“When Mr Winston comes in send him immediately to my study.”
The words were spoken imperiously by an elderly gentlemen with a sharp, deeply-lined face, and narrow slit eyes. Robbins, the butler, knew from his master’s tone that Mr Winston Cardew had in some way violated his father’s authority. With a sedate, “Yes, sir,” Robbins retreated feeling a sense of benign pity for the breezy blue-eyed youth – the only son of the bookworm and recluse.
“Wonder what Mr Winston has been up to now,” Robbins remarked to his fellow servants. “The master looks black as thunder this afternoon.”
Upstairs, Mr Cardew gazed unseeingly upon the open page of the book before him. His anger was all-consuming. He remembered his sweet-voiced, dearly loved but now departed wife. How she used to say, “Don’t be hard on little Winston.” Bah! Now “Little Winston” was no longer so small. He was nineteen-years-old, not yet legally an adult, but he was acting as though he were. He was without doubt off the rails. He needed to be reined in. Mr Cardew knew exactly what Little Winston needed.
He had expected such great things from his son. Instead, he only had misery and heartache. He sent his son to the best schools money could buy, but he was expelled from them all. He had no interest in studying. At each opportunity he would absent himself from the dormitory and go carousing. From an extraordinarily young age he spent more time in the alehouses and billiard rooms than in his study. His schoolwork suffered and he failed his examinations. It had been a dashed hard thing to find him gainful employment since. Mr Cardew had called in some favours among former business acquaintances to secure the boy a position.
As he pondered these things the door to his study opened unceremoniously. A tall young man with fair hair, greased and styled in the latest fashion stood before him. Winston was dressed in a tailcoat and striped trousers. His stiff collar was a little askew and his tie loose. The boy clearly had only now returned from some social event or other, a little the worse for wear. Mr Cardew knew his son to be vain about his appearance. He would spend hours in front of the mirror before leaving the mansion to descend on London. Winston would admire his reflection in every window he passed along the journey.
“Oh! So you’ve come at last,” Mr Cardew growled, closing his book with a heavy slam and tapping it irritably with his fingers.
“Yes,” the boy responded calmly, “I did not know you wanted me till Robbins gave me your message or I should have been a little sooner.”
Mr Cardew made a snarling sound, “Hum!,” he said, “You think because I don’t go out and about in the world that I sit at home hearing and seeing nothing. Allow me to tell you sir, that in this you are mistaken. I do see and I do hear – I am neither deaf nor blind – and rumour carries fast, evil rumour especially. Now explain, if you can, why you violate my expressed wishes and associate with low-born actresses – women of the stage?”
Winston flushed deeply, “Really, I don’t understand you,” he exclaimed. In his mind he recalled events over the past week. Which of these had his father heard? Women of the stage? Winston was genuinely perplexed.
“Well,” his father continued relentlessly, “Can you deny that yesterday afternoon you were seen escorting a certain Miss Fox from the theatre at which she is playing after the afternoon matinee?”
Winston’s blue eyes glazed. Miss Fox. It was only about Miss Fox. “She is not low-born,” he stuttered. “She is a friend of mine.”
“Oh! I know the sort of friend!” sneered Mr Cardew. “I know the way of the world. When young men make friends with such women they generally end___” he spluttered and left the final words unsaid. Mr Cardew glared through his spectacles at his son. He struck the desk with his fist violently. “I’ll stand no nonsense. I have repeatedly told you so.” When his temper was thoroughly roused argument became useless. Winston was forbidden to speak in his own defence.
“I have warned you of the consequences of your own behaviour. Repeatedly. Mark my words sir I’ll stand no nonsense. I will cut you off without a shilling, you shall be no son of mine.”
Winston’s attempt at protest was overruled. “I shall give you one last chance,” Mr Cardew’s eyes blazed, his face attained a red flush. “I intend to thrash you most severely.” He spoke hurriedly, “You have consistently and wilfully disobeyed me. If you do so again you will be asked to leave the house, never to return.”
Winston stood still. It would do no use to complain that at nineteen he was too old to be beaten. When his father sat on the local magistrates’ bench he sentenced men far older than Winston to cuts of the birch. Also, he did not want to prolong this conversation with his father, too many secrets might be revealed. His heart raced as he watched his father make his way across the study. Winston knew his father’s destination. In one corner of the study, alongside a magnificent glass-fronted bookcase stood a narrow, tall mahogany cabinet. His father fumbled with its door, opened it and reached in. A familiar rattling noise echoed from within. Winston took a deep breath.
His father held a splendid ashplant cane. It was about three feet long and as thick as his little finger. A curved handle had been shaped at one end and its entire length had been expertly smoothed. Mr Walker from the village had made it. He supplied local schools and many more fathers in the district. Winston knew his own father had quite a collection hidden in the cabinet.
Mr Cardew tucked the cane under his arm and faced his son. “We should not delay. You know how to prepare yourself. Indeed Winston did. A boy with his scholastic record was very used to presenting his rear end to a headmaster’s cane. Also, his father was no stranger to his son’s bared buttocks.
With steady hands Winston unbuttoned his tail coat and slipped it from his shoulders. He glanced around the study unsure where he should leave it. It was a large room with several armchairs and a large horsehair sofa as well as his father’s magnificent desk and two smaller occasional tables.
“Place it there,” Mr Cardew said brusquely, nodding his head towards a small walnut table. Winston did so. “Now stand there.” Another nod directed the boy to his father’s desk. Winston shuffled forward and stood three feet away. He placed his hands behind his back and with head bowed slightly, he awaited further instructions. “Too far away!” his father barked. “Stand closer.” Once positioned to his father’s satisfaction Winston heard the words that are designed to make a young scoundrel’s blood freeze. “Bare your but-tocks.” Mr Cardew placed great emphasis on the final word.
