ONE - Daniel Grayling
It was Luke Mabbett's idea, but Daniel and Matthew Kaiser had been eager enough to go along with it, and it never occurred to any of them how severe the penalties for their escapade would be.
The school toilets were on the far side of the playground – boys at one end and girls at the other. Inside the boys' there was one cubicle for having a _s_h_i_t_, though no one ever used it, and the wall against which they all pissed, sometimes seeing how high up the wall they could direct their streams. Through the wall they could hear the doors banging as the girls went in and out of their cubicles. None of the boys had ever been in there, though there was a rumour that Paul Foster in the top class had chased a girl in there and put his hand down inside her knickers.
"I bet we could climb up there and spy on them over the wall," Luke said.
"What for?" asked Matthew.
"Wouldn't you like to see a girl with her knickers down?"
"Yes, I s'pose."
They did it next playtime. They played stone, scissors, paper to decide who got the first lift up and Daniel won. Matthew and Luke stood with their backs against the wall, Daniel put one sandal in Luke's cupped hands and his two friends hoisted him up. He hooked his elbows on to the top of the wall.
He could see down into one of the cubicles. Sarah Delaney was sitting on the toilet but he couldn't see anything except her frock. He kept quiet and hoped against hope that she wouldn't see him. She got up, pulled up her knickers, allowing him to see slightly less of her legs than when the girls did PT with the boys, pulled the flush and left. Another girl was just coming in when the supports for his hands disappeared and he was left hanging perilously off the top of the wall.
"Come on," he shouted. "Don't let me fall."
There was an awkward silence and he realised that something had gone wrong. He lowered himself off the wall and then fell to the ground, barking his shin.
"Ow! Bugger!" he said and then realised that the door to the playground was blocked. It was Mr Blackman, the caretaker.
"And what are you three up to then?" he demanded.
"Nothing," said Luke.
"I see. Like climbing up to spy on the girls is nothing, is it?"
"We weren't," said Matthew.
"No, but you were helping this other little hooligan to, weren't you?"
They said nothing.
"I shall have to tell Mr Cambell about this, shan't I? What's your names?"
"D'you have to?" Daniel said. "I never saw anything."
"Names." Sadly they gave him their names, their hearts sinking into their boots and their stomachs beginning to knot with fear. "Go on. Out of it."
"What d'you think he'll do?" Daniel asked.
"If I have my way he'll give your backsides a dose of the stick. Dirty little bleeders."
Miserably, the three boys went out into the playground, just in time for the whistle. The lined up and trooped back into school. It was sums after break but none of them could settle to it. Daniel could imagine all too clearly Mr Blackman going to Mr Campbell's office and telling him what he'd caught them doing.
He couldn't imagine what the punishment would be because none of them had ever been whacked. There wasn't much smacking in the school. True, they had all seen Miss Groves tuck Roy Rowe under her arm, pull up the leg of his shorts and smack the back of his bare leg till he yelled. And once or twice Mr Campbell had said that if he caught anyone – meaning a boy – doing something that was in his mind that week he'd have to get his cane out. But it had never actually come to that.
All of them had been given a sort of thwack with a ruler across the palm of their hands when they were in Mr Brown's class, usually for talking after he'd told them to work in silence. Daniel wondered if the cane would be something like that, because if it was it wouldn't be too bad.
Daniel's stomach surged up towards his throat when Mr Campbell came into the room and spoke to Miss Howell, their teacher. He clapped his hands and there was immediate, awful silence.
"Grayling, Mabbett and Kaiser. Go and stand outside my office."
Tears were pricking at the back of Daniel's eyes as he stood up and made for the door. They really must be in for the high jump if he didn't use their christian names. It was terrible to be called 'Grayling' like that.
They stood outside the office and didn't say a word. All of them were too scared now to talk. Matthew sniffed, but Daniel didn't dare look at him to see if he was crying. Luke rubbed briefly at his eyes with his hand. The ten minutes before the headmaster came seemed like an eternity. He shooed them inside and they stood in a row in front of his desk.
"Do you realise," he said, "how serious, how terrible what you did was?" Daniel noticed that he hadn't asked them to admit what they did, but he could say nothing.
"Yessir," muttered Luke and the others followed suit.
"Good. I don't like having to cane boys, but in this case I intend to make an example of you. For the rest of the morning you can stand outside my office and think about what's going to happen to you. And this afternoon I'm going to give all three of you six of the best. Would you like to see my cane, so you know what you're in for?"
