The headmaster and his two guests sat drinking tea in his study. The meeting looked to be a success. They had toured the school and they both seemed very impressed. Perhaps a deal was imminent.
There was a tap on the door. Blast, the headmaster silently cursed. He had forgotten all about Thompson.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he nodded towards the door of his study. “Something I must attend to.” Then more loudly he called, “Come!”
The door inched open slowly and stopped.
“Well come in boy! Don’t keep me waiting!”
Then a face popped round the door. It was a shiny face, a face that liked to smile a lot. But, not that afternoon. There was nothing to smile about – not when the face’s owner had been summoned to the headmaster’s study.
“Come in boy,” the headmaster had now all but forgotten his important visitors.
A miserable sixth-form boy shuffled into the study and then stopped still: puzzled. He had been in this room many times before and he knew entirely what his fate this afternoon would be. But never before did he have an audience.
“Well Thompson,” the headmaster intoned, affecting a grave expression. Like all headmasters he could be a bit of a ham actor when the occasion demanded it. “You know why you have been sent for.” It was a statement as much as a question.
“Yes, Sir,” the eighteen-year-old prefect eyed the visitors apprehensively, still unsure what part they were to play in the little drama that was about to unfold.
“Good. Then don’t let us waste any more time. Go through into Mrs Tomkinson’s office, she has left for the day. I’ll deal with you in a moment.”
The teenager blinked, almost in gratitude. So it wasn’t going to be a public thrashing after all.
The two visitors look on in awe as the headmaster strolled to a cupboard, opened it and extracted a thick crook-handled cane. Without a further word he exited into the secretary’s office, accidentally leaving the door open a little.
Both men remained silent, at first not daring to look each other in the eye. Joshua Durnford fidgeted in his seat and crossed his legs. His companion Winker Wilson watched Durnford’s eyes shine as almost inaudible voices drifted in from the adjacent room. Then there was the sound of a cane being swished through the air a few times before it landed with a resounding crack. Four times the room was filled with the sound of the swish and crack of the cane. Twack number four was met with a loud yowl!
Sweat moistened Durnford’s brow when he heard the authoritative voice of the headmaster say, “Bend over. If you stand up again you will receive extra strokes, do you understand?” There followed a moment of silence and then two more cracks.
Still the two men stayed quiet, unwilling to acknowledge to one another what was taking place next door. Sweat trickled down Durnford’s neck and his hand shook a little as he raised the teacup to his lips.
The door opened and Dr Burnham returned, replaced the cane in the cupboard and sat down and as if nothing had happened. “Apologies gentlemen, now where were we?”
An hour or so later all three men sat in the VIP lounge of the rugby club sipping their third whiskies. Durnford seemed only to have one thing on his mind.
“Headmaster, this is 1968 I didn’t think they still used corporal punishment.”
The headmaster had not expected this to be their topic of conversation, but answered nonetheless. “It has indeed fallen into disuse in some schools, particularly, I believe, the state schools, but in high-class private schools such as ours, it is an important feature. We find the parents appreciate their sons are in a disciplined environment. It is why they send them to us and why they are willing to pay high fees.”
The headmaster was keen to impress Durnford. He was trying to sell him Draffield Independent Grammar School, of which he owned ninety percent of the shares. He knew Durnford from the rugby club as a very successful and wealthy entrepreneur. When Durnford heard the school was for sale, he had said he might buy it. A traditional (almost old-fashioned) school fitted in with his interests, he had said.
The headmaster knew the school was a robust business for now, but the socialist government had many cabinet ministers who did not support private education, so the future was less certain. If he could sell now he could retire very comfortably indeed.
“Do you use corporal punishment much, headmaster?” Dr Burnham was nothing if not perceptive and he noticed that Durnford appeared to have an unusual interest in the subject.
“No more than is necessary. I find once the boys understand the consequences of breaking the rules, they do not do so.”
Durnford leaned forward in his chair, spilling whisky from his glass. “But, headmaster, do you believe caning actually works?”
