Another story in the series. Jennifer returns to Queen Anne’s to do some research but Meryl discovers a painful reminder of her Past.
By Tara Patterson
The summer holidays were well underway. Retired deputy headmistress, Jennifer Hapwood, walked up the familiar stone steps to the main entrance of Queen Anne School, Ambleside. After pressing the button on the intercom she turned to admire the view. Out in the lake a large white pleasure steamer eased its way away from the pier with another load of tourists. Suddenly the heavy door opened and Jennifer’s old friend, Matron Meryl Taylor, stood in the doorway. As usual, she was wearing her dark blue uniform and a pair of white plimsolls.
“It’s good to see you, Jen,” she smiled. “And great you are staying for a few days. It will be like old times again.”
Later, the two ladies made their way to the school Library. In the corner, sectioned off behind a varnished wooden partition and a locked gate, was the school archive. Meryl took a key out of her uniform pocket and opened the gate.
“It still feels a privilege to come into this section,” she said with a smile. “We were never allowed in here as girls were we?”
“It’s a real treasure trove, Meryl,” replied Jennifer. “Just the resource I need to add some interest to the history of the school I’m writing. All the log books survive. They go right back to our foundation in 1910. It’s the evacuation and our move up here during the war I’m working on at the moment. I’m told there is lots of official government correspondence on file, and some from the railway company who coordinated the move too.”
Jennifer looked along the rows of leather bound books before she removed several large volumes from the shelf. She placed them down on a large polished oak table, took out her laptop from its case and began to work. As her friend became engrossed in her work, Meryl looked around the library for something of interest to read. Normally she would head straight for the collection of railway periodicals held by the school railway society, but today something else caught her eye; a row of dark blue books near the edge of the archive. She pulled one out of the shelf and examined the title on the cover.
‘Punishment Record, September 1959- July 1969’
Meryl was soon looking through the book. The familiar handwriting of her old Headmistress, Mrs Whittaker, and Matron Routledge filled the pages. Meryl seemed quite surprised at just how often her own name appeared.
‘Was I that mischievous?’ She thought.
The memories of bending over the headmistress’s desk or matron’s examination couch for the cane or the strap, and of being slippered by a certain prefect, her now friend Jennifer Hapwood, came flooding back. But there on the last page, the last entry in fact, was not her own name but one almost as familiar.
‘Hapwood, J P, Form 6T, misconduct and leaving the school premises without permission after curfew.’
“Jennifer? What’s this?” Meryl asked her friend before she looked at the punishment received. “Of all the names I didn’t expect to see in here, and on our last day too, you always came across as little miss perfect. What happened?”
Jennifer looked up from her work and took off her glasses.
“Well let’s just say you weren’t the only one in our year who used to go out sometimes after lights out. I was only caught the once, by Mrs Whittaker too, and she made me pay for it. Didn’t you ever wonder why I’m the only prefect standing in our end of year group photo?”
* * *
Sixth form prefect Jennifer Hapwood looked sheepishly around her as she walked into the public bar of the small hotel. She ordered a drink and sat down. For a summer’s evening, the bar was rather quiet; just how Jennifer liked it. Naturally, she wasn’t in her uniform but a light summer dress and sandals. Her thoughts drifted to her future and what lay in store.
She thought: ‘just a small celebration to mark the end of an era. This is the life. No more of that school after tomorrow.”
Once she had finished her Babycham, Jennifer got up to leave. In the corridor, on the way out of the hotel, she paused to let a group of older ladies pass. Jennifer guessed they were the local Bell Ringers or Womens Institute calling into the hotel for a drink after their meeting. One lady at the back of the group turned and spoke quietly to Jennifer. Her heart sank.
“I’m not going to make a fuss here, Hapwood. That would be rather embarrassing for the both of us, but you will report to my study at two-thirty precisely tomorrow afternoon. Now I suggest that you return to the place that you should be at this time of night.”
* * *
Jennifer knocked on the varnished wooden door of Mrs Whitaker’s study. She had taken much care with her uniform, not just because of her interview with the headmistress, but later all the girls were having their photographs taken to mark the end of their time at Queen Anne’s.
Jennifer was wearing the standard summer uniform; a light blue gingham checked dress, white ankle socks, black Mary Jane shoes and the obligatory navy blue blazer and straw boater. Her honey blonde hair was plaited and wound Helga-style around her head. Despite her outer appearance of calm and confidence, Jennifer’s mind was racing. She had a sick feeling in her stomach and she had somehow managed to get through her day, so far, on autopilot.
“Enter!” Came the curt reply.
Mrs Whittaker sat bolt upright in her chair behind a large leather-topped walnut desk. She peered critically at Jennifer who slowly made her way to the worn patch of carpet in front of the desk.
“Good afternoon, Mrs Whittaker,” she said quietly. Her mouth was dry. She felt more like a first year girl than a sixth form prefect who was about to leave the school.
“So, Hapwood,” began the headmistress. “I understand from the barman at the Lakeside Hotel that you are quite a regular visitor there. It is most fortunate for you that our paths have not crossed before. What an unfortunate way for you to end your time with us. Practically an unblemished record for the last seven years, and I find you on your last night outside of the school premises, after curfew, on licenced premises.”
