I'd got three detentions, and that meant that the headmaster was going to cane me. I wasn't very worried about that, because my dad had given me the strap a few times so I knew what it was like to be whacked. In fact, from what other boys told me, it seemed that the cane was likely to be less painful than dad's strap.
When I first went to grammar school they gave out this letter saying about the discipline and it said there that any boy who got three detentions in a term would get the cane. When dad read it he said, "You better not let me know about it if you get the cane because I'll give you a _f_u_c_k_ing good dose of the strap to go with it."
But then came the really nasty _f_u_c_k_ing surprise. The day after I got the third detention Mr Brown, my form master, gave me a letter to take home. He let me read it first and it said that I'd had three detentions and did my parents agree to me receiving corporal punishment? And there was a space for them to sign. I asked if I really had to take it home because I knew they wouldn't mind me being caned so couldn't I just get on with it? But there was no way out of it.
I didn't want mum to know about it, so I got dad on his own that night as he was finishing the milking and showed him the letter. He kind of laughed grimly as he signed it and said, "You better put your swimming trunks on under your pants then." He didn't say anything about the strap, so I thought maybe he wouldn't do it after all.
Next day I had to take the letter and give it to the headmaster's secretary. "All right, Henson," she said. "The head will send for you when he wants you." Of course waiting to be called was part of the punishment. I'd been thinking about what dad said and I had my trunks in my bag, and I was trying to make up my mind about whether to put them on. At break I went into the bog and put them on under my pants, so, hopefully, they wouldn't show when I bent over.
It was just in _f_u_c_k_ing time. The message came during Latin which was straight after break. Despite having an extra layer of protection I was still very nervous as I walked across the yard to his study. I stood in front of his desk and listened to the lecture. What was really going through my mind was whether he'd see my trunks or not when he was caning me.
He went to the bureau and fetched the cane out of the bottom drawer. Everyone said you had to look out if the cane had two red bands round it near the handle. I couldn't see any bands so I wasn't all that worried. I had to bend over the back of an armchair and he hoisted up my blazer and gave me three swishes. Everyone says they never felt it when they get the cane, but I really didn't feel anything on the first one. The second stung a bit and the third one hurt enough to make me glad I had the trunks on.
And that was that. I just went on with the rest of the day. On the bus going home lads were asking me about getting the cane and I told them it really hurt, but I wouldn't drop my pants to let them look at the marks, and as I walked down the lane I felt pretty _f_u_c_k_ing good to have got away with it like that. Dad was mending something on the cart in the tractor-shed and called me over.
"Well?" he asked.
"Did you get the cane?"
"Yes," I said and tried to look as though I'd just come from a punishment.
"Right, then. You better come up in the tack room."
"Aw, dad," I whined.
"Go on. Off you go." There was no getting out of it. I knew full well that once he'd decided on strap there was nothing I could do to change his mind. He was right behind me and took it down from the nail where it always hung. It was a bit of old carthorse harness, about four inches wide and over a quarter inch thick and there was a handle one end so he could give it a good swing. "Over the bench," he said.
I went to the narrow workbench down the middle of the room and stretched over the top of it. I knew better than not to do it properly. He hoisted up my blazer and yanked my shirt and vest out of the back of my trousers. I braced myself for the first slap of the strap, but instead he started pulling at the waistband of my trousers.
"What the _f_u_c_k_ing hell's going on here?" he demanded. "You've got your _f_u_c_k_ing swimming trunks on."
"Like you said, dad," I tried.
"I didn't mean you to actually do it, you _f_u_c_k_ing idiot. Get up." I stood up. "Do you mean to tell me that you wore them for the headmaster to cane you?"
"Yes," I said, grinning, because I still thought he'd enjoy the joke.
"Well, I tell you what – you can take a letter in to him tomorrow and tell him what you did."
Pleading was useless, though I did try. I even offered to take twice as much strap from him instead. To which he just replied: "Oh, you'll get plenty enough strap, believe you me, but if you're due a caning, that's what you're _f_u_c_k_ing well getting."
My second visit to the headmaster's study was a much more serious affair than the first. He read dad's letter through, his eyes darkening with anger. Then he looked up at me. "Is this true, Henson?"
