A letter from school spells trouble for a girl
By Jane Fairweather
“Your father wants to see you in his study, Miss, at once.” Said old Betsy James who had been the general dogsbody of the Kavanagh household at Monkhold House for as long as anyone could remember.
There was a sneer to the old woman’s face from under her old fashioned muslin cap as if to say she had never had a high opinion of her employer’s only daughter and what was coming was only justice and rather overdue. A far from comforting return home from school after the Autumn term, Elfreda Kavanagh thought to herself, remembering the spanking she had got after her first term in the Fourth Form. But Betsy was gloating rather too early in the day, she decided. After all, she was a young lady now and a Sixth Former; probably her father was just eager for a chat. And anyway, quite probably he had not got to hear of the silly piece of trouble that she had been in.
She deposited her hat on the hat stand and her coat and scarf on the coat stand in the drafty hall and, rather pointedly leaving Betsy to deal with her luggage, headed upstairs to her father’s study, not quite sure of her reception, but not really expecting anything very bad to happen.
She did not bother to knock, but pushed open the study door to find Father sat in his armchair reading his favourite novel, Middlemarch; he was a great George Eliot fan. Then she noticed that on the arm of the chair was a copy of her blue school report book, which was a new one for the Sixth Form.
“Ah, Elfreda, I need to have words with you, and perhaps the sooner we get it over with the better. Come over to my desk, would you? Get yourself a chair.”
She sat uncomfortably, realizing she was being looked at very quizzically. Was something really the matter, or wasn’t it?
“I realize it is only the first term in the Sixth Form, and no doubt you are just settling in to a new way of study, but really if we are to talk about Girton College or something similar for you, as I very much hope we are, a greater level of application is going to be needed. I hope you realize that your Latin is being described as weak and it is being implied that you are making little or no effort to improve it, and you will need to pass Latin, even if you are an excellent mathematician. I am sorely tempted to resort to chastisement to make you aware of my displeasure.”
Oh god! Being threatened with a spanking at the age of eighteen! She felt incredibly embarrassed.
“I will do my best to improve my Latin, Papa.” She said as demurely as she could. “I really do want to do well.”
“Well if that was all that was the matter, I would leave it there, at least till next term when, if there is no improvement, I will cane you. Do we understand one another?”
“Yes, of course, Papa and I am very sorry I have displeased you.” She said aloud, quivering more than slightly at what had just been said.
God, not the cane! She had never had the cane, but she knew its reputation as something totally agonising all too well. But what was the ‘something else’, as if she could not guess.
“I understand from a letter I had with your report that, at the advanced age of eighteen, you had the slipper for a remarkably silly prank, dropping water out of a toilet window and being stupid enough to thrust your head out afterwards to see the results of your misdeeds. I do not know which makes me crosser, doing something so silly, or getting caught. But what makes it serious is that the water hit my brother in law, Christopher Tomes, with whom my relations have never been easy. He has got your mother extremely worked up and the pair of them are demanding condign punishment. I think, left to myself, I would just give you a very severe warning, but as it is I have promised them that you will have three strokes of the cane.”
“But I did not do it!” She protested. “It was Sue Thomson and her friends. I was just sitting in the loo and heard it all and put my head out of the window to see what they had done.”
“Yes, that is what your headmistress has told me that you said, except she says you declined to betray your school fellows, which is in its way commendable. Now shall we get this over? I hate doing this as much as you will hate receiving it. Pull your skirts up and bend over the back of the chair you are sitting in. And don’t argue or you will make it a great deal worse for yourself.”
Reluctantly and in tears she did as she was told and waited, listening to the swishing of her father’s cane and wishing the back of the chair would not dig into her stomach. If only he would get on with it! She wondered if she was going to suffer as much as Sue T had, or was supposed to have done.
* * *
“Elfreda Kavanagh, have you any explanation for this?” Miss Courtney demanded with real anger.
