A prefect is astonished to find herself in trouble and believes hersef innocent, until the facts emerge.
By Joanna Jones
Audrey Johnson sat quietly, feeling as bored as she normally did, at the back of the hall with her sixth form classmates as the assembly concluded. The Headmaster had just finished his school notices after his ‘message for the week’. As usual he then started on his ‘And finally’ section; his list of defaulters.
“And finally the following boys are to report to my office directly: Neville Marsh, 1C…”
A fairly tall first year boy, still in shorts, reluctantly stood in his place. A boy had to be in the third form before the privilege of long trousers was allowed at their grammar school.
Within a few moments eleven boys were standing on the right hand side of the hall as the Head concluded his list with William Kent, 5B. It was a few more than was typical, no doubt as a result of a couple of snowball fights that got out of hand.
He then took his usual deep breath before carrying on. “The following girls are to report to Mrs Wright: Helen Grant, 1E…”
A small girl at the front gave a small wail as she stood. Audrey remembered in her junior years always having some irrational worry her name would be announced, but mostly you knew it was coming: three detentions, report by a teacher and so on.
“…Kate Richardson, 4D; Geraldine Wilson, 4D…”
Two more girls, who had been sitting next to each other, reluctantly rose in their places. Audrey knew they had been caught by one of her fellow prefects snowballing a younger girl, with one snowball hitting a window. Two years ago a stony icy projectile had cracked a pane, leading to a ban on snowballs in the upper playground, also meaning that one had to choose to go and join in if you were so inclined. The fact that they had victimised a second year in addition did not bode well for them.
“…Sarah Fox, 5C…”
Almost certainly smoking, thought Audrey as the distinctive red-haired girl rose more defiantly, having had to stand more than once in her school career for that offence. She was wearing the senior girl’s uniform of a tight fitting skirt, to just above the knee, and stockings, rather than the gymslip and grey socks the first to fourth formers wore, irrespective of how cold it was outside.
“…and Audrey Johnson U6A.”
Audrey reeled and gave an involuntary gasp; she was shocked to hear her name called. Sixth formers were rarely named and almost never prefects. She could not think of anything she had possibly done wrong. Her first reaction was that there must be some mistake.
She was so shocked that it took a few moments, and a surreptitious nudge from her friend next to her, for her to actually register that she needed to stand, doing so only as the Headmaster began to repeat her name with the irritated voice he used in such circumstances.
She was blushing deeply as she noted her schoolmates nearby looking up at her askance, a few clearly less sympathetic than the majority in the upper sixth. From the other side of the hall a good fraction of the boys craned their heads round to observe her now rather worried countenance.
After his usual brief pause for everyone to note those standing, and hence hopefully avoid the predicament themselves, the Head called: “Dismissed.” And the clatter started as pupils left the room, leaving those standing to remain in their places until the hall was empty.
Audrey got a few sympathetic whispers as girls squeezed past her, as well as a more snide: “Have Fun!” from Sandra Bradley. Insensitive bitch, she thought to herself as the girl gave a small guffaw at her own humour.
Soon the five girls and eleven boys were in the hall alone with the Head and Mrs Wright, the only teachers left.
Mrs Wright spoke first. “Girls, follow me.” She ordered.
Audrey glanced at the boys, all looking pretty deflated, and then, bringing up the rear, followed the teacher along the school corridors, all the time wondering what was going on. Why on earth had her name been called?
Soon she was sitting on a row of chairs outside Mrs Wright’s classroom, fortunately situated at the end of a fairly quiet corridor. Despite there being more senior teachers, the fifty-something year old had become the girls’ discipline mistress four years ago, when Miss Sanders, the only female assistant head, had retired, with a man winning the appointment.
The first year had been taken straight in. A detached Audrey guessed she was in for Mrs Wright’s specialty, a punishment tradition continued from the previous Assistant Head. While boys of all ages ‘just’ got caned on their backsides, first year girls found themselves being scolded and told that they may think themselves ‘big girls’ but they were not too old to be put over a knee. It had happened to her once, having been caught inside the school, in a classroom rather than outside at interval. Both her friend and herself had been taken to the Assistant Head immediately rather than being told off and reported to wait till the next assembly. Both had in turn ultimately found themselves over her knee, their gymslips lifted and given a pretty thorough slippering whilst staring at the floor of the Assistant Head’s office. She remembered all too accurately being reduced to a crying little girl rather than the mature twelve year old she’d considered herself at the time.
