Henry Pottinger let the suitcase fall onto the bed. It was lighter than he had remembered. The accumulated dust of years – no, decades – was undisturbed. It was small and battered and made of stiff carboard. They didn’t make suitcases like that anymore. Utility, they had called it. Cheap, no frills. Like so many things manufactured at the end of the war.
Henry turned the case on its side so he could get at the catches. They flicked open easily. The case had laid in the attic room since his youth. When he had first lived there; the family home. When his mother and father were still alive.
Henry’s heart beat faster. It had been fifty years at least since he had last rummaged through the contents of the case. Part of his life was there. He paused, but only barely, since the case held no fears. It contained no hidden secrets.
He opened the lid and without looking inside he lifted the suitcase and turned it over so that its contents fell with a satisfying plop onto the heavy mattress. Carefully, almost reverentially, he placed the case on the bedroom floor. He peered at the litter on the bed with some disappointment. He had remembered it differently. This pile represented his youth. He had expected so much more. He hoped this would not turn out to be a wasted effort.
He leaned forward and carefully smoothed the jumble. He hadn’t seen this junk in more than fifty years but immediately so much looked familiar. His souvenirs. Why had he collected them? He supposed it had been the arrogance of youth. Had he believed that one day he would be famous and revered; that these pathetic artefacts would be sought out by scholars and historians. A professor at an Oxbridge college would use them as source material for his third or maybe fourth book about the importance of Henry Pottinger.
Ha! To be young again. Henry, now fast approaching his seventy-fifth birthday, often spoke about the arrogance of youth. He knew the best way to deal with that. The old-fashioned ways were still the best.
Henry had achieved some degree of fame in his life, but no scholar had wanted to write about him. Ironically perhaps, his fame (and quite a small fortune) had been made as the author of a series of history textbooks. For more than thirty years he had been required reading for every schoolchild in Britain and the Commonwealth. That was a lot of books and a great deal of royalties. That income and a legacy from his parents meant Henry had never done a day’s proper work since the age of thirty.
Henry had used the time that money bought him industriously. Henry Pottinger had constructed for himself a second life. An alternative existence. Henry Pottinger was not in fact Henry Pottinger. Henry Pottinger was an assumed name; a cipher. Henry Pottinger would never have been allowed to write and publish a textbook for schoolboys. Henry Pottinger would never have allowed near a schoolboy. Not in a million years. So, the name that adorned the history textbooks was not Henry Pottinger.
Henry Pottinger enjoyed his life. And he intended to go on enjoying it for many more years to come. He had made a great number of friends and his home, tucked away in a leafy suburb of the non-descript town of Brocklehurst, was famous among men who shared Henry’s (non-history) interests. Indeed, it was on account of these friends that Henry Pottinger was now rummaging through his souvenirs.
A seventy-fifth birthday celebration was being planned for Henry Pottinger and, as is often the case at such milestone anniversaries, his chums thought it would be a cracking wheeze to surround him with memories of his life. That had sent Henry Pottinger climbing into the far recesses of the attic.
He surveyed his early adult life spread before him. Time plays tricks on a person and had it really been about fifty years since he had last seen all this? So much of it looked familiar. The edge of a small pink-coloured box peeked between a dozen envelopes. Ha! Henry Pottinger knew what that was. He gripped it eagerly in his hand. The box had a clear transparent plastic lid. Henry Pottinger did not have to open the box, its content was clearly visible. It was a plastic key, silver in colour, attached to the numerals two and one. A twenty-first birthday memento from his parents, deliberately chosen for its tackiness.
He tossed it back onto the bed and retrieved one of the envelopes. You didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see it contained a birthday card. Eagerly, Henry Pottinger pulled back the flap and tugged out the card. “Happy 21st birthday,” he read. “Now we are legal. Love Uncle Ricky.” Henry Pottinger chewed down on is bottom lip, an affectation that indicated his intense pleasure. “Ha! Ha! God almighty!” he said aloud, even though there was no one in the house to hear him. Now we are legal. How much had changed since he had turned twenty-one. And “Uncle” Ricky – he was no blood relation. Gosh! Henry Pottinger giggled at how much Uncle Ricky had taught him.
