I shuffled down the passageway that led to the headmaster’s study. I was in no hurry to suffer the consequences of my actions. I still had a few seconds more before I faced that humiliation.
I stopped outside the study door and pulled from the pocket of my school blazer a blue-and-white hooped cap. I plonked it on my head and then adjusted it so it would fit neatly over my short-back-and-sides haircut to the satisfaction of the headmaster. I was in enough trouble as it was: I did not want to annoy Dr. Fortescue any further.
The fancy headgear summed up the school to me. It was so full of itself: which schools still made their pupils wear caps? I was glad I was eighteen and in the sixth form; all the younger boys were forced to wear grey flannel short trousers.
I stared for a while at the heavy oak-panelled door. This school was out of date and so damn ancient; this was 1968, everything should be fresh and new. But not St. Septimius Independent Grammar School; here it was 1968 going on 1908. St. SIGS dated from sometime in the seventeen-hundreds. It was a traditional school: traditional teaching methods, traditional sports, traditional school uniform and traditional discipline. It was a boys-only independent fee-paying grammar school with delusions that it was an elite public school.
My heart beat faster. I knew what would happen after I knocked and Dr. Fortescue bade me enter and I did not relish the prospect one little bit. How I hated St. SIGS; I wished I had never been awarded that damned scholarship last term. I nearly said “won” the scholarship, but believe me it was no prize.
Taking a deep breath, I raised his fist and with more confidence than I really felt, rapped on the door.
I know who it is, it’s that guttersnipe Eldridge; the scholarship boy. What the hell are boys like him doing at my school?
I blame the new Socialist Government. They are forcing good schools like St. Septimius to take on boys from the working classes. They have no right to be here. No right at all. Eldridge. What does his father do? He’s a postman, and his mother cleans offices. A charwoman! What right have they to send their son here? They should know their place.
I do not care if he has the top marks for mathematics in the county examinations; he will never amount to anything. He does not have the breeding.
Now, I am supposed to deal with the brat. He is on a charge of insubordination: answering back to Mr. Jenkins, the maths master. Well I know how to deal with that, all right.
“Stand there boy! Right in front of my desk.”
I closed the door and took up position on the slightly worn rug, as instructed. I suppose usually a boy in this situation would stand eyes cast down at is feet, desperately trying not to catch the headmaster’s eye. Well, stuff that. I stood, hands clasped firmly behind my back and stared intently at him. What a seedy, ridiculous specimen, I thought. I could smell the peppermint on his breath from five paces. His face was ruddy and his nose glowed. Tiny veins were so raised through his skin I could have squeezed half a glass of whisky from them. Dr. Fortescue was pear-shaped and wore a waistcoat buttoned tightly across his portly stomach with a gold (or at least a gold-coloured) watch-chain tucked into a pocket. On his back he wore a rather tattered black academic gown.
The walls of the study were panelled in oak. A large open unlit fire dominated one wall and two others had shelves and cabinets, including a tall thin cupboard with a smoked-glass front. A Chesterfield couch and two padded armchairs made up most of the furniture, but there were also two straight-backed chairs leaning against one wall.
I stood silently waiting for the inevitable lecture to begin.
I shall wipe that faint but irritating smirk from his face: is he daring me to use the cane on him?
I should lecture him about his bad behaviour and the need for good manners and how he should obey the instructions of the masters at all times. It is the lecture he should receive and I shall give it soon, but my heart will not be in it.
Nothing I say or do will turn this son of a charwoman into a gentleman. He was born and raised as an oik and he will continue to be an oik long after he has left this school to take up a job in a factory somewhere.
Why is this Socialist Government so envious of our kind of people? We have produced the leaders and the administrators that built the biggest empire the world has ever known and we did not need scholarship boys to do it.
In a few moments, when my lecture is completed I shall thrash him and send him on his way. I enjoy the sense of power I hold over him, knowing that I could give him real pain if I so desire. Let the Socialists make of that what they will.
