Eighteen

A moving account of how a girl approaches a summons to her headmaster

By Susan Thomas

The main corridor of the school was wide with an attractive terrazzo floor that curved up at the side to merge with the walls. Every door was solid oak and polished to a high degree and had a brass plate informing the ignorant what lay beyond. The girl walked down towards the end where the brass plate on the door was marked: “Head Teacher.” She was of medium height with that heart-aching slim attractiveness that some teenage girls have. Her uniform marked her out as a sixth former; the tie was not just the striped version all girls wore but the one with the tiny school badges interspersed among the stripes; her school badge was the special one with the silver and gold thread; and she was wearing the long white socks of the sixth form rather than the long blue ones worn by all other years. The sixth form had not yet won the right to wear stockings.

Outside the head teacher’s study there were a number of small leather chairs for guests and a bench; much like a church pew but shorter in length the bench could accommodate up to six adults. Made of oak and also highly polished it was known to the girls as “Hell’s Gate.” The reason was simple, only girls in deep trouble were sent to the head teacher, all others being dealt with by lesser mortals, and only girls in trouble sat on the bench; all others were sent straight in by the head teacher’s private secretary, a formidable and deeply unpleasant woman. The girl made straight for the bench where two others were already sitting. They looked at her and a silent acknowledgement passed between them all as she sat down; they were all in trouble and not looking forward to their interview.

The expression on the face of each girl was much the same; in it there was the embarrassment of having been caught doing wrong at their age. All sixth formers, they felt themselves far too grown up to be in trouble like younger girls, but here they were in exactly the same position as any first or fifth year not to mention the ones in between. Embarrassment then, but some resentment too; a sort of ‘I’m far too grown up for all this’ attitude. Nervousness was also in it, perhaps fear, for the head teacher was a man and was noted as a fierce disciplinarian. The first male head of the school he had picked up the good work of his predecessor a woman with a fine brain and a strong right arm; his brain was equally fine but his right arm stronger and also ruthless in its application of the cane or, for younger girls, the slipper. We should also note in the expression of all three the look the girls were desperately trying to convey, ‘I am eighteen and I can explain all this and really I shall not betray any anxiety’. A complex set of expressions then which required all of them to remain silent and not look at one another.

The formidable unsmiling secretary came out. “Watson, the headmaster will see you now.”

One of the first two that had been waiting stood and in a manner that tried but failed to suggest nonchalance, followed the secretary in. There would be no clue as to what was happening to Watson. The door led only into the secretary’s office, the headmaster’s study being accessed through a further door. The secretary was disliked by the girls because she was so unkind, the parents because she was so cold and the teachers because she was a dragon who prevented access to the head.

The two remaining girls gave each other a quick glance and went back to falsifying their feelings for any passers-by. The time passed interminably, a clock in the corridor ticking loudly in what seemed like hours not minutes. After a long time Watson came out. She gave the other two the slightest of glances and then, turning, walked up the corridor. Her posture and walk conveyed someone exerting considerable control; her face was strained and her hands were at her side tightly holding her skirt as if to stop them doing something else. The remaining two began breathing more heavily; clearly the experience in the headmaster’s office had not been an easy one.

The girl that had been sitting with her at the beginning edged forward on the bench, clearly anticipating the call which was to come for her. Sure enough barely had she done so when the secretary appeared.

“Clark, you may come in now.”

Clark sighed heavily and stood, her back straight, and followed the grim back of the secretary into the office. The door shut leaving only our heart-achingly attractive girl who now looked around an empty corridor with a look of disbelief. Her look was clear enough, had anyone been there to see it; it asked why at eighteen she was sitting here awaiting what would be a deeply unpleasant interview. She had only come to this school for the sixth form and had joined the lower sixth last year from a mixed school with a much poorer “A” level record. Had she remained at her old school she would not have had to wear uniform for it prided itself on being ‘progressive’, so progressive indeed it had abolished corporal punishment for all year groups, never mind the sixth form.

