Neither of my parents were bothered with religion so I grew up without knowing about “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” My Uncle Festus was altogether different as I would find out. I went to a modern school, they taught us sciences as well as humanities. It was a progressive place and corporal punishment was unheard of. I was a bright child but distracted. I wasn’t lazy, but I never worked; not on my academic studies anyway. I was a good and popular sportsman and made many friends. There were girls at the school and in my later years they were a distraction.
I did badly in my examinations and my parents’ hopes that I would go to Oxford or Cambridge University were dashed. I wasn’t even qualified to attend one of the smaller, less prestigious varsities. That’s how I found myself at the Brocklehurst Crammer. Brocklehurst is a small town a long way from my home. My father arranged that I should attend the college for three months during the autumn. The idea was that I would be force-fed all the learning I had passed up at school and then retake my exams. That way, so the theory went, I could get a university place and get my life back on track.
I was never told why I was to be sent to Brocklehurst as there were many similar colleges close to my home. Looking back I suspect the deciding factor in sending me away was Uncle Festus. He lived alone in a large house in Brocklehurst. He had never married and was a pillar of the local community, especially one particular church. It was arranged that I would lodge with him, returning to his home at the end of each college day. I was not consulted over the arrangement, but I could see no reason to object. I would be the first to admit I had let myself and my parents down; I should be grateful to be afforded a second chance.
I took a very long journey by three steam trains and was near exhaustion when finally we chuffed into Brocklehurst Station. I had been told my uncle would meet me. I had rarely met him and had no idea what he looked like. I spotted him immediately. He was a young child’s nightmare of a latter day Old Testament prophet. His hair was wild, his side whiskers were overgrown, a waxed moustache curled above his upper lip. Wild blue eyes stared through half-moon glasses. It was a late summer day and seasonably warm but Uncle Festus was dressed in a heavy serge suit with buttoned-up waistcoat. Cutting into his neck was a stiff cardboard collar from which a tightly knotted tie hung.
He recognised me too. Father had insisted that I wear my old school uniform. My bright red blazer shone in the sunlight. I had abandoned the stiff collar and tie but wore a white shirt and pale grey trousers. Uncle Festus grunted something that might have been a greeting. He peered at me over the top of his glasses, inspecting first my hair and then my face. Evidently he was not pleased with what he saw. “Hair needs cutting. No cap. Where’s your collar?” He did not wait for my response and instead turned on his heels and sped off in the direction he had come. “Follow me!” he barked. I watched him disappear down the platform. When it became clear that I was not following he stopped. He stared at me from a distance of fifty feet; his eyes blazed, I swear I saw then spin, he drew back his shoulders, gulped down air into his lungs and roared, “I said follow me!” The few people still at the station stopped what they were doing and turned startled, wondering what manner of emergency had taken place.
My face reddened, my hands trembled, I was sure tears were close to forming. “B.. b..” I stumbled, terrified to speak. At last I found the courage and the wind, “But Uncle, I have to get my luggage from the train,” I bleated pitifully. Thankfully, at the a moment a porter approached pushing a trolley heavily loaded with two trunks and a suitcase; the provisions for my stay.
The porter might well have encountered my uncle in the past and knowing of the old man’s temper, he kept his distance and waited silently for instructions. “Pah!” my uncle ejaculated. “Take them to the trap,” he barked and like a frightened rabbit the ancient porter scurried on his way.
The nag pulling the trap was on its last legs, before too long its dead body would be served to cats. I sat behind Uncle Festus as we bumped over every hole in the roads, and there were many. He was silent the entire journey. I sat despondent. My uncle’s appearance and attitude had scared the living daylights out of me and his silence as we made our way to his house was oppressive. I had a close view of his broad shoulders and powerful back, I had no idea what he did or a living but from my short distance he had the appearance of a manual labourer. He certain had the tang of one; he omitted a sour aroma which was unsurprising considering the warmth of the day and the heaviness of his clothing.
