An Accident? A girl is punished anyway
By Jane Fairweather
The door of the Prefects’ Common Room opened unexpectedly and the rather beefy figure of the headmistress, Miss Anstruther, entered, causing a certain shuffling of skirts as the girls stood up, as was normal even for prefects when the headmistress entered.
“Girls, I want to discuss Mr Smyth’s visit tomorrow, and indeed Speech Day, for all of which I will need a lot of help from you.” Miss Anstruther enunciated as clearly as she could.
She felt just a touch uneasy at being in the alien territory of the Prefects’ Common Room. Perhaps she thought she should have asked the girls to her study, but she had acted on impulse.
“Do I have to be present when Mr Smyth comes to give the prizes, Miss?” Antonia Bradshaw enquired out of the blue with a mixture of firmness and nervousness.
Her far from stupid headmistress realized at once this had the makings of trouble, fond though she was of this tall willowy girl with her ravishing long black hair, who had an awkward tendency to stand up for what she believed to be right. Perhaps the simplest thing was to more or less ignore her and reply more generally, so she addressed the whole group.
“You are the fairest flower of English maidenhood and I expect behaviour that is appropriate and suitably courteous when our distinguished guest hands out the prizes. As you know, you are all getting at least a Prefect’s prize. Some of you, notably Antonia and Mabel, are getting rather more than that. You will each make a full curtsey and say, ‘Thank you, Sir’, loudly and clearly. And as the Senior girls in this school, you will come to my study for tea and cakes with our guest at 11 o’clock sharp; he is very keen to meet some of the pupils of an establishment to which he is generously considering donating a couple of quite large scholarships. If Mr Smyth forms a good impression of you it may well be very helpful to this school.”
Miss Anstruther ran out of breath and hoped she had dealt with the problem, though she had a horrible feeling she had done nothing of the sort; Antonia could always be a little difficult.
Sure enough, Antonia said immediately, “You are surely aware, Miss, that Mr Smyth is an armaments manufacturer and made a packet out of the poor soldiers in the War. I really don’t want to have anything to do with him.”
The headmistress in Miss Anstruther snapped back immediately. “Really, Miss Bradshaw, you are a pupil at this school and you will behave towards our guest, whatever your no doubt sincere political views. Politics do not enter into the running of this school, full stop, young lady.”
The quite sensitive woman under the stern mask realized as soon as she had said it that she was probably adding fuel to the flames, but she could not allow Antonia to get the better of her in a public argument. She could sense the other girls were shifting on their heels as if they were uneasy about the situation, but were they uneasy about Antonia’s conduct or her own? She would have given a lot to know the answer to that.
“Miss, you know my father died at Ypres and my brother at the Somme! If it had not been for people like Mr Smyth feeding the war for their own profit they would probably have had to end the war much sooner because they would have run out of guns and ammunition and things, and my brother at least might have lived. And they are still making weapons and there is bound to be another war!”
‘An odd combination of the real and the hysterical,’ Miss Anstruther thought. She did not personally think another war was likely for a hundred years, if then; another war like the last would be quite mad.
“I really do not want to meet Mr Smyth, Miss Anstruther.” Antonia was saying in a voice of quiet but hysterical determination.
“In that case, Miss Bradshaw, you can go down to my study and wait outside it. Hopefully, you will calm down while you are waiting, but if not there will be consequences.”
Antonia visibly tossed her mane of black hair and strode out of the study.
“Please Miss, you know Antonia and she is a lovely person and she is just as she is. Please don’t be too hard on her! It is something that she really believes in.” The head girl, Mabel Duncan, was saying with considerable feeling.
Mabel and Antonia had always been close friends, and it was not the first time Mabel had tried to shield Antonia from the consequences of her little moments of rebellion, the Headmistress thought to herself rather wryly. She did not want to alienate her head girl, which would be decidedly awkward, but equally Antonia could not be allowed to get away with this. She opened her mouth almost diffidently.