Elfreda flinched before her headmistress’s ferocious eyes boring into her; and the flaming red hair which, unlike a lot of women of her sort of rank, Miss Courtney wore right down to her shoulders did not help, for it reminded Elfreda, who was an imaginative girl, of some terrible dragon. Not that Miss Courtney was an ‘old dragon’. Far from it, Miss Courtney was very young for a headmistress. But when she was angry she was very, very angry, as everyone in the school was very well aware; and if you got her really mad the slipper came out with consequences that were extremely painful, as Elfreda had already discovered on two previous occasions.
“Miss Jackson must have made a mistake, Miss.” Elfreda said uncomfortably, realizing even as she said it that she was not sounding very plausible.
“Well, if that is what you are saying, Miss Kavanagh, we had better go through this strange event second by second as it were. First, let us get the facts straight. Miss Jackson was escorting a new school governor, which was your Uncle, Mr Tomes, which makes it even worse, on a tour of our premises. As they were passing the Sixth Form block a quantity of water emerged from a window of one of the Sixth Form toilets, soaking Mr Tomes’ hair. At least it would have soaked his hair if he had any, but that is a minor detail. Mr Tomes and Miss Jackson looked up, of course, and Mr Tomes recognised your face, which of course he knows very well, grinning very briefly out of the window, before disappearing almost as rapidly. Are you saying it was another girl? And don’t lie; you are already more than half way to a severe slippering. If you go on like this it will be on your bare bottom.”
Elfreda gulped and wondered with a shudder if there was any chance of keeping her drawers on, or even avoiding the slippering. Would telling the truth help or make it worse? Still, Miss Courtney notoriously hated dithering; it was probably safest to tell the truth, but the truth was so unbelievable.
“No, Miss Courtney, it was not another girl who looked out of the window. I was in one of the toilets and I could hear some girls fooling about and running a tap, so I waited till they went. Then there was a lot of giggling and they ran off. As soon as I came out I could hear some shouting and I put my head out of the window to see what was going on, not that I could see much, but I could see somebody was very angry about something, so I went off and hoped I had not been seen.”
“So the other girls scarpered and then you scarpered.” Said Miss Courtney reflectively. “Presumably you wanted to risk a last look and they did not, which from their point of view was extremely sensible. And you almost got away with it. If Mr Tomes had not spotted you I doubt if Miss Jackson would have done. As pranks go, it was quite clever, but I wish you would own up to it. Somebody needs to be punished for this ridiculous piece of naughtiness, and I don’t suppose you are willing either to admit liability yourself or give me the names of the other girls who were involved.”
“I really was not involved.” Said Elfreda stubbornly, but sounding a trifle lame even to herself.
“I really don’t accept that, Miss Kavanagh. It sounds to me as if you were very much involved and most probably you were the one who thought it up. If you did not think it up, why else would you look out of the window to see the results of your clever prank? However, if you feel able to give me the names of the other girl, or girls, that were involved it would help your case just a little.”
Elfreda thought for a brief second that she was almost sure her old enemy, Sue Thomson, was one of the culprits and she would love to see her frequent tormentor all the way up the school get her bare bum soundly slippered by the very efficient Miss Courtney. However, she would never live down telling on a fellow pupil; she was not that popular as it was.
“I would rather not, Miss.” Elfreda muttered.
“So you are admitting your guilt, are you?” Said Miss Courtney. “It certainly sounds like it, if you are not prepared to betray your partners in crime.”
“I did not say that, Miss. I just meant…”
“Really! I have wasted enough time on this ridiculous incident. You will have six with the slipper on your bare bottom and then we will regard the matter as closed. Pull down your drawers to your knees, pull up your gymslip and bend over the end of my desk. Now! I know you know how to do it. I’ve seen you do it before with much less dithering and fuss.”
Elfreda realized she had been standing irresolutely on the spot for at least thirty minutes, and she was not going to be let off, and there did not seem to be a lot else to do other than submit to her very unfair punishment. She approached the end of the desk as was normal, very reluctantly reached under her gymslip and lowered her white cotton drawers to her knees, before pulling up her gymslip and reaching over the desk.
She shut her eyes and felt how hard life is. Miss Courtney wasted very little time. Elfreda felt the slipper hit her hard and low and she squealed.
