A cold wind whipped through the quadrangle of St Tom’s school. It was only just four in the afternoon but already the sun had disappeared below the far horizon. Coals blazed in the fireplace of Mr Stanley’s study. The housemaster himself rarely felt the cold. His heavy tweed suit and waistcoat protected him from the worst of the elements. An ancient academic gown, draped from his shoulders, acted like a shawl.
Mr Stanley sat in his heavy leather armchair, leafing through the pages of the Morning Post. The Socialists had been defeated in the recent elections, a new Tory Government was in power for another five years. All was well with the world at large.
Much, Mr Stanley mused, could also be said about the world at St Tom’s. Nothing much changed. God was in his Heaven. He folded the newspaper and hauled himself from the deep leather chair. He dropped the Post onto his desk and slowly took a gold pocket watch from his waistcoat. Any moment now …..
As if on cue there was a timid knock on his study door. He allowed a slight, almost unnoticed, smile to curve his mouth. He waited before responding. He knew who was standing outside. Mr Stanley had after all summoned the boy to his study. Let him suffer, he told himself.
Outside in the freezing passageway McAlpine, a recent arrival into the Sixth at St Tom’s, stood hopping from foot to foot. He was eighteen years old, but had only attended the school since the beginning of the term. In the few weeks he had been at St Tom’s he had developed, a reputation for precociousness, with a stubborn inability to remember to address Masters as “Sir.”
Mr Stanley was first to recognize that the good of the House would be best served if McAlpine spent a spell in the study touching his toes. It would improve his attitude somewhat.
Nothing could be more important than a boy’s “attitude”, at St Tom’s. Parents sent their sons to the school to have the attitude knocked out of them. Where would the country be if young people were permitted to display attitude? Obedience. That was what they had to learn. First, how to take orders. Later, how to give them. The British Empire was built on obedience.
“Come!” at last Mr Stanley acknowledged the wretched boy’s presence. He stared intently as the handle slowly turned and the heavy oak door creaked open. McAlpine was a slender youth with a mop of fair curly hair and finely chiseled features, with sensuous shining grey eyes.
He hesitated in the doorframe, uncertain of his next move. “Close the door, boy! Don’t let all the heat out!” Mr Stanley barked. “Right, boy,” he intoned once McAlpine had successfully done this. “Stand there,” he snapped his fingers and waved at a point in the middle of the study. He sat behind his desk and closely surveyed the sixth-former. McAlpine was clearly perplexed and very edgy. He chewed on his fat bottom lip. All bravado was gone.
“I have spoken to you before about your attitude,” Mr Stanley had prepared a short speech. “Now, it is time to deal with you.” The housemaster peered into McAlpine’s soul. The boy flinched as if an arrow had shot through him.
“Yes, Sir,” he murmured, his lips pressed tight in concentration and regret. McAlpine showed no signs that confirmed the reports of voluble dissent and disorderliness Mr Stanley had heard of him. He stood timid and fearful awaiting his fate, his eyes moistened. He shivered, although the fire was roaring. He fidgeted while Mr Stanley jawed him.
“And so, McAlpine,” the housemaster had finished his speech, “You deserve to be beaten.” The sixth-former sighed deeply, his pale face flushed. At last he forced out a whisper, “Yes, Sir.”
Mr Stanley hauled himself to his feet, steadied himself and then proceeded with a glide across his study. McAlpine’s eyes followed his master’s procession. It was a large room, made mostly gloomy by the heavy, dark furniture that dominated it. As well as the huge desk there were several heavy, straight-backed chairs. They had not been made for luxury. Towards one corner stood a much more comfortable armchair with a small, low table beside it. The walls were lined with shelves and cupboards.
It was towards one of these cupboards that the housemaster made his way. Reaching his destination, he stopped. His hand delved into a small pocket in his waistcoat. McAlpine stood, wide-eyed and uneasy. At last Mr Stanley found what he was seeking; a small gold key. He unlocked a tall thin cupboard and with his right hand reached in. The rattling sound he made was unmistakable.
Soon he had a light, whippy cane in his hand. It was perhaps three feet in length. He peered at it, tightened his lips and quickly replaced it. He cleared his dry throat with an almost unnoticeable cough and reached in again. He had a selection of canes to suit all bottoms; large, small, tough, and tender. “Aha,” he said, almost to himself. He had a thicker, longer, more dense cane in his hand.
He turned away from the cupboard and swished it through empty air. It made a tremendous swooshing sound as it flew. McAlpine’s eyes shone brightly. The housemaster held the cane close to its crook handle and flexed it between his hands. It bent easily. Mr Stanley straightened his back and peered cross the room at McAlpine. The housemaster swished the cane once more and with an air of finality said sternly, “Stand there, boy.” He pointed his cane to a point on a worn rug close to the middle of the study. “Bend over. Touch your toes.”
McAlpine might have been new to St. Tom’s but he had learned enough to know he had no say in the matter. A summons to the study was not a summit. It wasn’t a debate, a discussion. Mr Stanley was the master; he, McAlpine, was the submissive. If the housemaster ordered, “Touch your toes!” that was the end of the matter. His heartbeat raced and suddenly the palms of his hands felt very sticky as he shuffled across the rug. He reached his point of destination and hesitated.
“Bend over, boy!” Mr Stanley intoned. The cane swiped through the air once more. McAlpine took a deep breath and in one swift athletic movement bent his body double. He took it as Gospel that “toes” meant toes and not knees or shins. His fingertips brushed the caps of his shoes. It was a difficult position to attain, even for a slender, fit eighteen-year-old. There was a tremendous strain on the back of his calves.
