Sometimes too much honesty can be a bad thing.

By Jane Fairweather

“I do feel you girls are a thoroughly good moral influence in the house.” Miss Elizabeth Patrick stated with a solemn air to Susan and Imogen as she benevolently gave them cocoa in her study with her own hand, while they sat there just a trifle awkwardly in pyjamas and dressing gown before going back to their study to sleep.

Miss Patrick was in a thoroughly good mood. She had dealt with those obnoxious creatures from Study Six as they deserved to be dealt with for persistent smoking and also (which she was certainly not going to tell anyone else) for those unpleasant experiments with their own bodies. Her caning of the culprits had been severe, but was also likely to be effective. There was too much softness with the way girls were brought up, she felt, compared with when she was young. She had been expelled from school for stealing one shilling and she still remembered the hiding she got when she reached home. It had done her no harm at all and quite a lot of good. And what those girls had been up to filled her with a deep moral repugnance that more than justified the punishment in itself. And yet she kept thinking about those two bottoms moving together with such obvious pleasure and wondering, despite herself, what it was like.

And anyway she was still feeling a pleasant glow from carrying out the punishment. The Foxcroft girl had rather a splendid bottom. No doubt now the child’s morals had been corrected it would one day give pleasure to some man. And she had enjoyed making the other girl take her caning. Julia Ash had undoubtedly been on the verge of running off when she had seized her and pushed her over the armchair. And because she had been forced to hold the victim in place Miss Patrick had felt the waves of agony, which she had found oddly invigorating.

But then why should one not enjoy one’s duties? Anyway it was probably the first and last time she would whack a senior girl. The cane was normally the prerogative of the Headmistress, but if she had sent the girls to Miss Crashaw and told her what was involved, then a rather unpleasant expulsion would have followed, and an expulsion moreover which would inevitably have reflected on the way she ran her house. And Miss Patrick did feel very pleased with Study Five for the public spirited way they had reported their next door neighbours’ smoking, which had allowed the more serious misconduct to be discovered and dealt with. So she remarked on their public spiritedness and went on to discuss their future prospects. Imogen was divided between going straight to Teacher Training College, and trying for University.

“My parents say they could not afford the fees for university unless I get a scholarship, but I am not sure I could get a scholarship.” Imogen remarked almost apologetically.

“Miss Curtis tells me your English is not that bad.” Observed Miss Patrick benevolently. “I have no objection to your bringing your English work to me so you can discuss it. I have no degree in it but I have always read quite widely.”

Imogen felt she was having her head patted and her hair stroked. Miss Patrick had in fact never touched her, but she often imagined what it would be like. She often noticed that Miss Patrick had delicate hands that contradicted the burliness of the rest of her, just as her black hair was immaculately groomed in contrast to the dowdy skirts and jackets which housemistress were condemned to. But then Imogen often wondered what it would be like to be kissed and caressed by various boys she saw in the street.

“You have a pleasant innocence that is really rather touching.” Continued Miss Patrick, trying not to notice the prettiness of the girl’s lower regions through her pyjamas, which her dressing gown was not completely covering.

She wondered what it would be like to have to cane such an obviously good child. Still she was not likely to get a chance to find out. She made some polite comments to Susan, who was almost certainly bound for Secretarial College and who she found much less interesting and indeed rather dowdy. Although she had included Susan in the invitation to cocoa she remembered it had been Imogen who had come and told her that Study Six had headed off for one of their trysts with cigarettes beneath the spreading oak. But eventually she became bored with the very formal conversation and dismissed the girls to their study.

****

“You really should not suck up to her like that!” Said Susan. “Everyone in the house knows you set up Anne and Julia, and they don’t like you for it. It would not be so bad if they had not got the cane, but everyone thinks that is Over The Top. And I am getting the blame as well, and I did not actually do anything. I’ve half a mind to ask to move studies.”

“But I only did it for their own good.” Replied Imogen. “Smoking is so bad for you. Everyone says that. And it smells so horrid. I hate it when my father is home and the place is full of the horrible reek of his stupid pipe. Navy Cut or some such he calls his dreadful tobacco. I wish he’d go to sea and smoke it.”

“But that doesn’t give you the right to snitch on poor Julia and Anne. And it must have been horrible! You saw the marks.”

“How was I to know she was going to cane them? I thought they’d just get the slipper.”

“Which is quite bad enough. You have never had it as I remember. I have and it hurts!”

“Anyway it will be a nine day wonder.”

“If we are lucky. We may well never live it down.”

“Do you think she had the right to cane them?”

“Well she did it. How should I know? Does it matter?”

“It’s just I don’t like even Miss Patrick breaking the rules. I am sure only the Head is allowed to cane.”

