A new house mistress gets a grip

By Jane Fairweather

“Oh yes, so you’re Miss Barr. Yes, we’re expecting you. Desperate for a new housemistress you know. Do have a seat. The Head will see you in a minute.”

The school secretary, despite her youth and ravishing red hair, was very much dressed as a school secretary was supposed to be, in an austere grey skirt and jacket with a white blouse and hair up tight on her head. Wendy Barr noticed this and wondered if she herself should be wearing the pretty blue dress that she had on under her plain rain coat. At least no one could see the French knickers under her dress and slip. There was so much tension at the moment about what girls were and were not supposed to wear.

Miss Davidson, who had kindly recommended her for the post of Housemistress (which had apparently fallen vacant in the middle of term, for reasons unspecified), had remarked that her old friend could be a bit of a “Tartar”, but had a heart of gold, whatever that meant. Still she needed a job and it had fallen into her lap, so here she was.

She had been an effective prefect at school, though that had been a happy well disciplined place, where punishment was rare and usually mild. She had handed a few lines out on a couple of occasions, and on one distressing occasion she had been forced to send a girl to the headmistress, but as far as she knew the girl had not been caned, just told off. Certainly the girl’s behaviour had improved.

She hoped that this school was similar. She did not want to be constantly dealing with difficult schoolgirls. Apart from anything else she had her own work to get on with, which was the chief reason for taking this job, which was far below what a girl with a First Class in Maths from Cambridge could normally expect. She did so want to write this paper and get it published.

“I am afraid she will be a minute yet. She is talking to some parents who’ve come in specially to talk about what their daughter should do after School Certificate. Bit of a choice these days, whether to do the Higher or not.”

“I don’t see why girls shouldn’t go to the very top in anything. It’s just a question of passing the exams and getting the scholarships now.”

“That makes you sound very modern, Miss Barr. I wouldn’t repeat that to the Head. She would be quite happy to send out all our girls without any exams. She thinks they do just as well without them.”

There was a rather awkward silence. Miss Barr most certainly did not agree, but thought it was not perhaps quite right to say so.

“What’s your name?” She asked, thinking she ought to be making friends.

“Oh gosh, I should have said. I am Miss Serple. Funny name, I know. I am afraid the Head is very old fashioned. I can tell you have not got much scent on, but it’s the first thing she will notice when you get through the door, so don’t be surprised. And she is very old fashioned about discipline. The girl before you got quite upset about that, though her bark’s worse than her bite, you know. It’s not like one of those dreadful Boys’ Schools.”

“What, she still uses corporal punishment?”

“Oh yes, but the girls don’t mind it too much. She’s not that severe. Actually I did not mind it too much at school. Are you under twenty-one?”

“Well yes, I’m twenty-one in about three months. I went to college quite early.”

“I should watch it then. She has odd ideas about her rights if you are under twenty-one. I was only nineteen when I got this job, straight out of Secretarial College you know, and I found out the hard way.”

Miss Serple grinned with the air of one who has superior knowledge. Wendy was not sure what Miss Serple was meaning, and was about to diffidently ask, when the Headmistress’s door opened and the parents and Headmistress emerged.

********

“Parents, Miss Barr, always flap over nothing. It’s their concern whether they send their girls to a school that does Higher School Certificate. Why they should come to see me, when this school never has and never will do Higher School Certificate, you might well ask.”

“But you have a Sixth Form.” Said Wendy, who was glad to have survived the initial comment on her scent. Apparently, if she must wear scent this was just about allowable, but nothing so far had been said about her dress.

“Oh yes, but it’s for extra coaching for Secretarial College, where a lot of our girls go (including Miss Serple incidentally), and occasionally just because a girl needs a year or two longer at school. Now, Miss Barr, I believe this will be your first appointment?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“You are quite old for a first appointment. I was very sorry to hear about your illness from Miss Davidson. Since the age of eighteen I believe. Are you fully recovered?”

It was news to Wendy that three very distinguished years at Girton College, Cambridge was an illness. However, Wendy knew Elizabeth Davidson well enough to know that she would not have lied to her new employer unless it was really necessary, so she muttered her assent and said how grateful she was to be given the chance.

“Now, as to your duties. You will have charge of Oakleaf House. You are responsible for them while they are asleep, then for getting them up, seeing they do their prep and have breakfast. And in the evening you are responsible for evening meal, evening prep, cocoa and bed. The rest of the time they spend in school, including lunch, which we have in the Hall. However, it is usual in this school to deal with any disciplinary issues that have arisen during the day in the evening. Have you ever dealt with disciplinary issues, Miss Barr?”