Winston had bared his buttocks many times but no matter how experienced he had become in such a matter, he still found the act of disrobing in front of a master profoundly embarrassing. To do so before his father was especially humiliating. Nonetheless, Winston was aware he had no choice. His father must have his way. He must accept a thrashing. He had little doubt that the punishment would not make him mend his ways. His future conduct would not change; could not change. His father did not know the full extent of Winston’s behaviour.
With an unsteady heart and shaking hands, Winston released the braces on his dress trousers. They immediately fell with a thud to his feet, revealing that the boy was wearing the most fashionable woollen drawers. His father sneered at the sight. The young were going to Hell in a handcart! Winston gripped the tops of the drawers and turning his back on his father, he eased them down his thighs. They snagged at his knees and he left them there. He felt a sharp slap from the cane across his now naked flanks, “Bend over the desk, bend over,” his father sounded both impatient and exasperated.
Winston took one more deep breath and with some expertise born of experience in one flowing movement he stretched forward, lay his stomach and chest flat on the huge desk and reached forward with his arms and clutched its far edge. His bared buttocks rested at an angle over the nearside edge. He opened his legs slightly and wriggled so that his Manhood did not press into the desk. In this position he offered his father a splendid target for his cane. He then closed his eyes tightly and in his imagination he conjured up memories of joyful scenes from the previous days.
The first stroke brought him back to reality. The cane sliced across his buttocks at an angle. Winston heard a swooshing sound and a dull thud as it struck his stretched cheeks. There was a delay of six or seven seconds (there always is in such circumstances) before he felt the agony. It was as if his father had pressed a red-hot poker from the fire across his bottom. Winston bit deeply into his bottom lip. It suppressed any yelp, but he could not stop the trembling in his body. His shoulders shuddered and his waist twisted.
His father waited for the boy to settle. He knew that it would take several seconds for the impact of the stroke to travel fully through Winston’s body. Only then would he lay on the next cut. This one higher, across the top of Winston’s quivering bottom. A dark welt immediately raised where the cane fell. It was raw and sent a wave of tremendous throbbing through Winston’s backside.
Mr Cardew was not a cruel man, but he was exasperated. His son had consistently disobeyed him. He had always been lazy and unreliable but now he brought the family name into disrepute. He did not want to disown the boy; he truly wanted him reformed. A thrashing might do that. It was, he believed fervently, his duty to get Winston back on a straight-and-narrow path to decency. He swiped and he slashed the cane. After eight cuts the lines across Winston’s once white, but now red-raw, buttocks resembled a map of a railway junction. The boy’s face was almost as scarlet as his backside.
Winston very nearly bit off his tongue in an effort to stifle yells. He wanted to, he wanted to express the agony he was feeling. It was a physical emotion. Any person suffering so much pain would want to howl like a banshee. But, he was an English gentleman’s son, he was raised to suffer stoically.
Mr Cardew raised the cane high again and jumping a little from the floor slashed a swipe into Winston’s posterior. He waited for the impact of that to subside before taking three steps backwards, raising the cane high above his shoulder and rushing in at Winston, swishing the most almighty slash into his backside.
At last it was over, Mr Cardew, his whole body shaking threw the ashplant onto the sofa and panting for breath he slumped into an armchair. From this vantage point he surveyed Winston’s bare buttocks. Thick red welts criss-crossed the cheeks, it looked from a distance that some might be weeping blood. The boy himself was in some distress, but he hid it well and Mr Cardew admired him for that. His breathing was harsh and irregular. His knuckles were white as he continued to grip the edge of the desk. The back of his neck was moist with perspiration.
“You had better stand,” Mr Cardew’s voice croaked. Slowly, and obviously in agony, Winston slid his body backwards across the smooth top of the desk. He planted his feet firmly on the ground and using his hands as support he rose. He had to grip the desk to stop from toppling to the floor. He took several deep breaths, trying to gain full control of his body once more. The pain was intense. It felt like he had been forced to sit in a pan of boiling water. He desperately wanted to knead his savaged cheeks, to try to rub away the pain. This, of course, was not permitted. A chap never did this in front of his punisher. He had to pretend he was not at all hurt.
After at least a minute, Winston felt able to gingerly reach down for his woollen drawers. He pulled them up wincing as the soft material connected with his wounds. This sent a new shockwave through his body and he bent forward almost double to absorb it. Then, slowly, with every small movement reigniting the pain, he took hold of his fine, fancy trousers and returned them to their rightful place. He stood, his backside burning, his head pounding, his throat raw and his temples throbbing. As he took the few steps across the study to retrieve his coat it felt as if his bottom was being stabbed with sharp knives.
He climbed into his coat. He headed towards the study door. “Aren’t you forgetting something,” his father’s voice was clear and calm. Winston stopped and turned. His father was on his feet again, his own composure seemingly fully recovered.
Winston winced, “Thank you, sir,” he grimaced through gritted teeth and offered his hand for his father to shake.
Moments later in his room, face down on the bed and his head buried in a pillow, Winston cried like a baby. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sit comfortably for a week. The cuts and bruises would last much longer. Oh what was he to do? How would he explain this to his friends? What life could he live henceforth?
What would his father do when he learns his liaison with Miss Fox the actress was nothing but a ruse. The true love of his life was Tommy Alsop, the stagehand at the Majestic Theatre.
Picture Credit: J C (Joseph Christian) Leyendecker
Inspired by the opening paragraphs of ‘The Fairy With the Grey Beard’ by Winifred Graham. The Strand Magazine, June 1900.
Other stories you might like
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second