The second was on the same very painful spot.
“Please, not so hard!” she exclaimed before she could stop herself.
“Do you think a Sixth Former who has behaved as stupidly as this is going to get any leniency!” Came the Headmistress’s irate voice.
The third and fourth were agonising and she started to weep a great deal.
At the fifth she bawled: “Yeow!”
At the sixth she started saying: “Ah, ah, ah!” over and over again.
“You silly girl, pull your drawers up and go. Really you have made rather a lot of fuss.”
‘I’d like to see you take six on your bare bum as hard that.’ Elfreda thought to herself, but perhaps mercifully she did not say it aloud.
* * *
The back of the chair was poking hard into her stomach and making her feel extremely uncomfortable, and her Father was still swishing his cane. Was he having second thoughts about caning her? Should she say anything, or would that just make him do it? She found herself reliving the odd aftermath of that gruesome slippering.
“You really ought to get Sue T back.” Elsie Cormack was saying. “It is outrageous, you having to take hers and most likely Beryl flippin’ Smith’s punishment as well.”
Elsie Cormack was the person she shared a study with. They could just about talk to one another, but that was as far as it normally went. However, on this occasion, Elsie seemed genuinely on her side.
“I cannot give her away; nobody would speak to me.”Elfreda said lamely.
“No, you cannot do it, but Johno really likes me. I might have a word. I’m like you; I don’t have many friends, but I get on with grownups and Johno really likes me.”
‘She is just boasting,’ Elfreda had thought as she wriggled and tried to ignore her discomfort, but curiously, about a week later, Sue T and Beryl Smith had their study searched by Miss Johnson, their house mistress. Cigarettes had been found in rather large quantities and the two girls had been sent to the headmistress, who had punished them severely. There were rumours it had been the cane and not the slipper, but nobody was quite sure. Certainly one of the girls, and Elfreda devoutly hoped that it was Sue T, had made a lot of noise that had been audible some distance away.
It was a curious fact that one reason the punishment had been so severe was that both girls had vehemently denied the cigarettes were theirs, or so it had been said in Assembly. Was it Elsie’s doing or not? But Elfreda had absolutely no idea. However, it felt very rewarding to imagine she was staring at the seat of Sue T’s thin cotton drawers. They were as tightly stretched across Sue T’s large bum as hers were at this moment over her rather smaller posterior.
She realized that her father had moved just behind her. She focused on Sue T’s large bum and the large whippy cane that was about to hit it. In reality the first stroke came down on her own buttocks very hard indeed and she shrieked as it bit deep and her whole body thrust forwards and back, but she imagined it was Sue T who was yelling and Sue T’s bum that was thrusting; and it was oddly gratifying.
Then there was an uncomfortable wait as she sobbed away quietly, but she half persuaded herself it was Sue T who was sobbing.
Then the second stroke caught her crease and she shrieked even louder and made some very strange noises as she imagined Sue T howl for mercy, which in fact she did not do herself.
Then another agonised wait with the tears rolling down her cheeks, but it was Sue T’s tears; and Sue was begging for it to stop, which she most certainly was not doing.
The third stroke was the hardest and she roared at the top of her voice and leapt to her feet and danced in the most undignified fashion. Still, she thought, whatever she was going through, Sue T had been through it a great deal worse and there was a lot of gratification in that thought.
The dance had stopped and her father was telling her to go to her room and come down when she felt better.
“And if I ever have to repeat that lesson it will be six of the best and not a mere three.” She heard somewhere in the distance as she staggered out of the door, still touching her injured bottom.
As she went to her room, she wondered how she could repay Elsie for her kind intervention, assuming it was Elsie of course that had got Sue T into such dire trouble, but she was fairly sure that it was. But anyway, she must improve her Latin next term; six with that thing would not be a joke. But really she did like Elsie, she decided, and pondered to herself what present she could get her by way of saying thank you. But then it suddenly occurred to her that the real present she wanted to give Elsie was a lot of kisses, but would Elsie like that?
© Jane Fairweather 2018
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