You walk slowly across the quadrangle, hands defiantly dug deep into trouser pockets. You are taking your time. The summons was for four o’clock. You won’t be late, but you have no desire to arrive early.
A cold breeze bites. The snow has turned to slush beneath your feet. You enter the building. Legend has it that parts of it dates back to the seventeenth century. A narrow stone staircase winds upwards. You concentrate on your feet. The stairs are slippery with the snow. You don’t want to turn your ankle. The House rugby final is on Saturday, you wouldn’t want to miss taking part in that.
You halt when you reach the passageway. You check your blue-and-red hooped cap is straight on your head. You fasten the buttons on your blazer. It is coloured blue and has red braiding around the collar, cuffs and pockets. You sigh inwardly. There’s no other blazer like it. Everyone can recognise a St Tom’s boy. More’s the pity, you think.
Not far to walk now. You know the way. This isn’t the first time you’ve made this journey. You hope it will be the last. You’ve arrived. You pause in front of the heavy oak door. The letters on the notice reading “Headmaster” are fading. It is part of school tradition. The study has been here for centuries. You take a deep breath, count to ten, compose yourself. You rap your knuckles on the door with a confidence you don’t really feel.
“Come!” An imperious voice beyond the door calls. You breathe deeply again and with an unsteady hand turn the large brass handle. The door is heavy and it takes some of your strength to open it. Dr Winstanley, the headmaster, is seated at his desk. He looks up and growls at you. “Hurry up and close the door.” A fire is roaring in the grate, but the room is still deathly cold.
The headmaster waves his arm. He points to a spot on the rug in front of him. “There boy!” You shuffle forward, stand hands clenched behind your back, head bowed. “Look at me boy!” the headmaster barks. You jerk your head upwards.
Dr Winstanley is an elderly, portly man. His head is nearly entirely bald except for a tuft at each temple. His face is florid and his jowls drop low. Depending on how he holds his head he has three or four chins. You notice his tweed suit is a little battered. A waistcoat stretches across his ample belly.
You see he is not wearing his academic gown and mortar-board cap; the very symbol of the English schoolmaster. They hang on a coat stand in a corner to the left of the headmaster’s desk.
“Baxter,” the headmaster intones. You know he is about to jaw you. You know why you have been summoned to the study. You know what is going to happen. You wish he would just get on with it. He does not. He tells you that you were spotted last evening in the public bar of the Three Fishers Hotel. What do you have to say about that?
You mumble. You accept you have been caught. You don’t tell him that you tried to make your escape undetected by climbing the rickety fence that encloses the pub’s carpark. You don’t tell him that you landed right in front of Harrison, the school captain. You don’t say that you often visit The Three Fishers as do many of the sixth-form. You are eighteen years old and you can legally enter pubs. If St Tom’s were not a boarding school the headmaster would have no right to punish you for being there.
You say none of these things. For you know there is no point doing so. None at all. You have broken the rules. You must accept punishment. You may console yourself that many times in the past you and your pals drank in the pub undetected. You are uncomplaining. You win some; you lose some.
You know that when the headmaster has finished lambasting you it will be your turn to speak. You have prepared a little speech. You accept you are in the wrong. You apologise. That is how it must be. The headmaster has all the power and you have none. You do not tell him it is absurd for the headmaster to beat you. You do not tell him you are an adult and you should be treated as one.
With all speeches over, the headmaster commands you to take off your cap and blazer and hang them on the coat stand. As you do this you see three crook-handled canes in the part of coat stand reserved for walking sticks and umbrellas. They are of slightly different lengths and thicknesses. At different times in your school career you have felt each of them across your stretched backside. Which will it be this time?
You resume your position on the faded rug in front of the headmaster’s desk. You watch as he lifts his considerably bulk from the chair and waddles across to the coat stand. You see clearly he has already made up his mind which of the canes he will use on you. It is the longest and the thickest of the three. It is dark yellow in colour and you can see it has notches every three or four inches along its length. You watch as he flexes it between his hands as if testing the rod for the every first time. Then he swishes it through the air. You can see how very dense, yet whippy, it is. It is an awesome specimen and you know it will be extremely painful.
The headmaster wobbles the cane at you. You don’t have time to reflect on the efficacy of corporal punishment in schools. If you did you would remember your father once told you that public schools such as St Tom’s existed to educate future leaders. Boys had to learn to obey orders and how to give them. They had to be taught the consequences of rule-breaking. A caning was a thoroughly painful way to remind a boy of his duty. The beating was over in moments (although the cuts and bruises might remain for weeks) and everyone was able to get on with their lives.
You watch impassively as the headmaster puts his cane down on his desk and takes hold of a small leather chair. He swivels it so that the back faces into the room. You take a deep draught of air into your lungs. You know he is almost ready. Only one further detail needs to be determined.
“Lower your trousers,” the headmaster barks. You breathe deeply again. It is to be on the underpants. You know this was not unexpected. You are a senior boy and you are not an infrequent visitor to this study; you expected a thrashing and you expected it to be exemplary. You take no comfort in the fact that until recently boys could be beaten on the bared buttocks. That practice stopped after an unfortunate court case involving a school elsewhere in the county.