"Yes, sir," I said, and I could feel my heart thumping.
"Then I can see no alternative to a second – and I may say, a much more severe – caning. Can you?"
"Remove your blazer and come to the armchair." As I took my jacket off I watched him go to the bureau and bring out a cane. This time it definitely had two bands of red tape round the handle and my heart sank. He really was out to hurt me this time. I stood waiting for him as he swished the new, longer cane through the air. I flinched at the vicious song it sang.
"In all my years as a headmaster," he went on, "I could count on one hand the number of times I have had to do this. And never with a junior boy like you. Let your trousers down and then bend over as you did yesterday."
I was shocked, but obviously I didn't have a leg to stand on and if he had asked me I'd have said that I deserved it. I unhooked the snake of my belt and pulled the buttons open. I still wore short trousers and they dropped to my ankles. I draped myself over the back of the chair and kind of held my breath. He hoisted up my shirt-tail and my pants felt so _f_u_c_k_ing thin that I knew they'd be no protection at all.
He made the six strokes last absolute _f_u_c_k_ing ages. I had no idea that a cane could hurt so much. It was like acid biting into the muscles of my bum, and long before the last one I thought it was slicing right into me. God knows how I managed to stay bending over. I yelled blue murder after the fourth when the pain had built up to its maximum. I felt sure I'd be bleeding because the fire was like an explosion going off in my flesh.
"Get up." My hands kind of clutched at the terrible burning. It felt like it would never stop, though I knew from dad's beatings that it would eventually. "From now on, Henson, since I can't trust you to take a beating as you should, this is how you will be caned if ever you come to my attention again. I trust you will learn from this experience. Pull up your trousers."
Bending down to retrieve my shorts was added torture and the extra thickness of cloth pressed on the weals. My legs felt stiff and awkward as I headed for the door and then I was outside. Now I really rubbed at myself. "_f_u_c_k_ing hell!" I muttered with every step. I wanted to escape from that _f_u_c_k_ing school altogether but I knew that would only get me another dose. There was nothing for it but to go back to Latin and wait for the burning pain to fade.
At lunchtime I showed my mates the marks across my bum and they were suitably impressed. That was some consolation, because it was still _f_u_c_k_ing sore and sitting down was total _f_u_c_k_ing torture.
Dad was waiting for me just about when I got off the bus. "Tack room. Now," he ordered. I put my bag down by the stairs and took my blazer off because I knew that was coming. I even got the strap down for him before he came because I thought maybe, just maybe, if I co-operated like that he'd go a bit easy. Some _f_u_c_k_ing hopes!
"Get your trousers and pants down and lie across the bench."
I had got through the whole _f_u_c_k_ing day without crying but now I felt the tears pricking the back of my eyes. Slowly, with my back turned to dad, I unbuckled and unbuttoned again, let my shorts drop to the floor and then followed them down with my pants. I stretched across the bench and waited for him to strap me. He lifted my shirt and I felt him looking at the six dark lines of bruise divided equally between the cheeks of my arse.
"He did a good job on you. I'll say that for him. Is it still sore?"
I could feel the weals glowing on my skin. "No," I said. "Just a bit tender."
"Hold still then." The strap slapped my bare flesh and suddenly the agony of the cane was like nothing. Twice, three times he brought the heavy leather down on my poor backside and I think I almost screamed. But then he stopped. Three was enough.
"You won't do such a stupid _f_u_c_k_ing thing again, will you?"
"No, dad," I said. I meant it and I kept to it. That was the last time either the headmaster or my dad had any reason to beat me.
The two boys had been working up to a fight for several days, but Martin Hicks was such a serious, sensible boy that it took a great deal to work him up to the pitch where he would actually fight. Never mind that the penalties for being caught fighting were pretty severe.
In the end they fought in the boot room with just a few friends to see fair play. Lance Mortimer was a sturdy, well-built boy, but he was no match for Martin who was a good four inches taller and really strong and tough with it. Within less than a minute Lance's nose was spurting blood.
Everyone agreed that it was rotten luck that Mr Jefferson came by just at the wrong moment, and there were the two boys, jackets off standing in front of him, their chests heaving and heads hanging.
