Percy Westerman paced his study, halted at the wall and for a moment studied the photograph hanging there. He had seen it many times before. It was the House Rugby XV from twenty years ago: 1914. Two years before he was born. Its significance was lost on him.
He glanced across at the clock on the mantelshelf. He still had a few moments before his appointment. Silently, he cursed. How he hated this school. In a few months he would be free of the place and its petty tyrannies. It could not come a second too soon.
He stood at the window. His view was not a picturesque one. He could see one side of the quadrangle of Stockton School – a grey, smoke-grimed pile, looking even more prisonlike in the grey shades of evening. Surrounded by four buildings was the only open space that Stockton School possessed, a rectangle of cinder-covered ground, without grass and ground down by the feet of a hundred scholars.
Stockton was an old and well-known school in the heart of Cokley, a large town in the north of England. Fifty years ago the school had been on the outskirts of the town and was bounded on three sides by green fields. Since then Cokley had grown until it had swallowed its rural surroundings in a mass of factories, furnaces, slag-heaps, railway sidings, and small tenements, while Stockton School remained like an oasis of mid-Victorian architecture in a desert of unlovely bricks and mortar.
Percy drew in a deep breath, even the air smelt foul. Stockton was so unlike the boarding schools he had read about in story papers as a young boy. Greyfriars had never been like this. The big hand on the clock juddered further towards twelve. It was time to go; time to face the music.
If the exterior of Stockton had been encased by grime, its interior still resonated with the past. He passed the mullioned windows of the library, entered the clock tower, took the stairs at a pace slower than a snail’s, and reached the study door. Here he paused, took a deep breath and tapped his knuckles softly against an oak panel.
It was a typical housemaster’s study, smelling of old books, leather and pipe tobacco. There was a polished walnut desk; an old, worn dark upholstered armchair; a glass-fronted cupboard partially concealing books and trophies and other paraphernalia. Dominating one wall was a wooden rack from which hung a number of whippy, rattan canes, bent not only with old age but with the frequent use on the backsides of generations of offending schoolboys.
Mr Brewster the housemaster was in a bad temper and he was liverish. As a master Brewster was a failure. He was unsympathetic. He looked upon boys in general as great nuisances. In his opinion stern discipline was the only way to keep order, and in trying to keep order he bordered on tyranny.
He glared at Percy Westerman standing before him. He was a tall, thin boy of eighteen, dressed in a blue blazer with its red braiding around the collar, cuffs and pockets and dark grey flannel baggy trousers. He wore a grey waistcoat, orange and blue diagonally striped tie and a blue-and-white-hooped school cap.
Brewster’s thin lips snarled. His almost bald pate glistened. His cruel grey eyes narrowed. He cleared his throat and from his hard wooden chair he leaned across the desk, forcing his elbows into the hard surface.
“You have frequently been guilty of impertinence, and more frequently of egging on weaker boys to be impertinent. Of late your whole character seems to have taken a turn for the worse,” he had prepared a speech. Westerman, no stranger to the housemaster’s study let him get on with it. What was the point? Brewster would not be derailed from the journey he had begun. His voice was not loud, but it was deep. His face was inflamed with rage.
“You are a slacker. Your work is appalling,” he peered intently at the boy before him, now hopping uncomfortably from foot to foot. Brewster glared, “Under the circumstances, I must conclude that I have no alternative but to administer a punishment.”
Percy stared resolutely at the rug beneath his feet. His eyes hardly moved when Brewster hauled himself from his chair to his feet, then a little unsteadily he progressed across the study. Percy knew where the master was headed. Seconds later he heard the tell-tale rattle. It was a cane being removed from the rack. Swish! The housemaster let fly. There was no purpose to the action, he was very aware of the properties of each and every one of his collection. He had used them all often enough.
This time he had chosen his favourite “dragon” cane. This was no longer or thicker than any of the traditional whippy curve-handled rattan rods on his rack. It was however more dense. It packed a punch and would leave even a senior boy such as Westerman in severe pain. He turned to face the sixth-former. “Look at me boy,” he intoned and flexed the cane menacingly between his hands. Then, he swiped it once more through empty air. He seemed satisfied.