He went to the cupboard and brought it out. It was long and about the thickness of a pencil, bone-white and with a hooked handle. Daniel felt himself on the very edge of tears. Matthew sniffed again. Mr Campbell lifted the cane high in the air and whipped it down making a high-pitched singing noise through the air. All three boys flinched and Daniel felt a tear spill down his cheek.
"So while you're waiting you can think about how your bottoms will be stinging by the time I've finished with you. Outside."
It was a long time till dinner time. All three of them cried a little and then got over it. But then came the awful moment when the bell rang and all their class mates came by on their way to dinner. They all seemed to know what they'd done.
"Are you getting the stick?" was a common question and Daniel could only nod miserably in reply. "Tough cheese."
They were brought some dinner on plates and had to eat it on a little table in the headmaster's office. And there, lying across his desk, was the cane, just waiting, Daniel thought, to slice into their bottoms. There was no one else there and Luke picked up the cane and tapped it against his palm. "Ow!" he said. "_f_u_c_k_ing hell!" Matthew tried it too.
"I bet you squeal before I do," he said. "Ooh mummy, my botty hurts."
"Bet I don't then. You'll be howling for your mum before I am."
Daniel couldn't believe that they were making fun of it. But then, he thought, Matthew's dad walloped him sometimes so maybe he was used to it. And according to them, Luke and Matthew had both had a whacking from him when they'd shied a football through a window. For a second Daniel wished that his own dad had beaten him occasionally, just to prepare him for what he was going to get now.
Mr Campbell came back then. "Right," he said. "We're just getting everything ready for your punishment. Are you ready?" They nodded. Tears were threatening again.
A bell was rung – an unusual one, much too early for going home. Within seconds there were children everywhere. Girls going one way, boys all going the other – into the top classroom, where their friends were – where they ought to be right now. Then, from the hall came the sound of the girls singing.
Mr Campbell went into his office and came out carrying the cane. He pushed the three miscreants in front of him, down the corridor and into the top classroom. Daniel couldn't believe it. Every boy in the school was there. Their own class mates sitting in their own desks. Boys from the next class down in the girls' places. Littler boys standing at the back. And there was Mr Jones the new teacher of Class 3. And at the front, standing by a teacher's chair that had been placed where they could bend over its back, was Mr Brown, Daniel's absolute favourite of all the teachers, looking very serious.
Matthew, Luke and Daniel stood in a row, their heads hanging, the very picture of guilt and sorrow.
"These three boys carried out a terrible thing this morning," said Mr Campbell. "A terrible thing. A shocking thing. They thought it would be fun to climb up in the boys' toilets and spy over the wall into the girls' toilet. Perhaps some of you think that that would be a good joke to play. By letting you watch their punishment I hope to show you what a very bad idea it was." He paused to let his words sink in.
"Kaiser." He took Matthew's arm and led him to the chair. "Bend over." Matthew leant forward over the chair-back and Mr Brown held him there so that he couldn't get up. Daniel looked at the crowd of watching boys. Some looked frightened and serious, but others, too many, were almost hugging themselves in excitement. There were grins on lots of his friends' faces. He looked at Matthew bending over the chair. His khaki summer shorts were smooth over his buttocks and Daniel wished that it was winter and they were wearing nice thick flannel shorts with nice thick pants underneath.
The headmaster took aim, then stepped back, lifted the cane till it was poised behind his shoulder, and launched it at Matthew's bottom, hard and so fast that it couldn't be seen. It sang through the air and landed with a sharp CRACK! Matthew yelled at the sudden pain that now Daniel could imagine all too clearly. There were another five strokes like that. If anything, they got worse. The first couple made Daniel flinch and Matthew's cries were terrible, but then something strange happened.
Now that the worst was happening he felt strangely calm. It was inevitable that in a minute he would be bending over where Matthew was and Mr Campbell would beat him. He wasn't afraid any more. All he hoped was that he could take his beating bravely.
Matthew was allowed up and he limped back to where Daniel and Luke were standing. His hands rubbed at the seat of his trousers and there were tears running down his face.
Oh, please let it be me next, thought Daniel and get it over with.
"Mabbett." Luke had to go forward to the chair and bend over. His shorts were baggy and Mr Brown caught hold of the waistband and pulled them up tight so that the cane would hurt him as much as it had Matthew.