I stood impassively only half listening to the headmaster. There was nothing I could do to stop the inevitable. Dr. Fortescue was dubbed “The Tyrant Headmaster” by the boys with good justification. He had arrived at St. SIGS a decade or so previously. He had been brought in by the governors to shake the school up a bit. Examination results were slipping, discipline was slack. Something must be done. The good doctor only knew one method. Legend had it that from the very first day he publicly thrashed a sixth-former and he would never stop flogging until the day he died.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The headmaster jawed me. I had been “impertinent.” “Insolent.” “Impudent.” All I had done was to question the maths master’s answer to a quadratic equation. The maths master was wrong, I was still sure of that, but at this school a boy never, ever, questioned a master: about anything.
The lecture over, I watched, heart now thumping, as the headmaster rose from his seat and waddled across the study to a tall, thin cupboard. I had never been in this study before, but instinctively I knew what it contained.
I stared slack-jawed into the open cabinet. The array of canes was impressive. There were nine assorted rods, some with the traditional crook-handle; most were made of rattan and two were dragon canes. Dr. Fortsecue leant into the cupboard obscuring my view, but I heard the rattle of six or seven thin canes rolling around inside the cupboard as his headmaster selected the one he would use to beat me.
Satisfied, Dr. Fortsecue closed the cupboard door and turned to face me. I had never seen such an awesome rod. It was the headmaster’s pride and joy: a Malacca cane. It was no bigger or thicker than any of the other canes in the cabinet; but it was denser. This one had notches every three inches or so along its length. I ran my tongue across my teeth, all saliva had drained from my mouth. I knew instinctively these notches would cut into my flesh and leave severe bruises and welts.
I have selected a rather stout, but still extremely whippy, Malacca cane. It is a bit thicker and longer than some in my collection and it will deliver a sting that this guttersnipe will feel for a long time to come. I swish the cane through the air a few times. There is no need to do this, but I hope it intimidates the boy somewhat. I want to give him time to contemplate his fate. In a few moments this fearsome rod will be whipping into your outstretched buttocks and the agony you will feel will be intense, is the message I hope to convey. And, you deserve it. Never again will you question the authority of your betters.
Eldridge’s eyes have widened. I do believe my intimidation is working.
“Take off your cap and blazer and hang them on the door!” I bark out the order, as if we were on a parade ground. I want this experience to be awesome, something that he will never forget.
Slowly, he fumbles with the buttons of the blue-and-white school blazer and pulls it off. He seems unconcerned about what is about to befall him. I suppose he is putting on a brave face, as they say.
“Cap off too boy!” It seems he may have forgotten he had it on his head.
Suitable disrobed, I order him to approach my desk. I thwack the cane down hard against it.
“Please lower your trousers and bend over the desk,” the headmaster says as if it is the most natural request in the world to make. An eighteen-year-old young man compelled to present himself in his underwear for a thrashing from a vile older man.
I doubt if I hid contempt I felt as the drunken old soak swished the cane through the air. I would not be intimidated, I told myself. I would submit to the beating, but only because I had no choice. If I refused I would be expelled from the school and that would give the odious snob Fortsecue far more satisfaction than he would get from simply beating me. Besides, by that age I had realised I wanted more from life than a dead-end job with low wages and no future. That was already the fate of my pals back at Gum Shoe Lane Secondary Modern. For poor kids like us the only escape was through sport or by becoming a pop star. I had no talents in those directions, but I had discovered a third way: education. I was good at exams and at St. SIGS I would ace them and go on to university.
I had never been caned before, but I had enough imagination to suppose it would hurt a very great deal indeed. That was the point, surely. But, the purpose of corporal punishment also was to ensure compliance in the beaten boy; to make certain he obeyed the rules in future. But the only rule I had broken was to question the wisdom of his maths master. Such is the injustice of corporal punishment.
I suppressed a sneer when Fortsecue ordered me to remove my blazer and cap. So, we are nearly there. Any moment now, I would be compelled to show my arse to my master. What a farce. I could not understand why my hands shook so much as I unbuttoned my blazer.
My heart raced, as I tugged at my belt buckle. Suddenly, it dawned on me that this was no picnic. However defiant I might feel inside, outwardly my body and more specifically my backside was about to be attacked by a man more than three times older than myself. Submissively, I must present myself to this man and allow him to whip my buttocks as hard as he wished; there was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do to prevent it.
With blood racing through my body and temples throbbing, I let my trousers slither down my thighs. I took a deep gulp and lowered myself over the desk.