“I am certainly not going to whip her, if that is what you are thinking; she is far too old, and a prefect, apart from anything else. But she will have to obey me in this matter or leave the school. We cannot have anyone making up rules for their own convenience.”
Miss Anstruther suddenly felt very angry and realized that administering a sound whipping with a flexible cane to Antonia Bradshaw’s trim young behind was exactly what she wanted to do, not that she ought to do it or would do it in reality, but somehow the thought of it was very pleasurable, though goodness knows why. However, she said nothing of this.
“I will talk to her after she gets back from your study, Miss. Please, I am sure she will listen to me,” the head girl was saying entreatingly.
“I hope between us we are successful and I will leave off a final decision till you have had a chance to talk to her, if I cannot get her to change her mind myself. But now, girls, let us get back to Mr Smyth and Speech Day. I suggest we sit round the table as there is quite a lot to discuss,” Miss Anstruther stated.
There was a very female adjustment of skirts as the five girls sat down round the table in the Prefects’ Common Room, and Miss Anstruther wondered what on earth she was going to do about Antonia Bradshaw.
Nearly an hour and a half later and Miss Anstruther had just finished one of the severest tongue lashings she had ever administered. Curiously, in herself she felt quite guilty about it, but it seemed the only thing she could do, both for the good of the school and Antonia herself. However, if there had been anyone else in the room they would have guessed nothing of this, and she only hoped that the head girl would not be upset by her best friend being so severely admonished.
Antonia herself had taken it, at first, extremely defiantly, then stoically and with the air of a martyr, but in the end had succumbed to superior and unrelenting force, dissolved into tears of remorse and said she was sorry over and over again.
“Well, Miss Bradshaw, in view of your remorse, we will regard this very unfortunate chapter as closed. You may go.” Miss Anstruther finally said having extracted a tearful summary of why Antonia’s behaviour had been so totally unacceptable and feeling if the truth be known ever so slightly appalled at her own behaviour; a whipping would have been so much quicker and simpler, and in some ways kinder.
“Aren’t you going to whip me, Miss?” Antonia suddenly said, as if she could not believe it. Clearly the thought of a severe punishment to come had been weighing on the girl throughout the interview; was it what had brought about her final surrender?
“No, I am not going to whip you; you are far too old. Now get off with you, Antonia, and let us hear no more of this nonsense.” Miss Anstruther stated firmly.
The girl departed looking very sorry for herself between her red moist eyes and her drooping head. Would the other prefects think Antonia had been whipped with that short flexible cane that was so much part of the school mythology, but then perhaps in a sense she had been, Miss Anstruther pondered. In reality, she would probably have caned the girl’s hands, she decided, but there was a certain ridiculous pleasure in the thought of lifting the girl’s skirts and taking down her drawers. That would have been real humiliation for a girl of that age, she decided Then it suddenly struck Miss Anstruther that she had not taken away the girl’s prefect’s badge, which would have been a very appropriate punishment, and she could not for the life of her think why she had not done it.
“Right, jolly good and all that, girls! I think we are all ship-shape and Bristol fashion, so we may as well have a chair while we wait for the headmistress and our guest.” Mabel Duncan proclaimed at five to eleven next day in the headmistress’s study.
The six girls collapsed into the circle of eight chairs they had assembled round the long, low coffee table in Miss Anstruther’s study. On the table were several plates of fresh scones and cakes, a very large teapot plus hot water, several jugs of milk and side plates, cups and saucers etc, which they had brought up from the kitchen as per their headmistress’s instructions of the day before. Altogether, it was somewhat of a treat and they were looking forward to those cakes.
Mabel was relieved to see Antonia seemed to have recovered from her disaster of the previous day; she had spent a number of hours on the previous day afternoon and evening calming her best friend down. Being prevented by main force from making her protest was obviously part of it, but oddly Antonia had seemed to resent being too old to be whipped. Having had her fair share of spankings with a hair brush at home and two encounters with Miss Anstruther’s famous cane, Mabel thoroughly hated the whole beastly procedure and found it hard to understand why her friend should resent not being whipped and so dislike being told off, but there was no doubt about Antonia’s feelings. But then Antonia was Antonia.