However, she was now eighteen and knew that if indeed she was in trouble then it would not be the slipper she would be getting, but an implement she had never experienced before; the cane!
Sure enough loud spanks were soon heard from inside the classroom with sobbed wails following quickly. A few minutes later her suspicions were confirmed as a very tearful Helen Grant appeared at the door and passed by them rubbing her bottom, clearly more-or-less oblivious to her fellow delinquents stirring in the chairs as she passed.
The fear that she was most certainly in trouble hardened in Audrey’s mind as Kate Richardson reluctantly entered the room, and the three remaining silently shuffled along one chair – one place closer to their ‘interview’. Three screeches later Kate was miserably making her way along the corridor, left hand clamped under her armpit. It did not take long for Geraldine Wilson to pass in the same red-eyed state as her fourth form friend. A detached part of Audrey thought them both lucky not to be rubbing their bottoms, given their offence could have been construed as bullying.
Sarah, to a resigned breath, rubbed her hands hard on the front of her skirt to try to warm them up, then went in, leaving Audrey to shuffle along into the final chair closest the door, now alone outside.
There was a longer pause allowing Audrey’s nerves to rise. The worst was not knowing why she was here, and hence even vaguely how deep a trouble she was supposed to be in. That was assuming she was in trouble, of course. There was always the hope there was some other reason for her attendance, though she did admit to herself that it was highly unlikely.
The faint crack inside seemed a little louder than those before, and when she heard a fourth, which was followed by the first audible squeal she knew that Sarah’s efforts to warm her hands up a little prior to going in had been pointless. The poor girl was getting a six-of-the best on her bottom. Girls usually got two or three on the hands, rarely one, but anything more serious was six on your knickers. It seemed Mrs Wright was in a bad mood, something that worried Audrey still further.
A further squeal, then a final screech, followed and a couple of minutes later Sarah reappeared, red-eyed and unable to stop clutching her bottom, which judging by the tiny strides she was making was objecting to every movement of her legs. Her blouse was rather stuffed into her skirt waist. Clearly she’d had to lower the well fitted garment, rather than raise it in order to allow the cane to impart its sting over ‘one layer’. Normally Audrey thought of disobedient girls being caned rather dispassionately. However, looking at Sarah she felt simply sick.
As was usual, Sarah had not closed the door, leaving it for the next person; in this case for her. While it had been of no use to Sarah, Audrey gave her hands a good rub on her skirt as she stood and, giving a tentative knock on the open door, entered and closed it behind her.
Any hope that somehow she was here for a pleasant chat rather evaporated as she looked at the grim, steely gaze Mrs Wright gave her. Now both petrified as well as confused she approached the teacher’s desk at the far end of the classroom. She could feel her heart thumping with nerves as she finally stood opposite. Despite nominally looking down toward the seated teacher, she felt the exact opposite, very small indeed, even if she did not yet know the reason why.
“So,” started Mrs Wright. “What am I supposed to do with you?”
Audrey looked down at the desk, then wished she hadn’t. The teacher’s cane was lying on it between them.
“I am not sure, miss.” She replied after a longish pause, hoping the teacher’s next statement might give her some idea why she was here, clearly in trouble.
“A girl, no young woman, like you should know better, should she not?” Mrs Wright continued, glowering over her reading glasses.
Definitely in trouble, thought Audrey, but why? Dare she ask?
Not knowing what to say, Audrey rather thoughtlessly said: “I suppose so, Miss.”
Mrs Wright’s eyes flashed in anger. “What do you mean, ‘I suppose so’?” She asked, rather imitating Audrey’s nervous high-pitched voice as she did so.
Audrey became rather frantic. “Please, Miss,” she begged. “I mean I really don’t know why I am here.”
Mrs Wright paused and for the first time looked carefully at her. She was surprised to see no evidence of dissembling in her eyes. Was it possible that Miss Johnson really had no idea? The story she had heard suggested that was impossible.
“So you would deny calling Miss Davis a ‘bitch’ then?” Asked Mrs Wright coolly.
Audrey was astonished. She had never been rude to a teacher.
“Please, I have never told any teacher that she is a bitch. I would never be so silly or rude.” She replied passionately.
“My notes say that you told Miss Green on the bus yesterday morning that Miss Davis was a bitch.” Mrs Wright stated implacably.