Jennifer shuffled on the spot. She bit her lip and tried to think of something that might excuse her actions.
“B-but I’m over eighteen, Ma’am, a-and it was only a quick drink, just to mark my leaving…”
The headmistress cut her short.
“Drinking alcohol too, Hapwood!” She shouted. “This situation gets worse and worse! I have enough now to expel you in disgrace, no further questions asked.”
Jennifer shuffled. She didn’t know what to say.
The headmistress continued. “Perhaps that is what I ought to do; make an example of you. But no, expulsion would be rather pointless on your last day, considering you have completed all your examinations. I have a solution in mind that will remind you how dimly I view your actions, and how disappointed I am in you. Hapwood, I am going to cane you!”
Jennifer gasped. Her mind raced. After seven years at school, she had never felt the cane. In fact, it was normally her, as a prefect, dishing out the punishments. She had been slippered at home by her father, and had had the occasional strapping from Matron Routledge in her early years, but the cane! That was something else. Something that usually only happened to the boys. Jennifer could think of only one other girl in her year who had been caned. She remembered that day well, and seeing Meryl Taylor after her caning and how she cried, and those angry red wheals on her bottom when Jennifer made her show them to the other girls in the changing room. How she had mocked Meryl’s discomfort, and now it was going to happen to her.
“Is this my only option, Ma’am?” She asked quietly.
Mrs Whittaker looked at her pupil very sternly.
“I do not think that you are in a position to negotiate, Hapwood. I caught you outside of school premises after curfew. You broke the rules. Just because it is your last day, that is no excuse. I am punishing you not only to teach you a lesson about discipline and respecting our values but also to show to the other pupils that our rules will be enforced to all, be it those in their first year or you, a senior prefect, on her last day. And may I also add how ashamed I was of you last night. It was so fortunate that the other ladies of my Womens Institute didn’t recognise you as a pupil from this establishment.”
Mrs Whittaker stood up. She removed her charcoal grey suit jacket and walked to a glass-fronted cabinet across the room. Jennifer turned slightly, watching the headmistress’s every move.
“Eyes front!” Barked Mrs Whittaker as she opened the cupboard and took out a selection of canes. Jennifer turned and focused on the wall behind the desk. She stared at the large whole school photograph hanging directly in front of her. It was several years old. She spotted herself, a fresh-faced first year, standing happily in the front row behind the seated prefects.
A sharp command brought Jennifer back to the situation in hand.
“Right, Hapwood, blazer and hat off. Then lift up your dress and bend over my desk.”
Jennifer did what she was told. She fumbled with the buttons of her blazer; her nerves were getting the better of her. She laid the blazer and her boater hat on the edge of the desk before she lifted her dress and bent over, gripping the far edge of the desk tightly. The leather surface felt cold.
Behind her, Mrs Whitaker swished the cane through the air. She paused for a moment.
“Six strokes, I think.”
“Oh shit!” Muttered Jennifer under her breath.
“On the bare!” Snapped the headmistress, as she roughly pulled down Jennifer’s dark blue knickers. “That will teach you how much I abhor swearing!”
Jennifer felt the cane tapping lightly on her bottom. She gripped the desk hard, bit her lip and braced herself.
First she felt nothing, then came the pain. It took her breath away and stung such an intense sting Jennifer cried out and began to sob loudly.
“I’m waiting, Hapwood,” came a voice from behind.
Jennifer gulped. “O-one. Thank you, Ma’am.”
Mrs Whitaker put down her cane next to her pupil and began to slowly walk around the study, beginning a lecture about the demons of alcohol. After what seemed an age, she picked up the cane and delivered two very hard strokes before putting the cane down again and continuing her lecture. Jennifer found the lecture and the waiting worse than the cane strokes. Mrs Whittaker seemed to know how long to wait between strokes to maximise their effect.
Finally Jennifer was able to say: “Six. Thank you, Ma’am.”
She remained in place. She looked up again at the photograph, at her younger self smiling down. Somehow that photo remained a comfort, something to focus on.
“You may stand,” came the cold command from behind. “And put your hands on your head.”
The Headmistress sat down in front of her pupil and began writing in a large blue leather book.
“It seems you are the last entry, Hapwood. Not a name I expected to be the last in the book, but still you are recorded in history. This book will be consigned to the archives after today.”
Then Mrs Whittaker turned the book towards Jennifer and handed her a pen so she could sign the entry.
As Jennifer signed, Mrs Whittaker looked at her.
“You haven’t been a bad pupil really, Jennifer. One of the best of your year with a bright future ahead of you. It’s a shame it had to end like this. I’m not going to think badly of you for this, but you must understand my reasons.”
Jennifer smiled. The sharp pain in her bottom was now a strong throbbing.
“Thank you, Ma’am. I’ve enjoyed the last seven years, well, apart from the last half an hour or so. Now would you mind if I stood up during the school photo later? I know it’s usually tradition for the Prefects to sit with the teachers, but…
© Tara Patterson 2016