The door opened and the girls ceased their chattering and sprang to their feet.
“Oh, do be seated, girls. There is no need to stand for me at your stage in the school. I have told you that before.” Miss Anstruther stated, knowing the girls for some reason liked standing up for her, but it might seem a touch odd to their well-moneyed guest, of whom she had definite hopes, not least for Miss Alison’s much needed Physics Lab.
“A very pretty looking group of young ladies! And I like the dresses.” Mr Smyth observed genially.
Mabel reflected that they had all done their best with their hair, even Antonia, but the white silk dresses, which were only worn on special occasions, were a pain as far as she was concerned. There was a fair chance that one or two of the girls would get tea or cake on them and she would have to make sure they were cleaned off before the prize giving in the afternoon.
“Oh, we do our best, don’t we girls?” Miss Anstruther observed, rather wishing the silly man had not said it.
There was a chorus of polite agreement and then tea and cake began to be served out. Miss Anstruther acted as Mother, of course, since she did not trust any of the girls to do it. However, this meant the cups of tea had to be passed round the quite long coffee table. Annoyingly, the accident that the girls had found their places before her arrival meant Mr Smyth was seated at the other end to her. Almost as worryingly, Antonia was seated immediately next to him. Was Antonia going to say something out of place?
However, Mabel was seated on the other side of Mr Smyth and was doing her job as head girl and involving their guest in conversation, who was melting visibly at being chatted to by an exceptionally pretty and intelligent girl. Antonia, Miss Anstruther noted with unease, was looking positively sullen, though mercifully she did not seem to be saying anything to disturb their guest.
Normally, Miss Anstruther would have passed Mr Smyth’s tea in the direction of Mabel, who she knew was much more reliable than the other girls, but she was nervous Mabel was so wrapped up in conversation she might spill it. Therefore, Mr Smyth’s cup of tea went in the direction of Antonia. Miss Anstruther’s eyes watched its progress from girl to girl with considerable unease, but it reached Antonia without problems.
What happened then was hard to be certain. The sure fact was that the cup and saucer slipped from Antonia’s hands and the tea ended up on the crotch of Mr Smyth’s trousers, but whether Antonia deliberately dropped the cup and saucer, or it was an accident, was almost impossible to know, but the possibility it was not an accident worried Miss Anstruther.
Mr Smyth leaped up, Miss Anstruther jumped to her feet and rushed towards her guest. Mabel, with great presence of mind, gathered several serviettes and told Mr Smyth, who was clearly in some agony, to push them inside his trousers. Other girls offered their serviettes, which were used to soak up most of the tea on the outside of the trousers, though it was notable, Miss Anstruther thought, that Antonia, who was nearest to their guest, apart from Mabel, just sat there and did nothing. For a second, she was about to order the girl to her study for the whipping she had escaped the previous day, but then she realized with a start that they were in her study and there again such a punishment might well make a very poor impression on Mr Smyth; corporal punishment for girls was somehow getting very old-fashioned and she had no idea what Mr Smyth’s views were.
Mr Smyth himself was being very reasonable about it, saying it was obviously one of those things and the girl was not to blame. Anyway, could he have the use of a dressing gown while his trousers and underpants dried off, and it would be useful to wash himself, if that was possible. This was hurriedly arranged in the privacy of Miss Anstruther’s private toilet, which was just off the study, though the dressing gown had to be fetched from her flat, which was on the other side of the school.
Eventually, the tea party was briefly resumed with Mr Smyth sitting there in Miss Anstruther’s floral dressing gown. All a touch like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Miss Anstruther thought to herself, who was fond of Alice in Wonderland, but still it could have been worse.