At last the pony and trap turned into a wide street called The Avenue. The road was paved with cobbles and the noise of the pony’s hooves as it clip-clopped along was deafening. The house on each side were large and imposing, nearly all of them hidden behind vast hedges and ancient trees so high they blocked out the sun. The driver cried out “Whoa there!” and the pony shuddered to a halt. Neither the driver not my uncle made to move. I sat for a moment before it dawned on me I was expected to haul the trunks and case from the trap and drag them into the house on my own; surely an impossible task. I was summoning up the courage to ask the driver or my uncle to help when a boy, about my age, bounded out through the gateway of one of the houses. This was evidently my uncle’s home. The boy nodded a greeting to me and took hold of one end of a trunk. He said nothing yet I understood perfectly his intention. I took hold of the other end and together we manhandled it into the house.
The boy led the way into the house. Once inside I could see immediately that it was vast. I would later learn there were five bedrooms and two living rooms along with a private room that uncle used, as well as the usual kitchen and so on. The hallway was dark and cold, you would never guess it was summertime. Gas lamps were attached to the walls at long intervals. The boy led the way up the wide staircase and took me to the room that I had been allocated. It was large and musty and sparsely furnished. A large bed with what I supposed was a cast-iron bedstead dominated. The floors were bare, without even a worn rug. A bowl and water jug was on a stand in one corner. In another there was a cupboard. Next to the bed was a set of drawers and on top of this stood a candle in a dish with hardened melted wax.
It was then I realised the house had no electricity. By that time electricity was available cheaply all over the country and there could have been no reason but by choice that uncle had not had it connected.
The boy helped me to put the trunk down and we went out to fetch the rest of my luggage. The boy seemed to me to be rather preoccupied with his own thoughts and he made no attempt to make conversation. I wondered if he was in fact a little simple.
At last my possessions were in my room. I was uncertain what I was expected to do next as Uncle Festus had given me no instructions; he had hardly said two words to me since we met on the station platform. I resolved I would seek him out. I was making my way through the dark passageway when the front door opened and six men all dressed in similar fashion to my uncle entered. Each had a thick black book in his right hand. They moved swiftly through the hallway and entered uncle’s private room. The boy emerged from another room and joined then. I stood on the staircase and watched. They appeared to have come for a meeting of some sort.
My uncle was already in the room and I saw him close the door. I am not generally a curious boy, which is one reason why I didn’t do so well with my studies, but this time my interest was aroused. I tip-toed down the stairs and approached the now-closed door, very aware that my footsteps were amplified by the bare floorboards. My heart thumped as I pressed my ear against the heavy oak door. It was too thick for sound to pass through and I could not hear what the group inside were saying. I stooped down and placed my eye on the eyehole. I am not one who is often wracked with guilt but I felt my presence snooping at the keyhole would not be well received by my uncle if I was discovered. It would be in my own interest to make my exit.
Intrigued, and determined to discover what they were doing inside uncle’s room I left the house and entered the garden. The house was huge and there was no shortage of windows but at last I found the one I was looking for. It was closed, despite the fine day. I thought how hot and stuffy it must be in the room, especially since by now there was a small crowd of people, all dressed in heavy clothes. The aroma of uncle’s stale sweat came to my mind. Large trees overshadowed most of the house and I used one as a cover and I was able to secret myself and still have a passable view into the room. The men were on their knees with their books open in their hands. They were reading something aloud in unison. A prayer, I supposed.
I remembered that Uncle Festus was an active member of his church. Was this a service of some sort? I wondered. That might have been the case but this was a Tuesday; perhaps it was some kind of Bible study group.
I watched for a moment or two and since nothing much was happening I was about to leave to explore the rest of the house and garden when I saw the boy stand. Even from my distance and peering through dirty glass into an unlit room I could see he appeared in some distress. He sank to his knees and held his hands together as if in prayer. The others then stood and in unison recited an incantation. The boy looked close to tears. Intrigued I resolved to stay and watch developments. I didn’t have long to wait. My uncle suddenly placed his Bible on a small table and then with great deliberation, he unbuttoned his coat and slipped it from his shoulders. With solemnity he handed it to a colleague who hung it on a hat stand. While that was being done, Uncle Festus slowly undid the buttons of his waistcoat. All eyes in the room were transfixed.
