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Tawse

by Pushkin

Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 30 May 2012


When you are browsing in a second-hand bookshop you do not expect to come upon a personal diary with the opening lines, in a neat copperplate hand, “I have decided to write down exactly what happened on that most painful, humiliating and ultimately life-changing day last June.

They were in a leather bound volume nestling among a collection of books in a box on the floor which must have just come in, and which the shopowner had not yet had time to look through. It had obviously been included by accident, because the unknown writer could not possibly have intended his words to be read by anybody other than himself.

The bookshop was in the Grassmarket, with Edinburgh Castle towering above to the north, and I was whiling away an hour at my favourite pastime – browsing among other people's discarded books and hoping for a moment of serendipity, a happy discovery.

“This could be good,” I thought. Intrigued, and not a little titillated, I bought the book for a pittance, the bookseller giving its cover no more than a cursory glance.

The events recounted in the diary had clearly taken place years before, at a time when the tawse, a thick leather strap, was still in frequent and regular use in Scottish schools, and magistrates could order up to 36 strokes of the birch or tawse on the bared buttocks of juvenile delinquents up to the age of 16. In a museum in Glasgow you can still see a bench which was used for strapping boys down so that they could not move while their bottoms were being birched. Nothing excessive, you understand – a doctor had to be present to decide if the miscreant was fit for punishment, and how much more his bottom could take before there was lasting injury. The traumatic effect on its owner was not considered important....

I now reproduce the diary as it was written, after those tantalising opening lines. You will understand that from now on it is the diarist speaking, not myself.

*************************

I was sixteen and in training for our annual school run in Holyrood Park, from Duddingston Loch to the peak of Arthur's Seat, 800 feet up. I lived in an outlying suburb to the south west of the city, nestling under the Pentland Hills, and I had decided to go for a training run. Soon the tarmac had ended and I was on an unmade road which made its way straight upwards until it petered out to a farmtrack. Sheep were dotted around on the hills above. Human habitation was running out too. There were just a few big gaunt houses in their own extensive grounds, probably built by prosperous Edinburgh burghers late in the nineteenth century to boost their pomp and get away from Auld Reekie.

It was a fresh day of sun and cloud, typical Edinburgh weather, in fact, and cold even though we were into June. I was halfway up this track and well winded when dark clouds came sweeping over from behind the hills, and in no time at all it had started to rain, heavily. There was even some hail. My white singlet and running shorts quickly became saturated, clinging to my body, and it was cold.

On my left was a granite wall about five feet high which seemed to offer a degree of shelter, especially as there were trees behind it. I knew it was private property, but there was unlikely to be anyone out in such weather, so I vaulted over the wall and looked for the driest place I could find.

Making my way warily among the trees, which by now were dripping steadily, I came to a large moss-covered shed. There was a padlock on the door but it had a key in it, so I undid it and let myself in. It had a pleasant woody smell and was full of gardening tools, machinery and also, surprisingly, a racing bike that looked brand new.

I had that edgy feeling that goes with an act of trespassing, but in that weather the likelihood of being found and challenged was slight, and I intended no harm. That did not stop me from jumping almost out of my skin when I heard a single loud bark, clearly from a large dog and close at hand. I leapt to the door and pulled it shut. Through a rain-bleared window I could see two very large dogs, looking straight at me. They looked like huge, shaggy greyhounds, and they were taller than my waist.

I did not know much about dogs and I had certainly never seen anything like them before. I was not to know that these enormous dogs, Scottish Deerhounds, are actually gentle, affectionate creatures, which rarely bark and are not much good as guard dogs. I was terrified.

It was still raining heavily, and how long we would have remained like that I don't know, because apart from an occasional bark they were not moving, and I had no intention of opening the door to find out their intentions.

The impasse was broken when a boy came through the trees towards us, which did nothing to make me feel any better. He looked to be about fourteen. He called the dogs and they went to him immediately, tails wagging. He came to the door and pulled it open, the dogs at his heels.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I... I was just sheltering from the rain,” I faltered.

“Oh aye? And what else were you going to do?”

“Nothing – honestly. I was only waiting for the rain to stop.”

“Well this is private land, and you're trespassing. Come on out!”

“Are those dogs safe?”

“Depends on you. They'll chew your balls off if I tell them to, so you'd better not try anything.”

Legs trembling, partly from cold, partly from fear, I emerged from the shed, thinking I could now be on my way having had a lucky escape, when there was a shout from a female voice.