“But I’ve never, ever spoken to Miss Green on the bus!” Claimed Audrey desperately. “I never even saw her on the bus yesterday!” She continued.
Mrs Wright could see Audrey was nearly in tears in frustration. She knew her to be normally a well-behaved, polite girl, and one who she would regard as honest (she would not have a prefect badge on her if that were not the case after all). However, how then did that square with the information from Miss Green?
“Are you saying Miss Green is lying, Audrey Johnson? That is a very serious accusation you know.” Asked Mrs Wright, somewhat less confrontationally, though not without steel.
“No, but she must be mistaken. I never even saw her on the bus yesterday morning…”
Suddenly Audrey’s face changed, a dawning horror appeared. “Oh God!” She whispered audibly to herself.
Mrs Wright did not normally accept blasphemy from a pupil, but decided to let it pass on this occasion. The sheer look of horror on Miss Johnson’s face, and the fact that it was not directed at anyone but the girl herself was enough.
There was a long silence while Audrey stared horrified at the desk, seeing nothing. She had suddenly had a horrible thought, a terrible realisation. How to explain it though? Mrs Wright in turn waited patiently.
“I, I was sitting next to a friend on the bus yesterday and, well, we were discussing the amount of homework we both had. In our last lesson a number of us asked Miss Davis for an extension as we were also in Mr Knox’s English class and we had a long essay from him with a short deadline. Miss Davis, as is her right, indicated we should have time for both. I was moaning to my friend and, well, I now think the word ‘bitch’ might, might have slipped out.”
Mrs Wright raised an eyebrow as Audrey Johnson, having made an admission, started to panic, speaking very quickly indeed.
“I never meant anything by it, Miss, and I know I should not have said it. It was meant to be banter between friends. I never saw Miss Green, but maybe she was in the seat in front, everybody was so wrapped up against the cold. Oh please, Miss, I would never normally say such a thing, and never to a teacher. Please, I am very sorry. Oh-h-h, please!”
Mrs Wright realised Audrey had finally talked herself out. She had deliberately let her do so, so as to give her some time to think. Certainly Audrey’s story seemed much more consistent with what she knew of the girl, rather than the part story she now suspected she had received from Miss Green.
“So Miss Green did not attempt to discuss your turn of phrase afterwards?” She asked after a pause.
“No, Miss, I never saw her at all!” Replied the miserable girl.
Mrs Wright considered. “I am going to check your story.” She declared. “Who was your friend?”
“She is not in trouble but I do need to speak to her.”
“Mary Low,” she replied resignedly.
“Very well, you will stay here, and start to write a letter of apology to Miss Davis, while I check the facts and then decide what to do with you.”
Audrey nodded and moved to a desk in the empty classroom. Sickly she pulled out a pen. Mrs Wright gave her a plain sheet of paper as she left.
Mrs Wright was not very happy. If Audrey’s story was correct then in Miss Green’s shoes, she would have ignored it, or at worst told warned them quietly to be careful. The shock of seeing a teacher turn would have been memorable enough for the girl never to do it again, in her view. For Miss Green to give a seemingly exaggerated story to the Head and Miss Davis was just creating unnecessary trouble, and she had not even had the decency to inform the girl of her intentions. Mrs Wright always thought the young teacher a bit of an inadequate busybody, a view now rather confirmed. She needed some facts though, as although Audrey Johnson did not know it, her provisional punishment did not just involve a caning, but also loss of her prefect badge!
If she was telling the truth then that seemed a harsh consequence indeed.
A quarter of an hour later, she managed to slip in to see the Head just before the last boy waiting to see him. She had by then confirmed Audrey’s story, though Miss Green had been a little reluctant to admit that Audrey ‘might’ not have seen her. Fortunately the Head was in a somewhat sympathetic mood; the girl need never know how close she had been to being divested of the red enamel badge on her blazer lapel.
Steeling herself up, she returned to her class.
“Letter finished?” She asked impassively.
“Nearly, Miss,” came the nervy reply.
“Very well, I will wait.”
A few minutes later Mrs Wright was looking through it, it was well written, as one might expect from a girl studying A-level English, and the script was neat, though perhaps a bit more shaky in places, no doubt due to her nerves.
Putting it down, Mrs Wright looked firmly at Audrey, now standing, squirming uncomfortably in front of her.
“I am glad you agree your language, even if it was meant to be a private conversation, was unacceptable. Unfortunately, it is language the school cannot ignore.”
