There is still an atmosphere between Meryl and Jennifer as they are called to investigate reports of wrong doing in the local town.
By Tara Patterson
The Cumbrian wind and rain rattled against the window; Meryl felt cold as she wrapped her maroon gym skirt around her waist. She quickly snapped shut the fastening and picked up a maroon cardigan lying on her bed.
As she put on the cardigan over her white polo shirt, Meryl muttered to herself: “I must have been mad when I said ‘yes’ to this crazy idea. Cross country in December! One of these days I’ll stand up to that Jennifer Hapwood.”
With that there was a knock on Meryl’s room door. Meryl opened the door. Her old adversary, Jennifer Hapwood, was standing in the doorway also wearing an identical gym kit. She was carrying a pair of black canvas hockey boots and her long blonde hair was tightly pinned up high on her head.
“You’re not seriously going to run in them, are you Matron?” Smiled Jennifer as she looked at Meryl’s feet.
“And just what is wrong with my issue boots?” Snapped Meryl. “I’ve just finished cleaning them. I have always run in boots, well, since I joined the Nursing Corps. They keep your feet warm and dry and give your ankles much more support over the rough stuff. It wouldn’t do for the school Matron to be twisting her ankle now, would it? Talking of injury, I still don’t feel too happy about being a participant in this. What if someone gets hurt?”
“Always the same, Taylor,” sighed the Head of English. “You don’t change. Always trying to get out of PE. That’s why I have taken the extra precaution of having St John Ambulance on standby today. They are treating it as a mountain rescue training exercise; they have even provided us with their Land Rover ambulance. Anyhow, Matron Taylor, the honour of the staff is at stake. There aren’t many female members of staff able to participate this year, so it’s down to you, me and Mrs Londsborough to show the girls what we are made of. It may be 1985 and sixteen years since we last did it but let’s show them the spirit of the class of 69. That was the last time you and I ran together. I won it that year, if I remember.”
“Yes, and you slippered me for not trying hard enough, didn’t you? You said I had let the house down,” remembered Meryl.
* * *
The run was closely contended with entrants from all years of the school and staff. Out on the course a low cloud shrouded the hillside. Meryl and Jennifer soon got separated. At the end of the run a wet, breathless and muddy Jennifer looked out her colleague and found Meryl sheltering in a small marquee next to the finish line talking to the St John Ambulance volunteers. Although Meryl was covered in mud she seemed remarkably less breathless and tired than Jennifer.
“You left me standing, Matron,” puffed Jennifer. “Well done. Have you seen the results? You are in the top five; I never would have believed it. After all these years I’ve been beaten by you of all people.”
Meryl beamed with a quiet pride; she tried not to gloat.
“Quite easy, walk in the park really. You said I ought to put in more effort the next time I ran cross country for the school, so I did. Oh, I forgot to mention when you asked me about running again that when I used to run in the Navy we had to carry certain items of our kit too. Come on, Miss Hapwood, no hard feelings. I beat you fair and square, now shall we get out of this rain? We are both off duty, I don’t know about you but a nice hot ‘wet’ is what I need now, possibly with a ‘tot’ in it. Will you join me?”
“Aye Aye, captain,” joked Jennifer as she put her arm round Meryl’s shoulder and the two colleagues splashed through the mud back to the main school building.
As they walked, the years seemed to fall away. Any feelings of old rivalry were firmly in the past. For a moment both Jennifer and Meryl forgot that they were now the thirty-five year old Head of English and Matron of Queen Anne School. They both felt like two close school friends, jubilant after a successful cross country event. As they reached the main entrance Meryl paused to untie her boots and change them and her muddy socks for a pair of black lace up uniform shoes. Jennifer changed her hockey boots for a pair of sandals.
“Wouldn’t want to catch the wrath of Matron now, would we?” Joked Meryl with a cheeky smile.
“Or the prefects,” retorted Jennifer. “You know what that Hapwood is like about muddy shoes inside.”
“Don’t remind me, Jennifer.” Smiled Meryl.
The Happy mood changed with the arrival of the school secretary.
“Ah Matron, Miss Hapwood, I’m so glad I’ve found you,” began the secretary. She seemed rather flustered. “I know you are both officially on your afternoon off but there has been a rather troublesome report received from the bus station in Keswick. A member of the school trustees has reported seeing two of our sixth form girls causing trouble and openly smoking in full uniform. I’ve tried to contact the Headmistress but as you know she is away for the weekend.”
