The Headmaster’s a sadistic old so-and-so. He makes you wait, standing, nose inches from the wall. He does it every time. Waiting. What for? I know it’ll be the cane. I’ve been here before. Many times. It’ll be on the bare for sure, this time.
I can’t see him, but I can sense that he’s there. Just sitting. Waiting. Letting me stew. The study is hot. I’ve never seen the window open. It’s muggy and smells a bit of stale cigarette smoke and old man’s sweat. Cigarette smoke. I wonder how many schoolboys’ backsides the Old Man has caned because they were caught smoking. So that makes him a hypocrite as well as a sadist.
I could be standing here for hours. All right, not for hours, but for a very long time. “Stand there and think about what you’ve done,” he growled when he pointed me towards the wall. That’s not what he really means. What he really means is, “Stand there and be scared about what I’m about to do to you.”
He doesn’t scare me. Honestly, he doesn’t. You can only be scared if you don’t know what’s coming next. The first time a boy is called to the study and put through this rigmarole, he might be frightened. Frightened of the unknown. Will it be the cane? How many strikes? Will it hurt? Can I stop myself blubbing? But once you’ve been through it you know the answers. They are yes, yes, yes and no, not necessarily: in that order.
When he’s ready – and that might not be for some time yet – he will drag himself from behind his desk. He will sigh like he’s got all the world’s troubles on his shoulders. I have to keep my eyes glued to the road map of Brocklehurst the Headmaster has on his wall. I look to find the street where I live – The Avenue – while the Head takes a gentle stroll across the study. I can’t see him (of course) but his heavy footsteps make the old floorboards creak.
When the footsteps stop there will be a pause of maybe twenty seconds while he rummages through his pockets. He is looking for the small brass key that opens a tall thin cupboard that stands in the corner. I won’t be able to hear the door open, but he’ll make certain I hear him as he puts his hand inside. He’ll rattle the canes around. They make a strange, unmistakable jangling as they knock into one another and against the wooden sides of the cupboard. I don’t know how many canes he keeps in there, but the echoing noise suggests there are plenty.
I suppose by this time the boy about to be beaten is supposed to be trembling with fear; counting down the moments until the Headmaster’s inevitable command: “Bend over!” It doesn’t work like that. Does he know? All I can think of is: “Can you get on with this please, I’m meeting Freddie and the gang at five o’clock.”
I read somewhere – don’t laugh, but it was in some newspaper article calling for the abolition of corporal punishment – that schools claim the cane is only used as a “last resort”. They meant that a boy is put through any number of punishments – writing lines, detentions, you name it – and if all that fails, only then do they get a swishing. Ha! Not at this school. The cane is pretty much the First Resort. I couldn’t tell you how many rules there are here, there are so many, but it seems to me if you break just about any one of them you could find yourself touching your toes or bent across a desk or the back of a chair. Last Resort – my eye!
Can there be a single boy at this school who hasn’t had his backside battered at some time or another? It’s hard to believe. And it’s never ending. Here I am, eighteen years old, a sixth-former, with only a few weeks to go until I’m free of this place, and still I am forced to stand, contrite, hands-behind-back, waiting nervously for six-of-the-best.
After a great deal of rattling, the Headmaster finally chooses his weapon of choice. This is a farce, of course. He has caned so many boys over the years that he is intimately acquainted with each and every one of those rattans. He could pick one out blindfolded. But, it’s the little game the Headmaster likes to play and there’s nothing you or me can do about it.
The heavy footsteps start again. He is returning to his desk. I can smell his body odour. He is standing close behind me. I still can’t see him, but the swishing sound as the cane flies through empty air tells me all I need to know. He is getting himself ready, flexing the thin rod between his hands. Swiping it to demonstrate its power. It is a standard school cane. You’ve probably seen a few in your time, and if you went to a school like mine, felt the sting across your stretched backside. By now, a boy is supposed to be sweating with anxiety, shaking a little. Overcome with fear. Not me.
As I said, fear comes with the unknown. I know almost exactly what comes next. I’ve been here before. Many times. I have no fear. I think economists call it “diminishing returns”. The fear gets a little less with each visit to the study, until it gets to the point when all I want is for him to get on with it. I have broken the rules, the Headmaster is determined to punish me. He has already jawed me; told me why I am to be beaten. When he orders it so, I will submit to the cane. God is in his Heaven. The world moves on.