It was 9.30 the following morning, and Miss Anstruther, having conducted the Morning Assembly, was very glad just to sit quietly for a few minutes in the armchair in her study. The morning after a major school event was always like the aftermath of a battle, albeit a minor one. Not that blood had flowed, though she was still angry with Antonia for dropping that cup and saucer. Poor Mr Smyth had been almost too reasonable about it; perhaps he too had had visions of Antonia’s trim behind being well caned on the seat of her tight drawers and been anxious to avoid it’s happening.
But the fact remained their distinguished guest could have been seriously injured. Really she ought to say something more to Antonia about it than had been possible yesterday. But then the prefects were probably also extremely annoyed, and perhaps it was best left to the prefects. In all likelihood they had already dealt with the matter satisfactorily; the disapproval of one’s peers is never a comfortable thing.
But just as Miss Anstruther came to this conclusion and was about to put her mind to several letters that she needed to dictate to her secretary, the phone rang on her desk. She reluctantly went over and answered it.
“Mr Smyth is on the phone for you, headmistress.” The well-mannered voice of Miss Jefferson, her secretary, announced.
“Ah, what can I do for you, Mr Smyth? I trust you had a good journey home. It was a great pity that you had to rush off so soon.” She said as pleasantly as she could, wondering if she could work the conversation round to the new Physics Lab and the need for substantial funding.
She heard the click as Miss Jefferson put her phone down.
This was perhaps just as well as Mr Smyth said very deliberately, “I have been thinking over the odd events of yesterday. At the time, I thought the spilt cup of tea was just one of those ridiculous accidents. Buggins’ Law, you know: ‘if something is going to go wrong it will go wrong completely.’
“However, that girl behaved very oddly when I gave her the prize. For a start, she did not curtsey, but that might well have been nerves; she was very obviously extremely nervous. However, when we had the little conversation I tried to have with each prize winner, though a lot of them were rather tongue-tied, she said she did not believe in the Empire, which to be fair I had been going on rather a lot about.”
“Yes, you said some very sensible things about our duty to the native peoples we rule. I thought you put it very well.” Miss Anstruther said as tactfully as she could, though she had her own doubts about the Empire and its treatment of native peoples.
“Anyway,” Mr Smyth went on in his ominously matter of fact way. “I didn’t really object to that, for it is good when the young have strong views of their own, and I was pretty objectionable myself to my elders when I was young. I was pro the Empire in a very liberal family that wanted to get rid of it as fast as possible, so in a way I understand her position very well, if you see what I mean.”
“Very kind of you to be so understanding,” Miss Anstruther stated rather uneasily, wondering what more there could be to come. What more could Antonia have said to annoy the clearly well-disposed Mr Smyth; the girl really was moving on very thin ice.
“Well, I wish that was the end of it. However, I am afraid she then suddenly said, ‘I hate armaments manufacturers and I am not sorry about that cup of tea. It served you right!’ Whereupon she turned on her heel and stomped off the stage.”
“Fairly breath taking, and I will certainly speak severely to the girl about her rudeness. You should have mentioned it at the time.” Miss Anstruther said, wishing that she did not have the feeling there was more to come.
“At the time, Miss Anstruther I had to rush for my train anyway. And I did not want to make a public fuss with the governors there, which might have been awkward for you. And, as I say I have a weakness for the rebellious young. And I like your school; I think it is rather interesting.
“However, Miss Anstruther, I woke up in the middle of the night and something struck me very forcibly. If this young lady had accidentally tilted the cup on its saucer so it had fallen over and spilt, which would have been the obvious thing to have happened when she was passing it to me, she would have been left with the saucer in her hand. But she dropped the saucer at the same time as the cup; I am quite sure she did. And, moreover, she passed it without telling me she was going to do it or waiting for me to put a hand out to take it.
“I think she did it quite deliberately and in a quiet way it was an assault. That tea was rather hot, though mercifully not scalding, and I think she meant to do damage. Thanks to the quick thinking of your head girl, the serviettes soaked up most of it and I only suffered discomfort, but it could have been quite serious. I think we need to discuss what action you are willing to take to discipline this young woman, Miss Anstruther.”