You resolve to take your medicine with as much dignity as the situation allows. You will obey the headmaster’s every command. You tug at your belt and loosen the buckle. There are five buttons in total keeping your trousers closed. You struggle to get a good grip on the lower two in the fly, but eventually the front of your bags flap open. You wriggle your hips and simultaneously push down with your hands and your trousers slither down your thighs and snag at the knees. You spread your legs slightly and they continue their journey and puddle on your shoes. Your white shirt covers your buttocks at the rear and your cock and bulls at the front so that your white cotton Y-front underpants are hidden from view.
You hear the headmaster intone, “Stand by the back of the chair. Lift up your shirt, bend over.” You shuffle like a penguin to the required place and grip your shirt by both sides. You lift it so that it almost reaches your chin, then you fall forward. The first thing you notice is the musty smell of the chair seat. It is a combination of dust and body odour. The second thing is the heat from the roaring fire. You are close to the open grate and your legs are scorching.
You hear the headmaster taking up position behind you. He is swishing the cane through the air. It makes a terrific sound as it flies. You bury your face in the cushion and clasp your hands together, as if in prayer. You know this is going to hurt. You feel the cane “sawing” against the underside of your buttocks. Then it stops. The headmaster grips the waistband of your underpants and tugs so hard you feel the cotton cloth ride up your crack. You know the cheeks have been separated and there is a canyon between them. The headmaster now has a terrific target.
You feel the cane tapping against your stretched flesh. Any moment now. You know this will hurt greatly, but you have been here before. You know you can take it. You suck in your breath and hold it. The cane is lifted away from your bottom, there is an almighty whoosh! as it scatters air in its path, followed by a resounding crack as it connects with your bottom. It takes a second before the astonishing agony registers. You hack out a dry cough. You know you always do this. Other boys hiss as air rushes from their lungs through half-closed teeth. Others yelp; some yell. You are very proud of your ability to take a beating. That first stroke hurt like crazy. You can feel a thick line has already formed across your bum. It feels like the headmaster has pressed a white-hot wire into your flesh.
You hold your breath once more and wait for the second lash. You correctly predict it will land a little lower than the first. When it does you scrunch your eyes shut and increase pressure on your clasped hands. Now, you have a burning stripe across the lower half of your buttocks. You know the headmaster is an expert with the cane. You rather admire him for it. His aim is impeccable. He can land six strokes in a band no wider than an inch. If he choses no stroke will land on top of another. You know a boy is well advised to keep his bottom perfectly still while the headmaster goes about his duty. If he does not, a stroke might land on top of an existing cut and the resulting agony would be excruciating.
Your bottom throbs and despite your best effort your cheeks quiver and you wriggle your hips. “Steady boy,” the headmaster’s voice seems to come from a very long distance. You dig your elbows into the back of the leather chair and brace yourself. The cane flogs deep into your flesh before bouncing off. You cough louder this time. You feel the pain mounting. It radiates across both buttocks and travels up and down your legs. Your temples pulsate.
Your knees buckle and you make a great effort to straighten them. You hips gyrate and your stomach moves up and down over the apex of the chair. You know the headmaster is waiting for you to steady yourself once more before he lets fly again. You raise your bottom high. It is as if you are saying, “Go on. Do your worst.”
The headmaster lands two strokes. Crack!-crack! The shock of the first made you lift your bum. It put the headmaster off his aim and the second has landed diagonally across three of your welts. You hiss like a steam engine. Your legs march up and down on the floorboards. You shake your head up and down, and to the left and right.
You hear the headmaster’s footsteps. He is pacing the study, waiting for you to absorb the pain. You sense he is no hurry. You are determined not to let yourself down. Your heartrate is off the scale. Sweat soaks the back of your neck. It feels as if your underpants have stuck to your bottom. You fear your welts are bleeding. You feel like you have sat in the fire grate.
With a monumental effort you grip hold of the seat cushion, spread your legs wide, raise your bottom high over the chair and wait. You feel the cane “sawing” across the underside of the buttocks. The headmaster is finding the “sit-spot”. This is the part of the bottom that connects with the chair when you sit down. You know if he slices you there the pain will reignite each time you sit down for a week.
Whoosh! Crack! Bingo! Right on target. You do the foot stomping and the hip wriggling and the head banging all over again. You hack the dry cough, expel air from your lungs. Blood courses though your body at the speed of sound. Your bum is on fire. Your head feels like it is about to explode.
You hear the headmaster return the cane to the coat stand. “You may stand up boy.”
You heave yourself to your feet. You desperately want to clutch your scolding bottom. You have just enough self-control not to. The headmaster has thrashed you well but you don’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing this. Gingerly, you pull up your trousers and button up. As you retrieve your cap and blazer, the headmaster opens the punishment book, finds the correct page and enters your details.
You are now fully dressed. The headmaster stands, approaches you and offers his hand. You shake. You are gentlemen. You hobble from the study and with difficulty make your way down the stone stairs. Back in the quadrangle you see it is snowing again. Ruefully, you rub your backside. The throbbing is intense. For one mad moment you consider whipping down your trousers and pants to sit down in the snow. You smile and make your way towards your study.
There is still one part of the ritual to play out. In a moment you will display your wounds to your chums and together you will discuss the headmaster’s prowess. You award him a maximum ten points.
You know that within a few hours the pain will have vanished. The marks will last for many days; some maybe for weeks. Six-of-the-best; such is the lot of the schoolboy. You hold no resentment. You broke the rules and you got caught. You also know that once the dust has settled you will be back at the Three Fishers propping up the bar.
Picture credit: The Magnet
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second