When Roderick was given a list of rules with his rent book by the landlord at his new university digs he didn’t bother to read them. He was soon to regret this.
Nobody would accuse Roderick of being a brilliant scholar but he was a diligent worker. He attended all his lectures and tutorials; he spent hours each day in the library and he handed his essays in on time. He would graduate comfortably and his professors wished him well for the future.
He had a place at Mr Higginbottom’s boarding house where he kept his room clean, never missed a meal time and was unfailingly polite to his landlord and fellow tenants.
Unlike some of the students who roomed with Mr Higginbottom he was a pleasure to know.
Roderick had been with Mr Higginbottom for about six weeks when one evening he attended a classical music concert at the Free Trade Hall in town: the Brahms Piano Concerto No.2 and Dvorák Symphony No.7 led by the world-renowned conductor, Alphonso Romesco. As is the way with the world-renowned, Romesco had little regard for his audience and he lifted his baton about an hour late. Roderick missed the last bus to his digs.
The night was fresh, summer was turning into autumn and the three mile walk home was not arduous for a young man of twenty years. It was past midnight when he walked through the empty streets of the Brocklehurst suburb where he lived. Curtains in the houses were drawn, lights were off; The Avenue was asleep. Except at number ninety-seven where the porch light glowered.
Roderick thought nothing of this. He had never returned to the house so late, he wasn’t to know this was unusual. He rummaged in his pocket for the door key and let himself in. He was tired and ready for a wash down and to clean his teeth. He had a lecture at nine and looked forward to a good night’s rest.
Inside the house was dark and at once Roderick felt uneasy. Old houses at night could do this to a person. The boards creaked beneath his feet; it seemed to Roderick the noise his feet caused was reverberating around the hallway. “Oh dear,” he thought, “I must be careful, I don’t want to wake anybody.”
As he was a considerate young man, he squatted down and hopping on one leg and then the other, he slipped off his shoes. It was difficult for him to balance but he succeeded without mishap. A little absurdly, he tip-toed towards the staircase, his shoes in his hands. He raised his foot to climb the first step when the hall light blazed. He was blinded for a second and confused.
But not for long.
“Aha! Sneaking in late after curfew!” It was Mr Higginbottom. “Thought I wouldn’t notice.” Roderick blinked heavily. He was not yet used to the glaring light. But more than that, it was the sight of his landlord dressed in his dressing gown and pyjamas. He was a portly figure, a kind man would say he had a double chin, but in fact he had at least four. His hair was unkempt and with closer examination Roderick could have deduced that he had been sleeping in an armchair; he had that dishevelled air about him. He stood a little under six feet tall, and his shoulders were broad. If you could image an oblong shape with a large belly; that would be Mr Higginbottom.
Roderick had of course seen Mr Higginbottom many times before (even in his night clothes) so he not surprised at the sight that greeted him. Not entirely, that is. What did bring the young man up sharply was that in his right hand his landlord held a long, thin whippy cane. He held it gently so that it dangled alongside his leg. It was as if he himself hardly knew it was there.
“Missed curfew,” Mr Higginbottom repeated again. Roderick hardly heard him, he was transfixed by the cane. It was maybe three feet long and looked quite thick. It had a curved handle at one end. Although Roderick had never been on the receiving end of one, he knew it was a typical punishment cane that was in regular use in schools up and down the country. His brow furrowed, his mouth stopped short of gaping.
“You know the rules,” Mr Higginbottom spoke calmly. Roderick could not take his eyes from the cane as it tap, tap, tapped against his landlord’s leg. The young man’s frown deepened. He spoke no words, but his look betrayed his puzzlement.
Mr Higginbottom sighed. He wanted to get this over with so he could be off to bed. He had to be up early to cook breakfasts. “The house rules,” he said, “Curfew is at eleven on a school night,” he looked at his wrist and realising he wore no watch, he blustered, “It’s well past midnight …” he trailed off annoyed that he was unable to cite Roderick’s crime with precision.
“Yes, but,” Roderick was no more articulate than his landlord. Rules? he thought, wracking his brain for an answer to the conundrum he faced. He found none so asked politely, “Please Mr Higginbottom, What rules?”
The landlord liked the boy. He paid his rent assiduously; he never broke the rules (until now) and was in all respects the perfect lodger. Unlike Smythe in room seven he never gave a moment’s trouble.
“You signed an agreement to abide by the rules,” Mr Higginbottom explained. “When you first came to live here.”
