Two old enemies are compelled to change
By Jane Fairweather
“It is too damn hot, it is too damn hot; and we’re going to the beach; and we are going to swim. Hurrah!” Eleanor Sims half-chanted and half-sang as the group of twenty or so sixth form girls from St Angela’s School for Girls made their way through the school grounds and then into the ambiguous area of the cliffs, which belonged to no one in particular. The sky and the sea were both a radiant, almost unbearably intense, blue and it was extremely hot.
“Oh, do shut it, Ming!” Elizabeth Colt called out irritably.
Elizabeth was far from being Eleanor’s friend, and indeed almost her official enemy. It was Elizabeth who had landed her with the nickname ‘Ming’ after the unpleasant emperor in the Flash Gordon serials at the cinema.
‘Why should she shut it?’ Eleanor thought indignantly and went on repeating her little chant. She felt two sharp slaps on her backside. Even with her bathing costume under her summer dress, it stung enough to be annoying.
She turned and faced Elizabeth, whose hand was poised for a third slap, and aimed a hard slap of her own straight at her enemy’s face. There was a loud yelp of pain and Elizabeth staggered back, clutching her cheek.
“Girls, girls, girls! I know you two don’t get on, but just cool it!” Amy Lawrence, the Head Girl was saying.
Amy was not noted for her powers of command and Eleanor, who was now in a fury, moved towards Elizabeth with the definite intention of scragging her. Luckily perhaps, her own friends, Katie Black and Annie Smith, grabbed her by her arms and held her.
Amy and her deputy, Sarah Hallam, did the same with Elizabeth, who, having recovered from the initial shock of having her face slapped, was advancing on Eleanor with eyes blazing.
“They really ought to go to the Headmistress. Sixth Formers fighting is just disgraceful!” Sarah Hallam was saying extremely angrily.
Listening to the Deputy Head Girl, Eleanor’s heart missed a beat as she realized just how close she was to another slippering. She had endured two very painful encounters with that large tennis shoe lower down the school. Miss Dexter, the Games Mistress, who did such things on behalf of the headmistress was very efficient. And then there was that horrid walk from the Headmistress’s study to the gym. The last time she’d been sent, she had been punished in front of some First Years, who had giggled all the way through and it had been extremely embarrassing, quite apart from the pain of the actual punishment. But still, at least Elizabeth would get it as well, and that made it almost worthwhile!
“No! I don’t think so,” Amy was saying with unusual firmness to her deputy. “Personally, I don’t think it ever does any good when someone gets the slipper. Anyway, they are Sixth Formers and I don’t think the Headmistress would want to know. Look, you two idiots, I am going to pretend this never happened. I expect the heat went to your heads. Now for goodness sake let us get down to the beach and swim and have our picnic.”
“And be grateful there wasn’t a mistress here. Otherwise, you would both be clutching the bottom rail of the wall bars in the gym.” Sarah Hallam added, looking angry at the decision not to have the two girls disciplined. The Deputy Head Girl clearly thought the Head Girl had made a bad mistake.
But anyway, the matter was more or less forgotten and they descended the very awkward wooden steps down the cliff to the small cove that was almost, but not quite, the school’s private beach. As usual, because no one else knew the place existed, the girls had it to themselves. Almost all the girls removed their green summer dresses and lounged in their bathing costumes, or paddled, or in a few brave instances swam. Among these last was Amy Lawrence, who was genuinely quite a good swimmer and had won more than one race in her time, and she went quite a long way out.
At first Eleanor, Katie and Annie lay in a patch of half-shadow by a rock and rather away from the other girls as they drank in the warmth. They did not even chatter that much, by their normal standards. Eleanor lay almost asleep, feeling considerable relief at having escaped another slippering, especially, she reflected, as there was a fair chance that her knickers would have come down and it hurt quite enough with knickers on. Equally, though, she felt regret that Elizabeth was not going to have a red hot bottom. No doubt Elizabeth, who in her view was rather soft, would have cried her eyes out, she thought vindictively.
“Anyone for a splash?” Katie asked, but Eleanor and Annie lay where they were.
