I made a fist with my right hand, rapped on the dark-oak door and strained to listen for the imperious command from within. It came immediately for I was expected. “Ent-ter!” the headmaster boomed. I surprised myself by my own calmness. I was entering unchartered territory. I took hold of the handle and pushed. The door was heavier than I anticipated and I had to put my shoulder against it. When it gave way unexpectedly I half tumbled into the study
The headmaster glared from behind his desk. Meekly, I pushed the door shut behind me.
“There!” he bellowed, snapping his fingers to indicate I should stand on the rug before him. I obliged without question. Humbly, I held my hands behind my back. My gaze did not leave the old man.
Dr Butterworth was dressed in a dark suit over which he wore a formal black academic gown. He was nearing sixty years of age. He was over six foot tall and as bald as a badger. When the weather was hot and he did not wear his mortar-board cap his head was often sunburned, which caused a lot of amusement among we boys. Round rimless glasses perched on his hooked nose and his moustache gave the impression that a small bat had landed on his top lip.
I had never been summoned to the headmaster’s study before so I was entering new terrain. This was more than fifty years ago and mine was an old-fashioned Grammar. They said they could trace its history back hundreds of years. I doubt much had changed in that time. The buildings had ivy-covered walls and mullioned windows. The schoolrooms were large and draughty. This was in the days before they built the science block and multi-purpose sports hall.
The study was imposing befitting the status of the headmaster. To the rear of the desk was a mantelpiece on which stood a number of cups and trophies. Framed photos of rugby teams lined the panelled walls. It was spring and the large open fire was unlit even though there was a definite chill in the study. In one corner was a hat-stand and dangling from it ready for action was a stout crook-handled cane. It is a cliché but my heart really did skip a beat when I noticed this weapon of punishment. I had never been caned, but there was no doubt that was about to change.
Dr Butterworth did not speak, He held a sheaf of papers in his hand and affected to study them intently. He tore his attention away from the papers and glared at me. A lump formed in my throat.
His eyes returned to the file. I waited submissively. I looked what I was, a typical boy from the professional classes. We were an elite school and it showed in our uniform which was a blue blazer with gold stripes, pale-grey long trousers, black lace-up shoes, a gleaming white shirt and a striped tie. On my head was the blue-and-gold hooped cap they forced us to wear.
The headmaster examined more papers and then, very abruptly, he slapped them down on his desk. The glistening spectacles were removed, meticulously folded and placed beside the papers. His claw-like hands met and clasped each other on the polished surface of the desk, and the clear icy blue eyes fixed their penetrating gaze on me. I swallowed hard. The headmaster breathed deeply and clearly irate he moaned, “Three detentions this term.”
There was a pregnant pause. I twisted my fingers behind my back. Was that a question? Indeed I knew it to be a fact. “Yes sir,” I mumbled.
“Pah! Twice found smoking cigar-rettes.” He rolled the word cigarettes around his mouth with relish. “Twice!” he exploded. “And once for disrespecting Mr Albertson the maths master. What was all that about boy!”
I explained I had been cheeky to him when he caught me reading the Football Monthly at the start of his class. The headmaster gurgled. I couldn’t be sure if he was upset that I had been reading, or that my choice of magazine was the Football Monthly. I didn’t feel able to question him on the point, so still I do not know.
The headmaster grimaced as if he had accidentally sucked on a lemon. “Three detentions,” he grunted. “You know the rules.” I did but he was about to confirm them to me anyway. “A caning. Six strokes.” He hauled himself from his padded chair. I watched as he smoothed down his academic gown before slowly traversing the study to the hat-stand. He reached up and grabbed the cane, like plucking an apple from a tree. He turned to me and flexed it between his hands. Even from a distance I knew this was an awesome rod. It was dark yellow and as thick as a pencil. I guessed it to be more than three feet long, not counting the handle.
Dr Butterworth swished the cane gently through the air as if getting its measure. I saw then how worn and warped it was. This cane had seen some action. I imagined generations of boys before me. All standing on the same spot. All waiting for the headmaster’s command.
His command to me came quickly enough. “Stand in the middle of the room. Face the window. Bend over and touch your toes,” he hissed. “And toes, means toes,” he snarled. I took a deep breath. The middle of the study was devoid of furniture so there was plenty of space for me to bend and for the headmaster to swish his whippy cane through the air. I noticed at that moment how high the ceiling was.
I walked to the spot and reached for my toes. My cap hurtled to the floor. In my enthusiasm I had forgotten to take it off my head. “Leave it be,” scolded the headmaster. He took up position to my left and began to saw his cane across the centre of my buttocks.
I was fifteen years old when that happened. I think I had realised I was entranced by corporal punishment a couple of years earlier. I would dream of visits to the headmaster’s study or of being taken across the knee by my Uncle Reginald and having my pyjama bottoms taken down. For some reason I cannot explain I never imagined being spanked by my father.
Corporal punishment was not used in my family, even when my brothers and I drove mother and father to distraction. It took me a while to work out that I could engineer a visit to the headmaster’s study at school. There were so many rules it was impossible for any boy to keep to them all. There was an elaborate series of available punishments ranging from the mildest awarding of demerits through writing lines and attending detentions. At the apex of all this was corporal punishment.
