This account takes place very near the start of my second form year, only a few days after one of the most severe canings I ever received (related in 'The Price of Honesty'). That particular punishment had been totally undeserved and the end result of it was that I spent most of the following day lying on my stomach in the house infirmary under the care of the Matron. This was very unusual. Severity in punishment was a part of life for us, and it was very rare for any allowance to be made for what had happened. I don't want to give the impression I was abused by this - by today's standards I'm quite sure I was, but though very severe, this caning was I believe still within the bounds of what was considered acceptable back then. I was younger than normal, especially to receive such a severe caning but it didn't do me any lasting damage.
It was severe enough however, that the Matron did ask me some questions about precisely what I had done wrong. My official crime had been cheating on a test and then lying about it - both fairly serious offences, so the level of punishment wasn't in itself that surprising. I told the Matron I was innocent, but she tended to view matters of guilt or innocence in a rather pragmatic way. She said that she believed me - but that it hardly mattered now as I'd already been punished, and given time it would all cancel itself out as I'd certainly have enough undetected offences over my school career when I escaped punishment I should have received.
I was in the infirmary for about a day, before being released. I was still marked, still carried bruises and was still quite tender. But I was able to function quite well.
And I was quite a celebrity among the junior boys of my house - especially the new first formers (most of whom were actually a year older than me) who'd seen my heavily marked bottom in the showers the evening after I'd been caned. That had been only their second night at the school, so for quite a few of them, seeing that was the first concrete sign they'd ever seen of caning (this was by no means true for all. Some had attended prep or primary schools which used the cane, but in at least some of those cases, it would have been administered on the hand, and quite a few came from schools that would have used the strap on the hand - for a lot of them, caning on the buttocks was new). A lot of the new boys wanted to talk to me about it. To ask me questions about it - not just me, every year it was a common discussion in the first weeks or so at the school, but because I'd so visibly got it, I came in for a lot of questions.
Now, the thing is, small boys are often naturally pretty cruel. And second form boys (and to a slightly lesser extent third form boys) used to take great delight at my school in trying to frighten the brand new first formers. I very much doubt that ours was the only school that it happened, either, but we certainly did our very best to terrify the new boys. Some were savvy enough not to fall for it. A lot weren't - especially those who hadn't been to boarding school before. They were, typically, twelve year olds from very sheltered, privileged backgrounds - some had even been more or less raised by governesses until coming to the school, some of them had never been away from home before. And these were our main targets.
To get a reaction from them, we would seriously exaggerate both the severity of canings, and the things you would get them for. ("Oh, and don't ever talk in Hanson's class, or you'll get six every time.") It had happened to me. And this was my chance to do it to someone else.
I didn't plan it - but when my chance came, I really took it.
It was only days after I'd been released from the infirmary, and in the evening I was sitting down in the junior common room reading a book. A couple of the new boys, Tim Wren, and Oliver Morris, approached me and asked me if they could talk to me. I graciously granted them an audience.
"Rysher... we were just wondering. How much does the cane really hurt?"
"Call me Nathan in the house. Look, it hurts a lot. It really does. There's nothing like on earth you can imagine... listen, you ever been smacked?"
"Well, think of that an multiply it by a hundred times. Then imagine taking all that pain and compressing it into a line about as thick as a pencil right in the middle of your bum. Then imagine it happening again - in exactly the same place, a hundred times a hundred times worse. Then a third time - a hundred times a hundred times a hundred times worse again, and..."
"Hang on - I saw your..." I swear Oliver blushed at the daring of swearing, "bum. And it didn't look like they were all in the same place. They were spread."
"Yeah, well... I was lucky. Mr Morris was kind. He went easy on me." I was in full lie mode now.
"That was going easy?" Tim was incredulous - as well he should have been. He'd seen my bum as well.
"Yes. Not that Mr Morris is normally kind. It's just he knew what was going to happen this Friday."
"What happens on Friday?"
The big lie had come to me. An idea of how to really terrorise these two new boys came into my head from nowhere. At the time I thought it was a complete flight of fancy on my part, but since then I've read that it was a real tradition once and I wonder if I somehow knew that from somewhere at the age of nearly eleven. I can't really see how I could have - but I'm really not sure where the idea came from if I hadn't. But wherever it came from, I was prepared to use it.
I leaned forward. "Do you mean nobody has told you?"
"Told us what?" Oliver and Tim both said together.
"Well, perhaps it's for the best. No sense in scaring you until it's time."
"What do you mean?"
"I can't say."
"You have to!"
"Well... all right... it's just that the two of you will know what a caning feels like by Friday evening, sure enough."
Tim blanched. "What do you mean?"
I went for it. "All right... you know that that murderer is being hanged on Friday?"