“Are you asking me to expel her?” Miss Anstruther asked, wearily expecting this to be the case, but hoping it was not, for she genuinely liked Antonia, even when as now she was being beyond impossible.
“No, I don’t like expulsions. I am not sure they do anybody any good. And anyway, something perverse in me rather likes the spunk of the girl. If she was a boy, of course, the matter would be dealt with in the traditional manner, which would be severe, but also fairly soon forgotten. Unfortunately, she is a girl and I expect you will tell me that you don’t do things like that. However, a jolly good spanking with a hairbrush of the sort my sisters used to get, or for that matter the cane, if you have actually got one, now that would give us both a way out. I like your school, it seems to have the right sort of tone to me, and I have been thinking of doing more for you than those scholarships we discussed. Not that I would expect you to be influenced by that. I know this cannot be an easy decision for you.”
Miss Anstruther found herself wishing the bloody man would not be so nice and polite about it. She would have liked to have found reasons to turn his suggestion down, but she could not really think of one; and then there was the possibility that he might take it to the governors, or even the police, if he was serious about what he had said about it being a deliberate assault. And then she had very nearly whipped Antonia just forty-eight hours before. The fact the girl had escaped the first time was almost a reason not to be lenient the second time.
“I do have a light cane which I have occasionally used on junior girls, one stroke on each hand, you know. Oddly, it is known as a whipping in this school and not a caning. I think it dates back to our first headmistress, Miss Ivens, who was somewhat of a tartar and used the birch rod more than a little, by all accounts. Anyway, if a punishment with a light cane seems sufficient retribution to you for this very unfortunate misbehaviour, I will do it.”
“I presume she will get more than one on each hand?” Mr Smyth said politely but firmly.
“Oh, it will be on her bottom and she will get rather more than one on each hand. I am as angry with her as you must be.”
“That sounds excellent. I won’t ask the details. If you like, ring me when you have done it. I am sure that there will be other things to discuss.”
As she put the phone down, Miss Anstruther reflected that the price of her new physics laboratory was going to be a very sore bottom for Miss Antonia Bradshaw, not that she felt the slightest sympathy for the victim of this odd pact, who deserved everything she was going to get.
She put her head round the door to her secretary’s office and called out, “Go and find Antonia Bradshaw for me, would you Miss Jefferson? And look sharp, I don’t want to be hanging about waiting for her.”
“Yes, of course, Miss Anstruther.” Miss Jefferson said, obviously going into a flap at her normally easy going headmistress being in a flap; in spite of the seriousness of the situation Miss Anstruther smiled a little at that before getting out her very flexible two-foot long cane and swishing it experimentally.
Audrey Jefferson, having ascertained that Antonia was not in any lessons, headed to the library, which was more or less deserted, where she found Antonia trying to read her chemistry text book, but engrossed in other things.
She noted the girl’s very pretty long black hair as Antonia leaned forward over her book, elbow on the table, hand on her head, and thought it was a pity such an attractive and lively creature was going to be expelled.
At least Audrey Jefferson presumed that was the case, for she had only seen Miss Anstruther so obviously furious twice before in all the eleven years that she had worked for her, and both times expulsion had followed.
Seeing Antonia was totally engrossed, Audrey tapped on her shoulder, thinking that she did not altogether like summoning the girl to whatever dire fate was in store for her. Did someone have to knock on the cell door before they hanged you, she found herself thinking. Really, the head ought to do her own dirty work!
The girl’s head swung round and stared at the secretary rather vacantly.
“Antonia, the headmistress wants to see you immediately.” She found herself saying, for want of anything else.
“Oh god! Does she?” Antonia exclaimed.
“She said immediately, and Miss Anstruther very rarely says that. I think you had better get a move on, young lady.” Miss Jefferson stated very firmly after ten or twenty seconds of obvious dithering.