Having loosened his clothing he took a couple of paces across the room and leaned towards a vase-like ornament that stood easily three feet tall. He reached his hand inside and with a flourish (rather like a magician taking a rabbit from a hat) he extracted a bunch of twigs. No one in the room was the least surprised, but I almost fell backwards with amazement. There were about a dozen or so twigs or small branches and they were tied together at one end to make a handle. Even I, with my great lack of knowledge of such things, recognised it as a birch. Any number of the trees in the garden where I stood could have supplied the wherewithal to construct it. Uncle Festus held it upright in the palms of both hands and presented it as if it was an offering to the assembled audience.
There was complete silence. I watched astounded. There was movement in the room. It seemed everyone knew their role in the unfolding drama. Two men took hold of a large, ornate armless chair that was leaning against a wall and manoeuvred it into the middle of the room. Uncle Festus seated himself. I had not noticed but while Uncle Festus was taking centre stage, the boy had removed his own coat and shirt collar. He stood forlornly. Uncle Festus made some remark to his congregation and they chanted their response. Satisfied with that my uncle turned towards the boy. Uncle’s face was set firmly. I did not see his lips move but he must have spoken some words because as if following a command the boy proceeded to loosen his britches. They had complicated fastenings and the boy’s trembling hands made heavy work of getting them to fall to his feet. He made a better job with his underwear and within seconds his buttocks were bared. He had his back to me so I have no way of knowing his expression or gauging his sense of humiliation which must have been acute.
My uncle squeezed his thighs together, the boy shuffled forward, and with a practiced move he dived headlong over Uncle Festus’s knees. He stretched his arms forward and placed both palms firmly into the ground. His naked buttocks rested across uncle’s right thigh and he kept his knees straight. They were presented to my uncle at a perfect angle. Uncle Festus was not yet quite satisfied, he took hold of the long tail of the boy’s shirt and gently tucked it away up the small of his back and away from the target.
All eyes, my own included, were glued to the boy’s naked, quivering milk-white posterior. Uncle Festus raised the birch twigs high above his own head; there was a collective intake of breath in the room. I bit my bottom lip hard. Uncle whipped the boy over the upturned bottom, the boy gasped as pink flecks, bruises, and abrasions burst across his shapely buttocks. Uncle’s arm rose again and the strong, broad-shouldered man flogged the birch down with increased vim. The boy twitched, sniffed and quivered.
With the window tightly shut I could not hear a sound from the room. I have no idea if the boy, yelped, yelled or screamed. Certainly, as the beating continued he wriggled and writhed. His hips swivelled, his legs kicked. I imagined that was only to be expected, his body was being asked to absorb great pain, to twist and turn must surely be a natural physical reaction to such an assault.
The men in the room watched impassively.
Uncle Festus set about his duty at a steady pace. The birch lifted and fell. The spread of the twigs was such that a single stroke covered most of the boy’s bottom. Soon, his once smooth, white buttocks were a mass of scratches, cuts and grazes. His cheeks flamed crimson. I couldn’t begin to imagine how sore they must feel; the sting must be agonising.
I didn’t think to count the number of strokes delivered, but by the time it was over the boy’s bottom, from the top of the globes, over the peaks themselves and into the under cheeks resembled raw meat. I couldn’t imagine that he would be able to sit down after that for a week or more. When there was no more flesh to flay, Uncle Festus desisted. Again, no word was spoken, but he released his hold on the boy who immediately sprang to his feet.
For a moment he looked unbalanced and dizzy but Uncle Festus put a steadying hand on his shoulders, while the boy’s own hands moved to ease his burning rear and he sobbed gently. Then, uncle put his hand firmly on the top of the boy’s head and took up what seemed to me to be a low moan. My heart fell; he was in ecstasy. The congregation joined the chanting and it continued for what seemed like several minutes. At last uncle released his grip on the boy’s scalp and unbidden he reached down and retrieved first his underwear and then his britches. Once suitable attired, he was handed his coat and silently and without ceremony he left the room.
Within moments they all left. I thought it unwise to be caught snooping and moved off to the furthest part of the garden as far away as possible from uncle and his cronies. There, I replayed it all in my mind. I had not the slightest idea what I had witnessed, but I knew for certain my three months lodging with Uncle Festus would prove to be the longest of my life.
Picture credit: C of Sweden
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second