In February 2006 Mr R. A. F. Brightlington-Pugh, a former housemaster at the Ridgeway private boarding school in the west of England, passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of ninety-seven. Some years later, his great-great-great-great nephew found a leather-bound travelling chest containing diaries he had written during the 1930s and 1940s. This present story The Poker Game was inspired by the diary entry for 3rd February 1938.
All schoolboys like to think that they are adults and should be treated accordingly. It is the schoolmaster’s duty to disabuse them of this notion and be a constant reminder that they are indeed children who must subordinate themselves to the will of their elders.
It was for this reason that Ridgeway insisted that all its pupils wore smart short trousers as part of their school uniform until they attained the age of sixteen and entered the sixth-form. Personally, I should be very content if they continued to wear short trousers until the day they left school in their nineteenth year.
A Ridgeway boy is instantly recognisable in the locale. In additional to the dark-grey short trousers that reach to an inch above the knee, he wears a bright red woollen blazer with white edging; a red-and-white-hooped cap and grey knee socks with red tops.
Despite, all our attempts to remind the boys they are but children some continue to defy us. Thus it was that this evening I chanced upon the sixth-form poker game.
I am not in the habit of patrolling the house after lights out. There is a prefect body whose duty is to keep good order in the house. To that end they are expected to account that each boy is safely tucked up in his bed before they too retire for the night.
This evening I was feeling particularly irritable. There was nothing to listen to on the wireless save for Bandwagon, a humorous programme (or so says my copy of the Radio Times). I could bear Arthur Askey and Stinker Murdoch no longer, so decided on a tour of the house.
All was quiet, as indeed it should be at this hour. I did not venture inside the dormitories; I trust my prefects to do their jobs properly. I was certain all would be well. For no particular reason that I can recall, I ventured down the passageway that led to the senior studies. I could tell at once something was amiss. A shaft of light gleamed beneath the door of number five. As I approached my nostrils were assailed by a familiar scent. An aroma that was unwelcome in the boys’ studies. It was the smell of cigarette smoke.
I gripped the handle and twisted it. The door would not budge. It was locked. There was some illegal activity afoot. I hammered the palm of my hand against the heavy wooden panel.
Inside the study a little poker party was suddenly startled. Tracey jumped up, his hand of cards slipping from his fingers. “What the …” he exclaimed.
Wright, Amber and Prior were all on their feet. That sound could mean only one thing: a master had discovered their game.
“What dashed bad luck,” breathed Wright. “Quick get the cards out of sight.”
I banged again, somewhat louder this time. “Open up in there! Open up I say!”
“The smoke; we can’t clear the smoke,” hissed Amber, waving his arms around like a demon.
“Keep the door locked Wright,” whispered Prior. “Tell him you’ve dropped the key to make us some time.”
I continued banging.
“All right Sir,” called out Wright in a shaky voice while his chums frantically hurried cards and cigarettes out of sight. “I … I’ve dropped the key.”
I called out, “You will open this door immediately Wright. At once, or the consequences for you all will be very grave indeed.”
I heard the scraping of the key in the lock and slowly the door eased ajar; but only by an inch. I pushed it open and strode into the study.
Four ashen-faced eighteen-year-old boys stood before me. They were dressed in their regulation grey-and-white-striped pyjamas. The evidence of their crimes lay all around them. A deck of playing cards and hastily extinguished cigarettes.
There was very little to say. They had been caught in the act.
“Attend my study immediately. Wait outside for my arrival.”
Such a command could mean only one thing: a beating was imminent.
I watched four sorrowful schoolboys as they trudged down the passageway. I put the cigarettes in my pocket; I would smoke them myself later. I searched the room half-expecting to find a whisky bottle secreted somewhere, but there was none.
Minutes later I joined the four miscreants at my study. They stood in the passageway facing the wall with their hands on their heads. I had not instructed this, but it was a standard requirement of any boy sent to attend a housemaster’s study. These four knew the drill. There was not a bottom before me that I had not thrashed before.
I called the four into my study and they stood in front of my leather-topped desk. Like so many schoolboys in their situation they took an intense interest in the rug beneath their feet. I instructed them to look at me and I jawed them. I did not take too long; we all knew why we were there.
