I'm going to describe the proceedings of a fairly typical Prefects' Meeting at my school - specifically, the one that occurred soon after the occasion I caned Alan Pike for bullying, described in a previous post. As part of the agreement between Alan and myself that meant I did not force him to see the Headmaster, I had decided to refer him to the Prefects' Meeting for further punishment above and beyond that I was permitted to inflict myself.
The Prefect's Meeting consisted of 18 boys - it was chaired by the Captain of the School, the five House Captains also attended, as did 12 School Prefects. The six Captains were considered to be Prefects, but also more than Prefects. We Captains had our own real disciplinary powers in that we could administer the cane to those under our authority - the Captain of the School to any boy in the School, the House Captains to any boy in their house. The only exception was that the Captains couldn't cane Prefects - nor could most staff members - Prefects were technically subject to corporal punishment by the Headmaster, his Deputy, their Housemaster, and the Matron, but in practice this was extremely rare - and if it did happen, you were fairly likely to lose your position as well.
With the exceptions of the Captains, Prefect's didn't have any official disciplinary powers of their own - but they could refer a matter to the Prefects' Meeting where after a vote determining whether we believed the accused to be guilty or not, the School Captain could hand out all sorts of punishments including the cane. Prefect's could use this power to unofficially impose other punishments - "I won't refer you to the meeting, if you write out 50 lines." But all their authority really came from their power to refer people. The Captain's could refer people to the Meeting - but rarely did, because they didn't need to do that to punish someone.
We took the meetings pretty seriously - for someone to be brought up in front of the meeting, we had to file charges with their House Captain, who was then responsible for making sure they knew they had to attend. Failure to attend, without a very good excuse, would result in referral to the Headmaster who would almost certainly administer a flogging.
In this case, because I myself was leveling the charges, I ensured Alan Pike knew when he had to attend, and I was responsible for setting up the meeting.
Prefects' Meetings were held in the Prefects' Room - which had been the Masters' Dining Room at some point in the past. It was a pretty nice room with a long table which could accommodate all of us, and over the years assorted chairs and tables had been crammed into the corners. None of the furniture was in the best condition, which was a pity, because it was probably very expensive when it was purchased.
Setting up for a Prefects' Meeting was pretty simple - but we only bothered doing it properly when someone was facing charges - for just a normal administrative meeting, we basically just put up with the mess - and there was a lot of it. Personally I wonder if the requirement placed on those leveling charges to clean up the room wasn't some sort of attempt to make sure it wasn't done frivolously. Basically I had to clean away all the papers (typically stuffed them into drawers), make sure all the seats were in the right place, and sent up the block and dock. I've mentioned the block in a previous post - basically an old kneeler from the school chapel. It was stored in a storeroom next to the Prefects' Room, and it came out for use at the Prefects' Meeting and in public beatings - I've described its use for those in that previous post. When used at the Prefects' Meeting, it served two purposes - we placed it in a corner, and the accused stood behind it, during their hearing - it basically served as a court room dock. If the Meeting decided on corporal punishment as a penalty, the condemned would be caned while bending over it in its block incarnation.
It probably took me about half an hour to get the room ready - but when it was, it was a reasonably impressive place designed to highlight our importance in the school. The last step was to place chairs outside the door for the accused - a chair for each person accused at the meeting (sometimes there was more than one) with a card with their name on it sitting on it. Disciplinary Hearings were held after we'd been through the administrative business - and the accused owed it to himself to be waiting in that chair when we were ready for him.
On this day - administrative issues probably went for about twenty minutes - I can't remember any details of that, and they are not really relevant. Everybody knew there was a 'trial' on because of the way the room was set up. Nobody, except me, knew much of the details - I hadn't told anyone. Finally, as administration ended, the School Captain asked the Prefect nearest the door to let the accused in.
Alan came in - he knew the routine, he'd obviously been called up before. He walked straight across the room to the dock. The Captain spoke:
"Pike - you've been summoned hear to face charges. Do you give your word of honour to speak the truth in these proceedings?"
"Yes, I do."
"Who brings the case?"
I stood up. "If it pleases this meeting. I wish to refer Alan Pike to this meeting's decision. There is one charge at issue..."
A Prefect spoke up. "Point of Order."
The Captain: "What is the Point of Order?"
"Mister Rysher is Pike's House Captain. He has no need to use the Prefects' Meeting as a disciplinary forum."
The Captain: "That's not a Point of Order. The issue is not whether Mister Rysher had the need to use this meeting, it is whether he has the right. He is a prefect. He has the right. We move on."
The Prefect concerned - who was a member of the same sporting teams as Pike - didn't look too happy about that, but I continued.
"There is one charge at issue. Pike is charged with directing abusive behaviour at a Prefect. Is there any need for detail?"
The question on 'need for detail' had two purposes. First of all, if the charge seemed frivolous, any Prefect could call for an immediate vote on dismissal of charges. That very rarely happened - and certainly wasn't going to happen on a charge of abusing a prefect. But it also gave the School Captain the chance to ask the accused whether he admitted the charge - if he did, we might be able to avoid the whole meeting.
The Captain looked at Pike. "Pike - you have heard the charge. Do you admit to the charge?"
"Yes, I do."
"Do you wish to offer any statements in mitigation?"
