An inspection of the school cellar leads to a painful outcome for one pupil and a sense of deja vue for Matron.
By Tara Patterson
Matron Meryl Taylor had worked at Queen Anne’s boarding school, Ambleside for thirty years. Despite the fact that she had turned sixty-five during the school summer holidays, she was not yet ready to retire. Queen Anne’s was her life and she felt she knew every intimate detail of the building, staff and pupils. She had attended as a pupil from the age of eleven until she had completed her A-levels in June 1969. It was only her fifteen years’ service in the Queen Alexandrea’s Medical service that had seen her away from the school.
“Always in Uniform,” some of her colleagues used to comment.
On this day in September, not long after the start of the autumn term, Matron Taylor was returning to her surgery following a staff meeting when she noticed the old cellar door seemed to have been opened.
‘Strange,’ thought Meryl. “I’m sure Caretaker Benson would have mentioned if he was going down in the cellar. He usually keeps well out of it on account of the damp and the old asbestos pipe lagging.”
Meryl, however, was the curious type; she always had been. She took out her small torch from the pocket of her navy blue uniform and pushed the door. It should have been locked but it opened freely.
“George!” She called out, guessing that the caretaker was somewhere down in the cellar. There was no reply, but Meryl thought she could hear faint music and a smell that suggested someone was smoking down there. Meryl knew the caretaker was an adamant non-smoker, so she knew the smoke couldn’t be him. She thought back to her own school days when parts of the cellar were used by some pupils as a hiding place; that was the reason the door should be locked.
Meryl moved slowly down the stairs. Her plimsolled feet made no sound as she crept down the stone steps. The Cellar had once been the servants’ area when the school was a stately home. It had last been used as an air raid shelter and had seen little use since. Wooden benches still lined the corridors along with the tattered remains of old wartime posters still on the wall. Here and there an adventurous pupil had scratched their initials into the wooden seats or written on the wall in pencil. Meryl smiled as she recalled some of the initials and the pupils they belonged to: ‘BJT 1965’, ‘TDW 1997’, ‘ACM 83’, ‘TJP 21-6-95’, and ‘MLT 1968’.
As Meryl looked at her own initials from long ago, carved into the bench, the smell of cigarette smoke came again. Whoever was smoking was somewhere near. Meryl gingerly looked around the corner into the old butler’s pantry and found her culprit. Sophie Brooks, a thin tall athletic blonde haired sixth form girl, was sitting on an old desk with her back to the open door. She was smoking a cigarette and scrolling through Facebook on a white smartphone. She was dressed in the school gym kit of a white polo shirt, a Navy blue gym skirt and knickers with white ankle socks and plimsolls.
Meryl crept into the doorway of the dimly lit room. Sophie realised Matron’s presence and hurriedly stood up, crushing the cigarette out with her foot.
“M-matron! W-what are you doing down here? You gave me such a fright. I thought you were the ghost,” stammered the hapless girl.
“I could ask you the same question, Brooks,” replied Matron Taylor, looking Sophie straight in the face. “And where should you be at this time? Certainly not in the cellar having a smoke, that’s for sure.”
Sophie bowed her head and placed her hands together in front of her as she spoke, her voice almost a whisper.
“Netball, Ma’am. I hate it. I’m no good at it. It’s the one sport I can’t do. Team games just aren’t me, Ma’am.”
Meryl looked Sophie in the eye before she spoke. In a way, she felt some sort of sympathy with her but that wasn’t appropriate right now. She had to be professional and not show weakness.
“That is no excuse at all, young lady,” she snapped. “Your presence here is so dangerous. I don’t know where to begin; smoking down here, the risk of fire, for a start. If there was a fire no-one would know where you were. The fire brigade would have to risk their lives looking for you, not to mention the risk to your own health by simply being down here. Smoking is bad enough, but don’t you realise this whole area is full of asbestos? And don’t you smirk like that, Brooks! I saw my own younger brother die from asbestosis. I can assure you it’s not a nice way to go. So get out of here this instant. I suggest you change back into uniform and then report to the detention room until we decide what to do with you for your fragrant disregard for the school rules. Quite what Mr Lane will say, I do not know.”
* * *
Mr Lane looked out of the bay window as he paced up and down his study. Meryl Taylor sat upright on the edge of one of the headmaster’s old leather armchairs; her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap.
“You know, this report of yet more disobedience by Brooks is the final straw. I have enough now to expel her. It’s a pity; she was such a talented and studious girl when she first came. She came to us on a Scholarship, don’t you know. Such a shame, Matron, isn’t it?”
Meryl thought for a moment. In a way she agreed with the Headmaster. Expulsion might indeed be the only way, but in other ways she felt some sort of bond with Brooks. Her case seemed somehow familiar. Perhaps Brooks deserved another solution, one last chance.
Meryl cleared her throat before she spoke. There were times she still felt nervous when she was in the head’s study and this was one of them.