Then Annie got up and Eleanor found herself alone. She curled up a little and decided that if she went to sleep completely she would not mind at all.
Something woke her and she sat up and realized there was a lot of splashing and shrieking going on at the edge of the water. Glancing round, she realized Katie and Annie were in a splashing contest with Elizabeth and two other girls.
‘Why not?’ she thought, and headed in that direction.
At first it was great fun and quite harmless, with water going all over the place and Eleanor’s bathing costume getting quite soaked. But suddenly she felt herself being hit by quite a large pebble on her right shoulder.
‘Just one of those accidents,’ she thought. ‘Elizabeth or one of her friends. Maggy maybe?’
Elizabeth shared a study with Maggy, who must have scooped it up by accident with the water they were splashing at them. Maggy, she noticed, was using the bucket part of a spade-and-bucket beach set.
Then she was hit by two more pebbles in rapid succession and one of them was rather more than a pebble. Elizabeth was grinning all over her face and clearly had several more pebbles and small stones in her left hand ready to chuck. For a second, Eleanor almost did the sensible thing and retreated from the firing line.
But then another pebble whistled past her ear. Her anger got the better of her. She scooped up a far-from-small stone that came all too easily to her hand, and she threw it hard at Elizabeth. To be fair, Eleanor quite deliberately did not aim it at Elizabeth’s head, but it struck the girl’s right knee hard. Elizabeth shrieked and tottered backwards before sinking into the water. All the girls from the splashing contest, including Eleanor, rushed over and pulled her upright. After a few anxious seconds, Elizabeth seemed dazed but not too bad.
“I really am sorry, Ming. I shouldn’t have started it. I asked for that,” Elizabeth said with surprising compunction.
“One of those things!” Eleanor said graciously.
She felt she was as much to blame as Elizabeth. She also felt considerable relief that the Head Girl was still swimming and, with luck, there would be no repercussions. She turned rather uncertainly to return to her little patch of shade and realized the Deputy Head Girl was striding up the beach towards them.
Oh god! Sarah Hallam hated her guts and she was going to have to spend a painful afternoon in the headmistress’s study and the gym, enduring the slipper again. No doubt Elizabeth would escape without a blemish on her character; her enemy all through the school was a goody-goody, which always annoyed her.
However, the furious voice that descended on them surprised Eleanor.
“I could see the whole thing from where I was. Elizabeth, you started it, and very stupid it was. And you, Eleanor, should not have retaliated, certainly not on the scale you did. The pair of you have already been let off once today, very much against my better judgement. Amy is far too nice. You two will put your dresses back on, even though you are soaking wet, to preserve your modesty. You will then go to your studies. You will put clean dry clothes on and then you will go to the Headmistress, whom I am going to talk to in the meanwhile.”
Sarah Hallam was sounding like a mistress, and a pretty mean mistress at that, Eleanor thought, but equally she felt she dare not disobey. She glanced at Elizabeth out of the corner of her eye and noticed a distinct nod and shrug. Clearly Elizabeth felt Sarah was being very over-the-top as well.
“I will get my dress from the other side of the beach and meet you at the bottom of the steps,” Elizabeth said, rather as if she was talking to a best friend and not her official enemy throughout her school career. Not, Eleanor reflected, that she minded Elizabeth that much, it was almost a game.
‘Yeh, I will get mine and see you there. Simplest if we go together, isn’t it?” Eleanor said as if Elizabeth was not her greatest enemy.
They met at the foot of the wooden steps as they had agreed and clambered up them in a rather companionable silence.
“She should just have left us to sort it out our way,” Elizabeth said rather fiercely as they stepped out on to the singed grass of the cliff top.
“Couldn’t agree more,” Eleanor replied.
“We could just be best friends and pretend we aren’t enemies after all. I have always rather liked you, you know. Well, I don’t know about ‘liked’, you make me terribly angry sometimes. But there is something about you, Eleanor.” Elizabeth stated tentatively, as if trying to work out her own feelings.
“It is mutual,” Eleanor said, and reached out and gave her enemy a gentle peck on her cheek.
