It was the start of my Second Form year, and I was still only ten years old - nearly eleven. I was probably still the youngest boy in the entire school, and this occasionally caused a few problems. Sometimes other boys were jealous of how easily academic learning came to me, and I wasn't exactly shy about showing off what I was capable of. I'd been raised to have a rather high opinion of myself.
In our first year, we were placed into classes based on our performance on tests, and I found myself in the highest stream for most subjects. But my best subject was mathematics and for some reason, I wasn't placed in the highest stream for that. I'd spent the year in mid-stream, and this had aggravated the problems I was having with some of my fellow pupils - getting over 90% constantly in a class where everybody else managed 70% at most, most of the time made me stand out. I knew that in the top stream, marks in the 90s were much more common and I wanted to get into that stream. Moving streams was quite difficult, but I knew it could happen so towards the end of First Form, I'd screwed up my courage and gone to see Mr. Morris - Master-in-Charge of Mathematics. He made all the decisions when it came to mathematics placements, and also taught the top stream classes in each Form. He was probably in his fifties - and quite a frightening man to a ten year old. He hardly ever smiled, a very stern looking man. Very efficient.
I had asked to see him, and had asked what it would take to be moved into top stream in Second Form. He made it very clear that he didn't want me in his top stream classes - he didn't care how smart I was, I was too young to handle the pressures of his classes. But I pushed the issue as much as I dared, and eventually he agreed that if I managed to come top in my class, he'd find it rather hard not to move me.
So I worked as hard as I could in that subject, knowing that the end of year exam was crucial. And I came top of my class. I came top of the entire form.
I spent part of my summer with a classmate whose elder brother was going into the Sixth Form, and was one of the best students at the entire school in Mathematics. Slightly worried that I might not be up to the standards of the rest of my new class, I asked for his help and he tutored me to make sure I'd be more than ready to meet the challenges ahead.
The first day back, I was summoned to Mr. Morris' study. I arrived just as he was standing up at his desk.
"Ah, Rysher. Come in and wait. I need to take these notes to Miss Garriott. Wait here, I might be five minutes."
I entered his study, and sat down in the seat he had in front of his desk. I looked out the windows. I looked at the books on his shelves, and the prints on his walls. And I looked at the papers on his desk.
Sitting on the blotter, upside down from my point of view was a set of typed pages, pinned together at one corner. I could read quite well upside down and I glanced at them, before realizing it was an answer crib for a mathematics test. I stopped reading immediately I realised that, and spent the next few minutes studying the walls.
I leapt to my feet.
"Well, you did it - got the highest marks in the exam, so I've moved you into top stream. I just wanted to see you to explain a couple of things to you. I know you're young - but you asked for this, and I won't make any allowances for you. You'll be expected to work as hard as anyone else, and harder if you need to, and you'll be expected to get good marks. I have standards for the top stream - and if you don't meet them, you won't like what happens. Is all this understood?"
"Then I will see you in class."
We had our first mathematics class the following day. I was, as far as I know, the only boy to join the top stream, so everybody else in my class was familiar with Mr. Morris and his methods. Everybody sat quietly waiting for him to arrive. He entered the room, carrying a cane.
"Good morning, boys."
"Good morning, sir."
"Sir, it's the first class!"
"Don't worry - I just want to see where you all stand. I won't impose any penalties on this occasion."
He handed out the tests and we began working. It was fairly difficult - I knew the work only because of the extra practice I'd had over the holidays - it was considerably in advance of where we were expected to be at the start of the year. And to make things even more difficult, Mr. Morris wandered around the class, between the rows of desks, cane in hand, tapping it constantly against the side of his leg so you could never forget for a moment that it was there. It was quite unnerving - even though I was, by now, very used to the idea of the cane, But I did my best to put it out of my thoughts and got on with the test. Fifteen minutes from the end of the class, I'd just finished it - no time to go through and check my work - when he told us to put our pens down. Then we had to pass our papers around to the person next to us, and mark each others tests. He read the answers off a sheet of papers, and at the end we collected back our own test.
"Read out your marks. Crafton..."
It went around the entire class. Nobody else scored over 90, and I was feeling rather pleased with myself. The bell went, and Mr. Morris asked me to remain behind. I stayed at my desk. He sat at his staring at me. I began to get nervous. He continued staring. After perhaps two minutes, he finally spoke.
"Honesty is very difficult, isn't it, Nathan?"
"Nathan, I have been giving the same basic test at the start of Second Form for the last nine years. Nobody has ever got 100% in that test - it covers all the work we will do until the middle of the year. Now, the day after I left you in a room with the answers, you give me a perfect score. Why did you cheat?"
"I didn't cheat!"
"Don't lie to me, Nathan. It's not going to work. You cheated and I am going to cane you for it. But before I do, I want to know why you did it. I have to wonder if you are as brilliant as your exam results last year indicated you were - or if you cheated then as well."
