Worthington stood before his housemaster in the dark luxurious study, his hand deep into his trouser pocket. He was the senior prefect in the House and quite used to being called in to see Mr Whitbread; often late in the evening after ‘lights out’ and the juniors were safely in bed. This evening, he supposed, was no exception. The Old Man probably wanted to congratulate him on how well Worthington ran the House. The Association Football trophy had already been bagged and they had high hopes for Cricket that summer. He might even offer him a glass of sherry – which they would enjoy together, man to man.
Mr Whitbread sat imperiously in his leather chair behind a large mahogany desk. He still wore his formal academic gown, despite the lateness of the hour. Worthington hesitated. He had arrived at the study fully two minutes ago, he had expected to be offered a take a seat by now. From the corner of his eye he saw a fine leather armchair was placed close to the housemaster’s desk. He toyed with the notion that he might sit down uninvited. He glanced at it, hesitated for a moment, and then decided to make his move. He took one step and was halted in his tracks.
“Stand there!” Mr Whitbread roared. “How dare you be so impudent!” Worthington froze, startled. “And take your hand out of your pocket! I have never witnessed such impertinence!” Worthington turned and faced the desk to be confronted by an icy stare. He stood, puzzled. This was not what he had expected.
“There boy!” Mr Whitbread waved his hand royally and indicated a spot in front of his desk. Worthington shuffled and stood. No, this was not going to plan at all. The housemaster leant forward in his chair so that his hands gripped the desk. Worthington blanched. Instinctively, he clasped his hands behind his back. He felt like the most junior boy in the House called in for a wigging.
“You are a disgrace to the House, Worthington! I have never known anything like it!” Mr Whitbread thundered. Worthington looked down at his own feet, lost for words. What was happening? He could think of nothing he had done to warrant such an outburst. “Shameful …” Mr Whitbread shook his head violently and his three chins wobbled like jelly. A thin line of spittle trickled from the corner of his mouth. “What have you to say for yourself?”
Worthington stood perplexed. What was the Old Man talking about? Mr Whitbread mistook his silent puzzlement for something much worst. “Answer me boy! I shall not tolerate such insolence!” he thundered. Again, Worthington stared at his own feet, “B.. b..” he stuttered, but could not start a sentence.
“A card game!” Mr Whitbread boomed. “How dare you!”
Suddenly, it dawned on Worthington. Card game. The Old Man knew about the card game. “Smoking. Gambling. And much else besides I should not wonder,” Mr Whitbread fumed. A lump rose to Worthington’s throat and stuck there. How had the housemaster found out?
Mr Whitbread half rose from his chair and with his hands firmly on the top of the desk he leaned forward so that his face was only inches from Worthington’s. The boy could smell the tobacco on the housemaster’s breath. For a moment he feared the Old Man would grip him by the lapels and throw him to the floor. “Never before in my entire career as a schoolmaster have I encountered such a thing,” he intoned pompously.
Worthington’s head buzzed. Now he understood. It was all about the fourth formers. They had taken to abandoning their beds at night. They had formed a poker club in study two along the fourth-form passageway.
That night Mr Whitbread, bored to distraction, had taken a stroll through the building. A shaft of light gleamed beneath a door. As he approached his nostrils picked up a familiar scent. An aroma that was unwelcome in the junior boys’ studies. It was the smell of cigarette smoke. Six astonished juniors were caught playing poker. Now, only moments before Worthington’s arrival they had hobbled from the study with their bottoms glowing red-hot.
Before commencing the swishing, and on pain of a bare-bottomed thrashing, the housemaster had ascertained from the wretched youngsters that the poker school was a regular event informally sanctioned by the prefects, headed by Worthington.
The housemaster’s complexion was the colour of prunes. He straightened himself and still glaring at the woeful boy standing before him, he boomed. “You have betrayed my trust. You have dishonoured the position of senior prefect. You are an abject disgrace!”
Worthington withered under the onslaught.
Mr Whitbread shoved his chair to one side as he wobbled from behind the desk. “Scandalous. Disgraceful. Unutterably …” he broke off, seemingly unable to think of further insults. He straightened himself and stood so close to the hapless Worthington that they were eyeball to eyeball. Spittle once more dribbled. “Beyond comprehension! Such behaviour!” the housemaster appeared to have gained a second wind.