Dr Burnham noticed Durnford had referred to him as “headmaster” several times, even though they had been on first name terms for years. It was then the headmaster had the germ of an idea.
“It depends how you do it. If you do not cane a boy properly then you will have failed, he will learn nothing from it. However, if you cane him hard he will learn everything that you wish to teach him. The intense agony of the caning is short lived. I believe it to be a simple choice, a temporary sore and very bruised and painful bottom, or a lifetime of failure.”
The headmaster lapsed into silence and studied his companion who appeared to be debating with himself what to say next. So, the headmaster gave him the lead. “What do you think Thomas?”
Durnford blushed, a little, but this time it was not the effect of the whisky. “I was never caned at my school. I never went to a posh school like yours,” he trailed off regretfully, “just an ordinary Board school.”
Wilson’s ears pricked up. He had been Durnford’s business partner for many years but he never knew that. Wilson had assumed Durnford was a public school man like himself. What an oik, he hadn’t been to public school at all, just some simple council school.
He wanted to know more. “So tell me Thomas, were you thrashed at school?”
Durnford blushed and took a gulp of whisky as if distressed by the question, “No, we didn’t have the cane, nor the slipper. Nothing like that really,” he sounded disappointed and fell into an embarrassed silence.
“More drinks gentlemen” Durnford was relieved that the waiter had appeared from nowhere and they ordered another round of doubles.
“Of course,” Wilson said, enjoying his social superiority, “I was head boy at my public school, St Tom’s, and as such was allowed to cane the younger boys. This was long time ago of course. In the thirties.”
Durnford felt a surge of excitement and the whisky loosened his tongue and the words just poured out. “How did you cane them? How many strokes did you give? Was it on the trousers? I hear in some schools it was done on the bare?”
Dr Burnham’s eyebrows knotted and he smiled to himself. Now, he had the measure of this man.
Durnford, embarrassed by his outburst, swigged on his whisky; the men had not eaten and he realised he was more than a little drunk.
Winker Wilson had himself been thrashed many times at his school. All the boys had been; often by the senior boys who were prefects. Then, as they progressed up to the sixth-form and became prefects themselves, they had in turn beaten the younger boys. Such were the traditions of England’s finest – and not so finest – public schools.
Winker had loved the power that came with being head boy and he told his tale to his two drunken companions with some relish.
“At school there were several places where the chaps would go for a smoke after classes and on this day the prefects launched a co-ordinated attack. We raided all the smoking holes. We must have caught seven or eight boys.
“The worst of it was that one of the illicit smokers was a chap from the upper sixth. Charter, I think his name was. He wasn’t a prefect and so was subject to the same rules as everyone else.”
Durnford’s eyes shone in anticipation at the next part of the story and he shifted in his chair, crossing and uncrossing his legs in the vain hope that his companions would not notice his excitement.
Wilson relished increasing his embarrassment.
“So, I sent him to my wait outside my study. Poor chap, he was so embarrassed. He must have been eighteen years old, nineteen maybe, and he knew what was coming and there was nothing he could do about it,” Wilson almost giggled at the memory.
“I arrived and instructed him to enter. ‘Face the wall Charter’. I ordered as if he were one of the junior boys. He had no option but to comply. I had complete authority over him.”
He swigged more whisky, studying Durnford’s posture as he continued his story. “I began my preparations. The area in front of my desk was already clear of any obstruction so I placed a small chair about three feet away and sideways on to the front edge of my desk. I fetched a suitable cane from my small collection of five such implements in the corner cupboard and placed it on my desk.
“Charter had of course been caned previously – we all had – but it still came as a great shock when I ordered him to lower his trousers down to his ankles for six strokes across the underpants.”
Durnford was in great discomfort and would have been wise to adjourn to the Gentlemen’s lavatory to deal with his current predicament, but he was anxious to hear the rest of the story.
Wilson continued, “It is best to get it over and done with as quickly as possible, don’t you think so headmaster?”
Dr Burnham was determined not to be drawn into this discussion and remained silent.