Antonia rose very shakily, pushed her books into her satchel, put the satchel on her shoulder and hesitantly followed the school secretary down the corridor.
“Do you know what it’s about, Miss Jefferson?” Antonia suddenly asked.
“Possibly the famous cup of tea, but I don’t really know.” Audrey Jefferson replied.
“But that was just an accident, and nobody said anything about it at the time. I know it was silly, but she cannot be going to whip me for that now, can she?”
“Well, you will have to wait and see, won’t you, Antonia. And I hope you are going to tell the truth; the head has a nose for lies, but can be quite kind to girls who tell it as it is.” Audrey said, hoping the hint would be helpful.
“If I am going to be whipped then I’d better go to the toilet.” Antonia said, rather dramatically to Audrey’s mind, as they passed a set of girl’s toilets.
“If you have got to go, then you had better go. Not that I am sure you are going to be caned. Miss Anstruther has not said anything as definite as that. In fact, I don’t really know what is happening.” Audrey said, rather wishing she did know what was happening and could put the poor girl out of her misery.
As she waited, Audrey reflected that everyone at this school said ‘a whipping’ when they would have meant ‘a caning’ at her own very strict school. Not that it made a lot of difference when you were stood there in the headmistress’s study with your hands outstretched. She was never going to forget the stinging agony and the feeling your hands were falling off. There had been far too many canings at her own school; at least Miss Anstruther did not use it that often. But she never liked it when a girl got the cane, it brought back too many bad memories.
Antonia emerged looking very slightly calmer and they made their way down the long corridors to the headmistress’s study without any further conversation.
There was a knock on the door and Miss Anstruther shouted, “Come!” as she always did.
Miss Jefferson put her head round the door and said, “Antonia Bradshaw for you, headmistress, as you requested.”
“Tell her to come in,” Miss Anstruther said with a certain ceremony.
The tall, lithe girl entered with her satchel over her shoulder. As usual, she looked ravishing, her headmistress thought to herself very wryly, envying that gorgeous black hair and the sparkling eyes. Well, she was going to have to crumple this rather beautiful bloom of English maidenhood for her own good and the school’s.
“Right, Miss Bradshaw, put your satchel down somewhere and then come and stand in front of my desk.” The headmistress said very formally.
The girl took the instruction rather literally and put the satchel down where she was standing, which was not what Miss Anstruther had meant, but there did not seem to be much point in making a fuss. Then Antonia walked over to the desk and stood very upright and her eyes seemed to glance from side to side across the desk.
Miss Anstruther noticed the girl’s eyes seemed to take in the cane that was waiting on the desk and then turned to look her headmistress straight in the face without flinching, which in spite of herself she rather liked; girls usually visibly crumpled and often wept when they saw the cane waiting to punish them.
They eyed one another for a few seconds and then Miss Anstruther said, “It has come to my notice, Miss Bradshaw, that you behaved extremely rudely to Mr Smyth when he was presenting you with your prizes. There are no excuses for what you appear to have said and I hope you will not try and make any.”
“I just said what I believe, Miss,” Antonia said rather awkwardly.
“Well, whether you believed what you said, or not, it was not the place for such a protest. You could have done a lot of damage to this school’s reputation, quite apart from the funds that Mr Smyth is intending to make available to us, which we are not likely to get from any other source and badly need. Luckily, Mr Smyth has a weakness for the young and for some bizarre reason he likes you, though in the circumstances the lord knows why.
“Now, if that was everything, I would let you off with yet another admonition, though lord knows you have been on thin ice in the last couple of days, Miss Bradshaw. However, Mr Smyth assures me that he has no doubts you dropped that cup of tea on him in a place where you could have done serious damage, quite deliberately. If that is true, it is almost a matter for the police, though mercifully he is steering away from that. Now is that true?” Miss Anstruther demanded very sternly.
She noticed the girl seemed to take a breath, almost as if about to dive into a deep pool.