He backed away from the boy and unsteadily made his way across the study. Worthington’s eyes followed him on his travels. The boy’s jaw opened in astonishment. The housemaster had stopped beside a hat-and-coat stand. He wheezed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then, without ceremony, he reached up and snatched from the stand a long, thick crook-handled cane. He swerved around so he faced the boy and with fury waved the cane through the air.
Worthington blanched. Involuntarily he took a small step backwards. “Now, boy,” Mr Whitbread swiped the cane through the air, it made a terrific swoosh noise as it flew. “Bend over that chair!” He pointed the cane at the chair that stood in front of his desk. Worthington was rooted to the spot, aware that suddenly he was sweating profusely.
Mr Whitbread’s already-mauve complexion turned dark red. He wobbled his chins and waved the cane once more. “I said bend over that chair!” his voice cackled with emotion. “Now boy!”
Worthington felt the room spin. This could not be happening. It must be some kind of dream; a nightmare, he thought. In a moment he would shudder awake and find himself in the sixth-form dorm, safely in his bed.
“I do not propose to tell you again Worthington!”
Worthington shook his head, trying to get his brain to work properly. “But Sir,” he almost wailed. “You can’t,” he said and realising he might have been too bold in answering back to his housemaster, he added, “Sir.”
Spittle flew from between Mr Whitbread’s lips, “How dare you!” he exploded. He swiped the cane through the air, “Bend over that chair!”
“But Sir,” Worthington had found his voice. “You can’t Sir. I’m a sixth-former, a senior boy. Sixth-formers can’t be beaten.” He bit down hard on his lower lip. No sixth-former was ever beaten. It was unheard of. Not only in this House, but anywhere in the whole school. He was eighteen years old dammit. Of course, he could not be beaten.
“Bah!” Mr Whitbread exploded. “I shall decide who can and cannot not be beaten.” He furrowed his brow and his eyes shone malevolently. “I have told you to bend over that chair, Worthington! You must not resist my authority. If you are so ill-advised, I shall take you to your headmaster with a request that you shall be immediately flogged and then expelled from the school for rebellion against authority! I am waiting, Worthington!”
“But, Sir,” Worthington’s heart thumped. The housemaster was serious. He really intended to thrash him.
“I’m waiting, Worthington,” the housemaster had traversed the study and now stood directly behind the sixth-former. He had half a mind to grip the boy by the scruff of the neck and force him face-down over the back of the chair. Decorum won the day. It would be undignified to scrap with a boy in the study. Worthington must bend to his will. Quite literally. If he refused to take his punishment the housemaster would make good on his promise and march him off to the headmaster’s study first thing next morning.
“But, Sir,” Worthington was an intelligent boy and usually more literate than he was at this moment. Words failed him. What argument could he put forward to escape the thrashing? He was guilty as charged. He had permitted the juniors to play their poker games. He had done similar things and much more beside after lights out when he was younger. It was almost a House tradition. It would be pointless to try to explain that to Mr Whitbread. He was ‘old school’. He would never understand.
The cane swished for the umpteenth time. “Do you intend to keep me waiting, Worthington? Bend over, this instance.” The housemaster flexed the cane. It was about three feet long and as thick as a pencil. It had notches along its length and was coloured dark yellow. At one end it was shaped in the traditional curved handle and the tip at the other end was frayed. The whole whippy, rattan cane was warped, due to excessive use.
Worthington stared intently at the cane. It looked a mightily-effective weapon. Mr Whitbread was aged and long-ago had run to fat but he was still strong enough to take any boy’s backside off with that cane. Worthington sank a mouthful of air. What choice did he have? Take a caning now, or wait to the morning when the headmaster would almost certainly flog him on the bares with birch rods. Then, once he was able to walk again he would unceremoniously be taken to the railway station and sent home in disgrace where his father would in all probability repeat the thrashing.
The cane swished once more. Worthington took another long lung-full of air and shuffled so that he stood behind the chair. It was a smallish chair with a soft back and wooden arms. It was just the right height for a boy of his size to fit over comfortably. Of course, what happened next would be far from comfortable.