Roderick blushed, the penny had dropped. The rules. Yes, he remembered. There were two pages of closely typed script. He had signed it, it was true. “Silly,” his inner voice told him, “You didn’t read them.”
He repeated the gist of those words aloud to his landlord, “I’m ever so sorry, Mr Higginbottom, but I never read them. I never realised.”
Mr Higginbottom stared at the young man. Roderick’s bright, open freckled face was the picture of innocence. The landlord had long ago formed an opinion of him; he was telling the truth.
“The rules state that if you miss a curfew you are to receive corporal punishment.” He looked down at the cane in his hand as if for the first time realising it was there. “A caning,” he added unnecessarily.
Roderick’s jaw did drop this time. “Oh no, please, Mr Higginbottom. I didn’t know.”
The landlord’s own jaw firmed (as much as it could when there were four chins). “The rule is quite clear,” he stated. He felt like some old magistrate somewhere in rural England laying down the law: firm, but fair.
Roderick was bright enough to see where this drama was leading. “But, I won’t do it again, I promise Mr Higginbottom,” he was beginning to plead.
The landlord frowned, the cane tapped against his leg more rapidly. He was thinking. Weighing up his options. It did not take him long to reach a verdict. “I am sure you are true to your word. I do not think you will misbehave in future,” he started on a short speech. Roderick’s hopes were rising. Only to be dashed. “But,” (there was always a “but”) “but, we cannot ignore your past behaviour. We must deal with that.”
Roderick could not quite suppress a wail, “But, Mr Higginbottom, please! I promise I won’t do it again.” He then recounted his evening, the late conductor, the missed bus, the long walk home.
The landlord’s face coloured. He was not used to being argued with. He gripped the cane tightly. “Enough!” he growled, his tone taking Roderick aback a little. “You have broken the rules, you shall be punished. All boys here must obey the rules.” He was becoming agitated, he raised the cane and wobbled it in front of himself. “I cannot make exceptions for one.” He stared at the young man, noticing his face was now almost as red as his ginger hair. “Last week I beat Harrison for a similar offence. It was his first time also.”
Mr Higginbottom stopped speaking. He had said his piece, there was no more to say. He would truck no argument. “Now,” he waved the cane ahead of him, “Come into my sitting room. Let’s get this over with.”
Roderick gazed in amazement, his mind in a spin. The landlord intended to beat him. With a cane. On the bottom. Like a mischievous schoolboy. He had beaten his pal Harrison last week? That was the first Roderick knew of it. What a to-do, he thought. He had broken the rules (albeit unintentionally) and punishment was due. What choice did he have? To refuse would mean what? Eviction almost certainly. Would he be in trouble with the university?
“Come on boy, it’s late as it is,” Mr Higginbottom stood in the doorway, brandishing the cane. With skipping heart, Roderick followed him into the sitting room. It was the first time he had been in there. He took a moment to find his bearings. It was a large room, dominated by old, but good quality furniture. A bookcase, with few actual books, ran along one side of the room. Another was dominated by an open and now extinguished fire. A Chesterfield couch was against the far wall. In the middle of the room there were two heavy, well-padded armchairs and a beaten wooden low table. A sideboard was pushed into a space below a bay window.
Roderick stood bemused and watched as Mr Higginbottom manhandled one of the armchairs so that its back now faced into the room. Roderick was no expert on such matters but he read his landlord’s intentions. It was a large chair, but its back was relatively low. Even from a distance the young man could see it was the perfect height for his landlord’s purpose.
“Stand by the chair,” Mr Higginbottom pointed his cane in case there was any doubts which one he meant. Roderick, by now resigned to his fate, shuffled forward and stood a pace or two behind it. He couldn’t get his heartbeat to slow. His head was buzzing. The scene was unreal. Would he awaken at any moment to discover it was all a very strange dream?
“Closer boy,” his landlord barked, his impatience evident. Roderick snapped out of his thoughts. He looked at the chair and then at his feet, realising immediately that he had halted at too far a distance from the chair. He shuffled a pace forward and waited in trepidation.
“Bend over.” It was a clear command. Mr Higginbottom had his rituals and he expected them to be respected. Roderick looked down at the chair, unsure of his next move. Bend over? What did that mean exactly. Well, he was bright enough to understand that it meant lean over the back of the chair, but then what? Where did the arms and hands go? What about his head?