“I’ve given a few lines as a prefect and sent one girl to the Head.”

“Did your school use corporal punishment?”

“Very rarely, if at all.”

“Well then, it will be a new experience for you. You will find in your study a basket with three or four canes. They are small whippy canes, Miss Barr. They sting like mad if applied to the hands or the seat of the knickers and there are usually a few tears. You are limited to three strokes at a time and you will be dismissed if you exceed that. I suggest you give all three strokes only for moderately serious offences. For major offences like stealing or serious bullying (not mild teasing) you send them to me. You can be sure that they will be well and truly dealt with. So far so clear, Miss Barr?”

“Err yes, Headmistress.” Her mind boggled in fact, but she needed the time this job provided to work on her Maths without interruption, and her father had been very clear he would not support her anymore.

“Each girl has a punishment card, which she carries in her satchel. It is her duty if she is to be punished to present herself outside your study with her card at nine o’clock sharp, properly and neatly dressed. You will punish the girls in the order that they arrive. In practice you will find that for four or five evenings a week or quite often even longer there is no one to punish and when there are culprits they are not usually too numerous. As a discipline system it works quite well I think you will find.

“This is as well, as you will have all of thirty girls in your charge. There are I think eighteen in the dormitory for the first three years, give or take, but there you have the assistance of two Sixth Form Prefects, Susan White and Geraldine Smith, who sleep in a study next to the dormitory. I hope incidentally that you will enjoy better relations with the Prefects than your predecessor did. There were some quite ridiculous arguments about who was in charge of what that I had to spend rather too much time sorting out. Please try and get them reading from the same hymn sheet, Miss Barr. Endless acrimony does not make for efficiency. I hope I can trust you to do that?”

“Yes, of course, Headmistress.”

There are around a dozen Fifth and Five Uppers, who are in two bed studies, though the Fifth and Five Uppers rarely get the cane. Your duties there will be more to do with exercising a genial supervision and occasionally a guiding hand. Now is there anything else you want to ask?”

There was in fact a great deal she wanted to ask, not least why the previous Housemistress had left in the middle of term and had apparently been in a feud with her prefects, but Wendy merely replied the Headmistress had been very clear.

“Nothing at all, Miss Barr?”

“Do you think hands or bottoms are preferable?”

“Hands are both more vulnerable and easier to miss if you are not used to it. I should go for bottoms, though of course you may not think that quite proper. An awful lot of nonsense has grown up round this topic in recent years.”

“Thank you.”

“And Miss Barr, that is a very pretty dress, but please remember you are at work and put on something more sensible. And Miss Barr, I have noted you are under twenty-one, should it become necessary, which I very much hope it won’t.”

What did that mean? Wendy just did not like to ask, but excused herself and departed to her new domain, escorted by the chattery Miss Serple, who seemed rather too eager, to Wendy’s mind, to describe various of her own canings. However, she gleaned the useful information that it was usual to make the victim hold the sides of the seat of a chair and gym slips were raised by the mistress and not removed by the victim. She found this information at once rather disgusting and exciting. Half of her hoped she did not have to do it for real, ever, and the other half found the prospect rather inviting.

******

Ten days later Wendy Barr was sat in her study about eleven-thirty at night, still in her day clothes, pondering life. So far it had all gone much better than she had imagined.

Three or four one stroke canings for very minor things and then, two nights before, something rather more serious. She had rather reluctantly administered three strokes of the cane to the seat of the knickers of two aggravating Fourth Formers who had misbehaved in class once too often. She grudgingly had to admit it had been very effective. The girls had been tearful and penitent afterwards. She had found it just a bit more exciting than really she should have done, but perhaps that was her reward for an unpleasant duty, she sardonically decided. Both girls’ bottoms had been quite small and she doubted if she had left them much room to sit on. She found herself thinking about lifting the gym slip of the first girl and the first stroke which had made the victim’s behind jerk wildly.

The cloud on the horizon, strangely, was not the occasional canings it was her duty to carry out. Rather it was the two prefects in charge of the dormitory, Susan and Geraldine (or Sue and Gerry in the day-to-day slang of Oakleaf House).They were both much too full of themselves. She had tried to be very polite and friendly and issue a minimum of instructions, but she had been met with a wall of sullen unpleasantness. The main problem was that she was so close to the prefects in age that they did not believe she should be in a position of authority over them. Geraldine indeed had been so downright rude the previous day that if she had been an ordinary girl Wendy would have caned her and enjoyed doing it. She wondered if she dared do it, if it happened again, and if she did do it whether she was limited to three strokes with an eighteen year old. However, they probably would not take the punishment and it would almost certainly end in an irritating argument before the Head, who would quite possibly not take her side. She was fairly sure it was what had happened to her predecessor, with whom she felt increasing sympathy.