Eleanor found she liked the taste. Elizabeth was very pretty, she decided. She had thought that for ages, but not liked to admit it. She realized Elizabeth had given her a peck back and she really liked it. Where on earth was this going?
“Have you had the slipper?” Elizabeth asked tentatively. “Presumably that is what we are going to get, if she does not chuck us out.”
“Yes, twice, and it is not fun. But at least it is Saturday afternoon. There should not be anyone in the gym. That’s where they do it, you know. Last time, I got six for smoking for the second time and it was in front of a load of giggling Second Formers. It was horrible.”
“Poor thing!” Elizabeth said, and touched her enemy’s hand. “But I suppose you do keep some clothes on, do you?”
“Oh, they do it on your knickers. I think very occasionally they do come down too,” Eleanor observed with the benefit of superior knowledge.
“In the circumstances, I expect that will be us. Still, it will be a chance to see who has the prettiest bum!” Elizabeth giggled.
“That is what they call Gallows humour!” Eleanor said, joining in the giggling and wondering why she was suddenly finding Elizabeth so attractive as somehow two hands started touching one another.
“Well, this is a miserable business! I cannot for the life of me understand how two intelligent and normally very pleasant young ladies of my Sixth Form can have managed to have had not one, but two fights in the course of a single Saturday afternoon.” Miss Pope stated with distinct weariness. “The Head Girl very sensibly let you off the first time, but you did it twice; and of course action had to be taken. Have either of you an explanation worth hearing?”
Eleanor felt tongue-tied and glanced at Elizabeth out of the corner of her eye, hoping she would think of something.
Elizabeth glanced back, then said, “It’s just we have always been sort of friendly enemies, Miss Pope. And I got mad with Ming for making up a stupid song. That was how the first one started. And then on the beach, it started as fun. Some of us were splashing one another. Then I thought it would be fun to annoy Ming, so I chucked some small stones and she got really angry and threw a bigger one, which hit my knee. Not that she really meant to hurt me. I am sure she didn’t.”
“Your idea of fun, young lady, strikes me as somewhat misplaced. Presumably by ‘Ming’ you mean Eleanor, do you?”
“I am sorry, Miss Pope. Yes, I mean Eleanor. I am sorry Miss, we always call her Ming.”
“After Ming the Merciless, no doubt,” Miss Pope replied with a wintery smile. “The pair of you have given me no choice but to decree severe punishments. I might have let Eleanor off with a severe admonition, if it were not for that final stone. That could well have caused serious injury and I can see Elizabeth is limping as it is.
“So, Miss Eleanor Sims, we will shortly be going to the gym, where Miss Dexter will be applying her considerable skills with a slipper to your bare behind. I will not have behaviour that results in physical danger to a fellow student. You are very lucky not to be expelled, and only the considerable provocation you were subjected to makes me stop short of that.
“As for you, Miss Elizabeth Colt, you are, in my judgement, the chief mover in this lamentable affair because you started the whole thing on both occasions. Only the fact that Miss Sims is not being expelled is saving your neck; it would be unfair, I think, to expel you and not her. Therefore, you will also come along to the gym and you will have an even worse slippering than Miss Sims is going to endure.”
Eleanor shrugged her shoulders; it was as bad as she had expected, except she had not expected Elizabeth to get it worse than herself. She glanced at her old enemy/new friend and realized tears were flowing down Elizabeth’s cheeks. No doubt the gallows humour had been bravado.
The gym was hot and stuffy, Eleanor realized as she stepped into it after Elizabeth. Her new friend had more or less stopped sobbing, but there were still tears on her cheeks. Eleanor produced a hankie and solicitously wiped the tears. Elizabeth borrowed the hankie to blow her nose.
“I hope I am first. I so want to get it over,” Elizabeth said with a shudder, and then added, “But what are they doing in Miss Dexter’s room?”
“God knows!” Said Eleanor briskly. “Maybe arguing about how many we each get, but we will find out all too soon.”
She clasped Elizabeth’s hand and only let it go when she heard footsteps. She found herself willing her new friend to be brave.