Some bright spark had ordained that there would be an automatic caning for three detentions. That made my task all the much easier. After that first time I treated myself to a visit to the headmaster’s study once every term. Dr Butterworth never suspected. Or at least I assume not. If the cane was supposed to be a deterrent against bad behaviour it obviously wasn’t working in my case. Who knows? Perhaps he knew more than he let on. I’m sure I wasn’t the only boy in the school who was a repeat visitor. Did they share my interests? I wish there had been some way available back then for me to find out.
Dr Butterworth retired by the same time I was in the sixth-form and his replacement a Dr Bludginton was an equally enthusiastic caner. He also believed in what today we call ‘equal opportunities,’ by that I mean he was not averse to caning senior boys as well as juniors.
My last visit to the headmaster’s study occurred when I was eighteen and on the cusp of taking my examinations and leaving. We had a small number of formal classes and a lot of so-called study periods. I took to escaping school during these times which was strictly against the rules. Well, boo-hoo. What are you going to do? Cane me? Please!
Bludginton took the bait. The fact that I had all but given up performing my duties as a prefect would have helped his decision to beat me. He was a much younger man than Butterworth, and it was common knowledge among the boys that his right arm was somewhat stronger than his predecessor’s. I looked forward to the new experience.
Where Dr Butterworth was a touch-your-toes man, Bludginton preferred to order a chap to drape himself across an armchair. There was a marvellous padded leather effort in the study. Its arms were high enough to accommodate the junior boys while we taller seniors were ordered across its back.
I wondered whether the new headmaster would allow that the sixth-form boys were seniors and accordingly treat them more harshly. I would gladly lower my trousers and offer him my bottom clad in tight, white cotton Y-front underpants. And, if I could plot a repeat performance before it was time to leave school I’d happily take Six across the bared buttocks.
I plotted a cunning plan. After Dr Bludginton had jawed me about my rule breaking, he announced the inevitable. I was to be caned. He moved over to the low armchair at the furthest end of the study, swung it round and pushed it into the centre of the room. He picked up his cane – the same one old Butterworth had used for many years – and whacked it across the back of the leather chair. “Bend over,” he intoned.
In one smooth movement, I walked to the chair, halted about two feet from its back and swiftly took hold of the buckle of my belt. It was loosened in moments. I popped the button at the waist of my pale-grey trousers and undid the fly. The weight of the belt and some coins in a pocket helped the trousers slip swiftly to my knees. I spread my legs and they continued to my shoes. I gripped the tail of my gleaming white shirt which hung over my privates and buttocks and lifted it clear of my Y-fronts, then I dived over the back of the chair, took hold of the cushion and spread my legs.
Dr Bludginton had a perfect target. I was growing out of the pants so they clung snugly to the contours of my buttocks. At home earlier I had set up mirrors so I could observe myself bend over the armchair in the living room. If I say so myself I looked terrific.
In the study I looked down at the cushion waiting patiently for the first swipe across the underpants. Nothing happened. I heard floorboards creak, Dr Bludginton was pacing the study. Perhaps he was admiring my young, lithe body submissive in underpants. I supposed I would do something similar in his position.
He was breathing heavily, like an asthmatic without his inhaler. “No, no, no,” he gasped. “This will not do. No. Stand up boy.”
I stood my ground. I was not ready to give up quite so readily.
“Stand up, stand up,” he spluttered.
Still I did not move. If this was a contest of wills I intended to be the victor.
“Stand up!” he almost shrieked. Unnerved, I pulled myself to my feet and stood, trousers still at my feet. Dr Bludginton’s face was as scarlet as I’d hoped my bottom would be.
“No, no, no,” he was dumbfounded.
A sudden thought struck me, “But sir,” I purred, “This is how Dr Butterworth did it,” I grimaced, “Trousers down, sir.”
Dr Bludginton’s eyes popped. He suspected it was a lie. He blustered, “No. No, I don’t believe it.” His head shook violently, “That’s not true. It’s simply not true,” he protested. “Get dressed, get dressed,” he was becoming hysterical. “Now. Get those trousers up boy.”
Reluctantly, I reached down and pulled the trousers up. At a snail’s pace I tucked in my shirt and rebuttoned the fly. I still hoped he might relent and whip my backside on the pants.
Dr Bludginton watched me with fear in his eyes. I didn’t think it then, but looking back I wonder if he thought I was setting him up for blackmail. Caning a senior boy on his underpants was irregular. A schoolmaster might end up in the law court for less.
The new headmaster relaxed visibly when I was again fully dressed. I waited head bowed a little embarrassed that my trick had been uncovered. I waited for him to order me back over the chair. Maybe, I thought he would award me extra strokes for my hoax.
Dr Bludginton smiled, a broad, open grin. At that moment I knew I had been rumbled. He chortled quietly and walked across the study to return the cane to the hat-stand. When that task was completed, he turned to me. “No caning,” he said. “Not now. Not ever. Not for you.” I felt my face hot with embarrassment. My mouth opened, but I bit back the plea I wanted to make.
“Instead,” the new headmaster had not finished, “You will write me a four-page essay entitled, ‘The pitfalls of corporal punishment.’ By next Monday. You are dismissed.”
“No,” I wanted to beg. “Please don’t do this to me.”
“Go lad, now.” Dr Bludginton held open the study door. Crestfallen, my legs like lead, I shuffled from the room, never to return.
In videos these days I have seen many scenes where headmasters cane their naughty boys with trousers and pants down. Alas, that never happened in real life – or at least not at my school (worse luck!).
Picture credit: Unknown
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Also writing school stories as Scholastic here
Charles Hamilton the Second