“Turn around,” the Headmaster intones. I face him. He is an ugly, old man. His nose is long and pointed and would not look out of place on the face of a witch. What hair he still possesses is grey and sticks out from his temples in untidy tufts. A pot belly strains against his tight waistcoat. He wears a tweed suit that might never have been fashionable, but almost certainly dates from before the war. Over this he has an old and rather tattered academic gown. Among schoolmasters an ancient gown is seen as some kind of status. I says the wearer has been around for many years; has seen it all, and cannot be fooled.
The Headmaster wobbles his jowls and growls. His yellow, uneven teeth show. “Pick up that chair,” he swishes the cane towards and old, wooden straight backed chair. “Put it there,” he nods his head imperiously at a space in the middle of the study, just in front of his desk. The chair is surprisingly heavy. I have seen it at close up before, but that doesn’t stop me noticing how much of the varnish has worn away in two places: the apex of the back and the seat. Generations of schoolboys have submitted themselves across that chair and held on to the seat for dear life while the Headmaster went about his duty.
I let the chair down with a thump and take a step back. I stand, head bowed, hands once more clamped behind my back. It is a position of respect, but I don’t feel respect. I feel slightly annoyed that I should be going through this. Again, and at my age. The Headmaster swishes the cane again: does he really think this intimidates me? He really is a ham actor. “Take off your blazer. Put it there.” This time he wobbles the cane at his desk. I walk the two or three steps necessary and stand by the desk. I count up to ten in my head. This serves no purpose but I am feeling a bit bloody minded; two can play at amateur dramatics. Then, with a steady hand I unbutton the jacket and slip it from my shoulders. I take my time folding it neatly. I wait. The Headmaster has not told me what to do next.
“Pah!” he ejaculates. Obviously, he had expected me to return to the chair. I count that as a small victory. “Stand by the chair,” he barks. I make the return journey and wait patiently about two yards from the back of the chair. “Pah!” the Headmaster almost shouts, “Closer boy; closer!” Has he realised my little game?
Innocence itself, I shuffle forward. He swishes the cane again and snarls, “Lower your trousers.” I swear the tip of his tongue darts through his pursed lips when he says this. He looks like a lizard. My pale-grey trousers fit snugly and need no belt, so all I have to do is undo the button on my waistband and the fly and they are open. The Headmaster adjusts his position so that he is standing directly across the chair from me. He gets a perfect view of my white Y-fronts as the trousers slip down my thighs and snag at the knees. I part my legs slightly and they continue their journey down to my shins. I stand straight. By now a boy should be shaking like a leaf, anticipation with dread the next command. Not me. “Bring it on,” I say, but aloud.
The Headmaster clears his throat. “Underpants down.” It is almost a whisper. I put my thumbs under the elasticated waistband and with hardly a flick of the wrists I send them south. They stay at my knees and this time I leave them there. The Headmaster’s eyes glaze. He stares at the whippy, rattan cane in his hands as if only for the first time realising he is holding it. I feel a slight breeze across my bare legs, even though the window is closed.
“Lift up your shirt,” the Headmaster’s voice is dry and cracked. My white shirt has long tails and covers part of my buttocks and privates. I take it in my hands and raise it so that I am now fully naked around the Headmaster’s target area. “Bend over the chair,” the Headmaster unnecessarily taps the cane against the back of the wooden chair. The clunking sound it makes reverberates around the room.
I take a lung-full of air, release the shirt and lean forward. I am eighteen years old and quite tall so there is some distance between my stomach and the top of the chair. I arch my back and grip the two sides of the seat. I spread my legs. I know from experience this is how the Headmaster wants me. My head is low and my bottom high. My buttocks are a bit flabby when I am standing, but when presented in this way they stretch and become taut. I cannot see myself, but I am certain I am presenting a perfect target to my master.
I hear the floorboards creak as he moves and stands behind me and to my left. I am pretty certain that my buttocks are completely bared, but even so the Headmaster takes hold of the tail of my shirt and pushes it further up my back. I am naked from my shoulders to my knees. He slaps my left buttock with the palm of his hand. Next thing I feel is his cane resting across the very centre of my buttocks, then it is tapping across the fleshiest part of my bottom. My cheeks tense. They always do, I have no control over them. They harden as a way to protect me from the pain I am about to experience.
