“He never caned me at school.”
As Bunny turned Ralph’s monstrosity of a car back and forth, trying to reverse direction without finishing up in the ditch, the words echoed in his mind. He glanced through the gate to the hospital where Ralph’s bint of a schoolboy was still just in sight, then let in the gear with a screech and a jerk. The car lurched forward on the home journey. Bunny could only hope that the directions Laurie had given him worked as well going the other way. The slotted cover over the headlights deflected the light into a small pool just in front of the tires. In the dark, there’d be no telling if he went astray; and he wanted to get out of the godbedamned countryside as fast as possible and get back to civilization—or as close to it as Bridstow could ever be.
He knew what Laurie’s response implied. Le vice anglais, that’s what the French call it. Bunny, who had gone to a school that, outside the norm, did not apply corporal punishment to its errant pupils, had nevertheless acquired a fair theoretical knowledge of the subject, if only from school stories—in and out of print, for the coarse laughter of his peers let him in on details that never found their way into Talbot Baines Reed. His own arse had never felt the sting of the cane; but most of the men he knew assumed otherwise, and spoke freely. If only secondhand, therefore, he was aware just exactly how thrilling it could be to thrash a sweet bare bum, bent obediently to receive the strokes of the cane. He also had heard, with incredulous excitement, of the agony and ecstasy of taking those stripes.
By now, everyone in the Bridstow scene knew the story of Ralph’s expulsion. He made no secret of it—a canny move, and one that Bunny respected. It precluded any attempt at blackmail should someone from the old school turn up au fait with all the details. (And didn’t they always?) Ralph even confided the other boy’s confession if anyone asked. Mind you, he always left out the best bits. Hell! He left that part out even when telling his own dear Boo! Still, one could read between the lines. In fact, Bunny was reasonably certain that most of their set read between those lines. God knows what they thought of his own relationship with Ralph. Well, if anyone were to ask, he could have told them quite truthfully that he’d never been into that sort of thing. After all, sooner or later, he’d have a future post-Ralph; and there was no point in letting people get funny ideas. Then again … no one ever asked.
Ralph never asked, as far as that went.
Unconsciously, Bunny’s foot trod more heavily on the accelerator. There was a bomber’s moon tonight. It lit the road almost well enough to see clearly.
Ralph never asked; and what did that mean? He’d bent Bunny over often enough, bare arse tipped up to take it; yet he’d never tried to lay it on, as doubtless he should have been tempted to, given his not-so-secret little vice.
(Did Ralph even own a cane? Bunny was sure he could have found one to buy for him, if he needed one, war or no war. Practically anything could be found second-hand for the looking, if one were willing to spend the time. But that would have been if Ralph had asked. And, of course, if he’d wanted to try it.) Bunny found himself acutely aware of the curve of his arse on the seat of the car.
Also the tighter curve coming up. He braked just in time, squealed round the corner, and settled to a slower pace. Despite the moonlight, the road was really too dark to drive at normal speed: it was far too easy to outpace visibility; and he had no desire to land in the ditch, lose a wheel, or worse.
Who had experienced Ralph’s notion of fun and games?
Well, there was Alec. Obviously, whenever Bunny thought of Ralph’s naughty past, he always thought first of Alec. Oh, there were times when Bunny was fiercely jealous! (Not that he was—and never would be!—as besotted as Sandy Reid. God help him if he ever fell for anyone that hard. And God help the other chap, too.) When it came to “games”, though…. No, it didn’t fit. Bunny knew Alec. In the biblical sense, in fact, though only the once, alas. The memory of the encounter was still fresh; and, with that knowledge, he simply couldn’t see Alec as the type to take a flogging for thrills. Quite the contrary. It was quite clear who was who in Alec’s current ménage. From what Ralph had told Bunny when trying to allay the green-eyed monster, he could see that that must have been much of the trouble between them from the start. No wonder they’d never been able to compromise on living together. Two cocks on the same dunghill, thought Bunny coarsely.
So not Alec. On the other hand, if one went further—much, much further—back (all the way to the start of it all, in fact), Bunny had no doubt that Ralph had enjoyed caning whoever-he-was … the boy who had got him expelled. Had he ever even heard his Christian name? Ralph always referred to him as Hazell. Couldn’t be “Hazel”, surely? But no. Ralph was not into drag, of that much Bunny was certain. Or not nowadays, anyway.
Details of Hazy were … hazy. (Bunny smirked.) Well, it was true: his memory of any details he’d been told about the affaire really were hazy. Bunny’s interest had only been piqued by Ralph’s feigned disgust at the boy’s response to the cane. If Ralph were to be believed, it had been the one and only thrashing he ever administered to Hazel; but Bunny had immediately doubted the truth of that claim.
What did he know about it all? Ralph said the two had rendezvoused in the lighting room of the school theatre. So … did that mean that the affaire had begun during a play? Public schools had the most delightfully perverse habits, of which Bunny had, in his day, taken the fullest advantage. Perhaps when Ralph fell for him, young Hazel had worn the licenced drag of a female role.
Ah, well. Whether “she” had lifted skirts or “he”’d dropped his bags in the lighting room, of one thing Bunny was certain: Hazy had not been Ralph’s only conquest at school. So … Laurie, now. “Spud”.