“Pah!” Mr Higginbottom recognised a novice when he saw one; but that didn’t stop him being irritated. “Bend over, grip the cushion in front of you. Legs apart. Head low. Bottom high.” They were perfect instructions and Roderick was grateful to receive them. He took a deep breath, rubbed his hands together for no apparent reason and in one smooth, athletic movement he dived forward. Within seconds he had positioned himself to his landlord’s satisfaction.
Mr Higginbottom wheezed. He couldn’t help it. He found he always did this at the moment one of his charges presented their buttocks to him for punishment. It would soon pass. He took time to review the situation. Roderick was submissive, waiting apprehensively, but in control. He would take his punishment like the honourable chap he was. His head was low and his bottom high. It was a tight bum, filling out a pair of denim jeans splendidly. His waist was slim and the cheeks round. The young man was wearing a green woollen sweater and Mr Higginbottom took hold of the end and curled it up so that an expanse of Roderick’s shirt was visible. Then he tugged the tail of that so it was clear of the waistband of the tight jeans, exposing an inch or two of bare, hairless flesh. Roderick’s hips wriggled, but he settled again without further fuss.
Mr Higginbottom was almost ready. He took a firm grip of the cane and flexed it between his hands. It was a stout rod, but also very whippy. He took its measure, even though he had used it many times previously and knew its capabilities. Then (because he liked the sound that it made, and he hoped it intimidated his boys) he swiped it through the empty air. It made a fine swooshing sound as it went.
Roderick’s buttocks clenched at that sound. He had not asked them to do this, it was simply a natural reflex. They were preparing to protect themselves for the onslaught ahead. “Relax, boy, relax,” Mr Higginbottom said as he gently tapped the cane across the centre of the student’s backside. Naturally, this made the cheeks tense even more. The already trim, tight buttocks now had the consistency of a hard rubber ball.
Mr Higginbottom allowed himself a smile. There was nothing he could do about this. He took his aim, drew the cane away and high and thwacked it down with great force across Roderick’s bum. A thin white line was immediately embossed into the tight denim. Roderick who had shut his teeth in preparation for the pain opened them wide, allowing a gasp of air to escape at top speed. He shook his head gently, but otherwise gave no reaction. It was his first ever stroke of the cane and he took it rather well.
Mr Higginbottom took aim once more. This time a little to the under-cheek. The cut it delivered would reignite when Roderick sat down at the breakfast table. Two down and four more to go. The landlord had his rules and punishments for those who broke them, but he was not a monster. He didn’t want to flog his charges with a frenzy. His duty was to help these young men into adulthood. It was a rocky journey and they would make mistakes along the way. His guidance would help them to the straight-and-narrow path.
He third stroke landed on top of the first. Roderick felt that one, he managed to stifle a yell, but his knees buckled and his legs stamped up and down. Mr Higginbottom paused and admired his own prowess. A job well done, young Roderick would never again sign a document without first reading its contents.
Roderick’s heart had not settled, now his temples throbbed and his eyes watered. He had absolutely no control over his body and it scared him. His bottom was sore but (he supposed) it might be worse. He had no idea what a caning should feel like; how much distress should he be in? It hurt terribly when the cane connected with his stretched bottom and for a second the agony was almost intolerable, sending shockwaves up and down his legs. But (and this surprised him) the intense pain subsided almost immediately into a pounding throb, only to be set off again when the next stroke cut him.
Mr Higginbottom delivered six strokes. It wasn’t “six-of-the-best” – he always kept something in reserve during a boy’s first caning. He needed some threat over them against future bad behaviour. The true recidivists, those who constantly broke the rules, would in time find themselves over the chair, bum held high with their trousers at their ankles and pants snagged at the knees. But, Mr Higginbottom was certain he would never again get such a close-up view of Roderick’s bottom.
“Up,” it was a curt command and one that Roderick was pleased to obey. He pulled himself to his feet; his bum hurt terribly, but even as he waited to be dismissed to his bedroom the worst of it was subsiding. The aching throb was dissolving and soon it would be a warm glow. Later, in the privacy of his room he would inspect the damage and be startled by the sight of six clear stripes running in parallel across his buttocks. They were dark red and when he touched his bottom gingerly it felt like corrugated carboard. He pulled on his pyjamas and climbed into bed. The pain was nearly gone but as he lay in the dark he traced his index figure along the marks, enjoying the sensation it caused reigniting the ache.
Picture credit: Peter Samuelson
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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