Audrey was now on the verge of tears as she listened to the teacher in front of her.
Mrs Wilson continued, “As a prefect you should know better, and in addition to giving her this letter, you will apologise in public to Miss Davis at the beginning of your next lesson, after lunch.”
Audrey nodded by way of confirmation, and Mrs Wright continued. “Finally, given the circumstances, your actual punishment will be three strokes of the cane to your non-writing hand.”
Audrey had suspected it was coming, but still gasped. “But I didn’t mean it,” she moaned.
“I know, but you still said it.” Was the implacable reply.
Audrey gave a sniff and nodded, biting her lip in anticipation as she looked down at the cane on the desk.
Moments later the implement was being flexed between Mrs Wright’s hands, the crook handle near her right. She adopted her formal tone. “Stand there, now put your non-writing hand out, thumb out of the way.”
Audrey’s eyes felt damp as she carefully complied with the instructions. She watched the teacher lay the cane diagonally across the meat of her palm. The slight touch caused her to shiver uncontrollably as her senses heightened.
Mesmerised, she watched the teacher’s face tighten in concentration as the rod was raised.
Audrey screwed her eyes shut, and clenched her teeth into her lower lip.
With a sudden hiss and a thwip the cane crashed down on her palm.
Her eyes flew open and she briefly stared at her hand, almost as if to check it was still there. Her palm was instantaneously in agony. Somehow she had held in the scream as she involuntarily pressed her hand into her skirt.
What seemed like only brief moments later, Mrs Wright was telling her to put her hand out again. Now shaking, she reluctantly raised it out, the pain increasing as she opened her palm out flat. As the cane touched gently she felt a tear escape, whether from the pain or sheer ignominy, she could not say.
As soon as the cane left she again closed her eyes firmly. She could not bear to watch.
This time she screamed as the intolerable pain enveloped her hand as the cane landed again diagonally slightly further up her palm, also cutting across the lowest part of her forefinger.
Audrey could not stop the tears now as she somehow managed to push her delicate hand out for the last time. She could not bear even to look at her hand as she did so. The cane touched lightly once again then hissed down.
The cane this line landed more directly across the palm, crossing both previous cuts as a result.
A loud wail penetrated between her moans as the dreadful effect of the impact overwhelmed her senses once more.
However, it was over. Audrey was free to clamp her hand tight under her armpit, as if she was trying to compress the pain out of it somehow. Desperately she was trying to get hold of herself. However, the tears would not stop, now falling out nearly silently. Was it the pain, the humiliation that meant she could not stop? Perhaps it was the frustration that she couldn’t stop them making her more upset? It did not help that she was watching the teacher complete her entry in the school punishment book, a permanent record of her failure.
On completing the entry Mrs Wright looked up at the picture of despair, and passed her a tissue. The act of offering and receiving finally steadied Audrey a little and after a few snuffles she finally gained enough control to examine the three lines disfiguring her palm before being dismissed, with a reminder to remember her apology if she did not want to return to have her bottom attended to too.
Despite a trip to the bathroom, it was still a red-eyed young woman who returned to classes that morning, where she was abnormally quiet and self-absorbed. At least she had some composure back after lunch as she shame-facedly passed Miss Davis the letter and gave a very contrite public apology. However, at the end of the class Miss Davis asked her to remain behind.
Rather nervously she approached her desk, and was surprised to be invited to sit.
“Mrs Wright told me the truth behind the story, Audrey, and for what it is worth I think you were frightfully unlucky. Truth is, I remember as a pupil I was forever cussing teachers behind their backs with friends, but of course was never caught. Like you, I never meant anything by it. So if you need any help then please do not be afraid to ask me, I promise you I will not hold any of this against you.”
Audrey gazed, red with embarrassment, at the desk before finally looking up and thanking the teacher before being gently dismissed.
The following morning, a Friday, she saw Miss Green on the bus who, this time, chose to accost her with a rather patronising look.
“So, Miss Johnson, I hope you have learned some manners from your experiences yesterday, then?” She asked rather haughtily.
“Yes, Miss. Thank you, Miss.” She replied meekly, ignoring the silent smirks of a few younger girls and boys as she then passed down the aisle to sit down well away from her, next to her friend Mary.
‘Now there is a teacher who really is a complete bitch,’ she thought as she did so. However, it was not a thought she was ever going to give voice to.
© Joanna Jones 2015