Wilson had the floor to himself. “I tapped the chair with my thick cane. ‘Bend right over the back of the chair, and put your forehead firmly down on the seat,’ I commanded. Of course, he had no choice and immediately complied. Boys did in those days. They took their canings without fuss. Is it much the same today, headmaster?’
The headmaster grunted, his response could have been Yes, or it could have been No, as far as Wilson could tell.
Wilson was warming to this theme, “I waited only a few seconds between strokes, delivering six in a speeded up rhythm, which allowed very little time for the sixth-former to fully absorb the impact of the previous stroke before the next one landed. He did not take it very well, if I remember correctly. He was jumping up and down before the third cut hit home. I don’t suppose his underpants were much use to him.
“But it was over in a matter of seconds. When he stood he gave me such a look of contempt I was tempted to have him take his underpants down and give him another six on the bare. I restrained myself admirably, but did make a note to find an excuse to thrash him once again the very next opportunity that presented itself.
“He might have had contempt for me, but I had won. He was rubbing his stinging bottom like mad when he left my study that day.”
There was silence as all three swigged from their glasses. “Shall we go eat gentlemen?” Dr Burnham was keen to steer the conversation back to the sale of the school.
They tucked into steak and kidney pudding and potatoes, but the stodgy food did nothing to soak up the alcohol. Now, came the headmaster’s opportunity.
Speaking directly at Durnford he said in his experience many adult men missed the certainty of their school days. They knew what the rules were and what the penalty would be if they broke them: a beating.
“It was penitence,” he said. “The crime as it were had been committed, the bad deed had been discovered and six-of-the-best was the punishment. In that way they atoned for their crime and they moved on with a clean slate … until the next time, of course.”
Dr Burnham was ready to take an enormous gamble. On it could rest the future of his school, and certainly the size of his pension.
“Some former boys of the school still see me as their headmaster, an authority figure if you will. They find it a comfort to know that when they need to atone for some misbehaviour in their everyday life, their work for example, I can be at hand to help them with their penance.”
“Yes,” Durnford slurred, “I think I know exactly what you mean.” He stopped, his eyes glazed, it was as if he had lost his trail of thought. “You see, I have this thing, this problem,” he stopped in embarrassment.
“Thomas,” the headmaster leaned forward. “You have my number; telephone me if you need my assistance.” He did not need to wink, even in his drunken state Durnford knew what he meant. “I am usually in my study between four and five o’clock each evening. Please telephone me if you wish to.”
Durnford’s eyes glistened and the headmaster was certain he would soon receive the call. The headmaster was a man of the world and he knew what Durnford wanted.
Next day, the call came and they made an appointment for five o’clock that afternoon, by which time the secretary would have left for home.
Durnford was so excited at the prospect at his visit to the headmaster’s study he succeeded in arriving too early for his appointment. Mrs Tomkinson was still in her office, but hurriedly clearing up for the day, seemingly anxious to be away.
“Oh, Mr Durnford,” she greeted him formally. “The headmaster has somebody with him, but please wait he won’t be a moment.” And with that she darted from the room.
Somebody with him: did that mean what he thought it did? He stood close to the door that separated him from the study, hoping that it did mean just that. He was not disappointed. Through the door he heard the tell-tale sounds of cane swishing through the air, then a series of cracks, followed by gasps and ouches.
He retreated from the study door just as it opened and out came a young man he recognised. It was Johnstone, a young rugby player from the club where he and the headmaster were members. He knew Johnstone because he had been sent off during a match the previous Saturday for punching an opponent.
Was Johnstone a pupil at the school, he wondered. He rather thought he was a bit too old for that and did not expect to see him here. It was all the more surprising because the burly lad had tears streaming down his face and was rubbing his rugby-shorts-clad buttocks in obvious agony as he peered over his shoulder to try and inspect the damage. He had not seen Durnford in the room and drew up the hem of his shorts, revealing a tightly-packed cluster of livid weals along the under-side of his bottom. He had clearly been beaten very severely.
