I've already written here previously about my own experience as the object lesson in a public beating in front of my assembled school. While that only happened to me once, it wasn't the only time I was involved in such an incident and so now I am going to set down what happened on another occasion.
It was during my final year at the school, and I was Captain of my House. That position gave me responsibilities relating to the discipline of the other boys in my House, and it was those responsibilities that were relevant here.
One of the major events in the life of our school each year was a boat race. It was the social highlight of our year. Many parents attended, so did quite large numbers of the general public. We had significant newspaper coverage - it really was absolutely huge. The whole school turned out for it - alongside our fellows from the other great schools of the state. It was a sporting event - it was also a carnival. It was April, I think - still fairly early in the school year, and we had wonderful weather for the event. It was an incredible day, and for us, it ended in triumph as our eight won for the first time in well over a decade. The school went into an incredible mode of celebrations - it's really hard to describe how important this race was to us. I was proud of my school, and I was never prouder than on that day. I didn't row - but we all shared in the triumph.
When we got back to school - celebrations went on. It was announced that normal school routine was suspended for the evening - no bedtimes for the younger boys, no study for the older. Day boys remained at the school, not wanting to miss any of the fun. Everybody was going absolutely wild.
Around 10.30pm - quite late, a third former slipped up to me, and told me the Headmaster wanted to see me. I still had a flicker of fear whenever I heard that - even though by this stage, I was one of the schools paragons of virtue. I responded on the double - was at his study in less than two minutes. Two of the other Captains were already present, and others arrived within a couple of minutes. The Head invited us in, and we obeyed.
"Gentlemen, we have a serious problem. First of all, I want honest answers. Were any of you aware that somebody was running a book on today's races?"
We looked at each other - this was rather an awkward question. Finally, as the pause became embarrassing, the Captain of the School spoke up.
"I knew of at least three, Sir. I think we all knew of at least one."
"And you took no action?"
"Sir - I'm sure you're aware that... Sir, there's traditions associated with the race. Bookmaking's one of those traditions. I don't think we - we don't take any action about it."
"Yes, all right. I know. Look - we have a problem. Did anyone know William Farr was running a book?"
William was a fifth former - bit of a wide man, didn't always play by the rules. Something of a problem for the school - nothing too serious, really. Normally. Fortunately he wasn't in my House - so if he was the cause of this summons, I shouldn't have anything to worry about.
His House Captain was nodding. "Yes, Sir. I'd heard some rumours. But nothing serious."
"Yes - well, he's managed to get himself arrested. Him and another boy - Derek Gordon."
Ah - all right. Now, here was a problem for me. Derek was in my house. More significantly, Derek was a pretty good friend. He was two years younger than me and in the fourth form - like myself he had been allowed to enter the school at a significantly younger age than normal. He was a whiz at mathematics in any form, and as a fellow brain, I'd taken some interest in him. We got on very well - and he wasn't the type of boy to get into serious trouble.
"What's going to happen to them, Sir?"
"Mr Keanes (our Deputy Headmaster) has gone down to the police station to see what we can do. With any luck, the police will let us deal with it. The reason I've asked you all to come in, is because I need you to deal with the bookmaking. I need you to find out - if you don't already know - who was keeping books, and I need you to try and return all moneys to everybody involved. I don't want the staff dealing with this - too official. Get their books - get the cash - and get it back. Officially, the staff do not know about this - unofficially make it known, there's an amnesty to anyone involved. Till 6pm tomorrow. Get to it."
We shot out, compared notes - and began the unenviable task of parting people from their money. I found out later, by the way, that one of the House Captains had a very easy time identifying the main bookmaker operating in his House - he just needed to look in a mirror.
I managed to recover the money from the three bookies I knew I had in my house - I let one of them keep the $2 I'd lost to him, because I didn't feel comfortable taking it back under colour of authority. I mean it really does show how accepted this was - we were all involved at some level or another.
The problem was that Farr and Derek had got caught, and that could have embarrassed the school, and that was a big deal.
I got to bed about 1am, and woke at around 6am - I went and told off the two guys who'd woken me up - not too hard as they were on the winning boat team. And I walked around the House to see who else had made it to bed - and was relieved to see Derek in his bed. The police had released him.
We had a late chapel that morning - and straight after chapel, I was once again summoned to see the Headmaster. The Captain of the School was there - as was William Farr's House Captain.
"Come in. Right - you three. You haven't had to do this, yet, but you know it's part of your duties and I expect you to do it properly. The police released Farr and Gordon only when Mr Keanes persuaded them that we were able to deal with them far more effectively than they could. I've already spoken to them and they are in their dorms. I'm calling a special assembly for two this afternoon, where they will be beaten before the assembled school. Are you all familiar with what you need to do?"
"Then do it."
We left - it was probably around 11am. The School Captain looked at the two of us. "Well... you two do know what is involved, don't you?"
"Yes - I think probably we should get the block across now, shouldn't we? Then handle the rest."
"Yes - it's going to be pretty close to straight after lunch, we won't have time, then."
The three of us headed over to the Prefect's Room - in a storeroom next to it, was 'the block'. An old chapel kneeler used during public beatings. The other two - being bigger than me - manhandled it to the theatre as I moved ahead of them trying to stop anyone seeing us move it - while these things weren't exactly secret most of the time, the traditions we had meant we were supposed to avoid anyone knowing about what was happening if we could. Normally, the thing was moved during the night.
