Oh Lor! Oh Crikey! Chris ‘Corker’ Corcoran was a schoolboy in trouble; but dashed if he knew why.
Anxiously, he made his way through school hall and out of the building. Turner Minor, one of the junior boys, had delivered the message. Well, it was not so much message as a summons. Attend at the headmaster’s study. At once. Brook no delay.
It could only mean one thing for the senior boy. The headmaster was not inclined to invite pupils to his study to partake in afternoon tea. There was no hot buttered toast awaiting Master Corcoran. But, undoubtedly the wretched boy would catch it hot when he finally arrived at Dr Wentworth’s oak-panelled study.
A sentimental onlooker might have misjudged the scene. Here was a boy dressed in his smart blue blazer with its red braiding around the collar, cuffs and pockets and dark grey flannel baggy trousers. He was extremely dapper in his grey waistcoat, orange and blue diagonally striped tie and a blue-and-white hooped school cap.
What could be more quintessentially English? The sun shines as Corker dawdles through the ivy-covered quadrangle and past the mullioned-windows of the library. Many a young boy might wish he were in Master Corcoran’s shoes. What a magnificent school! The privileged boys who attend here must have a wonderful time.
Crumbs! What was up? Corker was no angel. Indeed, at times he could be incorrigible and like most schoolboys he accepted the unwritten rule: if you are found out take your punishment like a man.
But, the boy was certain he had done nothing to warrant a summons from the head and the inevitable swishing that awaited him at Dr Wentworth’s study.
Was it the smoking? He and some of the other chaps had discovered cigarettes. Not that there was much that needed to be ‘discovered.’ All the chaps smoked even though it was strictly against the rules. The school playing field was the place to go. Corker and his chums had found a way into the old storage hut. It was the ideal venue to light up a Woodbine and share it with his fellow conspirators.
Corker did not much like cigarettes. It took only one puff to make him feel sick. Two or three draws on the obnoxious weed would make him choke. He tried to keep this secret from the other fellows and hoped in time he would get used to Woodbines.
But, he reasoned, as he continued his crawl to the execution block, this could not be about smoking. To be caught smoking was indeed a swishing offence. The tariff upon conviction was six on the bags, the boys accepted that: rules were rules and St Tom’s was a no-smoking zone for the schoolboys, even the seniors. He was guilty, but the whopping would be delivered by a chap’s form master, not the head. The head did not whop, he flogged. It was an awesome punishment and reserved for the most heinous of crimes.
Corker’s knowledge of such things was more in the abstract. He had been whopped many times, but not by his headmaster. Dr Wentworth was not a tyrant, but boys at his school knew that the old man believed he had a duty to perform and when he was required to flog a boy, flog a boy he did.
Corker entered Founder’s Building, took the stairs at a pace that would be bettered by a snail, and reached the study door. Here he paused, took a deep breath and tapped his knuckles softly against an oak panel, so lightly that he hoped Dr Wentworth would not hear him.
What dashed bad luck, he had.
Corker fumbled with the knob, and meekly pushed open the door.
“You sent for me sir,” his voice faltered a little.
Dr Wentworth, sitting at his study table, turned his keen grey eyes on Corcoran as the sixth-former entered.
“Yes, Corcoran, I most certainly did.”
Dr Wentworth’s study was huge. Corker took up position in front of the old man’s desk. It was a modest size, but expensively made, with a dark green leather top. Dr Wentworth had a separate writing table with a small wooden chair with a red-and-white patterned seat cushion where he sat to prepare his Latin classes. It rested beneath a stained glass widow alongside a fireplace, still unlit for that day but with the traces of burnt wood from the night before. A dark wooden bookcase with open shelves stacked high with musty volumes in Latin and Greek ran alongside it.
The other wall had a number of cupboards, one of which was rather taller and narrower than the others: many visitors to Dr Wentworth’s study knew from painful experience what was contained within.
The room was large enough to house a number of chairs: two of them modest wooden numbers with curved backs and armrests, just the right height for junior boys in need of correction.
But, Corker would soon become more acquainted with one of the two expensively upholstered ‘comfortable’ armchairs that faced each other in front of a small table close to the bookcase.
Dr Wentworth had a red face with a heavy frown on his brow and his thin lips were set tightly. The boys could never be sure of the headmaster’s age; but to them he was as ancient as the mariner they were forced to learn about in English classes.
Dr Wentworth was an angular man with grey hair, balding on top with great tufts sticking out to left and right from his temples. He wore a traditional academic gown on top of a very heavy tweed jacket and a dark brown cardigan. His trousers were shiny, with black and grey stripes, and exceedingly crumpled.
He read out the case for the prosecution.
“I have here,” he waved a piece of paper torn from a school notebook, “a drawing.”
Oh, scissors! Corker didn’t need to be told, he knew exactly what it was: a figure in a cap and gown brandishing a cane and the figure of a schoolboy bending bare-bottomed over a desk. He knew, because he had drawn it. And, the wretched boy knew also it had the words OLD DONKEY WENTWORTH GOES ABOUT HIS WORK written in his own hand upon it.
“What have you to say?” Wentworth thundered. Corker did as generations of schoolboys before him have done: he stared at his feet and mumbled.
“Pah! Speak up you impertinent boy!” Dr Wentworth’s face was puce with rage. He could hardly contain his anger. Never before in his thirty-five years as a schoolmaster had he encountered such insolence.