To Eleanor’s surprise, Sarah Hallam, the Deputy Head Girl, was following the muscular Miss Dexter, who was tall for a woman, and the petite headmistress in her severe grey skirt suit.
“I really am not sure I should be watching this,” Sarah was saying. “It is not quite nice, somehow.”
“Nonsense!” Miss Pope retorted. “You suggested this punishment, Miss Hallam, and I think it is only just that you should witness it. Besides, it is unusual for slipperings at this school not to take place in front of some fellow pupils, and it being a sunny Saturday afternoon, they are on the whole in short supply and scattered about the surrounding terrain. And I am not going to make them wait till Monday morning to be punished; that really would be cruel.”
“But they are having it on their bare bottoms!” Sarah said fastidiously. “I really should not be watching that.”
Eleanor remembered Elizabeth’s joke about which of them had the prettier bare bum. Clearly it was not something that Sarah was at all interested in.
“You are sure about the numbers, Miss Pope?” Miss Dexter was asking in the voice of one who has considerable doubts.
“Yes, nine for Elizabeth Colt, who is the principle culprit, and six for Miss Sims,” the headmistress said very firmly.
“I suppose that makes some sense but, as I have already pointed out, this is Elizabeth’s first time, and Eleanor has some experience of being punished like this. She had six quite hard from me only about a year ago, admittedly with knickers on. And there again, I really don’t want to make Elizabeth hysterical by giving her all nine at one go. Couldn’t she have six too, or seven if it has got to be more than Eleanor?”
“I do agree with Miss Dexter,” The Deputy Head Girl butted in. “It is the fact they are being punished so humiliatingly that counts, not the number of whacks.”
‘Far too many cooks spoiling the broth!’ Eleanor thought. ‘Why can’t they just get on with it?’
She glanced at Elizabeth and realized there was a hint of a grin. Hopefully it was a grin at this absurd conversation and not the beginnings of the very hysterics that Miss Dexter was afraid of.
“I have stated what I feel is appropriate. Now, could we get on with it?” Miss Pope said definitively. “But, if you really want to, Miss Dexter, you can give the punishments in two halves.”
“That might help. Thank you, headmistress. Now girls, would you both please walk over to the wall bars, leaving a distinct gap between you, and stand facing the wall.”
At least, thought Eleanor, if they were side by side they would not have to watch each other’s punishment, which was quite clever of Miss Dexter.
The two girls shuffled over to the wall bars. There was a distinct pause while Eleanor, for one, tried very hard to think about the blue sea and sky she had so enjoyed earlier in the day; she wanted to be anywhere other than in this stuffy gym. She could hear Elizabeth was sobbing again. Poor Elizabeth!
“Now girls, you will both lower your knickers to your knees and then put your hands on the lowest wall bar,” the voice of Miss Dexter was saying very firmly, but surprisingly quietly.
Eleanor took a breath, aware that she was not that far from bursting into tears herself, and made herself put her clammy shaking hands up under her dress and lower the white cotton pants to her knees. She felt incredibly humiliated; this was far worse than the previous occasion. Almost as an afterthought, she reached for the lowest wall bar and grasped it hard. Presumably, she would feel her dress being pulled up over her waist soon enough. At least her bottom would not be completely bare till then.
“Good girl! Just stay like that and don’t move from there till I tell you,” Miss Dexter said to Elizabeth, whose bottom was presumably now also bare.
There was the noise of three loud whacks at distinct intervals, punctuated by Elizabeth saying “ouch” with increasing feeling after each whack through what sounded a considerable quantity of tears.
Surely there ought to be four or five, if Elizabeth was having half of nine whacks at one go? But no, Eleanor suddenly realized, her dress was being pulled above her waist and her two small round buttocks were about to feel the full force of Miss Dexter’s slipper on her bare flesh. She braced herself.
Three very hard whacks descended in slow succession and really hurt. The trouble with the slipper, Eleanor decided as her bottom kept going up and down in a most humiliating fashion, is that if you are a girl with a small bottom, every whack covers the whole of it, which she decided was why, on the whole, boys get the cane, just because they have bigger bottoms.