Meryl looked at the secretary. “Who is it this time? Don’t worry about spoiling my afternoon off, I always work on the principal if I’m here I’m on duty.”
“Well that’s the difficult part,” continued Mrs Eastholme, the school secretary. “From the phone call I took it sounded very much like Katie England and Rebecca Staffe; they have both been out today. Unfortunately, all the duty teaching staff seem to be rather busy with the cross country and the fifth form football so I asked our head girl to speak to the two girls concerned when they came back into school. Unfortunately, they both claim to have only been into Ambleside. Meanwood is adamant that both girls are lying though. But she can’t find any proof of their guilt.”
A look of anger descended onto Jennifer Hapwood’s face.
“Two Girls from my House too. Right, Mrs Eastholme, get Meanwood to bring them to my study. I’ll soon get to the bottom of this even though I have better things to be doing with my free time. It looks like I’ll have to miss out on that hot drink, Matron, and I was hoping for a nice bath this afternoon too. Still, duty calls.”
“May I come too?” Asked Meryl. “I’m sure we can soon extract the truth if we work together.”
* * *
Katie England and Rebecca Staffe both stood nonchalantly in the library outside the door of Miss Hapwood’s study. Both girls had shoulder length light coloured hair; Katie’s was in plaits and Rebecca’s was in a ponytail. Inside the study, the head girl, Alex Meanwood, brought the two muddy, tired members of staff up to speed with what she knew of the incident in Keswick.
“Well, Matron, Miss Hapwood, one of our trustees spotted two girls who looked like those two at a bus stop in Keswick. As you have told us often enough, Keswick is out of bounds. Our trustee’s attention was drawn to our two girls as both were smoking and one had nearly been run over by a bus as she crossed the road without looking, apparently. The bus driver sounded his horn but she still crossed over the road in front of him. Then she had the cheek to give the driver a vee sign.”
Both Meryl and Jennifer looked on as The Head girl continued. Jennifer began to take notes.
“From the description given, Mrs Eastholme was sure it was those two out in the library. She asked me to talk to them. They both stink of cigarette smoke but they claim that they have only been on the bus into Ambleside. They have both got an answer for everything I ask them.”
“Thank you, Meanwood,” said Jennifer as she put down her pen. “I think we have heard quite enough. Bring them in, please.”
The two girls stood in front of Miss Hapwood’s desk. Both were smirking, confident of their innocence. It was rather crowded in the small study. Jennifer sat upright behind her desk while Meryl and the Head Girl stood to the left of the desk. After consulting her notes, Jennifer removed her steel rimmed glasses and looked up at the two girls.
“So, England, Staffe, what have you got to say for yourselves? You both should know that Keswick is out of bounds, but you were spotted there by one of our trustees openly smoking in school uniform, not to mention the disgraceful display you made of yourselves and that hand gesture one of you made towards that bus driver. And before you think about lying, I can smell the smoke on your clothes from here.”
“Wasn’t us, Ma’am,” began Rebecca Staffe. “England and I have only been into Ambleside. We went to the bakery for lunch and then the newsagents for some magazines, that’s all. As for the smoke smell, we sat on the top deck of the bus on the way back. There was an old guy smoking in front of us.”
This continued for several minutes. The two girls seemed to have a credible answer to each of Miss Hapwood’s questions. Jennifer was almost ready to dismiss the girls when Meryl had had enough. She moved from her position at the side of the office and moved close to the girls. She looked down at Rebecca Staffe as she spoke. Her voice was raised; she could feel her blood boiling.
“I’ve had enough of this,” she snapped. “Lies; everything you have said since you came into this study is a pack of lies. None of it stacks up. I’m sorry, Miss Hapwood, but you can’t see what’s in front of you.”
Jennifer looked at her colleague in shock as Meryl continued.
“Right, where shall we begin? Yes, the story about the bus. It’s only ever a single deck bus that runs from here into Ambleside, non-smoking. And your breath; I can still smell a slight trace of cigarettes. Granted, well disguised by the smell of mints. That’s the oldest trick in the book, isn’t it ladies? Crash a couple of mints after you have had a ‘burn?”
Both girls gasped; Katie England began to protest.
“But Ma’am, we are telling the truth. I don’t smoke. We only went to Ambleside, we…”
Meryl cut her short.