She turned her mind away from this to the series of equations she had made up her mind to pursue and write a paper on when she left Cambridge, but then something distracted her. She felt something was going on that ought not to be and she walked down to the Dorm and glanced through the large plate glass window that enabled you to see what was going on inside, the moonlight through the Dorm skylight made it all look a touch ghostly and fantastic.

On the face of it all the girls were sound asleep. She sighed a sigh of relief, then wondered why she had not heard a single girl whispering as she came down the corridor. It was most unnatural. Girls always chattered when they should not, though it was also natural they should shut up when they heard the approach of authority.

As an afterthought she opened the door to the study of Sue and Gerry, alias the two prefects in charge of the dormitory, thinking as she did it that she would probably have to apologise for waking them. The prefects appeared to be sound asleep. Then it struck her that there was no sound of breathing. She put the light on and realized the awful truth; both beds had been made up with pillows to give the impression someone was in them.

What on earth was going on? She opened the door from the study into the Dorm. It did not take long to discover that all the apparent bodies in the beds were pillows.

If she roused the Head there was every chance she would lose a job which, in many ways, was very convenient. There were not many jobs where you could follow your own inclinations for most of the morning and afternoon. Besides if she was dismissed would she get references?

Anyway, she was at the mercy of the girls getting back from wherever they had gone without being spotted. If they managed it then she could either pretend it never had happened, or she could chastise them herself. If she punished them the chances were they would accept it, simply because the alternative would almost certainly be to stand on the stage before the whole school, have their sashes and prefect’s badges publicly removed and then be marched off for a caning that would make what had happened two evenings ago seem very mild.

At any rate this was what Janet Serple had told her over a girly cup of tea was what happened to any girl and especially prefects who were in disgrace, and there seemed no reason to disbelieve her. Janet was at least a friend of sorts and a useful source of information, though Wendy would have liked someone more intellectual to chat to. Still a cup of tea and a chat most days was something worth having in this lonely place.

She went back to her study feeling a certain relief she had not already changed for bed. She picked up two canes (one rather longer than the other), thinking their presence would make an immediate impression on the culprits, added a Dorothy Sayers novel she was halfway through in case the wait was a long one and returned to the Dorm. Then she borrowed a comfortable chair from the prefects’ study and sat on it in the Dorm and read, switching on a bedside light to do it, though the Moon made it almost unnecessary. Or tried to, for the longer she sat there the crosser she got at the stupidity of Sue and Gerry in taking out a whole dormitory in the middle of the night. Their idiocy, she realized, was probably going to get her sacked.

*******

It was nearly 1.30 am, the night was dark outside through the skylight in the Dorm roof and Wendy was nearing the end of her novel and feeling that if this went on much longer she was going to fall asleep where she was.

Then she heard a very quiet, but distinct movement. She switched off the light she had been using and stood up in the corner in the shadow of a wardrobe facing the entrance to the room. The girls came in remarkably quietly, each gliding to their own bed without a word. In the distance she heard the outer door to the Prefects’ study open and shut. In a way, thought Wendy, it showed quite remarkable discipline. The girls seemed to be so pre-occupied with moving silently that no one noticed her, though one girl tripped over the chair which Wendy had forgotten to move and made a slight noise, which she immediately suppressed.

Wendy waited till they were all in bed, then walked to the main light switch and turned it on. The girls almost without exception sat up with a start.

“Oh gosh, it’s Miss Barr!” Exclaimed Philippa Thomson, one of the two girls who had suffered three strokes two evenings before. She was looking with distinct nervousness at the canes in Wendy’s right hand.

“Yes, as you rightly observe, Philippa Thomson, it is Miss Barr!” Said Wendy very dryly. “And here is how it is going to be, girls. You all know you have been out in the night, and that is a capital offence and you could all be up on the school stage tomorrow morning. However, I suspect you were led on by your Prefects. Therefore if you will give me a clear account of what happened you will all get off with two hard whacks to be administered immediately. Is that fair? You need not tell me anything against your Prefects as such. Just tell me what you did out there and why you went.”

She wondered for a brief second if the girls were going to refuse to co-operate. However, one dark haired creature who seemed to possess some authority, but Wendy did not know the name of, announced she was not going up on the stage for Sue and Gerry and most girls seemed to murmur some sort of assent.

“Well perhaps someone would like to tell me why you went out?” Wendy asked.

“I know it sounds silly Miss, but we were ghost hunting,” said the dark haired girl. “There are lots in the old ruins. We all saw them. They come out in the moonlight.”