“Well, Headmaster, in my opinion Brooks is one of our characters. There is always one who sticks out once in a while. Perhaps what she needs is a session of attitude correction. There is a way that works; it’s not a soft option by any means. In fact Brooks may wish she had been expelled.”
“Please explain yourself.” Mr Lane asked. “I truly thought I had done all I could with discipline, and what is all this talk of character?”
“Well, Headmaster, when you have been here as long as I have you will remember certain pupils. Generally they are bright intelligent kids with a strong spirit. They just lose their way and need to have to have a sharp shock, so to speak, to keep them on the right track. For some of us it was the making of us.”
“Us? I am even more confused now, Matron,” said Mr Lane as he sat down opposite Meryl.
Meryl continued. “Brooks is showing the same spirit and rebellious nature that I and several others on your staff showed back in our school days. Mrs Whittaker, the Headmistress back then, took steps to correct my attitude in this very study, in fact. It was very painful and I still remember it to this day. I don’t think I would have had the self-discipline in my life to achieve what I have without it. I think that your deputy, Miss Meanwood, was the last pupil to receive such a correction first hand from Mrs Whittaker back in 1981, although I believe that Miss Patterson subsequently received her ‘correction’ from Miss Meanwood so, like I say, it was the making of quite a few of us here.”
“Mmm, that sounds like a solution,” mused Mr Lane. “It’s interesting to recall just how many Old Sphinxes we have here on the staff. Yes, try it. Would it be you carrying out the punishment or would Miss Meanwood be involved? What facilities would you need?”
Meryl replied: “Well, Headmaster, It would have to be Miss Meanwood. You have never authorised me to use the cane.”
* * *
Sophie stood nervously outside Miss Meanwood’s study on Sunday morning. She felt miserable from how she had been treated since matron had caught her in the cellar on Friday. She had been moved temporarily out of the dormitory she shared with five other girls and into a cold single room in CJ house. Not that she had much time to be in her room, she had spent most of her time in the isolation classroom being made to work alone in silence. Unusually, Sophie had been told not to wear her hat and blazer to her interview with Miss Meanwood. As she waited, Sophie checked her appearance. Miss Meanwood was a stickler for correct uniform. As Sophie straightened her tie and smoothed down her gym slip, the study door opened and Miss Meanwood stood in the doorway with her arms folded.
Miss Meanwood was aged about 50. She had a very trim, size ten figure. Her grey hair was cut short. She was dressed in her usual crisp white blouse with a tight below knee length black pencil skirt. Although she was a similar height to Sophie, she towered over her in a pair of black high heels; her legs were clad in a pair of black seamed stockings.
“Well, Brooks.” She began, her voice still showing a slight trace of her Leeds accent, the city of her birth. “What a most unfortunate way for us to meet at this time on a Sunday. Still, let us hope it will be for the best.”
Miss Meanwood stood to one side and gestured Sophie into the Study. Sophie gasped as she saw how the furniture had been arranged. Miss Meanwood’s desk had been moved to the side wall and in its place stood a large vaulting horse and a single wooden chair. Sophie stood next to the vaulting horse with her hands clasped tightly in front of her. Miss Meanwood began to pace around the room lecturing Sophie about her shoddy attitude and the decline in her work and behaviour.
Sophie stood head bowed listening to the Deputy heads speech. Every time she spoke to try and defend her actions, Miss Meanwood cut her down with the power of her words.
Miss Meanwood continued: “Frankly, Brooks, your attitude has become quite childish and selfish just lately. You have been acting like a naughty spoilt little girl; you know what we do with naughty little girls don’t you? We spank them. However a sound spanking is just the start for you, young lady, now bend over my knee.”
Miss Meanwood sat down on the wooden chair. Sophie reluctantly took her position bending across the deputy head’s lap. Miss Meanwood lifted Sophie’s gymslip and roughly pulled her blue knickers down to her thighs.
Miss Meanwood began to spank Sophie’s exposed bottom, Sophie wriggled in discomfort. The deputy head put her hand firmly in the small of Sophie’s back to hold her down. Sophie began to sob, not from the pain of the spanking but the humiliation of being bent over Miss Meanwood’s knee. Sophie lost count of the number of spanks, she just wished it would be over. Eventually Sophie was commanded to stand in the corner of the study with her hands on her head while Miss Meanwood continued her lecture.
“Now, Brooks, that was just the beginning, a warm up you might say. I am going to punish you first for your unauthorised absence from netball then we will address your visit to the cellar and finally I will give you six strokes of the cane for smoking on school property.
“Shit,” muttered Sophie under her breath.
“One more word like that and there will be extra strokes added!” Snapped Miss Meanwood. “That foul expletive has brought you close to earning two penalty strokes. Would you like six of the best with my cane? No? Perhaps we’d better get on and address your absence from your PE lesson on Friday. Bend over the vaulting horse.”
