A headmistress at a girls’ grammar school achieves one of her secret ambitions
by Sally Cavendish
My name is Mrs Helen Dragonard, nee Smith, and I was formerly headmistress of a girls’ grammar school in the East Midlands. In these more enlightened times, I would be plain Helen Smith and there would be no question of my using my French married name at work. But things were different in the 1970s, when this story was set.
As Mrs Dragonard, I naturally acquired the nickname ‘The Dragon’, which was a bit unfair, as I like to think I was not especially ferocious in my demeanour. But I was headmistress at quite a strict, traditional school, where the cane was still used. I doubt if I caned more than a hundred girls in my fourteen years as headmistress and it was not a part of the job I enjoyed.
My predecessor had impressed on me that the cane was only to be used as a last resort, but that when used it should be used properly. “A girl should be in tears, or close to tears,” she counselled. It was excellent advice. The tears duly flowed, and girls who had been chastised would leave my study red-eyed and determined to mend their ways. But, as I say, it was not an experience I enjoyed.
There were only two exceptions to this general rule. The first was girls who, in my view, had far too high an opinion of themselves. It was good to bring them down a peg or two with a good thrashing.
The second, and I am blushing as I write this, was girls who were physically well-endowed. The sight of a shapely female bottom bent over a chair is one to inflame the dullest imagination, and I confess I was not entirely immune to such feelings.
The Hon. Amelia Carrington ticked both my boxes. She was the only daughter of a minor local aristocrat but, from the airs she gave herself, you would think she was third in line to the throne. In more than thirty years as a teacher, I cannot remember a haughtier specimen.
She was also blessed with one of the most perfectly proportioned bottoms I have ever seen. If she walked down the local high street, every male eye in the vicinity, and some female ones, would be trained on her retreating figure.
It had struck me, and this is another embarrassing admission, that the sight of that exquisite bottom bared for a caning would be riches piled on riches. But, alas bare-bottom canings were only permitted at the school in the most exceptional circumstances. Rule 18(a) of the school handbook was quite explicit: ‘Only in the event of gross misbehaviour, such a foul-mouthed abuse of a member of staff, can corporal punishment be administered on the unclothed behind, and then only with the express permission of the Chair of Governors.’ To my knowledge, there had been no such caning since the 1950s.
But someone must have been smiling on me that summer. When Hon. Amelia Carrington was foolish enough to get caught smoking in the toilets by the deputy headmistress, Miss Walters. She soon found herself in my study, bent over a chair for the six of the best that was the automatic tariff for this offence.
“Get over the chair,” I said, heart pounding, as that perfect 17-year-old bottom presented itself for the ministrations of my cane. I was going to enjoy this. Like most of the sixth-formers at the school. Amelia was wearing black trousers, but they were made of very thin material and would offer little protection against a well-wielded cane.
The first stroke, mid-bottom, produced an audible gasp from Amelia. I strongly suspect that this was the first time she had been subjected to corporal punishment of any kind and, as anyone who has been caned will testify, it is no fun at all. You just have to grit your teeth and wait for the agony to abate.
There were more gasps after strokes two and three, but it was the fourth stroke that produced the real fireworks. It was the hardest yet, directed at the very bottom of the target area, and as the cane lashed down poor Amelia could take no more. She leapt to her feet clutching her bottom, and in that snobbish cut-glass voice of hers, said: “Fuck you! Just fuck you!” I could scarcely believe my ears. Unbelievable insolence!
One thing you learn as a head teacher is not to do anything in haste, even under the most severe provocation. I was so shocked by her outburst that part of me just wanted to thrash her, and thrash her, and go on thrashing her, until I had reduced her to a blubbering wreck. Luckily, I had my wits about me. What a heaven-sent opportunity to invoke Rule 18(a) of the school handbook!
“If you think I’m prepared to be spoken to like that, Amelia, you are in for a nasty shock,” I said quietly. “Go and stand in the corner with your hands on your head while I consider what action to take.”
