare.
Hawkridge knows this, but such is life. School is school. What’s a fellow to do?
The headmaster jaws on and on. The room is stifling. The coal fire is blazing, but the day outside is mild. Sweat soaks Hawkridge’s scalp and his shirt is damp. He wishes the Beak would stop talking and just get on with it.
At last, Dr. Fortescue stops his hectoring. He hauls himself to his feet, presses both palms into his desktop and scowls. “Take your cap and blazer off. Hang them there!” He nods across the study to a hat stand. It is empty save for two long, thin yellow rattan canes that hang by their crook handles. One is a little longer than the other and both are warped. Hawkridge is sure it was the shorter one Dr. Fortescue used to beat him on his last appearance in the study.
Hawkridge is calm. He unfastens the buttons on his blazer and slips the jacket from his shoulders. The armpits of his gleaming white shirt is wringing wet. He hangs the blazer on the hat stand and turns to face his tormentor. Suddenly, he remembers the cap on his head and quickly whips it off and stuffs it into the pocket of his blazer. Instinctively, he rubs the palms of his hands across his head, to smooth down his already tidy hair.
Dr. Fortescue is walking across his study. He takes pigeon steps, like an old man who is afraid of slipping on an icy pavement. Hawkridge watches his slow progress. The headmaster is heading towards the far wall which is dominated by heavy shelving and dark brown cabinets. He reaches a narrow, tall door and steadies himself before reaching into his trouser pocket. He fumbles around for some time before at last extracting a small silver-coloured key. His hand shakes a little as he tries to line up the key with the keyhole. He succeeds at the third attempt and draws the door open. He looks inside and because he knows precisely what he is looking for within a second he is clutching a punishment cane.
Even at a distance, Hawkridge can see this is heavier and denser than the two canes dangling on the hat stand. It is a dark brown colour and has distinct notches every four inches or so across its length. Dr. Fortescue holds it in his right hand, close to the curved handle and gives it an almighty swish through the air. He smiles in response to the swooshing sound it makes as it flies. Then, absent-mindedly he holds the cane between his hands and flexes it backwards and forwards. Despite its density it is a supple rod and makes a perfect arc. Dr. Fortescue’s eyes blaze.
He suddenly realises he has company and tucks the cane under his arm, rather like a sergeant-major. He glares across the study. “Go stand behind that chair,” he growls. There are several chairs in the capacious study and Hawkridge is unsure which he means. He glances uneasily around himself. The study is cluttered with furniture, most of it looks like it’s been there for at least fifty years. His baffled expression is met with a curt, “That one there, boy,” as Dr. Fortescue slips the cane into his hand and points to an ancient armchair.
Hawkridge takes the four paces necessary to reach the chair. He stands at its back and looks down at the seat cushion. In his many visits to the headmaster he has never before seen this particular chair at close quarters. Often, he is required to present himself across the large desk; sometimes it’s, “bend over and touch your toes.”
Dr. Fortescue approaches Hawkridge and stands a yard or to his right. Hawkridge sucks in air. He knows the Beak is about ready to go. Dr. Fortescue’s mouth is dry. He licks his lips and croaks, “Lower your trousers, boy.” Hawkridge expects this instruction and reaches for the buckle of his belt. It is easily undone, as are the button at the top of his spotless mid-grey trousers and the zipper. The front of his trousers falls open and his white Y-front underpants peak through. He lets go of the trousers and they slip slowly down his thighs, where they stop. Hawkridge knows from experience this will not satisfy the headmaster so he pushes them further down until they rest in a puddle on top of his shiny black shoes. The heat from the fire irritates the bare flesh on his legs.
The headmaster flexes the cane between his hands and swishes it once more. Then he taps it across the back of the armchair. “Bend over,” he croaks once more.
So it’s not to be bare-arsed. Hawkridge is relieved. He doesn’t believe getting caned on the bare is any more painful than across the seat of the underpants, but he has never enjoyed showing his crack to the headmaster. Underpants certainly maintain a certain modesty.
Hawkridge adjusts his feet so he is just the right distance from the chair and lowers himself forward. The back is not so high and his stomach rests easily against it. It is solid and his nose presses against the seat. The dust almost makes him sneeze. He grips tightly and can tell it is stuffed with horsehair.
The headmaster waits for Hawkridge to settle himself. The eighteen-year-old’s school shirt is long and its tail has flopped over his buttocks. That will not do. Dr. Fortescue tucks the cane once more under his arm and with his two free hands he takes hold of the cotton shirt and carefully folds it once, twice and then three times up Hawkridge’s back until it is clear of his target area. In so doing he exposes an area of hairless flesh. Hawkridge’s whole body is lean and at close quarters the headmaster notices the flatness of the boy’s stomach.
Hawkridge’s buttocks are solid. The white cotton underpants are a little tight and with his bottom stretched they ride up into his crack, thereby lifting and separating the cheeks. Dr. Fortescue has been presented with a terrific target. Although this is not strictly necessary, the headmaster takes hold of the elasticated waist of the underpants and pulls until all wrinkles in the cotton have been eliminated. The pants now fit like a second skin. To make sure all creases have gone, the headmaster rubs the palm of his hand across Hawkridge’s cheeks. Then, he smacks it down hard into the posterior – to encourage the boy.