I lay face down across the huge walnut desk topped with green leather, the scent of my own aftershave sticking in my throat. I strained my arms ahead of me and held tightly to the edge. My mid-grey trousers were at a puddle at my feet. The headmaster neatly pulled my shirt up to my shoulders. My white Y-front underpants felt tight across my stretched buttocks. A window was slightly open and a soft breeze wafted across my bare legs.
He presents his bottom perfectly for the thrashing he is about to receive, but I want to make him suffer a little more.
“Bottom higher, legs further apart!”
It is all entirely unnecessary, but I enjoy watching him wriggle over the desk trying to comply with my demands.
Eventually, I decide he has been kept waiting long enough.
I give my usual lecture to boys I am about to thrash. “You must keep perfectly still. Do not wriggle or try to get up before I give you instruction to. If you do so I will award extra strokes. I trust that is clear!”
“Yes, Sir!” he responds in a clear voice. Is he daring me to whip him as hard as I wish because he can take it?
But, now Eldridge is breathing heavily. This is more like it. It is common among boys about to be beaten; even the repeat offenders fear the cane.
I slide the cane from middle to top, from top to middle and from middle to the crease between buttocks and thighs. I can hear the increased tension in the yob’s breathing before I lift the cane away, raise it to shoulder level and swipe it down, landing it with awesome accuracy across the very centre of his buttocks.
I tap again, twice actually, draw back and give the next cut lower, but not harder. This time his body flinches a little, but his head does not move. He does groan and I appreciate his mettle. The ability to stay still and not move or cry out does not come naturally to most boys, certainly not ones new to the cane. How I hate him for his fortitude.
I will not allow this wretched boy to get the better of me. I lash him harder than I have ever thrashed a schoolboy. His bottom dances under my strokes, twice I have to remind him not to struggle. The threat of extra strokes makes him comply. After the full nine strokes have been given, he lays sobbing over the desk; he is a very sorry boy. Which is how it should be.
I shuddered when I felt for the first time in my life the sensation of the cane being placed lightly across the seat of my pants to warn me the punishment was about to begin. I knew I had to go through with it now. I wanted it to start so that I could get it over and go home. My buttocks tensed and untensed in fear of the pain of the first stroke. It was a reflex action; I had no control over my body’s movement.
Swish! It propelled a lung-full of breath out of my mouth and left me gasping and grunting inarticulately. The cane rose again and landed once more on almost the exact same spot, emptying my lungs for a second time, and making me gasp in desperation. It rose up again for the third time and swooped lower down to thwack into the crease between buttocks and thighs. That was when I cried out. Humiliated. Literally beaten.
The next three landed rat-a-tat-tat! like machinegun fire, lashing deep into my arse, around about where the cheeks meet the thighs. I yelled fit to bring the oak-paneled walls of the study crashing down. I gripped the edge of the desk for dear life my fingernails biting so deep I thought they might break.
Huff! Huff! Huff! Desperately, I tried to catch my breath. My heartbeat was racing and phlegm rose in my throat. Any second now I feared I would spew a stream of vomit across the desk. Up and down the cane rose.
The intense agony which started in my buttocks travelled through my whole body. My face and neck were as scarlet as my backside. Tears flowed down my cheeks to meet the snot dribbling from my nose.
The pain mixed with my humiliation. This awful man had forced me to submit my backside to him and he had whipped it to shreds. And, he had enjoyed every moment of it.
When I was permitted to rise from the desk, how I hated Fortsecue and his school full of snobs. I despised his whisky-soaked face and tubby beer-gut. I loathed above all his poisonous attitude.
The intense pain quickly subsided to a deep throbbing and very soon was just a warm glow. The marks on my bum lasted a week or so and the cut he had landed on my thighs made it difficult for me to sit in comfort for some hours. I hated The Tyrant Headmaster with all the passion that only a teenager can muster.
I aced my exams and went onto university and had a successful career as a mathematics professor. I never gave Fortescue a second thought until one day when I was in my twenties my mother sent me a cutting from the local newspaper. The decomposing body of Dr. Fortescue had been found in the house where he lived alone. It had laid unnoticed for six weeks. A half-empty bottle of Teachers was nearby.
Other stories you might like
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second