Suddenly, he realised the presence of another man in the room. “Ohhh, Christ!” he wailed, and with his face now as red as his buttocks, he fled from the office.
Durnford paced the secretary’s room, staring at the clock on the wall, waiting and waiting for the minute hand to crawl to twelve. On the dot of five o’clock he tapped on the study door.
The study was lined with books; on the mantelpiece stood two large silver trophies and above it a framed portrait of the Queen. In the centre of the study was a large mahogany desk which had been cleared but for three canes of varying lengths and thicknesses and the headmaster’s mortar-board cap. Two armchairs of well-worn leather were to the left of the desk and to the right french windows looked out onto the playing fields. Framed in the windows was the tall figure of the headmaster standing erect with an air of imperious authority.
He was tall and solid, as befitted a former county rugby player. He wore a dark grey suit with a tattered, academic gown over his shoulders.
“Stand there boy,” the headmaster pointed to a spot in front of his desk. “Tell me why you are here?”
As arranged previously Durnford listed the many misdeeds that had brought him before the headmaster. Dr Burnham listened patiently, but was anxious to get this over with.
“What punishment do you think you deserve?”
“Twelve strokes, trousers down, thank you headmaster,” Durnford replied too eagerly.
The headmaster should have expected such a reply, but did not. A proper twelve strokes on the pants would be unendurable by even the most hardened receiver of the cane.
“No, this is your first offence and I intend to be lenient with you,” he said.
The look of sheer disappointment on Durnford’s face unnerved the headmaster.
“But,” he hurried to regain the situation, “If you are sent to me again, it most certainly will be twelve cuts with your trousers at your ankles.”
“Thank you headmaster.”
“Take off your jacket, boy, and put it over the back of that chair!”
Durnford was surprised at his own calmness. With no difficulty he undid the buttons of his suit jacket, slipped it from his shoulders and folded it neatly on the seat of a straight-backed chair.
“Good, now pull that chair over here,” the headmaster ordered pointing to a medium-sized leather armchair.
Durnford submissively obeyed his master and moved one of the ancient worn chairs until the head was happy with its position.
“Good. I am now going to beat you and it will be six of the very best,” and so saying he walked to his desk and inspected his canes. He selected one and looked at it carefully and seemed to realise something about it. He replaced it on the desk and exchanged it for another one. The new one was slightly longer, a bit thicker and completely smooth with the traditional crooked handle of the school cane.
While he did this Durnford waited, the tension of excitement mixed with anxiety swelling inside of him.
Satisfied with his selection, Dr Burnham took a deep breath, as if gearing himself up to perform an unpleasant task.
“Stand there boy. Face me.” He pointed to a spot a foot or two from the back of the armchair.
Durnford stood; his head bowed a little, hands clasped behind his back.
“You are about to receive six strokes of the cane, and I promise you, young man, that I am really going to cane you as hard as you deserve to be caned.”
Then he spoke the words Durnford had dreamed off all his life, “Now, bend over that chair.”
His heart raced and the blood rushed at speed through his arteries so quickly that he feared it would flood out of his body through his ears. Breaths came in short gasps and suddenly his back was drenched in sweat.
The time had come; he had been dreaming of this moment, it seemed, for the whole of his life. He mustn’t spoil the event by collapsing in a heap on the carpet.
He gulped in two lungs-full of air to steady his nerves, then by rubbing his hands together he composed himself. In a continuous movement he leaned over the chair thrusting his bottom firmly upwards for what would be for him the thrashing of a lifetime.
“Further!” There was no reason for the middle-aged man to move; instinctively he had presented his buttocks perfectly to receive the cane, but the headmaster acknowledged Durnford wanted to experience the full drama of a headmaster’s caning.
By the time the good doctor was satisfied his companion’s large bottom was sticking out ideally, presenting the maximum surface for the application of the cane. The chair had accommodated so many boys in a similar posture over the years and Durnford fitted perfectly into the folds of the chair back.