“Let me finish, England. I don’t believe you. I think you both ought to turn out your pockets.”
“Y-you can’t do that to us, Matron,” stammered Katie. “What’s in our pockets is private. You can’t search us.”
“Oh but I can, England. We have plenty of witnesses here, two members of staff, and you have a pupil representative here in Meanwood. Now, I’m sure if you had nothing to hide you wouldn’t mind turning out your pockets. You first, Staffe.”
Rebecca Staffe slowly put her hands deep into the pockets of her blazer. She laid the contents of the two outside pockets onto the desk in front of her. There wasn’t much; a lipstick, a foundation compact, a locker key, hair bobbles, a few coins in small change and half a packet of extra strong mints. Meryl and Jennifer looked at the items on the desk as Rebecca took a small diary out of her inside pocket,
“Do I have to show you what’s in this?” She asked
“No, I don’t think so,” replied Meryl. “You have got a few things there you shouldn’t have, but nothing I’m worried about. Now you, England, empty your pockets please.”
Katie began to empty her pockets more slowly than her friend. Her left pocket produced very little, just a pen and a plastic hair clip. She closed her eyes, thrust her hand into her right pocket and brought out a packet of cigarettes, a lighter and a return bus ticket for two under-sixteens to Keswick. She held open her hand as Meryl took the ticket and the cigarettes from her hand.
“Well well well, guilty as charged,” smiled Meryl as she looked at the bus ticket. “It’s even got the time you left Ambleside; 09:45. Shouldn’t you both have still been in lessons then?”
“It was all Rebecca’s idea,” said Katie as she started to turn on her friend. “And it wasn’t me who gave that driver a vee sign.”
“But you know all about it, don’t you? And thanks to Matron’s detective work you have just admitted your guilt. You thought you had all the answers, didn’t you? But you didn’t have the sense to throw away the evidence, did you?” Said Miss Hapwood as she noted down the details of what had been found in the girls’ pockets.
“You and England are both in very serious trouble,” continued Jennifer. “Not only for smoking, being out of bounds, disgraceful conduct whilst in uniform and for lying but I think we can also add skipping lessons and fraud to the list. You are both over eighteen but you had the cheek to buy an under-sixteens half-price ticket. You leave me no choice but to report you both to the headmistress so she may deal with you upon her return.”
The two girls didn’t seem so cocky now. They both looked at Miss Hapwood, wondering what fate awaited them and what would happen next. Jennifer thought for a moment. As she thought, she looked at Meryl. Suddenly she had an idea.
“You know what, Matron? I can’t be bothered with this, not today. It’s all too much hassle.”
Katie England’s face lit up. For a brief moment she thought that she and Rebecca were going to be let off.
“Bothered with what, Miss Hapwood?” Asked Meryl.
“Sending England and Staffe here to the Headmistress.” Replied Jennifer. “If we do that, it means that these two silly girls will have to remain in isolation until they are punished. I understand that Mrs Priestley will not be returning till late tomorrow night. I really don’t wish to be wasting my Saturday evening or my Sunday, for that matter, having to supervise a weekend detention.”
Jennifer reached down and opened her desk drawer. She took out a black, size twelve, man’s plimsoll and slammed it down on the desk.
“I’m going to punish both these girls here and now with this. Twelve swats is the maximum I’m permitted to give and twelve swats is what you shall both get. As your Head of house, I’m well within my rights to punish you when the headmistress is in absentia. Although, when I have finished, you may well have wished that I had sent you to Mrs Priestley for the cane.”
Both girls in front of the desk gasped. Despite Miss Hapwood only having been at the school since September, her use of the slipper was already legendary; something to be feared.
Miss Hapwood stood up. She took off her cardigan before she picked up the plimsoll and flexed the sole menacingly.
“Right, girls, blazers off. England, stand over there. Face the wall, hands on your head. Staffe, you bend over my desk. Hurry up, girl, I haven’t got all day.”
Rebecca did as she was instructed. Before she bent, she lifted up her gymslip.
“And what are those?” Snapped Miss Hapwood. “Since when did skimpy pink panties become authorised school uniform? Another rule you have broken.”
Miss Hapwood pulled up Rebecca’s panties, stretching them tight and exposing more of her bottom; it was almost bare. Rebecca started to sob as Miss Hapwood tapped her bottom with the plimsoll in readiness for the first stroke.