She did as she was told quite meekly, all things considered. I could see from her body language that she was bitterly regretting swearing at me and was worried sick about the consequences. But I let her stew for a couple of minutes before playing my trump card; the copy of the school rules which I kept in the top drawer of my desk.
“Kindly read Rule 18(a),” I said, handing her the book open at the relevant page.
She read it in a daze, and I can still see the look of blind panic on her face.
“But, Mrs Dragonard…”
“No buts, Amelia. The wording of the rule could hardly be more specific. The option of a caning on the bare bottom was designed for just such occasions as this. All that remains is to see if I can get hold of the Chair of Governors to get his permission to apply the rule in your case. Stay right where you are, with your hands on your head.”
Sir Tim Bradbury, the Chair of Governors at that time, was a genial soul and we got on very well. In fact, we regularly drank together in one of the local pubs, ‘The Feathers’.
“What can I do for you, Helen?” he said, all bonhomie as he picked up the phone. “It’s not about the A level marks, is it?”
“No, it’s a disciplinary matter, in a nutshell.”
I gave him a full account of what happened, explained the dilemma in which I found myself and drew his attention to the provisions of Rule 18(a), in case he had forgotten them. It was such a rarely invoked rule that it had become largely academic.
There was a long pause at the end of the line while Sir Tim weighed up the situation.
“So what you are suggesting, Helen, is that, with my permission, and in light of the extremely abusive language that Amelia Carrington has directed at you, you should cane her on the bare bottom. Is that right? How many strokes were you planning to administer?”
I thought for a second.
“Six, plus the two strokes of the original caning which I have not yet administered.”
“Making eight in all?” Good old Sir Tim. He had been a City banker before retiring, so maths was his strong suit. “And you really think…?”
“Yes, I do. No girl has ever spoken to me in that disrespectful fashion before. Ever.”
“Very well then, Helen. You have my blessing. Good luck.”
I put the receiver down on my desk, amused by the final “Good luck”. It had certainly been my lucky day! Then I turned to Amelia.
“Did you hear all that?”
“Yes, Mrs Dragonard.”
“Then you know what’s about to happen to you?”
“Yes, Mrs Dragonard.”
Anything meeker than the girl who had screamed abuse at me would be hard to imagine. Amelia seemed so stoically resigned to her fate that, without waiting to be told, she took up her position behind the chair, unzipped her trousers and let them fall to her ankles. Her black silk panties soon followed. The stage was set.
Never having caned a girl on the bare bottom before, I was shocked, to be honest, by the sight of the four angry red stripes adorning that lovely pale bottom. If it had been me on the receiving end, I would have cried blue murder myself! But school rules are school rules, eight further stripes had been promised, so eight further stripes there had to be.
I took my time, savouring the experience, trying to lay the stripes on as evenly as possible, so that the whole of that delectable bottom was covered. But my anger had passed and, perhaps because Amelia had been suitably contrite, I did not lash her with as much ferocity as I might have. The cane kissed the cheeks of her bottom, rather than biting deep into them.
After the last stroke, I admired my handiwork for a few seconds before telling Amelia to get up and rearrange her clothes.
“I’m sorry I had to do that, Amelia, but you left me with very little choice. You do see that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mrs Dragonard. And I’m very sorry I swore at you, Mrs Dragonard.”
“Good girl. Now get along.”
It had been an extraordinary episode, one of my highlights of my school career, if I am honest. And there was to be an amusing postscript.
I was just replacing the cane in its cupboard when I noticed that the receiver of the telephone was still lying on my desk, and I had not hung it up in its usual place. If Sir Tim had not hung up his phone either, he must have been able to eavesdrop on the entire thrashing! I was mortified.
“You’re quite right, Helen,” he admitted, when I picked up the phone and realised, from the breathing sound at the other end, that we were still connected. “I did listen in. Quite wrong of me, of course, and I apologise, but I wanted to hear justice done. If I may say so, Helen, I think you handled a difficult situation with great skill and asserted your authority in the most emphatic way. It doesn’t sound as if you will be having any more trouble from that young lady.”
“Thank you, Tim. I appreciate your support.”
“Fancy a drink in the pub later?”
© Sally Cavendish 2020