"Disgraceful behaviour," he pronounced. "Straight up to bed with the pair of you. You can do without tea and I'll see what the brigadier says about beating you."
It was a miserable feeling to be going upstairs and getting changed into pyjamas while all their friends were outside playing still. Add to that the knowledge that they would now stay hungry till breakfast the next day and they had every reason to be down in the dumps. On top of that, add the threat of a beating ....
The brigadier's canings were very frightening. The boy to be beaten was sent to bed early – as Martin and Lance had been – and then, when the whole house were in their dormitories and the lights had been put out, the brigadier would stand in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs that wound all the way up to the top floor and shout out the name of the offender. The boy had to get out of bed and go down the dark stairs into the hall. He was caned there and the sound of the cane snapping against his pyjama-clad bottom – and his cries when the pain became too much – drifted up to where every boy in the house was lying shivering in his bed, imagining the scene down below.
Once, they could remember, a boy called Beaching had set fire to some old wood behind the gardener's shed and the whole shed had burnt down. When the time came, the brigadier's voice sounded up through the house: "Beaching. Pyjamas off!" Every boy shivered as they thought of the naked thirteen-year-old going down the stairs to his doom and then filled with horror as they counted the strokes up to twelve and Beaching's howls filled the whole house.
Martin had never been caned. The worst to have befallen him were a couple of doses of Sergeant Murphy's gymshoe. Lance had been caned, three times, but never a formal thrashing like they were facing now. They talked about it, their enmity gone now, though little chance of real friendship existed between them. Past experience showed them that they were likely, for fighting, to get somewhere between six and ten strokes. Martin tried to imagine what that would be like from what he had seen of boys' bottoms after they had been caned. The brigadier made neat patterns of dark stripes across their flesh and he wondered what it would be like to be marked like that.
At last, the other boys in the dorm came up from supper. They were full of commiseration, but excited too. It wasn't every day that boys in their own dorm were caned. Matron was brisk and told Martin and Lance to go to the lavatory just before lights out. "So you won't piss yourself," called out Sears.
"Black mark, Sears," snapped matron, and the dorm was silent.
She put the light out and in the dark Martin could feel his heart starting to beat louder. It wouldn't be long now. He just hoped it would be him first, to get it over with. His friend in the next bed, Jimmy Thompson, leaned over and whispered, "Are you all right?"
"Yes," he whispered back.
"Mr Jefferson says you're going to get more than Mortimer because you made his nose bleed."
"Yes, I expect so." Martin was conscientious and serious about everything he did and almost fanatical about fairness. It seemed to him now only just and right that he should be caned harder than the boy he had injured. In a way, it was due to him and he would feel cheated if he didn't receive his due – even of punishment.
"Everyone reckons you'll get six. I hope it's not that many."
Across the landing the top dorm went silent and they heard matron's footsteps retreating down the stairs. The whole house was silent. In the darkness, Sears started imitating the sound of a caning, "Whack, whack, whack, ooh mummy, my bottom, whack, whack."
"Shut up, Sears," said Thompson. "That's not fair."
"_f_u_c_k_ off, Thompson. Whack!. Whack! Whack!"
The brigadier's voice boomed up the hollow stairwell, and every boy's guts twisted. Martin could feel his heart ticking away the seconds till his own name was called.
Mortimer, a sturdy blond boy, climbed out of bed and padded down the length of the dorm on bare feet. He opened the door and disappeared through it. The tension throughout the house could have been cut with a knife. The silence stretched till it must surely snap.
CRACK! "Ow!" The sound of the first stroke echoed up the stairs and into every dormitory. One. You could almost hear the whisper as seventy-five boys started to count off the punishment and the expectant breathing as they ticked away the thirty seconds before the next echoing CRACK!
Again, the whole house waited. Thirty seconds never seemed as long as this gap between the strokes of a caning. Would it never end?
CRACK! Mortimer made no sound this time. Three.
The darkness was like velvet pressing on to Martin's eyes. He could feel the skin of his bottom tingling where the cane would land. He thought of his little brother in one of the lower dorms. I hope he doesn't think it's him when the brig calls my name out, he thought.