"I don't cheat, Sir."
"Be silent until I tell you to speak. Rysher, I want to help you here. I know you are a talented boy, and I know that can put you under a lot of pressure to do well. But there's no shame in being in the mid streams - you're two years younger than anyone else. If you cheated last year, tell me now, and I'll move you back. If we do it now, it won't be that conspicuous. Now, answer me - did you cheat in the exams last year?"
"So why did you cheat now?"
"I didn't, Sir. I swear I didn't!"
"It's three for cheating - do you want a second three for lying?"
"I'm not lying."
"Right - I'm going to give you six. Stand up."
"Please, Sir." I realised I was crying, and I wasn't sure when I'd started. "Please, Sir. I'm not a cheat."
"Stand up, I say!"
I stood up. He picked up his cane. "Come here."
"Sir, please. I'm begging you, Sir. I didn't cheat."
"Take your punishment like a man."
I was really crying. He stood there with the cane in his hand, and not a trace of emotion on his face. I was desperate - I was terrified.
"Sir, I... please..."
"Bend over and touch your toes."
"BEND OVER - or would you rather see the Headmaster? Do you want a flogging?"
There was no sign of mercy. No hope of it. I bent forward, very slowly, stretching to touch my toes.
"Nathan... I am going to give you six of the best. I can't do anymore than that. If you cheated last year - admit it now. I can't do any more to you."
I stayed silent - I couldn't speak.
Then my bottom exploded with sheer agony. My palms touched the ground as I moved violently forward. I saw stars, and I had to fight to stay upright. Then the second stroke came - and the pain seemed to increase exponentially. All the air seemed to leave my body - my buttocks were blazing, but as well as that, the backs of my legs seemed to burn as well, and my chest was pounding as I tried to take a breath. The third stroke drove me to my knees - I actually fell forward onto my knees, and my hands.
I knelt there gasping. A hand gripped my collar and hauled me to my feet - and Mr. Morris dragged me to a desk in the front row and almost threw me across it. I was limp, like a rag doll - no struggling, I didn't have the strength.
The fourth stroke came almost immediately and I realised I was breathing again, because I was screaming - and I somehow knew you needed to be breathing to scream. One hand was scrabbling at the seat of the desk that was in front of me, as I tried to get a grip on anything I could hold onto.
The fifth stroke - I felt it - but it didn't really seem to hurt - at least not when it struck. Perhaps three or four seconds later, there was a searing slash of agony low on my buttocks.
"Move your hand!"
I realised that one hand was gripping the seat in front of me - and couldn't figure out why he wanted it moved. Then I felt the cane tap my other hand - and realised that it was behind me seeking to cover and protect my bottom.
"Move your hand."
I slowly pulled it around and gripped the seat. Mr. Morris stood behind me.
"Nathan. One last chance. Did you cheat on the exam last year?"
"Did you cheat today?"
The cane tapped my buttocks. "No, Sir."
The cane slashed in for the sixth stroke, and I lay there sobbing.
"If you ever cheat again in my class, Rysher, you'll get the same - and next time I'll do it in front of the entire class, so everybody can see what a sniveler you are. Get out."
I stood up - and I limped to the door. I limped down the corridor past boys who knew who exactly what had happened to me. A few smirked. Most looked vaguely sympathetic.
I missed lunch - I wandered around in a daze. Before afternoon school, I managed to compose myself enough to attend my lessons. A few boys tried to question me about what had happened - but backed away when I snarled at them. By the end of the school day, while I was still feeling the caning, it had faded to a level I could tolerate.
That evening, in the House after dinner, the junior boarders went to the showers - when I stripped off, I could hear people murmuring - some of the first formers - their third night at the school - were seeing the marks of a cane for the first time, and I assumed that was the reason for the comments. Then...
Our new House Captain had entered the room - and was staring at my backside. I looked at his face - he'd gone pale. "Nathan - you're coming with me. Don't worry about getting dressed. Just grab a towel."
I did as I was told. He lead me down to the Matron's room and knocked on the door.
"Matron - you need to see Nathan's... bottom." I remember the pause that stopped him getting into trouble.
"Show me, Nathan."
I turned around and dropped the towel.
"Right... you can go. I'll handle this."
Matron put me to bed. On my stomach.
I was caned, probably, dozens of times at school. I was flogged twice across my bare buttocks, I was thrashed by experts.
Only once did a caning inspire this much reaction from those who saw the marks.
I often wonder how bad they really were - I'm sure I looked at them, but I don't really remember. I wonder if much of the reaction was simply because I was so young - because I doubt this was the worst caning I ever received. Other times, the marks I received inspired comments - jokes of various sorts.
This time they seemed to horrify those who saw them.
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