Mr Stanley tucked the cane under his arm as he moved closer to the submissive boy. McAlpine presented a good shape, his school blazer flowed around his buttocks. The housemaster took a gentle hold of the tail end and pushed it away from the target area. Now, McAlpine presented two hard, round buttocks. The housemaster gripped the waistband of the boy’s pale-grey trousers and tugged hard. This smoothed creases from the folds of the flannels and lifted and separated each cheek.
“Touch your toes and keep those fingers there, if you move those fingertips, I shall award extra strokes,” Mr Stanley announced. He stared down at the sixth-former bent submissively before him. The back of his neck was glowing bright red. His bottom would be a similar colour very soon.
He stood about a cane’s length from McAlpine’s left and swished the cane through the air one more time. He sucked down a deep breath. His own heart raced equally as fast as the boy offering up his buttocks. The cane was about the thickness of a pencil and just under three feet long. He tapped its tip against the centre of McAlpine’s right cheek; finding his aim.
Tap, tap, tap. Mr Stanley derived satisfaction seeing McAlpine close his eyes and grit his teeth. He pulled the cane away, rose it high and brought it down with some beef across McAlpine’s buttocks. The boy flinched as the rattan cane bit deep. It had not been a tap, it was a swipe. The housemaster put his full force behind the stroke.
McAlpine’s his face reddened, his mouth opened and a gust of wind escaped through his lips. A thin white line formed along the boy’s tight trousers.
McAlpine’s eyes blaze, he had a close-up view of the faded red rug. He couldn’t make out the pattern. He examined it closely. Some kind of building? A farmhouse perhaps. He concentrated hard, anything to keep his thoughts from the ordeal he was experiencing.
Mr Stanley flexed his cane once more. He watched McAlpine, bent submissively, offering up his backside for punishment. “Yes,” he said to himself. “This will beat the ‘Attitude’ out of him.”
McAlpine felt the cane tap against his stretched trousers once more. The first slash had burnt a welt across the centre of his bottom. His trousers and underpants did not protect him. Mr Stanley had really laid it on. The tapping started again. Any moment now. McAlpine braced himself. His buttocks clenched, his eyes screwed up tight. He bit down on his bottom lip.
Swish! Crack! The cane swiped through the air and landed with even greater force, an inch lower than the first. McAlpine hissed like a steam engine settling down, his head nodded back and forth. He couldn’t help it. He was out of control, it was his body’s reflex action against the agonising pain.
Another swipe bit deep into his flesh. McAlpine’s buttocks blazed. Mr Stanley was an expert with the cane. He ought to be, he had twenty years and more of experience thrashing boys’ bottoms.
Swipe number four hit the top of his thigh. “Yarooh!” He wriggled his hips left and right. His fingers left the toecaps of his shoes. He nearly jumped to his feet, remembering just in time, the awful penalty for such an action. He most certainly did not want extra strokes. But, the cut was low, too low. The pain seared. He had never had a stroke of the cane hurt him so much. It felt like Mr Stanley had pressed a red-hot poker from the fire against the back of his thighs.
Mr Stanley’s own eyes glowered. He paused, allowing himself a moment of self-congratulation. McAlpine was suffering. Good! The boy needed to be taught some manners. He had to learn his place in society. He waited upwards of thirty seconds while McAlpine settled down. He took a careful aim. The previous swipe had struck low, the next would go high. McAlpine’s buttocks were hard and round. Mr Stanley bounced the cane off the top of the mounds and was pleased to be rewarded with a clear yelp. “Good,” he told himself, “the young scoundrel deserves it. That’ll knock some of the arrogance out of him.”
McAlpine breathed hard. His temples pounded. The back of his throat was raw. Waves of pain shot up and down his legs. Perspiration soaked the back of his shirt. Welts had risen under his tightly-stretched trousers in neat parallel lines leaving a strip about two inches wide blazing across his buttocks.
He heard footsteps on the floorboards. From the corner of his eye he saw Mr Stanley adjusting his position. Now he placed the cane at a diagonal across both of McAlpine’s cheeks, so it went bottom left to top right. Tap, tap, tap. The sixth-former tensed his whole body. His shoulders shook. Whop! The cane sailed at the speed of sound, crashing down into the boy’s bottom, intersecting the welts already weeping under the boy’s underwear. It set each of them ablaze once more.
McAlpine gripped his shins. He wanted to jump up and stamp his feet about, or march up and down like a sentry guard. But he stayed down. Like generations of schoolboys before him, he refused to reveal to his master how much he was hurt. He felt as if he had sat on a coal fire.
Mr Stanley slowly paced his office and opened the door to his cupboard. He replaced the cane before turning slowing to admire his handiwork. McAlpine was still bent double, touching toes submissively.
“Up you get,” Mr Stanley barked. Slowly, McAlpine unfolded himself. He stood unsteadily, feet apart, his moist eyes downcast. His bottom roared. His heartbeat was slowing, returning closer to normal. He desperately wanted to rub away at the pain. But, that would have to wait until he was dismissed from the housemaster’s study.
Slowly, the housemaster returned to his desk. He slumped into his chair, suddenly noticing his own tiredness. He leaned toward the inferior boy and growled. “I trust McAlpine you have learned your lesson?” He paused for dramatic effect rather than in expectation of an answer. The tip of his tongue darted through his almost closed lips. “If not and you are before me again, we shall see how much you like my cane with your trousers and underwear at your feet. Do I make myself clear?”
This time, he did expect a response. McAlpine croaked an almost inaudible: “Yes, Sir.”
“You are dismissed,” the housemaster waved his hand and watched with deep satisfaction as McAlpine hobbled to the door.
Picture credit: Charles H Chapman, The Magnet
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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Charles Hamilton the Second