CRACK!! "Aagh!" Four. Was that the last? Or was Mortimer still stretched over the chair back? And was the brigadier planning more pain for the taut backside in front of him? Oh God, Martin thought suddenly. I hope I don't yell like this. It mattered dreadfully to him that he should take the beating bravely. Last year –
CRACK!! "Aaaagh!" Five. It wasn't over after all.
he had broken his arm playing rugby and he had got through the whole experience without blubbing or making a fuss. Matron and Mr Jefferson and even the brigadier had said how bravely he had borne the pain. A bit of a caning couldn't be worse than that, could it? He held his breath.
KERRACKK!!! "Yaarghhh!" Six!
The held breath of all the boys in the house was released. Six of the best, and Mortimer had yelled most satisfactorily. Around the dorm there were whispered discussions of how he had done, muted slightly by Hicks' presence and the wait for the caned boy's return.
They heard rather than saw him in the darkness. His bare feet shuffled on the wooden floor. "How was it, Mortimer?" whispered Sears. But Mortimer said nothing. He got to his bed and climbed in, pulling the bedclothes over his head.
The brigadier's voice was like an electric shock. Martin got out of bed. "Good luck," whispered Thompson.
The floor was cold to his bare feet and the landing when he reached it was dark. The only light was coming up from the hall, three floors below. His legs felt reluctant to carry him down to this man who was waiting to injure him with his cane. He risked a glance over the banisters. There was the brigadier down in the hall and Mr Jefferson was with him. There was no sign of the cane.
The first landing. Now he could see a little more – the two dormitory doors there and the imagined lines of boys behind them waiting to hear the cracks of the cane against his bottom. Another look down into the hall. The brigadier was looking up at him, his face foreshortened.
The first floor. David was in bed behind one of these doors, he didn't know which one. What was he feeling now? Maybe he was just excited at the thought of his older brother being thrashed. Heartless little beast. Three flights of stairs down into the hall, round the square stairwell, and now he could see, standing in the middle, the chair he was going to have to bend over. His guts felt twisted into knots and blood was singing in his ears. He had never expected to feel so afraid of anything.
As he reached the ground floor and stepped off the wood of the stairs on to the cold tiles of the hall, the brigadier turned to face him and there – with another jolt to the heart – was the cane, bent into a vicious curve between his fists. Mr Jefferson faced him too, both men standing easily, their feet braced apart.
"Hicks," said the brigadier. "Mr Jefferson tells me that he was just in time to prevent you inflicting serious injury on a fellow pupil. Is that correct?"
Martin thought that were several grounds on which he might argue this point, but he also knew that it would be useless to try. "Yes, sir."
"Do you wish to say anything more before I beat you?"
"No, sir." But then he thought better of it. "I'm very sorry, sir."
"I hope you will be, Hicks. You heard no doubt that Mortimer received six good strokes of the cane. Do you think that you deserve the same as him? Or more?"
He remembered the goading, the arguments that had led up to the fight. "The same, sir."
"Well, sir. We'd been arguing and pushing each other for a long time. I didn't want to fight, but somehow we ended up so we couldn't help it."
"But you hit him so many times that his nose was almost broken and he lost a fair amount of blood."
"Yes, sir." Martin hung his head. This wasn't just show. He really did feel repentant and had only argued for the look of the thing.
"Very well. For fighting, I shall give you the same number of strokes that Mortimer received. Six. But then for injuring him, for which I can find no excuse whatsoever, I shall give you a further two strokes. Do you think that is fair?"
"Yes, sir." The trouble was, he did think it was fair.
"Good. Come to the chair, please. Mr Jefferson will get you ready."
Martin stepped forward to the heavy hall chair. He remembered sitting on it the day he had arrived at school, waiting for his parents to finish talking to the brigadier. It had a padded back and seat. At the sides, below the seat a number of rungs had been added, which, every boy knew, were there to hang on to while you were whacked. Mr Jefferson guided him into position. He bent forward over the chair back and gripped the rails as far down the sides as he could reach so that he was pulled into a tight position. "Feet apart, Hicks," said the master and Martin spread his feet wide. His jacket was hoisted over his back and then he felt hands at the sides of his pyjama trousers and they were pulled up tight. The cloth over his bottom felt thin and completely useless as a protection against what was coming.