“I have been feeling very guilty about it, Miss. The truth is, well, the truth is complicated. I really had not planned to do it at all. I know my sitting by Mr Smyth must make it look like that, but I really did not know what end of the table he was going to sit at. It was actually after I had got the cup and saucer in my hand and had started to reach over to him that I got an image of my brother, John, in my head and I thought I wanted vengeance, or something. Anyway, I did quite deliberately drop it, though I did not really stop to think just where I was dropping it. I really am very, very sorry about the whole thing. I’ve felt terrible about it ever since it happened.”
“You know, there is a very good saying in the Bible, ‘Vengeance is mine saith the Lord’. I should bear it in mind in future, Antonia.” Miss Anstruther said almost gently.
“I know I have behaved really badly one time too many and I suppose you will have to expel me. Am I going to be whipped as well? It does not seem that unfair, I suppose. But if so, could we please get it over with?” Antonia was saying in a quite unnaturally calm voice.
“Some people,” Miss Anstruther replied, “Seem to be born with all the luck. I am not going to expel you. This is partly because you have just made a very clean breast of something most people would have lied about. However, the other reason may surprise you. Mr Smyth himself was adamant that what you need is an old-fashioned good hiding and expulsion would be grossly excessive. The truth is that, for whatever reason, the man has a soft spot for you, despite, or quite possibly because of your appalling behaviour. At all events, that is the road we are going to go down, assuming you are willing to take the whipping. Are you prepared to take it without any arguments or any fuss?”
“Yes, Miss. Thank you, Miss. What do I have to do?” Antonia replied, sounding almost relieved, though Miss Anstruther could not help noticing the definite catch in the girl’s voice; she was undoubtedly more frightened than she seemed.
“I have been thinking about this rather unusual problem.” Miss Anstruther stated, almost too matter of factly. “As you know, we normally cane hands at this school, but it is usually one or two strokes on each hand, delivered without great force because I don’t want to do any real damage to bones, which can happen, though of course it stings a great deal. However, you deserve a real hiding, young lady, and I would much prefer to administer it to your bottom, which I think is safer. If you object and would prefer to have it on your hands, I will accept that, but it will be three on each hand and I shall not hold back.”
There was a distinct pause while Antonia seemed to weigh this unpleasant choice and Miss Anstruther felt a very perverse contradiction between the feeling that this was a cruel punishment she was going to have to administer, and positive pleasure at the thought of doing something that should have been done arguably months or years ago and certainly two days before.
“You’d better whip my bottom then, Miss. Will I get six of the best? I do hope I can take that. I don’t want to make a fuss.”
“Well, you ought to be able to take six. It is the least a boy would get in this situation and, anyway, it is a lighter cane than a boy of your age would get.” Miss Anstruther snarled, suddenly quite angry.
“And when it is over, then it will definitely be all forgotten, won’t it Miss? If it is not going to be forgotten and if it is going to hang over me all the time, then I would rather be expelled.” Antonia suddenly said, leaving her headmistress to wonder if the girl was on the verge of chickening out of her caning.
“As far as I am concerned, yes, there will be nothing further. The only other condition I make is that you must write a full and proper apology to Mr Smyth, whose address you will get from my secretary on the way out.”
“That is fair enough, Miss. Now could we get it over before I chicken out, please. I am seriously scared, if the truth be known, Miss.”
“Right, you will bend over the side of the armchair and put your hands on the further side of it.” Miss Anstruther stated as firmly as she could, devoutly hoping it was not going to end with the girl struggling and having to be expelled anyway, and praying Antonia was not going to freeze on the spot and refuse to bend over.
However, Antonia did as she was told, rather to her headmistress’s surprise. Miss Anstruther picked up her cane from the desk and walked round to the armchair. She realized immediately that the girl had at least two petticoats under her navy-coloured school tunic and the chances of her cane penetrating this mass of clothing were slight.
She started to pull up the tunic and petticoats and found it difficult to do. Luckily, Antonia seemed to realize the problem, leapt to her feet, pulled her skirts above her waist and bent over again.
