Ralph stood at the bus stop bracing himself against the wind, his thumbs gingerly traced the contours of his buttocks through the folds of his grey short trousers. The pain had almost gone now but if would reignite when he pressed against the six raised welts that ran across his bum in the pattern of a five-bar gate.
The bus wouldn’t arrive for another fifteen minute. He had already missed an important appointment. This day would all end in tears.
He pulled his smart red school blazer tight across his chest, the wind was picking up. There was nothing he could do about his bare knees. Short trousers! In winter. He still could not got get over the absurdity of it. At his age.
Why had nobody made a serious complaint when the new headmaster decreed out of nowhere that all the boys would be put back into short trousers. All of them, from the first formers to the most senior boys. It would make the school distinctive, he had said. Ralph’s widowed mother had nodded sagely when he delivered the news. She was a timid woman and never liked to make a fuss. Oh how he despised her.
So, that was that. The whole school back in short trousers. The lads in the village thought it was a hoot. He had enough trouble with them because he had won a scholarship to the posh independent grammar school. His smart red blazer gave him away wherever he went. That was bad enough, but short trousers; they never let him hear the end of it.
He rubbed his bottom some more; it felt rather good. And that was another thing, Dr Anderson had bought back the cane. No one was quite sure if corporal punishment had officially been banned, but definitely it had fallen into disuse.
Ralph had no idea if the boys’ behaviour had worsened because there was no caning; or indeed if it had improved since the good doctor had commenced swishing backsides. Naturally, the story went round the school that Anderson enjoyed beating their buttocks. Certainly, he did it all he time. He flew into the school like some occupying force. At once pronouncements were made; rules were published; a list of ‘caning offences’ drawn up.
The doctor took no prisoners. Not even the sixth-formers as Ralph could testify. Smoking cigarettes. That was top of the list of caning offences. In the school’s eyes smoking was a bigger crime than murder or rape. Looking back Ralph could see he only had himself to blame; he should have known the doctor was deadly serious.
Now Ralph understood times had really changed. Caning. Sixth-formers. For smoking. Since time immemorial it had been accepted that sixth-formers went behind the pavilion by the playing fields for a quick drag at lunchtime. Always had done; always would. Not any longer. He, along with two pals, had been caught that lunchtime puffing on Woodbines, by Mr Tompkins, the most junior of the physical ed. masters. What a sod. He dobbed them in to the head of sixth-form and he passed their case up the line. Why! They’re sixth-formers for pity’s sake. Eighteen years old. Adults. In the world outside school it was legal to smoke at sixteen. Try telling that to Dr Anderson.
“You deliberately broke the rules,” he intoned as the three boys stood uneasily, hands behind backs, eyes downcast in the headmaster’s study. “You were fully aware of my edict against smoking cigarettes,” he steepled his fingers and leaned back in his padded chair. Dr Anderson was younger than he looked. His pate was almost entirely bald, save for tusks of snowy-white hair at the temples, his nose and chin were so pointed they almost met, his cold grey eyes could pierce armour.
Ralph listened solemnly. He had never been summoned the headmaster’s study before. It was a medium sized room, dominated unsurprisingly by a large oak desk. At one end of the room were two rather decrepit armchairs and a small occasional table. Three walls were lined with shelves and glass fronted bookcases. The fourth wall almost entirely comprised mullioned windows of dark glass. In one corner an umbrella stand was unadorned except for three crook-handled rattan canes that leaned limply.
Ralph had never seen a school punishment cane before. Sure, he had seen drawings of them in comics like the Beano and he had seen an old film on television where a headmaster administered six-of-the-best. The camera stayed on the boy’s face throughout so there wasn’t much to see. Ralph wondered what a caning would feel like. Pretty painful probably. It would have to be otherwise what was the point of it all?
Dr Anderson rose from his chair interrupting Ralph’s thoughts. The headmaster was making his stately way across the study. He was a tall, upright man with broad shoulders and a torso that narrowed to the waist. He had been a keen sportsman in his younger days and still liked to keep in shape.
Three pairs of eyes followed him on his travels. He paused at the umbrella stand and reached forward. The rattling sound of the canes as he moved them seemed to Ralph to echo around the study. Dr Anderson pulled the thinnest cane free and took it in his hands. He flexed it into a perfect arc and half-heartedly swished it through the air. His face frowned; he returned it to its moorings. The doctor was well acquainted with all his canes. He had several more locked away in a cupboard but he liked to keep three on display close a hand, ready for action. He chose a second cane from the umbrella stand and repeated the flexing and swishing. He liked to take his time, he thought it intimidated any boy waiting nervously for proceedings to begin. He grimaced again and returned the cane. His shoulders heaved as he emitted a sigh so deep one might be led to believe the poor man carried the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. What a responsibility he held, he was saying, trying to guide the young along the rocky road to manhood.
He took up the third cane and turned to face the three miscreants. It was no longer than the others but was thicker and more dense. It was a little over three feet long (not counting the curved handle), yellowy-beige in colour and had notches every three or four inches along its length. Dr Anderson flexed it thoughtfully in his hands, as if he had never seen the thing before. His lips pursed, he seemed to be considering if this rod was fit for the job. He tested its weight, pointed it at the three anxious teenagers and swished it through the air. It was a vicious swipe and it made a terrific whooshing! sound as it flew. Ralph now had no doubt at all that the beating he was about to receive would be very painful indeed.
The headmaster was ready. “You boys,” he gestured to Ralph’s two pals, “turn around and face the wall.” Ralph’s face paled. He was to go first. “Rowcastle,” he glared at Ralph. “Take off your blazer, hang it there,” he waved the cane at the umbrella stand. Ralph’s knees weakened, a fear he had never experienced before in his life gripped him. This was really happening. It wasn’t a dream, he wouldn’t suddenly hear his mum’s voice, “Wake up Ralphy you’ll be late for school.”