The brigadier considered the boy he was about to punish. Hicks was a tall, solidly built boy. His buttocks were lean and solid, his pyjamas stretched taut over the muscles. The brigadier stood back, his eyes fixed on the target area. He pointed the cane at the lower half of the boy's bottom, then danced in, swinging the cane viciously through the air. It sang through the air – whup – and landed with a crack like a pistol shot that echoed up the stairwell. It left a faint mark across the cloth where it struck home on both buttocks and it was nearly two full seconds before Hicks gasped as the pain kicked in. Slowly the brigadier returned to his starting place. The boy hadn't moved. The second stroke was delivered just the same, landing a fraction of an inch lower and producing no more than the same low gasp from the boy.
If this was to be a more severe beating than he had given Mortimer it was necessary that the boy should cry out more than this. The third was given with more of the brigadier's weight behind it, the note the cane made rose a little, but nothing but a hiss of breath through his gritted teeth escaped Hicks. The fourth and then the fifth were harder still, producing nothing but a grunt and soft groan of agony from the bending boy – nothing yet for the lines of listening boys upstairs. The sixth was, if anything, even worse, a lashing stroke that, at last, made the boy cry out, but nothing like the echoing howls of the previous offender.
"Stand up," the brigadier ordered. Hicks pushed himself upright and his hands went to his bottom. "No rubbing, Hicks, please. Not yet. Your punishment isn't over. You have two strokes still to come. Remove your trousers, please, and then resume your position."
The boy hesitated only a second. It was only logical, if not perfectly fair, that his final two strokes should be on his naked backside. He pulled the string of his pyjamas and allowed them to fall to the floor. He was about to bend over again when the brigadier stopped him.
"Remove them, Hicks, I said. Not simply lower them." The boy stepped out of his trousers and kicked them to one side. Then he bent over as he had before. Across the lower half of both buttocks was a band, about three inches wide, of purple, black and dark red weals. Each stroke had produced a tramline of bruise with a white strip down the centre. These stripes were evenly spaced, absolutely parallel and just as bad on the left buttock as on the right. Clearly the work of a master beater.
The brigadier took aim again, launched himself into the stroke and lashed it down with all his force on the boy's suffering flesh. KERRACKK!
"Aannghhh!" The cry was forced out of him through his clenched teeth and now his head came up in a spasm of agony. The stroke had landed diagonally across all the previous weals, awakening all the pain that was in them. A long, long, long pause and then the last stroke followed it. Exactly on the same line, covering the previous mark and wringing the loudest cry yet from the suffering boy's throat.
"Before you get up, Hicks." It was Mr Jefferson who had stood by to hold him down should it have been necessary. "When the brigadier tells you that you may get up you will put your trousers back on, then shake his hand and thank him for the punishment he has given you."
"Very well, Hicks, you may get up," said the brigadier.
The boy painfully hauled himself back on to his feet. There were no tears in his eyes, both masters noted, but his teeth were still clenched and his whole face showed clearly the pain he was feeling. He had to bend again to retrieve his pyjamas, and then he stepped forward to the brigadier, holding out his hand.
"Thank you, sir, for beating me. I'll be good from now on."
"I'm sure you will, Hicks. Good night."
Martin's journey back up the stairs to his dormitory was sheer torture. He wouldn't have admitted it for the world but his backside seemed to be exploding inside his pyjama trousers and every step sent fire shooting down the backs of his legs and up into his torso. Before he reached the second floor landing the light downstairs went off and he was in pitch darkness. He knew the way all right, but he paused for a moment and felt the swollen ridges across his bottom with his fingertips. They were hard and thin and very tender to the touch.
He reached his dormitory and could almost feel the concern of the boys lying there in the dark, his friends.
"How's your arse, Hicks?" came Sears's whispered voice out of the darkness.
"_f_u_c_k_ing sore," he said, letting the other boys know that he had been beaten but wasn't defeated.
Next morning in the shower there was general admiration for the marks across both their bottoms, but Martin's were clearly worse and none of them could understand how it was possible to take such a beating, including two on the bare backside, without blubbing. Martin said nothing.