Ralph could not take it in at all. Allworth was not returning to Rossiter School. That was bad enough but it meant the office of Senior Prefect would fall on him. Senior Prefect! No one who knew him, and certainly none of his class-mates, would deny that he had fairly earned the position. His school record was blameless. He was thoroughly popular and yet he had never sought popularity by any tricky method. But he dreaded the inevitable and the very thought of it kept him awake at night.
Why was the position, so coveted by many boys and so full of honour, so distasteful to him? As he peered through the study window to the open field beyond the problem solved itself. To be Senior Prefect meant responsibility and authority. He disliked the one and hated the exercise of the other. Yet he knew he would not shirk the former, nor would he, should the occasion arise, hesitate to assert the later.
That the occasion would arise he was sure. There was at Rossiter a certain number he mentally characterised as “slackers and rotters.” He could deal with them without compunction. They and their misdeeds did not cause anxiety. It was another set: real jolly fellows, fearless, upright, manly, yet so full of fun and mischief that they acted as if they were utterly irresponsible and were always in hot water.
There was Alec Elmslie, a fellow sixth-former; a senior boy. Everybody liked him and all knew that nothing mean or paltry could be laid at his door. Yet Ralph felt that Elmslie would constitute one of his greatest difficulties. As his mind reverted to some of the incidents in the past year he smiled, despite himself.
He shrewdly guessed who it was that had brought the jar of sulphuric acid into the big school, and then emptied it into a packet of permanganate, with the result that suddenly all the fellows were seized with a fit of coughing. He knew also who was at the bottom of so much noise and rowdyism in Holden House.
What a nuisance it was! But Ralph was determined not to shirk his duty.
What was it his housemaster had told him, “When a thing has to be done, it has to be done, and it only remains to do it at once with a stout heart and a stiff upper lip.”
It was not long before matters came to a crisis. One evening prep. was in full swing, when the silence was broken by a regular fusillade. “Squibs,” thought Ralph and opened his door. Most of the other study doors were open and boys – some of them white with fear – were asking, “What is it?” It proved to be a basin from which squibs were going off right and left.
“Go into your rooms all of you,” cried Ralph and he waited to see that his command was obeyed.
When the explosions ceased, Ralph began investigating. It was perfectly plain. A basin had been partly filled with sugar, and into this a number of squibs had been placed; then some sulphuric acid had been poured into the basin, and as the mixture flamed the squibs had caught and exploded. The wall near the basin was badly scorched.
Ralph was determined to get to the bottom of the matter and to make the culprit sorry for his joke. Crossing the field and the quad he went in search of Dr. Ritson, the science master. “Yes,” Dr. Ritson smiled broadly, “I was rather surprised at the sudden interest Elmslie showed in his science studies. He did ask my leave to take a phial with him, as he wanted to try one or two experiments about which he had read.”
Satisfied, so far, Ralph went in search of the sugar. Jenkins, the custodian of the tuck shop, scratched his head a great deal and said. “Well, a great many boys buy sugar.”
“Pah!” Ralph ejaculated. “Tell me Jenkins, was Elmslie one of these fellows?”
Jenkins scratched some more, “Indeed he was young, sir, indeed he was.” Ralph sped towards Elmslie’s study. He knocked at the door and found his fellow sixth-former seemingly hard at work.
“I want to know was it you who was responsible for this squib business?”
There was a code of honour at Rossiter. When a chap had been caught bang-to-rights, he must cough. “It was I,” Elmslie smirked, enormously proud of his little wheeze and satisfied there was nothing the Senior Prefect would do about it.
“Very well,” Ralph’s heart sped, his mouth dried, “you are to come to my study at nine tomorrow. Bates and Carson will be there.”
Next morning Elmslie kept his appointment. Ralph paced the study, palms sweating. “Elmslie, this kind of thing has gone too far, and we are determined to stop it. You have played the fool and given us trouble enough already. You are not one of the juniors, and therefore we are bound to take a serious view of the case. Have you seen the damage done to the wall?”
The eighteen-year-old eyed the Senior Prefect arrogantly, “Yes, I did not think of that. I’m sorry for it.”
“Well, being sorry won’t mend matters,” said Carson. “You’ve been the leader in all the rotting and ragging of the term.”
“What else have you got against me?”
“Look here, Elmslie,” Ralph said, “We wish you would stop this fooling. You are not the type of fellow to lead all the rotters in the House.”
Elmslie sneered, “May I suggest that you stop preaching and come to business?”
“Very well, if that’s your tone, we will. You agree?” And the other two prefects nodded assent.
Ralph took the five steps necessary to reach a cupboard on the far wall of the study. Ralph’s back obscured Elmslie’s view as he opened a drawer and reached inside but the rotter could hear an unmistakable sound. The rattling of canes. Ralph withdrew from the cupboard and studied the whippy rattan in his hands as if he had not seen it before. It was a dark yellow colour and a little over three feet in length. At one end was a crook handle. He flexed it thoughtfully. It was as thick as a pencil but it was very whippy. He swiped it through the air. It made a terrific swishing noise as it flew.
“Bags down. Bend over that chair,” Ralph pointed the cane at an overstuffed armchair with a low back.