There was a distinct pause during which Eleanor reflected her bum was aching and burning and she was crying more than she felt was proper; she had not cried that much on the previous two occasions she had endured the slipper, but then they had been that much less painful. Having your knickers on undoubtedly made a difference.
“Right girl, three more and then we shall be more than half-way through, won’t we? Just stay there for me,” Miss Dexter was saying very quietly to Elizabeth.
“Yes, I will be good, Miss Dexter.” Elizabeth said through her tears, sounding dangerously close to hysterics, Eleanor thought.
The same horrible three slow whacks, but with a difference, for this time Elizabeth’s ouch’s had changed too “Aah! Aah! Aah!” after each whack. Eleanor decided this ought to have been funny, but in reality it was upsetting. Poor Elizabeth!
“Just keep in position. There are three more to come, Elizabeth, but only three more, which we will get round to in a minute,” Miss Dexter said quite kindly.
Eleanor reflected it was actually quite difficult to stand up in this position. She tensed herself to take her own last three, and decided she would rather have had all six at one go. There was something very off-putting about all this waiting. She knew that six whacks at one go tended to deaden one another up to a point, and she was about to lose that effect. She was sure she was. This was going to be bad! She clenched the wall bar even tighter.
“Right, your last three, Eleanor, but don’t stand up till I tell you,” Miss Dexter ordered, somewhere in the distance.
A vicious whack descended. Eleanor found herself having to restrain a shriek and realized she had given up on any attempt not to cry; the tears were pouring down her cheeks. The second whack, if anything, was worse and she uttered a distinct shriek and her legs started to lift up and down. The third was even worse and she uttered a strange animal-like noise. She felt relief that she was not going to have to stand up immediately. She doubted if she could.
Eleanor was so pre-occupied with her own agony that she barely heard Elizabeth’s last three whacks. They must have been hard, for Elizabeth pleaded for it to stop twice, and shrieked quite loudly after each one, but Eleanor barely took that in.
Five or so dazed and humiliating minutes later, they were being allowed to struggle to their feet and pull their knickers up and their dresses down.
“Right girls, you can go,” Miss Pope was saying. “And remember, for the rest of your time in this school you are both of you on thin ice. You will not be shown the same mercy twice. And I suggest you make friends; it would be to both of your advantage.”
The two girls staggered out of the gym together.
“I never knew anything could hurt quite so much,” Elizabeth said, holding her bottom with some feeling. Then she added, “I made a bit of a fool of myself, didn’t I?”
“I shouldn’t worry about that. I made quite a bit of noise myself, and I am supposed to be used to it,” said Eleanor wryly. “She really was out to teach us a lesson.”
“I wonder if the cane is worse, or as bad?” Elizabeth remarked thoughtfully. “My brother always says we are lucky not having the cane here.”
“It must depend on how hard it is done,” said Eleanor thoughtfully. “Anyway, do you want a bath with me? That should get rid of some of the worst of it. I am on fire and I need cooling down. I expect you are the same.”
“That is a wizard idea,” said Elizabeth. “Incidentally, Maggy has been saying for weeks she would quite like to move studies. I think she finds me a bit intense. I don’t suppose…?”
“You don’t suppose I would like to share with you? But my dear, we are supposed to be enemies,” Eleanor stated archly.
“I think we are going to be friends for a very long time who like one another a lot, but are going to scream and throw things at one another from time to time. Anyway, if we have survived today without hating one another we can survive most things,” Elizabeth said very firmly, if not perhaps entirely logically.
“Yes, it might even last for years and years. You never know,” Eleanor said with a grin. “And I suppose I should not admit it, but I glimpsed your bum when you stood up from the wall bars. I did like the look of it!”
“Naughty girl, you should be ashamed!” Said Elizabeth, giving her a playful pat. “But I must confess I did exactly the same thing, and I liked yours too. Anyway, if we have this bath, no doubt we will get to see quite a lot more. Come on, let’s get on with it!”
© Jane Fairweather 2021
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