“Bend over that chair,” the housemaster pointed the cane at the worn armchair as if there could be any doubt in his intentions. “Bend over that chair!” he rapped out the words once more. The armchair had a high back, far too high for even the tallest, lankiest schoolboy to put himself over and stretch out his arms to clutch the seat cushion for dear life.
Westerman knew the routine. A boy was expected to drape himself over one of the upholstered arms, tuck his knees into the side of the chair and thereby raise his bottom high to greet the thwack of the rattan cane.
Percy sucked on his bottom lip, rubbed his sweaty palms together, took a couple of deep breaths and then after one flowing movement he had his face in the seat cushion. It was dusty with a faint smell of sweat where visitors had previously sat in comfort to enjoy conversation, and who knew, tea, with Mr Brewster.
Percy could be assured that after what he was about to receive he would not be able to enjoy a comfortable sit-down for some time to come. Tonight he would be taking supper standing up, that was for certain.
With his face in the cushion the eighteen-year-old couldn’t be sure of Mr Brewster’s movements, but he heard him shuffle across the hard floor of the study. He was taking up his position. He was not yet fully prepared. The room was eerily silent except for the sound of a cane being swished through the air. Instinctively Percy Westerman moved his back slightly, the better to look round to see what was going on.
“Keep perfectly still,” the housemaster growled. Percy burrowed his head in the cushion.
Up went the cane with a whiz and down it came with a fearful slash.
Mr Brewster’s cane flogged across Percy’s tight backside. He could not have struck harder if he had been beating dust from a carpet.
Swipe! YAROOOOOOH! The savage cane rang across Percy’s bottom like a crack from a pistol. He shut his teeth tightly, just keeping back another cry of pain.
Percy squirmed; he twisted. Mr Brewster didn’t care; he had a cruel streak and would have gladly cut any boy to shreds.
The cane bounced across Percy’s seat and dust blew off his trousers.
Percy was close to choking, vomit clogged the back of his throat. Six of the best. Delivered and received. It felt like his bottom had swelled to twice its natural size. He could feel welts throbbing beneath his trousers. It had been a terrific thrashing, quite the worst he had ever received. It would hurt for ages. Sitting down would be unpleasant for some time to come. But, it was over. He had survived.
Swipe! Swipe! Brewster laid on two more fearful slashes. The housemaster’s knuckles grew white his grip on the cane was so tight.
Swipe! Swipe! Percy howled with agony as the cane rose and fell without mercy.
Swipe! Swipe! They were blows such as no master ought to ever have dealt, but Brewster was too furious to care how much he hurt the boy.
That was a dozen cuts. Percy lay limp and suffering trying his best not to blub, waiting for the master to give the command to get up. He seemed to be taking an eternity.
“That’s over,” he growled. “You may remove yourself.”
Percy staggered to his feet; his face ghostly white. Blood coursed through his arteries and his temples throbbed almost as much as his shredded buttocks. Despite every code of honour known to schoolboys he rubbed his cheeks furiously. Mr Brewster averted his eyes pretending not to notice him as he did this, but he did not suppress his smile. He was a very satisfied man.
“You may go, Westerman .”
Without a word Percy left the study. He closed the door hard – with a slam. Brewster started, his eyes sparkled and the words rose to his lips to call the boy back. It was an act of intentional disrespect and Brewster was not the master to forgive it, as a rule. But he did not call Westerman back. The senior’s punishment had already been severe and the master let him go.
Percy paused in the passageway, uncontrollable hate and rage welling up in his breast. He pressed his hands against the seat of his trousers in a dismal attempt to manage the pain, but the relief was very little. The strokes had been laid on with a strong arm and the pain was aching and tingling through all his nerves.
He went down the passage. His white, drawn face attracted glances from several fellows he passed and one or two of them stopped to inquire what was the matter.
Percy did not answer them; he did not even hear them. He went straight to his room, where he knew he would be alone. In the long, lofty, shadowing room the wretched boy flung himself upon his bed, and no longer fearing observation, the hard held tears burst out in a torrential flood.
Picture Credit: Unknown
Other stories you might like
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second