Gently, he placed the card on the bedside table. It would raise a smile at his birthday party. He returned to the bed; a formal brown envelope lay askew on top of a copy of Football Monthly. Henry Pottinger didn’t need to look at that – he knew already, it celebrated England’s victory in the World Cup. He just as easily recognised the envelope. He couldn’t supress his excitement. With trembling hands he eased out the one sheet of flimsy paper it contained. “Ha!” He boomed and dissolved into chuckles. His final school report. He licked his lips and started to read. Even after so many decades he found he could recite the contents of the report by heart.
He is “headstrong,” his housemaster had written. “Will find it difficult to make his way in life if he continues to be unable to accept authority.” His chuckles rose to roars of laughter. “Oh, yes,” Henry Pottinger said, “I must frame this. It will take pride of place.”
Henry Pottinger (as he was not called while at school) had joined the sixth-form at St Francis Independent Grammar School when his father moved to Brocklehurst to take up a senior post at the local municipal council. Unable to accept authority. The eighteen-year-old Henry Pottinger had been a frequent visitor to Mr Durrant’s study. Henry Pottinger held the school report, his eyes misting. He saw himself lowering his body across the low back of the housemaster’s old leather armchair. His head low, bottom high. His pale-grey trousers pulling snugly into his stretched buttocks. The aroma of stale sweat that permeated the chair’s seat clogged his throat. Once again, Henry Pottinger felt the gentle tap-tap-tap of the thick, but whippy, rattan cane as it found its aim across the fleshiest part of his round buttock cheeks.
Henry Pottinger could never see this (of course, since his gaze was committed to the seat cushion) but he imagined Mr Durrant then flexing the cane between both hands before swishing it through the air. Henry Pottinger could feel the cane return to its target. Then the cane lifted away before returning with tremendous force to strike deep into his meaty bum before rebounding. The cane rose and fell six times. Six-of-the-best. St Francis was a traditional school after all.
Henry Pottinger read the words again: unable to accept authority. He had been beaten like that on three separate occasions in his final term. Three times! Aged eighteen. Had Durrant been a complete imbecile? Had he not realised what was going on? How Henry Pottinger had lusted for those sessions in the housemaster’s study. How he fantasied about one day being ordered by the cane-swishing Mr Durrant, “Lower your trousers. Bend over that chair.” Oh, how Henry Pottinger had wanted to take a full-six across the seat of his white cotton Y-fronts. Henry Pottinger laughed at the memory. It would not happen at his school but it did not take too long after he arrived at Oxford before he experienced that exquisite pleasure.
Oxford. University. Suddenly Henry Pottinger remembered. The photograph. Did he still have it? He delved into the pile on the eiderdown. Yes! Yes! He pulled at a yellowing envelope, hands trembling. “This is it! Oh My God!” he trilled. “I haven’t seen this since ….” His eyes misted. A young man (himself) in pyjamas standing in the corner of room, hands on head in the traditional naughty boy pose. The pyjama bottoms are at his feet and bottom bare to the wind and red raw after a sound spanking. Henry Pottinger licked his lips. “Oh Lor!” he exclaimed. “I had almost forgotten.”
That bonkers weekend at Brocklehurst he had spent with his pal, Gregor. That mad man (what the dickens was his name?) who turned half of his house into a replica public school, complete with classroom and headmaster’s study. The photograph showed Henry Pottinger in that study. His heart raced and his throat dried simultaneously as it all flooded back.
“You boy, stand there,” the headmaster glowered as he pointed to a place on the carpet in front of his desk. “Why have you been sent to me at this ungodly hour?” Henry Pottinger stands nervously, feeling a little conspicuous in his heavy striped pyjamas. They were made for a taller, stouter boy. Even with the drawstring tightly knotted he feared the pyjamas bottoms would slip down his thighs at any moment.
“Maitland, the head boy sent me. I was out of the dormitory after lights out.”
“Ha!” the headmaster ejaculated. “Up to no good, of course. No good comes from being out of the dormitory after lights out.”
Henry Pottinger nods his agreement. It is unsure what else he is expected to say. There is an uncomfortable silence. The headmaster breaks it with a bark, “Well, boy what have you got to say for yourself!” Henry Pottinger stares down at his bare feet. What is he supposed to say? His head is in a whirl. Frankly, he wishes the headmaster would stop all the jawing and move onto the action.