Miss Anstruther contemplated the tightly stretched white cotton knickers the girl had on, which stretched a good way down her thighs and overlapped her black stockings. She found the amount she could see of the girl’s most private parts distinctly embarrassing and wondered ridiculously if administering the punishment bare would be less inappropriate. However, she was quite sure the governors would object violently to the whipping of bare female flesh, if it ever came out. It was, she reflected, rather a pretty bottom with two small, very equal orbs of flesh and a very good target for her short cane.
“Please, could we just get it over, Miss? I know I have got to be punished, but please just do it.” The plaintive voice of Antonia said quite loudly, making Miss Anstruther feel almost guilty.
“Right, six strokes, which you will take without unnecessary fuss.” The headmistress stated very matter of factly, raised the cane high and brought it down with a neat flick of the wrist, hitting the middle of that pretty bottom very hard indeed.
“Yee- ow! God, that hurt.” Antonia exclaimed.
Miss Anstruther waited a little while to let the girl feel the full effect of the first stroke, then brought the cane down again. This time she caught the underside of that little bottom.
“Ow-ow-ow!” the girl cried out and there was the sound of sobbing.
The third was carefully administered to the top of the girl’s narrow thighs, and Antonia really shrieked and moved her legs about, despite already standing more or less on tip toe.
Miss Anstruther administered the remaining three strokes slowly and deliberately, and as hard as she could, doing her best to see that her victim was not being left with an inch of flesh that it would be comfortable to sit on. Antonia bellowed with pain but stayed more or less in position, which was rather to her credit, Miss Anstruther decided, wondering how the girl was managing to take such a severe punishment without making more of a fuss.
Then it was over, and Miss Anstruther was putting her cane away with some relief. She watched the girl as she staggered to her feet surprisingly quickly, then lurched about the room clutching her bottom and weeping. Then she seemed to deliberately calm herself, pulled her skirts down and dried her eyes.
“God that hurt! You can really cane, Miss! It was worse than when I get it from my guardian, and that is saying something. But I know I deserved it, I am not complaining.” Antonia was saying.
“Do you get the cane at home then, Antonia?” Miss Anstruther asked, feeling concerned.
“Well, I have almost stopped getting it at home Miss. I was fifteen the last time, which is over three years ago. But I was really naughty and it was the quickest way out of it for everyone. I didn’t mind.”
“As long as you really deserve it and you really didn’t mind. But if that should change you can always tell me. I would say something to your guardian if it became necessary.”
“Thank you, Miss, but it won’t be necessary. I get on alright with my guardian, better than I did with my dad actually. We understand one another.” Antonia stated emphatically.
“I am glad to hear it.” Miss Anstruther said dryly. “Incidentally, Antonia, was that the first time you have had six strokes? You seemed a bit scared of that.”
“It was pretty scary, Miss. I usually get four from my guardian, though he uses a bigger cane. Those extra two do really make a difference, but you probably worked that out from the amount I yelled. Sorry about that, Miss.” Antonia said with an odd air of apology.
“I can scarcely blame you for yelling when I was caning you so hard. Anyway, enough of this ridiculous conversation. I expect considerably improved behaviour from you, Antonia, and when you have written your apology to Mr Smyth you will bring it to my secretary to post.” Miss Anstruther said, trying not to grin, and noticing there was a curl of smile at the corner of the girl’s mouth.
“Thank you, Miss, I will try and behave better. Can I go now, Miss?” The girl asked.
“Yes, you can go, Antonia.”
The girl departed through the door, walking more than slightly awkwardly, but looking surprisingly nonchalant. Her headmistress wondered if it was altogether wise to encourage correspondence between Antonia and Mr Smyth. They both seemed to have a wild streak and who knows what might result, but perhaps that was not her affair, and anyway with any luck nothing whatsoever would happen, at least till after the girl had left school. Anyway, it was too late to forbid Antonia to write the letter. No, she would just have to hope for the best.
© Jane Fairweather 2021
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