They certainly did. There hadn't been an execution in our state in our lifetimes and the media was having a field day with it.
"There's a tradition in the school. On the day of an execution, everybody gets six of the best."
They went for it. "That's horrible!" said Oliver. Tim demanded to know "Why!?"
"To focus our attention on the law. So that when we grow up, if we ever think of becoming criminals, we remember being caned along with remembering hanging at the same time. There's some old saying about 'This I do to save you from the gallows.'" Actually it was a line used by one of our Masters whenever he caned someone - a quote but at the time I thought it was original. He seemed to think it was funny. We rarely did.
Oliver and Tim looked terrified. So I decided to up the pressure. "It starts at the same time as the hanging. Everybody has to line up outside the Headmaster's study and go in one by one in Form and alphabetical order. You First Formers will get it over quicker. Nobody's sure exactly what will happen - last time it was done, everybody got it on the bare bum, but people think maybe this time they'll let us keep our pants up." I paused, and twisted. "Personally, I doubt it." Tim was going white. Oliver was going green. This was going great.
I almost jumped out of my skin as a hand descended onto my shoulder and gripped. Then lifted me up turning me to face our House Captain. "Get to my room, now." I went. As I went, I heard the Captain tell Oliver and Tim not to believe anything I'd just told them.
I waited outside his room. He opened the door, went in, and closed it. Then a few seconds later called me in. He had his cane out but he was looking very concerned.
"How's your backside, Nathan?"
He'd seen my marks the day I was caned. In fact, he was the one who'd taken me to see the Matron. Now, normally, I think the general view was that if you were bad enough to earn a second caning on top of the marks of a previous one, you deserved everything you got. But I had been severely caned, he had seen it, and this was also very early in his term as House Captain - it's possible he hadn't even used the cane yet, he was certainly inexperienced.
"It's still pretty bad." This was true, but I'd have probably said it was true, even if it hadn't been.
"I should give you three... look, you go see Matron. You ask her whether or not you should be caned."
I walked to the infirmary and entered it, looking for the Matron. She was sitting behind a desk writing something in a book. Matron was a mature woman, either Irish or a Scot. She was kindly, but never stood for any nonsense from boys.
"Yes, Nathan. Can I help you?"
"Um, Matron... am I am able... that is, I can't be caned yet, can I?"
She rolled her eyes and stood up. "Pull down your pants and underpants and bend over my desk."
I did as I was told.
"Who wants your hide?"
"I see." She was standing behind me now. "Well... no, I don't think so. What did you do?"
"I... sort of... told some first form boys that they were going to get the cane on Friday."
"It seemed like a good idea at the time."
For the second time in ten minutes I felt a hand on my shoulder, drawing me erect and then I found myself pulled and pushed across the room to a chair. I couldn't walk with my shorts and underwear around my knees, so I shuffled. Matron sat down with me in front of her. Still exposed. My hands crept forward to cover myself.
"Don't be silly. You haven't got anything I haven't seen before. Now - tell me exactly what you told the boys."
So I did. Not instantly, not immediately, but within about three minutes with probing questions she knew exactly what I'd said. She sat there staring at my face, silent for about thirty seconds.
"Your bottom isn't up to a caning, but that doesn't mean you get off scot free, my lad."
She grabbed my arm, pulled me sharply next to her, and then across her knees. Matron had the power to cane - but with younger boys (and even occasionally with an older boy) she seemed to favour a more fundamental, more maternal approach to discipline. And we didn't really object. A spanking, though far from pleasant, was infinitely preferable to a caning. I braced myself for the first blow. Instead she spoke.
"Nathan... I want you to think about something. It's only been a few days since you were in here having received a horrid thrashing you said you didn't deserve. I would have thought that should have made you far less likely to try and frighten new boys in the way you did. Now I want you to think about that, think about what you did. Will you do that?"
The first smack fell - her hand seemed to cover my entire bottom, and it hurt quite a bit.
"Do you promise?"
"You're still ten, aren't you?"
The proper spanking began. Nine hard smacks for a total of ten, delivered at intervals of a few seconds apart. It wasn't as bad as a caning really - but ten hard spanks on still tender buttocks - was something I was able to shrug off either. It brought tears to my eyes.
When it was over, Matron let me stand up and readjust my clothing. She handed me a couple of tissues, and then leaned down and gave me a very sudden, very quick hug.
"You'll apologise to Tim and Oliver, of course."
I headed to the common room (via the Captain's room where I think he was relieved to hear that matters had been handled). And I did apologise to Tim and Oliver. They actually seemed rather amused by this stage about their own gullibility, and they took my apology in very good humour.
Tim asked me: "What happened to you?"
"I got my backside smacked."
"With a cat o'nine tails, I suppose," was Oliver's response.
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