Hawkridge takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, shuts his teeth and holds onto the chair for dear life. His bottom is twitching but there is nothing he can do about that. Dr. Fortescue stands a little to the left of the buttocks, taps his cane across the fleshiest part and then in one smooth continuous movement he lifts the cane to shoulder height and returns it with considerable force to thwack into Hawkridge’s waiting buttocks. The boy suppresses a hiss. Dr. Fortescue admires his own prowess. A clear line has appeared across the tight underpants and the headmaster is certain that a deep welt is already forming under the cotton.
The headmaster sucks on his tongue. All saliva has now drained from his mouth. He wheezes as he raises the cane and swipes it down a second time, this one is a little lower than the first. The agony in Hawkridge’s backside is intense. It feels like the headmaster has taken a coal from the fire and pressed it into his bum. He wriggles his hips and tries to steady himself for the further onslaught on his poor bottom.
“Keep still,” the headmaster rasps. “If you give me concern to I’ll add extra strokes.” That was unfair since Hawkridge had hardly moved. In fact, he is taking it very well indeed. Other boys – even sixth-formers – on the receiving end of two such stingers would be howling the walls of the study down. Hawkridge tries to keep as still as a statue. He knows the headmaster means it, the Beak would like nothing more. He is at heart a bully.
Number three whips in even lower down and connects in the soft undercurve at the “sit spot” where the buttocks and thighs meet. It will be uncomfortable sitting down for some considerable time. The headmaster tucks the cane back under his arm and searches in his trouser pocket for a handkerchief. The palms of his hands are soaking with sweat. He wipes them dry, all the time staring at the boy prostrate before him. He likes nothing better than to have a sixth-former bending submissively before him. This one in particular is especially delicious.
Dry once more, the headmaster grips the cane tightly. This time he “saws” it across the top of Hawkridge’s globes. Sweat is running into the headmaster’s eyes. He wipes it away with the edge of his gown. Then, he brings the cane crashing down; he swipes so hard it is as if he is beating a carpet. Hawkridge feels that all right. His mouth opens and closes like a goldfish, but valiantly, he does not let a sound pass his lips.
Dr. Fortescue looks on. He resents it when a boy does not holler. Well see about this, he thinks. He moves his position slightly and lays the cane diagonally across both buttocks. Hawkridge’s whole body tenses, he knows what is coming. Swipe! Jesus H. Christ. Hawkridge cannot control himself. The cane has landed atop of the four previous cuts and has reignited the pain in all of them. His bum is truly aglow. Hawkridge’s legs buckle, he stamps his feet up and down and then in a glorious attempt to stop himself from jumping up and rubbing away at his blazing buttocks, he pins his left leg down by twisting his right led across it.
Blood courses through his arteries. His heart races, his temples throb. The headmaster places his cane across Hawkridge’s buttocks; this time along the opposite diagonal. He lets fly. Hawkridge now has a perfect “X” embossed across his backside. The agony redoubles. He grips the chair, his head thrashes up and down and then to left and right, he looks like a horse neighing.
That’s number six. Please God, Hawkridge silently prays, let that be the last stroke. The headmaster had not announced a tariff before he flogged the first stroke home. But “six-of-the-best” was the traditional number in a headmaster’s caning. Hawkridge has taken six strokes and nobody should be in any doubt they were indeed the headmaster’s best.
Dr. Fortescue is wheezing and struggling to catch his own breath. It is difficult to see which of the two is in greater distress. Hawkridge waits, still face down. He does not know if he is allowed to stand. It is better not to risk it. He waits as the throbbing in his bum intensifies. He knows it will be sore for some time yet, but it will eventually die down and become a warm glow. He will feel some pain when he sits on a hard surface but by bedtime it will all be over. The marks will stay for some considerable time. They are probably deep claret at the moment. They will become bruises and over the next few days transmute from deep purple through mauve and yellow before they finally disappear altogether.
“You may stand.” The words sound as if they are from miles away. Hawkridge lifts himself from the chair. He watches as Dr. Fortescue stumbles across his study and with shaking hands returns the cane to the cupboard. He doesn’t bother to close nor lock the door. When he turns around his eyes are red as if he is suffering with hay fever. Hawkridge is still in his underpants, waiting for permission to dress. Dr. Fortescue’s eyes stalk. “Get dressed boy,” he barks as if Hawkridge was deliberately trying to provoke him. The boy bends down, grabs the top of his trousers and pulls them up. He winces as he zips up and tightens the belt, the cloth is pressing against his raw buttocks. For the first time he is aware that he is probably bleeding.
Silently, Dr. Fortescue shuffles across to his desk and slumps in the wooded armchair. He takes a moment to recover himself and then opens the second of three drawers in his desk. He removes the punishment book, places it on his desk and struggles to find the right page. Hawkridge is climbing back into his school blazer.
“Pen, boy. Pen.” Dr. Fortescue snaps his fingers irritably. Hawkridge puts his hand in his inside pocket and finds a Biro. The headmaster snatches it from him and starts to write in the book. He notices that this is the third name he has entered this day. He writes, “Hawkridge, U6, Cane, 6.” He omits to record that it was delivered across the seat of the underpants. The headmaster swirls the book around and passes the pen back. Hawkridge knows the drill. He signs his initials in the book.
There is only one thing still to do. A ritual among gentlemen. The headmaster offers his right hand and Hawkridge shakes it.
“You are dismissed,” the headmaster clears his throat and picks up an essay from the pile on his desk. He watches surreptitiously as Hawkridge replaces his cap on his head and leaves the study. Dr. Fortescue silently counts to ten, throws the essay on the desk and dives to his bottom drawer. Within seconds he is pouring himself a large glass of gin.
Picture credit: Sting Pictures
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