He stood rooted. “Come on boy, I haven’t got all day!” Dr Anderson’s patience had been tested beyond its very low level of endurance. Ralph’s fingers trembled as he fumbled at the buttons of his blazer. Why couldn’t he get them to work? At last the front of the jacket was open. He slipped it off his shoulders and hung it up.
He turned to see the headmaster standing by an old, worn armchair. He pointed his cane to a spot on he grey carpet. “Stand there.” As if in a trance, Ralph shuffled forward. In years ahead, recalling this afternoon, Ralph would say he couldn’t remember too much of what happened next. His first ever caning was something of a blur. If questioned on the matter, Dr Anderson might say something similar. He might not be able to recall thrashing Ralph Rowcastle; after all, he might say in mitigation, he was one of three boys he beat at the same time and was probably the sixth or seventh boy to go across the back of the armchair that day. Certainly, a day never passed without Dr Anderson swishing his cane across a bevy of bottoms.
“Bend over the chair.”
Ralph’s pal, Paul Thompson, could stand it no longer. He had obediently set his face to the wall as instructed. He too had never been caned in his life. His heart was thumping so fast he was certain it would burst through his chest. Blood was coursing through his body. He couldn’t wait to get started. Surreptitiously, he turned his head to sneak a peek. His headmaster did not notice, he had other things on his mind. Paul watched as Ralph hesitated before moving. Paul wouldn’t know what to do either. “Bend over the chair”; what did that mean exactly? Paul watched his pal stare down at the seat of the chair. He was a tall boy and would easily fit over the back of the chair with some room to spare. Was he expected to rest his stomach on the back of the chair and with his knees bent present a jutting backside to the headmaster? Perhaps if he fell all the way forward, Paul thought, and reached over and gripped the front of the seat cushion, his back would be arched with his bottom presented round and firm.
Ralph had other ideas, he simply stooped forward and grabbed the wooden arms of the chair. He spread his legs so that his backside was hardly curved at all. A feeling that Paul could not understand struck him. His pal was hardly bent over at all. He might just as well be standing. Suddenly he felt disappointed, cheated even.
The headmaster seemed satisfied. Paul had a perfect view of Ralph’s backside. The boy’s buttocks trembled as Dr Anderson took his aim. He stood a cane’s length to Ralph’s left and tap-tap-tapped it across the eighteen-year-old’s left buttock cheek. Satisfied that he had his mark, the headmaster lifted the cane up and drew it to about shoulder height, then he brought it back with great force, making a perfect arc before it crashed across the very centre of both cheeks. Ralph stamped his feet, wriggled his hips, heaved his shoulders, raised his head. A long drawn out hissing noise escaped his lips, it sounded like a steam engine setting down.
“Keep still boy!” Dr Anderson growled. With great difficulty, Ralph regained his position. Paul’s temples throbbed as he watched intently as the headmaster made his preparations for cut number two. He swiped the cane through empty air while he waited for Ralph to compose himself. Satisfied that he was ready, he tapped the cane against Ralph’s solid backside, this time an inch or so below the first. Whoppp! It landed with an upward swing. Ralph cried out a terrific yelp! and did the stomping and twisting thing again.
“Don’t make such a fuss!” Dr Anderson stood, feet apart flexing the cane between his hands. Paul gasped. That hurt. His pal was in agony. Soon it would be Paul’s turn.
The third stroke was aimed higher and the fourth lower. Ralph was weeping openly. He threw his head back and yowled. He made no attempt to conceal it. He was a thoroughly beaten boy. Dr Anderson paced the study in irritation. He despised a boy who couldn’t take a lightly laid on Six.
Ralph settled. His humiliation was total, Paul reckoned. He watched the headmaster line up swipe number five, anxious to ignore the slight swelling inside his tight cotton underpants. Ralph’s knuckles whitened as he gripped the wooden arm of the chair for dear life. “Aggghhhhh!” The cane stuck the underside of the cheeks, just where they meet the thighs. He wouldn’t be able to sit down in comfort for many hours to come.
Ralph’s breathing was almost as rapid as Paul’s. The onlooker couldn’t control his own dick, now standing to attention like a soldier on sentry duty.
The last one. The headmaster hadn’t announced a tariff; how many strokes he would administer, but it wouldn’t be more than six – would it? Six-of-the-best; wasn’t that what they called it?
Ralph’s brutalised bottom shook with trepidation. Paul saw the headmaster change his stance. He moved closer to his pal’s proffered posterior. Paul’s eyes widened. He realised what the good doctor was up to. He had placed the cane at an angle across both buttocks. It lay from the bottom of the left cheek across to the top of the right; it was a perfect diagonal. “The brute!” Paul thought as the cane rose and lashed across Ralph’s backside crossing each of the five previously delivered strokes and reigniting the pain in them all and then adding some.
Ralph shot to his feet, his hands clutching at his burning bum. Simultaneously, he bent forward double desperately trying to catch his breath. When that made no difference he jumped up and down on the spot, like footballers did when they were trying to run off an injury. When that didn’t work, he resorted to hopping from left foot to right. The headmaster glared at the spectacle with unconcealed distain.
“Bah!” he growled, “Stand by the wall. “Thompson take his place.” Paul shuffled forward, hands clutched in front of his groin. Eagerly, he dived over the back of the chair, head low, firm, round bottom high, feet spread, and waited.
At the bus stop, the bus had at last arrived. It would take him to his village of Aston Budleigh; but not to his home. Not quite yet. Ralph had an appointment with Rev Crick, the local vicar, when he would be expected to atone for his rudeness and disobedience to his widowed mother.
Picture credit: CP Services London.
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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