She had agreed to make the change because she wanted the best chance with her “A” level grades but had from the outset been unhappy about the uniform wearing. The corporal punishment hadn’t bothered her because it had never occurred to her that sixth formers would get it. She had been astonished when early in her first year a sixth form girl had been made to bend over, in class mark you, and take three whacks with a slipper for talking out of turn. After that it became clear that the school did not consider any sixth former at all as being too old to get either slipper or cane and she witnessed a whole series of girls being slippered. That was not counting those sent off to senior teachers or even the head who returned only to sit with very great care having been caned.

She tried to distract her thoughts by looking around. On the wall opposite was a memorial to some former pupils killed on active service in the Second World War. Suzanne Maltby was one. She had left the school to read languages at Oxford and only been there a year when the war broke out. Sent to France to liaise with the resistance she had survived for nearly two years before falling into the hands of the Gestapo and tortured. The Gestapo failed to break the girl and believing her to be French had put her against a wall in the town square with five other resistance fighters and shot her. As the firing squad took aim she had begun to sing the national anthem. Any girl from the school visiting France was virtually obliged to visit the plaque the town had placed on the wall, the marks of the bullets still clear all around it.

Such courage was exalted in the school and it was expected that any corporal punishment would be received with courage befitting Suzanne Maltby. The girl sitting lonely on the bench did not feel courageous. She knew that it was highly likely she would be caned. She was eighteen years old and only a few months left in the school before leaving so it seemed unbelievable it had come to this. They were treating her like a child but she was grown up. Yes she had done something stupid, she knew it, but it wasn’t in character for her. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time it didn’t mean she needed to be treated like this.

Clark came out. She was either not as stoical as Watson, or her experience had been worse, for she was crying and clearly ashamed of it. She glanced at the girl sitting on the bench and pulled a face. The face could have meant many things but to the girl on the bench it meant: “You’re in for it now.”

Clark began to walk stiffly down the corridor her hands straying to her bottom from time to time to touch or rub; evidently she was very sore indeed. The girl on the bench considered getting up and walking out of the school. Her old school would take her back like a shot and she was pretty sure she could still get her grades now after the excellent teaching she had. Against it was the fact she had already been entered the exams from this school and it might be too late to enter anywhere else at this stage. There were her parents to consider who had never liked her old school and wouldn’t approve of what she did at all. Then she found something inside her that also wouldn’t allow it, her pride. She simply could not have the other sixth formers think her weak or cowardly even she didn’t subscribe to this ‘Maltby courage’ they had all been indoctrinated with since the first year.

“Lancaster, the headmaster will see you now.”

She had been so lost in her own thoughts she was startled by the secretary’s voice. She suddenly felt the need to make a point to this obnoxious woman, so instead of jumping up she glanced up.

“I beg your pardon, were you speaking to me?”

“Yes Lancaster, of course I was.”

She rose slowly. “Oh I am sorry, I was lost in thought. A homework problem that is a bit tricky.” She was rewarded by a glare both puzzled and nasty.

Feeling she had scored a little point she was able to convey an impression of being relaxed as she casually walked on into the office ahead of the secretary, knowing full well that by going ahead of the woman she was annoying her. Schoolgirls were meant to follow nervously not walk boldly ahead. Without waiting for the secretary she walked on in through the open door and into the headmaster’s office, closing the door firmly behind her. She sensed that that too would annoy the secretary.

“Good afternoon headmaster; you wanted to see me.”

“Yes Lancaster, or rather I would prefer not to be seeing you. I am most disappointed with your behaviour.”

“Yes sir, and you are right to be so. I am most disappointed with myself. I apologise unreservedly for it.”

She was sincere, she really couldn’t work out what had got into her, but her uncle has said to her that everyone makes mistakes or does something stupid from time to time and you have to acknowledge it was so and then move on.