As any schoolmaster should attest, the cane is a highly efficient tool of punishment. No caned boy can be in any doubt of his schoolmaster’s disapproval. His buttocks will glow and so they should. The punishment is delivered and is then over within minutes; then we all move on with our lives.
I knew each of the four boys before me intimately. They were all similarly culpable in this evening’s crime. None of them was a leader and none the led. I could treat them all equally – and that was precisely what I did.
Hardly a day goes by without my caning a boy. My preferred method is to make him lay face down across the back of my worn armchair; his arms stretched ahead of him; his feet firmly planted eighteen inches apart on the ground and his bottom raised. The buttocks are presented at the perfect angle to receive swipes from my cane across the fleshiest part of the posterior.
I reached across to the hat stand that stood in the corner of the study. I always have at least two canes – one thick and one thin – dangling ready for action.
“Wright,” I called, “Bend over the chair.”
Wright would not catch my eye, even though this was hardly a new experience for the eighteen-year-old. He stepped forward and rather like a diver going into an icy pond he flopped forward and held on to the arms of the chair.
“Come now Wright,” I sighed, “You have been here often enough. You know the form: head low, bottom high, feet apart.” He wriggled about a bit until he was presented to my satisfaction.
I choose the thicker of the two canes, flexed it between my hands, and tapped Wright gently across the very centre of his bottom. Six strokes of the cane fell, hard, one after another. Every one was a hefty lash; but no sound came from Wright. When I gave permission, he rose from the desk, his face pale, and his eyes glinting. He resumed his position alongside his fellow poker players.
“Amber, step forward.”
The boys were stoical, but Amber, who it must be reported had a very meaty backside, wriggled a little as each stroke fell. I do not play games when I cane a boy. Each swipe fell with great force. It was as if I were beating a carpet.
Tears were forming behind Amber’s eyes when he rose from the desk. I could see he desperately wished to rub at his fleshy behind, but such a thing is not permitted. There is some unwritten code: no rubbing until you are out of the eyesight of the schoolmaster.
Prior was next. I had last thrashed the boy only the previous week. That had been for breaking bounds. I had laid it on him with terrific force; he was a recidivist and often skipped out of school. He must have a high tolerance for pain; it was as if he had hardly felt a thing. I had considered later that perhaps he had smuggled some padding beneath his trousers. This time with only his pyjama bottoms for protection there would be no doubt.
As had his fellows, Prior positioned himself without fuss. I saw him close his eyes and shut his teeth in anticipation of the searing pain he was about to endure.
A caning is really a competition of sorts between the master giving correction and the boy accepting it. One has to inflict; one has to endure. I must lay these strokes on the boys’ bottoms with all the skill I can muster. I must be firm; I must be precise. My job is to be the agent of authority. The boy’s job is to hold fast, without crying or begging to be let off. In short, to accept the discipline.
Prior behaved admirably. I could see welts forming under the thin cotton pyjamas. The thrashing must have hurt him terribly, but he showed little outward sign. When commanded, he rose and took his position alongside the others.
Tracey was last to go. He had witnessed the stoicism of his fellows. I do not know if this adds to the intensity of the occasion. Did knowing that the others had taken their beating well put additional pressure on a boy not to let himself down?
Tracey was over the chair in a trice. It was as if he were saying, “Go ahead, do your worst. I can take it.”
I did indeed do my worst; or do I mean my best? I delivered six of my very best across the most tender part of the boy’s bottom at the point where the under-curve of the cheeks met the thigh. Tracey’s body wriggled and writhed; his hips swayed and his feet marched up and down on the carpet. I heard him cough and splutter as he successfully stifled the yells he most certainly wanted to make.
It was over. I estimate it had taken no more than three minutes to put the boys through their paces. They stood before me with four pairs of blazing buttocks. I am not a cruel man, I knew they very much wanted to be on their way down to the lavatories where they would inspect the damage, admire my handiwork, and congratulate one another on their fortitude.
I sent them on their way. Later, I lit one of the confiscated cigarettes and returned to the wireless. A musical interlude was being broadcast. I leaned back in my armchair and blew smoke rings at the ceiling and reflected on my efforts – a very contented man indeed.
Picture Credit: CP Services London
Other stories you might like
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second