“Indeed!” Said Wendy, trying very hard not to laugh. “And were they interesting ghosts?”

“Oh yes.” said the dark haired girl. “Lots from a long time ago. One had got hanged.”

The door from the prefects’ room opened. Gerry and Sue were looking distinctly worried.

“We ought to own up, Miss. It was our idea to go out. We thought it would be jolly and fun for them. It’s us who ought to be punished, Miss. Please let them off. They only came because we suggested it, and a lot of them have not had the cane.”

“Good!” Said Wendy, who was beginning to enjoy herself. “I’m glad to hear you own up. It shows a sense of responsibility. You had better go and wait outside my study while I finish here. If you have not got knickers on I suggest you put them on. You are going to need them.”

The two prefects departed with an unwonted quietness.

“Now girls,” Wendy announced. “You will each get out of bed, and bend over touching your toes in front of the bed. I will then go round and give you each two sharp swishes after which you can get back into bed or go to the washroom as you please, but the matter will be over as far as I am concerned.”

The girls, she thought afterwards, were quite brave. There was very little crying out. Two girls pleaded not to be caned and were shouted down by other girls who told them “to hold their gobs”, which Wendy politely ignored. In the end it was done and fifteen young ladies were rubbing their bottoms with varied degrees of tearfulness. Wendy felt an odd sense of exhilaration.

“It was weird!” One girl was saying. “I never thought I’d have the cane. I thought you lot were kidding when you said it stung so much. God it stung!”

“Miss Barr can really cane. She’s worse than the Head.” Philippa Thomas was saying to her partner in crime.

Wendy quietly walked off, thinking there was no point in rushing the girls back to bed. They were too overexcited.

********

Outside her study the two Prefects were waiting. She ushered them in, then roasted them for lack of responsibility and getting their charges into serious trouble. They were surprisingly contrite, which she had not expected.

“Are you reporting us to the Head?” Asked Gerry fearfully.

“No, but I am going to cane you quite severely. Have either of you any objection, or would you rather go to the Head? I have six in mind for you and five for Susan, since she has been slightly less insolent to me than you have.”

“It would be a lot worse if you reported us to the Head, Miss.” Said Susan, obviously thinking of losing her badges on the stage and possible expulsion.

“Very well, if you would be both kind enough to remove your dressing gowns. Thank you. Now if you would put your hands on the seat of the armchair, Susan.”

She pulled Susan’s full length night dress right up, only for it to fall down again.

“I will take it off Miss.” Said Susan with an air of practicality.

Wendy wondered if Susan realised how much her full grown breasts dangling above her green knickers excited her Housemistress. The girl bent over again. Wendy brought the cane down hard, three times biting into the middle of the pear shaped bottom. The girl wept bitterly from the first stroke and her bottom rose and fell. Wendy administered the last two into the crease where bottom and thighs met and the victim shrieked, which gratified her executioner considerably.

“Stand with your face to the wall and your hands on your head. Now it’s your turn, Geraldine Smith. Remove your nightdress and put your hands on the seat of the armchair.”

She had caned Susan quite hard, but Geraldine she thrashed and enjoyed doing it. There was an awful lot of insolence to repay and Wendy was angry.

******

It was the last day of a not unhappy year. The Head wished to thank her personally and here she was in the same chair, in the same seat she had sat in on her first day.

“I must say Miss Barr, when I took you on I thought you might have problems.” observed the Head. “You were under twenty-one, after all. But you seem to have taken to it like a duck to water and your house has really been remarkably well run for the last year. I shall be very sorry to lose you.”

“I would beg you to stay, but I now understand from Miss Davidson that your old College has offered you a small fellowship to pursue some mathematical work that you have begun here. It is of course a great honour to have had you here, though if you or Miss Davidson had told me the truth that you were a distinguished graduate of Cambridge originally, I doubt very much if I would have offered you the position. The staff and the girls have made a collection for you, which I have here. Anyway all that really remains is for me to thank you for your excellent work. I would have thanked you in Assembly, except somehow I do think it might have embarrassed you.”

“Thank you Headmistress,” said Wendy with deep and genuine embarrassment, and started as if to get up to go.

“Just before you go, please satisfy my curiosity Miss Barr. Did you really cane both of your prefects so they could not sit down? The story has been around for months, but I find it very hard to believe of a gentle, well brought up young woman like you. Don’t worry, it won’t go beyond these walls.”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Oh well, better than a lie I suppose. So you really did deal with them. Perhaps I should have done it myself when your predecessor complained. Enjoy your new life Miss Barr. I don’t suppose we shall meet again.”

The End

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