“Bruce! Where are you? What are you doing out in this? Are you mad?”

“I'm here, Nan. It's all right. I'm with the dogs. I just found someone in the front shed. A lad.”

What? Bring him here.”

I was not going to risk making a run for it with those dogs there, so I followed him through the trees until we came to a gravelled drive in front of a large Victorian mansion. Standing at the top of half a dozen steps leading to its front door was a small elderly woman, glaring down at us.

“Right!” she said, having decided that my pathetic figure posed no threat, “You can come in and explain yourself. Bruce, take those dogs round to the stables and give them a rub down. I'm not having them in here like that.” Then she turned her gaze back to me. “You! Inside!”

I squelched my way up the steps and followed her into an outer porch and then through heavy oak doors into a dark, gloomy hall. My running shoes were waterlogged.

She turned round and surveyed me. “You're not coming in here soaking wet and messing up the floor. Take your shoes off.”

I did so, relieved to be out of them but feeling the tiled floor cold on my feet. She had gone into a room nearby, evidently a cloakroom, because she came out holding a small towel.

“And the rest of your things too. You can dry yourself with this. Come on, hurry up, I haven't time to wait around while you're feeling shy.”

Feeling totally ashamed, but in no position to argue, I stripped off my singlet and stepped out of my shorts, which had an inner brief attached. It was horrible, feeling just like a naked little boy again under the eyes of a stranger, but I had little choice. I rubbed myself vigorously, trying to give an appearance of unconcern which I certainly did not feel, and very conscious of my penis as she stood watching me. It had started shrivelled almost to nothingness but now, to my alarm, it was starting to lengthen. The towel was too small to offer any concealment and it was soon wet anyway.

She gathered up my clothes and shoes. “These'll need drying. Wait here.” And she disappeared through a door at the far end of the hall which evidently led to some kitchens and warmth. While I was waiting for her the boy Bruce returned from the stables with the dogs. He was almost as wet as I had been.

He grinned at the sight of me, which was totally embarrassing. I didn't know which way to turn, literally – whether to present him with a front or rear view. To cover my genitals with my hands would only make me look more ridiculous. In the end I made a rush for the cloakroom and shut myself inside, stifling back tears at the humiliation I was suffering.

I waited tremulously, my ear to the door. I wouldn't have minded using the lavvy but I was in enough trouble already without being caught in mid-squat, so I just waited. I had never felt so exposed or helpless.

After a minute I heard voices, raised voices. Bruce (I assumed) was evidently protesting about something. Then the door was flung open and she ordered me out, and I saw that Bruce had been getting the wet clothes treatment as well and was as naked as I was. His shorts, underpants and T-shirt lay on the floor. In other circumstances I would have enjoyed the sight of him, because he had almost the perfect physique for a young teenager who was beginning to fill out after the skinniness of boyhood. Though I guess he was fourteen he was almost as tall as I was, and certainly more robustly built. Despite my predicament, I felt a tingling in my cock at the sight.

She told us to follow her upstairs, up a wide stairway with elaborately carved wooden balusters, and it was a relief to feel a carpet under my frozen feet. The dogs, to my relief, were left downstairs. I was behind Bruce, and I was startled to see, across his buttocks, the faint faded marks of a beating. Boys' bottoms were rarely safe in those days, but I was more concerned about the instant rush of blood to my penis when I saw it. Fortunately I was too frightened about my own situation for it to develop into a full-blown erection.

She led the way into a large drawing room with a tall oriel window looking out on to a well-tended garden, with the Pentland Hills in the background. Incredibly, after the gloom of the hallway, it was warm, and lit by brilliant sunshine. The rainstorm had come and gone, replaced by fleecy white clouds racing past.

“Go and put some clothes on, Bruce, while I decide what is to be done with this creature. And bring something to cover his nakedness while his things are drying.”

“Are you going to skelp him, Nan?”

“Never you mind. Just do as you're told.” He went.

Although it was June there was a fire burning beneath an ornate mantelpiece, which was surmounted by a huge mirror in a gilt frame. She told me to stand in front of it to warm up, which I was grateful for, and it wasn't long before my cock and balls had responded and become soft and pendant.

She went over to a large leather-topped desk on the other side of the room and demanded to know who I was and where I lived. For a millisecond I thought of giving her a fictitious address, but I have never been a convincing liar, and with sinking heart I watched her writing down my full details, including my date of birth. Then she took up a telephone and dialled a number.