It isn’t long in coming. There is a definite swish, followed by a resounding thwack! and a second or so later I feel the searing pain. There is a deep cut forming across my stretched buttocks. It is agony and very soon it radiates from my bum and travels up and down my legs. My heart beats faster. Within seconds the pain is subsiding. That is when the Headmaster flogs me with the second stroke. This one lands a little lower. I rise up on my toes and grip the seat of the chair; already my knuckles are turning white and this is only the second stroke.
The Headmaster takes a pause. He likes to leave some time between each cut to allow the full force to register. He paces the study. It is not a large room and he reaches the far end in no time. He pauses, probably admiring his handiwork from a distance and then slowly returns to his mark. The cane taps across my buttocks, this time a little higher than the first stroke. He lets fly. Make no mistake, the Headmaster is an expert. He always hits his target. I now have three throbbing welts running parallel to each other in a band about two inches wide. My backside is on fire. It feels like he has taken a white-hot poker from his study fire and pressed it into my flesh.
The pain is intense. It always is. There are three more strokes to come. I steady myself. It helps to close your eyes and just wait. Let him get on with it. It will be over soon. There’s nothing you can do about it. You must just wait, submissively and let him get on with it. I am resilient. I know I cannot stop my body reacting to the pain at the moment the cane connects with naked flesh. My hips might wriggle, my knees buckle and my head rise and fall. These are perfectly natural reflex actions. I have no control.
I do not and I will not, yell. I will not beg for mercy. I will not cry. A boy might do any or all of these things the first time he presents his behind to the Headmaster’s cane. That is to be expected. The shock of the experience is too much for him. I am not that boy. I am not a novice. I am a veteran. I have been around the block. I have seen it all before. The fourth cut goes low, into the crease where the buttocks meet the thigh. This is the sensitive “sit-spot”. I will reignite the pain in that cut every time I sit on a hard surface for a long time to come. I do the hip wriggling and knee bending. Blood is rushing to my head and my face must be as bright red as my bottom surely is.
Four down; two to go. The floorboards creak. The Headmaster goes on another wander. I am in no hurry for him to return. I know what comes next. The Headmaster is a sadist. I’m sorry, but there’s no other word for it. In a school where corporal punishment is an everyday affair, he believes that a Headmaster’s caning should be something memorable; awesome even. It is something to be feared by each boy in the school. Once experienced he would never return for more.
I feel the cane resting across my throbbing cheeks. The Headmaster has placed it so it runs from the bottom left, diagonally across to the top right. Tap-tap-tap. Just this small movement rekindles the burning flames. I brace myself. My temples pound, blood rushes to all corners of my body. Sweat soaks my shoulders and trickles down my spine. The cane is moved away. Swish! Swipe! Crack! I bite deeply into my tongue. My head shakes from side to side, I look like a horse neighing. My feet stamp up and down like a sentry on guard duty. My hips sway to left and right. It feels like blood might be seeping from the wounds where the cane has intersected the previous four cuts.
The Headmaster goes walkabouts. I hear him clearing his throat. I have lost all sense of time. It seems like hours. Every sinew of my body aches. My eyes are moist, but, I swear to God, I am not crying. At last, the footsteps start again. The cane taps across my naked buttocks for the last time. He is placing it across the opposite diagonal. When he has finished I’ll have a perfect “X” mark across four parallel strokes. I hold my breath and grit my teeth simultaneously. Whop! He swipes the cane with all his energy; he could be beating a carpet. My bum is already on fire, this final cut makes little difference. I couldn’t possibly hurt any more.
It is over. Six-of-the-best. On the bare. Again. The Headmaster leaves me still bent across the chair, I am wheezing like a dolphin out of water. The pain is excruciating, but I know that in remarkably little time, it will subside. Even before I am dismissed from the study, it will have downgraded to a searing, pulsating throb. In time it will become an irritating ache and then a warm glow. The marks of the cane might last days. The worst – where the diagonals cut – might not clear entirely for a week or two. My cherry-red bum will swiftly turn mauve and over the coming days turn to a variety of blues and yellows. It is over. I have survived. I will live.
“Stand. Get dressed.” The command comes from behind me. As I stand and retrieve my underpants and trousers, I hear the Headmaster return the cane to its home among its countless companions. Without waiting for instruction, I put on my blazer. My fingers tremble as I fasten the buttons.
“Dismissed,” the Headmaster intones. Nonchalantly, I open the door. I close it slowly. Then, I run through the empty passageway to the sixth-form bogs, howling.
Picture credit: Sting Pictures
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