THWACK. THWACK THWACK
Jennifer laid the first three strokes hard down on Rebecca’s bottom. Rebecca cried and screamed after each stinging stroke, her bottom squirmed in discomfort.
“Oh do be quiet, Staffe!” Snapped Jennifer. “And keep still. Any more of that wriggling and I’ll get matron to hold you down.”
THWACK THWACK THWACK
Another three hard strokes. Rebecca cried, but more softly this time. After twelve hard strokes Rebecca lay crying stretched over the desk. Both Meryl and Alex Meanwood felt a pang of sympathy for the hapless girl.
“Right, girls, change places,” commanded Miss Hapwood.
Rebecca slowly eased herself up from the desk. She winced in pain as she stood by the bookcase with her hands on her head. Her friend took her place over Miss Hapwood’s desk. Meryl thoughtfully lifted Katie’s gymslip and slip.
“Not you as well,” barked Miss Hapwood. “Please tell me why are you wearing tights? At least you are wearing the correct school knickers, unlike your friend.”
I-I find stockings uncomfortable; the suspenders are such a fiddle, Ma’am.”
Miss Hapwood put her fingers in the waistband of Katie’s black tights and in one swift movement pulled them down to her thighs, leaving Katie’s bottom covered with her tightly stretched navy blue knickers.
“Yewch!” Screamed Katie.
Katie screamed louder with each stroke.
“Too much fuss!” Scolded Jennifer. “The girls in our year were much more stoical when they were slippered, weren’t they Matron?”
Meryl said nothing. She remembered the pain of a Hapwood slippering.
THWACK, THWACK, THWACK.
“Stop, please stop, Ma’am,” cried Katie.
Jennifer seemed deaf to her pleas as she lined up the plimsoll again.
THWACK, THWACK, THWACK
Another three hard stinging strokes crashed down on Katie’s bottom.
Finally, after twelve strokes, Katie, like Rebecca, lay in a heap crying over Miss Hapwood’s desk.
“You may get up now, England. Punishment is concluded,” said Jennifer in a firm but quiet tone.
Katie didn’t move. Meryl looked at Alex Meanwood. Alex somehow read Meryl’s mind and the two moved gently around the desk and helped Katie to her feet.
The two punished girls looked at Jennifer as she filled out a report form to the Headmistress. They both hoped that their ordeal would soon be over.
Finally Jennifer spoke: “And one final thing before I dismiss you. May I remind you that the wearing of stockings is a privilege for the senior girls in the fifth form and above. It appears you both have difficulties understanding the rules concerning hosiery and the correct underwear, so I think you will both, for the remaining three weeks of term, revert back to wearing knee socks just like our junior girls. You will both also report to Matron at 06:30 each morning for a full uniform inspection. I may also choose at anytime to call you here for a similar inspection, and woe betide you if there is even a stitch out of place. Also consider yourselves confined to the school grounds until the end of term. Now get out of my sight this instant. You are both dismissed.”
The two girls stumbled out of the study clutching their bottoms. Both were still crying.
“Thank you for your time, Meanwood,” said Jennifer, looking at the head girl. ”I would appreciate it if you kept a close eye on those two for the next few days.”
“Very well, Ma’am,” replied the Head girl as she left the study. “Enjoy what’s left of your weekend.”
As Meanwood left the study, Jennifer noticed Meryl staring at the plimsoll laying on her desk. After a moment’s thought Meryl spoke.
“You know, that’s the first Hapwood slippering I’ve witnessed as an adult. Though I was on the receiving end of a few often enough. That plimsoll is a monster. I remember only too well the pain from that old size six you used to whack me with. I dread to think how much that one stings. I’ll let the two girls feel sorry for themselves for a while but I’ll look in on them later, give them some cream to take away the pain a little.”
“If you could please, Meryl. It would make me feel better about the whole situation too,” replied Jennifer. “It’s my father’s old one from when he was in the RAF. Yes, I’ve felt it too, so I know how much it stings. You had your enemies in me and Matron Routledge. I had mine in my father. Now Meryl, in a spirit of our new found friendship, shall we be naughty and break a few rules ourselves tonight? Why don’t we order in a Chinese and wash it down with a nice glass or two, I’ve got some wine in my room.”
“Why not?” Meryl replied. “You and I aren’t that different after all.”
© Tara Patterson 2015