CRACK! Luke's caning started and he too yelled in pain. Matthew was snivelling next to Daniel and rubbing furiously at the pain. What a baby, thought Daniel. Luke was crying when he stood up also, and he too rubbed hard at his bottom.
Daniel started forward before Mr Campbell called him. "Grayling," said Mr Campbell and he was already at the chair. He leant forward and allowed Mr Brown to push his head down into the seat of the chair. He could smell soap on Mr Brown's hands and thought what a nice smell it was.
Mr Campbell pulled his shirt out of the back of his shorts. They were an old pair and his mum had had to mend a rip in the back of them. Across his small round bottom the cotton had been worn thin and shiny and there was a threadbare patch right where the headmaster aimed his cane.
He heard the cane sing through the air and then his bottom exploded. In all his thoughts about being caned he had never imagined it would hurt like this. It seemed an age before the second came slicing into him almost along the same line. The third made him cry out. The fourth was the worst yet and he squealed in agony.
"Two to go," said Mr Campbell, and the cane came cracking down again like a red hot wire being pressed into the muscles of his backside. Daniel couldn't bear the thought of any more strokes, but there was nothing he could do. And then, impossibly, he heard Mr Campbell saying to all the assembled boys, "Grayling was the boy who was caught in the very act of spying on the girls. So his last stroke will be a special one."
Mr Campbell stepped back to the front desk, his eyes firmly fixed on Daniel's trembling bottom. He swung the cane back, right behind his shoulder then launched himself into the stroke. The cane whistled through the air and landed with the most almighty CRACK. The boy wailed and wriggled in Mr Brown's hands.
"Thank you Mr Brown. You can let him up now."
It was over and he pushed himself upright, all his resolutions not to give his friends the satisfaction of seeing him rub his bottom gone. His hands clutched at the terrible fire in his backside, his back arched away from the pain, his face twisted.
For the rest of the afternoon the three boys stood once more outside the headmaster's office, their bottoms on fire. But now that it was over their terror and shame began to subside. Daniel felt with his fingers the pattern of raised weals across his buttocks. They were very tender and felt as though they would never subside or go away. They would be a badge of shame across his skin for the rest of his life.
"And how are you feeling now?" asked Mr Campbell just before home time.
"Sore, sir," said Luke and all three of them rubbed themselves again, as though to prove it.
"Good. I hope that has been a lesson to you. If you ever do such a thing again it'll be a caning with your pants down, is that understood?"
Half an hour later, in Luke's bedroom they all dropped their pants and examined each other's weals. They were spectacular purple stripes in pairs like tramlines. Together they giggled about how they had howled and Daniel was secretly proud when Luke and Matthew said that his were the worst.
Slowly he walked home. His bottom was still throbbing, though the worst of the pain was gone. His mum was at home and he felt sure that the fact that he had been caned would show in his face. He went up to his room as soon as he could and looked at the weals again in his mirror. They were really spectacular. He could imagine already the reaction of their friends when they showed them tomorrow at playtime.
At teatime he had to sit down for the first time since being beaten. The pressure of his chair made the pain start up again and he had to force himself to sit still. After tea his dad went out and he went up to his room and read a book, lying on his stomach on the bed. Amazingly, over four hours later he could still feel the warmth of his backside.
He had been in bed for an hour when he heard his dad come in. Twice he had got out, put his light on and taken another look at his stripes. He felt really proud of them now. His dad came up and opened his door. Daniel pretended to be asleep.
"Danny." He sat up. "Are you awake?"
"Yes dad." His dad came in and sat down on his bed.
"Guess who I met in the pub tonight." Daniel's heart was pounding. He knew.
"Mr Campbell?" His dad nodded.
"He tells me he had to cane you this afternoon." Daniel said nothing. "Six of the best, wasn't it?"
"Was it bad?" Daniel nodded, his father's kindness bringing him closer to tears than any of Mr Campbell's anger. "Show me."
Daniel scrambled up on to his knees, dropped his pyjama trousers and allowed his dad to look at the marks. With the flat of his hand he felt how swollen one or two of them still were.
"He did do a good job, didn't he? Did you deserve it?"
"That's all right then. As long as you don't go making a habit of getting the stick."
"Good night then." His dad stood up to go. Daniel felt safe and somehow returned to the right side.
"Have you told mum?"
"No. Would you rather I didn't?" Daniel nodded. "Good night."