“Well that is a very good attitude, I must say. Just the sort of thing we expect from our girls. You’re new here aren’t you?”

“I have been here a year and a half sir.”

“Yes quite, a new girl. Let me have a look at your record.” He paused for a moment and began casting his eyes over the thin record in the buff folder. “Excellent, yes excellent. No reprimands or punishments; excellent work record, good results in the mocks, on track for top results. So this incident is unusual for you, it would appear?”

“It’s an aberration sir, it won’t happen again.”

She was pleased at using the word ‘aberration’. She made a point of looking up the meaning of words she encountered but didn’t know and ‘aberration’ had been the most recent. Really it was too; she was serious about her work and had never been any trouble at school, home or in Guides.

He looked puzzled. “Yes indeed, it would seem to be so and your report from your last school was exemplary. Indeed we all do have mad moments when we behave out of character.”

She felt hope wash over her; he was going to let her off, put it all down to a mad moment; actually treat her as an adult and accept her apology; but she kept calm, she wasn’t through the door yet. He was thinking, she could see that and she didn’t interrupt him. Apart from being rude, it would be unwise as it might irritate him.

“I am inclined to accept your word that it was an act out of character and unlikely to be repeated and therefore am minded to be lenient.” She began to breathe more easily. “So I shall only give you six.”

Only six! What had he been planning to give her? Again she considered simply refusing. What could he do? Well nothing of course, but faced with refusal he would have to expel her; her old school would back her because of the corporal punishment but what about her “A” levels and then there were her parents. She could see no way out of this she would have to be caned. She supposed that really she deserved a punishment of some sort but caning? She was eighteen, surely that was too old?

She was still standing looking at him and he had made no further comment nor given any instructions but had picked up the cane; it was a ferocious looking thing, thick, long and a nasty yellow colour.

“Come along Lancaster, you must get into position.”

She stared back at him before speaking still unable to comprehend that it had come to this. “I’m sorry, sir, I have no idea what I am meant to do. I have never been caned before.”

She won a little expression of discomfort from him. He had forgotten he needed to talk her through the process and he was a man who prided himself on his efficiency and grasp of situations.

“Of course, Lancaster, my apologies. Please remove your blazer and hang it on that coat stand, then walk to that chair and bend over the back of it and take a firm grip of the seat.” As she removed her blazer to hang it up he continued: “You may not stand up during your punishment. Should you do so further strokes will be added.”

As she walked back to the chair she began to feel scared. This was going to hurt. She had seen the effect on Watson and Clark who were both her age. She hoped to goodness she could stay in position for she didn’t want extras and she didn’t want it known that she had behaved badly. Bother Suzanne Maltby, this was about her, a girl had to have some self-respect after all. She reached the back of the chair and knew this was it, the moment she had never thought would ever come.

Bending over the back of the chair was humiliating, such a loss of self, and then it dawned on her that the fairly tight skirt would now be drawn tightly across her bottom and the line of her knickers all too clear. She blushed at this further humiliation.

She felt the cane on her bottom. What was he doing? Then she remembered the other girls said that he liked to line it up and tap several times to get it just right. This was so embarrassing; a man tapping her bottom with the cane!

There was a tap of the cane. It stung a little and she was frightened. If that was just a tap, what would the real thing feel like? There was another tap which also stung a little. It was so embarrassing; bent over, her bottom on view and being tapped by this man she barely knew. There was movement behind, fast and frightening. This was it! But it wasn’t, it was another tap though harder than the first two and stinging more. She just wished he’d get on with it, this was torture.

Then her bottom was hit hard by something; its force took her breath away but for a millisecond she was elated; it hadn’t hurt. Then the pain hit her. She sucked in air with astonishment at the burning fierceness of the line across her bottom. Six of these!