“Pah!” he headmaster rises from his chair. “So, you want to add dumb insolence to the charge list, eh?” Henry Pottinger shrugs, realising he is not very good at this. “Bah! Pah!” the headmaster is hamming it up bit. “Well, m’lad,” he says, suddenly adopting a cod Scottish accent, “Och! w’ll see abah tat.” He opens the drawer to his desk and reaches in. Henry Pottinger’s eyes follow the headmaster’s movement closely. His heart is racing and he feels a slight clenching in his buttocks. The headmaster withdraws a leather strap. It has a handle at one end and the business end is split into three tails.
The headmaster holds the tawse high in both hands so that Henry Pottinger gets a good look. It is as if the headmaster is making a religious offering. “Och,” the headmaster says, “yer know what to expect.” Henry Pottinger honestly does not. He knows he is to receive corporal punishment as that is the whole point of the weekend. But, he had never been beaten with a leather tawse before. His bottom has been battered with canes, slippers and hairbrushes. On one memorable occasion he received six cuts of a heavy birch rod; but a leather tawse, no.
The headmaster is now on the move. He stands in front of his desk alongside Henry Pottinger. The headmaster swipes the heavy strap through the air. Sweat trickles down Henry Pottinger’s spine. At close quarters he can see the strap is awesome. It is about a foot or fourteen inches long and maybe a quarter to half inch thick. It will pack a wallop, Henry Pottinger has no doubt about that. Especially in the hands of the headmaster who has already demonstrated his expertise with a swishy rattan cane.
“Take down your pyjama trousers and bend across my desk,” the headmaster says swiftly. In his excitement he has forgotten to speak in the Scottish accent. Henry Pottinger fumbles with the drawstring of his pyjamas, he will be glad to let them down before they fall under their own steam. His buttocks and legs are now bare and for the first time Henry Pottinger feels how cold it is in the study. There is an open fire but it hasn’t been made up.
The headmaster moves away from the desk, he places his hands behind his back and strolls purposefully across the room. When he gets to the far wall, he turns and retraces his steps. Henry Pottinger thinks he looks a lot like Groucho Marx and stifles a giggle.
“Bend over boy!” the headmaster shouts the instruction. Henry Pottinger wonders if the neighbours will hear. Then he remembers the houses in this part of The Avenue are large and detached from one another. The headmaster could commit murder and no one would hear.
Henry Pottinger is a short distance from the desk so he shuffles like a penguin until he is close enough so he can bend across. The headmaster has cleared the desk top and all that is left is a large blotter. The lower button of Henry Pottinger’s pyjama jacket is undone and his bare flesh touches the cold walnut desk. Its coldness and the excitement of presenting his bared bottom for chastisement sends a shiver through his body.
The headmaster has stopped his pacing and from the other end of the study he admires the sight presented for him. He has become intimately acquainted with Henry Pottinger’s bottom over the past twenty-four hours. The fading lines from a swift six of the best delivered across the seat of the trousers earlier in the day bare testimony to this fact.
The headmaster stands behind Henry Pottinger and admires once more his fine round buttock cheeks. They firm up when he is stretched across the desk, but when standing they are a little more fleshy. The headmaster runs the tip of his tongue across his dry, almost chapped lips. He rests the tawse on the desk so as to free-up both hands. With those, he carefully takes hold of the end of Henry Pottinger’s pyjama jacket and ever so carefully he folds it once, then once again so that it is quite clear of his target area. He cracks a smile, cups his right palm and then gently he caresses Henry Pottinger’s left buttock. The headmaster is delighted that Henry Pottinger shivers when he does this. The headmaster pats the left buttock and rubs the back of Henry Pottinger’s thighs. Then he gives the boy a playful smack across the fleshiest part of his right cheek.
The headmaster stands back and gently lays the three tails of the worn leather tawse across the centre of Henry Pottinger’s bottom. He licks his lips one more time, grips the handle tightly, raises the strap so it rests on his shoulder and then with all the force he is able to muster he whips it down so that it sinks into the flesh. He is rewarded with the sight of a glowing red stripe. Henry Pottinger’s hips wriggle and he grips the far edge of the desk. A second stroke whistles through the air before connecting an inch below the first. Henry Pottinger turns his head, a long drawn out whistle escapes from his half-closed mouth.
Back in the bedroom Henry Pottinger the soon-to-be seventy-five-year-old carefully replaces the photograph in the yellowing envelope. What a day this is turning out to be, he tells himself as once again he burrows among the debris in search of more memories.
Picture credit, CP Services, London
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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