TWO - Steven Goodison
Uncle James turned up out of the blue, saying he'd come to give me a birthday treat. The head pointed out that it was over four months since my tenth birthday, but Uncle James merely said that that would make it all the more of a treat. It was a Sunday and we'd already been to church so there was no objection to me going out with him for the rest of the day.
He took me to an hotel for lunch and we sat in an alcove and I felt really grown up. I liked Uncle James mainly because he gave me super presents but also because he was like an overgrown boy himself and I could talk to him in a way that I definitely couldn't with the parents. He asked me about school, naturally, and I told him about games and some lessons and the funny things that had happened because I knew he would find them funny too.
"And what are the beaks like?"
"Beaks?" I asked.
"Oh," I said. "All right." And I told him about 'Bunsen' Burner who took us for maths and who told the most terrible jokes.
"Did I ever tell you," he said, "about the time my friend Knight and I found a dead mouse?"
"No," I said.
"We found this dead mouse in a corner of the common room, and we thought it was too good a chance to miss, so we had a good think about where we could put it so it would create as much hoo-ha as possible. In the end we decided that it would be a good laugh to put it on matron's night tray. She had this tray, you see, with her cocoa and a couple of biscuits that the kitchen left out for her, and it was really easy to sneak down after lights out and leave the mouse tucked under her plate of biscuits. The only shame was that we couldn't see her reaction when she found it."
"Well, there was the most awful stink. The old man stormed in to breakfast demanding to know who had perpetrated the vile deed. We kept quiet of course because we knew only too well what we were in for. So then he announced that the whole school was gated indefinitely until the culprits owned up. We went to see him after school because we thought he might have calmed down by then. Some hopes! He had us up in front of the whole school and swished us."
"Was it very bad?" My form master had caned me last term. Three strokes on the seat of my trousers that had stung quite a bit for nearly half an hour.
"A full dozen with our pants down."
I was incredulous. "On your bare backsides?"
"And with everybody watching?"
"What was it like?" I was trying to imagine such a terrible beating.
"We got over it. What you have to remember Steven is that you get over even the very worst of punishments. Have you ever had a swishing?"
"Just once. Mr Cox whacked the whole form for ragging in the form room. It wasn't too bad though."
"Good man." He looked at his watch. "Oh lord! Time to take you back to jail, I'm afraid. I've got you a present. Sorry it's late for your birthday."
He handed over a small oblong package and watched, smiling, as I ripped it open. It was a penknife – the most beautiful knife I had ever seen. Even without exploring it fully I could see that it had about six different blades and gadgets.
"Thank you very much, Uncle James," I said, and my eyes must have shined.
"Now take care with it. I've sharpened up the blades for you. There's nothing worse than being given a knife and finding you can't cut a thing with it."
In the car on the way back to school I opened all the attachments and fantasised about the things I was going to be able to do with them. I tested the sharpness on the ball of my thumb and managed to draw a tiny bead of blood, which I hid from Uncle James, I think.
It wasn't until I had waved goodbye to him and was running not to be late for tea that I remembered what danger I was now in. Last term there had been an accident when two boys were playing a game with their penknives on the field. Instead of sticking into the ground close to Collett's foot, Maybury had thrown his knife really stupidly and it had cut Collett's ankle slightly. The old man gave both of them a pretty severe caning and placed an absolute ban on penknives. We had all had to hand in our knives to matron with little labels tied to them so we could reclaim them at the end of the year. And now, just to be found in possession of a knife was enough to earn a beating.
But I argued with myself that it was ages since that happened and he wasn't going to be so worried now, especially over a knife that had been a rather special birthday present. And besides it wasn't as if I was going to show everyone or use it openly. I would just carry it in my pocket and feel it occasionally.
This was never going to be enough. Before the day was out I had shown my best friends, Engquist and Portman. They admired it hugely but warned me again of the danger I was running. By lunchtime next day everyone seemed to know that I had a forbidden knife in my pocket, and I was basking rather in the notoriety that gave me. Even then, I might have been all right – no one would have sneaked on me – if I had not responded so foolishly to Frean's challenge. He dared me to demonstrate how sharp it was.
Without thinking I carved my initials on the edge of the common room table. It was a kind of initiation to carve one's initials on a table with a compass point because that too was forbidden. This time I didn't just scratch, I cut the three letters – S T G – deeply into the wood and kept at it till I had made a really beautiful set of initials. I even put serifs on the ends of the strokes. A thoroughly professional job.