Another blow and again she sucked in air with a peculiar gasping noise. It hurt! Dear God it really hurt! She would jump up and leave, she would… she really…

The thought went no further, for the third stroke of the cane buried itself into the material of her skirt painting yet another line in the fabric and guiding the headmaster as to where to place the next. She gripped the chair extraordinarily hard. “Leave now,” she told herself but she didn’t. She remained bent over and submissive, if not in spirit then in body.

The fire of the three strokes was already bad and she felt a tremor run right through her body at the thought of three more. By now every sense was attuned for the next blow and she heard the fourth arriving; the little movement of the head’s feet on the expensive rug as he made a little run; the strong movement of his arm as he brought the cane down; the swish of the cane through the air. As the pain reached her brain she hissed with the sheer effort of stopping a scream from disturbing the headmaster’s work. “Two more, only two more. Hold on,” she told herself.

The fifth of the headmaster’s fierce strokes landed very low down on her bottom, digging deeply in before springing up. Her head shot up with the sheer awfulness of the pain, her hands convulsed on the chair wanting to leave, to push her whole body upright, but sheer willpower held it down for she had only one more to go. The pain of her strokes didn’t go; they pulsed and burned deeply into the sensitive tender bottom making her wish desperately for this all to end so she could just go home.

She could tell by the movement behind her that this last would be the worst and she gripped the chair tightly, gritting her teeth and shutting her eyes. The cane stroke landed with awful force in a diagonal, cutting across the burning of the previous five. She gripped the chair so hard she thought she must break the wood and bent her knees and straightened them again in a totally useless attempt to ease the pain.

“You may stand now, Lancaster.”

But stand was not something she could do. She was scared that somehow it might make the deep throbbing pain worse. The headmaster thought she had not heard so he repeated what he said and she realised she had to move. She inched her body to the vertical as the change in position sent nasty pulses of pain shooting in all directions. There was talk among the girls that once upon a time the female heads of the school had sometimes caned girls on the bare bottom. She just couldn’t believe it was possible. She had her skirt and knickers on but it still felt as if the cane had cut right through them and blasted very nerve on her bottom.

She stood and looked at him, cradling her pain so he couldn’t see it. He had put down the cane and stood with his hand outstretched. She was for a moment bewildered, was she supposed to kiss it as if he was some medieval lord? Then she remembered there was a mad tradition of shaking the head’s hand, thanking him for the punishment and apologising. She wondered, in heretical fashion, if Suzanne Maltby had thanked the Gestapo for torturing her but she took his hand and shook it. The words girls were meant to utter escaped her so she made something up.

“Thank you for caning me, sir; I am sorry for the trouble I have caused and I promise it will not occur again.”

As she spoke the bell rang for the end of school.

“You took your punishment very well indeed Lancaster, upholding the fine traditions of the school. Your misdeed and the punishment is now behind you.”

The girl mentally agreed with “behind” for her bottom was extremely painful still.

“I must say it is a great shame you were not with us from the first year. You would undoubtedly have been head girl material.”

The headmaster was not given to praise so that remark was a gem; the girl knew it would be repeated to the staff and from a few of those to the girls and her reputation would be high as a result.

“Thank you very much sir.”

As she walked through the outer office of the secretary, she knew the obnoxious woman would be watching her carefully. It was widely believed the only time the secretary smiled was when a girl was in tears. She decided to make a further point so she stopped in the outer office for a moment.

Looking the woman straight in the face she said: “Goodbye, Mrs Spence, I do hope you have a pleasant evening. I’m going to sort out that tricky homework problem now.”

She had the satisfaction of getting a look of blank astonishment and left the office shutting the door carefully behind her. She walked stiffly back down the corridor, so pleased it was now after school and she could just go home. She was not crying though she wanted to and felt she might once she was safely in the front door of her home. Her bottom throbbed and burnt but she kept her hands away looking as casual as she could. Eighteen years old and caned as if she was a young girl and not an adult! She still had the interview to go with her father whose lectures were not to be lightly dismissed and he might even dock some of her allowance. When were they all going to realise she was now eighteen?

The End

© Susan Thomas 2013

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