The first thing Durnford realised was that he could not see himself draped over the chair awaiting his first-ever punishment. Nor could he see the headmaster swishing his cane and cracking it into his own upturned buttocks. That was how he pictured this event in his fantasies. Instead, all he could see was the seat cushion that his face was pressed into.
He did however know that his bottom was taut and in the air. He felt the headmaster grab the tail of his shirt and remove it from the waistband of his trousers and push it up an inch or two so that his lower back was bare. He was truly helpless, just like a vulnerable sixth-form schoolboy in position submissively waiting for a caning. He was trapped and he suddenly became very conscious of the tightness of his trousers around his buttocks.
He clutched the seat cushion awaiting his punishment. He could not help it: his vulnerable buttocks quivered in anticipation.
Dr Burnham was an experienced and very expert caner. He knew how to inflict the right severity of punishment to fit an individual boy’s personality and the crime he had committed, but he was unsure about Durnford. He was a mature adult and could probably endure much more pain that the average schoolboy, but he was also a novice and even a mild caning would for him be “the thrashing of a lifetime”.
He was still unsure how hard to lay it on as he flexed the cane between his hands and contemplated the pair of buttocks presented to him. Durnford might be a middle-aged gentleman but he was still very fit. That was when he decided: Oh damn it! I’ll give it to him in the same way I gave it to Johnstone.
The headmaster took up his position and for the first time in his life Durnford felt a cane tapping his buttock cheeks, He tensed as the doctor raised the cane then struck it hard across the waiting target. Durnford heard the sickening swish then the fire exploded across his bum. He groaned as the stinging pain took control of him.
The head took aim a second time and swung the cane to land crisply on the crown of the buttocks opening up a fresh line of stinging pain, which made Durnford’s fists uncurl and grasp at the coarse fabric of the chair’s seat cushion.
Each stroke was laid on with the same dreadful force. By the third Durnford was unaware of anything except the screaming agony in his bottom. He yelped as the cane made contact but stayed in position, as slowly but methodically the headmaster lashed the senior cane a further three times across the tender buttocks, low down in a tight band just where he would have to sit down. All six strokes were a very narrow strip across the very base of his bottom.
Durnford did not take it well. The caning came with alarming accuracy and devastating pain. His buttocks clenched and unclenched, his legs shook, his feet beat a tattoo on the floor and a strangulated cry echoed around the room. Patiently, after each stroke Dr Burnham waited for him to subside once more, measured the cane across the lower part of the cheeks and struck again with penetrating force.
It was over in a matter of seconds. In the distance Durnford heard the headmaster telling him to stand up and place his hands on his head. Almost unbelieving, Durnford staggered into an upright position, he wanted to clasp his throbbing buttocks, but with tears in his eyes, and hopping about from foot to foot, he obeyed the headmaster’s instructions, placed his hands on his head and moved to stand facing the wall.
The headmaster stared at the back of the ‘boy,’ unsure how this was supposed to end. Durnford had calmed a little, but he still fidgeted in some discomfort. The headmaster avoided looking for a tell-tale bulge.
In time, he decided to dismiss Durnford in the time-honoured fashion of headmaster and punished schoolboy.
“Turn around.” Durnford did so. “Keep your hands on your head. Look at me when I am speaking to you.” The headmaster wobbled the flexible cane he had used for the thrashing close to Durnford’s face. “Remember next time it will be double the strokes and trousers down. Is that clear, boy?”
“Yes, Sir, headmaster Sir. Thank you headmaster,” the endorphins had kicked in and Durnford was on a high.
“If that is understood then please leave my study.”
Durnford did not need telling twice. The second he was through the door, his hands clasped his buttocks and he rubbed away furiously.
The headmaster replaced the chair to its rightful position and then gathered up the canes and put them in the cupboard. Then he sat down in the same chair that minutes before had held Durnford’s prostrate body, wishing a bottle of whisky was close at hand.
He stared through the french windows into the playing fields beyond where senior boys were engaged in rugby practice. How many more times would he have to do this before Durnsford agreed to buy, he pondered silently.
This story was first uploaded in May 2016
Picture credit: The Magnet
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