Astonishment was too mild a word to describe Elmslie’s feelings. “I’m hanged if I do. You can’t swish a member of the Sixth.”
“Can’t I? That’s strange, for I’m going to do it. If you were a junior I’d let you off, but you’ve led all the other less decent fellows in the House to a point little short of rebellion. We’re going to keep up the reputation of Holden’s, and to make it an orderly house. We’re not going to send you to the Headmaster, because we know, and so do you, that he will sack you. Now, will you bend, or must Bates and Carson persuade you?”
The embarrassment was too great, Elmslie was being instructed to offer up his backside to Ralph, his contemporary. He was no aging schoolmaster, nor was he even an older boy. Both were eighteen years old. But Ralph had the authority invested in him by the school. It was the power of a hierarchy. There was no argument. He had to submit.
With face set in stone, Elmslie approached the back of the dusty, aging armchair. This was not to be his first beating; he was that kind of schoolboy and Rossiter was that kind of school. Studiously ignoring the three prefects in the study with him, he unbuckled his belt and then dealt with the buttons of his bags. The weight of the heavy wool helped them slip down his thighs and over his knees until they landed in a heap at his shoes.
He took a deep breath, rubbed his palms together and fell forward. Elmslie was not a tall boy, his stomach rested over the apex of the chair and his legs were almost perfectly straight. He spread his feet a little to make himself comfortable (but he knew that what was soon to follow would be anything but).
Ralph laid his cane on his desk and approached the now prostrate rotter. He took hold of the fellow’s white shirt and roughly pushed it up Elmslie’s back so that the target area was clear. Then he took hold of the waistband of his cotton drawers and tugged so that they were tight against his stretched buttocks.
Elmslie closed his eyes so that he couldn’t see the Senior Prefect’s next move. But he heard a distinct rattle of cane against wooden desktop as Ralph picked it up. There were two seconds of silence before a swooshing noise confirmed Ralph was practising for his first shot. Then the rotter felt a thud as the cane was placed across the centre of both buttocks. Ralph “sawed” the rod for a few moments, finding his spot before, SWIPE! he whipped the cane down with considerable force.
Elmslie sucked in air, held it and then allowed it to pass slowly through his lips. The noise sounded to Ralph like a steam train setting down. Somewhere to his left Bates hacked a dry couch. The second cut landed lower than the first, into the under-curve of the cheeks – the extremely sensitive “sit spot”. Elmslie’s legs buckled, he wrapped his left foot over his right, and gripped the arms of the chair as if his very life depended on it. Elmslie had taken many beatings in his career at Rossiter, but none had been laid on with such vigour. Where had Ralph learned to thrash an arse like this?
Number three fell higher. Elmslie bunched his fingers into fists and punched them into the chair’s seat cushion. “Sssssss!” air escaped through his lips. The pain was incredible. It started on the crown of his bum and travelled up and down his legs. It hurt like crazy, but thus far he was taking it like a man.
His resolve not to let Ralph know he had been hurt was broken by the fifth cut. The Senior Prefect made no concession to the scarcity of clothing on the boy’s behind. Each stroke had been a swipe. It was as if Ralph were beating a carpet. The once creamy-white cheeks had been slashed by five cuts of the cane. Distinct marks, visible through Elmslie’s stretched drawers, ran in almost perfect parallel from left to right. Two cuts were particularly deep and blood was beginning to weep.
Ralph took a pace or two back and from that distance he admired his handiwork. The cuts would be painful for some time to come. The sixth-former would find it unpleasant to sit on a hard surface for the rest of the day. The bleeding would stop within minutes, but the welts and bruises would be with him for many days.
Ralph was not one for self-reflection. He could not say why he now relished the task of disciplining others when once he had found the prospect so distasteful. The Senior Prefect was no longer a stranger to caning. He put much vim into the task and resented it when a boy did not holler. He especially wanted to impress his fellow prefects with his prowess.
Now, he laid the cane diagonally across both buttocks. Elmslie knew what was coming; his entire body tensed. He shut his teeth, anticipating the intense agony. SWIPE! Oh, Sweet Jesus, the cane landed atop of the five previous cuts and in so doing reignited the pain in all of them. His bum was truly aglow. Elmslie’s legs buckled, he stamped 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 pinned his left leg down by twisting his right led across it.
His eyes blazed, but so far tears did not flow. A fellow must not blub. It would be distressing enough that younger boys would know that he – a chap from the Sixth – had been caned, but for them to know he had cried would be too humiliating.
He rose unsteadily upon Ralph’s command. His buttocks were raw, but he knew that very soon the agony would subside into a throbbing pain and then into a warm glow, but he would sit in great discomfort for some time to come.
He pulled up his bags and waited while Ralph replaced the cane in the cupboard and then like the gentlemen that they were they shook hands before with precious little dignity intact, Elmslie left the study.
It says much for Elmslie that when later he talked it over with his pal Syson he concluded, “It’s beastly humiliating, but I jolly well deserved it. Ralph’s a beast, but no one can say he isn’t a just beast.”
With acknowledgment (and apologies?) to J Williams Butcher author of The Senior Prefect (Pub. Spring Books).
Picture credit: The Magnet
Other stories you might like
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second