The floorboards creaked so Worthington knew his housemaster was taking up his position behind him. Worthington licked his now-dry lips and rubbed his sweaty palms together. Then, in one continuous movement he leaned forward and stretched his arms so he took a grip of the front end of the soft seat cushion. He spread his legs so that he was able to rest his stomach on the top of the chair’s back. He felt the material of his trousers stretch over his buttocks. He could not see himself, but in this position he made a terrific target for chastisement.
Mr Whitbread took a moment to take in the sight before him. Worthington was one of the House’s finest athletes and his body demonstrated this. Back muscles rippled beneath his jacket and his buttocks, now stretched across the chair, were firm and meaty and his thighs were taut.
The boy’s face was deathly pale and his light brown hair fell in a fringe over his forehead. He closed his eyes tight and tried to pretend this was not happening. Mr Whitbread slipped the cane under his arm and with two free hands he took hold of the tail of Worthington’s jacket. With some force he tugged it so that it rode up the boy’s back and away from the target area.
“Thank your God that you are not presenting yourself to me with your trousers at your ankles,” Mr Whitbread snarled. He stood to the boy’s side and gently rubbed the cane in a sawing motion across the highest part of the cheeks. Satisfied that he had his aim, he gently lifted the cane until it was at shoulder height, then swiped it down with all the energy he had. The cane thwapped against the tightly-presented backside and bounced away. It sounded like a pistol shot. A wide, white line formed across the seat of the trousers. Worthington gasped and held on tighter to the chair.
Mr Whitbread frowned. He was not sure of the quality of his performance. His aim was true, but had he struck with sufficient force? He sawed the cane across the meaty buttocks once more, this time about an inch lower than the first. He lifted the cane away in an arc and swiped it home with all the vim he could muster. The boy yelped. His bottom shook violently and his knees buckled. Mr Whitbread silently congratulated himself on a job well done.
Fortified by this success, he whipped the third stroke higher than the previous two. Worthington’s head rose from the seat cushion, he shook it like a horse bothered by flies. His feet stomped up and down.
Mr Whitbread licked his bottom lip so intense was his concentration as he lined up the next stroke. Swish! Crack! “Agggghhhh!” Worthington could not control himself. The pain was intense. A wide strip of flesh beneath his trousers and underwear was burning like the fires of Hell. Never in his life – and this was not the first caning he had endured at the school – had he hurt so badly. It was agony. Worse even than that time when he was hit between the legs by a cricket ball.
So it went on. Mr Whitbread delivered a full dozen. Twelve strokes of his heavy, whippy rattan cane. Each time the rod fell it left a line embossed across the seat of Worthington’s trousers. The housemaster had no doubt that the boy’s bottom was in ribbons. Welts would be throbbing across his corrugated buttocks. Worthington’s face, once deathly pale, was now glowing scarlet. Perspiration soaked the back of his neck. His eyes blazed.
Worthington lay over the back of the chair choking for breath like a goldfish out of water. His bottom was raw; as if he had been forced to sit in a cauldron of boiling oil. He desperately wanted to get up and rub the ache from his backside. But traditions were traditions and he could not rise until his master gave permission.
Mr Whitbread slowly paced the study before returning the cane to the hat-and-coat stand. From his vantage across the study he surveyed the miserable boy, still head-low, bottom-high across the chair. The buttocks continued to quiver long after the final stoke was landed. It gave him grim satisfaction to see the boy so distressed. It was a job well down, Mr Whitbread was relieved that he still had it in him to deliver such an exemplary thrashing.
In his own time, he barked, “Get up and go!” He watched, now impassively, as the senior prefect hauled himself unsteadily to his feet. He neither looked to left or right as he hurtled towards the study door and freedom on the other side.
Mr Whitbread stayed standing for a while, then slowly crossed the study to a cupboard which he opened. From inside he took a heavy glass whisky decanter. He held it to the dim light and confirmed to himself that it was indeed empty. He had cleaned it out early that evening just before he took his tour of the building.
Picture credit: H M Brock
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Charles Hamilton the Second