I held my breath - I really hadn't thought this through very well. I'd expected to be able to present my case in full - explaining that I had tried to talk to Pike informally about a potential problem I saw and he had started abusing me, and threatening me, and had come very close to hitting me. And that when I'd refused to back down, and had told him I was going to cane him, initially speaking his abuse had continued. By admitting the charge, he'd taken the wind out of my sales. By the rules, he could now give his version first, and I didn't know what he would say.
Pike looked at me. "No, I do not wish to offer any mitigation, beyond formally apologizing to Nathan Rysher for my behaviour."
The Captain started passing out sheets of paper to each of us. "Guilt is admitted, and so is not at issue. All I need from all of you is to write down what punishment you believe Pike deserves for this infraction."
Pike's friendly Prefect spoke up again: "Hang on - I still want to know why Rysher has called Pike before this meeting - he can cane himself. I think we need..."
The Captain snapped at him. "That matter is resolved. There is no point of order. Pike has offered no mitigation - if he had a concern he could have raised it. You know the rules. Assess punishment."
When my sheet came to me, I simply wrote on it: "Cane: 6" which is what I felt was deserved, and passed it back. Most of the others passed theirs back very quickly as well - a few (there were 17 of us writing) took quite some time writing fairly long pieces before they passed theirs back.
The Captain looked at every sheet. "Pike, the assessed penalty of this meeting is that you receive three strokes of the cane. Do you wish to appeal to the Headmaster?"
Three strokes - that didn't impress me. Three strokes was what fourth formers got for smoking - this fellow was a sixth former who'd threatened to beat me up. Now, all right, I'd already given him six strokes - but officially none of my fellow prefects knew that, and if they knew it unofficially, they shouldn't have let it influence their vote. I wasn't too happy about this - but I held my tongue.
The Captain went to a cupboard, unlocked it, and took out the cane kept in the Prefects' Room for these meetings. I went down and placed my hand on Pike's arm, as two other prefects moved the block into a more central area at the base of the table. A couple of others began pulling the curtains of the room closed.
The Captain came down the room to the foot of the table, where the block sat.
"Bend over, Pike." He slashed the cane through the air a couple of times. Alan Pike bent over the top of the block while the Captain swished his cane through the air a couple of times. He wasn't held down - that was done over the block for public beatings, but not in the Prefects' Meeting.
The Captain took up position next to Pike. He set his legs slightly apart, and probably stood three feet away or more from his target. He lifted the cane above and over his head, reaching so far back that it was pointing almost at a point on the ground behind his feet, and then slashed it up and forward and down, his arm straightening with a final, almost a whip crack motion, just as the cane struck its target area.
Pike jerked on the block. I winced. I think most people in the room did - I don't know if the Captain had been practicing, but that was a savage stroke. I'd seen plenty of caning at this age - the Captain was probably in the top five of all the caners I'd seen in terms of effectiveness, which was truly impressive as he'd only had the power to cane for a period of weeks at this time, and some of the others I'd seen had been doing it for probably forty years.
The Captain raised the cane again, and repeated the stroke - there might have been five seconds between the two strokes. Pike yelped at that stroke. And I remember thinking that three strokes wasn't a bad price at all to pay if they were strokes like this.
The third stroke was the equal of the first two. Pike didn't call out again, but when he was asked to stand, he was pretty much fighting to hold back tears.
"You can go." The Captain turned to everyone else. "We'll close the meeting. Rysher, I'll need you to witness the notes." Normal procedure since I'd brought the charges.
Everybody else trooped out - I drew back the curtains while the Captain filled out the large ledger that recorded all the punishments of the Prefects' Meeting. And I went up to sign it.
"Nathan, don't you ever do that again? Or I'll report you to the Headmaster."
"You know what I mean. You caned him, didn't you? And then you referred him to the meeting for more punishment."
"Well, yes, I did, but..."
"Shut up. Look, you can't do that. You can't give your top whack and then still want more. If top whack isn't enough for you - you need to refer him to the Head."
"Hang on - I had my reasons."
"No - I don't want to hear. Listen, three of the chaps think you went too far - they want me to look into this. I'm not going to."
"Why not? Look, I didn't the chance to put my side of the story..."
"Nathan. I don't want to hear it. Look, Nathan - consider this from my point of view. All right, maybe you had a reason for doing this. Maybe. Maybe there's a good reason that you did this, and you could tell me, and I'd agree. But maybe not. I don't want you to tell me what happened, because if you do, and I don't agree, I will have to see the Headmaster about this. I'd have to report you. And you'd probably get a flogging and you'd probably lose your position. I backed you up, all right. I did the deed. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, that you did have a good reason. I don't want to hear anything that might change that opinion. But don't do this again. If you bring someone up before the meeting again, and you've already punished them - well, I'll have to report it, before somebody else does."
"All right. But I did have a reason."
"Yeah, well, I believe you probably did. But let's not tempt fate."
I decided he was right. The fact is he'd backed my authority - he really had to, because his authority came from the same place. And if he'd felt the need to report me - well, regardless of whether or not the Headmaster believed my story, he'd probably back the School Captain over me, as well - if he believed me, I might not lose my position, but I'd almost certainly still suffer the indignity of being the first Prefect in at least a dozen years to get the cane.
Sometimes you have to play for a draw.
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