“Oh do shut up Imogen. When Lizzy said the same thing when they showed us the marks, you said it did not matter.”

Susan abruptly turned over, went to sleep and began to snore. Imogen found herself being kept awake and wondering if she could be bothered to get out of her bed and poke Susan till she stopped. She knew from long experience that Susan would stop snoring for a while after she was poked and then start again. She decided she would wait and see if she went to sleep anyway.

As Imogen lay awake a new moral dilemma began to trouble her. She was very fond of Miss Patrick, but she had grown up in a family that always tried to do the “right” thing. Her Father’s progress as a Member of Parliament might have been quicker, according to her Grandmother, if he had not been born with so many scruples; but Imogen was always rather proud of her Father, even if he did smoke such dreadful tobacco. Should she report Miss Patrick to the Head for using the cane without permission? Perhaps the fact that she really liked Miss Patrick made it even more her duty to report it?

But even Imogen was sensible enough to realize that Miss Patrick might lose her job if she reported her to Miss Crashaw. And then again Miss Crashaw was supposed not to like girls who reported their fellow students for minor offences and she might be the same with mistresses. But then was this a minor matter? Imogen was not at all sure what her proper course of conduct was. She should not have shrugged off the illegality of the caning so easily when Lizzy raised it. And it had been a fearful punishment. She shuddered remembering the height of the weals. She wondered how much it hurt. Susan had been quite distressed on the two occasions she had endured the slipper; and she had just had rather a red bottom. Eventually Imogen went to sleep.

****

“You are mad!” Said Susan vehemently before breakfast next day. “If you go to Miss Crashaw, she just won’t believe you and you will be in dreadful trouble. If it comes out the rest of the house will send you to Coventry. As it is they never talk to us unless they have to. In the last resort they like Miss Patrick and they like Anne and Julia and they most definitely do not like you. Anyway, if you do this I am going to ask to move studies. I’ve had enough of you. Your choice.”

“I was hoping you would back me up!”

“Well I am not going to back you up! And if you have got any sense you will not do it. It’s just plain stupid!”

They relapsed into silence. Susan vaguely assumed her difficult friend had seen sense. Imogen was thinking to herself that she must do the morally correct thing, which was to inform the Head about this unfortunate incident. She was sure that was what her Father would do.

****

Imogen had a free period during the second period of the morning and quietly slipped out of the Library (where she had been half working and half chatting with Susan) to the corridor outside the Headmistress’s study. The system was very simple. Any mistress or girl, who wanted to see Miss Crashaw stood in a queue outside her office and was dealt with in the order that they arrived in, regardless of why they were there. Imogen in many ways would rather not have been seen in that queue, so she was quite relieved to discover there was no one else there. She took a deep breath and knocked on the door. She could feel her heart pounding. The door opened. Miss Crashaw was standing there. She was a tall and imposing woman and she seemed to glare down at Imogen, who flinched.

“Yes, what is it Miss Holt?”

Imogen, who had never visited Miss Crashaw’s study before, was caught off balance. Then she remembered the Headmistress always called everyone who visited her study “Miss”.

“Well, Miss Holt?”

“Could I have a private word with you Miss Crashaw?”

“Yes, of course you can. Come in, shut the door, sit in that chair in front of my desk. Now Miss Holt, what is your problem? Nothing to do with your family I hope. I have a considerable respect for your Father’s work in Parliament. Are you torn between training college and university? Miss Curtis was mentioning something about that.”

“I really wanted to talk about Miss Patrick, Miss Crashaw.”

“I hope you have not been quarrelling with your house mistress, Miss Holt. If so, it is not the sort of thing I interfere with. The squabbles of teenage girls with their house mistress are not something that concerns me.”

“I actually get on quite well with Miss Patrick.”

“Well, what then Miss Holt?”

“It’s just I think she has done something she should not have done and I suppose you ought to know.”

“I do hope this is not tittle tattle Miss Holt. If it is, I advise you to depart without saying anything more.”

Imogen took a deep breath and almost went without saying anything more, but then her moral sense took charge. She must do her duty, however unpleasant.

“Am I right, Miss Crashaw, in thinking that only you can cane us?”

“That is correct. Are you are saying Miss Patrick caned you?”

There was a look of incredulity in Miss Crashaw’s face.

“N – not me Miss Cr – Crashaw. It was Anne Foxcroft and Julia Ash that got caned.”

“Then why are they not here?”

“I don’t know Miss. I suppose they did not want to complain.”

“Do you know why Miss Patrick caned them?”

“Smoking, I think Miss Crashaw; and somebody said they swore.”

“And you are quite sure this happened? One of them did not get very worked up over a slippering (which sounds justified) and make rather a lot of noise, perhaps? It sounds like a lot of school girl gossip to me, young lady.”