Sophie already felt she was beginning to be subdued. She lifted up her gymslip and bent over the top of the vaulting horse. Her knickers were still around her thighs from her earlier spanking, her bottom felt warm. She gripped the hand holds of the horse tightly.
‘When was this going to be over?’ She thought.
Miss Meanwood continued her lecture as she picked up a black size eleven man’s plimsoll.
“You know, Brooks, I personally prepare all the timetables in this school. I like to think I give all you pupils an interesting and varied programme of activities. It is not for you, or anyone else for that matter, to pick and choose what lessons you attend. I take your non-attendance of netball as a personal insult to my hard work.”
Sophie swallowed. Her mouth was dry as she spoke.
“Y-yes Ma’am, sorry ma’am, I didn’t mean to insult you, Ma’am, but netball? I’m just no good at team games. All the others mock me when I miss a shot.
“And that excuses it, young lady, does it?” Questioned the deputy head. “Perhaps if you practiced more, then you would get better and not miss so many shots. I wasn’t very good at hockey once but I stuck at it and I made the house team.”
“ARRRH!” Sophie screamed as the plimsoll landed on her already tender bottom.
“We will have less of that,” retorted Miss Meanwood. “The whole school does not want to hear you screaming like a silly little first year. You must take what’s coming to you and bear your punishments like a Sphinx should.”
“Y-Yes ma’am,” sobbed Sophie.
The second blow was just as severe but somehow Sophie found the inner strength not to cry out.
THWACK, THWACK, THWACK.
Miss Meanwood delivered three hard swats in close succession. Sophie just quietly cried and looked at the floor.
The final plimsoll stroke was the hardest so far.
“Stay in position, Brooks,” Instructed Miss Meanwood as she put down the plimsoll and picked up her long Scottish Tawse. I don’t get the opportunity to use this very often these days. But it made an impact on the girls in Aberdeen when I first qualified. Let’s hope it has as similar effect on you. Twelve strokes, I think, that should teach you to stay out of areas that are out of bounds for your own protection.”
Sophie braced herself; the twelve stinging strokes were delivered quickly without a pause. They stung much more than the usual strap the teachers used. She was openly crying now.
She whispered under her breath: “Stop, ma’am, stop please, I can’t take much more. I’ll change, Ma’am. I promise.”
Miss Meanwood seemed deaf to Sophie’s pleas.
“I will be writing to your parents after this to inform them of this course of action. Such a pity and a waste of your scholarship. You will change, young lady, this is your one and only chance to amend your ways.”
“Yes ma’am,” cried Sophie. “The other girls are going to make my life hell too. You know what happens to a girl after she has been caned, don’t you Ma’am?”
“I have an idea but remind me, Brooks,” exclaimed Miss Meanwood.
“They make you stand up on a desk Ma’am, in the middle of a classroom. You have to lift your gymslip and show them your marks, Ma’am. It’s so humiliating.” Sophie sniffled.
Miss Meanwood smiled down at the girl still bent across the vaulting horse.
“Mmm, I think that you rather enjoy the attention, don’t you Brooks? You like being the rebel and centre of attention. And your friends have every right to be disappointed in you and to make you feel ashamed. Your punishment this morning will go against your house. Wainright were doing well in the conduct league until today.”
“I’m sorry,” Sophie sobbed. “Please don’t cane me.”
“And disappoint your classmates, Brooks? Surely not!”
Miss Meanwood picked up her senior cane; it was the straight handled type. She tapped it lightly on Sophie’s bottom to find her aim.
“Four strokes, Brooks. Keep still and we’ll make then four straight parallel lines for your chums to admire. This will teach you that smoking in this school will never be tolerated. Tell your friends when you show off your cane marks that this is what will happen to anyone who I catch smoking. I hope it will serve as a powerful deterrent to others as well as a painful lesson to you.”
The first stroke landed hard in the centre of Sophie’s bottom. The burning sting was so intense Sophie screamed out.
Miss Meanwood showed no reaction to Sophie’s cry’s and screams as she systematically applied the remaining three strokes evenly spaced across the girl’s bottom. Sophie bucked and wriggled with each stroke. As she lay over the vaulting horse, her sobbing had now become open bawling.
“You will remember today for a long time Brooks, possibly the rest of your life. I will be watching you and I expect to see an immediate improvement in your work and conduct. Now report to Matron. You are dismissed.”
* * *
Sophie lay face down on Matron’s examination couch; a blanket covered her legs up to her thighs while her gymslip was lifted up above her waist. Sophie winced in pain every time the Matron touched the tender wheals on her bottom as she applied a thick white antiseptic cream.
“And I’m going to try and give up smoking too, Ma’am. I really hate it in that cellar. Anyhow, I don’t know why I started really.” Sophie’s voice was soft and quiet, big fat tears still ran down her cheeks.
“I’m pleased to hear it,” smiled Matron Taylor. “Funny how life repeats itself, isn’t it? It was being caught having a fag in that very same room and a similar meeting with my Headmistress that persuaded me to give up too.”
© Tara Patterson 2015