My cousin Tom McEwan who was two years older than I and, up until the day he left school, my constant companion. I had little choice in the matter and many a time I wished that he would transfer his company to someone else, as he could devise more Hellery in a minute than the average boy would think of in a year.
He always seemed to find it difficult to get to school on time, no matter how soon he started, there always seemed to be something enroute that would require his attention and as I would be tagging along, we would both arrive late.
This habitual tardiness earned us an interview with the Head Master which was something no lad in his right senses could look forward to with any degree of comfort. The Head Master was a tough old gent by the name of Porteous, we had other names for him of course, which we only used when a mile or so away from school. He was a robust old fellow, I would think at that time around forty-five but to use youngsters that seemed like a hundred. He wore glasses and rumor had it that when he gave one the strap he closed his eyes when bringing it down, so that all one had to do was pull away the hand and hold up the foot.
The strap that the old boy used was worthy of mention. It was a piece of horse hide about three feet long perhaps from the mane or tail of the animal, as it was unusually thick, and split two thirds of its length to make two toes, leaving a good hefty piece for a hand grip.
Before going in for the interview I was carefully coached by Tom, but little did he know he was instructing the wrong boy. When we went in I kept a step behind, so that cousin Tom whether he liked it or not was number one in the party.
The interview was brief, the charges stated, the same old excuses made and then the old boy pushed his chair back from the desk, opened the drawer and there, coiled and ready, lay the old black snake.
He leisurely took it out, got to his feet and gave it a few practice swings to straighten it out. Then he approached Tom and with a nod of the head and a glance at Toms mitt, indicating that Tom was to hold it out, words by mutual understanding being superfluous.
The Old Boy's action was lovely, the quick retrieve of the back swing superb, but it was the down swing and follow through and the shift in weight from one foot to the other, so that the maximum power at point of impact was achieved, was a picture of coordination.
Cousin Tom put out his hand as indicated without the least trace of fear and as the strap came whistling down, Tom very nonchalantly pulled away his hand and stuck up his foot. His timing was perfect but that was the first and last that hit him on the foot. Then and there I realized that someone was a liar with regard to the Old Man's eye sight, as I stood there with my own eyes bulging out at what was happening. With a roar like a bull the Old Man made a cut at Tom, there was a crack like a pistol shot and a puff of dust from the ass of his pants as the strap landed and by the howl and action which followed I knew it must have found a tender spot.
At the first stinger Tom leaped clear across the room and to my astonishment the Head Master, that old blind cripple, could move as fast as Tom. It was swing, crack and howl. The insult of having the foot substituted for the hand must have riled the Old Man considerably as he laid into Tom regardless of where the strap landed and it was just a matter of moments until Tom was reduced to a sobbing heap on the floor.
It was now my turn and I was bracing myself for the ordeal but to my surprise he opened the door, picked Tom up and shoved us both out.
Tom soon ceased his blubbering on getting outside as he was more concerned with trying to count the welts on his hide, but there were quite a few welts that he could not get around to see and which caused him to be particular for the next few days on how he sat down.
When I thought of the performance I had witnessed, my feeling of relief at having escaped was succeeded by an insane desire to laugh. All I wanted at the moment was to be alone where I could roll on the ground and laugh to my hearts content.
As Tom, favouring his welts, hirpled along beside me, I could see he was pondering deeply on how I had gotten away. To him something was wrong somewhere and he gave me many mean and searching looks and almost caught me laughing, and demanded to know if I was, which I hastily denied, otherwise by the look of him he was prepared to take me apart.
The only reason I could think of for the Old Man's leniency to me was that the look of fear on my face convinced him that he would have no further trouble with me and if that was his line of reasoning, it certainly coincided with mine as from then on, Cousin Tom and I, if anything erred on the side of safety by being a little ahead of time on our arrival at school.