After that was complete, I headed to my House - I headed into my room, and I stripped off and changed into my full school uniform. We didn't generally wear the full uniform on weekends, but for what was going to happen, formality was important.
I then went off to find Derek in his dorm. He was sitting on his bed looking absolutely miserable. He looked up as I entered.
"Hi Derek. You're screwed."
I could tell he'd been crying - and I didn't really blame him. He knew that in less than two and a half hours, he'd be being beaten in front of all of his friends and enemies. It was a scary thing - and he was generally pretty well behaved. I don't think anyone in fourth form hadn't been caned at least a few times - but he would have probably been among those who'd received it the least.
I tried to take his mind of what was happening - we played Monopoly actually. We talked a bit - and I found out he'd been involved in the bookmaking because of his skill with numbers, and the fact that - like me - he wasn't from a rich background, and he was after cash. Lunchtime came along and that's when my duty really started.
"I don't think I'll go to lunch, Nathan."
"You will - and you'll eat. I'll be watching you - if you don't eat, when we come back here, I'll cane you - and you'll still have the beating to come. You've got to eat - if you don't, and you faint or something like that - it's my arse on the line - and that could be literal."
"All right... I'll eat what I can."
He did - I couldn't eat a thing myself and I did idly wonder what the Head would do to me if I passed out during the proceedings. After lunch, I escorted Derek back to the dorm.
"Get in the showers, Derek."
"You need to have a shower. Those are the rules."
They weren't really - but the shower served two purposes - one it filled up some time, and I wanted to fill it. But more significantly - I was required to ensure that Derek didn't try to escape his punishment by padding himself - the most common way was to try and put on multiple pairs of underwear. I didn't want to tell him to drop his pants just so I could check. Easier to get him to shower, and then watch him change. He wouldn't try anything while I was watching and it'd spare us both a bit of embarrassment.
He dressed - and at ten to two, we headed over to the theatre. We stopped at the toilets on the way - but Derek wasn't able to produce anything, so we passed on.
The School Captain was waiting, and the other two participants turned up a minute or so later. We had a brief discussion, and Farr - to his credit - accepted that he should go second - that was perceived as worse than getting it over and done with, and he was older.
The block stood in the middle of the front of the room, a cane by its side. We stood at one side of the room. Myself, next to Derek, with my hand on his arm. The rest of the school filed in - it wasn't actually the whole school. It was a weekend so the day boys weren't there - and quite a number of boarders had weekend exeats because their parents had come for the boat race. It was still most of the school though - well over half.
At precisely 2pm, a door opened and the Headmaster came in, in his full regalia - suit and gown. He moved to the front of the room, and everyone fell silent.
"Gentleman. Yesterday was a great day for this school. Unfortunately, our celebrations have been marred by the presence of gambling, and it is my sorry duty to hand out some retribution to those who shamed this school. Master Farr and Master Gordon, through their actions, have brought shame on this school - and they will pay a penalty for that. Bring the first one forward."
I lead Derek across the room - the School Captain gripped his other arm. We took him to the block and the Captain moved around in front of him. I knelt down and grabbed his legs to hold him against the block, and the Captain pulled him over it and gripped his arms. The Headmaster stepped us next to me and I ducked down my head to keep it well clear of the cane.
I couldn't see what was going on - but I had a very clear position to hear it. My head was a foot away at most from the target of the cane. I could feel the air flow as the cane swung down just over my head, I could hear its savage swish - and the noise of the impact... I always heard the crack of the cane when it was administered in my presence - up that close, it sounded a little different. There was a cracking sound, and also an instant later, a kind of wet snap - I can't describe it any better. Derek's legs snapped tight and jerked as I held them as the cane came down. I could also hear him crying, and breathing - close to hyperventilating - after only two strokes. The Headmaster delivered the strokes in a slow and measured fashion - the whole procedure took 30 seconds or so.
At the end of the time - after pausing long enough to make sure he was getting only six - I should have checked, I certainly didn't want to risk a stroke hitting my head and face if I stood too early - I rose, and I helped him up. The Captain headed off to grab the second victim. I steadied Derek - he was bawling - and asked the Headmaster for permission to take him to the infirmary.
I grabbed his arm and almost dragged him out of the theatre, and across to the school infirmary. The Matron was waiting as I arrived. No nonsense - she immediately ordered Derek to strip off his trousers and underpants. I hadn't been dismissed - and Matron wasn't the type of woman you walked away from. So I stood in the doorway and watched as he stripped down. Perhaps 90 seconds had passed since he was caned - and there were clear weals on his bottom already. Matron only gave him a cursory glance at that stage - presumably checking for wounds. Then Farr arrived, escorted in the same way, and Matron turned her attention to him - seeing me still in the door, she told me to go. I went.
As I walked away, I realized I was shaking myself. The School Captain was approaching and signaled to me and my fellow House Captain to come with him.
We headed up to his room, we went in, and he closed the door and locked it - he was the only boy in the school who had the privilege of a lock on his door. He opened a cupboard, and drew out a small bottle of brandy - it was probably the cheapest, nastiest stuff in existence. He poured three measures and we chugged them down. First time I'd ever had liquor as far as I can recall - and I didn't like it. But it did stop the shaking.
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