"You'll cop it now," Engquist warned me, but I, and nearly everyone else, had got away with their scratched initials on their desks, so I wasn't all that worried.
Even when the old man sent for me a week later I failed to connect it with the knife and my beautiful set of initials. I expected him to ask me to sit down as he always did when he wanted to discuss something with you. Instead, I had to stand in front of his desk.
"Do you have a penknife, Goodison?"
I have always been a terrible liar and he must have seen the colour flood into my face. "Yes, sir," I said.
"And is it in your pocket at this moment?"
"Yes, sir." My voice was starting to sound awfully thin.
"Put it here on my desk." I pulled out my beautiful knife and lay it on top of his blotter. "It's a very good one, isn't it?"
"A present from your uncle?"
"And you knew that penknives of any kind are forbidden? And that you should have immediately handed it to matron for safe-keeping?"
"You don't deny, I take it, that you are responsible for the vandalism to the table in your common room."
"Then I see no alternative to an immediate beating, do you, Goodison?"
"No, sir," I said, my heart beating and my stomach feeling as though someone was twisting it.
"Have I beaten you before?"
"I can promise you that you will not enjoy it. Remove your blazer, please, and place yourself over the arm of the settee."
I took my blazer off and draped it over the back of the settee where I was going to be caned, and as I did so the old man went to the small umbrella stand beside the fireplace and selected one of the canes that were kept there. It was long and thin and as he bent it into a semi-circle between his fists I knew that it was going to hurt a lot. I stood by the side of the big leather Chesterfield and leaned forward over the arm, which reached nearly to my waist.
"No, further than that, boy. Up on your toes and get your head right down close to the seat." I obeyed, draping myself over the padded arm. My nostrils were full of the smell of the leather and even today the smell of leather furniture brings me back to this terrible moment. "That's better," he said, and I could sense him right behind me. Quickly he pulled my shirt and vest out of the back of my trousers. "There. It wouldn't do to have too much padding getting in the way when my cane has serious work to do, would it? I am going to give you six strokes, Goodison. Three moderate ones for having the knife and three harder ones for carving the table. Hold still and don't get up at the end till I tell you. If you get up, or interrupt the beating in any other way, I shall start it again from the beginning. I'm sure you'll try to take your punishment bravely."
I could feel my thin summer pants and my light summer shorts taut over my bottom and suddenly they felt like no protection at all. The first stroke sang through the air and exploded across my backside. For a second it didn't hurt all that much but then the pain flooded into me.
"Ow!" I cried out.
"Bravely, now, Goodison. Bravely," said the old man, and I could sense him preparing for the next stroke. The cane whistled through the air and struck home about an inch below the first. I bit my bottom lip and managed to keep silent. The third landed between them, the worst so far.
"How is it so far, Goodison?" There was a strip of fire across both my buttocks. If these were moderate I couldn't conceive what the rest would be like.
"All right, sir," I croaked from the depth of the settee.
"Good man. Just three to go."
I sensed him step back a good deal further now and then I heard his shoes shuffle on the carpet and the sharp intense singing of the cane through the air. My bottom erupted in the most appalling pain I had ever felt.
"Ow!!!" I cried with my teeth clenched together. I must have reared up off the settee because then I felt his hand on my back pushing me back down into the seat. The wait for the next seemed never ending. When it came it was even worse – a little lower still, down near the tops of my thighs. I gritted my teeth. I didn't think I could hold still for any more, but the thought of having all of them again kept me there. The cane sang and CRACK! it sliced into my poor suffering flesh for the sixth time.
"Aagh!" I shouted and almost forgot and stood up.
"I hope that has done the trick, Goodison." My bottom felt as though two globes of molten fire had fixed themselves to the muscles.
"Yes, sir," I groaned.
"Stand up." I pushed myself upright and my hands clutched at the seat of my trousers.
"Oh no, no, Goodison. You can rub yourself when you get outside. Put your hands on your head if you can't control yourself."
At last he dismissed me and I put my blazer on and turned for the door. It seemed half a mile away and my legs felt stiff and awkward as though they didn't belong to me. Somehow I got there and my hand was on the knob. But one thing more had to be settled.
"Please, sir. Will I get my knife back, please?"
The old man turned from putting the cane back into the rack. "That remains to be seen, Goodison. That remains to be seen. Off you go."
And I had to be satisfied with that.