If Imogen had been more observant she might have realized her headmistress was giving her a way out. However, she pressed on.

“No, I am quite sure Miss Crashaw. I saw the marks.”

“On the hands or bottom?”

“On the bottom, Miss Crashaw.”

“And how did you come to see the marks on their bottoms?”

“They showed them to us Miss.”

“I find that very unlikely Miss Holt! No girl from this school in her right mind displays her bare buttocks unless she is suffering the ultimate indignity with the slipper. Still, if what you say is true, I would have to dismiss Miss Patrick. Now, are you absolutely sure about what you are saying? If you are not, then I strongly suggest that you leave and we forget about this little incident.”

Imogen paused and thought. It was very tempting to go, but she felt it was her moral duty to persist.

“I am telling the truth Miss.”

“Very well. I will interview the two girls you allege were caned. If they support you I will send for Miss Patrick. If they do not support you then you will find yourself in very serious trouble. To preserve your anonymity you can go and sit in my secretary’s office just down the corridor. I don’t think it is in anyone’s interest to know who made these allegations at this stage.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if I were here Miss?”

“No, I do not think so Miss Holt. Now please take yourself to the Secretary’s office. And please note I would rather that you did not talk to her about this. I will call you when I am ready to take the matter further.”

****

Imogen found herself constantly playing with the cup of tea that the Headmistress’s secretary had very kindly got her. She had in fact more or less drunk it, but she could not resist the temptation to play with the cup.

“I expect there is a crisis with your parents, or your grandparents, or something like that?” The secretary enquired conversationally.

The secretary had been making these intelligent guesses every few minutes and Imogen so wished she had made up a lie when she came into the office.

“If someone’s died, girls always want to tell me everything or nothing. I do hope it is not your father?”

“No, it’s not that.” Imogen said awkwardly, and somehow dropped the cup, breaking it and spilling the remains of the tea. She felt acutely embarrassed by her clumsiness, but at least the secretary bustled about cleaning it up and stopped asking questions.

Then the door opened and it was Miss Crashaw, very formally asking Imogen to accompany her. It was clear from the Head’s face that she was extremely angry. Since she knew that she was speaking the truth Imogen assumed that this anger concerned Miss Patrick. They walked back to Miss Crashaw’s study in a silence that was unnerving, even though Imogen felt sure that justice was about to be done.

They entered the study. The first thing she noticed was that Miss Patrick was sitting in the armchair in front of the desk. The second was that there was a large school cane on Miss Crashaw’s desk. Imogen’s heart went into her boots and she started to cry. Surely she could not be the intended victim! It would be so unjust.

“You will stand in front of my desk with your hands behind your back. Now Miss Holt, the girls who you claimed were caned by Miss Patrick have given me their word of honour that they were severely slippered for smoking and not caned. The punishment appears to have been a little severe, but Miss Patrick was within her rights and I find your misrepresentation of the facts beyond belief, and indeed malicious. Indeed you seem somewhat of a trouble maker anyway. I gather it was you who reported these girls for smoking in the first place.”

“But surely you looked at their marks, Miss Crashaw.”

“Are you suggesting I should do anything so unpleasant and indeed indecent as to examine two senior girls’ bottoms, when they have anyway given me their word of honour about what really happened? No Miss Holt, it is you who are for the high jump. Get your gym slip off and bend over my desk. We will see if a sound caning dampens your moral fervour before I give you your ticket home.”

“Really Headmistress expulsion is a little too much.” Miss Patrick cut in. “I am sure the girl did not mean that much harm. I expect it was just a misunderstanding. Surely…”

“Miss Patrick, I do not like tittle tattle and malicious behaviour. If you do not wish to observe this punishment, leave the room. I shall anyway be speaking to you later about what seems to me an overly severe use of the slipper.”

Miss Patrick got up from the armchair feeling decidedly dejected. She had, she knew, only just kept her job. As she walked through the door she glanced briefly back and noticed how tight Imogen’s knickers were as she bent over the desk minus her gym slip. The girl was sobbing quite uncontrollably. Miss Crashaw had moved to the other side of the room with the cane and was taking some practice swishes.

As Miss Patrick walked down the corridor she heard Imogen screaming at the top of her voice and burst into tears herself. She really did like the girl, but there was absolutely nothing she could do. Imogen Holt would soon be on the train home with an unbearably sore bottom. She only hoped her parents would take a lenient view. She remembered with a shudder her own return home in similar circumstances. It was many years ago, but she would never forget it. It had been straight into her father’s study and the cane had swished into her bare flesh a dozen times. She wondered how many strokes Imogen was getting. At least she was keeping her knickers on.

The End

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