Corker knew the game was up. He had, as the boys in his form would say, been caught bang to rights. The thrashing of a lifetime was imminent. But, even in this moment of great travail, Corker wondered how the good doctor had discovered the drawing. Had one of his fellows snitched on him? Corker could not think such a thing possible. The boys at St Tom’s had a code of honour and at its head was, do not split to a master.
The eighteen-year-old had been very proud of his artwork and he was delighted to see it passed surreptitiously from fellow to fellow. Oh, how every one of them had enjoyed the little joke! They admired its great likeness to Wentworth. And the schoolboy: the boy bare-arsed awaiting the swish of the ashplant was a stroke of genius.
Dr Wentworth was the headmaster of a fine English public school and as such he did not possess a sense of humour. Nor, did he encourage such a trait in his boys. Schooling was a serious matter. Europe was heading for war; there was no place for satire.
What little patience Dr Wentworth had was exhausted. “Well boy, what have you to say for yourself?”
There was nothing much Corker could say. So he coughed to it. Yes, he agreed he had drawn it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it did not. In honesty, the fellows in the class had appreciated it highly.
Dr Wentworth respected the confession but was in no mood to hear how much the boys had relished the headmaster’s humiliation. Dr Wentworth’s voice was not loud, but it had gravitas. His face was inflamed with rage. Corker stood in front of him staring resolutely at the rug beneath his feet as the headmaster jawed and jawed him. He was “insolent,” “wretched,” a “cad” and “ugly.”
Dr Wentworth was in full flow, and Corker allowed his mind to wander a little so that he almost missed the command, “Bend over that chair.”
Corker hesitated, not sure he had heard what had been said.
“Bend over that chair!” Dr Wentworth rapped out the words. Oh lor! There was no mistaking his intentions. He pointed to the armchairs. He had not yet selected the cane he was going to use to whop the deviant artist, but waited to see that the boy had indeed taken up position before approaching the tall cupboard.
The armchairs had high backs, far too high for even the tallest, lankiest, schoolboy to put himself over and stretch out his arms to clutch the seat cushion for dear life.
Corker knew the routine in such cases was for a boy to drape himself over one of the upholstered arms, tuck his knees into the side of the chair and thereby raise his bottom high to meet the thwack of the ashplant.
The sixth-former took several deep breaths and then after one continuing movement he had his face in the seat cushion. It was dusty with a faint smell of sweat where visitors had previously sat in comfort to enjoy conversation, and who knows tea, with Dr Wentworth.
Corker could be assured that after what he was about to receive he would not be able to enjoy a comfortable sit-down for some time to come. That night he would be taking supper standing up, it was for certain.
With his face in the cushion he could not be sure of Dr Wentworth’s movements, but he heard the cupboard door open and the shuffle of canes being sorted as he selected the weapon to attack him with.
Evidently he had a prospect. Corker heard the sound of a cane being swished through the air. Was he testing it out? The boy moved his back slightly, intending to look round to see what was going on.
Dr Wentworth seldom flogged, but he had a sure and a strong hand when he did. He would make the young scoundrel wriggle for this.
“Keep perfectly still.” That’s all he said, but it was enough. Corker burrowed my head in the cushion and clenched his teeth shut.
Up went the cane with a whiz and down it came with a fearful slash.
Dr Wentworth’s ashplant cane came down across the seat of Corker’s bags as if he were beating a carpet. He might be an elderly man but he could still put a lot of beef into thrashing a boy.
This time the savage cane rang across his backside like a crack from a pistol. Corker compressed his lips to keep back a cry of pain.
He wriggled. He squirmed. Dr Wentworth did not care. He had a duty to perform and would have gladly cut the boy to pieces.
The cane bounced across Corker’s seat and dust blew off his trousers.
He was breathing heavily, but he was taking it. A boy was allowed to howl during a whopping. How could he not do so, when the ashplant was laid on with such enthusiasm by a master. A boy could yell as much as he needed to, but he must not blub. That was out of the question. A boy must not weep tears. To do so would be a disgrace, a chap must never let the master see him cry. And if he did blub and the other chaps found out, he would never hear the end of it.
The execution was over. Corker hoped so at least. Nobody he knew had ever got more than six cuts.
Then, Dr Wentworth delivered two more fearful slashes.
Swipe! Swipe! “Oooooh!” Double crikey.
Dr Wentworth’s knuckles grew white with the hard grip he was putting on the cane.
Corker let out howls of pain as the cane rose and fell without mercy.
They were blows such as no master ought to ever have dealt, but Dr Wentworth was too furious to care how much he hurt the boy.
That was a dozen cuts. Corker lay limp and suffering trying his best not to blub, waiting for the headmaster to give the command to get up. He seemed to be taking an eternity.
“You may remove yourself.”
It was not merely six. It was as thorough a licking as Corcoran had ever experienced before. He rose a little unsteadily; eyes shining, face pale and breathless, rubbing his bottom furiously. His bum was in shreds.
Dr Wentworth laid down the cane at last. He looked quite tired with his exertions. Corker was more than tired.
“Go!” he snapped.
And Corker went. He wriggled his way down the passage. He squirmed out into the quad.
Picture credit: C H (Charles) Chapman – The Magnet
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