“Can I speak to Sir William, please?” There was a pause, then, “Ah, Willy, I need your advice. I've got a problem...” She glanced at me and jerked her head towards the door. “Wait outside.”

During the next few anxious minutes all I could hear was an occasional muffled comment or question from this small but formidable woman. She was still on the phone when Bruce turned up, now dressed, with the two deerhounds. One of them sniffed my genitals, which was quite terrifying, but fortunately it did not seem to be interested in them.

With a smirk Bruce handed me a woollen sweater. “Put this on. It'll only keep your top half warm but you'll doubtless be getting your bottom warmed soon enough!”

He opened the door and went in, with the dogs. The sweater was on the small side, barely reaching my waist, which somehow made me feel more naked than ever, but it was better than nothing.

Then the door opened again and Bruce beckoned me in.

“That was my brother, Sir William Buchanan,” she said. “He was a bailie for many years and he is still a Sheriff Substitute in the Juvenile Courts. He told me that since you are still technically a juvenile you are liable to be tried and sentenced for trespass, breaking and entering, and that would surely mean at least a dozen strokes of the birch, possibly more.”

At these words my legs practically gave way from under me.

“However,” she went on, “he suggests that if you want to avoid this, and the public shame and expense that would result, you can have a choice. Either I report you and let the law take its course, or you take a dozen with this, here and now, instead.”

She opened a drawer of the desk and took out something I recognised all too well. It was a tawse, a thick black strip of leather ending in two tails with which every Scottish schoolboy is familiar. I had only had it once at my school, George Heriot's, when I was ten – two on each hand from a burly master who did not hold back, and it was something I took care never to earn again. It left your hands stinging and tingling for well over an hour, making it agony if you had to do some writing.

“On the hands?”

“No. Your hands could not take it. On your bottom, the same as in the court. Well?”

It was Hobson's choice. There was no way I was going to volunteer for a public trial and bring everlasting shame on my family. I glanced at Bruce, whose hand was already moving around in the pocket of his shorts.

“Not with him here?”

“Certainly with him here. It will do him good to see what he'll get himself if he carries on the way he has lately.” The grin promptly disappeared from Bruce's face, and he had the grace to look chastened.

I went through several stages of agony before I said, “All right. If I have to. When?”

“Right now. You're dressed for it.” She slapped the leather lightly against her hand. It looked like a genuine Lochgelly tawse, mercifully not the heavyweight version, but bad enough.

She told me to stand in the middle of the room with my hands clasped behind my head and my legs slightly apart. In a far corner I could see the two dogs curled up on a sofa, uninterested and already asleep.

She went behind me and before I had time to anticipate it she gave me a single stroke across the middle of my bottom, Bruce standing behind to watch its effect. I was not prepared for the sound it made, an incredibly loud, sharp crack! It stung. A lot. In the mirror above the fireplace, and with the aid of a circular convex mirror in front of me, I could see an instant broad red strip appear across my buttocks. But apart from my feet shifting a little on the carpet I made no movement, resolutely keeping my hands on my head and thinking “maybe this is not going to be too bad – just so long as my prick stays under control.” For the time being it was behaving itself.

While I was waiting for the second stroke I heard her say “Bruce! You can take your hand out of your pocket or you'll be getting this next..... aaaagh....” She gave a cry of real distress.

I swivelled round and saw that she had dropped the tawse and sunk down on to a sofa by the fire, a hand clutching her heart, her face grey with pain.

“Oh my God! It's the angina.”

“Are you all right, Nan?”

“I... I think so. Yes, yes, I'll be all right, but I can not go on. I just need to sit for a while. Get me some water.”

Bruce hurried off, while I was left to digest the absurdity of the situation, bending half naked over this elderly woman whom I had only just met, a stripe across my bottom and waiting for more. Her face drawn, she looked up at me, and a sort of grin passed across her face. “Maybe you'll get off without your skelping, laddie, though you deserve it right enough.” A hand feebly slapped across my penis, and when it predictably swelled to the touch she smiled again. “You're as bad as Bruce!”

Five minutes later, after a drink of water and a pill from a box on the mantelpiece, she looked a lot better, but she insisted she could not risk resuming my punishment.

Bruce butted in. “I could do it for you, Nan. Could I? Please! I'd like