For Hazel, Bunny had no referents: “rather pretty in a weak way” was the most he’d ever got out of Ralph. He’d always hoped that “Spud” would resemble his nickname; but, of course, he didn’t. Not even remotely. Irish, one presumed; and, now that they’d met, that was pretty well confirmed by the red hair. Not bad looking, either, barring the limp. Bunny could only regret that Laurie had been such an ungrateful s.o.b. about the generosity of his lift to the hospital. He wouldn’t have minded one bit screwing Ralph’s Spuddy over the bonnet, hot though it must be after the drive. A few scorch marks wouldn’t go amiss: deserved, really: proof to show Ralph what a tart his old boyfriend had become.
So … “Spud”.
Bunny held the car grimly centred on the narrow road as he contemplated the fact that Alec doubtless knew all about the old affaire. That rankled. Bunny had been told minor pillow talk about a crush at school. Perusing Ralph’s diaries in secret had yielded little more. They were largely disappointing, mostly just rambling tales of travels in tramp steamers in the far corners of the Empire. Spud had appeared only as the spectre of Dunkirk. After the resurrection of the dead rather more had emerged, if not first-hand from Ralph, then from everyone else who had been at Alec’s birthday party. From this, Bunny drew the obvious conclusion: there was no way pillow talk about the boy-that-got-away could possibly refer to a boy who had actually got away. Unrequited love only lasts so long. The emotion displayed at the party spoke for itself.
Don’t insult my intelligence, thought Bunny in parody of Ralph’s favourite snub. He never caned me at school? No, but he bloody certainly caned young Laurie!
Bunny stepped once again on the accelerator pedal. The road was slightly wider here; and, though just as tall, the hedges loomed less. He took the next curve a little too fast for the state of the headlights; but he hardly noticed. He was imagining the scene: Laurie—Odell, as he would have been then—facing the prefect … no, the Head of School … called to Lanyon’s study for discipline to be meted out as due. A slender lad he would have been: in his mid teens; hair brighter (as so often happens with redheads); jacket probably off, slung over a chair or desk. Turning round under order. Grey flannel unbuttoned and lowered, wrinkling around the knees, too thick to fall to the ankles. Underpants … yes, also lowered. The tails of his shirt lifting as he bent. A glance round…. Yes, a scared glance round to meet the cold blue eyes of the waiting Head of School, flexing the cane slowly back and forth, testing it with the strength of his hands.
Bunny licked his lips and shifted uncomfortably. The lonely dark was seductive in a way that a busy road in broad daylight could never be.
Laurie would bend—over the back of the chair? or in mid-room, grabbing his ankles? This was Ralph’s point of view from which Bunny was seeing events now: the bare cheeks, cleft enticingly, white and waiting for the scarlet sting.
With iron self-control, Bunny throttled down, frustrated already by the length of the trip back to Bridstow. It was dark, he reminded himself: for all it enticed his wandering thoughts, it was risky to let himself get carried away. Furthermore, given the state Ralph had been in when he left, he would still be stupefied when Bunny got back home. There was no point in getting worked up: there was nothing to look forward to but a drunk snoring in an armchair.
Yet the phantasy was irresistible. Bunny saw once again the vulnerable waiting bum, the quick, involuntary twist of the head to see the cane raised. But … it was his own face he now saw through Ralph’s eyes: his own lip that trembled, his own arse that flinched in anticipation of the blow.
In his mind’s ear, he heard the swish, felt the smack, the sear, the sharp suffering of his flesh.
And the suggestive promise of more?
The speed had crept up yet again; again he made himself slow the car. What other chaps said about taking a flogging … was it true? Could he be up for it? “Up” being the operative word, thought Bunny, with the wry addendum that one could hardly apply it to Ralph much recently. Then again, if he was not being offered what he really desired, that might explain a lot. Was there some cue, some nuance, some watchword that Ralph had been expecting him to recognize—something that those in the knowledge would pick up instantly, that had passed over Bunny’s head entirely? He did not like to think of himself being naïf.
Safe hidden in the darkness of the empty road, he returned to his phantasy: dropped his trousers, bared his arse, presented it, and took the first line of agony across his bum. A hot tear stood in his eye; he bit his lip to keep silent. Then perhaps—no surely—he felt Ralph’s hand brush gently over the fresh weal, soothing cool against the pain. Not punishment this, after all, but foreplay. (Of a sort. “Rearplay” flashed through his mind.)
“You’re afraid of him, really, aren’t you?” Laurie had asked.
No … and yes. There was, God knew, a certain security in knowing that no one had ever proposed whacking his bum for him. Knowledge once acquired cannot be unlearned. The cane would bruise the virgin skin of his arse. Each weal would hurt, how much he couldn’t guess (but he knew Ralph’s strength). He dreaded the very idea of letting Ralph flog him. Nevertheless, as the car bumped along the rough country road, his cheeks remained curiously sensitive to the seat under him. Nor was there any ease in the tightness of his trousers.
Eventually, therefore, he pulled into a layby. It was dark and silent and uninterrupted. Afterwards he drove home to his stuporous lover, and said nothing.